Tuesday, August 27, 2019

[Review] The Peanut Butter Falcon

“Two bandits on the run!”

Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Zack Gottsagen are the spirited buddy duo in The Peanut Butter Falcon, a southern and saltwater-soaked tale of a wonderfully unique friendship that converges like a delta stream. 

Zak (Gottsagen) is a diehard wrestling enthusiast with Down Syndrome, living a discontent life in nursing home. Tyler (LaBeouf) is a down-and-out wrongdoer running from his troubled past. The two wind up in the same boat (quite literally) and set out on a journey to follow Zak’s ultimate dream down to a wrestling school in Florida. But it’s no easy coasting, as each of them have folks on their trail — some nicer than others. 

It’s a funny, touching, and tear-jerking adventure for the ages. Writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz orchestrate the events with passionate, clear-eyed optimism. With streaks of Jeff Nichol’s superb coming-of-age film Mud, the film emphatically charms as a buddy comedy, an underdog story, and an on-the-run trek all at once. It’s so completely moving to see Zak and Tyler develop a bond, and the beautiful cinematography and awe-inspiring views of exquisite sunsets and vast waterways might have you contributing your own puddles of saltwater — grab some tissues. 

Gottsagen as Zak aka The Peanut Butter Falcon gives such a heartfelt and funny performance here. LaBeouf is also fantastic, demonstrating magnificent range and nuance as a memorably messy character that is equal parts pained, tough-loving, and empathetic. He’s truly one of the best and most compelling actors of his generation. Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and country rapper Yelawolf (whoa!) are all excellent in their supporting roles.

This sensational gem of a film is all about we enrich each other’s lives in unexpected manners, the strengths we find to wade through the swamps, and how a little bit of encouragement can go a long way. It’s a modern classic. A greatly told story. In The Peanut Butter Falcon, fairytales are authentic. Fables are genuine. Legends are real. Zak is our hero. 

* 10/10 *

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[Review] Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

If there’s one thing you can say about the work of Quentin Tarantino, it’s that he always brings a wily spectacle to the screen. So it makes complete sense for him to ride into the outlaw pastures of old-time Hollyweird, and that’s exactly what he does with the tinsel-titled Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. The film is stacked with an all-star cast, and it kicks its feet up on the table as an amusing view of a fascinating and often ugly world. 

It takes place during the year 1969 in sprawling Los Angeles, and it follows fading Western TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime buddy and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they not-so-gracefully navigate the decline of their entertainment careers. Lurking in the backdrop are members of the Manson family, which gives the film an uneasy edge. In other words, we know that something fucked up is gonna happen eventually. 

Like many of Tarantino’s efforts, this thing is LONG and its plot meanders, backtracks, and hits dead ends like the dense roads of the Hollywood Hills. But you know what? This unfocused mess is thoroughly entertaining to witness. Much of the film skirts along with a sweaty, beer-buzzed energy through smarmy studio lots and movie set antics. The picture is expertly shot — even the films-within-a-film look fantastic. As expected, DiCaprio is great here. He revels in the role with enthusiasm and hilarity (and a funny mustache) and he looks to be having a blast, which is a big part in why the film is so enjoyable. Pitt plays well off of DiCaprio, bringing a grizzled veteran charisma to the escapades. Margot Robbie rounds out the cast as Sharon Tate, and Al Pacino shows up as a producer with a self-aware wink.  

This film is like a vintage late-night drive to a party that is bound to go off the rails. A comical, and sometimes cartoony dream in sun-drenched tints. A pop culture obsessed farce. And it all builds to a fiery, biting, ultra-violent ending. The jarring conclusion is less of a re-enactment of an event and more of a complete twist on history — a satisfying revenge fantasy carried out to the extreme. After all, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood really is a fairytale.

( 8/10 )

Monday, August 19, 2019

[Review] Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Gather around, because Halloween has arrived early with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and it’s a lot of frightening fun.

If you’re like me, you grew up reading the memorable book series of the same name. Alvin Schwartz’s notoriously creepy illustrations might have given me a nightmare or two. Or three. 

Directed by André Øvredal and adapted by horror master Guillermo del Toro, this big screen imagining brings the monstrosities to life and does an expert job in making your skin crawl, cleverly weaving in several of the bizarre and terrifying stories into a cohesive feature-length film. There’s a scarecrow with a mind of its own, pimple-popping spiders, The Jangly Man, and a Pale Lady that is likely to haunt your dreams. The film, especially in the beginning, revels in old-fashioned folklore and urban legends and it embraces a tone of campy nostalgia while providing plenty of funny tricks and treats along the way. 

It’s also an ode to horror fandom and spooky cinema itself, from the Dracula posters to the drive-in theater showings of Night of the Living Dead. Most importantly, this thing is about the power of telling stories, and how they stick with us. Sometimes they’re scary. And sometimes they’re told in the dark.

*Lights a candle*

( 7.5/10 )