Quick-Thoughts: The Nowhere Inn (2019)

As someone who has been an unapologetic St. Vincent fanboy for more than half a decade now, it majorly hurts me to say I didn’t quite love this. The Nowhere Inn is a super SUPER meta mockumentary, to the point where it’s entirely aware that it’s often being quirky and experimental for the sake of being quirky and experimental, announcing boldly how St. Vincent is just some normal person and how there’s really no reason to make a documentary on her unless its brutally sensationalized just like how her career and audience / fanbase relationship is, so how about we instead just bask in the randomness of her tour footage and improvised live-action sequences for the hell of it! The pretentiousness of her dorky, rebellious nature is just who she proudly claims to be, and the movie’s aesthetic inhabits that. Whenever there’s any commentary on industry reality, artistic procedure, or celebrity experience though, it’s only ever touched on blatantly — yet hilariously — in character lines or cheesy hallucinatory symbolisms, so the mystery there is sadly dead and, not to mention, very familiar as well, but it’s still mildly enjoyable watching everything else just so you can curiously anticipate how much weirder the next scene can possibly get. 

Also for the second time now, they need to coin “8 1/2” as an official movie genre. Maybe “Mulholland Drive” now too?

Verdict: C+

2021 Ranked

“The Nowhere Inn” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Blue Bayou

There are certainly some ambitious and admirable stylistic decisions placed in a few scenes — some piercing use of color too here and there — but this felt like 20 chronological (wannabe) Sean Baker short films tossed into a two-hour runtime. It blows my mind how “try-hard” this film’s script is when it comes to it wanting to allude both natural and compelling dialogue, which evidently causes it to commit the very opposite because of this desperate push. Not to mention, the movie is also bombarded by mostly one-note-written stereotyped or fixated characters that inorganically pop in and out of screen like they’re a part of a school play whenever the plot needs them.

Admittedly though, it’s easy to understand the passion behind the project given that it’s inspired by very tragic and real stories for which its dying to replicate, yet more so, “modify” cinematically for a wider or more accessible *the issue* audience. Nonetheless, this motive leads to the making of a story that yearns to be taken seriously because of its inceptive circumstances despite thinking that it also needs to come off wishy-washy and sensationalized. A sweeping hunk of scenes in Blue Bayou have some of the most forced drama I’ve seen in a while, and this circles back to its misguided desire for wanting to whip-out so many plot-lines and furthermore incomplete or, more so, shallow thematic directions to dissect but in such constraint and sometimes redundant segments. This film solely exists to show the absolute surface line, standard peek into immigrant suffering by compressing tons of rudimentary possibilities into a claustrophobic timeframe and to additionally introduce an awfully glib memo for uninformed audiences of the discriminative law being explained at hand. But even at that, it could of at least appeared far less contrived narrative-wise while doing so so we could authentically feel like we were in the shoes of an immovable victim and not constantly manipulated to cry from the many mic-droppings of formulaic and overdramatized character arcs, underdeveloped revelations, or coincidental incidents that he and his family face throughout.

Although, Justin Chon, I see that you are a Wong Kar-Wai fan from your low frame-rate effects. Niceee.

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked

“Blue Bayou” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns (2002)

Okay, so a lot of things caught me off-guard during this movie, but that incredibly horny Cat King saying “that’s me, Babe” was the tipping point for me.

Man, I’ll have whatever the writers of this movie were having when they drafted it. Seriously. I want to know just how high you have to get to devise The Cat Returns. F**kin’ portal parkour, a woman debating beastiality, more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan feature; what the hell? The absurdity and nonchalant brutality here honestly reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, which this movie is CLEARLY inspired by. Either way, this works as a horror movie at best, and one about needing to go through the loops of legal counseling to defy the extortive nature of forced marriage. You know? The typical Studio Ghibli stuff.

Fatso / Muta did nothing wrong though. 

Verdict: C+

Studio Ghibli Ranked

“The Cat Returns” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: The Sopranos Season 4 (2002)

“You got too much time to think about yourselves.”

Jeez are these people truly falling apart now. Is it just that time of the year or is every character in this season deliberately depressed and absolutely fatigued of themselves and their lifestyle? Not to mention, the amount of bad-blood boiling between friends and family is fermented unlike any of the seasons beforehand; the gang has become unbelievably careless with the steps they’ve been taking to sustain their place in this mafia empire. I suppose it shouldn’t be a complete shock though that The Sopranos is really inching in on taking the “downward spiral” to new levels of persistency, but despite there being two seasons left of this show, it feels as if our characters’ demise could close in much sooner than that. I have not much else to say about this year of the show though — it’s probably my least favorite so far actually and by far the one that justifies its runtime the least, plus I think the psychology aspect of the show gets almost entirely shelved for the straightforward drama — but there’s no doubt that it still has my interest locked deeply into the story.

Verdict: B+

“The Sopranos” is now streaming on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: James Wan’s Malignant

I see Wan borrowed some elements from Whannell’s Upgrade (2018) in this. Aww, their filmmaking friendship is just so precious!

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. It feels like Wan’s attempt at balancing his excessive, gory, and extroverted manias from Saw (2004) with the silky, calculated shooting and exorcist confrontational dramas from his Conjuring (2013 – 2016) movies with a touch of gimmicky retro slasher aesthetic, which makes for, unfortunately, a sleazy misfire where he just hodgepodges it all together so carelessly, inserting trademark after trademark and hoping that bits and pieces will land for an array of generations who grew up on the genre’s historical variety. I refuse to give Wan commendable credit though for essentially Ready Player One-ing horror tropes into one movie and expecting us to just senselessly care for the skeletal narrative that hosts it. Like… besides the already dull pacing, plot, tone, etc., the character writing and acting more notably in Malignant are impressively dead, but I’m sure this will only be deja vu for Friday the 13th fans. Very disappointed with this one, but hey, at least it looks really neat and has gnarly special effects as per most James Wan productions.

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked

“Malignant” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter

Oscar Isaac? An incel? Nah. Sorry, Schrader.

This feels a tad Refn and Twin Peaks: The Return-esc due to its stoned out mood, numbing synth score, and deliberately awkward dialogue followed by blank-faced performance chemistry, with Paul Schrader further using these surreal and uncanny aesthetics to compliment some minor additions to his ever so continuing “lonely man” vet which, unfortunately, on-the-noses the comfort of man’s repetitious nature in an atmosphere of systematic and machine-equivalent casino life practice that’s meant to exhibit a debatably bright-side outturn of temporary imprisonment’s militarized, static order and the semi-recreation of accepting more losses than wins. But then as we ease into the main character’s past, the film seems to admirably 180 or neutralize / diss that side of militarized lifestyle with what, ALSO unfortunately, ends up being a terminal bare-boning of organized supremacy in corrupt American hierarchies and the lower class / rank backfiring that comes from biases in real life blamings of heinous conundrums such as the Abu Ghraib, another underlying nudge that could’ve been dug on past blatancy or dully fixed allegories.

Sometimes though, the style makes the film conciliating to watch, and the few malicious scene jolts in it only hit harder given this primary delegation for a collected tone, but I think it would’ve worked way better as a short film considering its minimalist expansion on the few great ideas and parallels that it submits itself to throughout, making The Card Counter almost a guarantee for boring the living s**t out of most audiences with its nearly two-hour runtime. I still can’t make my mind up on how to feel about the ending as well. Is Schrader‘s signature being reformed here or tantalized? If anything, I’m leaning towards the word “copied” instead given how connected the theme bows seem to be in much of his past work, but I still can’t say that I was completely able to decode it after the word “redemption” kept blinking rapidly in my notes as soon as the credits rolled in light of “guilt” being such a crux to the story. My bet, however, is that it’s more so showing you the gravity of this “guilt” being taken to its absolute extreme rather than literally being showcased as objective “redemption”. It’s just something the main character may convince himself to be “redemption”, which is… predictable and typical to say the least knowing Schrader; sounds like “Taxi Driver (1976) for Dummies” to me and with a foggier tone to communicate such!

Those prison torture sequences were effective ASF nevertheless. I’ve been embracing the filter-lens-whore side of my taste recently. Feels good. Isaac deserves a nom too for carrying this. Legend.

2021 Ranked, Paul Schrader Ranked

Verdict: C+

“The Card Counter” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

My prayers go out to all the stubborn American moviegoers who went into this movie not expecting to read subtitles. Oh, the challenges they must’ve faced reading about half a page’s length of words.

So… this was meh? It started off pretty f**king unbearable and awkward at first, but then it got more entertaining towards the end when it decided to increase its absurdities with some lore madness and decently choreographed action spectacles, plus Tony Leung and Simu Liu’s semi-toxic family dynamic explored in the third act saved this from being a total narrative bore, but every other quality to this movie I just found to be driven entirely by the go-to lazy and generic western blockbuster procedural. This may also be the most unfunny MCU movie yet that’s ALWAYS trying to be funny, or perhaps I’m just fatigued by their formula for comedy at this point. We can’t forget too how this is all topped off by often gauche plot writing and expositional bogging. Yeah, MCU movies ain’t doing too hot right now for me this year. I know this is a really quick and depthless review, but hopefully you’ll at least take my recommendation of watching Loki instead if you’re looking for some fresh hope in this franchise.

Verdict: C-

2021 Ranked, MCU Ranked

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: The Sopranos Season 3 (2001)

To my memory, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series so character dilated, let alone a mafia one. Almost every episode in this show is made to deliberately show a character facing a contradiction they practice and then barely act upon it in such a humanly realistic and relatable way despite most of them being crime lords. Christopher getting “made” becomes defined by tearing himself from family, devising a one-man, self-serving loner’s business just like what Tony has, in a sense, done. Livia Soprano’s death plays so well into the dramatic game that Tony paves for himself and out of an awareness of succumbing to why exactly his mind is so lethal in the first place. AJ is becoming more like his father in the presence of, ironically, a father who resents such an idea but can’t see that it’s actually coming. Jennifer temps giving herself directly to the luxurious world of Mafia support after facing some life-changing tragedy of her own. Pine Barrens works in its own rights as an hour long Fargo-esc mini-movie masterpiece, degrading these psychotic mobster characters with nonstop comical absurdities; it’s kind of like Breaking Bad’s The Fly of The Sopranos to me as of now, exposing people’s true colors unlike ever before because of a simple yet physically weakening conundrum that’s also cynically side-splitting.

Verdict: A-

“The Sopranos” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Screened at Harkins • 3rd Viewing

The first act of Deathly Hallows Part 1 has maybe the best momentum in this franchise since Prisoner of Azkaban. David Yates’s action sequences here feel nearly as fresh as they did in Order of the Phoenix, although not nearly as visually gaudy as them, but rather so conditioning themselves into a more murky and Jason Bourne-esc aesthetic in hindsight of the grittier tone. Very early on, the story also brings back the Nazi regime allegory that has now become far more present in this franchise than ever before with the Mudblood racism being the crux of propaganda in Voldemort’s army. 

As the movie progresses, however, I think it gets weaker and weaker, but not enough so for it to be anti-entertaining cause boy does it surpass Half-Blood Prince in those regards, but just in its sudden change of pace and furthermore its rushed finale. This to me is the most contrasting Harry Potter movie from all of the other ones; it features that classic “finding happiness through distraction during times of crisis” theme going on, which gives it a lot more breathability and space compared to the other Harry Potter entries, yet this utter tone of hopelessness too for what these young people have to do in order to be okay with the situation at hand as they become obsessed with the names of the deceased that are constantly listed off as they hide from this outside bloodshed blanked from their vision. The narrative also essentially forces Harry to trace back his entire life beforehand in connection with Voldemort, as if this first parter was meant to be some sort of recap anticipator for the finale that is Part 2. The lack of having a mentor is felt well in this movie not to mention too, and the use of Harry’s shattered mirror constantly relays this. The exposition dump of the Tale of the Three Brothers has always been a personal favorite segment of mine because of its charming animated book-tale qualities and how it ultimately provokes itself into the modern narrative of the war at hand.

There is another trend though that I’ve begun to pick up on since Year 4, being that almost every one of these movies has to end with someone dying quite dramatically, and I feel like the final death in this one was a bit of a tacked-on service to add more emotional tragedy to the film’s drama; the plot conveniences get super noticeable too during this climax, as well, which doesn’t help it feel any less last-minute than it already does. Deathly Hallows Part 1 may have the least complex plot out of all the films to me, and I think that’s sort of why it has been a win or lose situation for most hardcore fans of the franchise. Nonetheless, I personally think it is one of the better movies of the darker entries, but I do think it’s exhilarating first act sort of sets the rest of the film up for a moody subversion that’s likely not going to resonate with some audiences. I can’t help but kind of appreciate it though. 

Verdict: B-

Harry Potter Ranked

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Screened at Harkins • ??? Viewing • Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Congrats to Romilda Vane for landing herself a spot on the Wizarding World’s FBI watchlist. 

It’s been nearly a YEAR since I got cucked from my in-cinemas Harry Potter marathon due to COVID-19 restrictions in the area, but alas, I’ve returned! The sixth year at Hogwarts somewhat revolves once again around Harry trying to find ways to figure out another mystery, one that, howbeit, doesn’t lead him to any profound revelation; the movie decides to keep him in the dark just for now to heighten the tension for its sequels. In terms of character development, he seems to have a new sense of pride and acceptance for his destiny. During so, he is also mildly alerted of his prejudice/bias mindset that the movie then sets up for him to have shattered in Part 2 of Deathly Hallows. I feel pretty confident in claiming that Half-Blood Prince is by far the most comedic and romantic Harry Potter movie thus far. Ultimately, it’s a blessing and a curse, granting us mildly amusing YA love triangles and friendship quarrels to chortle at that are further elevated by some quirky character gesturing, dispatching the overall film with a more sitcom-esc finish than its previous entries. However, this paramount of light-hearted tone fatally suppresses the drama of the film, maybe not to the extent though of it being as bizarrely balanced in tone as Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire (2005), but it still remains roughly organized sequentially with its structure nonetheless. 

One could easily make the case that this movie was covertly Draco and Tom’s all along, with Tom’s backstory being placed as consummation for Harry’s shortage of personal journey, although, all this movie really does is convince me further of Voldemort’s tediously innate evil as if he were just some less justifiable Darth Vader, which makes him, again, not that interesting of a villain to me still. Draco, on the other hand, is just so underutilized in this; I guess him being a victim hidden in the shadows of circumstance is the point of his minimalist exploration, but him literally having to explain his situation quickly for us in dialogue during the climax indicates perfectly to me that even the screenwriters themselves didn’t think they gave the audience enough weight for us to empathize honestly with his struggle, one that could’ve been executed to a far more awakening and intense degree.

This is also one of the slowest films in the franchise due to its damning issues of inserting serious drama aimlessly in the midst of its spasmodic plot; some of the most awe-striking sequences in this franchise lie within Half-Blood Prince like when Harry and Dumbledore visit The Dark Lake, yet they are crowded into this tonally inconsistent timeline of prominently innocent affairs. And, I know that most of the Harry Potter movies pride themselves on having some sort of a plot twist in their climaxes, but I find the whole “I am the Half-Blood Prince” reveal in this one to be particularly pathetic as if its primary reason for existing was literally just to stick to the franchise’s tradition; the relevancy of that notebook’s content to Snape’s nickname of background does nothing for me in the moment of this actual movie, and even barely enough so to work as some metaphorical foreshadow of what we learn about Snape in Part 2 of Deathly Hallows — i.e. he was helping Harry this entire time and he’s an undercover hero marked evil. Frankly, I think the reason why this sixth entry decided to feature so much comedy and romance at the forefront of it is because it needed something to compensate or justify itself as something that works on its own rights singularly, considering an unfortunate majority of its themes are only here as set-up to be completed in the two following sequels, which ultimately damaged the film’s entertainment value for me.

Verdict: C+

Harry Potter Ranked

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is now available to stream on HBO Max.