The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

Instead of a regular review today, I thought I’d compile a couple of different reviews that I’ve written for The Movie Buff, which has a new theme going which looks really awesome. The reviews include a pair of new releases – Ford v Ferrari and Last Christmas – as well as four reviews I did for the site’s Mob Movie March, which they run every year. Anyway, here are snippets from the reviews and links to where you can read them.

Ford v Ferrari – “The highs and lows of the film are amazing and this is my favourite sports film of the year, and one of my favourites of the year in general. It’s not a traditional sports movie, but I would classify it as one just because it’s so inspiring and the competition is so exciting. It has also has two key races where both have high stakes and feel rewarding in some way.” Read the review hereand I gave this one an A+

The Christmas film based on Wham!‘s song of the same name, Last Christmas – “I know sappy romance is predictable but I was frustrated with its mediocrity. The good scenes come at the wrong time, as Clarke’s rendition of “Last Christmas” should be a highlight, but I just wanted the film to end by that point. I also cry at every film, and this one never hooked me on an emotional level, which really tells that this doesn’t work for me.” You can read the review here. This review was also part of the site’s “Fall in Love February” marathon, which I also did as my 29 Days of Romance on my site. Thanks for the idea, Mark. 

Last Christmas
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas. (IMDb)

The first review I submitted for the site’s Mob Movie March was Angels with Dirty Faces, the film that inspired the Angels with Filthy Souls film in Home Alone. “It’s [James] Cagney’s performance that brings a lot of the charm to this film. That’s especially the case in his scenes with the ‘Dead End’ Kids and how they look up to him… I like the film’s ideas that they idolize a gangster because he just looks so cool. Jerry says he can’t teach honesty when the gangsters show dishonesty is the better policy. “A hoodlum or a gangster is looked up to with the same respect as the successful businessman or popular hero,” Jerry tells Rocky.” You can read the review here

I reviewed the Joe Pesci “comedy” 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Here’s the excerpt: “At one point, I thought that the film could either be better or get even worse if the heads interacted with the characters. Late in the film, it opens that Pandora’s Box in a nightmare scenes where the heads, lined up on a motel dresser, sing a rendition of “Mr. Sandman” (just Mr. Hitman) at Tommy where their respective bodies crash through the walls and strangle Tommy. Suffice to say, the film answers my question by being a different breed of terrible.” You can read the review here.

Okay, two more reviews. I also reviewed the 2005 film The Ice Harvest with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, which has been on my watchlist for awhile. “It’s foremost a mob movie but also a Christmas film by default. It doesn’t have any of the traditional Christmas cheer, but has all the cynical cheer that embodies the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge or The Grinch. This film’s mantra is a line written in Sharpie on several bathroom walls: “As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls.” A sort-of “all that could go wrong will go wrong,” or The Grinch’s equivalent of wrestling with his own-self loathing.” You can read the review here.

My last review for Mob Movie March was for the 2015 film, Legend. “I’ll just talk about the best part of “Legend” straight away—and that’s Tom Hardy’s dual performance. Watching him make these two characters feel so distinct from each other is masterclass. He completely elevates this material, and without him this would have been straight-up bad for me.” Read the review here.

 

My first podcast – Filmcraziest Presents: Popcorn Flicks, Episode #1, “The Luck of the Irish”

My first podcast – Filmcraziest Presents: Popcorn Flicks, Episode #1, “The Luck of the Irish”

Hi everyone and Happy St. Patty’s Day!

I’m excited to share my first self-produced podcast for my website, called Filmcraziest Presents: Popcorn Flicks. The podcast will be a review show about Disney Channel Original Movies. I love Disney Channel Original Movies and they have a lot of nostalgia for me (I did a bunch last October during the Halloween month, so hopefully I’ll talk about all of those on the podcast in time). I’ve always wanted to start a podcast on DCOM’s and I finally tricked someone into doing it with me and that’s my good friend Bobby Strate, who I met through my scriptwriting program.

We’re two awkward guys discussing the film, so hopefully it’s entertaining. I decided to make the pilot episode the 2001 DCOM The Luck of the Irish since today is St. Patrick’s Day (I’m posting this at 9 p.m., so it’s still St. Patrick’s Day for a couple hours more).

I realized after we reviewed it that it’s probably the most offensive way you could celebrate Irish culture, and we talk about that during the podcast. We discuss its stereotypes (where all Irish people are leprechauns), its unbelievable premise and how it could be stronger with its villains, and the laws of physics in basketball during the movie.

I’d love to hear any feedback! I don’t have much of a budget yet for a logo or a theme song, so hopefully by next episode I’ll have those. Also, to let everyone know, there’s vulgarity so this podcast is definitely not sponsored or affiliated with Disney in any way. We also spoil everything. Without further adieu, here’s the link to where you can listen:

 

 

Bad Boys (1995), Bad Boys II (2003)

Bad Boys (1995), Bad Boys II (2003)

Today I wanted to review the first two Bad Boys films before I post a review of Bad Boys For Life tomorrow. They’re shorter reviews so I’ve just included them in the same post.

Bad Boys 1 article

Martin Lawrence and Téa Leoni in Bad Boys. (IMDb)

Bad Boys. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Téa Leoni. Runtime: 1h 59 min. Released: April 7, 1995.

Two hip detectives, Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), protect a witness, Julie Mott (Téa Leoni), while investigating a case of stolen heroin from the evidence storage room at their police precinct.

Michael Bay’s debut film, Bad Boys, has some of his signature explosions and action and camera angles, but nothing that’s as extreme as his later films. That’s why the action is still strong and fun in this film. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s chemistry is what makes it memorable as their banter is hilarious and the action’s the icing on the cake. Mike’s confidence works throughout and Marcus’ insecurity is a good balance.

Though, I don’t like the mistaken identity bit here as Julie would only like to tell Mike what she’s seen, and Marcus has to pretend to be Mike so they can protect her. In order to keep protecting her, they have to keep this charade going where Marcus is Mike and Mike is Marcus. It’s a bit that grows tired quickly. The villains also aren’t amazing here, but Smith and Lawrence are so funny it’s enjoyable despite its flaws. Joe Pantoliano as the angry Captain Howard is also great.

Score: 70/100

Bad Boys 2
Will Smith in Bad Boy II. (IMDb)

Bad Boys 2. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Gabrielle Union. Runtime: 2h 27 min. Released: July 18, 2003.

The first Bad Boys was Michael Bay finding his style, but this film is Bay at his worst. In one scene where Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) investigate a Haitian gang’s house, they are on one side of the wall and the gang is on the other side. Bay shows us this in dizzying style as he takes the camera around the whole room at least six times.

Bay’s obnoxious style makes the film suffer. The story’s another drug bust tale as the Bad Boys investigate the flow of ecstasy in Miami from a Cuban drug cartel. The dynamic of the film is mixed up with the introduction of Marcus’ sister Syd (Gabriel Union), an undercover DEA agent investigating the cartel. She is also Mike’s latest thing, just don’t tell Marcus.

The chemistry’s still strong and the comedy stands out in the film. The villains are still weak, as Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollà) leads this cartel. For some reason I remember Peter Stormare being the villain, but he’s just a secondary antagonist as Alexei, a Russian mobster who is selling Tapia’s ecstasy through his clubs.

The action is okay but Michael Bay gets in the way. The film’s entertaining but the flaws here – a weak story and too much Bay – makes this only a guilty pleasure. The biggest strike against this is its run-time, as it has zero business being 147 minutes.

That’s too long for this simple story and it’s bloated. If anything would have ended up on the cutting room floor, it would have been the comedy – like when Marcus observes rat’s mating rituals, Mike and Marcus cussing out Marcus’ daughter’s date, Reggie (Dennis Greene) or when Marcus is on ecstasy. If these scenes weren’t here, this would be completely awful.

Score: 60/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #26: Amélie (2001)

29 Days of Romance, Review #26: Amélie (2001)

 

Amelie poster
IMDB

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus. Runtime: 2h 2 min. Released: April 25, 2001 (France).

Amélie Poulain is an innocent and naive woman living in Paris. She abides by her own sense of justice and starts doing random acts of kindness for the people around her.

There’s a charm to the film’s fantastical tale, from the entertaining narration to the amazing score by Yann Tiersen. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments even during the darkest points, like Amélie’s mom being crushed by a suicidal tourist from Quebec.

That’s how the film hooked me, with its quirky nature, visual style and imagination. The imagination and quirkiness very much applies to Amélie herself and Audrey Tautou as our titular character is the highlight. Every time she smiles at the camera, every devilish idea, Tautou is phenomenal.

Amélie and her little acts of kindness are great, especially what inspires her new outlook on life when she gives a small tin of treasures to the boy who lived in her flat 50 years ago. I also love when she sets up Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) and Joseph (Dominique Pinon).

I think my favourite act of kindness isn’t really a kindness at all, but a little bit of revenge for another person. A kind man named Lucien (Jamel Debbouze) is always getting verbally abused by his boss, grouchy grocer Mr. Collignon (Urbain Cancelier). To help with the situation, Amélie changes some things around in his apartment, like switching his toothpaste with foot cream or replacing his slippers with the same pair that is a size too small, and it is delightful comedy. These moments are funniest in a film that thrives on its small moments.

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Audrey Tautou in Amélie. (IMDb)

There’s also a great chemistry with one of her neighbours, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), who observes and pushes Amélie. She is an interesting character because she’s adamant to improve other people’s lives but is scared to put herself out there and improve her own, which is relatable. A lot of the film involves Amelie finding a photo album with reassembled photo booth photographs and meaning to return it to its rightful owner, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz). She puts off meeting him because she’s scared to put herself out there – but Amélie also has a flair for the theatrics.

This makes the romance in Amélie unique because their interaction with each other is limited, but it’s also what gives Amélie such a playful and magical vibe. Watching this film made me feel light as a feather during its fantasy, though my main complaint here is it starts to feel light on actual plot in the second half. There’s still so much beauty and comedy in the randomness of Amélie’s world, and the main performance and supporting players make this spectacular.

The film thrives on the small moments in life, helping others but more importantly, remembering to help yourself. The film is about kindness at its core, and Amélie leads by that example. The film’s a charmer for it.

Score: 80/100

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #24: Match Point (2005)

29 Days of Romance, Review #24: Match Point (2005)
Match Point poster
IMDb

Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer. Runtime: 2h 4 min. Released: May 12, 2005 (Cannes).

If you want to put me in a bad mood, make me watch a Woody Allen movie. This is my third Woody Allen film (after Irrational Man and Midnight in Paris) and Match Point is the most disappointing because I love thrillers and I should like this, but I do not.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a former tennis pro meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) while teaching tennis. Tom’s part of a wealthy, aristocratic British family and Chris finds his way into their good graces, eventually marrying Tom’s younger sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). To make matters worse, Chris falls in love with Tom’s fiancé, a struggling actress named Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson).

I’ll start at the very beginning of this film and its opening narration. Chris narrates, “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life… It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t and you lose.”

That is one of the most immediately engrossing opening narrations I’ve come across. It sets up Match Point as a meditation on fate and luck, and Allen never strays from that. I find the history and background of Chris’ character fascinating. At one point, a tennis pro named Henry (Rupert Penry-Jones) tells Chris he’s always admired his game. “A couple of bounces the other way and you might have been able to beat those top seeds,” Henry tells him.

Chris is depicted as a player who didn’t have the luck to be an Andre Agassi of the game. Allen uses the theme of the ball throughout, hammering it in our heads. Some ways feel convoluted, but one way he uses it is smart. The smart way is how it relates to the characters of Chloe and Nola.

When Chris launches into the affair with Nola, she represents the ball bouncing back at him because if Chloe finds out, he’d lose his luxury lifestyle. Chloe represents the ball going forward and him winning, where he can keep his job security and lifestyle. As Chris makes this decision, the ball’s frozen over that net and it can go either way. Watching Match Point is like waiting for that ball to drop, because it moves at a snail pace.

Match Point article
Jonathan Rhys-Myers in Match Point. (IMDb)

Chris is the reason I don’t like this. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays him well, but he’s a boring asshole. He marries Chloe but obviously only has eyes for Nola from the start. He describes his future wife as a “sweet girl” and “nice person.” He just goes along with it for the lifestyle and the job he gets because of his father-in-law, Alec (a strong Brian Cox).

Scarlett Johansson is great as Nola, but I don’t connect with her character. Matthew Goode is very good but eventually gets sidelined, which is a shame because he’s one of the only characters that feels like a real person. Emily Mortimer is totally solid, too, but the character deserves better.

She turns into a one-note character when she wants to have a baby with Chris, and that’s all she talks about for most of it. The only interesting dialogue in this is the first time she brings it up because it’s funny and she tells him she wants three children. “You can do it, you have a powerful serve.” I’m sure in real-life when there’s frustration in fertility that’s all the conversations are about, and Allen understands this, but when this is their only conversation for two years, it becomes irritating.

Allen’s dialogue is boring and pedestrian throughout. That’s my biggest problem with Woody Allen as a writer, his screenplay has intriguing ideas then his characters spend so much time talking about things that are entirely inconsequential. His writing is simultaneously genius, yet insufferable.

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Scarlett Johansson in Match Point. (IMDb)

I hate a lot of this film with every fibre of my being. The first 20 minutes of this works as they introduce the characters and the dialogue has meaning. From the 21-minute mark to the 85-minute mark, I believe this is one of the dullest films I’ll ever watch. There’s not enough money in the world to make me watch that portion of that film again (okay, someone take me up on this, because I’m broke).

The film takes 85 minutes to get to the thriller portion of it, and it’s engrossing once it gets there. The tension is strong and the writing is smart. I wish the entire runtime had this genius. That’s the tragedy of Match Point, that only 30 minutes of it – the thrilling third act – is genius. The first 20 minutes are fine but the 74 minutes in between? Kill me.

There’s a point where Woody Allen loses me again where Chris utters groan-worthy prose that no one would ever say. “[At least there would be] some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning.” That just makes me want to say, “Fuck you, Woody Allen.” It also makes me picture Allen climbing on top of his high horse and showing us the size of his brain. We get it, Woody, you think you’re brilliant but put your brain away, dude. Please.

Score: 40/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)

29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity poster
IMDb

Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: March 31, 2000.

This is a review of a classic music film, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, from someone who doesn’t live and breathe music. Music’s everywhere but most of the music I come across, it’s from film. I don’t sit down and listen to music everyday, but I watch movies everyday so I technically do listen to music everyday. Music makes some people focus but when I listen to music I like to listen to lyrics and not do anything else, and I just don’t have time for that. It doesn’t help me focus, it distracts, so I usually just sit in silence when I’m writing.

High Fidelity follows Rob (John Cusack), a record store owner and compulsive list maker who takes us through his top five-breakups, including his current breakup with Laura (Iben Hjejle).

I’ve always wanted to get more into music but I’m just usually too lazy to download songs and put them on my phone. But after watching High Fidelity, it’s the kind-of movie that makes vinyl look cool to even someone like me who doesn’t live and breathe music. The soundtrack is absolutely killer and I’ll try and find every song that’s listed in this film which will keep me busy for awhile.

The film is clever as Rob goes through his breakups, analyzing his wrongdoings and why he’s doomed to being single. The screenplay, written by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Thornby, has clever insight into relationships as there’s no such thing as perfection, and Rob learns this as he’s stuck over-analyzing the past.

High Fidelity article
John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

It’s a unique comedy in that way as he sorts through his past the way he sorts his record collection, and he literally starts to sort it autobiographically and how each record has impacted his life. Rob could literally just tell a story about every record and it would still be fascinating because the writing here is so strong and Rob’s so knowledgeable. The film uses the record store as a parallel for living in the past as the world keeps moving past vinyl.

Jack Black is a highlight as Barry, one of the employees at Rob’s record store Championship Vinyl. He’s obnoxious and hilarious and embodies rock and roll here. It’s signature Jack Black that seemed like a preview of his antics in Richard Linklater’s 2003 film School of Rock. He’s the best part of this for me. The other record store employee, Dick (Todd Louiso), is awkward and balances the trio of employees out. I can’t remember any of his jokes, but I like the chemistry of the group as they just shoot the shit and discuss their favourite records.

That’s what a lot of this film is, their banter and it’s entertaining because they’re great together. The best scenes are when they’re just talking, though when Laura’s new boyfriend Ian/Ray (Tim Robbins) comes in and confronts Rob, that’s one of the best scenes in the record store.

The characters get snobby as they judge people for their personal tastes in music and film, and their elitist attitudes are acknowledged but realistic to their characters. They’re still likable because this is definitely how I’d discuss films with my friends if I ever worked with them.

I know that if I ever went into Championship Vinyl they probably wouldn’t sell me anything because I couldn’t tell them my top five favourite bands. In turn, I just wouldn’t sell them anything if they came into my imaginary Blockbuster Video.

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John Cusack in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

Rob is an asshole and that’s something I wasn’t expecting going into this. It’s an unfiltered look at relationships, and I think that’s why Rob tends to get unlikable in his cynicism. John Cusack is great, though, and the dialogue’s clever. His constant fourth wall breaking is also a clever way to tell this story.

I think there’s something missing in the romance with Laura. Iben Hjejle is good, but there’s something missing here and I can’t quite put my finger on it. This might be the point of the film as Rob tries to find the perfect relationship but can’t because a perfect relationship doesn’t exist for him. There’s always something not quite right that he can’t identify. Hence, he accepts his fate and learns to be a better person, and that’s what made me love the last third of this film.

For the record (that’s not supposed to be a pun), I don’t love this as much as I wanted to. I think that’s because I’m not a music guy. Maybe after I know which bands and songs they’re actually listing in their conversations, I could love this because I’d know what they’re talking about.

I think High Fidelity is brilliantly written and acted, and so well-directed by Stephen Frears. There are just parts of this I can’t fall in love with it because I don’t like rock and roll as much as these characters. I think this film accomplishes its job because the cast’s passion for this music makes me want to love rock and roll as much as them.

Score: 75/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #17: Love Actually (2003)

29 Days of Romance, Review #17: Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually poster
IMDb

Directed by: Richard Curtis. Starring: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Emma Thompson. Runtime: 2h 15 min. Released: November 14, 2003 (original US release date).

Love Actually follows the lives of eight different couples dealing with their love lives in various ways in loosely interrelated tales set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

This is a Christmas classic that I haven’t seen until now, and it’s probably weird to review a Christmas movie in mid-February, but it’s a romance film, too, so I’m doing it anyway. Thankfully this is a film that I loved (I’m thankful for that because yesterday’s Across the Universe was a doozy).

Richard Curtis’ writing and great direction handles all the tales well and for the most part, they all feel like they have balance. They’re all connected in some way and that makes the world building more interesting, though you’ll need a map to remember how each person and each couple relates to each other. I also couldn’t list the couples and their stories without looking at the cast list.

Love Actually article
Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually. (IMDb)

What works best about Love Actually is that it’s just a feel-good Christmas movie about love and taking risks around the holiday season. Some sub-plots are problematic, like the voyeuristic Mark (Andrew Lincoln), who’s in love with best friend Peter’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) new wife Juliet (Keira Knightley). While you should take risks for love around Christmas, this whole sub-plot is the weakest of them all. Ejiofor is a great actor who gets very little to do here, and the only scene of worth in their tale is the “All You Need is Love” bit at their wedding.

The pacing in Love Actually is generally strong, but I think this is the only tale that I could justify taking out of the film so we can spend more time with the better characters. The only other tale I could try to make an argument for editing out is Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall), who can’t find love and think his problem is the fact that he’s just so basic in England, so he sets out for America to find a love there. I could make an argument for taking it out because it’s one-note, but there are also a couple of good belly laughs and cameos here and has some smart humour from Richard Curtis.

Otherwise, everyone else’s story feels justified here. I really liked the tale with Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz) as I thought the language barrier was handled in a very creative way. Him staying in a cabin and their romance blossoming the way it does feels like it does a Nicholas Sparks movie better than Nicholas Sparks.

I loved the tale with the Prime Minster (Hugh Grant) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), because that’s funny from the start and these two tales seem to get the most screen time. Their romance was also just generally engaging.  I really loved Emma Thompson’s character in this one, Karen, who is a main connector of some of these tales as she’s dealing with her husband Harry (Alan Rickman).

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Martine McCutcheon and Hugh Grant in Love Actually. (IMDb)

I don’t mean to be boring just listing each tale and saying what I like about them, but it’s hard to talk about the charming Love Actually without going through its romances. It’s interesting how it depicts non-romances too, like a singer Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) who’s trying to be the No. 1 Holiday song with his new release “Christmas Is All Around,” which is super catchy. His tale is hilarious and it’s a lot about his friendship with his manager Joe (Gregor Fisher). The film also has a smart tale about young love with Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who’s trying to get the attention of a girl at his school. His father Daniel (Liam Neeson) has also just recently lost his wife, so that’s an enriching part of his character.

That’s the thing with Love Actually, these characters all feel well-developed in their own ways and for the most part, they’re all likable. Rowan Atkinson is a notable scene-stealer as Rufus, a jewelry salesman, and I would have loved to have known more about him. My expectations were met with this film because it made me laugh a lot and I cried, too.

There’s one couple here that I’ve never heard anyone talk about and that’s the romance between John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page). They’re stand-ins for a porn film – so if people only see this on TV that’s why they don’t talk about it – and their awkward dialogue during their “scenes” are really funny. Love Actually is just generally funny, too, and I feel like it’s solid Christmas entertainment that could be viewed outside of the Christmas season, because it’s just about love, happiness and family and that’s nice year-round.

Score: 80/100