Boy Erased- Movie Review

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Boy Erased is a intriguing and thorough approach to a challenging issue, and is a major achievement for writer and director Joel Edgerton. The film approaches the subject of gay conversion therapy through the eyes of both those directly affected and how highly religious communities fit into the equation, serving as both a tribute to those forced to go through the “therapy” and an outreach to get religious communities to understand their evils. It’s a challenge to do both, but Edgerton is able to capture both the horrific practices whilst still constructing a challenging family drama.

Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is a university student who’s forced to attend a gay conversion center after his homosexuality is discovered by his overbearing Baptist preacher father (Russel Crowe). Jared is brought by his mother (Nicole Kidman) who where he and a group of fellow young men and women are tormented by the camp’s head counselor Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton).

This is up there with Manchester by the Sea as being Hedges’s best work; his confusion and struggle to find an identity when he lacks guidance is heart wrenching to watch, and his few emotional breakdowns are the work of a truly gifted actor. I loved the complicated family relationship; Kidman and Crowe are terrific as two very different types of parents, and the film doesn’t give any easy answers as to how to approach this dynamic, nor do the characters come out easily redeemed. Crowe’s final scene in particular is powerful, as the film doesn’t attempt to make him redeemable, while still approaching the character in a realistic way.

Edgerton pulls double duties well, and gives a truly despicable performance as Sykes, whilst giving subtle hints to how his character history affected his path. As a director, he doesn’t shy away from the ugliest parts of the story, including one of the most disturbing scenes of the year featuring Joe Alwyn that left my audience speechless. The only real issue here is the overuse of slow motion and an overbearing score; these scenes would be much better if they had been played more subtle and in silence.

Boy Erased runs the risk of feeling too much like a Lifetime flick, but we’re so connected to Jared as a character that seeing him go through things makes his story all the more powerful. It’s unfortunate that a film like this has to exist, but because it does it’s one that brings its story to light in a truly impressive dramatic nature. Grade: A-

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Wildlife- Movie Review

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Wildlife is the type of slow burn, novelistic family drama that they don’t make anymore; I think if this film had been released in the mid-70s and starred Diane Keaton and Dustin Hoffman it would’ve been considered a classic today. We often see actors try their hand at directing, but Paul Dano has solidified himself as success with his seemingly latent mastery of the craft; the shot composition is simple, yet elegant, with each shot looking like a portrait, and the quiet, nonexplosive interactions between characters make the drama all the more stressful and the film all the more effective.

Set in 1960, Wildlife follows 14-year-old Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) as he watches his mother (Carey Mulligan) and father (Jake Gyllenhaal) drift apart. Mulligan and Gyllenhaal are perfectly cast; they’re just young enough to still feel like an idealized American couple and just old enough to give the gravitas required for roles like these. The script smartly balances our perceptions of the two; neither is a favorable outcome, and the film changes how we perceive them over time as their actions dictate their family’s future.

Caught in the middle of this crossfire is Ed Oxenbould, who delivers a terrific young performance as a teenager who desperately wants his family together, yet is helpless to the situations. Dano starts off with short, simple scenes that give us a grasp of the characters and their world, and the shorter scenes make the inevitable confrontations and revelations all the more unbearable and difficult to watch. This is a near perfect screenplay; everything has meaning, and even the most mundane of dialogue feels like it has a purpose in setting the tone and world of which this film exists.

This is also one of the most gorgeously shot movies I’ve seen all year, as Dano crafts such intimate, beautifully lit scenes with sparkling color, with the occasional pan or tracking shot that feels more important and drastic than it would if the film was shot any other way. It’s a beautiful film that only improves as it settles in, and I’m excited to see how Dano’s career as a director goes from here. Grade: A

Can You Ever Forgive Me?- Movie Review

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a very charming, melancholy tale that explores the idea of self worth as it applies to a middle aged writer. There are few great films about writing; its hard to get a good grasp on the details of the creative process, and more so than that its difficult to explore the relationship an author has with their work. Can You Ever Forgive Me? gets past those issues with its detailed depiction of rejection, craft, and desire to be heard, and director Marielle Heller crafts a charming, storybook-like film featuring two delightful performances.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a broke middle-aged writer who’s unable to sell her work, but finds a new source of income by forging literary letters from prominent writers with the help of her eccentric friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). This is the best performance of McCarthy’s career; on the surface, this seems like a bitter, volatile character, but as the film goes on we see the layers of someone who’s so desperate to be heard and thought she would be so much more than she is. To match her is a brilliant performance by Richard E. Grant, who’s eccentric personality lights up the screen whenever he’s onscreen with his wonderful expressions and body language. It’s not just the dialogue, but the instant chemistry between the two; here are two people who the world doesn’t seem to understand, but when paired their misadventures and conversations feel like something lifted from a great novel.

The film does a great job at exploring the detailed process of crafting forgeries, but more so than that, it explores the efforts Israel put into her work; writing is hard, but writing for someone is even harder. It’s often a funny film, but its funny because the characters interact in a way that feels natural, and you’re rooting for them to succeed. It’s a delightful film, and while its often a sad story, our characters’ misery is often rooted in the fact that people don’t appreciate them- thankfully, as an audience, we do. Grade: B+

The Other Side of the Wind- Movie Review

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It’s absolutely incredible, and surreal, that in 2018 we’re able to see The Other Side of the Wind. The final film of Orson Welles, which was left uncompleted after his death, was finally filmed from 1970 to 1976 and is now available streaming on Netflix after conservation efforts were made to restore it. Regardless of anything else, the film is a historical relic, a curiosity that will be studied by film scholars for years, and in many ways is impossible to think about without considering the life and times of Welles himself.

As for the film itself, it’s a challenging, provocative film that’s wild, confounding, and purposefully disorienting at points- all of which makes the film all the more fascinating. The bizarre, frantic energy the film establishes often makes the film hard to follow, the odd documentary elements and untraditional structure make it disorienting, and indeed, it’s a very indulgent film- this is the point, of course. It’s clear that Welles was attempting to create a wholly unique cinematic experience, and its uncompleted, flawed final cut make it all the more of an interesting watch as we consider the ultimate question- what exactly did Welles intend, and what would his cut look like? These are questions we’ll never have answers for.

The film follows legendary filmmaker Jake Hannaford (John Huston), who died in a car accident following the screening of his unfinished new film. The film recounts the events of the following day, with a mass of colleagues, artists, and journalists gathered to celebrate the film. What we get is a chaotic confluence of characters who gather to ponder and reflect on the legacy of an artist, intercut with footage of Hannaford’s film- the puzzling, darkly sexual magnum opus The Other Side of the Wind.

The parallels to Welles are impossible to ignore, as is the the impossibility of reviewing a film by a writer/director who started off his career making the greatest film of all-time. The Other Side of the Wind standouts as a meditation on Old and New Hollywood and the legacy of a filmmaker, and in many ways feels like the most personal film Welles ever attempted to make. It’s a must see for cinephiles, both for its legendary status and its individual quality. Grade: A

Beautiful Boy- Movie Review

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Beautiful Boy is an impressive and comprehensive look at the effects of drug addiction, told through a father/son relationship over many years time. Of all the things the film does well, it’s impressive that the film is able to cover the complicated series of relapse and depression that follows serious addiction. There are some odd technical moments that slightly weight it down, but Beautiful Boy succeeds primarily due to the terrific performances by Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet, who feel like an authentic duo onscreen.

Based on a true story, the film follows David Sheff (Carell), a father who attempts to help his son Nicholas (Chalamet) through years of drug addiction and relapse. Carell is as good as he’s ever been here, conveying a sense of helplessness and frustration as Nic’s struggles seemingly never end. Chalamet is great here too; his character is given qualities and humanity beyond that of his addiction, which makes his eventual relapses all the tougher to watch. There are key emotional moments, but at no point does it feel like either actor is overcooking there performances.

The film spans multiple years of time, and while it does a good job in general of letting the audience know where the story takes place, there are moments when it becomes slightly hard to follow. While it’s clear that the film’s flashbacks and editing it meant to construct thematic parallels, there are points when the nonlinear nature is slightly off putting. My only main issue is the music; many of the music cues and song choices feel out of place, and there are points when the score is overbearing, although the final moments are nicely played as the film ends on a poignant note.

Beautiful Boy has a hard story to tell, and it’s often a hard story to watch, as we both feel David’s frustration at his son’s inability to cope, yet sympathize with Nic as he attempts to get sober. Thankfully the film doesn’t try to add elements that would distract from the story, although there’s levity in seeing this great family dynamic and enjoying the sparse moments of happiness. It’s an impressive feature and one that people should see, giving a more rounded take on a subject that’s infrequently talked about with this much depth. Grade: B+

The Hate U Give- Movie Review

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THE HATE U GIVE

The Hate U Give is a fairly significant achievement; its a film that deals with the modern racial climate while falling within the parameters of a YA audience. While I may not be the intended audience of young adults, it’s good to see a movie aimed at young people that has something to say, and for a film centered on a teenage girl, the film is able to capture an entire community and multiple perspectives very well. The synthesis of a serious racial drama and a YA novel clash at some points, but despite some structural missteps there are some powerful moments.

16-year-old Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg) leads two lives, one in her all-black community where her father teaches her to be proud of her blackness, and one at her all-white private high school where she puts on a different facade. When Starr is witness to her childhood friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, she becomes the unwitting face of a movement as the death ignites passions and conflicts within her community.

Without a doubt, the film’s best element is its ensemble; every actor, even those with limited roles, feels natural and offers an interesting perspective, and although at some points the dialogue plays it a little on the nose, the acting is strong. Stenberg is clearly an actress we’ll be seeing for awhile, and she perfectly conveys the shock and horror of dealing with unimaginable events while also being a teenage girl who struggles with finding herself. The standout among the ensemble is definitely Russell Hornsby, who play’s Starr’s father; Hornsby’s character grows through our expanded knowledge of him as the film goes on, and he remains an inspirational and challenging figure throughout the film.

The issues in the film lie in its structure; its a really long movie, and doesn’t seem to have one clear climactic moment. There are many dramatic moments and statements made towards the end of the film, and while many of them are harrowing and emotional, the lack of one clear climax makes the ending a little exhausting. There’s also a sometimes jarring combinations of the YA genre with more serious moments; while its nice to have an awkward prom scene, and it does fit in well within the themes of the film, its placement within the dramatic epicenter of the film is awkward.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, but some side plots feel like they could’ve been minimized- in particular, Anthony Mackie’s role feels like an unnecessary and expanded element of the story. That being said, the film is ambitious, and despite some missteps the range of perspectives are all seen through Starr’s eyes. It’s often powerful, particularly at the end, and I’m glad that a film like The Hate U Give exists for young people. Grade: B

Mid90s- Movie Review

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Above anything else, a directorial debut is the chance for an artist to define themselves onscreen for the first time, and for an established artist like Jonah Hill who’s given creative freedom and the privilege to do what they want, it’s a chance to make a statement. More than anything else, I left Mid90s feeling like Jonah Hill had made a film he was truly passionate about; the nuance in the cultural details and the deep theme of forging a family among friends is so particular it couldn’t be anything but lifted from his own experiences. There’s value in someone sharing something that’s close to their heart, and Mid90s is a rousing success.

13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in Los Angeles with his volatile older brother (Lucas Hedges) and his mom (Katherine Waterston), but he discovers a world of skateboarding outside his home and forms a tight bond with a group of older kids. The young ensemble, particularly the five lead kids, give completely authentic performances, and most importantly their chemistry is believable. A majority of the film relies on their simple, profanity-laced dialogue, and while the dialogue in of itself isn’t neccessarily a revelation, its the conviction within the delivery that makes the film feel so realistic.

The film isn’t very plot driven, and mostly chronicles Stevie’s experiences over a series of months; we see his friendships develop overtime and slowly drift from his rough family life to his new life with friends, and the simple bonding moments are very entertaining. There’s a charm to Stevie’s bluntness and innocence, and seeing him slowly transition into a different person is often humorous, which make the darker elements all the more effective.

Mid90s is fairly standard coming of age stuff to begin with, but as the film reaches its closing chapters it becomes something more special. The ending features one of the most genuinely gut wrenching moments I’ve seen this year and transitions onto a very moving reflection on the experiences of our characters and their journey. Perhaps that was the point of the film- to reflect on the seemingly unimportant moments of our youth that we can look back at fondly, even if it wasn’t all great. A terrific slice of life story about a culture we don’t really see in films often, Mid90s is a consistently amusing and complete coming of age story. Grade: B+

First Man- Movie Review

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The moon land is an event so engrained in public memory that it’s somewhat challenging to consider its magnitude at the time. First Man isn’t the story of the moon landing per se, but it uses the moon landing as the climax in the story of Neil Armstrong, a complicated and reluctant individual who made many hard choices and sacrifices along the journey to the lunar mission. First Man is a gorgeous character piece, a weighty and intense thriller about an impossible mission where the odds where stacked against Armstrong, but it’s also an emotionally riveting story of one man’s direction in life that captures the magnitude of his journey.

The film chronicles the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) from the early 1960s and the tumultuous journey it took to get to the moon, including the strain it put on his wife (Claire Foy). Gosling has distinguished himself as one of the best in the business, having starred in many of the best films in recent memory, and here he brings another quiet, unassuming performance; Armstrong was struck by many tragedies and never neccessarily considered himself a hero, yet there was a great deal of love within him and Gosling brings out the soulful, latent heroism in his role. Claire Foy is simply terrific as well as the seemingly helpless bystander who’s left to keep their family together when Armstrong faces death on a daily basis.

The portrayal of space travel is among the most claustrophobic, nerve wracking things I can remember seeing; from the in the moment calculations and decisions that are made to the dubious nature of the technology, space travel is seen as the ultimate odyssey of which there is no certainty. Director Damien Chazelle gives us a gritty, grainy look at the ’60s, and while maintaining an authenticity in it’s production design, this is clearly not a docudrama, as the space scenes are operatic, beautiful, and enchanting, hearkening back to the “tone poem” films of the ’60s and ’70s whilst marveling in the actions of one individual’s impact on human achievement.

I’ve gone this far without mentioning the film’s strongest element, which is the incredible score by Justin Hurwitz, a frequent collaborator of Chazelle’s. Hurwitz’s score captures nearly every emotion needed, letting us sit back in awe, smile as adventure begins, and become affected by Armstrong’s personal triumph. The final scenes, including Armstrong’s solitary moments isolated from Earth and his reunion with his wife, are peak cinematic moments that combine terrific acting, beautifully constructed shots, and blended by a melodic and introspective score.

First Man is a masterpiece, and while its true that its both Chazelle’s third masterpiece and his third film, there’s simple never been a depiction of space live this. In the film we see our characters react to space’s fetishization and fight through its danger, yet continue in their assignments “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” It’s a remarkable statement and a remarkable film, audacious in its depiction of trauma and inspiring in its perspective on history. Grade: A+

22 July- Movie Review

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22 July is a frantic, harrowing depiction of modern terrorism, and takes the time to lay out all the elements that come out to play in the wake of a tragedy. The shocking depiction of a far right terrorist attack in Oslo, Norway takes place in the first twenty minutes of 22 July, and its one of the scariest sequences I can remember seeing. Director Paul Greengrass crafts a frantic, chaotic sequence that perfectly conveys the helplessness of the victims.

The remaining two hours of the film picks up with an ongoing story of the victims, the attacker, the government, and the legal system. The comprehensive depiction makes for an interesting case study, and the film doesn’t shy away from getting into the psychology of the terrorist. All of the native Norwegian actors are phenomenal; Jonas Strand Gravli, who plays a student injured in the attack called to testify is brilliant, and is able to show the complex emotions and PTSD that his character faces.

While Paul Greengrass deserves recognition for his commitment to telling these stories, it’s a long film that feels even longer when there are so many grueling scenes of tragedy and heartbreak. The film is satisfying in its conclusion, but it definitely feels if scenes could’ve been trimmed without sacrificing the emotional impact of the story. Still, it’s a riveting and complicated story, and one that has been done justice with this powerful film. Grade: B+

The Old Man & The Gun- Movie Review

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The Old Man & The Gun is a delightfully breezy, old fashioned crowd pleaser that serves as a wonderful tribute to Robert Redford’s career. In many ways his character here feels like a continuation of any of his classic film roles, from Three Days at the Condor to The Sting to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the film definitely inherits that feel with its grainy, simple staged production. Director David Lowery understands the appeal behind Redford’s fifty plus years of stardom and crafts a warm, fun send off for Redford as an actor.

Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is a veteran bank robber who faces his own mortality as he begins a relationship with a woman (Sissy Spacek) on a chance encounter and is pursued by a family man police detective (Casey Affleck). Redford is effortlessly charming here; the “gentlemen bank robber” role fits him perfectly, and the subtext of a man who can’t stop doing what he loves is the perfect role for Redford at this stage in his career. Spacek and Redford have electric chemistry that enlighten even the simplest of scenes. Affleck is also great here; the begrudging respect that builds between him and Redford is a fun through-line to follow, and their first conversation together is undoubtably one of the film’s best scenes.

There are no huge, dramatic scenes here, and even the film’s quieter moments fit within the “warm and fuzzy” style that Lowery has chosen to adopt. This feels like the right choice here, as you can’t help but smile as you watch Redford’s clever, respectful criminal take on another adventure. As the final text rolls in, the film’s self commentary about Redford is evident; this is a man who loves what he does and doesn’t have anything to prove anymore, and I’m thrilled that he chose to sum up his career with a film like this. Grade: A