Big Tuna challenged me to watch Love & Friendship (2016) as part of the February Take Five Challenge. It’s currently available for free through Amazon Prime Instant. I had no interest in this film because it is based on a Jane Austen novel, and I tend to find those very boring and tedious. Fortunately, Love & Friendship has a lot of comedic elements and is only an hour and a half in length.
Recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) moves in with her in-laws at their fancy estate, and she sets out to help her daughter and herself find love, or at least a husband. That’s the premise, though the snappy writing and the far-too-many characters did cause some confusion as to what exactly was going on. Yet, the humor is present, even with the character introduction, and the film comes off a little more satirical than expected.
The funniest part of the movie is the character Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). He is a potential suitor of Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark), but is a little on the dumb side. His discovery of peas may be one of the funniest scenes I can remember over the last two years. He is genuinely surprised and calls them a novelty vegetable. Every moment he has on screen, he steals with his dopey humor and line-reads that sound more confident than the words he is saying.
Even though there is comedy in this film, it’s still a Victorian period piece. Thus, it still didn’t work with my Sense and Sensibilities. The boredom sunk in moments into the movie, and despite getting me to laugh several times, it never really recovered. I tried to give the film my attention, but my mind wandered on a path more tangled than Lady Susan’s manipulations. There were definitely chunks of this film that I was completely checked out during, and would come back to it confused more than I should have been.
Ultimately, this film just isn’t for me. The acting seems solid, the production design seems good, and there were some funny moments. I just check out when movies are set in this period. I wish I was a little more high-brow, but diving into any of Jane Austen’s material feels like drinking a whole bottle of Nyquil.
Love & Friendship
Jon Berk's Rating: C
As part of the February Challenge with Big Tuna, I was tasked with watching Landline (2017). Unlike the first film I saw from the five movie challenge, which was Fifty Shades Freed (you can read my scathing review HERE), I actually wanted to see this film. Directed by relative newcomer Gillian Robespierre, the film features excellent performances, tons of laughs, a little bit of ‘90s nostalgia, and an interesting insight into relationships.
Ali (Abby Quinn) is in her last year of high school, and is constantly butting heads with her mother (Edie Falco) and older sister Dana (Jenny Slate). After a night of partying, Ali accidentally finds a floppy disk full of poems her father (John Turturro) had written for a woman named “C”. Meanwhile, Dana is having doubts about Ben (Jay Duplass), her fiancé, and the two sisters find comfort with each other for what seems like the first time.
There are really three relationships being analyzed in this film. The marriage that is clearly falling apart, a relationship at a major turning point, and young lovers just starting to discover exactly what love is. The last one takes shape with Ali and her friend, Jed (Marquis Rodriguez), who are just beginning to discover their romantic interests. Yet, Ali is using the relationships of her parents and her sister to gauge the point in all of it. In many ways, this film tackles three coming of age stories, and each earns its own outcome.
It is not easy juggling two lead characters, and there are moments where we are with one of them far longer than the other. However, Robespierre does a solid job with the characters, and making the three stories weave together at the right times. None of the characters are innocent, and at times they do things that could easily make the audience dislike them. Fortunately, they come across as real people who make mistakes and learn from them. It what makes a story like this work in the end. By the end, I felt extremely connected with all the characters from the film. I was especially surprised by the odd family unit that started off so disconnected, after seeing where they end up.
Both Slate and Quinn give excellent performances. Many of the best moments feature the two of them simply being sisters. Even their opening argument in the car where Ali can’t help but point out a stain on Ben’s pants demonstrates the chemistry the actresses have with one another. Whether they are dressing up in trash bag California Raisin costumes and trick-or-treating at far too old an age or drunken swimming, they come across as if they were really sisters. Of course, Turturro and Falco both give excellent performances - Falco especially, who has to come off as such a hard-ass while still showing enough tenderness to garner some sympathy from the audience. She is able to deliver on that dichotomy, and make her arc as Pat almost as meaningful as Dana’s with far less screen time.
Overall, I really enjoyed Landline. In fact, like many films that are a little more subtle with their points, I’ve grown to like it more upon reflection. There is plenty to keep the audience engaged while watching, but it also leaves you with things to discuss and ponder.
Jon Berk's Rating: B
As part of the February challenge that I’m doing with Big Tuna on Film, I had to see Fifty Shades Freed (2018), despite having not seen any of the other films. While I did watch a summary video on YouTube from Screen Junkies, it didn’t prepare me for the level of boredom that I witnessed. It’s not the worst movie ever, but it’s full of bad dialogue, an awful husband, and more weak dialogue delivered by wooden actors. Simply put: it’s not good.
The film begins with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) tying the knot. It becomes clear in the first few moments following their union that they don’t really know enough about each other to get married, as it is soon revealed that they’ve never discussed the future possibility of having children, which neither are ready for. Here begins the film’s problem with not really being too concerned with plot. A fire in the server room of the Greys' company, set by Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who is Ana’s ex-boss and sexual assaulter from the previous films, ends the newlyweds' honeymoon early.
Once Ana returns to her job, she’s prompted with changing her email to include her new last name, but she says to keep it Steele. In the next scene (which appears to occur merely moments later), Christian arrives stating he tried to email her with the last name of “Grey” and it bounced back. This upsets him greatly, and so of course he stormed down to her work to confront her about it. She’s snarky, and a pseudo “I’m a strong, independent woman” conversation takes place, which will later be proven to be a forced character trait and not a real indication of her personality. There is another scene just a few moments after this one, which is all over the trailers, where she confronts the overly flirtatious architect. Again, it’s clearly trying to get across the idea that Ana is a strong woman, and being the submissive to Christian is a choice she is making...as if the audience will believe he is no way is an possessive control freak.
The film continues on with cheesy soap-opera dramas intercut with sadomasochistic sex scenes...well, I’m guessing they’re supposed to be sadomasochistic sex scenes. There are whips and toys hanging in a red room. Ana has a safe word, but really there are more daring sex scenes in the first season of Game of Thrones. Every chance they can have the two leads topless is taken, but the scenes end quickly. They are predominately tame and lacking any believable chemistry. So, if the film was meant to make up for the less than stellar plot with hot and steamy love scenes, it doesn’t.
Once it gets to that promised final climax, it is even more lackluster. The plot that was barely developed comes to its conclusion followed by several minutes of expositional dialogue. Ana and Christian have a boring conversation over an unfunny rich-guy-can’t-cook moment about all the details that the movie never bothered to get to in an effort to close this final chapter. Maybe there was a bigger payoff to be had if I’d watched the other two films, but in judging this film for what it is, there isn’t much to enjoy.
As soon as the screen faded to black and the first word of the credits began to roll, I was out the door. It was a painful hour and forty minutes, but not as bad as I had expected. The relationship between Ana and Christian is toxic, and should not be admired by anyone. There are far better love stories out there with characters who are likable and far more suited for each other. The truth is, I don’t feel any hatred towards this movie, but I also feel no joy.
Fifty Shades Freed
Jonathan Berk's Rating: F+
Big Tuna's Review
I thought that this movie looked like it could be a lot of fun, but I was definitely worried because reviews didn't come out until the last minute. It turns out that my apprehensions were correct.
The narrative of this film is really inconsistent. The film is extremely slow, especially during the beginning of the film. This is a really bad sign given the fact that the film is just over an hour and a half long. There is also a lot of unexplained elements regarding the more mystical elements of the film. This is a result of the fact that there is very little backstory and characterization in the film. There are a few moments that are somewhat funny comedic relief, and there is a relatively exciting action scene towards the end of the film, but the rest is really boring. The film is loosely connected to "The Shining", but these connections really only besmirch the name of the classic horror film. The dialogue in the film is extremely cheesy and expositional. Nearly everything about the backstory to the film is explained in a conversation between characters rather than incorporated in a natural, visual way.
The visual effects of this film were solid, and the set design was cool too. The cinematography is interesting, with some really cool shots, including one where someone gets shot while looking through the scope of a rifle. The actors are a little over-the-top, though. Matthew McConaughey's lines are already cheesy, but his delivery made it feel even more unnatural.
Overall, I found "The Dark Tower" to be really disappointing. It is very poorly written, although it isn't completely awful, and the visual elements do impress at times.
The Dark Tower
Big Tuna's Rating: D
How Did I Watch It?: In theaters.
Had I Seen It Before?: No.
Would I Watch It Again?: No.
Jon Berk's Review
For every The Shining or Stand by Me there are the Stephen King adaptations that don’t work. The Dark Tower sadly falls into the latter despite Idris Elba delivering a pretty excellent performance. The film that only runs 95 minutes feels much longer and suffers from long winded expositional sequences.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) seems like he has lost his mind to everyone who hears him ramble about the man in black. He soon finds out that he’s not crazy at all, but has seen into other worlds. He finds a portal and travels in hopes of finding the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba).
The first thirty minutes of this movie move at a torturously slow pace. The description above seems sufficient, but instead we have to witness him get in trouble at school. To be fair, Tom Taylor does a pretty solid job with most of the “dialogue” he is given and even brings enough charisma to be an interesting character. However, it’s just presented poorly and likely the fault of the screenplay.
Matthew McConaughey feels a bit too cartoonish in the role he is given to play. Constantly forced to spit out tons of exposition likely to keep the films budget down from showing the interesting events he talks about. There are even moments he reveals some probably cool facts about Roland, but it’s done so quickly it’s likely people will miss it.
Elba does shine though. He doesn’t get nearly enough action sequences considering he is playing a gunslinger, but there are some really cool visuals. He carries the intensity and awesomeness of any action star out there. If he is ever given the right script he will nail it. Unfortunately, he got a lackluster adaptation of what seems like a very cool world from a book series that is beloved by many.
The Dark Tower definitely fails way more than it succeeds. There is clearly a good story at the heart of it, but it’s told rather than shown. The moments that should linger are rushed and the moments that should move don’t. This leads to an unsatisfying and even slightly cheesy ending that seems to think it’ll have a second film. The Dark Tower was Not a Total Waste of Time.
The Dark Tower
Jon Berk's Rating: D
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Big Tuna's Review
I was really excited for "It Comes at Night" because it looked like a truly chilling and well-made art horror film. I went out to see it on opening night, and I must say, it delivered.
The plot of this film is definitely great. It is a great psychological horror film, feeling like a mix of the modern body horror of Cronenberg and the classic suspense of Hitchcock. The pacing is very quick throughout, with the short runtime feeling like no time at all, although it never felt rushed. The movie hits the ground running, and it never really stops. Even when it seems that there is a lull in the conflict, the writing of the dialogue keeps the film feeling intense. The last twenty minutes are super suspenseful and had my heart pounding in what I would consider the best ending since last year's "Green Room". The metaphors that the film has to offer (which I won't reveal to prevent spoilers) are also really profound. That being said, I still had plenty of issues with the writing. The biggest one that I had would be a spoiler, but all I will say about it is that the film begins to take itself a bit too literally.
The execution of the film is amazing. The cinematography is perfect, building suspense without overuse of common gimmicks. The film also relies more on psychological horror, which is honestly scarier than average jump scares, of which there are a few, but they still add to the point. The score is bone-chilling and adds to the tone even more, and the production design, while simple and small-scale, helps the film find its tone. The acting is top-notch, too, with Joel Edgerton delivering yet another commendable performance as the obviously caring, yet often indiscernible father.
Overall, I found "It Comes at Night" to be a really great horror/thriller. It isn't without its flaws, but few films are, and it definitely stands out among the genre. This film isn't for all average horror hounds, but fans of art films will love it, and general audiences should give it a shot because it isn't what you'd expect.
It Comes at Night
Big Tuna's Rating: A-
How Did I Watch It?: In theaters.
Had I Seen It Before?: No.
Would I Watch It Again?: Yes.
Jon Berk's Review
Trey Edward Shults brings his sophomore film, via A24, "It Comes at Night" that is a suspenseful look at paranoia and self preservation. The film utilizes beautiful cinematography, excellent lighting, interesting dream sequences, and isolation of characters to create a tone that is truly terrifying while being thought provoking. While the movie will likely leave audience members questioning much of what transpired, active movie-goers will appreciate the themes the film address and the multiple interpretations available.
In a world apparently racked with a disease, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) have isolated themselves in their house in the middle of the woods. Their way of living is threatened when Will (Christopher Abbott), Kim (Riley Keough), and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) arrive at their residence seeking refuge.
Joel Edgerton seems to get better with every film he does. His tyrannical patriarch is intimidating, but is delivered with a cool matter-of-factness born out of survival instincts. While he is the biggest name on the bill, the main character of the film is Travis. He is seventeen and has witnessed some horrors that no one, much less a teenager, should have to witness. He is clearly torn with what his father says and his own feelings of hope. Harrison does a terrific job in this role and manages to carry the weight put on him. All the performances are solid and everyone gets something to do.
This film really manages to bring the tension. Pretty much from the opening sequence to the end, minus the obligatory “look how great things can be” montage in the middle, the film is suspenseful and, at times, disturbing. The film makes you think about the lengths one would go to protect their family, how horrified one could get with no information available, and the psychological effects of those two things. It’s a film that will likely get better with more analysis and even a second viewing as there is a lot to consider.
"It Comes at Night" is another successful delivery by A24. The film works really well and, for a pleasant surprise, the trailer doesn’t give much away at all. Peoples' biggest complaints will likely be the amount of interpretation expected of the audience, but hopefully they’ll appreciate that for what it is.
It Comes at Night
Jon Berk's Rating: A-
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