A Charming Adult Comedy
Tully (2018): A mother of three hires a night nanny to help with her newborn.
Tully is a beautiful little film starring the wonderful Charlize Theron and reunites director Jason Reitman with Diablo Cody. The two have previously worked on films like Juno and Young Adult, which now creates something of a trilogy of motherhood, with Juno tackling the insecurity of being pregnant in your teenage years and Young Adult tackling coming to grips with leaving your perceived “best years of your life” behind for what's ahead. Tully focuses on motherhood and is a wonderful adult comedy in a space that is sorely lacking some quality content. Is it a game-changing film? No. But it is still a humorous journey that will leave you in a contemplative state of mind. It also happens to be the perfect date film in cinemas right now.
The best part of the film has to go to the breakthrough performance of Mackenzie Davis. She plays the title character and has a glowing persona that was mesmerizing to watch. The presence of Tully is felt regardless of whether she's actually on screen or not, and the level of sincerity Davis approaches the character makes her grounded and believable. If it's not the breakthrough performance Mackenzie Davis needs to really vault her into A-list celebrity status, then I don't know what is. Speaking of A-listers, Charlize Theron is her usual, wonderful self here as Marlo. She is on a roll recently with raw and unpolished roles between this and 2017’s underappreciated Atomic Blonde. Ron Livingston brings it too but his character is (justifiably) pushed to the side in favor of Marlo and Tully's relationship. The writing (until the final 15 minutes) is very sharp and grounded. There's one scene in the middle of the film that is rather tonally jarring, but otherwise the writing never strays very far from the theme, which I appreciated. Until the end.
Unfortunately, the ending of this film also happened to be the weakest part for me. While I think many will be willing to accept what is revealed in the final minutes, the “Sixth Sense” kind of twist that is included felt like nothing more than a distraction to me that detracts from the overall narrative. Does that mean it's bad? No. It just comes out of left field and went against the overall theme of the film in my eyes. However, your mileage will vary, and while the ending prevented the movie from achieving greatness in my eyes, the journey was still enjoyable and funny. It'll make you laugh. It'll make you cry. It'll make you yearn for your younger years while also reminding you to be grateful for what you have now. At the end of the day, isn't that basically what every film sets out to achieve?
My Number: 7/10
Bloated Entertainment With Some Painful Faults
Avengers: Infinity War (2018): The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
The following is my best attempt at a spoiler free review, however there will be a spoiler section at the end. Think of it as a post credits scene? Does that work? Ya, we'll go with that.
It's here! 10 years and billions of dollars in revenue later, Marvel finally drops the penultimate chapter of its original vision started 10 years ago in Avengers: Infinity War. I went into this with relatively low expectations: after all, it is part 1 of a 2 part film story, (with the untitled second part coming in 2019) and the film features over 70 characters....45 of which were main characters in previous stories. It is basically impossible to have any sort of meaningful character developmen in a 2.5 hour film when you have that many main characters. Fortunately, though, I was pleasantly surprised at what the Russo brothers were able to conjure up here. Infinity War is very bloated and slightly overlong with some erratic pacing, but it is a very enjoyable ride nonetheless. It's far from "the greatest thing since sliced bread," (and I think those saying that it is will change their tone once the grandeur of it all wears off) but it's still a fun superhero movie that never felt unwelcome or unnecessary, and builds to a great "water cooler" moment in the final act. So, without further ado, let's talk about the good and bad of the latest from the behemoth known as Marvel!
The undeniable highlight of this film is in the principal villain, Thanos. Played by Josh Brolin in what is EASILY the best CGI character portrayal in cinema history, (and the standard going forward for the potential of these characters-seriously, where was this for poor Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse?) Thanos is the best villain Marvel has ever put on film. He's menacing and diabolical, but his belief that he's trying to do the righteous thing in committing mass genocide really grounds him in something palpable and almost even relatable. After all, most people committing evil and heinous acts believe they are doing the right thing, so this motivation makes Thanos feel actually real and not just a cardboard cutout villain. Even if there are some frustrating shortcomings to his character arc. I also really enjoyed some of the pairings the Russo brothers and (credited) screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely chose. I'll omit who's paired with who in case someone thinks that's a spoiler, but I enjoyed basically all of them, and it made an otherwise kind of slow developing first/second act fun and enjoyable. The humor was hit-and-miss for me this time around, but when it hit I was laughing pretty hard. Though it's safe to say the Russo brothers should've brought in Thor: Ragnarok's director, Taiki Waititi, to help with some of the jokes. And how about the score? The Marvel execs finally realized that having a memorable score can boast the overall film. I found myself humming along to the great Avengers theme on more than one occasion. Only took them 19 films to realize they had a great theme that they should feature heavily in the score! Better late than never, right? Finally, the cinematography behind the final climactic setpiece (the one from the trailers) was awesome. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch did a great job showing the chaos of this final setpiece while also showing all the heroes involved kicking butt and taking names. If only the cinematography of the other big setpieces were as good....
Great segue to the bad, right? I know, I do my best. So we gotta talk about shaky cam, for some strange reason. It's 2018, guys. Why hasn't every director in Hollywood, let alone the Russo brothers, realized that SHAKY CAM SUCKS AND DOESN'T ADD ANYTHING TO AN ACTION SEQUENCE. STOOOOOP IT. The shaky cam, combined with horrendously fast editing (seemingly every frame has an edit at points) makes some of the early setpieces almost indecipherable. I don't understand why this is still a thing. No, adding shaky cam and incoherent cuts does not add to the tension of an action scene. I thought we established this like 10 years ago! STOP IT. Also, freaking Stan Lee is in this, which really ticked me off. The fact that a bunch of people cheered at his cameo was equally frustrating. Remember the part where he was accused of sexual harassment? I do. I really thought they were gonna remove his cameo after that, but I guess its harder to remove prominent white men in power than I initially thought. GET STAN LEE OUT OF THIS UNIVERSE. However, my biggest problem with the film is this: the movie builds to a great final moment (that is executed marvelously) but along the way sacrifices a lot of character arcs to get there. It felt like the last 20 pages of this script were written first, and the crew worked backwards from there. There are several major head scratching moments along the way, particularly surrounding Gamora and Doctor Strange. Yes, I get that the film is leading to its big final moment, but I think a few of these sequences could've been done in a much better way than they were. Also, because the film features almost 50 main characters, no one really has an identifiable character arc outside of Thanos, and his is good, but not great. I expected that, but it doesn't change the fact that that's exactly what happened.
I've stopped thinking of Marvel films as, well, films. To me, they're big budget 2 hour film episodes, and Infinity War is the "stuff goes down" episode of the show. Its easy for us to go back and say The Red Wedding is the best moment of Game of Thrones, but if someone just watched that episode without any context they wouldn't appreciate it, and thus be able to identify its faults as an individual episode, as much as a Game of Thrones fan would. I also fear that this film will ultimately meet a similar fate that many other "Part One" films do, and given its big final moment, it seems hard to envision a reality where it doesn't. (I'm trying so hard not to spoil anything, guys) This is why I think most people will ultimately feel the way I do about Infinity War. It's bloated and enjoyable, yes....but when the grandeur wears off, its problems become painstakingly apparent. It does require two watches to take it all in, but after that just wait to see what Part 2 does before revisiting.
The Critique: Anchored by a terrific villain, Avengers: Infinity War brings the bloated Marvel Cinematic Universe to a thrilling penultimate conclusion, despite some painful faults along the way and serious risk of falling into irrelevancy by the upcoming Part 2.
The Recommendation: See it twice, then table it until the next part comes out.
Rewatchability: TBD by Part 2
The Verdict: 6.5/10
SPOILER ALERT: BELOW ARE SPOILERS FOR INFINITY WAR. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Ok, so, Thanos succeeds, and half the universe dies. It's a great moment, sure, but seems impossible to last beyond Part 2. Most of the new Marvel characters that will be leading the way in Phase 4 disappear, which makes it inevitable to me that they will be brought back thanks to the time stone. (or something else) Black Panther just made Marvel a bajillion dollars. Do you really think they're not going bring Chadwick Boseman back for a sequel? And we already have a third Guardians movie confirmed and another Spider-Man film coming. Do you really think they're going to do the later without Tom Holland? Or the former without Chris Pratt? Of course not! Yes, you could go really savage and say that the heroes could be replace, but these actors delivered iconic performances in these films, and would be a big reason the film would still make a boatload in the future. Maybe they do nothing but origin stories pre-Thanos, but with the time stone on the playing field, I just don't see that being in Marvel's future. And if they do just use the time stone to undo the actions of Thanos here, it'll make this film completely irrelevant. Also, Thanos conveniently having feelings for the soul stone and Doctor Strange giving up the time stone instead of, you know, using it to go back in time and do that battle over again was dumb. And where was Thor at the end when literally every other Avenger was taking on Thanos? Yes, these are all plot devices to get to ensure Thanos succeeds and we have that final moment, but that doesn't mean they could have done it better. Thor's god-ax was as wasted as Vision's character was, and if it doesn't go anywhere in Part 2 then that plotline was as irrelevant as the casino plotline in The Last Jedi. Except without any meaningful character development. Just Peter Dinklage. (Though I do want Vision / Scarlet Witch's love story now. Let's make that a thing, eh, guys? Phase 5 or 6 maybe?) Finally, if Captain Marvel is going to be a thing in Part 2, what was she doing in Part 1? Was she just not around any kind of technology, or civilization, to realize all of this was going on? Given that her character is basically Marvel's Superman, she runs a real risk of simply being nothing more than a "god card" against Thanos that could've been used in Part 1 but wasn't since, you know, we gotta have a Part 2! Because money. Who knows. Maybe Marvel will stick to its guns and actually allow Thanos to wipe out half the universe. If so, it'll make Part 1's staying power be that much better. I just don't see it.
A Quiet Place
Quick Reviews, Spring 2018, Part 1: Tomb Raider, 7 Days in Entebbe, Isle of Dogs, Best F(r)iends, UnsaneRead Now
7 Days in Entebbe
Best F(r)iends: Volume One
Mindless fun at its very best
Ready Player One (2018): When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune
This post initially started as a Raw Thoughts piece then became a full review. The Raw Thoughts came to you from Brothers Bar & Grill immediately after seeing the film.
Wow. This movie is a lot of fun. The latest from Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is a beautiful and pulse-pounding tribute to the world of science fiction. It's told in video game-esque style (which may not be for everyone) and looks absolutely stunning as it moves from sequence to sequence. The huge action setpieces are the centerpiece of the film, and is where it truly shines. Michael Bay wishes he could make setpieces that look this good. While there are a few problems with the film, (one in particular stands out…. We'll get there) this is a must-see for anyone who has even a slight liking of sci-fi, or really anyone who has a soft spot for the 80s. This is Spielberg at his best.
I'm gonna start with the negatives this time around. My biggest problem with this film is not with something it did. Rather, it's with something it didn't do: T.J. Miller. Why the F is he in this? Yes, he's funny here as one of the villains. T.J. Miller being funny is nothing new. However, he's been accused of sexual assault, and if the live-action All the Money in the World could replace Kevin Spacey in 6 weeks, Ready Player One absolutely could've removed T.J. Miller. C'mon, guys! Other than that, my issues with this film are relatively minor. Some of the dialogue is a little weak and leaves a bit to be desired. The ending sees a massive 180 in the main villain that isn't even remotely earned, and is just there because Spielberg wanted one more “gasp!” moment. Also, the easter eggs are fun, but if you are looking for any depth to them at all, move along. You won't find it here, and I do think that will turn some people off. But these complaints (outside of T.J. Miller being a thi-OSCAR! How is T.J. Miller still a thing? Can we stop that, please??) are relatively minor in scale for me. The rest of this film is amazing, and I love it.
Let's start with the effects. The VFX of this film is definitely its calling card, and well worth the price of admission. I stuck around through the credits to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of people that contributed to making the VFX of this film, which combines stunning special effects with motion capture in a way that we haven't really seen before. I'd say expect to see a Best Visual Effects nomination for this come Oscars 2019, but then again I though Dunkirk / The Shape of Water were going to be nominated this year so what do I know? But this film is built on some incredible visual effects, so SURELY I'll get this one right. Anyway, the film also has some amazing motion capture performances from Tre Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. These two are spectacular, and are certainly making a name for themselves here. (Though all I could think of was Cooke’s deadpan performance from Thoroughbreds when I saw her on screen here. She's definitely a lot more fun to watch in that film.) Spielberg really tugs on your nostalgia strings, and I couldn't help but grin ear-to-ear at some of the reference. Like when the Iron Giant takes on mecha-Godzilla. Who doesn't want to see that? Or how about an entire sequence in The Shining? If you've been living under a rock for the last 3 decades and have no idea what any of these things are, it's safe to say you will be extremely lost during this film. But I caught a lot of them, and had a blast watching this film. Sometimes, it's nice to turn the brain off and enjoy a fun popcorn flick.
End of the day, Ready Player One is a technical marvel, and well worth a watch on the big screen. While it doesn't feel as groundbreaking as something like Dunkirk, the fact that I think this film is almost on par with arguably the greatest technical film to date certainly bodes well in this department for Ready Player One. Sure, this film is ultimately "just" mindless fun. The screenplay is a little weak overall in between the big setpieces. The romance between Wade (Sheridan) and Samantha (Cooke) is.....shallow, to say the least. And the 180 from the villain (played by villain actor Ben Mendelsohn) at the end is silly. But it's a lot of fun to watch, and I'll defend it the same stubborn way I do the Fast and Furious franchise. (Don't give me any grief about that, Oscar!) If you're even remotely a fan of science fiction, drop everything and go see this. Even if you're not, I think there's a lot to like here. See it with confidence knowing you're seeing one of the best films of 2018 so far.
The Critique: Ready Player One is the popcorn flick at its very best, featuring exhilarating action sequences and spectacular visuals, despite a rather shallow screenplay.
The Recommendation: If you're a sci-fi fan, it's a must-watch. If you're a fan of '80s films it's a must-watch. Everyone else? I say check it out, but you may not have as much fun as you would if you fell into either of the former categories.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Someone forgot about the Kaiju
Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018): Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.
Hey, Oscar! I have a really good idea for a Pacific Rim sequel. Now, bear with me for a second because FOR SOME REASON this is really hard for Universal//Legendary to wrap their minds around: in a universe dominated by giant robots fighting giant monsters....you ready for this idea? This is going to blow you away: why don't we make a film with a bunch of giant robots fighting a bunch of giant monsters? WHOA. I know, I'm a genius. Wait......you want to first make a Pacific Rim installment featuring a bunch of boring lore and bad character development, and exactly ONE giant action sequence? Are you sure that's what you want to do? Are you SURE? I guess so, because that's exactly what we have here, and it makes absolutely no sense to me. WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? Haven't we learned anything from the Alien franchise? You don't marginalize the best aspect of your world in a sci-fi movie! For some reason, there's exactly one giant action sequence in this film. That's inexcusable and completely mind-boggling! It's tough to look past this horrific miscalculation, but even if you do.....there's not much to keep anyone engrossed in the sequel to 2013's Pacific Rim.
For the record, I enjoyed the first film, but I do think it's a tad overrated. But at least in the original Pacific Rim we had a significant amount of giant action sequences featuring robots and monsters, which were, amazingly, the best part of that movie. I wish I had been in the writer's room as they were conjuring up the script for the sequel. Somebody should've done us all a great service and been in that room to say NO when the idea of having one giant action sequence in this two hour movie was pitched. And accepted! UGH.
I don't understand why Universal/Legendary thought this was a good idea. What's even funnier is that the marketing team behind the film understood the draw of Pacific Rim better than the studios did. After all, they marketed the CRAP out of the one giant action sequence we did get. Yes, there are a few other sequences of robots fighting other robots, but.....that's not why we're here, guys! We're here for robots fighting monsters. That's it! That's all you had to do! You had one job, and you couldn't do it.
So, what do we get instead? A lot of boring "world-building." The lore of this film is not very interesting, sadly. Early on there's a few good moments that I enjoyed, particularly around the introduction Amara, played well by relative newcommer Cailee Spaeny. She's a pretty awesome female protagonist that reminded me a lot of the badass Izabella from Transformers: The Last Knight. (I know, interesting analogy, but she was the best part of that film) But, unlike in Transformers, where the young actress Isabella Moner is uncomfortably objectified by some the men of the film because Michael Bay can't help himself, Amara is just.... there. Never once did someone remind her that she was a woman. Never once did someone hit on her in a really uncomfortable way. She was just the protagonist alongside Jake Pentecost. (John Boyega) I really appreciated that, and I hope we reach a point in film where all female characters (and characters of color, for that matter) are not type-casted for specific roles tailored to them. Instead, they're cast simply to play "the protagonist." So kudos to director Steven S. DeKnight and co. for writing Amara the way they did. Sadly, though, they couldn't break free of this trend completely, as one of the other three women in the film, Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona) is only there to be oogled at by the male leads. One day.... Anyway, I did also love John Boyega's performance. The dude is so charming and charismatic, and he tries as hard as he can (along with Cailee Spaeny) to carry this film. Hopefully he decides to pursue the action star route outside of Star Wars, because I would be VERY ok with that. The rest of the cast is whatever. There is a mildly interesting twist with one of the cast members, but otherwise they're pretty forgettable. Burn Gorman/Charlie Day are nowhere near as good together here as they were in the original, but I'm not too mad about that. Especially given the fact that I'm still mad at Charlie Day for enthusiastically showing up in I Love You, Daddy. STILL MAD AT YOU, MAN.
When we did FINALLY get to the giant monsters vs giant robots action sequence, I had a ball of a time. There's no denying that it's so much fun seeing a big budget action film with giant robots fighting giant monsters in a huge city. (Tokyo, in this case) At one point one of the robots (though I've already forgotten which because who cares) uses some gravity weapon to bring down skyscrapers on a Kaiju, and I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. We don't need those, right? And hey: they did give us a throwaway line about how the entire city of Tokyo was evacuated in like 5 seconds, which is absurd obviously but enough for me to just turn the brain off and have a good time watching all the destruction. (Looks at something like Batman V. Superman) But, in order to get to that awesome final sequence, you have to sit through what basically amounts to 90 minutes of dull dialogue and lazy lore. (That was coincidental, I swear.) Is it worth it? I say no. Wait until the final sequence hits YouTube in a few months, and just watch it there. Otherwise, don't bother with this garbage. Let the Asian markets carry it to a decent gross, and hopefully in the third installment the studios will realize that Alien-ing this franchise is NOT the way to go. Hard pass.
The Critique: Despite a thrilling final sequence and great performances from John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny, Pacific Rim: Uprising lands with a thud thanks to dull dialogue, lazy lore, and nowhere near enough giant robots fighting giant killer monsters.
The Recommendation: Check out the final action sequence on YouTube whenever it gets there, otherwise stay away.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Quick Reviews, Winter 2018: The Commuter, The 15:17 to Paris, Game Night, Red Sparrow, Thoroughbreds, GringoRead Now
The 15:17 to Paris
Not quite the follow-up we were hoping for
Annihilation (2018): A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.
Wow. I don't even know where to start with this film. In this case, I think that's a good thing. Annihilation is a bold film. Director/writer Alex Garland has crafted an ambitious sci-fi film that embodies its genre to the fullest extent. I will warn you: if you're anything short of a die-hard science fiction fan, you will likely not enjoy this. It's a deep watch in every sense of the phrase. It's ambiguous and very science-y, (for lack of a better word) which a lot of people will enjoy, including me. I was completely engrossed, and there's no doubt the execution of this complex premise is fantastic, even though the film can come off as self-aware. Alex Garland knows how to craft n engrossing sci-fi film, and he knows it. For better or for worse. One thing's for sure, though: can we get more films like this, please?
There are some shortcomings here for sure. Alex Garland knows how to make a good genre film, but his “character development” writing is not as strong. In fact, it's pretty disappointing. Natalie Portman plays her character marvellously, but there are certain aspects of her origin story that make very little sense, and certainly aren't relevant to the overall story. In Garland's previous film, Ex Machina, the viewer knows very little about the characters involved. This is a strength of that film: it gets its characters right into the crux of the premise with very little setup, which allows Garland to focus on the AI instead. In Annihilation, though, we spend a good amount of time developing characters (Portman most of all) before they begin the primary mission, and during this first act the film does leave something to be desired. And once they do get into the primary mission, the film has a tendency to come off as pretentious and self-aware. There's still a lot to like here, but I think a lot of people will be turned off by its indulgent storytelling style.
That said, I'm not really one of them. I had a blast and was totally engrossed by the concept of this film. It is absolutely spectacular to look at too, featuring beautiful cinematography and spectacular production design, with a good score and sound design to boot. While this will be a decisive film, there's no doubt there will be a consensus with how it looks. Once the main characters finally enter The Shimmer, that is. Also, I really enjoyed the dynamics between the characters once they did enter The Shimmer, and how it affected them individually was really interesting to me. However, it all leads up to this climatic third act that will be really decisive depending on which side of the fence you fall on. Initially, I really enjoyed it, but the more I've thought about it, the more I'm “on the fence” versus anything else. I think there's a way to better execute the finale, but regardless, it's definitely resonated with me more so than most big budget sci-fi films out there. (Looking at you, superhero movies. How about that totally unnecessary shot, eh Oscar?) The finale here worked for me until the final shot, which adopted the “gotta leave this on an unnecessary (and unexplainable) cliffhanger” kind of ending ripped straight out of Inception. But I had enough fun to look past this. End of the day, this is a good film that is quite thought-provoking (for better and worse) that did have a real shot at greatness. Sadly, though, it is held back by a decisive third act, disappointing character development, and an overarching self-indulgent style. See it if you're a fan of sci-fi, but everyone else? Stay away.
The Critique: While boldly original, Annihilation's overall pretentious and self-absorbed manner in which it tells its engrossing story holds it back from the greatness it could (and should) have achieved.
The Recommendaiton: For hardcore sci-fi fans only. Not much else to like here for everyone else.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Creative to a fault
A Wrinkle in Time (2018): After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.
I really don't know what to say about this film. On the one hand: it's REALLY messy. The film bites off WAY more than it can chew and feels frantic, chaotic, and incoherent. On the other hand, it is really creative and has a lot of visually stunning setpieces. This feels like 2018's version of Cloud Atlas: director (and real-life warrior) Ava DuVernary swings for the fences with this version of A Wrinkle in Time and this kind of over-the-top big budget film is rarely seen in Hollywood nowadays. Especially with someone like Ava DuVernay leading the way. I'd say if you have kids, you should go without question: support the personnel behind this film and the choices made and your kids will have a ball as they see their imaginations come to life. I was in a full room for this, and the children around me were enthralled, to say the least. Juuuuuust don't think too much about it, because it is pretty absurd.
Let's go against my usual MO and start with the bad. The film does bite off WAY more than it can chew. The pacing is disastrous, and every scene feels like it should be its own movie. This really tanks individual character arcs, to the point that even the main characters can be pretty forgettable. The character Calvin (played not-so-well by Levi Miller) is the quintessential example of this. Calvin's arc is practically nonexistent to the point that I actually forgot all about it before the movie ended. At the end Calvin reminds us of his arc and I said to myself, "Oh ya, that was a thing!" This guy is one of the three main human characters in this story! I mean, I get that Levi Miller didn't portray him particularly well, but he didn't get any decent writing behind him, either. (He's the "token white guy" that's just there to "look pretty" and support the protagonist, so I can't complain about that being a white male for once.) Also, the other male character, Charles Wallace, wasn't played very well either. Poor Deric McCabe. He wasn't very good, but he didn't have any good dialogue to work with either. Hey, a note to any prospective screenwriter out there: if you're going to have novice child-actors in your movie, you have to give him some good dialogue to say that they would actually say. Here it is obvious that an adult is writing their lines. From the actual first line spoken by Charles Wallace, I was thinking to myself, "Nope. No child would ever talk like that." The biggest problem with this film, though, is also its greatest strength for a younger demographic: the setpieces. We'll get to the positives of them in a moment, but the negatives are impossible to ignore: each setpiece feels like its own movie, and we're never in a new setpiece long enough to truly appreciate it. We travel to 3 (I think?) different worlds throughout the brisk 109 minute runtime, but we never spend any more than 10 minutes at any of them. Because of this, the "rules" of these worlds feel haphazard, and only there to service the overall story. Never once did I think to myself "Oh, how are they going to get out of this?" because I knew a convenient "rule", like flowers being able to band together (really?) to break someone's fall would come in and save the day.
THAT SAID. This is also the part that kids will love, because they aren't thinking about the "rules" of an individual world when they see it. They'll just be in awe of these setpieces. I don't blame them: the worlds we visit throughout the runtime are breathtaking. The visuals are incredible, and I did wish we had spent more time investigating these landscapes. Oprah Winfrey literally towers over everyone as Mrs. Which, (my favorite part, by the way) and Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling clearly had a blast portraying Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, respectively. And Ava DuVernay found herself (and Hollywood) a STAR in Storm Reid. Her portrayal of the main character, Meg, is the hero we all need, and one that I think a lot of people (myself included) can relate to. If there's one thing to come out of this film, I hope it's the rise of Storm Reid. Meg is a strong protagonist that doesn't need men to come in and save the day. I loved how she even used science to get out of certain situations, even if that science was.....shoddy, to say the least. I haven't felt this excited about a child-actor since Jacob Tremblay burst onto the scene back in 2015's Room. For all the film's faults, and for all its shortcomings with the other two main characters, it did manage to knock its main character out of the park. Expect Disney to milk that for all it's worth.
In conclusion, while A Wrinkle in Time does bite off more than it could chew, (I think it could've benefited from being split into two films, believe it or not) it does so from the stance that Ava DuVernay and company left it all out on the table. I respect that, and I think because of this the film is still worth a watch, even if it is on Netflix/Disney's upcoming streaming service in a few months versus in the theater. There is a difference between "swinging for the fences" (ex.: Cloud Atlas) and "throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks." (ex.: Last Flag Flying) The former is much more enjoyable to watch, but it's also much tougher to do. Unfortunately, "swinging for the fences" and missing still leads to the same result as "throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks" and missing. The former just managed to look a lot cooler as it unfolded.
The Critique: A Wrinkle in Time is creative to a fault. Incoherent (but beautiful) setpieces dominate this overly ambitious film, and poor dialogue sinks the performances of two of its three child-actors, despite the excellent performance of its third, Storm Reid.
The Recommendation: I do think it's worth seeing if you have kids. It's going to be better than a lot of the kids movies that are out there. Everyone else? Buy your ticket for A Wrinkle in Time at the theater to support it, then go and sneak into Black Panther again.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
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
Some of the best world-building yet from Marvel
Black Panther (2018): T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
These raw thoughts come to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after seeing the film.
I'll start this review by saying this: I can't help but be cynical with superhero movies nowadays. And in a “bottle episode” Marvel film like this, my cynicism is on full display. After all, in terms of the overarching Marvel cinematic universe, exactly one thing of note happens here. So, for those of you calling this Marvel's best and loving the film, take my feelings with a grain of salt. However, I can't deny my cynical side is conflicting mightily with the side of me that feels relieved and overjoyed to see that there is FINALLY a big budget action movie that is centered around a black protagonist and a country in Africa. I am also happy that it is going to make a bajillion dollars. That's a nice plus, and a big ol' F U to the studio heads who don't think movies with black protagonists will sell. To say this reckoning is long overdue is something of an understatement. So, I'm gonna let both sides come out here and see if I can decide what I think about this thing.
Let's be happy first. Yay happiness! FINALLY, we have a film centered in an African country, and the world-building of Wakanda is where this movie really shines. The culture of Wakanda is simply fascinating, and it allows conflicts within certain characters, like the one played by Daniel Kaluuya, to feel earned, developed, and have a great climatic conclusion. (Climatic conclusion - sounds like a marketing buzzword...) A character like his fails in most films because they're not given the screen-time and world-building to go along with their actions to validate them, but not in Black Panther. The intimacy of this film is where it shined: it's a bottle episode, but because of that it allows individual characters to be fleshed out, which make their decisions carry some weight by the end of it. This intimacy is something the Marvel franchise hasn't experienced in a while, so it does feel like a breath of fresh air for them. The action is also (mostly) enjoyable. My cynical side will remind me that the final boss fight takes place in darkness and is rather poorly shot, and it's the closets thing to the DC problem of having "two gods fighting each other," but all of the other scenes were awesome. The ritual fights around the waterfall in particular were GORGEOUS. Also, Chadwick Boseman was awesome as Black Panther. He is such a great actor, and I'm glad he is getting the recognition he deserves. Michael B. Jordan was awesome, too! He shined as the “villain” Killmonger, but the writing behind this character makes him easily the most dynamic and complex villain Marvel has ever seen. The real world ties with Killmonger make him fascinating and impossible to simply view as a cardboard villain, which is something that befalls so many Marvel villains.
Though he did fall into a few stereotypical villain tropes, which is where my cynical side takes over. It is easy to sum this film up as “just another comic book movie,” and that phrase is increasingly wearing on me. At the end of the day, in terms of the overall Marvel cinematic universe, not much happens. After literally 30 comic book films since Iron Man, it can be tough for me to swallow another “bottle episode” within the MCU. And that last boss fight....what was that? Surely director Ryan Coogler (who I LOVE, by the way. He deserves this recognition after the Academy glanced over his role directing Creed a few years back) could've found a better way to film this final sequence. Though my optimistic side will be quick to remind me that it is resolved SO beautifully. Oh, right! The score! I liked how the score had a lot of cultural influences within it, but too many times was it just like every other Marvel score: just there to be there. Why couldn't this score go all-in on its world and its African influences? Fresh off hearing the lovely and culturally influenced score from Coco, this time around I couldn't help but be sorely disappointed. Despite the fact that this is arguably the best score I've ever heard in a Marvel movie. (Low bar outside of the main theme) But I will admit this film largely avoids most of the standard comic book film tropes. Even Killmonger only felt like a cardboard villain once or twice, and the struggles some of the characters around Killmonger went through as his plot developed did do a good job to offset them.
I think this is a sign that my cynical side is losing out this round. Yes, Black Panther is a good movie buoyed by the wonderful world-building surrounding Wakanda. Chadwick Bosenan, Lupita Nyong’o, and the rest of the cast were AMAZING. I freaking love this cast! And Martin Freeman being the only white guy led to some pretty hilarious moments that we're used to the sole black guy in a film experiencing. Buuuuut I can't deny the fact that, at the end of the day, it is “just another superhero movie” and the tropes that do come out of this prevent the movie from achieving greatness. See it for the awesome world-building, just make sure to turn it into a double feature and see something like Call Me by Your Name while you're there, ya?
My Number: 7/10 Good.
The Boss Baby
Quick Reviews, End of 2017, Part 3: Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Last Flag Flying, Roman J. Israel, Esq., Ingrid Goes West, DetroitRead Now
Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool
Last Flag Flying
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Ingrid Goes West
A Wonderfully Original Idea, Wasted
Hostiles (2017): In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.
These Raw Thoughts come to you from Wooden Cask Brewery in Newport, KY, immediately after seeing the film.
GAH. There is a fantastic movie in here. Hostiles may be one of the most disappointing films I saw in all of 2017 because you can see the potential for not just a great story, but one of the best films of the entire year. Buuuuuuuut the movie makes some unforgivable decisions throughout its 134 minute runtime. These decisions, combined with some poor dialogue and the odd casting of Rosamund Pike, hold this back from what could have been.
And ohhhhhhhh what could have been. To start, this movie is beautiful to look at. Most Westerns are, but this film manages to have some absolutely gorgeous cinematography even by their standards, (thanks to Masanobu Takayanagi….gotta remember his name) while not being romantic in any way. And that's my favorite part! So many Westerns make their setting romantic with a bunch of charisma within, but “romance” and “charisma” are the last two words I'd use to describe Hostiles. This is a nitty gritty Western, filled with death, destruction, and despair. It features men that straight-up hate each other, and it does not shield you, the viewer, from the most graphic examples of this hatred. It's a surprising breath of fresh air in this age-old genre. I love it!
And, of course there's Christian Bale, who puts in another fantastic performance. He's quiet and reserved, which is how most of this movie is, but when he enters a room he just has this commanding presence about him. I don't know how Christian Bale manages to keep doing it after all of these years, but he was completely immersed into his role once again. There were also great performances from Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jesse Plemons, the great Wes Studi, and Rory Cochrane. The men of this movie were outstanding. (Ugh)
Unfortunately, though, this is where the movie also shows its weaknesses. Hostiles is filled with men, and its lone woman is completely miscast. I love Rosamund Pike. Her performance in Gone Girl was one of my top performances of 2014. But here she feels shoe-horned in and grossly out-of-place. Her character has to deliver some poor dialogue too, which doesn't help, but MAN. She is just…..not good. Rosamund Pike is just too British for this gritty American Western role, especially when cast alongside Christian Bale. It also doesn't help that she's the ONLY woman in this movie that's given anything of note to do, and OF COURSE she has to have a forced romance with Bale. Why??? “Hey, my husband and my entire family just died like a week ago, perfect time for me to find a new lover!” Right? GAH. This was a TERRIBLE decision from director/writer Scott Cooper. In addition, this film’s dialogue was very polarizing. One scene, it was fantastic, the next it was cringe-worthy. This script was coined by both Scott Cooper and Donald Stewart, so I wouldn't be surprised if one of these writers were to blame. But the film felt the need to “moviesplain” far too much. There's a classic rule of screenwriting that says “Show, don't tell.” that Hostiles broke on more than one occasion. And overtell it did.
In conclusion….. The core of this movie is fantastic. When Christian Bale is on screen trying to redeem himself and his preconceived biases against Native Americans, this film is incredible. But it only takes something like an hour to tell this story. The rest of this movie is spent wasting away on bad subplots and terrible dialogue. I mean, at one point we're given a scene where Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike are eating dinner with another couple in a fancy room with a fancy meal in the middle of a nitty gritty Western. Why??? Why is this scene in this movie at all? It was so useless that I decided that my need to go to the bathroom triumphed over what was happening on screen, so I took what is maybe my first bathroom break EVER at the cinemas during this useless sequence. But Christian Bale soul-searching in a Western with fantastic cinematography is SO GOOD! I just wish the other aspects of the film were up-to-par. Unfortunately, though, you should avoid this one and just go and watch your favorite Western again. Ohhhhh what could have been….
My Number: 5/10
I Love You, Daddy (2017): When a successful television writer's daughter becomes the interest of an aging filmmaker with an appalling past, he becomes worried about how to handle the situation.
WARNING: STRONG Language Below. You have been warned.
This is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. If someone wanted to torture another individual with a movie, they would show them this travesty. I'm just gonna say it, because it needs to be said.....I Love You, Daddy is a real piece of s**t. It's sexist, misogynistic, and even racist at points. (Because why not add racism to everything else, right?) It's filled with gender stereotypes and mansplaining and so. Much. Projection. My GOD does Louis C.K. project his thoughts on to the poor female actresses SO MUCH here. I had to pause this.....thing so many times just to clear my head and regain my composure. I had to pause this thing more than I did for Manos The Hands of Fate. And that movie features a man who was high on LSD while it was being filmed! Even if you try and remove the disgusting ties to Louis C.K.'s sexual harassment accusations, you still have a movie that is filled with stereotypes and a character that we're supposed to sympathize with even though HE'S BASED OFF OF WOODY ALLEN. YOU KNOW, THE GUY WHO MOLESTED HIS OWN DAUGHTER. AND LUSTS AFTER YOUNG GIRLS. AND HERE HIS MOLESTATION IS CAST ASIDE AS "Oh. It's merely accusations! So it's ok, right?" WRONG. WHO THE ACTUAL FLYING F**K THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA. AT ALL. Oh, I know! Sexist pigs who think it's ok to pretend to jerk off in a public setting over a women when they're on the phone. (Which Charlie Day does, at one point.) Or someone who thinks it's ok to jerk off in front of people in real life! Wait, it's almost as if that second one may be true....
I have lost a significant amount of respect for all the people who agreed to be in this s**tshow. ESPECIALLY Charlie Day. His character is a f**king misogynist scumbag, and Day plays him FAR too convincingly. And JESUS some of the things that are said in this movie......it's disgusting. Utterly disgusting. The clear projections are the worst of it. There's a scene where Louis C.K. is talking to Rose Byrne about him being uncomfortable that his daughter is dating a child molester, and Byrne is the one telling C.K. that it's ok and trying to justify it. All I could think was "Louis C.K., you tool, you may think that the premise of your ENTIRE movie becomes ok because a woman in the movie says it's ok, but.....YOU WROTE THIS. She's saying what you told her to say! So NO. It does NOT make it ok." GAAAAAAAAAH F**K THIS MOVIE. See this pic of Pamela Adlon from this travesty? That's your RESTING face as the viewer for EVERY. FREAKING. SCENE. (Screams into the void)
Ok. Deep breath. Regain my composure. Alright. Louis C.K. bought the rights back to this film after The Orchard (rightly) decided not to release it, (A bit of sweet justice here-The Orchard did cancel the release of this thing but not before they sent out thousands of awards consideration screeners. Because of course they thought this would be Oscar-worthy! SERIOUSLY? YOU THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE WORTHY OF OSCAR CONSIDERATION? HOW STUPID DO YOU HAVE TO BE? [Screams into the void again]) but I hope we as a society never regress to a point where ANYONE finds it acceptable to release something like this. Don't you DARE try and profit off this, dude. If I was monetizing this blog I'd feel bad just talking about it and making a few pennies off my review. It's that slimy. And don't worry, I didn't spend a dime to watch this, either. No royalties are being made here by any party. It's a travesty that's not funny, and not even that good of a movie when you (try to) take away the blatant sexism. It's overlong, the ending is VERY rushed, and Chloe Grace Moretz clearly does not care. She's in it for the paycheck, and I don't blame her at all. She has no chemistry with Louis C.K., who's also bad, and John Malkovich is..... uncomfortable in every sense of the word. Rose Byrne is charming because it's impossible for her not to be, but all the projecting Louis C.K. puts on her makes her nothing more than a cheap plot device. And the black and white feels like a cheap Snapchat filter and doesn't add anything to the film at all. It has as much depth as when you're one friend who's had everything in their entire life handed to them uses the B&W filter and calls it "art." There are no redeeming qualities to be found here. None. Go watch grass grow for two hours instead of this trainwreck because it won't leave you anywhere near as FRUSTRATED THAT ANYTHING LIKE THIS WAS EVEN ALLOWED TO BE FILMED. F**k this piece of s**t movie. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and wash my eyes and ears out with soap to try and get rid of this thing's stench.
My Number: 0/10. This sorry excuse for a film does not even deserve a tenth of a point for being in focus.
A beautiful and mesmerizing love story
Call Me by Your Name (2017): In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father's research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.
I love this movie. Simply put, it is spectacular. It is gorgeous in every sense of the word: it features breathtaking cinematography and production design, wonderful dialogue, fantastic colors, and beautiful chemistry between its leads, Armie Hammer (as Oliver) and Timothée Chalamet. (As Elio) Every second of this 132 minute film had me completely entranced. I love it when a film sucks me into its world entirely, and no film has done that better than this in 2017. The hype is real, guys. Call Me by Your Name does have a few faults, but overall it is one of the strongest and most engaging films of 2017, and it's well worth your time.
There isn't much that I didn't like here, but that's where I'll start. This film reminded me of 20th Century Women in a lot of ways. I felt a similar style of dialogue between the films, as well as ties between actor Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays Elio's father) and Annette Bening's portrayal as Dorothea Fields, (the mother in 20th Century Women) and similarities in the editing. 2 of the 3 of these I don't have a problem with. (Stuhlbarg is spectacular as the father) But, like in 20th Century Women, director Luca Guadognino employees the rainbow editing style a few times, and I'm still just not a fan of that. It takes me out of the moment, and I haven't been able to fully comprehend and appreciate why it's utilized since I first saw it in 2016. Someone REALLY needs to explain this to me! It's part of a filmmaking style I think, but it's tough (for me, at least) to identify the style while it's being developed. There's also some issues with the pacing. Shots will linger for just a hair too long, and the film does choose to focus on a few things that seem, well, less-than-important. I think the length of the movie is just right, but it's about 10 minutes too long in the second act then 10 minutes too short in the third. However, the rest of the film is fan-freaking-tastic. Almost as fantastic as this gif of Armie Hammer dancing, which is applicable in literally EVERY situation. Peace in the Middle East? Well, it's funny that you should ask.....
I'll be honest with you: I could stare at that gif allllllllll day. (I even have a shirt of it which I maaaay or may not be wearing right now as I type up this review) Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, though. They are the best things about this film. I've been a huge fan of Hammer's since he played the "Winklevii" in 2010's The Social Network, but it took until 2017 for him to finally show us what he could do. Equally as impressive is (relative) newcommer Timothée Chalamet. I hadn't seen this kid in anything before 2017, but all it took was his complex performance in Lady Bird and this to convince me that he's a star. Both Hammer and Chalamet are marvelous together. They have great chemistry, and their story arc is simply beautiful. These are very demanding roles that they have to play, and honestly it looks like they could do them in their sleep. It was wonderful. The supporting cast is small, but the one member that really stands out is Michael Stuhlbarg. He plays this whimsical, pragmatic, and wise character that almost steals the show for me. His heart-wrenching monologue to his son at the end of the film may very well be my single favorite movie moment of 2017. It alone is worth the price of admission.
As if the superb acting wasn't enough, this film is also GORGEOUS to look at. Filmed on location in northern Italy, (aka one of the most romantic spots in the world) this movie utilizes its landscape, its time period, (early 80s) and its production design to a mesmerizing degree. Look at that picture at the top of this review. Look at all the colors used on the set. The color of the costumes. Every decision here from director Luca Guadagnino was meticulous and a spectacular one The cinematography was terrific too and told the story of these characters in their own right. Kudos to Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, as this is some of the best cinematography I saw in 2017. And, finally, there's the soundtrack. "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman may be getting all the Oscar buzz for original song, but if you want a FAR better song about being different and still trying to be yourself while falling in love.....look no further than this film's major original song, "Mystery of Love." Sufjan Stevens delivers not just the best song I've heard in film in 2017, but one of the best songs I've heard all year, period. He has two other original songs here, and all of them are, like the rest of this film, mesmerizing. There are a lot of other great songs used here, too. After all..... any film that makes The Psychedelic Furs an integral part of its story is going to be good. It's impossible for it to not be!
While this film does fall just short of perfection thanks to those rainbow edits and the (slightly) muddy pacing, it doesn't change the fact that this will end up being one of the best films of 2017 and well worth your time to see this intimate, heartwarming, earth-shattering love story. Put it on the list, for sure. Now, excuse me while I go stare at that gif of Armie Hammer dancing for just a little while longer....
The Critique: Full of joy and heartbreak, Call Me by Your Name is one of 2017's best films and features dynamic performances from its male leads.
The Recommendation: May not be for everyone out there but I think this is an absolute must-see
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome.
Every Sci-Fi Trope You've Ever Seen, Packed into one disappointing mess
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018): Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.
These raw thoughts come to you from the bedroom of my apartment immediately after seeing the film. (Netflix is a wonderful thing)
STOP IT. STOP WRECKING MY BELOVED WORLD OF CLOVERFIELD LIKE THIS. The third installment in the Cloverfield franchise lands with a thud after another wonderfully Cloverfield-esque marketing campaign. (aka shooting the entire film in secret) Announcing this film at the freaking Super Bowl was brilliant, and would make the franchise proud. (Both of the previous films had similar surprise releases.) Unfortunately.....everything else about this crapshoot is massively disappointing. There are aspects of this film that are interesting. Elizabeth Debicki's character is somewhat fascinating, (when you can move past her absolutely absurd character introduction) and the film's investigation into its "paradox" is somewhat cool. Unfortunately, these two good ideas are surrounded by a(n accidentally) HILARIOUS amount of sci-fi cliches. UGH. STOP IT!
I hate this movie. If you couldn't tell. I've only seen a few films in 2018, but this is an early heavyweight contender for biggest disappointment of the entire year. Let's travel back to 2008 for a minute. You just saw this little sci-fi movie called Cloverfield. (Which, fun fact, I've reviewed twice on this blog accidentally. First review, second review! It's a decent look into how one's feelings on a film change over time.) What made it so great? There's a lot of reasons, but I think it starts with the mystery and intrigue surrounding the monster itself. So, needless to say.... giving us an origin story for the monster is going to put this film at a disadvantage right out of the gate. But, even still.....this is bad. I mean....think back to Cloverfield. The setup before the part where "things go down" was about 15 minutes. This movie is built on setup. We don't even see the monsters of this universe until the ACTUAL last shot of the film. How can it be a good origin story when you don't see the creature your making an origin story of? Even if you remove the cloud of mystery surrounding the actual monster.....the monster is the most interesting part of this franchise! Why do we now have two feature-length films where we get basically ZERO shots of the freaking monster??? At least in 10 Cloverfield Lane you had a pretty enjoyable thriller that did not rely solely on tropes and cliches and is buoyed by a great performance from John Goodman. The least interesting part of that movie was the lore, and here that's ALL we get within this crappy origin story. It's just not interesting at all! How is this lore, with all the titanic names attached to developing it, not even remotely interesting??? COME ON, Bad Robot! Cloverfield is one of the early reasons why you're so successful today! Why can't you make lore that's even remotely interesting for this universe? And I love this diverse cast, don't get me wrong, but none of them put in a John Goodman-esque performance, so there's nothing there to keep me invested either. I like Gugu Mbatha-Raw a lot, and I LOVE that she's the lead here, but none of these performances wow'd me. Though, to be fair, they had some pretty crappy dialogue to recite, so that didn't help. Honestly.... the dialogue, effects, editing, score, and cinematography were ALL lackluster at best, and downright awful at worst. I knew we were in for a rough ride the second I didn't see Michael Giacchino's name attached to the score in the opening credits. It's not THAT big of a deal, but Giacchino did give this franchise a FANTASTIC theme in the end credits of the original, and I don't fully understand why these guys haven't reprised that theme in any way in the second or third installment of this franchise. I think that's an example of the larger problem of this franchise: no one really, actually cares about it. No one bothered to think, "Man, Michael Giacchino gave us a really great theme in the first movie. We should bring that back!" (Which they should be able to do no problem, because Paramount should own that theme) There wasn't much "source material" in the first Cloverfield. But what little "source material" there was has been tossed aside for....whatever this is.
GAH. WHY IS THIS SO BAD? This film is set inside a world that has a very interesting monster, so why is literally everything surrounding this monster uninteresting? Heck, even something like Prometheus gave us a more interesting investigation into the Alien franchise than this. At least there are a few bright spots. As I mentioned previously Elizabeth Debecki's character is somewhat interesting, and the overall sci-fi theme this film investigates is kind of cool. Here there were a few cool scenes where you didn't really know what was happening in what world, and there are a few (cheap) "Got you!s" within this feeling of unknown. But that's really about all this film has going for it. Oh! And the cast is fine. Nothing special, as I said, but fine is still fine.
I don't know. Maybe this is all part of a long-con by J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company. Maybe we'll be able to look back on this film within the context of a major saga and see its brilliance. But.....I doubt it. There's just nothing interesting here, right now. And it's not even told in an interesting way! The film hand-feeds us exposition in the most uninteresting and bland ways possible. From the texting sequences to the interviews that feed us exposition, it felt like absolutely no thought was put into how to best deliver the lore of this world to the audience. Seriously.... some of the exposition here gives Bright a run for its money. It's forgettable, filled with cliches and bad dialogue, and poorly edited. The FEW interesting qualities are massively outweighed by the negatives, and when you add the fact that this is set within the Cloverfield universe and AGAIN we only get a teaser of the actual monster???? It's unforgivable. I love the original too much to abandon this franchise just yet, but after this trainwreck (and the lackluster lore of the second film) I'm on thin ice with it. Please, please, PLEASE give us something better next time, Bad Robot.
My Number: 3/10 Bad.
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
Quick Reviews, End of 2017, Part 2: The Mountain Between Us, November Criminals, The Foreigner, Victoria & Abdul, The Big Sick, MarshallRead Now
The Mountain Between Us
Victoria & Abdul
The Big Sick
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.
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