Brigsby Bear- Movie Review

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Brigsby Bear is so wildly weird, so wonderfully eccentric, that it’s no wonder it works so well; a film that’s this “out there” has to be made with an incredible passion and dedication. It’s a quintessential story about creativity, inspiration, and collaboration, and the not only is the film completely committed to it’s bizarre story, but surprisingly sincere in its emotional core. Creators Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney have crafted a beautiful story of self discovery that speaks to the creative soul in all of us, and if that wasn’t enough, the film is relentlessly funny.

James (Kyle Mooney) has been raised his entire life in a small bunker by his adoptive parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), who’ve kept him separate from the outside world, with James’s only escape being the weekly television show “Brigsby Bear”, a show produced only for him. When James escapes his old life, his brought to meet his original family, and must begin to assimilate into the larger world he’s never experienced, while finishing the journey that he’s grown up watching.

Brigsby Bear is sharp in the rules of its world, using the story’s uniqueness to craft clever humor, but never does the film stray from James and his coming of age story. Kyle Mooney delivers a breakout performance as the awkward, excitable lead, and is accompanied by an eclectic supporting cast, with Greg Kinnear in particular being a standout. This is a film that grasps its audiences heart with its instantly lovable characters, providing an age old story of the power of storytelling. Grade: A

Message from the King- Movie Review

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Message from the King is an ugly, gruesome film, and unfortunately, there’s little in the film to justify it’s seemingly unending stream of tragedies. The film is a dour, grim story of revenge, yet there’s so little characterization, and so little actual tension or mystery, that the film feels like a compete slog to get through. While Chadwick Boseman gives a dedicated performance, it’s ultimately wasted in a film that’s confusing in it’s thankless subplots and general lack of dramatic heft.

Jacob King (Boseman) is a South African who travels to Los Angeles to find his missing sister, who’s become involved in a group of dangerous activities. This lead’s the film to its impressive cast, which includes Luke Evans, Alfred Molina, and Teresa Palmer- all of whom are wasted in roles that barely seem to affect the film’s overall plot. This, perhaps, is the film’s greatest flaw; it’s seemingly straightforward, but so horribly convoluted that it’s hard to follow any one element through thoroughly.

There are some interesting ideas in the film, specifically the goal of exploring the darker side of Los Angeles, but King’s motivations are so weak that the film never really gets going. Yes, a story this dark may not be neccessarily entertaining, but the overall lack of dramatic heft, and the over reliance on flashbacks, make for a forced and awkward feature. Some of the performers, namely Boseman and Palmer, give it their all, but this is a dull, stilted thriller. Grade: C

The Dark Tower- Movie Review

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The Dark Tower is a complete mess for sure; for a supposed epic that intends to launch a cinematic universe, the briskly paced 95 minute flick is short on serious world building and many of the qualities required of such epics. That being said, despite some weak characterization and corny dialogue, there is some charisma to the film, most of which come from the strong performances. No, it’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a highly watchable one.

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young boy living in New York, and suffers from vivid nightmares of a mystical tower protected by a gunslinger (Idris Elba), who wages war against a villainous man in black (Matthew McConaughey). When Jake discovers that this is a real world in a parallel universe, he is tasked with helping the legendary gunslinger in his efforts to protect a tower that guards the universe from hell. Taylor is remarkably emotional and versatile for such a young performer, and his charisma as a performer single handedly carries much of the film.

While McConaughey certainly plays into the campy schlock elements of the film, Elba gives a reasonably grounded, dramatic performance that adds some serious gravity to the film. There’s some remarkable action, including a terrific finale, and for a film so short on character building, the film resolves surprisingly well. The Dark Tower is a perfectly fine, non-offensive watch, nothing particularly special, but certainly not the worst example of Hollywood’s franchise building. Grade: B-

Detroit- Movie Review

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Detroit is a harrowing piece of historical drama, a terrifying slice of reality that is masterfully drawn out by Kathryn Bigelow. The film tells the true story of a fatal shooting during the midst of the 1967 Detroit Riots, in which police officers brutally tortured and murdered several innocent African-Americans. While it’s definitely a politically charged film, Bigelow crafts a highly effective thriller that’s highly realistic, and powerful in every sense of the word.

The film is layered with many brilliant performers; John Boyega is absolutely brilliant as a mild mannered security guard caught in the midst of conflict, but the film’s standout is Will Poulter, who’s terrifying performance as a ruthless cop is worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. At over 140 minutes, the film is slightly too long, but each scene is as impactful as the last, with the majority of the film being a claustrophobic, intense thriller. It’s not an easy film to watch, but Detroit is a brutal, taught drama that ranks amongst the year’s best. Grade: A-

The Incredible Jessica James- Movie Review

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The Incredible Jessica James is a charming, if very generic romantic indie comedy, with strong performances by Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd. The film follows an eccentric playwright (Williams) who strikes up a relationship with a recent divorcee (O’Dowd) after a terrible breakup. Yes, the film struggles with many of the issues that plague indie comedies, namely using “quirkiness” to hide weak writing, but the way in which the relationship between the leads develops, albeit generic, feels very believable.

There are points in which the film reverts to cliches, and borderlines being obnoxious in its self confidence, but despite these issues, the performances are excellent. Williams is outgoing, funny, and charming, and O’Dowd’s sheepish, quieter performance provides the film with great chemistry. It’s not particularly memorable, and certainly doesn’t rewrite any rules, but it’s an enjoyable enough 80 minutes, and a breakout for Williams as a performer. Grade: B-

Atomic Blonde- Movie Review

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Atomic Blonde is a fun flick, the perfect combination of pulpy graphic novel noir with the classic Cold War spy film. Director David Leitch, who proved to be an action master with the John Wick franchise, crafts a fantastic symphony of excellently choreographed action sequences, bringing brutality and intensity to the film. While the plot is fairly standard spy movie stuff, Charlize Theron’s standout performance and the clever stylistic choices make for a highly entertaining film.

At the very height of the Cold War, MI6 operative Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is dispatched to Berlin to find a missing list detailing the identities of several British agents. Finding herself within the company of an eccentric undercover agent (James McAvoy) and a deadly French spy (Sofia Boutello), Broughton must find the missing information and escape the deadly city.

Theron is once again a great action lead, bringing the perfect charisma and gravitas to the character, and absolutely nails the physicality of each scene. McAvoy is brilliant as always, giving another wild and hilarious performance that helps to navigate through the film’s weaker story points. Atomic Blonde isn’t neccessarily a future action classic, but it’s definitely an entertaining ride, a creative mishmash of terrific action and modern noir. Grade: B

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets- Movie Review

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one of the craziest, and mostly wildly creative and original science fiction films of the past decade. It’s not without it’s flaws of course; there’s more than enough heavy handed exposition, some awkward Bush-era political commentary, and slightly stilted performances from the two leads. However, for it’s script issues, there’s an incredible amount of imagination in the film, and for better or worse, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

In the future, thousands of alien civilizations share their cultures in a massive urban complex known as Alpha. When a mysterious threat threatens to destroy the entire system, Agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delivigne) are dispatched to navigate the complex structure and eliminate the threat. DeHaan and Delivigne are serviceable, if slightly bland, but they’re secondary to the incredible spectacle; each scene explores something new and creative, and Luc Besson commits to creating a gorgeously weird world space opera.

The film’s slightly too long, and although a majority of the world building and side plots are interesting, there are some that eel unnecessary. Absolutely, a stronger screenplay would’ve benefited the film, as would more fleshed out characters. It’s imperfect, but Valerian is a crazy action spectacle that’s both insanely self confident, yet entirely unpretentious, and it’s a ride worth taking. Grade: B

 

A Ghost Story- Movie Review

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A Ghost Story is a beautiful mediation on love, loss, and time, using creative storytelling and beautifully simplistic visuals to craft a unique and gorgeous film. The film follows a woman (Rooney Mara) who’s life is seen through the eyes of her late husband (Casey Affleck), who wanders the Earth as a ghost seeking meaning. Mara and Affleck are excellent here, but it’s the overarching story that takes precedent here; director David Lowery tells his story with long, lingering intimacy, as well as enigmatic montages that tell beautiful stories through visual imagery.

It’s absolutely a personal film, and the film offers little answers to life’s greatest questions at the end, and for many, the intimacy could be seen as plain or even dull. However, it’s these qualities that make A Ghost Story a special film; it’s a look at a greater understanding of the essence of time, told through a specific vessel of one family’s story. With stunning long shots and an absolutely gorgeous score, A Ghost Story is a beautifully simple story that’s both thought provoking and personally enthralling. Grade: B+

Dunkirk- Movie Review

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Dunkirk is phenomenal, a gripping war epic from Christopher Nolan that is both thrilling in a untraditional sense and throughly emotional, despite not connecting to any one particular character. Nolan’s film isn’t about characters, but the event itself, and the film’s multiple storylines combine together to create a masterful combination of suspense and triumph. The film tells the true story of the evacuation of Dunkirk during the height of World War II, where civilian boats helped to rescue nearly 30,000 British soldiers from France.

There are moments of raw emotion, for sure, such as a PTSD stricken soldier’s fear of returning to conflict, a British General’s convicted respect towards his French allies, or the triumph of seeing civilian ships on the shores of Dunkirk. The film’s stellar cast are all here to be part of this epic tale, and while there are some strong characters, particularly Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, it never turns into a heroic journey for one person. This is the film’s message; war is consisted of countless stories, both tragic and triumphant, and sometimes, survival is the best victory.

Dunkirk is both a window into the horrors of World War II and a thoroughly entrancing depiction of an event with intimate detail. Few films are able to demand attention from beginning to end, and Nolan’s film keeps the audience on the edge of their seat for every frame, and ends with a gorgeous montage wrapping up the lives of its characters. Dunkirk is thrilling, thought provoking, and absolutely one of the best films of the year. Grade: A+

To the Bone- Movie Review

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To the Bone is a competent film that does a good job at portraying the struggles that come with eating disorders, even if the characters struggle to establish themselves outside of the importance of the issue. The film follows a girl named Ellen (Lily Collins) who struggles with anorexia, and joins a group led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves) who aims to help the group work together to overcome their hardships. Collins is excellent here; she’s likable, and conveys the severity of the issue, and Reeves is similarly strong, although massively underused.

The film has more than a few touching moments, and is surprisingly emotional for a film with relatively thin characters. Tonally, the film works well to include moments that are genuinely depressing with those that are uplifting, and even if its a tad overlong, it doesn’t over stay its welcome. To the Bone does a good job at finding a dramatic story to tell regarding a real life crisis, yet its characters, while adequate, could’ve used more development. Grade: B