This year it almost feels like the Oscars snuck up on me.
Though I have watched most of the films and roles nominated for awards this year, I hardly feel qualified to make any kind of educated predictions.
There’s just too many factors to try to predict, and frankly I’d just be borrowing analysis from other smarter people than myself.
That said, I would prefer it if “1917” didn’t win Best Picture this Sunday. Even though it seems to be far and away the favorite going into this awards ceremony.
My personal pick would be “Marriage Story,” though I would be more than thrilled if “Parasite” or “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” somehow ended up winning.
I also wish Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson would win Best Actor and Actress for their roles in “Marriage Story,” but that seems like a pipe dream at this point considering how well Joaquin Phoenix and Renée Zellweger have done at other recent awards shows.
Really, the other only wish I have for The Oscars is that “Joker” doesn’t win anywhere near all the 11 awards it was nominated for. I sincerely think that movie is vastly overrated.
Yes, Joaquin Phoenix is very good and the movie has some solid cinematography. But Best Picture though? Best Directing? Best Writing? Really? If anything the writing in “Joker” was the weakest aspect of the movie. Nominating it for Best Adapted Screenplay is a joke.
Anyway, we’ll just have to wait until Sunday to see what happens.
Until then there’s still a couple of new movies to talk about this week, including a mystery thriller starring Blake Lively as a woman seeking revenge for the death of her family, and a retelling of a classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm.
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “The Rhythm Section.”
Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), an ordinary woman, veers down a path of self-destruction after a tragic plane crash kills her family. But when Stephanie discovers it wasn’t an accident, she turns to a former CIA operative (Jude Law) who can help her find the culprits.
Her quest to uncover the truth soon turns into a full-blown quest for revenge as Stephanie decides to punish those responsible.
What kind of movie do you think of when you see a title like “The Rhythm Section?” Probably something related to music, right?
Maybe it’s a film about a high school or college drumline featuring a crew of misfits who, despite the odds, go on to achieve national recognition.
Or possibly you might think of a movie about an aspiring musician, a drummer perhaps, who sacrifices everything, including his social life and sanity, to become the very best.
Heck, maybe you even think of an all out musical, featuring a number of grand, well choreographed song and dance numbers, all set to a catchy percussion heavy soundtrack.
Regardless of what you might imagine though, with a title like that I seriously doubt you’d expect to see a film about a broken woman who becomes a spy in order to enact revenge on those responsible for her family’s death.
That is unless you’re a fan of author Mark Burnell, or a connoisseur of suspense novels in general.
I know the title of the book this movie is based on is also called “The Rhythm Section,” but seriously, they really should have considered changing the name of the film.
Maybe it worked for the novel, I can’t really say since I haven’t read it, but the title hardly feels relevant to the actual film.
You wanna know what the “rhythm section” the title here is even referencing? A person’s heartbeat and breathing. That’s it.
Jude Law’s character tells Stephanie that her heart is like drums and her breathing like a bass. It’s how he reminds her to keep calm while training her. The concept comes up two or three times during their sessions together, and afterwards it’s never mentioned again.
Normally I couldn’t care less what a movie decides to title itself. Then again, most films generally aren’t titled quite this poorly.
I swear I must have seen the trailer for this movie a dozen times in theaters before its release, and it took me all the way up until this week to finally associate that odd title with this movie.
Because “The Rhythm Section” doesn’t sound like the first chapter in a series of spy thrillers. It sounds like a spinoff of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical.”
But I’m gone off on a bit of a tangent. Poor titling doesn’t automatically make a movie bad.
Sadly, poor pacing and a complete lack of urgency from the film’s characters does.
To their credit though, I thought Blake Lively and Jude Law gave perfectly fine performances.
In fact, I’d say Lively’s role here was quite transformative. I haven’t watched all of her movies, but I’ve never seen her portray a character anywhere remotely like Stephanie. So kudos for that.
Unfortunately this character of hers basically spends the first third of the movie staring off into the distance while having constant flashbacks about her dead family.
I get it. You want to show the pain and guilt she carries. That’s good. Decent motivation for revenge right there. But eventually you have to give us something more.
The flashbacks didn’t even reveal new things about her character as the movie went along. We just saw the same one over and over again.
It’s like the editor was desperate to constantly remind the audience that Stephanie was a broken person and didn’t know any other way to accomplish this except by sprinkling in the same flashback scene every five minutes.
Speaking of editing, the scene transitions here seemed shockingly abrupt. It’s like they trimmed the fat just a little too much. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it certainly felt a bit jarring at times.
And don’t even get me started on the editing in the one “romantic” scene Stephanie finds herself in.
So at one point in the film Stephanie finds herself in a pretty benign conversation with Sterling K. Brown’s character. And for whatever reason, the scene is constantly intercut with another scene of them being intimate with each other.
I’m not sure if their makeout session was supposed to be something in Stephanie’s head, or if this is something that happens after this conversation, or if the movie is just implying the two of them have such an intense chemistry together that the only way to properly show it is a scene with the two of them getting it on.
The only problem with all three of these scenarios is the two of them don’t even have the slightest bit of chemistry together. It’s a bizarre editing and storytelling choice no matter which way you cut it.
Then there’s the soundtrack. The stupid, horribly tone-deaf soundtrack. It’s like whoever picked the film’s music thought the movie was a little too dower and serious, so they decided to pep it up by throwing in a few upbeat songs to make things playful. It didn’t work.
This is one of the rare occasions I can remember where a soundtrack actually took me out of the movie for feeling so inappropriate.
But really, these are all just small complaints in a sea of poor pacing and a complete lack of urgency.
Yes, Stephanie wants revenge on the people responsible for her family’s death. But not as much as she wants to stare off into the void for minutes on end while she contemplates how much guilt she bares. Over and over again.
For a film less than two hours long, this movie felt like it lasted for an eternity. By the halfway mark I was begging for it to be over. Yet the sweet release of the end credits continued to elude me for another 50 tedious minutes.
Unless you’re looking to take a two hour nap at a theater, you can do so much better with your money than paying to watch this movie.
Heck, setting your cash on fire would probably be more entertaining. At least then you’d have a full 60 seconds of excitement, instead of 109 minutes of pure tedium.
“The Rhythm Section” is rated R.
The other movie this week is “Gretel & Hansel.”
When their mother descends into madness, siblings Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and Hansel (Samuel Leakey) must fend for themselves in the dark and unforgiving woods.
Hungry and scared, they fortuitously stumble upon a bounty of food left outside an isolated home. Invited inside by the seemingly friendly owner (Alice Krige), the children soon suspect that her generous but mysterious behavior is part of a sinister plan to do them harm.
With all the grim realities featured in the stories from the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, it’s honestly a wonder there haven’t been more horror adaptations of their works.
In fact, I think a sinister telling of Hansel and Gretel would actually be more inline with the original story. In the original tale, the only reason the siblings are lost in the woods is because their stepmother purposely abandons the two children in the wilderness to fend for themselves. Twice.
Not exactly an upstanding mother figure. Heck, to Hansel and Gretel, the witch probably seemed like a fair upgrade over the old crone they called a mom. At least with the witch they got to eat.
With that said though, there are still quite a few changes here from the original tale.
For starters, Gretel is definitely the main character here. The story’s from her point of view, anything resembling a character arc is hers, heck a good chunk of the story is explained through her own internal monologue. Hansel’s basically just a tag along little brother.
The other major change here is the story isn’t just about the kids eventually outsmarting and escaping the witch. It’s more about Gretel growing up into womanhood, and maybe even unlocking her own supernatural talents.
In that way the movie kind of reminds me a little of Robert Eggers’s “The Witch.” Only faintly though. And a half of that may be because the characters have a similar old timey way of speaking.
Also slightly reminiscent of Eggers, this movie has a very distinct visual style that’s impossible to miss.
Many if not most of the scenes are filmed with the character’s faces right smack dab in the middle of the frame. Even in conversations, instead of having one person on the left of a frame and one on the right to show a natural eyeline, everyone is always exactly in the center of the shot.
In contrast to these unnervingly static shots, scenes with movement often feel quite frantic due to being filmed in a hectic shaky cam style.
All in all, it makes for quite a striking looking movie. One that kept my interest for the visuals alone if nothing else.
Sadly though, this movie does market itself as a horror film. And though it might serve up a bit of uneasiness and a flash of disturbing images here and there, there’s nothing really here that I’d call scary.
Though the witch is clearly up to something sinister, she never really felt all that threatening. Even in the movie’s climax. Plus, there’s basically no jump scares to speak of, which I know will make this movie a nonstarter to viewers just looking to jump in their seats.
And to top it all off, this movie is just kind of weird. And not in a way that most people will enjoy I think.
Personally, I like that this film was a bit more than a cheap cash grab featuring a well known property. A filmmaker could have easily taken this story and made something soulless, yet more palatable to general horror movie audiences.
But they didn’t. They made this strange little movie instead. And for that I appreciate it.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Could it have used a little more refining storywise? Oh you better believe it.
Even so, I enjoyed it for what it was. If nothing else, it’s definitely far from being the worst horror movie released in the past month.
“Gretel & Hansel” is rated PG-13.