Week Of 08.22.2021 Movie Reviews

Reviewing Reminiscence, Annette, Stillwater, And Joe Bell

- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film One Has Seen For The Year
- 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: Nicolas Bannister, a rugged and solitary veteran living in a near future Miami flooded by rising seas, is an expert in a dangerous occupation - he offers clients the chance to relive any memory they desire. His life changes when he meets a mysterious young woman named Mae. What begins as a simple matter of lost and found, becomes a passionate love affair. But when a different client’s memories implicate Mae in a series of violent crimes, Bannister must delve through the dark world of the past to uncover the truth about the woman he fell for.

- The Review: There’s a part of me that is a bit trepidatious in tackling a review for this film. Mainly because it is a passion project from its Writer and Director, Lisa Joy - one of the main minds behind the highly successful HBO series WESTWORLD. As a wannabe storyteller I have a ton of respect for anyone who is able to get their passion project accomplished whether it be in any medium of the craft. So I give my criticisms with full respect to that accomplishment.

That said modern Noir films haven’t really worked for me in the past couple years. They never seem to be outright horrible, but they rely heavily on so many tropes that I always feel pretty “meh” on them and never revisit them down the line like I do the golden age of Noir films from the thirties and forties. But to Joy’s credit, she put her Noir in a futuristic setting that plays around with sci-fi elements. The concept around the story she tells here is legitimately interesting to me, and the best part of the movie hands down. This leads to some interesting set designs and the cinematography is quite good leading to some stylish and cool shots for eye candy.

And the ensemble which includes such stars as Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Thandiwe Newton all give commendable performances. It feels like the crew were really invested in this, and to his credit Jackman has been virtually appearing at many screenings in the last week for this film while promoting it.

Unfortunately all the style, passion, and commendable performances can only elevate the film so much when like every modern Noir it has questionable dialogue, weak character motivations, trope Noir story turns, and lazy Deus Ex Machina moments throughout. Even in the middle of plenty of new elements you don’t tend to see in these Noir films, the movie’s script just can’t help but give us a feeling this is just copying other Noirs. I found myself cringing or chuckling at some of the dialogue and moments because it was such quintessential and predictable Noir in a way that at times comes too close to feeling like a parody every now and then. And it all culminates in a finish that is going to divide audiences and which I myself am still trying to figure out if it was brilliant or too overthought for its own good.

That said I did still kind of want to see where the mystery would end, and for all the tropes this has there is enough new elements in here to appreciate. This feels like it could have been something greater with a script cleanup, but maybe its such a high concept that it was always going to be something that earns the divisive reception its getting (critics seem to be harsh on it, while Film Twitter and audiences so far have been more middling). For me I didn’t necessarily see this as something worthy of a trip to the theatre, but I did think it was a fine watch for the weekend on HBO Max; and if you don’t have HBO Max I’d just say wait a few months to rent it on home media for a movie night-in. C+ for REMINISCENCE. With all due respect to someone accomplishing their passion project - Its got a lot of interesting style, but the substance in it just felt like another "just okay" modern Noir to me.

- The Plot: The story of Henry, a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humor, and Ann, a singer of international renown. In the spotlight, they are the perfect couple -healthy, happy, and glamourous. The birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious girl with an exceptional destiny, will change their lives.

- The Review: This film was getting a bit of buzz of having Oscars potential back in the Spring only to premiere at Cannes with “Good, but not great” buzz instead that has made it a longshot now that only keeps falling in my Oscars Best Picture Nominations Projections. And I think the film’s bold and bizarre turns both in its storytelling and visuals is what has driven this mixed sort of reception with the movie having middling critical reviews, decent but nothing special mainstream audience reception, and a pretty good reception from the cinephiles that dominate Film Twitter.

For me this film is a technical wonder much in the way THE GREEN KNIGHT was even though its a completely different genre of film and storytelling. The Direction stood out to me just fifteen minutes in, and I can see why the film won that award at Cannes. The acting is good to great with Marion Cotillard delivering the goods with her singing, Simon Helberg once again proving what an underrated Actor he is, and even an introductory Actress in little Devyn McDowell who shines in the small moments she gets. But the absolute standout is Adam Driver who has a balls to the wall performance that really impressed me and its a shame its one that will likely not be the role he gets an Oscar nomination for (likely HOUSE OF GUCCI for that one).

Now what about the music, provided by the Sparks Brothers who are enjoying great notoriety this year between this film and their potential Best Documentary Oscar contender. Well, while the music does fall flat sometimes, its overall enjoyable and catchy more times than not. Its also a bit different than what you’d expect from a typical musical with its rock influences and especially with some of the numbers where would be dancing is replaced by such actions as doing standup comedy, drunkily dancing, being at the club, or even sex. The cinematography and set pieces are amazing, and create a great mood for every scene that matches that individual moment in the story. Its really a well-done film.

But I can’t give this an A tier ranking either because its story, and the way it progresses to become a bit of a somber film (Granted a somber film with some happy tunes) about a self destructive man and the way he exploits his daughter, is going to make this something that can be inaccessible to some and thus why I think the Academy won’t go for this. Now I can forgive that as ultimately this is my review, but the third act is where the movie started to lose me even with all the wonder of the great technical filmmaking when it really gets dark. This is a wild and ambitious film that just proves to be too ambitious for its own good at times with a story that some will appreciate, some will recoil from, and others like me will appreciate but not necessarily be in a rush to revisit either.

Overall this is a greatly directed, acted, sung, scored, shot, etc film. As someone who had no choice but Amazon Prime, I honestly would have enjoyed this more than not on the big screen. But it isn’t the crowd pleaser the songs might trick you into thinking it is, and I did come away feeling like the movie was a bit overlong with the ultimate message of the film seeming to be a bit all over the place - and all leading to a somber ending that didn’t necessarily leave me in the best of moods. B- for ANNETTE. A wild, ambitious, unique, dark musical that might become a cult classic in due time with some.

- The Plot: Bill Baker, an American oil rig roughneck from Oklahoma, travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter, Allison, who is in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, Bill builds a new life for himself in France as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate his daughter.

- The Review: Since he hit jackpot with the Oscar Best Picture STILLWATER back in 2015, Director Tom McCarthy’s next dramatic project has been eagerly anticipated from film critics and after a softer project in last year’s TIMMY FAILURE we finally have that next potential Oscar vehicle with STILLWATER. But unfortunately for him, the PR around this project has been a nightmare.

First you had the curious decision by the studio to release this in the middle of the Summer, months away from Awards season. Then you had the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival which received a “Good but not great.” reception. That was followed up by lead role Matt Damon’s bizarre interview where he made questionable remarks regarding his use of a slur against homosexuals. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Amanda Knox , who has been brought up time and time again by McCarthy during press for this film, railed against the movie literally the day before it opened wide. Instead of his next Oscar vehicle, McCarthy’s new film has ended up a well but not beloved received film attached with various controversies.

This came about a month ago now and I been meaning to get to it so I jumped when the chance was presented to me this week. I tried to keep all the controversies around this one out of my mind and just accept the film as is. And what I got was actually a pretty decent film that shows glimpses of McCarthy’s great filmmaking from his SPOTLIGHT days. The acting from top to bottom is commendable to really good with Damon himself delivering an otherwise Oscar worthy performance to get nominated for if the field ends up soft enough come awards season. I also have to give props to Camille Cottin who is usually known in France for some comedic roles but does a great supporting role here as our lead protagonist’s love interest.

The writing when it comes to the dialogue and the arcs these characters go through are well done as well. The Directing is unsurprisingly good, and the language barrier is used to great effect with the way its use in the storytelling. The film can shift tones effortlessly in that you can be just as comfortable with it being a mystery thriller one scene and a dramatic or even romantic story of redemption in the very next one. Most of the first half honestly had me thinking I might end up calling this one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

But unfortunately the movie’s second half starts to get in the way of this film’s potential. Subplots spring up here and there, some even being dropped randomly only to be picked back up, as the story decides to take in extra baggage and the runtime continues well past two hours. There’s a point where the movie just started to feel a bit too bloated for me even with some of the good writing in this. Its not so much that the movie overstays its welcome, as it just lingers in the second act for too long before a third act that leaves you kind of just staring at the credits with the feeling of “So…that’s it?”

I really wish this screenplay got cleaned up a bit and the editor had been more aggressive and persuasive with McCarthy to trim fat out, or otherwise I’d think this film could perhaps survive its controversies to be both better received and have a better shot making any noise come awards season. There was a much better movie in here. That said the movie we did get while a bit bloated and overlong, with what I thought was a “meh” ending, was still a pretty decent drama. B- for STILLWATER. At the very least I hope Damon gets another look for his great performance in this.

- The Plot: The true story of a small town working class father who embarks on a solo walk across the U.S. to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay.

- The Review: This film came out nearly a month ago now, but its one that has been popping up on my radar for various reasons since…really, last year. From its festival premiere that lead some to speculate it as an early Oscars contender, to the negative word of mouth coming out of the festival that killed that speculation right away, to the re-editing and pushed back release, to the controversy around lead actor Mark Wahlberg’s previous comments on homosexuality leading to some criticism of this being an apologia propaganda piece for his brand. And yet I’ve also heard some dissenting voices who said they liked this and thought there was still a strong message to find in it.

I’ll keep this as short as I possibly can. I came away from this a bit underwhelmed and yet not despising it as hard as others have.

Given this is based on an actual true story that has a gut punch of an ending that took me aback when the film ends (I was not aware that was how this journey ended for the real-life Joe Bell), I do think there are glimpses of a better film with an emotional core. Wahlberg gives a commendable enough performance as the titular character, while Reid Miller really does shine as his late son whether he be playing the tragic figure in life or post-life.

That said the movie’s subject matter, the generic and formulaic way of touching on such a subject matter, and the decision to add a little bit of a supernatural twist to the real life story is a major weight on this. Not to mention an ending that might be true to the real-life events, but I thought was a bit clunkily used in this film to give us a sudden and heart sinking finish that just felt a bit off with where the film seem to be headed. Its a real-life tragic ending, but the film could have handled it better than I feel it did.

Overall while you get past glimpses of good to great acting and the emotional core of the events that this film is based on, this ultimately feels like something generic to mediocre that you could probably just rent at home when it shows up on home media for two or three bucks on VOD or the local Redbox. C+ for JOE BELL. It has good intentions, but ultimately proves more forgettable than this should have been on paper.

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