Review: Swallow

Swallow (2020)

Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Writer: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Starring: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, and Denis O’Hare

Plot: An underappreciated housewife starts swallowing random objects as an act of rebellion against her controlling family. 

Review: Honestly, this review is going to be kind of short on purpose. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about this movie. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. I really, really enjoyed Swallow. However, I also went in completely blind. I didn’t watch the trailers. I didn’t read any reviews. Actually, I didn’t even really know what genre this movie fell under. I just knew it was about a wife who swallows things. That’s it. And, that’s exactly how I’d like everyone else to experience it. Just trust me. It’s actually really good. That having been said, I will try my best to tiptoe around everything to give more specifics. 

Ok. First thing’s first, the plot in this movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Obviously, we’re already in a weird place at the beginning. A pregnant woman swallowing random everyday objects like marbles, tacks, and batteries? Yeah. It’s a little strange. But, they do such a good job of making her sympathetic that you can’t help but want her to do whatever makes her happy. Her family are such huge assholes. They’re the type that smile and say that they love you, but constantly make backhanded compliments and treat you like you’re crazy. And, through the process of treating her like she’s insane, they, of course, seek treatment. Things tend to come up in therapy sessions… and that’s where I’m going to stop. Let’s just say that the plot unfolds in all kinds of crazy ways from there. Like I said, I’ve never really seen a movie like this. It’s pretty insane. 

I’ve got to give major props to the director too. Everywhere I look, this movie is listed as a thriller. But, honestly, if you were just to read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, that genre tag would probably confuse you quite a bit. Storywise, this is definitely a family drama. There really isn’t all that much going on. However, Mirabella-Davis directs it with so much intensity that you’re constantly on the edge of your seat. It feels more like Strangers on a Train or Gone Girl than Little Women. Plus, he’s got a really unique visual style. The cinematography is beautiful. I was super impressed, especially when I learned this was his first movie. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for what he does next. 

And, of course, I can’t review Swallow without mentioning the incredible lead performance by Haley Bennett. She really captures the soul of this character in a fascinating way. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen depression portrayed so realistically. She constantly looks like she’s about to break out into tears, even when she’s pretending to be happy. That felt real. The only time she honestly looked 100% happy was when she was partaking in her dangerous addiction. This definitely made her a sympathetic character. Like, you definitely knew that what she was doing was unhealthy but you couldn’t blame her since it was the only thing that made her happy. If the year ends up being as slow movie-wise as I think it’s going to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bennett managed to grab an Oscar nomination. It’s definitely one of my five favorite performances of the year so far. 

As you can tell, I really enjoyed Swallow. It’s unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. I wish I could dive deeper. I would love to have a conversation about certain later scenes, but this isn’t really the place for it. I’m just here to steer you towards the good movies and away from the bad. Swallow is definitely a good one. I’d check it out. And, when you do, hit me up. I’d love to talk about it some more. 

TL;DR: Swallow is unlike any movie I’ve seen with a crazy plot, great direction, and a killer lead performance. 

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: Greyhound

Greyhound (2020)

Director: Aaron Schneider 

Writer: Tom Hanks

Starring: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, and Elisabeth Shue

Plot: In the early days of WII, a first-time captain must lead a convoy across the Atlantic ocean, while being attacked by German submarines. 

Review: When I wrote up a post recently about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I mentioned that it was a movie that felt like it was made specifically with me in mind. Greyhound is kind of the opposite. This doesn’t feel like a movie made for me at all. It feels like it was made for someone’s dad. Someone’s dad who spends most of his free time reading books about military generals of old. Basically, it was a movie that feels like it was made by Tom Hanks for Tom Hanks. It’s not necessarily bad. It just never really managed to get me wrapped up in the story either. 

In order to explain my mostly apathetic feelings towards Greyhound properly, I feel like you have to know something about me. I am not a military strategy guy. It’s just not something that interests me. I love history and I love learning about wars. But, the moment you start to explain to me a specific battleplan, I tune out. I’m more interested in the before and after. I want to know how that war affected the world. I don’t really care for specifics on how we won. Likewise, I enjoy war movies. But, I’m not really there for the military aspects. I want a good, human story and wars feature a plethora of those. Give me a good character arc and I’m on board. Go through a step by step explanation of the real-life chess game the superiors are playing and my interest will start to fade. Unfortunately, Greyhound is all about the strategy of war. The excitement comes from watching these two sides outmaneuver each other as both try to come out victories.  It very much is like watching two characters play chess (or I guess maybe Battleship in this case). I’m sure it was all thrilling stuff if you’re into that sort of thing. I can appreciate that it was well done. I just couldn’t really get invested. 

It’s a shame too, because, when Greyhound did decide to spend a couple of seconds on character moments, they were actually really well done. For example, I love the little ongoing storyline that the main character refuses to take a break. I loved seeing the legitimate concern of those around him as he refuses to eat or sleep throughout the entire journey. Likewise, there were a couple of really good moments where the characters got to dwell on the death around them. They weren’t long. This is a very fast-paced movie, but they were impactful. Then, without getting into spoilers, I really enjoyed the ending where we got to see the respect the men had for their captain. And, of course, our lead is Tom Hanks, who is an expert at portraying emotions in even the smallest of moments. Altogether these scenes probably only took up about three minutes of the runtime, but they were what’s going to stick with me. Those tiny moments saved the movie a bit. Because otherwise, I’d be willing to call this a complete snooze fest for me. 

My other big problem with Greyhound is a little less subjective. I hated the special effects in this movie. It all felt like it was filmed in front of a giant green screen. Nothing felt real. I never, for a moment, felt like Tom Hanks was actually in the middle of the ocean. Everything just looked too fake. They filmed all of the internal stuff on an actual WWII boat, which means that those scenes look fantastic. I’ve heard a rumor that the movie originally was supposed to be even more limited than it already is and was supposed to take place exclusively in the boat. But, then, it didn’t really work so they had to add a lot of additional footage. Again, that’s just a rumor that’s floating around but it makes sense. It’s kind of a beautifully shot movie when they’re inside. However, as soon as they step outside, I felt like I might as well be watching someone play Call of Duty, to be honest. I guess that can be expected if everything else was an afterthought. This is also a pretty low budgeted movie (at least half of Dunkirk), so that may have something to do with it too. 

Overall, I’m not really sure whether I could’ve like Greyhound in its current form. I’m just not super into this type of movie. But, with the exception of the special effects, I don’t really think this is a poorly made movie either. It’s just not for me. Someone out there will definitely enjoy it. I’m just not that person. 

TL;DR: Greyhound was way too over-reliant on military jargon and CGI for me to be interested, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad movie. 

Score: 5/10 (Meh)

Review: The Old Guard

The Old Guard (2020)

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Writer: Greg Rucka

Starring: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Veronica Ngo, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Plot: A group of immortal mercenaries is hunted down by a pharmaceutical company looking to forcibly take advantage of their healing abilities. 

Review: If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll notice that I’m a little hard on Netflix films. While they’re shows often feel fresh and exciting, their original movie catalogue often feels like what used to be direct to video fluff. One or two good movies might make their way through, but for the most part I don’t get excited for Netflix originals. Even their most popular works like Bird Box, Extraction, and The Irishman leave me kind of mixed at best. So, I was skeptical when everyone started hyping up The Old Guard. The trailer didn’t sell me either, as it gave me intense Bloodshot vibes. But, I’m here today to tell you all that I was wrong. The Old Guard is freaking amazing. I really, really enjoyed it. 

The most surprising element of The Old Guard to me was how strong the script was. Of course, once I looked into it a bit more I was no longer shocked. It was written by the same guy who wrote the comic book series this was based on. And, say what you will about comic books, but they often have time to pause and take a moment to really focus on character moments and the morality of what they are doing. As much as I like the big, flashy comic book movies, they often don’t have enough time to really get into that. The Old Guard does. We have several scenes of our heroes sitting down and contemplating what it means to be immortal, how lonely it is, and whether or not what they are doing is right. Those moments are always super important and super touching. It feels natural that a comic book writer would understand that and try to bring it to the adaptation. Oh, and the world-building is fantastic. This is only one movie, but, by the end, we understand who these characters are and, more or less, their whole backstories. It’s really impressive. 

The other biggest positive take away from The Old Guard isn’t nearly as surprising. The action scenes are really, really good. Charlize Theron is a genuine asskicker. She’s proved it time and time again, in movies like Atomic Blonde and Mad Max: Fury Road. Well, she does it here again. (The fact that she’s also an Academy Award winning actress makes her OP as hell.) This time, though, she uses melee weapons, which, as I probably don’t have to tell you, are super cool. The fight scenes were so well choreographed and beautiful that I legitimately got excited whenever a new sequence started. It’s also noteworthy to point out that this is the action coordinator from Avengers: Endgame and Birds of Prey. Both of those movies had really cool fight scenes too, so, obviously, he knows what he’s doing. So, badass actress and a talented stunt team? Yeah. It’s not surprising that the action sequences work so well here. That doesn’t make them any less fun though. 

As you can tell, I really enjoyed The Old Guard a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a really fun superhero-esque movie that isn’t afraid to take a break for deeper, emotional moments. It’s kind of the perfect balance between drama and action, to be honest. Plus, the world is a lot of fun. Think of it as a Wolverine movie, but with only the healing powers and not the adamantium skeleton. It definitely blew my expectations out of the water. I had a lot of fun watching it. Apparently, there’s already a sequel being made, which excites me because I definitely wouldn’t mind spending more time in this universe. Actually, I wouldn’t mind a series of five or six movies, if they’re all this good. Bring it on, Netflix. 

TL;DR: The Old Guard mixes well choreographed action sequences with deep, emotional conversations to create a really strong, unique entry in the comic book movie genre. 

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: Palm Springs

Palm Springs (2020)

Director: Max Barbakow

Writer: Andy Siara

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milloti, Peter Gallagher, and J.K. Simmons

Plot: A man and a woman are stuck in a time loop taking place on her sister’s wedding day.

Review: So, here’s the thing. I saw Palm Springs about a week ago. I enjoyed it. I really did. However, I didn’t love it like I know a lot of people have. And, I don’t exactly know why. So, I kind of put off typing up my review for it. Now we’re a week out and I feel like I have to type something up because it’s one of the more popular movies “playing” right now. So, here we are. I don’t know how long or how inspired this review is going to be. But, it’ll be a review. Hopefully it’ll serve its purpose by letting you know whether it’s worth a stream. Ok, let’s just jump into it. 

First things first, I can see the script for this movie being pitched as an unnecessary sequel to Groundhog Day. “What if Phil’s girlfriend were stuck in the time loop with him?” Now, I’m not trying to use that as purely an insult. This is about the best you can do with that concept. However, like I said, it feels unnecessary. I feel like everything this movie has to say was already articulated in Groundhog Day. And although there is a twist that keeps things semi-fresh, I don’t really think it was enough to justify its existence. Maybe that’s a tad too harsh. I don’t know. But, if you’re going to attempt to retread the same ground as an iconic movie, you better bring me something super fresh. Happy Death Day, for example, caught my interest by making it a slasher flick. This just feels like more of the same. 

But, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad either. I laughed quite a bit during this movie. I think some of the gags they were able to do with the time travel were really clever. The way they wasted time and messed around was very entertaining. Likewise, there were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming. But, the real draw here is the characters. Samberg plays, essentially, the Bill Murray part in the middle of Groundhog Day. He’s the one who has been stuck in the time loop the longest and knows his way around the place. He has tried to get out so many times that he’s given up. And, of course, it’s Andy Samberg so he’s hilarious. Then, there’s Cristin Milioti who was the real breakthrough for me. When I think of this movie, she’s probably the one I’ll remember most. For reasons you learn later, she’s kind of stuck in one of the worst days of her life at the type of massive family gathering a lot of people dread. Through the time loop, she has to learn to accept her failures and confront her past. It’s a super interesting dynamic. Her character is really what makes the movie work. And, the two of them have a great dynamic. They play off of each other really well and are super cute. I was actively rooting for them to end up together, which is a good sign in a romantic comedy. So, Palm Spring’s definitely isn’t a complete waste of time. There’s some really good, clever stuff here. 

So, yeah, that’s pretty much everything I have to say on Palm Springs. I really liked the characters. The acting was good, especially from Milioti.  I thought a couple of the gags were really clever. There were a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming. But, I can’t ultimately say that I loved the movie because it just feels like I didn’t get that much fresh content from it. I don’t know. Sorry this review is kind of all over the place. That’s why I took so long to type it up. I would definitely say give Palm Springs a shot. It’s not a waste of time. I just don’t think it’s all that memorable either. Am I being to harsh? Maybe. It’s likely. Definitely. I’d probably like it a lot more if I hadn’t already seen Groundhog Day a million times. 

TL;DR: Palm Springs is a fun movie with great characters, but suffers from the inevitable comparisons to Groundhog Day. 

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

Review: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

Director: Eliza Hittman

Writer: Eliza Hittman

Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten

Plot: A teenage girl and her cousin travel to New York City so she can get an abortion without parental consent.

Review: You know what? Sometimes movie watching can be a weird hobby, as you’re thrown from one extreme to the other. Sunday night, I watched Guns Akimbo, a high energy, fun shoot ‘em up. Then, the next night, Never Rarely Sometimes Always was on the docket. And, honestly, I don’t think there are two more different movies on the entire planet. This was a slow, realistic and oftentimes hard to watch drama. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean one was better than the other. I really enjoyed Never Rarely Sometimes Always. I mean… as much as one can enjoy this type of movie. 

A word of warning to any who go to watch Never Rarely Sometimes Always. It is incredibly slow. Not much happens in it plot-wise. You’re pretty much just following these two characters as they execute this scary, hastily scraped together plan. It’s almost like watching a documentary. There’s no added drama. There’s nothing thrown in there just to make the audience laugh. There’s not much of a score. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like much of a movie. But, that’s also kind of the point. This venture is already scary enough. We don’t need anything added to make it worse. Going through this process as a teenage girl sounds absolutely horrifying. Heck, I’m intimidated by it and I’m quite a bit older.

On the other hand, this movie 100% does not pull any punches. (No horrible pun intended, if you’ve seen the movie.) It’s brutal. From watching our lead character try to have a miscarriage early on to seeing the constant amount of sexual harassment these girls endure, it can be a very hard watch. In fact, I had to fight the urge to close my eyes or look away almost as often as I do in the gnarliest horror films. However, I think that brutality is needed. It really drives home the point. We’ve made abortion too hard to obtain for young women. The process is almost scarier than the procedure, which is insane. This is showing that insanity and what teen girls are willing to do to avoid it. It’s really tragic stuff. Likewise, sexual harassment is just flat out gross. It makes the guys look like creeps and the women super uncomfortable. And this movie really puts you in their shoes. I could feel the same disgust the characters experienced. So, definitely not an easy watch, but I feel like it’s an important one. And that’s the point. 

I wouldn’t say that all of Never Rarely Sometimes Always is entirely bleak though. There are some moments of light. First of all, the love that these two cousins have for each other is very strong. Some of the things they do for each other really hit me hard. You can tell that they just want to be there for each other, especially in this scary situation. Likewise, there’s one doctor at the Planned Parenthood office who was legitimately a nice person. There’s a scene where the doctor has to ask her a couple of questions before the procedure that nearly broke my heart. She obviously wants what’s best for her young patients and knows that a lot of them have really tragic backstories. It was nice to see someone who genuinely cared. I’m glad there was some heart to this movie. It made it feel more real. Like, even when you’ve got to go up against these crazy, scary situations, you can always count on someone to have your back. I think that’s an important message. 

I definitely respect the hell out of Never Rarely Sometimes Always. I think it’s one of the most important movies to come out this year. It’s not an easy watch by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a necessary one. I feel like I walked a mile in someone else’s shoes and learned a thing or two. I was already pro-Planned Parenthood but this movie put everything in a new perspective. This is definitely a very real, scary journey that a lot of young girls have to go through. And, honestly, that’s tragic. Things need to change. 

TL;DR: As hard as Never Rarely Sometimes Always can be to watch with its slow pace and brutal realism, I feel like it’s an important watch that shows a new perspective. 

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: Guns Akimbo

Guns Akimbo (2020)

Director: Jason Lei Howden

Writer: Jason Lei Howden

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, and Rhys Darby

Plot: An internet troll finds himself forced to participate in a killing based reality show. 

Review: I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t know how to start off this review. I typed up a couple different things and nothing seemed appropriate. Then, I found this quote on Rotten Tomatoes that was too good. So, I’m going to essentially steal it. Christian C, an audience member who Rotten Tomatoes has deemed as a “Super Reviewer,” gave Guns Akimbo two stars and said “I don’t understand why this movie was made. It’s a grotesque orgy of excess, depravity, and hyperactivity crying out for a heavy dose of Ritalin.” Well… that’s all very true. But, unlike Christian,  I FREAKING LOVED IT. 

Guns Akimbo is a freaking roller coaster ride. Imagine having Edgar Wright’s cocaine addicted clone write and direct a movie that’s a mashup between The Truman Show and The Purge. That’s what this movie feels like. I think every scene was just trying to outdo the last. The violence and the dialogue were just so over the top, in the best way possible. It makes Deadpool look like a Disney backed MCU film by comparison. The pace is also ridiculous as we’re just thrown from one absurd thing to the next. The sense of humor is quite strong too. I was laughing almost the entire time. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a movie quite like this one. I can definitely see how some people would hate it, but I had a hell of a time just going along for the ride. Honestly though, I’m kind of a sucker for dark humor like this. 

But, I’ve also had a lot of these high octane, balls to the wall action movies fail to catch my interest in the past. I think the main difference here is how incredible the two leads of Guns Akimbo are. Daniel Radcliffe is fantastic here. I love this trend he’s been on since he ended his run as Harry Potter. He’s gone down the Elijiah Wood/Robert Pattinson path of just taking whatever roles he wants to take. These guys don’t have to worry about money. They’re set for life, so why not have some fun? And, this is definitely a fun part. He’s an internet troll that just so happened to mess with the wrong people this time. He wakes up the next morning with guns attached to his hands and is told that he has to participate in a violent internet gameshow. Watching him try to figure out how to live his life with guns for hands was very entertaining. 

Likewise, I loved seeing how this typical, nerdy, pacifist guy reacted to being thrown into something truly horrific and being forced to kill. I think Radcliffe brought a really genuine and funny take to it. It felt like how I and most of my friends would react in that situation.

Similarly, Samara Weaving continues to make a name for herself. Despite the movies sharing some DNA, she is completely different here than she was in Ready or Not. In this, she plays a grade-A badass from beginning to end. She’s Radcliffe’s competitor in the game, thus the one who is trying to kill him. But, unlike him, she is an expert assassin who has been dominating at the game for years. She’s got a crazy amount of weapons, an indomitable will, and has a hunter’s instinct that always seems to allow her to catch up. Honestly, she’s like the Terminator and Harley Quinn rolled up into one terrifying character. Yet, there’s a real touch of humanity to her. Weaving does an incredible job of making her both terrifying and also vulnerable, making her one of the more interesting characters I’ve seen this year. It’s quite the achievement. I was impressed by Weaving before, but now I’m convinced that she’s here to stay. 

So, I definitely enjoyed Guns Akimbo. It’s not for everyone, obviously. But, if you’re down for a high octane, intense, violent, definitely not-pc thrill ride, you can’t do much better. It’s as fun as Baby Driver with all the violence of John Wick. 

TL;DR: Guns Akimbo is a fun, super violent, non-stop thrill ride with strong performances from Radcliffe and Weaving. 

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: The Lovebirds

The Lovebirds (2020)

Director: Michael Showalter

Writers: Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, and Kyle Bornheimer

Plot: A recently broken up couple finds themselves trying to solve a murder before it can be pinned on them. 

Review: The Lovebirds was one of the movies I was most disappointed to see pulled from theaters. Throughout the first three months of the year, I must’ve seen its trailer two dozen times and it made me smile everytime. There were two likeable leads. The plot seemed interesting. Yeah. I was definitely excited for it to roll around. And, then, of course, COVID happened. And, now it’s on Netflix for all to enjoy… from home. Having now seen it, I gotta say… I wish it had hit the cineplex. Because this movie is funny. Like, really funny. I think it would’ve been a good group viewing. Instead, I just watched it at home by myself and, while enjoyable, I don’t feel like I got the full experience. It’s still a really solid comedy though and I laughed out loud more than a couple of times. 

The plot of The Lovebirds is really nothing special. We’ve seen similar elements in about a hundred different movies or tv shows. Innocent civilians are pulled into a ring of crime after they were accidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hilarity ensues as they react to the horrific things going on around them while they’re trying to escape. But, it’s a plot that works really well. We can all put ourselves in their shoes. How would we react? “Haha. It’s funny that he’s crying because I would definitely cry too.” You know. That kind of thing. And, this definitely is good for that. There are just enough scary or WTF moments to keep you going along for the ride. 

However, I don’t think it would’ve worked half as well without our two leads: Nanjiani and Rae. As a couple on the verge of breaking up, their chemistry really shines through. I could see the love that they have for each other and the pain in their eyes whenever they talk about splitting up. Honestly, it kind of felt like the kind of performance you get when two actors are actually seeing each other. They’re that good. And, obviously, these two are funny as hell. They both have amazing comedic timing and their conversations had me chuckling the whole time. I especially liked their opening fight. It felt like the real, petty stuff that people argue over, but was hilarious. I hope these two do more together. I’m a big fan of each separately, but I think they work really well together too.

Lastly, I’ve gotta give a huge shout out to the marketing team. Like I said, I saw the trailer for The Lovebirds at least 20 times. I basically had it memorized. So, I anticipated knowing a lot of the funny lines before they were said. However, in this instance, I was wrong because they actually changed a lot of them. I don’t know if they actually filmed separate stuff for the trailers MCU style, just had different takes, or edited the movie after the marketing was released. It doesn’t matter though. It was just so refreshing to watch a comedy without having all the best lines spoiled in the trailer. More companies need to do this. Give us the feel of the movie, not the exact jokes. 

Overall, I really enjoyed The Lovebirds. It’s not groundbreaking stuff. It’s fairly straightforward. You’ve seen movies like it before. But, the leads are just so likeable that it’s easy to spend an hour and a half going on an adventure with them. 

TL;DR: Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae shine in the otherwise paint-by-number comedy The Lovebirds. 

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Bad Education

Bad Education (2020)

Director: Cory Finley

Writer: Mike Makowsky

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Rafael Casal, Stephen Spinella, Annaleigh Ashford, and Ray Romano

Plot: A couple of high ranking school officials are brought down when it’s discovered that they’ve stolen huge sums of money from the budget. 

Review: The best way I can think of to pitch HBO’s Bad Education is “Think All the President’s Men but in highschool.” Because that’s a lot like this feels like. It’s Watergate, but on a much smaller scale. If that sounds appealing to you, I’d definitely recommend this one. It’s a really fun, engaging watch.

Who doesn’t love a good scandal? I know I do. And this is a juicy one. It’s people stealing millions of dollars from the education system. And, not just anyone, the charismatic leaders who are supposed to have the best interest of the kids at heart. This story is interesting enough on its face value, but watching it unfold in front of you makes it all the more satisfying. It’s especially fun to see the characters try to wiggle themselves out of trouble. 

Speaking of, these characters are great. I love Hugh Jackman’s performance in this. He plays a superintendent who the whole town seems to love. He’s radically improved the school district and looks cool doing it. He’s like James Bond, if 007 ever got into teaching. Even before the scandal broke, it was great to watch him work the room. He just had so much charisma. It’s no wonder he was able to hide the fact that he was a scumbag. Then, of course, it’s a joy to see him fall apart. Likewise, Allison Janney brings real humanity to this movie. She starts off just as cocky as he is, but getting busted hits her hard. By the movie’s end, you almost feel bad for her. Almost. These are two scumbag lowlifes, so it’s an incredible feat that you end up liking them at all. 

I also really like the message Bad Education is sending. Like I said before, it’s the high school version of Watergate. There’s a reporter digging in, finding cases of corruption, and taking down the man. Power of the press! The only difference this time is that it’s set in a high school. It’s a school newspaper reporter that’s taking down the man, man. How cool is that? I wrote for the school newspaper. It’s fine for a bit of light, puff piece-y entertainment. I don’t know that we ever wrote anything of much importance, definitely not something this big. Like, damn. That’s quite the message to send out. I know it’s rated TV-MA but, if I were a journalism teacher, I’d love to show this in my class. It’s really freaking inspiring. And, in our world of scandal and attacks on the media, this was a welcome viewing experience. 

Overall, I really enjoyed Bad Education. The story is good. The characters are fun. The moral of the story feels important today. And, it never feels like it’s preaching to you. It’s still a remarkably fun movie. It’s not my favorite movie of the year, but I don’t have any complaints either. I would definitely check it out on HBO when you get the chance. 

TL;DR: Bad Education feels like a Watergate movie, but set in a high school with characters that are a lot of fun. 

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night (2020)

Director: Andrew Patterson

Writers: James Montague and Adam Dietrich

Starring: Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz

Plot: A teenage girl and a radio DJ investigate a weird wavelength that’s come over their small town. 

Review: The Vast of Night is one of the few movies that actually got lucky during the COVID-19 situation. Movies like Black Widow and Mulan fled theaters for the time being, which allowed smaller, independent movies to take their spots in the few theaters that remained open. Like, I don’t know… Maybe a self-financed, grounded science fiction movie with no big names attached from a first time director. Yeah, The Vast of Night is being talked about way more often than it usually would be. But, is it good? Yes. Yes, it is. 

The main factor this movie has going for it is Andrew Patterson. He paid for this movie himself. He wrote it. And, he’s the director. That’s already quite the achievement. For it to be as good as it is, that’s on a whole different level. He’s quite the director. There’s an extremely long tracking shot that is maybe one of the most impressive I’ve seen. The camera takes us on more or less a tour of the entire town, including through a high school gymnasium where a basketball game is currently taking place. And, even though it’s obviously not one shot, the way everything is pieced together makes it flow so well it definitely feels like it is. Plus, I love the framing device of this movie. We start off zoomed in on a tv set like we’re watching an old episode of a Twilight Zone knockoff. Then, it pans in and becomes our reality. Though, it still occasionally will go back to black and white like we’re just coming back from commercial. I think that was a really cool idea. But, Patterson didn’t feel the need to constantly show off either. He’d let the story stand on its own when necessary. There are several scenes of people just talking where he doesn’t do anything fancy with the camera. In fact, during one of the longer stories, he even cuts the visuals to let you really concentrate on what’s being said. That’s ballsy. I can’t imagine a big studio release ever doing something like that, but I really, really enjoyed it. 

So, as a coming out party for Patterson, The Vast of Night is super impressive visually. However, I can’t say that I loved it. Because, honestly, the plot isn’t the strongest. You can pretty much guess where it’s going from the setup. I also can’t fault the movie that much either because it’s not trying to be anything original. It’s obviously paying homage to 50’s science fiction and that’s exactly what it feels like. This is pretty much a really well-directed episode of The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, it’s one that you’ve seen before and doesn’t really stand out from the pack all that much. It’s kind of just bland. I wanted to be invested more than I was. The acting is good. The visuals are good. There’s some really unique storytelling tricks here. But, the plot just didn’t grab me. 

Overall, I’d say that The Vast of Night is worth a watch if you’re interested. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s only 90 minutes. And, like I said, there’s some good stuff in there. Just don’t expect to be blown away by it. 

TL;DR: The Vast of Night is a really well directed version of a story you’ve already heard a million times. 

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

Director: David Dobkin

Writers: Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele

Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Mikael Persbrandt, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Graham Norton, Demi Lovato, and Pierce Brosnan

Plot: A less than stellar musical duo is given a shot to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Review: My dad and I once had a several day conversation about the career trajectory of comedians. We theorized that their quality of work in movies was essentially a bell curve. They would start off kind of slow, having bit parts or cameos in other famous comedian’s movies. Then, they’d hit it big and make hit after hit after hit for a couple years. However, this almost never lasts as people get tired of the schtick and they’re career hits a bit of a lull. I added that I’m pretty sure that happens when they voice an animated character. That’s usually the end of their peak. Eventually, they’d either upgrade to dramas or go back to being bit parts in other comedians’ films. Well, we’ve been in the lull of Will Ferrell’s career for quite some time now. He hasn’t had a live-action role I’ve been a huge fan of since Step Brothers. And, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga doesn’t change that streak either. It’s not awful, but it’s pretty far away from the Ferrell highlight reel. 

Honestly, the emotion I felt most during my viewing of Eurovision was boredom. I know that everyone’s standards for a good comedy are different, but I just didn’t find this movie that funny. There were a couple of one-liners I chuckled at, but, for every joke that hit, there were ten that didn’t. And, I think the problem comes from the writing. The stuff I laughed at I can easily see Ferrell or McAdams improvising on set. The really, painfully unfunny stuff was obviously in the script. From the cringe-inducing visual gags to Demi Lavato in maybe one of the worst ongoing gags I’ve seen. And, maybe the biggest fault is that this movie is over two hours long! A couple of chuckles is not worth a two-hour investment. They definitely should’ve edited it down to eighty or ninety minutes. Keep the strong stuff and cut out the clutter. 

Another major problem I felt is that this movie really doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a parody of Eurovision or a loving tribute? Am I supposed to think the musical numbers are funny or genuinely good? Is this villain a conniving jerk or a decent person? The movie never really seems to commit to anything, which left me confused on how I was supposed to feel. They would constantly bash our heroes, making them seem like the worst band in the world, then have them progress super far. They’d talk about how evil Dan Stevens’ character was and then have a scene where you felt real warmth radiating off of him. And, it’s not like they’d slowly evolve those feelings, because in the next scene they’d take it all back. It’s very odd. 

Before I wrap this up, I do feel like reiterating that I didn’t hate Eurovision. There were a couple of funny lines from Ferrell. Rachel McAdams is always a delight. She’s one of the more likeable people in Hollywood. And, apparently, she actually sings a bit. Her performance was probably the stand-out for me. Likewise, I really like Dan Stevens. I think he’s crazy talented and his musical performances were among the few that actually made me giggle. So, it’s definitely not a complete waste. 

Overall, I’d say that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga had a lot of potential. It’s a funny enough concept and the characters are likeable. It’s not the worst thing you could throw on Netflix to keep yourself entertained for a bit.  I just think that the movie has some serious tone issues and is waaaaaaaay too long. 

TL;DR: Despite its promising premise and strong cast, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga isn’t good for much more than a couple chuckles. 

Score: 5/10 (Meh.)