“The Goldfinch” stars Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Nicole Kidman. Released on September 13, 2019, the film centers on a young man whose tragic childhood leads him to the world of art forgery.
The film is directed by John Crowley, who also directed films such as “Intermission”, “Boy A”, “Closed Circuit”, and “Brooklyn”. It is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Donna Tartt. This next film I’ll be looking at today focuses heavily on the drama rather than the fun type of drama because folks, stuff is about to get real. At first, I thought this film is going to be another big awards contender based on the trailer I saw, but after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend, it surprisingly turned out to be the opposite. However, it didn’t affect my interest in seeing how it turns out in my eyes. As usual, since I haven’t read the book it's based on, I will be looking at it as its own film.
The story centers on Theodore Decker (Elgort), a young man whose mother died in a terrorist bombing when he was a boy. After surviving the bombing, he picked up a painting known as “The Goldfinch” and took it with him everywhere he goes. During his life, he experiences plenty of drama, guilt, and love while still holding on to the painting as his last piece of hope. In short, it’s a film about life and how the main character’s unfortunate childhood moment affected his life. The film's plot was pretty complex and mature, and it offered plenty of moments that are worth paying attention to, such as the flashbacks that center on the young version of Theo (played by Fegley). Going into this film, I was hoping that it will have something that would provide an emotional connection between me and the obstacles that the main character is facing. While it was able to provide that type of something, I’m sad to say that the emotional core of the situation felt completely empty. There were a couple of things that happened to prevent it from being a total buzzkill, such as the cast and the cinematography, but they’re hardly enough to keep me engaged throughout. With a runtime that’s close to two and a half hours long, director John Crowley struggled to maintain its pacing as well as finding a suitable narrative that doesn’t result in a dull and unfocused experience despite his talent behind the camera. I can understand the direction it was going for, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was lacking a specific type of depth that made the other life dramas work. From my personal perspective, I enjoy certain types of dramas that made me feel emotionally connected to the characters and their themes. The ones that made me grow attached to the situations that the characters are encountering themselves. “The Goldfinch” felt like that type of drama, but to me, it tried way too hard to be one, which can come off as troublesome for some reviewers. Going back to the positives, I can easily admit that the actors were able to keep this train moving. I thought Oakes Fegley delivered a well-deserved performance as the young version of Theo and Nicole Kidman was divine as Samantha Barbour. Ansel Elgort was pretty decent in his role as the adult version of Theo. Not as great as his performance in “Baby Driver”, but decent enough for me to admire his acting talent. Even though the film failed to meet its expectations, that doesn’t mean I can look past its gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins. Despite a couple of scenes that have questionable editing, the film’s cinematography was able to paint some beautiful pictures on the screen, and let me tell you, they are such eye-openers.
Overall, “The Goldfinch” is a painting that’s pretty to look at, but doesn’t offer anything special underneath its appearance. Despite its talented cast and its impressive cinematography, the film is nothing but an underwhelming and emotionless disappointment from start to finish. It wanted to feel like it belongs in a museum, but in my eyes, it belongs in the trash. If you happen to like it more than I did, then hey, good for you. That’s your opinion. To me, I’m just not feeling this one as much as I hoped.
“Hustlers” stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and Cardi B. Released on September 13, 2019, the film is about a group of strippers who decided to steal money from dozens of wealthy men.
The film is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who also directed “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and “The Meddler”. It is based on the New York magazine’s 2015 article “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler. Going to a strip club can be a fun time for men who want to watch some hot women shake their money-makers…as long as the men don’t bring a butt load of cash with them. This is probably one of the weirdest things that I have ever heard in my entire life, but it’s also one of the most interesting things that I have ever heard. Strippers stealing money from rich people. If that isn’t something that will get people’s attention, I don’t know what will. This fact-based drama is the latest addition to the list of films that define “girls night out” when it comes to the cast and its concept. At first, I was a little bit skeptical about how it will turn out based on the trailer, but then I saw the first couple of good reviews for it and I was like, “OK, now I’m interested”. Based on the great word-of-mouth it’s been getting since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend, it looked like it has the right tools to create an enticing drama that could sneak into the Oscars when all is said and done. But does that mean it’s worth watching for me?
Inspired by the article it’s based on, the film centers on Dorothy (Wu), a young woman who works at a strip club to support her grandmother. She then meets and befriends a veteran stripper named Ramona Vega (Lopez), who teaches her the ways of attracting certain types of customers with successful results. Their success soon comes to an end when the financial crisis hits, leaving them and the rest of the population without enough money to support their own lifestyles. Ramona then comes up with a scheme that involves her and the other strippers getting the rich men drunk and stealing money from their credit cards. What seems to be the perfect plan at first turns out to be more than what they bargained for. This is pretty much the female version of “Magic Mike” with a dose of “crime drama” to boot, so it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t something that you would watch with your child since it has plenty of stripping and adult language (emphasis on the “stripping”). It clearly has “girls night out film” written all over it, but it is also an enticing and thought-provoking drama that showcases the fact that too much of a good thing can lead to consequences. The best part about it was that it never lost sight of making the situation interesting and, more importantly, fun. While the story did suffer a bit from its pacing and its lack of strong emotion, the film was able to provide an intelligent and meaningful portrayal of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis from a stripper’s perspective. With a style that’s as fun and seductive as the characters and a well-told plot that took advantage of the familiar elements that it stole from the other crime-related dramas, writer/director Lorene Scafaria delivered an experience that offered more than just a bunch of strippers doing erotic dances for less than two hours. The entire cast was great in their roles, with both Wu and Lopez stealing the show as Dorothy and Ramona, respectively. I can easily admit that Lopez delivered a performance that trumps all of her other performances completely, but I think Wu deserves the same amount of recognition as Lopez because of her impressive acting talent. Despite her role being really short, I thought Cardi B had a couple of good moments in her feature film debut, although her constant swearing can get on someone’s nerves very quickly. If there’s another thing that I would like to point out, it would have to be the erotic strip club sequences. The combination of its alluring cinematography and its eye-opening choreography made those sequences highly irresistible, which would surely make a lot of men want to join in on the action.
Overall, “Hustlers” is a pleasurable and well-acted representation of strippers stealing money from rich people. Ranging from its talented cast to its financial commentary from a stripper’s perspective, the film is best seen as both a “girls night out” experience and a suitable crime drama for people outside of its target audience. Unless you’re uncomfortable with seeing a bunch of strippers do their own thing, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Lopez and if you’re familiar with the events it’s based on.
“It: Chapter Two” stars James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, and Bill Skarsgård. Released on September 6, 2019, the film has the Losers’ Club returning to their hometown to defeat Pennywise once and for all.
The film is directed by Andy Muschietti, who is known for directing “Mama”, and it is a sequel to the 2017 horror film, “It”, also directed by Muschietti. It is also based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The battle against fear has been won, but for the Losers’ Club, the war continues. Muschietti’s take on the titular psychotic clown of death was proven to be a critical hit when it was released two years ago, with the critics praising the cast, the direction, and its frightening storytelling. Not only that, but it broke numerous box office records for the genre, which showcased the fact that a good Stephen King adaptation is more rewarding than a bad one. I was one of the people who actually enjoyed the heck out of “It” not just because of how immensely creepy it was, but also because it did a great job at balancing the horror elements with an engaging coming-of-age story about overcoming one’s personal fears. So I was pretty excited to see how they’re going to continue this type of story while maintaining the scary elements that worked in its predecessor. This is coming from the guy who hasn’t seen the 1990 version of “It” or read the novel it’s based on, keep that in mind. Now that it has returned to creep the heck out of me, does it have the right tricks to start Halloween off with a bang?
27 years have passed since their first encounter with Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Skarsgård), and the members of the Losers’ Club have gone their separate ways and are living their own adult lives. When one of the members, Mike Hanlon (Mustafa), discovers that Pennywise has returned to Derry to feast on unsuspecting children, he reunites the other members, including Bill Denbrough (McAvoy) and Beverly Marsh (Chastain), for one last battle against the monstrous clown from Hell. Much like its predecessor, “Chapter Two” combines the supernatural horror elements with a bunch of drama elements that emphasized the core theme, which is fear. The only difference is that this film is 30 minutes longer than “It”. Hope you got the guts to experience a lot of drama and creepy images for three hours because that’s what this film has to offer, for better or for worse. The story has this type of “Avengers: Endgame” vibe in which the characters take a trip down memory lane before going into a high-stakes showdown that could determine their fates. Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve time travel. While it wasn’t able to match the spectacle and emotion that “Endgame” delivered, the film’s plot was able to provide a satisfying and heartfelt conclusion to the story arc that started two years ago. Compared to the first film, however, the story in “Chapter Two” wasn’t anything too special despite it being entertaining. One of the reasons why is its reliance on the supernatural horror cliches, such as the jump scares. “It” was able to overshadow some of its cliches with an effective coming-of-age story, while “It: Chapter Two” felt like another ordinary supernatural horror film that struggles to cooperate well with its storytelling. To its credit, however, it made itself more tolerable than the recent horror films that weren’t that good, mostly due to Muschietti’s style, the characters, and its thought-provoking themes. There were also a couple of scares that I thought were decent enough to frighten some people, but the rest of them failed to capture the same impact as some of the scares from the first film, especially the one that involves Pennywise and the projector. There’s also a bit more CGI in the film compared to its predecessor, which can make the scares a bit cheap, but in terms of the designs, they looked pretty darn disturbing. Another reason is the runtime. It didn’t affect the film that much since I didn’t find a lot of scenes that were unnecessary, and it had a good enough substance to keep me engaged all the way through, so bonus points for that. However, by the time the characters head into the final showdown against Pennywise, I immediately started to feel its length. The film’s second act, despite it being necessary to the plot, can come off as repetitive for some people in terms of its structure, and because of the runtime being around three hours, it became more tiresome by the minute. Plus, it might not sit well for those who aren’t into the genre. From my own perspective, these reasons alone prevented “Chapter Two” from reaching the same heights as its predecessor, but it still retained the story’s heart and charm that made “It” a suitable horror film. Once again, the charm comes from the cast, which is the adult actors and the child actors who portrayed the Losers’ Club. The actors who played the adult versions of the Losers’ Club, including McAvoy and Chastain, were just as endearing and likable as the ones who played the child versions. The best part of the cast, in my opinion, has to be Bill Hader as Richie Tozier. Not only did he prove that he can work in horror just as effectively as he can in comedy, but he also provided plenty of hilarious moments that didn’t painfully mess up the tone it was aiming for. You can’t have a horror film without a few laughs, right? I also thought Bill Skarsgård was once again great as Pennywise. He’s no Joker, but dang, he’s a pro at making this character terrifying.
Overall, “It: Chapter Two” has enough thrills and substance to bring this coming-of-age story arc to a gratifying close. Its runtime and the use of horror cliches may not suit well for those who aren’t into the genre, but for the most part, it succeeds in delivering a well-crafted and entertaining sequel that’s filled with solid performances, respectable characters, and a story that never lost sight of its heart. I didn’t think it was as disappointing as most people were saying it was, but I can agree that it’s not as great as the first film. Not a bad way to kick off Halloween early this year.
“Steven Universe: The Movie” stars Zach Callison, Estelle, Michaela Dietz, Deedee Magno Hall, and Sarah Stiles. Released on September 2, 2019, the film has Steven and the Crystal Gems saving their home from a mysterious Gem.
The film is directed by Rebecca Sugar, Kat Morris, and Joe Johnston. It is based on the television series of the same name created by Sugar. Well, this is a surprising way for me to start off the new month. A television film based on one of my favorite recent shows on the Cartoon Network. This should be fun. In case you haven’t watched Cartoon Network for who knows how long, “Steven Universe” is an animated series that showcases a coming-of-age story about a young boy who lives in a fictional town of Beach City with a trio of magical beings known as the Crystal Gems. Together, they embark on many adventures as they protect their home from the other Gems. It may sound like a superhero action show on paper, but it’s actually an action show that’s more reliant on storytelling and heart. It’s a show about love, family, and friendship and how these things are helpful in overpowering the darkness rather than using only violence to solve problems. Since its debut in 2013, the series received acclaim from critics and audiences for its animation, characters, themes, and music. I was one of the people who really enjoyed the show for those reasons. Its success lead to the creation of a devoted fan base as well as the development of several merchandises such as books, toys, and video games. The film was announced at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con before the show concluded its fifth (and last) season, with many speculating on what it’s going to be like. A year later, we have our answer. Like everyone else, I waited quite a while for this, so let’s see if it can live up to my expectations.
Taking place two years after the show’s fifth season finale, the story centers on Steven (Callison), who is now living a peaceful life with the Crystal Gems and his friends after successfully bringing peace to the Gems. Their “retirement” is then interrupted by the arrival of a new Gem, who plans on stealing the life force of all organic life on Earth. With time running out, Steven and the Crystal Gems will have to band together in order to save the world once again. Like the show it’s based on, the film relied heavily on the visuals and the storytelling rather than mindless cartoon violence, and while there were certain things that they could’ve done to make it more cinematic and epic, I was OK with them keeping the same qualities that made the show what it is today. Besides, they might not have enough money to make it into a theatrical film. So, after finally experiencing it for myself, how did it turn out in my eyes? To be honest, I thought it turned out great. In fact, it’s possible that it might be not only one of the best things that Cartoon Network has ever produced, but also the best made-for-television film of the year. Obviously, the story in “Steven Universe: The Movie” is as simplistic as the show, but it’s not afraid to raise the stakes a little when it comes to the characters and the situation that they’re in. More importantly, it gives newcomers a chance to get to know these characters in a respectable amount of time without having to watch the entire show in a day or two. For fans of the show, the story served as both a reminder as to why the show was beloved in the first place and a highly entertaining tale about appreciating change and friendship. It might not win any major awards for its screenplay, but the story had enough heart and striking visuals to impress everyone who wanted something that’s more than just a series of cartoon slapstick and big-budget action. The main voice cast from the show reprised their respective roles in the film and, once again, they did an excellent job with their vocal performances, particularly Zach Callison as the title character. Callison has been delivering the heartwarming and confident side of Steven to us since the show began, and I’m glad to say that he still hasn’t lost that touch. As for the main antagonist, Spinel, I was pretty impressed with the character in terms of the design, the vocal performance by Stiles, and her development. All I can say about her, without spoilers, is that she’s very flexible…and a little bit creepy. The next thing I want to mention is the animation. Even though it’s not as groundbreaking as some of Disney’s 2D animated films from the 1990s, the animation in “Steven Universe: The Movie” is just as vibrant and beautiful as the show itself. Heck, I would even say that it worked extremely well for its storytelling and the musical numbers. Yes, the film is a musical that featured original songs written by Rebecca Sugar. The songs in the film weren’t exactly memorable, but they were really fun to listen to, especially the one that was performed by Estelle and Callison. The only minor issue I had with the musical numbers was that they appear way too often. I can appreciate musicals that have a few songs in them, but the ones that have a bunch of songs appearing every few seconds or so? That’s a different story. On the plus side, they didn’t come off as unnecessary filler.
Overall, “Steven Universe: The Movie” is a well-crafted and colorful love letter to the fans that have been on this journey for six years. It also works well as a heartfelt and visually appealing television film that’s acceptable for newcomers. Ranging from its characters to its glorious animation, the film adaptation of the Cartoon Network series is a highly respectable conclusion to one of the network’s most successful shows of the decade. I would definitely recommend this one to those who are fans of the show as well as some newcomers. Rebecca Sugar, if you’re reading this review, I just want to say thank you for creating such a brilliant show and for taking us on a journey that’s filled with growth and change. Keep up the fantastic work.
“Don’t Let Go” stars David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Bryon Mann, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, and Brian Tyree Henry. Released on August 30, 2019, the film is about a detective who sets out to prevent his niece’s death.
The film is written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, who also directed “Mean Creek” and “The Details”. Another summer movie season is drawing to a close and, once again, we got a bunch of lesser-known films that are willing to draw in a crowd this weekend. Will I be able to look at them all? I highly doubt it since they didn’t capture my interest that much. Well, all except one. This latest thriller comes to us from BH Tilt, the multi-platform production company from Blumhouse Productions that’s responsible for developing low-budget films that range from suitable (“Sleight”, “Upgrade”) to just plain awful and forgettable. (“The Darkness”, “The Green Inferno”). They don’t make as much money as the ones from Blumhouse Productions, but considering their really small budgets, they’re quite successful in the company’s eyes, so they’re hoping that their streak continues with a thriller that deals with saving someone from the past. It’s time travel, but without the “travel” part. Based on the concept alone, is it worth checking out?
The story centers on Jack Radcliff (Oyelowo), a homicide detective who has a close relationship with his niece Ashley (Reid). However, that all ended in a blink of an eye when Jack finds his family, including Ashley, dead in their own home, sending Jack into a state of depression. He then gets an unexpected call from his dead niece, but it turns out that she is calling him from the past. Realizing that changing the events in her past affects his own time, Jack must work to prevent the incident from occurring once again in her timeline. If you think that you heard this scenario before, you’re not wrong. The film’s plot is similar to the 2000 sci-fi thriller, “Frequency”, which also involves a main character in the present using a certain type of communication device to try to prevent a family member’s death that occurred in the past. It’s pretty inevitable for some people to consider it as a modern take of that film or as a rip-off. But for what it’s worth, it did well in introducing this concept to the people who actually haven’t heard of “Frequency”. Unfortunately, it lacked a certain amount of jolt in its storytelling and its thrills to take this concept further. The film’s story focuses more on the dialogue-driven moments rather than the action moments, so unless you’re a fan of those types of films, you might find yourself a bit bored with this one. The good thing about the story was that it knew exactly what it wanted to be, which is a “whodunit” mystery thriller with a sci-fi twist. It had plenty of engaging moments in the mystery aspect. The thriller aspect? Ehhh…not so much. Aside from its third act, “Don’t Let Go” somehow struggled to balance the thrills with its dramatic moments, resulting in it being an underwhelming, yet well-crafted, experience that left me feeling a bit disappointed. It didn’t make me want to fall asleep, so that’s a good sign, but its minuscule amount of heart-pounding thrills, along with some formulaic elements and its inconsistent pacing, prevented me from sitting on the edge of my seat. The film’s only highlights that kept it from being a total disaster were the cast and Estes’ filmmaking style. David Oyelowo was solid in his role as Jack Radcliff and Storm Reid once again showed off her remarkable acting talents with ease as Ashley. These two characters alone were the real heart of the story, and the film did a really nice job at expressing that, although the emotional impact wasn’t strong enough to overshadow its flawed execution on its plot. I can also admit that Estes’ sense of style was effective for the most part when it comes to his direction and the cinematography. It didn’t actually make the film any better, but the way this style was handled was enough for me to give it another chance to live.
Overall, the cast and Estes’ vision were able to prevent “Don’t Let Go” from suffering an unfortunate demise, but that doesn’t mean they were able to make it more exciting. It had the right idea on what it wants to be, which should satisfy modern mystery fans, including my mother. However, the film didn’t have enough thrills and emotion to impress everyone outside of its target audience. Not a great way to end this year’s summer movie season, but not a bad one, either. I would recommend seeing this one at a matinee showing if you like these types of films.