10 anticipated movies for 2020

The Academy Awards on Feb 9. marked the end of the 2019 movie season, closing one of the most incredible years in recent film history. But, as one year of films ends, another begins, hoping to reach the same level of excellence as the previous year.

Even though 2019 was exceptional, the question still remains of whether it was an elite outlier or a sign of future innovation and artistic achievement. With that in mind, here are 10 films to look out for in 2020:

10. “Wonder Woman: 1984”


Directed by Patty Jenkins

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Kristen Wiig

As DC moves away from past failures — like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” — and toward more lighthearted fare like “Aquaman” and “Shazam,” Gal Gadot will make her triumphant return to the screen as Wonder Woman. 2017’s “Wonder Woman” and Gadot’s performance have been the clear highlights of DC films over the past five years, and with the teaming of director Patty Jenkins and costar Chris Pine, “Wonder Woman: 1984” shouldn’t disappoint.

9.  “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

Directed by Charlie Kaufman

Starring Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemmons and Toni Collette

From the master of supernatural urban malaise Charlie Kaufman, comes an adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Following the inner workings of an imploding relationship, Kaufman seems likely to provide the dramatic absurdity that made his previous films — “Being John Malkovich,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Synecdoche, New York” — so influential. Jessie Buckley gave one of the most underrated lead performances of 2019 in “Wild Rose,” and placing her inherent dynamism up against Jesse Plemmons’s stoic brand of intimidation should make for one of the most interesting screen pairings of 2020.

8. “No Time To Die”

Directed by Cary Fukunaga

Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and Rami Malek

Marking the likely end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond, “No Time To Die” is easily one of the most star-studded movies of 2020. While Craig’s previous Bond film, “Spectre,” was disappointing, the prospect of reteaming him with his “Knives Out” co-star Ana de Armas alongside Léa Ssydoux, Rami Malek, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes and Naoime Harris still feels exciting. Hopefully, director Cary Fukunaga will use his immense visual talents to create something closer to “Casino Royale” or “Skyfall” instead of the occasional boredom that haunted Bond films like “Quantum of Solace” and “Spectre.”

7. “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeremy Strong

Aaron Sorkin will apply his hyper-intelligent, stylized brand of screenwriting to one of the most significant political events of the 1960s with “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Following the stories of seven men charged with inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, this ensemble piece feels like a perfect use of Sorkin’s talents, giving his rollicking dialogue and political obsessions an ideal backdrop. With a loaded cast, it’s difficult to highlight anyone in particular, but Jeremy Strong has been giving one of the best performances on TV with HBO’s “Succession.” Playing Jerry Rubin, Strong will finally get a chance to unleash some of the pent-up rage that makes his “Succession” character so special.

6. “Top Gun: Maverick”

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller and Glen Powell

Thirty-four years after the original, Tom Cruise will be making his iconic return to the sky in the long awaited sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick.” One of the biggest blockbusters in movie history, “Top Gun” remains an important property for film fans, and given Cruise’s exalted energy and intense obsession with aviation, “Top Gun: Maverick” certainly has the potential to create a similar kind of momentum. New additions Glen Powell and Miles Teller seem to fit seamlessly into the freewheeling fun of ”Top Gun’s” aesthetic. Powell, in particular, gave one of the most charismatic performances in recent memory in 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some,” and he feels like an ideal heir to Cruise’s franchise. While it may not be prestige cinema, “Top Gun: Maverick” seems to understand exactly what an audience wants: Tom Cruise in a plane, shouting one-liners as music blares behind him.

5. “The French Dispatch”

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan and Elisabeth Moss

Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” is already an early frontrunner for the Academy Awards given Anderson’s prestige and the sheer talent of its cast. Following a group of journalists in 20th century France, “The French Dispatch” seems to offer Anderson a new, professional outlet to channel his brand of whimsical excitement. Stars Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan are reteaming for their third collaboration in four years, solidifying them as one of the most dynamic duos in film. Chalamet and Ronan’s chemistry elevated both “Little Women” and “Lady Bird” to unimaginable highs, so their presence alone makes “The French Dispatch” a worthwhile investment.

4. “Last Night in Soho”

Directed by Edgar Wright

Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy and Terrence Stamp

From visionary genre innovator Edgar Wright comes “Last Night in Soho,” a mind-bending thriller set in the world of the 1960s London fashion industry. As Wright’s follow-up to “Baby Driver,” “Last Night in Soho” feels like a return to his roots as a master of horror comedy. Wright’s films are at their best when he digs into their more absurd, depraved elements, and by citing the 1965 film “Repulsion” as a primary influence, “Last Night in Soho” certainly appears to be headed in that direction. Leading the cast, Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy look to further build on their outstanding young careers. Taylor-Joy has been productive with her work in films like “Split” and “Glass,” while McKenzie was one of the clear highlights of 2019’s “Jojo Rabbit” so hopefully Wright finds a way to fully exploit their talents in this suspense-riddled thriller.

3. “Mank”

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Gary Oldman, Lily Collins and Amanda Seyfried

After six years, David Fincher is finally returning to feature filmmaking with “Mank,” a docudrama following the feud between “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and director Orson Welles. Telling one of the most fascinating stories in Hollywood history, “Mank” already feels like a preemptive front runner for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards. Fincher’s knack for precise storytelling and kinetic momentum are truly unparalleled, so coupling his abilities with a story of celebrity feuds and Hollywood lore should make for one of the most exciting films of 2020. As a Netflix release, “Mank” will hope to overcome the hurdles that ended the Oscar chances of “The Irishman” or “Roma,” but because of the clear amount of talent both behind and in front of the camera, “Mank” feels like Fincher’s inevitable coronation as one of the greatest filmmakers in the world.

2. “Dune”

Directed by Denis Villenueve

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya

The second adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved novel, “Dune,” could be the biggest blockbuster of 2020. With the deepest cast of any 2020 film, expectations couldn’t be higher for a project that many have called, “unadaptable.” Director Denis Villenueve has made some of the best thrillers of the last decade with “Prisoners,” “Sicario” and “Arrival,” so hopefully, his talents for suspense and visual excitement will succeed where David Lynch’s previous adaptation of “Dune” failed. 

2020 clearly marks a transitional moment in Chalamet’s career as he steps into the shoes of “Dune” protagonist Paul Atreides. With his roles in “The French Dispatch” and “Dune,” Chalamet certainly looks to be solidifying his position as the most exciting young actor in Hollywood. Hopefully he, Villenueve and this masterful cast can find a way to deliver on their overwhelming talents.

1. “Tenet”

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki

Perhaps more so than any other director, Christopher Nolan has found a way to turn every one of his films into a massive cultural event. “Tenet” looks to only further prove Nolan’s time-bending talents and blockbuster dominance. As an action epic concerning international espionage, time travel and evolution, “Tenet” feels firmly within Nolan’s thrilling, puzzle-making wheelhouse. After his breakout performance in “BlacKkKlansman,” John David Washington will lead the cast of “Tenet,” bringing his swaggering movie star personality into Nolan’s world. 

Teamed with Robert Pattinson, Washington may be on the verge of wide, international stardom as he headlines what’s bound to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. Nolan’s films may not have always delivered on their complicated premises, but a viewer can’t help but be excited at the prospect of Nolan returning to tell an original, big budget story with two exciting, dynamic stars.


Downhill is a comic relationship nightmare

Throughout “Downhill,” Pete Stanton (Will Ferrell) screams his newfound mantra, “Evey day is all we have.”

On the surface, the phrase appears meaningful, emphasizing the fleeting nature of life. Screenwriter Jesse Armstrong, however, recognizes the inherent ineptitude of the phrase. Rather than serving as actual wisdom, the statement is noticeably empty, acting more as a lifestyle brand hashtag than legitimate advice.

These observations are when “Downhill” is at its best, taking an incisive look at the artificiality covering up midlife malaise. Sadly, “Downhill” doesn’t contain enough of these moments to justify its existence.


From directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, “Downhill” tells the story of the Stantons, an upper-class family taking a ski vacation in the Alps. After the Stantons face a near-death experience, they find their lives turned upside down as they have to reevaluate their relationships with each other and their perceptions of life’s meaning. Starring Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, “Downhill” isn’t comprised of the raucous comedy either are known for. Instead, “Downhill” has more in common with the yuppie anxiety of “Marriage Story” than it does with “Step Brothers” or “Anchorman.”

As an English-language remake of the acclaimed 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure,” casting Ferrell and Dreyfuss transforms the crisis at the center of “Downhill,” creating the potential for a broader style of comedy. But, at its heart, “Downhill” is deeply committed to the serious nature of its characters’ collective plight, attempting to understand something right outside of its grasp.

Ferrell is a revelation as Pete, giving easily his best performance in a decade. Channeling the same kind of man-child persona that emanates from his best work, Ferrell taps into something surprisingly serious and dark at the center of Pete’s psyche. Dealing with the loss of his own father, Pete now finds himself at a crossroads with his own family, having to understand the implications of age and the meaning of fatherhood.

Ferrell’s career has similarly been at a dangerous crossroads for the past few years. After being one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Ferrell’s last three films, “Holmes and Watson,” “The House” and “Daddy’s Home 2” were all massive critical and box office failures. With “Downhill,” Ferrell gets to show a newfound level of control and tension in his acting style, interacting with his own persona as an aging star.

Opposite Ferrell, Dreyfuss does equally commendable work as Pete’s wife, Billie. For three decades, Dreyfuss has been a constant in the comedy world primarily because of her consistent ability to convey mild displeasure and boiling rage. As Billie, these talents are underscored by serious stakes, which match the level of Dreyfus’ anger.

In the best scene of the film, Dreyfus and Ferrell’s capacities for comic discomfort and shockingly convincing fury collide as they war over whose version of events is true. The scene beautifully moves between hilarity and despair as helpless bystanders Rosie (Zoe Chao) and Zach (Zach Woods) have nothing to do but cringe at the anger of these two opposing forces.

Yet, “Downhill” can never quite reach those heights in any other portion of the film. Instead, the film comes off as uneven, wanting to communicate these fears and anxieties while still grasping for broad laughs. Miranda Otto, in particular, grinds the film to a halt each time she appears as the sex-crazed concierge, Charlotte. Charlotte’s character — while attempting to serve as a mirror image to Billie’s repressed nature — comes across as blatant, desperate comic relief failing for laughs by relentlessly repeating the same hackneyed sexual comedy in every scene.

Part of this inconsistency in tone may come from Armstrong’s script. As the showrunner of HBO’s “Succession,” Armstrong has made his name off simultaneously navigating the depths of existential crises and heights of situational comedy. With “Downhill,” Armstrong can’t find the necessary balance to succeed.

That isn’t to say Armstrong’s script lacks intelligence. At times, “Downhill” is able to tap into the depth it’s looking for, feeling like a more self-aware version of “American Beauty.” Rather than valorizing Pete’s eschewing of societal convention, Armstrong holds him accountable for his decisions, displaying the sadness of denying age or commitment.

Despite any issues, “Downhill” is still a worthwhile endeavor, if only for Dreyfus’ and Ferrell’s performances. As both of them embark on a new phase of their career, “Downhill” is further proof that they don’t have to be pigeonholed by bland studio comedy and should be allowed to explore more dramatic work. Given the mixed critical reaction to “Downhill,” hopefully neither of them will be discouraged from taking on similar projects in the future.

Parasite entertains and makes history

In one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history, writer-director Bong Joon-Ho’s film Parasite became the first foreign language film ever to win Best Picture. In reflecting on Parasite’s victory, and viewing it as a victory for foreign language film notoriety in the United States, the most surprising aspect of Parasite’s success is how revolutionary the film feels. Parasite isn’t a broad, crowd pleaser like Green Book or even a personal autofiction story like a previous foreign language best picture contender, Roma

Instead Parasite is a thrilling analysis of capitalism and its participants, asking questions of what an individual wants and the price paid to attain it. Despite carrying that burden of its own intelligence, Parasite also manages to be one of the most exciting films of 2020, moving with such ease, drawing an audience into the film’s world and captivating them with every twist of fate.

Parasite follows the exploits of the jobless, penniless Kim family as they become increasingly involved in the lives of the much wealthier Park family. As a story with boundless momentum and relentless sense of tension and excitement, saying anything more about Parasite’s may run the risk of ruining a truly remarkable viewing experience. In short, Joon-Ho created a tense masterpiece, with equal parts intelligence and entertainment, dissecting the consequences of South Korea’s economic institutions while simultaneously enrapturing an audience.

Despite Parasite’s Oscar dominance, the film surprisingly received zero acting nominations. Given Parasite’s ensemble nature it may have been difficult for the academy to single out any particular performance, but Parasite’s clear driving force is the Kim family patriarch, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho). A frequent collaborator with Joon-ho, Kang-ho is masterful in his part, showing an ideal mix of control and general aloofness. Joon-ho makes no attempt to depict the poverty stricken Kim’s as noble heroes fighting against capitalism, instead trying to create a sense of familiarity, relatability and charm for the Kim family unit. With that in mind, Kang-ho’s performance is a perfect representation of aimlessness while still holding a sense of familial love and compassion.

Often opposite Ki-taek is his son, Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik). As the frustrated heir to the Kim family fortune, Ki-woo serves as the story’s catalyst, constantly wanting more for himself and his family. Woo-sik conveys this sense of aspiration admirably, always giving off the sense he is searching for something he’ll never find. In the Park home, a viewer can feel Ki-woo’s calculation and desperation underlying every decision, creating a full character that feels instantly relatable.

For the Park family, the clear breakout performer is Jo Yeo-jong as the mother, Park Yeon-kyo. Playing a ditzy, out of touch homemaker, Yeon-kyo’s character runs the risk of bordering on caricature, but Yeo-jong manages to capture something humane within the performance, using the character’s eccentricities as comic relief rather than villainy. Part of Joon-ho’s mastery is his ability to avoid any kind of cliché, making a socio-political piece of art with such precision and detail that his hyper-specific parable can transcend country and language.

Joon-ho’s talents as a director have been on display for over twenty years, making his current status with American audiences well deserved. Prior to Parasite, Joon-ho’s career appeared to be moving in a more American direction, with his last two films, Snowpiercer and Okja, with both being in the English language and starring famous American actors. Instead, Joon-ho decided to head back to Seoul and craft his masterpiece, eschewing the genre conventions he usually relies on to tell a modern story with practical implications.

Over the past few months, Joon-ho’s career has been given its own kind of lore, garnering comparisons to Steven Speilberg for his ability to make accessible sophisticated horror or Alfred Hitchcock for his mastery of tension and complete control of every frame. Parasite feels like the kind of film that only a master filmmaker could conjure, with every detail working in service of the story and every moment receiving the kind of thought and scrutiny it deserves.

Whether it be the jaw dropping set design and attention to architecture paid to the Park family home or slight turns of phrase that drive the narrative forward, everything about Parasite feels purposeful and inventive, letting the viewer know they are in good hands. Joon-ho has long been credited for his obsession with story boarding and framing, and to that end, his use of visual metaphor and building design give Parasite an extra dimension that few films are able to maintain.

But behind all of this precision and idiosyncrasy, Parasite still emanates a sense of fun. Joon-ho’s script is so versatile, at times he can maneuver a viewer through heartbreak and hilarity and a single moment, while never losing sight of the biting satire at hand. Regardless of character morals or notions of nobility, Parasite understands that being a member of the Kim family comes with its own kind of joy and excitement embedded in the ensemble.

Perhaps the best description of Parasite’s appeal was given by Bong Joon-ho himself when receiving his Oscar for Best Director. Joon-ho recited a quote from fellow nominee Martin Scorsese saying, “The most personal is the most creative.” Through all of Parasite’s drama, tragedy, comedy and thrills, Joon-ho’s capacity for personal connection and care for his characters becomes Parasite’s defining attribute. Parasite has a lot to say and knows exactly how to say it, but despite metaphor or subtext, Parasite never stops being about the characters on screen. By creating something so personal, Joon-ho made the most creative film of 2019.

Why Jojo Rabbit is the Worst Best Picture Nominee

An anti-hate satire. That is the description that Fox Searchlight and Taika Waititi have decided to give to the 2019 Best Picture nominee Jojo Rabbit, and the reason Jojo Rabbit doesn’t work. Of all the politically charged, powerful films of the year, the academy has decided to back Taika Waititi in his stance against hate and Naziism, begging the question: is there a more lazy, commonly accepted political stance than being “anti-hate”? Jojo Rabbit finds itself backed into a corner because it’s alleged satire amounts to a collection of Hitler jokes and anti-semeitc babble that feels more fit for youtube sketch comedy than in a feature film. By framing itself as a valid critique of the Nazi party and blind fanaticism, Jojo Rabbit represents Taika Waititi’s bid for seriousness from a critical mass. But, to make that leap, it would be helpful if Waititi’s script contained more biting commentary than how funny Hitler’s mustache is or how antisemetic Nazis are.

From Writer-Director Taika Waititi comes Jojo Rabbit which follows the exploits of Nazi youth Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who’s life is turned upside down when he discover his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johanson), has been hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in their attic. Jojo, accompanied by his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler (Taika Waititi), must confront his prejudices and fears when his beliefs come into question as World War 2 draws to a close. Told from Jojo’s perspective, Jojo Rabbit has a surprising whimsical feel, as a coming of age story, which just so happens to take place in the Third Reich.

As a result of Jojo’s youth and inexperience, the juvenile nature of the film’s satire is often written off as an artistic choice, but such watered down comedic impotence feels hard to explain away. None of this is to say Jojo Rabbit is terrible; in its more dramatic moments, the film somewhat works, on the quality of exciting young performers and mature character actors. But for Jojo Rabbit to succeed, the comedy and drama elements must be working in complete harmony, complementing each other at every turn. Instead, what we are left with are broken, obvious, weak jokes demeaning actual dramatic tension.

With all of that said, the cast is, without a doubt, talented. Roman Griffin Davis delivers an impressive debut performance as Jojo, leaning into his character’s fanaticism as a cover for his fears and insecurities. Davis is in almost every single scene of Jojo Rabbit, carrying most of the film’s dramatic burden. In his scenes with Johanson in particular, the duo tap into a mother-son dynamic that easily serves as Jojo Rabbit’s best features. Through their debates over nationalism and youth, Jojo Rabbit reaches a level of dramatic quality that the rest of the film can’t match.

Jojo Rabbit’s best breakout young performer, however, is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa. In her role as Elsa, McKenzie must create a sense of maturity and youth, coupled with moments of intimidation and fear. McKenzie delicately executes the combination with skills beyond her years, nailing her opportunity to establish herself as a dramatic actress. Starring in Edgar Wright’s upcoming film Last Night In Soho, McKenzie should have a bright future ahead as she looks to establish herself as a dramatic force.

But all of these positives are completely undermined by Jojo Rabbit’s need to congratulate itself on its utter hilarity that doesn’t exist. As Hitler, Waititi has a strange vision of how to lampoon the one of the most vile figures in modern world history: by playing him as a charming buffoon with a penchant for self congratulation. Jojo Rabbit’s comedic faults, however, stretch far beyond Waititi’s performance, whether it be Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen portraying closeted gay Nazi officers, Rebel Wilson as a fanatical adherent to the Nazi cause or Stephen Merchant as a friendly Gestapo captain. Each of these characters are obvious iterations of the same joke which appears to just be: “Nazis. Hilarious.”

The only comedic element of Jojo Rabbit which succeeds is actually another child actor, Archie Yates as Jojo’s best friend, Yorki. Yates is able to slide by the film’s usually incapable critiques of Naziism through sheer charisma and chemistry with Davis. Yates’s success versus that of his older comically inclined peers also relies on Waititi’s natural ability to work with child actors and create effective performances.

But, for the sake of honesty, Jojo Rabbit is actually a difficult film to review, mainly because of all of the political implications attached. By critiquing something which literally positions itself as “anti-hate”, does a negative opinion somehow make me “pro-hate”? By disliking Waititi’s childish take on Naziism, am I really just playing into the trolling nature of the performance, or opening myself to the “childish perspective” comeback that Jojo Rabbit fans are equipped with?

In this way Jojo Rabbit has masterfully positioned itself against valid criticism. If you attack Waititi for his buffoonish performance as Hitler or complain about Jojo Rabbit’s soft, overly broad attempts at comedy, then the film’s defenders have free reign to criticize you for PC interpretations of artistic freedom or the youth of the film’s protagonist. I am of the belief that if we are to call something satire, it might be artistically viable to create something original, smart, and biting rather than just throwing out middle school quality comedic interpretations of difficult subjects. Maybe our films about somber issues should be somber or they run the risk of lazy oversimplification and demeaning the plights of others. But that is where film discourse has fallen, where disliking a film based on its own merit has to be misconstrued by the film’s fans as an indication of your political beliefs. 
Sure, Jojo Rabbit has cute kids and Hitler making funny faces, but that’s not satire. It’s just stupid.

Breeze Reviews: The Gentlemen

At the start of Guy Ritchie’s new film, “The Gentlemen,” Matthew McConaughey walks across a bar and orders a pint of beer. As he does this, “Cumberland Gap” by Dave Rawlings begins to play over a jukebox while he conveys his status as the leader of an illicit criminal kingdom, and, just like that, the viewer is enraptured. “The Gentlemen” may not be the kind of elevated prestige work that’s come out this past month, but from the opening frame, Ritchie knows exactly what he’s created: a transcendent crime thriller.

“The Gentlemen” follows the exploits of marijuana kingpin Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) and his assistant, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), as they attempt to sell off their drug empire to American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), avoid assaults by a rival drug boss, Dry Eye (Henry Golding), and attempt to outrun notorious private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant). As Ritchie’s triumphant return to the crime genre, “The Gentlemen” serves an example of the genre-bending excitement and eschewing of conventions that a master filmmaker can do when matched with a perfect cast.

McConaughey delivers a top tier performance as Pearson, playing into his public persona as a smooth-talking celebrity. As Pearson, McConaughey must radiate a sense of aristocratic control coupled with cold-blooded ruthlessness, conveying in every scene a feeling of invincibility. 

At times, McConaughey’s performance feels similar to his brief appearance in 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” or even his frequent Lincoln commercials as he swaggers through scenes and poetically compares himself to lions and kings. Since his role in “Interstellar” in 2014, McConaughey had been on a streak of average performances, buried in a collection of mediocre movies. With “The Gentlemen,” he’s able to recapture the charismatic energy that made him so famous.

Playing Ray, Hunnam’s performance is consistently in conversation with McConaughey’s domineering bravado. Hunnam has to be something much more restrained while still intimidating and overpowering his opponents. Hunnam succeeds in this by having an almost effortless chemistry with everyone on screen. In his scenes with Grant in particular, their sense of comic timing morphs “The Gentlemen” from a self-serious crime drama into a thrilling, original creation.

Grant as Fletcher is perfectly cast as a conceited, awkward private investigator with a flare for the dramatic. By framing Grant as the story’s primary narrator, Ritchie has found a way to harness Fletcher’s flamboyant, cinephile persona, creating a character right on the line between charm and annoyance. Grant makes the most of the role, playing into Fletcher’s eccentricities and serving as a great counterbalance to Ray’s reluctant silence.

But, like most of Ritchie’s early crime films, “The Gentlemen” has issues with poorly written female characters and glorification of hypermasculine violence. Though the role of Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), Mickey’s wife, is a step up from the nonexistent women of “Snatch,” her character serves as more of a hindrance than anything, obscuring Mickey’s pursuit. By Ritchie’s standards, “The Gentlemen” is also quite tame in terms of its violence, showing legitimate repercussions of death and, in one incredibly meta moment, commenting on an audience’s need for action and conflict.

The biggest flaw of “The Gentlemen” may actually be one of the performances: Strong as the American Businessman Berger. Strong heightens the character’s idiosyncrasies, attempting to lampoon the ultra-rich figures Berger represents, but his efforts are ultimately just distracting. Despite giving one of the best performances on television in HBO’s “Succession,” Strong is slightly miscast, weighing down his storyline and sidetracking the movie.

“The Gentlemen,” however, easily overcomes these issues based on Ritchie’s cinematic expertise. By coming back to the crime genre, Ritchie takes all of the innovative flare of “Snatch” and “RocknRolla” and combines it with a light, hilarious script for a near perfect product. With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie has crafted something that’s both shockingly meta and emotionally rewarding, experimenting with aspect ratios, freeze frames and story structure while never losing track of the film’s heart.
After a decade of franchise films like “Sherlock Holmes,” “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and “Aladdin,” Ritchie is back as one of the world’s premier crime filmmakers. With an ending that quite literally begs for a sequel, hopefully Ritchie will stick to what he does best.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood and the Problem With Movie Journalists

When Oscar nominations were announced, those who had not seen A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood were likely surprised to find Tom Hanks in the best supporting actor category. In the tradition of regular biopics, Hanks would feel like an awards favorite: a famed American actor playing a famed American figure, chewing up the scenery as he fights for what is right and just. But, in the end, Rogers was always a spiritual guide and every teacher needs a student through which to succeed. The possible saving grace and fatal flaw of A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is that very student: fictional movie journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).

From director Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood follows Vogel as he profiles famed children’s television personality Fred Rogers, while simultaneously raising a newborn son and coping with the emotional neglect of his own estranged father, Jerry (Chris Cooper). Based on an article by Esquire writer Tom Junod, Vogel is a slightly fictionalized figure who finds his life at a crossroads, just in time to learn a valuable lesson from America’s king of morality. Instead of a sweeping, grandiose biopic, Heller has opted to create something much smaller and quieter, creating a question of what could have been.

Profiling someone as iconically good natured as Fred Rogers is likely an impossible task. Heller has said often on the interview trail that portraying Fred Rogers requires a gateway, like Vogel, in order to understand Rogers’s essence without creating a false sense of conflict or grating kind of annoyance. By making this decision, Vogel’s story is clearly in the foreground, forcing the audience to graft their own experiences on his trauma and extrapolate their own thoughts and understanding of Rogers’s wisdom.

Thoroughly capturing an essence of goodness and morality, Hanks shines as Rogers by fully embracing his “America’s dad” persona, delivering one of the most self aware performances of 2019. While not undergoing any kind of physical transformation to match Rogers’s stature and voice, Hanks doesn’t have to rely on a cheap trick to evoke Fred Rogers’s pure nature. After years of building up positive social capital, Hanks clearly wants to engage with his movie star identity and status as the American ideal.

As Vogel, Rhys might be taking on the even more challenging role. While Hanks can rely on his evergreen public perception and Rogers’s mass of goodwill, Rhys has to create something entirely at odds with the Rogers personality, somewhat antagonizing Rogers and avoiding help at all turns. In this capacity, Rhys is admirable yet entirely predictable. By having to carry the movie, Rhys is in a near impossible position, attempting to stabilize his time on screen despite the clear fact that his energy is weaker than Hanks as Rogers.

Heller attempts to rectify this issue by relying rather heavily on Vogel’s father, Jerry Vogel. Cooper as Jerry Vogel continues his incredible streak as one of the most dependable character actors in Hollywood, delivering a charismatic yet vulnerable performance that saves the film from abject failure. Cooper and Rhys’s chemistry is effective as the sparring father-son duo, despite the occasional feeling of forced conflict and plot mechanics. Ultimately, both performances amount to something respectable, but make the film uneven. In each of their scenes, Rogers’s shadow hangs heavily over their interaction, as the film can never reach its true ceiling without him on screen.

That isn’t to say Heller’s choices aren’t stylistically intriguing. By using Rogers’s show as a framing device, Heller has found an unexpected, innovative way to tell a semi biographical story with slight elements of magical realism and fantasy. The film’s opening scene in particular is remarkably effective in establishing the whimsical tone and slightly unsettling nature of what Rogers brought to the world, highlighting his masterful use of directness and silence. But that structure only makes the viewer yearn for Rogers’s calming guidance even more, distracting and disengaging an audience even further from Vogel’s struggle.

Heller’s previous work with films Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? dealt in a similar emotional playground of familial dysfunction and regret, making her more than experienced with telling Vogel’s aspect of the story. The Vogel family’s scenes certainly aren’t bad, and at times Cooper even manages to transfix an audience by drunkenly stumbling through a wedding or crooning a Frank Sinatra song. But when a film chooses to use a journalist as a storytelling device through which to explore something of more public interest, there is a very delicate line to be walked. 2019’s Hustlers comes to mind as a film on the opposite end of the spectrum, who’s journalist figure, played by Julia Styles, impacted the film so minimally that her presence felt like a distracting gimmick. In A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, Heller creates something that is all gimmick. When Hanks is on screen, the trick works. When he isn’t, the movie can’t hang on.

Snatch and the Ballad of Guy Ritchie

There is a moment in Guy Ritchie’s 2000 crime film Snatch that ends with a disheveled, bearded Brad Pitt, staring at a flaming caravan with a look of broken shock on his face. Maybe the most beautiful image Ritchie has ever captured, the moment serves as a somber an example of how Snatch can transcend visual gimmickry and outlandish dialogue to become something more. While engaging with elements of farce that create a level of detachment, Snatch succeeds where other Ritchie films fail by going beyond surface delight to create a feeling of honest affection for its characters.

Snatch is a story of graft and deception in the British criminal underground, following the intertwining exploits of gangsters, thieves, and boxers as they dodge bullets and quest for the ultimate score. With a jarringly deep ensemble, Snatch is headlined by Jason Statham and Stephen Graham as the struggling underground boxing promoters Turkish and Tommy, Alan Ford as the ruthlessly intimidating gangster Brick Top, Denis Farina as the bumbling American jeweler Cousin Avi, and Brad Pitt as the charismatic gypsy boxer Mickey. 

Constantly interacting with crime genre conventions and Edgar Wright-esque visual comedy, Snatch stretches beyond its own confines, testing the limits of story structure and possibility. While Ritchie’s later films would be criticized as derivative or juvenile, Snatch rises above the pack with its masterful performance and visual innovation, making it Ritchie’s greatest film.

As Turkish, Statham may also be doing career best work, delivering something far different than the invincible hitmen characters that would later define his career in films like The Transporter, The Mechanic, or The Fast and The Furious franchise. Instead, Turkish is a more docile figure, constantly running up against his limitations, while struggling for survival in his cutthroat business. In his scenes with Tommy in particular, Statham walks a fine line between mocking intimidation and honest disorientation, always one step ahead of his associates and one stop behind his adversaries.  

Turkish’s greatest adversary is, of course, diminutive crime boss Brick Top, masterfully played by Alan Ford. Whether he is describing to small time crooks how pigs dismember a corpse or mercilessly murdering henchmen, Ford hangs onto something comedic while never becoming parody. Through all of the hijinx and one liners, Ford manages to create genuine fear of violence and destruction.

Farina’s performance is, in some ways, the inverse of Ford’s controlling facade. As Snatch’s comedic heart, Farina pushes his character’s absurdity to the brink, acting as a perfectly American fish out of water. One of the most prolific character actors of his time, Farina’s commitment to Cousin Avi’s eccentricities adds a level of professionalism and delight to Snatch’s aesthetic, raising the comedic ability of every character around him.

Snatch’s premier performance and lasting cultural imprint, however, belongs to Brad Pitt’s incomprehensible performance as Mickey. Sporting one of the most bizarre accents in movie history, Pitt appears to be having the time of his life, weaving through gypsy campsites, chewing up the scenery, and knocking out every opponent with a single punch. Pitt’s incredible physicality owns the film, particularly in his boxing scenes, as he emits a ring presence of pure invincibility. Despite his limited screen time, Pitt still dominates the film’s place in the culture with one of the strangest and most inspired choices of his whole career.

But like all Guy Ritchie films, Snatch comes with its own flaws of story logic and underdeveloped female characters. Such complaints come with the territory in Ritchie’s early movies, before he transitioned into subpar franchise work with Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Alladin. Through Ritchie’s fixation on sight gags and violent machismo, his films have a tendency to lack the necessary heart required to deliver on their promise. Moments like Mickey’s emotional breakdown are noticeably absent in Ritchie’s other films, cheapening his characters and withdrawing an audience’s emotional investment in a story.

Yet, Snatch stands on its own as an inventive achievement. Working with peak control, Ritchie can turn moments like routine car chases into chronology bending exercises in hilarity, at the drop of a hat. At his best, Ritchie has always been able to electrify audiences with spectacle even when the substance comes up short. In the case of Snatch, the trick works because a viewer can sense Ritchie’s true affection for his characters and his sense of their hubris and ridiculousness.

With The Gentlemen premiering this week, Ritchie appears to be taking a break from his big tentpole franchise work to return to his British crime roots. Whether The Gentlemen works or not, only time will tell, but viewers can know one thing for certain: they will be entertained.

Bombshell Comes Up Short

How do you make a movie with Donald Trump as a character? With all of the divisiveness and conflicting emotions his presence creates in American society, how can a movie find a way to incorporate his presence without seeming overbearing or ridiculous? Bombshell, the recently released docudrama telling the tales of sexual harassment at Fox News, has an answer, but probably not the right one. By engaging with Trump’s 2016 phenomenon status and his very public feud with Megyn Kelley, Bombshell diverges from the story it wants to tell in order to portray something more tabloid friendly than workplace sexual abuse, and as a result, squanders an important opportunity.

From famed comedy director Jay Roach, Bombshell follows three female employees at Fox News as they deal with their traumatic, hostile work environment, spearheaded by Roger Ailes (Jon Lithgow). What makes Bombshell especially meta is the public persona of those three employees: Megyn Kelley (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and a composite character fighting for airtime named Kayla (Margot Robbie). While simultaneously interacting with the warring factions of conservative politics, issues of workplace sexual harassment, and gender-based power dynamics, Bombshell has a heavy load to carry. Kelley and Carlson are such massive figures looming over the American consciousness that telling their story requires a level of craft and understanding that Bombshell can never quite reach.

Theron as Megyn Kelley is the one mind boggling takeaway for viewers. At times approaching the uncanny valley, Theron captures Kelley’s essence, appearance, and voice so effectively, her scenes on the Fox News set feel almost like archive footage. With all of the conflicting public perception wrapped in Megyn Kelley’s persona, Theron surprisingly opts to play the character with immense compassion and understanding. Particularly in her scenes with her husband, Doug (Mark Duplass), Theron’s performance is remarkably warm despite the robotic nature of her delivery, creating a full character rather than an impersonation. Kelley has somewhat faded from stardom since her dispute with Trump and leaving Fox, yet seeing Theron on screen serves as a reminder of Kelley’s recent status as a media powerbroker and liberal punching bag.

Acting almost as if in a different film, Kidman does her best as Carlson, trying, but never quite succeeding, to give the character some dimension. As the person initiating the Ailes lawsuit which drives the story, Carlson should be front and center in Bombshell’s story, but her isolation, away from the Fox News offices limits her effectiveness. When the film really shines, it is thoroughly embedded in the goings on of Fox News, investigating the social conventions and power structure of the most watched news service in the world. Outside of that, Bombshell can’t maintain the same level of interest, making Carlson feel somewhat marginalized, as Kidman constantly hits the ceiling of what she can do with this character.

The best performance of Bombshell, however, belongs to Margot Robbie, as the curious conservative up and comer, Kayla. Because Kayla is fictionalized, Robbie has more creative freedom than Bombshell’s other characters and it shows in her dynamic ability to dominate moments. Her scenes with Lithgow are clearly Bombshell’s best, conveying a sense of fear and discomfort that the rest of the movie reaches for but never quite grasps. With her performances in Bombshell and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, 2019 was quite a year for Robbie, channeling her innate charismatic goodness that consistently lights up the screen. This February, Robbie returns to her role as Harley Quinn in a standalone project, Birds of Prey, meaning her movie star status can only keep rising from here.

But despite all of these quality performances, Bombshell lacks the cohesion it needs to be truly effective. With great parts, the film is not yet whole or ready to be understood. Partially, that’s because the film feels like three stories in one, with Kelley and Trump’s conflict clearly shoehorned in for public interest. That dispute is a clearly fascinating story, but when Bombshell explores it, the movie loses the momentum it was attempting to build through Robbie’s character.

The fact Jay Roach decided to tackle this controversial topic is quite interesting in and of itself. Far from his comedy background with such hits as Meet the Parents and the Austin Powers franchise, Roach has transitioned into a highly successful navigator of American politics. Whether it be Game ChangeTrumbo, or even the outrageous satire of The Campaign, Roach has clearly attached himself to this narrativizing of recent politics that feels both new and old fashioned. Far closer to something like Vice than it is to All the President’s Men, Roach is still asking hard political questions and attempting to reckon with what America has become.

Yet, there is always something missing in Bombshell that Roach can never quite find. In total Bombshell feels like a mediocre film with two or three great films trapped inside of it, attempting to break out. Also portrayed in 2019 by Russell Crowe in The Loudest Voice, the activities of Fox News remain a captivating, elusive subject for American audiences. As more and more attempts of this kind are created, one can’t help but wonder if Fox News and its intricacies can ever effectively be captured on screen. A fascinating behemoth of American discourse, Fox News is certainly an interesting place to tell a story, but viewers and creators will always approach the topic with their own beliefs wearing down any ability to evaluate the portrayal on its own merits. Something like Succession feels so much freer than the restraints of Bombshell, as the show creates its own Murdoch-esque family and is not required to play in the confines of reality. Sure, Theron looks identical to Kelley and Lithgow makes for a convincing Ailes, but look-a-likes alone are not a compelling enough reason to tell this story. At its heart Bombshell is about something terrible and tragic, as a man who openly abused women was allowed to basically control American political discussion. I only wish the film was as interested in that story as I am.

Breeze Reviews: Bad Boys For Life

For a brief 10-second-long clip in Bad Boys For Life, an unnamed character steps to the center of a wedding reception to introduce famed Miami detective Mike Lowery (Will Smith). 

That character, listed on IMDB as “Wedding MC,” is none other than the explosive, juvenile mastermind and vulgar auteur himself, Michael Bay. 

The original 1995 Bad Boys was Bay’s first feature, launching his career as Hollywood’s premiere chaos artist and establishing Smith as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Though Bay didn’t direct this particular film in the Bad Boys franchise, his shadow looms heavily over the movie, as the characters he made famous enter a more mature phase in their life and ponder whether it’s time to hang up their badges and opt for retirement.

Bad Boys For Life reunites the iconic law enforcement duo of Smith and Martin Lawrence, who plays the fumbling family man, Marcus Burnett. Taking place 25 years after the original, Bad Boys For Life follows Lowrey and Burnett as they attempt to track down a ruthless assassin while reckoning with their own destructive pasts. As Marcus even says in the film, “All our lives, we’ve been bad boys. Now, it’s time to be good men.”

Bay’s influence, however, remains inescapable. Bay’s original Bad Boys films were both jaw-dropping displays of violence and excess yet lacked any kind of logic or coherence, while Bad Boys For Life feels much more polished. Unlike any Bad Boys film previously, Bad Boys For Life appears to have a legitimately effective script, driving home thematic ideas and finishing character arcs. Even the comedy, while still lowbrow, feels upgraded in this film, as Lawrence and Smith trade their immature squabbling over flatulence and genitalia for jokes based more on their present circumstance and situational comedy.

For Smith, the film finishes off a long stretch of big budget commercial films like Aladdin, Gemini Man and Spies in Disguise. Far from his status as one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Smith appears to be increasingly strategic in selecting his work as a means for lasting relevance, and with 2020’s King Richard, Smith will be dipping his toe back into prestige work, portraying the domineering Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams. 

Smith’s performance is consistently in conversation with his age, as Lowery must come to grips with the fact that his days as a playboy supercop may be coming to an end. Smith plays the character with his signature brashness and physicality, delivering arguably his best performance within the last five years. Whether it be in moments of high comedy or a surprisingly sincere meeting with his police captain, Howard (Joe Pantoliano), Smith appears to be benefiting from the film’s slightly elevated material.

Of the duo, however, Lawrence certainly delivers the most unexpected performance. Usually pawned off for comic relief in the first two films, Lawrence is actually required to carry the dramatic load in Bad Boys For Life as he attempts to break away from a history of violence and find religion. Lawrence’s performance is still thoroughly comedic — particularly in a wonderfully outlandish airplane conversation between him and Smith — but the extra sense of gravity and seriousness required for the film lifts Lawrence’s performance above his previous work in the franchise.

For the supporting cast, Lawrence and Smith are flanked by a collection of younger, technology-focused officers attempting to usurp their role. Of the group, Vanessa Hudgens is probably the most recognizable, giving a largely forgettable performance but never exactly weighing the film down. The only other cast member who truly shines is Joe Pantoliano, reprising his put-upon captain role. As a thoroughly accomplished, scene-stealing character actor, Pantoliano’s talents are on display as he attempts to take on a mentor role and protect those around him while still bringing his zanier brand of anger from the previous films.

With all that said, Bad Boys For Life appears to be missing the rugged insanity that made the first two films so iconic. By giving the film an actual plot, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have somewhat backed themselves into a corner in comparison to Bay’s wide open, explosion-every-second pace. As a result, the film’s final hour feels a bit weighed down by rather blatant plot mechanics and an unnecessary dive into Lowrey’s backstory. Part of the appeal of Bad Boys was always its blatant stupidity and eschewing of reality to create the maximum amount of destruction.

Yet, without a doubt, Bad Boys For Life feels like it has something to say, as opposed to the utter nihilism and glorification of police brutality Bay loves to indulge in. Given that January is usually a notorious dumping ground for cinematic disasters and low budget genre, the fact that Bad Boys For Life is delivers an exciting, big budget theater experience comes as a pleasant surprise, providing the kind of escapist entertainment many audiences crave. With a fourth film already in production, hopefully Bad Boys can maintain this level of excitement.

Little Women Moves and Astonishes Audiences

“I can’t afford to starve on praise.” – Jo March

In the first scene of Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Little Women, famed literary protagonist and icon of independence, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) sells out. As she pleads with her publisher, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts) for her own interpretation, Dashwood shoots back, “Morals don’t sell nowadays.” Faced with a decision between artistic integrity and financial stability, Jo folds. And just like that, capitalism and art clash, setting the tone for Gerwig’s beautiful cinematic achievement. Gerwig continuously asks an audience what the literal cost of ambition is and how does one generate the means to pay for it.

But Like Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, a simple definition of a singular theme only pins down Little Women’s jaw dropping versatility and intelligence. In a film preoccupied with economics, Gerwig’s script beautifully navigates through questions of love, family, art, and desire, all the while reminding the viewer of the price inherent in each.

Little Women is the seventh film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s civil war era novel which follows the March sisters, Jo, Beth, Meg, and Amy, as the journey through their adventures in adolescence, transitioning towards adulthood. Each with their own distinct wants, talents, and flaws, the four sisters must reckon with the inevitable collision of fantasy and reality, dreams and societal expectations.

Little Women boasts one the best casts of 2019, loaded with young superstars like Saoirse Ronan, TImothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh, and Emma Watson, and established icons like Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Chris Cooper. With so many gifted performers all mastering their roles, it is difficult to praise any individual one without fear of omission.

Reteaming with Gerwig, Ronan captures the kinetic excitement and innate dynamism that made her Lady Bird character so special. As Jo, Ronan embodies artistic ambition and fiery independence, while subtly conveying hints of angst riddled loneliness that grants the character multiple dimensions. With 4 career Oscar nominations at the age of 25, Ronan is the kind of actress who inspires the lofty career expectations of a Meryl Streep, while still remaining in touch with a young, underdog quality.

In praising Ronan, one can’t help but point out her exceptional chemistry with co-star Timotheé Chalamet, as Jo’s neighbor and potential love interest Laurie. When the two actors share the screen, the film reaches a different level of excitement, whether they be dancing outside of a formal ball or running along a beach, delivering a kind of intangible energy that only movie stars can create. Chalamet hasn’t exactly had a great run after his 2017 breakouts in Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird, but here is truly transcendent. When watching his performance, Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in Titanic comes to mind as an interesting parallel; both find a way to transform period pieces with their energetically modern flare, simultaneously swallowing up scenery and raising the level of the actors around them.

The film’s third standout talent is Florence Pugh’s performance as Amy, giving a dominating, surprisingly agile performance. Pugh’s ability to portray Amy’s transition from adolescence to adulthood across Little Women’s complicated chronology borders on staggering, as she creates a portrait of a full character living a full life. Amy is Little Women’s most challenging role, as she is required to create empathy and understanding with an audience while simultaneously staying direct and firm in her frequent antagonizing of the film’s heroes. With the help of Gerwig’s compassionate screenplay, Pugh walks this delicate balance, battling to validate her own ambitions and escape her sister’s shadow.

Gerwig’s examination of character detail and struggle, however, extends far beyond her leads. Whether it be Chris Cooper as the endlessly heartfelt Mr. Laurence or Emma Watson coping with her own class anxieties as Meg, Gerwig clearly cares about every aspect of her characters and all of their intricacies. Despite being snubbed a Best Director nomination, Gerwig is one of the best up and coming filmmakers alive. With only two features under her belt, she has proven her deft ability to create art that feels purposeful and truly earnest.

Gerwig’s talent for creating visuals also can’t be overlooked, as in scene after scene, she delivers cinematic flourishes that push the film past staid period piece fare and towards a modern interest in possibility. By having her characters deliver Alcott’s iconic dialogue in chaotic, Altman-esque fashion, Gerwig has allowed Little Women to transcend time, capturing all of the frenzied elation that makes the March family so enticing.

Through all of these thrills, Little Women still seamlessly weaves the motif of wealth and female economic empowerment throughout the film, always with passion and never overbearing. Gerwig’s talent at this stage in her career seems boundless, particularly given her attention to minute detail. In scenes of Jo dedicating herself to her writing, the audience engages with the action as well, cheering as if witnessing a sporting event, marveling as Jo switches the pen between her inked stained hands, powering through sleeplessness to tell her story. Little Women may be a film about money, but Gerwig’s capturing of that unbridled love for family, art, and creation will always be the film’s heart, making Little Women the most triumphant film of 2019.