Wish Upon- Movie Review

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To call Wish Upon “dumb” is a disservice to the countless other stupid films I’ve reviewed that at least have some resemblance of plot, character, or logic, as this film has none. The moronic story follows a young girl (Joey King) that discovers a magical box that grants wishes, while taking the lives of others. What follows is a 90 minute combination of high school and horror movie cliches, stupid decisions made for no other reason than to advance the plot, and ridiculous montages that only waste screen time.

It’s not just that Wish Upon is bad, it’s that its bad in nearly every way; characters have menial, ridiculous dialogue, the scares are laughable at best, and the characters are not only unlikeable, but shockingly incompetent. There’s no scares to be found here, nor is there much of anything else, as at 90 minutes, the film seems to drag on forever with unneeded subplots. Wish Upon is horror at its worst: lazy, stupid, and utterly unwatchable. Grade: F

War for the Planet of the Apes- Movie Review

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War for the Planet of the Apes is masterful, proving not to be a worthy action film in the post- Mad Max: Fury Road era, but perhaps one of the bleakest summer blockbusters ever made. The film relates to classic sci-fi themes of power, man’s nature, and the nature of evolution, blended with characters that are complex and compelling. It’s a visual masterwork, combining some of the most photorealistic CGI ever put to screen with gorgeous cinematography, crafting a stirring epic where each frame feels meticulously crafted.

With the war between humans and apes raging, Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeks vengeance against a ruthless human known as “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson) following a tragic assault on his family. Serkis has once again brought an Oscar worthy performance to the character of Caesar, bringing an emotional weight rarely seen in any film, blockbuster or otherwise, to the role. Harrelson is chilling as a neo-Nazi inspired leader, who’s antics might feel out of place if they weren’t so raw and genuine.

It’s hard to put War for the Planet of the Apes in the category of a traditional franchise film; there’s nothing safe about the series, and the amount of dedication and depth brought to a film shows the best of what science fiction can be- a mirror to our own world. It’s emotional, beautifully shot, and wraps up a great series with a shocking, stirring, and ultimately fulfilling final chapter. Grade: A

The Beguiled- Movie Review

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The Beguiled is a strange film; it has the look and feel of a straight laced period piece, yet the story and execution of complete schlock. Set during the Civil War, a Union solider named John McBurney (Collin Farrell) is wounded in conflict and taken in by an all girls boarding school, led by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). With McBurney healing, tension and competition begins between the girls at the school, forcing conflict and lies to spread in a supposedly peaceful place.

The film has some interesting ideas about gender and sexuality, but for all the film’s technically pleasing marvels, it’s a rather straight forward, schlocky ride. Farrell is by far the standout, giving a charismatic performance who shifts between devious and genuine, and elevates each scene where he interacts with the larger cast. It’s enjoyable at parts and mostly well acted, but for a well shot film by a renowned director, it’s rather dull. Grade: B-

Spider-Man: Homecoming- Movie Review

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Spider-Man: Homecoming is brilliant, a fantastic portrayal of the character of Peter Parker that brings the heart and humor that make the signature web slinger so iconic. Yes, the film has some fantastic visuals and almost nonstop humor, but it’s the tone that makes the film work so well; director Jon Watts understands that it’s the coming of age, high school story that makes Spider-Man so relatable. The film is genuinely gripping on a character level; as an audience, we want Peter to get the girl, prove himself, and save the world, and the film’s white knuckled action sequences work because of this.

After being recruited by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is stuck on a ground level trying to prevent small crimes as the crimefighting Spider-Man. When a thief (Michael Keaton) begins to steal a series of dangerous technology, Peter acts against Stark’s wishes and attempts to thwart the villains, and prove himself as a worthy addition to The Avengers. The ties to the Marvel universe don’t burden the film, but enhance it; the film feels like it actually fits into the world of superheroes, with Captain America popping up in school videos and teenage girls crushing on Thor.

The high school environment works wonderfully, with Peter’s struggles with classes, family, and girls feeling just as gripping as his superhero adventures, and the two are perfectly balanced by the film’s tour de force performance by Tom Holland. Holland is beyond charismatic; his Peter Parker is the perfect awkward, nerdy high school science whiz, and his Spider-Man is quick witted, intelligent, and most importantly, human. Holland’s interpretation is perhaps the best cinematic Spider-Man ever put to screen, and he’s up against the perfect villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Keaton brings a blue collar, utterly relatable nature to his character, who’s blatant humanity makes him one of the most terrifying, and best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I was genuinely taken aback by how good Spider-Man: Homecoming was. Although seeing Spider-Man in the larger Marvel universe is exciting enough, the film understands why the character is beloved, and tells a story that perfectly fits said character. It’s shockingly funny, with more than a few gut busting moments, but it’s the humanity that makes the film so special. Rivaling Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 as the best of the series, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a heartwarming, beautiful delight. Grade: A

Okja- Movie Review

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Okja is a remarkable modern fairy tale, a beautiful mix of American and Korean filmmaking by the masterful director Bong Joon-ho. While there’s some familiar beats when it comes to the themes of corporate greed, and the film’s tone ranges from biting satire to genuinely heartfelt, what Bong Joon-ho has created visually is nothing short of miraculous, and the simple story of a girl and her pet is completely touching. There are many elements of Okja that feel preachy, but the film remains watchable when it focuses on it’s smaller, character driven story.

In the not too distant future, the Miranda Corporation have genetically engineered massive, pig like creatures too hopefully resupply the world’s food. However, for the young girl Mija (Ahn Joon-ho), the massive creature known as Okja is her best friend, and when the company’s ruthless CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) and the company’s spokesperson Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempt to use Okja for profit, Mija teams up with an animal-rights activist named Jay (Paul Dano) to save the creature. Ahn Joon-ho gives a remarkably vulnerable performance for such a young performer, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s ridiculous and despicable villain that steals the film.

There are many points where Okja is terrifying, showing the cruelty of corporate America, yet there’s also moments that are sweet and full of adventure, evoking memories of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial or The Goonies. Despite some heavy handed thematic elements, the film is relatively straight forward and keeps things concise and entertaining. It’s not a perfect film, nor is it a future classic, but it’s an ambitious, and mostly entertaining film that shows Bong Joon-ho’s talent as a creative mind. Grade: B

Mindhorn- Movie Review

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Mindhorn is a delightfully quirky British comedy, featuring a brilliant performance by Julian Barratt and some biting satire of ’80s television. The film tells the story of Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), a washed up actor best known for his role as Detective Mindcroft. When Mindcroft’s biggest fan (Russell Tovey) is accused of murder, Thorncroft is brought into reprise his iconic role, this time for real.

While there are some familiar beats, most notably when it comes to the crime elements of the film, it’s Barratt’s self obsessed, self loathing lead performance that makes the film so charming. The character’s despicable, yet charismatic nature is completely endearing, and the film’s references to pop culture and classic television are tactful and witty. It’s a broad, often hilarious film with some surprising heart, and it’s one of the best comedies of the year. Grade: B

Transformers: The Last Knight- Movie Review

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Transformers: The Last Knight is really, really bad. It’s not “so bad it’s good”. It’s not an “interesting failure”. It’s not even a colossal disaster in the vein of Battlefield Earth or Howard the Duck that is such a colossal miscalculation that it’s viewing is a rite of passage. It’s simply an inept, incompetent, and incomprehensible film that’s not only one of the worst films of the decade, but among the most cynical studio sequels ever produced.

Following the aftermath of a nearly world destroying disaster, the Transformers are hunted by the U.S. Government, and Optimus Prime has fled to the home world of Cybertron. When the Decepticons follow the trail to yet another ancient weapon, Cade Yaegar (Mark Wahlberg) is recruited by an Oxford professor (Anthony Hopkins) in order to track down the mythology of the Transformers. Sound simple? The film offers more than that simple plot, adding a coming of age story featuring a young girl, a National Treasure-esque globe trotting adventure, and countless scenes of corny military briefings.

There’s certain things one comes to expect from a Transformers sequel: a convoluted, messy plot, ridiculous product placement, and an action finale that seemingly goes on forever. But what makes The Last Knight so uniquely reprehensible is its collection of half-written ideas; there’s some genuinely interesting plot points, such as the strong performance by Isabella Moner, or the intertwining of Transformers mythology in history. However, it’s just that; Bay takes time to set up countless sub stories early in the film, before reverting to the predicted action finale, which lacks any creativity, wit, or intelligence, and is an utterly miserable end to the film.

(On a nitpicker’s note, the changing of aspect ratios between shots is completely distracting; its shocking that a major studio was able to release a film with such a noticeable and distracting flaw)

The thing is, Michael Bay is not an untalented filmmaker; 13 Hours proved his talent as a dramatic filmmaker, and he’s proven that he’s able to make fast paced, entertaining action films, such as The RockArmageddon, and even the first Transformers film. The Last Knight is a new low, a film that doesn’t seem to care about logic or character, but for all of its technical wonders, there’s no fun to be had in a film about giant talking robots that fight each other. That’s a problem. Grade: D-

The Big Sick- Movie Review

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The Big Sick is perhaps the perfect summation of what one would consider to be a “quirky, indie heartwarming comedy”, and it’s genuinely surprising that the film is as good at it is. While the film goes through an unimaginable series of cliches, there’s a heart to the film that works beautifully; taking everything else aside, the most important aspect of a romantic film is the chemistry between the leads, and the performances by Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are funny, charming, and realistic.

The Big Sick follows a tumultuous relationship between Emily (Kazan), a young American psychologist, and Kumail (Nanjiani), an aspiring standup from Pakistan, who’s relationship is tested when Emily suffers from a potentially fatal disease. It’s not the story, but the dialogue that makes the film work so well; it’s an awkward, uncomfortably real film, and the film’s depiction of cultural differences and family drama feel real.

While there’s not a ton of “laugh out loud” moments in the film, there doesn’t neccessarily have to be; it’s the chemistry of the actors, and Nanjiani’s strength as a lead that make the film so charming. While the film’s two hours are a drag at point, specifically the last act’s repetitive emotional beats, there are moments that are genuinely moving. I can’t say if there’s a longevity to the film, or if it will necessarily work for everyone, but I also can’t deny that the impact the film left on me. Grade: B+

Shimmer Lake- Movie Review

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Shimmer Lake is a highly conventional film told in an unconventional way; the film’s approach of the “heist gone wrong” genre has a lot of familiar beats, but the film’s method of backwards storytelling is clever, and elevates the already solid ensemble of characters. Tracking the story of a local cop (Benjamin Walker) in his pursuit of two bank robbers (Wyatt Russel and Rainn Wilson), the film owes a lot to Memento and The Usual Suspects, but crafts a tight, well edited thriller. Outside of some distracting comedic beats, it’s a serviceable, occasionally gripping heist thriller.

Wilson and Russel are veteran character actors who add some valuable gravitas to the film, but it’s Benjamin Walker’s detective that proves to be the film’s standout; Walker is perfectly cast as a law enforcement officer gripped in turmoil, and plays the character brilliantly in the film’s gripping, and shocking, climax. Shimmer Lake is by no means a future classic, but it’s certainly an entertaining, if somewhat predictable experiment in nonlinear storytelling. Grade: B-

It Comes At Night- Movie Review

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It Comes at Night is one of the best horror films of the decade, a nuanced and genuinely terrifying thriller about the darkest side of humanity. Like the best horror films, It Comes At Night isn’t grounded in jump scares or overwhelming gore, but about the psychology of how people react to different situations. What makes the film so superior to a monster of the week creature feature is the uncut, realistic portrayal of humanity; the film’s thrills and scares are terrifying because they feel like legitimate, and even understandable actions.

Set in the aftermath of a infrastructure decimating virus, two families form a shaky pact to stay alive, but tensions only rise when a potential outbreak occurs. The cast is uniformly excellent, with each character growing throughout the film, and each scene progressing the escalating tension that bubbles to a breaking point. With an utterly heart wrenching conclusion, and some of the most white knuckled sequences you’ll see all year, It Comes At Night is an absolutely devastating, yet essential work of art. Grade: B