IT's just kind of.....there
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016): The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.
So, let me lead with this: I am in the camp that thinks Meryl Streep, while undeniably great, did not deserve an Oscar for this role. Unfortunately, that pretty much dominates my opinion of this film, which is a shame because there are certainly great bits scattered throughout the movie. But there's also no doubt this film was built around Meryl Streep, and I will always have an issue with the Academy giving an actor or actress, even one who is considered by many to be one of the greatest alive, a nomination for its most coveted role when they know this. I don't claim to be an acting expert, but I've always felt it's much easier to play a role that's built around your strengths and weaknesses than it is to step into something outside your comfort zone. So yes. Meryl Streep is great, but it's not an Oscar-worthy performance. I digress. Let's talk about the rest of the film!
Actually, let's backtrack. Might as well get acting out of the way first. Hugh Grant is.....oh man! He is as charismatic as can be in this. He's basically playing himself, but hey let's not forget I love a film like Knight and Day because that film let Tom Cruise play Tom Cruise. Also outstanding was Simon Helberg. Unlike his Big Ban Theory co-star Jim Parsons in Hidden Figures, Helberg is actually really really good! I freaking loved his character here. He basically plays the audience in his role, and he holds his own against the legendary Streep and Grant. Also doing her best, though her character is undoubtedly the weakest part of the story, is Rebecca Ferguson. She's still trying to find her footing after breaking out in Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation, (she tried her best but was crashed in the train wreck that was Girl on a Train....didn't even realize I was making that pun when I started that thought) but I'm confident she'll find a fleshed out role to finally be taken seriously in Hollywood.
Let's talk about that, shall we? Let's talk about Rebecca Ferguson's character in this film, because as I think about it her TERRIBLY written character almost sinks the entire ship here. She plays Kathleen, which is Hugh Grant's....other wife. So first off, she's like 25 years younger than Hugh Grant, and it shows in this film. This age gap is never mentioned, of course. Second off, her character is not at all developed and is basically meant to serve as a plot device. And before you think there's going to be some dramatic scene between Grant and Streep when Streep's character finds out that Grant is practicing polygamy....don't worry! Let me spoil that one for you! IT DOESN'T HAPPEN. No! At one point Ferguson makes a totally ridiculous "it's either her or me" ultimatum to Grant and everyone in the world with a brain knows Grant is going to side with Streep, and when he inevitably does Ferguson just leaves. That's it! No more Rebecca Ferguson. Done. The closest thing we get is one scene Streep visits Grant unexpectedly and we have Grant AND Simon Helberg (don't worry he knows about Ferguson of course and keeps Grant's secret for literally no reason) pulling off these stupid slapstick gags to keep Ferguson (and another girl) hidden from Streep's viwion. This was totally out of place within the film, and when I started this review I didn't think it bothered me that much but given the fact that I just ranted about it for an entire paragraph clearly it did. BAD MOVIE.
Ok! Now that that's out of my system. Let's talk about more positive things. So the film leads up to this performance at Carnegie Hall, which was a shockingly emotional sequence. Heck it may even sneak into my top movie moments of 2016. Not sure about that one yet, but it was a lovely sequence that, in the span of a few moments, threw me from one side of the emotional spectrum to the other. That doesn't happen very often for me. But beyond that, I don't have a lot of positives to talk about here. Hearing her voice for the first time and watching Helberg's reaction was funny! There's one. And, uhhhhhh Hugh Grant is charming oh wait I said that already. Uhhhhhhhh Meryl Streep is great but we all knew that already. Oh! Oh! Costumes! Streep's costumes were fantastic, and there was a lot of care put into everyone's outfits as well. Though Helberg looked REALLY weird wearing a wife beater at one point. Though that may have been done intentionally, however.
Well, I guess in conclusion I'll end with.........this is a cool story, and I'm glad there was a film made around it. And it's charming and good! There's nothing wrong with either. I would probably be much more enthusiastic about this film if I was watching it in August when it came out instead of now surrounded by some of the best movies of the year, but to me this film is just kind of.....there. If you take away anything from this review, it's that: Florence Foster Jenkins is good, but it's just kind of.....there. Alright that's all I got. Time for bed.
The Critique: While a charmingly good film thanks to Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins is a film that can be described as just kind of existing, and thanks to a few major missteps along the way fails to leave any sort of truly emotional punch.
The Recommendation: Fans of Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant will have a lot to like here, as will people who have been waiting for Simon Helberg to be really good outside The Big Bang Theory, but everyone else? There are better films out there worthy of your time.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Idealistic to a fault
Captain Fantastic (2016): In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.
Wow. That IMDB description was way more interesting than the movie itself. So this movie was very polarizing for me. On the one hand it does introduce some very interesting concepts. The idea of a father raising six kids in his equivalent of a paradise and then their struggles to cope with being forced into the world is interesting! But, the payoff is sooooooo unsatisfactory, and the setup to get to that struggle is so weak! This is a 118 minute movie with about 75 minutes of something that belongs in a different film. The first hour of this film plays more like a comedy with serious parts dripped in: the kids all have a great report with each other and their interactions are funny. There. Just summed it up. But then for about 45 minutes, which is the part where the kids themselves are struggling to adapt to the real world, it turns into a gripping a hugely interesting drama.
Let's talk about that, shall we? Because that's certainly the best part of this film. During this there are some brilliant scenes between Viggo Mortensen and his children. While four of his six kids all have boring (or nonexistent) character arcs, two of the four-the two oldest boys-have AMAZING arcs. There's a scene where Mortensen comes to discover that his oldest son was accepted to every important college imaginable. This is easily the best moment of the film, and shows that this film is capable of greatness. But the film wastes too much time debating over "how we should raise our kids" or "how to stick it to the man." Like, this is fine. I have no problem with a film that talks about that. But if you are going to talk about that.....do it in a believable way.
And that's the big problem with this film. It's simply not believable. The great Frank Langella is in this film, and he is a fantastic example of what a great actor can do to a shoddy script. His character is clearly written to be the "bad guy" of the film, and yet Langella adds so much depth to the character, (the father of Mortensen's deceased wife) that it exposes just how shallow the film really is. See, at one point the middle boy threatens to leave Mortensen and stay with his Langella because he blamed Mortensen for his mother's death. Interesting, right? Well, the film could not move past this fact fast enough. Meanwhile, Langella is left to simply "threaten to call the cops," in response to Mortensen not taking too kindly to letting go of his kid, though thanks to Langella's performance he expresses great dismay throughout the entire sequence. Also, Kathryn Hahn is totally miscast here. Sure her role is just another "sister/wife" role in Hollywood, but during her few brief scenes she's never allowed to be herself. Aka be funny. (Unfortunately) There are a million actresses in Hollywood that can just be a generic "the sister" character so if you're going to cast her at least let her be herself! Yet another role delegated to the actresses of Hollywood trying to get by.
Though on the topic of casting, ohhhhhh boy does Annalise Basso do the best she can to make up for her totally uninteresting character. All the daughters in this film are completely wasted as they always stay idealistically true with the beliefs of their father and don't even at one point question how they live their lives, but Basso kills her role nonetheless. Move over, Chloë Grace Moretz. You just might have some company. You may have noticed that I have not talked about Viggo Mortensen's performance much. That's because it is the best thing in this film. Easily. As much as I'm not fond on the rest of this film, Mortensen is simply terrific as the father, and he does deliver a pretty dang good performance. Though is it worthy of a best actor nomination........? No. I think he got this because director Matt Ross is well known around the business and Mortensen simply does not receive as much recognition as he deserves. However if it were up to me I would've given the nomination to Russell Crowe from The Nice Guys. Probably. I would've at least given something to The Nice Guys. Anyway, I think I am taking a very indirect route of saying that ultimately.....this film is fine. It's not bad, but it's not good either. It takes the path of least resistance, and maybe if I was watching it on a warm summer's night after some baseball I'd enjoy it, but in the cold dark of January under a certain orange menace I'm having none of it. On to the next one.
The Critique: Idealistic to a fault, Captain Fantastic takes the least interesting route to tell it's story and ultimately flops in the process, despite a great (but not Oscar-worthy) performance from its lead.
The Recommendation: You know, I'll stand by what I said previously: if it's a warm summer's night and you're perusing Netflix and see this, you could do worse. Otherwise, there are better Oscar-worthy films worthy of your time right now.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
As great as it is, something is missing
Jackie (2016): Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband's historic legacy.
This is a tough film for me to critique. There's no doubt this is a great film: it's wonderfully acted, brilliantly written, masterfully edited, and has some cool costumes, set design, and a very different but awesome score peppering the whole thing. But.....there's something holding it back. Maybe it lies in the performance of Natalie Portman. Maybe it lies in the overall tone of the film. Maybe it does lie in the editing which, while great, was also very obvious. I don't know! As a result, I'm turning this into a flash review. I'm just going to spit out my thoughts and go down the rabbit hole that is reviewing this film and see where we come out. Ok? Well. You don't really have a choice in the matter, so come along now.
Let's focus on positives first. This film has a great cast that gives it their all. Obviously Portman is the centerpiece, (more on her later) but the film also features a strong supporting cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup as The Journalist, (though his identity is revealed in the film so I won't spoil) the late great John Hurt as a priest, (RIP) and John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant as LBJ/Lady Bird Johnson. I was particularly blown away by Gerwig, who shows off her acting chops in a role that is totally different than anything else I've seen her in. Man did she have a good 2016. Additionally, this film was told in a very unique way for a biopic. (Hence the caption) The film basically covers two weeks of Jackie's life around the assassination of JFK, and it (thanks to that great editing) jumps back and forth between basically four different events as the story progresses. I really enjoyed this non-chronological storytelling style, (I'm sure it has a name but I'm not smart enough to know it) and the seamless, but obvious, editing held it all together. Film editor Sebastián Sepúlveda also did that thing where he mixed real footage with film footage so you couldn't really tell if what you were watching was what actually happened versus what the film is telling you what happened, and I love to see that. Snowden could've taken a page out of this technique when recreating shots of Citizenfour, but I digress. There was also a GREAT set design, one certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination, as the film crew had to meticulously recreate a JFK-era White House as they re-enacted Jackie's Tour of the White House from 1962. On top of it all was a very eclectic and unique score from Mica Levi, who utilized a traditional orchestra to create an almost haunting score for this picture. While it stands no chance to win Best Score against La La Land, it was absolutely perfect for this film and reminded me why I love film scores.
But.....what's holding it back? What's preventing it from being right there with La La Land, Moonlight, Arrival, and 20th Century Women for what I believe to be the best films of 2016? I think it starts with Natalie Portman. Don't get me wrong: she's great in this, and may even net an Oscar for her performance due to the celebrity that she is playing, but I never once lost sight of the fact that I was watching Natalie Portman play Jackie. When you're watching a truly great biopic on a celebrity there's often a moment when the actor playing that character is absorbed and becomes a celebrity. Tom Hanks did it in Saving Mr. Banks. Leonardo DiCaprio did it in The Wolf of Wall Street. Jesse Eisenberg did it in The Social Network. But Natalie Portman just doesn't reach that point here. Maybe it's because I didn't really know Jackie Kennedy. (So perhaps my parents would have a different opinion of her performance) But then again I didn't know Jordan Belfort at all either (I didn't even know that was him at the end of the film introducing himself until like two weeks ago) yet DiCaprio still sucked me into that character. Now granted I'm comparing Portman's performance to arguably the best performance in film since Heath Ledger's Joker, but it doesn't change the fact that I never stopped seeing her, and you don't want that to be the case in your high profile biopic. Also, as I hinted to before, I thought that the editing was too obvious while not adding anything to the film. I looooooved the obvious editing in a film like Whiplash, but that's because it added something to the film. Here it felt like "Oh look at me look at how simply marvelous I am at my job" kind of editing. Again. Obvious for a reason, but obvious nonetheless.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just being too harsh on Jackie, but that may be because I saw the potential for greatness here. When you have a film centered around one of the most traumatic events of the 20th century, it is very easy to create drama and intrigue. And when you center your story around the First Lady instead of the American people or the president's perspective, you can create an entirely different and unique perspective surrounding these events. But while I do feel like the film kind of does this, I just think it could've done more. That's definitely a good complaint to have about a film, but if this review has taught you anything about how I look at things.....a complaint is still a complaint.
The Critique: Despite a brilliant performance from Natalie Portman, Jackie falls just short of immortality due to some overbearing moments.
The Recommendation: If you're a fan of JFK or Jackie Kennedy or the Kennedy's in general, this film is more than worth your time. Everyone else though? Might be kind of bored during this film.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Oscar Talk: Given the amount of press it had going into the nominations and the fact that it only has 3 Oscar nominations to show for it, I think the Academy kind of agrees with me on Jackie. I think there is a very real possibility that this film comes out of Oscar night empty-handed. It's best shot is Best Actress, and even though I haven't seen a bunch of those performances yet, I can say that Emma Stone was definitely better than Portman. We shall see!
Quick Reviews, End of 2016, Part 2: The Neon Demon, 13th, Deepwater Horizon, Live By Night, Love & Friendship, SilenceRead Now
The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon (2016): When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Gah this movie! I wanted to like it. Really, I did. So many people complain (and rightfully so) that creativity has been sacrificed in Hollywood at the altar of money. And if there's one word that describes The Neon Demon it's creative. It has a very creative story and tells it in a unique way. Visuals are how this story is told versus dialogue, (though there is still plenty of that) and director Nicolas Winding Refn spared no expense in this department, including some amazing lighting and absolutely breathtaking makeup. Even the editing shows up to help tell this story at times. I loved that! But its visual story is also its downfall. Elle Fanning's character is a HUGE swing and a miss as she makes far too many jumps in character for me to follow. One second she's a totally innocent girl trying to make friends and the next she's pushing away her boyfriend to get ahead. The supporting cast makes some inexplicable jumps in character too, with only Abbey Lee's character remaining consistent. While all these characters are well acted, (this may be the best performance I've seen from Jena Malone) there were simply too many "Wait, what?" moments for me to truly love this film. As much as I love creativity and originality, it's also a two-way street.
My Number: 5.5/10
13th (2016): An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.
Ava DuVernay can do no wrong. Yet another eye-opening film that exposes the terrible systemic racism that exists in this country, 13th is a harrowing documentary. Told entirely through interviews, 13th explores how a simple provision in the 13th Amendment opened the door to atrocities like Jim Crow or the "War on Drugs" to our modern (and messed up) prison system. What is truly fascinating with this film is that it does actually go into the "other side" of these issues. For example, when it highlights the negative effect ALEC has had on our prison system, (ALEC is something, by the way) it actually shows an interview of a spokesperson from ALEC. Because DuVernay's crew actually reached out to ALEC for an interview and they responded. However, when the consequences of their actions are shown, it really goes to show just how ridiculous their defenses are. This is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time, and it is worthy of a watch from anyone who asks the question, "Why do Black Lives Matter?" Seriously. Go see it. Just a few missteps in the editing department keep it from a perfect score, but for most people that won't matter. This is available to watch on Netflix right now, so you have no excuse not to watch it. Doooooo it.
My Number: 9/10
Deepwater Horizon (2016): A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster, when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
You know, I wanted to really like this movie. After all my interest in it was spiked by seeing Peter Berg's other 2016 film Patriot's Day, and this was the one nominated for Oscars and not the other, so I figured that I must be better. Well.....it's not. While it's certainly quite the spectacle, and there is a fair share of naturally dramatic events including one film-made one towards the end between Wahlberg and Rodriguez that was EASILY the best moment in the film, but it also had a lot of problems. Unfortunately, these problems outweigh the good in my opinion. The problems start, surprisingly, with the effects. I thought the effects were pretty corny. I don't know, maybe I'm just so used to CGI that I would assume something like this was all CGI, but the fire throughout this film looked very fake. Combine that with the dark setting and the oil and everything on everyone's faces, and I had absolutely no idea what was going on with anyone short of Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, and John Malkovich. That's.....not what you want to have happen in your film. I don't know. Maybe I should've seen it in theaters. Might have been more coherent then. But as it is I had no idea what was happening to anyone and what was happening where other than EXPLOSIONS all throughout the disaster sequence. Even though the final moments between Wahlberg and Rodriguez were emotional, it was not enough to save it. Oh, and can we PLEASE give Kate Hudson more to do than just being "the wife?" Seriously....when will these shallow roles for actresses end??
My Number: 4/10
Live By Night
Live By Night (2016): A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.
This movie is TERRIBLE. The biggest problem with it is that it feels like a bunch of movies in one. As a result, the film struggles to find an identity throughout its 129 minute run-time and is simply a missed opportunity. There were some interesting bits: most notably Elle Fanning's role as a Hollywood-bound girl turned drug addict turned fundamentalist preacher, but the film doesn't spend anywhere near enough time with this idea to make it resonate. Fanning gets basically two scenes to flesh out her character, and that's simply not enough. Affleck is basically playing his character from The Town, which here is very out of place: he's actually kind of bad in this film. His character's arc isn't really that interesting, and his decent from dignified bootlegger to gangster has been rehashed far better a million times before. Rather than taking an interesting route, like with Fanning's character, Affleck (who also wrote and directed the film) seems totally content with making his film feel like every other gangster film. While he may be content with that, no one else wants to see "just another gangster movie," and as a result this movie deservedly tanked. It also caps off one of the worst years in recent memory for Warner Brothers, who will only see Sully and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them receive any sort of Oscar buzz (three nominations total between them) out of the 18 high-profile films they dropped in 2016. Just watch Goodfellas again instead of this travesty.
My Number: 3/10 Bad (And it's a 3 only for Elle Fanning and the set design)
Love & Friendship
Love & Friendship (2016): Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws' estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica -- and herself too, naturally.
OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME. Just needed to blurt that out real fast. Seriously. Make the time to see this film. It is hilarious for the first two acts of the film, then it takes an extreme turn to the dramatic for the final act. Oh my God did this film go from hilarious comedy to gripping drama on a DIME. It took me completely by surprise. I was surprised because the film stealthily laid the foundation for the third act, and then sprung it into action. I was hooked. In addition to an amazing story, Kate Beckinsale is absolutely INCREDIBLE as the lead. This film rests on her shoulders, and she puts in one of the best performances of 2016. While the rest of the cast was pretty much invisible, that was ok because Beckinsale certainly carried her weight. Additionally, the film had a marvelous set design and some great costumes. Don't know why this didn't receive a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination but that category makes no sense as it is so whatever. Ultimately, I give this film a strong recommendation because of its humor, its gripping narrative, and a massively underrated performance from Kate Beckinsale. If you're a fan of films that take place in Early Modern Britain, you need to move this film to the top of the list. Just a couple of minor missteps in the final act with Beckinsale's character keep this one from receiving a perfect score.
My Number: 9/10
Silence (2016): Two priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism.
Martin Scorsese can do no wrong. While the first half of this 161 minute film is a little slow, the second half is an exceptional bit of film making from my single favorite director in the business. Scorsese uses the namesake, silence, to a bone-chilling effect and makes for one of the most harrowing moments in film I've seen all year. That said, it does take over two hours to get to that point, and I think a lot of people will be somewhat bored with the journey to get there. The film had this weird haze throughout the first half dominating many shots that I'm sure served an artistic purpose, but I was not a huge fan of it. Mostly because when there wasn't haze surrounding any given shot the film looked absolutely gorgeous. Rodrigo Prieto, one of Hollywood's great cinematographers, shot this film and did a marvelous job when there wasn't that weird haze. I mean overall it's great watching a film like this from a master filmmaker because you know there's an artistic purpose for how every shot is framed and portrayed. Additionally no one is better at utilizing the art of silence than Scorsese and this film further punctuates that point. Absolutely fantastic sound design. And man are the last 45 minutes great! Additionally Andrew Garfield is outstanding in this film. I think he should've been nominated for this performance over Hacksaw Ridge, but that just goes to show just how great a year Garfield had. However Adam Driver's character did not receive the same amount of attention Garfield's did, which is quite a shame. At the end of the day, there's no doubt this film is well worth your time if you're a fan of Martin Scorsese like I am. But it's definitely not for everyone. The Irishman can't come soon enough!
My Number: 7/10
A wonderful and fun film
Hidden Figures (2016): Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions.
Let me first state the obvious: I love this movie. It is an awesome movie of people overcoming a system designed to defeat them, it features some great performances all across the board, and it's leads are badass. Seriously, if you've been feeling down in today's political climate, here is another great escape film. This film shamelessly plays on your heart strings, but I never once minded. I think the main reason I didn't mind it was because this film never really seemed to dramatize its story. The most "dramatic" moment in the film did actually happen, (John Glenn proudly talked about it later on in his life) and the movie does a good job to make itself feel pretty intimate, despite the grandiose of the events taking place. So let's jump into it, ya?
First off, the good. This film is anchored by a terrific performance from Taraji P. Henson. Another snub at this year's Oscars, Henson bursts onto the scene in a blaze of glory as the lead here, the badass, snarky, and way-smarter-than-you'll-ever-be Katherine G. Johnson. This character is beautifully written by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, as well as the rest of the supporting cast, which is almost as strong as Henson. Octavia Spencer is the big name here, and she is wonderful as always, but I was taken aback by Janelle Monae. The pop singer has burst onto the acting scene this year with great performances in both Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Here she plays Mary Jackson, who is every bit as ambitious and snarky as lead Katherine. Mahershala Ali makes another strong supporting appearance, and white co-stars Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst (I almost missed her she looks so different) are good too. In fact, Dunst had a wonderful character arc and even has one of the most emotionally impactful moments at the end of the film, mostly due to her great performance. The only weak link here surprisingly is Jim Parsons who is definitely too famous in one role for his own good. However he is certainly made up for it by Glen Powell, who absolutely KILLS it as John Glenn. This dude is pretty much a no-name right now, but you better watch out because he's exploding on to the scene after this film.
In addition to some wonderful acting performances and a great script, this film also had a great soundtrack. While the score is mostly invisible (which is a shame because it was composed by Hans Zimmer) the songs, mostly composed by the great Pharrell Williams, make up for it. They provide an extra layer of depth and make this a very fun and upbeat film to watch. Hence why it's the perfect escapism film to watch right now! The 1960's era set and costumes are good, but they are pretty standard for a period film like this. Honestly everything outside the acting, script, and soundtrack are pretty invisible, but I think that's how director Theodore Melfi wanted it. This film is all about Katherine G. Johnson, and everything else you see is around just to help bolster her character. I don't really have any complaints with this film other than the fact that it's motives are very obvious, but is that really a bad thing? I prefer to feel like I'm in the heart of a story versus flying over top of it in a helicopter, but being in a helicopter is by no means a bad thing. This is a great film through and through, and definitely worthy of your time.
The Critique: Anchored by an exceptional performance from Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures is an engaging and fun retelling of one of the invisible heroes of the 20th century.
The Recommendation: I think anyone that has any interest in NASA will find something to like here, as well as those who need to escape from the carnage that is our current administration.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Emotionally Impactful, but flawed
Patriots Day (2016): The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible.
Oh boy. This is a tough one. On the one hand, you have an incredibly emotional event. Director Peter Berg (The Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) certainly knows how to tug on your heart strings, and he does so with scene after scene. From an officer refusing to leave the side of the youngest deceased victim of the bombing, to Mark Wahlberg's Tommy Saunders explaining to us the battle of good versus evil over a montage of more victims seeing their loved ones for the first time after the bombings, I found myself tearing up quite often. But. But but but but. This is a flawed movie, and the more I think about it the more issues I have with it. There are too many interesting things that are just left on the side of the road to tell us a surface-level story.
I'm gonna jump right into the negatives. There are a lot of moral and ethical quandaries that are simply glanced over, or intentionally avoided. It starts early on with the whole "Reddit thought they found the bombers" thing. The film just glances over that, and gives us a quick sentence or two about the FBI/BPD debating over whether they're going to release the photos of the actual suspects or not while Boston destroyed the wrong suspects. There's another sequence where it's discovered that the American-born wife of one of the bombers will not be read her Miranda rights, and the film gives that half a sentence. There's another sequence where the FBI/BPD are debating whether they should call it terrorism or not, and the FBI provides a few reasons why they shouldn't call it terrorism right away, but then they call it terrorism right away. There were simply too many moral hurdles jumped to keep the film about the first responders and how great they are. Don't get me wrong: first responders are great and don't get nearly enough credit out there for the things they do, which I know I personally could never do, but I don't need a movie to remind me of this. I want a movie about the Boston Marathon Bombings telling me what law enforcement, the media, and everyone else involved had to go through to get this right in a post-9/11 world.
Now, there is one scene where we do get this, and it is easily the most interesting scene in the film. This scene involves an FBI interrogator, played by Khandi Alexander, and one of my favorite new actresses to the business, Melissa Benoist, who plays the American-born wife of one of the bombers. Benoist is interrogated by Alexander in this really interesting and engaging sequence of the interrogator trying to get in Benoist's head. But just as soon as the sequence begins, it ends. That said, the rest of this movie is still emotionally gripping and compelling, because even though I don't need a film to tell me how great first reponsers are.....they're still great, and everyone in this film knows it. There's a who's who trove of stars in this film from Mark Wahlberg to Kevin Bacon to John Goodman to Michelle Monaghan to freaking J.K. Simmons, and they all play their characters just as well as you would expect this A-list batch of stars to. There's some great sound design and editing going on, and the film is shot well too. I mean, it's a well-executed story, and even though you know it's tugging at your heart strings it still tugs at them, but that doesn't excuse this film for its lack of any sort of real depth. But the film does try and make up for its lack of depth in describing the events with depth among the characters. The film takes the first 15 minutes just to establish its characters which is GREAT. More films need to do this! I cared about these characters, and besides for the police officers I wasn't sure how the rest of them were going to play into this film initially but I still cared about them. This idea of being slow out of the gate has been lost in many films nowadays, but it was so refreshing to see it happen here.
But that STILL does not forgive the lack of depth when describing the events. Basically, we need more time. Time to process the events of this bombing, and time for history to tell us the cultural and societal impact of these events. Then we need a film to truly delve into the moral and ethical dilemmas these first responders faced when getting information out, and more importantly getting the right information out. Heck I personally wrote a paper in college about Reddit's well-intended but disastrous bomber search and how the media covered it and accidentally destroyed an innocent man's life. There's an entire film right there. But this film just wants to take a look at the events from a bird's eye view. That's fine, and there will be many who love this film. Heck there may even be many who think this is the best film of 2016. But to each their own. In my opinion, this film is a missed opportunity.
The Critique: While emotionally charged from start to finish and a well-executed film, Patriot's Day fails to reach greatness because of a painfully surface-level story.
The Recommendation: Look. I think a lot of people will love this movie and will be impacted by it, especially if you have some kind of connection to Boston or the marathon. There are a lot of reasons to see this film. But, if you're not a big moviegoer and you hit the theater right now.....you can do better. I.e. 20th Century Women, La La Land, or Hidden Figures. To name three.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average.
Simple but powerful
20th Century Women (2016): The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.
Before we begin, I must say this: I. Love. This. Movie. I saw it on the Inauguration Day of a certain president I'm not too fond of, and I was feeling very down and emotionally vulnerable heading into it. Well, if there was ever a pick-me-up, it would be this film. There was a quote early on in the film from mother Dorothea (played beautifully by Annette Bening) that, even though it was pertaining to love, still was poignant to our current situation. "I think having your heart broken is a great way to learn about the world." If that doesn't send chills up your spin, I don't know what will. And that was my experience with this film: while it's not perfect, it was an uplifting and unforgettable first-watch experience. Please, if you are down because of a certain someone, do yourself a favor and go see this film.
So, what makes this film so great? Let's start with the acting. Annette Bening is clearly the star here. One of the great character-actresses of Hollywood, Bening makes her presence known while never going over the top-it's a performance that won't net her an Oscar because it isn't obvious enough, but her performance is sheer and utter perfection for this film. (Looks like I was right on this one.) Equally as resonating are the performances of Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig. I've loved Gerwig ever since she blew me away in Frances Ha, but man has Elle Fanning come a long way since her standout role in Super 8. All three of these women are spectacular, and their male figure, Billy Crudup, is excellent too. Man talk about a heck of a year for Crudup! Two years, really. Dude knows how to be in great films. But I digress.
What really hits home on this film is the story. The story is shockingly intimate, yet it feels grand in its story-telling scale. The story is primarily about Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) and his struggles as a teenager, but it really isn't. That's what I love about it! I mean heck the IMDB description doesn't even mention Jamie. Because this film is really about these three strong women and how they evolve as individuals as they try and raise Jamie together. There is so much depth to each of these three women, and to Jamie, it really was beautiful to watch them develop in their own, unique ways on screen. Director/writer Mike Mills may not earn himself any Oscar nominations, (or only one) but there's no doubt in my mind he has crafted a masterpiece of a character story here. I think the one complaint many will have lies in the ending. This film does end pretty suddenly after exactly 120 minutes, but I actually thought it went well with the theme that we are always growing as individuals and one event does not define who we are. I also must praise the beautiful and whimsical score. This score is right there with Moonlight and La La Land (I'm listening to it as I write this review) for my favorite scores of the year and is absolutely perfect for setting the mood for this film.
That said, it's not perfect. I had exactly two problems with this film. The first was in the editing. There were some distracting rainbow washes and other erratic cuts that kind of broke the intimate mold of the film. I'm sure there's an explanation for the artistic choice, but I found it distracting. I also found some of the voice-overs unnecessary. It is so hard to produce worthwhile voice-overs, and when you have people like Martin Scorsese or Shane Black who are both so good at it, it's hard to go against their formulas and still find success with it. However, at the end of the day, this film is still an awesome film and it proved to be a necessary respite for me in a certain someone's new America. Seriously. If you're feeling down in the dumps.....go see this film.
The Critique: Powerful in its intimacy, 20th Century Women features strong performances from its female leads and is one of the year's best films.
The Recommendation: If you're down in the dumps, like Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, or Billy Crudup it is a must-see. Or if you like A24 and have to follow everything they do! Which wouldn't surprise me because A24 is awesome and has had a heck of a year!
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Quick Reviews, End of 2016, Part 1: Christine, Zootopia, Snowden, The Lobster, Batman: The Killing JokeRead Now
Hey guys! I do my best to see and deliver as many full reviews as possible, but I can't review them all. So, here are a few quick reviews of films I missed throughout the year that deserve mentioning. Enjoy!
Christine (2016): The story of Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s TV reporter struggling with depression and professional frustrations as she tries to advance her career.
This film got to me. While I can't deny there is some slow writing, and Rebecca Hall seemed just a little bit strained, the source material for Christine was all this film needed to be great. From a broad and poignant never-ending dilemma the media has with the idea of "if it bleeds, it leads," to an intimate struggle with one's manic depression, this film certainly nailed the emotion that naturally comes with an event like this. For those who don't know, this film is based on a real life event involving the suicide of Christine Chubbuck on live television. Rebecca Hall clearly gives it her all as the lead, though I did feel she was a bit strained throughout the film. I mean, this would be a tough role for anyone to take on, and from what I hear Hall herself struggled with a bit of depression while researching and portraying the role, but she did bite off a bit more than she could chew. There's also some pretty big leaps made in the final act, though I guess that is to be expected when someone has manic depression. My biggest complaint with this film, however, is the epilogue. Director Antonio Campos and co. made the controversial decision to show the suicide, (the broadcast was recorded but has been intentionally lost to the annals of time) but afterwards we get this somewhat extended sequence with one of the supporting members of the film. If it had just cut to black after the gunshot, or given us just a couple of shots after the suicide, it would've probably found itself in the realm of greatness. Instead, it is merely good. Though it is certainly a thought-provoking way to spend a couple hours.
My Number: 7/10
Zootopia (2016): In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.
This movie is cute. I went into it knowing that it was one of the better animated features of the year, and coming out I can see why. It has a nice story, likable characters, and a CHILLING similarity to real life. While I will say the story here is typical to most Disney films-the main character is told they can't do something then they go out and do it against all odds-it's typical because it works. This time the unlikely hero is a rabbit played by an unlikely star, Ginnifer Goodwin, and her sidekick is a fox played wonderfully by Jason Bateman. But what really got me in this film was the similarities to real life. While many of the kids might of missed some of these hints, Disney was clearly trying to open the eyes of the parents throughout the film as the election of a certain someone drew near. While it's not a Frozen kind of game-changer, Zootopia is certainly another strong entry in what is undoubtedly another Disney revival. I just wish their live action films were as good. C'mon Beauty and the Beast!
My Number: 8/10
Snowden (2016): The NSA's illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency's employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.
Do yourself a favor. Watch Citizenfour for the story of Snowden. While this film is fine, it definitely lacks the power and grace that came with Citizenfour. I think director Oliver Stone is mostly to blame here, as he really tries too hard to make the movie "dramatic." Even though it doesn't need to be at all. There were also some odd creative choices, like recreating shots of Citizenfour but with the actors of this film. That was quite bizarre, and really distracting, since the documentary just came out 2 years ago. That said, I still enjoyed learning more about Snowden and the life he had before becoming a whistle-blower. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fine in the main role, but he is certainly outplayed by his on-screen counterpart, Shailene Woodley. While she has pretty limited screen time, she definitely makes the most of it. But overall my biggest fault with this film is how it fails to escape the shadow of Citizenfour. It is far too soon to be making a drama about this event, and that really detracts from the overall experience. The film also didn't dive much into Snowden's life in Moscow. I would imagine he's keeping that pretty secret, but in the end titles the film told us that his girlfriend (Woodley) moved out to Moscow to be with him, which I think we can all admit is pretty important information. Why wasn't there a scene of her flying out to Moscow? Or of her at least being with him out in Moscow? Anything at all? Why is an end title card telling us this? Talk about a swing and a miss. And that just about sums up 2016's Snowden film. A swing and a miss. It will not be Hollywood's last attempt at recreating these events so hopefully they'll do better next time.
My Number: 5/10
The Lobster (2016): In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.
My God. What a film. The Lobster is a film that is rather hard to describe with words. It is a crazy and outlandish film that owns its premise, and it never hesitates to "go there." Ultimately, it was a little too much for my tastes, but I cannot deny its creativity. At the heart of the film is a brilliant, dead-pan performance from Colin Farrell, who really puts in one of the best performances of his career in this film. The movie also features a stellar supporting cast that includes Bond stars Ben Whishaw and Lea Seydoux, and another hilarious performance from John C. Reilly. The movie had me laughing from start to finish, but it also delivers a fairly poignant message about love. I was quite impressed by the themes going through this film, I just couldn't buy all of the rules and motivations of certain characters. Particularly the motivations of Lea Seydoux. (Great as she was) At the end of the day, if you like pure creativity there may not be a better film to see from 2016 than this. However it's definitely not for everyone, including myself, and that certainly brings the film down a little bit. I think my biggest issue with this film was that it created a set of rules for its universe that didn't necessarily make sense. As the film progressed, and as Lea Seydoux's camp was introduced, these rules made even less sense, and that just brought the viewing experience down for me a bit. But it's still worth the watch for its pure creativity and for Colin Farrell.
My Number: 7/10
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016): As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness.
So this is my first real crack at the DC animated universe, though I've heard nothing but good things to this point. I also heard that this new comic series from DC was highly anticipated, and this film was supposed to restart the DC animated universe in a big way. However, will it actually do any of those things? I say no. I was HUGELY disappointed by this film. While there are some very dark themes throughout its short 76 minute run time, the calling card for this film is Mark Hamill returning to play his iconic Joker one more time. But this is where the film falters in a big way. It attempts to give The Joker a backstory, but this backstory is very shallow and totally unbelievable. I mean, it's just really lazy! Heath Ledger's Joker's backstory is more engaging than this, and all we get on that is a couple of cut scenes. Overall, the writing is what kills this film, despite some excellent voice-overs. I mean man is it great to hear Mark Hamill voice The Joker once more, but his boring and unbelievable backstory, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of the film, proves to be his undoing. Just watch The Dark Knight again.
My Number: 3/10
Never knew space could be so dull
Passengers (2016): A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.
Shout out to corporate-directed filmmaking. Sony has recognized the growing popularity of space-based films, and they wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Add Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, two of Hollywood's brightest young stars, and BOOM! You have a surefire success. Only problem is you need more than just two charismatic stars and space to make a good film, and Passengers fails on nearly every other level. What's worse is there's a major, essential plot point that is totally ignored in all the trailers that, if done right, could have made for an interesting and sinister story. But, instead, the film really could not try and move past it quicker, and given the marketing campaign for this film, they seemed pretty eager to move past it as well.
So it is impossible to discuss this film without addressing this plot point, so I will give you a big ol' SPOILER WARNING. Ignore this paragraph if you don't want spoilers! Well, it's not really a spoiler as this point happens in the first act of the film, but if you don't want to know anything about the story don't read this part. Spoiler: Chris Pratt wakes Jennifer Lawrence up! So Pratt is stuck on a ship after he wakes up 90 years too soon and is struggling to cope with the thought of dying alone long before he reaches the destination of this voyage through space. One day he walks by Jennifer Lawrence's hibernation pod, and he thinks, "Man, she is really hot! I should wake her up!" and then proceeds to do exactly that, and then proceeds to not tell her that he's the one who woke her up! This film could've turned this into a great moral quandary: the idea that a man, so desperate to not die alone, decides to do the seemingly unthinkable and basically end the life of another human being. (who, as it turns out, was on this voyage to be the first journalist to travel to another colony and come back, so it wasn't like she was important or anything) This plot point could've been done well. We could've seen Pratt sacrifice his soul and then spend years trying to justify and rationalize being a murderer. But no! Instead we have to get scenes of Pratt and Lawrence being charming and charismatic! With Charlie Sheen there to make everyone smile. And when the truth bomb is finally dropped? We get like 5 minutes of Lawrence hating Pratt for, you know, killing her, before the circumstances of the movie bring them back together! And they live happily ever after. NO. The way this plot point is handled sinks the entire ship, no matter how good the scenes of Pratt and Lawrence being charming and charismatic are. I'm sorry. This decision is immoral and unethical, and the film's decision to skirt around it as much as possibly torpedoes everything else.
Ok. Everyone else back now? Hi! Welcome to the continuation of my review of this crappy movie. Let me get the few bright spots in this thing out of the way real fast. First off, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. They're both charming and charismatic. You put them on a screen in any situation, and they can be as charming and charismatic as anyone can be. Did I mention that they are charming and charismatic? Also, there are some cool visuals, particularly the gravity loss sequence. Jennifer Lawrence is swimming in a pool when this happens, and the water goes everywhere. Yes, they marketed the crap out of that sequence, but it was for good reason. It was easily the best sequence in the film. Let's see what else.....uhhhhhh....Michael Sheen is funny! Sure his character is a HUGE swing and a miss, as the film passes up any and every opportunity to let Sheen providing some interesting insight into these characters and their voyage, but he's still a funny guy. And Laurence Fishburne is alright. But oh! We have to talk about revolutionizing the idea of "phoning it in." Hi, Andy Garcia! What the actual crap are you doing in this movie? Andy Garcia, known for such classics as The Godfather: Part III, The Untouchables, and Ocean's Eleven, is in this film for a total of 15 seconds. And it's in the trailer that everyone saw. That's the worst part! Ya it's 2:14 in to this video. That shot is all you get of Andy Garcia in this entire film. They paid him a boatload of money for what was likely less than an hour shoot to "look surprised," and then they put him in every trailer for the film. That's just straight-up false advertising.
Actually, that's probably the best way to describe this film: false advertising. The potential of this film is completely lost in the face of wanting to make as much money off the charm and charisma of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as possible. While there are a few bright spots in this film, and it's two stars do everything they can to make it a pleasant viewing experience, Passengers is ultimately a forgettable and frustrating excuse for a movie. Do NOT bother seeing it. There are soooo many better films out there. Crap, crap, crap!
The Critique: False advertising and corporate greed come together to produce one of the worst films of the year, despite the noticeable efforts of its stars.
The Recommendation: A straight-up AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE. Just watch Guardians of the Galaxy again, or Silver Linings Playbook if you wanna see these wonderful stars in their native habitats.
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage
Robin Hood meets the modern western
Hell or High Water (2016): A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas.
Alright. Before I get started, let me say this: GO SEE THIS MOVIE. It is an extremely worthwhile film, complete with a very relevant statement to what we now call, "Donald Trump's America" from both a progressive and conservative standpoint. There's drama, beautiful set design, great cinematography, and wonderful performances from Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, and, especially, Ben Foster. So, what makes this film one of the best of the year?
It starts with the writing. This film paints a devastating picture of west Texas, ravaged by the 2008 financial crisis that feels like it's being left behind that was really eye-opening for me. You see the hardened southerner struggling to get by, and (justifiably) blaming the banks for their hardships. You sympathize with the main characters and their motivations for wanting to rob the very people they feel have been robbing them, even though what they're doing is objectively wrong. Pine and Foster are fantastic as the main characters, (they are also brothers in this film and have great chemistry) and as the film progresses and their actions become more desperate and despicable, I still found myself sympathizing with them. This is a terrific achievement for this film, and it makes the ending that much more poignant. Equally sympathetic despite being on the exact opposite side of the coin is Jeff Bridges and his partner's (played by the great Native American actor Gil Birmingham) story line, and their unique relationship comes to a great and unpredictable conclusion as well.
This film wears a lot of hats and wears all of them successfully, but there's a lot more going on than just that. This film is shot beautifully by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, who showcases the vastness of Texas in terrific fashion. The film has a strong cast, though in my opinion Ben Foster steals the show. He plays a wild card character, and his performance actually reminded me a lot of Jeremy Renner from Ben Affleck's The Town. Actually, I saw a lot of The Town in this, as well as a lot of No Country for Old Men. In fact, I would say that that's my biggest complaint of this film: it lives in the shadow of a lot of other films that have similar premises. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it was hard for me not to get comparisons to other films out of my mind while watching this. This film is definitely Joel and Ethan Cohen light. Complete with The Dude, too! But I digress. I also have to take a moment to appreciate Chris Pine. There's no doubt that he's one of Hollywood's most versatile actors, and it is pretty crazy to see him go from playing the charismatic Captain Kirk to this very nitty gritty character with a lot of depth and who is very down-to-earth. While I enjoyed Foster's performance more, Pine's performance was definitely a wonderful reminder of just how great acting can be. Jeff Bridges was great too, though he was definitely not trying to escape the shadow of Tommy Lee Jones from No Country for Old Men.
Ultimately, the compelling story of Hell or High Water is what props it up and makes it one of the best films of the year. Between painting a picture of Donald Trump's America in a way that everyone can sympathize and relate to, and showing two brothers trying desperately to beat the seemingly unbreakable bank, director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan successfully ride a thin line between conservatism and progressivism. And while it does live in the shadow of a few other films, that shadow is definitely a great place to be. Go see this movie.
The Critique: Despite living in the shadow of some modern classics, Hell or High Water rises above it thanks to a compelling and devastating story, great visuals, and terrific performances from Ben Foster and Chris Pine. One of the best films of the year.
The Recommendation: While films like Moonlight and La La Land are receiving a lot of well-deserved press, Hell or High Water has been somewhat overlooked. Don't make that mistake. This film is a must-see for everyone and well worth your time.
The Verdict: 9/10 Outstanding
Oscar Talk: Like Ben Foster in this film, I think this will be something of a wild card when the Oscar nominations are dropped. I think it receives a Best Screenplay nod but beyond that.....? Hopefully it receives a Best Picture nod too but everything else is pretty much up in the air due to the simple lack of public knowledge for this flick. C'mon, Academy! Don't let this one slip by!
An Acting Paradise and Not Much Else
Fences (2016): A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
This is an interesting movie to critique. On the one hand, it has terrific acting and writing. Both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington put in great, Oscar-worthy performances in what is certainly shaping up to be a strong, strong year for acting. There is also some terrific writing to go along with it. This film is based off a play of the same name, and the writer of said play also came in and wrote an excellent screenplay for the film adaptation. However, while this film excels in these two departments, it is sorely lacking in almost every other field, as its biggest problem is that it, well, feels like a play.
Let's star with the good. I've let this simmer for a day or two, and I'm glad I did. Because the more I think about it, the more I realize this is the Viola Davis show. She delivers an emotional and gut-wrenching performance, one which is almost surely going to net her an Oscar nomination, and pretty much out-performers her male co-star, Denzel Washington. And this isn't meant to take away from Washington: he too is outstanding in the lead role, though he does tend to talk an AWFUL lot. It's good dialogue, but man the sheer amount of dialogue in this movie reminds me a lot of Jesse Eisenburg from The Social Network. (Which is still one of my favorite movies of the past decade so putting it in this review is certainly a good thing.) While there's a lot of dialogue, I was still sucked in because it's all good dialogue. That's a hard thing to do for sure, but all of Washington's stories and all his exchanges with the rest of the cast were more than worthwhile. They did what they were supposed to do-paint a picture of a working-class black man trying to get by in the 1950s-and Washington (who also directed the film) certainly created a picture of a man that was full of surprises. This film is about the journey Washington's character takes to get by when the deck is stacked against him, but it's also just as much about Viola Davis's journey as well. I was also impressed by how this film really stressed to emphasize the covert racism that was alive and well in the 1950s, and it painted a pretty chilling parallel to covert racism today. That was likely one of main points of writer August Wilson, and in this part he certainly hit it out of the park.
That said, this film is not without faults. Remember before when I was talking about the stories Washington told? Well, this was also a missed opportunity on the film's part. Why didn't we actually see Washington's stories play out in front of us? That would've been far more effective than simply hearing him tell us about it. Too many events in this film take place off-screen, and as a result it really feels like you're watching a play. I get that it's based off a play, but there's also no reason to take liberties that you can't take on a stage. Like showing us things that are happening in the film instead of simply telling us about them. I must also pick on the erratic editing and cinematography. There really wasn't any rhyme or reason to either of these: one scene we'd have a two and a half minute long take, the next scene there would be twenty cuts in the same length of time. A couple times the camera would focus on Washington when it should be focusing on Viola Davis-she'd be delivery a heartbreaking performance and yet the film feels the need to show us how Washington is taking it, which was irritating. That said, there is an over-the-shoulder (of Washington) shot of Davis that is simply devastating and will certainly be used in every acting reel of her as she goes through the awards circuit. But the overall uncertainty within the editing and cinematography department was distracting to me.
However, those two faults are not enough to bring down this otherwise almost great film. It will certainly be discussed more as awards season gets into full gear, and nominating Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress (even though she was defiinitely a co-star, it looks like Paramount is touting her as a supporting actress so she has a better shot at winning) will be an EASY way for the Oscars to not have to worry about #OscarsSoWhite episode 3. Expect to hear this film's name again as award season progresses, guys.
The Critique: Despite some erratic editing and cinematography and an overall too-intimate setting, Fences is certainly one of 2016's great acting films thanks to standout performances from Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.
The Recommendation: If you like Denzel or Viola, then this is an absolute must-see. I would also say see it regardless, especially if you're a history buff or fascinated by 1950's America.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Almost Great (felt this film deserved a rare .5 score-it's better than good but not quite great)
Oscar Talk: There are easy nominations for acting here for Viola Davis (at least) and possibly Denzel Washington. I also wouldn't be surprised to see this film sneak in a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. However I don't expect much else.
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