Week Of 08.15.2021 Movie Reviews

Reviewing Free Guy, Respect, And CODA

- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film One Has Ever Seen, Everyone Has An S Film
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
- Reminder: Reviews For These Films Can Change Over Time And Will Be Reflected Over At Our Letterboxd

- The Plot: A bank teller called Guy realizes he is a background character in an open world video game called Free City that will soon go offline.

- The Review: Before I start this review, I should probably confess I am NOT a gamer. In fact as I’ve grown older my interest in video games has only gone down, with my PlayStations sitting at home for only my wife to play games with and my use for them as just DVD and/or Blu Ray players. So while the concept with this film in using an NPC as a protagonist and mixing the in-game storyline with a “real world” one that touches on corporate selling out and a breaking out from the pack mentality is an interesting idea, I wasn’t necessarily vibrating with anticipation either when I went to go see this at my local theatre’s premiere screening on a Thursday night.

And frankly there’s plenty in this that should point to a mediocre product…

The characters can be hit or miss and a bit predictable, and our main villain played by the usually great Taika Waititi (Who happens to at least be trying to have fun with this role) can be a bit overbearing and annoying when he’s on screen and not in a “That’s how you’re supposed to feel about him” kind of way - bad heat as the wrestling writers may describe it. Characters of color are pushed to the back as sort of sidekicks and the overwhelmingly important characters of the ensemble are dominated by a white cast at a time that diversity is becoming more mainstream in these major studio films.

The gamer culture Easter eggs in this, particularly with the various gaming streamers’ cameos had me rolling my eyes and cringing at almost every scene featuring them. Gamers are even insulted in this with typical stereotypes such as “the guy living with his mom” at a time gaming has evolved to come into the mainstream and “cool” - which just made those jokes feel more offensive to me than poking fun at the gaming world and I say this as a non gamer! Furthermore there are some cheap soundtrack needle drops in this and some jokes linger on too long and start to overstay their welcome a bit. There’s also some really cheap Easter eggs in regards to Disney properties in the climax which itself makes the film overstay its welcome a tad.

And yet the film also had moments of brilliance that somehow turned a mediocre product into something with a little bit more substance and an overall entertaining and enjoyable summer flick.

The characters may be hit or miss, but thankfully Ryan Reynolds shines as our protagonist “Just…Guy” and his charisma and comic timing saves the material at times to create some legit laugh out loud moments. Some character arcs are subverted towards the end, creating a theme in regards with many to what one does with their own life and daring to be different from others. There’s an attempt to give a little depth to the background roles enough that I felt myself caring about Guy saving his world from deletion and rooting for him in the climax as he raced against time. I actually felt myself being on the edge of my seat at one moment,

As cringe as some of the gaming culture and Disney Easter eggs could be, sometimes they worked to great effect including some hilarious cameos from some major film stars - including a certain MCU star! The gaming aspects of the world built around Guy and his friends is done well enough that I could buy a game like this being uber-popular and there’s even small details in the background of things like game glitches to really immerse you into this digital world. I get the feeling that if a non-gamer like me could appreciate such care to details about open world gaming and the culture around the gaming lifestyle, I can’t imagine what a real hardcore gamer will come away appreciating and enjoying themselves about this film.

On paper this should be a “just okay” to mediocre and forgettable film, but somehow there was enough effort put into the world building, the leaning into the gaming industry knowledge, and Reynold’s charisma to elevate this to the level of a film I actually would recommend one sees on the big screen if they’re super curious to see it; not to mention I can see this having a cult classic type following among future gamers. B- for FREE GUY. A film that is the definition of being better than it probably should’ve been.

- The Plot: The rise of Aretha Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to her international superstardom.

- The Review: Talk about a film with a mixed reception. This biopic on Aretha Franklin has been received with middling reviews from critics, some backlash from the “Film Twitter” and Letterboxd crew, great applause from mainstream audiences, and great debate from “Awards Twitter”. Now having seen the film for myself, I understand why each feels the way they do - but ultimately I tend to side with the mainstream audiences more than not on this one.

On one hand the Oscars-bait musician biopic has become a stale trope each year with the Academy being very hit or miss with which ones they embrace. It arguably started out with 2004’s great reception for RAY followed up by the great reception for 2005’s WALK THE LINE - a film that just felt like the Southern white version of the former. Since then musician biopics have gotten more and more pushback with a significant amount of cinephiles understandably losing their patience with the formula. I think that’s why critics have been middling in their views on this one, while the cinephiles have been outright angry and frustrated by yet another one of these films coming out just as awards season is around the corner.

The “Awards Twitter” crew meanwhile are debating as to whether this could be a great vehicle for Jennifer Hudson to at least get nominated for another Oscar worthy performance. Even those who have been harsh towards the film have praised her performance, and she begins a very heavy favorite to get nominated for Best Actress. There’s even supposed reports that at a recent SAG backed screening she specifically got a standing ovation from the incredibly important group of Academy voters. I can report back for myself that she is the absolute highlight of this film and I can see her absolutely perhaps getting a nomination.

The film does have its sins. It is first and foremost way too long. This could have been a modernly average two hour cut, there is no need for this to go on an extra thirty minutes than that. And the pacing at times can feel choppy as the narrative tries to shove you along hurriedly from time period to time period and from one phase to another of Franklin’s life. The scenes on how certain famous songs came to be are predictably dramatic, and likely not the true stories behind the making of such hit songs.

It hits all the trope checkmarks for the subgenre - the young child with problematic parents, the discovering of their talent, the rise, the abusive spouse, the fall, the re-rise, the addiction problems, the sobriety, the legacy build, the happy ending, etc. Its a predictable biopic that checks all the marks as it goes. And anytime it can expand on some of the darker parts of Franklin’s life, it seems to play it safe and not delve too deep into those moments. Its for these sins that I believe this movie has gotten such “meh” reception from critics and such a backlash of near hatred from the Letterboxd type of crowd.

But I also see why mainstream audiences are loving this. You get to see the life events of a legendary and iconic singer, you can find yourself tapping your toes at each musical piece that is featured, the costumes and makeup and hair are all great, the acting from the ensemble are all good to really good including Marlon Wayans in perhaps his best acting yet, and you find yourself rooting for Franklin to find peace in her successful life even if you already know how this is going to end. And I do think this film has gotten unfair hits from some who seem to cringe at its ability to embrace the very real fact about Franklin’s devoted faith to her Christian beliefs.

Yes this is a formulaic and standard biopic that does nothing new, and yes it does overstay its welcome. I get why this movie will get some backlash. But there’s still a beautiful story here on how a woman of minority status rose through trials and tribulations to become an icon to her industry and embrace the fact her faith was a major factor in that. Technically this is a well-done film with perhaps an Oscar worthy lead performance. For me (and mainstream audiences it seems), this was a feel-good biopic that won’t show up in my Best of the Year list, but I really did enjoy it for the most part and have no qualms about having watched it. B+ for RESPECT. It may be yet another musician biopic, but hey I enjoyed it quite a bit even with its warts and all. This is one movie that will really depend on how much is still left in your tank for another one of these.

- The Plot: As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.

- The Review: Every year it seems the Sundance Film Festival finishes with two or three movies being buzzed about as top tier awards contenders. This year those films were arguably JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (A film I graded an A-, and which got nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars), MASS (Coming out in October - hopefully), and this movie about a young woman leaving High School who has to choose between continuing to help her deaf parents and older brother or pursuing a shot at a musical scholarship - CODA.

The hype around this film has been massive with great word of mouth and talk of it being a Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor or Actress, or even a Screenplay contender. The buzz has been so much so that I initially rated the film #20 in my Oscars Projections for Best Picture, and then later bumped it up to #13 in my latest update after my concerns it could come off like a Hallmark TV movie were dispelled with promises of a film that would please crowds and capture their hearts. Now that I’ve seen the movie for myself I can say - I both bought and didn’t buy into the hype around this one. What I mean is…from an subjective standpoint I really liked (Didn’t outright love) this film, but from an objective standpoint I found myself wondering “How on Earth has this been buzzed about as an Oscars contender?!”

I can see why this movie is getting great word of mouth, will show up on folks’ Best of the Year lists, and has captured a fanbase ready to root for it come awards season. Its the definition of a crowd pleasing film your parents are going to love, its got characters with wit and their own arcs, and its got moments that hit you “in the feels” - particularly a really great scene towards the third act using the loss of sound to convey a realization moment for one character.

The moments with the family of our protagonist played by ACTUAL deaf actors in Marlee Matlin (Who legit could perhaps see an Oscar nomination for this if the field is weak enough in my opinion), Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant are my favorite parts. There’s great situational comedy that uses their disabilities without being insulting, there’s dramatic moments that don’t have to use loud shouting over one another to accomplish their goals, and there’s interesting dynamics that we get to see onscreen on how a deaf family communicates. I lit up inside every time the family dynamic would show up onscreen. And Emilia Jones who plays our protagonist delivers a great performance and has the legit voice to make you buy why our heroine would get a musical scholarship.

That said the film on a technical level from the cinematography to the score can feel basic as hell - I’d even go as far to label this as playing like an after school special if not a Hallmark Channel movie. The writing can have its cringe moments from a badly written bully character that seems to serve little purpose, to a stereotypical music teacher played by Eugenio Derbez who is doing a fine job with his acting but the character’s writing just didn’t work with me. Every time the story would shift away from the family dynamic and back to the drama of school and the choir, I would find myself getting bored. There’s also a lot of predictable story beats that would keep reminding me this was a film instead of immersing me in it. And I do think this film gets on a bit of a bad foot with a very choppy first half compared to a much better written second half.

The film’s technical amateur and TV-like look are among the reasons I’m a bit befuddled as to why this is being hyped as an awards contender. I just don’t see the Academy going that wild for a film that at times feels like I could catch it on Freeform as an original production for their channel. From an objective standpoint, this might be the most overrated awards contender of the season with folks who were understandably seduced by the crowd pleasing nature of this film overhyping its chances. I need more proof than buzz now to buy this as a Best Picture contender. This just doesn’t feel cinematic to me.

But from a subjective standpoint I really liked this film! I mean it just might be my favorite film of this new weekend even! Its got heart, an emotional core, great comedic moments, great dramatic moments, and one of the best family dynamics I’ve seen on film this year since perhaps IN THE HEIGHTS thanks to the representation of disabled actors who prove they can hang. This movie is going to mean so much for the deaf community and I salute them for pulling that off. I want to see more films willing to incorporate deaf actors. But its also weighed down by the fact I ultimately came away feeling like the movie was sort of an after school special that managed to punch way above its weight. B+ for CODA. I really liked this, but I can’t say I fell in love with this as hard as others have and you should be prepared to see this one likely get snubbed by the Academy and frankly for understandable reasons in my subjective opinion.

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