Quick-Thoughts: The Sopranos Season 5

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Occasionally, this season can seem like it’s just slowly cleaning up after the fourth season’s narrative foundations by delegating most of its time to binding together some scraps that were left unfinished, limiting focus for its own identity; a lot of the hateful dynamics between side characters from beforehand are also just suddenly cut off out of nowhere, since its deep focus is back on Tony again. There are also some new characters in the season that are oddly fleshed out, which leads to a few motivations and actions that don’t really feel justified from them. However, the psychology aspect of the show returns victoriously in season 5 with some of the best evaluations of Tony’s persona that we’ve experienced yet; the divorce has perpetuated an existential crisis in Anthony’s sense of place to a whole new level of delusion and thematic ambiguity that reminded me again why The Sopranos is such an unlikely program; the isolation of our lead character has somehow swollen even further just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, and sometimes, we don’t really know why, which makes it all the more fascinating. 

Verdict: B

“The Sopranos” is now streaming on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Sergey Bondarchuk’s War and Peace Parts I-IV (1965-1967)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

War and Peace Part I: Andrei Bolkonsky (1965)

Part one is a complete atmosphere setup. Any deep character development or narrative is superseded by rather deep immersion and thought-wandering into the luxurious lifestyle of rulers and their sporadic transformations into war mindsets, where focused conversations take place amongst thick shots full of speaking extras, complimented too by an ambitious range of grounded or surreal compositional styles. The sweeping camerawork, bodacious editing, and use of transitional graphics in this feels long and ahead of its time in terms of what an epic can do as well. The film ends off so strongly with a dreamy and existential outro that briefly called me back to those unshakable feelings I had while watching something otherworldly such as the stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as a character prepares to leave his home for battle. 

Verdict: B+

War and Peace Part II: Natasha Rostova (1966)

Part two somehow manages to come off as both a welcoming yet equally tortuous interlude. The film’s intentionally extensive filling in of time with innate cheers towards mindless cultural activities and idealistic + optimistic philosophy puts you right in the existential position of a woman waiting for an expected lover to be with her, in which a year then feels as if it were an eternity; it’s evocative of the moral confliction and lovelessness of the women left alone during war. The technical professions appear impressive here like the previous counterpart, but applied to a far smaller scale. Everything though still feels narratively simple, but with its compensation again being found in the sheer hypnotic-state that the visual splendor and underlying of subtle crisis do to directly transport you into the dull and depressing speed of these “royal” character’s tedious day to day lives. 

And for the second time now: please world, popularize side-split editing again!

Verdict: B

War and Peace Part III: The Year 1812 (1967)

Part three features about an hour of nonstop war porn. To this day, I genuinely can’t comprehend how filmmakers are able to pull-off epics, let alone, ones made on THIS vast of a scale. From the quick pans, long takes, euphoric sky sweeps, and some of the largest landscape shots of all-time, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we’re capable of making movies that look like this, let alone, historical ones. Arguably the most beloved chapter of Sergey Bondarchuk’s work, The Year 1812 terrorizes viewers during this outbreak recreation of violence with laughter that seems to lurk in every corner of destruction, laughter that’s used to cynically lighten-up the soldier’s likely demise. There’s a constant fear of death emitting from our second in command as well, and by the end we hear his mother’s innocent lullaby lead us out of a twenty-five-thousand bodied battle in need of solace.

Verdict: B+

War and Peace Part IV: Pierre Bezukhov (1967)

Rarely is the aftermath of battle not just as or even crueler than the battle itself. Part four thrashes us into a stage where circumstances have become so atrocious that pillaging, destroying the enemies’ homes, and imprisoned survival is somehow able to come off as mercy from the victors. The first half of this is as brutal and jaw-dropping as its predecessor, but it sort of loses momentum in the second half. It’s nice to see it end, however, on some tame optimism and uncovered awareness while repeating its original philosophical hypothesis, which has circled back seamlessly to this solid ending. 

Verdict: B

“War and Peace” is now available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

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: C-

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.

Verdict: C+

2021 Ranked, Paul Schrader Ranked

“The Card Counter” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts, Again: Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985)

Screened at The Frida Cinema • 2nd Viewing

I think it’s absolutely splendid that online film communities and sites have essentially caused Come and See to become quite the popular movie in just the span of a few years. What was once a somewhat obscure movie in America has now made it into the IMDb Top 100 and the Letterboxd Top 3, while also managing to get a 4k restoration approved for both theatrical and digital release.

I’m pretty confident that this movie may have the best sound design of all-time. Whether it has to do with its isolative droning, burdeness overlapping, deaf muting, or teemed monologuing, there is nothing quite as piercing in sound as Elem Klimov’s masterpiece. No matter how many gripping handheld long-takes and iconic eye-level close-ups I drool at or how many times I get emotionally smoldered up by that one of a kind reverse-edited finale of Hitler’s life, I do still think the audible parts that sit behind these otherwise genius traits are the most important qualities for making Come and See the immersive journey it is. This is a HEAVY experience that’ll have your ears buzzing furiously by the end of it.

Verdict: A+

All-Time Favorite Movies

“Come and See” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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 2 (2011)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • Screened at Harkins • 3rd Viewing

Neville Longbottom’s kill count in this is psychotic, but hey, he is the true hero of this story. 

To me, this is… kind of… the Avengers: Endgame (2019) of the Harry Potter franchise. It is exceedingly safe, howbeit conventionally satisfying in that clean space of a happy ending conclusion, but a bit obstructed by it being the last one of an 8-part franchise, convincing itself that it needs to hit so many checkmarks scene by scene just to quickly please dedicators with almost fanfic-ish moments, and that personally doesn’t invest me or win my heart as much as how some of the other Harry Potter films have.

Intentionally, this movie seems to undermine death, which makes sense in context with the piling tragedy that’s been building in this series since Year 4, even stating to pity the living and not the dead which strings back to the concept of saving lives by saving experience — i.e. killing The Dark Lord who’ll hinder experience in spite of those who’ll have to die in order to achieve that. It’s a bit off-putting in how self-aware it can be, but works as a memorable motif to give the film a bit of substance and weight in light of it being just a fairly large battle movie. I forgot too how Rowling works off of the story of Christ in this entry with Harry being written as someone who’s destined to die for the saving of his people but only then for him to come back. That dream sequence where he ends up in a sort of purgatory with Dumbledore is one of the trippiest and wickedest sequences I’ve ever seen in a mainstream American blockbuster; this is one of the few creative risks that the movie actually takes and it benefits the quality of the finale for me. 

Deathly Hallows Part 2 seems to be the Harry Potter movie that has connected the most with audiences alongside Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), and I think a lot of that has to do with the sheer amount of fan service and payoff in it. Almost every bit of drama in this movie is so deliberately plotted and conveniently timed to have an idealistic redemption arc to it, which honestly takes me out of the movie sometimes. Although, to be fair, my entire qualm with this franchise has always been how the narrative writing has never been that thought-out or regimented, so this flaw isn’t something that now magically found a place in the franchise, as it’s been going on forever but just not to this extent. I do still love the scene though where we peek into Snape’s backstory, even if everything leading to that moment was plotted out so clumsily; I mean, he is my favorite character in this franchise, and his timely recognition actually felt warranted for the conclusion of this war. Overall, however, this eighth and final entry in the saga is probably now my least favorite Harry Potter movie of the ones I’d consider at least “fresh”, but… nonetheless, it is still fresh; it hit the bare minimum for me just by a hair! Tonal consistency really does it with skewing my opinions towards good or bad I must say!

So! A recap of my rewatch of a franchise I was obsessed with as a kid: it seems as if my ranking of it has changed drastically — minus my #1 spot, of course. When I was a kid, however, 1, 2, and 4 were usually the top dogs, but when I was a teen, it was rather 1, 3, and 8. My current ranking though seems to be (from best to worst) 3, 1, 5, 2, 7, 8, 6, and then 4. I have no clue if nostalgia is influencing some of my decisions here or if its because I just find the themes of 1 and 2 to be better fitted in the light-hearted entries that are targeted more towards kids rather than when they’re put into the darker entries targeted at young adults; I mean, 8 and 4 were once highly regarded by me until this revisit. The biggest outlier in this new ranking though would be Order of the Phoenix (2007) which I have virtually no nostalgia for and have always thought of to be one of the weaker entries until just recently. In all fairness nonetheless, the quality of these movies are still pretty neck and neck, so the radical reshaping of my order isn’t too surprising. Conclusively, I’d say that Harry Potter is just a decent franchise, with an unusually great one living in the mix, and two “meh” ones as well, but ultimately it maintains consistent quality impressively. It may not be as grand as I remembered it to be, but I still like it. 

Verdict: B-

Harry Potter Ranked

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” 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.