Category: Morning After

The Morning After: Jun. 22, 2020

I am not willing to venture to the theater yet even though my area has been thankfully spared the worst of the pandemic. That being said, I’m not sure when I’ll feel comfortable entering a public space like that. However, I still have the ability to watch films at home. I have not been doing that, though. I began some months ago my great Star Trek watch/rewatch and I don’t have many more episodes to go in the final series I play to watch during this period, Star Trek: Enterprise. Once that’s done, I’ll assess my options and decide what to watch. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

The Morning After: Mar. 2, 2020

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn


The first female superhero to have her own movie was Supergirl. That colossal failure in 1984 ensured that female-led superhero films would remain ephemeral for more than three decades when Wonder Woman finally picked up her Lasso of Truth and rastled up a box office hit in 2017. That film’s success finally led studios to believe that women could indeed lead superhero films. Captain Marvel was announced shortly thereafter and Wonder Woman 1984 is right on the horizon, as is the Black Widow movie everyone’s been clamoring for since the character was introduced in Iron Man 2 ten years ago.

The Russo brothers even teased an all-female Avengers during the final film in the massive 10-year story arc last year. It won’t happen, but it was a nice, if somewhat condescending moment. Birds of Prey, like Wonder Woman before it, is DC’s attempt to start a new revolution and prove an all-female superhero film can succeed. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. did some poor marketing and no one knew it was part of the DC Extended Universe and was an indirect sequel to Sucide Squad. Yet, Birds of Prey is one of the best films DC has ever produced, right up there with Wonder Woman. Margot Robbie is a terrific lead as the ex-lover of the toxic villain Joker. She meats up with four other disparate individuals who have no ties to one another and certainly no love, yet they eventually come together to take out the rampant misogyny of spurned rich kid Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and his serial killer henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).

With the help of Rosie Perez, Mary Elzabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Ali Wong, Robbie leads a brilliant cast in the most thrilling ensemble piece since X-Men: Days of Future Past. Cathy Yan’s superb direction and the terrific, complex screenplay from Christina Hodson help make this a fine example of how putting women in charge of the top level positions on a film allows them to subvert the cinematic form and buck tradition to convey a compelling voice. The film may be rough around the literal edges, but its figurative impressiveness more than makes up for any minor quibbles. The rotting production design of a city in decay is perfectly fitting for a film with bubble-gum pop sensibilities baked into a city rife with political and social struggles.

The Morning After: Feb. 10, 2020

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Jumanji: The Next Level


When Jumanji came out in 1995, there was little like it in cinema and the concept was so entertaining that it drew audiences in droves and gave Robin Williams one of his biggest successes of the decade. When it was rebooted in 2017, there was a lot riding on the film and the end result was something truly hilarious, even better than the original film. Jumanji: The Next Level picks up a year after the events of the prior film as the four high schoolers are separated by college, but return home for a reunion.

Two new characters are introduced to audiences this time, Spencer’s grandfather played by Danny DeVito, and his grandfather’s former business partner played by Danny Glover. Inside the game, we get one new character played by Awkwafina. The complications of the plot are such that discussing it too deeply would give it away. Suffice it to say, the same overarching concept of the prior film is there, but the new adventure will take them across deserts, gorges, and snowy mountains. The original players are back inside the game. Dwayne Johnson tries to affect a new accent that doesn’t work; Jack Black nails everything he does; Kevin Hart is also on point; and the prior film’s M.V.P., Karen Gillan, is given quite a bit to do, but doesn’t really excel at any of it; Nick Jonas does a rather unexceptional job; and Awkwafina tries her best, but comes off a bit awkward at times, though is certainly third in this roster.

The reboot caught everyone off guard with some tremendously funny comedy with a fascinating story at its heart. The story here is pretty solid, but the hilarity is largely below its predecessor. There’s still promise for the expected third film in the series, but I suspect there may be a bit of diminishing returns with each successive film, at least if this one is indicative.

The Morning After: Feb. 3, 2020

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Klaus


The former dark horse contender for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars has become something more than that and if you’ve seen the film, you can understand why. Klaus is the story of a young dilettante forced by his father to become a mail man and shipped off to a remote wintry locale to use the skills he hasn’t learned to revitalize the town’s postal services.

Voiced by Jason Schwartzman, Jesper wants nothing more than to get out of the hell hole, but if he gives up, he will be disinherited and forced to live on the street. When happenstance results in a letter he was holding for a small child reaching a mysterious woodsman who makes toys, the story of Santa Claus finds its origin. Or does it? As expected everything starts crumbling around him in the most predictable way possible and whether he can save his own hide or the hides of those in this community remains to be seen.

The most delightful vocal work in the film is by Joan Cusack as the leader of one of the village’s two factions who have been warring Hatfields & McCoys style for as long as any of them can remember. Schwartzman’s lack of emotional detail and clarity to his performance make him an incomplete hero, one that the story must forcefully push forward. J.K. Simmons voices the huntsman, Rashida Jones the school teacher saving up to get out of town, Will Sasso as Cusack’s chief rival, and Norm MacDonald as the haranguing ferry boat captain who eggs Jesper on.

The art work is stylized for the most part and sometimes quite inventive, but the overall look of buildings and the towns miserable attitudes seem like a mirror universe version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and a lot more predictable. This sweet and endearing film tells a solid, if predictable narrative and audiences of all ages could welcome it into their homes as a regular holiday tradition.

The Morning After: Jan. 27, 2020

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Oscar-Nominated Short Films from 2019


Doing a short review of fifteen different short films will be nigh impossible as the main reviews will be short enough. So, I’ll break this down into three additional paragraphs, one for each grouping.

The five animated short films are a strong bunch with all of them standing out more so than those in the other two categories. The best of these five are Hair Love, about a father struggling to tame his daughter’s incredibly curly coif, and Kitbull about a kitten who must come to terms with a new pitbull introduced into his neighborhood. Both films feature bittersweet endings and both are incredibly well made. The former is such a beautiful bit of animation while the latter is a rather rudimentary form. The storylines for both are quite engaging and endearing. The other three films, with Dcera (Daughter) being the least affecting, are also emotionally driven. Only Hair Love of these has any amount of humor to it.

Among the live action short films, the overall quality of the films is a bit less impressive than the animated shorts. The Neighbors’ Window, Saria, and A Sister were the best with Window and Sister close in terms of quality. All three are rather affecting. The remaining shorts are decent, but not spectacular.

On the documentary short subject side, a group of nominees I’ve never typically reviewed, two stood above the crowd, In the Absence and Walk Run Cha-Cha. Each takes a different approach to documentary filmmaking and both are compelling from beginning to end. The other three titles, also dealing with very worthy subjects, all struggle to impress as they seem more interested in form than function. That’s not always a bad thing, but to be compelling, there has to be more to them.

The Morning After: Dec. 30, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Little Women


When Louisa May Alcott wrote her novel Little Women in 1868, cinema wasn’t even an inkling of an idea. Yet, her celebrated novel has been adapted to film seven times. The first was a silent film in 1917. The most celebrated was the third adaptation released in 1933 starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo. The 1949 version was also well received with June Allyson as Jo and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy.

The 1994 version starring Winona Ryder as Jo also received solid reviews, but it’s this seventh adaptation starring Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth that might just be the best one yet.

The classic story of the headstrong Jo, bratty Amy, practical Meg, and shy Beth is told out of sequence with the bulk of the story set near the end of the story as Jo pursues he career as a writer in New York City. Told in flashback, the film unfolds with intelligence and wit as Ronan and Pugh outshine the others with Timothée Chalamet, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep providing superb support.

What works best in the film is that it never digs for the maudlin. Each tear and laugh are earned organically. Director Greta Gerwig has now made two films that could one day be considered masterpieces, each tackling a new genre and bringing a fresh voice to cinema. Little Women is a film that feels both instantly classic and revolutionary.

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The Morning After: Dec. 23, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Irishman


Martin Scosese is one of our greatest working directors and with The Irishman, he returns to a genre he has become synonymous with: crime films. His long absence from the genre, 13 years since The Departed and 24 years since Casino, may explain why some of his characteristic flourishes are here, but so are his recent tendencies towards self-indulgence.

Starring Robert De Niro as an Irish union man, the film follows his lengthy career in service to the Teamsters, specifically notorious leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). As the film shifts back and forth between the present and the past, we come to understand the venality of union politics in the 1960s and 1970s and the organized crime influences that made that all happen.

Scorsese and his cadre of frequent Collaborators have crafted a generally satisfying saga, but the film drags in many spaces, forgetting that pacing is a key element of an editor’s job. Thelma Schoonmaker skillfully winds all of the narrative threads together, but the long spans of tedium showcase either a lack of interest in getting to the end or a directorial push to linger for ego’s sake.

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The Morning After: Dec. 16, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Parasite


Bong Joon-ho is a director who has something to say. The most vital voice that’s ever emerged from Korean cinema has made his most accessible film to date. Parasite tackles poverty and wealth in his new movie, a riveting social drama for a modern age.

Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his family live in a half-basement apartment struggling to make ends meet. When the opportunity presents itself, he, his son, daughter, and wife each take on jobs for a wealth family in an effort to bring in as much money as possible. As is always the case in such affairs, the grift eventually goes wrong when a surprise rain storm threatens to upend all of their carefully curated plans.

While Bong has been working tirelessly as a well respected genre director, his films have always tackled unusual topics that are easily accessible. The Host was a popular horror project while Snowpiercer was a startling sci-fi take on the climate change crisis. Both were well regarded by American audiences who were fans of the genres they represented. This film lays bare not only his unique perspective on freedom, wealth inequality, and other heady topics, but it presents a rather straight forward tale of a family of con artists who cannot predict every unforeseen circumstance that might bring their house of cards tumbling down.

With strong performances and a compelling narrative, even those who haven’t previously been impressed by Bong’s work should finally stand up and take notice of one of modern cinema’s most vital voices.

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The Morning After: Dec. 9, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Waves


Trey Edward Shults steps behind the camera for his third feature film, a daring, unvarnished look at a middle class black family on the edge of collapse. Made from his own screenplay, Waves is a haunting and unrelenting picture that slowly unravels as the family collapses from its own internal struggles.

Choosing to explore the internal relationship between the four members of the Williams family, Shults slowly maneuvers through the quietly fracturing quartet as they crumble under the weight of perceived expectations. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a high school senior whose wrestling career he hopes to take him places, but a torn shoulder threatens to destroy his career. Sterling K. Brown is Tyler’s domineering father, a man who recognizes that blacks aren’t allowed to be ordinary, and pushes Tyler harder than he should, creating a rift between the two and leading to Tyler’s lashing out at his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie).

Renee Elise Goldsberry plays Tyler’s stepmother who seems to have a strong relationship him and his sister Emily (Taylor Russell), but whose own insecurity about her insertion into an existing family dynamic and replacement of their late mother, leads her to push hard for acceptance. Emily is the last of the four and lies in her brother’s shadow, self-consciously staying out of the limelight as her father dotes on her brother. The film ultimately becomes hers and being marginalized to the background gives her a surprising resilience that pushes the film to its conclusion.

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The Morning After: Dec. 2, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Farewell


Lulu Wang’s second feature film, her first in five years, is a wonderful character study exposing American audiences to the cultural dynamics that exist in China and how different they are from Western traditions.

Awkwafina delivers a strong performance as a young Chinese-American artist who learns that her grandmother is dying, but that her family has decided not to tell her so that she can live a fuller and longer life. As Awkwafina’s Billi returns to China to spend as much time as she can with her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), she struggles with her desire to tell her grandmother the situation, while adhering to the cultural mores that make it difficult to do so.

While the film ends on a hopeful, but low-key note, we’re left to experience the wonderful, full narrative that is modestly reminiscent of what Wayne Wang did with The Joy Luck Club in 1993. Zhao is wonderful as is the rest of the cast, though Awkwafina shows us that she’s not just the manic character she’s played previously in films like Crazy Rich Asians. It’s a film worth watching just to get a better understanding of the subtle, but potent differences between myriad cultures around the world.

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The Morning After: Nov. 18, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Abominable


When the film begins, the smooth surfaces of the animation makes it look like something crafted on the cheap; however, as the film progresses, the animation begins to sore and as rounded the edges are, the heart of the film is the story itself.

A yeti escapes a research facility and hides out on the roof of an apartment complex where a young girl seeks refuge as she quietly plans to take the cross-China trip she and her father had planned before his death. Working odd jobs while her mother and grandmother worry about her well being, the nefarious leader of a major corporation sends various troops to obtain the yeti forcing the girl to take the sympathetic creature home to Mount Everest.

It’s all a rather simple story about a girl who feels abandoned and alone slowly opens herself up to the friends and family around her while she, the yeti, and her two neighbors embark on perilous adventures. Yet, it’s the simplest stories that are often the most impactful and the conclusion of the film brings all of the themes home in a beautiful and endearing moment. Writer/director Jill Culton brings out the beauty of nature, culture, and all of her themes in a simple but evocative voice that identifies her as a voice to watch in the realm of animation. While it’s difficult to be entirely enamored with the animation and the whole affair is a bit too black and white, the end result is an enjoyable film that will touch hearts, both young and old.

The Morning After: Nov. 12, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Us


Jordan Peele’s sophomore outing proves that Get Out was no fluke. Us is a thrilling, gripping horror film that understands its predecessors and uses them to good effect.

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o stars as a woman with a fear of the beach. After an incident that happened to her at a young age, she took years to emerge from her silence and now has a loving husband and two wonderful children. The film opens at a carnival where 8-year-old Adelaide gets lost in a fun house mirror maze where she comes face-to-face with her doppelganger. When her doppleganger and those of her family show up at the family’s vacation house, it becomes a fight for her life and for the lives her family as the mysteries surrounding the dopplegangers slowly reveal themselves to the audience.

Peele’s freshman effort, Get Out, was a superb achievement, but Us demonstrates his ability to evoke complex emotions from the audience, weave a fascinating narrative, and call back to horror history in an effort to inform and terrify modern audiences. Nyong’o delivers a stellar performance as Adelaide and her doppleganger Red while the rest of the cast acquits itself nicely for the material.

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The Morning After: November 4, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Lighthouse

For once, I’m not issuing a rating of a film within my short review of it. The Lighthouse is one of those films that defies easy and initial review. One can look at it analytically and find a lot of great features, but then the plot throws everything out of sync and makes you wonder not only what you saw, but whether or not it was any good.

Let’s start with the good. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography is crisp and haunting. The use of light and shadow plays well into the film’s concept and returning to a very old aspect ratio puts us squarely in the past even if it limits the amount of space the director has to work with, though I’m sure that was his own decision. Craig Lathrop’s production design is also terrific, creating a place and setting of creepy realism. The performances of stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are mesmerizing, taking the audience from veiled hostility to crazed conflict over the course of the film. We knew Dafoe had that kind of power, but Pattinson keeps trying to prove he’s more than the vampire kid and if this doesn’t put that notion to bed, then he will never outlive that reputation.

Then there’s the bad. Eggars, along with his brother Max, have crafted a screenplay that defies explanation. As a thought exercise, that’s exciting, but from a cinematic experience it’s utterly aggravating. Trying to understand a film and its nuances along with hits emotional and philosophical stances can be challenging, but it shouldn’t defy understanding entirely. The pacing is slow at times and doesn’t entirely make sense. While there are elements of the film that suggest this is a chance for both character to explore their past indelicacies, those flaws don’t evoke themselves terribly well. Perhaps guilt has a major impact on the proceedings, but is there some other premise at work here. Could the two be trapped in purgatory, ferried to the island of the damned, unable to leave and slowly driven mad by their fallibility? The closing scene would support that concept, looking like a painting from a Renaissance master. There are questions still to be answered, and over time, I may better understand them, but it’s this confusion combined with the frequent tedium of the film itself that inhibits my ability to reach an immediate and informed conclusion, even four days after seeing the film itself.

The Morning After: Sep. 9, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Toy Story 4


A film series that gets to go out on a high note is a rare thing. Just look at the Jurassic Park films, X-Men, Terminator, Alien, and myriad others. Toy Story 4 may not be the best film in the series, a distinction still held by Toy Story 2 followed closely by Toy Story 3, but it’s an incredible improvement over the original and filled with the kind of series-ending situations that make poignant sense.

With Toy Story creator and series mainstay John Lasseter drummed out of Pixar for his sexual harassment, there hasn’t been anyone to shepherd the film through the creative process like he could. Toy Story 3 had been directed by Pixar titan Lee Unkrich, but this final film was helmed by Inside Out co-writer Josh Cooley, a figure who had yet to direct any of Disney’s big screen efforts, longform or short. Cooley shows the greenness of a low-level animator who understands the concepts of animation, but hasn’t had sufficient experience to execute them. The strength of the story outweighs Cooley’s inexperience behind the camera, which helps the film succeed far more than it might have otherwise.

The terrific voice cast has returned with the notable exception of Don Rickles, who died two years earlier, but whose voice remains a part of the film, having been cobbled together from archival footage. Tom Hanks as our stalwart central figure Woody continues to deliver the best vocal work of the series, though without being surrounded by the talented efforts of returning Annie Potts (Bo Peep), and new contributors Tony Hale as Forky, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, and Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, wouldn’t have succeeded nearly as easily.

This is an animated film from a studio that has become accustomed to churning out high quality productions form imaginative minds that embed themselves in our psyches, Even when the central figures aren’t facing insurmountable odds, the waterworks still flow at the simple elegance of certain sequences. Toy Story 4 and the series that precedes it represent the best that Pixar has to offer. While a subtle downturn of quality from the excellence of its immediate predecessor looms over the entire film, there’s little question that the worthwhile journey has come to a fitting and bittersweet conclusion.

The Morning After: Aug. 5, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Spider-Man: Far from Home


We are peak superhero saturation and while many of these films have been quite entertaining, the number of high quality entries continues to decline as the formula of how to make a movie becomes overused. Spider-Man: Far from home, for all of its entertaining elements, is the kind of film that exemplifies the issue of the genre rather than recasts them as something more.

The story follows after the events of Avengers: Endgame and spoils everything about that film, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t touch this one until then. After getting its world-setting out of the way, we find Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wanting to live a normal life in spite of his super powers, including dating MJ (Zendaya) and traveling to Europe for a school outing. While in Venice, the young Spider-Man finds himself confronted with his own misgivings as a new hero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), arrives to save the city from a major calamitous event.

Marvel has finally gotten itself to the point where it can laugh and provide a good time for the audience. And although this is a film produced by Sony, the script appears to have been run by Disney for approval first, thus removing anything even remotely creative or original. Then again, there might not have been anything like that in the first draft.

The effects in this film are spectacular and there are a ton of incredibly funny moments. Yet, the similarity between this film and the myriad others of the MCU showcases the limitations of the genre and how it desperately needs to find new ways to be creative. Apart from Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, the franchise has been treading water. While they remain incredibly popular, the gentle slide in quality will eventually damage the MCU and Disney will have no one to blame but themselves.