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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