Showing posts with label 3 stars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 3 stars. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Annihilation (2018) Is One Of The Years Underrated Sci-Fi Flicks

We need more sci-fi movies with women. I’ll point you to director Alex Garland’s Annihilation as one of the most recent reasons why. Despite having a familiar plot of an isolated team searching an almost alien-like treacherous land, the film hypnotizes you with its bizarre world and the mystery of unanswered questions. The movie's cast, cinematography, and world-building is satisfying enough on its own with what it gives to the story but also leaves you wanting more.

Based on the trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, a mysterious translucent orb looms over Area X. No one knows how or why it came to fruition, just that its electromagnetic power slowly absorbs everything in its wake. Anything or anyone that crosses the Shimmer’s threshold is never to be seen or heard from again. That is until cellular-biology professor Lena (Natalie Portman) is inexplicably reunited with her husband (Oscar Isaac), a soldier who entered the Shimmer as part of a military operation and was the only survivor to come out alive but suffering ill effects from being inside. Curious to venture into the heart of the orb and find out what happens inside, Lena and four other women - psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), anthropologist Cass Shepphard (Tuva Novotny) and physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) - make one last dangerous trek searching for answers.

On the surface level, there isn’t a lot about Annihilation that’s unique from many other sci-fi counterparts. The story is something that we’ve seen before: a uniquely qualified group of individuals enter an unknown world and nothing can prepare for them for what they’re about to encounter. We’re left with various questions about what happened, and the suspense is left up to both the cast of characters and the environment (which becomes a character on its own) to tease us with what happened: Were the  previous military groups driven crazy and murdered each other? Did something else kill them - how? What? The longer Lena’s squadron spends in the orb, their doubts and terror about the environment start tipping the scale of how they struggle to trust each other and the deathly situation that they’re in.

What lies underneath the surface of the film is how the story and direction is gorgeously haunting. The Shimmer's overgrown forests and peaceful isolation feels like something out of a fairytale. But lurking behind the illusion of its dream-like atmosphere are changes that the team could never imagine: People become one with the landscape, animals transform into terrifying beasts, and the fact that nobody can really live within its translucent walls increases any sense of seeing civilization again. As Lena and her comrades follow its trail of breadcrumbs about the military units that came before them, their resolve starts to crumble – there really is no such thing as going back. The Shimmer is filled with tension and wonder about the unknown, a lingering suspicion about what will happen next; it has a foreboding peacefulness to it that’s matched by violence; life equals death; destruction breeds creation. The longer you spend with Lena and the group, the more you want to know answers too, and to see who might survive, die, or how the Shimmer changes them.

The film is very much an ensemble piece. Portman’s career over the past decade has truly flourished, churning out all kinds of complex performances from Black Swan to Jackie. As Lena, she offers a formidable leader to the group and someone to anchor the story to as she tries to navigate what’s going on around her – she’s vulnerable, smart, and resilient. The rest of the characters could come across as a little trope-ish compared to similar action / sci-fi movies, but they create a tight camaraderie between them that makes their tentative unity and division almost palpable. It’s not hard to fall in love with the film’s overall aesthetic, to be honest: Five women walking into the Shimmer ready to get answers and kick ass.

Written and directed by Alex Garland, Annihilation is only the first step in a trilogy, and unfortunately, he only had the intention of making the first one. When he started the project, the author's manuscript was just coming together, and Garland scraped the series' ideas together to form his own vision - ironically, just like The Shimmer. His film's world-building asks big questions, and the road to answering them is chilling and unexpected. Annihilation works well enough as a stand-alone, but knowing what happens next would’ve been interesting for the rest of the trilogy to be made and explore. There’s honestly nothing wrong with Garland's film, except the shame of wanting more and being forced to wait for another director to take the series on again. One can only hope that this breeds similar yet different sci-films in the future.

Rating: ★★
Have you seen Annihilation? What did you think?

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mission: Impossible Fallout (2018) Is The Best Franchise That Keeps Getting Better

mission impossible fallout movie review On the very rare occasion that Tom Cruise doesn’t deliver on his promise to thrill moviegoers, almost every summer we count on the renown star to bring on the excitement as the daring spy Ethan Hunt. Waiting for another installment has become an event in itself for fans anticipating where Cruise will take his passion for this sage next. Every Mission: Impossible installment seems outdo the last tone. Coming back for the sixth time, Mission: Impossible Fallout again proves to be the best entry in a franchise that just keeps getting better.

After failing to recover three plutonium nuclear cores, IMF Agent Ethan Hunt is forced to team up with the CIA’s top assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of a religious anarchist group known as the Apostles. While dealing with the aftermath of capturing one of its dangerous associates Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), Hunt’s past comes back to haunt him, and question how he can save the world just one more time.

Every Mission: Impossible has been naturally different in their own way as the films have changed hands between directors, writers, and supporting casts. Despite definitive stylistic transitions between movies, the series has never lost the core of what it’s always striven to be: an action-packed escape with fun characters. Though the franchise as a whole and individually are far from bad (the earliest ones are certainly dated but not the worst), Fallout is not just a physical rollercoaster ride but an emotional symphony in humanizing its hero.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Love, Simon (2018) Is More Than A Coming-Of-Age Story

Everyone deserves a love story, but cinema has been slow in letting everyone share their affection for others. Based on the best-selling book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon is one of the most refreshing romantic dramedies in a long time.

Simon is gay. But nobody knows it yet. One evening, the gossip site for his high school tips off the community that someone is secretly gay but hasn't revealed their sexual identity yet. In a bid to ward off any attention, he anonymously shares his story of fears and worries about coming out, and begins a penpal relationship with "Blue" - another kid at school who's in the same position he is. When a nosy theatre nerd finds out Simon's secret and promises it'll stay so if he's hooked up with one of Simon's friends, Simon does everything he can to help him while sorting out his feelings.

Though I haven't read the best-selling book yet, the adaptation proves to be a hit on its own. Given how many young adult franchises just don't capture the attention like they used, and films representing the gay youth experience are becoming more seen than ever, Love, Simon is an enjoyable, important coming out of age movie.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Phantom Thread (2017) Combines Beauty with the Bizarre

Photo Credit: Focus Features
A period film is rarely going to be anything else than what you expect. They carry with them a certain routine charm and elegance, and often breathtaking costumes and scenery to draw us into another time. Unless it's an old-fashioned mystery, biopics of twentieth century figures or unrequited love stories in the seventeenth century, aren't pegged to have some massive twist that leaves you feel like you've left a suspenseful thriller. Phantom Thread has all those things you'd expect of a typical period film, but surprisingly, not everything is what it seems.

Hiding twisted secrets underneath its beautiful facade, something hypnotic and unsettling lingers within the gorgeous visuals of director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest feature. A waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) falls head over heels with fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis). Being in love with Woodcock is to be caught in a beautiful web. With Woodcock's decadent creations comes his elusive charisma and moodiness, a perfectionist attention to detail, and his equally mercurial sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Will their romance last and how is the question we're not beckoned to ask, but it's one that we find out the answer to in stunning, unimaginable ways.

On the surface, the film is a love story. Alma, Reynolds, and Cyril love his clothes; designing, refining, and bestowing them on women worthy of wearing them. There's such a love of them there's seemingly nothing that can outdo their significance or steal away their attention, except for each one's love of control over their lives and each other.

Just like the canvases he makes with his clothes, there's a pattern to Reynolds's relationships: fall in love with a muse, ,the honeymoon phases out, and he ultimately cheats on his significant other with his work. But unlike Reynolds's past muses, Alma refuses to wear out her welcome. She challenges Reynolds and Cyril wanting more and more, becoming a pawn in their game and also in a step ahead of their moves. They've all found their match in each other, preying on weaknesses to gain the upperhand. Their relationships become less of a tragic romance and more of a Hitchcock mystery, wondering who is going to be the first to submit, what will make them crack: Reynolds's  perfectionism, Cyril's control of their business, or Alma's refusal to be a doormat.

Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson created a film that has all the ingredients of what you expect of period films we've seen before, from gorgeous costumes and production design to a romance that seems doom to ever work. And yet a bizarre obsession in its characters and story sets itself apart.

Though Daniel Day Lewis earned rightful acclaim for what might be his last film performance ever, Phantom Thread has plenty of stars equally worthy of praise. Vicky Krieps is a force to be reckon with as Alma, a character whose an unshakable force coming up against immovable objects. You never know what's up her sleeve, or if she's ever going to be in on the game that her lover and his sister play. The other is Leslie Manville, stepping out of a career of smaller roles into one that is fiercely resolute, whose steely gaze will make you surrender in an instant. While Lewis definitely gives a good performance worthy of his career's curtain call, the three of them, Anderson's direction make a great team.

To say the least, this is not the romantic film one might anticipate. The whirlwind dalliance you think you're embarking on at the beginning is not exactly the one that unfolds, and that's truly a marvel. Anderson's writing is an example of how a script could've only been produced by its director; his attention to detail is on everything from the quaint English style of Woodcock's workplace and home that's charming but claustrophobic, to the impeccable costume design by Mark Bridges. He manages to make you feel like you've been transported into a beautiful, yet bizarre world of his own design. It's best to go into this with as little knowledge as possible because a big surprise in the characters' relationships can have a gasp-worthy effect (it did for me). As strange and unpredictable as the story evolves, it leaves one wondering so many questions, and with a feeling of having been hypnotized and bewildered.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Phantom Thread?
What did you think?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Panther (2018) Reigns Supreme in the MCU

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios
When a new movie enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe, critics expectantly hail it as a game-changer before it even hits theaters. Facing a mountain of expectations and pressure to deliver, sometimes the final product isn't worth the excitement or gets lost in the shuffle among all the other pending projects. As one of its most anticipated movies of the year, Black Panther had a lot to overcome. Entertaining, socially relevant, and engaging, the long-awaited film soars to the occasion and conquers the predictable MCU hype.

After his father's passing in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must claim his throne as the King of Wakanda, a technologically-advanced African utopia that's shielded itself from the outside world. The transfer of power is challenged as his country questions hiding their innovation and culture to protect themselves in fear of being conquered. His journey is further caught in the crossfire when a black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and special-ops agent Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) aims to tip Wakanda out of the shadows whether the nation is ready or not.

As kings of separate courts on a road to self-discovery, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan lead the story with intensity, passion, and heart. On the one hand, T'Challa is of noble birth, but to guide his people means facing his role model's darkest secrets that puts his own reign in jeopardy. Though he's earned his place on the throne, his decisions about his country's future will ultimately mirror the kind of person he wants to be, a shift that possibly dismantles the cherished legacy his father built. But he has to do right by his heart and what's best for Wakandans everywhere.

In his opposition, Erik Stevens grew up on the streets of Oakland, California; lost and forgotten he was formed by the corruption and oppression. He's not so much a villain, but someone who's left to think that destroying the world is his only option for justice. Hailing from opposite sides of the world but facing similar obstacles makes their feud so much much more than good versus evil; it's a search to do right by themselves and their people; how a system and its leaders has the power to build or break its people; to be seen, validated, and integrated into the world. It's the kind of story superheros often pursue but also become so formulated and repetitive. Here, they feel less invincible like we know masked crusaders to be, and more powerful by showing their humanity in its many different layers.

The film's cast is one of the most solid ensembles to come. Together and individually, as a family they bring their own brand of emotional and physical bad-assery. Rarely do action films harness the power of one headlining lady, let alone several. Here everyone gets to shine, working together for the greater good: Danai Gurira as Okoye, a traditionalist general of the all-female special forces of Wakanda; Letitia Wright as T'Challa's effervescent sister and innovative backbone of Wakanda's scientific and technological advancements; Lupia Nyong'o as Nakia, an undercover spy trying to will Wakanda out of its old ways. Together and individually, they are smart, clever, protective, passionate, generous, funny, vulnerable, and ready to kick-ass. They are a few highlights (including Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis) who bring an enthusiastic, fierce vibe to the T'Challa and Erik's clash.

Like Patty Jenkins and DC's monumental step-forward with Wonder Woman, director Ryan Coogler brings everything to the table. As a superhero movie, Black Panther is vibrant, rich, funny, action-packed and an emotional rollercoaster ride. Sure, it's fun to just go to the theaters and just enjoy a good popcorn-worthy showdown. But what truly elevates an entertaining, fulfilling story is the elements it weaves throughout. Black Panther packs great storytelling, intense fight sequences, and a wicked sense of humor, into a superhero movie. But it's not just a superhero movie.

Echoing Batman's Gotham or Superman's Metropolis, Coogler lets us Wakanda burst to life in gorgeous costumesindigenous traditions, and the advanced technology it thrives on. Its soundtrack blends beautiful African tribal music with hip-hop and R&B, playing with the vibes of ancestral homages and modern music. Beyond delivering representation and long-deserved diversity, the story solidly weaves issues of race and blackness, political diplomacy, cultural differences between rich and the poor, and an identity for minorities that has been ignored and suppressed for too long. Black Panther is a fun ride, but its power also lies in blending reality into fiction, using storytelling to tell some potent, necessary truths. And, it's done with a deep well of passion that pours onto the screen.

In the same vein that all of the right cards had to be in place for Wonder Woman to receive her own feature film, Black Panther finally claims its throne. Why did it take so long? Because the industry is still stuck in its own web of what they think sells. A lot of films have come along to slowly but surely crack the glass ceiling - Get Out knocked it out of the park. Wonder Woman proved complex female heroines are important. And now, Black Panther has shattered expectations. The rest of 2018 has a lot to live up to. Long live the king.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Black Panther? What did you think?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

I, Tonya (2017) is Pure Gold

Photo Credit: Neon
For nearly twenty five years, the complicated rivalry between figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took the world by storm. In 1994, obsessed news outlets and the public tried to call the shots of how Harding attacked her fellow competitor to stay on top. Now, this time solely focusing on the former, I, Tonya ambitiously sets at least one side of the story straight.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was raised by her ruthless, narcissistic mother LaVona (Allison Janney) to be the best figure skater in the world. Determined and hard-working, she manages to become a U.S. Champion on her way to Olympic glory. Then her abusive husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and his lame-brain friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) clumsily attempt to out her biggest competitor Nancy Kerrigan by whacking her in the knee. The attack instigates a worldwide scandal spiraling Harding’s fall from grace.

Taking a page out of Tonya’s book to be unpredictable and unvarnished, director Craig Gillespie’s film is not your typical biopic. More of a tell-all from Tonya and her family’s perspectives, the movie plays with different sides of the story because there never is just one. The movie is narrated by the four main culprits involved throughout Harding's life - Harding, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn. As they describe their versions of events, history isn't concerned with looking back and over-fictionalizing  what happened. Nope, this movie's all about letting the people directly involved have the final word.

Through a wicked ride of comedy and drama, Harding is painted differently than how we might remember her. If one is looking for a catfight on ice, the movie is going to disappoint. Harding's life leading up to the incident and afterwards is depicted in a no-holds-barred, flipping her reputation as the victimizer against Kerrigan and showing her own experiences as a victim of domestic abuse. Delving into the normalized abuse Tonya suffered by her mother growing up, and then her husband, Robbie as Harding often breaks the fourth wall in the middle of being attacked or insulted, describing to those watching what's going on, how she feels and why the cycle continued. It's not the most typical or sensitive way to display what she went through growing up, but it's pivotal in showing how desensitized Harding had become to these normalized cycles and how big of a hit her self-worth ultimately takes.

By pushing herself out of her dysfunctional family, Harding is a scrappy warrior. As the film dives into the absurd, letting you be a spectator to her downfall and addressing how the media portrayed her, its offbeat style also creates empathy for her; to understand the purpose of skating as her Achilles’ heel; how she gets her self-worth from skating, how her ambition is a refuge and curse. The movie is wildly successful in its ability to be heart-wrenching and uncommonly funny. But never it never entirely absolves Harding for what happened to Kerrigan, nor uses any of the film's violence for cheap laughs.

What ultimately carries I, Tonya is the cast lead by Margot Robbie. Playing Harding from fifteen to forty-seven years old, the native Australian completely throws herself into the role from the mid-western speech to the second-hand make-up and costumes. As an actress, and a vital producer to the film and ensuring the movie was sensitive yet candid, Robbie creates a palpable image of Harding - a white-trash underdog who’s unvarnished personality didn’t fit the golden ice princess image. The film’s style has a lot going on, and Robbie manages to ground the audacious portrayal into something believeable. With her, the supporting cast Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, and Paul Walter Hauser, morph what would be caricatures into real-life people that you really can't believe actually exist.

A big hand goes to the screenwriter Steve Rogers in balancing Harding as both a victim and victimizer; she was a bystander to her husband’s crime and also complicit in it. The film covers a lot of ground like class in America, the value of a person’s image over their talent, and a woman determined to break free. His writing bends and curves all over the place but never jumps the tracks.

Interestingly, as the movie focuses on Tonya more than Kerrigan, a lot of critics wonder what the latter thinks - especially since Harding serves as a producer and I, Tonya’s has been collecting accolades in Hollywood. It’s easy: she’s moved on and living her life. Even though the movie does not glorify and limits showing Kerrigan’s perspective, much of the social commentary about her  comes across as a projection of long-overdue sympathy. Considering that the movie explores society's judgement on them both, it's interesting to look back and see them both treated like a sideshow in this major circus; Kerrigan also became a salacious scandal, soon not living up to critic's expectations, with her attack being made into parodies and getting called out her on her own mistreatment to other skaters. It makes me wonder if we’ve moved beyond a place in cinema to explore people who are flawed and don't live on an imaginary pedestal that everyone is perfect; or that maybe the expectation for the movie was to pit two women against each other in a superficial feud.

I, Tonya is not a straight-forward investigation of ‘Who dun it’, trying to cleverly re-imagine who is the real culprit of attacking Kerrigan. The movie’s a true-crime soap opera, digging into a scandal that divided the world, the dark underground of figure skating, and a woman picking herself up from her bootstraps skates. The story swerves in-between being funny, dysfunctional, and dark, but as crazy as it gets, it never loses sight of Robbie as the star or the Harding as the story; it's pure gold.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen I, Tonya? What did you think?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Get Out (2017) Defines What The Horror Genre is All About

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
Horror movies are a great opportunity for people to confront their fears, either imagined or real. Putting bigotry at the center of his stunning debut, director and writer Jordan Peele churns out a smart, scary, and relevant thriller with Get Out.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to meet his girlfriend’s family for the first time in their secluded home far from the city. There's a slight catch: Rose Armitrage (Allison Williams) is white, and didn’t tell her parents that Chris is black. Though she tries to reassure him that everything will be fine, Chris discovers a disturbing family secret that shows their true colors.

Ignorance and prejudice permeates all the time on the news, social media, and everyday life. The system has us so conditioned to treat people as if they’re invisible for simply trying to live their life like anyone else, except for what they’re stigmatized against: their gender, sexuality, religious preferences, and more specifically here, the color of Chris’s skin. To racists, in this case the Armitrage family, it’s the definitive feature. Chris becomes a featured attraction at the family get-together; he's on display for the whole world (us) to see, but also invisible to this family who views him as commodity, to be taken advantaged of. 

Brilliantly, Peele uses social and racial fears, being the outsider, to trap us inside the house with Chris as his girlfriend’s family downright don’t know how to treat him as a human being other than for his skin color. They try to be colorblind but can’t see beyond a person’s skin. They think people are special tokens of wokeness, inserting culture to prove they're 'down' with others who are different than them. They think to insert points of the other person’s supposed culture is to be seen as inclusive; everything they try to do to not seem racist is actually racist. While there are a few good jump-scares throughout, its Peele's acknowledgement of systematic racism, white girl womanhood (I'm a white woman and trying not to be fake-woke here), appropriation, slavery, police brutality, and interracial relationships that offers the real suspense and horror. He weaves imagery and metaphors throughout that movie that are never too obvious to be obnoxiously on the nose or too subtle to be overlooked to create a terrifying atmosphere.

For everything Peele packs into the movie, it has a definitive balance of not drawing the lines between audiences, to not inundate people of color with experiences they've already had or alienate white audiences. Its ambition is empathy, like any other movie, to put you into a character's shoes, identifying with being 'the other' and how that plays into the collective whole. With a fairly unrecognizable cast at the helm, Peele churns out amazing performances with his actors. Commenting too much on the stars might give too much away, so Daniel and Allison are sublime, carrying the movie with a supporting cast that offers the right amount of hostility and creepiness.

Mixing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Hitchcockian suspense, the writing and direction of Get Out is downright brilliant. Easily, the movie feels claustrophobic because it subtly drops us into Chris’s shoes, letting the story mirror society. It divulges horror to re-affirm the terrors Peele and people of color experience, allowing satire and symbolism to call out the absurd real world. Stunningly building suspense, the story feels like it’s going in one direction, only to turn the tables around and venture elsewhere, making you feel like there is no escape. Peele's honest work here exposes that how too many people never do.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Get Out? What did you think?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Battle of The Sexes (2017) Proves Equality Is Still Worth Fighting For

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Like athletes on the field laying it all on the line, sports movies have to have a certain finesse. They strive to capture the underdog versus the champions-that-can’t-be-beat, setting audiences on the sidelines to witness the push-and-pull of who deserves to win. Uplifting and compelling, directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is one of timeliest movies to come along, showcasing one of the biggest matches in tennis history and exploring the importance of perserverance.

In 1973, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) began a revolution for pay equality when she discovered herself and her fellow teammates weren’t getting paid as much as their male counterparts. Starting their own women’s tournament sparks an exhibition for Wimbledon Champion turned hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) to make women's lib a laughingstock. Along the way, King discovers more than the power of her voice and talent on the court, but also an attraction towards a hairstylist Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) despite being married. King's defiance against playing by men's rules and Rigg's display of misogynistic showmanship kicks off a match for the ages.

In life, every day, we see how society splits up opportunities between genders, sexuality, religion, and race. There’s a hierarchy of respect that trickles down from those born with privilege or power and those without. Similar to A League of Their Own which reinforced female baseball players keeping America’s past-time alive during World War II, and Hidden Figures shining a light on women of color helping to send astronauts into space, Battle of the Sexes spotlights the making to one of tennis's biggest matches. Ignorance can be life and cinema's greatest villains, creating the tension here between Riggs's chauvinist exhibition and King feeling pressured to keep her attraction a secret and be a leader to women's rights. Their feud grows as we see them off the court, juggling drama to keep the story engaging and serving inspiration as a real game-changer now and in the future.

At the center of the movie is its leading cast. Having watched Emma Stone evolve between being a comedienne to dramatic star on the big screen, her performance here as King is one of her best so far. Beautifully mirroring her Oscars speech when she won Best Actress in La La Land, she hasn’t stopped growing as a performer and stepping out of her comfort zone, and that’s evident in how much she loses herself in this role. King is as vulnerable as she is strong-willed, allowing her to be scared of the second-hand homophobia and realizing her attraction to women, as well as being confident but doubtful of her ability to beat Riggs; to earn a victory for women at the time. Stone's main counterpart, Steve Carell as Riggs, is likable and funny, except for what he believes in. He's able to play a bigger-than-life personality to draw support in their match, but also ground down his personal issues like a floundering marriage and gambling addiction. He's not too over-the-top that his promotional escapades cashes in on the gender issues at the time. As much as King and Riggs are pitted against each other, the scripts engages in showing both of their strengths and weaknesses.

Considering the current climate of inequality, especially Hollywood right now, it’s bewildering that one of cinema’s better takes about a gay woman fighting to be respected has been widely ignored so far. A definite case can be made that the movie overlooks pivotal aspects of King's sexuality, but that longtime analysis of fact versus fiction is the same issue most biopics can't escape, and this one doesn't fare too badly. Some say the movie was too lighthearted and also contained too much plot, but for a two hour movie, it's the right length to see the main players' problems and saving most of the action for the big showdown. There's no missing the beats about who, what, when, why, and how the match between King and Riggs is set, and that's sometimes all a movie needs instead of stacking the deck so full it's hard to follow or heavy-handed.

Battle of the Sexes starts with King's stand for equal pay, and in the end her perseverance becomes about earning respect for herself and other female players; being treated as an equal is as important as being paid the same as our counterparts. As the years wore on, she became the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Honor, and continued to fight for gay rights and Title XI. Meanwhile, Riggs accepted his participation in the second-wave women's movement becoming good friends with King for the rest of his life. That said, as inspiring as King's resolve is, it's difficult for Battle of the Sexes to not feel a little dated because the fight for equality is ongoing. Sometimes in this age we want to keep history in the past because it shows us how little the needle has moved, but it's necessary to be reminded of how some defied the norm. That's how small stances ultimately turn into great achievements. And we need everyone to make it happen.


Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Battle of the Sexes?
What did you think?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Is More Than Just a Replica

Photo Credit: Blade Runner 2049 / Warner Bros. Pictures
For thirty-five years Blade Runner fans have waited for the next chapter of director Ridley Scott's cult classic. His grim noir world focused on a future 2019 where LAPD officer Deckard (Harrison Ford) retires replicant slaves (androids) who have gone rogue against their human masters and ends up falling in love with one of his targets (Sean Young). After audiences were left wondering the whereabouts of humanity and its android population, its sequel Blade Runner 2049 succeeds at being more than a replica.

Set in 2049, the world has continued to fall into economic and enviromental despair as a genius with a godlike complex Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has reinvented replicants with a shorter lifespan and wired to obey their masters. Agent K (Ryan Gosling), one of the newest models, is tasked to "retire" older rogue versions like Deckard. When one target sets K off on a quest against Wallace's corporation, he's bound to discover a dangerous truth about himself and his own kind.

While the original film and all of its uncut versions toyed with the notion of whether or not Deckard and Rachael were replicants or not, and a deeper philosophical meaning of what it means to be either, 2049 carries a much-heavier weight about love, humanity, and the soul. Establishing a steady history in film with intrigue and science-fiction, director Denis Villenue's vision dips the story back into its futuristic roots and manages to pull off an impressive, complimentary follow-up. (This review contains spoilers - read at your own risk!)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Their Finest (2017) reminds us of the power of cinema during the worst of times

Their Finest 2017 Movie Review
Lionsgate
In cinema and television, the war genre often showcases men departing for the home front, while their mothers and girlfriends waited for them to come home, and not much else. Historically, as their loved ones left for the battlefield, predominantly women, children, and the elderly were left behind to keep the economy going and their spirits up, and fill in empty spaces left behind in the factories, military bases, sports fields, and entertainment industry. Outside of a few different movies and tv shows that come to mind like Land Girls or A League of Their Own, it was a delightful, refreshing surprise to find Their Finest.

During the Blitz in London, a young talented copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the Ministry of Information to turn "slop" - the women's angle in film - into uplifting and informative morale boosters for home and abroad. Working alongside a fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), she is inspired to weave a tale out of the battle of Dunkirk with a troupe of misfit actors.

Based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, the fictionalized heroine here was inspired by real women behind-the-scenes. Often uncredited for their contributions on-and-off-screen, Their Finest shines a light on important, forgotten figures behind the scenes who were tasked with bringing entertainment to the masses during World War II.

When the world seems to be at its most bleak, it's tough to consider living as normally as possible. As a small-town girl carving a career for herself and becoming an influential voice driving England's propaganda machine, Gemma Arterton leads the movie with a lot of grace, steely grit, and determination. Cole is talented, hard-working, curious, independent, and yes, falls in love, all while bombs are in striking distance and air raids are conducted nearly every night. As she develops her skills as a writer, and learning about love and life through the creative process, her talent gives way for a loving, supporting cast to also find their role in the war - an aging thespian (Billy Nighy), all-American soldier (Jake Lacy), headstrong agent (Helen McCrory), among others. Evans as the original author, and Gaby Chiappe as the screenwriter, creates a refreshing ingenue in the war genre, and it's impressive how the film celebrates a variety of female voices and manages to be an ensemble.
Cinemas were closed briefly at the beginning of the war as there was a fear they'd be dangerous, but they opened them again because people wanted to go."
- Gaby Chiappe
Popularly known from her Oscar-nominated movie An Education, director Lone Scherfig charmingly creates another splendid period drama of a young woman trying to find her place in the world. She's also incredibly inclusive to the grim realities everyone was facing at the time without romanticizing this set of characters and what they were striving to create. Alice Normington's production design, Charlotte Water's beautiful costumes, and  Rachel Portman's score bring a quaint quality, it's refreshing from the violence this genre often depicts.

Sometimes directors and studios get caught up in making these films bloodier and action-packed, believing the conflict will have a bigger emotional impact. But sometimes they miss out on offering other points-of-views of these eras that can reinstate that the human spirit to live and create is also valuable. From cramped offices, sparce tenements and open countrysides, a spark of life and community is trying to muddle through as best as possible. In watching Cole's first project get underway from beginning to end, it's wonderful to see a movie about making a movie celebrating why we still go to the movies: to escape and be entertained, to see another side of humanity, to find order when life seems out of control.

Truthfully, the most perplexing part about Scherfig's film is figuring out what genre it really belongs in. Critics are quick to sell it as a romantic comedy, but I believe it's much more of a typical war-drama. Its aesthetics might be lighter than what we're used to, but the central story focuses on the creative nature of storytelling with World War II primarily used as an important backdrop. Cole's romantic relationships aren't exactly torrid love affairs, nor is the mishaps of filmmaking packed with lol-worthy moments. And the movie isn't a downer in terms of violence or conflict. (Unfortunately, though, for many, loving or hating the movie hinders on one shocking death that's hard to talk about without spoiling. I fell into the former category.) In all, I felt Scherfig strikes a balance between the realistic conflicts of World War II and a light-hearted, tenderness from her cast.

In truly harrowing times, people find a way to come together as communities, uplifting each other's spirits and creating something new that might last longer than they will. It's splendid to be a reminder that despite everything going on around us, we have and can always still use a little cinema magic. Their Finest steps out of the box from what we normally see in the war genre, and with a splendid cast, delivers a swell story displaying no matter what, the show can still go on.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Their Finest? What did you think?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) is the timeless feminist movie we need

For decades, frustration mounted as Hollywood churned out franchises, reboots, and spin-offs for male superheroes while a comic book icon Wonder Woman was shelved. Sometimes it felt like her time would never come, but it's moments like this when we realize the anticipation, worry, and excitement was worth it. Everything had to align with the director, actors, and story, not so we could just get a female superhero movie just to have one, but because it needed to be good.

Thank the movie gods. Wonder Woman isn't just good, it's amazing.

No longer waiting on the sidelines, director Patty Jenkins dives into the origin story of the Amazonian goddess Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). As a daughter of Zeus molded out of clay, Prince was born on a paradise island Themyiscra populated by female warriors and hidden from the modern world. Though shielded from mankind's penchant for destruction, she trained for the day when another war would arise. When trouble swings by in the form of spy-pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) revealing humanity's fate in the midst of World War I, Prince departs from her homeland to put an end to the brutality.

Blending an origin fable and fish out of the water into an empowering warrior, Prince is the heroine of her story. Told through a splendid cast, deep well-rounded script, and sharp direction, Wonder Woman blazes a trail for superheroes and movies in general.

Leading the movie with ease, Gadot in the titular role is absolutely effervescent. It's not just the inspiring qualities her character possesses which makes her so damn lovable and invigorating, it's the actress's innate ability to be funny, endearing and bad-ass. Critics might point out her sheer beauty as an asset to play this icon, which she is, but her performance is everything Wonder Woman's reputation is based on: graceful, courageous, animated, and wise. As natural as it is for Chris Evans to don Captain America's shield or George Reeves to don Superman's cape, Gadot was made to wield the Lasso of Truth.

Her performance is aided by a glorious script which gifts Prince with the hero-myth treatment typically reserved for male protagonists of any genre. By her looks, personality, and prowess, she might be labeled as perfect, but Prince's beliefs grow and shift; she's confident as well as doubtful; her empathy is a virtue but a liability; she's human as much as she is a goddess. As much as we are obsessed with superheroes, their humanity makes them relatable. And to superheroes, humans are their way into understanding their purpose. Impressively, she journeys from a young girl holding onto glorified idea of combat to an idealist struggling to understand humans less-than-kind motivations, to a matured super warrior.  In the midst of such an ugly world filled with death and destruction, she is a source of love, sacrifice, and compassion as an agent of good. It's impossible to not walk away feeling like you've witnessed an incredible transformation. AKA THE FEELS.
Smash those expectations!

In light of the ridiculous backlash to the women's only screening, and the complete ignorance that women and people who identify as women, in general, aren't as worthy as men, Wonder Woman is an acceptable example of feminism, and what it can look like in the world, especially movies. Equality is not the irrational idea of opportunities being taken advantage of at the expense of others; it's women and minorities moving into open spaces that are, by default, possessed by men. It's offering everyone the ability to identify with characters in all of their glory and flaws; who are fully dimensional and well-rounded; showing a woman can take the lead with confidence and not to feel belittled or others to feel less than; for a man to not always be in control. Though it definitely could've had more diverse representation, the legacy of the comic books and television series lives on, no doubt making women's dreams come true on the big screen.

Prince wouldn't be as impactful if it wasn't for the supporting players backing her up all the way, whether their screentime is limited or lengthy. For the former, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as mother and aunt, respectively, set Prince on her path of valor and warmth. They're protective, loving, and ruthlessly skilled in combat. For the latter, Pine as Trevor is aware he's there to support Gadot but also be her leading man, and melds wonderfully opposite Gadot. Their friendly banter grows seamlessly into a sweeping romance, building a perfection combination of ying-yang, head vs heart, cynical vs optimistic, but bonded in their resolve to do right in spite of unspeakable horrors. Prince might be holding the reigns, but she doesn't do it alone.

Wonder Woman, both the character and the movie, comes along at a time where inclusiveness is being lost to hate and putting 'the other' in their imaginary place at the bottom of the totem pole. It's the superhero movie we didn't just deserve, but wholeheartedly needed. Her kindness, strength, determination, and power is a symbol for everyone who identifies with their sheer humanity. The story itself has a great equal pace, drawing parallels to another origin film Captain America: The First Avenger, which encourages the little guy towards a destiny greater than himself; where their heroics have to find a balance to the evil some people are capable of. Mixing action, humor, and romance, Jenkins makes the superhero movie fun again, more focused on the adventure than dropping easter eggs and tying franchises together. Jenkin's tough, funny, smart, and powerful flick possesses the power to make us all heroes just like Diana Prince: compassionate, curious, brave, and bad-ass; to own who we are and to believe in each other. At the end of the day, we're all in this together.

Rating:★★★
Have you seen Wonder Woman?
What did you think?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017) splendidly reimagines a tale as old as time

Beauty and the Beast live-action review
Photo Credit: Beauty and the Beast / Walt Disney Studios
A remake rarely fills a gap of something that simply wasn’t there before in the original. As Disney re-imagines a string of their own animated classics into live-action flicks, it’s difficult to imagine why they’d want to toy with perfection. Their transformation of the timeless Beauty and the Beast is truly spellbinding, if a little perfectly imperfect.

In a tale as old as time, Emma Watson stars as Belle, an independent bookworm who dreams of a bigger life than the one her small, provincial town expects. As a self-absorbed veteran Gaston (Luke Evans) sets out to own her affection, she is compelled to break a powerful spell held over another self-absorbed beast (Dan Stevens), who is actually a prince in disguise. Only one is truly worthy of her kindness to discover more than what meets the eye.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Arrival (2016) inspires beauty and terror in humanity

Film blog Arrival movie review
Photo Credit: Arrival / Paramount Pictures
Aliens invading Earth forces humanity to take drastic action. Suspicion and premature counter-attacks are sparked by world leaders and civilians trying to protect themselves. What do we do to quell panic? get answers? defend our turf? Director Denis Villeneuve tackles the complexity of humanity in Arrival.

Based on Ted Chiang's short story Story of Your Life, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are recruited into a special military operation to communicate with the creatures which initially harbor ill intentions. Together, the duo work with other countries to prevent war.

The science fiction genre has had a rough go recently. Audiences can mostly count on a franchise like Star Wars to transport them to another galaxy, while others have failed to live up to the hype like Independence Day: Resurgence. Ones that aren’t quite so loud like Interstellar, which invites big ideas about human nature falls short either in the story or execution. There isn't a 'wrong kind' of sci-movie, but quietly, with its characters, story, and interaction with extraterrestrial beings, Arrival hits all of the right notes.

For one, the ever dependable Amy Adams leads with grace and complexity. Louise is wholly composed character when the end of the world hits, sticking to her normal routines like lecturing her classes and watching the news in her office. When she’s recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), that same sense of perseverance continues even as the government's higher-ups are counting on her to deliver. She’s resourceful to go about making contact the right way, and through her progress, we see her confusion and trepidation in a fractured environment.

Her quest isn’t about needing to see or speak to the aliens, but the beauty of language and how all races can try to understand one another. Language isn’t only verbal: it’s symbolic, visual, emotional, changes time, and derives from the intention of the giver by the receiver. You learn as from the other person as you much as you may learn about yourself. Open lines of communication between person to person and country to country is vital whether or not there is an impending war going on between humans or against unknowable beings. There is beauty and terror in having the patience to not immediately go on the defensive. Even if the world itself takes a bleak turn, eerily mirroring our own shortcomings as well as our ability to connect and discover, Banks's expedition is one of endurance and tenderness.

The film's atmosphere is haunting and ethereal. Despite how chaotic the world becomes from these foreign visitors, the production design and the hypnotic score gives the journey a sense of awe and curiosity. The alien's tetrapods, in particular, are fascinating. From the outside, they are massive cocoons hovering mere feet off the ground, and inside, resemble a television stuck on a static channel as they communicate in Rorschach-test blots. The film's coloring may be muted, but the cinematography is vast as if Banks is just on the cusp of discovering life-changing secrets. The movie takes place on Earth, but one feels like we've been transported to another world.

Villeneuve has become one of the most popular directors by critics in recent years, and it’s not difficult to understand why. He has a keen sense of creating and world-building abstract ideas into intimate stories. This tale of aliens landing is gripping and patient, filled with love, hope, and determination. Almost above all else, Arrival explores human and non-human conflicts to provoke questions, and it's truly one of the best in a long time.

Rating: ★★★
Similar to: Close Encounters of The Third Kind
Have you seen Arrival? What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Jackie (2016) elegantly reshapes American royalty

Photo Credit: Jackie / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Ask anyone of the Baby Boomer generation, and chances are they'll recall the day President John F. Kennedy was killed and how the news reverberated around the U.S. Even though history has cemented the family's legacy, as well as Jackie as a style icon, time itself, has rarely scratched the surface of the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's experience. That's where the intimate, poignant biopic Jackie steps in.

On November 22nd, 1963, Jack Kennedy and his wife Jackie were on a political tour through Texas when he was violently assassinated. Following Jackie through this horrendous ordeal, arthouse director Pablo Larraín dismisses the blind patriotism many biopics have taken before and dives into a non-traditional portrait of Mrs. Kennedy with a beautiful existential approach to trauma.

Swinging back and forth between the past and present, Jackie (Natalie Portman) dictates her memory of what happened on that fateful day and the immediate aftermath to Life journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup). In giving the epilog of Jack's political career and her transition out of the White House, it reveals her grace under fire as she salvaged the lasting impression of her husband to grieving nation.

When movies recognize Jacqueline, it's often as the great woman behind the man, but rarely does it delve beyond the iconography of the infamous Pink Suit or the unforgettable black veil during her husband's funeral. In sculpting the final hours of his legacy we see the woman both privately and publicly.

In the midst of the tragedy as everyone looking to Jackie, it's difficult to imagine there was a time when the American Public didn't warm up to Jackie. But in the beginning of Jack's political career, her debutante behavior was actually a turn-off because she wasn't in the kitchen. In an eery premonition, her major role as First Lady was restoring the White House as a museum to deceased Presidents; elevating what was a home and workplace for the husband into a showcase of history. In almost an instant, her life becomes a question of preserving her family.

Jackie puts on quite the performance. The woman called to respond to Jack's death in front of the country is different to who she is in private to her staff, the press, Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), and her children. With each approach, she must consider what woman is expected of her as a new administration anxiously takes over, and she moves out of the White House.

All of this revolves around Natalie Portman who gives a demure and chilling performance. It's almost immediately forgotten that she is playing such a familiar figure. Her portrayal of Jackie isn't reserved to just imitating her voice or the physical mannerisms, but a greater reveal of anger, regret, shame, happiness, joy, prideful, and bitter rolling out in waves as the plot gradually builds to the literal shot heard around the world. As everyone around her is numbed into inaction, she's the one who takes the reigns, no matter how much everything weighs on her. Portman captures this essence of feeling like a ghost lingering in history and the classy, regal force that'll be remembered for all-time.

Between Jackie's moments by herself, with her staff, or in front of the nation, barriers are crossed between the audience and its subject. Her post-traumatic stress and bereavement are brushed in all different strokes of contemplative calm and terror. A cold formality lingers in the aftermath of the fatality with the grand procession and majesty of his burial. The lengths she goes to pursues the question if it was for her husband's benefit, to quench her own ego, or mourn with the public. Using original and archived historical footage, as well as a haunting score by Mica Levi, Lorrain's sweeping film is an intimate and haunting biopic. It's not a typical examination of worshiping the Kennedys and recognizes that Jackie in the movie is different to how we see or imagine her as outsiders. Jackie is an ethereal monument to a woman who shaped American royalty.

RATING: ★★★
Have you seen Jackie? What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Christine (2016) tragically predicts our sensationalist world

Photo Credit: Christine / The Orchard
Based on a true story, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is an ambitious journalist for a local Sarasota tv station. Her immense dedication to simple yet meaningful human interest pieces is compromised when upper management intends to increase ratings for sensationalist news. 'If it bleeds, it leads' becomes the new standard, and Chubbuck struggles to match the style going as far as killing herself on-air.

Despite knowing the outcome of Chubbuck's life for this biopic, Christine intensely and thoughtfully delves into her mindset and struggles, especially mental health.

Just shy of her 30th birthday, Chubbuck is a person unto herself. She's never been involved with someone romantically, closes off from potential friendships, and has a complicated relationship with her mother. Getting married and having children is on her future itinerary, but it's sideswiped by plaguing health issues both physical and emotional. A lingering depression pushes her perseverance in the best and worst ways from an iron-fist like grip on her standards to an inability to communicate her needs to others. Despite her wanting more personal relationships, she's left with only a job, one of the utmost integrity in her eyes, to occupy her time which becomes the last thing she has to hold onto.

Rebecca Hall gives a tremendous performance portraying Chubbuck's downward spiral. Much of her character's personality and behavior is internalized. She has a tough time expressing herself to others, and when she does it's self-deprecating, retaliatory, or as harsh bursts of judgment towards herself. Both professionally and personally, Chubbuck continually asks questions, but tries to possess all the answers; a misfit who tries so hard to act as normally as everyone else does. Self-inflicted and environmental pressure weigh on her ability to handle and control what goes on in the studio, at home, and during telecasts. Hall's portrait is passionate and subtle capturing multiple sides of how her character feels: kindness, sympathy, detail-obsessed, hard-working, burdensome, self-conscious. She doesn't limit herself to one trait or another but undergoes many different emotional hurdles at once.

Like mental health itself, Chubbuck's struggles are a conglomerate of issues. In contrast to Chubbuck, other characters like Maria Dizzia (Jean Reed), weatherman Steve Turner (Timothy Simons), and on-air anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall) have faced obstacles, but found ways to cope or "not dwell on everything". There's a nice mix of people surrounding Chubbuck who try to be her friend or let her be her own person. Before the inevitable ending, the movie hints at possibilities if she didn't judge herself too harshly or unloaded her burdens onto someone without feeling burdensome, if she got fuller treatment for her depression. There's no way of knowing what could've happened if her life played out differently, but the brief inclusion shows the script's thoughtfulness to its leading character.

Christine as film is a fascinating feat as a biopic considering Chubbuck's life isn't well-documented. Screenwriter Craig Shilowich interviewed previous colleagues and researched news pieces to create what he could of Chubbuck. He also connected to her depression making the project a personal examination of his own experiences, and one that movie goers who suffer from depression may relate to it deeply. Considering how many biopics over-indulge in someone's life to justify the commercial appeal, the movie is an impressive and intimate character study.

Director Antonio Campos adequately recreates the 1970s from the news stations equipment, occasional overgrown sideburns, and flared pants. The era serves mostly as a backdrop to its leading lady. At most, when Chubbuck concocts an idea to try to fit in with the new rules, the soundtrack kicks in with a catchy news-track similar to what a viewer would hear turning into News Update from Saturday Night Live or 60 minutes. Her life was her job, and it fittingly plays into Chubbuck's 'grasping at straws' brainstorming and avoids being a cheap attempt to be more stylistic.

A common criticism is the film's "exploitative nature", which wasn't the case at all to me. Softly in the background, the story focuses on sensationalism turning into "hard hitting news", mostly on Chubbuck's attempts to be promoted and her work validated. On the cusp of Watergate, and history forever holding it up as a daring example of journalism, the era's sexist nature ultimately cups her ambition - no matter the desperate lengths she goes to. Adding to the depth of her death, Chubbuck is more of a prophet having seen the graphic nature news would venture, and she wanted to hold onto her integrity. Regardless of her fate, culture carved its own path, fueled by click-bait titles and attracting readers into violent-gossipy articles to make gruesome acts appear glamorous. The movie doesn't make her a poster-girl for how our world would turn out, leaving the parallels of the media and her final moments a poignant tragedy.

Many celebrities or public figures, maybe even people we know or are well-acquainted with, who suffer a downward spiral aren't looking for fifteen minutes of fame as the news often reports; they're crying out to be seen and heard. This point is well-established throughout, and it's difficult to not feel relatable to her in many ways. Slow-burning and tactful, Christine is a fascinating examination of a woman in a man's world, her mental illness, and going to extremes as a devastating last resort.

RATING: ★★★
Have you seen Christine What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fences (2016) is a marvelous home run

Fences movie review
Photo Credit: Fences / Paramount Pictures
Sometimes we build fences to keep people out, but those same barriers can keep their loved ones locked in. In Fences, this gripping realization chips away for the Maxson family. Set in the 1950s against the backdrop of Pittsburgh, Troy's (Denzel Washington) marriage to wife Rose (Viola Davis), lost potential and responsibilities of as a father, husband, and man buckle under his own personal demons and the limitations of the times.

Like most theatrical adaptations, the performances and script deliver all of the emotional action to give a wildly complex study of characters. This is completely true of Washington's adaptation of the August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

At the center of this complicated drama is Washington and Davis bursting with restless energy. Imprisoned by the nature of the era, Troy and Rose have raised a family together but their compromises have kept them coiled to each other for good and bad reasons. They share an enduring love tainted by the sacrifices as a husband/wife/mother/father/etc. and the imposed repercussions of the Jim-Crow era.
Troy: It's not easy for me to admit that I've been standing in the same place for eighteen years!

Rose: Well, I've been standing with you! I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you!
Troy and Rose are very different sides of the same coin. Troy waxes philosophical about life, duties, and responsibilities, hammering out tough love to his sons and wife, but fails to recognize the hypocrisy of his actions. Washington brings to life an imperfect man who does despicable things to deal with his existential crisis.

As his counterpart, Davis as Rose is a force to be reckoned with. As much as Troy dwells on all that he gives to his family, rarely if ever does he understand how much Rose has given in order to sustain their marriage. Having faced and faces the same trials as he, she's buried her dreams and let them be forgotten, but continued to forge on ahead with a silent resolute nature. Life, and Troy, has taken its toll until the final straw breaks prompt a poignant almost impossible strength.

Impressively, theatrical adaptations of a play often rely on the playwright's work to deliver all of the action - unless the direction or script is drastically altered to be more blockbuster. As Troy's family square off against each other, the script rarely feels like there is a dull moment.

Washington's experience of the play as an actor, and now director and leading role pushes him to he executes how a play of such timely significance could be adapted. The city of Pittsburgh bustles in the background as this nook puts a generational, cultural, and historical experience on display. His focus of the Maxson's family places them solely in a minimalist and intimate environment; their claustrophobic backyard acts as a boxing ring for fights, confessions, criticism and speeches. Wilson's story grows seamlessly into three acts, lending a balanced examination to all of the characters.

Fences is a centerpiece of titanic performances and deliver as an adaptation. Washington executes the story as if you were attending a play on film but stand on its own. His work as a director and the cast is a gripping character study and a marvelous home run.

RATING: ★★★
Have you seen Fences What are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) changes the spin-off game

10 Cloverfield Lane movie review
Photo Credit: 10 Cloverfield Lane / Paramount Pictures
Monsters come in many forms. Michelle (Mary Winstead Elizabeth) encounters a series of her own when she wakes up in an underground shelter after a brutal car accident. She's being held hostage by a paranoiac ex-Navy man Howard (John Goodman), who claims he didn't just save her from the horrific wreckage but a hostile enemy invasion. Faced with mind-games within the absurd refuge and the loom of an apocalypse, she is forced to decide whether the person who claims to rescue her is as dangerous as the unidentifiable threats she's protection against.

Hollywood has attempted the innocent-woman-held-captive trope time and time again. A lot of films in the genre merely torture-porn babes and commits to violence for violence's sake to cheap effect. Another go of this type of flick doesn't seem strictly necessary, but producer J.J. Abrams and his team prove it's worth another try. By transforming those worn-out elements, they create a surprising game-changer.

Claustrophobic and engaging, 10 Cloverfield Lane meshes the action of a budding end-of-the-world scenario with psychological teases. The story's atmosphere and Howard's apparent safe haven is full of misdirection and suspense that calls into question: where is safe? what is the truth?

Michelle's fate is challenged in the all the best and terrifying ways. By making her a confident and resourceful heroine, she uses every weapon - both intelligence and with the tools at hand - to challenge her fate. A lot of the film's thrills walks the fine line between her (and another captive Emmett) letting her guard down to accept the truth and staying suspicious because some facts are not what they seem. Played awesomely by Mary Winstead Elizabeth, she is such a kick-ass character in this genre.

Her feat is challenged by an environment that is emotionally and physically confining. Plenty of evidence supports that deadly forces have invaded humankind, which makes it difficult to maneuver whether or not it's even smart or safe to venture outside. The mood is toyed with how Howard's dwelling is like a dream conspiratorial theorists' tiny home. It's completely decked out in not only food, water, and filtered air but fully furnished kitchen, dining room, living room, games, music, and movies. The familiar, even nostalgic, atmosphere is cozy and trusting. But it's all remnants of what life was before and it merely masks the tension in the air.

On top of which, surviving either means playing house with Howard or making an escape - and neither choice seems to be in her definite favor. John Goodman is brilliant as the unhinged survivalist. He is calm and collected with a touch of creepy one second, and then completely enraged the next. His backstory and Michelle's survival greatly navigates between letting your guard down and unpredictable twists. There's a definite sway between acquiescing to rules in order to keep the peace and trying to understand what lurks behind his conspiratorial beliefs.

Like it's predecessor Cloverfield, the story doesn't center on creatures versus humans. This sequel's quest (which also works as a standalone) is much more than facing scary monsters in an apocalypse, but also conquering monsters in human form who have to be endured or defeated in order to survive. Twists sprinkled throughout the film never lets the story rest on a captured woman or cheap violence. With refreshing characters and effective suspense, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthy thriller.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen 10 Cloverfield Lane? What are your thoughts?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Galaxy Quest (1999) inspires us to never surrender our fandom

Galaxy Quest Sci-Fi  movie review
Photo Credit: Galaxy Quest / Dreamworks Pictures
Galaxy Quest is a very clever satire, mixing fans' passion for science-fiction and highlighting the best and corniest aspects of its entertainment with clever homages.

At the height of its popularity, a fictionalized sci-fi soap opera Galaxy Quest was canceled. The riveting cliffhanger involving Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart (Tim Allen) and his crew are left to the imagination of hardcore fans in cult corners and fan conventions. Science fiction proves to be all too real when the dysfunctional cast is greeted by real aliens who misinterpreted their tv show as facts and are calling on them to save their race.

Parodies are a particularly challenging film to pull off. Films like Scary Movie or Epic Movie start off with decent ideas to spotlight inconsistencies and zany cliches but then it's enterprise is warped by absurd and irrelevant jokes. Galaxy Quest, on the other hand, is a totally fun ride notating just how quirky, heartfelt, and bold the genre is while honoring the big role fans play in its success.

Using Star Trek and similar franchises as it's backdrop, the movie latches onto details that a variety of viewers can understand from the most hardcore Trekkies to most general movie goer. The story (even if it has a plot-hole or two the size of a black hole) and the script makes entertaining references everyone has seen at some time- like the suave captain who takes his shirt off for no reason, fans knowing more about a spacecraft's technology than the actual crew, the unaccredited crew member who is doomed to die, the cross-species romance subplot, and so much more.

With all the little nods aside, one of the best ways Galaxy Quest spoofs beloved various series is how the cast resents or embrace the lasting impact of their one hit wonder.

One of my favorites is Sigourney Weaver as Gwen DeMarco, or Lt. Tawny Madison. (The other credited actor is below). Her main role is to repeat every command the computer responds to or gives. She represents the token female character who isn't given much to do except look hot. (Doesn't this sound like a few franchises nowadays?) Despite her lack of agency fans dress up as her to value her inner strength, sure but also question whether the torrid chemistry DeMarco has with Tim Allen's Commander was genuine. When Gwen's mates recognize the ridiculousness of her role, she owns up to it but does it anyway with authority. The movie scoring Sigourney Weaver to portray Gwen takes the movie to another level of meta brilliance.

And there is also Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane. Similar to the "don't want to be recognized only as Luke/Spock' phases Mark Hammill and Leonard Nimoy went through, Dane is entirely over his involvement in the franchise. He can't stomach repeating catch-phrases and making appearances, yet for all the lamenting he does, it is uniquely a part of him; a role he can't even shake off when he's at home. Rickman delivers a wonderful performance, putting his underrated timing and humor to great use.

For a movie that's seventeen years old, Galaxy Quest achieves an impressive feat by being highly aware of how geek culture supports, and nearly rescues, the cast from their own intergalactic demise. To great surprise, upon the film's initial release, it was a hit not only with Star Trek's Trekkies but even actors from the series like George Takei and Patrick Stewart. Even though the landscape of the genre and it's devotees has changed since 1999, the movie stays surprisingly relevant with age.

Beaming up the power of sci-fi and its earthling admirers, the movie was way ahead of its time. Galaxy Quest affectionately celebrates eccentricities within this ever-growing community: the conventions, actors dealing with the pros and cons of a canceled franchise, its tropes, and the fans. It doesn't skewer or point fingers, casting the genre or fans out to be bad or weird. In fact, with comedy, action, and heartfelt respect, it teaches to never give up, never surrender your fandom.
Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Galaxy Quest? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) stands on its own two feet

Photo Credit: Ghostbusters / Columbia Pictures
Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is a quirky physics professor whose bid for tenure is put on hold when a former friend obsessed with the paranormal Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and her zany engineer Dr. Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) republishes a book they wrote about the supernatural. In exchange for removing the book from publication, Gilbert assists the duo to investigate a possible haunting.

When their investigation turns out to be a real phenomenon, the group decides to open a ghostbusting business, soon adding Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) into the mix. This being 2016, the gals' work soon faces backlash from online spectators and band together to save New York City from an impending supernatural apocalyptic event.

Even though the movie features some of the biggest comedians around today, my two biggest reservations were the movie's comedic tone and the cast. Comedy and action flicks today have a knack for breaking the fourth wall to become super awkward in landing punchlines. This, coupled with not being big fans of Wiig's work and worrying that McCarthy would only be on a roll of sweary tirades and pratfalls, my expectations for the movie were low at first. How the flick was going to fare was like gambling to cross the streams and praying it pays off.

Payoff, the movie really did. Director Paul Feig with screenwriter Katie Dippold pack in enough action, comedy, and heartfelt team spirit to create one heck of a ride. The script subtly follows thee original but stays unique in all the right places. They commit to doing their own thing, and deal with the extensive offline backlash, but not forget where their inspiration sprang. Their adventure isn't concerned with being flashy or "rewriting film history", just with being entertaining, giving more actors a chance to shine, and celebrating friendship.

The cast is truly a revelation, especially Wiig and McCarthy and how I imagined them. They step out of their comfort zones and don't rest on their trademark personalities. Gilbert and Yates are sensible, pragmatic and quirky leaders of the pack with McKinnon's Holtzmann and Jones' Tolan are not too far behind. There's no doubt these women are funny in their own right, whether I'm a fan of them or not, but the cast shares more than just camaraderie through comedy. Their characters use brains, brawn, and sisterhood to take down some nasty, creepy ghosts; it's downright awesome.

However, even though the movie takes two steps forward with its leads, Hemsworth and the villain both take a complexity hit. Chris Hemsworth's role as the beefcake secretary Kevin is dumber than dumb and is pretty useless. The villain, too, a creepy demon responsible for unleashing the ghosts on New York City is just a-okay. The epic finale between the Ghostbusters versus supernatural bestows some epic special effects, but the demon himself isn't entirely threatening and a little too forgettable. It would've been nice and even better if they weren't merely stand-ins (hot or not).

After so many reboots and remakes, it's a good skill to learn how to distinguish the old from the new. Ghostbusters didn't hold a lot of hype for me in the beginning, but it really exceeded my expectations. In the opposite effect of Suicide Squad's trailers over-promising, Ghostbusters' promotions under-delivered. The cast is so much fun and their characters achieve so many levels of kick-assery. Feig's movie doesn't clone the original and manages to stand on its own and beyond the hype. Let's go!

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Ghostbusters? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Shall We Dance? (1996) sweeps self-expression of its feet

Shall We Dance movie review
Photo Credit: Shall We Dance / Toho
A middle-aged businessman Shohei Sugiyama is riding the train home one day from work. He's successful and has a loving family, but something is unsettled. He's resigned to spending his life paying off the house he just bought. As a business-person in Japan, life is centered on working and going home long enough to sleep, wake up and go back to work again. Hobbies, especially ones of self-expression in public is rare, if not entirely prohibited and frowned upon.

Looking up from the train window one evening, Sugiyama notices a woman Mai Kishikawa standing at a window of a dance studio. With every passing commute, he slowly gains the courage to go up to that studio with the intention of approaching the mystery lady for a coffee or something more, we're not quite sure. Intuitively aware of his intentions and facing her own issues with dance as a failed ballroom competitor, she adverts his advances but Sugiyama ends up taking dance lessons anyways with her fellow teachers.

At first, it's easy to believe that the movie will enter another Middle Age Man Has An Affair territory. But Sugiyama's attempt to meet or engage with Kishikawa grows into another kind of relationship: one to express himself in a society that doesn't necessarily recognize individuality.

In Japanese culture, it is considered embarrassing to participate in Western ballroom dance. Something as simple as public affection is considered scandalous, but the intimate proximity of the Tango and Waltz is infinitely more taboo. The outside world forces Sugiyama to hide his dance lessons not only from his wife but also friends and colleagues. For a while, his immediate world is not ready to meet up with his hobby, but he also can't forfeit a passion that gives his mind and body a connection to another source of focus besides work.

Dance is more than the steps. Feel the music and dance for sheer joy.
Director Masayuki Suo's Shall We Dance? gives viewers a peek into how intimacy plays a role at large and letting it unravel during Sugiyama's late-night lessons. The studio itself is an underground of meet-ups, yet an exuberant test of wills to release their worries and a certain sense of repression. Aside from Sugiyama, other pupils find a way to nurture self-confidence through dance, and it's hard not to feel swept away by all of them. He offers so much vigor and enthusiasm through the personalities Sugiyama encounters and becomes friends with, you feel like you're in on their little secret which grows more and more complicated.

It's difficult to shine a light on the performances in general because they are all outstanding. However, Kōji Yakusho in particular, as Sugiyama, gives a beautiful performance. Even though his character steps out of bounds of what society expects from him, ultimately his and his family's notions about connection change. He carries the movie with such an enigmatic grace. It's hard not to just fall in love with him by cueing in on his emotions and thoughts, and wanting to see him succeed on the dance floor.

While the story might not seem as different as many others, Suo's film about going against the grain is truly touching. Dance is a universal language and so is the drive or want to tend to parts of ourselves we didn't know needed fulfillment. His film is slow and steady filled with romance and charm. At the Japanese equivalent of 'Academy Awards' it won every award it was eligible to win: fourteen, in fact, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director. Shall We Dance? Yes, lets.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Shall We Dance? What are your thoughts?