Quick Reviews, Winter 2017: Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends), Get Out, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, The Belko ExperimentRead Now
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends)
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) (2017): A documentary on the band on stage at Let Bataclan during the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015.
HBO and Collin Hanks are the first to take a crack at a documentary on the band Eagles of Death Metal after their names were immortalized by being on stage at Le Bataclan during the Paris terrorist attacks in November of 2015. As much as I was emotionally moved by this documentary, and as much as it tells a story that needs to be told, I also believe its release comes too close to the events themselves to be of any real value. I think we are still several years away from the true documentary on Eagles of Death Metal and these terrorist attacks. However, this is still an excellent documentary that does nail showing the raw emotions still felt by the band. The story is told primarily through the eyes of frontman Jesse Hughes and his best friend and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme. These are two of my favorite bands, so it didn't take much for this retelling to pluck my heartstrings. As I said easily the best thing this documentary does is capture the raw emotions that are still being felt by Hughes and Homme and everyone else in the band, but it does also glance over some of the more incendiary remarks made by Hughes since the attacks. So, ultimately, while this is a good first attempt at retelling this traumatic story, its failures to truly encapsulate the event and explain the ramifications because of how quickly its being told hold it back from being the documentary that this band and the victims of these attacks truly deserve.
My Number: 7/10
Get Out (2017): A young African-American man visits his Caucasian girlfriend's mysterious family estate.
Ok. Let me get this out of the way: Get Out is a good film, but it's definitely being over-hyped. It falls just short of greatness for me because of it's massively predictable script. Now, I know with this genre an unpredictable story is hard to come by, but I shouldn't be able to guess what's going to happen before the movie even starts. BUT. Besides for the fact that this slasher goes exactly where you expect it to go, I still had a grand ol' time on the journey. There are a lot of genuinely creepy moments during this film, and it's well-acted. Actress Betty Gabriel stole the show for me as Georgina. Man is that role a far cry from her role in The Purge: Election Year. There's some good editing that takes place here as well, and all of this is sprinkled over a very smart and on point statement on systemic racism today. There's a moment in the final few minutes of the film that was as devastating as it was entirely because of race, and it was, for me, the most thought-provoking moment of the film. But if you're into slasher flicks, this is certainly the best one to come out since The Purge: Election Year, but hopefully it will not be the best slasher film of 2016. You're still in for a good time, (films like this are exactly why I love seeing a film in a dark movie theater with a bunch of strangers) but it's certainly not a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes kind of film. Temper your expectations. Slightly.
Also I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to look at milk the same way again.
My Number: 7/10
Logan (2017): In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.
Ahhhhh it's good to see a good X-Men movie again. Seriously, guys, what happened last year with X-Men: Apocalypse? Anyway, Logan is a grittier superhero movie than we're used to, and is the further development of distributors finally embracing the idea of a hard-R superhero movie. There is a LOT of blood in this, which is nice to see! It's nice to see a superhero movie where the hero kills someone and it actually looks somewhat realistic. There's also a lot of curse words, though some of them were definitely unnecessary. However the central calling card of this film is the Wolverine and Laura, played by the wonderful Dafne Keen. While Laura's story arc is one of the weaker parts of the film, it's still well executed, and her relationship with Wolverine leads to a climax that will emotionally devastate you. It is the best moment of the film, and it may even be a contender for one of my favorite movie moments of 2017. Patrick Stewart is also excellent in this, reprising his role as Dr. Charles Xavier one last time as well. Outside of some liberties taken with Laura's character, I did have some quarrels with the third act I won't mention here, but it certainly centered around the film's shameless attempts to setup future installments with a new generation of X-Men. Despite it's troubles though, this is a strong installment for the franchise and brings back memories of Days of Future Past, which is my personal favorite superhero film not named The Dark Knight. Any film that can be used in the same sentence as that one is pretty dang good in my book.
My Number: 7.5/10
Kong: Skull Island
Kong: Skull Island (2017): A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
Feels like the summer blockbusters are coming earlier and earlier every year, eh? Logan kicked it off just one week after the Oscars and now Kong: Skull Island is here. It's odd, too: this film is the quintessential summer blockbuster. It's a big, stupid action movie that would be perfect to go see on a hot summer's day to escape the heat and turn the brain off for 2 hours. Don't get me wrong....as much as this film was trying to be something more than a popcorn flick, it accidentally does the popcorn flick quite well. If you go into this film wanting to see a giant gorilla fight giant lizards with shameless one-liners from the cast, that's what you're going to get. As well as a chance to see Loki and the future Captain Marvel on screen together. (Don't worry....they're the best part of this movie) But don't go into it looking for anything other than that because man....this script is a total disaster. From the WB-mandated surface level pop song every two freaking seconds, to the film changing it's tone on a dime multiple times a minute, this script may find itself receiving the "Worst script of 2017 award." I just gave up after a while, and instead had a blast watching a giant gorilla beat stuff up. This is by no means a good movie, (heck I may even have to label it a guilty pleasure at some point) but if you go into it ready to turn the brain off and have a good time....(even at the film's expense) you're gonna have a good time.
My Number: 5/10
The Belko Experiment
The Belko Experiment (2017): The IMDB description is too long. This movie sucks.
What the heck happened here? This movie is an absolute trainwreck. It has shallow characters, incredibly slow pacing, (despite its brief 88 minute runtime) and is overall just messy. This film was written by James Gunn too! The dude is the brainchild of what I think is the best MCU film, Guardians of the Galaxy, so I know he can create some fleshed out characters. What was this? Did he write this script just for the paycheck? So many characters have no real arcs, and the only one that does (Danny, and she's not even a main character) has the most unsatisfactory conclusion outside of the actual ending imaginable. Oh ya! And at the end, when we get the whole "What was it all for" discussion, the response is a shrug and the ol' "We're not at liberty to say" excuse. No. F U. Such lazy storytelling. Also most of this film is just a straight ripoff of the great The Cabin in the Woods, right down to them having an eerily similar pothead providing "comedic relief." Only this time the pothead does not have the coolest bong ever. There is a loooooooot of blood and gore in this film, (fair warning-it was a little much for even my tastes) and even if it is accidental and surrounded by a lot of stereotypes, the idea itself is pretty interesting. So I guuuuuuuuuess it has that. But Jesus is this script a disaster. There aren't nearly enough slasher flicks out there, so our pickings are slim, but I would say don't even bother with this one. Watch The Cabin in the Woods and any of The Purge films again. They're all better than this one. Yes, even the first Purge film. This movie sucks.
My Number: 2/10
Might be a tad overrated
Manchester by the Sea (2016): An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.
Well, here we are. My last film review of 2016. Obviously I intentionally saved Manchester by the Sea for last, as I was hoping for it to be as good a film as something like Room was. Unfortunately, though, 2016's version of Room goes to Lion, as Manchester by the Sea failed to emotionally wreck me like either of those two films did. Don't get me wrong-it is an emotional film filled with dramatic moments and buoyed by an Oscar-worthy performance from Casey Affleck, (real-life issues aside) but this film really just.....didn't quite move me like others have this year, and I think I might have to call this one "overrated." It felt more like The Revenant than Room, unfortunately. Now, I'm not taking anything away from this film by saying that, nor am I taking anything away from The Revenant. It's good-I'm not denying that-I'm just saying that it's not.....that good.
So, as is typical around here, let's start with the good. And the good starts with Casey Affleck. The controversy of "does Casey Affleck deserve an Oscar" will be saved for another post where it's appropriate, because here I like to try and look at just the film itself. And yes, within the film itself Casey Affleck is outstanding. He puts in a performance that can rival anything his older brother Ben has done over the years, (except maybe The Town) and on its own merit is more than deserving of an Oscar nomination. To be honest, Affleck plays this role so well I thought he was just playing himself, but he's also asked to display a wide range of emotions throughout the film. Taken just on its own merits, this is probably the best performance from a male actor in 2016. That said, I really feel that the cast is Casey Affleck and Casey Affleck alone. The other Oscar nominee, Michelle Williams, is good, but nowhere near Oscar-worthy good. She has a total of four scenes in this film, two of which are just her in the background. She has one emotional scene with Casey Affleck, which was a great scene no doubt but not enough to merit an Oscar nomination. This spot should've gone to someone like Janelle Monae from Hidden Figures or even Rooney Mara from Lion. Anyone, really. Not 10 minutes of Michelle Williams. Kyle Chandler is pretty good in this, as well as Lucas Hedges, but nobody else had the same pomp and circumstance as Casey. Now, I've spent this much time on the acting because it's the centerpiece of this film-there really are no risks taken whatsoever in the technical department outside of a few clever cuts out of editor Jennifer Lame, but really outside of that there's not a whole lot going on with this film. Which is a shame because it's directed by Kenneth Lonergan, who does have some excellent films under his belt from a screenplay/director standpoint.
As for the screenplay....it's.....fine. Well, no. It's good. It's a good tale of someone being thrust into a position they do not want to be in and having to figure out how to deal with it, but it's also a tale I've seen before. However it does end in a pretty good way that was....unexpected. As a result I did like the ending simply because it was different. But never was there a moment where I found myself an emotional trainwreck. There were certainly moments where I was supposed to feel that way, but I just never rocked the ugly cry. I honestly cannot tell you why this was the case. Maybe it's because I never once felt like I could identify with the son, Patrick? That might have something to do with it-the guy is kind of a jerk who does not treat Casey Affleck with a lot of respect-this might have turned me off just a tad to the story. Maybe if Hedges had looked at Affleck the same way Jacob Tremblay looked at Brie Larson in Room.....I would've been more emotional. But that would've also been out of place with this film because there are totally different circumstances going on here. I just......I don't know. Obviously I'm trying to figure this out as I go along, but I think I'm onto it, so I'm gonna go with the answer to "why was I not emotional during this film" as "Affleck's nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, is portrayed as a jerk. Final answer."
Ok I spent way too much time trying to figure that out, and it may sound like I'm trying to take away something from what was an otherwise good film. I think I have stumbled on why I don't think this film will crack my top ten this year, but hey....maybe you find Patrick a lot more likable and identifiable than I did. Maybe you have a completely different opinion about this film and think it is one of the best of 2016. But that's not me. While I'm glad I saw it, and I can safely say Casey Affleck puts in one of the best performances of 2016, Manchester by the Sea definitely failed to leave that emotional impact I was looking for. However I still look forward to seeing what Kenneth Lonergan does next. Iiiiiiiiiiin 2025.
The Critique: Despite a great performance from its lead, Manchester by the Sea failed to leave any sort of emotional impact on me thanks to poorly written teenager character that is a centerpiece for the film.
The Recommendation: Look, if you can get past what I disliked in Patrick, you will likely enjoy this film. It's also worth watching if you like the ol' comeback story for Hollywood. Even if that comeback is coming back from sexual assault allegations.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Well, there you have it! The last review of 2016. Thanks for joining me on this adventure. Now onto lists, lists, and more lists!
How Action Films should be shot (again)
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017): An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.
Before we go any further, and if you're a fan of action movies.....stop reading. Drop everything and go see this. If you are a fan of the action genre and somehow missed the first John Wick, change that. Right now. Because John Wick is easily one of the best action flicks of this decade, and this second film somehow lives up to its predecessor. Yes. Once more, like with the original, I freaking love this movie. It is wonderfully shot, choreographed, and executed. There really isn't anything out there filmed quite like John Wick, and when I come out of these movies I'm really baffled that there aren't any imitators yet. There are problems with this film, yes, but man. If you want amazing action sequences.....look no further than this.
So what makes John Wick's action so great? I think it's really the choreography of it all. The sequences are meticulously staged, right down to ensuring that an empty clip of Wick's gets thrown in the perfect spot and hits the wall at just the right time. The choreography in this film follows closely with it's predecessor, and given the fact that this is easily the best part of this franchise (and what makes John Wick, well, John Wick) I am amazed that the copycats haven't sprung up just yet. Looks like that might change with 2017's Ghost in the Shell, but we'll have to wait and see. Additionally, what makes the action sequences so great here is the camera placement. Stuntman-turned director Chad Stahelski is very conscious of where the camera is placed at any moment in these action sequences, and thanks to its wide lens the viewer is able to see everything going on. No shaky cam! No uncomfortable close ups! Just as many wide-shots as possible. And when the action does move into a more claustrophobic area towards the end of the film, the camera still gives us enough of a wide-shot to not get too disoriented.
While the action sequences are still the calling card for John Wick, this film also investigated the alternate universe that its creating. More so than the first one. Unfortunately this is where a few small missteps occur, as we see some of these big sequences take place in highly populated areas of the world and yet no one around these assassins ever blinks an eye. Like if someone fired a gun in a subway the people wouldn't go nuts. Because they, you know, don't want to get caught in the crossfire. But beyond that I loved the world-building that takes place in this film. It has just enough rules to be interesting while being grounded enough to be believable. Finally, I have to talk about this legendary cast. The marketing team focused on the reunion of Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, but I was more intrigued by the cameos from acting legends, including Mario Donatone, Peter Stormare, and Franco Nero. It felt like every scene I was going, "Hey! I know that guy!" which is always fun. At the end of the day it felt like people wanted to be in this, and hopefully that continues with the inevitable next installment. While it's not quite as good as the original, if nothing else John Wick: Chapter 2 solidifies this franchise's place at the top of the action movie genre. Now if you're still here and even remotely like action movies.....go see this.
The Critique: While not quite as good as its predecessor, John Wick: Chapter 2 solidifies this franchise's place at the top of the action genre thanks to its breathtaking fight sequences.
The Recommendation: An ABSOLUTE must-watch for any action fan or fan of Keanu Reeves.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great (though not quite as strong an 8 as I gave its predecessor)
Miss Sloan (2016): In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. But when taking on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds winning may come at too high a price.
So I wasn't initially going to write a full-length review of this film, but after it was over I felt....compelled...to do so. Look. I can't deny I love a raunchy political drama. Remember I'm the guy that searched out and watched Zipper back in 2015. Remember that one? Ya I'm sure no one remembers that one but me. I also love shows like The Newsroom, so it was also kind of weird to see Alison Pill and Sam Waterston playing somewhat similar characters. So I was excited to watch this! And initially after I completed it, I was smiling. Initially, I enjoyed it! That is definitely going to buoy my score, because as I started to really think about it.....I realized just how shallow this film is. This film is the political drama equivalent of a mindless popcorn flick, only it's trying to be more. Anyone who follows my blog knows I have NO problem with a superficial film that knows what it is. But, unfortunately, this film does not know it. And after I got over looking at this film and adoring Jessica Chastain, I started realizing this.
So, let's talk about what this film nails. For one, it is sexy as hell! The customers are fantastic, the colors are great, and everyone looks awesome. I don't think I've seen a film where Michael Stuhlbarg looks this good! And of course Jessica Chastain's hair and makeup is perfect in every scene, because of course it is. MAN do I love her. She is acting the crap out of this film and putting in one of the most overlooked performances of 2016. It's not perfect as there were a few points I found myself squirming, most notably when she had to convey anger, but it was certainly better than her performance in last year's Crimson Peak. But over all she does everything she can to hold this film up with her own two hands, and she looked damn good doing it. If only her character had any sort of depth.....
So let's start there, ya? Let's start with the main character, Miss Sloan. She is this extraordinary human being, who is always the smartest person in the room but looks at the world in a very different way. But, do we ever get an investigation of why she acts the way she does? Maybe some scenes where she describes her childhood to a coworker? Or flashbacks? Or really any sort of explanation of why she is the way she is? Nope! What's worse, we get the ol' "I don't have time to tell you" kind of excuse from the film when it flirts with her backstory, as if the screenwriters knew we'd be curious about it but said, "Nope! Don't wanna give you one because we want you to be sad." Additionally, and probably even more notably, was how superficial the rest of this film is. This film does the thing that you see in a lot of action films, like Jason Bourne, where the writers need to advance the plot to point B but feel the need to show you how they got to point B, which constitutes as the main characters standing in a dark room in the CIA going "Quick! We need to find out where the bad guy is!" *Violently bangs on keyboard* "There he is!" to get us there. Too many times in this film it looked like Jessica Chastain was just like "Quick! We need to find a weak point on this guy!" *Violently bangs keyboard* "That's it!" which I didn't initially notice as it was happening but realized soon afterwards. Finally, the ending? Meeeeeeh I don't know guys. Director John Madden and debut screenwriter Jonathan Perera (congrats to him-might not be the greatest script but still a heck of a way to start) both had pretty clear agendas in ensuring Chastain's character is portrayed in a specific way, but the more I thought about it the more I didn't buy it. I'd call this ending a swing and a miss.
In conclusion, while I can't deny this is a sleek and sexy film to watch, and it's covering a topic that is very engaging to watch be portrayed right now, (lobbying against the gun industry) but unfortunately it tackles this topic in a very shallow and superficial way. If it only realized this and adjusted accordingly, or turned this script into the beginnings of a TV show, maybe it would've stood a chance. But as is it's just another wannabe "serious" political drama trying to make a statement.
The Critique: Despite its sleek and sexy look and a great performance from Jesicca Chastain, Miss Sloan fails to make a lasting impression because of a shallow and superficial script.
The Recommendation: If you like Jessica Chastain or political dramas, you'll have fun. Everyone else? There are better films to watch out there right now than this.
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
Quick Reviews, End of 2016, Part 3: The Founder, Edge Of Seventeen, Bleed for this, American Honey, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkRead Now
The Founder (2016): The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers' innovative fast food eatery, McDonald's, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world with a combination of ambition, persistence, and ruthlessness.
Well. Let's talk about this movie, ya? Because....as interesting a story as it is, The Founder suffers from one tremendous problem. A problem which torpedoes the entire film: it glorifies the main character. Ray Kroc is a despicable man, and this film spends way too much time singing his praises. Yes, he created the empire now known as McDonald's, but he destroyed a lot of lives along the way. An easy example of this misstep with the film is with the female characters. Laura Dern is his initial wife, (and grossly miscast, but that's a whole other thing) and about halfway through, he divorces her. No rhyme or reason. Just....sitting at the dinner table, and, "I want a divorce." Then, later on, we discover that he's remarried to a woman who was clearly married to someone else during the film. No mention of how that came to be. It just....happens. This film honestly would've been infinitely more interesting had it been told from Dick and Mac McDonald's standpoints versus Ray's. You really have to feel for them: they are very similar to the Loving couple who paved the way for marriage equality with Loving v. Virginia in that they stood at the precipice of fame, glory, and immortality and walked away because they didn't want it. There's no denying that this is an interesting story-after all, today McDonald's is one of the biggest companies in the world. However, we're still be waiting for it to be told right: from the perspective of the McDonald's brothers.
My Number: 4/10
The Edge of Seventeen
The Edge of Seventeen (2016): High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.
I'm such a sucker for a good coming-of-age film. And The Edge of Seventeen is certainly that. While there are certainly problems with this film-most notably it presents its solution pretty much immediately then you go through the drama of the film-it was still a good time. Oh and Kyra Sedgwick is totally miscast. Sorry. However! Woody Harrelson makes up for it in one of the best roles I've seen him do, and Hailee Steinfeld is great. If Hollywood had more respect for the coming-of-age flick, she might've had another Oscar nomination. This is easily her best performance since True Grit! Beyond that though, this film is an engaging story (even though it shares a lot of similarities with other coming-of-age films) that I was totally in on. Oh, and there's a great soundtrack! As usual. No Perks of Being a Wallflower level good, but still good. I just wish the solutions to Steinfeld's problems weren't presented so early on and peppered in throughout the film. But really. EASILY the best parts of this film are the exchanges between Steinfeld and Harrelson. I'm sure someone in Hollywood will recognize their chemistry and build a film around having those two as the leads. I would have had no problem watching an entire film of just the two of them snarking off to each other in a classroom. This film is worth a watch for the two of them alone, but if you like the coming-of-age flick, there's no doubt this one was the best one of 2016.
My Number: 7/10
Bleed for this
Bleed for This (2016): The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash which left him not knowing if he'd ever walk again, made one of sport's most incredible comebacks.
Ahhhh yet another polarizing boxing film. I can't emphasize this enough: I am a sucker for come-from-behind boxer films. Almost as much as the coming-of-age film. Don't ask me why because I can't tell you, but for whatever reason I love these! I am the guy that loved Southpaw, after all. But what makes this film so polarizing is that it's basically two separate films that are split by the car crash that nearly kills Vinny. (Played by Miles Teller) The first half of the film is a boring ripoff of literally every other standard boxing film ever, and the second half is the actual come-from-behind story. Which I enjoyed! Once we got past the crash there were several exhilarating sequences of Teller's training and him pushing himself past the limits of the human body. Unfortunately, while Miles Teller is pretty good as the lead, Aaron Eckhart is TERRIBLE as is trainer. I don't know what he's doing with this character, but GOD is he awful. There really wasn't anyone else who made a splash in this film beyond Ciaran Hinds, who had like one good scene. Everyone else.... I didn't even bother trying to figure out who's who. Vinny's got a big family in this film, and the filmmakers make little to no effort to flesh them out. Honestly this film would've been significantly better had it opened with a montage of Vinny before the accident then went straight into it, and not had Aaron Eckhart as his trainer, but beggars can't be choosers. What we get here is another average boxing flick. Just go watch Creed again.
My Number: 5/10
American Honey (2016): A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.
American Honey is a film that feels free. It's a very spontaneous film, and I can really respect that. It made a GREAT casting decision with its lead and complete newbie Sasha Lane, and Shia LaBeouf is even pretty good. Though he was very much Shia LaBeouf. However, it's the freedom of this film that is so liberating. However, it is also freeing to a fault-this film is kind of a scattershot of ideas and no direction. You look at another hippie film that came out in 2016, 20th Century Women, and you see a film that, while spontaneous, still has a goal. It's still trying to get somewhere. American Honey, though, feels like it has no destination. And it ends like this too-the film pretty much just cuts to black, with none of the questions it raised to the viewer answered. I mean I get why it made this decision, but c'mon! At least give us like a bit of closure! Also, there was no editing crew to speak off and thus scenes certainly dragged, and I absolutely DESPISED how this film was shot. The camera never focused on the person I actually wanted it to focus on, and it would randomly cut to things that had nothing to do with the scene because of its spontaneity. And that's why I still enjoyed this film! I can respect a film that really embraces its premise and makes itself as freeing as it can in every facet of film making. Even if it was frustrating at points, I was totally suckered into the film, and couldn't help but enjoy myself. If you identify with the whimsical crowd, move this one to the top of your list. Just behind 20th Century Women.
My Number: A deserving, but frustrating 7/10
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016): 19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad - contrasting the realities of war with America's perceptions.
This movie sucks. Unfortunately it's only my second film from director Ang Lee (the other being Brokeback Mountain) and this one did not leave a great taste in my mouth. The film's problems start with the dialogue. Literally no one talks in real life like they do in this film, and the delivery of said dialogue by these actors is anything but great. I think the camera had something to do with this, as there was this awkward close up going on most of the time when everyone was talking. Newbie Joe Alwyn is alright, but right after seeing other newcomer Sasha Lane's performance in American Honey I can safely say I've seen far better. Additionally, this film is a tonal catastrophe. What is the objective of this film? How are we, the viewer supposed to feel? I have no clue, and it's not because we're supposed to figure things out. Oh no, this film hammers you over the head and makes its points as obvious as possible. Just....one moment we're supposed to be thinking, "Man these guys put their souls out there for us." Then the next it's, "Man everyone hates these guys. Are we supposed to be feeling that way?" And in between there are stories about Billy's sister, played by Kristin Stewart, who's easily the best part of this film with the 3 scenes she gets, and there's this story about "Should I stay or should I go?" and there's a movie deal with Jerry Jones-I mean "discount" Jerry Jones played by Steve Martin and there's this guy who is their agent but is he sleazy? I don't know. Oh wait! Doesn't matter we're moving on. See? See the problem we have here? There's way too many ideas being flown around for any of them to stick. As a result none of them do, and what you end up with is likely (or I will tell myself this) the worst film Ang Lee has ever made. Tear it down and start again.
My Number: 3/10
Be prepared to rock the ugly cry
Lion (2016): A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
Lion is 2016's Room. An emotionally devastating story that seems so unlikely you think there's no possible way it's true. Yet.....it is. I'm still crying, as I write these first few sentences of this review, because it's just that much of an emotional trainwreck. Well done, Weinstein Company. There's no doubt this is the best film they've produced in at least five years. Well, it's now morning, and I am still reeling from this film. Obviously that's good movie making, and there's no doubt this will be in my top 5 best films of 2016, but now it's time for me to tell you why I think this is a top 5 kind of film.
Main reason it's in my top 5? The story. The story of Lion is simply incredible. Every moment of this film is gut wrenching, even the slower paced moments. But this film just picked me up and carried me throughout its 118 minute run-time. We spend pretty much the entire first half of the film with a young Saroo, played here MARVELOUSLY by newcomer Sunny Pawar, This segment could've sunk the entire film if it wasn't as beautifully shot and acted as it was. Throughout the sequence Sunny Pawar has to convey emotions with just his face, and he does so simply marvelously. The audition for young Saroo must have been grueling, but they found their poster child with Sunny. After a brutal and emotional 45 minutes or so, young Saroo finally finds a home with John and Sue, played by David Wenham (of Lord of the Rings fame) and Nicole Kidman.
Let's talk about Nicole Kidman for a moment, ya? Because this just might be my favorite performance of 2016. Kidman really isn't in this film a whole lot. The story is, after all, about Saroo, and as it progresses he spends more time with his girlfriend (played by Rooney Mara) than he does with Nicole Kidman. But every single scene Kidman was in she just stole the show. She made me cry more than anyone else has all year, and she did it just with her facial expressions. I think director Garth Davis and company realized they had something great on their hands as the shooting for the film went on, because early on when you see Kidman it was often in wide shots that included David Wenham, but as the film went on those wide shots turned into closeups of just Kidman. There's a sequence towards the end of the film between Kidman and Dev Patel, who plays Saroo as an adult, where the entire sequence basically held on Kidman's face, and she was conveying so much emotion with just her eyes.....it was absolutely devastating.
In addition, this film has a trove of Bollywood stars, most notably Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is one of the A-listers of Bollywood. A lot of these actors I wasn't familiar with, so it was very cool to see them in this film. Oh, and before I forget, I was crying for the entire last 15 minutes of the film. So, just prepare for that. I know that comment was very out of place there, but I forgot to mention it earlier so....there you go. Anyway, there were a few problems with the film that keep it from a perfect score. One was the pacing of the film, particularly in the first half. There are a lot of things that happened to young Saroo, and while they are devastating and are meant to serve a real-life purpose, it does throw off the pacing a far amount. This is such a tough one for me, because there's no doubt the opening sequences should be there, but it still doesn't change the fact that the meat of this story is in the second half, and it takes too long to get there. Additionally, and this may be a very Joseph-complaint, but I wasn't a huge fan of the score. It was nominated for an Oscar, so a lot of people like it, but it bothered me. Ready for why? This is the Joseph-complaint part. The main theme sounded EXACTLY like "Light of the Seven" from Game of Thrones Season 6. Yes, THAT sequence. So every time I heard the main them all I could think of was Game of Thrones! I know this was totally accidental, and when the main theme wasn't playing I certainly dug the unorthodox score, but COME ON. "Light of the Seven" is like one of the coolest and eeriest uses of music in a TV/film sequence in recent memory. You cannot sound even close to that opening piano sequence with your main theme for a film. That, my friends, is a fail.
That said, Lion is still an incredible work of cinema, and for most they won't care about either of those two complaints I just mentioned so they will certainly be in for an emotional roller coaster all throughout the film. It's beautifully shot and beautifully edited (should've received a Best Editing nomination. Just saying) and has great set design too. It's a fantastic smashing of Bollywood and Hollywood and well-deserving of its 6 nominations. Check it out.
The Critique: One of the best films of the year, Lion is an emotional roller coaster of a film that is well worth your time.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for anyone.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Simple and Beautiful
Loving (2016): The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court.
This. This film is the reason the Academy diversified its voting group. In years past, a film like this would not have been nominated. It most certainly did not make a huge splash, and there was no huge marketing push behind it to get any Oscar nominations, and yet it found itself with a coveted Best Actress nomination. I know I wasn't the only one asking, "Loving? What?" when I saw Ruth Negga's name on the list for Best Actress nominations. In years past with a mostly older and whiter voting class, a film like this would've been lost to the annals of time. But, certain parts of the Academy clearly cared about this film and the performance of Ruth Negga so much they put it in their top five and, after watching the film, I can see why. Negga is outstanding, and certainly the best part of the film. There's a certain.....beauty to her performance. See this film, and the character she and Joel Edgerton, her husband in the film, play, are very shy and reserved. There is no super-obvious, Oscar-worthy scene for Negga. There is no "Here's to the fools who dream" kind of moment for her. It's the character she creates throughout the 123 minute film that is so engaging. It's the character that, when she finds out the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, devastates you with a simple smile.
If you can't tell yet, I absolutely LOVED Ruth Negga in this film. Her performance as Mildred was a very quiet and intimate performance, and well worthy of an Oscar nomination. Joel Edgerton was also great as the husband Richard. Man has he come a long way. Dude sure knows how to play a diverse set of characters. What can be viewed as a criticism, though, is that the supporting cast outside of these two are pretty lackluster. Even the great Michael Shannon isn't given much to do here. Sure, the purpose of this film is to be as intimate as it gets, but this can certainly be a double-edged sword. For example, Nick Kroll plays the lawyer for Richard and Mildred and is initially portrayed as ambitious and potentially only taking this case on to further his own career. Film never investigates that though, and as it goes on all inclination of his ambition is forgotten about and he becomes a caring lawyer. But is that really a big deal? No. This story is not about the lawyer of Richard and Mildred. It's about the two of them. Oh! THAT SAID. There is a TERRIFIC performance buried in this film from Marton Csoakas, who plays a racist sheriff in the town this takes place in. Oh my GOD is he great! He basically gets two scenes in this film, and he kills them both. Almost forgot to mention him! Even though the film forgot about him completely in the second half but oh well! He was great in his two scenes!
Anyway, moving on. The story overall was very engaging. I imagine the research for this was very difficult for this film because the main characters are so reserved, but it's pretty amazing to see such unlikely heroes for the Civil Rights movement. I think outside of the story and acting though, the movie was pretty average though. Nothing out of the ordinary from a technical standpoint. (Again, I think this was the point) I will say though, the sound design was a little lackluster. The dialogue was turned up way too loud from time to time when the characters were having more intimate conversations, and this was kind of distracting to me. Other than that, though, it was a well-made and well-executed film telling an important story worth telling, and I am glad that parts of the Academy felt it was worth an Oscar nomination. Check it out if you're a fan of history or the Civil Rights movement!
The Critique: Beautiful in its simplicity and buoyed by a great performance from Ruth Negga, Loving is a great film worthy of its Oscar nomination.
The Recommendation: Take a looksie if you like history-based films and stories that deal with civil rights.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
About as polarizing as it gets
Elle (2016): A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.
Ok! I'm going to be honest with you: a film like this is why I love critiquing film. (or trying to, at least) Not because it's in the realm of La La Land. Not at all. It's because this film is so polarizing. On the one hand, you have an absolutely MASTERFUL performance from Isabelle Huppert. This performance is going to make a strong run at my top performance of 2016, but then again it might not because.....well, because most of this movie sucks.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just not cultured enough to understand international films. It's definitely not the subtitles! I have no problem reading subtitles. (This entire film is in French) And I don't need everything spoon fed to me. I don't mind having to figure things out myself. What I do mind is having excess fat in your film. The meat of this is that IMDB description. The cat and mouse game between her and the man who assaulted her. Only problem is that only constitutes about 30 minutes of the 130 minute film. The rest of the film is spent developing characters, some of which have nothing to do with the meat of the story, as well as telling a pretty uninteresting side story between Huppert, Anne Consigny, and the most recognizable actor in the film for Americans, Christian Berkel. (Inglorious Basterds) With this much fat, the pacing for the film is nonexistent, and of course it feels overlong. In addition, the set design was not great. Huppert's job is the head of a video game company, and as something of a gamer myself whom has always been fascinated by how they are made, I can tell you that they are not made AT ALL like how they make them in the film. (Not my best sentence there I know but I'm tired) I mean all you have to do is watch Indie Game: The Movie and you'd know they are not run even remotely like that. Unless they're trying to convey the struggles between publishers and developers in one room but.....I just don't think this film is smart enough for that. Finally, there's this whole thing between Huppert's son and his girlfriend, (played by Jonas Bloquet and Alice Isaaz, respectively) that ends in the most underwhelming way imaginable. I mean words cannot describe how poorly written their character arc is.
All that said....Isabelle Huppert is GREAT. This is a very nitty gritty role that asks Huppert to really dehumanize herself. She clearly gave part of her soul to this character, and I respect her for going all-in here. She became the character from the first moment of the first scene, and when that happens you know you have something magical on your hands. She was so good there were plenty of times I didn't even bother to read her subtitles and I just watched her reactions to whatever it was that was going on. Also because of the subtitles I don't think I can really comment on the other performances, but I will say Jonas Bioquet as Huppert's son was excellent. Additionally, when we were in the meat of the story, I was riveted. When the assailant is finally revealed, the film goes in a very VERY different direction than I expected it to. I most certainly did not see the second half of the 30 minutes of this plot coming, but I totally bought it. It was uncomfortable, sure, but Huppert's character was developed enough that I could understand where she was coming from. In a twisted sort of way. But man talk about a sharp left turn there! This was easily the most interesting part of the film, and I just wish we had spent more time there rather than talking about her son and girlfriend's relationship.
EDIT: I continue to be torn about this film. I just....I love how it's unpredictable. I had no idea who the assailant was going to be, or where the film was going to go after he was revealed. I just wish that the story itself was more interesting! Maybe I should've tried to not dwell on the assault and Huppert coping with that. But at the same time that is the most interesting part of this drama, and when we weren't investigating this further and when we weren't investigating Huppert's struggles to cope with (there are other words I would use there but it may spoil what happens) the attack....it just seemed to me like the film was stalling for time.
At the end of the day, I am very glad that one of the most celebrated international stars finally received an Oscar nomination. However, there's not much else worthwhile going on in Elle, despite a pretty interesting premise. If you're into films like I am, or really like watching great acting performances there's something here for you, but if not? I certainly wouldn't blame you for letting this one slip through the cracks.
The Critique: Despite a masterful performance from Isabelle Huppert, Elle is a woefully missed opportunity thanks to poor pacing and entirely too much excess fat within the story.
The Recommendation: Well, hey! Get to repeat this again: if you're into films or great acting performances it's worth a watch but if not? This is not the film you are looking for. Move along.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average. And it's a 6 almost entirely for Isabelle Huppert. May very well be the performance of 2016.
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