West Side Story (2021): Steven Spielberg Reinvents the Musical Genre Through This Compelling Adaptation

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the final installment of Steven Spielberg Month! You know what that means? It is time for shameless self-promotion! If you are interested in checking out more of my Steven Spielberg-related reviews for the month, this is your opportunity to read up on my thoughts regarding “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and “The Post.” With that out of the way, it is time to introduce the last review of the themed event. It is one of Spielberg’s most recent outings, “West Side Story.” I would have reviewed this film last year if I had the time to. Unfortunately, I could not make it happen. Although I am glad to finally be able to give myself an opportunity to release my thoughts on it, and for you to finally find them out. Ladies and gentlemen, here is my review of “West Side Story.”

“West Side Story” is directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, Ready Player One) and is based on a 1957 play by Jerome Robbins. The film stars Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, and Rachel Zegler as Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with New York native Tony (Elgort). These two are caught in the middle of rivaling gangs, conflicting sides, and altering identities. While these two may be star-crossed, the turmoil beyond their relationship heats up.

I saw this movie on December 6th, 2021 during a free IMAX fan event screening in Boston. The screening took place days before the film’s wide release. This was my first time seeing anything related to “West Side Story.” Prior to rewatching this film for review purposes, not to mention after, I still have not watched the 1961 “West Side Story” adaptation, despite its acclaim. The film won ten Oscars, including Best Picture. In recent months, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” sort of followed in its footsteps. The 2021 remake won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in addition to earning other categorical nominations. One such nomination was Best Picture, which the film lost to “CODA,” which I have no problem with as that film was brilliant.

Having rewatched “West Side Story,” it honestly was more fun than it was the first time around. And that says something because that first viewing was a great time. Did I mention that my most recent watch of the film is not my second, but my third time? I went to go see the film in theaters twice, and both times it knocked my socks off. Therefore, it should be no surprise that I am handing the film this much praise.

I am so glad to finally get to talk about “West Side Story” after being busy during the tail end of 2021, partially because it is my favorite musical movie of that year. I had fun with “In the Heights” and I admired “Tick, Tick… BOOM!”, but “West Side Story” takes the cake as the most serotonin-emitting of these films. When I first heard about a remake for “West Side Story,” I had mixed thoughts, and slight indifference as I had not seen the original film. When you announce that you are about to remake something iconic or highly acclaimed as this, it begs the question as to how you can make something that is on par with what the prior material provided. Again, I did not see the 1961 movie, so I cannot compare and contrast these two films together. Although as a standalone movie, “West Side Story” 2021 is one of the most finely crafted creations of the decade thus far. The decade has only started, but if things continue to go in a certain direction, “West Side Story” could end up in my top 50, maybe even top 25 films of the 2020s by the time the ten year span ends.

The cast of “West Side Story” could not be better. Every actor is perfectly placed in their role, they feel at home, and they play their part to the best of their ability. Rachel Zegler is a goldmine of adorableness as Maria. Not only is Zegler a ridiculously talented singer, which is an ability that is somewhat expected in a film like this, but she is also unspeakably beautiful. Every time I glance at Zegler in this movie, I can sense that not only is Zegler happy to be in the movie, I can sense her character is always in the moment. Even during an occasional sense of hardship, every time I look at Rachel, I am, assumingly, as happy as her. She is always either upbeat or expressive, which for a musical, is an appropriate set of emotions. Part of the recently mentioned adorableness not only has to do with Rachel Zegler herself, her character, or her acting ability, but also the costume design.

The costumes in this film are designed by Paul Tazewell, who also designed costumes for the musical “Hamilton.” Tazewell’s designs feel straight out of the 1950s. To go along with the extravagant, larger than life feel of a story like this, some of the costumes feel attractively glitzy. Again, Zegler’s costumes, such as her white dress from the first act, are standouts. All the costumes from the dance in the gym are easy on the eyes. Another one of my favorites is Anita’s yellow outfit that she wears during the “America” scene. It goes well with the atmosphere and the time of day. Everything feels intricately planned.

Speaking of Ariana DeBose, she and Zegler pretty much tie for the greatest performance in the film. DeBose won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Anita, which is undoubtedly deserved. Everything from her physicality to her line delivery to her overall charisma makes for one of the best performances I have ever seen in musical film. The past couple times I watched “West Side Story,” every line out of DeBose’s mouth, even minor ones, made me smile. There is a saying about movies providing escapes for audiences. Anita in “West Side Story” is synonymous with such a philosophy. Every time she spoke, I instantly transported to another world. I am going to continuously debate as to whether Zegler or DeBose gave my favorite performance in the film, but as far as non-lead roles go, DeBose may have given the greatest of them all in 2021.

Despite having story in its name, the story of “West Side Story” is not the most original when you break it down. Not just because it is remaking a 1961 movie based on a 1957 play. If anything it is a spin on the “Romeo and Juliet” formula with different characters and dance fighting. If anything, this latest iteration of the musical is a fantastic spin, and even saying that is arguably an understatement. As I have said before, you can always supply a cliché story, or a story that has been done in the past. What matters is the execution. If you deliver something great with familiar elements, then job well done. This is exactly what Steven Spielberg did, I was on the edge of my seat during scenes that could have potentially come off as goofy. Dance fighting is a concept that to my surprise, successfully highlighted much of the tension between characters. Not only that, but the music used as a backdrop sounded great. It kept my attention.

This movie is shot by Janusz Kaminski, a brilliant cinematographer who has worked with Spielberg for years. The wides in this film are beautiful. The opening sequence is one of the most intriguing of the year based on the camera movements alone. The scope of the film would not be as massive if it were not for some of Kaminski’s long takes. One of my favorite shots of the film is when we get into the gymnasium and see everyone dancing. The camera swoops around the entire place non-stop until we arrive on our core characters like Anita, Bernardo, and Rachel. Looking back on it and what that one moment was able to capture, is jaw-dropping to say the least. Also, if you ever watch the scene, note the use of color. There is a sense of consistency between the colors of various outfits throughout the shot. It almost comes off like a painting. Again, credit goes to Paul Tazewell for how well he handled the film’s costume design.

Musicals, including this one, often thrive based on the spectacle. “West Side Story” has a ton of poppy moments where the cinematography and musical numbers keep my eyes on the screen. That is despite there being a sense of danger throughout the movie. “West Side Story,” at its core, centers around two star-crossed lovers. Although this film effectively encapsulates how their connection affects the people around them. The rivalry between the Jets and Sharks was already heading for trouble, but as soon as we see Rachel and Tony together for the first time, we also begin to see how various supporting characters handle this matter. Even though it should barely affect them on paper, it ends up resulting in increased calamity. As for said calamity, it made for a great movie.

If you ask me, based on everything I presented so far from the costumes to the shot selection to the editing to the acting, this is a sign that Steven Spielberg has brought together one of the greatest directorial efforts of his career. Or, as some might call it, just another Tuesday. “West Side Story” is apparently a part of Spielberg’s childhood, and it shows. The numbers are handled with grace, the characters are well realized, and the aesthetic of the film has a perfect blend between lighter and darker moments in addition to tones. There is no surprise that a sense of passion was present in every scene.

Aside from the cliché elements and familiar story treads, there are not many noticeable flaws with “West Side Story.” This might not be my favorite Steven Spielberg movie, but I cannot help but recognize how massively bonkers and fun this movie is. At the same time, it also successfully hits emotional beats. Performances from Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose highlight this. One of my favorite elements of the film, as someone who watched it perhaps the way Spielberg intended, is that when the characters speak in Spanish, they do not provide subtitles to aid in regard to what they are saying. I have taken a screenwriting class in college, and one thing my professor noted is that dialogue does not always matter. Sure, movies can have great lines that enhance the experience. Whether they are funny, dramatic, or emotionally charging. Although what makes “West Side Story” great is its tendency to use Spanish, a language which I do not understand, without subtitles, and nevertheless compel me into the scenes in which such a language is spoken. Given select moments and the supposed attitudes of various audiences, this sounds like a big risk. As someone who dropped out of Spanish class in high school for Sociology, I have been moved by this choice and its execution.

Big risk, big reward.

One might as well make the conclusion that this is what the whole movie sounded like from the beginning. A big risk. Sure, when you have Steven Spielberg in the chair, he makes everything look easy. Sure, name recognition is definitely a selling point in modern media. The film did not do well at the box office for various reasons. COVID-19, competition with other movies, and controversy with Ansel Elgort are contributing factors. However, this film is now available to watch at home and if you ask me what movie in the musical genre you should watch nowadays, this is one of the first I can think at the top of my head. It is that good. I do not know if Spielberg will make another musical, but if he does, I wonder how the heck he could top this one.

In the end, “West Side Story” is one of the best musical films of this century. Why should I be surprised that this movie is as solid as it is? Steven Spielberg is at the helm. Then again, maybe I should be surprised. After his many previous monumental successes, Spielberg has yet to create a film in the musical genre. He has done a variety of genres prior to “West Side Story” like science fiction (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), period pieces (Lincoln), adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark), war (Saving Private Ryan), drama (The Post), and you could even argue that “Jaws” would be considered a horror film. By today’s standards, it is not the most terrifying option on the table, but it has its eerie moments. The man has done everything, and yet he continues to pump out gold. For some filmmakers, this would be an achievement. But I cannot call it that for Spielberg after watching “West Side Story.” As far as Spielberg is concerned, his efforts have amounted to another day at the office. That is how effective of a filmmaker he continues to be. Spielberg could have ended his career at say “Jurassic Park” and have an endlessly celebrated library of films. But that is not the case. His adaptations of songs like “Somewhere,” “Cool,” and “America” have stayed in my memory for a long time, and will likely continue to do so. The look of the film is stunning, the shots are beautiful, and the cast is incredible. Again, I have yet to see the 1961 film, so I cannot confirm if this is better or worse, but I can hardly think of a single problem I have with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” So much so, that the film is worthy of a 10/10.

Musicals are not my genre, but this is a film that I liked the first time, adored the second time, and found myself eating up by the third time. I am floored by this film’s craft and how extravagantly immersive it is, even when watching it at home. I feel bad for skipping this review last year, but I am more than happy to have gotten my thoughts out by now. Although some of you reading this might not be that surprised that I liked the movie so much, because I ended up nominating it in a few categories during the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards. If you want to see what the film did or did not win, check out the post!

“West Side Story” is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film is also available to rent or buy on VOD. For those who have the services, it is also available to watch on Disney+ and HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! This is officially the end of Steven Spielberg Month! But this November, we will be seeing the latest addition to Spielberg’s neverending library. That my friends, is “The Fabelmans.” The film is loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood, and the trailer looks phenomenal. Between this and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” this awards season is likely going to have lots of talk about Hollywood’s self-indulgence. Whether such self-indulgence will be successfully utilized, is a question waiting to be answered.

Also, my next review is going to be for the all DC film “Black Adam.” Be sure to stay tuned for the nine-millionth superhero movie I will be reviewing in my blogging journey. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “West Side Story?” What did you think about it? Or, did you see the 1961 “West Side Story?” What did you think of that? How would you compare the two movies? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Inu-Oh (2022): Get Ready To Rock on in This Solid Japanese Animation

“Inu-Oh” is directed by Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl) and stars Ava-chan and Mirai Moriyama in a film where a cursed dancer and a musician team up and perform for eager audiences.

If the box office suggests anything, not many people saw “Inu-Oh,” as it has so far only raked in over $300,000. The film released on August 12th and is already out of theatres where I live. Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is back to do for Sony a second time what “Morbius” could not. I saw “Inu-Oh” at a theater about an hour from home. Usually I only have to travel like, 15, 20 minutes to a local multiplex. So not only was I hoping I would like the movie, I was hoping it would be worth the extra driving time. Especially considering how I got my wisdom teeth out days prior, and this was my first theatrical experience since… Was it worth the drive? Perhaps.

When I think of animation, and this includes anime, I often think of color, I think of vibrancy, I think of heightened aspects that you cannot do in live-action. This is part of what makes 1994’s “The Lion King” a much more attractive feature in comparison to its 2019 live-actionish remake. Even in more adult fare like the current HBO Max series “Harley Quinn,” the frame is often filled with color. It is rare for me to look at an animated product and think, “Wow, that looks dreary. That looks depressing.” “Inu-Oh” is a rare exception, and this works in its favor. Because yes, the movie is about friendship. Yes, the movie is about two guys performing rock music. But in addition to that, there is an important part of the film that has to do with how the songs are to be performed. It kind of reminds me of how some interpret history, and how some prefer to rewrite it for their own benefit.

Although speaking of flashy, colorful, attractive animation, the climactic sequence of the film, while it still manages to have the ongoing dark and dreary color palette, there are moments of color that won me over. I thought the film looked great whether it had a soap opera vibe or a kid’s cartoon feel. There is a great moment with a dragon towards the end of the film that established this movie’s excellence with the latter.

I think on paper, the two main characters, Tomona and Inu-Oh, are a recipe for delightfulness. Through the years, there have been a number of stories of two people who have their differences, no matter how far apart, and somehow they form a bond. “Inu-Oh” is no exception to this rule and the chemistry between the characters is likable. It is in essence, this film’s heart and soul that holds everything together.

Now if you saw the trailers for this movie, you would know that it heavily revolves around music. It centers around two people who share a bond over rock and decide to perform together. Obviously, the music has to be good. And I would say that it was. In fact, part of why I went to see this movie in the first place is because I watched the main trailer for it in advance, and I really liked the song they attached throughout. Safe to say, that song, along with others, did not disappoint. I think even if the Academy Awards were to pay more attention to anime, I don’t know if any of the songs here will win Best Original Song at the Oscars next year, but they are perfectly jammable given the movie at hand. Maybe if I listen to the soundtrack on my own I would appreciate the music more. Because that’s part of what happened with, using another recent anime as an example, “Belle.” I really liked the movie, but then I started listening to the music both in English and Japanese and it won me over. Although at the same time, I had the desire to watch that film a second time (which in addition to the music, was due to a brilliant satire on the Internet). Knowing what I saw in “Inu-Oh” from a story perspective, it feels like a one and done.

I have not watched a ton of anime. I got into the medium this year and have recently gotten into more classics like “Akira,” which despite its popularity, I was not a fan of. In addition, I watched “My Neighbor Totoro.” It felt simple, sweet, but I felt like it was missing something. I also watched “Summer Wars” for the first time recently, which was epic in every way. I also checked out “Your Name,” which blew me away. If I had to give “Inu-Oh” a ranking, “Inu-Oh” falls somewhere in between all these movies. It’s not bad enough to make me hate it, but it is also not solid enough to get me to watch it again. But is well-animated, the characters feel fairly fleshed out, and the soundtrack is quite good. Overall, a fine movie.

Going back to the music in “Inu-Oh,” here are a couple of my specific thoughts about it. The songs overall have good lyrics, decent rhythm, and a couple of them truly sound epic. It is exactly what you could want out of a rock opera. If I had to give one minor problem with the film’s soundtrack, it would be that I wish we had just a tad more variety. I understand that if you are doing a concert, it is almost a priority to “play the hits” or “give the people what they want.” Of course, I understand. If I go to a KISS concert, I would definitely want to hear “Rock N’ Roll All Nite,” but in regards to this movie, I want to see some extra juice in regards to the musical talents of the main characters. I think one or two different songs, or one more song that does not have the exact same pattern as another would have benefited the movie slightly. The soundtrack in general is really good, but hearing the same song or some slight variation of the same song more than once as opposed to hearing what else the duo could have given was slightly disappointing. Another way to compare and contrast is to think of it like AC/DC. If you ask me, I think they are quite talented. I think they have fun, energizing music. But almost every other song from them feels like a copy of another. At least the duo seems to understand what the audience in the movie wants, if there is any positive to all of this.

In the end, “Inu-Oh” is a decent movie, but it is not my favorite animation of the year. It is the first of this year’s anime lineup I saw so I have no films of that medium that I could compare it to, but as far as other animation goes, I would rather watch “Turning Red” again, which coincidentally pays homage to content like “Sailor Moon,” speaking of anime. I think “it is “Inu-Oh” well-directed, the story is intriguing, and of course, the music does not disappoint. I am going to give “Inu-Oh” a 7/10.

“Inu-Oh” is unfortunately mostly done with its U.S. theatrical run. It is seemingly just finishing in Southern California, but there are still more showtimes in New York. But as for other areas, you’d probably have to press your luck at finding a showtime. The film is still playing in select markets, so if you want to check it out, get your tickets now.

Thanks for reading this review! I want to make an announcement in regard to a future event on this blog. This November, “The Fabelmans,” the latest Steven Spielberg movie, is set to hit theaters. In preparation, I am going to be doing a Steven Spielberg month during the span of October! I will be reviewing “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “The Post,” and some of you may have forgotten that I did not review this film last year, “West Side Story!” I did watch the film in theaters twice, but I just never got around to talking about it! It was even one of the Best Picture nominees during the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards! EIther way, that is coming this October!

As of right now, I am still in California, so my movie-watching schedule is kind of out of the loop, but I will have at least one review to post for next week, so stay alert! If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Inu-Oh?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite rock band? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Elvis (2022): A Movie So Bad That Not Only Was Tom Hanks Unable To Save It, He Sullied It

“Elvis” is directed by Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby) and stars Austin Butler (Life Unexpected, Switched at Birth), Tom Hanks (Toy Story, Cast Away), Olivia DeJonge (The Visit, The Society), Helen Thomson (Bad Mothers, Stupid, Stupid Man), and Richard Roxborough (Moulin Rouge!, Mission: Impossible II). This film is a biopic on the iconic musician Elvis Presley. The movie providers glimmers of his childhood in addition to his life in music and movies. There is also a shining of light on Presley’s relationship with his manager, Tom Parker.

I was looking forward to “Elvis” ever since I saw the trailer. It looked electric, zazzy, and colorful. I also will admit that I enjoy listening to Elvis Presley every once in a while as “Suspicious Minds” is sometimes a notable song choice of mine when I am writing. I am not a hardcore Elvis fanatic, but I was quite curious to get to know more about the iconic musician’s life and perhaps see a killer performance from Austin Butler. While Butler has had plenty of acting experience, this is undoubtedly the role that will make him a star, and not just because he’s playing a star. This leads me to my most prominent positive of the film, which is that Austin Butler does not waste a second on the screen.

Similar to how Rami Malek practically transformed into Freddie Mercury in 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Austin Butler gives a performance for the ages. In fact one thing that I think Butler does better in his performance as Presley compared to Malek as Mercury is that we actually hear Butler sing. There are snippets of the movie where Presley’s actual voice can be heard, but unlike Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the singing sequences in “Elvis” were not completely lip synced. Butler also looks like a king in this film. Speaking of which, one notable element of Elvis Presley that I often think of is like some modern musicians like Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi B, there is some definite sex appeal that had been accurately reflected in the movie. Sometimes this comes with the idea that the sexualization goes too far. Young people, especially women, are seen in this movie losing their minds the moment they see Presley himself. I liked this aspect of the film, I thought it was perfectly showcased.

Butler gives a transformative, otherworldly portrayal of a musician who has not been alive since the 1970s, but somehow has risen from the dead just to stand in front me as I eat popcorn for two and a half hours. It is undoubtedly one of the best performances of the year. I think they made a good choice on casting Butler, not only because he’s a great actor, but unlike say Harry Styles, who was in the running to play the character, Butler is way less recognizable, which I think comes off as less of a distraction. This adds, again, more of a transformation factor than anything else. Although I was delighted to know that before “Elvis,” Butler’s most recent outing was in the insanely good “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” where he slays as Tex Watson. There is no denying it, Austin Butler was perfect in “Elvis.”

Too bad almost every other aspect of the movie pales in comparison.

Speaking of performances, let’s talk about Tom Hanks. Unlike Austin Butler, it is almost certain that most moviegoers would watch a movie just because Tom Hanks is in it. He is great in everything he does, except for “Elvis.” Tom Hanks plays Elvis Presley’s sleazy, gambling addict manager by the name of Tom Parker. Judging this performance is incredibly difficult. Because on one hand, Tom Hanks plays a much different role than I am used to seeing him in. This is a rare instance where Hanks actually plays an antagonist, so I appreciate that Hanks is trying to drift away from always being typecast as Mr. Nice Guy. But this is not only not Hanks’s bread and butter, he delivers a performance that feels weirdly over the top and stereotypical. Granted, it kind of matches the tone of the film, which almost feels animated at times. When I think of Elvis Presley, the artist, I think of lively, vibrant music that often lights up a room. Tom Hanks definitely feels animated. As for lively and vibrant, not so much. And that accent got on my nerves real fast…

Let’s put it this way, Tom Hanks has had a long and prestigious career as an actor to the point where he has done many great films like “Toy Story,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” and fairly recently, the somewhat overlooked “News of the World.” Of course he has had bad days at the office. Just look at “The Circle,” a movie that almost ruins the reputations of several iconic names in Hollywood like Emma Watson and Patton Oswalt. Even in a bad or fairly mediocre Tom Hanks movie like “Sully,” Hanks is never the problem. He gives it his all. “Elvis” is a rare instance that not only is the movie atrocious, but Tom Hanks gives one of the worst performances I have seen from him. I do not completely blame Hanks. I think in terms of makeup and costume design, his character looked transformative. Hanks himself, once again, sort of diverged from being a “nice guy” that not only audiences are used to seeing, but people claim him to actually be in real life. The directing and script are the real problem here. Tom Parker comes off as one of the most stereotypical and cliche characters of his kind in cinematic history.

It also feels weird knowing that this movie is called “Elvis” and yet it almost feels more like “The Tom Parker Chronicles” in disguise. I mean, sure, in a way, Parker was a monumental part of Elvis Presley’s legacy. But when I go into “Elvis,” I want, well, Elvis, taking up as much spotlight as he can. The movie IS about Elvis, but it almost does not feel that way at times. I am almost surprised we did not see Tom Parker in a mid-credits scene suddenly walk out on stage, bedazzled, singing a snippet of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Here is a fun fact for you all, so far, the only movie in history to have not just been nominated, but win both an Oscar and a Razzie is the 1987 film “Wall Street.” Michael Douglas won an Oscar for Best Actor and Daryl Hannah won a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress. This is a shot in the dark prediction, because awards season is technically still on the rise. Although I think there is a solid chance that “Elvis” could categorize itself as one of two films to win both the Oscar and the Razzie. I can see Austin Butler winning Best Actor, and I can see Tom Hanks winning Worst Supporting Actor. It goes to show how much of a mish mash “Elvis” feels like. This film comes off as a Saturday morning cartoon, a grounded drama, and unfortunately, a confused narrative. I think the confusion is best summed up in one of the first lines, where Tom Parker introduces himself.

“For those of you who are wondering who this fella here is, I am the legendary Colonel Tom Parker. I am the man who gave the world Elvis Presley. Without me, there would be no Elvis Presley. And yet, there are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story.” -Tom Parker

Yes, there are movies I like where the villain technically becomes the hero of the story. “Avengers: Infinity War,” despite having “Avengers” in the title, starts and ends with Thanos, the man who wants to rid of half the universe’s population. But not only did he feel fleshed out, I bought into the character. Similarly, there are movies about self-absorbed, entitled morons that make themselves out to be the hero, like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and if it is written and directed in a certain way, it can work. “Elvis” honestly feels inconsistent, and part of it is because Parker needlessly steals the spotlight in every other scene. There are scene stealers, and then there are scene hijackers, like Tom Parker. Tom Parker comes off as a paper thin cartoon within a grounded story. It is kind of like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” if Roger Rabbit had actual human flesh.

I should not be surprised, but as I watched this movie, I failed to realize perhaps the greatest source of my pain, the director, Baz Luhrmann. Baz Luhrmann directed and co-wrote “Elvis.” This film definitely has a style, but despite its occasional ease on the eyes and ears, the movie travels at the speed of a rocket. Only thing is, I am not in the rocket, I am hanging right by the engine. It feels like I was watching “Run Lola Run” but if the runtime were doubled. This is probably the closest I have come to having a headache while watching a movie in a theater. Now, Baz Luhrmann did not direct “Run Lola Run.” He did direct other glitzy, glossy films like “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Great Gatsby.” I have not seen those movies. But I did see another film from Luhrmann, the 1997 “Romeo + Juliet.” I understand what the movie was going for by trying to modernize the classic Shakespearean play. Perhaps give it more of an oomph for people who tend to nap during class readings and discussions of William Shakespeare. But I genuinely thought it was one of the most annoying and mind-numbing movies I have ever watched. “Elvis” is more entertaining, but compared to “Romeo + Juliet,” it suffers from a longer runtime and pacing issues. “Elvis” is 2 hours and 39 minutes long, and yet it feels like an eternity at times.

Speaking of negativity and hate, let’s dive into another positive. Trust me, this makes sense. Like other modern musicians such as Kanye West, Taylor Swift, or Justin Bieber, Elvis definitely had his haters. While I was not a fan of the Tom Parker character and his portrayal from Tom Hanks, one thing I did like is how all out this movie went to showcasing the merchandising for Presley. They even sold “hate” merchandise which upon one’s purchase, the money from said purchase goes directly to Parker and Presley themselves. This is genius and I think if we lived in a non-Internet age, we could have seen more of this from other high profile names, including politicians. Unfortunately for the movie “Elvis,” the negatives outweigh the positives. Therefore, if I had to buy a button symbolizing my thoughts in regard to the movie, it would probably lean toward the “hater” route. Baz Luhrmann is a director who knows his style, but leaves much to be desired when it comes to delivering an entertaining narrative.

In the end, “The Tom Parker Chron–” sorry, got confused for a sec… In the end, “Elvis” is a long, overblown, glitz and glamour fest that melted my brain. It is sad to say that perhaps the most positive thing I can say about “Elvis” is that it is at least more watchable than “Romeo + Juliet.” But much like “Romeo + Juliet,” I cannot see myself ever watching “Elvis” again even if I were promised a million bucks. This is the movie that is going to be remembered as both Austin Butler’s big break, and yet, one of the worst days at the office for acting legend Tom Hanks. I am going to give “Elvis” a 3/10.

“Elvis” in now playing in theatres and is also available on HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! Speaking of music-based films, my next review is going to be for the brand new Japanese animation “Inu-Oh.” The film follows a dancer and a musician who develop a friendship and perform for crowds across the land. If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Elvis?” What did you think about it? Or, have you seen any other Baz Luhrmann films? Tell me your thoughts on the ones you like or dislike. Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Why I Cannot Stop Watching BELLE (2021): An Article by an Anime-Know-It-Nothing

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Throughout my time writing for Scene Before, I have done several reviews that I feel proud of. This even includes earlier years when I continued to develop a writing style and focused maybe more than I should have on immersing the viewer into the review like I am on a camera. Although there are certain movies that I watched for Scene Before, looking back, where I probably should have reconsidered at least a portion of my opinion after writing over a thousand words about them. Some of these include “Suicide Squad,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” If I were to rewrite my reviews for all of these films, I would add in certain points, redo points that I feel have changed, and perhaps alter the final score. But I am not going to talk about any of these films today. Instead, I am going to be reflecting on a movie I reviewed over the winter that has sort of met the same fate. While my opinions for “Blade Runner 2049” have only changed slightly, this post is about a movie I would claim has gone through a seismic shift kind of like “Suicide Squad.”

That movie by the way, is “Belle” directed by Mamoru Hosoda.

To sum up what has been going on in my life recently, this movie has taken up over ten hours of my screen time alone. Why? Because since its official Blu-ray release, I watched it for five nights in a row. I did watch other movies in addition to this one during the week, specifically “The Graduate,” which was utterly fantastic. Highly recommended. “Rampage,” which is… Well, it is what it is. And I also watched “Friends with Benefits” for the first time, which I thought was humorous and delightful. I watched “Belle” every night for five nights since I bought it on Blu-ray on Tuesday, May 17th. Why did I not watch it for six nights in a row? Because I was going on a short getaway on what could have been the sixth night, and I did not pack the movie to watch in my hotel room. I was more focused on possibly giving my money to Connecticut casinos more than anything else. Since getting back, I watched it two more nights in a row. That said, I cannot recall the last time I have bought a film on Blu-ray and watched it at this constant of a level. Naturally, I have no choice but to talk about it.

I want to make something clear, to say I have a working knowledge of Japanese anime would be like saying that since I am from Boston, I therefore consider the New York Yankees to be my favorite baseball team. “Belle” is one of the couple movies within the Japanese anime medium that I have fully watched. The other one that comes to mind is “Ghost in the Shell.” I believe I also remember seeing “Howl’s Moving Castle” somewhere around a decade ago. That was before I knew what anime happened to be by definition. And I will be real with you, even though I did not mind “Ghost in the Shell,” which I first watched at the age of 17, it did not emit a spark inside me to explore more of what anime has to offer. “Belle” on the other hand, did so dramatically. Although after I watched “Belle” for the first time, I did start watching Adult Swim’s “Blade Runner: Black Lotus,” which technically is an anime series. So since I watched “Belle,” I have gone a tad deeper into the genre, but after many countless revisits to the film “Belle,” I want more anime in my life. With that said, I want to talk about why “Belle” means so much to me as someone who has spent over half of their life on the Internet, including a portion where social media has practically taken over my life in more ways than one. I will let you know, while this is not a full spoiler discussion, I am going to do my best to not ruin the whole the movie, there will be points where I do dive deep into key characters or plot points. So if that is a problem, leave this post now, go watch “Belle,” and come back when you are done. I will be waiting. That said, let’s dive into the many reasons why I cannot stop watching “Belle.”

A MATURE REINVENTION

When I originally reviewed “Belle” for this blog, I compared it to “Beauty and the Beast” because first off, the title character is literally named Belle, well, kind of. Also, much of the movie revolves around her connection to someone who is literally referred to as a Beast. If that is not enough, there is a scene in the film that is not a complete ripoff, but heavily pays homage to Disney’s 1991 “Beauty and the Beast,” which Hosoda himself claims to adore, as the two recently mentioned characters come together in a scene where they slow dance and embrace each other in a large castle. My other claim I made during my review is that this film could potentially become less of a timeless piece than others because of how reminiscent it is of the “Beauty and the Beast” tale. Knowing what I know about “Belle,” the story threads are not quite one in the same. There are some similarities, especially in the one scene where Belle and the Beast dance together, but “Belle” is its own thing. “Beauty and the Beast,” at its core, is more of a love tale than anything else. “Belle” is a mix of cyberpunk, drama, and adventure.

I often talk about the animation genre and how much I appreciate when it understands what I consider to be the assignment. Because a lot of animations are made for kids, and obviously there is content out there that you can tell is specifically made for children, not for adults at all. There is content that is obviously made with the intention of educating kids. This has been revealed with television content like “Dora the Explorer.” But at the same time, there have been multiple instances where we get movies that are meant to give families an excuse to entertain their kids, but not the adults bringing the kids. This is what Pixar has evidently understood with every one of their movies. They do not treat them as children’s fare. There’s a difference between a film that kids can enjoy, and a film that families can enjoy. Even with a more ridiculous script like “Cars 2” or an occasional fart joke from movies like “Incredibles 2,” those movies are ones I continue to watch as an adult because it understands that if the movie is purely made to entertain kids, then it does not have staying power. “Inside Out” is a movie that I think could entertain children if you sat them in front of the television, but as an adult, I am watching the movie and feeling an appreciation for how it handles emotions and growth during adolescence. These are themes and ideas that can connect to anyone from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and life stories.

“Belle,” much like the many Pixar movies I have watched over the years, refuses to treat its audience like they are idiots. In fact, I think in some cases, it tries even harder to avoid doing so. There’s no corny humor, you have incredibly humanized and relatable storylines, and there are also scenes that feel more like they are out of a live-action script than an animated script. There is one moment in a train station where a few characters meet and there are these long pauses between lines that give the audience a moment to breathe, while also letting the characters think for themselves. I occasionally watch Animation Domination cartoons like “Bob’s Burgers” and “Family Guy” and often notice that in their scripts, everything is mile a minute, which can work by keeping the audience on their toes, but it also destroys hints of realism. Granted, it is an animation, which by definition, should be less realistic than live-action, but I also think that sometimes even in animations, you should have some degree of verisimilitude to remind your audience that your world has rules. Not everything has to be within the confines of Murphy’s Law.

A HILARLIOUSLY ACCURATE LOOK AT THE INTERNET, CELEBRITY INFLUENCERS, AND FAN CULTURE

I honestly think “Belle” could not have come out at a better time when it did. The Internet and social media are still young, so who knows how things will turn out in a hundred years, but “Belle” seems to paint an attractive picture of what those two things could look like, while also inserting satire on our modern Internet behavior. Granted, this movie is on the family friendly side, therefore it never dives into concepts like pornography or the darker sides of dating sites like Tinder, although romance is prominent in the film, coincidentally. But I found much of “Belle’s” script unapologetically reflective of how the Internet tends to work. If anything, it is a bang on the money encapsulation of what could equate to cancel culture. Case and point, Peggie Sue.

The role Peggie Sue plays in “Belle” is minimal, but effective and important in every single way. We get our first glimpse of her when the main protagonist, Suzu, has a hesitancy to sing at a party, despite being pressured by her peers. The party space is accompanied with a flat screen television complete with Peggie Sue singing a pop song, perhaps in the form of an expensive music video or a concert. This happens before Suzu enters U and to her surprise, belts out a song with fluency and power. When Suzu, or in this case, her avatar, becomes increasingly noticed by U’s userbase, Peggie Sue herself acknowledges this and does not see anything special in the rising star. At one point, she lashes out against Belle’s popularity on a giant screen, which instantly receives tons of backlash and practically gets her cancelled. There are definitely more dangerous things she could have said. She could have mocked a disability. She could have announced she was giving money to a hate group. She could have said the n-word. But even so, this movie presents an example of the classic “think before you post” scenario, which I think many users, including myself, have probably run into at one point or another through our times on the Internet. Whether we did it ourselves, we observed such an action through someone we know, or some celebrity. But at the same time, this movie tells its audience that even if you say stupid things, it does not mean you cannot be redeemed. You can still be a decent person. There is a scene at the end of the film involving said character where we reveal more about her that brings her down to Earth where such a thing comes into play. It reminds us that we are human and we can take our mistakes and turn them around, learn from them essentially. And if you learn more about someone, sometimes it will get you to understand them, possibly admire them.

Peggie Sue is not the only prominent voice speaking out against Suzu as she rises, because when she starts singing and getting all these followers, we see that she makes a splash. It looks like Suzu, or her avatar, Bell, which is what Suzu means in English, has all the support and fans she could want. But as soon as we are done hearing all the positive feedback, Sue lets her negative thoughts out to the world, therefore spawning even more negative thoughts from ordinary people. They either do not like her voice, they think the songs are lackluster, or she is simply performing for the likes. In a case like this, it takes one higher power to build a following.

FORESEEABLE LOOK AT THE FUTURE, WHILE ALSO FOCUSING ON THE PRESENT

Speaking of Suzu, the main journey of “Belle” is Suzu’s dive into U, which I claim is a sexier version of what Meta is trying to achieve. If anything, it’s like the OASIS from “Ready Player One,” but without extreme emphasis on currency and less reliance on preexisting properties from “Batman” to “Halo.” The world of U is much different from our reality given how it is more colorful, physics are almost ignored altogether, and as the movie reveals, the platform’s trademark is that it reveals a hidden strength of each user. In the beginning of the film, we see that despite Suzu having a history with music, she sometimes struggles when it comes to singing. So of course, when we see Belle enter U, the first thing she does is, to her shock, utter the lyrics of “Gales of Song,” one of the film’s few enchanting originals. We will dive more into those in a second. Suzu’s U debut, as previously mentioned, is met with mixed reception upon first glance, half of the people passing by like her. Half do not. But this is also reflective of several music artists of today where their haters are just as prominent as their fans. You may notice this with artists like Justin Bieber or Kanye West. This also brings up a positive message when Suzu notices she has an influx of followers. When Suzu’s friend, Hiroka Betsuyaku, or Hiro for short, the one who suggested that she should join U in the first place, reminds Suzu that a good portion of the millions of people who have seen her through the platform admire her, she should not forget that. She should not let the hate, trolling, and doubt get to her.

What I love about this movie so much is that in today’s mixed Internet culture, “Belle” is a movie that reminds its audience that the Internet, despite its occasional thorns, can also be a rose of positivity. The Internet has helped me in various ways by letting me discover that I am not alone with some of my weird hobbies like riding elevators. Social media has spawned some of my best companionships. I even met a couple of friends I made on social media in real life, either through chance or by arrangement. I have gained valuable friendships through my time in high school, but I feel like my friendships through social media have helped me define who I am today more than almost any other friendship I have experienced.

Despite taking place in what I would assume happens to be present day, “Belle” also spawns a ton of questions about social media’s future, because it is revealed that in the world of U, you cannot have more than one avatar. You can alter your avatar as we notice Belle wears different outfits at various points of the story, but that avatar is the only one you have. I have gone on YouTube and noticed some people have more than one account, or sometimes on sites like Twitter, people will create different accounts for different aspects of their personality. Will we be seeing less of that if we get closer to U being a reality? That is a thought provoking question if you ask me. This film also reveals that there is still a culture of trolling on the Internet, with the Dragon and Peggie Sue being a couple of the film’s examples if you will. But one thing the film never dives into all that much is bots. The closest thing I can note that U has to bots is the Dragon’s AIs, but that’s about it. My question is, how “bot-proof” is U? Even when there are trolls in U, there is often a soul behind the one doing the trolling. Although there is probably a good reason why bots never appear in U, because the idea of U involves the user immersing themselves by activating a specific device that is meant to project themselves into U, and I am not just talking about their phone. Every U user attaches buds to their ears, bringing them into the digital landscape as their respective avatar. This is done through body-sharing technology, where the user’s biometric information is interlinked with their avatar. And while there are reflective physical traits that are represented in Suzu’s avatar, most specifically freckles, the U platform tends to provide an enhancement, a level up if you will, of one’s mentality, outlook, or experiences. In Suzu’s case, she lost her mom at a young age, which is a fraction of why she is a shadow amongst her peers. In addition, her singing skills are not up to the par she would prefer. This is why she has increased confidence and singing abilities upon entering U.

COMPELLING, POWERFUL ORIGINAL SONGS

And when you have a film like this that heavily revolves around music, chances are that the songs have to be good, otherwise the film would not be as convincing or effective. “Belle” has a few originals, all of which have their own style. The film’s main theme, U, has an incredibly poppy, upbeat, and sexy feel to it to the point where it belongs on a top 40 playlist, but feels different enough that it is not annoying. It is the kind of song you would want to hear when walking into a large nightclub. It is a perfect main theme for the film because it basically just says, “Come join U! We’re all happy here and everyone is having a good time!” It also shows how one platform can change your life in an instant. Much like how Suzu has gone from a nobody to a U diva, we have seen tons of unexpected personalities on platforms like YouTube or TikTok over the years.

“So, linе up, the party’s over here
Come one, come all, jump into the fire
Step up, we are whatever we wanna be
We are free, that’s all we desire
When you pass through the veil of fantasy
There’s a world with a rhythm for you and me.”

At the same time though, it is a perfect metaphor for the Internet itself. There is a lyric in the song, specifically “I wanna know who you are, I wanna know it all,” which is not only reflective of the developed mystery behind Belle’s identity, but it reminds me of many of my relationships on the Internet. I feel like through the Internet I get to know a certain version of a person, but I would secretly love to meet them in real life to get to know the real them.

When Suzu enters U, she first sings a piece titled Gales of Song, which compared to the film’s previously mentioned main theme, perhaps relies significantly less on lyrics. Gales of Song is perfectly executed when first introduced because it is simple enough, and has enough pauses to allow Suzu to adapt to her avatar. It is like when you get inside a car for the first time and you are learning how to drive. It takes Suzu a second to understand all the mechanics, but when she starts getting the hang of things, that is when she gets increased attention from U’s userbase, both positive and negative. Lend Me Your Voice is a song that could have gone wrong because of how the scene it links to sort of pays homage to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” but the orchestral power of the song hits hard, and the lyrics are occasionally on the verge of heart-wrenching. And speaking of heart-wrenching, don’t even get me started on the film’s longest and perhaps most important song, A Million Miles Away, which I previously awarded the Jackoff for Best Original Song during this year’s ceremony. To this day, it is one of the only songs I have heard to make me wipe tears from my face because when you watch the movie, it is THAT powerful.

That last song goes to show this film’s power of silence, because some of its best moments are simply when there is little to no dialogue, we are just watching people doing things. When we first see Suzu and her mother early on in the film, there is this wonderfully edited montage of the two doing things together, which shows Suzu developing a knack for music. There is no spoken dialogue, just a soft variant of A Million Miles Away. I even go back to the moments where characters have specific pauses while talking, allowing for some genuine lifelike reactions. The scene in the train station with a few core characters, Suzu included, comes to mind. But even within these lifelike reactions, we see some heightened emotions or cues that allow animation to shine. I will not go into much detail, but this movie is not short on blushed cheeks or visible tears.

And I am constantly talking about the film’s lyrical songs for good reason, but I should also note that the official score for “Belle” contains one of the best utilizations of stringed instruments I have EVER heard.

STUNNING CINEMATOGRAPHY, ANIMATION

Technically speaking, “Belle” is literally what the name means, beautiful. Many of the film’s wides are ingrained in my memory. The world of U is a place I could imagine myself diving into in the future. Belle’s outfits in U are astoundingly eye-popping. As depressing as the real world may be in comparison, this film has some gorgeously drawn locations. It kind of makes me want to travel to rural Japan to see what it is actually like. My favorite shot in the film however, if not one of my favorite shots, is probably set in U, when we see a closeup of Suzu singing A Million Miles Away, staring into the distance when her surroundings turn dark. It is the simplest shot of all time, but for some reason, Suzu’s concentration on what lies ahead is evident. My reason for liking this shot is potentially because of a certain context, but as much as I may be revealing about this film, there are some things I would rather keep hidden, such as moments of the scene where said shot takes place.

RELATABLE PROTAGONIST

To me, one of the most visible reasons why I adore “Belle” so much is the same basis behind why I loved another recent film, “CODA,” from the moment I saw it. They are two completely different films by several means, and in various ways, their protagonists are significantly unalike. For example, Suzu doesn’t have any deaf family members or friends, as far as we know. And “CODA’s” protagonist, Ruby Rossi, still communicates with her parents on a regular basis. Her mother is still alive, and even though the movie shows some occasional resistance between her parental relationships, Ruby has a steady connection with her father. “Belle” is a movie that allows its main hero to show off what makes them ordinary, and therefore have that mundaneness make them extraordinary. This is especially true in the climax of the film when Suzu sings A Million Miles Away. We learn more about what this song is, and that added dose made the scene go from great to… not to continue the overuse of this word, cinema. Simultaneously, Suzu has millions of followers on U, she barely talks to her dad anymore, and she spends several scenes with a talking dragon. There are some definite differences between the two protagonists, but at the end of the day, Suzu’s normality, what makes her human, what makes Suzu, quite literally Suzu, allows her to persevere later in the film’s runtime. This also highlights a notable trait about the Internet. And this trait is especially true when it comes to the Beast, as many characters have questions about his identity. That trait being how not everyone really knows who you are on the Internet. We constantly build these images of people and what we think they are like. Maybe they are incredibly wealthy. Maybe they are a predator. Maybe they are younger than they advertise themselves to be. We do not know everything about everyone. This is why sometimes I may do research on certain people before talking to them, or if there is a public figure on social media, I make an effort to ensure that they are verified.

Some of my favorite movies in recent years have been animated, because despite their otherworldly nature, they have an attractive down to earth element that sometimes is not as effective in live-action. If we are not talking about “Belle,” the most effective example that comes to mind is “Over the Moon,” which is currently on Netflix. The reason why I found that movie down to earth despite mostly taking place in space is because it is a movie I think my 13, 14, 15-year-old self would have needed to watch at those specific ages. Because I was going through a tough time where my parents were no longer in love, and there were specific story elements or beats that reminded me of that time and felt completely relatable. In the same way, maybe not as much, but nevertheless, I think “Belle” is a movie I would have shown to my 15, 16-year-old self, because I was new to social media at the time. I had an idea of how it worked, but I did not realize how addicted I may have been to it. Sure, there were many positives to it like meeting new people, finding new friends, joining a community. But I also did not realize how much I cared about followers. I cared more than I should have. I thought I was cool when in reality I may have just been desperate for attention. And I am not saying that it is a bad thing to have tons of followers, but I feel like this movie could have been a reminder to myself that maybe I should not have tried as hard to worry about getting followers. It’s like the famous quote in “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.” In the same way, Suzu started out as a nobody, and one unexpected turn of events turned her into a somebody, even if that somebody was an alternate version of her.

I think “Belle” is a film that paints a picture of the Internet and shows its strengths. Because by the end of the film, it allows people to come together in a way that delivers a positive impact. It shows how the Internet can change people’s lives and make them better despite some occasional toxicity on a number of sides.

POSSIBLE IMPERFECTIONS WITHIN A FLAWED MASTERPIECE

I think if there are any flaws with “Belle,” it would be three things, but they do not affect my overall enjoyment of the film. There are such things as flawed masterpieces. “Risky Business” is one of my favorite films of all time, but I will tell you that the last scene feels incredibly out of place. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of my favorite science fiction films of the past decade, but even I will admit that the film owes its success to the original installment it tends to copy. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is one of the most beautifully violent, outrageously balls to the wall movies I have ever watched, but you could quite literally remove Margot Robbie’s character from the script and have little to no effect on the overall plot. That said, let’s dive into my few issues with “Belle,” if you want to call them that. Because in some cases, I also claim they do not bother me that much.

The first issue I have is specifically with the English dub. I do not speak Japanese, but it sounded fine on the Japanese version. When I watched this film at home a few times in English, there was one key line from Justin, or Justian if you watched the Japanese version, it sounded incredibly important, but much of what he said was muffled over all of the music. It was GREAT music, but nevertheless. Who directed this scene? Christopher Nolan?! For all I know, it could be my television, but the sound on it has been pretty good by itself over the years without any external speakers or sound bars, so who knows? The second flaw, and this is perhaps a more important issue that could also be seen as a strength, I think the relationship between Suzu and her father was kind of surface level. Not much was shown to reveal their distance. I think it almost makes me forget sometimes that they are drift apart, mainly because it is such a small part of this two hour movie. But at the same time, you could make an argument that such a thing was kind of the point. The movie wants you to realize that these two individuals barely talk to each other despite living together. And in a way, the movie successfully did that. So that is a tossup. The other, flaw, if you will, is not something that bothered me specifically, but I could see it bothering other people. Not that I have seen anyone bringing it up. There is a character in the film by the name of Shinobu, and despite his best intentions, there are a couple scenes where his connection to Suzu could come off as maybe closer than it should. From his eyes, he kind of sees himself as someone who tries to protect Suzu. This is something he has done for her since her mom died. It’s a friendly gesture, but it could also be overprotective. In a way, since Suzu’s mom died, Shinobu filled said mother’s shoes from time to time. The movie does address this though, and it shows that Suzu realizes this and at one point refuses to let this get in her way. So I would not consider it a big deal, but having seen one or two moments in the film, I could see certain viewers having a particular perception of Shinobu’s character or his connection to Suzu that maybe I did not. The movie is bound to age well if you ask me despite its influence from “Beauty and the Beast,” but I will remind you, this film is not a ripoff of a classic tale, if anything it is a reinvention. It is not a love story, it is a cautionary human drama that warns its viewers to be careful in regard to what they see, do, and say on the Internet. Or in some cases, in real life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend “Belle” to almost anyone, and I kind of mean that because anime was never my genre. I have a history of enjoying animated content, but not much from Japan. Now that I have seen this movie, it has opened my eyes to more of what Japan has to offer, including Mamoru Hosoda’s library, which I hear is incredible. I want to go ahead and check out some of his other movies. This is one of the few animated movies I have seen that I feel like is specifically not made for children. I think kids should watch it if the chance comes around, I think it is an important movie that everyone should watch at least one point in their life, especially now with the Metaverse expanding more than ever. The songs are catchy, well-written, and obnoxiously powerful. I do not often cry during movies, but the scene with A Million Miles Away is a literal tearjerker, so if you cry during movies, prepare yourself. I said that this is not a redo of my review, but if it were, I would be giving the movie a 10/10, because each time I watch the film, the more I realize I like it. I have gotten completely attached to Suzu as a character even though we have our differences. She is a perfect protagonist for this world, and this movie took her in a direction that enhanced its lesson to the audience. Just because someone is popular, it does not mean that they are a narcissist. It does not mean that they are the kind of person some would make them out to be. Heck, I did not even talk about Ruka in this post and that is a whole other topic I could have gotten into. And instead of explaining everything about Ruka, I will let you see for yourself. Because “Belle” is now available on various home video formats including DVD and Blu-ray, if you have not gotten a chance to watch “Belle,” find a chance as soon as possible, because it is worth your time. It is one of my favorite animated movies, and with enough rewatches, it could potentially be in the conversation for one of my favorite movies period.

Thanks for reading this post! If you like this post, be sure to check out some of my other ones, including several of my reviews. One of my reviews is for the new Nicolas Cage film, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” or you could even read my most recent review, which is for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” which is officially in theaters as of this weekend. If you want to see more non-review posts, please check out my response to movie theaters, and why I think they should play fewer trailers before the feature presentation. To find out my first impression of “Belle,” you can read my review that I posted in January! Hope you like it! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account, also check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, like I asked in my review, did you see “Belle?” What did you think about it? Also, I want to ask a question for the anime fans reading this, because I want to dive further into the genre. What anime products do you recommend? Let me know, because I am always looking for suggestions! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

CODA (2021): An Audibly Triumphant Story With Every Emotion Ever Conceived

“CODA” is directed by Sian Heder (Orange is the New Black, Little America) and stars Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin in a film about a young girl who is born into a deaf family. She is the only one in the family who has hearing, and finds herself struggling to balance school, her family fishing business, college admissions, and an interest in music.

Despite the notability of this film’s recent Best Picture win at the Academy Awards, not to mention seeing this film in the theater recently, the latter of which almost causes a case for an automatic film review every time, I nearly decided to not review this film at all. But that is until I saw it. And we’ll get to my thoughts in a sec, but I want to note that “CODA” was a film I have looked forward to ever since I first saw the advertising. The reviews looked insane, and it came off as a wonderfully intimate tale about someone who is special and I would not know personally. But for various reasons, I missed the film when it first came to theaters, and I never got around to watching it on Apple TV+. But due to the film’s recent success at the Academy Awards, Apple decided to release the film again with open captions. Given this film’s subject matter, that is a great idea. They released it in several theaters around me, so I decided instead of suffering through “Morbius” a second time, I would take my dad to go see something that won’t make you rip your hair out.

We agreed on “CODA.” Hopefully our choice would be wise.

But of course, there are several movies that exist that have a hype train, only to have said train lose a little steam once it comes out. This happened to me last year with “Soul,” which Peter Travers of ABC News called “the year’s peak achievement in animation,” Josh Wilding of ComicBookMovie.com referred to as “one of Pixar’s most beautiful, poignant films,” and Bob Chipman of Moviebob Central claimed was “among the year’s loveliest, most poignant and moving pieces of work animated or otherwise.” Those are ridiculously positive, star-shooting thoughts.

I mean, I LIKED “Soul,” but at the time it also became my least favorite Pixar movie, so there is that.

Now with “CODA,” we have another insanely praised movie revolving around music. Adam Graham of Detroit News says “CODA” is “a big hug of a movie.” Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood suggests “CODA is more than “a moving story of what it means to be in a family, but also one about becoming your own person and following a dream.” For the record, despite this film’s wider release in August, it originally played at Sundance, so I think this notion from Esther Zuckerman at Thrillist should not be ignored.

“‘CODA’ is the kind of movie that you can imagine getting a standing ovation at Sundance, if this were a year where people were allowed to gather in a stuffy Park City auditorium.”

It’s been over a year since this film’s Sundance premiere. It’s been only a little time since this film’s recent collecting of Academy Awards. Is this movie the greatest thing since sliced bread or the next “Soul?”

Neither. There’s sliced bread, there’s better than sliced bread, and then there’s sliced bread with mounds of butter!

If there is any reason that you should spend a few bucks for Apple TV+, “CODA” makes an absolutely compelling argument. My dad walked out of the auditorium saying that this was one of the best movies he has seen in years, and I could definitely see why. I have gathered that he is fairly easy to impress as a moviegoer, but when he REALLY likes a film, I have found it to be obvious. And it is not just him who is yelling out a car window to everyone on the streets to go see this movie, because I for one think that this is one of the best coming of age stories of our time. Does it have some familiar elements or clichés? Perhaps. But it doesn’t always matter if a movie has clichés as long as they are utilized well.

At the end of the day, this is a genius narrative about a girl whose normality makes her abnormal. I have taken a screenwriting class in my sophomore year of college, and one of the things I have taken from that class is that when I write a character who is “ordinary,” that I understand that there still should be specific qualities about such an ordinary character that stand out. When it comes to this film’s character of Ruby Rossi, perfectly played by Emilia Jones, this is exactly what my professor would want me to shoot for. She is in a deaf family, but she is the only one who has hearing. Brilliant. And it is not just a great concept, it has stellar execution. Because this film is completely relatable to someone like me, who was at an age range she previously experienced. Now, unlike Ruby, I knew what I wanted to do the moment I got out of high school, but the problem for me was taking that next step and actually moving on with my life, and I am sort of experiencing the same thing with my soon to be post-undergrad years. That by itself made me connect to Ruby, but when Ruby finds something she is passionate about, it is, almost perhaps understandably, the biggest shock and disappointment she can give to her parents who are having trouble hearing. That passion being music, which you have to HEAR to fully understand. Not only is she passionate about it, she wants to study it, which in addition, requires money… Oh boy.

I grew up in a family of two adults who had their own occupations and ran their own company at some point in their lives. Despite this, I consider myself lucky to have never felt the pressure to attach myself to a family business had I failed to express any interest. I have been given the opportunity to attach myself if I choose, but my main priority right now is film, it’s media, it’s communications, it’s entertainment. I felt for the protagonist because they have to choose between family and herself, and this is really the time of her life when she should be thinking about herself, what she wants to do, and the parents should allow her to do such a thing. They may not like the choice, and again, understandably so, but this is not their life, it is Ruby’s. But we also get a look at the lives the parents have, and there comes a point where Ruby leaving could mean that they have to rethink how they live their lives, and as this movie shows, conduct their own business. Not to mention, when you have to look at your current financial status, that also brings up a question as to what life you can provide for yourself and those you care about. On that note, the main family is perfectly cast. They have phenomenal chemistry. The deaf characters are actually played by deaf actors. Sian Heder brings us a wonderfully conceived screenplay and brings her artistry to the table while telling a story about an aspiring artist. Heder has not done a ton of notable work yet in her career, but I think “CODA” is going to put her on the map as a filmmaker around this time, like “Lady Bird” put Greta Gerwig on the map when she directed that film.

I know a lot of people, and I’m close with quite a few of them. None of them are deaf. So I cannot speak to the accuracy or authenticity of certain aspects of this film, but as for the entertainment value with everyone on screen, regardless of their ability to hear or speak in sign language, that was not short whatsoever. Although on that note, if I think if there were any way to improve “CODA,” there are honestly few things I can think of to begin with. But if I had to come up with something, there is one story element in the movie that admittedly becomes a bit predictable. My dad and I were watching, and we both knew, “Okay, this is where the movie’s going.” Usually I am not a fan of predictable storytelling, partially because when you watch a lot of media, the more repetitive it is, the more likely I am to tune out, but I also think when it comes to how “CODA” handles such a predictable moment, it achieves its goal of making you relate to or feel bad for the protagonist.

“CODA” has such a way of playing with your heartstrings that feels larger than life despite it being one of the most intimate stories I have ever seen, and part of it is because it relies on a lack of sound and written words to carry everything through. It really is film as it was meant to be. Visual storytelling. It does not tell, it only shows. There is a sequence at the end of this film that almost made me cry, and that is not only because the subject matter is incredibly compelling and ties everything together in a nice little bow, but as an editor, I was watching this and admired its ability to tell everything in a fast-paced, eye-popping montage that gave a sweet moment for every second on screen. Very few movies nowadays connect me in such an emotional way, and “CODA” is one of the lucky gems that just happened to knock on my door.

And don’t just take all the sappy comments I stated and put them in a box with this film set next to it, because this film has just about every emotion I could think of. I was figuratively biting my nails. I was jumping for joy. I was getting tears in my eyes. I was occasionally even laughing crazily. The film is surprisingly comedic, and there are a few moments where my dad and I were audibly laughing. One reason why I recommend going to see this in the theater if it is near you is because depending on your level of hearing, even when you hear nothing on the screen, you can still bask in the laughter of an audience, which is one of the most uniquely satisfying feelings I have gathered in my recent film experiences.

In the end, “CODA” is one of the best movies I have seen in recent memory. It won a couple of the big Best Picture awards, including the one that matters the most, the Academy Award for Best Picture, and obviously that warranted Apple to put the film out in as many theaters as it can the next weekend to get some money. I went to go see it the Tuesday after, but I have had my occasional ounce of disappointment here and there when it comes to certain projects. I did not see “Moonlight” until the weekend following its kinda sorta Best Picture win at the Oscars, and I was underwhelmed. Although the following year, “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture. It took me awhile to watch that film, and it turned out to be a stunning and enchanting film with a great cast of characters, so anything can happen. “CODA” truly felt like it was made with the goal to win Best Picture, and it absolutely deserved it. I can barely think of any real problems in this film. Maybe if you don’t like tearjerkers, this may not be my first recommendation for you, but that is a claim leaning along the lines of subjectivity. Plus, even if you don’t like crying during movies I still recommend it, because I left the film feeling whole. I felt happy. It reminded me of my journey as an artist, but also immersed me into a world with people and situations that I do not come across in everyday life. Once again, Ruby Rossi is an ordinary protagonist, but this movie excels by reminding the audience of the extraordinary life she finds herself living every day. And this extraordinary life, made an extraordinary movie. I am going to give “CODA” a 10/10! If I had the chance to redo my top 10 list for 2021, this would easily belong in the top 3 or 4. I would not call it my favorite movie of the year, that honor still goes to “The Suicide Squad,” but it certainly comes close.

“CODA” is now playing in theatres and is available to watch on Apple TV+.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for “Sonic the Hedgehog 2!” I saw the film a couple weeks ago, and I have plenty to say about it. I liked the first film, so who knows how the sequel will pan out… Following that review, I will be sharing my thoughts on the new DreamWorks animated film, “The Bad Guys,” which is in theaters as of this weekend. Also, coming soon, I will have my review for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the all new A24 film starring Michelle Yeoh and directed by Daniels, the same minds who brought us “Swiss Army Man.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “CODA?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite film that has won Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Not just nominated, but they also have to be the winner. This film is definitely a contender, I’ll say that much. Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Top 10 WORST Movies of 2021

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Some of you may have finished reading my top 10 BEST movies of 2021, feel free to check that out if you have not already, but I am now here to present the exact opposite! The top 10 WORST movies of 2021! 2021 was admittedly a better year for movies than 2020 was. I mean, more movies actually came out, so… But it doesn’t mean there wasn’t crap! Now, I will say I have not seen all the crap that has come out this year. If you have seen a certain movie this year that is not on the list, who knows? Maybe it’s so bad I forgot about it. Or maybe I just didn’t see it. I didn’t see either of the sequels that came out this year to “The Boss Baby” or “Peter Rabbit,” so I sat pretty when it came to those. Granted I have not seen the originals either. With that being said, these are my ten picks, they’re all subjective. There is not really much of a grand scale as to how these movies made the list. They’re just on the list because I did not like them. Well, mostly… Maybe you did like these movies. More power to you if that’s the case. Also, I should state this, the films have to be theatrically released and this does include any day and date film like those released simultaneously on HBO Max for instance. Those do count. If they’re exclusively on streaming, I’m not including it. That’s technically television. Before I dive into my top 10, I am going to list three dishonorable mentions.

Dishonorable mention: The King’s Man

Kicking off the dishonorable mentions we have “The King’s Man!” This is a really disappointing movie to see on this list because I love the “Kingsman” franchise. I enjoyed both “The Secret Service” and “The Golden Circle,” so to see this prequel here kind of hurts. I mean, there are a couple fun action sequences, but it isn’t enough to make a good movie. I’ve only seen this a couple weeks ago and I have already forgotten a good number of the characters. Not the best of signs. Rhys Ifans was GREAT as Rasputin though, I’ll give the movie that.

Dishonorable mention: Reminiscence

The next dishonorable mention is “Reminiscence.” I feel like part of the reason why this movie saw an actual release date, aside from the cast involved, is because the director, Lisa Joy is married to Jonathan Nolan, who probably has, or perhaps at this point, had, alongside his brother Christopher Nolan, a great relationship with Warner Brothers. The concept of this film is intriguing, but this ended up being an amazing original concept that became one of my most easily forgotten films of the year.

Dishonorable mention: Space Jam: A New Legacy

Last, and certainly least for the dishonorable mentions, is “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Why did we need this movie? The first one completely and totally sucked on every level! The one pro I will give this film is that some of the visual effects do look dazzling and Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Al-G Rhythm was honestly quite entertaining, but that’s were the positives end. As for the rest of the film, it’s basically a combination of cheap jokes, forced nostalgia, while also being a giant commercial for the Warner Brothers brand. If you want a Warner Brothers commercial that’s ten times better than this, go watch “The LEGO Movie,” skip “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

Now let’s start off the list! Things could be a lot worse for these films, they could have come out in 2020. These are my top 10 WORST movies of 2021.

#10. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

#10 is “Snake Eyes!” I have admittedly never watched anything related to the “G.I. Joe” franchise, but I thought I’d give this film a shot. Turns out, this film gave me a shot. …In between the eyes. You know people go to film school to learn how to make movies? Well, if it were opposite day and they had a class that taught people how not to make an action movie, this would be a proper example. Shaky cam came, shaky cam saw, but I thought filmmakers came to realize that it wouldn’t conquer. Apparently shaky cam is still a thing in the realm of “Snake Eyes.” Not only is there a ton of it during the action sequences, but even when someone is just walking in a room! There’s a scene where Samara Weaving’s character is just walking, she’s all business, and the camera’s basically simulating an earthquake! I wasn’t looking for anything on the level of “The Shawshank Redemption,” I just wanted to have fun seeing people kick ass. When I couldn’t even get that, that’s a problem.

#9. Malignant

Coming in at #9 is “Malignant.” As I’ve said on this blog before, horror movies are not my goto genre. But I did have some desire to check out “Malignant.” It looked rather compelling through whatever marketing I saw. Turns out it was the exact opposite! If anything it looks like a modern horror film that tries to take itself a bit seriously, but it ends up going full camp at certain points with dialogue that you could have gotten away with only if it were uttered in the 1980s. If I knew that’s what they were going for, okay. But it just didn’t work. The film is directed by James Wan, who has been known amongst modern horror fans for films like “The Conjuring.” That’s a film I’d rather watch on a Friday night over this piece of crap! At times, the film feels like it takes itself seriously, then the next moment it feels like I’m watching a Lifetime original with a monster in it. I’m excited to see what James Wan does with the next “Aquaman” movie, but this original was a bit of a misstep for him.

#8. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Ryan Reynolds is just the best! “Free Guy” is one of my favorite movies of the year! I’ve seen it twice! Wait, this is the worst list? Sorry, wrong script. Ryan Reynolds? What are you doing, man? “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was a complete waste of time! I remember watching the original film, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a few months after it came out and I had fun with it. It was not my favorite action film of the year, I thought “John Wick: Chapter 2” was better for instance, but I enjoyed myself. And that film made a lot of money, and like all pleasantly fine things that make money, of course they make a sequel. Just wish they made one that felt like it had more time and passion into it. This film has an ADHD-esque story and nearly unmemorable action. The only action scene I clearly recall is one towards the beginning when Ryan Reynolds is trying to relax and next thing we know he ends up on a bike with Salma Hayek. I’ll give credit to the performers. Despite the lazy writing, they played their characters to perfection, even if they felt like they were somewhat playing themselves. But seriously, if you want a good Ryan Reynolds flick to watch, check out “Free Guy.” Skip “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” if you can. 

#7. Dear Evan Hansen

I’ve never been a Broadway guy, but I had some interest in “Dear Evan Hansen” before it came out because the trailers looked good. Then I saw the movie and realized, what a waste of time. I don’t care that they got a guy in his 20s to play the lead role of a teenager, that’s been done before, but what I do care about is that they get a guy, regardless of age, who looks LIKE a teenager. I went through this entire film looking at the lead actor, Ben Platt, and thinking I was looking at Jerry Seinfeld. All he needed was a puffy shirt and he’d be a perfect ripoff. “But I don’t wanna read the emails!” With that aside, unlike some other musicals that came out this year, like “In the Heights,” which I wasn’t a HUGE fan of, and “West Side Story,” which I was a huge fan of, the numbers in this film were mostly unmemorable and for what I noticed, they did not even have that grand scale that I’m used to seeing in musicals. It felt very small, and it was not presented in a positive way. Now the message of the film could be interesting, but I spent much of the film rooting against the main hero because of how said message is utilized. I don’t know, I just did not always relate to him. And I will admit that like him, I’m somewhat awkward in social situations, but the execution here left me uneasy. If you want a decent musical to watch this year, go watch “West Side Story.”

#6. F9: The Fast Saga

Do me a favor, please. Starting from one, count to nine. I’m sure in that one attempt of summing up numbers, it will contain more logic and sanity than even a fraction of a second in “F9: The Fast Saga!” “F9: The Fast Saga” was a humungous disappointment. Not only is it another letdown in this ongoing franchise, which for me personally has only happened with “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Tokyo Drift,” but this letdown hurts because of how much anticipation I had behind it. Have any of you ever seen that Lifetime original film “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever?” Yeah, I wish I could forget it too. Much like that straight of TV piece of crap, “F9” spends more time than it needs to making fun of itself and trying to make the collective Internet roll on the floor! Hey, look! We’re invincible! Just another Tuesday for Dom Toretto and the family! LET’S GO TO SPACE BITCHES! Oh my god! Watching the space scene was honestly embarrassing. Space is special. You guys just ruined it for me. I no longer want to be an astronaut because of this movie. Well, that, and maybe rich people. 2021 is such a weird year. The first half is spent seeing the Fast family go to space and now all these rich people get to send their buddies up to space. I like the “Fast & Furious” franchise. In fact, I wanted to see this movie to a certain degree that I bought tickets for it in advance IN 2020! Of course, when the film rescheduled about a year later, I had to refund those tickets, but goddamnit, if I did not get to see this film opening night, I would have felt like an idiot. Well, this idiot suffered through an IMAX experience through Hell.

#5. Tom & Jerry

Some people hate cats. Some people hate mice. Some people hate… People. If you hate all these concepts, then I should warn you that “Tom & Jerry” will make you hate them even more! “Tom & Jerry” was never something I watched as a kid. The only reason why I went to see this movie is because I had a friend, who told me I’d “like” the movie, and he wanted me to go. Boy was he wrong. And I expected that going in, because the trailer did not look promising. This looked like a lot of those other cartoons that kind of got that live-actionish treatment like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “The Smurfs.” And just like the latter, this whole thing’s set in New York where the focus is not on Tom & Jerry, the two characters whose names are in the freaking title. No! It’s instead about some scumbag named Kayla who thinks it’s okay to lie her way to getting a job at a hotel! What a great lesson for children! I did not know what to expect going into this film. I just wanted some okay action sequences. There may have been one or two moments that stood out, but it is surrounded by a lifeless plot, overacted performances, and some of the most cringeworthy scenes I have ever watched in a movie. Some people may defend this film saying it could entertain children. But I look at this film and I would not want my kid watching it. Kayla is a fraud who cheats her way to the top. “Die Hard” is a better movie for children to watch because that film at least enforces the notion that terrorists are bad! “Tom & Jerry” is the perfect family film if you really, truly, hate your family.

#4. Zola

We live in an era where they’ll truly make a movie about anything. They’ve done LEGO, Emojis, Trolls. It feels like they’ve done it all. But wait! There’s tweetstorms! Not many people have done that! And after seeing “Zola,” I really hope that this is a trend that is either improved or kept to a minimum. I’ll give this film credit. The reason why it is not in a more negative spot is because there are a number of scenes that do look dazzling. There’s one moment in the first two minutes that really stands out. But it is also surrounded by all this footage that looks like it is something out of a poorly done YouTube vlog. A24 is one of my favorite studios, but evidence suggests that they have also done some of my least favorite films of the last decade like “Midsommar” and “The Witch.” “Zola” has officially joined those ranks. In my life, I often keep my ringer off on my cell phone because I’m often busy and I don’t want to get distracted. Depending on the situation, I’m one of those people who gets easily distracted. I think after hearing the Twitter notification sound every minute in this film, I think I want to keep that ringer off for the rest of my life. And I don’t know about you, Riley Keough’s performance in this film was occasionally nauseating to watch. She could be a decent actress, but the way she handled her character here, whether it was through her or the director’s eyes, felt almost offensive and obnoxious. To top it off, the movie seemed to have a number of attempts at humor, but I didn’t really find the film all that funny. Simply put, if there were a way to block movies in the same manner you can block accounts on social media, I would do it with this one.

#3. Red Notice

Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot. Put these three good-looking actors together, and it sounds like a recipe for pure entertainment. Right? WRONG! If you said, yes, I’m willing to bet you have never watched “Red Notice,” and frankly I think you shouldn’t. I mean, come on! This movie has three of the biggest movie stars working today and it wastes all of them! I mean, they do their best with the material that’s given to them, but “Red Notice” is one of the most disposable and forgettable action films of all time. The only real compliment I can give to the movie is that some of the locations are kinda pretty and Gal Gadot has some really sexy outfits. This film is the definition of style over substance. Overall the story is predictable, the script is all over the place, the attempts at humor did not land no matter how many times the writers tried, and at the end of the day, the people behind this film basically relied on name recognition to get people to watch it. That’s really disappointing. I can name a few movies I’ve seen with a phenomenal cast, but they barely do anything to make that cast pop! Movies like “The Circle,” “Aloha,” and “Lucy.” Yeah! Tom Hanks, Bradley Cooper, and Scarlett Johansson respectively can sell me at the door, but once I’m locked behind that door, all I see are empty promises. And may I add, this is the second film on this list starring Ryan Reynolds. What’s happening with you?! I liked you in “Free Guy!” Why are you resorting to this crap?!

#2. Cinderella

My next film on this list is “Cinderella.” My god, “Cinderella” was just awful. I knew it was gonna be bad from the beginning with the opening number. I think first impressions matter in film, and when the first number of a musical fails to impress me, that’s not really the sign of a memorable musical. “Cinderella” is directed by Kay Cannon, who wrote the “Pitch Perfect” films. I have not seen the sequels, but I cannot say the first is among my favorite comedies, although she has been attached to a few things I enjoy. Including the entertaining Fox show, “New Girl.” This film is a modern take on “Cinderella,” it kind of reminded me of the 1990s “Romeo + Juliet” film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which, you may punch me in the face for this, I wasn’t a huge fan of that film either. I say that because while these films are not the same, “Cinderella” takes a lot of elements that make the character iconic and remembered through the years and sprinkles them into a story with modernizations. Apparently there’s a drag feel to this film, there’s all these inside jokes to modern society, and it could add up to something unique, but it didn’t stick the landing. I like the idea of Cinderella having to live in a modern society where women are perhaps more independent, they can do more for themselves. And there’s even a whole thing about Cinderella being a dressmaker and if she marries someone in particular, that technically means she can forget about becoming a businesswoman, someone who can take her dressmaking and turn it into an opportunity to make some money. I like these ideas, they sound good in a pitch meeting. But they just didn’t translate well with what we got. Also, James Corden… My lord. Who’s your agent? You’re in this too?! I mean… This is a step up from “Superintelligence.” 

I just want to note something about “Cinderella.” I did not review this film. In fact, this is one of the few films that I saw in 2021 that I had no intention of reviewing because it was so late in the year when I watched it and it’s been out for months, but I did tweet my thoughts on the film because it stood out to me in such a negative way that I had to express my opinion. I could not let it sit in my head. After a few tweets, where I even mention the director Kay Cannon’s name, I did not tag her by the way, I just mentioned her, including her past film, not to mention her directorial debut, “Blockers,” which I ADORED. So much so it was one of my favorite comedies of the past few years. She responded with the following: 

“Sorry you didn’t like it. It’s a PG fairytale jukebox musical made for kids/families to enjoy. And millions upon millions of them did along with a bestselling soundtrack. Maybe rewatch Blockers to ease you from the torture you endured?” 

I mean, I’m a bit shocked she even chimed in because I figured she could look at these tweets, notice some idiot on the Internet, and move on. But I’m not here to judge anyone. In addition, I responded back saying… 

“I have respect for you, Kay. Glad to hear the movie’s successful. Glad other people can enjoy something. That’s the subjectivity of film. Looking forward to whatever you’re doing next.” 

First off, she’s right. “Cinderella” is not for me. I cannot think of myself belonging in a single demographic that I could fall under for the movie. Musicals are not always my thing. I was never attached to any of the other “Cinderella” stories like the ones that Disney did over the years, and of all the late-night hosts currently on network TV, I think James Corden is the one I’m least likely to watch. I was admittedly rather excited for “Cinderella” purely because of the filmmaker behind it. I mean, for me she’s had ups and downs, but she was hot off of “Blockers” and it made me more excited for her next project, whatever it was. I mean, it’s like getting excited for the next Quentin Tarantino film or the next Christopher Nolan film or the next Ari Aster film or the next Wes Anderson film. Sometimes I have to separate the content from the creator. The creator, I love her. I think Kay Cannon is talented and someone I want to keep an eye on in regard to upcoming projects. But I’ll also remember her as the woman who directed “Cinderella.” I did not choose this life. It chose me. Actually… I did choose to watch the movie, so maybe I did choose this life. Whatever.

#1. Music

The last couple years of doing these countdowns were interesting, yet sad, because the same director made the #1 film two years in a row. This year, that is thankfully not the case, but apparently this film is a feature-length debut. In a lot of cases, I could be disappointed in a feature-length debut, but nevertheless hopeful that the director behind that feature will go on to do great things. As for this feature, I think the director needs to keep her dayjob. My god, this movie was off the charts horrible! My #1 worst movie of 2021 is… “Music.” I mean, come on! What else could it be? I almost skipped this film this year because it barely had a theatrical release, but the film was nominated at 78th Golden Globes and had people talking, so by the end of the year, I had to dive into some untreaded waters. Having watched it, I can assume that I could write an entire double-spaced, Times Roman Numeral 12 point font essay on why this movie is not only bad enough as a project to begin with, but why it simply should have never been made. I watched this film for free on Prime Video, and even then, I felt robbed. “Music” is directed by Sia, an artist I have never really cared to follow, but after seeing this film, I don’t really care if she’s good at her dayjob, I don’t know if I want to support her. Some people in the film industry often object to the idea of doing a worst movies of the year list, and I can see why they would do that. Not everyone wants their movie bashed, or to see other movies get bashed. I get that. I can see why people advise others not to yuck on something people spent hours making. “Music,” however, is a movie I cannot use as a defense in this case. Not just because it is a bad movie that failed to entertain me. You want a bad movie that failed to entertain me? Look at “Life of the Party!” That film came out in 2018 and was my #1 worst movie then! I could at least see why people would enjoy that. It was never cruel or offensive, it was just a poorly made film that failed to appeal to me on any level. “Music” on the other hand is a completely DANGEROUS and ALARMING project.

The film centers around a girl who has to take care of her sister, who is on the autism spectrum, and given this sister’s abnormal behavior, it makes this situation all the more challenging. Maddie Ziegler plays the title character and yes, I have been around autistic people. I’m autistic myself, and yes, there are a few of us that do not often communicate with easy to understand words or sentences. That is a fact, I’m putting it out there. But the point is that when it comes to Maddie Ziegler as this character, she almost feels like she’s going over the top at certain points. She’s almost like a cartoon character. At times, her performance either felt cringe-inducing or even downright uncomfortable. And I don’t mean that last part in a compelling way. Apparently Sia and Maddie Ziegler have been good pals for years, so Sia felt it was natural to include Ziegler as the title character in this film. For the record, Ziegler does not have autism herself. And I think this movie would heavily enhanced if they stuck to getting someone on the spectrum to play the lead role. After all, they have experience, and it can help the film in terms of its overall credibility, which it evidently lacks. Apparently Sia TRIED doing this movie with someone on the spectrum, if that actually happened because it was also stated she wrote the character of Music with Maddie Ziegler in mind, but said actor was uncomfortable. So, instead of accommodating her, which some decent people would try to do, in fact they’ve done it with me throughout my life in school to a degree, they let her go. For all I know, maybe she or someone she knew genuinely had resistance to doing the role, but it does not change the fact that a good director would take into account someone’s disabilities and work around them. Or, if you let this person on the spectrum go, at least try finding another one! You know, there’s more than one autistic actor out there! And to be honest… I don’t think “Music” is a film where you get your best friend to tag along, just because… It’s weird. And it almost lacks decency. And apparently Ziegler herself had second thoughts about this role while filming as well! They should have just thrown in the towel to be honest! And also, this film is supposedly meant to show off that people on the autism spectrum are “different” but worthy of existing in this world just like everyone else. Honestly it didn’t feel that way. The only people I could see this movie relating to are the caregivers of those on the spectrum, but even then it’s dangerous, because said caregivers will get the wrong idea based on some of the things that happen in this film. I’m not saying make the character speak in complete sentences or anything, but the way they handled the character of Music as is felt nothing short of infuriating and borderline ableist. Although speaking of caregivers, Kate Hudson, who plays Music’s caregiver, did give an okay performance, but it’s not enough to make a good movie. There’s also flashy sequences in this film that I would imagine a good number of people on the autism spectrum would not be able to watch in the first place. Great job connecting with your subject matter! Apparently Sia did three years of research on autism while making this film… She honestly needs at least three more. There’s a scene in this film where one of the major characters restrains “Music” suggesting that he is “crushing her with his love.” You realize that this is an action, depending on how you go about it, that kills or traumatizes a lot of people? Yes, this is something that has been done to those on the autism spectrum, but this is being PROMOTED in the film despite a history of this very action endangering those on the receiving end, sometimes KILLING them. This is the kind of thing that is saved for last resort situations, and they treat it like it’s something done on every other Tuesday. There is an argument to make that no film in history NEEDS to be made. Well, I think I found one that really shouldn’t have. Someone in the future could watch this film, see that scene, and think it is a fine way to calm someone down on the spectrum, when in reality, it is likely only hurting them. Now can it be used to keep someone from harming another person? Perhaps. But the scenes in which the restraining happens do not occur as a result from that. They occur because Music is freaked out over multiple scenarios! I mean, yes, Music is flailing her arms, but she’s not doing anything to potentially warrant any real medical treatment for someone else or herself. I mean if she hits herself enough times, maybe, but she did not! She isn’t holding a gun, she isn’t carrying a knife, she isn’t raising her fists, she’s just going through a situation that is beyond her control. And apparently that warrants a restraint…

And going back to what I said about “Cinderella” and Kay Cannon responding to me on Twitter defending her film. She at least did so with some decency. She could have thought I was a freak. After all, it’s the Internet. It’s her right. But she AND I calmly handled this matter. There was no Twitter feud between us. Just a couple people with differing perspectives. Sia on the other hand got into Twitter feuds with people regarding this film before it came out, including autistic people, because THAT’S a GREAT way to promote your film. After all of this, she sent out tweets with promises that scenes with restraints would be removed and there would be a warning at the beginning of the film that restraining people with autism is something that won’t be encouraged. Granted, this info was sent about a week before the film came out and kind of felt half-baked, but nevertheless… A promise is a promise. BUT WHO AM I KIDDING?! The restraint scenes are still there and having watched the movie on Prime Video, and double checking before we move any further, THERE IS NO WARNING.

YOU. GODDAMN. CHEAP. MORONIC LIAR!

Sia, I have never meant these two words more, f*ck you. Now you can make an argument that removing those scenes would lessen the story of the movie and diminish an arc Kate Hudson’s character has, but this goes to show that what they really should have done with the movie, is cancelled it. Because yes, I watched the film. But now I never have any intentions of buying Sia’s albums, buying separate songs on iTunes, or buying any of her merch. Short term, maybe the movie makes money. Long term, I cannot support Sia on any of her future projects.

If you look at other movies on this list like “Red Notice” or “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” those movies are on this list almost solely because they failed to entertain me or provide me with a good time, which at the end of the day, a movie is supposed to do. Not only did “Music” provide me with a terrible time, it felt near, if not offensive, and gave me the idea that a movie could potentially harm someone or give someone the wrong idea about a serious subject matter. The only reason why I would support a future product from Sia is if I were tied to a chair and about to die, or I were forced to review it. I salute the hard work people put into movies, even if they’re bad. Sia may have spent years making the movie, in fact this was shot in 2017, but she spent years making a potentially harmful story that could send the wrong message. For all those reasons, “Music” is easily my #1 worst film of 2021.

Thanks for reading this countdown! I also want to thank everyone for making the trek with me through 2021 in film and here’s to 2022! Let’s hope we have a year of great movies, fun experiences, and hopefully less delays. Come on, “Top Gun: Maverick,” I’ve been waiting forever to see you! I’m looking forward to a lot of movies coming out this year including “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” “The Batman,” Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon.” A lot of potential movie magic is going to be cast over audiences this year, let’s hope it’s all properly executed! Until then, thanks for going through another year of movies with me! Also, if you want some positivity instead of this, be sure to check out my picks for the Top 10 BEST Movies of 2021. I do these two lists every year, and I am looking forward to doing them again for 2022. If you want to go through this year of movies and want to make a commitment to take that journey along with me on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, what are your least favorite movies of 2021? Leave your picks down below! Let out the stress, let out the anger. I hope you’ll find it therapeutic. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

In the Heights (2021): Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latest Musical to Film Adaptation Heightens Its Way to the Big Screen

“In the Heights” is directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Now You See Me 2) and stars Anthony Ramos (Trolls World Tour, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera (Vida, Tanto amor), Olga Merediz (Shades of Blue, Orange Is the New Black), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Katy Keene, Smash), Gregory Diaz IV (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, New Amsterdam), and Jimmy Smits (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Son of Anarchy). This film is based on a stageplay by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Algeria Hudes and is set in the New York City neighborhood Washington Heights. The story follows said neighborhood as they imagine and desire a better life.

I saw this film early. And by early I mean the Sunday before it came out. There were a plethora of special screenings so I thought I’d take the opportunity to attend one of them with my grandma because who does not like free stuff? Part of me was hesitant towards paying to see this film because I am not a musical guy even though I have enjoyed stuff here and there like “La La Land.” Maybe I would have used my AMC A-List, but still. Sticking with the facts, I have been reviewing movies for a long time, I am completely focused on the movies that are coming out as audiences continue to return to the theater (even though apparently “In the Heights” could have done better at the box office) so for those reasons, I decided to check out “In the Heights” for myself. I do not know if I would have seen this film during its actual release (or even on HBO Max), so I figured I’d watch it now just to say “Hey! I saw this!” And I did see it, so let’s talk about it.

I just want to iterate a couple things. First, I have heard nothing but praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda. I have not seen any of his Broadway work. Yes, I have not seen “Hamilton.” I’m sorry. I know it is popular, I know there’s a filmed version on Disney+, but I still have not seen it. I’ve heard a few songs from the musical because my sister was with me in the same place and she was playing them, but I was not the one in control of these songs. With that being said, this movie is my first exposure to ANYTHING related to “In the Heights.” Did it give me a good first impression? Well, I certainly did not hate it. I will start off by saying that the film is fun. There are some good songs, although there are a few that are admittedly forgettable despite maybe some solid execution in the actual film. The opening number set the tone well, a lot of the ones that came later seemed to match that original tone and occasionally, its catchiness. The main jingle of the film still lingers in my head from time to time.

The foundation of the film is not exactly one specific character, although the movie is mainly told from the perspective of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) who did do a good job by the way. Instead, the foundation is this collection of people who belong to one region of New York City. We see all these people sing about the life they prefer to live over their own. And a couple of the songs in the film captured the emotions of these characters’ wishes. Granted, I cannot quote them. It has been a couple weeks and I do not think I’ll be watching “In the Heights” again anytime soon. But when it comes to pure fun, this film has the proper ingredients from time to time and part of it is because of the soundtrack. Will I remember the characters as some of my favorites by the end of the year? Not really. But the movie does an okay job at making Washington Heights itself feel like its own character per se.

I do want to bring up the pacing though. Now obviously, this is a lively, bombastic musical. So obviously, there will be some quick pace and non-stop music action. There is no doubt about that. I think at times the movie does a really good job at matching the songs to the emotions, thoughts, and actions of certain characters. There is one song towards the end mainly revolving around Olga Merediz’s character that I think was done particularly well and it continues to stick with me. Although there are not as many other songs in the movie, as well put together as they are, that have such staying power. Speaking of staying, I feel like I stayed at this movie a little longer than I had to. I felt like the stereotypical dad who goes to his daughter’s dance recital and constantly begs to himself to just stand up and leave because it is going on for such a long time. Although in my case, I think I am displaying less impatience, even though there was some to display, and more curiosity as to when the lights would turn back on. I say that because there is a lot that happens in “In the Heights” which is amazing to me because I talked to a friend who calls herself “that snob” because she liked the stage version much better than the film. I have not seen anything except the film, so more power to her. She told me they made some changes, and they took some things out. That last statement floored me because this film feels packed to the brim with material. Song after song. Character after character. By the end of the film, when it feels like it has hit its climax, there’s actually like ten, twenty minutes of main material left. And I say ten to twenty minutes because I apparently found out that there is an end credits scene in the film that I did not watch.

There are a lot of good things about “In the Heights.” The cast is likable and talented (although somewhat controversial), the film looks very pretty, the cinematography is some of the absolute best I have seen this year and could arguably receive a few nominations during awards season. No, seriously. There is a sequence by the end of this film that I would buy the Blu-ray just to see if they explain how it was done in the bonus features. Additionally, Jon M. Chu did a pretty good job at bringing his vision to reality. It feels lively, fun, spirited, hyperactive from beginning to end. So even though I was kind of begging for the movie to end as it hit what I was its second or third climax, I was still having fun. I’ll even say there are a couple chuckleworthy lines in it. Granted, it’s not like I’m watching Kevin Hart or something, but there are still some funny lines here and there.

In the end, “In the Heights” has good things in it, but I do not think this film will get any replay from me except for maybe once or twice. If I did not review movies, I would probably not go see this by myself. Once again I will say, I did see this with my grandma just for clarification, but if I were in a situation where I did not review movies and I saw the list of movies playing at the theater, I would probably skip “In the Heights” unless I was with someone who really wanted to see it or if I just wanted a spectacle, which this movie did provide from start to finish. When I talk to a friend who says they took some things out of a movie that I still think is too long… That is not a positive. Granted, I did have fun with “In the Heights” and I do recommend it. But the movie feels like “Return of the King” by the end of it. It feels like it could end, but it’s like a party and there’s that one guest that won’t leave no matter how hard you try to shove them out the door. “In the Heights,” I like you, but you can’t stay here. I’m going to give “In the Heights” a 6/10.

Technically speaking, I would give “In the Heights” a tad higher grade than a 6/10, maybe at least a 7, because it does look beautiful. But when you add in the fact that some of the songs did not stick with me, the characters themselves not all sticking with me either, and a runtime that feels like a turtle occasionally wrote this film despite everything feeling fast, that’s a problem. This is why the film gets positive marks from me, even though I would not consider it to be my favorite of the year. I think there will be an audience for it. It started off getting great reviews and I notice the ads seemed to highlight a bunch of celebrities promoting it because apparently some people trust them more than Variety and The New York Times, so I could see “In the Heights” maintaining a cult status. I do recommend if you are to see this film, maybe go with a couple friends to the theater because one of the big positives of the film that I will mention is that it is best viewed on a big screen. As much as I like HBO Max, this movie is bigger than a streaming service.

Speaking of which, “In the Heights” is now playing in theaters everywhere and is currently available for a limited time exclusively on HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! Coming soon, I will have my review for “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the brand new sequel starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, and Salma Hayek. That review will be up soon, that is if I survive long enough to actually post it. Also, this Thursday I will be going to see “F9: The Fast Saga.” It comes out in theaters that day, so I will attempt to have my review up for the film as soon as possible. I will also be reviewing the new Disney+ exclusive Pixar movie, “Luca,” which did come out in one theater in California, so without giving anything away, it will qualify towards my future yearly posts including The Jackoff Awards and my top 10 lists. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account and also like the Facebook page so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “In the Heights?” What did you about it? Did you see the stage version? What are your thoughts on that edition of “In the Heights?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020): The Most Triumphant Review to Unite the World

The year is 2020, COVID-19 is the talk of the town. Political talk never ever ends. Toilet paper is a precious commodity. Hand sanitizer is the trendiest item for the past few months. The Internet is a war zone. Not with weapons, but with words, name-calling, and reminders that masks go over the nose. One man must unite the world, and that man is…

The Movie Reviewing Moron.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is directed by Dean Parisot (RED 2, Galaxy Quest) and stars Alex Winter (Grand Piano, Freaked), Keanu Reeves (John Wick, The Matrix), Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers, My Spy), Samara Weaving (Ready or Not, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Brigette Lundy-Paine (Atypical, The Glass Castle), Anthony Carrigan (Gotham, Barry), Erinn Hayes (Kevin Can Wait, Childrens Hospital), Jayma Mays (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, American Made), Holland Taylor (The Practice, Two and a Half Men), Kid Cudi (How to Make It in America, Need for Speed), William Sadler (Iron Man 3, The Shawshank Redemption), and Jillian Bell (Bless the Harts, Workaholics).

This film is the third installment to the “Bill & Ted” franchise, and the first one that has come out in almost thirty years. Years after their excellent adventure and bogus journey, Bill & Ted are happily married to their princess wives. They are also loving fathers to their daughters. Suddenly, the duo is alerted of a world-ending event in the future, and they must write a song that will unite everyone, as they were destined to.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is one of those films that I became more excited to watch as the year went on. Part of it is because the 2020 calendar happens to be losing more films by the day. Films like “Black Widow,” “No Time to Die,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Dune,” and so on. But “Bill & Ted Face the Music” was one of the early films to release when studios and exhibtors were collaborating to get moviegoing back on track this summer. Having a duel release in theaters and on demand, the film received mostly positive reviews.

But I didn’t watch it at first.

There are a few reasons why. Movies like “Unhinged,” “The New Mutants,” and “Tenet” were more important for me to tackle at the time. And more importantly, I still haven’t seen the first two “Bill & Ted” installments. Thankfully, now that I have, I can declare that both are wonderfully quirky, hilarious, and both times I ended up wanting Bill & Ted to be my best bros. Yeah, they are idiots, they do not really have brains, but they have enough charisma to make them some of the most lovable idiots on the face of the earth. I also have to say, I wish more people talked like the main duo did in real life. I would like to just have the occasional moment where I say something and do an air guitar solo, even if the moment does not call for it.

At the same time though, this is a sequel that is many years in the making. It has been a long while since Bill & Ted had their time, and it was hard for me to wonder if seeing these two grown men acting like their younger selves would work. This is especially true when I look at an actor like Keanu Reeves, who has evolved quite a bit since his portrayals of Ted. He has gone from playing hyperactive, maybe somewhat quirk-filled characters like Ted and Johnny Utah to the true badass grit that I managed to get out of John Wick.

If you want to know the truth, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is one of the most triumphant film experiences of the year. When it comes to pure fun, “Bill & Ted” has consistently been top notch. “Bill & Ted” is a franchise that has a universe that I quite honestly cannot take all that seriously. But makes the movies all the more enjoyable.

I know it is 2020, and partying is not allowed. But each time Bill & Ted happened to be on screen, it made me want to… PARTY ON DUDES! There is a sense of infectious joy to be had every time they do something. Bill & Ted could do something as simple as take a piss at a urinal while standing next to each other, and I would still be having fun with them. They could sit on a couch eating chips flipping channels on a television trying find something to watch, and I would still be having fun with them. They could wait in line at the DMV, sitting right next to some jackoff talking too loud on the phone, and I would still be having fun with them. Literally the best part of Bill & Ted as characters is the fact that they even exist to begin with. Now watch, they make a “Bill & Ted 4,” ruin everything about these two and perhaps I suddenly change my mind. But for now, everything is fine. I rest my case.

One of the biggest concerns I had for “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is whether Alex Winter’s and Keanu Reeves’s previous schtick would hold up even those the duo has aged. As somewhat suggested already, Bill & Ted’s schtick may be the absolute best part of this movie. Unless they are doing a full on remake where they erase everything about this current trilogy, I hope they never recast Winter and Reeves. They are the perfect fit for their characters, even if they are middle aged men acting like teenagers.

I also really like the daughters, played wonderfully by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine. But before I continue with the positives I do have to mention one problem. As it has been taught throughout our history, it takes two to reproduce. A man and a woman. Evidence suggests that these two daughters have a mother that is still alive. Now, for all I know the mothers are not role models or incredibly abusive off-screen. But it is a little hard to believe that the daughters do not really take after their mothers, even in a minimal sense. They’re basically copies of Bill & Ted except that they’re women. They call each other dude, act cartoony, and obsess over music. Again, “Bill & Ted” is a universe that I do not take seriously 100% of the time, but this almost leans into a territory where it breaks the suspense of disbelief bar. Despite that, I will say their characters are well cast, funny, and their story in the film was fun to watch. I would not mind seeing their own movie if possible. Maybe they could do a “Bill & Ted” adult animated TV show where these two have a new adventure every day. It could be like “Rick & Morty” but with greater use of the word “whoa.”

I will also bring up one more thing about the movie that kind of surprised me. Remember “Transformers: Dark of the Moon?” Remember “Kingsman: The Secret Service?” When those movies end, they basically conclude the big climactic event that defines all that came before it, but they don’t really do anything else from there. “Bill & Ted Face the Music” does something similar. This movie has a big climax, but they just have something completely abrupt happen, and the movie just ends. It did not make me angry, but it made the end feel so sudden, it’s like celebrating your birthday, having your cake, then 25 other people cut all the slices for themselves before you can get one piece of it and eat it.

I want to talk about death. Death sucks. Life is definitely better. Stick to life.

With that being said, I want to talk about Death. He’s spectacular! If there were any moment in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” that happened to be a highlight, it would have to be when the duo interacts with Death. Most notably, when they play Battleship. It takes an ordinary scenario, but makes it the most hilarious thing on earth. I’m glad they got William Sadler to come back, because he embraces the character and once again, allows him to shine. I will say that I will remember his material in “Bogus Journey” more than “Face the Music,” but it was a pleasure watching Death in his return to the franchise. His story was fascinating and Sadler gives the role his all. There’s not much more to say.

In the end, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is a spark of fun in a dumpster fire of a year. I wanted to see this movie when it came out, and I unfortunately avoided doing so at every opportunity. I can definitely say that “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is worth the wait. Not only is it worth my wait of avoiding it in theaters, avoiding it on PVOD, and holding out for physical media, but I can declare that for those who want a solid “Bill & Ted” sequel all these years later, you will most likely be pleased. I am going to give “Bill & Ted Face the Music” an 8/10.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. You can also find it on premium streaming services such as Google Play, VUDU, and Prime Video for a rental fee or a purchase price.

Thanks for reading this review! We are slowly approaching Thanksgiving weekend, and I have a few movie reviews lined up including “The Croods: A New Age,” which hits theaters this week. “Superintelligence,” which hits HBO Max this week. And if I have time, I’ll be sure to talk about the 2020 edition of Disney’s “Mulan,” which I just bought on 4K Blu-ray. I did not watch it when it first came out partially because I did not have Disney+ and I was much more focused on “Tenet.” I just watched the original Disney animation, so I am eager to see how the live-action version compares to its counterpart. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Bill & Ted Face the Music?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite “Bill & Ted” movie? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Sound of Metal (2019): Hearing is Precious, Here’s Proof

“Sound of Metal” is directed by Darius Marder (The Place Beyond the Pines, Loot) and stars Riz Ahmed (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Nightcrawler), Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One, Bates Motel), Paul Raci (Goliath, Switched at Birth), Lauren Ridloff (The Walking Dead, Wonderstruck), and Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, The Grand Budapest Hotel). This film centers around a drummer named Ruben, who we find out early on is losing his hearing at an alarming rate. His sponsor, worried for him, makes him go to a deaf community and meet Joe, who runs said community. Ruben does this all the while struggling to live with his new situation.

I often poke fun at this company because its business practices usually prevents competition from getting their foot in the door. But if one company has been coming through during this pandemic when it comes to film, it would have be Amazon. They have consistently been releasing film after film, and while not all of them are great (I’m looking at you, “My Spy”), they have come out with some of the more watchable ones this year. “The Vast of Night” was my first 8/10 of the year, which unfortunately came in over the halfway point of the annual calendar. “Radioactive” had a great lead performance by Rosamund Pike and is a marvelous telling of Marie Curie’s life story. Amazon also put out a couple good, but not great, documentaries this year. If it were not for Hulu’s “I Am Greta,” “Time” would be my favorite documentary of 2020. I think Amazon has a solid track record this year. Not perfect, but solid.

“Sound of Metal” is Amazon’s best 2020 release yet.

People say that film is a visual medium, and they’re not wrong. When you have a character whose hearing is being taken away, it makes you appreciate the sights of whatever gets captured on camera. This is a film that at various points, has minimal dialogue, and relies on what you see, not hear. I have seen space movies where they drop the sound to mimic the endless vacuum of the starry sky, but “Sound of Metal” is that if it were brought down to earth. Even at points where the movie became somewhat difficult to watch, it had my attention simply because it was effective enough in its demanding of it. They say that audio is half your movie, and “Sound of Metal” does a really good job at suggesting that such a half may not always be a necessity. I have good hearing, and at times, it’s a curse due to my sensitivity to certain sounds. This movie occasionally made me feel deaf.

It is difficult to determine who will end up being this year’s Best Ensemble, but if I had to pick a perfect candidate right now, that would have to be the cast of “Sound of Metal.” Staying consistent with previous thoughts, many of the performances in this film are not what they are because of their lines, but through their physicality. This movie primarily focuses on two languages. English and sign language. All this leads to what ends up being some of the best writing and directing I have witnessed all year.

Riz Ahmed is a triumph in this film. I have witnessed Ahmed in previous projects, most notably “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and I thought in his previous roles that he served his purpose. Here however, it is difficult to deny that he was allowed to shine and reveal his true acting abilities. His portrayal of Ruben is raw, gritty, natural, and sort of mind-boggling at times. Ahmed is a true performer, and I liked him before “Sound of Metal” came out, but this is the first movie I’ve seen him in that puts his name on the map for me.

I also admire Ahmed’s chemistry with Olivia Cooke, who plays Lou in this film. For the record, Lou is Ruben’s sponsor, while also revealing to be romantically involved with the guy. Unlike Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke was a name that has circled around my head for sometime, and the reason for that is because “Ready Player One” ended up being one of my most rewatched movies of 2018. I like Olivia Cooke in “Ready Player One,” she was great in that movie. Much like Riz Ahmed, I sort of got to see more of Cooke’s true colors in this movie. This is a performance that absolutely dives into the emotions of the character at hand. I could feel the connection between her and Ahmed, and such a bond turned out to be one of the highlights of the film.

If this film has done one thing, that would be to make me realize the talent that can come from even people I do not know. I knew who Ahmed and Cooke were, but one man who I have not seen prior to this film is Paul Raci. I have no idea what his future holds, but with enough luck, it may end up being one with massive success. His portrayal of Joe really helped this film bring itself to an intimate level. Ruben is the rough, rugged, obnoxious main character who needs to realize what is ahead. Joe is calm, poised, and patient. If I were stuck in traffic with this guy, it would not be the worst car ride ever.

Continuing the subject of unknown, recently realized talent, this is the feature length directorial debut of Darius Marder, and if he keeps up his game, he could be a household name. This is his first feature film, and it is still a bit early to tell if his name will be big enough, or noteworthy enough to associate with the greats. Nevertheless, depending on how COVID-19 continues to unfold, we’ll have to see when Marder’s next film hits, but this is a fantastic debut. I would love to see more from Marder if possible, and maybe he’ll be the next big name in the industry.

If I had any problems with “Sound of Metal,” they would honestly be quite hard to point out. While the casting is amazing, it is a little weird to have a relationship between the main characters if their respective actors are 11 years apart in age. At the same time though, age is just a number. I will also say, time will be the defining factor here, but it is hard to tell whether I will obligate myself to go on Prime Video and watch this movie again. It’s not that I did not like the movie, I enjoyed it very much. But there are a couple scenes that immediately deliver a lack of comfort. While the feeling did provoke a sense that my time watching the film was well spent, it was nevertheless brought through scenes that may have been harder to watch than others.

Upon reflection, I would have to say that I love the way that this film starts and ends. I say so because it is a perfect encapsulation of Ruben’s journey. I will not go into much detail, but it has to do with his profession, the effects of said profession, and the overall journey of the film. This forms a recipe for greatness, and ultimately, one of my favorite movies of the year.

In the end, “Sound of Metal” is a nearly flawless attempt to highlight what it is like to lose your hearing. It shows ups, it shows downs, it shows in-betweens, showcasing a hard journey for the main individual and people around him. We can all agree that 2020 is objectively the worst year to be a film fan, that even stands true with the notion that “Parasite” deservedly won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Theaters have been closed. A lot of the films that are in theaters right now are probably just getting dumped. Disney+ got absolutely greedy with their “Mulan” experiment. Not many movies have been extraordinary. Although there have been a few that have been extraordinary like “The Last Shift,” “Over the Moon,” and “Yellow Rose.” As of today, “Sound of Metal” joins those movies in said category. I am going to give “Sound of Metal” a 9/10.

“Sound of Metal” is in select theaters starting Friday, November 20th, and will then drop onto Amazon’s Prime Video as an exclusive two weeks later, December 4th.

Thanks for reading this review! I am not sure what I will be watching this weekend, if anything. But over Thanksgiving weekend, I am going to be reviewing “Superintelligence,” the all new film hitting HBO Max starring Melissa McCarthy and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone. Two and a half years ago, I reviewed “Life of the Party,” which these two collaborated on. It ended up being my least favorite film of the year. This can only go so well. Will 2020 strike me down once more? Will we see a turnaround for the celebrity couple? Find out soon on Scene Before! If you want to see that post, and more posts like this one, be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Sound of Metal?” What did you think about it? Or, have you watched any Amazon movies this year? Which one is your favorite? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Yellow Rose (2019): Bigger Than Texas, Bigger Than Gold

“Yellow Rose” is directed by Diane Paragas (NextWorld, Brooklyn Boheme) and stars Eva Noblezada, Dale Watson, Princess Punzalan, and Lea Salonga (Aladdin, Mulan). This film follows a 17-year-old Filipina, who also happens to be part of a family of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. When Rose Garcia’s mother gets picked up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she runs off and attempts to adapt to a new life and new reality as she aspires to become a country singer in Austin, Texas.

This movie played at a plethora of film festivals in 2019. Not only did this film get to play at these film festivals, but it did something else. WIN. On IMDb, there is a list of the many festivals in which this movie played. At almost every single one, it took home whatever each festival’s equivalent to Best Picture happens to be. It’s that good. Simply from the awards potential and what it has racked up so far, I had high expectations for this film. At the same time, it’s 2020, the year where each day I wonder if the next one is going to be less intolerable than the one before. For those who must know, it’s not like we have not had any good films this year. “Tenet,” “Summerland,” and “The Last Shift” are incredible. I’ll also happily defend “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” until the day I die! It’s worth a watch, trust me! Check it out on HBO Max!

In all seriousness, I saw “Yellow Rose” in an empty theater, given how cinemas are the only way you can watch this movie. Over the past couple year, we’ve had quite a few music-based movies that became popular, including “A Star is Born,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Yesterday.” Honestly, I’d rather forget that last one, it’s terrible. Here’s some good news. “Yellow Rose” is not as bad as yesterday.

Here’s some GREAT news… “Yellow Rose” is one of the best movies of the year!

This year in general started off fine, became bad, it’s gotten worse, and it hasn’t stopped progressing down the rabbit hole in terms of how terrible it truly is. For movies, it’s kind of the opposite point of view. We started off with a couple duds, got some good movies here and there, but overall, this year has been nothing special. We were so spoiled in 2019 with movies like “Parasite,” “Knives Out,” “Marriage Story,” and “Ready or Not.” But I will say one thing about this year, that’s kind of like last year. The sweet stuff comes later. And trust me, “Yellow Rose” is, in the words of Peter Griffin, freakin’ sweet.

Now I don’t know if this movie will be for everyone, specifically because the main character and her mother are living in the United States illegally, so I imagine some people will look at this movie, witness the main character, and simply ignore it. Movies are not made for everybody, that is the subjectivity of film. But when it comes to how this film tells this story, you cannot deny its power. You cannot deny its impact. I honestly don’t care about the status of our main character, because overall she is incredibly likable. I am a legal citizen of the United States. That is something which I will admit I have not been proud to say in recent years, but that’s not the point. Nevertheless, I enjoyed how the film deals with its issues, themes, and overall conflict.

Not only is “Yellow Rose” a great film about an aspiring artist, but it is a fantastic film about being an illegal in the United States. You’re trying to get by, you may not have the best accommodations, although you’re managing, and when it comes to dealing with I.C.E., it’s a brutal game of hardball. At the same time, even WITHOUT that, this film is still a lively presentation of how someone aspires to be something bigger than themselves, which is a story I enjoy from time to time. Minus the legality factor, I related to the character Rose. From the first five or so minutes of the film, I was instantly hooked from just seeing her on screen. And I’ll tell ya why. Like her, I have enormous aspirations. I spend all my time in my room. I’m a creative type. And there’s even a scene where I got the sense that she hides her creative self from other people. My eyes lit up from that very moment, and I knew I was in for what could possibly be the best movie of the year. By the way, Rose is played by Eva Noblezada, this is her first role that is not on a stage, and it is PERFECT. I do not think she will win Best Actress, but for a first performance, I could not be happier.

Speaking of songs, there are a lot of them in this movie, and there is a good chance that I’ll listen to some of them again. I will say though, one of the few cons, and there are not that many, that I have with “Yellow Rose” is despite the fact that “Yellow Rose” heavily centers around music, I don’t remember many of the songs in the film or the lyrics of said songs. At the same time, this stands true for much of the music I enjoy, so I could debunk this. Nevertheless, no movie’s perfect. This is a philosophy that has stood true for years, and I am willing to abide by it. This is not to say the songs suck, and I will say that many of them are spectacular, but a flaw’s a flaw.

If I had to say anything else about this movie, this came out at the perfect time for me. I still live with a parent, but I can see myself starting my own life pretty soon. This girl, embodies me as someone who sees their future and even a little bit of their present, and it ain’t always pretty. I can’t always rely on the best transportation, I make things up as I go along, and the living conditions may not always be great. I am very thankful to have such an incredible life right now where I can get three meals a day, and maybe a little more. This movie made me appreciate what people, regardless of their legality, go through just to survive. This movie is not only relatable, but emotionally gripping. My eyes and ears were engaged from start to finish, and it never let me go. In this wreck of a year, we need more movies like “Yellow Rose.”

In the end, “Yellow Rose” is quite high on my must see list! The film is only available in theaters now, which I will say, as usual, I get it, not everyone wants to go to the movies. But, if you are one of those people who wants to go see a movie, “Yellow Rose” is mandatory viewing. If you don’t enjoy the movie, maybe you’ll enjoy the songs. Who knows? This movie deals with multiple stories and issues, with each one coming out to top notch perfection. “Tenet” is one of the big movies out right now, and it has gotten a lot of attention, but if you want to support something with a smaller budget, I implore you to watch “Yellow Rose.” Again, some of the songs are not that memorable, but that could change upon listening to the album or a second viewing. And you bet I will want to participate in a second viewing because I’m going to give “Yellow Rose” a 9/10!

Now, IMDb technically lists this as a 2019 movie, but it came out for a public theatrical release in 2020, so I am going to count this as a 2020 film. With that being said, this may be my favorite film of 2020. I’m a little torn between this and a couple other films, but I am glad that 2020 has picked up the pace movie-wise. I’m really hoping we can get a 10/10 movie by the end of the year, but I’m so happy. By the way, about that 10/10. THIS MOVIE CAME SO CLOSE that I almost gave it that score. Maybe things will change with a second viewing! We’ll have to see!

Thanks for reading this review! Pretty soon I’m going to have my review up for “Honest Thief” starring Liam Neeson. I hope to publish my thoughts on that film by the end of next week. School may be keeping me a little busy during these times. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or a WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Yellow Rose?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite piece of music, either song or score, from a movie this year? For me, it has to be the “Tenet” score, Ludwig Göransson created a banger! Leave your thoughts down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!