The Dallas Movie Screening Group

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Studio: STX Films

Review: The Mauritanian


If you must know this, September 11th, 2001 will be always remembered in history books, films, and seared into the memories of those who were there or watched the horrifying events being unfold on both television and paper at home and school. This film is heavily based on the New York Times best-selling memoir Guantánamo Diary, written by the actual Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a true story of Salahi's experience of being held for fourteen years without charge in Guantanamo Bay detention camp. This is the story about one's own life and experiences that can deeply discover the explosive true story about fighting for survival against all odds. Director Kevin Macdonald offers a stunning twist of delight that takes the audience to the new levels of survival and justice. The Mauritanian features the stars of Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberatch in their leading roles in their separate story acts.

The Mauritanian focuses on a prisoner named Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), who was captured by the U.S. Government, languishes in prison for years without charge or trial. Losing all hope, Slahi finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). Together they face countless obstacles in a desperate pursuit for justice. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by formidable military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), eventually reveals a shocking and far reaching conspiracy.

Actor Tahar Rahim (2009’s A Prophet) plays as Mohamedou Ould Slahi (or Salahi for that pronunciation), a prisoner who is held in custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp while two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster (1988’s The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) takes on the meatier role as Nancy Hollander, an American defense attorney who will do whatever it takes to defend Slahi. Actress Shailene Woodley (The Divergent Series, ABC’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager) stands in for Jodie Foster's side as her ailing partner Teri Duncan. While in separate scenes, English actor Benedict Cumberbatch (MCU’s Doctor Strange, BBC’s Sherlock) also appears as Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, a well-respected military prosecutor.

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (1999’s One Day in September) and his co-writing teams of Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani have really brought the audience the story and the cinematic elements of how the film takes heavier influences on any books and stories being told by real-life artists. By putting these down on a nice, separate storylines, Macdonald has the camera and cinematography crews to film separate parts and scenes at each location settings in order to accommodate easier methods on how the plot is manageable to flow (and to follow) for the audiences to handle. This is where the director draws attention on what could be an interesting historical/courtroom drama film compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, The Accused (also featuring Jodie Foster), and Macdonald’s own One Day in September with the latter being utilized from his directing experience in that film for a perfect example and inspiration.

The cast did a great job of keeping in character as foretold by the director entirely. Their performances seem to hit the mark on every scene in a different direction, especially Foster and Rahim who are what makes the film pleasant and easier to digest when it all comes down to hero journeys and win-win scenarios without confusing the viewers. Even the performances coming from Woodley and Cumberbatch nailed it down perfectly despite being filmed in their separate locations and rooms for a more focal attention on each of the characters.

Though they’re some downsides that decrease the levels of enthusiasm for the film. The main problem of the film is that there are multiple scenic pieces and characters being placed separately on the first half and throughout that are just too much to see all in one film altogether. Also, the dark images given for the Slahi character that got much tortures and bruises that really left my ways of viewing completely horrendous and easily terrified. The film felt like the director and his crew overdid the special effects rather than focusing on the characters’ development as part of the R-Rated strategies on crafting a political or courtroom drama feature film.

Also appearing in the film is Zachery Levi (Shazam!, Tangled) who portrays Neil whom Stuart Couch met while finding evidence about Slahi.

Over the top, The Mauritanian is alright, but less exciting to say the least. It clocks over two hours, including mid-credits scenes involving the actual people the cast are playing in the film. Rahim and Foster really fit the bill. I have no issues or complaints with this film being called “agenda films” for the sake of the genre, and it seems as if the director Macdonald is setting the boundaries out in order to make this fine masterpiece. I enjoyed almost everything, but I can’t give a higher grade than this as I wouldn't know whether this film would be a hit or miss, but it felt like this movie would be a missed opportunity after the next rounds of films being offered at this time of year.

GRADE: C+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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The Little Things

"The Little Things" is an interesting movie, very well done but under the headline very slow burn. Director John Lee Hancck has crafted an intriguing as well as interesting story of men at odds with each other for the endgame of things.

This story is a pretzel weaving story that keeps the viewer guessing throughout. Both Washington and co-star Rami Malek are in top form as detectives investigating the disappearance of females in the area, circa 1990's mileau.

Washington, as usual, excels with his turn as Joe 'Deke' Deacon, whose career has been stagnant for too many years, since "he doesn't go to the right church". His status in the policing community is well known, since his progress always yields positive results in the end.

Malek is still riding high from his Oscar-winning turn in 2018's "Bohemian Rhapsody," with his turn as frontman Freddie Mercury. I think people will be surprised next time they turn on "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2," as Benjamin, part of the fang toothed sect of vampires. In "Little Things" he is lead investigator.

So readers know, Hancock is partially to thank for Sandra Bullock's Oscar-winning tirn in 2009's "The Blind Side." She was matriarch Leigh Ann Tuohy, who essentially adopts Quinton Aaron's Michael Oher. More recently, he directed the Netflix original "The Highwaymen" with Oscar-winner Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson in 2019. Hancock also directed Tom Hanks in "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013) a couple of years back.

As aforementioned, the pacing on this one is what I would call a slow burn in that it takes rime to unravel all the mysteries brought forh. Oscar-winner Jared Leto brings on the creep factor as suspect Albert Sparma. As of press time, he is already nominated for next years Oscars. Leto brings a certain odd reverence to the part that keeps one guessing until the very end. I can't give away too much, because I know better than to give away spoilers.

Hancock delivers in virtually every single department despite a few intermittent doldrums that don't show their head out enough. I recommend "the little things," because their are no superhero nonsense tales to spend one's almighty dollar on at peress time. So readers know, "the little things" is free with your subscriptuon to HBO Max.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Ricky Miller)









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The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Director: Ian Samuels

Studio: Amazon Studios

Review: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things


This film gives me the chills of being a science-fiction film or a romantic film or both at the same time like Back to the Future. Maybe to add comedy, this film can be a series of bloopers, which are hilarious to see on any film. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is based on the short story written by Lev Grossman, who also serves as an associate producer and writer for this film. The film is directed by Ian Samuels and features the duo-leading cast of Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things tells the story of quick-witted teen Mark, constantly living the same day in an endless loop whose world is turned upside-down when he meets mysterious Margaret also stuck in the time loop. Mark and Margaret form a magnetic partnership, setting out to find all the tiny things that make that one day perfect. What follows is a love story with a fantastical twist, as the two struggle to figure out how – and whether – to escape their never-ending day.

Actor Kyle Allen (American Horror Story, Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story) stars as Mark, a classy teenager living in a endless loop in normal, suburban life while actress Kathryn Newton (HBO’s Big Little Lies, CW’s Supernatural) appears on Allen’s side as Margaret as his girlfriend Mank has encountered. The chemistry between Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen acting onscreen brings much more focal point of the view for any characters in any film, treating it like it is a serious romantic movie anybody has ever seen. They both knew that acting in romantic films can be a tough challenge for both of them, but on the inside, they simply enjoyed working together and they just simply rolled with it. The angels of the camera pointing directly towards Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen produce more sophisticated tone with an increasable number of comedies being placed in some parts of the film.

Under Samuel’s direction, the film contains some elements from Groundhog Day and Back to the Future, the cinematography and the story seem to be in order for the viewers to follow as well as music coming from Tom Bromley, which puts the build-ups and the performances of Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen being put together nicely in a well-organized state. Though the writing and the editing are very gritty and somewhat boggus to see despite seeing a movie’s title. Parts of the film kinda threw me up on the start as they are trying their best to work on the time-flying-backwards sequences. This film feels like it is heavily focused on relationships and time rather than fantasies taking place like this. The director and the team are trying their hardest to craft a nice, romantic movie with a side of comedy and science-fiction feel to it. Even the pop cultures being used which are hilarious and somewhat ludicrous to react.

Also appearing in the film are Al Madrigal (The Daily Show) as Dr. Pepper, Jermaine Harris as Henry, Anna Mikami (Birds of Prey) as Phoebe, Josh Hamilton (Eighth Grade) as Daniel, Cleo Fraser (Amazon’s Transparent, Will & Grace) as Emma, and Jorja Fox (ER, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) as Greta.

Overall, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a great film, if not better. It clocks around 100 minutes. I honestly can’t tell whether this film can be a hit or a miss or both. Despite the ups and downs, Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen are eager to please on what makes this romantic film very pleasant to see when it comes to selecting a movie at home. Speaking of romance, this would be good for Valentine’s Day for any who are fans of romantic films (and no, not counting some Disney animated films which are not widely considered romantic films at any case).

GRADE: A-

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Bliss

Director: Mike Cahill

Studio: Amazon Studios

Ignorance is BLISS but misses the mark!


People often say fantasies are just a make-believe, but for this one, it's even weirder than it looks. Take Bender Rodriguez from Futurama for example, every time someone has a heart or soft nature, Bender would simply laugh at that and, also, people’s misfortunes without showing any signs of care or concern. Bliss is a drama film takes you to how reality can be in this modern vs the reality that provides a colorful paradise where people can dream all around and make wishes come true. The film is directed by Mike Cahill (Another Earth) and stars Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek in their main leading roles.

Bliss follows the story of a unfulfilled, broken man named Greg who meets a mysterious, homeless woman named Isabel who believes they are both living in a simulated reality, but when their newfound "Bliss" fantasy world begins to bleed into the "ugly" world, their ways of “bliss” living becomes remarkable and completely out of hand. As they enjoy their newfound freedom of living in the fantasy world, the main problem they face is that they must choose which world is real and where they truly belong, whether in a blissful way or the reality way.

Owen Wilson (Pixar’s Cars films) stars in the film as Greg, a broken man who was recently divorced and fired from his job, while Salma Hayek (2002’s Frida, Eternals) portrays as Isabel, a homeless woman who meets Greg out in the streets and convinces him that the world he’s living in is not real and filled with uncolorful fulfillments as the world is stimulated with technology.

As director, Cahill filmed some scenes in Los Angeles to portray the real world while filming Croatia to portray a colorful fantasy “bliss” world, which is very brightful and enjoyable to watch as the film progresses on the relationship chemistry between Wilson and Hayek. It really adds some decent textures on how dreams reflect and become a reality, taking mental advice from Willy Wonka (portrayed by the late Gene Wilder) from Willy and the Chocolate Factory. Cahill and the crew want to mainly focus on Wilson and Hayek altogether to give stronger character developments on the two and conveying messages to each other onscreen on how illusions can change from one’s disoriented mindfulness to one’s greatest perspectives in living the happier, lively worlds.

Throughout the film, Cahill utilized the many special and visual effects to give both worlds of the film a proper scenery on how one can compare the real world where it is ruled by technology vs. the happier colorful world where humans can roam around freely while technology did all the work for humans. Also, the weather patterns seem advisable and applicable as the real world contains cloudy and rainy with less sun, giving a feel of living in a depressed, boring world while the “bliss” world scene feels sunny and bright, changing the tone and perspective of happiness and livelihood.

Also appearing in the film is actress Nesta Cooper (The Edge of Seventeen) as Greg’s daughter named Emily, Joshua Leonard (HBO’s Togetherness) as Cameron, Madeline Zima (CBS’s The Nanny) as Doris, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Bumblebee) as Arthur, Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians) as Kendo the scientist Isabel meets, and a special guest Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Despite the colors being present, Bliss is ok, but not enjoyable. Ignorance is always bliss and it clocks around 103 minutes. Cahill, Wilson, and Hayek really fit the bill for Cahill’s own breakout drama movie. I heavily respect all the hardwork coming from the cast and crew. Wilson is one of my favorite actors who shine in the spotlight. Though, I really wish this film would add more color and texture to it as well as having to use less technological advancements to make it more appropriate.

GRADE: C-

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Alone



Director: John Hyams

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Alone


As a movie writer, my mind needs to be very picky when it all comes down to movies other critics and movie fans have watched and selected from the past. Alone is a cat-and-mouse chasing thriller that takes critics and audiences towards their edge of the seats on survival of the fittest on any human being or character. Alone is a strange, but peculiar concoction from Magnolia Pictures under their spin-off studio Magnet Releasing. It is a rarity these days, since it’s an original idea coming from the director. The film is directed by John Hyams and stars Jules Willcox in her main leading role.

In this thriller, Alone deals with a lonely woman named Jessica, now a widow after the death of her husband, is on the run from an unnamed man who is following her in pursuit in the wilderness. Her main goal is to desperately escape from that “man.”

Providing some remarkable performance is Jules Willcox who portrays Jessica, a traveling widower who is moving to another place. Actor Marc Menchaca (Law and Order), throughout the film, mainly appears as the unidentified man who follows Jessica all over the place and reveals to be a cold blooded killer. And lastly, actor Anthony Heald, who, after appearing in The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon (both of which are other films that involved serial killing), also appears as Robert the hunter who provides protection for her from that stalking man.

Though the film mainly consists of just three onscreen actors Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, and Anthony Heald, the story itself is, well, fairly simple as this film flows by as this is a cat-and-mouse thriller as mentioned before on my introduction. Director Hyams has put lots of freshness into how the main character behaves quite realistically within every situation. Hyams made Willcox to never fall for what's obviously a trap like many cinematic characters often do. There's a sense that she really knows what to do and would probably have done in the same situation rather than simply what the screenwriter thinks, which would be interesting in response for that matter. While such believability of any character is, unfortunately, rather rare in movies, there's also nothing very surprising and suspicious about it. From start to finish, everything is quite predictable.

This film borrows some elements from the 2020 film The Hunt, featuring Betty Gilpin as Crystal who is a prey and a victim in the hunting game set up by a rich woman named Athena Stone (portrayed by Hilary Swank). The film also contains some elements from The Hunger Games due to Jessica's character being a prey to the predator (the pursuer) and her battles for survival. Though, my main complaint is how weak the characterization of Jessica is throughout the film. It really brings up a lot of frustration to see how intense the director made Willcox’s role-playing game can be for this very-cliched serial killer plot, especially on the ending which left me confused that bit me completely in the dust. However, the focal point and realistic of their behaviors and the actors' performances really might be just a message about how their emotions, their survival, and their well-being got the better of them. In addition, the action sequences in the second half of the film are well put together. Over the top, the duo of Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca knows what to do in working on a horror, thrilling movie as they enjoy filming from dawn till dusk.

Alone is an amazing little thriller. It clocks in around 98 minutes to that length of time. The director and the film deliver the goods on all sizes, angles, acting, and the writing which is very easy to follow. Even the cinematography looks darkenly beautiful in every scene being captured in the film. I realized that some greater films are hard to watch and are pretty easy to skip out on when you’re selecting a movie to see at home or theater. Please check out this film, you won't be disappointed.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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The Little Things

Director: John Lee Hancock

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Little Things is far as anyone can see!


As within the film’s release in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time, The Little Things is the first film to feature the new Warner Bros. Pictures logo byline for that release. If you love crime films so much, then you might want to take a gulp at this feature film. Director John Lee Hancock returns to the director’s chair to helm this action, crime feature film. The film stars Denzel Washington and Rami Malek in their leading roles, with Jared Leto in his supportive role.

The Little Things takes place in 1990 and follows two police officers who have been assigned by the police department in Los Angeles to capture the strange, serial killer on the loose as their top suspect of the city.

The film features three Academy Award winners appearing the film: Denzel Washington (Training Day) as Joe "Deke" Deacon, a Kern County Deputy Sheriff, Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) as Jim Baxter, a detective from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), and supportive actor Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) as Albert Sparma, a serial killer hailing in Los Angeles.

The acting performances and the duet coming from Washington and Malek together are nicely put as if they’re working on a Sherlock Holmes movie, giving the fact that this film is R-Rated, going overboard with the mystery, detective film for the course. They both knew how hard it is to act together onscreen and playing the roles of police officers can be a tricky task but in the end, they both know the tips and tricks on portraying their hardest key role as an ordinary police officer as well as a private detective.

Additionally, Jared Leto also does a great job of playing the serial killer Sparma in the film, having been portrayed as The Joker in DCEU’s Suiddie Squad, directed by David Ayer. He will be set to reprise his role in the upcoming Zack Synder’s Justice League cut, which will be released on HBO Max sometime in the future. Leto’s role as Sparma is what makes the film so unique to watch when it comes to bringing a sudden antagonist reveal in front of the audiences’ faces as part of the film’s climax. Surprisingly, if you heard the recent news, Leto has just received a nomination for Best Supportive Actor for his role in the upcoming 78th Golden Globes ceremony.

Under the direction from Hancock himself, the direction slowly adds a promising delight for that surprising thriller twist, utilizing the skills from several crime, noir movies involving catching thieves, killers, and murderers. Coincidentally, the film has borrowed some elements from David Fincher’s 1995 film Seven, featuring the stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. However, Hancock and his editing and writing team regardless of professionalism have really toned down the nature of how any action film can go. Admittedly, the movie looks good when it comes to visuals and special effects; the cinematography is appropriately moody, with tons of dim lighting being shown for the majority of the running time that casts a dark, hellish shadow over its characters. And because of that, tonally, the movie is completely inconsistent. The pace and the sequences felt all over the place, with the film only picking up when Jared Leto's character who comes in the second half of the film.

Also appearing in the film are Chris Bauer (HBO’s True Blood) as Detective Sal Rizoli, Michael Hyatt (HBO’s The Wire) as Flo Dunigan, Terry Kinney (HBO’s Oz) as Captain Carl Farris, Natalie Morales (USA Network’s White Collar) as Detective Jamie Estrada and Maya Kazan (The Knick) as Rhonda Rathbun, the missing woman.

Overall, The Little Things is a two-hour film with great performances but with a really interesting premise that has brought my excitement down due to its editing, pacing, and tonal inconsistency of the film. It isn’t enjoyable to watch but with this cast, it should've been much better than it ends up being. Washington, Malek, and Leto are what makes this film simpler to see. Though, this is definitely not a crowd-pleaser, I recommend the different approach that the movie took. I was keen to try this film out and I am very sorry to say this, but you might want to find another film that captures your enthusiasm to make up for those two hours of your life.

GRADE: D-

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Two of Us

Director: Filippo Meneghetti

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Two of Us


Just letting you know that this film, Two of Us, is in French with American subtitles being added for those who are viewing this film. This film was produced and released back in 2019 as part of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival but hasn’t been released to the public yet. In addition to this release, the film serves as an official French entry submission for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. Directed by Filippo Meneghetti, Two of Us is a French drama film that takes any loving couple to a place where no lover has gone before.

Two of Us focuses on two retired women, Nina and Madeleine, whom they have been secretly in love with for decades. Everybody, including Madeleine’s family, thinks they are simply neighbors, sharing the top floor of their building. They come and go between their two apartments, enjoying the affection and pleasures of daily life together, until one day, an unforeseen event turns their relationship upside down and leads Madeleine’s daughter to gradually unravel the truth about them.

German actress Barbara Sukowa (Syfy’s 12 Monkeys) stands up for the lead role as Nina Dorn while actress Martine Chevallier appears as Madeleine Girard, Dorn’s lover. Barbara Sukowa is a famed German actor and she is superb in her role. Though there is not much information about actress Martine Chevallier, she is a well-known actress in France for both movie and stage productions. Over the top, She and Sukowa both look like they are just simply having fun in the time of their lives as well as enjoying working together to see the true onscreen chemistry right there, which makes the movie even better.

Under the direction from Meneghetti, the filmmaking team provides a strong storytelling approach towards female characters as well as dropping down some notes on the difficult subject matter that makes the film very tender and smooth for viewers to relax and enjoy the film with heartwarming glee in their faces. Since the film is highly classified as a romantic, drama film, the director and the main two actresses knew how the dynamics of relationships work, giving the themes of LGBTQ, and the power of love can help anyone to overcome their difficulties to speak up and convey the truth.

Aside from the story, the cinematography and the characters are left ambiguous. The crew and the actress have to work extra hard on nailing down their roles with deeper perspective when it comes to crafting a serious, motion picture outing. My main honesty for this viewing is that the crew and the director have been studying romantic films and musicals for inspiration to craft a thunderous drama film that can be as difficult and emotionally touching than ever.

With all that hard work they put through in France, Two Of Us is a wonderful 95-minute drama film. The director and the two actresses deliver the goods in this craft-making piece. I think the story and the dire situations are very interesting to see about two loving women as a couple onscreen that deserves more attention than men. I really wish that there are more movies today that can be as tender and filled with oozing blossom. Coincidentally, this film would be perfect fit for Valentine’s Day if you’re in the mood for serious romantic films like this one right there.

GRADE: A

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Buffaloed

Director: Tanya Wexler

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Buffaloed


Debt is, and always will be, a very serious and depressing subject in America as money being the biggest issue in people's lives. If you've ever seen any crime drama films in your life, you find this movie very fascinating because of the main character's money-scheming persona being shown directly towards the audience. Director Tanya Wexler offers a whimsical, comedy-drama film that takes Zoey Deutch's fans to the promiseland of a woman’s dream for the price of admission. While Buffaloed is directed by Wexler herself, it is written by Brian Sacca and stars Zoey Deutch in her leading role along with Judy Greer, Jermaine Fowler, Noah Reid, and Jai Courtney who are given supportive roles in the film.

Buffaloed centers on a young, hustling girl named Peggy Dahl whose main goal is to escape the debt-collecting world in Buffalo, New York into paying much money to pay off her debts. After getting into much trouble for illegally making money that leads her to get arrested by the police, she decides to become a debt collector herself and wages war with the city's debt-collecting kingpin.

Zoey Deutch (2016’s Everybody Wants Some!!, Disney Channel’s The Suite Life on Deck) portrays Peggy Dahl, a early twenty-something year-old who looks like an ordinary teenager, finds work as a debt collector following her arrest and she is struggling to pay off her debts while Judy Greer (FXX’s Archer) plays as her dysfunctional mother. Actor Jermaine Fowler comes into the scene as Graham Ferry, a lawyer ailing with Deutch. And lastly, actors Noah Reid (Schitt’s Creek) and Jai Courtney (Suicide Sqaud) roll in as Peggy’s brother JJ and Wizz, a debt-collecting kingpin with a Italian-mafia persona who serves as the main antagionist to Peggy, respectively.

Under the direction from Wexler (2011’s Hysteria), the film has borrowed some elements from Mad Money (with Diane Keaton starring in it), Hustlers (featuring the stars of Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez), The Wolf of Wall Street, and Catch Me If You Can (with, coincidentally, the latter two films featured Leonardo DiCaprio in his main roles). Wexler and her team, along with the actors, really nailed the story down as well as the studying the pros and the cons of the film’s character developments on each one onscreen. No CGI or special effects used in the film, which is a good thing in order not to have too many eggs in one small basket. The costume is really outstanding and colorful to add the richness and texture for Peggy’s persona throughout the film.

The actors did an amazing job as well despite the supportive characters being given smaller, speaking roles while trying to keep up the main character throughout the film. The entire cast of actors are doing their best to keep up with the pace and tone of the story for that crime-thrilling genre, especially in the second half, mainly Deutch and Courtney whom they look like they're having a blast while working with each other together in person. They knew what they’re doing in order to make the story appealing to the audiences. But whatever is happening between them, they both try their best to please the director when it all comes down on making an eponymous gangster film or mafia-esque B-movie.

While the film is fun and enjoyable to digest, there are some downfalls in this film. Screenwriting dialogue seems a bit messy as the crew only focused on Deutch’s character role, while the supportive “family” characters being shoved into the gangster’s hands, which left me questionable on why the director wanted the debt-collecting gang to seize her (Peggy’s) family. Also much of the strong language being used in the film, a feat being achievable to give this an old-school crime, gangster richness for that matter. And lastly, the ending where Deutch’s character breaks the fourth wall left me somewhat confused and easily unmotivated on what the ending scene is expected to look like. This is something that my mind is heavily not understood when it comes to female actresses shining the light for the audiences to listen. It’s a dream role that fits for a lot of actresses out there, but it is certainly not the easiest one to nail down the line.

Overall, Buffaloed is okay. It’s a fun movie to watch and it clocks in about 95 minutes. Deutch, Fowler, and Courtney fit the bill together. Plenty of laughs, fourth-wall breaks, and the story flows being perfectly paced if I do say so myself. However, in my honest opinion, this film isn’t too enjoyable as it looks and I’ll probably won't watch it again, but I can highly recommend it to those who are Zoey Deutch fans out there. So if you're a fan of Zoey Deutch, I say you can watch this, but for me, it’s going to be a hard pass for that offer.

GRADE: C+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Zappa



Director: Alex Winter

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Zappa


Some people who have a history with meeting or working with successful people, especially celebrities and musicians, can sometimes believe that successful people and celebrities can be brash and rude at any time. People can be rude and nice at the same time towards their fellow friends, family, fans, and colleagues as well. Take Walt Disney for example, lots of people who knew about him in his lifetime identified him as a very mean man due to his stubbornness and his comments about being anti-Semantic towards his employees and people all around. After the time of his death in 1966, he still remains a cultural icon just as any successful well-known people can be. My main guess is that fame and fortune are what any person can aim for.

Zappa is another biographical, documentary film that focuses on the life, work, sparkling career, and the downfalls of a musician named Frank Zappa. It is written and directed by Alex Winters. Alex Winters is a filmmaker and actor currently. He famously played the character named Bill S. Preston, Esq. in the first two Bill & Ted films, co-starring with Keanu Reeves (John Wick series) and the late George Carlin (Thomas and Friends). He later reprised his role in 2020’s Bill and Ted Face the Music. He also wrote, directed, and starred in the film Freaked, which was released in 1993. He additionally appeared in the 1987 vampire film The Lost Boys, portraying the role onscreen as Marko. He is currently a documentary filmmaker as of 2020.

Under the direction from Alex Winter himself, he and his team have assembled a plethora of archive footage being broadcasted into one chronological, showcasing documentary film. Zappa features guest appearances by Frank’s widow Gail Zappa and several of Frank’s musical collaborators including Mike Keneally, Ian Underwood, Steve Vai, Pamela Des Barres, Bunk Gardner, David Harrington, Scott Thunes, Ruth Underwood, Ray White and others. Winters and the crew also provide some interesting, but rarely unreleased footage from Zappa's personal vault, to which Winters is granted access by the Zappa Family Trust for the sake of the plot and storyline about Zappa’s work.

As the film progresses, one of the best stories included is how Zappa's biggest hit and success came to be. Winters provides the story targeting and impacting Frank Zappa that had many generations of slowly aging young persons coming of age came to what it seems to be the focal point of this documentary. It felt like this is an on-and-off freak out show that many viewers have expressed their taste or distaste on Frank Zappa, listening to his albums that never came to the light again.

While Zappa is enjoyable to watch with glee, just to be cautionable to take, there were several recalls of Zappa's appearance being in horrible shape during his lifetime as well as interviews about him in regards to the drive that include parental warning labels on published music and videos centered on him. Speaking of that, be advised that there’s strong language being used in the film and some interviews explaining Zeppa's dilemma and his positive and negative behavior towards his people, giving him a dark persona. Nevertheless, Zappa himself viewed this as nothing more than rudeness and censorship as he was one of those musicians to savagely fight the battle against his opponents and enemies he encountered during his life. Winters knows that any successful person can make friends, and sometimes enemies, along the way, even Zappa himself would agree.

Overall, Zappa is a really nice, touching two-hour documentary film. I am slowly impressed by the whole thing. Winter does a nice job with organizing the scenes, cuts, and footages all in one, two hour run time, when the material looks like this would be a great existing media product for that four part miniseries being televised to the public. The production is never messy or sensationalist. It is a somewhat gripping bio of a man finding his way as an artist. To be honest about this, it felt like I was watching Bohemian Rhapsody but in the deeper manner. I think the documentary team, interviewees, and Frank Zappa would simply call themselves influencers from now on. This film is a must and, like I said this before in my previous reviews, I can totally understand how you feel about documentary films being lame and boring, for once in your life, please give it a chance and lower your expectations. I highly encourage you to go watch it. Please, I mean, that’s what I’m here for.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band



Director: Daniel Roher

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band


Lots of people, especially filmmakers, often say “any publicity is good publicity” to not judge a movie or video by its name. Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is a confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robertson’s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band. The film premiered on September 5, 2019, as the opening film of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, a first for a Canadian documentary film ever selected for the festival. Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is directed by Daniel Roher with famed filmmakers Martin Scorese, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard were brought on board, serving as executive producers of the film.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band uses a plethora of several prestigious interviews from musicians and other well-known celebrities, including Martin Scorese, who directed The Last Waltz (also a documentary film) that was released somewhere in the 1980s. The film also includes a variety of rare archival footage, photography, iconic songs and interviews with Robertson’s friends and collaborators including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and more that makes this documentary film more exciting and enjoyable to watch. Robbie Robertson, the lead guitarist, does a wonderful job of strolling down memory lane of the music of The Band and the history of drug abuses for the viewers to easily follow on how the autobiography is well-thought out in a sophisticated manner.

While the filmmaking and the cinematography are exquisitely well done, the crew, however, overly did it on the good scene cuts which misses the mark of being a friendly,magical documentary people will never forget after their time watching this. Hate to say, but it isn’t the taking the good scenes out by replacing more interviewing scenes, scenes involving alcohol, and darkering footages really got out of hand as if they focus more intentionally on how The Band’s career-playing music becomes an enduring impact.

Beyond what the story is told by the crew and many interviewees lending their reflections to this documentary, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is a good 102-minute documentary feature film. The crew and the team did a terrific job. Daniel Roher weaves a film by confidence with archival footage, the hearings, and the legendary music into something that is very interesting to watch for any fan of The Band. It is emotionally touching, insightful, and ultimately a great tribute for The Band for their legacy that is greaterly equal to The Beatles, The Monkees, and The Rolling Stones. Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band faithfully chronicles a musical power that engenders influences and courage to those who are watching this film.

GRADE: B

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Crock of Gold – A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan



Director: Julian Temple

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Crock of Gold – A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan


Music documentaries are all new to my viewing pleasures since lots of musical fans admittedly enjoy musical films and Broadway shows back in the days but not musical documentaries. Crock of Gold – A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan (or Crock of Gold for short) is a documentary feature film that focuses on the life and career of a musician Shawn MacGowan. It is directed by Julian Temple and produced by Johnny Deep. Before you select this film, please be advised that there’s strong language in this musical, documentary feature film.

Shane McGowan is not only a fabulous musician but is also an interesting topic to discuss - and the music of The Pogues - that remains an engaging thesis to study about and sometimes emotional to watch despite the usages of archive footage and the stressy scene-editing which takes some of the good stuff away sadly. Temple, Deep, and the crew take major influences on explaining the ups and downs of MacGowan's lifetime, his downfalls, and his ways of building up his strength and working his way through to success (sorta like climbing-up-the-ladder thing).



Temple’s direction on Macgowan’s biography is really riveting on the subject matter as the film flows from footage to footage with the strong build-ups of animation sequences being placed in the favor of entertaining the viewers as if people are actually watching Sesame Street. MacGowan’s scenes also bring up a good topic on how his career as musician has inspired viewers and wannabe-musicians on getting back on track when it comes to legal troubles, conflicts towards life and society, and horrible treatments being centered all around for focal plot’s dynamics. Though what is heartbreaking offered by MacGowan himself and the cinematography team is that there are brutal, sad honesty ideas being centered on MacGowan’s history of drinking and drug addiction that aren’t going to give up his heavy drinking easily and getting far behind for his career as with so many documentaries that deal about addiction are ending up being pummeled with periods of alcoholic troubles and fake optimism. Temple knows that not only any ordinary documentary film focuses on a person’s life and career, but also talks about someone going clean and getting one's life back on track as the film rolls along the way and after the film, which certainly increases good depth on the feature film and tone for the man’s welfare.

Additionally, Crock of Gold also features some unseen archival footage from the band and MacGowan’s family, as well as the animation coming from legendary illustrator Ralph Steadman, Julien Temple’s 60th birthday celebration where singers, movie celebrities, and rock ’n’ roll artists gather to celebrate MacGowan and his impacting legacy.

Overall, Crock of Gold – A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan is a wonderful two-hour movie for that delight. This is highly regarded as one of the best documentaries I ever seen about a musical artist living the life of conflict. The team and Johnny Deep did a great job for making this possible. I can tell you with confidence that this film certainly feels like I’m watching a documentary film about The Beatles during their time together since their formation in 1960 following the breakup in 1970. Just a little advice that this is very powerful to watch and it’s an absolute “must” regardless of whether you’re a music fan or simply a fan of Shane McGowan entirely.

GRADE: A

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Stray



Director: Elizabeth Lo

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: STRAY


You’ve probably heard or been familiar with Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey, or mainly The Secret Life of Pets, but here’s another doggie-dog adventure called Stray. Stray is such a beautiful film coming from director and writer Elizabeth Lo who introduces the audience to a dog named Zeytin, a simple and stray dog who is living life to the fullest on the streets of Istanbul. This film serves as a directorial debut for Elizabeth Lo who had a history of directing documentary shorts and now moving on to the big screen by helming Stray, Lo offers a story that even tells the tales about how an ordinary dog has his day in Istanbul just as any dog in America or other countries could have a wonderful life with purpose and fulfillment.

Under the direction of Lo herself, Stray is filmed across Istanbul and parts of Turkey. Lo shows the hardships of life with Zeytin in the eyes of the city along with other dogs who share their purposes with Zeytin. Lo not only focuses heavily on Zeytin, but also focuses on other stray dogs and their adventures shown in the film and throughout rather than facing the camera towards humans and Sybrian refugees. It feels like Lo wants to pay towards attention to the dogs and focus less on humans present with less dialogue. Lo, along with her documentary teams, really want to capture the hard lives of a stray dog or any other pet that would end up in the streets, looking for something interesting to happen. This darkening purpose and fulfillment are where Zeytin’s climaxes become more and more cinematically interesting as the story is manageable to follow closely.

The documentary and the cinematography teams did a great job of handling the camera angles towards the dogs and their adventures on what comes next scene after scene. They really bring up a good theme of poor living poverty based on how different countries have faced as well as cultures of indifference and the animals’ way of life, which becomes clever and precise for that tone. Though, one of the biggest downfalls is that lack of color and happier brightness as the team didn’t put much effort on the settings and locations to see. And lastly, the score from Ali Helnwein is smooth and very majestic like the sounds of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Joker musical composition. It really adds a nice tone of structure to have for Zeytin and other stray dogs’ scenes for that affair.

Overall, Stray is a good 70-minute, I wish I can see a lot more action and adventure coming from Zeytin and other dogs embarking their adventures through the city. Lo and the team really crack the nail of producing this high-end doggy-tail documentary movie that will make the people scream and bark for more. This is a must for all dog lovers out there and I can personally guarantee that this will help learn more about dogs and their high-flying journeys. It felt like I was watching a documentary version of A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey.

GRADE: B-

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Some Kind of Heaven



Director: Lance Oppenheim

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Some Kind of Heaven


Remember what Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” Some Kind of Heaven is a documentary that takes place in The Villages, a huge retirement community in central Florida. It focuses mainly on the four elderly residents living and striving about the meanings of life, solitude, and ageism. This documentary serves as the directorial feature-film debut for the director Lance Oppenheim who offers a treat to both humans, young and old, about the aspects of anyone's living while growing up.

Here in this documentary story, there are four main elder residents: Annie, Reggie, David, and Barbara. Anne and Reggie are a married couple and are looking forward to a happy retirement life. However, Reggie had a history with pursuing drugs and it is up to his wife Anne to help him overcome his drug charge he finds himself facing. David, though not an actual resident of The Villages, is a lonely bachelor who lives in his motor home and is currently looking for a woman. His (David’s) main problem is that he is nearly out of money as he is desperately trying to find a woman quickly. And lastly, Barbara is a widow who has moved into The Villages with her husband, who died shortly after they moved in.

As the director, Oppenheim clearly made his point about these characters’ disconnect with the life they expected at The Villages. He really explains a lot about life’s purposes and other things the residents never got the chance to enjoy. This is a main, subtle message that is even furtherly well-told throughout the film when it comes to aging life. It would have been very interesting to know how many other residents found this “Disneyland of retirement” life less than satisfying to listen or to hear more from those for whom it had fulfilled all their dreams in the real world. He additionally makes the documentary film funny to watch as he provides some funnier moments on some scenes and towards the four main residents centered around the film.

Not only that but cinematographer David Bolen also did an excellent job of portraying and balancing the dichotomy between the images of The Villages’ community and the reality being experienced and told by the four main residents and other residents who shared their stories and motivation. Bolen brought some colorful, happier balances between the residents and the activities being shown in the film, such as golfing, swimming, dancing and other ones people like to enjoy. With these livelier emotions being fulfilled, Bolen and Oppenhiem knew that the themes of longing and disillusionment became steadier, wiser, and clearer with each new obstacle encountered by four main residential characters and other residents.

Some Kind of Heaven is a good 80-minute documentary film, Oppenheim and his team did an admirable job of bringing life’s greatest questions to the forefront as we, as viewers, consider the irony of unfulfilled desire in the midst of the "Disneyland of retirement". This documentary is a good film that provides moral lessons for all and it’s a must for everyone of all ages. Agree or disagree, we should not be picky on which film to select. I totally understand that documentary films are usually boring and unmotivated, but I guarantee, some of them are very interesting to watch whether you’re at home or at a movie theater that will increase your motivation.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Sylvie’s Love



Director: Eugene Ashe

Studio: Amazon Studios

Review: Sylvie’s Love


The title with the word “love” doesn't have to be associated with any romantic genre films in that manner, but to any Tessa Thompson fans out there waiting for what films they want to see next, the answer is right here for that question. It’s called Sylvie's Love which it’s a drama film that is about to get so dramatic and wild around anyone’s hearts and dreams. The film is written and directed by Eugene Ashe and features the consisting cast of Tessa Thompson in her leading role along with actors Nnamdi Asomugha, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Aja Naomi King, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Eva Longoria in their supportive roles.

Sylvie's Love centers on the young titular woman Sylvie who is living in the early 1960s, working at her father’s record store. She later meets a young man named Robert, an aspiring saxophone player, and they both fall in love with each other.

MCU star Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Endgame) plays the titular character Sylvie in the entire film. She really gives a truly remarkable performance and it is really emotional to her own character as the film focuses on how her relationship with the Robert character has wrestled her images and consciousness that increasingly affected her, especially for her own comfort zones in the settings of the 1950s and 1960s. Surely, she can be very lovable and charming at her own time onscreen, but in the end, she enjoys what she does while filming romantic, drama films based on her professional history with drama films she appeared in. She is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leading the screen very easily to guide the viewers and myself.

Football player and actor Nnamdi Asomugha appears as Robert, a talented saxophone player, who falls in love with Sylvie in the film. Asomugha, who also serves as the film’s producer, delivers a touching, confident performance as he appears to be as good as his word when plays the role of a charming musician who not only knows music, but also knows what love is and is all about. He knows that love isn’t about marriage, it’s about doing the things they love and who they have such as families, friends, and their passion, which is something we should all think about and take.

Ashe’s direction really takes much influences on several romantic and drama films, mainly the inspirations coming from Casablanca, in order to capture the romantic, black representation for the film’s cultural boundaries for the audience to study more on diversity and historical accuracies on this film. Ashe’s work of art as a director and writer even placed the settings of the 1950s and 1960s which nearly took place during the segregation era in order to give the film more structural, accuracy feel for both African American audiences and the histories on black individuals living in the 1950s and 60s being explained in the film’s plot.

While the film is nice and enjoyable, the film lacks comedy and funnier antics going on as the film focuses mainly on the chemistry between Thompson and Asomugha’s characters throughout the entire film. They both look like they focus too much on their family and their passions rather than giving laughs to each other, but they seem pretty stable to act in character under the presence of the director’s wishes.

Also appearing in the film are Aja Naomi King who comes into the scene as Sylvie’s cousin Mona, Ryan Michelle Bathe as Kate, Wendi McLendon-Covey as Lucy, and Eva Langoria as Carmen.

On the flip side, Sylvie's Love is a really fascinating film to see. Thompson and Asomugha are what makes the film really interesting and gentle to see. In my honesty, I have higher expectations on these two actors right there, mostly Thompson's. The cast and the crew have done an amazing job as well. I will admit, Sylvie's Love may be one of Thompson’s finest pleasures to see aside from her MCU films she starred in. This film is a must and it reaches up to nearly two hours for that film’s time slot. And that’s all I’m going to say, but if you want to hear more from me, you’ll have to see it for yourself when it comes out on Amazon Prime Video.

GRADE: A

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Slay the Dragon



Director: Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Slay the Dragon


Gerrymandering is a practice where politicians or powerful government officials have increased their political power in the party. It’s a form of manipulation of the boundaries of electoral constituencies so as to favor one party of class and weaken the other class.

Just letting the readers know that this is a film with many political topics and answers being used, so if you’re planning on seeing this, might as well take proper precautions on that. Slay the Dragon is simply a documentary film about gerrymandering in the United States, directed by Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance. This film is made under the production company called Participant. The directing duo really defines how gerrymandering could influence predominantly on elections and discusses the sway of outcomes for gerrymandering that has become a hot-button political topic and symbol for everything that can be easily broken in the American electoral process.

Slay the Dragon follows the story of a young woman, Katie Fahey living in Michigan, who desperately wanted to make a change by rallying a group together to create a glowing proposition that prevents the acts of gerrymandering happening in Michigan. Katie Fahey is an American activist who founded the organization called Voters Not Politicians and has led a plethora of successful grassroots campaigns to ban partisan gerrymandering in Michigan

. Having been handling experiences and duties on documentary films about politics and American government from Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance, the duo construct a time-organizing plot for a list of archive footage and interviews about the ways of gerrymandering filling into each scene and climax. The duo and the team also utilized a team of politicians and journalists in order for the viewers to follow what the events and actions take place during the time. Goodman and Durrance not only bring down the lectures, but to make this film more like one's own educational historical textbook for students and teachers to study on how this could affect the future elections and law-publishing rules and regulations.

Over the top, Slay the Dragon is okay. It’s an educational film that allowed me to learn more about gerrymandering. As someone who enjoys politics and social justice, I had an interesting experience learning about that. Though, the only thing I do not like about this film is that it didn't fully capture my attention entirely. In my honest opinion, this is one of most difficult documentary films to watch. I understand that it is difficult to make a documentary of this nature, but I respect the hard work and effort from the directors to put into making this film. I did learn a lot about this and feel inspired and reassured, so the filmmakers could do something to accomplish their achievement.

GRADE: C+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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John Lewis: Good Trouble



Director: Dawn Porter

Studio: Magnolia Pictures/CNN Films

Review: John Lewis: Good Trouble


Back when television was a young medium that had advanced throughout the years since the introduction of television in the 1950s and 60s, it was the biggest opportunity to show the entire world about what was going on in the world daily, leaving the movie industries coiling down the drain.

John Lewis: Good Trouble is another documentary the director Dawn Porter has offered this year after handling directing duties of Gideon’s Army and Trapped, both of which are also documentary films. This film explores John Lewis' actions towards the civil rights movement, voting rights, gun control, health care reform, and immigration. Porter also provides some footage and interviews on Lewis’ childhood experiences, his inspiring family, and his fateful meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 to discuss how his actions and experiences inspire people to take action on those governmental situations. Coincidentally, this film was released just weeks before Lewis’ death in July 2020.

Under the direction of Porter herself solely, Porter and her team have used a plethora of archive footage and interviews of John Lewis and his entire life from the start-up as a farmer and a student to the most inspirational civil rights activists in America. Porter wanted to make a film about any motivation speaker who wanted to make a difference in the world. In this case John Lewis who wanted to make a difference for racial justice in the white people’s territory. His ways and marches in nonviolence and commitment to the cause have continued for 65 years.

With the story, the organization of plot-creating ideas, and the cinematography coming out steadily, John Lewis: Good Trouble isn’t just a simple documentary film for that genre. It is also a wondrous memoir that weaves an important story about an exceptional man, bringing justice and showing us our history from the '60s to today. Both Porter and John Lewis really nailed down the story and lecture that are easily manageable for both kids and adults as if they are in a classroom to study history.

With the satisfying ingredients being used, John Lewis: Good Trouble is the wonderful documentary film. It clocks about 96 minutes. The director and her cracking documentary filming team made it all possible to learn about an effective leader and his ability to understand the harsher times we are currently living through, from the 1960’s to present. This film is a must for both kids and adults, and also history teachers as well, to remember all that has transpired throughout the years during childhood and young adulthood as we grow up during these difficult times. The film is now up on digital on HBO Max and Amazon.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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The Fight



Director: Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: The Fight


The Fight can be a powerful movie that really demonstrates the advocacy of the ACLU. It is a documentary film that takes the viewers and the audience to the inside look of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) where the legal battles the lawyers are willing to face during the Trump administration. According to the film itself, The Fight is featured as one of the showcasing contenders at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where the film has won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking. This documentary feature film is directed by Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, with actress Kerry Washington serving as a producer for the film.

The main three directors have used lots of archive footages as well as interviews on the Trump Election that were circled back in January 2017 after President Trump's inauguration and subsequent immigration order, also known as the "Muslim ban." This feature showed a school of volunteer attorneys set up to assist affected immigrants - especially those seeking asylum. With all the editing and the usages of stock footage, the directors and the whole documentary crew draws the basic premise of the film that provides a glimpse of the challenges faced by the ACLU against the Trump administration. All of these footage and interviews about Trump’s inauguration would make a film that teaches people to strongly express their voices on their tastes and distastes on Trump’s future plans as president.

As the documentary film progresses, the cases shown in the film are presented in an easy-to-follow manner, and we get to know each of the attorneys in their respective, individual challenges. Both cases are involved with their specific case and providing their own personal or family life. Each of the attorneys in the film provide their unique tour of the ACLU offices, and quickly understand how they are focused on their own specialties, rather than the organization as a whole.

Compared to that Romanian documentary film, Collective, and regardless of the usages of archive footages, the cinematography is absolutely stunning; the camera team uses lots of steadily camera angles on people to make the story and the interviews from people more understandable for viewers to follow along as well as using the extreme-but-medium close ups The Fight that really defines how people can fight for the power for anyone’s viewpoint in any cases. Besides the story itself, the directors and crew really knew how an ordinary documentary film works on many levels.

With many voices, arguments, and viewpoints being shown, The Fight is a very good documentary, if not better. It clocks into roughly 95 minutes, but this film is something people should give it a chance if you want to learn more about the ACLU and Trump’s administration. You can check this organization if you want before or after the movie, but I personally advise you to see this film first. This film is a must for both Americans and immigrants. I’m not into politics, but I promise you, the behind-the-scenes view of what these attorneys go through to fight for liberty is fascinating and worthwhile. One last thing, please keep your political issues to yourself because they may be some political messages being shown in the film, so be careful as you watch it.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Collective



Director: Alexander Nanau

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Collective


Just to let the viewers know that this documentary is arguably hard to watch, especially for young teens, so before you watch this, you might want to be careful and take proper precautions on viewing this film in theaters or on digital.

Collective (Romanian: Colectiv) is the documentary film that revolves the group of investigating journalists at the Romanian newspaper organization in their mission to find out about the uncovering assignment of the ongoing public healthcare fraud, political and power corruptions, and maladministration. Shot in a rigorously observational manner, Collective covers an event that took the country of Eastern Europe by storm and led to massive big pharma, powerful predicaments, and government reform. This feature is directed, written, and produced by Alexander Nanau.

Director Alexander Nanau and his crew have put together on crafting this subtle documentary feature that features power and politics for the main dynamics of the film. Nanau also uses people’s powerful voices while on camera to express how things can be done in different situations. Nanau, along with the crew, knows how anyone who dealt with these dilemmas really shows how corrupt a health system can be hard to solve and what are the implications on a national level.

The nice, soft cinematography in this film is absolutely stunning; the camera team uses dimly lit to make the story and the voices of people more advisable for viewers as well as using the low contrast scenes that drive the people home in the intensity of the incident. Additionally, the harshly closeups in telling the story of the people that Collective follows really adds a satisfying taste for that affair. Even the lack of ambient noise filtration in press conferences helps the viewer really jump into the story and the film as a whole. Aside from the storylines and the plot itself, the entire crew really knew how to truly make a stunning documentary film in a trendy way.

Overall, Collective is a very good film, maybe the best by their top of their levels. This film is a must and is highly recommended to those in the ages 12 to 18, plus adults. It really brings some good, moral lessons about freedom of speech and government power to both kids and adults. The director and the documentary crew really did it. Hopefully this film would stand a chance to be one of the Oscar contenders for Best Documentary Film. Though, I do warn that there’s some political elements being used in this film as well as scary graphic scenes that you should be aware of given the fact that this film runs nearly 110 minutes to see more action being witnessed in every scene. With that, Collective successfully calls viewers to action to speak out against power and corruption.

GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)









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One Night In Miami



Director: Regina King

Studio: Amazon Studios

The best things happened all in One Night in Miami!


One Night in Miami serves as the directorial debut for actress Regina King who went from a small-time actress to the most influential people in the world. As a rising star, she had a breakout role in NBC’s 227, which was televised from 1985 to 1990, before prominently featured in Jerry Maguire, co-starring with Tom Cruise. Screenwriter and playwriting artist Kemp Powers, who has written his stage play One Night in Miami and was recently the co-director of Pixar’s Soul, heads to his writing duty to oversee the film’s production version of his play with actor Kingsley Ben-Adir in his lead role alongside the ensemble cast Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr.

Based on the screenplay and stage play written by Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami centers on the icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown whom they are gather fictionally in the group to discuss their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval in the 1960s just before the Civil Acts of 1964 is written, leading their powerful voices all around, defending their rights, and moving the country forward to equality and empowerment for all black people.

Here in the film, we have the ensemble cast of leading actors: Kingsley Ben-Adir (ITV’s Vera) as Malcolm X, Eli Goree (CW’s Riverdale) as Cassius Clay, Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton) as Jim Brown and Broadway star Leslie Odom Jr. (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton) as Sam Cooke.

As the director and producer, King studys back to history of the world living in the 1960s on how the world or a person can react and express their emotions upon seeing a black individual in person. She also borrows some key elements from Raging Bull and The Godfather trilogy as references in order to portray the characters, the plot, and the setting perfectly for that 1960s historical accuracy, producing a huge powerful and inspirational reflection that powers voices from any speaking individual happening in the country. With all the writing and the production designs overtaking the dynamics for that course, King also provides a powerful message on how anyone who has the position of power, even if it serves as means through music, film, art, and activism, she directs the plot and the storyline of each acts with a aplomb, giving the four main actors a shine to shingle on this very tight project.

Aside from King’s direction, the four mightily impressive leads each delivering a flawless performance of power and stature that goes with the iconic figures they are portraying. They both tried to strongly portray a character based on the figures’ personas and actions, but the four know how to do it smoothly and accurately. The main actors of the three (Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr.) become the best performers for the entire film, but the excellent performance coming from Kingsley Ben-Adir outshines them all.

Also appearing in the film are Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges’ older brother, as Mr. Carlton and Lance Reddick (John Wick films) as Brother Kareem.

Above all, One Night in Miami is a great film to watch, it takes nearly two hours to watch. It’s very nice and relaxing to see how Regina King can pull that off as the breakout feature-film-debut director as well as Kemp Powers as a writer with a strong, compassionate voice. My paid respects to the main four actors as well. They, along with King and Powers, did a terrific job of understanding how anyone’s voices could question their ideas and arguments. Imagine if you pull the trigger on me, I promise you that this film is really a must. And to top it all off, King is absolutely the strongest director who can outshine Hollywood, I would love to see the Oscar-winning actress become an Oscar-nominated director like so.

GRADE: A

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Herself



Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Studio: Amazon Studios

Herself is the key of life’s greatest humanistic choice!


Movies can be extremely difficult to choose which drama film to see without having the sharks all over the place out of fear or concern. In that case, family relationships carry the main signature theme to drama films that dramatized the audiences and families who dealt with issues in certain levels. English filmmaker Phyllida Lloyd, who helmed Mamma Mia! and The Iron Lady which both films feature Meryl Streep, returns to her directing duties in thus most recent feature film, Herself, featuring the stars of Clare Dunne in her leading role, along with Harriet Walter and Conleth Hill.

Herself follows the story of a young mother Sandra who struggles with her daughters after escaping from her abusive husband. She later fights back against a broken housing system when she sets out to build her own home and in the process rebuilds her life and rediscovers herself.

The entire cast consists of English and Irish actors, which perfectly fits for a Downton Abbey-flavored drama movie outing. Clare Dunne (Spider-Man: Far From Home) leads the big screen as Sandra, the mother of her two daughters named Molly and Emma (both portrayed by Molly McCann and Ruby Rose O’Hara). English actress Harriet Walter (Downton Abbey) portrays Peggy in the film who helps Sandra build her a new home while Irish actor Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) shares some screentime with them as Aido, the construction worker.

Lloyd’s direction over the course of the film exemplifies what a film can do to send the rightful messages to women, especially teaching them how to voice one’s opinions with honesty and bravery. Lloyd really teaches Dunne on how to better herself in many ways to free herself as if any woman would accept or reject something from a friend or family or sprouse. Even with guidance Lloyd offers to her, Dunne knows onscreen on how to follow her character nicely and slow without beating around the bush.

The director, the producers, the cast, and the film also retrace the cultural themes of domestic violence and abuse, the film’s main structure component, as well as the #MeToo movement after the allegations of sexual abuse towards women from powerful men and leaders in the media industries which gives the film a similar, powerful feel that left the audience to think about those situations and predicaments from past to present, dawn til dusk.

Also appearing in the film are Cathy Belton (Ireland’s Red Rock), Erika Roe as Sandra’s pub bar co-worker Amy, Rebecca O’Mara (Thomas and Friends) as Grainne, and Ian Lloyd Anderson as Gary, Sandra’s abusive husband.

Though parts of the film that prevent me from enjoying the film are the darker scenes involving Sandra’s relationship with her abusive husband, which may frighten young viewers upon seeing this, as well as her darkest memories about him, giving her a PTSD shark in her weary world. Nevertheless, a darker, sardonic tone and stride are present throughout her character’s viewing of the world. Life should be a place to just enjoy oneself regardless of the events that occur.

Over the top, Herself is a good film, but I would like to see further incarnations of this tale. It runs about 97 minutes for the full length of time and I have to say, this film is a must, but you might want to take proper precautions before you decide to select this film, digitally or theatrically.

GRADE: B

(Review by Henry Pham)









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Promising Young Woman



Director: Emerald Fennell

Studio: Focus Features

Action speaks louder than words in Promising Young Woman


Promising Young Woman is a darker, comedy thriller for anyone who has enjoyed comedy and thriller films altogether. As a director, producer, and writer for the film, Promising Young Woman serves as Fennell’s directorial debut in her career. Before that, she was an English actress who had minor roles in The Danish Girl (starring Eddie Redmayne) and Vita and Virginia (with Elizabeth Debicki in it). The film features the ensemble cast of Carey Mulligan in her leading role along with Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, and Connie Britton in their supportive roles.

Promising Young Woman centers on a young woman named Cassie Thomas who, after being traumatized by a tragic event in her past and finding out about the murdering of her close friend Nina, plans to seek vengeance against those who have wronged her and cross her path.

The characters in Promising Young Woman are very likable and intriguing. That’s one reason how this film works. Carey Mulligan (Pride and Prejustice, 2013’s The Great Gatsby) portrays a young, rebellious woman named Cassie who works at the coffee shop with actor Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade) joins Mulligan's side as Ryan Cooper, the doctor and her former classmate. And actress Laverne Cox who aides with Mulligan as Gail.

The supportive cast consist of Alison Brie (BoJack Horseman) as Madison, Chris Lowell (CW’s Veronica Mars) as Al Monroe, the futurely wedded man who is responsible for murdering Nina, Cassie’s closest friend, but rarely unseen character, and Clancy Brown (Spongebob Squarepants) and Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie films, Legally Blonde) both appear together onscreen as Cassie’s parents. And lastly, Connie Britton (Spin City) is seen in the film as Dean Walker.

The film and its key plotlines are similar to 2018’s A Simple Favor, another dark comedy-thrilling flick, directed by Paul Feig. It felt like, as director, Fennell wanted to take it the hard way after taking inspiration from that said film and, of course, the #MeToo movement where people, including celebrities, let out their voices on their toxic work environments and publicize allegations of sex crimes committed by powerful and/or prominent men. The film A Simple Favor and the #MeToo movements are the primary dynamics to the film and the Mulligan’s character entirely. There was also another dark, thriller film called I’m Your Woman, which was released in the same year, featuring the main-leading star of Rachel Brosnahan with a similar concept of this film but with family crisis being added.

The storyline threads and tales are in abundance here, the same applies to the chemistry performances between Mulligan and Burnham’s character being shared onscreen to that rapport. The director wants to fulfill this scenery between them in order to make this film more appealing to the audiences. The direction in every scene and climax from Fennell herself and the main focus of the performance coming from Carey Mulligan really shines the actors, the viewers and critics with a powerful glee. Also, just to let the viewers know that actress Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad) serves as one of the producers for this film. And let’s not forget about the screenplay from Fennell, her screenplay is what really makes the film pleasant to enjoy for those Oscar-contending attention getters.

Also appearing in the film are Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2) as Jordan, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (How to Train Your Dragon trilogy) as Neil, Max Greenfield (Veronica Mars, Fox’s New Girl) as Joe, and Molly Shannon (Jim Carrey’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas!) as Mrs. Fisher.

With the promising delightful treat being offered from the director, Mulligan, and the crew, Promising Young Woman is certainly one of the greatest films I ever watched. It clocks in about nearly two hours. I honestly don’t care what the critics or audiences say about this film, I still think it’s a great film to watch even though some parts of the film are hard to follow. I would pay high respects to Fennell and Mulligan in their capable best of their abilities. The film may stand a chance of garnering some nominations for Oscars’ Best Picture, Best Director for Fennell, Best Actress for Mulligan, and Screenplay. I’m not sure how it goes, but I can totally dig it for some Oscar recommendations. With that, Promising Young Woman leaves the moviegoers with a touching message, a satisfied palate on their hands, and a positive smile galore.

GRADE: A

(Review by Henry Pham)









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