The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)- Movie Review

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Noah Baumbach has a rare ability as a filmmaker of creating beauty and humor out of dysfunction, and shaping characters that are convicted and ideological, yet unpretentious. It’s a trait that all his films seem to carry, and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is not only his most interesting ensemble, but his most humane and affecting film to date. The film lives and dies with its terrific ensemble, and while the film often drifts between melancholy and humor, there’s a surprising complexity to the characters, and their ability to speak freely while maintaining the film’s relentless pace.

When an aging artist (Dustin Hoffman) and his fourth wife (Emma Thompson) prepare his work for an exhibition, he’s visited by his three adult children; Danny (Adam Sandler), who’s preparing to send his daughter (Grace Van Patten) to college, Matt (Ben Stiller), a successful yet unhappy businessman, and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), the peculiar yet most stable of the children. Hoffman is excellent here; he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, and he’s both charming and despicable as a talented artist who’s cast a long shadow for his children to live up to.

Yet, it’s Sandler’s performance that truly leads the film; Sandler is rarely given credit for his dramatic work, which is a shame, as he’s completely committed and utterly perfect as the family’s hapless dark horse. The scenes between Sandler and Patten, one of the most exciting young actresses in the business, are among the film’s strongest, and the entire dynamic Sandler crafts between himself, Stiller, and Marvel is exceptional.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) could have easily been a series of humorous, yet unimaginative short clips, but Baumbach crafts an elegant portrayal of a privileged, yet peculiar and troubled family. The film asks the hard questions about age and growing apart, and while there are certainly solid laughs throughout, it’s more of a serious story that happens to revolve around ridiculous people. It goes without saying that the cast is phenomenal, but it’s even more impressive that the film’s “slice of life” approach could prove to be so impressive. Grade: A-

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Blade Runner 2049- Movie Review

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1982’s Blade Runner isn’t just one of the greatest films of all-time, but an incredibly influential sci-fi film that inspired and instigated the art of generations hence. It’s hard to follow up to something so monumental, but visionary director Denis Villenueve has crafted a jaw dropping sequel in Blade Runner 2049, a beautiful dystopian noir that asks the biggest questions in the world about the definition of humanity and the task of meeting your maker, enthralled with beautiful spectacle and memorable performances in. In following up to a classic, Villenueve has crafted his own masterpiece, expanding the world of Blade Runner in one of the most gorgeous films ever made.

Actors aside, the star of the film is cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has shot a gorgeous epic in which each frame is a painting, and each shot is individually beautiful and intricate. Matched with an incredible experimental score by Hans Zimmer, the film uses it’s breathtaking filmmaking to service an even greater story, a noir mystery that asks both physical questions, and the questions at the core of our existence. It’s daunting, and Villenuve crafts an extension of Ridley Scott’s world that slowly connects in the most genius of ways to the original film, both through characters and it’s themes and visual cues.

Ryan Gosling a very different performance, a stoic yet vulnerable turn as L.A.P.D. officer, and Harrison Ford brings the perfect energy and gravitas in his return to the role as Rick Deckard, which in turn gives the film even more emotion. In fact, the entire cast is terrific, and among the amazing ensemble, it’s Ana de Armas’s turn as Gosling’s lover that is the most memorable, bringing a beautiful sense of innocence and beauty to each of her scenes.

The film industry is inundated with sequels, yet Blade Runner 2049 joins the likes of recent sequels such as Mad Max: Fury Road or The Dark Knight in that it stands alone as a future classic. The emotional drama, matched with its breathtaking technical achievements, are reasons why we go to the movies, and Blade Runner 2049 is a cinematic event unlike we’ve seen in quite sometime. Grade: A+

Gerald’s Game- Movie Review

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Gerald’s Game is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, a searing and chilling Stephen King adaptation that’s challenging in the very best way. The isolated thriller follows a woman (Carly Gugino) as she find herself trapped in an isolated resort, trying to save her life as her paranoia and past come to haunt her. Director Mike Flanagan crafts a haunting and hard to watch thriller, trapping the audience within the mind of the main character as she finds herself trusting nothing, not even her own senses.

Carly Gugino delivers what is absolutely the finest work of her career, and one of the year’s best performances; she’s completely vulnerable, giving an intense and terrified performance that matches the film’s rising levels of insanity. While there are elements of the ending that are difficult to comprehend, there’s something to be said for the film’s ability to be ambiguous, yet emotionally satisfying. It’s by far Flanagan’s best feature, and one of the best horror films of the year. Grade: B+

Stronger- Movie Review

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Stronger is a phenomenal biopic, purely due to the maturity with how the film approaches its subject. The film tells the true story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Costco worker who’s legs are destroyed in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, and the complicated relationship Bauman had with his girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). It’s the story behind the story that the film tells, showing Bauman as a troubled man before his tragedy and his reluctance to take on the role of a “hero”.

The film relies on a strong central performance, and Gyllenhaal once again gives a terrific performance as a selfish, yet good hearted man child who’s life is forever altered by one day, and is once again worthy of an Academy-Award nomination. Maslany is also fantastic, and the film’s entire supporting cast work to sell the very specific Boston culture. There’s a humor to the film that gives it life, but it’s the maturity of the film’s non-glamorized depiction of one man’s tale amongst a larger strategy that makes it so special. Grade: A-

Our Souls At Night- Movie Review

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Our Souls At Night is an absolute delight; the film has a timeless tale of romance in the twilight years of one’s lives, and it couldn’t have brought out better performers than the legendary Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. The two legendary actors star as two aging neighbors who form a connection in the last year’s of their lives, and while that may not seem to be the most daring premise of all-time, it goes to show the power of old fashioned star power and a straightforward, yet nuanced screenplay.

Redford and Fonda slip into these roles with instant charisma, and while the film touches on familiar themes of aging, regrets, and family, there’s an elegance to the film’s perfectly paced, methodical approach. It’s not the searing portrayal of aging one would expect out of a film like Amour, but the film’s relationships are expertly developed even when heading into predictable territory. It’s a charming, feel good film that is impactful, powerful, and ultimately inspiring. Grade: B+

Battle of the Sexes- Movie Review

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Battle of the Sexes is a mostly fun, if somewhat uneven biopic, packed with fantastic performances serving an interesting true story. The film follows Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in her iconic match against World Champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), as well as the media circus that ensued. There’s definitely some on the nose dialogue, and the film is about fifteen minutes too long, but the film does a great job at capturing the essence of the ’70s, with great music, production design, and makeup effects.

Stone is utterly charismatic and surprisingly slips into the role, which is a challenge for an actress of her fame. A particular scene towards the end of the film showcases her dramatic talents, but the majority of her work here is being a likable lead for the audience to root for, which she does excellently. Carrell is also excellent, giving a surprising depth to Riggs and his hustler nature a lot of exposure.

Battle of the Sexes isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s surprisingly sincere and highly watchable, never making the story any more dramatic than it needs to be while still highlighting it’s performance. Even with the occasionally on the nose social commentary, it’s a solid biopic boasting some of the year’s better performances. Grade: B+

Kingsman: The Golden Circle- Movie Review

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I’m apparently in the minority, but I wasn’t a fan of 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. As much as the film tried to convince us that it was self-aware, I found it to be a rather paint by numbers spy flick with little originality or substance, kept adrift only by some charismatic performances and memorable action scenes. It’s with this same feeling that I’m so happy to say that it’s sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is a complete blast, filled with a kickass soundtrack, fun performances, and a surprising amount of heart.

After an attack on the Kingsman headquarters, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to unite with the American Statesman in an attempt to stop the evil drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore). Edgerton, Strong, and the revived Colin Firth continue the entertaining charisma that made the characters pop initially, and while The Golden Circle is definitely more ridiculous as its predecessor, the characters seem to have stronger personal dilemmas, and the film has much more heart, culminating in a particularly powerful moment for Strong’s character.

The Statesman are somewhat underused, but for as advertising as Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Halle Berry received from the marketing campaign, Pedro Pascal is the standout of the crew, providing a great relationship with Edgerton and some of the film’s best stunts. The characters and action were the two things the first film managed to nail, and The Golden Circle brings both to life, with an eclectic cast of characters and action stunt so ridiculous and goofy that they’re utterly delightful.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is perhaps about fifteen minutes too long, and features a few subplots that go nowhere (a particularly unnecessary amount of time is spent with Eggsy and his girlfriend), but where The Secret Service was a smug, generic film no more ridiculous or self aware than the Roger Moore Bond films it was parodying, The Golden Circle embraces the crazy, yet keeps the class. With a soundtrack including Prince, John Denver, and Elton John, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is one of the most delightfully weird and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Grade: B

Mother!- Movie Review

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Mother! is an audacious, challenging, and ultimately frustrating work of art. Director Darren Aronofsky creates a brilliant allegory for the tenants of Christianity told through the tale of a writer (Javier Bardem) and his young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who are visited by two mysterious strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer). The tale Aronofsky tells, and his style of filmmaking, fits a very unique and brilliantly crafted metaphor, although not a particularly involving narrative.

Mother! ultimately feels like bubbling anger told over the course of two hours, and while the film’s allegorical story forms a full circle by the end of the film, it ultimately feels like Aronofsky’s college thesis imposed upon the audience. Yes, the film does a brilliant job at building tension and suspense, but unlike a filmmakers such as David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick, Aronofsky does not equally involve his narrative and his message. Yet, it’s an interesting film, and while I can’t pretend that I enjoyed the film as much as I did discussing it, and Mother! is certainly here to provoke debate. Grade: B

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

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When First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers opens to the Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy for the Devil”, it’s easy to harbor the fear that the film will be a glossed over from a tepid American perspective. Nothing could be further from the truth. Angelina Jolie’s finest directorial debut to date is a stirring and brutal depiction of the Cambodian massacre, told beautifully from the perspective of a 5 year-old-girl.

While the film isn’t neccessarily as all encompassing as a film like 12 Years a Slave or Schindler’s List, it’s completely emotionally overwhelming, and a stunningly accurate portrayal of a somewhat unknown historical tragedy. Jolie has patience with the film, letting each moment of tragedy play out without overdramatizing the events. It’s an effective historical document, and through the specific story of one girl’s journey, it’s an impactful narrative. Grade: B

It- Movie Review

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It isn’t just one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all-time, but the perfect combination of horror, adventure, mystery, and coming of age elements to create a vibrant and exciting film. The film combines a great relatable sense from moment one, introducing it’s eclectic gaggle of heroes in the summer of 1989, dealing with the issues of growing up, before dealing with the threat of Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard), a psychopathic killer responsible for the disappearance of the town’s children.

The film is obviously designed to scare, but by seeing what scares the film’s characters, director Andy Muschietti does a great job at shaping each individual personality. It also helps that the young actors are so brilliant; the R-Rating allows the film to explore a realistic depiction of adolescence, and for young performers the cast are likable and expressive, with Jaeden Lieberher’s role as Billy being a standout. There’s definitely a resemblance to ’80s adventure films, with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and The Goonies being primary influences, but the film certainly doesn’t shy away from gruesome violence or scary visuals.

Skarsguard is terrifying as Pennywise, playing the character to the best degree of insanity without being overtly comical, and for a nearly two and a half hour film, the film nicely balances each character’s storyline to be continuously engrossing. The film’s dialogue is smart and witty, and throughout all the expertly crafted scares, room is left for some genuinely hilarious humor and moving emotional moments, with Lieberher’s closing monologue in particularly being a standout. It is a triumph, a great film about kids made for adults, and one of the truly great horror films of our time. Grade: A-