Friday, May 8, 2020

The Last Kingdom (2020) - Season 4 - Review

One of the few shows that is fast-paced and makes you care about (like and also despise) its characters. The fourth season covers books 7 and 8 in Bernard Cornwell's Saxons saga but the plot unfortunately has become predictable.

This historical fiction is about Danes attack to Saxon land (modern day England), with many of the characters are rooted in history. The main protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg who is the audience's main point of view is based on a fabled warrior who happens to be one of Bernard Cornwell's ancestors.

Uhtred is Saxon who was raised by the Danes. This makes him a misfit in both camps. Although he fights for the Saxons, they dislike him for not being Christian. Some of the Danes are more accepting of him, but they cannot forgive him for siding with the Saxons.

This premise was quite captivating, and I was (and still am, but to a lesser extent) a fan. Each season covers two books in Cornwell's series, and considering that he is going to end this saga with the 13th book, it seems the show has enough material for probably three more seasons. But much like every intellectual property that lives for too long, the creator(s) end up eventually repeating themselves. In every season, there are savage Danes that have a personal vendetta against Uhtred (the story's hero) and also scheming and conniving Saxons that try to stab Uhtred in the back. These characters are despicable and fun to hate, while Uhtred himself is easy to root for. With this pattern being repeated over and over, I worry that the remaining seasons (if the show gets renewed) will be a rehash of the same formula.

Season 4 of The Last Kingdom was still entertaining and enjoyable, and for this I'd give it a 7.5/10. But I do hope the show runners change a few things for the next season.

After Life (2020) - Season Two - Review

The snarky grieving widower returns to tolerate the odd people of his town and rewatch countless hours of home video that he'd kept from his wife. The first season captured lightning in a bottle, but season 2 was simply a regression.

At the end of the first season, Tony (Ricky Gervais' character) had gone through all the stages of grief and finally reached acceptance of the situation. He looked at peace with his community and even had a love interest. Season 2 takes a few steps back in Tony character development and shows a man who is still angry and in denial. One could easily insert season 2 in the middle of season 1, and still watch the first season's finale to get closure on this story. I understand that in reality people relapse, but Gervais didn't even take the time to explain this regression with a couple of lines of dialogue.

Highlights of the season are Gervais' few rants, which as a fan of his stand ups, I quite enjoyed. The rest seemed pointless though. When we only had the first season, I used to recommend it to everyone. But now, with a lazy rehash of the same story, I don't have the same level of respect for this show. For this, I'd give the latest season a 5/10. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Oscar Predictions (2020)

Having seen a good majority of nominees this year, I'd like to predict what films will end up with the highest award of the season tomorrow.

My Vote
Best Picture
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Actor
Antonio Banderas
Leonardo DiCaprio
Adam Driver
Joaquin Phoenix
Jonathan Pryce
Best Actress
Cynthia Erivo
Scarlett Johansson
Saoirse Ronan
Charlize Theron
Renee Zellweger
Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks
Anthony Hopkins
Al Pacino
Joe Pesci
Brad Pitt
Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates
Laura Dern
Scarlett Johansson
Florence Pugh
Margot Robbie
Best Original Screenplay
Knives Out
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
The Two Popes
Best Original Score
Little Women
Marriage Story
Star Wars
Best Original Song
Toy Story 4
Frozen II
Best Cinematography
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Friday, February 7, 2020

Oscar Nominees (2019) - Review Roundup

I fell behind on reviewing the Oscar nominated movies, so instead of having rather long-form opinion pieces, I'll try to present a roundup of the best picture nominees and nominees from a few other categories in a few sentences.

Best Picture Nominees:

Ford V Ferrari: Fantastic acting, practical effects, a true story that is stranger than fiction. One of the best movies of the year hands down. But not on top of the podium. Sure worth a watch in the theatres.

The Irishman: One of the best movies of the decade, and hands down the best movie of the year. Detailed review is available here.

JoJo Rabbit: Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do in the Shadows) is one of the most creative minds in Hollywood. A satirical take on World War 2's German culture and a very realistic take on what makes us human. I take my hat off to Taika for his brilliance.

Joker: A masterpiece that I don't want to see more than once. Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix present a nuanced take on one of the most troubled fictional characters in history. Seeing it (only once) is a must! A detailed review is available here.

Little Women: A feminist story that was revolutionary in 1860's. Luckily, we have progressed much farther than that today, and seeing three sisters fighting for the affections of one rich pretty boy is not as empowering today as it might have been two centuries before. Besides the dated story, Greta Gerwig (the director)'s decision to make time jumps back and forth only hurt the movie. Despite the general apprehension to criticize the movie for the fear of being called a misogynist, it was one of the worst movies of the last decade.

Marriage Story: Noah Baumbach's (director, screenwriter, producer) real life divorce from his ex-wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was depicted in this melodrama. One cannot comment Baumbach on his creativity (as he just retold what had happened to him), but still he told a compelling, relatable, and moving story. It sure is worth your time and emotional investment.

1917: A technical marvel of cinematography. Unless you have ancestors who fought in the great war, you may not feel a direct connection to any of the protagonists. But still, for the technical achievements, it certainly is worth a watch.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood: A love letter to Hollywood and filmmaking. Tarantino the director is at his very best in constructing beautiful long shots and getting the best performance from his actors. Tarantino the writer, however, has written a fan fiction with inconsistencies, non organic tonal changes, and unearned subversion of expectations. Brad Pitt certainly deserves a best supporting actor Oscar! Full review is available here.

Parasite: Bong Joon Ho (the director and screen writer) criticized the western audience for their fear of reading subtitles. I, personally, am not afraid of reading, but still believe reading subtitles takes away some of the attention that you should have given to performances and other visuals that the filmmakers wanted to present. Regardless of how much attention I managed to give to Parasite visually, I found it a role model in character development. The less you know, the more you would enjoy the movie, so I will refrain from any plot summaries or synopses. What I would is say is that Bong Joon Ho plays with your emotions like no other. He makes you care, despise, care, and then despise those characters over and over again. It is also a very fresh and realistic take on the culture in developing countries where there is no middle class. It did not stick the landing in my opinion, but still, it certainly is an accomplishment in creative story-telling.

Other Nominees:
The Two Popes (Best Leading and Supporting Actor): Based on real life events, Anthony Hopkins delivers a nuanced performance that is despising yet heartwarming at the same time. Jonathan Pryce also portrays Pope Francis unlike any of Pryce's previous roles. The movie is boring whenever it does a flashback (which is almost 40% of the screen time), but when those two actors are on the screen, it's hard to think about anything else!

Bombshell (Best Leading Actress): I have been a fan of Megyn Kelly for the better half of the decade. Charlize Theron had a Herculean task of portraying her. Adam McKay (the director) also had a difficult job of presenting an event that was fresh in everyone's memory. Theron did a magnificent job at portraying an influential character in the recent pop culture. McKay had some inconsistencies though. The characters break the fourth wall in the first 10 minutes of the movie and directly talk to the audience, but then they forget the audience for the rest of the movie. Even the cinematography changes from more hand-held present-in-the-moment style to a third-person omniscient invisible observer. Still, worth a watch.

Judy (Best Leading Actress): Rene Zellweger portrays Judy Garland - a former child actor who suffers from substance abuse - masterfully. Besides the acting showcase of Zellweger, the rest of the movie is a let down.

Toy Story 4 (Best Animated Feature): Still a good animated movie, but far from Pixar's best. It did not ruin the legacy of the franchise (unlike Game of Thrones, Star Wars Rise of Skywalker, or Terminator Dark Fate), but it was certainly far from what the franchise had delivered in the past.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Music - Original Score): An underwhelming effort that left audience neither shaken nor stirred. Full review here.

Rocketman (Original Song): A fun sing-along experience. Bohemian Rhapsody was more nuanced, but still, Taron Egerton should be commended for his portrayal of Elton John.

Frozen II (Original Song): Paint by the number sequel, with some impressive visuals (water and jungle animated in hyper realistic 3D models), but the title song, "Into the Unknown" was nowhere close to what "Let It Go" did culturally.

Avengers: Endgame (Visual Effects): A marvel (pun intended) of story telling and universe building as the culmination of a 22-movie saga. Particularly, when you see how the other franchises (Star Wars, Terminator, Game of Thrones) failed in concluding their stories, you'll appreciate Avengers even more. Far from a transformative experience for the uninitiated, but still a major achievement. Full review here.

Knives Out (Original Screenplay): A classic whodunnit reminiscent of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle's work. Great acting, smart plot twists, and good pacing. I wouldn't consider it ground-breaking by any means, but worth streaming it from the comfort of your couch at home.