King Arthur: Legend of the Sword- Movie Review

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Characters like Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, and King Arthur have existed for so long that it seems like nearly every possible interpretation has been explored, so it proves to be a genuine surprise that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is as entertaining as it is. Director Guy Ritchie, who’s renowned for his fast-paced, stylized films, manages to rewrite many elements of the Arthurian mythology, and surprisingly makes a fantasy epic that works in a modern context. Although it’s two hour run time is a bit of a drag at points, Ritchie’s witty dialogue and quick exposition make for a highly compelling adventure film.

After betraying his brother King Uther (Eric Bana), the evil Vortigern (Jude Law) makes a deal with the dark magical creatures to take over England. Escaping from Vortigern’s invasion, the rightful King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is raised on the streets as a brawler and thief, knowing nothing of his heritage. But once he recovers the mythical sword Excalibur from the location of his father’s death, Arthur teams with Uther’s allies to retake the throne.

Hunnam is perfectly cast as a different type of Arthur, and seeing him learn the ways of nobility is one of the film’s highlights. Sure, Law is hammy as Vortigern, but the character is surprisingly complex in his simultaneous love for power and lust for power. The film definitely doesn’t shy away from the mystical elements of the story, and while some of the magic can be hard to follow, Ritchie doesn’t dwell too much on the rules of mysticism and keeps the story moving.

There’s a fair amount of humor to keep the film going, but where Ritchie excels is the action sequences; the film combines well choreographed hand to hand combat with eccentric uses of CGI, and surprisingly they fit together in this strange, crazy world. It’s an ambitious, if somewhat overwrought blockbuster, and considering this summer’s slate of releases, you could do a lot worse. Grade: B

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2- Movie Review

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Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be one of the most valuable films of Marvel Universe, a subversive  and fun space adventure that shed the cynicism of modern comic book movies. The sequel, while not quite as fresh and exciting as the original, has a lot of great elements; while the story is convoluted, the characters are still as engaging as ever, delivering great comedy and some strong emotional moments. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a film that relies on our love for the characters, and writer/director James Gunn continues to make interesting dynamics, even when the story is not as strong.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are once again on the run from an evil alien race, and after an attack leaves them stranded on a foreign planet, they receive aid in the form of Ego (Kurt Russell), Peter’s biological father, who seeks to reconnect with his long lost son. Ego is keen to engage with his son, but as time runs out for the Guardians of the Galaxy, the kind hearted figure proves to be more than he first appeared.

The central dynamic between Pratt and Russell is what drives much of the film, and while there’s a fair amount of exposition heavy dialogue to get through, Pratt continues to be a force of charisma and wit, with Russell proving to be a perfect foil. While Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is slighted of scenes or particularly memorable dialogue, Bautista’s Drax gives the film some of it’s best laughs; there’s a near constant emphasis on producing one liners, and while it does feel like Gunn is overdoing it at some points, most of the jokes land, giving levity to what could have been a confusing mess.

Surprisingly though, the Quill storyline feels secondary overall, with a majority of the film focusing on a side plot involving Rocket, Groot, Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn). Bradley Cooper’s sarcastic, angry line delivery never fails to bring humor, and once again, it’s Rocket’s loneliness and desire for a family that gives the film much of its heart. However, it’s Rooker’s role as the angry space pirate Yondu that’s most vital; Yondu’s relationship with the crew, and his own regrets, are by far the most interesting character piece within the entire film. Sean Gunn’s Kraglin also proves to be the film’s secret MVP, giving some of the most solid character moments in his strained relationship with Yondu, as well as some great laughs.

Is the story a mess? Absolutely. There’s logical mishaps to the entire plot, and the rules of the Celestial beings are hard to follow at many points. There’s also a clear desire to replicate the success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy; more jokes, more songs, and more crazy, insane visuals. Even if it does feel like it’s trying too hard at some points, there’s a genuine passion behind the film from James Gunn; the flaws in the film aren’t due to a cynical studio system, but just products of Gunn’s passion to deliver his insane vision to screen.

While flawed, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a hilarious, action packed ride, with an ending that’s so moving that it easily washes away many of the issues with the story. The soundtrack continues to be kickass, and although the film emphasizes the brilliance of the Marvel Universe, it never takes time away to set up a sequel or tease a future installment. It’s a character piece, made with respect for its audience, and clearly a product of a filmmaker and studio that feels passionately about the material. Grade: B

The Lost City of Z- Movie Review

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The Lost City of Z is a masterful study of obsession and pride, a brilliantly in depth historical adventure that’s patient, understated, and thoroughly impactful. James Gray takes the time to develop the character of Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), from his initial desire for glory and respect to his ultimate obsession with the discovery of an ancient city. The film spans decades and vast environment, with Hunnam’s relentless, intensely emotional performance as the focal point to the madness.

Fawcett is a compelling character; he seeks a better life for his wife (Sienna Miller) and son (Tom Holland), but as his travels lead him to the jungle of South America, the whispers of an ancient civilization unknown to European explorers seduces Fawcett into a lifelong goal. Gray gives us reason to relate to Fawcett, from his respect for the supposed “savages” of the Amazon to his leadership and friendship with his men, and his ultimate return to the jungle is simultaneously fulfilling and tragic. Hunnam gives what is no doubt one of the best performances of the year; he commands attention in every scene, from a desperate business meeting with doubtful investors to a action packed chase through the jungle, Hunnam gives a convicted and bitter performance.

It’s the patience that Gray has that makes the film so brilliant; the film navigates through decades of Fawcett’s life, with each moment fueling his conviction. The scenes with Miller and Holland are tender, yet suggest that despite Fawcett’s great love for his family, the jungle has become his home. Gray uses gorgeous, natural lighting to paint a film in which every shot feels like a painting; the jungle scenes are humid, earthly, and almost euphoric, whilst the scenes in England are somber, cold, and unkempt. While Hunnam’s tour de force performance is by far the standout, an impressive and committed ensemble has been amasses, with Robert Pattinson delivering a strong performance as Henry Costin, an explorer who becomes a lifelong friend with Fawcett, yet fears for where his path will lead.

Simply put, there’s nothing easy about The Lost City of Z; it’s clearly a film made with passion and depth, with an epic runtime of 141 minutes giving Gray the perfect time to tell his sweeping epic. At such a length, it’s impressive that the film rarely falters, with exposition never distracting from the fact that the film is a character piece. It’s a beautiful film, with an ending that’s bound to spark discussion far after it’s release. Grade: A

Baby Driver- Movie Review

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With 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright marked one of the most memorable statements for original film since the emergence of Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher in the ’90s. Ever since, Wright has made films that challenge expectations and shock us with their depth, remaining both roller coaster rides of action and emotion while committing to genre and character. Baby Driver is no different; Wright’s latest is a immersive piece that enraptures its audience with a musical track, taking us on a wild adventure that never fails to entertain.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver of great talent, and uses music to drown out his surroundings and better his craft. When he falls for a beautiful waitress (Lily James), Baby finds himself drawn back into his old life by his former employer (Kevin Spacey). While the story works well, it’s the craft that makes the film so special; Wright put us in the mind of Baby, and through music we’re able to explore his mind.

Elgort is brilliant here, remaining a unique and subtle lead who’s simultaneously a hero to care about and the coolest guy on screen. Spacey adds a sharpness and wit to an already intelligent movie, and the additions of Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm make for brilliant side additions. Each actor is able to transition from the humorous to the serious at any point, yet the tone always feels the same; it’s crazy, thrilling, and touching, and it all works in the unique world Wright has created.

There’s also no shortage of action, and Wright pulls of some of his most impressive sequences to date. To say these are well choreographed is an understatement; each sequence is perfectly plotted with creative uses of music and sound, exploding with style at every moment. There may not be a film as relentless this year as Baby Driver, and with Wright’s engrossingly funny, adrenaline rushing style, there may not be one as entertaining. Grade: A+

Sand Castle- Movie Review

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Sand Castle is not the first film to depict the theme of “war is hell”, and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s themes of PTSD, the addictive nature of combat, and the never ending cycle of conflict are hardly new, but director Fernando Coimbra crafts a film that appeals to the premodern Iraq era, where these elemental themes are most applicable. It’s not neccessarily anything new, but the film’s bitter, dark edge is less epic and more intimate, a direction that works soundly.

Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) is a poor young man who’s enlisted in the Iraq War in order to pay for college, and despite attempting to injure himself in order to get out of conflict, is slowly assimilated into the military culture. It’s a story reminiscent of the 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket, and while it lacks the sharpness of Kubrick’s satire, the film brilliantly showcases the psychology of both Americans and Iraqi. It’s a complex portrayal; despite best intentions, there seems to be very little change.

Hoult is extraordinary here, perfectly showcasing the transition from indifference to commitment, crafting a character that is both relatable and complex. The entire cast operates well together, with a standout being Henry Cavill as a hardened veteran who questions his worth in such a never ending conflict. It’s an intimate, albeit familiar portrayal of war, focused more on character than it is politics. Grade: B+

Tramps- Movie Review

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Tramps is the average “comic/ adventure/ romance” that Hollywood has churned out since It Happened One Night; a simple story that brings together two very different characters and sets them on a journey that forces them to interact. Yes, it’s a familiar format, but the joy of Tramps is it’s low budget charm; the film focuses less on wacky hijinks or eccentric side characters, and more on its vibrant New York environment and extraordinary performers.

The film follows a young chef (Callum Turner) and a hustler’s assistant (Grace Van Pattern), who through unfortunate circumstances must deliver a briefcase to a low level mobster. There’s not much to the plot, but it’s the excellent chemistry between Turner and Pattern that guides the film from location to location; the two leads channel an energy and frustration of the young, poor working class, fueling a slightly off kilter romance bound by social class.

Despite it’s obvious comparisons to classic romance farces, the best moments of Tramps aren’t big romantic moments or outbursts, but long, drawn out conversations that seemingly go no where. There’s a value to the simple, streamlined nature of the film, and while it’s a victim of countless cliches, the time spent with these characters is valuable in its intimate, humorous quality. Grade: B

Colossal- Movie Review

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Colossal is a really interesting film, a genuinely exciting concept that uses traditional metaphors to craft a multifaceted character study. Intriguing? Yes, but while the film’s concept makes for some great gags and genuinely deep moments, it unfortunately becomes a product to the rules of its universe by the end of the film, and changes its themes, feeling bloated and disorganized. While there are still some great elements, namely some strong performances, the film ultimately feels like a entertaining flick, when it could have been a modern classic.

Gloria (Anne Hathaway), is a alcoholic, self destructive writer who returns to her home town after her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) kicks her out. After reuniting with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis), news of the unthinkable breaks out, as a giant monster attack is reported in Seoul, South Korea. But even more startling for Gloria is that the monster seems to be mimicking her moves, and that she may have control over it.

It’s a concept ripe for great discussion, and the first half of the film is a genuinely fascinating character piece, levitated by an easily likable Hathaway and Sudekis’s best and most complex performance ever. It’s when the film abandons its commentary on addiction, and attempts to make a gender statement, that the rules of its universe become confusing and the story becomes less interesting. It’s a fun enough ride, with some stellar comedy work, but it does feel like it had the potential to be so much more. Grade: B-

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore- Movie Review

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I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a bleak, somber film about the narcissism of human nature, painted with a sharp comedic edge and a solid dose of ultra violence. While a film like this could easily fall into blind anger with no motivation, director Macon Blair crafts a clever narrative based in humanity’s selfishness and its affect on a woman and her life. There’s few conclusions to be drawn from the film, but it’s an interesting thematic piece with some genuinely shocking moments.

After a group of thieves rob her house, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) sets out to find her property when authorities seem to put off her case. With the help of her eccentric neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood), Ruth gets caught in a dangerous crime ring when her search for the thieves that robbed her reveals a more sinister plot. Wood is a hilarious side character with many of the film’s best comedic moments, but it’s Lynskey’s performance that steals the film; a character with this much self indulgence could easily prove irritating, but Lynskey crafts a heroine that is never too eccentric to test reality, yet never falls into the cliches that a character like this might feature.

The film’s opening moment expertly detail the motivation for Lynskey’s character, and despite some fun action in the second half, the film’s crime saga ultimately becomes too complicated for its own good, and ends with a denouement that’s kind of a mess. Despite that shortcoming, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a surprisingly relateable film about empathy, anchored with a pitch black wit and elevated by it’s brief, yet pivotal, moments of optimism. Grade: B-

The Discovery- Movie Review

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The Discovery is an occasionally brilliant science fiction drama, a film that addresses existential topics with surprising insight, and brought forth by characters that the audience genuinely cares about. While the themes of death and time are certainly ones seen before, the film takes the concepts in a direction that is both original and surprisingly grounded. There are occasional struggles in relating the enormity of the film’s concepts, but for the most part, The Discovery is a smart, emotional sci-fi film.

A year following the scientific discovery of an afterlife by Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford), the world’s suicide rate has drastically risen. After befriending Isla (Rooney Mara), a young woman with suicidal thoughts, Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segal) takes a trip to visit his father’s laboratory. When a clue leads Will to question if his father’s discovery was legitimate, he embarks on a journey to test what’s on the other side.

It sounds like a thriller premise, but The Discovery is a slow burn, featuring mostly dialogue sequences combining insightful philosophical discussion with inspired character rhetoric. While the rules to the film’s logic are sometimes difficult to keep track of, the emotional story line ultimately redeems its shortcomings. Despite a slight lull in the middle of the film, the conclusion perfectly puts the film into perspective, and raises as many questions as it answers.

After his stellar dramatic turn in The End of the Tour, Jason Segal gives another terrific dramatic performance, giving an honestly heartfelt, and quite understated presence to the conflicted character of Will. Rooney Mara is similarly brilliant, bringing a grounded performance to a truly pained character, giving a complexity to the role without being needlessly over dramatic. As always, Robert Redford is a dramatic powerhouse, and although the core focus of the film is on the central duo, Redford gives a rare window into the torture of genius.

The Discovery deals with some heavy topics, from the the frivolous nature of life to the ignorance of faith, but while a lesser film may feel preachy or awkward, the film is a genuinely moving look at how we perceive life. Boosted by two incredible performances, it’s a subtle and contemplative sci-fi film. Grade: B+

Going in Style- Movie Review

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Going in Style is an unfortunate mishap, and clearly material below that of it’s three main stars. The film follows the story of Joe (Michael Caine), Will (Morgan Freeman), and Albert (Alan Arkin), three lifelong friends who decide to rob a bank when their pension funds are dissolved when their company is transported overseas. It sounds simple enough, but the comedy fall flat in all most every sense; outside of a few quips, the comedy is flat and falls into every cliche imaginable.

Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are all master performers, and while they at least seem to be enjoying themselves onscreen, the story breaks all measures of plausibility, and the cliches ultimately weight what could have been a genuinely fun ride. There’s more than a few cheap jokes about the elderly, and the film’s commentary on cruelty of the banks feels preachy and unsubtle. It’s not an offensively bad film, but for three of the great actors of all time to take their time to work on this project, it’s a disappointment for sure. Grade: C+