Movie Review – “Cinema Paradiso” (1988)



“Cinema Paradiso” is, first and foremost, a love letter to the power of movies. It is about the allure of watching larger than life characters go on adventures. It is about how cinema brings communities together by making us all feel the same emotions. And it is about how movies teach us as much about life as life itself. This movie views cinema through classic nostalgia googles, viewing these strengths through the eyes of a little boy that can’t stay away from his local theater.

The story is similar to Fellini’s “Amarcord” but with a massive focus on movies and the theater. In that this Italian film is mostly told through flashbacks to one character’s youth and the town he grew up in. We meet most of the people in his town, but don’t really get to know any of them until they get in the movie theater. Each character has a different reaction to their surroundings, including some spitting on those who won’t stop talking, or the guy whose seen the movie multiple times and repeats the lines out loud, yet still ends up openly weeping at the ending of the film.

The story almost feels non-existent here, with most of “Cinema Paradiso” focusing on the lives of these characters and how alive they feel while watching movies. These people feel lifeless and bored without cinema in their lives. If they’re not watching movies, they tend to talk about how life relates back to something Cary Grant or John Wayne once said. To see that type of journey evolve from childhood into adulthood and still have this wide-eyed optimism about it all certainly makes it a worthwhile journey.



But the real power of “Cinema Paradiso” is how it makes you love watching movies. Even if you’re not an avid fan of classic movies, just watch the reactions these people have to films like “Stagecoach” or Kirk Douglas playing Ulysses and you’ll see that movies are much more than just pretty faces and explosions. The ending scene in particular is one of the most powerful and heartfelt scenes I’ve seen in a long time, worthy of being enshrined in a film museum.

Overall, “Cinema Paradiso” is a slice of life Italian film that has a glorious perspective on movies that you don’t see very often. It is a beautifully nostalgic score by Ennio Morricone and some heartbreaking performances from it’s two main leads. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys reminiscing about older movies, as well as to those who want to gain a deeper appreciation of cinema.

Final Grade: B



Movie Review – “A Star Is Born” (1954)



Hot off the heels of watching “The Disaster Artist,” I saw another movie about making movies, 1954’s “A Star Is Born,” and found myself nearly falling asleep at the monotonous scenes of Judy Garland singing directly into the camera for no other reason than to show that she can still sing. Any joy to be had here from filmmaking is replaced with a cynical attitude about how fame is fleeting and way too many musical numbers than there needed to be.

I would say the cardinal sin of “A Star Is Born” is its runtime – well over three hours with a story that could have been told in less than two. I get that this was a way to give Judy Garland a comeback as an actress, but there are large portions of this movie where the story just disappears and we get tacky, self-important musical numbers.



Garland’s acting and singing ability can only take this movie so far, especially when we don’t get to see her try to be an actress outside of her singing ability. She rises from an aspiring singer with a band to an overnight sensation, but the finer details of her rise and the movies she makes are glossed over. The only thing we truly learn about her character is that she’s a great singer and wants to make it big, so I don’t feel much of a connection to this character.

Overall, “A Star Is Born” is a rather forgettable and unimpressive musical about filmmaking. The acting is fine and Garland can still belt out some great tunes, but the story is lacking, the pacing is horrendous, it is way longer than it needed to be, and it puts musical numbers ahead of everything else, including character development. It’s not terrible by any means and it looks gorgeous in Technicolor, but this one doesn’t have much going for it.

Final Grade: C-


Movie Review – “High Society” (1956)



I’m honestly conflicted as to whether knowing or not knowing the history behind “High Society” makes for a better viewing experience. On the one hand, if you go into this film knowing this is an musical adaptation of “The Philadelphia Story,” then you might only find yourself thinking about how Frank Sinatra’s acting compares to that of Jimmy Stewart, or if Grace Kelly’s turn as the strongly independent Tracy Lord even stacks up against Katharine Hepburn’s role. However, if you went in not knowing anything, you might find yourself enjoying the catchy musical numbers and the strong character progression the young Tracy Lord.

For me, I had only seen “The Philadelphia Story” once before watching “High Society,” and only vaguely remember some scenes, in particular being reminded of Cary Grant’s sarcasm, Hepburn’s stubborn yet feisty personality, and Jimmy Stewart surprisingly acting circles around both Hepburn and Grant. But if anything, watching this musical now has only made me appreciate the source film much more than I already did. “High Society” trades in the screwball comedy-style of “The Philadelphia Story” for a romantic comedy/musical with some great toe-tapping numbers, especially in a jazz duet with Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

The story between the two films is the same – Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly) is a well-known socialite from one of the biggest families on the east coast is getting remarried, all the while being in the presence of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby), who is still in love with her and will do everything in his power to have Tracy back in his arms. Due to some rather convoluted circumstances, the only sort of press that gets into the party is one reporter, Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra), and a photographer, Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), from Spy Magazine, who only make the wedding even more chaotic.



I will say that, while Kelly, Crosby, and Sinatra all do a fine job with their given roles, and Crosby and Sinatra belt out some memorable tunes, the three do lack the spark that Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart had in the original film. Kelly’s performance as Tracy Lord feels like a normally quiet and reserved woman trying her best to stand up for herself, while it always felt like Hepburn poured every ounce of her mind, body, and soul into her screams and fierce attitude. Bing Crosby is soft-spoken and smooth, with everything coming a little too easy for him, while Cary Grant loved to cause chaos and manipulate everything from behind the curtain like a puppeteer.

I give Sinatra credit, in that he took his role as the hard-hitting reporter to a much different place than Jimmy Stewart did. Sinatra is charming and charismatic, serving the role of yet another man that Grace Kelly ends up falling for. Both of them do see a lot in the other and they have great chemistry. In “The Philadelphia Story,” I never got the impression that Hepburn was falling in love with Jimmy Stewart, just that she admired him while she was getting drunk and made a few mistakes. Sinatra plays Connors as a no-nonsense reporter who likes to call things as he sees them, while Stewart was…well, Jimmy Stewart – kind-hearted, honest, and truthful. Both bring something different to Connors that make each of their interpretations feel unique.

I think the key difference between “High Society” and “The Philadelphia Story” is on presentation versus story. One chooses to focus on visual spectacles, musical numbers and a sense of the elegant lifestyle, while the other relies on the acting ability of its three main leads and the chemistry they have to lead a compelling comedy. In this regard, both films excel at what they set out to do and are individually noteworthy films. I will say that “The Philadelphia Story” is the better film, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out “High Society” for yourself and see how a screwball comedy adapts into a musical.

Final Grade: A-


Movie Review – “The Right Stuff” (1983)



Meet the movie that every astronaut training movie aspires to be – “The Right Stuff.”

This three hour movie chronicles the life and times from when we first broke the sound barrier to early days of the Mercury astronauts and their journeys around our planet, with a particular focus on the adventurous and wild test pilots the military and NASA used to achieve these lofty and dangerous goals. “The Right Stuff” gives each achievement, each little victory and each leap for mankind the gravitas it truly deserves, letting the audience savor these discoveries as much as our characters do.

While the film feels like a documentary at times, taking its time to accurately show how everything unfolded, the pure joy of the Mercury astronauts get as they see the Earth from a whole new perspective and joke with each other as one has to wait for hours to go to the bathroom is where “The Right Stuff” truly shines. The film doesn’t try to show people like John Glenn (Ed Harris) or Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) as living legends or gods, but as flawed men who made as many mistakes as the rocket engineers and the government that pushed them so that we would compete with Russians and their space race. The moments of levity and awe are a wonderful compliment to the man failures and challenges of doing something that no one has ever attempted.



For people who want to reach out to the stars and see what’s beyond Earth, this film feels more human than historical.

“The Right Stuff” does feel much longer than it needs to be, but considering what it is trying to tell and the amount of history it wants to recap, the three-hour runtime feels justified. That being said, it does start out slow and focuses a bit too much on the personal lives of the test pilots than it had to. But once the film starts testing the pilots to become astronauts, around 45 minutes into the movie, things really start picking up and never lets go.

Overall, “The Right Stuff” is one of the more fascinating and humble depictions of the first astronauts. The journey from test pilots to breaking the sound barrier to astronaut training and beyond is an admirable and epic one that takes the proper time to slow down and savor both the little and big moments. Certainly a space epic worth checking out.

Final Grade: A-


Movie Review – “The Disaster Artist” (2017)



Movies about filmmaking often feel like the most heartfelt and passionate works of art in all of cinema. Any filmmaker will tell you that getting even one movie made is a miracle in and of itself, and it’s even more rare that the film turns out exactly as it was intended, and even more rare when the audience will see your artistic vision and point of view. It is my belief that a filmmaker leaves just a little bit of their souls in each of their movies, making their identity and beliefs as ingrained in the final product as the screenplay and cinematography. This is why I absolutely adore movies about movies.

The classic examples that come to mind for these types of films are “Sunset Boulevard” and “Ed Wood,” which each show the struggles of filmmaking and how all that pain and suffering is worth it to see your picture up on that silver screen. “The Bad and the Beautiful” takes it in a slightly different direction by showing one man’s life in film through different perspectives and can be just as charming and poignant as “Sunset Boulevard.” But the newest film that can be added to this small genre is James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” our generation’s “Ed Wood.”



I would say that “The Disaster Artist” benefits from knowing at least a little bit about the person it is based on, Tommy Wiseau, or seeing the cult classic Wiseau created, “The Room,” but honestly this film fills you in on everything and can be enjoyed whether you’ve watched “The Room” a hundred times or have never even heard of it. I will say that, given my knowledge on the history of Tommy Wiseau and “The Room,” I can say that just about every crazy, bizarre, and head-tilting thing Franco does as Tommy is true – He really does act in a way that can only be described as a “unique art form.”

Based on a true story, the film follows a young Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), an inexperienced actor who dreams of becoming the next James Dean. While he attends some acting classes in San Francisco, Greg eventually meets up with the absurd yet passionate Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the two form a tight friendship. When Greg reveals his dreams of becoming a big actor in Hollywood, Tommy reveals that he has a nice apartment in Los Angeles and suggests that the two of them move to Hollywood to follow their dreams, even if everyone else in Greg’s life can sense that Tommy’s acting is abysmal except Greg.



I will say right now that I’ve seen “The Room” about three times and know that the movie is an extension of Tommy Wiseau’s personality. He wrote it, produced it, directed it, and is the leading actor. If a filmmaker normally leaves a small piece of their soul in a movie, Tommy put his entire soul into “The Room,” leaving us with a movie with is overflowing with passion and energy, but has no sense of talent. “The Room” is one of the best “so bad, it’s good” movies ever made that I honestly can’t help but admire it because Tommy put everything he had into it. Even if he turned out a laughably bad product, his heart and soul is all over both “The Room” and “The Disaster Artist.”

Like “Ed Wood,” this movie paints a picture of its main character in loving and passionate detail, giving us both the good and the bad and not painting in any broad strokes. We see Tommy as he truly is, not as just an artist or a terrible filmmaker, but as a man from an undisclosed country, of undeterminable age, and with god-knows how much money. The film offers up the history of the beloved Tommy Wiseau and lets the audience decide if this is a good man, like he believes he is, or a villain like everyone else in the film believes Tommy is.

One of the best parts of “The Disaster Artist” is James Franco’s performance as Wiseau. Everyone I hang out with has their own Tommy Wiseau impression, because he is easily inimitable, so I applaud James Franco for portraying this enigma of a man without coming off as just another impression. Franco nails the mannerisms, speech, and child-like behavior that makes this man one of the most bizarre people I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. When I was watching this movie, it did not feel like I was seeing James Franco trying to be Tommy Wiseau, it felt like Tommy was really in front of me.



But ultimately, the driving force of “The Disaster Artist” is that same passion for filmmaking that Tommy Wiseau has, but directed in a way that makes you appreciate how strange and chaotic Hollywood can be, especially around the man that gave us “The Room.” Little moments like an elderly woman telling Greg why she chooses to act at her age, or the love and admiration Greg has for James Dean, come across as loving and honest, which compliments the many scenes of Tommy’s bumbling and terrible behavior. The final scenes during the first screening and the end credits showing the loving recreations of “The Room” are some of the most powerful and memorable sequences in recent years – funny, strange, heartwarming, and full of energy. Scenes like these are why we go to the movies in the first place.

Overall, “The Disaster Artist” takes the unbelievable story of Tommy Wiseau and tells it in a way that would make the man himself proud. The film never feels like it is winking at the audience, but instead shares that same desire to create something unique that Tommy has. I loved this film and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys going to the movies. Even if you’ve never seen “The Room,” this film will make you appreciate the art form just a little bit more.

Final Grade: A


Movie Review – “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” (2017)



If I had to describe the latest Star Wars film with just one word, it would “different.” This may rub some diehard Star Wars fans the wrong way, and I have already seen many fans reacting just as negatively to “The Last Jedi” as they did with the prequel trilogy, but at this stage in the game, I feel “The Last Jedi” is a breath of fresh air that isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and show new sides to an old story, while working to create something entirely new.

It does feel like “The Last Jedi” was made as a direct response to the criticisms of “The Force Awakens,” which audiences complained was too much like “A New Hope” and didn’t do enough to create its own identity. People were afraid that “The Last Jedi” was going to continue this trend and just be a retread of “The Empire Strikes Back,” myself included. But the latest entry in the series feels wholly unique from any other film, making the audience question the overall themes and message of the Star Wars films, while still giving us that same Star Wars goodness we’ve all come to know and love.

This is a difficult film to talk about without spoiling anything, especially since “The Last Jedi” is the first Star Wars film to come out that I didn’t know where it was going. There’s far more twists and turns that I expected, and it doesn’t take any easy outs, making this a movie that you need to see twice before you can fully appreciate it (which is a great marketing tool by Disney, ensuring that the common movie-goer will go see this film multiple times). In this case, I will say that “The Last Jedi” is a great addition to the Star Wars franchise, with a vastly different philosophy and approach, but I’d take the passionate love letter to this series, “The Force Awakens,” over this movie in the end.



Set almost directly after the events of “The Force Awakens,” the remaining members of the Resistance have now become the rebels and are on the run from the rampaging First Order, led by their Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads the last major group of rebels to find a hiding place from the First Order, holding out hope that her brother Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) will return soon to stop this war before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the newest Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke on an island on a planet no one has ever heard of, and begs Luke to return to save the rebellion and possibly train her in the ways of the force, both of which Luke has no intention of doing.

The main theme of “The Last Jedi” is one of burying the past, both literally for its characters moving on with their lives, and for the film as a whole by showing us this bold and brave new direction the trilogy is heading. I love the direction this film takes characters like Luke and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) and the journeys their characters undergo, showing a far more vulnerable and imperfect side than I ever expected.

The acting is also a definite improvement over “The Force Awakens,” especially from Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. In that film, he always seemed like a whiny, petulant child with anger problems, but now Driver is able show a wide range of emotions that show him as a character going through some conflicting feelings about what is right and wrong and whether he should bury his past or embrace it. Oscar Issac is given more to do than just being the handsome flyer, and turns Poe from just an action hero into a likable yet flawed character you want to see succeed. Of course, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher pour everything into their roles to show us why we loved these characters in the first place.

The cinematography for “The Last Jedi” is a bit strange but beautiful to look at. The finale, which takes place on a salt planet, offers a color scheme that feels wholly unique, appearing like blood on snow. This gorgeous spectacle is one of the highlights of the film, embracing the imagination and creativity of Star Wars, while still feeling like its own thing. This helps to create that identity that “The Force Awakens” never truly got.



However, the film does drag at certain points. There are some scenes that go on much longer than they needed to, especially near the beginning of the second act, and most scenes with the rebels aren’t nearly as interesting as the moments with Luke and Rey on the island. For a two and a half hour runtime, this one feels much longer than it actually is thanks to its multiple climatic battles. Then again, “The Last Jedi” feels like an entire trilogy of movies told in one movie, so maybe that’s because there’s just a lot to digest.

Overall, “The Last Jedi” is a much different Star Wars experience than I ever expected. It takes the simple fairy tale like story of good versus evil and makes it far more complicated than its ever been. This film gives you a lot to think about, while still remaining Star Wars at its core. It doesn’t repeat the past like “The Force Awakens” does, but rhymes with the past in a way that feels unique. This is a movie I have to see again to fully understand, but one I don’t mind watching again.



Final Grade: B


Movie Review – “Amarcord” (1973)



If there’s one foreign director whose work does nothing for me, well it would probably be Ingmar Bergman’s movies, but a close second would be Federico Fellini. Granted, I’ve only seen his films “8 1/2” and “La Dolce Vita,” but both nearly put me to sleep where it feels like they wander around aimlessly with no purpose other than to be artsy. There is little to no substance in his movies that it’s hard to find a reason to recommend his movies.

But I will say there were scenes in Fellini’s “Amarcord,” that I genuinely enjoyed for their laid back, small town approach to it all. The film follows teenager Titta (Bruno Zanin) and his every day life and troubles while growing up in a small village on Italy, surrounded by eccentric and colorful people, in the 1930s just as the Nazis were coming into power.

On the whole, “Amarcord” doesn’t do much different from Fellini’s other films, since it doesn’t have a major over-arching story, just a bunch of small vignettes revolving around the many people in this town and Titta’s family. But there’s this small village charm that I found adorable about “Amarcord.” It starts in the opening scene when everyone comes together to celebrate the end of winter in a joyous bonfire in the center of town. They all have their own unique way of celebrating, especially the teenagers who want to play with the fire and the local motorcycle rider who drives right through it, but it’s clear that everyone is having a blast.



This passion and joy for life sticks out above other Fellini films and makes the aimless plot worth observing. Scenes of Titta trying to put the moves on the local town hottie Gradisca (Magali Noel) or watching Titta’s father (Armando Brancia) try desperately to control the crazy people around him and failing, put a smile on my face because they feel so nostalgic and vibrant.

“Amarcord” is like listening to a painter as he creates a portrait of his childhood and hearing about all the highs and lows of his life.

If you ever watch one Federico Fellini movie, give “Amarcord” a shot. It never tries to be about anything other than the life of a teenager with a lot to learn, which is so refreshing to see from Fellini. It is filled with colorful characters and equally vibrant comedy that makes it all feel laid back and nonchalant about it all. The film still moves at a slow pace, but gives each scene enough time to leave an impression on the audience.

Final Grade: B-