As promised, here’s Part 2 of my movie catch-up post of all the films I saw in 2019 that I wanted to talk about but felt didn’t warrant full-length reviews.
‘Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film. Oh boy.
This film has gained some infamy for its portrayals of the Manson murders and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), and some notoriety for its gritty, detailed portrayal of 1960s Hollywood.
The film follows washed up Western Star Rick Dalton (Lenoardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Bad Pitt), as they come to terms coming out of their primes and into obscurity. Dalton is able to find work, even if it’s not the roles he would have preferred, playing villains on TV often in one-off appearances, eventually catching a second and last wind of his career in Italy, where he starred in a few of their Westerns. Booth is less lucky, having been blacklisted for allegedly killing his ex-wife, though Dalton keeps him employed, having him look after his house, perform odd jobs, and also serve as his driver.
They cross paths with the Manson family, but in typical Tarantino fashion, history doesn’t play out the way the way it did in real life.
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, flaws and all, and is definitely worth a watch.
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” gets an 8.9/10
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The Netflix Films
Netflix has been producing some very quality content with big-name actors, and “The Highwaymen” kicked off the year of great titles for me.
The film stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as two FBI agents in the 30s who are tasked with hunting down Bonnie and Clyde (Emily Brobst and Edward Bossert), who have been robbing banks and leaving piles of bodies in their wake.
Costner and Harrelson have a great dynamic akin to Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham’s chemistry in “Hell or High Water,” and the movie is very historically-accurate, which adds a great amount of depth and believability to the tale.
“The Highwaymen” in many ways is a response to 1967’s “Bonnie And Clyde,” which glorified the killers and cemented their legacy in American folklore. “The Highwaymen” deconstructs their legend, displaying all the gory details of their rampage and their demise in an attempt to portray the true Bonnie and Clyde, and the men who worked hard to bring their terror to an end.
“The Highwaymen” gets and 8.9/10
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This technically came out before “The Highwaymen,” but I saw it afterwards.
Polar is a fantastic action film in which Mads Mikkelsen plays an assassin about to enter retirement, named Duncan Vizla, who is also known as “The Black Kaiser.”
He works for an assassin company named Damocles, and is about to be entitled to a generous retirement payout of $8 million, something Damocles never lets happen, as they kill their assassins before they can reach retirement age. Vizla naturally is the best assassin Damocles has ever had, even in his old age, and what ensues is an all-out war between Vizla and the company.
“Polar” is fun, packed with style, has a villain we hate (Damocles CEO Mr. Blut [Matt Lucas]), colorful and fun assassins, and Mads Mikkelsen being cool.
This film has a 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and I can resoundingly say that they don’t know what they’re talking about. This is the Netflix equivalent of a 90s action movie. It doesn’t have to be high art. It has to be exciting, cool, and frenetic, and it accomplished all of that.
“Polar” gets an 8/10
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‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’
This is not a perfect movie, and despite its flaws, there’s still a decent amount to like about it. This Ted Bundy biopic shocked the world with its casting of Zac Efron as the killer, prompting think pieces about how this plays into our culture of glorifying serial killers, while others noted that the casting was fitting as Ted Bundy was not a basement-dwelling weirdo, but a good-looking man who used his charms to lure women to their deaths.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” suffers much in the way “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood,” does in regards to the fact that if you’re unfamiliar with who Ted Bundy was or did (or in that film’s case, the Manson murders), you’ll be very confused about what is going on, especially with the timeline of certain events. In fact, in my opinion, that’s the danger of these serial killer and mass murder films that assume we already know all the major details and just give us the cliff notes — they risk spreading misinformation about these killers, perhaps even risk glorifying them, because they think they are at liberty to delete major details that reveal how awful and dangerous these people are, assuming we’ll fill in the blanks. This rings especially true for younger audience members, who were born decades after many famous serial killers became old news.
Efron plays a great Bundy, and his performance is the best part of the film, but the direction is highly questionable, as it plays a dangerous “did he do it, did he not?” game that only serves to perpetuate conspiracy theories. I get that the filmmakers wanted to portray how the murders felt in the moment and make us understand why so many people fell for Bundy’s charms, but it never properly pulls back the curtain to portray Bundy for who he really was, or just how dangerous he was, which is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity in the whole film.
The point of casting someone like Efron as Bundy is to show that even people who look like him and who has his social skills can be monsters, but we never see Efron play the monstrous side of Bundy, as virtually everything evil or remotely violent he does happens off-screen. Most of the film is re-enactments of courtroom scenes anyone can watch online.
Its still a competent film, and if you already know the story of Bundy, it’s a decent supplement to something like “The Ted Bundy Tapes.” But its remarkable qualities — Efron’s acting, the attention to detail in what the film does show — only serve to keep the movie from being mediocre, rather than elevate it to greatness.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” gets a 5/10
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This movie has the stupidest and most offensive premises I’ve seen of any film in a long while.
In a nutshell, it’s about a pedophile elite music teacher named Anton (Steve Weber), who sexually abuses kids in order for them to play the cello to perfection.
Yeah, you heard me right. He essentially rapes them to play the cello.
Allison Williams does a fine job as the lead, and the first third of the movie is intriguing, as it is slowly reveals through a series of bizarre events (Williams’ character tricks another student to cut off her hand with a meat cleaver in China), who the villain of the film truly is (Anton, and his messed up high society cult that allows his crimes to be perpetuated).
The film bears weary echoes to “Ready or Not,” a film I almost walked out of. Despite a stellar cast, the direction and script are so out there and its subject is handled so hamfistedly that I wish Netflix saved this cast for another project. “The Perfection” is a blip on an otherwise stellar year for Netflix.
“The Perfection” gets a 2/10
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It’s an Adam Sandler film. And it’s good.
The film follows New York police officer Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) as they embark on their honeymoon to Europe 15 years late. On the plane there, they run into billionaire Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), who invites them to vacation on his yacht, where his wealthy uncle Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp) is about to marry his former fiancee. When the lights go out on the boat, Quince is found murdered, and the Spitzs find themselves in the midst of a murder mystery.
The film is filled with colorful characters that all stand out in their own ways, and has a mystery that is simple enough to follow but is complex enough where you won’t know who “done it” until the final minutes of the third act. “Murder Mystery” has all the hallmarks of Sandler’s best films, including visual and verbal gags and brilliant character acting.
“Murder Mystery” gets an 8/10