An intimate family epic
Roma (2018): A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Every so often, a glorious film comes along that completely reinvigorates my love of cinema. In 2017 it was Phantom Thread. This year it was films like The Favourite and Eighth Grade. Now, you can add Roma to the list. Director Alfonso Cuarón returns for his 8th feature film, set almost entirely in Mexico City in the early 70s. The acclaimed director also wrote the screenplay, produced the film, edited the film, and shot the film. In short, Roma is Alfonso Cuarón's baby, and it is undoubtedly his best work yet. (Which is high praise given his previous film, Gravity, was my number 1 film of 2013.) The film has a simple, intimate, yet emotionally powerful story surrounding the housekeeper Cleo (played by first time actress and star-in-the-making Yalitza Aparicio) and her relationship to the family she cares for as her life unfolds over the course of a year. That's it. Far cry from the technical achievement that was Cuarón's previous film. And yet, this film feels every bit as epic as Gravity did with the extra emotional kick that comes with a truly great story. If you haven't figured it out yet, Roma is well worth your time, and easily the best film Netflix has distributed to date. By a significant margin.
Let's start with the most obvious thing we can see: the acting. The entire cast, outside of Sofía (Marina de Tavira) are first time actors. (Furthering the mythos of Alfonso Cuarón) Cleo is the center of the story, and the intimate, human, genuine performance Yalitza Aparicio gives portraying this character is one of the best of the year. She effortlessly displays an immense range of emotions, and the genuineness of these emotions were increased thanks to the bold decision of Cuarón to hold back key plot details from her until they actually happened. (Yes, including the unforgettable emotional climax of the film.) Actually, that's a good moment to mention the fact that Cuarón was very secretive about the script. The entire film was shot sequentially, (which is actually fairly unusual in filmmaking) with the director often not even giving the actors the script for an individual scene until the day that scene was to be shot. (Something which director Hirokaza Kore-eda also did shooting Shoplifters, to achieve a similar effect.) While this does sometimes hurt the film more than it helps it, particularly in the opening few scenes, it's still mesmerizing to see this cast have as much chemistry with each other as they do with such an incredible level of authenticity.
But the calling card, of course, is the sheer scale of Cuarón's vision. This film is a triumphant family epic if there ever was one. The production design, sound editing, sound mixing, and cinematography are all the best I saw/heard in 2018. Cuarón captures so many nuanced details in every frame: so many extras, creatures, and natural occurrences unfold to a dizzying extent in his grand (and I mean GRAND) one-shots. It will take your breath away, and needs to be adored on the largest screen possible. I know that's a bit of a cliché in movie reviews, but it's deserved for Roma. There was not another film that dropped in 2018 that will sweep you off your feet more. And it's all held together by some of the most amazing cinematography I've ever seen. Alfonso Cuarón certainly made Chivo (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki - originally slated to shoot Roma before scheduling conflicts arose and Cuarón's cinematographer on films like Gravity and Children of Men) proud with the stunning 65mm black and white aesthetic of the film. The camera is always a calm but confident presence, with a lot of slow, poignant pans from left to right and vice versa being the signature of Cuarón's style. With the two best-looking films of 2018 almost certainly being Roma and Pawel Pawlikowksi's Cold War, also shot in black and white, I think the great film critic Roger Ebert may have been right when he said color handicaps film. (That's a great article he once wrote, by the way. You should read it.)
And that doesn't even mention the sound design. The sound is another reason why you need to see this on a big screen. (At least watch it with surround sound.) The sound mixing is possibly the best I have ever heard, with a mesmeric attention to detail taken by Skip Lievsay, Alfonso Cuarón, and company. You are immersed with the sounds of Mexico City, with the sound making the camera feel like you are right in the middle of each scene. From shopkeepers to mariachi bands to something as nuanced as food being made behind you because the camera is facing the bar and the food is behind you, there is never a moment missed within the sound mixing.
This film is a masterpiece. It'll capture you within the first few moments and not let you go until the final plane soars overhead. It is a flawless epic that is beautiful in both its emotional intimacy and ambitious scale. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and do everything in between. A film like this is exactly why I love the movies, and it gives me the mental drive I need to sit through lesser works. It's also a wonderful foray into the world of foreign film: if you've always been intimidated at the idea of having to read the dialogue unfolding in front of you, (I know I was for a long time) this is a fantastic place to start. And, with it on Netflix right now, there's every reason for you to make tonight a movie night.
The Critique: an emotional powerhouse told on a grandiose scale, Alfonso Cuarón's triumphant masterpiece is a wonderful reminder of why I am hopelessly in love with the world of cinema.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for all.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect.
Christian Bale's performance is not enough
Vice (2018): The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Christian Bale is really good as Dick Cheney. Bale's quantifiable performance (he added 40 pounds for the role, changed his accent again, the whole nine yards) will be justifiably discussed at great length this award's season. (It's already netted him a Golden Globe) But it overshadows an abysmal script from director/screenwriter Adam McKay. This movie is an incoherent mess, and not even the terrific performances from its core cast are enough to save it.
I'm guessing this is what happens when Adam McKay is given near complete control over a project. To me, the issues here begin with the fact that no one was willing/able to tell the director that some of his ideas are bad ones. This film is a tonal disaster. One second, we're supposed to be really sad about something, the next we're supposed to feel anger, the next we're supposed to feel joy. All in three quick (and sometimes incoherent) cuts. McKay's textbook style does not jive with this story at all. His asides to explain difficult subjects (akin to explaining what CDOs and sub-prime loans are in The Big Short) feel awkward and forced, and the narrator (similar to Ryan Gosling's character in The Big Short) isn't integrated into the actual story anywhere near as well. But the biggest offender here is the editing.
I'm not sure why there's a huge drop-off between this and McKay's previous endeavor. The same editor (Hank Corwin) did both films, so why does the editing from The Big Short work so well but here it feels like an unwelcome menace? Nothing against Hank Corwin - the man is a legendary editor and will continue to be as much. In 2015, Hank Corwin received a deserving Oscar nomination for his editing on The Big Short. But here I think it's rather safe to say he will not. The editing is incomprehensible at points, and the "cut to something completely different that subtly progresses the story" style that worked so well in The Big Short was so bad in Vice that I just wanted it to go away. It made the film discombobulating and even uncomfortable at times.
All of this dumbfounds me. The Big Short made my top 10 list in 2015 and has resonated with me far more than most films I have reviewed on this blog. And I have always been fascinated by the stealthy corruption of the Bush 43 administration. This project should've been a grand slam home run in my book! It's not all bad, though. One undeniably good thing is the acting. Beyond Bale's quantifiably good performance, you have stellar performances from the rest of the cast, too. (Pretty shocked this didn't get an ensemble nomination from the SAGs this year. Bohemian Rhapsody? C'mon....) Amy Adams is a tour de force, as always, only here her presence is felt even when she's not on screen. I was fascinated to learn of the power Lynne Cheney had over her husband. Easily the most interesting thing about this film, her power is felt right from the first scene, which also happens to be one of the best sequences of the entire film. Oh ya, and the administration is great: Sam freaking Rockwell does a great George W. impression, Steve Carell is great as Rumsfeld, LisaGay Hamilton does a great Condoleezza Rice, and Tyler Perry continues to surprise when he feels like acting with a great Colin Powell. The 9/11 sequence in particular allowed Carell, Hamilton, and Perry to all shine brightly in their respective roles on one of the darkest days in American history.
However, the fact that that initial scene between Lynee and Dick is one of the best is as frustrating as it is invigorating to watch two world-class actors go at it on screen in a tense exchange. It's frustrating because this film does way more to tell you about Dick Cheney the man versus Dick Cheney, the ruthless VP under Bush 43. Adam McKay spent way too much time explaining how Cheney and his team dealt with the legality of his overreach versus actually showing us the overreaches he made. (Outside of the situation room on 9/11.) This is akin to my complaints with Bohemian Rhapsody from a few months ago, and here they are equally damning. As much as I do enjoy watching great actors be great, it's simply not enough to save this film from the infuriating realm of mediocrity. At the end of the day, that's where this film will forever rest.
Also, the "controversy" surrounding the end credits scene is dumb. #analysis
The Critique: Adam McKay spectacularly collapses on his follow-up to The Big Short with a messy script and indecipherable editing, despite terrific performances from its ensemble.
The Recommendation: ........eh? There's probably enough here for Adam McKay fans to enjoy it, as well as those who tend to vote blue, but there are better things to watch in the theater right now. Wait for it to hit streaming services.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Painfully Average.
(But, for real, Adam McKay knew that post-credits scene would be the scene conservatives would glue on to, ignoring the rest of the film in the process. So, while it is an easy way for conservatives to avoid addressing the issues raised by the rest of the film, it's equally puzzling why this scene is in the movie at all. It accomplishes the same thing as calling out racists does.... the second you stoop down to their level and acknowledge them, you merely enable them and allow them to play the "victim" card, thus doing little outside of confirming what the rest of us already know and furthering their cause with those that don't.)
Play me off, Johnny!
A wonderfully nuanced tale on what defines a family
Shoplifters (2018): A family of small-time crooks take in a child they find outside in the cold.
Every so often, a film comes along that blows you away in every sense of the phrase. These occurrences are even more illusive when you combine them with the ability to broaden your horizons about a certain subject pertaining to societal norms. However, Shoplifters does exactly that. One of the most inquisitive films I've ever seen, Shoplifters is a story told by writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda. The Japanese director crafts a marvelous piece of cinema that effortlessly grips you from the first frame to the end credits. It's easily the best made film I've seen all year, with an equally enlightening story.
The film centers around a Japanese family that makes its living around the film's namesake. Each member of the family is masterfully crafted and portrayed. Kore-eda style bodes well for the actors involved here. Many of the scenes most emotional moments are improvised, (including the film's incredible climax) which leads to some of the incredibly genuine and heartfelt moments. The entire film basks in its intimacy: there's only a handful of shots with more than 5 people in the frame throughout the 121 minute runtime. This intimacy allows you to easily connect with each and every member of this diverse family. The first half of this film is a loving character piece made by a master filmmaker, and you'll find yourself so absorbed by it when it takes a hard right you're completely blindsided.
The final 30 minutes of this film are heart-wrenching and will make you question what it means to be a family. It's one of the best "hard rights turns" I've ever seen in a film, and thanks to the engaging character development in the first 90 minutes, every second of that final act is an emotional roller coaster. It is impossible to leave the theater without this film resonating in the depths of your mind and soul for days, if not weeks, afterwards. It certainly has with me. Every aspect of filmmaking is at its best here at the hands of Hirokazu Kore-eda. The lighting and set design (equally intimate in scale) are equally masterful. The film demands a second (or even third) watch so you can catch all the nuances you missed in the first go. It's one of the best stories I've ever seen, crafted by a master filmmaker, and more than fitting of Cannes Palme d'Or. Do make an effort to see it.
My Number: 10/10 Perfect
Raunchy, unapologetic, and batshit crazy
The Favourite (2018): In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
If you're looking for an insane time at the movies right now, look no further. The latest (and greatest) work from director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dogtooth) completes an oddball trilogy of films that investigate the human condition via dystopian, supernatural, and now existential views. I believe Lanthimos has been honing his style on his previous two films, crafting works that were memorable but also somewhat flawed in their execution. However, those flaws are nowhere to be found here, and we are gleefully treated to a raunchy, intoxicating period drama on steroids with an out-of-this world story, executed flawlessly, while containing one of the most unique and identifiable footprints in Hollywood today. Safe to say I have a new favorite movie of 2018 so far.
Let's start with the three core characters. Queen Anne, (Olivia Colman) Lady Sarah, (Rachel Weisz) and the newcommer Abigail (Emma Stone) are thrust together almost immediately, and from the opening moments the tone of each character is set. Abigail and her cunning ambition, Lady Sarah's chilling no-holds-barred demeanor, and Queen Anne's relative obliviousness to the events unfolding around her. Yet the one who steals the show (in my opinion, at least) is Queen Anne herself. Despite her obliviousness, her presence is felt in nearly every sequence of the film, regardless of whether she's on screen or not. As her character develops, to say she takes over is something of an understatement. All of this is propped up by Olivia Colman, who's performance as the Queen is one of the best I've seen all year. It is innocent yet chaotic while painting a picture of an incredibly emotional and unstable Queen. The performance even has some "quantifiable" acting by film's end. And, let me tell you.....the ending is a show stopping moment courtesy of Colman. Abigail's casting was initially a head-scratcher, but it didn't take long for Emma Stone to win me over. Her mannerisms are dialed down a bit here, but are more than welcome when they do show up. But, of the three leads, Abigail also has the benefit of the strongest bit of writing courtesy of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. More on that later. Stone's accent isn't the greatest, but coming off of Jamie Foxx's joke of an accent in Robin Hood...... I'll be happy with just about anything. Finally, there's Rachel freaking Weisz. While Colman has the show-stopping scene at the end, and the Queen's presence is felt throughout the film, Lady Sarah has a multitude of show-stopping moments in the first and second act of this film, and Rachel Weisz makes these scenes look easy. She is quick-witted, cunning, and absolutely ruthless. There seriously needs to be a villain role in Weisz's immediate future.
While Abigail has the best writing overall of the leads, all three benefit from a terrific script from Davis / McNamara. Undoubtedly the best script of the year so far, the dialogue is sharp, witty, and unapolagetically raunchy, all while still containing that trademarked Yorgos Lanthimos mystique. After all, where else are you gonna get a movie with an 18th-century dance-off? Or razer-sharp tension around shooting pigeons? I really think this film does a good job of keeping things weird while not making them distractedly weird. It's a long cry from Colin Farrell's unsettling deadpan character in The Lobster.
Another part of the masterful execution here lies in the cinematography and editing department. The cinematography is a massive departure from Yorgos Lanthimos's previous works, so it's not too surprising that he collaborated with a new camera man, Robbie Ryan. I'm glad he did because I freaking love the unorthodox angles and brisk tracking shots. And there are multiple lens changes that make the film look like you're literally watching a peephole into these character's lives. All held together by brisk and fluent editing courtesy of Yorgos Mavropsaridis. Oh, and the score selections are amazing too. This film utilizes an entirely curated score, a rare thing in Hollywood nowadays, and it is breathtaking. Honestly, the sound design in general is amazing. The score is dialed up to eleven at some points, but Lanthimos also isn't afraid to cut to silence when he needs to.
Yes, every aspect of this film is absolutely stunning, and it's a triumphant climax for a director that has made his mark on the business the last four years. This film is very polarizing - a sign of a truly great work of art - but for me it's a masterpiece on every level. In terms of the films of Yorgos Lanthimos, it is likely his most accessible to date, but it is still not for the feint of heart. There is a lot of raunchiness here, and that will likely discourage some viewers. But for those that are willing to step outside their comfort zone and try something new, to say The Favourite is for you is something of an understatement.
The Critique: The best film of 2018 so far, The Favourite is a raunchy, unapologetic, and tense drama featuring masterful performances from its entire ensemble.
The Recommendation: If you're ok with weird and risqué, then this is absolutely for you. If not.....your loss.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect.
First Man (2018): A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Damien Chazelle is BACK. After setting Hollywood ablaze with the 1-2 punch of triumphs Whiplash and La La Land, (in my opinion two of the best films I've reviewed on this blog) the studio executives at Universal decided to give the director a chance to put himself squarely in the realm of “blank check” directors. (To join the upper A-list of names like Spielberg, Nolan, and Fincher, to name a few.) And that, in short, sums up what First Man is: an audition. So does Chazelle pass the bar? ……..yes and no. (Oscar, can I set myself up for a question that I don't answer? No? Well, I'm gonna do it anyway….)
So here's the long-form answer to that question, because it's my job to over explain things. This is an ambitious film. As do most biopics that cover huge ground, the film bites off way more than it can chew, but it manages to show its intimacy in the individual scenes. For example, Claire Foy plays Armstrong's wife, Janet Shearon, and isn't given nearly enough to do. (As would be expected in a film about her husband.) She's basically “the wife,” which shouldn't come as much surprise. But in her criminally limited on-screen time, Claire Foy delivers one of the best “the wife” roles I've ever seen. Shearon’s dominating presence is felt all throughout the film that she's not featured nearly enough in. Makes sense, right? At the center of it all, though, is Gosling's reserved performance of Neil Armstrong. It doesn't bring a prestigious “Oscar-worthy” title with it, but it effectively paints the picture of a quiet and almost socially awkward figure who is probably just as surprised he's a titanic hero of recent American history as we, the viewer, are to discover he was not oozing with charm and charisma. While at many points this is the film's hidden strength, it also serves to be its greatest weakness, as moments that should be intimate and emotionally devastating become as awkwardly uncomfortable as Armstrong, the man, was. If anything, it goes to showcase why this iconic moment in history has been largely avoided by Hollywood cinema over the years.
One thing that has no doubt in its magnificence, though, is the technical side of First Man. This film is a visual marvel, and if you are going to see it try and see it on the biggest screen that you can find. The film features multiple thrilling setpieces, and while it does cheat at points in said setpieces with close-ups of Armstrong throughout the take offs and landings, and unnecessary shaky cam, it does not skimp on all of them. (The take off of Apollo 11 in particular is spectacular.) Additionally, the film's sound design and editing is incredible, to the point that its beauty is downright distracting at times. But expect Oscar nominations for the sound department this Oscar season. Finally, Justin Hurwitz, Damien Chazelle’s personal composer, continues to showcase why he REALLY needs to branch out to every movie ever, because once again his music is spectacular. It's subtle while still memorable, subdued while still dominating. Hurwitz walks all the tightropes. Please, dude. Put yourself in more films ASAP. (Sits by the door and waits for my First Man soundtrack to arrive.)
So one would think after reading all of that, the answer to the question of “Did Damien Chazelle pass his audition to join the upper echolon of Hollywood directors?” with First Man would be a resounding, "Yes." And yet….I'm not so sure because of one real reason, and it's kind of an important one: box office results. See, I have the luxury of being able to jump on a soapbox here because it's Wednesday and the film has been out almost a full week (time-stamping when I wrote this review!) and that's long enough to see the film is performing well under expectations. And I'm worried that Chazelle is going to front the blame for this, and it makes me sad. Because it's not his fault at all. Take a second, step back, and ask yourself: who is this movie for? Who is the target audience? This is where the problems lie, because it's not going for elitist intellectual types. It's going for the American Sniper crowd. A crowd that has effectively turned its back on liberal Hollywood unless the 'Murica themes are over-the-top obvious. (And not showing Buzz Aldrin plant the American flag in the moon does not bode well to showcase those overtly patriotic themes. Honestly, while it's not a necessary inclusion, I'm not really sure why they didn't include it, either. There's my #HotTake, Oscar.) But I'm worried that the studio execs will look at this performance, flip out, and look for someone to blame. And that someone will likely be Chazelle, which is a real shame. However, I sincerely hope Chazelle is given a blank check for his next film because, for picking something that he wasn't even passionate about a few years ago, (he knew almost nothing about the moon landing, and had no interest in it, but reading the book from James R. Hansen changed his mind) I think he did a pretty good job. And while the finished product falls just short of greatness (which is, admittedly, a let down from his previous works) Damien Chazelle further showcases with First Man that he should be a household name among the very top directors in the business. Whether that actually happens, however, is yet to be seen.
My Number: 7.5/10
And the Oscar Goes to.....
A Star Is Born (2018): A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
Wow. Talk about coming into your own. A classic story re-imagined for the 21st century featuring the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and the silver screen debut of Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born is a truly incredible and remarkable film. Cooper's directorial debut reaches for the stars and succeeds on nearly every level. It was an ambitious undertaking for the prolific actor turned rookie director, to say the least: reinterpret one of the most reprised stories in Hollywood for a modern era, (this is its 4th iteration, and each time the starpower has been there, with actors like James Mason, Kris Kristofferson, Judy Garland, and Barbara Streisand playing the lead roles) and as if that isn't enough, might as well put an established pop star with virtually no previous dramatic acting experience in the lead role because....why not? But every facet of the movie works with flying colors, making A Star Is Born one of the best films of the year and an early heavyweight contender for this year's Oscar season. It's well worth the watch!
There's not much this film does wrong, so I'll intersperse it throughout my glowing sentiments about this uplifting film. The heart and soul of this is, of course, Lady Gaga. Almost certainly the favorite for Best Actress this year, Gaga makes the accomplished cast of this film look like amateurs with her iconic performance as Ally. Bradley Cooper wasn't kidding when he said that he fell in love with Lady Gaga's eyes when he decided to cast her, and I can see why: her incredible performance starts with the amount of emotion she can convey with nothing but her eyes. I haven't seen that much emotion one's eyes since Nicole Kidman in 2016's Lion, which is still one of my favorite performances of recent memory.. And that's just one of many things that contribute to her enduring performance. She also has an incredible amount of control over her voice. I know, she's a pop star so this shouldn't be too surprising, but Gaga shows a meticulous level of attention to detail with her voice to convey the emotions she needs to in any given scene. Seriously: Lady Gaga's performance is the best I've seen this year, (sorry, Toni Collette, but I'm still rooting for you to at least be nominated!) and it's worth the cost of admission by itself. And I haven't even mentioned Bradley Cooper or the songs yet!
Which are amazing, obviously. The lead single of this film, "Shallow," is all but assured the Oscar for Best Original Song. Even 2016's La La Land wishes it had music as good as this. Because the crazy thing about this film's music is how diverse it is. It's not like every song in here is a country song. No, no. There's some rock, some pop, some country, there's something here for everyone. And all of it is executed flawlessly. I'm already playing the music on repeat on Spotify, and I suspect this will only increase as time goes on. Oh! And, ya! Bradley Cooper is really, really good! His portrayal of the troubled music star, Jack, struggling with alcoholism is fantastic. He plays off Ally exceptionally well while letting her be the star of the show.
And that, my friends, is the strongest part of this interpretation of A Star Is Born. The 1976 version is really good, don't get me wrong, but there is a frustrating amount of time spent focusing on John Howard (Kris Kristofferson) when the film should be spending 80%+ of its time focusing on Esther Hoffman. (Barba Streisand) Fortunately, the same mistake is not made here. This is Ally's show, from start to (almost) the end. Speaking of, the ending has been updated, but it's still a little messy and the weakest part of the film as it does become a little too much about Jack, despite giving Ally the best solo number of the film to wrap it all up. Either way, it is a HUGE improvement over its 1976 counterpart, so I'll take it. Hopefully the next version will finally be able to smooth this out. In conclusion, though, this movie is fantastic and a great pick-me-up for what's happening in the world right now. It is well worth your time and money at the theater right now.
The Critique: Featuring phenomenal original music and a great supporting cast, A Star Is Born effectively showcases the diverse talents of its lead actress while all but ensuring her (at least) an Oscar nomination.
The Recommendation: You could probably guess this one, but seriously: it's an absolute must-see for everyone!
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome.
Oscar Talk: Haven't done this in a while! Ya, I keep saying it, and I'll say it again: I will fall to the floor in utter disbelief if Lady Gaga doesn't receive nominations for both Best Actress and Best Original Song. The Best Actor field is shaping up to be a bit more competitive this year, so I'm not sure if Bradley Cooper will join her. If anything, I'd say it would be more likely to see him receive a Best Director nomination. Also, expect a Best Original Score nomination as well, assuming it's eligible for the category. (There are some weird rules with Best Original Score that I don't entirely understand.) Oh, and it's almost a given, but expect a Best Picture nomination as well!
Bo Burnham's Debut Shines On Every Level
Eighth Grade (2018): An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school
Every so often, a movie comes along that blows me away on every level. Films that come to mind include Mad Max: Fury Road, Gravity, Moonlight, La La Land, and Phantom Thread. Now you can add Eighth Grade to the list. The stunning debut from Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as you follow the very relatable life of introverted eighth grader Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher. The film flawlessly executes every level of filmmaking, and I found myself hanging on every word and every scene. I instantly connected with the kind but shy Kayla, and I think many of us unpopular kids will see a lot of our daily struggles play out in her life, with a modern twist to top it off. (You had Snapchat in 5th grade???) Undoubtedly the best film of the year so far, Bo Burnham instantly cements himself as one of the best in the business with the very definition of a perfect film.
Since I have absolutely zero complaints to speak of, let's gush about all the things Eighth Grade does right. At the center of this film is an incredibly grounded and intimate performance from its lead, Elsie Fisher. Her performance was reminiscent of Sasha Lane in American Honey, or Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine. Honestly, this entire film feels directly inspired by Sean Baker. Most filmmakers can only dream about making their characters feel as human as the characters of something like Tangerine or The Florida Project. But that's exactly what Kayla feels like. She is subdued and emotional while being awkward and fun. And COOL. She's written brilliantly by Burnham, and feels very human from start to finish. Fisher's performance is right there with Toni Collette’s terrifying portrayal of Annie Graham in another A24 film, Hereditary, for best performance of 2018 so far. However Fisher's performance comes with added bonus of being a debut lead role for the talented young actress, which to me is all the rationale I need to call it the best performance of the year. Kayla is accompanied by character actor Josh Hamilton, who portrays Kayla's father Mark. Their chemistry is wonderful. I feel like it would be hard to sell the awkward father/daughter relationship, but these two pull it off with ease. Additionally, Hamilton has the most emotionally impactful moment of the film in the form of a monologue reminiscent of Michael Stuhlbarg's devasting monologue in Call Me By Your Name that basically comes out of NOWHERE. Even though you're laughing for most of this film, be prepared to rock the ugly cry before it ends. Just warning you now.
This speech is shot flawlessly through the film's incredible cinematography. Most of this film is shot through Kayla's perspective, (which makes Elsie Fisher's performance that much more demanding) which leads to some very claustrophobic and chaotic shots. There's one shot in particular where Kayla is talking to someone and is pacing back and forth, and the shot feels so dynamic thanks to a colorful background and (I think) a telephoto lens. It flawlessly relates the disorienting feeling Kayla is experiencing in this deliriously joyous scene, and it's one of many sequences that convey the feelings of Kayla in any given moment. Mad kudos to cinematographer Andrew Wehde for the flawless execution here. Speaking of newcomers, we have to talk about the experimental score from Anna Meredith. This score is easily the best score of the 2018, and right there with some of my favorites of all time. Honestly I haven't found a score this groundbreaking since Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s score to 2010’s The Social Network, widely considered the most influential score of this decade. Meredith’s wonderful use of synthesizers creates a very modern score, and they layer on top of each other brilliantly. The sound design also hammers the amazing score home. The editing is executed perfectly as well, as the film utilizes YouTube videos from Kayla as voiceovers to create something of a modern montage sequence at various moments. Honestly, for a film that utilizes social media as much as this, I was shocked at how fluid the pacing was in the sequences where Kayla is basically looking at her phone. Sequences that so many other films get wrong, but here Burnham handles them with grace and fluidity.
If you haven't picked up on it yet, I love every aspect of this movie, and have every intention of watching it again and again. We've been extremely fortunate these past two weeks at the cinemas between the best summer blockbuster of the year, Mission: Impossible - Fallout and now Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade, so do make sure you check out at least one of them. This film is so good. I haven't even talked about the story to this point, but it too blew me away. The film starts out as a comedy but around halfway through the second act Burnham veers the story hard to the right and turns it into a tearful drama with some gripping scenes. This 90 degree right turn comes out of nowhere, but it works! It works so well. Seriously, for a debut feature film Bo Burnham brings the poise of not just a seasoned vet, but a AAA level vet, akin to a Paul Thomas Anderson or Damien Chazelle, and delivers the very best film of 2018 so far and my first perfect 10 of the year. You want a good night at the cinemas? Try a double feature of Mission: Impossible - Fallout and Eighth Grade. Have kids? Just watch Eighth Grade. Its brisk 95 minute runtime will ensure you don't have to keep the babysitter for very long, and Burnham's flawlessly executed piece of cinema will certainly prepare you for what's to come in their lives. Heck, take them with you! Just as long as you go see it. It's worth every penny. Gucci!
The Critique: Featuring a breakout performance from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade puts debut filmmaker Bo Burnham on the map with an intimate, relatable, and emotional take on the traditional coming-of-age drama.
The Recommendation: I think you could guess this one….it's an absolute must-see for all. And take your kids too! This is about as light an R rating that you'll ever see. The MPAA really needs to revamp their ratings system when something like this is rated R while something like World War Z gets a PG-13 rating. Seriously.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
This is what a popcorn flick should be
Ocean's 8 (2018): Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City's yearly Met Gala.
For those of you who think I can't have fun watching a movie anymore, I present to you Ocean’s 8. This movie is a BLAST. Sleek, shiny, lighthearted and exciting. Does it have some shortcomings? Sure, but Ocean's 8 is already making a strong case for the best summer film of 2018 (it certainly is so far) because it embodies everything a summer popcorn flick should be, and it knows it too. (Which I think is the most important part.) When you're looking for some a/c to get out of the heat, you're not looking for a film trying to make a grand statement on society, or some deeper theme or meaning....you're just looking for some good ol' fashion fun. And that's exactly what Ocean's 8 is.
Now, since you know we can't have all the nice things, there were a few things that didn't work. First off, the movie does slow down a bit during the third act. During this final act, the film introduces a new element that, given everything leading up to this point in the film, should work really well. However, for some reason it feels largely wasted as the plot is wrapping itself up. This new element also takes away from the diverse and interesting core group of characters, instead taking a rather safe and predictable track from a writing standpoint. It was a good idea in practice, (obviously I'm trying not to spoil, but those who have seen it probably know what I'm talking about here) but the execution was rather lackluster, especially given how enjoyable the other core characters were. Additionally, this film lacks the... "shine" of Steven Soderbergh's classic Ocean's Eleven. I think director Gary Ross was trying to go for that Soderbergh look with the lighting and production design, as well as the witty dialogue, but here it does feel like someone trying to imitate someone else at times versus be its own thing. But I really only felt that way at a few different moments, like the fact that the opening here mimicked the opening of Ocean's Eleven, or the fact that some of the one-on-one scenes between Debbie Ocean (Bullock) and Lou (Blanchett) resembling the interactions between Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty. (Pitt) Otherwise, though, I wasn't thinking all that much about this film's predecessor's. For the most part, Ocean's 8 does feel like its own thing versus walking among the shadows.
One of the strongest aspects of Ocean's 8 is the depth of its main characters. Every one of the core members of the heist have a memorable and unique personality to varying extents, and are all given adequate screen time to flesh out said personalities. My favorite was Constance, played wonderfully by the erratic and unpredictable Awkwafina. I freaking loved Constance, and Awkwafina brought an incredible amount of swagger and individuality to the role. Fortunately, Bullock was able to lived up to the pressure of having to play a relative of one of the most charismatic individuals ever seen in a film. (It's no easy thing to have to say you're film-related to George Clooney and carry that burden of responsibility.) Finally, there are a ton of cameos in this (to an almost distracting extent) but there's one from the original Ocean's trilogy that's one of the better cameos I've seen recently in film because it actually played into the plot of the film. In the final cut it's a rather subtle cameo that may be missed by casual Ocean's fans, but it was a savvy choice from screenwriters Ross/Olivia Milch. Unfortunately, after the reveal of this cameo it made me wish that the third act had instead been spent developing this cameo a bit more as opposed to the one it did develop. A real missed opportunity, yes, but it's certainly a good thing to be wishing for more screen time in any film. Also, gotta say that I loved the score here from Daniel Pemberton. He does a great job of imitating David Holmes's incredibly underrated score from Ocean's Eleven, while still bringing a good amount of originality to the betting table.
That's actually a good way to sum up Ocean's 8. For the most part, it does a good job of imitating its predecessors while still bringing a good amount of originality to the roulette table. (I'll be here all night) I had an absolute blast watching this film, and I think it's well worth the watch if you're into a good ol’ fashion popcorn flick disguised as a fun, lighthearted heist film. This summer has consisted mostly of mediocrity to this point, but Ocean's 8 is easily the best blockbuster so far, and it's one that's not to be missed.
The Critique: Featuring a strong cast that packs a ton of unique personality, Ocean's 8 is as fun and lighthearted a popcorn flick that you'll be able to see this summer.
The Recommendation: I really don't think anyone would dislike this one, and it's a light PG-13 too, so bring the whole family!
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
One of the best movies I have ever seen
Phantom Thread (2017): Set in 1950's London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
This initially started as a "Raw Thoughts" piece, which came to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after the second viewing of the film, but have since been edited after watching the movie for a third time. This is the best film of 2017, so it's too good for just a "Raw Thoughts" piece!
Phantom Thread….is a masterpiece. The great Paul Thomas Anderson is back, and this time he's paired, once more, with the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis. Their last film, There Will be Blood, is widely considered one of the best films of the 21st century, so to say there was some hype behind this one is something of an understatement. Anderson’s last film, Inherent Vice, was a rather messy endeavor that was a little too incoherent and loose with its style for my tastes. But I think P.T. Anderson realized that, too. This time, his cast is waded down to three from the enormous supporting cast of Vice. This allows Anderson to intimately focus on the intricate and dynamic relationship between the leads of this film, Reynolds and Alma.
Let's start there. These two are the reason to see this movie. Their relationship is the centerpiece, and these characters are played masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps, both of which put in the best performance of 2017. Freaking Vicky Krieps, guys. We all know Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest method actors in the history of Hollywood, and he reminds us why (again) here. That's honestly assumed at this point. He may win an Oscar for this performance, (probably not - Gary Oldman has been sweeping the awards season so far) but when Daniel Day-Lewis decides to put himself in a film an Oscar is basically the bar for him. But I can't even imagine what it must've felt like to have to play opposite of a man as intense as he is. (Apparently Daniel Day-Lewis insisted on meeting Krieps for the very first time on set filming their first scene together.) Well, Krieps more than holds her own and creates an utterly fascinating character in the process. There's so much intrigue and depth to her character, and the relationship between her and Reynolds is intoxicating. The whole film is about their back-and-forth power struggle, and Alma's transformation from shy waitress to muse on equal footing with the demanding Reynolds is simply incredible. And, of course, it's absolutely marvelous to see Daniel Day-Lewis on screen once more. He spent a year studying couture preparing for this role, and his attention to the most minute of details are ever apparent. The relationship between these characters will be analyzed for years to come, and every scene involving the pair, even down to a simple look between them, is mesmerizing. Daniel Day-Lewis has said this is his last role, but as one star rides out into the sunset in triumphant fashion, another rises to take his place. Welcome to the top of the world of A-list movie stars, Vicky Krieps. What an incredible casting choice from Paul Thomas Anderson. The sheer unknown that comes with Vicky Krieps as an actress is undoubtedly a strength of the film, but having to play opposite a man of Daniel Day-Lewis's caliber.....well, it has certainly proved to be too much for people in the past. Fortunately, though, Krieps knocked this one out of the park and rocketed herself into stardom in the process.
You know who else is really interesting in this film? Lesley Manville as Reynold's intriguing sister, Cyril. There's at least one thesis paper waiting to be written on the relationship between her and Reynolds. Despite how demanding Reynolds is, both Cyril and Alma find their own ways to have power over him, and it's simply magnificent to watch. GAH! I love this film, if you can't tell. It has this alpha male lead with Reynolds, but it's really all about the women in his life and how they find various ways (some more extreme than others) to get him to do what they want. It's amazing. On top of their incredible and dynamic relationship, you have, well, EVERYTHING else. Like the set design! Everything about this set is meticulously chosen by P.T. Anderson. The costumes are brilliant and tell their own story. The freaking food choices from Reynolds tell their own story. Everything has a purpose here. I've seen this film multiple times now and I know there are still dozens of details that I've missed! And the score. Holy Jonny Greenwood the score! Hey, Jonny: can you PLEASE wade into Hollywood films more than just in P.T. Anderson flicks? Because this is easily the best score of 2017, and it comes from Radiohead's lead guitarist. I mean, who needs John Williams, right? It's mysterious and memorable just like Alma, and demanding and intrusive like Reynolds. On the second viewing I already found myself humming along to it, too. I freaking love it! I'm going to be listening to it for months and years to come. I haven't liked a score this much since Junkie XL's haunting score for Mad Max: Fury Road.
About the only complaint I have with this otherwise perfect film is with the third act. There's something of a pointless MacGuffin thrown in as “jealousy” is seemingly introduced into Reynolds and Alma's relationship, but it doesn't really go anywhere. However, this fault is well into the third act and relatively minor overall, and I'm sure it does serve some purpose that I just haven't figured it out yet, so it's not enough to take away from this masterpiece of filmmaking. In conclusion, this film is the very definition of the (often overused) word "masterpiece." It is the best film of 2017, and is every bit worthy of the hype it has garnered. Take the opportunity to go and see this one in a theater, guys. I think 10 years from now you'll wanna be able to tell people you saw this one when it first came out.
The Critique: Featuring an intoxicating relationship between its marvelous leads, Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson at his best and is easily the best overall film of 2017.
The Recommendation: Easy. An absolute-must see for all!
The Verdict: 10/10
The Most Culturally Relevant Film of 2017
I, Tonya (2017): Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.
This movie is freaking amazing. While it may not be the "best" all-around movie of the year, (though it is close) it is, without a doubt, the most relevant and necessary film of the year. It's also my personal favorite by far. I, Tonya tells the infamous story of the scandal between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan through interviews of Tonya herself, her husband Jeff, (played by Sebastian Stan) her mother LaVona (played by Allison Janney) and a few others. The presentation of this story is undoubtedly the highlight. Not only does director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers utilize voice-overs so well that it would make The Big Short jealous, but they even change the perspective of individual scenes in an engaging and subtle way throughout the film. More on that later. In addition to telling its crazy and over-the-top story in an amazing way, the film features phenomenal acting, a great soundtrack, and fantastic editing. So let's dive into why I, Tonya is one of the year's best films!
Let's hit that acting first. The wonderful Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding in what is clearly a labor of love for her. She undergoes a pretty noticeable transformation to play this character, and man is she magnificent. This role solidifies Robbie (for me, at least) as a top-of-the-line A-list celebrity in Hollywood. Not to be outdone by Robbie though is Allison freaking Janney in a role that has earned her a deserving Oscar nomination. (Her first ever) Tonya's mother LaVona is a complex character with no redeeming qualities, and Janney goes ALL OUT to play her. It's hard to believe this is the same woman that played the charismatic and legendary C.J. Cregg in The West Wing, but man do I love it! She's simply incredible. Honestly it's one of the best performances of 2017, period. While these two are the highlights in the film, their male counterparts also put in stellar performances. Sebastian Stan was great playing this complex character that you almost love to hate, and Paul Walter Hauser was HILARIOUS as Shawn, Tonya's.....bodyguard. Hauser is a relative newcommer to Hollywood as this is his first major supporting role, but I can't wait to see what's next for him. He had me rolling on the floor laughing with his delivery and persona. However, while the acting is incredible, it's the style in which this story's told that is the highlight of the film.
The voice-over narration of this film is hysterical. Not only is this film told using, in its own words, "Wildly contradictory, irony free, and totally true" interviews, but it also shoots individual scenes from different points-of-view. I didn't notice this as first because it is quite subtle, but this storytelling style made the film unpredictable and that much more fun-to-watch. One scene, Tonya is clueless and naive while asking her husband if he had anything to do with "the incident" with Nancy Kerrigan, the next she's acting like she's totally in on it. One scene Jeff is beating the crap out of her, and the next scene she's teaming up with him to yell at another character (Jeff's friend Shawn, played by Hauser) for no reason whatsoever. It was utterly fascinating. I think there's a video essay to be had on the screenplay of this film and how it tells its story. It's a damn shame writer Steven Rogers didn't receive any love from the Academy in this year's Oscar nominations. Much as I loved Logan, that definitely did not deserve the nod over this. These perspective changes also sold me on the voiceover narration, which is certainly easy to screw up. In many films voiceovers are a crutch on the story, (and over-explain things) but here they add to it and help us navigate the changing perspectives. Oh! And it's funny! This film is SO freaking funny. It made me bust my gut laughing on more than one occasion, and it even managed to break the fourth wall in a hilarious and not-corny way. LaVona has a joke in this vein about halfway through and it is the freaking joke of the year for film. Also! This movie features a fantastic soundtrack with a lot of smart and savvy musical choices. While it's not Baby Driver levels of great, you will find yourself tapping your foot to the beat and listening to the on-point lyrics that were meticulously chosen for each scene. About the only negative I have with this film is in the makeup and effects departments. Gillespie's team didn't do a very good job making Margot Robbie look 15, which she has to pull off early in the film, but this by no means diminished from the overall viewing experience. They cast Margot Robbie to play the lead character, and Tonya spent most of the first half of the film in her teenage years, so they might as well just use her. And some of the effects are corny, particularly in the slow motion skating moments. But this film had a budget of $11 million, most of which was probably for the actors, so I'll forgive it for having less-than-stellar visual effects.
Finally, I REALLY love the fact that this film never really cares about whether Tonya "did it" or not. That's not the point, and THIS is what makes I, Tonya the most relevant film of the year. (You knew I had to address that statement sooner or later) It focuses more on the fallout and consequences to the incident Tonya had to face, and the adversity she experienced during her brief career because she didn't "fit the part" of a women's figure skater. Figure skating was clearly eager to crucify Tonya Harding because she didn't come from a "wholesome American family" and didn't represent "America's values," and she dealt with adversity her entire career because of it. And now, in 2017, while monsters like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are trying to plot their comeback stories, (if they are "truly sorry" of course..... :( ) I think it's about time we allow a woman to change the image that's been forced upon her. THAT'S the goal of I, Tonya, and it achieves this goal effectively and in a riveting manner. This is one of the best films of the year, and it's absolutely worth your time. ESPECIALLY if you think Tonya Harding is a monster for what she may (or may not) have done. However, if you still think Tonya is a monster after seeing this film...... that's fine. She doesn't care about you anyway. After all, as she would say...... fuck 'em.
The Critique: Featuring phenomenal performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. a unique storytelling style, and an important message, I, Tonya is the most relevant and worthwhile film of 2017.
The Recommendation: You knew this one was coming: It's an absolute must-see!
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
Overhyped, but still good
The Post (2017): A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.
I'll be honest with you: I think this movie was overhyped. How could it not be, though? Two of the most iconic actors of the 21st century on screen together in a film directed by the man widely considered to be the most influential director in the history of Hollywood, (for better or for worse) one year after we saw, firsthand, what happens when we ignore the very institution this story is centered around? Ya, it's hard not to hype this one up to eleven. And don't get me wrong: The Post is a good, enjoyable, and important film. It takes a naturally dramatic event and portrays it as exactly that: a dramatic event. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are as charming as you would expect them to be together, and their time on screen was easily the best part of the film. As you would expect it to be. But. BUT. That does not change the fact that this film falls apart in the final 20 minutes. That does not change the fact that a crucial, CRUCIAL subplot is not resolved in any way. That does not change the fact that after such an energetic and dramatic setup, the film just, kind of.... ends. And that does not change the fact that there are other problems with this film. But more on that later.
The good of this film is obvious: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. While neither put in necessarily standout performances, it is still marvelous to see these two iconic actors on screen at the same time. It's a cataclysmic event for Hollywood that we've never seen before, and may never see again from these two. This is reminiscent of the 1951 film The African Queen, which paired Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepbrun on screen for the only time in their respective and legendary careers. The Streep/Hanks pairing alone will sell tickets, and I am very much ok with that, because this story is just as relevant in today's world as it was in the early 1970s. As a media nerd myself, I loved (almost) every second of this film. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I loved the "bedlam" (as executive editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, would say) we got to see as the newsroom, many of the most influential journalists of the 20th century included, frantically sorted through 4000 pages of government secrets in Bradlee's house as his wife (played by Sarah Paulson) served sandwiches. I loved seeing Bob Odenkirk go after his source for the Pentagon Papers in a way that would make Saul Goodman proud. This is a two-hour movie, but the middle of it flew by with tense scene after tense scene. However. This film makes a BIG mistake, and it centers around the decision-making process of its central character, the paper's publisher, Kay Graham.
Kay Graham inherited WashPo from her husband (who inherited it from her father) after he committed suicide. For decades, (and hard to believe now) WashPo was a little family paper headquartered in Washington D.C. that was, like everyone else, chasing the New York Times for the next big story. Now, this film does a brilliant job showing the paper grappling with the consequences of publishing the Pentagon Papers. There's no fault to be had there whatsoever. However, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) has the final say on whether the papers are published or not, and she comes at this decision from a very different (and reasonable) angle. While Ben Bradlee and co. are deciding whether they should publish for fear of putting US troops in harm's way, Graham is risking the newspaper itself because The Post was also doing its initial public offering (IPO) at the same time as it was publishing the Pentagon Papers. And, as this film reminds us multiple times, there is a clause in the IPO that allows the "bankers" of Wall Street to pull out of the IPO within a week of its initial offering due to a dramatic event. (Like, say, The Post publishing top secret documents and being reprimanded in federal court. Something like that.) This risk is at the crux of her decision making. Unfortunately, not only is this debate not resolved in a satisfying way, it isn't resolved.....at all. After grappling with this risk for the vast majority of the movie, we don't get even a single scene of fallout from the IPO side of the paper. No shot of its stock tumbling. (or soaring) Absolutely. Nothing. And, because they make this the central focus of Kay Graham's character arc, it kind of made her.... irrelevant to the entire story. Yes, I know I just said Meryl Streep didn't need to be in this at all, but given how the film ended..... she didn't need to be in this movie. At all. While this is the only major issue I have with The Post, having your top-billed actress be relatively inconsequential to the events of your story is something of a major problem! Her only meaningful arc is her learning to have the resolve to run the paper as a whole. Yes, this is a good side arc, and a good/relevant one for 2017, but not enough to overshadow the fact that her main arc is, you know, useless!
I only had a few other minor issues with this film. The first is (admittedly) VERY mute, but I wish the dialogue had been....smarter. Maybe it's just because I've seen The Newsroom, but I REALLY wish Aaron Sorkin had been the screenwriter for this movie. That's ok, though. He was too busy writing/directing Molly's Game, which, surprisingly enough, is a superior film. The ending overall was also very rushed, but I can hardly fault the film for having such a tense setup that it can't follow through on a conclusion to historical events. I mean, you know what's going to happen, so when you see the thing happen....how dramatic can it really be? But, IPO issues aside, many of the other "stakes" that are established in the setup here are glanced over in the film's final 20 minutes, if brought up at all. The film also kind of sequel-baits. Most of the time I don't have an issue when a movie does this, and even here I very much hope we do get a sequel, whether it be a direct or indirect one, but... after such a rushed conclusion, did we really need to do that? Did we really need that final minute? I don't know.... I guess I was already disappointed with the ending so the attempted sequel-baiting just got to me more than it would in another situation.
I've spent a lot of time hating on this film, but doesn't change the fact that it is a good movie with an engaging and dramatic story, and the top-tier level of acting you'd expect from a film that puts Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the same screen together. (And gives them a strong supporting cast to boot) Sadly, though, it suffers from being overhyped and overrated. If you're just looking for a compelling and dramatic film on media and journalism, go back and watch 2015's Spotlight. (It's available on Netflix right now) It won Best Picture that year, and for good reason. If you've already seen that film half a dozen times, (I wouldn't know anyone that could say that.......) and need your next media and journalism movie fix, look no further. Just.... temper your expectations a bit.
The Critique: While pairing Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep goes exactly how you would expect it would, The Post is sadly overhyped and overrated, with a rushed conclusion and wasted character arc at the core of its faults. It is (merely) a good film.
The Recommendation: There are a lot of reason to go see this film, (I don't feel like mentioning all of them) just be sure to give films like Call Me by Your Name and I, Tonya some love too, ya?
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
2017's Smartest Film
Molly's Game (2017): The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.
These Raw Thoughts come from you from Braxton Labs in Newport, KY, approximately 45 minutes after seeing the film.
Molly's Game is straight fire. The directorial debut for legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, this film takes the writer's trademark dialogue style and turns it up to eleven. This is done to the detriment of the film at times, but most of the time it works beautifully, especially surrounding the lead character. Molly Bloom is a total boss. The hero 2017 needed. She controls all the men around her (save one) while holding their hearts on a string, and she is played masterfully by Jessica Chastain. This is the role Chastain was born to play, and she puts in one of the sleekest and most badass roles of the year.While this performance may not net Chastain an Oscar, it is certainly one of my favorites of the year, and Sorkin's trademarked style meshes with Chastain better than PB&J.
As if that wasn't enough, Chastain’s male counterparts are fantastic, led the way by Idris Elba and Kevin Costner. These two are amazing. Heck, this may be the best role I've ever seen from the amazing Idris Elba. Freaking love this man! He is so charming and charismatic, and he gets to show that off as much as possible here. There's also a really deep (and strong) supporting cast. You know your cast is deep when someone like Joe Keery (from Stranger Things) has a total of two scenes! He does make the most of them, but the big loser from this is Michael Cera. He plays “Player X” and is clearly playing the “idea” of a character and isn't given much to do other than "be maniacal," which is unfortunate. But all in all this is a relatively minor complaint. The highlight of this film, without a doubt, is the dialogue.
The dialogue. If you've never seen a film by Aaron Sorkin, you've missed out on one of the most distinguishable storytelling styles in recent Hollywood memory. In his films, every character is the smartest person in the room, and they make sure everyone else knows it. They pull some of the deepest references out of thin air and know exactly what each other is talking about at all times. (At one point, Jessica Chastain starts talking about three poems that Idris Elba is making her daughter read. When did she have time to become fluent in poetry? Does it matter?) This film is no exception, and it is just so much fun! However, with Sorkin in the director's chair for the first time, no one was around to tell him no, which means sometimes people are….too smart. Sometimes, scenes will linger for too long because Sorkin can't help himself. It's the classic Quentin Tarantino problem. Sorkin is in love with his own dialogue, and without a director to tell him that he's written too much of it for a certain scene, they tend to be overlong as the characters will put out one reference too many. Personally, I LOVE Sorkin’s dialogue, so I have no problem with this, but if you're even slightly turned off by Sorkin's style…..you're gonna be turned off here. This is Sorkin's dialogue on steroids, so consider yourself warned. Though, to be fair, I don't know how you can hate his formula! It's sleek. It's sexy. It's intelligent. And it's FUN. I had a blast watching this! This movie is all of those things, and if you like Sorkin's dialogue then it's a STRONG directorial debut, led by the dazzling performance of Jessica Chastain.
“Player X” is a bit weak, and the film does glorify gambling a little too much, (I know, I know, gambling is romanticized in every Hollywood movie) but it's not enough to offset the greatness of here. See it for the craziness of the story, (and know it'll be nominated for an Oscar in the Adapted Screenplay department) the sleek and sexy actors, (Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain especially) and the amazing dialogue, however if you've never seen a Sorkin screenplay (somehow)....don't start here. Start with something like The Social Network. (Fun fact....that was the fifth review I ever wrote! And I still think it's one of the 5 best films of the 21st century)
My Number: 8/10
All the Christopher Plummer in the World
All the Money in the World (2017): The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.
Happy new year everyone! So I'm going to try a new thing here on Enter the Movies. Some of my favorite posts in the past have been the ones where I write them almost immediately after seeing the film. I also do this every year immediately following the Oscars. So I'm gonna turn this into a new series that I will use occasionally. Aka whenever I feel like it. Hope you enjoy it!
These raw thoughts come to you from the bar at Braxton Labs in Newport, KY, immediately after seeing All the Money in the World.
There's a great story behind this. After allegations of sexual assault arose against Kevin Spacey, director Ridley Scott and company removed him from the film just six weeks ahead of its nationwide release, and they stumbled onto gold with his replacement, Christopher Plummer. The highlight of this film is Christopher Plummer’s performance as J. Paul Getty. Plummer was Scott's first choice before Sony asked him to “find someone more famous” for the role, and I can see why he wanted to go with Plummer initially. HOWEVEr, that does not excuse the glaring faults of this film. The film plays fast and loose with its subject matter, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me given how naturally dramatic the actual story is. After getting off to a bang with some terrific sequences with J. Paul Getty, the film doesn't know what to do with itself as it slugs through its snoozefest of a second act, losing all momentum it had initially built. It does manage to recapture some of its intensity in the final act, but it also torpedoes itself here with this completely absurd town sequence that had me practically saying, “There's no way that happened in real life” out loud. Not to mention a rather silly epilogue that's only there so we can feel like we “stuck it to the man.”
This may be Scott's best work in recent memory (though if it were me I'd probably still go with Alien: Covenant) but he just can't get out of his own way. In real life, Gail Harris (played beautifully here by Michelle Williams) wages war with her grandfather-in-law in the press. Here, the press is nothing more than a leeching paparazzi group, and we only get one scene in the film of Harris using the press to her advantage. Even in that scene the press is vilified for no real reason other than to be vilified. Ugh! The second act of this film could've been this interesting cat-and-mouse political game between Harris and Getty, but instead we got this slow moving section that doesn't know what to do with itself.
That said, the acting is excellent. Christopher Plummer leads the way with one of the best performances of the year, and when you factor in the fact that his performance was shot in nine days it becomes all the more impressive. Michelle Williams is, once again, great and Mark Wahlberg is pretty good too.... though he admittedly doesn't have much to do other than “be mysterious.” He has one exchange with Getty that was a great scene, but it was CLEARLY a Hollywood-esque scene. Absolutely no chance it really happened. (Like way too much of this film) While it is a pretty enjoyable film, and it will get some love from the Academy, (definitely more so than Downsizing and The Greatest Showman, the other big studio “for your consideration” Oscar films) there's just too many absurd moments for me to consider it a must-watch. And I SWEAR TO GOD IF RIDLEY SCOTT IS NOMINATED FOR BEST DIRECTOR AT THE OSCARS. What are you doing, Golden Globes? Yes, it's impressive that they did these reshoots in nine days, but it doesn't overshadow the other glaring problems of this film. Many of which come at the hands of Ridley Scott! (Deep breath) Anyway..... Watch it if you're a cinephile like me and want to see what a performance shot in nine days looks like, otherwise there are better things to see at the theater.
My Number: 5/10 It's FINE
What does Mr. Grinch Want for Christmas? To Return some videotapes?
American Psycho (2000): A wealthy New York investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
Happy holidays everyone! Hope you're getting to spend some quality time with your friends and family during this wonderful season. As is tradition at Enter the Movies, I'm here to provide you with a review of a classic film that has hardly anything to do with Christmas. Last year I provided my jolly take on L.A. Confidential, and this year it's time to talk about one of the craziest films ever made: American Psycho. Now, I'll admit..... there's only one passing scene in this film that has to do with Christmas. But I have always wanted to talk about this controversial film, so I'll use my Holiday Special to do it. If you don't like it.....well, don't make me go get my raincoat! (Deep breath) Anyway, let's talk about American Psycho, shall we?
The name of this movie is fitting, because it is absolutely ridiculous. But, for the first half of the movie, it is ridiculous in an unforgettable sort of way. (I'll get to the second half in a bit) The film stars Christian Bale as the antihero Patrick Bateman in what is easily the best performance of his distinguished career. Not only that, but this performance would likely find a spot in my top 5 Best Performances of all time! His portrayal of Bateman is darkly hilarious. He's haunting. He's menacing. He's superficial. Yet he makes you laugh so much you actually feel uncomfortable. Bateman commits horrific atrocities in front of you, and at the end of the film you feel awful for not hating him with every fiber of your being. This is a phenomenon that I have experienced in only a handful of movies over the years. (Another one that comes to mind? Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street) But that is exactly what an antihero should be. Bateman is also held up by some incredible writing. His personal story arc is terrific! There's also this fantastic theme of materialism that is still shockingly relevant over 15 years later. The amount of relevance this still has as a social satire 15 years later is pretty uncanny. One of the more famous scenes of materialism in the movie (there are many) has been turned into a meme now, but even when I see it in meme form it still works! How often does that happen? It's pretty freaking incredible.
However, as the second half rolls on and we get into the third act, the theme of the film shifts to being more about Bateman's struggle to stay integrated with society and, well, sane and away the social satire. As these sequences progress, and as Bateman's antics become more over-the-top, the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, which lead to some very confusing moments. The satire turns into a psychological drama, and this transition is rather ugly, to say the least. It's so rough that you'll probably just give up on trying to understand what's going on. This is such a shame, because the first half of this movie is the definition of perfection. Bateman's first kill while describing the career of Huey Lewis and the News is, to this day, one of the best scenes I've ever seen in a film. (Warning: There's some GRAPHIC content in that previous link) But the second half is an absolute dumpster fire. Look. I get what they were going for here, and it's certainly provocative from start to finish. But when the film starts out as strong as it does and turns into a borderline indecipherable mess, I can't help but be disappointed. It's controversial as well, with the film famously having to cut 18 seconds of film to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating. (The overall making of this movie is nuts....at one point none other than Leonardo DiCaprio was going to take on the role of Patrick Bateman) That said, this is still a good film as it is carried by the career-defining performance of Christian Bale, and its dark humor is on point as well as its statement on materialism. If you want to see a mind-provoking social satire this holiday season, and really get into the materialism that comes with this festive time, you've come to the right place! Everyone else though? Just go and watch White Christmas again. That's prooooobably a safer choice.
Happy holidays everyone! Now excuse me while I go and listen to some Genesis. (Personally, I think "Invisible Touch" is the group's undisputed masterpiece.)
The Critique: A provocative and dark social satire, American Psycho is buoyed by one of the greatest performances in the history of film, despite a rather incomprehensible final act.
The Recommendation: If you like dark comedies and antiheroes and have never seen American Psycho, move this to the top of your list right away. Everyone else? Well......maybe look for something else to watch.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Happy holidays everyone!
A wealthy New York investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
This is why I love Cinema
The Disaster Artist (2017): When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.
Wow. What a film. I think I'm going to be higher on The Disaster Artist than some because I, for one, am hopelessly in love with the movies. If you're anything like me then this film will definitely tug on your heartstrings. (And you'll know it, too) But either way..... I had very high expectations for The Disaster Artist, and man oh man did James Franco and company hit this one out of the park. Yes, it's a film about the making of the best worst movie of all time, (check out my review of The Room here!) but it's still approachable for everyone. Because honestly, this is the story about two best friends trying to pursue their dreams together. Even if they aren't particularly good at said dreams. Who can't appreciate that, right?
Let's start out with the good, which is most of this film. The movie features an all-star cast behind Dave and James Franco, and you can tell that all of them put a lot of care and love into their roles, no matter how small. Ari Graynor's performance as The Room's 'Lisa' was so on point it was kind of freaky. She captured the mannerisms of Juliette extremely well. Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron are freaking great together, both on-screen and off. Jacki Weaver is wonderful as The Room's 'Claudette.' And of course, we have James Franco with what is undoubtedly his best performance since (at least) 2012's Spring Breakers. His Tommy Wiseau is incredible, and is one of the best performances I've seen all year. His accent, mannerisms, and overall attention-to-detail is fantastic. His friendship with Greg (played by brother Dave Franco in what is their first co-lead performance together) is at the forefront of this movie. Their chemistry is awesome, (as it should be with two brothers) but you find yourself really feeling for them as the movie goes on. Their story arc together is extremely engaging, to the point that the actual "making of" The Room is just something of a sideshow. Additionally, the shroud of mystery that surrounds Tommy Wiseau is still intact here, which I really appreciate. The fact that it was an actual plot point in the movie (at one point Greg is mad at Tommy and asks him where he's from in front of cameras to upset him) is awesome, and further solidifies my point about the mystery of Wiseau being a major reason as to why The Room still garners sold-out midnight screenings to this day.
It's tough for a movie to straddle the line of comedy and drama well, but The Disaster Artist does exactly that. There are some sequences here where I laughed harder than I have in any other movie this year, then suddenly the very next scene the film is tugging on my heartstrings for one reason or another. It does make the tone unpredictable which was a tad distracting, but geez is that a minute complaint. Then again most of my complaints with this film are relatively minute. On that note.... (I know, great segue, right?) It did bother me a tad when Wiseau and co. made the transition from drama to comedy with The Room so quickly, and how quickly Wiseau himself accepts this fact. That "Eight Months Later" intertitle was unfortunate, but this entire complaint can really be summed up as "I want more movie!" If anything, that's a good thing. The movie does only come in at 104 minutes, and I wish it had been 144 minutes, so we could have dived deeper into the "making of" portion a bit more. But, as I mentioned before, this film really isn't about that.
This is why I love The Disaster Artist so much. It's a work of love for all those out there trying to chase their dreams. Films like La La Land also have these themes, and (obviously) I appreciate those too, but I REALLY appreciate The Disaster Artist's interpretation of this because it's a tribute to everyone trying to chase their dreams, regardless of how good or bad you may be at it. Jacki Weaver's character, Carolyn, has the line that hits this point home in the film, and is my favorite moment of the year so far. She's eating lunch with other members of the cast on the set of The Room, and by this point they all know they're in a complete disaster of a motion picture. The mood is somber, but still surprisingly upbeat for a crew that already knows that what they're currently working on will likely be the worst thing they ever put their names too. While they're eating, someone asks Carolyn something to the effect of "Why are you here? Why do you drive 50 miles to work every day?" and her reply is "Because even the worst day on a movie set is better than every other day." If that doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will. This is one of the best movies of the year, (and my "favorite" so far) and it's well worth your time, regardless of whether you have seen The Room or not. James Franco has crafted a wonderful love letter to cinema and all "the fools who dream" (to quote La La Land) with his brother and best friends. It's a marvelous film and worth every second of your time. See it with confidence.
The Critique: A beautiful, inspirational film about chasing your dreams no matter what, The Disaster Artist is one of the best movies of the year thanks to its stellar performances and a spectacular story that successfully rides the fine line between drama and comedy.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for everyone! See it with great confidence!
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Almost Perfect
The Strongest 1/10 a Movie can ever Receive
The Room (2003): Johnny is a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his fiancée, Lisa. One day, inexplicably, she gets bored with him and decides to seduce his best friend, Mark. From there, nothing will be the same again.
Look at that IMDB description. LOOK AT IT. Doesn't that make you want to drop everything and see it? It's so engaging! I just love how they felt the need to add the word "inexplicably" in that description. It's completely unnecessary, but it's still.....mysteriously beautiful. Actually, that's a great way to describe The Room: completely unnecessary, yet mysteriously beautiful. This film is routinely referred to as "the best worst movie ever made," and I can see why. It's TERRIBLE, in every facet, but you will be rolling on the floor laughing at just how bad it is. I figured I would take a minute to talk about this film with The Disaster Artist going nationwide this week, because that's as good an excuse as any to talk about this cult classic. It's no wonder this film is a favorite among certain circles. This movie is a GREAT party watch, which has led to many theaters having sold-out midnight screenings of it to this day. If you've never done one of those and you like The Room......oh boy do you need to change that. I was lucky enough to see this film for the first time in a midnight screening, and it is honestly one of the best movie watching experiences I have ever had. You haven't seen The Room until you see it like this. No wonder people see it in the theater dozens of times. But how does one analyze it? How has this film lived on and garnered so much attention to the point that there's an Oscar-worthy making of film coming out about it right now? These are some really good questions that I don't know the answer to right now. Let me go out and toss a football to myself and get back to you beautiful people.
Ok I know that was a frisbee and not a football but just go with it, ok? Whatever. I don't care.
So now that I'm back from tossing my frisbee I MEAN FOOTBALL, let's talk about The Room! I have seen some pretty terrible movies in my life. Heck for my 10,000/100,000 view specials I reviewed Manos: The Hands of Fate and Night of the Lepus respectively. But those movies are so bad they're unwatchable. This film, however, is an absolute blast to watch. Why is that? It's hard to find a rational explanation for why The Room is a significantly better a viewing experience than something like Night of the Lepus. Why does The Room garner massive midnight screenings while Birdemic (to list another of the historically awful films out there) does not? I think it starts with the allure and (to this day) shroud of mystery that surrounds the director, writer, producer, financier, and lead actor of The Room, the legendary Tommy Wiseau.
So do me a solid and look at that picture real quick. That is Tommy Wiseau's official headshot on IMDB. You can spend hours and hours on IMDB and not find a more ugly picture of an actor anywhere. Even John Reynolds, the....uhhhh..... actor that was allegedly high on LSD during the entire filming of Manos: The Hands of Fate just doesn't have a picture of himself on IMDB! And yet there's Wiseau's horrifically disheveled face. Right there for the world to see. We know criminally little about Wiseau and where he came from, but legend has it that he spent five million dollars of his own money to self-finance The Room. How did he get that money? Why did he come to Hollywood and try and be an actor when he had enough money to finance his own movie? He has to be well off if he has five million dollars lying around to blow. How did he look at this and say, "Sure. This looks good. Let's release it to the world!" Who knows. We may never know. This man is so mysterious that his Wikipedia page has to quote a Howard Stern interview he did this year in which he says he can speak French and is Catholic for his "Personal Life" section. In an age where we know absolutely everything about every major star, and tabloid journalists follow actors around like hawks scouring for the latest scandal, the ability of Tommy Wiseau to still, to this day, remain a complete mystery is unprecedented. It tears me apart, man! I just want to know more about him!
It also helps, in building the allure of Wiseau, that for me personally, his performance in The Room is, simply put, the worst performance I have ever seen in a movie. Everything about this performance is awful. He switches tone with his character on a dime for no explicable reason! One second he's furious at Lisa, the next it's "Oh hi, Mark!" in a playful, excited tone. When a kid he's supposedly a mentor to tells him he's in love with his fiance, (did you know Lisa is soon to be his wife?) he responds with, "Go on." He yells at himself in a very unconvincing way, then suddenly says "Oh hi, Mark!" And his laugh. His laugh is so. Just so. Freaking. Bad. It is the best worst laugh in the history of Hollywood cinema. ALSO. He also has no control over his hands and other extremities. Also this. Ricky Bobby would be proud.
The other actors in this film aren't that great, but dear GOD they look like superstars next to Wiseau. And yet.....I still love this performance. There's just something so lovable about Tommy Wiseau. He's terrible, but he's still trying to live his dream in this movie, and that's something I can respect. Heck that's something a lot of people can't say. He's just really, REALLY bad at it in a great way.
Outside of Tommy Wiseau, there are just a lot of problems with this movie. Problems with the script, (what about Lisa's mom having breast cancer? Or that drug deal that goes south with Denny?) problems with the set, (throws spoons in the air) and problems with character actions, (and they enter and exit and play football and enter and exit.....) to name a few. But you already knew that. You wait for these moments and the famous moments of the script because even though they're terrible......they're still awesome in a mysteriously beautiful way. Miiiiiiiiinus the soft-core porn sections littered throughout the film. Those are just baaaaaaaaaaaad. This film comes in at 99 minutes long, but it really feels like at least 20 minutes of that is just soft porn. Oh ya! Also, also.... some of this film isn't even in focus! Oh! And the audio gets de-synced a few times! Wiseau and company failed in SPECTACULAR fashion in every facet of filmmaking with The Room. It's really quite amazing how thoroughly someone can fail at something, but you won't care. You'll be laughing along every step of the way. Despite its epic failure, Tommy Wiseau and his lovable cast of misfits managed to craft a movie that is a timeless classic. A movie that still brings people together almost 15 years later. I have to give this film a 1/10 because yes. It is terrible. But there's no doubt this is the strongest 1/10 I can ever hand out. Now I sure do hope that Lisa's mom is doing ok.....
The Critique: The best worst movie ever made, The Room is a lovable, timeless classic that still brings people together 15 years later to marvel at how much someone can so completely and utterly fail in every aspect of filmmaking.
The Recommendation: It gets a 1/10, but I will still call this movie an absolute must see for everyone. Because it is. Somehow.
The Verdict: 1/10 Lovably horrific
Still holds up 20 years later
Titanic (1997): A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
For those who don't know, I consider Titanic to be one of the films that made me realize my love for movies. It's a true modern Hollywood epic, coming in at a whooping 194 minutes, and features one of the most exhilarating hours of cinema (the sinking of the Titanic) I have ever seen. It's amazing that this film still holds up extremely well 20 years later, but that's thanks largely to the fact that director James Cameron and his crew basically rebuilt the Titanic from the ground up, then sunk it using practical effects. THAT SAID. Before you just assume I'm gonna gush about this film in this review and thus should be entirely discredited, this film is FAR from perfect. So no, as much as I may love this film, it is FAR from perfect.
Let's start with the bad first, because otherwise you may not believe me when I say I have issues with this film. The biggest problem with Titanic, by FAR, is the love story. It's not great. When you have something as dramatic as the Titanic sinking on screen it's not an issue at all, but in the second act of this film (before the iceberg) there's not a whole lot for us to go on other than this story. As a result there's a lot of cringe-inducing dialogue in this second act. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the top actors in modern history, but even he struggles with some of these lines. The scene where he pulls Rose out from a tour of the ship and tries to blurt out a monologue of his love for her is......bad. It's just bad writing. Additionally, even though she was (somehow) nominated for an Oscar, there are several scenes in this film where Kate Winslet REALLY struggles. She's a great actress, no doubt, but this performance is not that good. Well, let me rephrase that. She's pretty good in the first and third acts, but in the second act she, like DiCaprio, really struggle with the material they are given. Her struggles are just a bit more obvious. The two of them really don't have any chemistry, either. But I think most of this can be traced back to Cameron's borderline awful dialogue. Fortunately there are a couple of sequences in the second act like the third class dance party that break up this monotony, but otherwise the second is bad to the point that it is nearly unwatchable. Also, Billy Zane's character Cal doesn't hold up very well now, as he definitely comes off as a bit of a cartoon-y 90s villain. But it's Billy Zane, and as we know Billy Zane does what he wants. Also, Jack's friends Fabrizio and Tommy really aren't given much to do here, which is saying something (especially for Fabrizio) when he literally runs on the ship with Jack and this movie is 3+ hours long. Probably would have been for the best had we gotten more scenes of the three of them versus scenes of Jack + Rose. Finally! There are some scenes here where Cameron just couldn't help himself and did his best Michael Bay impersonation. Most notably, when the first column of the ship falls on Fabrizio. (Don't cry spoiler this movie is 20 years old I can do what I want haha) Did we REALLY need to see that? Really? Did we really need to see people falling into the ship as it splits in two with a whole bunch of random explosions? These shots are a tad distracting in the otherwise exhilarating third act, but that still does not change the fact that the third act of this movie is one of the most exhilarating hours of cinema ever filmed.
Let's start there with the good, because that third act (the sinking) is the obvious centerpiece of this film. If you have no idea how this film was made, you really should change that, because it's incredible. This crew basically rebuilt the Titanic, inside and out, and then sunk it in a controlled environment. The fact that they really did recreate the sinking of the Titanic using practical effects makes this entire sequence that much more real. Heck, this film looks better than some other modern-day films because of it! (Looks at Justice League) This whole sequence is incredible, from the ship striking the iceberg to Titanic's final plunge into the ocean. And, despite how epic it feels, Cameron somehow manages takes the time to have some wonderfully intimate moments spread throughout it. I still rock the ugly cry every time we get to the "Nearer, My God to Thee" sequence. It's a beautiful moment in the middle of all this chaos, and it's easily my favorite sequence of the entire film. (And one of my favorite sequences ever, for that matter.) A director, Cameron included, being willing to risk adding a sequence like this into the climax of their big budget film has been lost in modern Hollywood, which makes me really sad. Additionally, there are really strong performances from Kathy Bates and Frances Fisher. These actresses play "the unsinkable" Molly Brown and Ruth Dewitt Bukater respectively, and man are they awesome. I was freaking stoked when I saw Kathy Bates in The Boss a few years back just because of her role here in Titanic. I don't think I've seen Fisher in hardly anything else which is unfortunate because her performance as Rose's mom is the best performance of the entire film! Also, every member of the White Star Line is awesome, even the extras that only have a few lines. There are a LOT of members of White Star Line, and I love all of them, even Mr. Fantastic. Finally, I have to hit on the technical departments, because there's no doubt Cameron's crew hit it out of the part on nearly all of these. The costumes are amazing. I cannot even begin to imagine how expensive the costume budget was for this film, because not only do Rose and her mom wear some exquisite costumes throughout the film, but all the extras in the background do as well! I can't imagine how expensive the costumes were in some of those first class party sequences. No wonder they won an Oscar. And no wonder they won an Oscar for the production design! Though when you rebuild an entire ship, inside and out, then sink it, that Oscar is kind of inevitable. But geez great job to the production crew for rebuilding the Titanic, then being totally ok with their lives as James Cameron destroyed it. FINALLY, we have to talk about the score. The late James Horner has a lot of great scores to his name, but his score for Titanic is undoubtedly his best. This film's score is in my top 10 favorite scores of all-time, with iconic theme after iconic theme. Yes, the Celine Dion's "My Heart will Go On" is VERY 90s, but the rest of this score is pretty timeless, with Horner's "Hymm to the Sea" being synonymous with both the film and the Titanic disaster itself. And the song in the third class party is easily the best moment of that otherwise monotonous second ac, and we only have Horner to thank for that.
So.....there you have it. Yes, I still gush over the third act of this film, (I didn't really touch on it but there's a lot to like in the first act, too. Most notably the fact that they got permission to film the actual Titanic sea disaster in the early sequences somehow) but this movie is still 3 hours long, and that middle hour has some borderline unwatchable moments thanks to a weak script. But the production value, practical effects, score, costumes, and "Nearer, My God to Thee" still make this a great film, and one that I know I will still be watching 50 years from now. (It will probably still hold up then, too) Happy 20th anniversary to one of the films that helped me fall in love with cinema!
The Critique: Despite a monotonous second act, Titanic features some of the most exhilarating and gut-wrenching sequences ever put to film that still manages to look better than many modern films thanks to its incredible production design and practical effects.
The Recommendation: If you've somehow never seen this film....well you already know you need to change that so don't mind me.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
A beautiful coming-of-age film
Lady Bird (2017): The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.
Ah! You see this Zack Snyder/Warner Brothers? THIS is how you do an intimate film! Holy crap this movie is amazing. Writer/director Greta Gerwig makes her (solo) directorial debut here with Lady Bird, a film which is loosely based on her own experiences growing up. It is a simple, yet wonderful premise: a young woman is trying to make it through her senior year in northern California. That's it! And yet it had laughing, having fun, and even rocking the ugly cry before the end of the film. While it's not quite perfect, it is still the best film I have seen so far this year, and will almost certainly make it on to my end-of-year lists when the time comes. So, let's talk about what makes Lady Bird so great!
At the centerpiece of this film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson is played brilliantly by the great Saoirse Ronan, (in the best performance of the year so far) and her mom is played by Laurie Metcalf. Their chemistry and their dynamic is SPECTACULAR. One minute they're best friends, the next they're yelling at each other at full volume in a public place, and the next they're best friends again. That feeling of spontaneity makes these performances amazing, and they are captured brilliantly by Gerwig. Ronan's performance is as good as her role in Brooklyn (which was in my top 5 best performances of 2015) and is the best I've seen so far this year because of how grounded and subdued it is. The glamour of Ronan is gone in this gritty, down-to-earth, and slightly nerdy high school senior that insists on being called Lady Bird. It's always amazing to see someone as recognizable as Saoirse Ronan be totally sucked into a role, but that's exactly what happens here. She, along with Laurie Metcalf (who does the same thing) carry this film, and are the reason it's worth watching. Outside of these two, there's a strong supporting cast as well, with father-figure Tracy Letts and love interests Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet leading the way. I only wish that Gerwig herself made a cameo in this film at some point! Especially since this film is based around her own personal experiences.....but I digress.
So let's talk about intimacy, shall we? Because we have another major film recently, Justice League, that tries (and fails) to create some intimate moments, while something like Lady Bird does it so well. First off, the biggest thing Lady Bird hits out of the park to create this intimacy (that Justice League fails at) is the production design/cinematography. So many of the scenes in this film take place in small and quiet locations. A thrift store. A car. A kitchen. And when they happen, they're shot sooooo much better than Justice League could even dream of! If you're trying to have an intimate moment, close-ups are the key. This film allows the actors playing these characters to show their emotions so well because, you know, we are looking at the actors! And there's nothing else on screen besides them to distract us. Justice League director Zack Snyder just can't help himself. Whenever there's an attempt at an intimate moment in that film, they are always filmed with these grand wide shots with a bunch of excess crap in the frame. Snyder really takes a note out of Michael Bay's playbook with this, and I don't know why because it doesn't work for him, either. About the most "action-packed" shots we have in Lady Bird are of simple things, like the countryside in the background because the car our characters are in is moving, or our characters are looking at various pieces of clothing while they bicker. And it's quiet! This film, when it's trying to convey its emotions, understands the power of silence. No unnecessary "white noise" score underneath. When someone does something particularly heinous, we're given a moment of complete silence to let that sink in. Thank you, guys!
Sorry got on a bit of a tangent there so let's move on. Anyway, this movie is also funny. Like, I was laughing hysterically more times than I could count. I mean the film opens with Lady Bird jumping out of a moving car in the middle of her mother yelling at her! Then she wears a cast for half the movie because of it. Talk about hitting the ground rolling! (Don't worry I'll be here all night) About the only issue I had with this film (and what prevents it from having a perfect score) was that it was WAY too short. It clocks in at only 94 minutes, and it could've easily have been 124 minutes, and no one would've blinked an eye. That's usually not enough to affect anything on its own, but because of the short run-time there were some deep and interesting themes that were hastily investigated in this film. Particularly with one of the love interests: something major is brought up with a love interest but is then quickly dropped because there's only so much you can do in 94 minutes. But that's about the only misstep in this film. It is amazing, and WELL worth a watch. I've said it before, and I'll say it again here: A24 is on top of the world. Well done, guys. What a debut for Greta Gerwig, and what a performance by Saoirse Ronan. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.
The Critique: The best film of the year so far, Lady Bird is a funny and emotional movie featuring a brilliant and engrossing relationship between a young woman and her mother.
The Recommendation: You knew this recommendation was coming. Lady Bird is an absolute must-see for all!
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Almost perfect
Great to look at, but offers little else
Murder on the Orient Express (2017): A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man's race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
Geez that is quite the IMDB description. Why is it so hard to sum up a movie in a sentence or two for the IMDB description? "There's a murder. It happens to be on the Orient Express." Done. See? Easy! Anyway, that long IMDB description is actually a good segue to the biggest problem of the film: it's bloated. This movie lasts 114 minutes, but 30 of those minutes could've been cut out with ease and no one would've blinked an eye. Heck at 84 minutes this thing would probably still be too long. However, I cannot deny that this film is great to look at. This film is gorgeous! The fashion of this movie is wonderful. The production design, once we're actually on the train, is great. I also had a blast watching some of the hottest actors on the planet interact with each other in a confined space. But still. At the end of the day, this movie is simply..... fine. It takes way too long to get to the actual story, but once it gets there, I had fun watching it. Despite some sloppy directing. So, let's dive into it, shall we?
Let's start with the good. As I said, this film looks GREAT. I think you could definitely find enjoyment in just looking at the film and not even listening to it. From the costumes to the production design to the makeup, there is a clear and meticulous attention to detail taken here. Additionally, the acting is great. As it should be as this cast is ginormous! I mean Willem Dafoe, fresh off of one of the best performances of the year in The Florida Project, has like 5 lines in this whole movie! That's when you know your cast is stacked, and of course everyone brings their A-game. Kenneth Branagh is the focal point here as Detective Poirot, and my God is his accent amazing. It was actually almost too good as there were points where I couldn't understand what he was saying, though I think that was more a fault of the sound editing than anything else. Finally, once we're on the train and in the thick of the whodunit, I had fun watching it. The whodunit is pretty fun, but even this they manage to butcher a bit. Whoa! Another good segue!
So, as you can probably guess, the biggest problem of this film by FAR is that it is too long. It is rare for me to hold that complaint as the biggest one for a film, but when almost the ENTIRE first half of your film feels unnecessary, you know you have a problem. See, the movie opens with this entire sequence in the Middle East (I think? I can't even remember at this point) that has nothing to do with, you know, the murder. On the Orient Express. This part was rather sloppy, and made Detective Poirot feel like a French version of RDJ's Sherlock Holmes. (Another complain I had.....this movie makes little to no effort to make you not think about Sherlock Holmes the entire time.) After some more (relatively) pointless dawdling, we're finally to the train station, and this is where we are greeted with some rushed character introductions for the A-list cast. Which makes NO SENSE. Why do we have to waste 20+ minutes of valuable screen-time in sequences that add nothing to the film, just to rush through the character introductions? You know, the things that are relevant to the film? I don't know how much of this falls on Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film) and how much of it comes down on writer Michael Green, but the first act of this film is very frustrating and, well, terrible! Fortunately, the second act turns it up to eleven as we finally get, you know, the Murder on the Orient Express, (ah! He said it!) as well as the initial "interviews," which basically just put Kenneth Branagh on screen with every member of the cast for entirely too short a period of time. These sequences were easily the best of the film, particularly the exchanges with Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench. Talk about an insane amount of charisma there! Buuuuuuut then the film goes right back to being messy in the third act as we're greeted with at least one completely unnecessary MacGuffin that exists just to add more screen-time. Also, as I mentioned before the sound editing at points was rather sloppy, as I simply could not hear what some of the characters were saying at several points. I don't usually make note of that because it may be the quality of the speaker system in the theater itself, but I was in a brand-new movie theater (less than a month old) so I do think this one was on the movie and not the theater.
At the end of the day, I think this film would have been better served as a 45-minute made-for-TV movie, because it really could've been done in that kind of run-time. But obviously a TV movie would never receive the kind of money this film received, so it seems we're stuck between a rock and a hard place with this movie. I'll give it a lot of points for being great to look at, but the second you start thinking about it, it falls apart. It's average, at best. I say it's worth watching if you're a big fan of Kenneth Branagh, but everyone else? Even big fans of Agatha Christie? Don't bother with this. I think it'll leave you far too frustrated and wishing for more time on The Orient Express.
The Critique: Sloppy directing and a hilariously bloated story undermine this otherwise fun, beautiful, and charismatic whodunit.
The Recommendation: I really would not recommend this to many people. I think even fans of Kenneth Branagh may get a bit frustrated with this one just because they want to like it so much. If you do check it out....turn your brain off and just enjoy this film's good looks. Because it doesn't have much else to offer.
The Verdict: 5/10
What Happened Here??
Suburbicon (2017): A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.
What happened here? What is this travesty? Hang on. Let me rattle off the names of the people involved with this travesty. George Clooney. Matt Damon. Julianne Moore. Oscar Isaac. The great composer Alexandre Desplat. Last, but not least.... JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. How did this happen? Please, explain. I'll wait............ This is a complete train wreck. An absolute dumpster fire that is trying to do too much. What is the purpose of this film? Is it a whodunit? I hope not, because don't worry! You'll figure out the "whodunit" of this tale about 20 minutes into the film. Is it a statement about the inequality in our past social and racial structures and how those inequalities are still relevant today? If so, then why does that story line feel like it is just tacked on as a mere afterthought, with each cut to the Mayers family (which this story line is based around) feeling extremely jarring and out-of-place? The foundation of this film's problems lies in the fact that it's trying to do too much. As a result, it doesn't do anything well and creates an extremely messy and unorganized film.
Let's start by talking about the good of this film. Even though there isn't much. First off, the production design. The production design in this film is good. There was a good amount of care that went into crafting the sets of this film, and it does a pretty good job of capturing 1950's suburbia. This is about the only thing director George Clooney really nailed. Also, Oscar Isaac steals the show as far as the acting is concerned. (In fact, he's the only good thing about the acting in this movie) He is having a blast as the insurance agent, and he shines despite his extremely limited screen time. He's only in this 104-minute film for about 10 minutes, but he provided some much-needed relief because by the time he shows up I had already figured out that this is a bad film. I think he realized this was a bad movie too, because he is screen chewing to the max in his brief role. (And I love it) Finally, the first 5ish minutes of the film are amazing! The initial satire on past (and present) racial biases was on point. The film opens with your very stereotypical 1950's-esque mailman delivering the day's mail to suburbia (it's either a mailman or a milkman, right?) and when he gets to the new neighbors that just moved in, the Mayers, he's shocked and dismayed to discover they are black. After the entire block loses their mind over this fact, we cut to the best scene of the entire film in which an angry room of townspeople complain over the city council's attempt to integrate a family of color into their community. A lot of racial tropes we still see today are used, and for the first few minutes of the film we have a very sharp and smart commentary about racial and social structures both past and present. Unfortunately....the film has an abrupt cut from this story line to go downhill with its main story, a whodunit you figure out almost immediately.
Aaaaaaand this is where the problems for Suburbicon begin. To say the main story line isn't interesting is something of an understatement. Keep in mind.... when I go to a whodunit film, I usually try not figure out the story before it happens on the screen. I find spending time on the actual "who did it" to be distracting, and I like to be surprised at the end when the curtain is pulled back. However, Suburbicon's whodunit story line is so blatantly obvious I managed to figure it out very quickly, without actually spending any energy to try and figure it out. This film is depressingly predictable. I immediately figured out where this film was going, and hey! It didn't stray from where I was expecting it to go AT ALL. The film also tries to tell its main story from a child's perspective, similar to The Florida Project, which also just came out recently. (I also just reviewed this MASSIVELY superior film last week....you can check that out here) All Suburbicon did in this storytelling aspect was remind me just how great a film The Florida Project was, because boy does this film fail miserably here. The kid, Nicky, (played by Noah Jupe) is exposed to some of the most terrible sights a kid could possibly be exposed to. The things he sees should scar him for life. But does the film even bother to acknowledge this? NOPE. He's fine he'll brush off watching people literally die in front of him no problem! (among other things) I mean....my God, George Clooney/Joel and Ethan Coen. Y'all wrote this pile of garbage. If you're going to try and tell this story from the perspective of the kid, you need to acknowledge how these extraordinarily traumatic events are affecting him! Oh, my bad, I forgot he puts a piece of wood in front of his door to keep the bad guys out. Ya! Nailed it! Additionally, this whodunit story line doesn't mesh with the Mayers systemic racism story line at ALL. They are not even remotely related, and the only way they even connect with one another is when Nicky has a few conversations with the Mayers kid, Andy. (Played by Tony Espinosa) But these conversations feel tacked on out of place. They seem like they're only there because Clooney/the Coens figured out these two story lines didn't mesh together, so they added some dialogue between the kids to "patch it up." Not to mention the ending, which is......just awful. Minus the part where that meant it was actually over.
I haven't really mentioned acting beyond Oscar Isaac, but that's because everyone else is pretty bland in this film. And that's saying something when your leads are Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, but that's exactly what they were! Bland. Finally, the score does nothing to add to this film. This happens a lot in film nowadays, (I mean just look at every Marvel movie ever) but it's not supposed to happen when the great Alexandre Desplat is scoring your film. I was shocked and depressed to discover he was the composer for this movie. A man with a staggering 8 Oscar nominations since 2007 (and 1 win) is not supposed to compose a score this forgettable, however that's exactly what Suburbicon's score is. Honestly, this entire movie can be boiled down to 1 word: messy. This film is messy, unorganized, out of place, and without an identity. (I guess that's more than 1 word) There is no doubt there are some great people involved with this movie. They have made great films in the past, and there's no doubt they will do so again. But this is the very definition of a misfire. A misfire that no one should have to see. Tear it down and start again.
The Critique: A train wreck of a film, Suburbicon tries to do too much with its story and thus fails with all of it thanks to a messy and unorganized structure.
The Recommendation: You haven't heard this from me in a while, but it's certainly warranted here.... AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage
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