What to Watch: Film Reviews for February

by Drew Smith and Mr. William McKenna

Have you ever experienced this? You open up one of the many streaming services you may have, and proceed to mindlessly scroll through all the movies and TV shows before selecting something you have already seen or exiting the app. If so, then this article is for you. Bill McKenna, Greenfield’s very own Radio/TV teacher, and I watched six films that are on popular streaming services, such as Amazon Prime and HBO Max. We do our best to give thorough and intelligent reviews to help inform readers on if these films that they may scroll past mindlessly are worth checking out. So, without further ado, here are six films we watched this February:

  1. Beautiful Boy (2018)

(Drew’s Review)

A film that follows the memoirs of David and Nicolas Sheff about Nicolas’ extreme 

struggles with drug addiction and the brutal cycle of rehabilitation and relapse. Steve Carell stars as David Sheff and delivers an excellent performance that really stands as the strongest part of the film. Everything from line delivery to body language is captured incredibly by Carell. His performance elevates the emotion of the film and, at times, elevates a script that can be lackluster. On this note, I think at times Timothée Chalamet is unable to make some of the more bewildering dialogue work and his performance can feel a little shoddy. But, on the whole, Chalamet gives a solid performance and really shines when bouncing off of Carell. The cinematography is simple but effective, capturing landscapes in the beautiful wide shots and finding interesting ways to use the space around the characters to say something. The soundtrack is, at moments, egregiously over-the-top and really hit or miss. When the music is good and befitting of the scene, it works really well, but when it’s bad, it is really bad. Overall, the film really is about a parent’s relationship to their child and the uniquely unconditional love that comes with that, no matter what that child becomes or what that child goes on to do, they’re still their child. The film, I believe, aptly conveys that. – 7/10

(McKenna’s Review)

Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet star in a film directed by Felix Van Groningen . The true story is taken from two memoirs (BEAUTIFUL BOY: A FATHER’S JOURNEY THROUGH HIS SON’S ADDICTION and TWEAK : GROWING UP ON METHAMPHETAMINES) about a father who tries to pull his son back from the brink of the end due to very heavy drug addiction. The subject matter is a tough one to take in as it shows the decline of a terrific young man as he compromises all he is as a human being to the drugs that have consumed his very soul. The story is condensed and covers a lot of ground quickly. Films don’t have the luxury in telling the story slowly like a book. The characters are from an upwardly mobile family with the funds to pursue all the various treatments…each no more successful than the last. The film has all the usual drug addiction movie tropes but manages to stay engaging. The performances are really good all around with Chalamet great as the young man who was unable to see his own worth outside of the drugs that made him feel wanted. Carell is a bit too earnest as the father who will do anything to save his oldest child from his addictions. Ultimately the story breaks down to a father having hope in the face of hopelessness because the reality leaves few options. There is never a happy ending in a story of addiction… just the pursuit of a better day.

  1. The Lost City of Z (2016)

(McKenna’s Review)

The Lost City of Z is directed by James Gray and stars Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. The story is about Englishman Percy Fawcett who was a military man who made several excursions into the Amazon to find the lost city of Zed. The film follows the usual “man-obsessed” tropes as Percy gets further and further into the jungle with each exposition. The native people attack and Percy finds a way to befriend them. He learns more about himself as he ventures into the jungles of the Amazon. The film is well shot with spectacular cinematography that makes the jungle the best character in the film. At two hours and twenty-one minutes long, I found it very dull.  Percy Fawcett was a real person and the film kind of tries to make it a Laurence Of Arabia in the Amazon. The film has a grand vision but I just didn’t connect with it on the level necessary to care about the characters. I found myself much more interested in the people who were already living in the Amazon than the intruders from the “civilized” world. Tom Holland shows up as Percy’s son for the final act of the film. When he enters the jungle where danger lurks I couldn’t help but say to my TV, “Use your Spider-Sense!” That’s not fair but that’s what I thought as “Peter Parker” showed up in an early 20th Century English adventure film. Movies are not real and to make them compelling liberties are always taken with the truth. The conclusion of the film borders on fantasy. The real Percy Fawcett story is quite interesting but that’s not captured in this film. It’s worth your time to Google him and learn about his efforts to find something that most likely didn’t exist… not in the way he thought it might. Overall, the performances are fine and the direction is adequate. James Gray followed this film up with Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones and it’s exceptional, but this film gets lost amongst the backdrop of the Amazon. If interested in a movie about an obsessed explorer looking for a lost city in South America, I highly recommend Aguirre, the Wrath of God directed by Werner Herzog. 

(Drew’s Review)

The Lost City of Z is a film that never falls short but never exceeds expectations. Based on the real life story of Percy Fawcett (a British explorer who goes searching for a lost, ancient civilization deep in Amazonia), the film is essentially about man’s obsession with myth and mystery and the need to conquer these fantasies of the unknown. But while I think the theme is a fairly basic but solid backbone for the film, the script suffocates it with unrelentingly bad dialogue and messy pacing. It is very hard to get invested in the characters and plot of the film when everyone is written like blocks of cardboard that just spit out incessant cliches. The actors do their best, I believe, to try and elevate the script, but the lead man Charlie Hunnam struggles immensely and his performance left a little to desire. Robert Pattinson gives a solid performance as Hunnam’s co-star in the role of Henry Costin, Percy Fawcett’s main companion on his explorations of Amazonia, and I think the majority of actors do their best. The cinematography is a highlight of the movie, capturing the Amazonian jungle in these colorful, gorgeous wide shots. The music is serviceable at worst and really engaging at its best. The film has a lot going for it, strong cinematography, solid music, good actors, but the unavoidable elephant in the room, the script, continues to rear its head and sink the quality of the film. – 6/10

  1. Rashomon (1950)

(Drew’s Review)

Rashomon is so much in such a short span of time. Only lasting a tight eighty-eight minutes, the film is able to capture so much without rushing anything. This Akira Kurosawa film is most remembered and most celebrated for its excellent bending of narrative structure and important questions about truth and morality. And it certainly lives up to its accolades, having some of the best direction I have ever seen from a film. Kurosawa is absolutely masterful with the camera in this picture, turning moments and exchanges that most directors would ignore into creative sequences that give insight into the characters and themes of the film. So many shots have so much cinematic language within them that it just makes your jaw drop. The performances all exceed expectations and give so much life and depth to these characters. The script is insanely effective and is able to build perfectly to the final moments of the film. The editing is lovely and fairly ahead of its time, of course it frequently uses the “wipe” transition. Overall, Rashomon has much more to say than just thoughts about morality and truth. It also has subtle commentary on how audiences trivialize horror and evil for their own enjoyment and commentary on misogynist culture in Japan. The film leaves it to you to come to your own conclusion of the events of the film. The real horror is that after being given four versions of the same murder and sexual assault, you are still left inconclusive on what exactly happened. – 9/10

(McKenna’s Review)

This is where you start when dealing with real greatness. Rashomon is such an influential film that it basically created the Oscar for the Best International Film category. The film is so influential that it created the “Rashomon effect,” which refers to when different people have very different perspectives of the same event. This plot device has been used over and over…especially on TV. The film poses the question…what is truth? Every person tells their story…the basics are the same…but the details make it different. The nature of truth is not so easily defined. Directed by the great master Akira Kurosawa, whose influence is so great that it would be impossible to trace everybody who has been touched by what he created for cinema. Let’s just say there would be no Star Wars or any number of Spielberg films without him. The film is magnificently shot in black and white with breathtaking cinematography and style. The film has some of the first uses of handheld camera shots, which enhances the action sequences and creates a feeling of dread. There is great beauty followed by great fear and horror. The script is as tight as a drum and comes across like an epic poem. With a running time of just ninety minutes, the film gets right into the raw emotion of the story. The acting is fantastic with each actor bringing depth and emotion to the characters they play. The story revolves around a murder of a samurai and an assault on his wife. Multiple people tell their version of what happened and each has key differences that call into question what is actually the truth. The conclusion is the same…the samurai has been murdered but the “why” and “how” is called into question. Ultimately the truth comes out, but it is much different than the stories being told by the other characters…the outcome is no less heartbreaking regardless of which story is believed. There is a reason this film is considered one of the best ever made…because it simply is one of the best ever made ….and that is the “TRUTH.”

  1. Mon Oncle (1958)

(McKenna’s Review)

Mon Oncle directed by Jacques Tati is an amazing film as it is a throwback to the works of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, while influencing the future of The Pink Panther films, Mr. Bean, the works of Wes Anderson, and even the Oscar winning film Parasite. The film is a visual poem about conformity and people’s desire to keep up appearances in the modern world. The film introduces us to the character of Monsieur Hulot, a man happy with his place in the world but his relatives want him to embrace the modern sterile world in which they live. Using very little dialogue, Monsieur Hulot goes from scene to scene experiencing the absurdity of “modern conveniences.” Much like Chaplin in Modern Times, Monsieur Hulot gets tangled up in the machinery. All of this is done with ever-increasing physical and visual comedy bits that fit together like LEGOs to create an entire narrative, much like a Buster Keaton film. Monsieur Hulot has his nephew along for much of the antics as he is as childlike as his young companion. It’s through the innocence of the two characters that the nonsense of social status is exposed. Monsieur Hulot is the predecessor to Inspector Clouseau with his stumbling into one absurdity after another. The minimal use of dialogue and subtle visual comedy certainly influenced Rowan Atkinson in his various Mr. Bean T.V. shows and films. At first glance it would appear that this is just an absurdist comedy from France, but it’s really much much more as it comments on the pressure to be a part of modern social norms. Just like today in the film Parasite, modernity takes as much as it gives as it forces people to compromise their humanity for technology and social status. The film has fantastic cinematography that punches up the differences between the modern technological world and the world of the past. The visual style is much like the films Wes Anderson makes today, as every structure serves a purpose in the scene. The music accentuates each scene setting the tone for the hilarity that takes place. The French love the comedy of Jerry Lewis for his comedic style that utilizes the visual over the verbal. The French are a master of this kind of storytelling as seen in many of the films of Roberto Benigni and other French film makers. The film links all the segments together using dogs. The dogs go about their lives with the freedom of not caring what world they live in…they are allowed to just be dogs and act like dogs. Even the domesticated dogs just act like themselves. You can put a stylish jacket on a Dachshund but it’s still a dog and will act like a dog. Unlike the humans who must conform to the ever-changing world. In the end our Monsieur Hulot is forced to take his place in the old “rat race,” which is a shame. Coming in at one hour and fifty-six minutes, the film unfolds like a tapestry of hilarity. The last scene is of the dogs running free and being happy dogs while the humans…well, the humans try to fit in when they really don’t want to…better to be a dog.

(Drew’s Review)

This film is unbelievably spectacular. It follows an uncle and a modern, suburban family in a slice-of-life type of story.  The precision with which this film is executed is ridiculous, from every shot, to every costume, to every performance. The cinematography is so wide and is framed excellently, it uses a lot of deep focus to get so much in one shot. The performances use so much of the actor, relying more on the way they move and their facial expressions to show the characters’ personalities. The costuming and set design elevate this film to another level, the modern suburban house that the family lives in is this ridiculously pretentious style with more attention paid to status and look rather than functionality. They contrast this with the uncle, who lives in a town away from his sister and nephew, which while the town is crowded and noisy, it serves much better as an actual place to live. The film utilizes music in a really neat way too, in the suburban house there is no music, it’s just silence. But, in the town, it is full of lively music. Overall, the film is really a comedy about childhood and adulthood, and enjoying life for what it is rather than trying to make it what it isn’t. – 10/10

  1. Le Samouraï (1967)

(Drew’s Review)

This French film by director Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the quietest and most purely visual films I’ve ever seen. Following an insanely ritualistic assassin as he carries out a hit on a club owner that goes awry once the club’s pianist spots him on his way out, this was a hugely influential film during the era of French New Wave cinema. The camerawork is so fluid and dynamic, capturing scenes of planting a listening device or a police chase in the French metro system in these intricate, winding ways. There is this really neat, synth-heavy soundtrack that enhances the scenes with a minimalistic, tense rhythm. The performances, especially from Alain Delon and François Périer, are understated but work so effectively. The film falls short at moments with its winding pace and utter silence leading to times where it is easy to zone out. But, for the most part, the film is a simple joy to watch. The influence this film has on the crime-drama genre is immense. The film is so quiet and utilizes the camera to tell the story which is so refreshing. A very unique movie that is a must watch. – 8/10

(McKenna’s Review)

Le Samouraï is a French neo-noir film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The plot revolves around a hired killer who makes a mistake by having several witnesses see him at the scene of his crime. The film plays as a game of cat and mouse, as the killer evades the police as they close in little by little to the final conclusion. Will he escape justice? Though the film has all the usual tropes of the hired killer films, with the steely-faced,  calm hitman who is ever so professional in his work, the film still manages to rise above with stylish directing and a clever script. The police line up scene is particularly good and made me think Bryan Singer borrowed heavily from it for The Usual Suspects. Great cinematography and music choices help set the mood as the protagonist Jef Costello, played by Alain Delon, manages to stay three steps ahead of the persistent police commissioner. Delon sells every scene with minimalist dialogue, using just his face and body language to inform the scene. Very stylishly dressed in a trench coat and fedora, he is quite the handsome killer that makes the audience wonder if he just might beat the wrap. Assassin movies are not a genre I ever cared much about, though there have been some great ones like the Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Most assassin films are just noisy shoot ‘em ups with no logic. Le Samouraï is so much better than the modern hitman films. The film exists on its own terms just like the character Jef Costello who, even in the face of the police closing in on him, never yields to expectations and does it his way. 

  1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

(McKenna’s Review)

What I know about French musicals is less than nothing, but I really enjoyed The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy. The film stars Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as young lovers who get split apart by war and societal expectations, a common love story theme that’s elevated by the music and setting of the film. Though the film is in French, I found it easy to follow the musical numbers using the melodies and the subtitles. The film unfolds like a painting, using bold colors in the production design that makes each scene explode with color and mood. No color tone seems out of place, be it in the umbrella shop or the auto garage. The bold vivid colors draw out the beauty of each character. Catherine Deneuve is the standout as she is magnificent as the young woman who has to watch as her true love is forced to walk away. She has to go from a young girl in love to a woman who has to make tough choices for herself and her young child. She has to do all that while singing at the same time. This was early in her storied career. She is still working in films today 58 years after this film came out. This is the film that put her on the road to stardom. If she is in it, it’s worth watching. The film takes place in 1957 and spans 5 years. The production features stunning costume design that greatly enhances the overall aesthetic of the film. The film comes in at a very tight ninety-one minutes, not wasting any time getting to the heart of the story. The music is beautiful and it’s no wonder the film was a huge hit. It’s a continuous score with every line of dialogue being delivered in song. The melody stayed with me long after the film had ended. The film ends with the two former lovers reunited at a gas station at Christmas in the snow. They have both made choices but can’t help but wonder what could have been, as they go their separate ways as the snow falls. That’s what I call a musical ending.

(Drew’s Review)

A romantic tragedy musical directed by legendary French New Wave director Jacques Demy, this film was absolutely spectacular. Following a young couple in the French city of Cherbourg as they are separated due to the Algerian War, this musical surprised me in a lot of ways. It has one of my favorite opening credit sequences I’ve ever seen, so fun and creative and sets the tone for the coming magnificence. The film has some of the best set and costume design I’ve ever seen, which color plays a large part in, designating certain shades and tones to characters to represent something about them and their emotions. The film is so purposefully detailed and it extracts so much out of each aspect of the picture. It really is a non-stop musical, with each scene being its own song, with certain songs referencing back and using certain passages from earlier in the movie. The cinematography and camerawork are of course fantastic, they utilize a lot of these extremely well-done long takes that capture so much in one shot. The performances from everyone are really incredible and they all bring out so much character despite singing the entire time. The script at times features some flat and horrid dialogue, which can hold back the film from being on another stratosphere. Overall, the film is about codependency and young love, and how sometimes you don’t end up with the people you thought you were meant for because life gets in the way. – 8/10

So, in all, it was a joy to watch these six films. Ranging from foreign classics to modern films that fall short, it was a neat collection of movies to watch. So hopefully this gives you readers an idea for what to check out on your streaming services. Maybe some of these films caught your attention or maybe you have zero interest. But, regardless, when you are scrolling your streaming services and you feel like you are in an endless spiral, reference back to this article and check something out.