Movie Review of Waves

As one of the latest films to come out of the very young and already flourishing A24 entertainment company, Waves tells the story of a south Florida suburban family and their intense, emotional journey they find themselves on. Along the way, the perils of drugs, neglect, domestic strife, perfectionism, jealousy, and loss all make their moves against this family who knows personally what it means to succeed and work hard as a Black family in modern America. 

Watch It: If you enjoy films that experiment with an unconventional story structure, a pulsating soundtrack that is front and center, aesthetic cinematography, and Booksmart but from an intense, poignant, and Black perspective. 

Skip It: If you want a story that has a through line of clarity, is structured more conventionally, and has elements of comedy. 

After knowing that Waves had received early buzz from festivals and famous review sites, this was one I knew I’d need to check out. And in the first two acts of the film, it does not disappoint. Having a slight bias towards films where the score or soundtrack is heavily emphasized, Waves was a pleasant surprise in that department. The film follows two high-school aged siblings, and with the pounding soundtrack throughout, in this way it’s reminiscent of this year’s earlier high school comedic entry, Booksmart. 

ocean under cloudy sky

Along with the music, both the performances and cinematography are excellent. Specifically, Kelvin Harrison as Tyler, a high school senior, Taylor Russell as Emily, Tyler’s younger sister, and Sterling K. Brown as Ronald Williams, Tyler and Emily’s father give all-out performances filled with grit, emotion, and passion. There are also great angles and beautiful images cinematically of southern Florida to add an aesthetic enjoyment to the viewing. 

Unfortunately, Waves subsides when it passes its crest at the end of the second act. This is, in fact, putting it lightly. Due to a flawed story, the film essentially contains two narratives. When the second act ends, a new story begins in the third act. In this sense, Waves fits the rare case where playing it structurally safe would’ve served the film better. As a result, and though filled with great performances, I felt completely distanced from the remaining 40 to 45 minutes. 

Were the makers aware of such a well-executed film? Of course, as it was undoubtedly their intention. Yet Waves, nonetheless won’t win over everyone, as it didn’t quite win me over. I would recommend the film, but mostly due to intrigue and curiosity as to how a viewer would receive it. Waves doesn’t quite make the splash I was hoping for, but as something acceptable still worth checking out. 

Zimm Score: 6.2/10 

Movie Review of Marriage Story

Now streaming on Netflix and playing in pretty limited theaters is Marriage Story, a comedy-drama that’s written and directed by Noah Baumbach. Having received wide critical acclaim up to this point, it tells the story of a married couple, played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, going through a coast-to-coast divorce. Added to this long-distance difficulty is the negotiating of time each one spends with their young son, Henry, played by Azhy Robertson. 

Watch It: If you want to absorb a well-written, well-acted divorce dramedy that’s compassionate throughout, gripping, humorous, and poignant. 

Skip It: Really, there’s no reason to skip this film other than the film genre not at all being of interest. There are no guns, no ghosts, and no goblins. 

Marriage Story I will say up front is the best film of the year, and perhaps the best dramedy I’ve seen to date. While in the past I’ve mentioned how filmmakers seem challenged to seamlessly blend comedy and drama together, Baumbach took up this challenge and passed with flying colors. The film is both moving and humorous, and yet the screenplay works beautifully to not jolt us from one emotion to another like too many films have from one scene to the next. 

city buildings and trees during golden hour

This is what makes the script so fantastic. That and one of the main tenets for a great script being ample research, in this case coming from at least the memory of the director’s life. Baumbach has both been through his own divorce, as well as experiencing the divorce of his own parents. Though additional research and imagination undoubtedly was done, his own memory surely fuels the script with realism and a level of sympathy that a viewer may never have experienced before with a film.

To make the job easier for Baumbach, he had two of the finest young actors living today to carry an already believable and moving script. Adam Driver, playing husband Charlie Barber, and Scarlett Johansson, playing wife Nicole Barber are matched so well together and give performances that are no less skillful than their opposite. One of the scenes is one in which I can easily imagine on the big screen at the Oscars, when we see a brief clip of each nominated actor performing, before it’s announced who has won.  

time square in new york

It’s the supporting cast, however, that could have deterred the film from being outstanding. Fortunately, veteran actors Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, and Julie Hagerty respectively fill each of their roles perfectly, rounding out a superb cast for a well-rounded story. Additionally, young child actor Azhy Robertson has been guided by Baumbach to fill a child’s personality well that’s akin, presumably, to Robertson’s own personality, making for a much-believed portrayal. 

With Marriage Story, I’m reminded of how well I received another masterpiece last year on Netflix, Roma. This year, however, two knockouts are streaming on the leading service: The Irishman and Marriage Story. With still many well-received films left for release this year, these two films will still be up against some worthy competition. Thus far, however, Marriage Story stands as the best film of the year. 

Zimm Score: 10/10

Movie Reviews of Honey Boy and The Report

Honey Boy

In his first feature film as screenwriter, Shia LaBeouf also stars this year in the drama and somewhat autobiographical film, Honey Boy. Along with LaBeouf, director Alma Har’el in her directorial debut tells the story of a child star (played by Noah Jupe) attempting to mend his relationship with his law-breaking, alcohol-abusing father (LaBeouf) over the course of a decade. It’s loosely based on Shia LaBeouf’s life, who actually wrote the script as a form of therapy while in rehab. 

Watch It: If you want to see a unique and personal perspective on a damaged childhood in a more serious drama. 

Skip It: If you expect to have comedy and a standard film length. (I was surprised when the film cut to credits at an hour and 25 minutes.) 

Honey Boy has much within its short runtime to be commended. LaBeouf, for writing his first feature, has crafted a script that is raw, where we believe much of what is said, truly coming from memory and out of the struggles he had while in rehab. Though he uses conventional devices that fit a coming-of-age story, they feel seamless to the story, running along a smooth continuity. 

adventure architecture building city

Honey Boy suffers a bit in the form of its runtime though, in fact. While 85 minutes has nothing to do with the critique (plenty of masterpieces have had this short of a runtime), this live action film never felt quite fully-formed. With hindsight, the events that occur near the end of the film didn’t feel as though we were nearing the end. There is an ending, no doubt. Yet the ending doesn’t feel all too climactic. Many, like myself, may be a bit stunned when the credits roll. 

This aside, Honey Boy also boasts a beautiful film score and superb acting. Shia LaBeouf, essentially playing his father, Noah Jupe, playing a fictional LaBeouf around age 12, and Lucas Hedges, playing a fictional LaBeouf around 22, all deliver gripping and poignant performances, performances that will leave most of us sympathetic towards LaBeouf’s childhood. Through seeing the film, LaBeouf’s father is now on somewhat better terms with his son. That’s enough to recommend a viewing of Honey Boy. 

Zimm Score: 7.3/10 

The Report

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, The Report is a journalistic docudrama that follows staffer Daniel Jones (played by the busy Adam Driver) and the Senate Intelligence Committee as they investigate the CIA’s use of torture following the September 11 attacks. As the plot develops, so does the 6,700-page report that Jones compiled during the investigation. 

Watch It: If you want to catch a drama that seeks accuracy and you’re a fan of the public policy setting in films, this as a journalistic film on the level of Spotlight. 

Skip It: If you don’t want to witness the enhanced investigation techniques (EIT) used against Arab detainees. The film skillfully uses both dialogue and visuals in tandem to display the torture these men experienced. 

architecture building capitol dawn

2019, at least in comparison to last year, has offered a plethora of quite remarkable films. The Report is yet another that joins this company. Many have stated how crowded the awards season will be, without enough room for these great films. This docudrama places actor Adam Driver in top-notch form, as passion increases throughout the film inside of his real-life character with everything he uncovers. 

The work behind the camera by director Scott Z. Burns displays surprisingly aesthetic shots of quite ordinary and somewhat dated buildings that exist in the nation’s capital. Accomplished actress Annette Bening also gives a believable and polished portrayal of Senator Dianne Feinstein, as she supervises the work (and emotions) of staffer Daniel Jones. 

The Report gets a big recommendation from me if you’ve noticed it on Amazon but haven’t been sure if you want to check it out. Though the dialogue at times may be a bit on-the-nose and the plot line loses a bit of momentum in the second half, there’s a moving finale that will bring some to tears, a film score well-attuned to each scene, and a remarkable delivery by Adam Driver in the lead role. The Report rightfully sheds light on a fearful and panicked time in America’s history that we’ll be the better for by understanding more acutely. 

Zimm Score: 8.4/10 

Movie Review of The Irishman

The Irishman, streaming on Netflix Wednesday and showing in limited theaters the past few weeks, is a crime film made on an epic scale by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese. During its mammoth runtime at 200-plus minutes, The Irishman tells the story of Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman for mobster Russell Bufalino (played by Joe Pesci) and his crime family. Soon, Sheeran becomes the main bodyguard for Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino), the president of one of the largest labor unions in the country.

Watch It: If you want a well-written film with humor at times, outstanding acting, beautiful cinematography, and stories with a slow burn.

Skip It: If you prefer standard-length films, loads of action, bloodless scenes, and films where the musical score plays front and center.

Paying attention to the buzz this film has received as the frontrunner for Best Picture this late in the year, I knew I should try catching The Irishman on the big screen, the way Scorsese intends all of his films to be seen. After 200 minutes of viewing, I didn’t leave thinking I really liked it in the way I like the excitement I just had after going to Disneyland. Rather, I knew I had seen a near-masterpiece, as every passing hour afterwards warmed me up more to what I had just seen.

De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci arguably put in some of the best performances of their careers. Is that saying a lot? Yes. And though all three put in such remarkable performances, it’s Pacino in the lead supporting role that was most outstanding, playing Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino steals whatever scene he’s in with vigor, grit, and his character’s naivety.

Also, because of the film’s mammoth runtime, I was worried that the screenplay would play either too cluttered or too directionless. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and Moneyball) has delivered not only a well-structured script at over 200 minutes, but well-written dialogue filled with realism, research, and humor. Meanwhile, there’s a slow burn imbedded within that some of us viewers won’t notice until the film is nearly over.

man sits on wheelchair

My one critique in terms of the writing is that the film does feel its length. A viewer next to me sadly fell asleep 45 minutes in and another I noticed was checking her watch. This is unconventional and late-era Scorsese. This is not Goodfellas or The Departed. This works as a meta story that almost serves as a personal reflection the director has taken on the films he’s made in the past, where violence was so glamorized. Here, violence is not glamorized. Crime is presented in its raw, consequential manner. When someone is shot, it’s authentic, not theatrical.

Visually, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Brokeback Mountain, and Silence) teams up with Scorsese again to deliver beautiful images and angles, framed with such skill that shots are enjoyable to perceive all on their own. In terms of the de-aging process, I was astounded at how well the visual effects team pulled off younger versions of these three characters.

The Irishman is arguably the best film of the year. Is it my favorite of the year? Probably not. Did I like this film more than any other this year? Not necessarily. But the sheer skill and talent that every department has brought to this epic film leaves me to say little other than it being one of the best five, and perhaps the best film of the year. Though it will feel its length for many viewers, especially on the couch, displayed on television, and while we are on our phones, along with some perhaps desiring a bit more from the score, The Irishman is a must see meditation piece that touches on consequences, crime, family, and faith.

Zimm Score: 9.2/10

Movie Review of Knives Out

From skilled and controversial director Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a black comedy mystery film that follows an affluent and dysfunctional family, and specifically the former caretaker for the family patriarch, after the patriarch’s death at a family gathering leads a master detective to investigate. As a modern whodunit, we’re given clues throughout and minor reveals. Yet the brilliance of Knives Out, as in all well-made whodunits, is that in giving such clues or reveals, we’re still left in anticipation, still far from knowing who actually committed the murder and in what way.

Watch It: If you want to see a hilarious mystery film with fast-paced dialogue, superb acting, acute direction, and a thrilling finish.

Skip It: If you don’t have a taste for the mystery/whodunit genre, and/or struggle with films that move along at a brisk pace.

Knives Out still has me ruminating on what all transpired, from beginning to end. As both director and writer, Johnson has crafted a complex web of words, characters, relevant themes, humor, sayings, things not said, images on screen and images left off screen to leave you, pardon the cliche, puzzled. Knives Out, in short, works for me as easily one of the best films of the year.

Johnson also had the pleasure of orchestrating an ensemble cast that works humorously beautiful. Not once did I sense among so many actors that “this one actor always left me distracted.” Both young and old, everyone on screen moves ironically with both rhythm and chaos from start to finish. At the center of the film are Daniel Craig, playing Detective Benoit Blanc, called on to investigate the murder, and Ana de Armas, playing Marta Cabrera as the late patriarch’s former caretaker.

crime scene do not cross signage

Though Craig may deliver what some see as a cartoonish portrayal of his detective, this in no way is distracting or off-putting. Some have also vouched for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal. I don’t see such praise warranted, especially when considering other more noteworthy performances that deserve that praise this year. But both Craig (giving his character’s Southern drawl) and de Armas as a stressed and sympathetic piece of the puzzle arguably carry the weight of this spectacular mystery.

The estate where the murder occurs also competes for its place as a character as well. Every comical shot that Johnson makes of a wooden carving, a painting, and a throne of knives that looks like the Iron Throne itself from Game of Thrones, all yield a sense of disturbance, secrecy, grandeur, and chaos. It attests to those working on the set design that they have crafted a setting that is to be enjoyed as one of the best of the year.

Knives Out gets a big recommendation from me, as it has been from many. Though it seems “split on its chances” of getting a Best Picture nod among awards pundits, perhaps due to its somewhat lightweight delivery, Rian Johnson has proven himself as one of the premier directors of the decade, regardless of the messages one may enjoy or detest in his films, Looper, The Last Jedi, and now Knives Out, the best mystery of the year.

Zimm Score: 9/10

Movie Review of It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a historical drama that tells the story of a journalist working for Esquire who is assigned to profile the iconic children’s television personality, Fred Rogers. This sounds simple enough, yet the central conflict exists between the journalist and his father, which the beloved Mr. Rogers in the beginning only provokes. Unknown to this journalist, Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys, he has quite the journey ahead of himself in getting to know the best friend in the neighborhood. 

Watch It: If you want to see Tom Hanks in a role perfectly cast for him, an eccentric filmmaking style, and a drama that follows someone who encounters the love and affirmation of Fred Rogers. 

Skip It: If you want to see a biographical film that centers on Fred Rogers. This is a historical drama, oscillating back and forth between a journalist’s family and Mr. Rogers on the set of his iconic television show (for the most part). 

It’s a Beautiful Day is perhaps the most relevant film to me personally this year. From the opening shot of the children’s show I watched as a small child (an 80’s baby), to emotional difficulties I’ve had that the journalist struggles with, to being a writer, this film in many ways felt as though Tom Hanks/Mr. Rogers was speaking to me in breaking the fourth wall all too eerily! 

close up photo of gray typewriter

This doesn’t mean I thought it was an all-out amazing film. To be honest, It’s a Beautiful Day works as a good film, but a few factors keep it from being one of the best of the year. Fortunately, one of those things has nothing to do with Tom Hanks. Hanks embodies the spirit of Rogers in a way I don’t think anyone else could. This year, there are so many awards contenders for acting categories, that I’ve given up guessing who should or will get nominated! 

But Hanks, in contrast to giving a perfected impersonation of Rogers, goes deeper and somehow embodies the spirit of Rogers with every handshake and puppet performance he makes on screen. This to me is more difficult than mere impersonation. In fact, I never could get away personally from it being Tom Hanks on screen. Yet this didn’t matter. This was a rare film where the actor’s portrayal of the person’s spirit came through more than anything. 

In terms of the film, director Marielle Heller has crafted a unique and eccentric film, arguably around a unique and eccentric icon. This won’t work for everyone, and it didn’t quite work for me. Scene transitions, odd musical decisions for potent scenes, and the dynamic between the scenes with Rogers and those of Vogel at times are a bit clunky and struggle. In short, this isn’t necessarily a smooth film. 

As a recommendation, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a good film that leaves you with moving, powerful messages of acceptance and individuality. It is well-written and will relate to many around the country, much more than to those a part of Generation Z or those on the much younger end of the Millennial spectrum. Though it is a historical drama, I still think the film would’ve benefitted from a bit more backstory towards the life of Rogers and his “burdens,” burdens that essentially made him so beautifully human.

Zimm Score: 7.3/10 

Movie Review of Ford v Ferrari

Directed by James Mangold, who has an up and down resume that includes both Logan and The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma and Knight and Day, Ford v Ferrari is a new sports drama that follows the exploits of Ken Miles, a devil-may-care race car driver and Carroll Shelby, former driver and automotive visionary. Led by two excellent performances by stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale, Ford takes the win this weekend as one of my top 20 or 25 of the year. 

Watch It: If you want great acting, state-of-the-art racing sequences that thrill, a colorful tone, and a glimpse under the hood of the largest family-controlled company in the world. 

Skip It: If you want a more indie film style towards content and camera work and a thrill-free movie about the auto industry. 

For much of the story, Ford plays just as run-of-the-mill as the cars that Ford pumped out on any ordinary day over the last century. At the same time, and at two and a half hours, it never slogs, bores, or comes to a halt. The screenwriting team has crafted a substantial story that is kept buoyant by both Damon, and especially Bale. 

action audience auto racing automobile

In a role that is perfectly cast for his temperament, Bale plays a British driver who’s always on a short fuse. This isn’t to say he’s a grump throughout; his character Ken Miles is also quite joyful and close to his family. It’s Bale that arguably is the best thing about Ford v Ferrari. Damon, in addition, is really just as great. Yet his character, by default, lends to a more supervisory and observing role. 

As mentioned, Ford plays fairly formulaic for not all, but much of the story. Everything necessary is there for a well-executed story, but nothing pops or blows one away. This would be entirely true if it wasn’t for Mangold’s incredible direction towards each thrilling racing sequence. If it feels unremarkable off the race track, his direction really zips like a well-oiled machine on the track. Every angle, sound, and minimalist pulsing of music, then bolstered by Bale’s excellence all make for a great film that both enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts of the racing world will greatly enjoy. With both laughs and tears that many will have, Ford v Ferrari makes for a great addition to the Mangold resume. 

Zimm Score: 7.8/10