The Aviator (2004)

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Thinking he can overshadow an unknown actress in the part, an egocentric actor unknowingly gets a witch cast in an upcoming television remake of the classic show “Bewitched”. (Letterboxd)
All the right ingredients for a compelling biopic: Great turns (Leo’s a good lead but Kate, I mean Cate, is a standout support), a complex character to study, and an epic plot that flies high (the dual ambitions in film and aviation make for a riveting back-and-forth script) but also digs deep (“Howard, we’re not like everyone else. Too many acute angles”). Interesting editing adds some spice while a soaring climax and a great final line wrap things up nicely (“the way of the future…”).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Revisiting Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

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I make a point of never rewatching movies that I’ve already reviewed for this blog. I ain’t got time for that–too many other movies I still need to see! But as a part of my master’s thesis project, I’m doing a paper on the power of storytelling (and cinematic storytelling specifically) and one movie that came to mind as a good one to study was Quentin Tarantino’s latest that came out earlier this year, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. After a second, more intentional watch I somehow came away both with a greater appreciation for the film as well as a greater disgust for it (the infamous climax in particular) and found myself in the unique situation of no longer feeling satisfied with one of my earlier reviews (from only a few months ago at that!). Perhaps once my paper comes together I’ll elaborate more on some of the positive and critical insights I think I gained, but in the meantime, feel free to check out my revised review below (or click here to see my original post updated to include both the old and new reviews):
On first blush it’s nicely crafted but its one compelling arc (Rick’s disillusionment/friendship with Cliff) is squashed by a bevy of boring referential scenes disconnected from the shocking but empty climax. Upon closer inspection, many delightful details emerge to reveal a fascinating web of narratives meta-commenting on storytelling and identity–yet they also make plain the film’s ugly misogyny, misguided revisionism, and gross glorification of cowboy violence, especially in the climax.
7/10 (Good)

 

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

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A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. (IMDb)
Keep it about Rick’s friendship with Cliff and him battling insecurity while trying to recharge his career and this would’ve been great; the leading men are excellent and the movie set scenes are engaging. Unfortunately this compelling arc is smothered by endless drawn-out scenes that do nothing but unload historical references (the pointless narration near the end is painful) and show off impressive production design. And so even the wild climax felt empty because nothing built up to it.
6.5/10 (Alright)
SECOND WATCH (12/02/19):
On first blush it’s nicely crafted but its one compelling arc (Rick’s disillusionment/friendship with Cliff) is squashed by a bevy of boring referential scenes disconnected from the shocking but empty climax. Upon closer inspection, many delightful details emerge to reveal a fascinating web of narratives meta-commenting on storytelling and identity–yet they also make plain the film’s ugly misogyny, misguided revisionism, and gross glorification of cowboy violence, especially in the climax.
7/10 (Good)

 

Body of Lies (2008)

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A CIA agent on the ground in Jordan hunts down a powerful terrorist leader while being caught between the unclear intentions of his American supervisors and Jordan Intelligence. (IMDb)
An eye-rolling America-centric terrorist thriller at first blush thanks to Hoffman’s disturbing opening monologue, but in actuality, it’s more mature, with decently nuanced political drama that’s expertly intertwined with espionage action. The contrast of Crowe’s detached CIA boss (his suburban activities during tense phone calls are a great touch) with DiCaprio’s emotional on-the-ground agent makes for an excellent central character dynamic (see the memorable final exchange). Very well acted.
8/10 (Great)

 

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

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The story of Frank Abagnale Jr., before his 19th birthday, successfully forged millions of dollars’ worth of checks while posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and legal prosecutor as a seasoned and dedicated FBI agent pursues him. (IMDb)
Yes, it’s a supremely fun (and perfectly directed) cat-and-mouse crime caper (Frank’s slick cons–see especially his original confrontation with Carl–are complimented by his less-than-perfect attempts–“The dog was dead”–and Hanks’ charmingly no-nonsense FBI agent–“Go fuck yourself”), but two excellent character dynamics wonderfully acted (see lonely Jr. trying to please the stubbornly proud Sr.; Carl with a soft spot for Frank–see after his arrest: “Don’t worry, Frank!” ) make it so much more.
9/10 (Amazing)

 

The Departed (2006)

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An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston. (IMDb)

The double-deception plot is almost too perfect, given all the suspense and intrigue it generates, and with DiCaprio’s violent Billy and Damon’s more subtly unscrupulous Colin, offers a nuanced take on good guy and bad guy archetypes that’s further complicated by a smoky love triangle sub-plot and capped off by a bloody, twist-filled final act (the final shot was admittedly a bit much). Colourful dialogue and great gritty music and cinematography round out this impeccably acted crime drama.

8.5/10 (Amazing)

Inception (2010)

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A thief, who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology, is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. (IMDb)
The (literal) levels to which Nolan expounds upon his (literally) mind-bending premise are extraordinary, and his resulting film is nothing short of spectacular, as he (mostly) tactfully exposits his fascinating concepts through two complimentary and converging tracks: One action-oriented and exciting; the other character-focused and emotional. Brilliant cinematography (Arthur’s hotel fight is one highlight), engaging turns, and excellent music decorate this exhilarating and exquisite thriller.
9.5/10 (Breathtaking)

 

Gangs of New York (2002)

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In 1863, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer. (IMDb)
With a meandering first two acts and Amsterdam’s too-simple switch, the plot here isn’t always on point, but its wholly immersive setting provides more than enough substance to engage, with each masterfully decorated and artfully directed scene bringing you deeper into the violent, lawless chaos of 1860s New York. The fantastic Day-Lewis (the terrifying presence that is The Butcher) lures you even further in to this edge-of-your-seat experience that’s a little rambling, but always riveting.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Revenant (2015)

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A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. (IMDb)
An immaculate cinematic experience; gorgeous forested landscapes and their well-worn inhabitants are captured in spectacular natural light and with as much gritty detail as breathtaking breadth. Swelling strings and impeccable action-camerawork add further flair. DiCaprio’s committed turn drives forward a brutal and bloody survival/revenge plot that fits its severe setting like a glove with its stark visceral simplicity, while Hardy and co. offer strong support in their own secondary narrative.
9/10 (Amazing)

Shutter Island (2010)

A U.S Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane. (IMDb)
The chilling Alcatraz-like island setting here is masterfully portrayed, thanks to stunning cinematography and a haunting score, and the three leading males are all superb in their respective roles, giving attention to every tic and syllable. The story gets more complex and intriguing with each scene; just when you think you have a handle on it, a new twist or layer is added, leading to an eventual ending that’s certainly satisfying, if not a little too easy. A suspenseful psychological mystery.
8.5/10 (Amazing)