8/30/2019

Movie Review: Hot Air (2018)


Now Available




As a self-described "deliverer of hard truths" who knows full well that it's not love but anger that keeps him on the air everyday, alt-right shock jock radio host Lionel Macomb (Steve Coogan) implores his listeners to bring him their "rage."

Ranting about personal responsibility while simultaneously blaming the other (liberals, immigrants, etc.), Lionel is challenged to practice what he preaches by his sixteen-year-old niece Tess (Taylor Russell) who tracks him down when her mother lands in rehab and she needs a place to stay. Calling him a hypocrite when his first instinct is to kick her out of his posh New York apartment because that would mean relying on a governmental program — child services — to pick up the slack, after the brainy Tess threatens to send out a tweet arguing that what her uncle says and does are two very different things, Lionel gives in.

Impressed by both the girl's moxie as well as her aptitude for mental chess as the two relatives test each other's boundaries, Lionel rebounds back from a predictably rocky beginning by bringing his newfound niece to work with him at the radio station. Hoping to use any issues that the liberal minded, open-hearted Tess cares about as fodder for his daily bile, after he ambushes her on the air for a soundbite, she calls him out on his unwillingness to engage in any real debate since he's armed with sound effects, a production team, and the mute button.


A welcome opportunity to satirize the role that rancorous shows like Lionel's play in further dividing the populace as the new breed of infotainment that — neither informative or entertaining — runs on anger, Hot Air might crib a scene straight out of Network, but Lionel's venom goes largely unchecked from start to finish. Rather than zero in on any one argument (maddeningly, even when it ties right into the overall plot), Hot Air leaves politics behind to concern itself with the architect behind the angry airwaves instead.

Unsure whether to focus on Lionel's personal or professional awakening, the script written by first time screenwriter Will Reichel unsuccessfully tries to combine the two arcs and becomes a big mute button in the process. Unwilling to fully explore just who the unlikable character really is in both spheres of his life, whenever Hot Air stars to veer over the line of acceptability to show us Lionel cheating on his lovely publicist girlfriend or bullying a caller who turns out to be a child or a veteran, the film overcorrects. Pulling us back from the edge, Air tries to paint our politically incorrect lead in a still politically correct light when it could've benefited from presenting him to the viewer, warts and all. And although it hints at more depth as the walls that Lionel hides behind start to crumble when Tess' arrival forces him to come face-to-face with his past, Reichel's script routinely comes up short.


By now a veritable pro at evoking empathy from viewers regardless of how unsavory his characters are — not to mention uniquely qualified to play a larger than life radio host, thanks to his turns in Alan Partridge and 24 Hour Party People — Coogan takes to this role like a flag pin to Lionel's suit jacket. In fact he's so good here that he nearly fools you into thinking the film is more cohesive than it is from start to finish. Yet, featuring fine support from Neve Campbell and Skylar Astin, Hot Air is less a one man show for the always compelling Coogan than a capable two-hander between himself and talented up and comer Russell, who manages to not only hold her own with her costars but also pull focus as the one character we remain wholeheartedly invested in throughout.

Though augmented by its performances, the otherwise ambitious Air is in desperate need of a rewrite, which could've netted a slightly bigger budget for a film where far too many scenes feel like they're missing, rushed, or unfinished. And while The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci — reteaming here with his Around the World in 80 Days star Coogan — knows how to make an affable movie and Russell and Coogan share some charming scenes, Air's lightness never feels earned. Pushing us in a few different directions, while the last thing we want is to bring Lionel our rage, Hot Air would've worked so much better if it had followed Lionel's lead and delivered to audiences some hard truths about American politics as well as the man behind the microphone who spends his days stoking the fires of hate.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Official Secrets (2019)


Now Playing


As young British intelligence specialist Katharine Gun in Official Secrets, Keira Knightley tries to stop an illegal war when she receives a mind-blowing NSA e-mail in the 2003 lead-up to the invasion of Iraq that might as well have been titled "Blackmail Help Wanted."

Alarmed to find the United States requesting Britain's assistance in gathering dirt on members of the UN Security Council that they could then use to force those representatives to vote in favor of the war in the Middle East, the previously unassuming, twenty-something translator knows she can't just sit back and watch her country begin the march toward an unjust war.

Bound by the Official Secrets Act, which makes it illegal to disclose the intelligence she comes across at her job, Gun risks everything when she leaks the memo through an intermediary to the prominent British newspaper The Observer, and becomes a whistleblower in the process.


A fascinating true story that — perhaps for obvious reasons — received little to no mention in the United States, Rendition and Eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood's Official Secrets had all the makings of a successful political drama, which makes this drearily shot and dully paced end result all the more disappointing.

An ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary situation who let her conscience be her guide and stood firm even when the government threatened her family, Gun is an admirable figure both in real life and on paper. And that is precisely why it's such a shame that she's turned into a one dimensional placeholder for political speak onscreen. Revealing very little about Gun as either a woman or a spy, although the usually stellar Knightley excels during a few brief moments of speechifying, far too often she sleepwalks throughout Secrets in a woefully underwritten role.


In fact, not knowing exactly what to do with the everywoman hero at the heart of the film, Official Secrets only springs to life when it changes points-of-view away from Gun. Illustrating the ways in which it might’ve worked better as a thriller, we find ourselves completely caught up when the film focuses on both the trio of newspapermen at The Observer who published the shocking front page story just seventeen days before the U.S. invaded Iraq and the human rights lawyer who eventually took Gun’s case.

Trying to hit all the high points as a faithful chronicle of events without building any real connection to the actual architects behind the action (except in one nerve-wracking scene where Gun tries to track down her husband when retaliation by the government hits close to home), this workmanlike effort plays best as a cinematic equivalent to Cliffs Notes.


Leaving the cast floundering with an emotionally staccato script by Hood alongside husband and wife team Sara and Gregory Bernstein, which was based upon based upon Thomas and Marcia Mitchell's 2008 book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War, Official Secrets lacks both the humanism that drew us into Hood's politically driven Rendition as well as a strong narrative arc.

A nonetheless eye-opening and still timely saga that — from a historical perspective alone — is sure to spark the curiosity of American viewers who are largely unfamiliar with Gun's actions, regrettably there's nothing about Hood's interpretation that elevates Official Secrets beyond the level of an average, interchangeable made for premium cable movie you're likely to see at home on Saturday nights.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Falling Inn Love (2019)


Now Available on Netflix 


Clicking a link in an unsolicited email is enough to give you pause. Being asked to use your credit card to pay for the chance to win an inn on the other side of the world is when most people would probably press delete.

Not so for Christina Milian's Gabriela Diaz, who — buoyed by wine as well as the loss of her job and her boyfriend in the span of a week — is ready to take a risk. Taking a chance not only on the contest but also a plane and three buses, Gabriela journeys to New Zealand upon learning that her one in a million shot paid off.


Paid, however, is the optimal word as Gabriela discovers when she arrives to find the inn falling down. A veritable money pit that's occupied by a goat as well as its earlier owner in the form of a ghost, Gabriela realizes that she'll have to max out her credit cards if she has any hope of matching the inn to the sparkling profile picture that first inspired her to click.

Applying for an entrepreneur visa and enlisting the help of the best contractor on the island, the ruggedly handsome Jake Taylor (Adam Demos) who doubles as the volunteer fire chief and is also a dead ringer for Simon Baker, Gabriela gets to work as an attraction develops between the two.

A pleasantly fast-paced — if admittedly formulaic — featherweight romantic comedy, Falling Inn Love is the equivalent of a paperback summer beach read you'd find in the airport next to a bottle of sunscreen.


Written by Hilary Galanoy and Elizabeth Hackett, scripters of the similarly appealing made for cable romcoms Geek Charming with Sarah Hyland for Disney and Fir Crazy with Sarah Hyland for Hallmark, there's very little to differentiate this breezily charming Netflix title from the type of fare that Hallmark premieres every Saturday night (and all through the holidays). In fact, with two attractive people fixing up a bed and breakfast in the country with a goat, its plot is fairly similar to one of Hallmark's best loved original movies, All Of My Heart, which has spawned two sequels.

Yet, thanks to some inventive subplots involving old love letters and green energy as well as the likable ensemble cast who bring easy smiles as friendly townspeople immediately ready and willing to become Gabriela's new best friends, Cruel Intentions director Roger Kumble makes the material sing. As a result, Falling Inn Love feels fresher than it is in reality.


Filling every frame with warmly lit HGTV renovation show porn (and even dropping in a reference to Chip and Joanna Gaines) along with the scenic beauty of its New Zealand setting, while it isn't quite as effective as last year's outstanding crop of Netflix summer efforts including To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Falling Inn Love is just the thing to close out the season. In other words (and especially when you need a pick me up), this streaming title is one link that's definitely okay to click.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

8/23/2019

Movie Review: For Me and My Gal (1942) & 5 More Gene Kelly Musicals to See


In honor of Gene Kelly's birthday today, I wrote a piece for Netflix's DVD blog "In the Envelope," highlighting five musicals starring the Philadelphia born and raised actor-dancer-singer-choreographer and filmmaker that classic movie fans will definitely want to see. 

Originally intended to chronicle "Six You Shouldn't Miss," the first film I included in the piece was unfortunately unavailable to rent via Netflix but it is currently airing on The Criterion Channel, so I'm posting it here along with a link back to the main article at Netflix's DVD.com so you can discover the rest. 


FOR ME AND MY GAL (1942)


Buoyed by the confidence of MGM producer Arthur Freed and the support of his co-star turned mentor Judy Garland, as soon as Gene Kelly appears onscreen — all swagger and smiles — to flirt with the girls passing by, you barely need the train he just stepped off of to tell you that a new star has arrived.

Centered on the relationship between a cocksure vaudeville headliner (Kelly) and his partner (Garland), which is threatened by the arrival of World War I, director Busby Berkeley's bittersweet black-and-white musical boasts not only a breakthrough performance by newcomer Kelly but also one for veteran Garland, who was trying to transition out of kiddie musicals and into more grown-up fare.

A moving drama with very little humor as opposed to most of Kelly's other MGM work from the era, while surprisingly dark for a musical, the two actors rise exceptionally well to the challenges of the picture. And through the film's World War I backdrop, FOR ME AND MY GAL drives home the realities of the second world war in a very real way.


A meeting of minds and skill sets that inspired a close friendship between the two leads, while it's Garland whom Kelly credits with launching his career (as well as teaching him how to act for the camera instead of the stage), the actress used the opportunity of working with the talented choreographer to learn how to dance at a professional level.

The first feature starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, fortunately FOR ME AND MY GAL would not be the last. The two musical favorites reteamed in a handful of films from MGM cameo cavalcades ZIEGFELD'S FOLLIES and THOUSANDS CHEER to Vincente Minnelli's sensual swashbuckler THE PIRATE, right up through their final pairing in SUMMER STOCK.




Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern. #DVDNetflix - #DVDNation #ad

8/14/2019

Blu-ray Review: Ash is Purest White (2018)


Now Available




If Michelangelo Antonioni had directed a Chinese gangster movie, it might've looked something like Jia Zhangke's Ash is Purest White, in which a romance between a jianghu underworld boss and his loyal girlfriend plays out against the desolate backdrop of 7,700 km of mainland China over a seventeen year period.

Conceived by the filmmaker after looking at deleted scenes from two of his previous pictures which featured his wife and filmic muse Zhao Tao, Zhangke blended together the unconditional love of Tao's Unknown Pleasures character and the complexity of her Still Life alter ego to create a whole new woman he envisioned coming from his coal mining hometown in northwestern China.


Fittingly, for a film that was crafted from two others, Ash wears its cinematic influences proudly and none more so than through its prominent use of Sally Yeh's theme song from John Woo's 1989 Hong Kong crime classic, The Killer.

Whereas Woo's film focused on a hitman's devotion to Yeh's beautiful singer, whom he accidentally blinded during a job, Ash turns the premise inside out as we watch the protective Qiao (a phenomenal Tao) risk everything for her love, even after their relationship has ended.

So committed to the handsome, charismatic jianghu boss Bin (Liao Fan) that she fires a gun in public in order to save his life when they're attacked by a rival gang, Qiao emerges from jail half a decade later determined to pick things up exactly where they left off.


With architectural metaphors a la Antonioni, Zhangke tells a second story about the way that time changes not only people but their overall environment. Whether in brief scenes that highlight the collapse of rural towns or by way of a loudspeaker on a ship in the middle of the Three Gorges where we're told that everything we're looking at will be underwater in the same amount of time that Qiao was behind bars, Zhangke cleverly links the plight of his leads to their homeland.

Knowing this, with his usual cinematographer unavailable, Zhangke found the ideal candidate to step in via Eric Gautier, whose breathtaking work with Olivier Assayas, Alain Resnais, Sean Penn, Ang Lee, and especially Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries perfectly illustrates his talent for making the most of the environment. Captured with five different cameras to bring different textures and moods to its seventeen year span from 2001 to 2018, Ash is as much a bittersweet reverie for the land as well as a love gone by and Gautier's visuals convey as much meaning as Zhangke's sparse dialogue throughout.


Anchoring the film whenever it starts to meander, Tao's mesmerizing chemistry with Fan brings their scenes heartbreakingly to life but none more so than when she realizes once again that she has to be strong for them both and face that their relationship is over . . . even if we know that that's just what they're telling themselves before the film echoes The Killer once again.

As beautiful as it is soulful, best paired not only with Woo but also Antonioni's L'eclisse and Wenders' Paris, Texas, in Zhangke's enigmatic existential romance, two lovers journey towards and away from one another out of the underworld on an unforgettable seventeen year opus home.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Girls of the Sun (2018)


Now Available




Named for the all-female battalion of Yazidi captives turned fighters striving to liberate their Iraqi home from ISIS control at the heart of its fact-based storyline, Eva Husson's Girls of the Sun is a film full of flashbacks.

Relying heavily upon expositional dialogue to bring us up to speed on the background of the French journalist played by Emmanuelle Bercot who arrives on the scene to cover the women with a Marie Colvin inspired eye-patch, Husson opts for a much more cinematic approach when it comes to Bercot's co-star.


Transporting us out of the contemporary battleground to just before ISIS invaded the mountains of Sinjar in Northern Iraq to kidnap 7,000 women and children after killing the men on a mission of genocide, Husson paints a picture of squad leader Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani) back when she was a wife, mother, and lawyer in ways that simple words could not convey.

Following Bahar's harrowing journey first as a captive in an environment of rape and degradation up through her daring escape before she found herself in a position to fight back, it doesn't take long for us to realize that the film's gripping flashbacks are far more compelling than the thinly plotted, disappointingly predictable action of present day.


Giving Farahani ample opportunity to shine, despite a genre required exciting finale, the rest of the film serves as little more than a weak framing device to Bahar's riveting backstory which should've taken center stage.

Not knowing what to do with Bercot's character, while the decision to offer a different perspective on the war by including a European journalist to serve as somewhat of an audience member surrogate was a good one overall, Husson and her co-writer Jacques Akchoti seem unsure of how to adequately insert her into the goings on.


An undeniably muddled yet noble attempt to share these women's experiences with the world, while it's obvious that Bercot's Mathilde has her own tragic story to tell, just like Bahar is shortchanged by hopscotching back and forth in time with varying degrees of success, our journalist is often pushed to the sidelines as she alternates from participant to spectator throughout.

Elevated by Mattias Troelstrup's soul-stirring cinematography that brings unexpected beauty to the gritty world of Sun, although we're unable to feel consistently connected to any particular heroine due to its awkward structure, the film is at its best when Husson brings us back to the past in order to shed new light on these fiery Girls of the Sun.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

8/05/2019

Blu-ray Review: Hold Back the Dawn (1941)



Stuck in a small Mexican stopover town where the one thing that sets it apart is the fact that it shares a border with the United States, Romanian dancer turned gigolo Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) decides it's time to make a great escape.

Having mapped out a shortcut to the states, Georges opts to seduce his way into American citizenship through a green card marriage to the spinster teacher (played by Olivia de Havilland) he sets out to woo.


Sidelined by car trouble while chaperoning a group of rambunctious boys during a field trip on the fourth of July, the sweet if naive California teacher gets taken in by the smooth talking stranger when he delays her overnight and steers her into a whirlwind romance that ends in a rushed wedding at dawn.

Separated for a few weeks while the papers go through, Emmy Brown (de Havilland) surprises her new husband back in Mexico before he can legally cross the border to end the marriage he orchestrated by filing some papers of his own.

Setting off on a spontaneous road trip, Georges is proof that the fastest way to get to know someone is to travel together as, not too long after they've left, he's startled to find that he's developed a strong attraction to (gasp) his own wife.


Out of respect for perhaps the first woman he doesn't want to love and leave, Georges tries to tamp down his desire by feigning an injury to prevent him from consummating the marriage.

Cranking up the heat, first in a scene where he can't bear to look at Emma perfectly framed in the rear-view mirror, followed by another where — having stripped down and run into the waves — he discovers she's not the schoolmarm he initially thought, Georges realizes he can no longer ignore his heart in Hold Back the Dawn.

Beautifully photographed, the artistry of Oscar nominated cinematographer Leo Tover shines through not only in the aforementioned scenes but also when our leads exchange vows once again in a religious ceremony filled with candles and shadows.


Despite its requisite World War II era flag-waving, Dawn it seems is as romantically optimistic as it is filled with cynical wit. Of course, this tonally sophisticated blend was soon to become a trademark of screenwriter Billy Wilder, who penned the script with Charles Brackett.

Based on Ketti Frings' story, "Memo to a Movie Producer," which later became a novel, while the Hollywood set framing device feels like a bit of a self-serving rah-rah Tinseltown prologue, Wilder and Brackett counter Dawn's protracted artificiality with authenticity, canceling it out in a starkly realistic first act anchored by Boyer's world-weary narration.


A recurring Wilder device, after Boyer used his weight as a star to axe a few scenes helmed by Mitchell Leisen, Hold Back the Dawn became the last script Wilder wrote that he didn't direct. Still, obviously proud of the work, it was Dawn which Wilder shared with Raymond Chandler to give the hard-boiled crime novelist a crash course in crafting screenplays.

It's a timeless film that's timelier than ever today. Boasting an all too important speech about the vital role that new immigrants from all over play in shaping American culture, this border set melodrama takes on added gravitas in 2019 given the Trump administration's xenophobic war on immigrants who have dared to cross the border from Mexico in search of the American dream.


Featuring Paulette Goddard's scene-stealing performance as Georges' dance turned bedroom partner, now that the cover of night has begun to lift on Dawn thanks to Arrow's velvety rich Blu-ray restoration, Mitchell Leisen's overlooked six-time Oscar nominee won't stay hidden for long.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.