You Were Never Really Here Review

            Joaquin Phoenix has had one of the most interesting careers of any actor currently working.  Starting off as a child actor that had trouble getting out of the shadow of his brother, Joaquin Phoenix transitioned into an actor that perfectly balanced work in prestige pictures and second tier blockbusters.  That all changed about ten years ago when Phoenix did a much publicized bit of performance art with I’m Still Here, a documentary about his fake attempt to start a rap career.  Since than Phoenix has transitioned into a career of art-house pictures that have turned him into one of the best of his craft (his performance in The Master is one for the ages).  One of Phoenix’s most recent performances was in You Were Never Really Here in which he collaborated with director Lynne Ramsey, who up until this movie found herself in director’s jail for a creative fallout with producers on her previous film effort.  You Were Never Really Here has all of the traits of the type of movie that Phoenix is attracted to nowadays.  The movie has a simple plot but the filmmaking style is very experimental. This all leads to a final product that is odd and at times boring but you can at least admire the ambition on display.

            You Were Never Really Here follows a hit man (Joaquin Phoenix) who specializes in rescuing people from sex trafficking.  On his current hit, the man begins to uncover a conspiracy.  When broken down to the basics, the plot of this movie is very simple.  However, there are so many stylistic flourishes added to this movie that it can be hard at times to understand what is going on.  A lot of this movie takes place in side the head of the hit man so you never really know if what you are watching is real or if what you are watching is the hit man day dreaming or thinking about things (the day dreaming and internal thought sequences are shot in the same style as the real life sequences). With such an internal style of portraying this character, it’s hard not to notice the uniqueness of this approach. However, this style does not explore the hit man enough to ever fully warrant this stylistic decision.  It also seems like a distraction so the viewer doesn’t realize how basic the plot of this movie is.

            All that being said Joaquin Phoenix is unsurprisingly fully committed to his role.  A lot of this movie asks Phoenix to display emotions while just using facial movements. The movie loves to shoot him in facial close-ups without giving him any lines to show how his character is feeling. It’s a tricky role that Phoenix handles well.  Making the role even more difficult is that Phoenix has little in the way of a supporting cast.  Judith Roberts as the hit man’s mother gets the only thing close to resembling a complete role.

            You Were Never Really Here is an interesting take on a character study, but a lot of the movie is just trying to distract you from its shallow subject matter. You Were Never Really Here is now streaming on Amazon Prime.


Bohemian Rhapsody Review

            Every now and then you hear about an upcoming movie that has ended up in development hell (a series of unfortunate events that prevent a movie from reaching completion).  While most movies that end up in development hell never end up seeing the light of day, Hollywood media seems to forget that the ones who do end up making it to the theater ever even experienced this lack of luck.  That’s interesting because it has become quite clear that a rocky preproduction period for a movie almost always leads to an inferior final product.  The latest case of this is the new Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.  Bohemian Rhapsody is by no means bad, but it is a very bland movie that doesn’t show too many scars from its troubled production but also craves to be something more than it is.

            Bohemian Rhapsody follows the life of Freddie Mercury (portrayed in the movie by Rami Malek) as he transforms from na├»ve but ambitious immigrant into one of the biggest celebrities of all-time.  As a whole the movie feels much like a greatest hits album as it showcases the creation of all of Queen’s most iconic songs as well as how all of their biggest live performances happened but without any sort of real connective tissue.  The only attempt that this movie makes at finding a narrative strand that can keep it all together is Freddie’s love life, and that ultimately comes across as awkward and half-baked.  This particular storyline really could have benefitted from an R rating, but instead the movie beats around the bush in order to make this movie as family friendly as possible.

            Stylistically this movie isn’t anything special.  It’s loud and isn’t afraid to use CGI to get some interesting camera angles, which makes it seem like a more restrained version of whatever Michael Bay does nowadays.  At the very least, though, the movie’s visual style was able to survive director Bryan Singer’s firing.  The only remnants of the incident that still come out in the movie are some awkward party sequences that instantly recall the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding him.  It’s odd that these scenes were not toned down.

            Rami Malek’s much anticipated performance as Freddie Mercury is fine.  The physical transformation that he goes through is quite impressive, as Hollywood has once again seemingly brought somebody back from the dead.  However, Malek doesn’t fare so well in the singing scenes where it is quite clear that there are some postproduction enhancements going on.  That’s a shame because the biggest moments in the movie revolve around Freddie singing.

            Bohemian Rhapsody is only just able to survive its journey through development hell in tact.


Suspiria Review

            At present the horror movie genre has too often become just a bunch of lame remakes and jump scares.  That is a real shame for a genre that does have a lot to offer when it’s working correctly.  Fortunately, one of the people to tackle this genre most recently happens to be an auteur on the rise in Luca Guadagnino.  Guadagnino’s last movie, Call Me By Your Name, was a heavily acclaimed effort that received multiple Oscar nominations so it was a bit of a surprise to see his next movie be Suspiria, a remake of a 1970s Dario Argento horror movie. Sure enough, though, Guadagnino reveals that he is still at the top of his craft and delivers a movie that oozes in style and has faith that its audience is as smart as he is.

            Suspiria begins with an old Jewish therapist (played by Tilda Swinton in a cross gender role) as he tries to uncover the disappearance of one of his patients, a dancer played by Chloe Grace Moretz, in West Berlin.  At the same time an American dancer (Dakota Johnson) is initiated into the dance academy that the missing dancer belonged to.  It is not long before rumors of witches running the dance academy begin to circulate.  The movie is structured into five acts and an epilogue, which tells you right off the bat that this movie is going to be a bit unconventional.  In fact it’s really hard to pinpoint whom the actual main character of this movie is.  The early goings would make you believe it is Dakota Johnson’s Susie but development of her character later in the movie gives her much more of a distant feeling than a normal main character would be.  Another dancer (played by Mia Goth), the therapist and the head teacher of the academy (Tilda Swinton) all get some character development but their centrality to the plot comes and goes depending on the point in which the movie is at.  So at times this movie does come across as really cold with so very few characters to latch onto.  That and a near three-hour runtime will put a lot of people of from this movie.

            However, all of this gives the movie a sense of originality that the horror genre has lacked as of late.  It also helps that Guadagnino has such faith in his intricate style.  The visuals all the way down to the tiniest aspects (whether it’s the use of a particular costume for a character or a red tint to the cinematography that is used in some later scenes) make this one of the most stunning movies to look at this year. It also helps that Guadagnino’s direction and a script from David Kajganich has such faith in its audience. Nothing is ever spelled out.  You never have a character telling you what is currently happening or explaining throughout why that character is making such a decision.  The movie is all action and it’s up to you to interpret it.

            This all leads to an absolutely bonkers final act that takes every expectation you had of this movie and throws it out the window. An M. Night Shymalan level twist is just casually dropped in the middle of it and the movie doesn’t even bat an eyelash at it.  It just keeps getting crazier from there.  The final act also allows Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton chances to deliver some of their best work yet.  Johnson gets to add a bit of stoicism to her performance that I didn’t know she was capable of while Swinton gets to perform three roles at once that (with the exception of one) feel natural when they shouldn’t at all.

            Suspiria is an unforgettable bit of fresh air for the horror genre.


First Man Review

            The moon landing has been one of the most iconic moments in American history so there was always going to be a lot of pressure on any movie to capture it for the cinema.  First Man, Damien Chazelle’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong’s career as an astronaut, has received a lot of criticisms whether it’s for not portraying the planting of the flag or for just being too slow or not bombastic enough.  That’s a shame because the movie is actually one of the most interesting and visually stunning character studies in recent memory.

            First Man opens with Neil Armstrong (portrayed by Ryan Gosling) doing a third party test run for NASA on a new spacecraft.  The test almost kills him when the spacecraft bounces off the atmosphere and briefly gets stuck in outer space.  Death is an ever-looming threat in this movie and director Damien Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer makes sure you never forget that in a way that even thrillers struggle to do.  The first act mostly deals with the death of Armstrong’s young daughter, Karen, from cancer, and it’s in this first act that Chazelle reveals his rather original portrayal of an introverted person like Armstrong.  There are so many sequences that show Armstrong reacting to events by himself and struggling to talk about major life events with other people.  It’s done so authentically that this might just be the best portrayal of an introvert since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Extreme close ups and even first person angle shots are constantly used, as Gosling’s face is almost ever present.  This gives us such an interesting look into such a stoic figure as Armstrong while also allowing his breaks into emotion to deliver as much effect as possible.  While this visual style could become tiresome, Chazelle finds occasional opportunities to deliver a more conventional visual style and makes the most of them.

            This more conventional visual style comes to the forefront in the much-discussed lunar landing sequence.  Chazelle still makes sure to leave audience mesmerized with some incredible use of IMAX cameras and interesting visual motifs, but the movie also decides to have this sequence be the point in which Armstrong gets an emotional payoff.  That’s quite unexpected for the portrayal of the character up to that point, but Gosling really sells it.  This moment of emotional payoff also reveals that anyone who is trying to drum up the flag controversy surrounding this movie hasn’t actually seen this movie. Not only is the planted flag clearly shown at two points during the lunar sequence (not to mention multiple other points in the movie where the flag or the words United States are portrayed in patriotic manner), but also actually showing Armstrong plant the flag would have overstuffed a moment that should really be about this bit of emotional payoff.

            First Man not only functions as a visually stunning thriller but as an effective character study of an introvert.


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