Thursday, January 28, 2021

Movie Review: Batman Soul of the Dragon


Michael's Movie Grade: B

A fast paced and fun animated action movie.

This movie certainly shines its best during the flash back scenes. These scenes are excellent. They not only give us a real insight into who the characters are, but are smartly written and a lot of fun to watch. Watching these characters interacting with each other is a delight and it especially shines in these scenes. Things like how they all react to the challenge of breaking the rock and them trying to figure out what is behind the door tell us all we need to know about these characters in a short time frame. This is important because much of the run time is taken up with action scenes and these scenes would not mean a thing if we never got to know who these characters are. Even in the present day (okay this 2021 movie takes place in the 1970's but you know what I mean), the interactions between our protagonists is really entertaining if all to brief. I love how though they haven't seen each other in a long time they still know each other inside and out because of how much they shared in past experiences (that is really clever and good writing). The action scenes themselves are a lot of fun. They are very much in the style of 1970's martial arts films and capture everything that made those movies so much fun while putting them much more over the top in the most fun way possible. 

This film certainly does have a few problems though. The villain is rather bland and one wishes that the film spent more time setting up the villain among its many actions scenes. Speaking about villains when this film early on shows one of the villains torturing a prostitute, the scene seems to be there for no reason but to throw a little sex into the movie and show off their fancy R rating. There is also the fact that much of the dialogue (especially in the movie's climax) is completely cliché and predictable.    

All in all this may not be one of the best DC animated movies, but it is still a heck of a lot of fun. 

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Movie Review: News of the World


Michael's Movie Grade: A-

As a fan of westerns I am always wishing that more westerns would be made today. So when a top notch western movie comes out in today's time, I am overjoyed. News of the World is that movie. 

This film takes a simple storyline that has been in movies since the silent era (most famously Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921)) and turns it into something that feels new and refreshing. This is the story of an adult and a kid who are both outsiders who meet and form a lasting bond that changes them both. Of course the most important ingredient in a film like this is that we completely believe the relationship between the two main characters. Luckily the film successeds incredibly well at this (something made all the more impressive once you consider that the two characters don't speak the same language). If I were asked to pinpoint the exact moment in which these two became so close, I could not. This is because like real life friendships (I don't think I could pinpoint when me and a close friend became friends), it happens so gradually and naturally that you just completely believe it. When things seem to just naturally happen and yet are fully believable you know you are watching great storytelling. Of course this is enhanced by the great performances of Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. Tom Hanks of course is an actor of the highest quality and never fails to give a great performance. Helena Zengel however fully hold her own with Tom Hanks and provides this movie with its most powerfully moments. This movie also heavily benefits from excellent direction by Paul Greengrass. Greengrass knows that in a movie like this, the slow and quiet scenes are just as important as any big action scene. Because of this he never rushes a single scene, but instead allows the film to take all the time it needs. This allows us to not only enjoy the movie but get completely absorbed in it. It is often in scenes that allow us to stop and take a moment with the characters and the atmosphere that movies work their greatest magic and that is certainly true here. Yet when this film does move into its action scenes it handles them expertly (then again what else so you except from a man who directed 3 Jason Borne movies). The transitions between the slow scenes and the action scenes never feel abrupt or jarring but instead feel completely natural. 

This is a top notch western all the way and if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.   

Monday, January 18, 2021

Movie Review: Double Dad (Um Pai no Meio do Caminho)

 Michael's Movie Grade: B

An irresistibly charming family movie from Brazil.

The greatest appeal of this movie is our main character. In lesser hands this character could have easily come off as cloying. However this movie does not leave this character in lesser hands. This character is not only adorable, but is naturally and effortlessly so. Much of this is due to a script that truly make her incredible likable. Still the main ingredient in pulling this character off is an excellent performance by Maisa Silva. This performance completely captures of the child like joy of this character. Though comedy ideas like her not knowing what an escalator or an elevator are, have been used in plenty of movies, seeing it through the eyes of this character makes them work. The humor in these scenes does not come from her naiveté but from her joy at discovering a whole new world. Instead of laugh at her (like many other movies would have us do), we simply enjoy seeing this lovable character on her first real adventure. Just as charming as the character herself is her relationships with her two 

possible fathers (the story involves her not knowing who her dad is but believing it must be one of two men). These relationships feel completely fleshed out and you perfectly believe in how these two men grow to love her so fast. You truly grow to hope each perspective "dad" is her real father when you see them with her. Her own romance is also quite charming and believable. 

To be fair this movie does have its faults. Certain plot points do feel rather forced and most of the time you know completely where this film is going. 

If you want to see this charming movie, it premiered on Netflix just a few days ago. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Movie Review: Greyhound

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

A tense and gripping World War 2 thriller. 

Though before watching this you may think this is just another World War 2 action movie but it is surprisingly a bit of a risk taker. This movie takes almost entirely on the place of one ship with the entire film focusing on one character (with most of the other characters mainly being there to effect his emotional state and give him people to talk to). I honestly had my doubts a movie in this fashion could keep my attention for a feature length (though this film is rather short compared to most modern day features). I could not have been more wrong. This movie is completely Tom Hanks' (he even wrote the script) movie. Hank's is an actor of rare talent and a true movie star (in the tradition of those from the golden age of Hollywood).Though this is a fast moving film, full of action, Hank's performance brings a real humanity. It is rare that we get a real nuanced performance in these fast paced action films and that made me appreciate what he achieved here even more. Through just the expressions on his face he conveys everything we need to know about this character with out the movie ever having to slow down. Still this is a pure action movie through and through. The action is on a large scale, yet never is overblown or unrealistic. These action scenes are simply a thrill to watch and keep you glued to your seat from the start to the end. I will admit though that watching these action scenes, I couldn't stop thinking about how great this would have looked on a big screen (but unfortunately this was not a possibility in late 2020 and early 2021). Despite this they still looked very impressive on our home TV. 

This is a thrill a minute action thriller that all fans of war movies (including me) should enjoy.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Movie Review: The Heartbreak Club (Sobat Ambyar)

 Michael's Movie Grade: B

A delightful and charming comedy-drama from Indonesia.

While this movie is not extremely original and often falls into the realm of cliché, it tells its story earnestly and with such a good heart that I simply couldn't resist it. Despite being about heartaches and broken relationships, there is not an ounce of cynicism in this movie and during such a cynical time as this, the movie becomes all the more refreshing because of that. 

The characters are absolutely delightful. Though the story itself falls into clichés these characters never for a second feel like anything less than real. Their personalities are not the simple one note personalities they could have been. Much of this is due not only to a well crafted script (by Bagus Bramanti (who also co-directed) and  Gea Rexy) but also due to a cast (lead by Bhisma Mulia (in his movie debut), Denira Wiraguna, Sisca JKT48 (in her movie debut) and Erick Estrada), whose performances are just as heartfelt and earnest as the script. Since the characters feel real the emotional moments in the story are quite effective. The film is also helped by some really funny humor. I admit to not excepting to laugh out loud watching this movie, but I did quite a few times. There are also along with the funny scenes plenty of scenes that are just flat out charming, in a way that never feels forced or consciously cute.

If you would like to see this charming movie, it was released to Netflix just today. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Movie Review: Pieces of a Woman

 Michael's Movie Grade: F

A depressing dirge of a movie. 

It is hard to argue with this movie being sad. There are few things sadder than the death of a baby or the falling apart of a marriage. These things are naturally sad and any movie that has either of these is going to cause tears. However once you get past the natural sadness of the subject matter there is little else to like about this film. In fact this is simply an incredibly  unpleasant way to spend 2 hours. The characters are largely unlikable and too much of the running time is spent on them just being unlikable. This does not succeed in giving the film more depth or making it feel more real. Instead it simply makes it more of a chore to sit through. The husband (Shia LaBeouf) is certainly the worst offender in this case. Pretty much any scene with this character in it. One rape like scene made me simply want to leave the room until it was over. While it took a lot of endurance to make it that far, this scene increases the amount of endurance needed much further. This is not helped by the story simply consisting of one depressing movie cliché after another. This would be forgivable if there was any depth or point beyond things that are obviously depressing are depressing. Unfortunately the only purpose this movie has is to make one miserable.  This is heightened by the fact that there is never a light scene in this whole movie. These scenes however are important to any feature length sad film. You need light scenes sometimes thrown in, not to offset the sad scenes but rather so that the film doesn't become one relentless depressing experience to the point where it is simply hard to watch. There is a strong difference between movies with depressing scenes or depressing endings and movies that are just depressing dirges. This is something that is equally true in mainstream entertainment and art house films. Of course this isn't helped by the fact that the sadness of this movie doesn't come from good writing or good characters but rather only from using events that are depressing simply because they exist. Even if this movie was better made I can't picture anyone actually wanting to watch this. The fact that this movie isn't better made only furthers that point. 

This movie is even dogged down further by dialogue and story points that feel incredibly forced (a conversation about The White Stripes being a prime example). The movie also struggles to even find its own focus at points as much of the run time seems like pointless padding. While it still wouldn't be a good movie, there was definitely a lot more editing to be done here. 

Perhaps there are those who will get something out of this film that I didn't, but as far as I can see the only reason to watch this is if you feel like you are simply not depressed enough. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Movie Review: Godmothered


Michael's Movie Grade: D-

Note: This film is only available on Disney+

Unfunny and kind of annoying fantasy comedy. 

This movie is extremely reminiscent of Elf and Enchanted, but isn't as charming or funny as either. Even the main character often feels like a (very) poor man's version of Buddy the Elf.  With this film only being available for home viewing this becomes a bigger problem as you begin wondering why you aren't just watching the aforementioned options instead. Godmothered mostly relies on the comedy of a character from another world confused by the things in our world. Not only have we see this a whole lot of times before, but many of those times were quite a bit funnier than this. These jokes feel so forced and I honestly don't remember if I laughed once while watching this. You can tell that Jillian Bell is really trying her, but no matter how hard she tries she can't make these jokes funny. This wouldn't be so bad if the movie relied more on its sentiment or characters, but sadly they too often this film is bad joke after bad joke. This is not to say though that the less comedic parts of this movie work, because they really don't. While I don't except or want subtly from a movie like this, it would still be preferable to how this movie beats you over the head with what it is trying to say. It feels like the dialogue is constantly saying flat out how the filmmakers want you to feel. So much of this dialogue is not only forced but unnecessary as they are saying what we already have inferred by the story. This gets much worse with the ending. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with movies having messages but the execution is not that good. At this point it began to feel like I was listening to a motivational speaker instead of watching a movie and it kept going on long after I got the point it was trying to make. 

All and All skip this movie. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984

 Michael's Movie Grade: C

As much as this movie has been getting panned I fully admit I actually enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong, I by no means think this is a highpoint of superhero cinema but I still had fun watching it. 

One of the main components to me that makes this film work is Diana herself. She is just as likable and real as she was in the first movie. She is still a character who is all heart. To see the compassion and care she gives to Barbra endears her to me completely. Though a major part of the story has Barbra feeling inferior to Diana, Diana doesn't only not treat her this way, but doesn't even see her that way. This kind of compassion is just what I love to see in my superheroes and I loved seeing it here. Yet at the same time (without giving spoilers) she is not a perfect person and like many of us can struggle when it comes to putting others in front of herself, this is also handled quite well by this movie and makes her feel real and human to us. Though (the mysteriously alive) Steve can be somewhat underused, the chemistry between the two is still perfect. Also even with the obvious foreshadowing I love the introductory scene with Diana as a little girl. 

This is not to say I did not see the beyond obvious faults in this movie. For me the worst (though thankful one of the briefest) fault was the flirting scenes between Max and Barbra. These were poorly written (does she or anybody for that matter think his jokes were funny), incredibly forced, awkward and just plain painful to watch. A problem which showed itself throughout the majority of the movie was using two villains. I am always amazed by with how rarely this device works, so many superhero movies keep doing it. The problem is that one villain will have to unfortunately take a back seat to the other. I honestly felt that Max Lord was a less interesting villain than the Cheetah, yet he is made the main villain and she is forced to the background. While some of the humor with this character early on is not very good I actually found myself enjoying the Cheetah, and therefore found it disappointing that her story was often quite rushed and underdeveloped. Max Lord on the other hand was kind of a boring villain. Also (no spoilers) the ending didn't quite work for me. 

I completely understand why so many people hated this movie and don't blame them at all for that. Yet I honestly enjoyed it.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Silent Film of the Month: Suds (1920)

 Run Time: 75 minutes. Studio: United Artists. Director:  John Francis Dillon. Writer: Waldemar Young. Based on a play by Frederick Fenn and Richard Pryce. Producer: Mary Pickford. Main Cast: Mary Pickford, Albert Austin, Harold Goodwin, Rosa Dione, Nadine Montgomery. Cinematographers: Charles Rosher, L.W. O’Connell.

I always feel it is a good idea to start a new year off with something that will make you smile, and Mary Pickford never fails to make me smile. There are movie stars that have an incredible amount of talent and who I always enjoy watching, but then there are movie stars who have that little extra something. This something is a certain unexplainable presence that sets them apart from any of their contemporaries. These are the stars that are truly one of a kind. Mary is certainly one of these. There is something about Mary that defies description, yet makes me light up every time I see her on screen. 

This movie presents us with a Cinderella type of story. Amanda (Mary Pickford) is a poor woman working as a laundry woman. Like Cinderella's step sisters, her co-workers make fun of her and pick on her. She has a crush on a customer (Albert Austin) who hardly knows she exists. Tired of constantly being picked on, she lies to her co-workers that she and Horace are lovers that have been forcibly separated and that one day he will come back for her. 

There is no better word to describe Suds, than charming. This movie is oozing with an easy going but irresistible charm from the second it starts to the second it ends. Though she is rarely mentioned with the great silent comics, comedy remained an important part of much of Mary's work and was something she completely excelled at. This movie gives her plenty of great comic set pieces in which she plays to perfection. Yet these comedic moments are balanced with an equal amount of sentimentality. These two elements which could easily work against each other instead come together perfectly with both elements serving the story first and foremost, making it so instead of conflicting they help each other out making the other work all the better. This is only helped out by the instant likability of the main character. Of course having Mary Pickford in this role didn't hurt, and Waldemar Young's (who also served as a writer on such Lon Chaney vehicles as The Unknown (1927), The Unholy Three (1925), West of Zanzibar (1928) and London After Midnight (1927)) screenplay also does a fantastic job at this.

During this era, it was common for movie stars to have a favorite cinematographer and Charles Rosher (who worked on this film) was Mary Pickford's. He had worked with Mary on many of her best movies and watching any of them it is hard to not see why Mary loved his work so much. This film is no exception. This film has a very unique look that is extremely appealing. To fit the setting of the film, this movie must look like it takes place in a run down poor area, yet the story has a fairytale like quality and the look should also reflect that. This movie somehow perfectly captures both at the same time. While I do not give all the credit for this to one man, there is no doubt that Charles Rosher played a major role in making this work. Charles Rosher's non-Mary Pickford work was equally impressive. His other work included Sunrise (1927) (he and Karl Struss won the first Oscar for cinematography for their work in that film), The Yearling (1946), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Show Boat (1951) and Hollywood Hotel (1937).