The Lost Daughter (Thoughts)

After making its debut in last year’s Venice Film Festival, where Maggie Gyllenhaal won the Golden Osella award for screenwriting, actor Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante: “The Lost Daughter” has arrived. The story focuses on a middle-aged college professor by the name of Leda Caruso (portrayed by Olivia Colman) who takes a holiday trip to Greece as she befriends a young woman by the name of Nina (Dakota Johnson) as she helps find her daughter Elena who’s been missing momentarily on the beach. Upon finding her, Leda secretly takes Elena’s doll after realizing she’s been mistreating it. As Nina reveals her frustrations of being weary and unhappy to Leda, flashbacks are revealed showcasing a young Leda (Jessie Buckley) struggling in being a young mother to her two daughters as she too had been weary of her family. As Leda’s friendship with Nina grows, ugly truths surface that bring to a head a messy confrontation. Olivia Colman delivers an elusive yet heartbreaking portrayal of a woman looking to overcome the guilt of her past deeds as Gyllenhaal crafts an effective psychological drama headlined by a fantastic cast also featuring noteworthy performances from Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley and Ed Harris to name a few which is why I highly recommend giving “The Lost Daughter” a look.

Rating: A-

Jockey (Thoughts)

The world of horse racing is nothing new in cinema as there have been quite a number of films that have focused on the sport including the recent “Dream Horse“. But Clint Bentley’s latest feature: “Jockey” looks at the athlete’s perspective as actor Clifton Collins Jr. portrays an aging jockey named Jackson Silva whose had his run of wear & tear incidents that have made him the shadow of the contender he once was and despite suffering from a condition that’s set to affect half of his body for the rest of his life, he looks to aim for one more final run to score a championship by taking an interest in horse trainer Ruth’s (Molly Parker) horse that looks to be a contender. Further complicating things is a newcomer jockey Gabriel (Moises Arias) who claims to be Jackson’s son as Jackson looks to give him some tips on racing while becoming a mentor to him. “Jockey” is reminiscent of the great character sports dramas like Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” in where the athlete looks to overcome their setbacks by yearning to claim that glory they once basked in during their prime years. Collins’ portrayal of an aging jockey is subtle yet powerful that often gives the film poignancy and hopefully will give him more recognition as the fantastic character actor he’s been for so many years. Overall, I highly recommend giving “Jockey” a look as it’s a noteworthy sports drama.

Rating: A-

Insecure (Series) (Thoughts)

When I first heard about “Insecure” five years ago, I was unaware of Issa Rae’s previous web series: “Awkward Black Girl” and from watching the trailers, I sort of felt I might not be the demographic the show was looking to appeal to. But I nevertheless figured to give the series a chance and from the series premiere, I actually was a lot surprised by how much I appreciated the protagonist as she was someone trying to figure out her way through life. For those unaware, “Insecure” follows two young Black women Issa (portrayed by creator Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) who have been friends since their college years and look to navigate their career and love life as audiences follow them through five seasons going through the high and low points of their lives. Despite this simple premise, the series is done well as I was easily able to relate to these characters and while the series finale felt more like a coda for each of the characters from the main cast, I suppose sometimes it’s not about how the series ends, but simply the journey of getting to that destination. “Insecure” deserves credit for showcasing young Black women in a medium that’s been lacking such programming for quite some time as the stories are relatable towards all audiences. I look forward to seeing where each of the cast will go with their careers. Overall, I highly recommend giving “Insecure” a look!

Rating: A-

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Thoughts)

When it comes to the adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare, they tend to vary from great to above average at best and while some are noteworthy including the adaptations from the late British actor/filmmaker Laurence Olivier, very few recent adaptations have made a huge impact on the big screen including the noteworthy tragedy “Macbeth” whose most recent adaptation in 2015 was largely underappreciated despite being faithful to the source material along with Michael Fassbender’s performance as the titular character. So with the Coen Brothers on hiatus due to Ethan deciding on taking a break to work in theatre, his older brother Joel embarks on a solo venture as his debut feature is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and the end results are a visual feast often showcasing the source material in more of a horror tone. Aside from the direction Joel Coen has taken using black & white colors with some amazing cinematography courtesy of French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, the cast also deliver some fantastic performances including the leads Denzel Washington portraying Lord Macbeth and Frances McDormand portraying Lady Macbeth as both may very well end up being favorites come awards season. While some may question whether it has the trademarks of a Coen Brothers feature, I will say that Joel’s first solo effort falls right in with the two brothers features as its protagonist is in many ways similar to the other protagonists in that they often end up in their compulsions and weaknesses that eventually end up leading to their downfall and perhaps this may be the reason why “Macbeth” has stood the test of time as its themes of overreaching ambition and power continue to resonate with audiences today. Short and right to the point, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” must be witnessed on the big screen in a theater as soon as possible as I can say that this latest adaptation is a masterpiece!

*Note: I couldn’t help but feel that cinematographer Delbonnel was partially influenced by the works of Fritz Lang with the use of shadows and set pieces reminiscent of the two-part silent fantasy feature: “Die Nibelungen“.

Rating: A+

Parallel Mothers (a.k.a “Madres Paralelas”) (Thoughts)

Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar returns with his 22nd feature, this time focusing on motherhood as Penelope Cruz stars as Janis Martinez, a photographer who becomes acquainted with a excavationist named Arturo (Israel Eljalde) as she requests an excavation to find the remains of her missing family. While Arturo agrees, the two end up having a one night stand as she becomes pregnant. She ultimately decides to have a baby and raise her as a single mother. While about to give birth, she ends up meeting another woman named Ana (Milena Smit) at the maternity ward as the two become very good friends. As they simultaneously give birth at the same time, they appear to return to their homes as they look to raise their newborns. Janis, however is suspicious when Arturo believes that the child looks nothing like him and ponders whether the child’s facial features are taken from Janis’ grandparents to which she disagrees. She then decides to take a maternity test by testing her blood sample with the baby only to recognize she is not the mother. Weeks later, she ends up meeting Ana at a local café as she mentions to Janis that she lost her baby due to a rare condition and is convinced that the deceased baby was hers. As Janis convinces Ana to stay at her home, secrets are revealed that put their friendship at risk. Like many of Almodóvar’s features, “Parallel Mothers” focuses on the emotional struggles of being burdened with secrets while unable to move on, confronting motherhood as well as the role bold colors play with red and green being the common colors used. But the feature also sheds some light on the pain of some Spaniards who seek closure in finding the remains of their family members who were executed and buried in unmarked graves by the Franco regime in Spain during the 30’s through the 70’s. Overall, I highly recommend giving “Parallel Mothers” a look especially for fans of the filmmaker.

Rating: A-

Don’t Look Up (2021) (Thoughts)

Filmmaker Adam McKay appears to be on a mission as he returns with a new feature this time focusing on the consequences of climate change all due in the manner of a comet that’s discovered by two astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio & Jennifer Lawrence) who calculate the mathematics and believe it will eventually arrive and wipe out the entire planet. Despite looking to warn the government ran by the U.S. President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) along with the media (Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett & Michael Chiklis), they are met with apathy as their message gets confused due to pushbacks placed in social median, political ideologies being misconstrued and corporations ignoring the data for their own self-financial interests that towards its conclusion results in an absurd and depressing look at a cataclysmic event that could’ve been avoided when it didn’t. Like McKay’s previous feature: “Vice“, this time rather than focusing on the Republican vice presidency, he looks at the complexities of alerting the public to a danger that will affect all of mankind which in parallel has been the subject matter of climate change as America is currently unable to reach a compromise in solving this issue. The biggest drawback the film has is its deliberate heavy-handedness of making viewers aware of this issue and why ideologies and politics can’t get in the way of something that should be agreed upon by nearly everybody. I also feel that much of the sci-fi/comedy aspects of the film feel out of place at times for a film like this as I couldn’t help but shake my head half the time in disbelief, but one can hope that this kind of scenario doesn’t take place when a cataclysmic event does happen to arrive in real life. Nevertheless, I still recommend giving “Don’t Look Up” a look due to the performances from the main leads along with a supporting cast even if it’s plot feels reminiscent to other features like “Deep Impact” sharing similarities with the plot and “Seeking a Friend For the End of the World” with regards to spending the last few moments of your life as it all comes to an end.

Rating: B

Hawkeye (2021) (Series) (Thoughts)

2021 was certainly a big year for Marvel as they not only released four theatrical projects in theaters, but also five television series. For their final television project, they look to focus on the archer of the “Avengers” going by the name of “Hawkeye” (a.k.a Clint Barton). The plot follows Barton spending the holidays with his family by visiting New York City and having dinner and catching a musical, which brings back memories of a close friend who’s no longer around. As a young woman by the name of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) gets involved in foiling an auction heist by the criminal enterprise known as the “Tracksuit Mafia“, she indirectly crosses paths with Clint as they look to fight their way against the gang all the while finding out the man behind the operation. Like many of their previous series, the plot of “Hawkeye” mainly takes a backseat at times focusing more on building the relationship between Kate and Clint, which for the most part is done well. Aside from a debut apperance of “Echo” (Alaqua Cox) and some notable returns along with a huge reveal towards the series finale, I feel the project could have been better fitted as a feature film than a six-part series. The other drawback is that the series is loosely based on the Matt Fraction & David Aja limited series comic book which may give viewers who have knowledge of the comic an idea of the big reveal towards the end along with some clues thrown in here and there. Still it’s nice to have a Marvel project that doesn’t follow up to another project as the mid-credits scene showcases the enture cheesy musical sequence briefly shown on the series premiere and nothing more. Overall, I recommend giving “Hawkeye” a look especially for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: B

The King’s Man (Thoughts)

Since its inception nine years ago, Mark Millar’s comic book series “The Secret Service” basically followed in the same tradition of his other comic book series “Kick-ass” only rather than focusing on an ordinary kid looking to be a superhero, it focused on a misfit who was introduced to the British secret service and they shared in the form of profanity, crude humor and violence that Millar was known for. So it was only a given that after the feature adaptation of “Kick-ass” that a feature adaptation of “The Secret Service” would arrive and in 2015, English filmmaker Matthew Vaughn would once again helm another work from Millar as it offered the same type of style and attitude that “Kick-ass” had. So when a sequel arrived three years later, the overall result felt more toned down than the predecessor and didn’t add anything fresh to the franchise. So after that disappointment, another feature has arrived as this time Vaughn would showcase a sequel orchestrating the history of the “Kingsman” secret service. Set right before World War I, Ralph Fiennes portrays a British aristocrat by the name of Orlando, who heads an agency of spies to prevent wars from happening. While his son Conner (Harris Dickinson) looks to participate in the Great War, his father refuses until he relents only to realize Conner has been killed in the war as Orlando and his agents Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou) look to find the perpetrators responsible for orchestrating the World War. Unlike the previous two efforts, “The King’s Man” has a more mature tone without looking to be amusing outside from a few moments. The pacing for the film feels a bit off at times as the main plot takes a back turn as it showcases on events from the war involving Conner that I felt could’ve been shown briefly rather than wasting nearly half an hour on the segment and despite the use of actual historical figures, much of the film feels no different from your average spy feature offering nothing unique to the genre despite some stellar acting from a notable cast. Overall, I’d say “The King’s Man” is at best worth a rent and nothing more.

Rating: C

The Matrix Resurrections (Thoughts)

When “The Matrix” dropped in theaters a little over 22 years ago, it became one of the biggest surprises of the year and not only became a hit with audiences but with filmmakers and the industry as well as countless films would spoof or borrow elements from the film such as the slow (bullet) time action sequences. Of course when the long-awaited sequels finally arrived four years later, it was to say the least a bit underwhelming as the much of the philosophical, mythological and religious tones the first feature explored were overshadowed by heavily choreographed action sequences and special effects that towards its conclusion making it unmemorable and it looked like that was all there was to say about the world of “The Matrix“. But fast forward to 2019 when Warner Bros announced a fourth chapter of “The Matrix“, I personally wasn’t much of a surprise as previous done franchises were making comebacks in Hollywood despite falling short for the most part. So you’re probably asking yourself about this latest entry and while it plays itself too close to the chest of being very meta and criticizing on the hot trends of technology taking place now, there really isn’t much to say regarding the plot as it basically plays close to scenes that took place in the three features previously with returning actors and new ones replacing familiar characters. But for those curious, the film basically takes place 60 years later from where the previous entry left off as Neo apparently still exists inside the Matrix but is no longer aware of his persona as he’s known by his “real” name Thomas Anderson who happens to be a game developer that made “The Matrix” and apparently so is Trinity who now is a mother who works at an auto repair shop as neither sense they know each other from their past lives. Eventually, he’s pulled back by a woman named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) who convinces him of the man he used to be as he also decides to pull Trinity out of the Matrix while uncovering the man involved in this latest incarnation of the “real” world. This is where most audiences may have an idea of how the film eventually concludes. Another drawback to this film is the fact that many of the action sequences are no longer the awe-inspiring scenes that leave a long-lasting impression as some of it feels contrived at times. The best asset this film has going for it is the chemistry between actors Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss who certainly will convince audiences of their mutual love for one another and while the conclusion leaves it open for possibly establishing another trilogy, I can’t help but wonder what the point of even making this fourth feature was about as it feels like a bunch of ideas were thrown and wasn’t compiled well as they rehash scenes from the original trilogy. While audiences unfamiliar with the franchise may not mind it, the fans may feel frustrated and disappointed by this latest entry. Still the feature like the other films at times has some visual appeal that audiences can appreciate even with an inferior plot. Overall, I can say that I mildly recommend giving “The Matrix Resurrections” a look, but understand to keep your expectations very low. Because while some may feel it’s worthy over the two sequels, that’s not really saying much.

Rating: C+

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Thoughts)

Since his live-action debut nearly 20 years ago on the big screen, “Spider-Man” has been embraced by audiences worldwide as the webslinger from Queens, New York is one of the most recognizable superheroes of all time with demographics and while the films were entertaining and underwhelming, the actors portraying Peter Parker did capture the essence of the character to the comics in varying degrees. Despite primarily being self-contained stories, he was eventually introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe five years ago making an appearance on the third “Captain America” feature: “Civil War“. Since then, audiences have been treated to two solo features of the webslinger along with the character playing a part in the colossal crossover two-part “Avengers” features that I felt were satisfying and highly entertaining at best but fell into the same old conventions of the comic book genre, which is a topic that can be discussed for another time. So with the third “Spider-Man” feature (which also happens to be the 28th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) now arriving in theaters, I can say that this may be the best feature of the “Spider-Man” franchise. Without giving much away, the reason for this is the fact that “No Way Home” takes the best bits of all the previous “Spider-Man” features from the plot being taken out of “Into the Spider Verse” along with tragedy being struck to the hero which has been done countlessly in the other features as it is a part of how he became “Spider-Man“. You can call it fanservice, a trip down memory lane or simply giving a nod to the comic book stories, but it does pay tribute to the previous films all the while setting a change for the character of “Spider-Man“. But the film isn’t without its flaws as I personally feel it is basically a stepping stone for the next Marvel feature that’s set to focus on “Doctor Strange” who plays a pivotal part in this feature and it’s a formula that Marvel continues treading right along even if some of it feels unnecessary like an appearance of a character during the mid-credits scene that feels completely wasted of a potential crossover. But it remains to be seen where they will go with the “Spider-Man” franchise as it also somewhat feels like a reboot towards its conclusion. Overall, I highly recommend giving “Spider-Man: No Way Home” a look especially for Marvel enthusiasts.

Rating: B+

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