Film Review “House of Gucci”

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino
Distributed by: United Artists Releasing
Running time: 157 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

At the ripe age of 83, Ridley Scott has delivered us with *two* star-studded dramas this fall alone. For every The Counselor the man has made, he is undeniably the gift that keeps on giving with big budget, adult dramas. And House of Gucci is no exception to that pitch – from Lady Gaga to Jeremy Irons to Adam Driver to Al Pacino and even Jared Leto, the film has an absolutely stacked cast. The film follows Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) as she marries Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and into the Gucci family name. From the get-go, the marriage is full of drama, resentment, and disapproval from all corners of the Gucci family and business. This ultimately leads to a lot of betrayal and revenge as the family and dynasty collapses upon itself.

I went into House of Gucci with pretty high expectations. Despite Scott cranking out some duds over the last few years, The Martian and The Last Duel both gave me some hope for his work moving forward as they were immensely solid dramas. However, despite the film featuring an absolutely incredible cast and a lot of potential for meaty, hard-hitting drama – it mostly results to lightly entertaining, campy story-telling. It’s not to say that House of Gucci is necessarily a bad film, because it isn’t. It just feels like it has so many opportunities to be better than it is at nearly every turn, and it succumbs to being “decent and entertaining enough” for a majority of its running time.

One thing that I can’t fault the film for are the performances. Despite the story and script not coming together as much as I feel like it should have, the entire cast really comes to play here. Just like she did in 2018’s A Star is Born, Lady Gaga absolutely steals the show here with a harrowing and viciously entertaining performance that rides the line of just being sympathetic enough before it excuses what her character does. Adam Driver, Al Pacino, and Jeremy Irons also all do really solid work here as well, and work even better when they’re acting alongside one another. The only performance I’m a bit mixed on is Jared Leto, who is under some HEAVY makeup and prosthetics. There were points where I laughed at his performance and found it to be effectively amusing in a way that feels intentional. However, I feel like the film too often tries to make you feel for the character while at the same time it makes him out to be an absolute imbecile to say the least. I’m curious if a rewatch changes this for me.

Another complaint I have is that the film runs on a hefty 158 minute running time. Running times usually aren’t an issue for me if the film justifies the length with proper storytelling, but House of Gucci feels ridiculously overlong even by the halfway point. Even with that being said, the film gets by on having a superb cast that elevate the material and Ridley Scott does a decent job at making it entertaining. The story just feels a bit unfocused and there is really no urgency to the plot progression. It’s fine in the moment, but I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in how it feels like it could’ve been better. 

Film Review “Licorice Pizza”

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie
Distributed by
United Artists Releasing
Running time: 133 minutes

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Set in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1970s, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Licorice Pizza is so evidently a love letter to the Hollywood time period that Anderson grew up in. The film follows Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is a charismatic child actor… except he’s now 15, and is slowly losing his childlike edge and looks that got him cast in the first place. Then during picture day at his high school he meets Alana (Alana Haim), an older girl who seems to be a bit aimless in life, by bouncing from job to job and desperately trying to get out of the town she grew up in. Gary quickly falls head over heels in love with Alana, before she quickly humbles him into realizing the age difference between the two. The rest of the film delicately explores a “will they, won’t they, should they?” dynamic that is coded in angst, heartache, and wildly entertaining misadventures.

Just to put my cards on the table right off the bat, Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working director today and maybe even of all-time. The man has simply never made anything that hasn’t been an absolute masterpiece in my eyes. So with all of that being said, I was immediately fascinated to hear that his newest film was going to be a coming of age movie.. especially considering his last film was about an egocentric fashion designer in London. And now that I’ve seen it, I can honestly say it’s the type of movie that reminds you why you love movies. Every single second of this film is so infectiously charming and entertaining, all the while being matched with the absolutely insane talent and craft that Paul Thomas Anderson always brings to the table as a director. From amazing tracking shots to lush cinematography and an expertly used soundtrack, this is a film that’s as equally entertaining as it is technically perfected. 

Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim both give extraordinary performances here, especially considering it’s both of their feature-film debuts. But it’s when they share the screen together and the chemistry simply oozes off the screen. Every moment they spend together, whether it’s getting into trouble together or sharing an intimate conversation with each other, is absolute cinematic magic and reminds you how infectious it is to watch two amazing performers simply work off of one another. There is a whole star-studded supporting cast featured here as well, from Tom Waitts to Sean Penn to Benny Safdie – but Bradley Cooper also nearly steals the whole show with his brief appearance that had me laughing so hard that I cried. 

The film pulls off an incredibly impressive balancing act that works as both a love letter to this certain point in time for Hollywood as well as an extremely tender and emotional coming of age story. I usually think being “accessible” to modern audiences is a bit of an overrated idea, but I think Paul Thomas Anderson truly found a sweet spot with Licorice Pizza, a film that plays so well with an audience but will be an absolute critical and awards darling this time next year. Far and away one of, if not my absolute favorite film of the year so far. 

Nintendo Switch Game Review “Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl”

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

In what feels like a weird (yet delightful) mishmash of Super Smash Bros meets Nicktoons Unite comes Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl which is… pretty self explanatory, actually! For no narrative reason, all your favorite Nicktoons, both new and old, are pitted against each other for some good ol’ fighting. There’s really no build-up to these fights or trajectory of difficulty that I could gather while playing the game, but just a lot of fun to be had from having Spongebob smack Nigel Thornberry off a building. Sometimes simplicity truly goes a long way! 


There isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to the fighting locations and the characters are limited to headliners such as Spongebob, Patrick Star, Aang, Reptar (my personal favorite character to play as) etc – but the game does a good job at utilizing each character as you play as them and giving them unique fighting moves that are specific to their characters. I can’t properly articulate how delightful it is to play as Reptar and shoot fireballs at a character like Danny Phantom or Catdog. 


The game doesn’t try to do anything too visually impressive in terms of scope or even just character designs, but honestly, considering that the game is going for nothing more than a nostalgic, Nickelodeon arcade riff on Super Smash, Tekken, Mortal Kombat, etc. it makes sense to keep everything simplistic and not overextend the concept further than it has to go. 


Even with that being said, and how I think the game is a whole lot of fun within the context of what it is – there is a certain ceiling for this game and it isn’t super high by design. Yes, it is really fun to play as these characters and see these wacky character meetups – but there isn’t much more under the surface to make you wanna pick up your Switch to play it again over something else. Once you’ve finished a majority of the fights, played as a majority of the characters, and unlocked some of the secret extras, it might just have you moving on to the next game instead of playing through for a second or third time.


It all depends on what you’re expecting from your brawl games. If you want nothing more than recognizable characters from your childhood to pit against each other, you’ll have a good time and it’ll be a fun addition to your collection. Just don’t expect anything much more than the general concept you’re being sold.

Film Review “No Time To Die”

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Distributed by
United Artists Releasing
Running time: 163 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

James Bond has been played by several different actors and has been on 25+ on-screen adventures in the course of nearly 60 years, but it has never once felt like his story had closure. Most of the time, actors come and go from the role because that’s the idea of the character – that the story and adventure never ends. No Time to Die shakes things up a bit by definitively putting a cap on Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond and delivering a true finale for a full circle, five-film arc.

The film opens pretty soon after Spectre, with Bond enjoying retirement with Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux) and trying to keep a low profile. But after a riveting action sequence that pulls them back into the action, the film makes a pretty significant time jump that not only seasons Bond even further but makes the world around him change more than he ever expected. The biggest changes are that of the mantle of 007 being taken up by Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and a new villain arising with Safin (Rami Malek) with ties to both James and Madeleine’s past.

I’ve seen every single James Bond film ever produced and particularly have grown up watching Daniel Craig’s ventures since I was pretty young, so perhaps I’m biased when saying that I think he is the quintessential Bond in my eyes. From the genuine grit behind his action to the way he knows not only what to say but how to say it in the most suave way possible – it just doesn’t get better than him, in my opinion; and Craig gives perhaps his best performance as Bond here in his final outing. Yes, he’s delivering one-liners and punching the baddies like there’s no tomorrow, but there’s sincere emotion and nuance in his performance this time around that makes for what is easily the most emotional James Bond movie to date.

Cary Joji Fukunaga takes over directing duties this time around, and it absolutely shows. You can always count on the 007 franchise to deliver top notch action, but Fukunaga goes the extra mile to adding some truly impressive one-shots in there and matches it with absolutely gorgeous cinematography – perhaps the best looking James Bond film, aside from Skyfall? However, it’s evident that the reason why Fukunaga was the guy for the job is how he blends classical spy elements into the story while also balancing really solid character work and a true send off for Bond.

At 163 minutes, No Time to Die spares no expense when it comes to telling its story with various locations and a vast array of characters. While I greatly enjoyed the film, I do think it would have benefitted from a bit of a tighter edit at the end of the day. My only other real gripe here is that I thought Rami Malek’s villain, Savin, was somehow undercooked by the end despite such a long running time. It’s hard to elaborate on why he’s disappointing without diving into spoilers, but it feels like there’s a lot of setup for him and not a ton of payoff for the actual character and his motives.

Even with those gripes in mind, they really feel miniscule when everything is said and done – because what the film needs to get right, it absolutely nails with immense class and bravado for Craig’s final bow. After years of being delayed, the film does not disappoint in the slightest and somehow feels like both the most genuinely big blockbuster we’ve gotten in almost two-years as well as the most ideal and emotional final chapter you could ask for when it comes to that of James Bond.

4K UHD / Blu-Ray Review “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Frank Grillo, Richard E. Grant, Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Running time: 100 minutes

Film – 3 out of 5 stars
Blu-Ray – 4 out of 5 stars

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is the sequel to the 2017 film The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which was surprisingly a ton of fun due to its fun action sequences and great chemistry with its cast. While the sequel doesn’t necessarily do anything radically different with the formula and it doesn’t quite hit the same heights of entertainment value as the original, it still remains an entertaining time due to the talent and comradery between everyone involved. 


That being said, one thing the film does consistently well is balancing the comedy with action, and with an action-packed movie like The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard it’s imperative that the picture and sound quality on the 4K Blu-Ray is up to standard. Sometimes the color grading with these things can feel a bit off or even the great surround sound of the theatrical experience doesn’t transfer over properly, but in the case of this film, I actually think this is one of the rare ones that surpasses the theatrical experience and adds greater colors/sounds to the mix.


As I previously stated, this film is action-packed so there’s plenty of moments where explosions go off and the characters are caught in the middle of gunfire. All of these moments pop very nicely and genuinely wowed me at points. But the aspect of the Blu-Ray that I was the most impressed by was the audio. The conversion here is so amazing and dynamic that it gave me a newfound appreciation for the sound design in this movie. From the gunfire to the way the music is stitched into the narrative, it’s wildly impressive and this Blu-Ray just elevates it greatly.


Even though the Blu-Ray surpassed my expectations in terms of presentation, I wouldn’t put this up with some of the finest films I’ve watched on the format like Blade Runner 2049 or 2001: A Space Odyssey – but… obviously it was never going to! The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is genuinely just a ton of fun to watch and played greatly on a rewatch for me, and the quality here genuinely did a lot to elevate the experience. It’s well worth adding to your collection!