The Photograph was the perfect film to watch on Valentine’s Day: a classic romance with nostalgic nods, a jazzy soundtrack, and lovely acting. The film takes place in both New York and New Orleans, with these settings actually playing a fun role themselves. Actors Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield star opposite one another, and it was something new to see Issa Rae play a more reserved character. I love her in the HBO series, Insecure, and she was hilarious in the 2019 film, Little. I’m so used to seeing her in comedies, and I think that is where her strengths lie—maybe that’s the reason that her delivery on some of the more serious dialogue felt forced to me. The supporting cast almost outshines the two leads: Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Bird Box) and Kevin Harrison Jr. (Mudbound, It Comes At Night) played characters who provided some much needed comic relief.
The love story between the two leads begins when journalist Michael Block (Stanfield) discovers a photograph (get it?) while working on a story in New Orleans. He wants to learn more about the photographer of said photograph, and is led to Mae (Rae), whose mother was the photographer. The film goes between modern times and the past, following her mother’s romantic life in 1980’s New Orleans, and her own love story with Stanfield. The juxtaposition between the mother-daughter relationship through the time jumps was well-executed.
Being a photography major, I really enjoyed the nostalgic storyline of “the past.” Much of it took place in a DIY darkroom, while prints were being developed. The care and detail that went into showing the delicate process of film photography was lovely. This is something I think the film portrayed really well: the fact that photographs can be instrumental in telling a story that can last decades and connect us to our loved ones’ pasts. In all, The Photograph was an enjoyable romance, following most stereotypes of the genre, which is why I say it was slightly lackluster. The cast, nostalgia, and the soundtrack were the highlights of the film.
Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE
You Might also like
By Rachel Ogden — 1 year ago
I have never been to Italy nor lost a close family relative to a terminal illness, but I do have a mother and, like her, I am a crier. Watching 18 Presents accompanied by my mother late at night on Mother’s Day was a recipe for disaster, especially when the real-life inspiration for the film is revealed. If you’re looking for something to turn your tear ducts into sprinklers and don’t mind reading subtitles, you’ve come to the right place.
The premise is this: Elisa (played by Italian actress Vittoria Puccini) is pregnant with a baby girl when she finds out that she has terminal cancer. Knowing that the progression of the illness would likely result in her dying during the child’s infancy, the mother-to-be decides to buy her unborn child 18 presents: one for every birthday until she becomes an adult. Sure, it might be hard to shop for someone you’ve never met, but isn’t it the thought that counts? Apparently not. Her now grown daughter, Anna (Italian actress Benedetta Porcaroli), actually hates these gifts from her mother, and her dad has to force her to open them, even as early as her 5th birthday. By 18, Anna has become a Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice) look-a-like with a far worse attitude and talent for self-destruction. I literally hated her. In the notes I made while watching the film, I wrote, “There is just no redeeming this character.” The biggest compliment I can give 18 Presents is that it proved me wrong: by the end, I forgave Anna, and couldn’t find it in me to hate her even the slightest. I remain impressed by this unexpected redemption.
As the plot progresses, and thanks to some extraordinary circumstances, Anna gets to meet her mother and relive the last few months of her life beside her. Thus, there are plenty of scenes of mother and daughter interacting whilst simultaneously longing for a past/future that will never occur. These moments are genuinely sweet and get you right in the feels. The ending had me sending twin waterfalls down my cheeks, not unlike the emoji titled “loudly crying face 😭” (though it should be noted that my tears were silently dignified and not noisy).
My quibbles are petty, but still I will quibble. First, I felt like Italy was another planet, or at least a world the Kardashians would find more relatable than I would. For instance, what would you do if you accidentally locked yourself out of your house? When I was growing up, that meant my Mom busted out the crowbar and boosted me through one of the windows so I could get in and unlock the door from the inside. I guess that makes me a trashy American, because this film would have you believe that the only sensible thing to do when locked out is rent a penthouse for the night, complete with a pool, and simply wait until morning to call a locksmith. Second, when Elisa is in her cancer support group, her suggestion of buying eighteen gifts for her unborn daughter is met with awkward silence and sideways glances (while other members are discussing their sexual promiscuity and whether they should have their cremated ashes converted into diamonds). In fact, everybody acts like the idea of a mother trying to substitute her presence with presents for her daughter’s birthdays is insane and awful. At one point it’s suggested that Anna is unfairly burdened by these gifts from her dead mother. I guess that’s just how the other half lives; burdened by too many gifts and slumming it in penthouses. It made me feel sorry for Italians.
18 Presents is the brain-child of daytime soap opera and Hallmark with an affinity for the F-word and cigarettes. Though it has its virtues, I have a hard time universally recommending a tear-jerker unless it is almost above reproach. This movie has its audience, and cry-fests are necessary evils in their time and season, but it lacks any “must-see” qualities. Considering how hard it is these days to acquire tissues, maybe go with something on Sam Cooley’s “Ultimate Feel-Good Movie list” instead.
Recommendation: SKIP ITPost Views: 919
By André Hutchens — 5 months ago
*Editor’s note: Wonder Woman 1984 was another divisive review for our writers, so take each recommendation with a grain of salt! Even though the movie was released in theaters worldwide and streaming on HBO Max simultaneously, we chose to go with the “theatrical release” recommendation scale. Enjoy!
The Formal Review: The movie evolves from the vibrant and somewhat cheesy 1980s in the first act, to emotional in the second, to a philosophical third act. Gal Gadot once again shines as Diana delivering with intensity. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is once again fantastic. Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig as Maxwell Lord and Barbara Minerva, respectively, are good as well. Pascal plays a complex, moving character and Wiig shows her acting range. Her character’s progression was understandable from her behavior to her clothing, and this was done extremely well by Patty Jenkins. The score by Hans Zimmer is also great, honoring both old compositions and introducing new ones. The film could have developed Maxwell Lord a little bit more than the quick flashback in the climactic scene. Does this film have a moment as impactful as the first movie’s “No Man’s Land” scene? No, not really; though, there’s still a very comparable heroic scene. However, if you’re expecting it to be like the first movie, they’re going to be disappointed. It’s definitely a more thoughtful and emotional movie that establishes what it means to be a hero. As Superman learned in Superman II, a hero must face the truth and choose the selfless way for the betterment of the human race. “No true hero is born from lies.” Then you add in George Orwell’s concepts of truth from “1984,” “There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” The film says that absolute power corrupts the best of us but the truth will set you free. Add in a few DC easter eggs, you get a pretty enjoyable movie that’ll be worth rewatching again!
Recommendation: Go See It!
CJ Marshall: The more I discuss this film the more I like it. Rather than reconcile Diana with Zack Snyder’s vision of DCEU, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot own their Wonder Woman and make her a better symbol of goodness and hope than our current Man of Steel could ever be. The only real problem is the slog of campiness and general lack of conflict that fills WW84‘s bloated runtime. Forty minutes less or another action set-piece could have balanced it out. Power through that and you’ll get the point of the story. Go in thinking (or rewatch 1984) with Christopher Reeve’s Superman in mind. It’ll make sense.
Recommendation: Maybe A Matinee
Rachel Wagner: As someone who is a huge fan of the original 2017 film, Wonder Woman 1984 is definitely disappointing, but I still found enough joy in Diana and her story to recommend the film. Patty Jenkins does a good job capturing Diana’s loneliness, and Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have such great chemistry that I was willing to forgive a lot in the story department. For the most part the action was engaging. I enjoyed going back to Themyscira to begin the film, and the use of the lasso was a lot of fun. We also saw Diana become more vulnerable which is hard to do when dealing with such a powerful character. The message that love redeems all of us, whether it is Steve and Diana or Maxwell and his son, is a powerful one and something we could use more of. Unfortunately, it is also way too long, doesn’t capture the 80’s well, and should have stuck to only one villain, but I still give it a mild recommendation.
Recommendation: Maybe A Matinee
Parker Johnson: Wonder Woman (2017) is one of my favorite DCEU movies and I was looking forward to its sequel. Sadly, I felt entirely disappointed. The acting was great, but the tone was completely contrary to the first film and what we’ve seen in the DCEU line up. It felt too happy go lucky and cheesy compared to the first film. And sadly, that tone made the film seem ungrounded, which is saying something when we have actual Greek gods, and Superman and Batman running around in the same universe. I loved all the actors in this movie, and they clearly had a blast making it, but it lacked the depth and maturity of the first film. Hard pass.
Recommendation: NO GO
Andre Hutchens: It’s hard to state my utter disappointment for Wonder Woman 1984 in a single paragraph, so be sure to check out the Backseat Directors Podcast review on Episode 115! WW84 disregarded one of the most sage advice to ever grace human kind: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Wonder Woman (2017) was universally beloved by both critics and audiences worldwide (a most challenging accomplishment for any movie these days). It resonated with audience members of all ages, both male and female. It was inspirational, but WW84 inexplicably chose to take a different path. A bloated 2 hour and 31 minute runtime with an incoherent story left me wondering what on Earth was Patty Jenkins thinking… WW84 is more reminiscent of the DC superhero shows on the CW than a DC movie worthy of the big-screen. Whether intentional or not, the film relies heavily on old comic book movie tropes and campiness that resemble a bygone era not fit for modern audiences. Patty Jenkins proved her worth as a director with the first Wonder Woman film, but has exposed her inability to write a good story for the DECU franchise. It’s a shame she did not use the same writing team, stunt team, choreography team, or production team that helped make the 2017 film a modern classic. If you’re so inclined to see the movie, it might be worth a matinee just to see it once. But in all honesty, I won’t be revisiting this movie any time soon.
Recommendation: Maybe A MatineePost Views: 1,241
By André Hutchens — 1 year ago
I’ve often heard people compare Netflix’s original content selection model to “throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” which often seems to be a fairly accurate statement; especially if you’ve spent a good amount of time watching Netflix original content. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot of bad. Spaghetti that’s stuck: Stranger Things, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Bright (I personally love this David Ayer movie), Daredevil, Murder Mystery, Grace and Frankie, Queer Eye, The Haunting of Hill House, Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, etc. That list is pretty long, and substantial. Netflix has really begun to hone in on their craft. But it’s been a bumpy road along the way. Spaghetti that has not stuck: Rim of the World, The Open House, Polar, How It Ends, The Titan, The After Party, Everything Sucks, Disjointed, etc. (If I called out any show that you’re a fan of, please do tell me why you like that show!) Here’s what I’m getting at: What happens if that spaghetti you threw against the wall stuck but is slowly sliding down, making its way to the floor? That’s exactly how I feel about Spenser Confidential. It’s really not that great of a movie, but it was free! (kind of)
Spenser Confidential (loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins) stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, and Bokeem Woodbine. The movie takes place in Boston, MA, where it was also shot and filmed. This is Mark Wahlberg in his natural habitat doing Mark Wahlberg things. I like Wahlberg. I’m not sure there’s a movie of his that I didn’t enjoy to a certain extent. And any time you go see a movie starring Wahlberg, you kind of already know what you’re going to get. Like many actors in the business, Wahlberg just plays himself. So it’s a good thing that he’s got a charismatic way about him, because without Wahlberg, this movie likely would have sunk like a rock in the Boston Harbor. Wahlberg plays Spenser, a disgraced Boston police officer, who has spent the last five years in prison for assaulting his superior in his own home. Spenser re-enters society after his five year prison stint with hopes of leaving Boston and starting his life over (Why as a truck driver living in Arizona? I’m still trying to figure that one out). Spenser has help acclimating back into society from his old fighting coach, Henry (played by Alan Arkin). Henry allows Spenser to live with him, where Henry is also mentoring and housing an up-and-coming fighter named Hawk (played by Winston Duke). Shortly after Spenser leaves prison, other Boston police officers are murdered, which sparks Spenser’s policing instincts to begin his own investigation into these suspicious murders.
The plot plays out in very familiar fashion. You’ve definitely seen this kind of movie before—think Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 16 Blocks, or The Other Guys—the buddy-cop action-comedy, but just not nearly as good or as memorable as those classics. Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke make a really interesting pair; although, I wish Duke had more to do in this movie. Every time his character is given some light, he shines, but only long enough for the spotlight to be taken away, leaving you wanting more from him. Duke is a very talented actor; he was fantastic in Jordan Peele’s Us, and I’m ready for him to take on a true starring role. The more tense and serious moments of the movie are broken up well with bits of comedy from Spenser’s jilted lover, Cissy, who is not happy about the five years she’s spent alone waiting for Spenser to get out of prison. Cissy definitely plays the part of a strong, confident Bostonian woman: she takes what she wants when she wants, and is not scared to get her hands dirty. Wahlberg really is in his element playing an ex-cop in Boston. This is his city, and he feels right at home in this movie.
Where the movie’s wheels fell off for me was the ending. It was far too predictable, and felt like a cheap way to end the movie. Corruption in law enforcement and local elected officials is not an uncommon story, but I always find myself eager to watch these kinds of movies. Maybe that’s because deep down we all know (or want to believe) that these kind of stories are real. We want to see that dirty underbelly of the city we’ve grown up in; we want to swing that door open as fast as we can and expose those filthy rats in the basement; we know they’re there—we just can’t see them. Movies like Spenser Confidential help to fill in the gaps of what we already suspect is happening in real life. So when the movie approaches the ending, and both my wife and I are audibly predicting what is going to happen, and then rolling our eyes when it does, it just feels cheap. Good thing this is a Netflix movie, which means we got to sit in the comfort of our own home, on our own couch, and just veg.
Now it comes to it: my recommendation. Like I stated earlier in this review, Spenser Confidential really isn’t that great of a movie, but I didn’t regret spending the 1 hour and 45 minutes it took to watch it. The reason I will give it a “Stream It” is because this is a Mark Wahlberg-starred movie, and he is able to do enough to keep the movie afloat. The only thing this movie will cost you is your time. So if you’ve got some time to spare, give Spenser Confidential a watch.
Recommendation: STREAM ITPost Views: 704