Tag Archives: 2019

Ben’s Column: Uncut Gems (2019) Movie Review

Uncut Gems (2019)

Premise: A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.

Meet Howard Ratner. He’s Jewish, in his 40s, married with three kids but is in the midst of divorcing his wife. He runs a successful* jewelry business to the stars in Manhattan, and has what can laconically be described as a gambling addiction. Almost everyone is tired of Howard’s shtick as soon as they come into contact with him, including his wife and daughter. The only people he has genuine connections with are his teenage son and his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox, a breakout star in the making). Physiologically speaking, he has to sleep at some point, but there is no evidence to suggest he does. His mind is constantly racing, moving from one deal to the next, trying to get ahead and hit the jackpot. He’s a machete juggler where all of the machetes are on fire, and he’s prone to dropping them a little too frequently. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Movie Review (Non-Spoiler)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Premise: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren tells Rey “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” The line, along with many other plot developments, was read as director Rian Johnson’s overt message to fans to let go of any preconceived notions of what a Star Wars movie should be. It was a bold move, considering fans have done nothing but look to the original films, hoping to reclaim the glory and joy that they felt when Star Wars was at its peak. Continue reading

Movie Review: Cats (2019)

Cats (2019)

Premise: A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.

When the trailer for Cats was released earlier this year, it became ensnared in a viral bloodbath of ridicule on social media. Of course, it’s a film adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about cats holding a talent show to gain entry into cat heaven in a seemingly deserted city. It stands to reason that any version of it would look bizarre and invite ridicule. However, being a cat owner myself, I felt obligated to give Cats a whirl.

Movie Review: The Beach Bum (2019)

Premise: A rebellious stoner named Moondog lives life by his own rules.

The Beach Bum is my second outing with a Harmony Korine film after watching Spring Breakers on a whim back in January. Even though I didn’t like Spring Breakers, I enjoyed the abstract editing and overall strange and indistinct tone of that movie. It was as though Korine was making a statement about debauchery and youth in revolt flirting with crime. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Frozen II (2019) Movie Review

Frozen II (2019)

Premise: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.

Look. When you’ve got one of the most profitable films of all time like Frozen in your back pocket, there’s bound to be talks of a sequel. This is 2019 after all, and the studio that made Frozen is Disney, who’s never met an original property it couldn’t shoehorn into a prequel, sequel, or spin-off. Not to mention the untold millions Disney has raked in from merchandising ever since – if you’ve gone a single Halloween since 2014 without seeing an Anna or Elsa or Olaf costume, you’re either lying, or weren’t paying attention. None of this is surprising. Continue reading

Movie Review: Late Night (2019)

Premise: A late night talk show host suspects that she may soon lose her long-running show.

Writer/star Mindy Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra’s “boss from hell” movie about an underdog in late night TV is plagued by underutilized supporting characters, underdeveloped subplots, and a borderline unlikable co-lead character. Late Night‘s saving grace is a strong performance by Emma Thompson who, despite her character being nearly irredeemably obnoxious, is served well enough by a script that misuses most of the other characters and subplots. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Parasite (2019) Movie Review

Parasite (2019)

Premise: All unemployed, Ki-taek and his family take peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks, as they ingratiate themselves into their lives and get entangled in an unexpected incident. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: The King (2019) Movie Review

The King (2019)

Premise: Hal, wayward prince and heir to the English throne, is crowned King Henry V after his tyrannical father dies. Now the young king must navigate palace politics, the war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life.

The King may not be the longest, the most plot-heavy, or even the most complicated movie of 2019, but it may be the most tedious to get through. Here’s a fun parlor game you can play with your friends: gather everyone together and turn on The King. The first person to either nod off or check his or her phone loses. Best of luck to you, because I would have failed this challenge within the first 30 minutes. Continue reading

Movie Review: The Irishman (2019)

3 stars

Premise: A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.

The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s examination of time, regret, and aging through the lens of the gangster epic. It’s a perfectly fine film whose biggest strength is in the powerful performances of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. Unfortunately, aside from those performances, the movie didn’t really hook me and ended up feeling like too dry and aimless a rumination on its themes. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: The Lighthouse (2019) Movie Review

The Lighthouse (2019)

Premise: The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

“I knew ye was mad when ye smashed that lifeboat and chased me with that axe” Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake bellows to Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow (or is it Thomas Howard?) late in The Lighthouse, the newest from director Robert Eggers, after his breakout success of The Witch. The question, on its face, isn’t all that significant. What makes it stand out – and emblematic of the entire film – is that, just minutes earlier, we see the exact opposite happening with Dafoe madly chasing Pattinson. Is Dafoe messing with Pattinson? Was it a drunken hallucination? Is Dafoe the crazy one, or is Pattinson (or both)? Throughout The Lighthouse, Eggers has the audience constantly question what he just showed us, as his characters descend deeper and deeper into madness.

When The Witch debuted in 2015, praise was rightfully heaped on Robert Eggers for his thorough commitment to realism. Each detail felt lived in and authentic, from the dialogue to the sets that were built. For The Lighthouse, Eggers continues to raise his game – the crew even built a life-size lighthouse off the coast of Nova Scotia. Not only do both actors talk like they were plucked from the shores of New England at the turn of the century, but the minimalism of the island truly helps to feed the madness as it sets in. Shot by Jarin Blaschke on black and white film and given an almost square aspect ratio to evoke a more claustrophobic mood, The Lighthouse looks unlike any other movie you’ll see this year. Eggers and Blaschke take full advantage of the lack of running electricity to create some fantastically memorable images. Many scenes are only lit by a single light source, and the resulting shadows on Willem Dafoe’s face almost gives him an inhuman appearance. Pattinson at one point makes his way up the lighthouse stairs, where the lens is only visible through a metal grate. Eggers holds the camera on his face as he’s mesmerized by the glow, as patterns of light and darkness constantly dance across his face. He wants to be in the light, but just can’t break through.

The Lighthouse is a film where we can essentially guess the outcome from the beginning, but the process that Eggers takes to get there is full of fun and madness nonetheless. The story is mostly told from Pattinson’s perspective, so we see all of Winslow’s hallucinations and fantasies, though we’re never totally on his side. Is he justified in his accusations, or is he just a paranoid drunk? The cast list is literally three actors long: Dafoe, Pattinson, and Valeriia Karaman, who plays a mermaid, so there is no outside perspective to make any distinction between who is right and wrong. Of course, Pattinson and Dafoe give incredibly layered performances, one seeming to one-up and out-crazy the other. Both characters feel like real people with real grievances though; in lesser hands they could have easily slipped into caricature. And Eggers gives each actor plenty of meat to chew: Pattinson has a great scene where he drunkenly airs his criticisms, and Dafoe gives a terrifying yet exaggerated response.

Ben’s Column: Dolemite Is My Name (2019) Movie Review

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Premise: Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon. Continue reading

HIFF2019: Movie Review – In a New York Minute (2019)

In a New York Minute (2019)

  • Narrative Feature/Official Selection
  • 102 Minutes/USA/2019
  • Drama/Romance
  • Director: Ximan Li

Premise: “In A New York Minute” follows three strangers connected by a single pregnancy test. Amy is haunted by a past breakup that has manifested into an eating disorder. Angel is caught between a loveless marriage to an American businessman and a passionate affair with a Chinese writer. Nina moonlights as an escort in order to support herself.

Continue reading

HIFF2019: Movie Review – House of Hummingbird (2018)

House of Hummingbird (2019)

  • Narrative Feature/Grand Prize Winner
  • 138 Minutes/South Korea/2019
  • Drama/International
  • Director: Bora Kim

Premise: A lonely 14-year-old, Eun-hee moves through life like a hummingbird searching for a taste of sweetness. Deprived of attention from her family, she spends her time finding meaning in the love and friendships of her peers. When Young-ji, a new teacher, arrives, she becomes the first adult Eun-hee feels really understands her.

Continue reading

Ben’s Column: The Laundromat (2019) Movie Review

The Laundromat (2019)

Premise: In this dramedy based on the Mossack Fonseca scandal, a cast of characters investigate an insurance fraud, chasing leads to a pair of a flamboyant Panama City law partners exploiting the world’s financial system. Continue reading

HIFF2019: Ben’s Column – Go Back to China (2019)

Go Back to China (2019)

  • Narrative Feature/Official Selection
  • 96 Minutes/2019/USA
  • Comedy/Drama
  • Director: Emily Ting

Premise: When spoiled rich girl Sasha Li blows through most of her trust fund, she is cut off by her father and forced to go back to China and work for the family toy business. Continue reading