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February 28, 2020

Emma (1996) --- “Cupid Is Armed And Dangerous.”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Directed and written by Douglas McGrath (Infamous), Emma (1996) is the fourth adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 comedy of the same name. Pretty socialite Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) entertains herself by playing matchmaker for the people around her. Her latest “project” is Ms. Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), an unpretentious debutant, who Emma believes is too good for the kind farmer Mr. Martin (Edward Woodall) who loves her and better suited for Reverend Elton (Alan Cumming), who secretly likes Emma. Despite her avid interest in romance and marriage, Emma is clueless when it comes to her own feelings and believes that she is beyond marriage and criticism. Only her widowed and dashing brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam), has the guts to put her in her place. So when her matchmaking attempts start causing more problems than expected, can Emma make things right before she jeopardizes her own chance at love and happiness?
     Although Emma differs slightly from other Jane Austen film adaptations, many of the themes and plights are the same throughout each of the films. Emma is a decorative comedy of 19th-century manners delivered with a sharp 20th-century edge and style. It is set in a time when most people traveled little and gossip was a great pastime, especially when one’s natural character tugs against the strict laws of society. Like most of Austen’s novels, the story targets the romantic buried inside each of us but unlike most rom-coms Emma uses enough social commentary and character development to lift it above the level of typical rom-coms by telling a witty and sophisticated comedy about how a strong-willed busybody matchmaker with a disdain for social conventions spends her days trying to pair off unwilling candidates for matrimony. Although Emma starts off slow and runs longer than seems necessary, it’s still a fun and entertaining film that is sure to keep the audience interested in the story’s inherent romance that thrives on overthrowing well-bred stupidity and pondering the tiniest mysteries of love. For those who believe that the storyline seems familiar, even if you’ve never seen any of the previous adaptations, this is because 1995’s Clueless is a modern take on Emma.
     Academy Award Winner Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love, The Politician)  is a unique actress with a wide range of skills and styles which have been demonstrated both in this film and in other works too. As Emma Woodhouse, she seems to be comfortable and right at home in the role of the film’s titular character. With an open and expressive personality, she delivers a charismatic performance and an endearing manner that personifies all things British with a natural ease that can be easily taken for granted or overlooked. Jeremy Northam (The Crown) is perfect as Mr. George Knightley. He carries himself in a way that makes the character believable and relatable. Similar to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcey in the Pride and Prejudice mini-series, Northam has created a memorable character that is perfectly compatible with Paltrow’s strong-willed character. Among the supporting cast, the most noteworthy is  Toni Collette (Knives Out, Unbelievable) as Emma’s malleable friend makes for an effectively frumpy Harriet Smith. Alan Cumming (The Good Wife, Broad City) is wonderfully foolish as the clumsy and suitably smarmy Reverend Elton. Sophie Thompson (Coronation Street), in her 2nd Jane Austen film adaptation, is almost too perfect as the irritating Miss Bates. And while Ewan McGregor (Birds of Prey) is a pretty versatile actor and he delivers a fair performance as the ‘dashing’ and possibly treacherous young bachelor Frank Churchill, he almost seems to be miscast or underused in this film.
     Overall, Emma (1996) is an entertaining 20th-century style comedy set in the 19th-century. The story is an even balance of social satire and daytime soap opera that makes for a glaring reminder of civilized behavior and the value of gentleness and grace in a world of unpleasantness. The cast performances were solid throughout, especially the supporting performances who are just as important as the main ones. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen or you’re looking for a Jane Austen style comedy, then I highly recommend that you check out this film.


Final Vote --- 7.2 of 10 stars


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Movies Similar
Becoming Jane (2007)
Emma (2009)
Emma (2020)
Mansfield Park (1999)
Northanger Abbey (2007)
Persuasion (2007)
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Pride and Prejudice, mini-series (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)

February 27, 2020

Call of the Wild (2020) --- "He Leaves One World Behind For The Vast Beauty Of Another."

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s when strong sled dogs were in high demand, Buck - a 140-pound big-hearted St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix - becomes the prime target for big cash. Dognapped from his blissful and domestic life in California, Buck soon finds himself in the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon. As the newest rookie on a mail-delivery dog sled team, Buck experiences a life-altering adventure as he finds his true place in the world, befriends an old man (Harrison Ford), and ultimately becomes his own master. Director Chris Sanders (Croods 2) and writer Michael Green (Murder on the Orient Express, Jungle Cruise) brings to life a heartwarming and vivid adaptation of Jack London’s beloved 1903 literary classic The Call of the Wild.
     London’s short and gripping adventure novel tells a brutal tale that film-wise is not exactly suitable for young viewers. Fortunately, director Sanders and writer Green have softened the tale and made some suitable changes in order to better appeal to a more modern audience. Now don’t get me wrong Green adheres to the source material reasonably well. It still tells a tale about a pampered pooch who triumphs over abuse to find purpose and community and then later drawn to the limitless world beyond civilization, but it's less heavy-handed about strong issues and more heartwarming. The story utilizes symbolism and emotion to tell an empowering tale about how perseverance can make anyone stronger, giving one the strength to take on bigger challenges. Buck’s evolution throughout the film is almost like a feral devolution where he learns to be more attentive to his instincts then what the humans around him are trying to say, and it was understanding his truest instincts that led to nobility and accepting duty. It is this theme that has made this film an enduring and beloved classic for more than a century. 
"He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time."
- Jack London -
     Thanks to motion capture technology, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame) is able to play Buck. At first, he was going to just do Buck’s facial performance, using his eyes and expression to convey different types of emotions, but he soon convinced the filmmakers that he could also perform Buck’s body movements too. The timing of animal actors unpredictable and not only was Notary able to use that unpredictability to all kinds of things but he was also able to overcome his human physiology in order to do it. In addition, the use of combining CGI animation with motion capture technology gave the filmmakers the liberty to do whatever they wanted but still providing a way for the human actors to connect with Buck both emotionally and physically. In other words, we didn’t have to grimace when the actors hugged a ‘non-existent animated dog’ but for all intents and purposes, he looked real.
          The human actors do a surprisingly good job as well. Harrison Ford (Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker), who has spent a career acting opposite creatures who aren’t there, is comfortable in the role of Jack Thornton, who also serves as the film’s narrator. He gives a dignified performance and brings a relatable world-weariness to the part of a man who lives a nomadic existence after the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage. There is true love and friendship at the heart of his and Buck’s relationship. In the novel, Buck's first owners in Alaska are Perrault (a “little weazened man”) and Francois (a “black-faced giant”), a couple of rough but kindly mail couriers for the Canadian government. He feels no affection for them but grows to respect them with time. In this film, Perrault and Francois (now Fran├žoise) are played by Omar Sy (Jurassic World: Dominion), a French-African and Cara Gee (The Expanse), a Canadian-Ojibwe Indian. Perrault loves the dogs to a fault and gives them several sentimental speeches about the importance of mail delivery in the Klondike. Fran├žoise is prickly and standoffish but eventually warms up to Buck after he proves that he is more than just a cumbersome oaf of a dog. Dan Stevens (Lucy in the Sky, Legion) as the cruel would-be prospector in a three-piece houndstooth suit is painfully over-the-top in a cartoonish villain kind of way that is uncomfortable to watch at times. There are other notable actors in the movie – Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell, and Scott MacDonald – but none have much screen time. 
     Overall, The Call of the Wild (2020) is a vibrant and beautifully crafted film that is sure to entertain the whole family. The source material is incredible but it’s also brutal and carries some out-dated racial views so the filmmakers made some necessary changes and omissions in order to be a more heartwarming family-friendly film specifically targeted at families with young kids. The motion capture technology and the CGI are balanced beautifully and human performances are relatable. All in all, this is not a perfect film but it is beautifully heartwarming and touching in its message about trusting your true self, courage, and strength.

Final Vote --- 7.3 of 10 stars

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Movies Similar
The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019)
The Call of the Wild (1972)
Call the Wild (2002)
A Dog's Way Home (2019)
A Dog's Journey (2019)
A Dog's Purpose (2017)
Dolittle (2020)
Duma (2005)
Eight Below (2006)
The Great Alaskan Race (2019)
Iron Will (1994)
My Spy (2020)
Onward (2020)
Playing with Fire (2019)
Racing Stripes (2005)
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Spies in Disguise (2019)
Snow Dogs (2002)
Togo (2019)
Two Brothers (2004)
White Fang (1991)
White Fang 2: The Myth of the White Wolf (1994)
White Fang (2018)

February 17, 2020

Birds of Prey (2020) --- “Gotham's Worst Brings Out Their Best.”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     It's open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker (Jared Leto) puts a big fat target on her back for everyone who has a grievance against her. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of Gotham's thugs who all want a piece of her, especially its most nefariously narcissistic crime boss, Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). But things soon even out for Harley when Roman targets Cassandra Cass (Ella Jay Basco), a young pickpocket who stole something of value from him, and sends Harley to bring her to him. Along the way she crosses paths with Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to protect Cass and take Roman down.
     Directed by Cathy Yan (According to My Mother) and written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Flash, Batgirl), Birds of Prey (2020) is the eighth film in the DC Extended Universe and the follow-up film to 2016’s Suicide Squad. The story is told in a non-linear fashion that makes the film appear to be all over the place at times and can be confusing to some viewers, but it works since Harley Quinn is its narrator. Hodson uses Harley's omniscient and slightly unreliable narration in order to introduce various key players and immerse viewers into the story. The story is not only about the emancipation of Harley Quinn from the Joker or of the emancipation of the other female characters but instead, the film is about emancipation from male-led and male-created superhero comic book films. It’s a story about discovery and independence from those you never knew were holding you back. Now the humor isn’t as funny as Marvel’s Deadpool but it works for the film and every time Harley is on-screen something funny is bound to happen.
     In addition to the story, the direction and visuals really help to elevate the film. The fighting sequences are fast-paced, brutal, and choreographed in a way to showcase the characters' respective abilities and strengths. The costumes by Erin Benach (A Star Is Born) are exquisite and designed to complement the characters’ individual personalities. The soundtrack ranges from being an energetic drop in an action sequence to a more haunting vocal performance that underscores the tone and theme of a particular scene. Altogether, these elements give Birds of Prey fun energy that is a little chaotic and entirely unique.
     The cast performances were solid throughout. Margot Robbie (Bombshell, Barbie) goes all out as Harley Quinn by bringing a wild and positive energy that adds a lot of fun to a film filled with more serious and somber characters. She switches between a range of emotions such as letting loose her various quirks, taking delight in beating up bad guys, and adopting a pet hyena she names Bruce for that “hunky Wayne guy.” As a result, her mental illness is played with a more subtle hand than in Suicide Squad, which gives her character to have a touch of human empathy and allows for the audience to relate with her even more. Robbie gets a lot of help from a diverse and talented array of co-stars. Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Underground) displays some serious action chops in the fierce and physical role of songstress Dinah Lance/Black Canary - a vigilante with the metahuman ability of hypersonic screams, which she inherited genetically from her mother, who is also a singer in a club that Sionis owns. Dinah may have a good heart by nature but here she is would rather not have anything to do with crime fighting or being a good-doer. Rosie Perez (Elena of Avalor) is a bit annoying and undeveloped as Renee Montoya. She drowns her grievances in alcohol, jumps before she thinks about consequences, and is on a crazy one-track mind to bring Roman Sionis to justice no matter the costs. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Mercy Street, Gemini Man) is great as the amusingly stoic and socially awkward Huntress, who’s spent her whole life training to exact revenge with a crossbow, and Ella Jay Basco brings naturalism to the role of teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain, who brings all the characters together. Chris Messina (Sharp Objects) is unrecognizable as Victor Zsasz and is given a fair deal of buildup but he is surprisingly very underused. Ewan McGregor (Doctor Sleep) shines as Roman Sionis/Black Mask. Roman is a brutal and iron-fisted crime lord who ranges between being affably menacing to erratic dramatics, and McGregor skillfully slips between the two personas to create an effective and unpredictable counterpart to each of the heroes. 

     Overall, Birds of Prey (2020) is an imaginative & darkly flamboyant film about independence and self-discovery. There is a well-rounded and unique cast of characters that made for some interesting interactions and scenes. The costumes and action sequences helped showcase the characters’ individual personalities and abilities, while the soundtrack helped establish the tone or theme in each scene. All in all, this was an entertaining, albeit messy, film that I view as a thumbs up for the DC Extended Universe. 

Final Vote --- 8 of 10 stars


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Movies Similar
6 Underground (2019)
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Aquaman (2018)
Bad Boys (1995)
Bad Boys II (2003)
Bad Boys For Life (2020)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Bombshell (2019)
The Gentlemen (2020)
Hustlers (2019)
Justice League (2017)
Man of Steel (2013)
The Rhythm Section (2020)
Suicide Squad (2016)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Wonder Woman: 1985 (2020)

February 7, 2020

The Astronauts (2019) --- “Go Beyond The Impossible To Discover The Possible”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Directed by Tom Harper (War & Peace, Peaky Blinders), co-written alongside Jack Thorne (The Accident, His Dark Materials), and loosely based on the novel Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes, The Aeronauts (2019) is a biographical adventure film about discovery and survival. In 1862 London, ambitious meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) teams up with balloon pilot Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones) to advance human knowledge of the weather and fly higher than anyone in history. While breaking records and advancing scientific discovery, their perilous ascent to the very edge of existence helps the unlikely pair find their place in the world they have left far below them. But as they face physical, emotional and mental challenges in the thin air, their ascent quickly becomes a fight for survival as they battle fierce storms, thin air, and below-freezing temperatures. Will they make it back to the ground in one piece? Or are they fated to meet the same deadly end as Amelia’s husband and fellow pilot, Pierre Rennes (Vincent Perez)?
Since the beginning of time, humans have been fascinated with discovery. Whether it's exploring the New World, the Artic, the peaks of great mountains, the bottom of the ocean or the vastness of space, humans have unceasingly endeavored to explore new worlds and break boundaries. The Aeronauts (2019) offers a window into an era when ascending into the clouds was an amazing and dangerous feat that would be matched by traveling to the moon nearly a century later. And while there isn’t anything overly remarkable about the story, its strength comes from its ability to coax the audience into understanding the remarkable beauty and dangerous nature of the venture. Unlike the Oscar-winning Stephen Hawking film The Theory of Everything, which also starred Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts) and Felicity Jones (On the Basis of Sex), The Aeronauts is less like a stuffy awards contender and more like a streamlined, historical adventure that is more interested in entertaining with thrills and emotion by taking the audience on an exhilarating journey into the clouds. 
     The aerial sequences are both stunningly beautiful and the edge of your seat thrilling with death-defying stunts that make your heart drop into your stomach. Although the film uses a lot of CGI, the film’s clever use of camera angles, tension-filled shots, and quick edits make you feel as if you're right there with the characters and act as terrifying reminds that at any moment the balloon could come crashing down. There are some grand majestic and stunning shots of the landscape outside of the balloon that makes you stare in awe at the beauty of the world we live in. The music score by Steven Price is beautiful and compliments the visuals and story nicely. While the characters do a great job, it is clear that the film's main star is the visuals.
     Since the story is loosely based on Holmes’ novel, it makes some alterations to the historical record in order to be a more gender-inclusive film that would appeal to modern audiences. For instance, according to history, James was accompanied by his co-pilot Henry Tracey Coxwell when he made his record-breaking ascent but the replaces Coxwell with the fictional Amelia Rennes, who pays homage to various female balloonists often ignored by history. The contrast of the characters makes for a more entertaining story where mercurial intuition meets dry logic. Each of the characters has their own reasons for embarking upon such a historic and dangerous venture. James is a solemn soul who desperately wants to be taken seriously as a scientist that he is willing to risk everything, even his and Amelia’s lives in order to see the venture through. He has a desire to validate his field of meteorology, which is mocked by most of the scientific community for its lack of precision. In contrast, Amelia is an adventurous and outgoing spirit who understands how to entertain and play a crowd but wants to see the venture through as an attempt to put tragedy behind her after the death of her husband the last time she took to the skies. And while she is a strong female character, the filmmakers don’t feel the need to unnecessarily burden her with the weight of representing all women. She was brave, daring, adventurous but also classy and beautiful. She was an aeronaut because she loved it not because she had to be in order to make a point. Thanks to the charming performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, these two characters come to life and help relate the story to the audience. Other supporting characters - Phoebe Fox as Antonia, Amelia's sister; Himesh Patel as John Trew, James's friend; Rebecca Front as Aunt Frances; Robert Glenister as Ned Chambers; Vincent Perez as Pierre Rennes, Amelia's husband. - may have limited screen time but they add to the main character’s backstories and personalities.
     Overall, The Aeronauts (2019) is a surprisingly entertaining film from Amazon Studios. The cinematography and direction will leave you on the edge of your seat with breathtaking vistas and terrifying dangers. The story takes liberties by replacing James Glaisher’s co-pilot Henry Coxwell with Amelia Rennes in order to make a more entertaining, modern, and well-rounded film that connects with the audience in a way the source material might not have been able to. I highly recommend that you check out this film about humanity’s insatiable desire to explore and conquer new discoveries.


Final Vote --- 7.8 of 10 stars


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Movies Similar
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Everest (2015)
Ford vs. Ferrari (2019)
Finest Hours (2016)
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In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
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