“I promise I am not going to break your heart.” To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You delivers on that promise and does not disappoint. There are so many aspects of the first hit movie, which debuted on NETFLIX in 2018, that I’ll never forget. Peter Kavinsky’s (played by Noah Centineo) smile and ruggedly handsome good looks that will give you so many young Mark Ruffalo vibes. Lara Jean’s (played by Lana Condor) adorable dimples, relatable inner monologue, and amazing fashion sense. Younger sister, Kitty (played by Anna Carthart) with her quick-witted remarks, annoying little sister behavior, and endearing motivations. These are all aspects in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before that really made the movie stand out, and you’ll love seeing more of the same in this fun and enjoyable sequel.
Besides the occasional cheesy moment, out-of-character break of the 4th wall, and some rushed pacing, I feel this sequel did a great job of continuing the story. It further develops the characters–showing how teenager’s poor decision-making skills can spiral into some unwanted consequences. The new characters that were introduced also helped support the main plot’s development. From John Ambrose (played by Jordan Fisher), another recipient of one of Lara Jean’s love letters, to Stormy (played by Holland Taylor), an elderly woman living at the Belleview Retirement Home where Lara Jean volunteers. They both helped move the story of this sequel along, and pushed Lara Jean to learn and grow.
Like a good majority of sequels, this one does not beat out the first. It’s missing some of the iconic and symbolic imagery that director Susan Johnson brought to the first one, which I felt was dang near perfect. Essentially, if a romantic comedy can leave me wanting to see more of the love story, I call it a success. In all, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You had me rooting for the characters, holding my cheeks in embarrassment, bopping along to the catchy soundtrack, and falling more in love with Noah Centineo’s and Lana Condor’s acting.
Recommendation: STREAM IT
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By Rachel Ogden — 1 year ago
As a kid, my dad took my brother and I to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to spend the night aboard a retired Navy submarine. OMSI had a great program to educate us about the science and history behind the machine, but I was most excited for us to plunge below the surface and take the submarine for a spin. Imagine my dismay when my dad confessed that submerging was not part of the deal; we spent the night parked safely afloat in the Willamette river, never to explore the possibilities of the hyped-up watercraft. Laying in my 17-inches of bunk, I was deeply disappointed in the shallows of my nautical escapade. The Tax Collector (2020) left me with a similar reaction.
The story follows David Cuevas (played by Bobby Soto), who in addition to being a devout Christian and involved father is an intimidating tax collector for a crime lord in South Central L.A. Watching him conduct brutal business amidst the family’s preparations for a quinceañera had me making connections to The Godfather (1972), as Cuevas is a man living two lives in two worlds he claims coexist. But both lives are threatened when an old enemy of Cuevas’ boss called Conejo (Jose Conejo Martin) comes to town and attempts a takeover. Like those he collects tax from, Cuevas learns that he has his own price to pay and attempts to settle the score before the screen fades to black. There are moments reminiscent of director David Ayer’s previous screenplays Training Day (2001) and End of Watch (2012), but they are lost amidst numerous bad investments in runtime.
The best part of the movie was the interplay between Cuevas and his partner Creeper (Shia LeBeouf), who attends his duty to “terrify the herd” with sick satisfaction and stone-cold stares. Despite his sadistic nature, Creeper is wholly devoted to his partner. When he tells Cuevas, “zI’ll ride with you ‘till the wheels fall off,” you believe him. The complexity of both characters is best shown when they are together; Creeper doesn’t believe in God but has consigned himself to hell, while Cuevas asserts that his own religious convictions and familial devotions allow him “to go into the darkness but come back into the light”. Creeper serves as a foil to Cuevas’ duality, a warning sign that having a foot in both worlds doesn’t work. This concept was fascinating, but it was forgotten as the plot progressed. Consequently, Cuevas ceased to be complicated or compelling. Instead of gripping action, you get a lot of gun-waving and threat-throwing that doesn’t really add to the story or help you care about the characters. The DNA is there, but it’s just sitting in a plain petri dish with no signs of life. A myriad of plot threads with little substance leads to an ending that comes up short, just like Cuevas’ count of the tax collections earlier in the movie.
The biggest problem for me was figuring out the overall story arc. I thought I was watching a critique of the toxic masculinity that keeps a steady death toll in L.A. neighborhoods, but instead the movie seemed to revel in it. The opening credits claim that gang culture is all about love, honor, loyalty, and family, and it seems to really believe it, expounding on it with heavy-handed dialogue. The relationship between the values that the gang preaches and the fruits of their labor form an interesting dichotomy, but any chance of deep exploration is overthrown by random stabs at shock factor. Like when the big baddie bathes in the blood of a young woman and sacrifices a chicken to the devil, or when the bullets start flying and the tally of revenge kills ramps up so fast you lose track. The good guy cries, seethes, and swears, but I was too emotionally checked out to care much.
There’s a part of me that feels defensive of the film because so many critics have condemned it with a mercilessness to match Creeper’s. I especially feel that the claims that The Tax Collector is racist and brownfacing are completely unwarranted. I so badly wanted this movie to be great, but alas it wasn’t so. The character of David Cuevas is described as “a candle in the darkness,” but this film feels more like a shadow of the greatness it could have been and what I wish it was. The great team of collaborators and top-notch trailer got me so excited for a movie that proved to be like my OMSI experience; I expected torpedos and got torpor instead. I can only hope that Ayer’s next venture makes the submarine seaworthy once more.
Recommendation: No GoPost Views: 1,015
By André Hutchens — 7 months ago
Editor’s note: The moment is finally here… Zack Snyder’s Justice League is set to debut on HBO Max at 12 AM PDT, March 18. Years of fan campaigning and constant social media clarmor has delivered what tens of thousands of people worldwide have been asking for; the mythical “Snyder Cut” is finally here. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, polish up by reading this article here. The Snyder Cut of Justice League is perhaps the most infamous and relevant story of the collective power of fandom ever told. Whatever your thoughts and feelings are toward Zack Snyder and his movies, it’s hard to dismiss the #ReleaseTheSndyerCut movement as anything short of historic. We had the pleasure of receiving screenings for two of our writers here at Backseat Directors, so this will be a mini version of our normal roundtable reviews. We hope you enjoy what they have to say about this legendary movie.
CJ Marshall: The Snyder Cut is good. Compare it to the previous version and it’s a masterpiece. It’s audacious, with a mythic quality that feels more on par with a fantasy epic than your average cape flick. I can’t say it’s enough to convert the naysayers. Justice League is Snyder with carte blanche. You have to sit through the slow-mo and the idol worship to get to the brilliance. Satisfied as I am with Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I don’t need more. This puts a big, beautiful, four hour bow on his offering to the DCEU and he can ride off into the sunset with full vindication (if he ever even truly needed–or wanted–it). Still, I find myself wondering what might have been.
It’s baffling that Warner Bros. chose what we received in theaters over the original vision. The trajectory of the DCEU might still be climbing instead of the peaks and valleys we’ve seen thus far. I’ll even go so far as to claim that this older, better JLA film makes Man of Steel and Batman v Superman better by association. It shows the decisions, whether you find them poor or not, were done with a clear plan in mind. I don’t worry about the precedent this sets with the fandom at large. People are fooling themselves if they think this wasn’t anything more than a stunt to nab subscribers for HBO Max. I just don’t think anyone realized just how good it was going to turn out. Love it or hate it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is historic.
Recommendation: STREAM IT
Parker Johnson: The DCEU opened in 2013 with the first teaser trailer for Man of Steel, as temp music from The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring played alongside the voice of Jor-El telling his son that, “[he] will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind [him]. They will stumble, they will fall- but in time they will join [him] in the sun. In time, [he] will help them accomplish wonders.” I sat there in the theater as a young man, simply awestruck. Here was something different than what we had ever gotten before in the superhero genre. Something epic, something beautiful, something inspiring. Seven years later, I now have the privilege of watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and as the end credits rolled, I am struck with that same feeling of awe. With the wildly popular, entertaining, and successful episodic formula of the MCU, it was hard for casual fans and studios alike to imagine Snyder’s vision of a 5 film arc for our favorite heroes. With Justice League now restored to Snyder’s intended 4 hour drama, I now see where he was heading.
Those who complained about the weight and somberness of the previous Snyder-verse films will be happy to know that the hope and optimism that they craved is now starting to emerge in the story as our characters reflect on the impact Superman had on their world, fulfilling Jor-El’s declaration. I haven’t seen a trilogy of films (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), with the same scale of epicness, hope, and faith in humanity since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Snyder has given us our modern day mythos–drawing from the comics, older mythologies and theology (specifically Christianity) to give us stories that inspire us to live up to our potential. It is a miracle that this movie got to see the light of day, and I believe people are going to love it. I was captivated for the full 4 hours, and I want to see the story continue to complete its five film arc.
Recommendation: STREAM ITPost Views: 1,787
By André Hutchens — 1 year ago
The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 has completely turned the film and movie theater industries on their heads: every big budget movie has been delayed from its original release date; new dates are added in hopes that movie theaters will reopen soon, only to see the rescheduled dates be delayed again. Things have gotten so bad for movie theater companies nationwide that a petition to receive federal funding has been circulating and gaining momentum. #SaveYourCinema has become the rallying cry of movie fans and movie theater owners alike. (If you want to show your support, go visit www.saveyourcinema.com). The economy shutdown has likely saved lives and slowed the spread of the coronavirus, but it has also decimated countless small businesses, and continues to threaten larger corporations like AMC, Regal, Cinemark, etc.
As movie theater owners and patrons work to adjust to the new way of conducting business and supporting movie theaters, streaming services fill a void left in the vacuum of the movie industry shutdown. Dozens of movies that were slated for theatrical release were quickly switched to a VOD (video on demand) worldwide debut (e.g. Trolls World Tour), or some other movies had their worldwide debut on streaming services like Apple TV+ (e.g. Greyhound).
I had a friend mention to me last week that he misses seeing new movies. My response to him was that he more likely misses seeing new BLOCKBUSTER movies since there is a plethora of new movies that continue to release almost every single week (to which he agreed). Between streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ etc., and VOD services like iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon Prime, there are dozens and dozens of new 2020 movies that are available to watch right now—to the point that I have ventured into seeing new movies that I otherwise would not have watched before… Which has not always been a pleasant experience.
And thus begins my review of Vivarium…
Vivarium debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 2019. It never had a theatrical release and was instead released VOD worldwide back in March of this year. Vivarium tells the story of a young couple (played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) that is on the hunt for their first home together. They walk into a home developer’s office and meet with an odd real estate agent named Martin. Martin has a bizarre mannerism about him. He’s polite and is always smiling, but his social awkwardness was almost too much for me to handle. Like any good salesman, Martin guilts the young couple to take a drive with him to a new suburban development called Yonder, and to take a tour of the freshly built homes. As they pull into the new development you notice that everything is exactly the same—from the color of the houses, to the size of the houses, everything is in perfect unison. As Martin takes the couple on a tour of house #9, Martin’s mannerisms become more and more uncomfortable, and even sociopathic. As the tour comes to an end, Martin disappears outside leaving the couple alone inside. Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) go to their car and attempt to exit the neighborhood. They drive for hours trying to find the exit all the while ending up right back where they started at house #9.
At the beginning of the movie before any of the human characters are introduced, there is a short clip of the parasitic life-cycle of a cuckoo bird. If you’re unfamiliar with a cuckoo bird, get ready to be educated. Female cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nest of other bird species. Once hatched, the baby cuckoo pushes out any other baby bird or egg from the mother bird, and then is tended to by the surrogate mother bird. Even as the cuckoo grows to sizes bigger than the surrogate mother bird, the cuckoo begs and whines for attention, food, and care from the surrogate. When Gemma and Tom are left alone and unable to escape from this bizarre labyrinth of houses, they discover a box outside house #9 that says, “Raise the child and be released.” I am not inclined to say anymore about the story without getting into spoiler territory; suffice it to say, the cuckoo clip in the beginning has a little something to do with the overall plot of the movie.
Vivarium is an original story that presents a unique and interesting enough plot to hold some viewers’ attentions, but not enough to hold mine. It presents some ethical and moral dilemmas throughout the movie that scratch the surface of really getting you to wonder, “What would I do in this same situation?” but not deep enough to really explore those elements. The pacing is very slow, and the lack of music (although not completely devoid of a score) makes the pacing that much slower. I was very much intrigued by the trailer, and since new movies are not the most abundant product around, I took a stab. But I would be doing everyone reading this a disservice if I said I liked Vivarium, or would recommend it—I just can’t. Even with the creatively clever title “Vivarium” (think Aquarium or Terrarium), there’s just not enough substance to fill even a decent run time of 97 minutes.
Vivarium is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Recommendation: SKIP ITPost Views: 962