Film Review: Tangerine (2015)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Music by: Matthew Smith (supervisor)
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanian, James Ransone, Clu Gulager

Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Bitch, you know I don’t do downers, bitch. You know I’m an upper ho.” – Sin-Dee

I didn’t know much about Sean Baker until after I had experienced his most recent film and my favorite of 2017, The Florida Project. I read about some of his previous work and Tangerine was a film that was pretty highly regarded. I checked out the trailer and read about how it was made and I had to check it out for myself. I’m glad that I did.

For a film shot on a cell phone, it looks fantastic. Baker used three iPhone 5S smartphones to capture everything. He filmed while using an app called FiLMIC Pro, which helps to control focus, aperture and color temperature while capturing video at higher bit-rates than the iPhone’s standard. Baker also used an anamorphic adapter to capture video in a widescreen format. The smoothness of the shots were achieved by using Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee. This prevented the film from having that standard shaky-cam effect made famous by found footage movies. In post-production, Baker used Final Cut Pro for editing and Da Vinci Resolve to correct the contrast and color saturation of what he filmed.

The movie had a budget of $100,000 but due to what they saved on cameras and equipment, most of the budget went to businesses who allowed them to use their locations for the film, as well as to extras who were needed in certain scenes.

Tangerine is nearly fully populated by actors with very little to no experience and is made to feel genuine and authentic, as if you just stepped into these characters’ lives for a day. The only known actor in this film is Clu Gulager, who is in one scene as a taxicab customer.

The plot all happens in one day and on Christmas Eve. For the most part, the film focuses on Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker in Hollywood. She has just gotten out of prison and while sharing a doughnut with her best friend, another transgender sex worker named Alexandra, she learns that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her with a cisgender woman. Sin-Dee immediately loses her cool and goes off in search of this woman with just the knowledge that her name starts with “D”.

The film also showcases a day in the life of Armenian cab driver Razmik. He seems like a decent guy but as the plot unfolds, we learn that he’s into transgender prostitutes and that he also has a wife and a very small child at home. Eventually, Razmik’s story crosses over with Alexandra and eventually Sin-Dee’s story.

The last act of the film is a big crescendo where all these characters’ issues collide in the doughnut shop where it all started. This isn’t a film that’s really shooting for a positive outcome for anyone but is instead a real character study and just a small sample of these people’s lives.

Between this and The Florida Project, Sean Baker has really cemented himself as one of the best contemporary filmmakers that makes character study films. The fact that both of Baker’s films have been pretty much snubbed, in my opinion, by the Academy, except for Dafoe’s performance in The Florida Project, is pretty upsetting. This film, along with The Florida Project, should have had several nominations and both movies are better than many of the films that received Best Picture of the Year nominations for 2015 and 2017.

Film Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Release Date: May 29th, 2015 (France premiere)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters by Michael Crichton
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Irrfan Khan, Andy Buckley

Amblin Entertainment, Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.” – Henry Wu

*written in 2015.

It took a really long time to get this fourth Jurassic Park film. For me, it felt as if I was waiting a bit longer than most, as I wasn’t a fan of Jurassic Park III and I thought The Lost World had promise but crossed over into absurdity towards the end. Truthfully, I was only a big fan of the original film.

Ultimately, this film is better than its two predecessors – making it the best film in the Jurassic Park franchise since the original.

I miss Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern but Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard made a nice duo and did a good job. Vincent D’Onofrio did his part as the villain but was basically just Vincent D’Onofrio. The kids were okay but slightly annoying but then again, kids in film typically are. I liked the parts played by Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus and Irrfan Khan. Judy Greer and Andy Buckley also did good with their limited roles.

The film certainly churned up a lot of nostalgia and overall, it was a pretty pleasant experience. There were homages to all of the previous films: some subtle, some blatant. The vibe of the film was consistent, the musical score was better than decent (but not as good as John Williams’ original) and the horror aspect was pretty well executed.

What this film is missing though, is that Spielberg magic that the original had. While this film brings out emotions and gives a fan of the original movie some chills, it is all just because of how good the original film was. This movie relies on tapping into the well of the original Jurassic Park because it has to. It succeeds in that though, because it brought me back to how I felt watching the original the first time but it also made it clear that this wasn’t that film. I don’t really fault the filmmakers, as the original film was special. Even Spielberg couldn’t replicate his own magic with The Lost World. It is hard to capture lightning in a bottle once, let alone twice.

The plot of Jurassic World was pretty straightforward and slightly cookie cutter but there were a few twists and turns that I didn’t anticipate. The dino battles were great, the action was superb and the set and creature designs were pretty on point.

This is a fun and engaging summer film, deserving of the blockbuster status it was designed to achieve. While not a great picture, it will most likely be remembered fondly for years to come.

I also hope that this film gives the franchise some legs to keep moving forward. I’d be on board for other sequels if they are able to match the quality of this film and they present fresh ideas.

One plot question though, if they don’t want to remind people of the previous park and its disastrous failing, as made clear by Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, then why did they use the same iconic park gates, same typeface that the original logo had and make constant references to the original when talking to the new park’s guests? I guess if you change the font color to a calming blue instead of a violent red, it soothes people. I don’t know.

But anyway, couldn’t they have at least got Jeff Goldblum back for a cameo? Even at the end? Just have him walk on screen, look at the carnage and let out his patented Dr. Ian Malcolm laugh?

And the trailer.

Documentary Review: Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)

Release Date: May 16th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Written by: Gabriel Clarke
Music by: Jim Copperthwaite
Cast: Steve McQueen (archive footage), Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, Louise Edlind

Content Media, McQueen Racing, Pit Lane Productions, 102 Minutes

Review:

Le Mans is my favorite movie about auto racing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a classic with fantastic action and a true sense of realism unlike anything ever filmed on the subject before it. It feels like a documentary accented by the presence of Steve McQueen.

The story behind the film is more intriguing, however.

This was Steve McQueen’s dream project, as it focused on his biggest love: motorsports. More specifically, it focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the biggest annual motorsports event in the world, which pits all the top auto manufacturers against each other with the best drivers in the world, gunning for bragging rights and world supremacy, at least until the following year.

McQueen was at the point in his career where he could be attached to anything and any studio would just write a check. However, due to creative problems, production issues, falling behind and the immense undertaking that this film became, the project turned into a nightmare for all involved. McQueen’s vision was his vision, whether or not the people brought on to help him realize it, understood what they were doing or not.

This documentary also analyzes McQueen’s personal life, its ups and downs and how all that played into his attitude and his handling of creating this dream. Le Mans was an arduous task that had to be finished but McQueen’s personal demons didn’t make it any easier.

In the end, the film got made, it didn’t do so well upon release but has grown to cult status among car and racing aficionados. It’s an amazing film for a lot of reasons and this documentary shows you why.

Plus, it’s always a treat to watch McQueen’s Le Mans footage. This also has a lot of behind the scenes stuff mixed in.

Documentary Review: Four Falls of Buffalo (2015)

Release Date: December 12th, 2015
Directed by: Ken Rodgers
Music by: Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, David Robidoux
Narrated by: William Fichtner

ESPN Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2016.

Four Falls of Buffalo is one of the more recent ESPN 30 For 30 films. I watched it on Netflix in preparation for Super Bowl 50, yesterday.

The documentary follows the journey of the Buffalo Bills of the early ’90s and their four consecutive Super Bowl losses.

It was a cool film, as it brought me right back to that era – the era where I first really fell in love with football. It certainly churned up a lot of nostalgia and a lot of those feelings I had as a middle school aged kid watching Buffalo get so far, only to fall short again and again.

It was nice, all these years later, seeing all the players and coaches accepting what fate dished out to them. They all came across as positive people that took their historic run in stride and understood that they were still one of the greatest teams of all-time, even if the big title eluded them.

Four Falls of Buffalo is one of the best NFL 30 For 30 films. It is exciting and it is pretty thorough in chronicling the bumpy four-year journey of the great Bills team of the early ’90s.

Plus, it is hard not to love and respect Jim Kelly and Marv Levy.

Film Review: The Revenant (2015)

Release Date: December 16th, 2015 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Based on: The Revenant by Michael Punke
Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Lukas Haas

Regency Enterprises, RatPac Entertainment, Anonymous Content, M Productions, Appian Way Productions, 20th Century Fox, 156 Minutes

Review:

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.” – Hugh Glass

*Written in 2016.

This is the best movie I’ve seen in 2016. Okay, it is the first movie I’ve seen in 2016. Regardless, it is fantastic.

I guess this fits within the western genre, although it takes place 30-50 years before most westerns. It is mostly a revenge film that takes place on the American Frontier in the era between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It features vast wilderness, dangerous Native Americans and a big barrel full of badass.

The film reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, who worked together in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Both actors deliver but when don’t they?

Tom Hardy’s portrayal of John Fitzgerald is chilling. He’s not a cool villain or one you can even sympathize with. He is a cold blooded piece of shit and damned good at that. Hardy created a memorable character that will be despised for generations. For as simple and straightforward as the character of Fitzgerald is, Hardy turns something somewhat generic into something exceptional. Fitzgerald is a beast and is certainly the devil of the film. No one feels entirely safe when he is in the scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio was stellar. Playing the legendary character of Hugh Glass is no easy task, especially considering the elements he would have to deal with as an actor. Glass’ journey is heart-wrenching to witness. DiCaprio adds intensity to Glass’ struggle to avenge his son’s death. He is incredibly believable in his display of unrelenting drive. He is eaten and ravaged by a grizzly bear, broken to pieces and essentially buried alive and yet he crawls and fights his way 200 miles through severely harsh territory to track down Fitzgerald. And every step of the way, DiCaprio sold it.

Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu has a track record of great films. This may be his greatest. He delivered an exceptional story that was beautiful to look at. The landscapes were massive and made everything feel so desolate. The environment was an extension of everything in Glass’ heart. The action sequences were beautifully shot and orchestrated. The final showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald is one for the ages.

The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who collaborated with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto, was an amazing piece of work. It was very original but captured the emotion and depth of the film. It was an endless and epic string of music that perfectly accented every scene.

The film has a running time of just over two and a half hours. That may seem lengthy but it is one of those movies that is so good, you don’t care. It is kind of a let down when it does end. Not because the resolution was bad but because it was a hell of an emotional adventure and you aren’t entirely ready to walk away when the credits role.

This film truly captures the feelings one has in the aftermath of revenge better than any other film I have ever seen. What happens when the fox finally catches the rabbit? This film makes you feel it.

This is close to a perfect film in that I can’t find any real flaws with it. I guess the only complaint is that the CGI was noticeable in two scenes but it is so minor it really isn’t a total distraction. Especially, when atrocious CGI has become the norm in Hollywood.

The Revenant is a classic film. It should be beloved for generations by those who enjoy badass wilderness films. As I said, it isn’t a traditional western and doesn’t really exist in that time period but it has the heart and the spirit of the best films in that genre.

TV Review: Scream Queens (2015-2016)

Original Run: September 22nd, 2015 – December 20th, 2016
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Mac Quayle, Heather Heywood, Alexis Martin Woodall
Cast: Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, Skyler Samuels, Lea Michele, Glen Powell, Diego Boneta, Abigail Breslin, Keke Palmer, Oliver Hudson, Nasim Pedrad, Lucien Laviscount, Billie Lourd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kirstie Alley, Taylor Lautner, James Earl, John Stamos

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 23 Episodes, 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

Scream Queens is a horror comedy series that just debuted on Fox. Well, if you can even call it “horror” or “comedy”. Usually, I wait till at least a whole season of a show has aired before I review it. I’m not waiting that long in regards to Scream Queens because I have no intention of ever eating this shit sandwich again.

This series was made by some of the people who made American Horror Story and some of the people who made Glee. It is a weird mixture that doesn’t seem to work on really any level.

The comedy isn’t funny. I get that it is parody and satire and a commentary on the culture of self-obsessed privileged college kids but this has been done several times over and much better. Even in the realm of horror comedy, this show relies solely on overused cliches and by rehashing gags that we’ve already seen.

In regards to horror, this show was pimped out as being edgy and taking risks that network shows don’t usually have the liberty to take. Well, the gore is tame and goofy, the special effects aren’t effective and it just doesn’t conjure up even a minute feeling of dread or terror. Additionally, the slasher character on the show isn’t frightening or intimidating in the slightest.

It is also hard to give a shit about the horror any of these characters are facing. Everyone on this show, except for one or two people, are completely unlikable. You can’t relate to any of them and you grow to hate them and actually wish they’d all die. Except you can’t root for the slasher because the slasher is moronic and corny. And truthfully, I guarantee a lot of young girls will idolize these shitty horrible people and turn into equally atrocious people because they are too daft to understand the joke here.

Jamie Lee Curtis is in this and that kind of sucks. She plays a somewhat interesting character. I just don’t care enough to continue watching her traverse through this mess. Niecy Nash is also in the show and she is the best thing about it, by far. Sadly, her role is pretty small. Emma Roberts is the star. She was in American Horror Story and is the daughter of Eric Roberts and niece of Julia Roberts. She plays the head asshole of the asshole girls and overreacts the whole time. I don’t necessarily blame her, I think it is bad direction but in any event, it is an over the top performance that is too exhausting for such a flat show.

Scream Queens is an over-exaggerated version of everything I hated about Coven, the third season of American Horror Story. Except, at least Coven had characters I liked and cared about, which distracted from the overly cheesy and ridiculous teen drama that made that season feel like Gossip Girl meets Charmed.

When I first heard that Fox was coming out with a show called Scream Queens, I thought it was going to be a period drama about girls in the days of old school horror who were actual Hollywood scream queens. I would’ve been excited for that. Instead, we’ve got a shitty unintentional homage to that shitty 2001 horror film Valentine. At least I could look at Denise Richards in that movie.

But after reading other reviews out there, it looks like I am the minority here. I’m fine with that. Because catering to the majority is why we have these awful PG-13 horror films and nothing truly memorable in that genre for decades.

Film Review: Ramona (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Creţulescu
Written by: Andrei Creţulescu
Cast: Rodica Lazar, Dorian Boguta, Andi Vasluianu, Serban Pavlu, Ana Ularu

Kinosseur, Wearebasca, deFilm, 25 Minutes

Review:

In a nutshell, this is a 25 minute short film about a woman going on a revenge killing spree. However, there is no dialogue and no real explanation for her actions, other than a small bit where she flips through some pictures of girls that look physically tortured.

I guess it is similar to I Spit On Your Grave and other films like that but it is a super stylized modern neo-noir looking picture. It also lacks a setup and therefore, you have no real emotional attachment to this woman’s violent revenge quest.

The film is unfortunately one of those that falls victim to style over substance. It plays out in what feels like real time, as it is comprised of a few long take shots but those moments between the killings weigh down the picture and dilute the little bit of violent action that does take place. 80 percent of this short film is walking and driving from place to place and then waiting.

Does it feel real? Yes. But again, it isn’t something you can connect with emotionally and it plays more like a really long music video without music until Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” plays at the very end, twenty-plus minutes into this.

The cinematography is nice and the shots are very well choreographed but there isn’t much else here.

I guess this is the third part of a trilogy of short films. I’m not sure how related those films are, if at all, other than having the same cast, but maybe seeing those first would have given this a bit more clarity. I’ll still check those out, if I can find them, and maybe that will make me understand this film a bit more. But as a standalone effort, this just isn’t something I was into.