Hostiles- Movie Review

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Hostiles is an incredibly brutal western, and certainly one of the more compelling films that tracks the cycle of violence in the American frontier. Director Scott Cooper paints a intersting portrait of mankind’s nature of hatred, and while he points to the internal nature that everyone possesses, he also makes sure to highlight the unjust treatment of the indigenous people. It’s a film wrestling with a lot of ideas, and while it does get heavy handed at some points, the music and cinematography give the film the feel of an epic and elevate the material to a more beautiful and hypnotic level.

Set in 1892, the film follows legendary Union Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), who’s dispatched to return the Cheyenne War Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his sacred burial ground after seven years imprisonment. Blocker has spent years in conflict with indigenous forces, and is filled with a hatred for Yellow Hawk and his people. Yet, as Blocker’s company embark on their trip and face hostile forces of all kind, Blocker faces his internal hatred, and the hatred the fuels never-ending conflict across the nation.

Bale is remarkable here, giving a performance that suggests so much about about his history without ever spelling it out specifically, and gets to showcase a depth to his character, from a stern conflict with a local law official to a tearful goodbye to a fellow soldier. It’s evident from scene one that the film is intended to shock the viewer, yet the shock is in purpose of both realism and thematic importance. Despite some long stretches in which nothing of importance happens, Hostiles is a well executed western, and ends on a remarkably emotional note that elevates much of the two hours that preceded it. Grade: B+

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Darkest Hour- Movie Review

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Filming a biopic of any sorts can be challenging, but it’s even more daunting when handling one of history’s greatest leaders. Darkest Hour possesses the rare gift of both humanizing Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), as well as establishing why his legacy is still celebrated. The film chronicles Churchill’s fight to unite England against the Nazis, facing internal backlash from both parties, as well as King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) himself.

Oldman completely disappears within the role of Churchill, and while that is partly due to the excellent makeup work, he captures all of Churchill’s essential qualities; he’s funny, determined, full of rage, and has no short supply of inspirational speeches. Churchill’s inability to compromise for peace, yet his humility, is fully explored here, with many of the film’s best scenes revolving around the relationship he has with a secretary (Lily James), showing Churchill’s ability to connect with those he serves.

The film had an incredibly daunting task, but works with urgency in every scene to showcase the political intrigue behind the early days of World War II. In today’s political climate, there’s something truly inspiring about Churchill’s story, and seeing such an effective leader operate successfully when he’s needed most is an inspiring sight, and Darkest Hour is an insightful look at Churchill’s prime as a leader. Grade: A

The Disaster Artist- Movie Review

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The Room is an enigma of a film; it’s a completely incompetent film in every way, yet it’s somehow one of the most widely discussed cult movies of all-time. There’s a quality to The Room that many “so bad they’re good” films don’t have, and it’s that the film is a product of genuine commitment and passion, and The Disaster Artist, the story of the film’s production, understands that. The Disaster Artist could have easily been a parody of what transpired, with The Room‘s creator Tommy Wiseau being the butt of the joke, but the film is a surprisingly earnest story of friendship and the pursuit of dreams.

The film follows the true story of Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), an aspiring actor who befriends the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), an unusual, yet committed actor who persuades Greg to move to L.A. with him. As opportunities of starring in Hollywood movies begin to dry up, Tommy begins working on The Room, which he directs, writes, and stars in. Greg is set to co-star, unknowingly committing to one of the wildest and weirdest film productions of all-time.

James Franco doesn’t look or sound exactly like Tommy Wiseau, but he perfectly captures the essence of what Wiseau represents; a headstrong, ridiculous, yet completely genuine person who’s ego is congruent to his heart. Franco captures the essence of Wiseau’s idiosyncratic humor, from his laugh to weird phrases, but he doesn’t make Wiseau a joke. Dave Franco also does a great job as Sestero, combining a reflection of the communal reaction to Wiseau with a genuinely touching look at their friendship.

The film recreates many scenes from The Room, offering intersting insights to fans of the film, yet standing on its own as a heartwarming comedy about the ultimate outsiders. It’s uproariously funny, with Franco’s antics as Wiseau and the overall ridiculous nature of The Room offering a steady supply of laughs, yet the core friendship is still quite sincere, with an ending that surprisingly ranks as one of the year’s more emotional scenes. The Disaster Artist is a story so crazy it’s almost unbelievable, yet for anyone who’s ever made a home movie or made something with their friends, there’s something that rings true. Grade: A

Call Me By Your Name- Movie Review

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Call Me By Your Name is a sublime sensual masterpiece and one of the most beautiful cinematic coming of age stories ever made, matching wonderful performances with a gorgeous view of the Italian landscape. The film tells the story of Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a 17-year-old who begins to fall for a student (Armie Hammer) of his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) over the summer of 1983 in their Italian retreat. Chalamet and Hammer have awkward, poignant, and heartbreaking chemistry, and Stuhlbarg’s final monologue ranks among the greatest movie speeches of all-time.

Everything in the film is subdued, with the shots capturing nothing but emotion, yet not making diverting the plot from the stark reality of 1983. There’s a beautiful score, but other than that the film’s beauty relies entirely on the subtle acting choices made by the actors, and the film’s lack of a central narrative makes it feel all the more natural. Call Me By Your Name isn’t just the best romance film of the year, but an instant classic, and one of the year’s very best films. Grade: A+

The Shape of Water- Movie Review

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The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro in his purest form; the film is a rather simple fairy tale inspired story, made beautiful by the beautiful technical elements and strong performances. There’s a beauty to the weirdness of the film, and while it drags at point and occasionally becomes slightly self indulgent, the amazing visual effects and extensive set design, illuminated by Alexander Desplat’s beautiful score guide the story to a series of surprising and wonderful moments.

In the midst of the Cold War, the United States government holds a mysterious creature (Doug Jones) captive to study it. When Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who cleans a government facility forms a relationship with the creature, she must fight to free it from torture and death at the hands of a ruthless government agent (Michael Shannon). Hawkins brings a rawness and compassion that helps to sell some of the film’s most absurd moments, and Shannon gives a terrifying performance channeled into the year’s most chilling villain.

There’s many great characters in the film, including Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s neighbor, an aging gay artist who seems to have lost any joy, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a Russian spy who’s politics are undermined by his love for the sanctity of life. There are moments of dialogue that feel slightly on the nose, and while the motivation of the central relationship is occasionally lacking, del Toro makes such a beautiful aesthetic with so many moments of pure cinematic magic that the flaws of Shape of Water are easy to forget. Grade: B+

Justice League- Movie Review

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After the hugely disappointing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the borderline unwatchable Suicide Squad, the DC Universe needed a fresh start. This summer’s Wonder Woman showed the promise that the universe had, and while Justice League is not without its problems, there’s a lot of positives. The plot makes zero sense and the villain Steppenwolf is the most unmemorable comic book villain in quite some time, but the core characters are all very well realized, and have great chemistry.

After the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) search for a group of enhanced metahumans who can combat a forthcoming alien invasion. Affleck and Gadot have already proven to be excellent in their roles, but it’s the new additions that make the film pop. Ezra Miller brings some great comedy to the role of The Flash, and Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman is the trident throwing, snarky hooligan that we didn’t know we wanted until now, even if Ray Fischer’s Cyborg is left on the side for the most part.

Why are these heroes coming together at the end? What are these mother boxes the script puts so much emphasis on? I’m not really sure, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter; the union of this team works, and it’s exciting getting to see these unique personalities coming together. The world of Justice League feels more fleshed out than ever, and even with some weak CGI, it has the visual sensibilities of a comic book. Most importantly, it’s fun- after all, it is a superhero movie. Grade: B-

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri- Movie Review

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Martin McDonagh’s past two features, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, were notable for their odd comedic elements and ridiculous stories, and while his newest film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri shares some similar qualities, it’s his darkest and most disturbing film by far. There’s a decent amount of very dark humor surrounding a very heartbreaking and timely story, and yet despite the film’s overall grim nature, there are moments of hope and empathy that stand out by their diminutive statues.

Several months following the death of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) buys the rights to put up three local billboards in protest to what she sees as indifference from the police department. The billboards cause a local media storm, ensnaring the attention of the local police captain (Woody Harrelson) and his dimwitted assistant (Sam Rockwell). McDormand is at her most gritty here, giving a no holds-barre performance of contained rage, yet it’s Sam Rockwell’s redemptive story arc that’s the film’s strongest beat.

I don’t think I could ever watch Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri again; it’s a fascinating deconstruction of the ways in which justice is and should be served, and despite it’s often humorous moments, it’s a deeply disturbing film that’s pitched with only rare moments of optimism. Yet, there’s something extremely unique about the film, something that got under my skin, a quality that’s rare in any film, and the film’s emotional machine of rage and empathy is something that will be discussed for quite some time. Grade: A

Lady Bird- Movie Review

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Lady Bird is more than just a great coming of age story- it’s something more special than that. There’s a purity, an honesty to the film’s story that is nice, but as the film goes on, it’s evident that it’s just a piece of great filmmaking. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut speaks to the truths that anyone goes through growing up, and it’s the meticulous editing, presentation of events, and high caliber performances that elevate it into classic status.

Christine (Saoirse Ronan), also known as “Lady Bird”, is a high school senior living in Sacramento who longs of going to college on the East Coast. As her strong willed personality clashes with her stern mother (Laura Metcalf), Christine navigates through the most difficult things in the world for a high school girl: love, sex, friends, family, responsibility, work, and her own expectations. I didn’t know Saoirse Ronan had it in her to give a performance of this caliber; she’s always been charismatic in films, but her performance as a rebellious teenager longing for a life better than she has is one of the most honest and entertaining performances of the year.

Yet, it’s Greta Gerwig’s precise work as a director that can’t be overlooked; the film flows through all the most important moments in Christine’s senior year, yet it also has time for brief moments of humor and sincerity, capping a perfect tale in approximately 90 minutes. The film is uproariously funny at points, poignant in traditional and untraditional ways, and one of the most continuously engrossing stories told this year. It’s a coming of age tale in the general sense, yet it’s clearly something personal for Gerwig, and it couldn’t have come off any better. Grade: A+

Mudbound- Movie Review

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Mudbound is a powerful American epic, and perhaps one of the most emotionally stirring films of the year. The film is a brutal watch at times, uncompromising in its depiction of racial brutality and PTSD, utilizing compelling storytelling techniques to spread the story out amongst its impressive cast. It’s rare that an epic like this is able to balance it’s ensemble so well, and it’s the cast that elevate the characters into memorable, dynamic people.

The film tells the story of two families, one black and one white, that live near each other in the American South in the 1940s, showing their interactions and conflicts as they coexist. The entire ensemble is superb, but the standouts are easily Jason Mitchell and Garret Hedlund, two sons who serve in World War II; these actors sell the brutality of conforming to traditional living following the horrors of war, and their bond upon returning home is the film’s most uplifting element.

Despite having the scope and scale of an epic, the film’s runtime never feels overbearing, and the transitions between the cast allow the film to never bore the audience with one particular storyline. The film builds towards a haunting conclusion of violence, and while the film addresses racial tension in an extremely effective way, it avoids trivializing the issue or presenting anything as cut and dry. It’s a powerful experience, and the emotional journey of Mudbound is one worth taking. Grade: A-

Thor: Ragnarok- Movie Review

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If you took the crazy ’80s sci-fi opera of Flash Gordon, the self serious epicness of Highlander, and the brilliant comedic mind of director Taika Waititi, then you get Thor: Ragnarok, one of the craziest and must gleefully weird movies that Marvel has ever made. The third installment strips away the world of the Thor franchise, fueling Taika Waititi’s genius world building and attention to detail to create a gloriously silly and fun space adventure. The film works because of Waititi’s style, which while overtly comedic, is completely imaginative in each sequence and location.

When the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchette) threatens Asgard, the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is jettisoned to the far reaches of space and forced to fight his way back to save his people. At this point, Hemsworth has embraced the comedic elements of the character, and made the character in on the joke of his own inherent goofiness. Appearances by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/ The Incredible Hulk and Tom Hiddelston as Loki add additional comedic banter, and while the film’s characters have strong emotional ties that are built up by previous films, Ragnarok‘s goal is to entertain, and the comedy here comes first.

It’s many of the film’s new characters that add the most, and none more so than Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, the leader of a gladiatorial combat society. Goldblum is absorbed in the film’s ridiculous nature, and while his performance may not differ very much from his offscreen persona, he’s one the best parts of the film. The addition of Tessa Thompson as an ally of Thor’s is also a strength of the film, as Thompson instantly fits in with the previously established banter between the characters. While the character of Hela is not a very complex one, it’s improved by Blanchette’s very theatrical performance.

Thor: Ragnarok could easily be criticized for it’s formulaic story, or it’s lack of consistent character beats, but what Taika Waititi recognizes is the type of film this is suppose to be. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon, continuously bringing ingenuity and adventure to the screen and never letting the audience take a moment to breathe. It’s a fun, weird, and consistently memorable film that ranks among the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and perhaps one of the best the genre has ever offered. Grade: A