Author

About the Author
Resident of Utah County, Ex Movie-Pass owner, and married with a baby! Good movies have been my go-to pastime for as long as I can remember; from my dad introducing me to gems such as Tommy Boy and Dumb and Dumber, to discovering the work of people like Paul Thomas Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg. These filmmakers taught me that cinema truly is an art form. Movies are my way of better understanding complex emotions and unfamiliar walks of life. Movies are a consistent and reliable way of connecting ourselves to the human race, and it’s often done marvelously. I love it!

Blindspotting: A Lighter But Honest Take On Today’s Social Issues

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in a scene of Blindspotting | Lionsgate.

I was lucky enough to hear about Blindspotting (2018) when it was initially released in limited theaters. I could have easily missed out on this movie. Its release fell during a quiet time for the Black Lives Matter movement; 5 years after the group’s inception, and 2 years before the latest resurgence. That being said, I feel like this film could have been used by the movement to sincerely and humbly show the world what life might be like for a Black man living in an urban area. Unfortunately, Blindspotting went under the radar for most of the country; chalk it up to bad timing, perhaps. However, even two years after its release, this movie’s impact hits just as hard now as if it came out 2 to 3 weeks ago.

I want to add a little bit of context to me as a viewer: I grew up in a place that was often rated #1 on lists for safest cities in the world. I’m a white male, and my parents provided everything I would ever need. From my limited perspective, I was truly touched by this film and felt an overflow of empathy for a population of people that deal with the issues displayed in this movie every day. The movie also managed to make me laugh–a lot!

Daveed Diggs (original Hamilton Broadway production, and Wonder) and Rafael Casal grew up together in Oakland and both experienced much of what they eventually created with this film. They both co-wrote and co-starred in Blindspotting and their chemistry makes for an enthralling and hilarious watch all by itself. I was hooked all the way from their playful banter to their emotionally and racially charged arguments.

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in a scene of Blindspotting | Lionsgate.

The film itself really works with two distinct elements (though they are interrelated): the often comical predicament of Diggs and Casal’s characters dealing with their hometown slowly and annoyingly gentrifying due to the influx of hipsters and software company executives, and the anxiety Digg’s character feels from racial tensions on so many sides–whether it’s judgement from his appearance, witnessing police brutality, or dealing with the label of being an ex-convict. The way these two elements collide is done in such a meaningful and heart wrenching way, but I won’t go further into detail because you need to watch it!

All in all, the most important lessons I’ve learned from this film are the following:

  • I’m more aware that we live in a society that often bases grave decisions on far too limited of information or preconceived bias, and it’s in large part the reason why Black Lives Matter exists. 
  • A White man can have the exact same upbringing and live in the exact same area as a Black man, and they’ll more than likely have a huge divide in experiences, treatment and anxieties. 
  • Whether or not racism has gotten worse, life in an urban area makes it so heartbreakingly normal that people often take it with a grain of salt. 
  • Just as the movie utilizes comedy and friendship to get through the heavier parts, grace only through unity is going to be essential to get through our current predicament.
  • If there’s anything more I could say, it would just be that if you want a movie free of any condescension that expands your perspective of why the Black Lives Matter movement is happening, I think this is a fantastic choice. 

If you have yet to see Blindspotting, take advantage of the time left to watch this movie for free on VOD services like iTunes, Amazon Prime or VUDU. Or if you have an HBO Max subscription, it’s currently streaming there as well. This film is well worth your time, and you just might gain more insight and empathy to demographics of people different than you.

REVIEW: Capone

Vertical Entertainment
Rated: R
Run Time: 104 minutes
Director: Josh Trank

First off, I haven’t been more uncertain as to what the actual title for a movie is since the Tom Cruise-alien combat-version of Groundhog Day. Once and for all, is it Fonzo or Capone?! Feel free to weigh in. 

In any case, the common usage of the first or last name of the lead character in a title seems to be an attempt (however feeble) to reel people into a juicy biopic. Between that and the expectation of an intricate and spectacular performance from Tom Hardy, I have to say, it caught my attention. 

Whether you love Tom Hardy or think he’s overrated, I think you’d have to admit that he inhibits a uniquely infectious brand that makes any movie or T.V. show he’s associated with 10 times more anticipated by general audiences. But here’s my opinion: I think he’s talented. I’m a huge Hardy fan; from watching Bronson as a teen discovering independent films, to his blood pumping action sequences in Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max: Fury Road, and his truly Oscar-worthy performances in The Revenant and Locke. I think for many cinephiles, Tom Hardy’s name and face slapped onto a biopic is enough to bring in open hearts and minds to what would likely be a great film with a great lead performance. 

Enter Josh Trank: Director, Writer and Editor.

Aside from nailing a solid lead actor (I guess they’re actually close friends), I really was excited to give Trank a chance with this film. We were all ready to give him the benefit of the doubt that he really wasn’t to blame for the critical and financial atomic bomb that was Fantastic Four; maybe it really was just studio interference. Unfortunately, he just might not be a talented director, and he certainly shouldn’t be editing or writing. A big problem is that from the top, he chose a period in a “true story” that really just didn’t have a lot to work with. 

Tom Hardy as Al Capone in Capone | Vertical Entertainment

Now there’s plenty of movies that can and have been made with someone as infamous as Al Capone playing or inspiring some sort of role; whether that’s as a main character, a co-star (as in The Untouchables), or even just referenced to (as in Scarface, Road to Perdition, even the likes of The Godfather).

Trank chose to base a near two-hour movie around Capone’s life—post the gangs, guns, and criminal glory. Even past the fall from said glory and his imprisonment due to tax evasion. The film takes place just after he’s released from prison, is mentally and physically deteriorating from disease, and is living out the rest of his life on a quiet, private manor in Florida.   

From there, it has all of the depressing elements of a central figure delving into dementia, along with all of the incontinence you’d ever need in a movie without any meaningful point to be cemented, though attempts were made. 

To Trank’s credit, I understand what kind of perspective he was trying to give the audience of this villainous, all-powerful mob boss we’ve come to know through pop culture. 

I think Trank was trying to help us empathize with the vulnerable, unbearably mortal side of a once ruthless giant. We watch the post-golden era of a king that’s lost his throne, and witness his slow and steady erosion. There’s an element of him regretting his innocence lost, as well as violent and irresponsible decisions he has made in the name of good business (all shown in flashbacks or hallucinations, or maybe both). Old Capone is trying to hold a grasp of authority and relevance, but age and sickness have left him without any devices. And no, I don’t mean to poke at this being a metaphor for Trank’s career, but there are some unfortunate parallels. 

There’s also a potentially interesting subplot of the feds trying to get whatever they can out of Capone’s last days. But every one of these potentially lifesaving elements aren’t explored in-depth enough to make the film have any sort of an impact. And the crazy thing is that none of those underwhelming elements are grounded in facts (not even the incontinence). If you’re going to puff up a true story with your own plot points, make them good—make them engage the audience. The film isn’t concerned with developing those areas, but instead is more concerned with having you watch Tom Hardy be versatile. 

Tom Hardy as Al Capone in Capone | Vertical Entertainment

To be fair, Hardy does great with what he’s been given. The best part of this movie is his performance, whether wholly accurate to the historical figure or not. But there’s a moment where you get a glimpse of what he looked like as Capone in his hay day and that is the movie I really want. Tom Hardy is too much in his prime to be taking roles that have to make so much out of an old, decrepit, terminally-ill vegetable. He needs to be swinging a bat and making spontaneous, intimidating monologues like De Niro in The Untouchables. I’m not saying we need a literal remake, but it’s been enough time since  an actual Al Capone movie featuring him as we think we’ve come to know him. And with the likes of Tom Hardy in the lead role? I’m convinced that something great, if not entertaining, could have been done here. 

Instead we got some semblance of a fading personality for the first 30 minutes. Then you get a beating corpse for an hour. Of course, there’s a respect for Hardy’s commitment to the unique role, but Daniel Day Lewis couldn’t have saved this movie.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea to take a derivative from your common gangster movie formula, and show this kind of unsung final chapter to a life of crime. But again there wasn’t enough to work with, and you’re left staring at a man who’s staring at nothing for the length of the movie. If they wanted to keep with the unique change in tone, they could’ve started with Capone going to prison, then we could get the actual fall and the aftermath. The content of the 100 minutes of screen time could’ve been reduced to a 10 or 20 minute epilogue in a more holistic approach, and it would’ve been far more impactful because you’d lose the fluff!

Bear with me while I spurt out my imaginings of a better film that would accomplish the same thing: There’s 11 years of him in prison that hasn’t been (recently) put to screen. You could explore the celebrity welcome he got at the Atlanta and Alcatraz prisons and his subsequent manner of living. You could show him still trying to run his failing business from behind bars, and the disarrayed reactions to prohibition ending and his purpose becoming null. Leading right up to the ending Capone offers, you can see how his demeanor went from that of a titan to a debilitated wreck. All in all, I’d be more than interested in seeing that flick with Tom Hardy.

Alas, I need to accept that just wasn’t the movie we got. Where credit is due: the original score was interesting enough, and the backdrop and much of the cinematography was well done. 

Lastly, I’ll just mention one thing about the editing. In every conversation, it feels like the camera has attention issues constantly cutting back and forth from close ups of one character to another. I think he’s trying to show subtle details in the acting (that aren’t actually there) as one speaks and one listens. Honestly, if you want to catch the dramatics in the dialogue, just use a wider angle with both characters in the shot. And let your actors act. That’s pretty “backseat” of me to say, but we don’t claim to be anything else!

Let us know if you have outlying questions or if you agree or disagree with this review in the comments below!

Recommendation: SKIP IT

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: David Fincher

David Fincher (Merrick Morton, 2011)

If you look up any list of “The Top 10 Modern-Day Thrillers”, you’ll likely run into one of David Fincher’s films. Being that he only has 10 entries to his directorial filmography, I’d say that makes him noteworthy, and one of the most bankable directors in Hollywood today. That being said, some of his work has been underrated, so if this entry convinces you to visit or revisit any of his films, the Fincher fan in me will have done his job!

About a decade ago, a forgettable, high school weekend spent binge watching cable (pre-Netflix) led me to my first Fincher film, Zodiac (2007)–one of the finest biopic thrillers of all time, and massively underrated (starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo). Jump forward… When I first decided to pursue movie-watching beyond just your regular pastime, I started by seeking out the directors of my favorite films, and then exploring their work. I knew that Fincher would be one of my reliable directors to look into further based off of Zodiac alone—and I was right! He did not disappoint as I was introduced to inevitable favorites like Se7en (1995), The Social Network (2010) and Gone Girl (2014). In every case I started to realize that you can expect a few things from almost any Fincher film: visceral realism, high octane, stacked casts, and rewatchability.

David Fincher got his start working on classic films like Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Though having a solid foundation with his father also being a screenwriter, he had to go through some years of directing commercials and an almost “Josh Trank-esque” experience with his directorial debut. Though the Alien franchise had garnered considerable success up to this point and his start with Alien 3 (1992) was met with mixed reviews (along with an Oscar nod for visual effects), there was a ton of studio interference along with nine different writers. Fincher would go on to disown the film saying, “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.” Though I think it is far from the weakest in the franchise, it’s definitely not one of the strongest sequels.

Luckily, his films have only gotten better as he has since been given more management over them. Se7en and Fight Club (1999) found their way to many of those aforementioned best-thriller lists with their engaging stories, novel twists, and great performances from Brad Pitt (in both), Edward Norton (Fight Club), and Morgan Freeman (Se7en). Honestly, these flicks are quality, and if you want to see how Fincher’s talents developed over the years, watch his movies in chronological order.

More recently, his installments have gained significant commercial and critical success, grabbed the attention of award circuits, and have been heavily considered some of the best movies of the year in which they came out. In fact, it’s been preferred by many that The Social Network had beat out The King’s Speech (2010) for Best Picture at the Oscars. Other Fincher films that have received more recent notoriety includes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and Gone Girl. I would strongly suggest that you watch the latter if you haven’t already. Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck and even Tyler Perry give intriguing performances, and the story (written and based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn) makes for one of the most jaw-dropping, entertaining, mind “messer-uppers” that could only be flawlessly brought to life through Fincher’s expert directing. 

David Fincher on the set of Mank (2020) | Netflix

Fincher’s next movie should be released this year (fingers crossed with COVID). It’s titled Mank (2020), which will chronicle a screenwriter’s battle with Orson Welles over writing credit for the movie Citizen Kane (1941), which many consider to be the greatest movie of all time. Being a big fan of The Social Network, and already seeing some striking similarities, I’m very much anticipating this release. Mank was actually written by David Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, and is set to star Gary Oldman in the lead role. Keep an eye out!

Fincher has said that he was heavily influenced by Hitchcock, which shouldn’t be a surprise as most of his movies have a considerable touch of Hitchcock-like suspense, albeit modernized. Common throughout his films, the cinematography has a signature dark-and-musky shade. You’ll notice it (if you haven’t already) while watching his films—it’s like a desaturated, monochromatic coloring that really ends up reinforcing the usually dreary world that his characters live inwhat mostly comes to mind while explaining his style in Blade Runner (1982). Really, it’s a lot of that neo-noir, but without the sci-fi—and trust me, it works!

The funny thing is that there are many commonalities like this throughout his filmography, but he doesn’t seem to collaborate very much with the same people. The similarities in tone and style probably have something to do with the fact that he’s known for being a bit of a meticulous micromanager. Some of his lead actors (e.g. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rooney Mara) have spoken about their exhaustion from having to do retake after retake to get “the perfect scene”. But in turn, his perfectionism hasn’t been wasted as one of his editors said, “[It’s like] putting together a swiss watch… all the pieces are so beautifully machined. He’s incredibly specific. He never settles. And there’s a purity that shows in his work.” Honestly, in consideration of how much I love his films, I couldn’t be more grateful for the time and detail he puts into his work, even at the slight expense of his cast and crew. 

David Fincher

Below is my ranking of Fincher’s movies. Check them out, and leave me a comment on whether you agree or disagree with the ranks, or if you love, hate or don’t care about David Fincher!

  1. Gone Girl (2014)
  2. Se7en (1995)
  3. Zodiac (2007)
  4. The Social Network (2010)
  5. Fight Club (1999)
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  8. Panic Room (2002)
  9. The Game (1997)
  10. Alien 3 (1992)

REVIEW: Blow the Man Down

Amazon Studios
Rated: R
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director: Bridget Savage Cole & Danielle Krudy

This movie might have gone overlooked as it basically went straight to Amazon Prime (original movie) during the COVID-19 pandemic. But don’t let it slip by in your watchlist without some fair consideration!

Who knew there was room for another New England, seaside thriller since The Lighthouse (2019) only came out a few months ago? Honestly, I am in love with the production design and on-site authenticity that comes with movies set in this locale. I want more, and I hope this is only the beginning of this sub-genre movement. This flick in particular charmingly takes advantage of this element. Though the plot by itself doesn’t make for the most engaging or memorable watch, there’s enough originality to merit your time for sure!

Between the scruffy, wet fishermen that serve as a sort of Greek Chorus throughout the film, the fun twist on who populates “the mob” in the small, Maine town, and the raw, grainy cinematography (Todd Banhazl, Hustlers), any independent film lover will eat this up. This movie also really only features women in the “driver’s seat” from all sides, which is a refreshing change as it’s uncommon for crime thrillers, and it doesn’t feel forced in any way at all.

Priscilla and Mary Beth are college and high school-aged sisters who, after their mother dies, are left to pick up the pieces with their oceanside convenient store, and something else far more alarming—to get rid of a body. They become fully aware of the secrets this quiet nautical town has and the powerful individuals controlling it all.

Morgan Saylor and Sophie Lowe appear in a scene of Blow the Man Down | Amazon Studios

I’ll admit that makes the film sound a bit more grandiose than it actually is. The plot doesn’t have too many twists and turns throughout, and rather keeps things small and contained with the feeling that these things could actually happen in a small town without any do-good bystander ever catching on. All in all, it’s enjoyable for that reason, but some may consider it boring all the same—I didn’t. 

Another element that made the movie stand out with its knack for realism, was that there were barely any recognizable actors. In that way, really nothing distracts from the observation of the cold, coastal, secret-rural life. But worth mentioning, it stars Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor (Homeland, McFarland, USA) in the lead roles, as well as Annette O’Toole (Smallville, Stephen King’s IT) and Margo Martindale (Justified, The Americans). Writing and directing came from Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. This is the first feature-length film for both! And a strong start I’d say.

Though I’d still put this somewhere in the middle of Rotten Tomatoes’ all-too-often awarded 99% range and IMDB’s often unsurpassable 6-point threshold, in the end I advise you go ahead and stream it!

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Smash Critic’s Ultimate Feel-Good Movie List to Get You Through the Quarantine

At the beginning of the month I had a completely different topic in mind for an article. Boy, how the last few weeks have brought perspective. Thankfully, most of us aren’t critically affected by this event, but we might be left with a cloud of gloominess as we continue to get through the unknown. As our day-to-day activities have been reduced to what we can do in doors, here’s just one pro-tip to get you through your quarantine. The following are movies that I feel will most likely get you out of any biohazard blues due to their common thread of cheerfulness, low stakes, and unapologetically happy endings. I’ve broken them up into a few different categories based on your taste or mood, but why not work through them all!?

Inspiring Feel-Good Movies

Eddie the Eagle (2016), directed by Dexter Fletcher | 20th Century Fox

Eddie the Eagle (2016), PG-13
This one kind of flew under the radar when it came out in theaters a few years back. As it turns out it’s one of the most underrated movies of 2016 and has joy-filled performances from Hugh Jackman and the fast up-and-comer Taron Egerton (Rocketman, Kingsmen: The Secret Service). Based on a true story, Eddie (Egerton) is an awkward outcast that’s always had a burning desire to be in the Olympics. Once he meets a cynical has-been Olympic skier (Jackman), a fateful journey begins leading to one of the biggest and most heartwarming flukes in Olympic history (along with the Jamaican bobsled team). Honestly, this movie brags a music score and climatic scene that brings happy tears to my eyes everytime! Such a sweet story of friendship and determination. Watch it!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), PG
So, I’m a little ambivalent about the following pick. This movie may inspire you to get out and explore the world… which is kind of a complicated endeavor at this point. But if you’re able to just store that motivation in your backpocket till hopefully the near future, you’re still going to get a movie that offers a quirky, picturesque story. A daydreaming (this element is hilarious by itself), timid corporate worker played by Ben Stiller is forced to get out of his comfort zone and travel to multiple countries in the hopes of saving his Magazine company’s final printed cover. What comes next is an awesome, unique viewing experience that you’ll want to revisit again and again. Also directed by Ben Stiller!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) PG-13
Alright guys, this was hands down one of the best movies of this past year, and probably one of my top 3 favorite feel-good movies of all time. Reminiscent of a Mark Twain story, this modern day journey through the po-dunk south will make you so pumped for a post-pandemic summer full of rope swinging into lakes and beachy bon-fires. A fugitive fisherman played by Shia Labeouf befriends a runaway nursing home resident with Down Syndrome (Zack Gottsagen). Together they go on a search for the latter’s wrestling idol which turns into a journey of self discovery and brotherly love. I’ve watched this like 4 times since it came out a few months ago because I just keep wanting to show it to my friends.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2013), PG-13
Taika Waititi is getting pretty well known at this point with directing Thor Ragnorak and winning an Oscar for Jojo Rabbit (both may deserve to be on this list themselves!). In case you missed this earlier gem, now’s the perfect time. This movie is full of beautiful landscapes, quippy one-liners and characters with hearts of gold and the best accents ever. A foster boy named Ricky causes himself and his reluctant, old guardian, Hec to have to go on the run from child welfare. They end up having the time of their lives in the New Zealand Bush.
How to watch: Streaming on Hulu. Buy or rent on iTunes or Vudu.

Classic Feel-Good Movies

The Goonies (1985), directed by Richard Donner | Warner Bros. Pictures

Angels in the Outfield (1994), PG
Say what you will about 90’s Disney movies but this is, and forever will be, a classic in my home. Sure it’s got clichés all over the place and a plot that’ll make you scoff when first hearing about it, but it’s truly just the best. Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a foster kid who wants his dad to finally commit and make them a real family. In passing, the dad says they’ll finally work things out around the same time the Angels (who suck) will win the Pennant. Roger then prays to God for a miracle, and literal angels start helping the titular major-league team. Yeah, it’s bananas but it stars a young Gordon-Levitt, Danny Glover, a pre-famous Matthew McConaughey, and a heaven-sent Christopher Lloyd. And it’s just a chill, goofy, old, kids’ movie. Give it a chance!
How to watch: Streaming w/ tv subscription to DIRECTV.

The Goonies (1985), PG
Pretty much the original Stranger Things but it was actually made in the 80’s… so it’s not even trying profusely to be 80’s-like! A bunch of dorky teens living in a soon-to-be-demolished neighborhood find an old pirate map in one of their attics (the Dad is a curator). They then go on a legendary Oregon treasure hunt. But will a homicidal family that the map leads to end up killing the vibe… Or even killing the teens?! You gotta find out, it’s so great. Starring a young Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Corey Feldman (Stand By Me, The Lost Boys), and Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War).
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

The Three Musketeers (1993), PG
Another slightly campy 90’s Disney movie, this one’s just a good time. I don’t know if it’s anywhere near accurate to the book, but it’s fun! Chris O’Donnell (Batman and Robin), Kiefer Sutherland, and Charlie Sheen.
How to watch: Streaming on Disney+. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

School of Rock (2005), PG-13
I think we’ll all be pretty familiar with the rest of the nostalgic picks. Jack Black plays a dead-end musician that tries to make some extra money posing as a substitute teacher. He ends up realizing his purpose to turn his elementary school class into the greatest rock band of all time—and the result is stuff of joy. If you haven’t watched the final performance in a while, you need to revisit this!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Galaxy Quest (1999), PG
Honestly, this has gotta be the best space movie spoof ever made: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell—it’s stacked. Galaxy Quest is a hilarious meta movie about has-been TV stars that get abducted by aliens who are under the belief that their old Star Trek-esque episodes are historical documents, and that the actors really are intergalactic heroes. They then have to try to improvise through the most realistic, deadly mission they’ve ever encountered.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

A Knight’s Tale (2001), PG-13
I’m sure we’ve all at least heard of this one. Heath Ledger is a peasant in Medieval times who sneaks his way into becoming a jouster and changing his destiny. Probably the most historically inaccurate, but most fun soundtracks of all time.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Maverick (1994), PG
Underrated Western film! Set in 19th Century American Frontier, Mel Gibson plays an aspiring poker player looking for his biggest win yet—and everyone west of the Mississippi is out to get in his way. This flick has that total campfire feel that takes you for a fun stagecoach ride. Really gives just a truly happy, old-timey feel to it that’ll bring you to a simpler age. Also starring Jodie Foster, and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2).
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Laugh Out Loud Feel-Good Movies

Pineapple Express (2008), directed by David Gordon Green | Sony Pictures

Pineapple Express (2008), R
This movie is for stoners but also for the friend that declined the joint, and then proceeded to be entertained for the rest of the night. Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Danny McBride. A pothead and his dealer try to evade a drug kingpin after witnessing a murder, and it creates the biggest, funniest mess in the world.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

21 Jump Street (2012), R & 22 Jump Street (2014), R
The most non-stop hilarious buddy-cop movie series that’s out there (though I love me some Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour). I believe that both the first installment and the sequel are equally quotable, hysterical, and self-aware. If you’re trying to get through four or so hours of being indoors and just need a good laugh, watch both of these. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Ice T.
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Bridesmaids (2011), R
A lot of people call this “The Hangover for Women”. Forget that. This movie makes for twice as many laughs with 10 times as much heart. It’s one of the best comedies—period. Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy.
How to watch: Streaming on HBO Now and HBO GO. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Romantic Feel-Good Movies

About Time (2013), directed by Richard Curtis | Universal Pictures

About Time (2013), R
This totally flew under my radar for years. Then my brother convinced me to open my heart up to another romantic comedy. And God bless him for it! This is a simple, but lovely story about a man who realizes he can travel through the past, and uses this to help him find love and cherish the present. It’s honestly a beautiful, purely happy movie. Stars Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars, Ex Machina), Rachel McAdams, and Margot Robbie. Same director as Love Actually, but this is far superior. Warning: One scene makes me weep like a child every time (happy tears!).
How to watch: Streaming on Netflix. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Pride and Prejudice (2005), PG
The one with Keira Knightley! When I say “low stakes” being an essential element to feel good movies, this is the movie I think of. The worst that can happen is marrying someone that makes less than a billion dollars a year, and people will speak gossip about your family. I’ve read the book, seen the A&E series, and this captures the spirit of the Jane Austin story to a T. As a bonus, the cinematography and music is truly breathtaking. This is one of my go-to Sunday afternoon movies. Make sure you watch the version with the final scene, or find the scene on YouTube (for some reason, one version ends super abruptly before you get the last bit of closure).
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Dan in Real Life (2007), PG-13
You guys… I love this movie. I’m pretty sure this is one of the first films Steve Carell was in that wasn’t a straight-up comedy. He’s a widower with three daughters, and writes a periodic news column on parenting—but he has no idea what he’s doing as a parent and it’s hilarious. The love interest is introduced in a clever way, the relationships feel real and familiar, and the backdrop of a family reunion makes for such a homey, comfy viewing experience. I’ve probably watched it like six times this year because it makes me feel so good. I want to watch it right now just writing about it.
How to watch: Streaming on Showtime. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

While You Were Sleeping (1995), PG
The Smash Critic awarded “Best Sandra Bullock Rom-Com” (and there’s a lot to choose from). This may belong with the others like Angels in the Outfield and School of Rock just because of how ridiculous the plot sounds, but it’s gold, true gold. Crazy story short: Sandra’s character likes this man that’s in a coma and his family is misled into thinking that she’s engaged to him. She’s not, but doesn’t know how to tell them the truth, so she goes with it. The movie tells it a bit better, but it is pretty dumb sounding. But trust me—it’s a good time.
How to watch: Streaming on Showtime. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Road Trip Feel-Good Movies

Little Miss Sunshine (2006), directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris | Fox Searchlight Pictures

*Note: this section isn’t about movies that are good for watching on road trips. There are just literally enough fantastic feel-good movies with the majority of their run-time spent on road trips to demand its own section.

A Goofy Movie (1995), G
This is old enough that maybe some of us aren’t aware that Goofy has a teenage son named Max and they go on a zany field trip together (against Max’s will) full of the best cartoon dance scenes and the most obnoxious but hilarious Bigfoot representation.
How to watch: Streaming on Disney+. Buy or rent on Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Fundamentals of Caring (2016), TV-MA
Oh my gosh, you guys. This is the most relentless feel-good movie I’ve ever seen. By that I mean every second you think something awful is going to happen (like the car crash in Remember the Titans or the freaking rope swing in Bridge to Terabithia), you’re reminded, “No stupid! Relax—this is a happy movie”. Paul Rudd plays an unmotivated, soon-to-be divorcée that starts care-taking for a quadriplegic, viciously sarcastic teenage boy. Together they go on a trip to the most mediocre American landmarks. It’s so great. When I was dealing with being indoors all day and getting very little sleep on paternity leave, this brought me out of my funk!
How to watch: Streaming on Netflix.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006), R
My friend won’t watch this movie no matter how much I plead and beg. This is all because he didn’t like the trailer when he first saw it like 15 years ago. It brings me sorrow because I know he’s missing out on a little piece of happiness that this film will give to whoever watches. Comical, messy, sincere family relationships all put to the test in a cramped VW van headed toward a children’s beauty pageant three states away. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collete (Hereditary), Steve Carell, Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man, There Will Be Blood), and a little, sweet, Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin (Signs, Zombieland). And Alan Arkin won the supporting Oscar for playing the coked up Grandpa. It’s a gem.
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on Vudu.

Tommy Boy (1995), PG-13
Like many of you, I grew up with these last two picks. They probably belong in the classic section but it was just too convenient to not create a road trip section! Tommy, played by Chris Farley, goes on a sales trip with his pessimistic coworker, Richard (David Spade), to try to save his dad’s company. It’s quotable beyond compare, it’s heartfelt, and it’s gut-bustingly funny—even the 100th time around. If you haven’t seen it, get on this train! Or even if you have, get on it again!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Dumb and Dumber (1994), PG-13
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The epitome of stupid buddy films. I hope you’ve seen this. But in case it’s been awhile, cheer yourself up with this classic!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

And there you have it! Even if you just take one movie recommendation from each category, that should keep you busy through the weekend. Let me know in the comments which movies you decided to watch, or reach out to me on social media.

REVIEW: Lost Girls

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 95 minutes
Director: Liz Garbus

The first image you see in the newest Netflix original movie, Lost Girls, pretty much sets the mood right off the bat: text with a black backdrop saying “An Unsolved American Murder Mystery”… Welp, this should be a great time. For comparison, Zodiac (2007) is one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time, and it ends in perhaps a suggestive yet ambiguous fashion. But even then, that film knew not to plaster the lack of resolution from the very top. It had plenty of stunning cast members, superb storytelling and dialogue, and relentless tension. The story itself constituted a globally renowned case that struck fear and uncertainty to everyone in California. At the very least it had more than enough entertaining authenticity of a bygone decade. Between all of this, it never had me looking at the clock or anxious that I wouldn’t get all the answers. Lost Girls just didn’t have any of these elements in enough abundance to make it stand out amongst the sea of Netflix Original-forgettables. That isn’t to say it’s bad! Trust me, there are enough full-blown Netflix bombs to have their own category.

This movie did feature decent performances from Amy Ryan (The Office) and Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit). The skillful cinematography was as dark and harrowing as the story itself, and there was some meaningful dialogue on social classes, police corruption (or just incompetence), and America’s ambivalence toward a victim that isn’t stain-free—that alone makes me think it deserves the semi-decent reviews it’s gotten so far. But at the same time, the movie struggles with poor acting from many of the smaller roles. It’s a story that just doesn’t have quite enough meat to be the engaging crime thriller we need it to be—or at least enough to prevent us from counting the seconds till we can have this checked off and then watch something newly added to Netflix, like Jerry Maguire or Pan’s Labyrinth (WOULD RECOMMEND). During a week as bleak and uncertain as this, who needs a movie this bleak and uncertain?

Recommendation: SKIP IT

The Oscars: According to Smash Critic

Alright guys. So there have already been some other Backseat Directors articles on the Oscars that you should totally check out. I want to use this spot to simply list out the results for the winners, whether I think they were deserving, and who were some snubs. I’ll look mostly at the more popular categories as well as a couple that I thought were especially noteworthy.

Directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story was nominated for Best Picture at The 92nd Academy Awards | NETFLIX

BEST PICTURE

Winner: Parasite
My Pick: Marriage Story
Nomination Snubs: Peanut Butter Falcon, and Farewell

To be fair, I think Parasite was a wholly unique and engaging movie with stunning visuals and insightful themes of class divisions and animosity; if anything, it’s awesome that it made history as the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. However, of all the movies that were nominated, this was probably the least likely to inspire or resonate emotionally. It’s a realistically cynical (albeit important) movie, but I don’t think it deserved Best Picture.

Even though this next movie was in no way a true competitor with Parasite in certain areas, I believe that it had it all when it comes to a worthy ‘Best Picture’ win: Marriage Story. No other nominee was so timelessly applicable nor poignantly touching. The acting was heartbreaking and heartwarming, the screenplay masterful; and the topic something that most can either connect with from personal experience, or at least better understand, all because of how genuine this film was. I suppose the next big trend-breaker is when a Netflix original will win Best Picture—maybe that’s why the foreign language film, Roma, didn’t win the title last year (and lost to Green Book, no less).

Greta Gerwig at The 92nd Academy Awards | Steve Granitz/Getty Images

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
My Pick: Bong Joon Ho
Nomination Snub: Greta Gerwig (Little Women)

Honestly, I’m okay with this one. I still wish Best Picture went elsewhere, but Bong Joon Ho at least deserved some individual recognition.

I do think it would’ve been awesome to see Quentin Tarantino finally win Best Director (which is long overdue); Todd Phillips and Sam Mendes both in their own way brought game-changing movies to light, and I would’ve been happy with any of them winning.

At the very least, Greta Gerwig probably should’ve been nominated. I wouldn’t necessarily replace another nominee with her, but I don’t understand why she was passed up. It would’ve at least helped to put the Oscars in a more inclusive light (only one woman has ever won ‘Best Director’), and the fact that she deserved the nod made it all the more confusing. 

Joaquin Phoenix appears in a scene of Joker | Warner Bros. Pictures

BEST LEAD ACTOR

Winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
My Pick: Joaquin Phoenix (second choice is Adam Driver for Marriage Story)
Nomination Snubs: Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems) and Michael B. Jordan (Just Mercy)
Come on… This was a shoe-in, and honestly, some of the best acting of all time. One thing I’ll mention about the brilliance of this specific portrayal of the Joker is that it takes a villain—and shows that he wasn’t always the eloquent, cool, untouchable Ledger-like antagonist that we’ve all come to know, obsess over, and see in others like Hannibal Lecter and Anton Chigurh. Like most disturbed individuals, there’s more to the person (like social ineptness, vulnerability, and utter tragedy) that leads that person to break and then rebuild for the worse. That’s Joaquin’s Joker, and it’s the most captivating performance of at least this year. Great win.

Renée Zellweger appears in a scene of Judy | Roadside Attractions

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

Winner: Renée Zellweger (Judy)
My Pick: Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Nomination Snub: Awkwafina (Farewell)

I can’t really say much here. I didn’t happen to see most of the movies with nominated ‘Best Actresses’, including this one. I thought that Judy was going to be your run-of-the-mill, Oscar-bait movie that would be quickly slated and ignored (I honestly don’t know a single person who saw it). I was surprised when Zellweger got nominated and dumbfounded when she had won. I guess I’ll definitely need to give Judy a watch. 

I will say, I was really hoping for Scarlett Johansson to win. If you haven’t seen the movie Marriage Story, go and watch the fight scene between Adam Driver’s and her character, along with her monologue when she’s with her lawyer. Absolutely amazing. 

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood | Sony Pictures | Photo Credit: Lacey Terrell

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
My Pick: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Nomination Snubs: Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy) and Shia Labeouf (Honey Boy)

I really enjoyed Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. He’s honestly one of the biggest highlights of the film… but it’s solely because he’s just cool. Super cool. He won for a role where he basically plays himself (or at least, how we all see him).

I can’t believe Pitt’s performance won over Tom Hanks’. If you haven’t seen the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? that was snubbed at last year’s Oscars, you should absolutely see it. Count how many times you cry, acknowledge how you feel about this near-perfect human being, and then watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and see how it compares. Hanks did such a good job so that all those feelings came right back as if I was watching the real man. In a day and age where kindness, sensitivity, and gentleness are tossed aside for power, imperviousness, and cynicism, this portrayed figure couldn’t be more appropriate. I know Hanks has two Oscars already and Pitt may have been long overdue for his, but if we’re basing this on performance and its impact alone (and forgetting “alumni” context) it’s obvious who should have won. 

Scarlett Johansson in a scene of Jojo Rabbit | Fox Searchlight Pictures

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
My Pick: Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
Nomination Snubs: none

Why Laura Dern wasn’t nominated for her role in Little Women over this is beyond me, but the fact that she won is downright bizarre. Her role isn’t bad—it’s actually interesting: she’s an aggressive, feministic lawyer that’s just as sisterly with her client as she is cutthroat with her client’s husband. But in the end, it’s really not a memorable character as she’s completely overshadowed by Driver and Johansson’s performances… And I swear she only had like 10 minutes of screen time. 

Very rarely does an actor/actress get two different nominations for two different roles, but Johansson truly deserved both. In Jojo Rabbit she’s a quirky, playful mom to the main character that makes for some hilarious, and touching scenes between mother and son. She’s also a single parent, and works as a steadfast moral compass to her Nazi youth son and others—a strong, impactful female character. I would’ve loved to see her at least win this.

OTHER NOTEWORTHY BITS

  • Jojo Rabbit wins Best Original Writing.

    I was pumped with this result! Taika Waititi has managed to make a name for himself rapidly in Hollywood. All of his movies are just fantastic (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpoeple, Thor: Ragnarok), and this may be his best work so far. He was able to bring a story that used an extremely difficult era and subject matter to create genuine laughter, tears, and celebration of triumph over (apparently) clumsy and whimsical evil. If anything, it’s encouraging to see a film this lighthearted and optimistic receive accolades, and I wish it happened more often. Also, Waititi is the first person of Maori (New Zealand aborigine) descent to win an Oscar!

  • 1917 wins Best Cinematography.

    All I really need to say about this movie is that it’s a spectacle during the entire runtime. What makes 1917 stand out, and what should put it near the top (if not at the top of every ‘Best War Movie’ list) is the master class cinematography by Roger Deakins. Honestly, guys, the whole flick is like two different shots both lasting about an hour, and the way the camera follows the intensity and action is something that will catch the eye of even the most unsuspecting movie goer. Please try so hard to see this in theaters, or see it on a jumbo screen somehow, because this will prove to be one of the best movie going experiences you’ve had in a while. 

  • Joker wins Best Music (Original Score).

    I would have been okay with a number of the nominees winning. Randy Newman’s work in Marriage Story was as tear inducing as ever. Probably my favorite composer ever, Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, Finding Nemo, American Beauty), built up the tension to another degree in 1917. But honestly, Joker’s score was probably the most fittingly haunting music I’ve heard in a film. It’s truly a unique style, and now I can’t imagine any other sound wordlessly telling the story of a misfortuned psychopath. On top of that, (and I did not know the composer’s gender until she came on stage) Hildur Gudnadottir is the first woman to win Best Original Score ever! Being that the Oscars have often been polarizing for some with a feeling of exclusion toward certain race and gender, this was an awesome win.

  • Eminem’s Performance.

    A lot of people felt like Eminem’s performance of “Lose Yourself” during the Oscars felt misplaced and random. I for one loved it, especially when I considered the context. At the 2003 Oscars, Eminem was nominated and won Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself”, which he had written for 8 Mile. Thinking that there was no way he would win, he not only didn’t attend the Oscars, but he was apparently asleep at home when it was announced that he had won. It was great to see him finally give his acceptance speech of sorts 17 years later.

  • Shia Labeouf and Zack Gottsagen announce Best Live-Action Short Winner.

    As previously mentioned, I think Peanut Butter Falcon was snubbed for not getting a nod for Best Picture (or for at least something else). Suffice it to say, if you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s become one of my all-time favorite feel-good movies. It utilizes a Mark Twain-type atmosphere, and takes two unlikely actors (a pretty much blacklisted child star, and a man with Down syndrome) puts them in powerfully suitable roles and makes a beautiful relationship/adventure out of it. During and before production, Shia made sure that he and Zack spent plenty of quality time together. He even credits Zack for being part of the reason why he’s seemingly got his life back in order. And seeing them up there together—double teaming the announcement—was a really sweet moment.

Alright guys, let me know if you agree/disagree, who you would’ve picked to win, snubs I missed, or thoughts in general about the Oscars!

REVIEW: Birds of Prey

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: Cathy Yan

Ok so full disclosure, as I’ve gotten further invested into cinema, I think I’ve developed a certain degree of snobbiness when it comes to superhero movies. I think it’s gotten better though. As I used to think that a majority of these movies – DC, Marvel, or otherwise – were simply meant to entertain (which is debatably the sole and most important purpose of movies anyway), I can now see valuable elements in most of these films. Whether it’s gaining a poignant and emotional perspective of the insatiable need for justice that Bruce Wayne feels in Batman vs. Superman, or simply identifying the 2-week-long residual sorrow I felt after the biggest casualty in Avengers: Endgame, there are some epic and complex stories to be told, and who says we can’t have a lot of fun and see some crazy intergalactic battles while we’re at it? There’s also a lot to be said of the realism that translates through these films i.e. The Dark Knight trilogy, and most recently, Joker. Then there’s the timely social topics that are portrayed on this stage and have a considerable impact of their own. Wonder Woman stood as one of the most popular movies of 2017 in large part because of how great it was to see a female lead independently, and organically become a timeless icon all over again. All I’m trying to say is that there’s absolutely potential for great cinema here.

With that preface, I can adequately contrast that from how I felt about Birds of Prey. I’d just simply say that I think this was a step backwards for DC and superhero movies. The movie wanted so badly to be Harley Quinn focussed, which may have been a good idea but they get distracted by subplots of uninteresting characters that seem to drag out, and a villain that indirectly tests Harley’s codependency issues but whose motives are blurred and actions bizarre… and he is in no way the Joker (which I believe would’ve made for a far better movie). 

Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Humor and deeper topics alike are overshadowed by awkward CGI violence, weird egg sandwich obsessions, and slap-induced hallucinogenic dance scenes, not to mention choppy story telling. Much of their goal to make this movie zany and unique just comes off as fluff and a lack of direction. 

Realism is often tossed out the window to grant more and more indestructible power to the lead characters, but then this power isn’t followed up with any sincere message, and instead is left with bland dialogue and sometimes subpar acting. So, I’d pass this up for perhaps an awards season movie that you missed or some upcoming premieres. For DC fans – who cares what I say! I know you need to eventually see this. Just maybe wait for a matinee. 

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

Scroll to top