Friday, November 29, 2019

[Review] Everybody’s Everything

Sometime in late 2016, I stumbled across a scrawny, tattooed faced kid who made music that sounded like bold mixture of rap, pop-punk, and emo. Think — Green Day meets Chief Keef... My Chemical Romance meets Future. Nirvana meets Lil B. It didn’t fully click with me first, but I found myself always being drawn back to it. It became fascinating. I couldn’t look away. And pretty soon it became an all-out obsession as I digged deeper, intently seeking out every piece of music he would go on to release.

That artist’s name was Lil Peep (real name Gustav Ahr). His music infiltrated my universe. It captivated me, it comforted me, and I listed to it on repeat for all of 2017. That very same year, on November 15th, I woke up to the gut-wrenching news that my new favorite artist had suddenly died from a drug overdose — the same chemical that took Prince away. He was just 21 years old. I cried, I felt sick, and I listened to his music in a whole new way.

Everybody’s Everything (the title is taken from one of Lil Peep’s poignant final messages to his fans) is a new Terrence Malick-produced documentary about  Gus’s whirlwind of a life. The superb film serves as a remarkably in-depth and impressively comprehensive portrait of Lil Peep’s incredibly fast rise to prominence and his tragic departure from this world.

The well-edited film is stocked with intimate and raw footage of Peep that ranges from exciting to warm to funny to startling to disturbing to heartbreaking. It’s complete with candid interviews from managers, music writers, producers, peers, significant collaborators like Lil Tracy and ILoveMakonnen, and his very own mother Liza Womack, who has handled Peep’s legacy with grace and class and love. “I’m still doing all this because I don’t want to let him go,” she says with tears in her eyes. Another extremely emotional element of the documentary is the narrative inclusion of the beautiful letters that Peep’s beloved grandpa wrote to him as he began his ascension to stardom. The letters give us a heartfelt look at Lil Peep as a human being. He was a gentle soul, a highly motivated worker, and he never wanted to disappoint anyone. This is driven home by the sweet childhood footage of him that’s interspersed throughout the film. His wide-eyed innocence never really left, even when things got really dark.

Lil Peep’s influence and innovation is made strikingly clear here. He essentially created his own genre and provided a powerful voice for outsiders and people battling their own personal demons — and he did it with equal parts magnetic swagger and heart-on-sleeve vulnerability. His music was sonically ambitious, potent, and chill-inducing, and it will live on.

Everybody’s Everything is a lovingly crafted ode to an amazing artist and it’s a troubling cautionary tale of a young light gone way too soon.

Rest In Peep.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

[Review] Jojo Rabbit

With two coming-of-age gems, a gut-busting vampire mockumentary, a blast of a Marvel blockbuster, and an episode of “The Mandalorian” under his belt, is there anything writer-director Taika Waititi can’t do? What about a Nazi-skewering movie where he suits up as Adolf Hitler?! That’s what he does with Jojo Rabbit, a uniquely irreverent comedy with a fluffy heart of gold. 

Meet Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old boy growing up in Nazi Germany. Despite the swastikas on his walls and his conversations with his imaginary friend Hitler (Waititi), it becomes quite clear that the misguided Jojo wouldn’t hurt a fly (and definitely not a rabbit). His ideals are challenged when he finds out that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic, and the two begin to form a reluctant friendship.

It’s bold. It’s hilarious. It’s sweet. It’s precious. It’s devastating. It’s hopeful. Waititi juggles a lot of different tones here, but he manages to pull it off without a pin hitting the ground. He finds comedy within the absurd, humanity within tragedy. The film is like a satire cartoon come to life. There’s funny and clever dialogue cannon-fired throughout, as well as a handful of powerful lines of anti-hate sentiment. “We’re just like you, but human.” What’s most impressive and endearing about this film is the way in which Waititi remarkably captures childlike innocence against a harrowing backdrop of war and propaganda. The picture is beautifully shot with crisp frames and touches of Wes Anderson-like playfulness. Whimsical elements flourish here and there, but Waititi never loses sight of the harsh reality at stake. 

The cast is absolutely terrific all-around. Scarlett Johansson is stellar as Jojo’s mother, and Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Rebel Wilson are also great in their supporting roles. Waititi plays the imaginary version of Hitler with a smattering of buffoonery and kitsch. But it’s the kids who truly shine. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis gives a wonderful performance at the film’s emotional core, and Thomasin McKenzie is excellent as his foil. Archie Yates plays Jojo’s good best friend and he’s almost unbearably cute and bound to be a favorite.

On paper, Jojo Rabbit might seem awkward, risky, and maybe even head-scratching. On the screen, it becomes a tremendously affecting experience. The laughs come with tears, the joys come with pain. And it’s a spunky takedown of brainwashed hatred, blind worship, and hostile divisions. In the end, we must dance

* 9/10 *

Friday, November 22, 2019

[Review] Parasite

Get that money, but at what cost?

Following the dystopian crossover Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho returns with Parasite, a South Korean tragicomedy and twisted economic parable that sneaks up on you and reverberates through your nerves.

On one side of town resides the Kim family. They’re living in poverty — I’m talking stink bugs on the table and bump your head in the bathroom type of poverty. On the other side of town lives the wealthy Park family —  I’m talking home is designed by a famous architect and the refrigerator is stocked with Voss water type of wealthy. The Kims hatch up a scheme to get on the Park family’s personal payroll. Fake your way into being tutors? Worth a try. Usurp the chauffeur? It might work. Take over the housemaid’s job? That’s the key. And, well, it’s only a matter of time before it all hits the fan. 

Parasite is an experimental petri dish of mixed genres and specimens of morality that are as murky as flooding sewer water. The plot transforms in three stages. The first stage unfolds like a sitcom — there’s funny dialogue, awkward predicaments, and deceptive and desperate con artistry that you can’t help but smirk and chuckle at. The middle stage turns into a thriller with infectious suspense that’ll make your pulse race. The final stage is more like a horror film, and I don’t mean in the supernatural or creepy crawly way — I mean in the horrific circumstances way. It’s a nightmare that’s all too real. 

The film is pristinely shot, and Bong Joon-ho’s direction is meticulous and affecting. Each and every cast member is excellent here, and their performances will stick with you. In the end, Parasite is a scathing and thought-provoking dissection of class conflicts and disparity. It feels like a dream, and yet it doesn’t.

( 8/10 )

Sunday, November 17, 2019

[Review] Good Boys

Sixth grade just got a whole lot wilder with Good Boys. Like elementary school itself, this raunchy comedy won’t necessarily rock your locker, but it brings a few fun times, laughs, and growing pains. 

Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon play the trio of friends who call themselves “The Beanbag Boys” (let’s keep it real — they’re in the loser crowd). What transpires is a middle school romp involving a misplaced bottle of Molly, a stolen drone, and a plan to not only make eye contact with a girl — but possibly even kiss one (with consent, of course).

The biggest strength of Good Boys is the great cast of kids and the script’s hilarious dialogue. It captures a certain unfiltered naivety, curiosity, and obliviousness that comes off like an R-rated episode of the hit ‘90s cartoon “Recess” (by the way, I loved that show). The rest of the film is a mixed bag lunch. Some things are welcomed and exciting, and some things might have been better off going in the trash. The film can get a little too edgy, random, and foul-mouthed for its own good, but at least the kids are consistently funny and delightful with what they’re assigned to work with.

Good Boys lands in that awkward stage where it’s a comedy that’s about kids but not for kids, and you begin to wonder what audience it’s truly meant for. It also seems to completely lose its touch with reality along the way, and I can’t help but think it would have been better off going in a different direction. But what saves it from stumbling into a basket of smelly gym socks is its heartfelt portrayal of adolescent friendship. That’s something that we all can get down with. 

( 6.5/10 )

Saturday, November 9, 2019

[Review] The Lighthouse

Is there anything more terrifying than two hairy men cooped up in close quarters? That’s the idea that Robert Eggers sets sight on in The Lighthouse, a well-crafted tall tale of wet and rocky insanity.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play the two lighthouse keepers. Dafoe’s character is kooky, brash, and crude. He’s the kind of person who won’t let silence rest. When we first meet him, he’s blasting off farts in the bedroom. In the path of that stench is Pattinson’s character, a quiet and reserved guy who’s just there to carry out tasks and get the job done. Gears are grinded and coals are heated, and so are these fellows’ nerves and tempers. Like a spiral staircase, what unwinds is a never-ending storm of nautical myths and bad omens. 

The Lighthouse is the trip that would happen if you consumed a whiskey-soaked mushroom and passed out while pissing into the sea. It’s a drunken “Twilight Zone” episode. It’s weird. It’s absurd. It’s hallucinogenic. It’s hilarious. The humor is as dark as the shadows in each room. The picture is presented in a square aspect ratio and a grainy black and white filter. It looks claustrophobic. It looks old-fashioned. And it looks uncomfortable. Starkly and artfully shot, the film comes off like a series of scenic postcards, but instead of saying “Wish you were here...” they say “Get me out of here...”

The sound design is intense and unsettling. The water dripping... The floor creaks... The wind whipping through the cracks of the “living” space... You practically feel like you have to watch this thing with rain gear on. In addition to the onslaught of farts, this is a film that looks like it smells really bad. The body odor... The wet clothes... The shit buckets... Willem Dafoe is excellent here. It feels like a lived-in role. He must have been a pirate in a past life. Robert Pattinson also continues to impress with his selection of eccentric roles. You can barely understand a word he’s saying in this, but it doesn’t matter — we know he’s going through it. These two fight, they bond, and they go stir crazy. One of the best lines of the year comes as Pattinson’s character frantically screams “I’M SICK OF YOUR GODDAMN FARTS!”

The Lighthouse drags and becomes a bit tedious toward the end, but maybe that’s fitting for a film of this nature. Lighthouses look pretty from afar, but this film makes you never want to spend a moment inside of one, especially if it’s with a stranger. 

( 8/10 )

Friday, November 8, 2019

[Review] Hobbs & Shaw

In case you’ve lost count how many films there are in the Fast & Furious series, we’re now up to a total of nine. Nine! 

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham team up for the ninth with Hobbs & Shaw, a muscle flexing spin-off that punches its way into over-the-top chaos.

The ridiculous, continent-hopping plot sees seminal rivals Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw begrudgingly team up to save the world from the destructive Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba), a cybernically-powered villain with superhuman strength and abilities.

This action buddy comedy is all over the place. There’s a lot going on. The film is basically the cinematic equivalent of an “Everything“ Bagel that catches on fire and explodes. And while it might be too overcooked and too long for its own good, it’s also loaded with grenades of fun and outbursts of butter-soaked popcorn entertainment. Hands are thrown and bodies are tossed every five minutes. This is a movie where The Rock leads an army of Samoans against against a faction of gun-toters. This is a movie where Statham does donuts in a vehicle that has flamethrowers blasting out the side. The only thing missing is The Rock giving someone the People’s Elbow.

Hobbs & Shaw is highly funny and smirkingly self-aware. The Rock and Jason Statham play really well of off each other with their mixed match of charisma and curmudgeon. The two also have great comic timing. They bicker and roast each other, butting heads like two clashing bulls in a contest of badassery. The film also throws in some amusing appearances from Ryan Reynolds and The Rock’s frequent on-screen buddy Kevin Hart.
The Fast series has never been grounded in reality or logic or physics, and this one leaps even further from that. There’s futuristic sci-fi and supernatural elements here, which might turn off some people. But let’s face it: These movies will probably be set in an intergalactic volcano before we know it. 

( 7/10 )