A story that is told at the expense of the larger ideas of its themes cannot, in fact, survive because, much like pedantic continuity details (cough Star Wars fans), a larger theme is not what is compelling about a great story. What’s compelling about a great story is the way that said theme naturally develops from the relationships of characters. One of the best directors at doing this is Alexander Payne. With classics such as Citizen Ruth, Election and The Descendants, Payne and his co-writers crafted stories that plotwise were about characters confronting their horribly corrupted yet horribly pitiful dispositions, but within said stories, they hid stark political and societal messaging that always rung true. The trick about those stories was that the messages were always in the very back of the movie, with the compelling characters and plot holding the entire thing up, only to be supported by the subtext. Downsizing thrusts that subtext into text and doesn’t have a strong enough core of plot or characters to hold itself together, something truly unfortunate because the ideas here are pretty interesting, if possibly wrongheaded.
That thesis being presented, the text being at the forefront of a film doesn’t necessarily ruin a movie. Great films from this year like The Shape of Water and The Square thrust their subtexts into text and come out just fine because they have great characters and great stories. Downsizing, which focuses on Matt Damon (sigh) as Paul Safranek, doesn’t really know what to do with Paul himself, who does make a character journey but doesn’t do so naturally. In fact, if I remember correctly, the message of the film is told to the main character in the over caricatured and somewhat uncomfortable accent of his love interest played by Hong Chau (not really sure what to make of the accent).
It is that bluntness that allows Downsizing to kind of get away with a lot of its more over the top and just batshit insane concepts, but also that bluntness that robs the film of any intimacy. This is a movie about people coming together in situations that drastically affect the human race, that the movie has nothing to say about other than, “Boy, this one white guy really can help these people,” and “Boy aren’t humans stupid?” That latter one is what most of Payne’s movies are about and in the more contained environments of a high school (Election) or just a friendship (Sideways) he is able to explore this concept in depth without actually getting out of his depth. Here, the ambition that Payne and co-writer Jay Taylor show simply outruns them leaving us with a movie that wants to extol the virtues of humanity on one hand while also take the piss out of them. Again, Payne does that a lot and does it well, but when dealing with big allegorical parts, the smoothness of Payne’s previous features is never present, here.
Downsizing is trash but it is trash that only a director like Alexander Payne could make. Hopefully in the future, Payne steps back into a more intimate and focused tier of storytelling, but for now, in his attempt to create a visual effects (and actually pretty effective ones at that) bolstered drama he runs himself off the rails, failing to adequately explore the themes he wishes too and failing to make a great movie for what seems to be the first time.
Downsizing gets a 4 out of 10.
WRITTEN BY JOSEPH TRONICEK
Films are like a beating heart that is constantly trying to die. They start out hammering powerfully, and are at constant risk of slowing down. Sometimes they’re already dead when the screenplay is approved, but most of the time making sure that this doesn’t happen is the responsibility of the crew, actors, and director, and director Joe Wright has never lost a patient.
Wright over the course of his career seems to have made it his personal creative need to take all that he has learned about from other filmmakers, and evolve them to his needs. Pride and Prejudice, and Atonement are in just the right vein of Shakespearean melodrama of directors such as Laurence Olivier and David Lean, while Hanna was greatly elevated by a sense of Tarkovsky's natural formalism. That might be an oxymoron but if you know your film you know what I mean.
Much like in projects like these, Darkest Hour works because its director has taken the script and applied all of his knowledge of past film, style, and craft to the material, and it just can’t help but to work. The director he’s coping off of to amazing ends this time: Frank Capra. Films like Mr. Smith goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life permeate the films entire production.
Wright takes this knowledge, and applies it accordingly. Amazing character actors like Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, and Kristin Scott Thomas are beautifully composed in scenes that all seem to isolate yet reveal their deepest truths, surrounded by lighting that is high contrast yet strikingly natural. The camera slowly zooms while characters are given monologues thankfully not permeated by music, trust me there’s a moment on a subway that doesn’t drop an inspiring beat and we are so much better for it. This is big, intense, broad strokes filmmaking, and it all works like a beautiful machine. It’s quite an experience to watch it work so perfectly.
That doesn’t mean that the film is perfect in all means. The screenplay is one of those that really isn’t very good, and running at such a high intense pace for most of the film makes the moments where is slows down really stand out. The second act contains most of these, containing maybe one two many shots of the prime minister contemplating how screwed he is. Also as mentioned before it seems as if the team would just let the musical score be quiet during some of the bigger moments we would have had a film that felt completely different than something like The King's Speech, which this definitely is not, and would have made for a much richer experience.
Overall, Darkest Hour is just one of those movies where everybody shows up, does their job, and the filmmaker has a complete understanding for how the mechanism of film works. It is both similar and different than any of the prestige pictures that you will see this year, and is probably the best example of what cinema as a craft work can be.
P.S. Yes Gary Oldman deserves the best actor oscar.
I give Darkest Hour a 7 out of 10.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a miracle. After the rousing and wonderful The Force Awakens’ safety and adherence to formula, The Last Jedi finds itself in a position of both commenting and evolving on top of that formula. It is a thesis statement, one set forward by its writer and director Rian Johnson, on the collective opinions of the Star Wars fan community, while also being a complex and well informed blockbuster. That shouldn’t be possible, but instead, that is the place that we find ourselves in. Rian Johnson really does just work his magic.
The Last Jedi starts off like a Star Wars movie but soon veers off into darker more intense places. It is a spectacular achievement of storytelling, most likely attributed to Rian Johnson. The screenplay is structured in such a way where it is almost impossible to notice the skill employed in making sure that each new scene is the answer to some question and the structure and filmmaking being that way can’t help but drive the story forward. Johnson covers a whole ton of ground with the film, but what becomes especially apparent is the fact that the individual plot points are there to serve a larger narrative that redefines both the character’s and the audience’s interpretation of the Jedi and Sith. What these films often find themselves doing is ignoring the reality that they are driven by the actions of only a few people, trying to allow the scale of the events outshine the supposedly more contrived character driven storytelling.
Johnson doesn’t bother and in doing so, turns his film into quite a messy (but that’s fine) character piece, where the logic of the story is found in the messy, often impulsive behaviors of the characters. If that sounds awfully like The Empire Strikes Back and maybe even some of the more salvageable parts of the prequels, well, I’d say it should. The Last Jedi has no qualms with being ripped open like a nerve and allowing that to dictate the storytelling and therefore it succeeds on a level that many other films, including the still excellent The Force Awakens, fail at. This way of structuring the narrative makes it almost impossible for the film not to comment on the state of the fanbase of Star Wars itself, with it explicitly telling the audience of legacy obsessed fanboys and nitpickers unable to understand the way that they intricacies of human behavior can alter a story to firmly sit down and consider the fact that their way at looking at these films is spectacularly immature. The Last Jedi succeeds then to, within its narrative pacing and thematic ambitions give a mature and interesting answer to them by actually developing the formula further. Johnson seems so in tandem with the particular themes running throughout this series of films that he even comes back and redeems the tematic lining of the Prequels while he’s at it. This movie is that good.
While this tonal and thematic choice for the film is the reason why it works so well, going on the messy side of the humans at the center of this story does mean that filmmaking, world-building, acting and basically...everything, would need to be able to keep up the illusion and as Brick, Looper, The Brothers Bloom and “Ozymandias” prove that is just about the case. Johnson shoots some of the most exhilarating action sequences of all time in this film especially a two man lightsaber fight that happens in the second act. There’s a visceral sense to it that is so delectable it almost becomes exhausting and that doesn’t even bring up the final action scene of the film, a gorgeous miracle of digital compositing that is so well crafted that it comes close to outdoing the trench run in A New Hope. The acting, as you’d probably anticipated, is much the same. The returning players: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac are all as good as they were in the last one of these, and they’re all asked to push their characters further because, again, most of the plot and theme comes down to their actions. Newcomers are fantastic as well, with Kelly Marie Tran coming out of nowhere to basically steal an entire subplot of the movie.
So, what is there left to say really? The Last Jedi is fantastic in almost every aspect of its being, a rich blockbuster of endless emotion, able to crush and exhilarate. It is a true masterwork, pushing the franchise further than it ever has been.
I give The Last Jedi a 9.5 out of 10.
P.S. The PORGS are a great little touch of character building that helps tie the good guys goals back to the more unifying nature of the Force and the beauty of the natural planets, and how that contrasts with the cold mechanisms of the warfare in the film. This is code for, THE PORGS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!
“The DCEU hasn’t failed...completely. There is no doubt about it. Wonder Woman hasn’t failed. Justice League may not fail. Warner Brother may not fail. If something embodied by some of the worst action movies ever made can bounce back with this much confidence, then it might just succeed. The DCEU is not dead yet.”
...I wrote that back in June with a feeling of optimism that could only be inspired by a genuine mythmaking exercise of the skill of Wonder Woman. I was a dumbass.
Justice League is not only the worst superhero blockbuster of the year, it is a Batman and Robin level disaster of such hysterical proportions that unlike Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice it doesn’t inspire anger but more pity. That movie was trying. Justice League is so thinly sketched out that it compels one to realize that the only thing that motivates it creatively seems to be not being Batman v Superman. It doesn’t seem to matter if this movie was good, it only seems to matter that it existed. That it was a big movie that brought all of these characters together. There’s a tableau of all the characters standing across a CGI background late in the game of this movie that appears and all I felt was embarrassment. This wasn’t a team, this was a group of characters crushed together out of financial necessity, and it is sickening.
It is this same horrifying crushing sense that basically defines the entire film. All of the characters, all of the special effects, all of the development just seems crushed in for no reason. This film was supposed to be three hours long and I’d gratefully want to see that version because at two hours, this is horribly uninvolving and just too light. Batman v Superman had the same problem, but it went on for three hours and that was because all of the scenes were terribly apathetic. Justice League feels apathetic because it is cut down too much. There are so many characters repeating lines that are supposed to be character arcs, almost like the movie doesn’t understand what develops characters. It just keeps chugging ahead.
It doesn’t help that the cinematography is consistently kneecapping anything that could connect us to a scene. For most part the film is like staring at an image that claims to be symmetrical but never really is. Its distorting and confusing and matched up with the otherwise horrifying digital compositing, the film devolves into looking like a Justice League cartoon rather than an actual Justice League movie.
The actors have nothing to hang a performance on either. Ben Affleck should be better in this film but any of the halfway interesting character that he made in Batman v Superman disappears within the nothingness that is his character in this movie. The same goes for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, so compelling in her own feature, here sadly and suddenly not. Ray Fischer, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, and HENRY CAVILL all show up, and none of them can manage to make any of this drivel compelling. In fact, while CAVILL acts like the more traditional optimistic Superman that he should have been from the beginning, it just feels so incredibly stupid because the director and writers don’t know how to frame this optimism, which doesn’t contrast with anything else in the movie very well. I’ve waited four movies for Superman to actually grow up and it turns out the best way for him to do so to them was just die. That’s so horrible, horrible character work and SUPERMAN showing up fully formed is just as much of a stupid move as putting a halfway decent, if somewhat nostalgic, Danny Elfman score in the movie but not letting the audience hear it over the sound mix.
The DCEU has failed. The rest will fail. There’s so much wrong with this movie that it forces one in the moment to laugh at the startling incompetence on display, but then slowly fall into a stupor predicated on the failings of this film, and many failures there are. This is a horrifying experience, an empty myth, a film categorized by finally showing us the correct version of a character so ingrained in culture that his last two films were superficially contextualized by that ingrained ness and him in his full form still sucks. Justice League is a bad movie, so bad that unlike its predecessor, it doesn't even deserve to be taken apart. GOODBYE DCEU.
After seeing two incredibly disturbing body horror pictures (that I can’t write about yet), one might not expect to find too much disturbing in the trappings of a drama such as The Florida Project. That is simply not the case. Walking out of The Florida Project, I felt sick. I felt like in some way it was my fault that things like this happen and in some way it is all our faults that stories like this exist. That’s the mastery of The Florida Project right there, it opens your eyes to the reality that our actions, our classes don’t exist in a vacuum, but rather that in the most beautiful place in the world, the ruthless dichotomy of haves and have-nots can still exist.
The Florida Project takes place at the Magic Castle motel, just a mile from Disneyworld in Florida. The place is a rundown project, full of broken dreams and managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Yet there is still some light. Moni and her six-year-old friends occupy the space, beaming from ear to ear as they attempt to conquer their childhood days by playing, loving and ignoring the affluence and degradation that surrounds them. They’re children ignorant of their surroundings, representatives of the childishness that comes hand in hand with ignoring the harsh realities that The Florida Project presents.
And harsh they are. For its two hour runtime, The Florida Project comes out swinging with almost every aspect of its production. The mere fact that it takes place a mile from DisneyWorld, holds striking political connotations that could warrant an entire book...that I’m going to attempt to sum up right here. The Florida Project is itself a microcosm of a predominant political idea that separates the haves from the have-nots and Disney is the key to all of it. Walt Disney, and the brand that he perpetuated supported the rich white class family, which was again championed by political administrations of the 80’s, that allowed for the development of that group of people but also the disadvantage of other communities such as poorer white communities and the African American community. This connotation brings the poverty of The Florida Project to a disturbing end, with DisneyWorld and everything that it represents almost taunting the people working at the bottom. Sean Baker, a smart director by many, many, respects, also allows this taunting to take an auditory form, with helicopters taking off from the resorts acting as a constant reminder of what others have and what these people want.
It all makes you consider the why of these people’s situations, and that can be found pretty explicitly in the text of the film. In the acting, in the dialogue, in the influence of one character on the other. It may be surprising to hear young actress Brooklynn Prince throwing out f-bombs and the b-word, as her little no more than ten self, but it also makes the environmental shaping of the children especially clear. That being said, who shapes the adults is a more difficult question. Moni’s mother, Hailey (Bria Vinante, in a performance so heartbreaking that it makes you feel nauseous) acts quite unprofessionally, but as we can see from her kid, she probably grew up that way and was shaped by the environment around her. Her way of acting isn’t met with understanding or respect, it is simply antagonized and that makes the movie all the more human and crushing.
Willem Dafoe really brings the A game though and his character is one of the most tragic figures in modern film. He insists that he will be able to fix things, and you can see him trying to fix the disputes, but he’s too behind the curve. He’s too unaware or unable to keep up with everything. He says he’ll fix a bed bug mattress but he instead throws it out, unable to deal with it. He says he’ll fix the ice machine, but again he throws it away. He promises at the end of the film, to fix some dryers but you know he never will.
The Florida Project may be bleak, but its human and in that humanity there can be found a soul. The smile of a child, happy to be alive. The smile of her mother, happy to find friendship. The smile of the landlord, finally having a human moment with a person over a cigarette. You may walk out of The Florida Project, disturbed and upset, but there’s no denying that it is just about perfect.
10 out of 10
WRITTEN BY JOSEPH TRONICEK
In the middle of Patrick Brice’s Creep 2, Mark Duplass’s character Aaron (the name of the videographer in the first movie) arrives at a stream that he was going to use in his plan. On discovering that the creek is all dried up he flies into a temper tantrum. It’s hilarious. That’s not a word that could be used to describe the first film also directed by Patrick Brice.That film was a terrifying look at a serial killer that used it’s single-camera production to break the barrier between the audience and the danger.
Creep 2 works on much of the same level, but more on a contrasting level. While the first film was a horror film where we didn’t know who was in control, the second film pulls a bold move and places all the control in the audience's hands. From the start, Mark Duplass’s character tells the main character( a smart reflection of the audience who films weird meeting for a Youtube show) that he is, in fact, a serial killer and that he has lost his passion. This provides an extensive base for building off what made the first film scary, except now it’s funny… and sort of sad. Anything that Aaron throws at the videographer, she’s willing to go along with. This creates a far different mood. Fifteen minutes into the film Mark Duplass literally bears it all, and the main character does it right back. Catharsis is derived from reducing a terrifying person to something rather pathetic.
One would suggest seeing the first movie before seeing this one, and those who are expecting more of Mark Duplass acting weird might find this disappointing, but the fact is this is a film that is confident enough is its actors and it’s filmmaking that it doesn’t need those. It’s one hell of a sequel that subverts and builds on top of what the first one set out to accomplish, and that’s all you can really hope for.
I’ll give Creep 2 an 8 out of 10
WRITTEN BY STEPHEN TRONICEK
At the center of George Clooney’s inflammatory, yet vapid Suburbicon is a character. His name is Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon). He lives in the titular suburb and he is in love with his wife’s twin sister. He has the mob perform a job that gets his wife killed and in doing so brings all of it down on top of him...so why does Suburbicon focus on his kid?
Suburbicon shifts the focus off of the character that drives the story and onto his child watching it all happen. For the record, that’s not a bad idea. Showing the story of this incredibly nihilistic, violent ordeal through the eyes of a child, can be easily juxtaposed against the way that the suburban life represented here was presented versus what it actually was. There’s a sly commentary to filtering the events of the story through the eyes of the only character that is able to believe in the safety and innocence of the suburbs, as to represent the way that society has swept the history of such communities under the rug. The movie climaxes with a race riot started simply because at the start of the movie an African American family moved in. This story, really only serves to be representative of the unrest and wrongheaded thinking of the suburban community, and serves a greater symbolic point, posing the question: Why wouldn’t all this happen with these people being truly just despicable and violent in the first place? but again, it doesn’t actually have much to do with the main story or just isn’t blended in well.
Suburbicon, with as much going on as there is, does manage to juggle all of its stories by keeping this slightly detached look at everything. After all, if we’re just watching through the eyes of an observer we don’t necessarily need to connect all of the events that are going on. We just need to voyeuristically watch what’s happening and that’s honestly all fine, but it does make one think about the film that could have been if the focus had been kept on Lodge, a shift that would have allowed for a deeper character study, rather than the empty, though not expressly terrible shell that the movie is now. It would allow for the exploration of character, rather than just the presentation of character, something that Suburbicon does too often, again mainly to the fault of its focus. Multiple times throughout the film I was left thinking, “This moment would play better if it were just part of the exploration of Lodge’s character, and while it is entertaining, there’s no richness, just a bland aftertaste.” The best way to describe Suburbicon could be, a dime store apple pie. Sure it’s sweet, all American themed and has its moments of enjoyment, but it just isn’t what it could be.
That’s often how some other creative decisions in the film feel. The score by Alexandre Desplat is fine at face value, but it sets too brisk of a pace to the film and imbues it with more of an insincere layer of emotionality. There are almost too many scenes where absolute silence as far as the musical score would suit the film better and allow the audience to actually figure out what’s going on in the characters heads. The cinematography by Robert Elswit is excellent, but it also seems a bit saccharine, even for a candy-colored suburb.
There is so much of a problem with the framing that the whole film seems to be brought down by it. All of the component parts are good: Damon, Julianne Moore is incredible, Oscar Isaac is better in this then he is in Star Wars and yet it still fails and that’s the defining aspect of Suburbicon. The fact that even with all the right ingredients, it is simply an empty piece of violence. And it should have been more. It should have been much, much, more.
Suburbicon gets a 5 out of 10
BY JOSEPH TRONICEK
There’s an edit near the end of The Snowman, where a child suddenly pops up in the window of a car in hopes to playfully scare the two adults inside. The camera pushes in quickly and there is a jolt of music. Then the child smiles. Such is the rest of the film.
The main problem with The Snowman is an issue of tone, and I’m not talking about how ridiculous juxtaposing a small snowman with what could be called “David Fincher,” material. I’m talking about the little details from the set design to the cinematography to weirdly propagandist themes about traditional families. Anytime that the film comes close to having a dark or real moment there’s an oddly bright set, a weird line or someone says Micheal Fassbender’s characters name, each coming in more rapid secession as the films pacing speeds up no matter the scene or context. This means that none of the emotions seem to stick and anything slightly dramatic comes off as stupid or absurd. Cutting from an eerie telephoto shot of car winding over a bridge to an eerie shot of a house that has Norwegian disco music is hilarious.
One could go on for a long time about every single instance in this film where tonal dissonance gets in the way. The third act literally eats the second act, and makes sure any of the dramatic tension that was formed, if any, means nothing. This is a boring, bland, wrongheaded film, unfortunately from a group of people that is far too good for this product.
I give The Snowman a 1 out of 10.
The first shot of Blade Runner 2049 mirrors one of the opening shots of the original. An eye, startling and beautiful on the big screen, appears and is soon juxtaposed with the world. The true testament to how excellent this sequel is can be found here because, just like the first, this juxtaposition is created with imagery, rather than a simple spelling out of the juxtaposition. That might seem like a simple thing, but the power in the audience’s mind of an image of a smokestack, representative of the industrial landscape, curving and molding itself to the eye of the observer, similarly captured in 2049 by the huts of the farmers on the gray land forming the circle of the eye, is undeniable.
If there’s one thing that makes 2049 a true masterwork, it's the understanding of visual means of storytelling. Director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and executive producer Ridley Scott are all masters of the visual art but there’s an invigorating artistic richness to 2049 that is unparalleled by almost anything today. To draw the closest comparison I can think of, 2049 feels like Kubrick, and that’s not just because his “listen with your eyes” mantra fits easily over the burning passion of 2049’s philosophical soul. Villeneuve, somehow stepping his direction game up even higher, brings the perfection that Kubrick was known for as well.
Most Kubrickian of all though is the film’s sense of effortlessness in the face of challenging material. There are many instances where the film is dealing with a huge subject matter relating to life and the human experience and that can be hard to effectively capture. 2049 smartly, allows imagery to stay on screen for a long time, similarly to the first one, keeping the ambiance ratcheted to 12. The score, composed by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, is one of the best I’ve ever heard, parallelling their living, breathing score of Dunkirk. It’s a layer of world building as cold and unforgiving as the breathtaking sets of the city.
And all of that is present before you get to the story, which say it with me much like the first one, is a potboiler detective plot taking place in a cyberpunk landscape, that has the real purpose of taking the audience through a metaphorical journey of self-discovery relating to what it means to be human. If that sounds like I'm placing the plot elements in the back of the film it's because one I am in order to not constitute any spoilers (though those would provide a richer analysis of the material) and two, the only moments the movie does stumble at are when the overall machinery of the plot starts to take over. 2049 weaves a superficially compelling tale but, as highlighted in the opening paragraph, it is the imagery that crafts the identity of this film.
If imagery defines a film though, sometimes you start to lose aspects of individual character, and what’s interesting is that Blade Runner 2049 actually allows this to be integrated into the thematic material of the film. K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant blade runner, a man killing his own kind, who is offered the chance to become human. Throughout the film, K isn’t really connectable to, and it is mainly because he is placed at an arm’s length from the audience. He’s a man confused by his own identity and it often shows to the audience. You’re unable to connect to him, which does end up becoming a flaw, but it is also very interesting to see how he crafts his identity. So much of the film is based on scenes and events that are intentionally vapid, showing the emptiness of the artificiality of the society that the characters occupy and that often keeps the audience away from truly identifying with the film, but also allows them to truly engage with the emotions of the world.
Blade Runner 2049 is a stunning achievement of frustrating, yet spectacular science fiction filmmaking. It drowns you in its imagery, thrills you with its precision and moves you with its ability to capture ideas of what it means to be human. Villeneuve, Deakins, Scott, Gosling, Ford, and almost any of the players here have crafted a science fiction film worthy of the first Blade Runner (The Final Cut), a movie that may be out of your grasp but only because you’re gawking at the visuals.
There are lines in Battle of the Sexes that are heavy-handed and should land in your stomach wrong. They’re lines of unbridled optimism, that in almost any other movie would provide a fakeness that couldn’t be reconciled with. Yet here, contrasted against the clandestine use of sexism, those lines all but shine. They twinkle like wonderful little gold strips of humanity, bright and noticeable like the film’s 35mm cinematography. They shine through the inhumanity at the center of the film. The sickening, rotting corpse of modernity sitting on the sides of the bright wealth of the character’s residences. Of course, the story can’t cover all injustices, it is simply not built to, but the film viscerally goes for broke on the ones that it does attack. For all the unbridled confidence in the antagonist’s sexism, the film returns in its unbridled, even sentimental, humanism. For all the moral quandaries that consume our characters, there is an air of human decency, an understanding that humans can change and that sometimes things don’t make sense, sometimes things are just what they are. Battle of the Sexes is a rare beast of a biopic that had me so consumed I was ready to punch almost all of the male characters in the face. One where even though I knew the ending, it stood as something to look forward to, something to get excited for, something that kept all the frustrations getting there ruthlessly compelling. Battle of the Sexes, on its face value isn’t great, but emotionally it worked me like putty in its hands and it made me happier than almost any film this year.
Battle of the Sexes follows the events leading up to the tennis match between Billie Jean King (here portrayed by Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), that itself was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes,” and if you pay attention to any of this, you know that King truly did king Riggs in the battle.
Like the best biopics though, the builds itself on a skeleton of emotionality that exists outside of the actual stakes of the game. The whole film is about showing the complexities of the humans involved and the screenplay is surprisingly well put together, even if it is a bit structurally wonky. The film establishes the main thread of adversity towards sexism and then dives headfirst into situations where a level of acceptance, of human decency, are used from most of the characters. King starts an adulterous relationship, and discovers a new part of herself, something that her husband figures out early, but treats with the level of respect that it somewhat deserves. There’s something beautiful about discovering a new part of yourself, and while this critic being a straight cis white male (i.e. the type of critic this world does not need any more of) can’t really speak for the one demonstrated by the film, I do understand that the feeling of new love and passion is wonderful and is captured with an authenticity here that only the worn images of 35mm can truly capture. Stone and Andrea Riseborough harness a distilled charm in their chemistry, and playing against each other are almost irresistible. On Briggs's side, he’s dealing with a gambling addiction and a failing marriage, but what gets interesting about him is how he’s swallowed up by his own belief that the system of looking at genders of the time is more comfortable than accepting the reality that humans are what they are. Carell is a really underappreciated talent, mainly being characterized as a comedian, even following his work in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, but as Bobby Briggs, he reaches a level of nuance that can only be trumped by the former performance’s sheer chameleon effect. He’s not a total chauvinist pig as he might suggest, but he sees the allure of it and eventually steps wholeheartedly into the role. Battle of the Sexes does a lot to humanize the man but also shows the acidic wrongheadedness of what he’s so avid to accept. Much of the other ignorant characters are much that way, so comfortable in their ways that they don’t realize the real harm they are doing to their own and the others humanity.
And it is with all of this that I think allows Battle of the Sexes to earn its stand up and cheer moments. There’s so much contrast to the moments of true humanity and the moments of ignorant pandering to the assumptions of society that you can’t help but take all the lines, all the wonderful, sentimental, heavy-handed, human lines and accept them as victories. You can’t help but be caught up in the movement of characters, of the beauty in their loves, and the tragedy of their faults. Writer Simon Beaufoy and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have not crafted a perfect film, but they have managed to get me more engaged and riled up than I have been in a movie theatre in a while. Congrats, I was enraptured.
I give Battle of the Sexes a 9 out of 10.
Beach Rats is an absolute disaster, but it is one that shows in stark relief why some detached art films work and why some don’t. The answer seems to be quite simple, story and character. Beach Rats does its best to be an incredibly detached art film about the life of a young gay man, slowly attempting to come to terms with his sexuality, but it ultimately lacks anything of substance. There’s a frustrating boredom to the work as it expands into nothingness. The story goes nowhere, the character goes nowhere. He starts the same man and ends the same man. The events seem to plod on and the experience is only that of mild sensory and auditory impacts. The character at the center of this film may have trouble gaining his identity, but the movie that he is at the center of doesn’t have one.
If there is some meat to be torn from the bones of Beach Rats it is the way that the camera observes the characters. Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is a young man, and at that, he is an almost hyper-masculine id of a man. He smokes and shaves his head, and is disrespectful and struggles with that, but most of all he lends what seems to be his view of the world to the film around him. In Beach Rats, everyone is objectified meaning that both men and women are viewed as objects. The tonal structure of Beach Rats seems crafted around how characters that objectify each other interact. Objectification of a human being has a price, though. It forces the objectifier to see the other as less than a person, separating the objectifier from the world.
That’s how Beach Rats often feels. Separated from the rest of the world. While the events should play like a fever dream, the lack of character and the structure of scenes leave it as just a fever, a long, disjointed fever, that not even a cast and director throwing everything into the experience could reconcile. If this review turns out short, it is because like a fading picture, Beach Rats sits there, a tasteless reverie of emotion. This looked a whole lot better than it actually is, and consider me thoroughly disappointed.
I give Beach Rats a 4 out of 10.
Ladies and Gentleman, I stand before you a critic lacking the format to properly describe the film that I have just witnessed. There’s an entire book of writing that could be written on Darren Aronofsky’s recent cacophony of culture, horror, and theology that is mother! But I only have a couple of words to attempt to convey all of this. Wish me luck.
The wheat fields stretch on forever like a Norman Rockwell painting, but everything that happens suggests that this is a lie predicated by two people, the mother, and the father. She stands as the mother, trapped, never to leave the home, lacking almost any kind of agency while she has to clean up the mess that those around her and that her husband allow. There is the father, allowing for the creation of the beings that tear the pair’s world apart. The father, the drawer of exaltation to the masses that consume everything that they have given them. That’s as much as one can write about this without totally spoiling this movie, and lacking that ability to spoil the core that everything surrounds I seem quite paradoxically lost for words. Constrained by an inability to break out into a rant about the ever deeper contexts of the film, the layers of content (this is, after all, a review), I find myself having to skim the surface and see what I can let out.
I will say this. This a perfect art piece, deeply rooted in Aronofsky's nihilistic sensibilities and fiercely well read theological layering. mother! is everything Aronofsky’s been building to over his career and more, mixing elements of Requiem of a Dream, Black Swan, and The Fountain into a concoction that leaves one exhausted but also in exaltation.
It is under those circumstances that I tell you that the acting and direction is stubbornly incredible. You won’t see better handheld camera work visuals in any movie period, you won’t see the delicate balancing of larger than life images with those of intimate and understandable anxiety either, and you haven’t seen a film vault from fearsomely sexy to fearsomely disconcerting with this much confidence...ever.
Javier Bardem is a revelation. Bardem always had a delicacy to him that easily molds itself to this difficult character, both unabashedly vain in his acceptance of praise, almost feasting on the exaltation of humanity, yet always regretful. Jennifer Lawrence almost seemed to disappear down the rabbit hole of Hollywood blockbuster acting but has come roaring back with the confidence of a full blown movie star. Same with Michelle Pfeifer and Ed Harris, who show up in roles that at first seem insignificant but leave the audience floored with their daringness. There’s so much Biblical reference, interpretation of man’s effect on the universe around him and intimate condemning of the theological centers of so called, “normal life” that it would have to take actors who could actually convey everything on screen without breaking under the sheer ambitious weight of their roles, and these two greats hold their own. They are at once representative of deities, humans, the mother and the father and much, much, more and succeed magnificently.
In closing, I’d like to say the basest thing I can about the film. The lofty ambitiousness of the piece might benefit from a bit of boiling down. This is a Darren Aronofsky film. After the middling (though by no means terrible Noah), this is a Darren Aronofsky film. A challenging masterwork of art house cinema that displays itself to you and leaves you in a wrecked stupor, both able to explain the intricacies of its genius, but also too damn speechless to do so. I am aghast, floored, and eagerly waiting for the teenagers going into what they think is just a simple horror movie starring J. Law to have their minds so blown it’ll look like Scanners.
I give mother! a 10 out of 10.
I haven’t read any of Stephen King’s books, but the movie IT gives you what is probably a good idea of what it is like to experience a dense work of fiction written by King. The film itself feels like you’re sitting down to enjoy a book, ready to enjoy a full experience and then almost expertly, the storyteller layers the thematic elements into the story, compounding and compounding until you the reader are experiencing a full meal of intertext, theme and baseline emotion. Throw the conceit of visual language in there and who have a mixture that is so potent that it makes you sit back and wonder how IT ever made its way out of the crapfest that is the Stephen King adaptation club. IT, much like The Shining, seems to capture the allure of King. The slow burn and the rich meal of reading a dense work of art.
IT, as anyone who is reading this, must know, is about a group of kids fighting a demon that takes the form of Pennywise: The Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Pennywise consumes both children and adults every 27 years in the kid’s town of Derry and is now going after the children in this group.
The special thing about IT is that the material is so densely layered with subtext and theme that it can’t help but be elevated to a level of greatness that most horror films don’t dare to touch. This is the second great movie of the year that has been marketed as a straight genre piece but is actually about the way that abuse and trauma can affect characters and make them ultimately flawed and therefore interesting beings. The first was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and while that film had to hide behind the glorious facade of a colorful and richly formed summer blockbuster, IT doesn’t have to hide behind anything. IT, being an “R” rated horror film, can go all in on all of the horrifying and disturbing thematic material that it wants to and it often pushes the limits of what you can do with a cast of early teenagers.
The thematic material of IT seems to be focussed on is the bastardization of childhood, with Pennywise being the prime example of this, literally taking a childish thing (a clown) and turning it into a monster that is prepared to consume children, but it is also about contrasting the quite literal manifestation of bastardization of childhood with more subtle (if not presented so) monsters that exist around the characters, namely, the adults. Derry is a town consumed by its adults, who live in both fear and disenfranchisement, taking out all of this on their children. The villain of the piece is Pennywise, but it is also the adults that let the children experience the trauma that Pennywise represents. The layering and intercutting of these two things make for what is easily one of the best structured horror films of all time, as the two hour and fifteen minute runtime allows the story, which is really only Chapter One, to play out in its entirety, rather than sacrificing any of the thematic density of the material to provide a shorter runtime. IT isn’t that scary (though it does get pretty disturbing at times), but it is emotionally draining and intense, like a big block of great prose leading you expertly through character interaction and horrifying revelations.
None of this would work if it weren’t for the tone that is achieved here. If the miniseries also based on the material maybe didn’t have the budget to keep irony out of the film, this iteration easily does just that and with a lack of irony comes a wide breadth of emotion. Nothing about any of this is supposed to be funny and this is one instance where going all, “grim and gritty” is really perfect. Taking that aesthetic and contrasting it with the 80’s pastiche of something like Super 8 and what you get is a film that feels informed by reality, even as the evil, shape-shifting clown consumes his victims. Any jabs at being funny come mainly from the fifteen-year-old cast throwing around f-bombs as liberally as an early Scorsese protagonist and that even seems to slowly sicken as it becomes abundantly clear that the personalities of these children are shaped by the environment around them.
All of that is so well done that you almost forget how great the cast and crew really is for the film. The ensemble of children reaches a new high watermark for child actors and while they are all playing stereotypes, they all do it well. Their writing really does help, with their dirty mouths becoming indicative of their trauma and even some of their agency defined by themselves. Often children in films aren’t defined by their own agency, especially in love, but IT has enough respect for the characters to have a love triangle play out in a confused way, where one kid should theoretically get the girl, but the girl with her own agency chooses another. It is this type of wonderful agency that makes these characters incredible. The adults are more stereotyped, acting more as forces of nature than actual characters, but they for the most part work as characters too. The real MVP must go to Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise though. Skarsgard is striking this really interesting high pitched, almost voice cracking affectation with Pennywise like he is always slyly condescending everyone and it is disturbing from the moment he appears on screen. The physicality of the role (though certainly complimented by CGI) is also captured wonderfully. As far as crew goes, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung sticks out immediately. As the cinematographer of Oldboy and The Handmaiden, he proved himself as a leader in creating frames that are muted but striking, providing places in composition where color can pop from the screen in a way that adds to the film rather than taking away from it.
The special thing about all of this is that when you take all of the hefty theme, great performances, and the striking technical work, the film starts to coopt its own flaws. By the end of everything, the work is so emotionally intense, gory and thematically satisfying that none of that really matters. IT feels perfect, IT feels terrifying, IT makes you feel. There hasn’t been such an emotionally personal piece of horror fiction on screen for a long time, with even the James Wan group not being able to touch the emotional intensity here. This movie is the making of a film that will live on forever and deserves all of the attention that it has received.
I give IT a 9.5 out of 10.
Logan Lucky plays like the ideal power fantasy for anyone left behind by the American Dream. It’s about people, normal working people, who because of the systems they can't control and other people they can’t control, can’t catch a break, and ultimately decide to make a break for themselves. That makes it immediately more interesting than most anti hero stories. Whereas an anti hero such as the Batman fights a vengeful battle, transferring into a necessary one as the crime of his city becomes wilder and wilder, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is just a man who needs the money. He needs to steal because he almost deserves too. That’s the most interesting part of this movie. The inherent likability of a man that is willing to commit a crime, because he deserves too.
There’s a sadness underlying even the most enthusiastically funny parts of Logan Lucky because of this too, and that sadness turns out to be one of the most infectious tonal desserts of the summer. There’s nothing more delectable than the excruciating pain underlying the most funny of situations. Adam Driver as Jimmy’s brother is obsessed with a “Logan Family Curse,” which amounts to just a string of bad luck and an inability to catch a break in the American system. When Jimmy is fired, he decides he’s going to take his own slice of the pie and hires his brother, sister (Riley Keough) and an incarcerated criminal by the name of Joe Bang (a wonderful Daniel Craig) to rob the largest race of the year at a speedway near them. What results is a hilarious crime thriller yet again underlined by the disparity of the characters situation.
And to be honest, that's as far as Logan Lucky goes. The movie shows up so effortlessly, as expected with its writer/director Steven Soderbergh, that it's poppy and cheery tone seems to only accentuate the sadness at the center. It's almost as if the movie, much like American culture wants to quite intentionally ignore the deep pain it has ultimately caused for these characters and the movie is all the better for it.
Soderbergh and his cast and crew are good enough in this too that they can pull off that nonchalant attitude. As sad as they are, it's damn entertaining to watch everything that happens when these smarter than they look ( that includes Soderbergh) hooligans get going, with Soderbergh bringing in huge talent like Hillary Swank, Katherine Waterston, and Seth MacFarlane to simply play ten minute bit parts. Tatum, Driver, Keough and Craig are the real stars of the show though and much like everything else in the movie, they can’t help but hold themselves to an almost effortless standard, especially Tatum, who again, really needs more comedic material.
Logan Lucky is a movie about the American dream and the beautiful catharsis and sickening commerce that it can generate. It's about family, surviving, corporate double dealing, hot chicks and badass cars. Logan Lucky is a great film and it deserves attention.
Logan Lucky gets a 9 out of 10.
A Ghost Story could be described the same way that most people would describe an encounter with a ghost (did I say crazy people, I meant crazy people). It’s cold and soothing at first, numbing to the world around you. But then the existential terror of the moment slowly sinks in and everything suddenly goes white. All existence expands in front of you, the cosmos both collapse and unfold...David Lowery is all about taking ludicrous premises and inserting an ache into them that can’t help but soon blow your mind. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a typical man on the run story, but with the ache, it became a movie about love and what happens when new love arises in the ashes of the old. Pete’s Dragon was a kids movie that started out with a traumatizing but beautiful moment of intelligence, a slice of pure gold on film, and A Ghost Story, which I’m not going to tell you anything about, especially the story, is another mind blowing ache. Another film that unfolds like nothing you can imagine and crushes you with your own existential thoughts. Your own existential terrors. A Ghost Story is an aching experience, one that you can’t forget, won’t forget, shouldn’t forget, and wouldn’t forget. It’s the type of adrenaline shot to the arm that...it makes you feel like living.
What Lowery is playing around with this time is time, and he’s a lot better with it than Christopher Nolan, because rather than trying to take time apart like a watch (as entertaining as that actually is) Lowery embraces the messy nature of time. The ever expanding, ever compressing, meaninglessness in all of it. The feeling that comes from being around long enough that time doesn’t exist, that time holds no bounds. The figments, the importance, everything that it means to be human. There’s no other way around it. Lowery lets time become a diegetic player in scenes, allowing scenes to drag on incredibly long, something that some directors wouldn’t have the ability to nuance to the point of addicting perfection. A scene with Rooney Mara (WHO HOLY SHIT, between Song to Song and this, is having a year of performances so nuanced that it damn near fractures your ability to perceive the idea of an actress) goes on forever, and yet with each aching, pulse pounding moment breaks the audience into the mind space of watching the nuance and the horror that the time presents us with. This isn’t just good filmmaking, this is an uncanny ability to transcend who we are and how we think of our place in this world and David Lowery burning the whole thing to the ground into a symphonic hodge podge of glory.
And if that all sounds crazy, if that all sounds like gibberish in the face of something that should logically be broken down, ok...fine. It’s all gibberish. It’s all too arty. It’s all too much...but you’re missing out. There’s no way past that. You’re missing out on one of the best experiences of the year. A film that can’t help but make you think of yourself, your time in this world, your entire being and those around you differently, and there’s nothing better than when a movie gives you that. A Ghost Story made my day. It made my week. It made my year. A Ghost Story is a stone cold shot to the heart, that I implore you not to miss.
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is something of a minor miracle (if you can, in fact, call a $100 million tentpole minor). It’s a blistering film that leans hard into realist tendencies but has the gall to use them to formalist aims. You see, Dunkirk is structured in a formalist manner, being told in three different spans of time, sometimes on different days, and sometimes intersecting at moments of nail biting intensity. It’s a whip smart structure, allowing writer/director Nolan to take us through the horrors of the Dunkirk Evacuation by way of setting up traditionally heroic moments and then taking the piss out of those heroic moments.
The Dunkirk evacuation was a military disaster, in which the French and British Allied Armies were trapped on the beach of Dunkirk, France, the enemy armies closing in on them. The only way to get off the beach was to evacuate, and soon citizens on their own boats and came to help evacuate, in constant danger from the bombs and gunfire of the German air force.
Nolan’s goal with Dunkirk was creating, “virtual reality, without the glasses” and he just about does that, but he does so with the intelligence to structure his film in a way that always reinforces the emotional palette he’s going for, which is to put it lightly, a disarming (sometimes detrimentally) amount of intensity. Dunkirk crushes you consistently and frustrates with ease. Whenever the movie doesn’t show Nolan’s stroke of perfectionism, the film feels startlingly human, flawed, but that is genuinely ok. Dunkirk, is Nolan’s first film paramountly about frustration, about taking the piss out of his own realistic heroism, about the small things and actions that lead to disaster. If there’s one feeling that Dunkirk imbues best, it’s the feeling of the sinking in Titanic, and that’s not just because a lot of the horrifying action takes place on sinking ships. It’s mainly because Nolan’s goal of deconstructing the nobility at the center of the disaster works so well.
Where as A Night to Remember created a noble sense of the events of the Titanic, and history itself creates a nobility in the evacuation of Dunkirk (which was most certainly noble), there’s a crazed sense in the dressing down of the evacuation at the center of Dunkirk that mirrors the crazed final hour of James Cameron’s opus. Nolan’s three story structure: one taking place at the beach over the span of a week, the other taking place on the sea within the span of a day and the last taking place in the air over the course of an hour, sets up heroic moments throughout the entire film, which are only deconstructed by a later storyline. A plane landing in the water, obviously representing a moment of relief for our characters is soon revealed to be another terrifying problem for the man inside, a moment of silent mourning near the beginning of the film soon reveals itself to just be another survival tactic, and soon one of the most triumphant victories of the film’s ending turns out to be the calling card of a terrible fate. This does mean that some of the earlier heroic victories of the film seem to be underplayed, mainly because they are about to be subverted in order to create the chaos that the film wallows in, but that’s the point. There’s not supposed to be a satisfying part to this until the ending, where Nolan damn near grandstands the power of a political hero of the time, in his ability to unite the people and give the audience a sense that in all the chaos, there is still hope.
The actors here have a perfect amount of physicality. Most of the characters are young men, almost nameless, experiencing the horrors of the evacuations. The biggest stars of the piece, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, and Tom Hardy, are all overshadowed by the plot and the movements, almost to the point that they seem like little figures in the shape of history, rather than actual players, which of course is something Nolan often does, but because again, that’s the point, it works, even if it does sometimes overshadow the always incredible work from all of those actors.
Dunkirk is one of the best war movies of all time (though technically, it finds itself more as a deconstruction), and there’s almost nothing else to say, that I haven’t. Nolan is a great filmmaker and he’s made a film for the ages, much like his others and Dunkirk should not be missed.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets cares as much about its plot as Luc Besson cares about film critics and that is to say not very much at all, but despite that being the case, what it does decide to focus on makes it feel constantly new in this era of safe superhero blockbusters.
At the center of the film are intergalactic special agents Valerian and Laureline, who while being generic stock characters tend to drum up quite a chemistry. That’s most likely because they are played by Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne, who while in a vacuum may seem like wooden character actors, suddenly seem to gain charisma acting against each other. They seem so tailored to each other’s skill sets that both their efforts almost cutely start to grow on you. They seem perfect for each other which creates an energy the film needs, mainly because their relationship is what the film bothers to focus on.
This is the focus so much so that most of the beats in the film are motivated by one of the pair getting in trouble and the other one saving them from whatever situation they have found themselves in as the plot revolves around them, only really doing anything at the beginning and the ending of the movie. This, to some, may be indicative of a flimsy story structure, but the film overcomes this and becomes more interesting than most blockbusters by becoming a much more intimate “day in the life” situation for two space cops.
This does mean that if your focus is in the wrong place throughout the movie, i.e. on the plot, you might get less out of the proceedings. Again, Valerian doesn’t really care what you think about its plot, it just wants to show you some cool shit. Yes, there are blockbusters these days where the same could be said (TRANSFORMERS) where that can’t be used as an excuse, but Valerian is proficiently directed and consistently entertaining and creative, where a most of those are mind numbing and terrible. There is no problem with a big summer action movie just running along like it doesn’t mean anything, just having a bit of fun, as long as it is good, and since we’re dealing with Luc Besson, yep, it’s good.
When the plot does decide to roll around at the beginning of Act 3, you start to notice what Besson is trying to say, which is a variety of allegories all of which hit incredibly hard. The third act is also of surprisingly small scale. The plot really only revolves around a few people, one who has orchestrated a small bug in the system causing there to be a problem. It is a bit underwhelming, but we’ve already seen such a beautiful, luscious world that it’s hard to hold those elements, most of which the movie doesn’t seem so concerned with, against the film. The rest is just too fun, cute, and insanely well directed, that ultimately the whole package adds up into an entertaining summer blockbuster.
Valerian, despite any type of flaw built into the material, works mostly attributed to the great director, and the cast that is ready to make that material extremely entertaining. It’s a monumental work of brisk soap opera filmmaking, that shows you worlds beyond your imagination and gets by on a spectacular amount of charm, even if it’s a bit lacking in the plot department.
I give Valerian an 8 out of 10.
Having seen all three recent Apes movies in a row (I went and saw the Triple Feature), I’m struck with a feeling of disappointment. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is still as strong as it always has been, Dawn holds up even stronger, building upon the skeleton that Rise created. In the shadow of these two excellent science fiction films, War for the Planet of the Apes is, unfortunately, kind of a disappointment, even if on its own it tends to hold up very well. It’s like the Return of the Jedi of the series, not a bad movie per say, just a lot sillier, especially considering the ending that was promised to the audience by the previous entry in the series.
War for the Planet of the Apes picks up five years after Dawn, with the Apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis, motion captured), being attacked by the humans and the humans getting more and more violent and desperate. This eventually leads a to disaster, that leads Caesar to a prison camp for apes up in the mountains where he will have to match wits with the ruthless Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson.
An important thing going into War for the Planet of the Apes is to set your expectations correctly. While the ending of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes suggested all out war, War doesn’t really do that. It’s instead, a much more character driven piece, less about the actual events of the war and more about the ways that characters bounce off of each other. The problem with the expectation is that’s not really what Dawn set up for us. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ending juxtaposed with the plot twist of the original Planet of the Apes provided the audience with a chance to be engaged in the material by using their imagination to build on what would happen next. How would the world be nuked? What pathos could be found in the way that history would sweep up these characters and lead them to the end?...but that’s not really what War for the Planet of the Apes is going for.
It instead, prods the audience with metaphors, and symbolism, suggesting but never showing. The film climaxes in a spectacular final battle, that suggests that humanity would be stupid enough to actually go ahead and blow themselves up due to their incredibly stupid militaristic pride, but it never shows us the payoff. The film instead seems based around Caesar’s own fall from the moral high ground and his return to it, which seems fitting seeing how the series often focussed more on individual emotions, but it also seems to rob the audience of the true tragedy of the story. Dawn felt like it was building to the crushing, deeply interesting end of humanity as we know it. War takes us there in some interesting ways but doesn’t really provide us with any of the emotions that we’d expect coming out of Dawn. It instead focusses on things like comic relief characters, which while great looking (seriously the CG is crazy), don’t seem to do much other than to complicate the Jesus martyrdom narrative that Caesar is going through.
This all being said, the more character focused tone does allow the film to take some life through going all in on the whole perceived “they are animals” metaphor you get with the Apes, becoming a scathing and political film about the moral and political ignorance of people in our country. The level of nonacceptance on display from the humans in the film finds itself becoming comedic at times, which in one way or another could be considered tragic.
War, also looks better than most blockbusters. The apes were mastered by the time they showed up in 2011, but here they look better than ever. This is a much more artistic action movie compared to the similar work in the genre and Matt Reeves action chops are flexed in beautiful ways...if only they were servicing something that didn’t seem so betraying of what we were promised.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a genuinely good movie I’ll probably have to watch more than once to truly appreciate. Again, as a first reaction contextualized by the previous two films, I find that there is some disappointment to be found, but all of the parts are just about perfect, with the acting, the effects, and the writing finding themselves at the top of the blockbuster craft.
War of the Planet of the Apes gets an 8 out of 10.
The Little Hours is marketed as an extremely raunchy, blasphemous piece of work, lacking of any morality and ready to attack with exaggerated, obnoxious, raunchiness. This is, surprisingly, quite untrue. The Little Hours is raunchy, but it’s not that raunchy, with most of the inappropriate content playing quite honestly, rather than the exaggerated sense that the film’s trailers provide us with. Any semblance of sexual or drug fueled content that the film presents us with tends to have a purpose, exploring the deep sadness that comes with a world of great repression meeting a world of true humanity.
The Little Hours explore the actions of a few nuns at a convent in the 14th century. Of course, because these nuns are played by Allison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci, and Molly Shannon, to mention a few, these are not your ordinary nuns. These are seasoned comedians playing nuns that burst into violent rages and scream f-bombs consistently. Soon, a young man named Masseto (Dave Franco), who is being chased after by some men with the intent to kill him, shows up to hide out at the nun’s convent. These nuns being no ordinary nuns, suddenly are spurred on to start living their lives, ready to indulge in what it means to be human.
And that’s what most of the explicit content measures itself up to. When the nuns explode, it’s because they are repressed, their actions fueled by the confused sexuality and freedom in life that they desperately want. Most of the humor isn’t based in said explicitness even, but more in the subtle touches that the seasoned comedic powers in this film, tend to hit right on the mark every single time. The cast is rounded out by John C. Reilly as the convent’s priest and Nick Offerman as a hilarious nobleman, who both tend to transcend the mere one joke characters that they are in the script to become something noble in their own right. There’s something sobering about all the content in The Little Hours and the way that the actors attack it that feels beautiful, rather than cloying. These are reasonable people, thrust into unreasonable situations by their own morals and their own wants and needs, and the film transcends the raunchy humor at its core by using it to explore this situation.
The Little Hours is one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. At the ending, I left feeling truly humbled at the humanity that I had just witnessed. Impressed by the class, and skill that the characters desperate emotions were captured with. The Little Hours acts like a wonderful balm to the sins of humanity and I think it’ll be a nice surprise to those who give it a shot.
Sofia Coppola seems to be fascinated with the way that isolation affects a person. Take for instance her debut feature, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, a scathing look at the way that isolation affects the brains of a group of daughters and the people around them. The rest of her projects as a director can be consistently filtered through this lens, and THE BEGUILED is no different. The fascinating thing about the film is that its themes of isolation seem to work both ways, meaning that the women seem to be kept in by the events of the Civil War outside of them and that the Civil War seems to be kept from them. There’s a separation on both sides, like the women need to be kept safe from what is outside, but what is outside doesn’t know what it has coming to it from these women. It’s blazingly powerful, and amazing stuff, all guided with expected ease by master director Sofia Coppola.
That paradigm that is described in the opening paragraph is only one of a few that are explored in the film, but it, along with the obvious feminist connotations are what makes THE BEGUILED so great. Other than the thematic connotations of the movie, this movie finds itself surprisingly sparse and very, very short. However, this often creates the perfect sense of detachment for her characters. There’s an emptiness to the lives of her characters that spreads into the film itself. THE BEGUILED has a school of women and girls during the Civil War, who are overall unaffected by the War until a wounded soldier shows up at their doorstep. All of those old enough seem to immediately become attracted to the man, and eventually this leads into a deadly (can’t tell you who) confrontation.
The story itself isn’t really that important though, it’s the performances and the direction that Coppola pulls from her actors and herself that makes the movie such a lush and wonderful experience. Each performance allows for audience engagement because each makes you think about the internal thoughts of the characters. Nobody explains anything but the performance and thematic strength of the whole movie can’t help but make it interesting. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Colin Farrell all headline a cast that know how to bring out the themes through just a look. There’s an ungodly amount of audience reading of the characters in THE BEGUILED, which to some might leave the film feeling empty, but to others will be like a rich feast.
On the menu are visual motifs, such as smoke symbolizing the isolation barrier from the outside world, but also the constant reminder that the world outside would not accept them for what they were. There’s the constant framing of Farrel’s soldier in black clothing against the darkness, showing the audience the way that he almost fades out of existence, compared to the brightly lit, unified compositions of the women. The movie’s not subtle, at least visually, script wise subtlety would be too assuming of the film, in its depiction of the women’s dichotomy with the man. They are in charge and when the man himself attempts to take charge, it seems wrong. It seems ridiculous that he would assume that he is so much in charge of this situation.
THE BEGUILED is a film of empty dialogue and rich themes, and it is great for that. Sofia Coppola is one of the best directors of all time and THE BEGUILED is one for the ages just like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES or LOST IN TRANSLATION. It’s a wonderful exercise in deflated style and actor performance. If you get a chance to see it, I recommend you do.
I give THE BEGUILED a 9 out of 10.
THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR SO FAR ARE
2. BABY DRIVER
3. THE BEGUILED
GO SEE THIS MOVIE!
Baby Driver is a movie like Star Wars, Titanic, or any other film that you saw where the overall awesomeness of the film overrides any idea of what you think a good movie could be and to those who don’t like Titanic or Star Wars, keep it up, other opinions fuel a conversation, and plug in any movie that made you feel like you could fly but you could never figure out why? Baby Driver is the real deal, the type of blown out, beautiful action movie that pumps you up so much because it takes the time to not do so.
What I mean by that is that the first act of Baby Driver, isn’t really a first act, it’s a first and a second act. The status quo stays the same so long that you don’t realize that the film is just sizzling in the pan. It might not be deep, but it effortlessly creates an entertaining status quo which puts up a facade enough so that the movie can shift from being a good to a GREAT! (yes it deserves that exclamation point) movie. There is such thing as an effortless movie. A movie that works it’s paces so well that you start to notice the facade behind all of it. Baby Driver feels a bit like that...until it’s not. I haven’t seen too many movies that have the gall to act like they’re a fun PG-13 romp just to get the audience into a comfortable cruising mode and then gun the accelerator into something totally new. There’s no real way to describe what it feels like whenever the film starts to really take off, but when it does Baby Driver becomes one of the best action movies of all time. It’s the seamless mixture of painful sadness, adrenaline-fueled awesomeness and the always helpful tool of earnestness bleeding all over the movie make this movie one of the most entertaining films you will ever see.
Oh right, bleeding, Baby Driver doesn’t take advantage of it’s “R” rating until just the right time. The escalation of the violence matches the escalation of the action, and the story and eventually the violence starts to become a stakes raising part of the experience. This movie doesn’t feel just like an Edgar Wright movie (with apologies to Mr. Wright), this movie feels like it wants to convince you that it is an Edgar Wright movie before becoming a movie that represents the rampant abilities of cinema, high art and low. A transcendent experience, that blasts onto the screen with such confidence that you can only barely hold onto your seat. Baby Driver wrenches you, shoots you forward, throws you around and stops you dead, with its thrilling car chases, excellent characters, and gruesome violence. The film idling on a first act for the first 90 minutes and then just going nuts has the effect of a life changing shot of adrenaline. Each new, wonderful twist in each wonderful character invigorates the movie into one of cosmic greatness.
There hasn’t been a movie that I’ve left feeling this good and this broken (analytically) in a while. You want me to describe why Baby Driver is good? That first act thing helps. You want me to describe why it’s REALLY GREAT! I couldn’t tell you. Edgar Wright has concocted a cocktail like nothing you’ve seen in theatres before. A new classic by every sense of the word and if you don’t go see Baby Driver, you are missing out on a movie that will be talked about like Star Wars or Titanic. You bet your ass it is that good.
I give Baby Driver a 10 out of 10.
“The DCEU has failed. There is no doubt about it now. Wonder Woman will fail. JUSTICE LEAGUE will fail. Warner Brothers will fail. If something this promising can crash this hard even while containing a truly well studied performance by Leto, two cool cameos for the fans, and a glimmer of hope then it’s all going to fail. RIP the DCEU.”
That is what I wrote back in August after viewing David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, an inept disaster of a movie that brought my confidence in the already defunct DCEU to the ground. I put these comments at the beginning of the review to show the depths of my disparity toward the DCEU as a whole, and to contrast this with the fact that despite my predictions, that disparity has all but disappeared into thin air. Wonder Woman is a myth making near masterwork of superhero cinema, using the framework that is already so familiar to guide us the audience through a beautiful and empowering ride. Where the last three films got bogged down in their own failed abilities at philosophical gravitas or well Suicide Squad couldn’t even muster the ability to make its plot or characters make any type of sense much less be thrilling, Wonder Woman has actual pacing and characters and action and charm and happiness and best of all it is just fun to watch. For all the different analysis techniques that I could attempt to layer into this review (which we’ll get to), Wonder Woman just being a close to perfect superhero movie is enough. It’s enough to make me sit back and get disappointed in Justice League. For those who don’t want spoilers, stop now. Enjoy it DC fans, all your obnoxious bellyaching finally resulted in something good.
Wonder Woman, is to the DCEU what Captain America: The First Avenger was to the Marvel Universe, a simple moment where the franchise drops all of the modern day stuff and throws itself a good old party in a time period that every kid in my generation wants to see a superhero in. Better yet, the fact is, in the context of both those Universes, the purpose of these films seems to be the creation of a baseline for the heroism of the following films. There’s an endearing quality to the time periods of both WWI and WWII that can act as idealistic frames for the heroism of later films. In the DCEU, the person who’s supposed to do that is Superman, but that just wasn’t the case here. Thankfully, Wonder Woman takes that spot, leading our titular heroine into the trenches of WWI, attempting to stop an evil general, an evil chemist, and the literal GOD OF WAR from burning the whole Earth. We get to see wonderful images of Wonder Woman’s home, Themyscira, London during the first World War, and the Front itself. While that sounds like a lot of places to go, Wonder Woman never feels badly paced or overstuffed the way that predecessors of the DCEU were. It’s a brisk film, that presents us with what are surprisingly nuanced action adventure sequences and even more nuanced relationship building. The film does falter by trying to throw in all of its pretentiousness (and there is a bit of that in there) at the ending of the movie but that doesn’t stick around long and does serve to set up some stakes for the heroine’s following realization.
In a positive philosophical light, there’s also the fact that Patty Jenkins and her team have put together a very feminist film. It falters at times (as one might expect from a studio produced $149 million tentpole), but it still makes sure to take plenty of jabs at the conservative structures of the world around WWI, even going into outright explaining the ridiculousness of the patriarchy. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine shine in these scenes, both crafting comic timing that is helped by the banter being more than just banter. That’s some philosophy that the writers can handle and thank god the writer of this film didn’t go droning on about man’s relationship with God again.
Patty Jenkins and her team have also crafted a fist pumping action picture. Wonder Woman as a movie and as a character kicks ass. Jenkins and her team employ some restraint to the bombastic stop and start action that has categorized the works of Zack Snyder (deepest condolences, what has happened is something nobody should have to experience). That restraint keeps the great action moments great. Gal Gadot as the titular character provides plenty of graceful physicality and Chris Pine is supernaturally compelling. Action charged up by both the heroic ideal of the first World War and optimistic and powerful sexuality of its characters makes Wonder Woman an action film for our age and for all ages.
The DCEU hasn’t failed...completely. There is no doubt about it. Wonder Woman hasn’t failed. Justice League may not fail. Warner Brother may not fail. If something embodied by some of the worst action movies ever made can bounce back with this much confidence, then it might just succeed. The DCEU is not dead yet.
I give Wonder Woman a 9 out of 10.
Alien Covenant, much like its predecessor Prometheus, on a cursory glance seems to be so good at being just a lush, sound and fury action film, that when it's headier ideas start to motivate the story beats more than the characters themselves, it starts to feel slowly lacking. That said, I did only say on a cursory glance. Taken in the context of the allegory that drives the Alien films Covenant is composed in ways that may be scathingly relevant to the modern world that we live in. It might stretch its story out to fit the parameters of this allegory, but in doing so Covenant is still imbued with a burning sense of wonder, earnestness, and just overall nastiness of both the topic it wishes to discuss with its audience, as well as the films that it aspires to be.
Covenant picks up on the Covenant, a colony ship traveling to a planet where a colony of humans will be established. The crew of this ship (primarily made up of couples) is prematurely awakened by a technical malfunction and lead to a planet where secrets of the events following Prometheus lie.
What follows is a film of such visual tact that it almost effortlessly takes one’s breath away. Ridley Scott really does know how to make a small conversational scene beautiful, while also not forgetting to make the epic sweeping shots be both beautiful, but also leave an empty hole in your stomach. Alien Covenant, much like Prometheus, doesn’t lend itself well to analysis unless one has the core ingredient to the who franchise, but it also like the latter, is a terrifying, yet controlled exercise in gore and dread. As far as the level of intensity here goes, one 15 minute sequence made me just about hyperventilate, which kind of explains what you’re going to be dealing with gore wise. I have a strong tolerance to violence but there were moments that had me feeling numb and scared for my life, both because of the excellence of the direction of such scenes and the genuine care I had for the characters. The film is punctuated with moments of earnestness, the likes of which haven’t been seen around blockbusters in a while. There are scenes with Michael Fassbender that my audience laughed at that are some of the best scenes of the film, giving the film a full blooded beating heart and making one question why the likes of earnestness at the center of films like E.T. and other science-fiction masterpieces is lacking in the realm of “dark and gritty” modern blockbusters and the “safer” fare like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is amazing). These moments come off as flawed and flabby on the sides of a film that is grungy and dreadfully violent, but they also humanize the proceedings, an all too important aspect of the allegory at the center of the Alien franchise. The film begins and ends with a masterpiece of connecting scenes, sickeningly terrifying and hauntingly beautiful. There’s a masterful music cue that can’t help but gain classic status as it unfolds. As Ridley Scott continues to prove to us, he is one of the best visual directors of all time.
In the original Alien, characters were the same archetypes, but similarly, characters were embodied by actors who were personified themselves by such archetypes. Billy Crudup seems like the slightly weak-willed captain who is eventually going to be disadvantaged by his trust in people and overall lack of strength. He’s an actor that can embody those flaws well. Yes, I can believe Katherine Waterston as the person that has the strength that the Captain may lack. Yes, I can believe Danny McBride as a pilot nicknamed Tennessee. This is casting that falls into place and explains half of the movie just by existing. Fassbender, though, much like last time, steals the show. It’s a physical performance embody embodying something that is not human but seems close to it, that isn’t over or understated.
WARNING! THE NEXT PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS AND DISCUSSION OF THE COVENANT UNDER A POLITICAL LIGHT. 8.5, skip to the end, go see the movie.
Every horror film needs to be based on something that is scary to people in real life. It has become widely accepted that the Alien franchise is based on the fear that comes from rape. That’s what I think actually makes Prometheus and Alien Covenant such interesting beasts. They’re films where the logical and emotional effects of a birth stemming from the circumstances of rape are actually pondered over rather than just perused, as it is in the first Alien film. The Engineers in Prometheus hate us. They antagonize humanity, their creation, because of some unforeseen reason, but that is not the case for the xenomorphs and the humans that the xenomorphs attack. The xenomorphs actively enter our bodies without permission and implant us with a seed that then painfully bursts from us. A seed that sucks the life out of us. No this is not subtle, but it brings to mind the questions as to whether or not the destructive creation of a living organism is an injustice or not, especially when relating to a rape? Seeing how a discussion such as this isn’t anywhere near a level of relevance in modern discussion in this country, I can’t imagine why it isn’t so difficult to analyze the film in the context of a pro-choice lens. Seeing how the rape allegory has been backed up by Alien co-writer Dan O'Bannon, I don’t think it’s too far to say that a movie in which a group structured around monogamy is ripped apart violently by the rape and birth by alien creature leaves much to the imagination as to the allegory of the self-harming, imploding conservative values. There is of course also the fact that the android, David, from the Prometheus has survived and created the xenomorph as the next level predator to humanity. He pities humanity and wishes to destroy it. That may be slightly problematic, even attached to context, but it provides another layer to the way that the creations of humanity can lead, directly and indirectly to our harm.
That’s all a lot more political than I wanted it to be, but it was necessary to deconstruct the reason why it doesn’t actually matter that much whether or not the thematic ambitions of the film take over the story rather than the characters. Thematically, what is there is so true that the film almost deserves to be swept off the ground by its themes. In this time that we live in, there’s a crazy amount of importance to a film that explores themes that we need to desperately understand as well as just be a white-knuckle blend of philosophy and gore. Alien Covenant scares the shit out of me and I hope it does the same for you.
I give Alien Covenant an 8.5 out of 10.
For the record, the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has somewhat faltered in my estimation since I first saw it. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the type of film that after you see it a couple of times, the corporate soul of the thing slowly starts to leak from behind the badass music and beautiful candy-colored visuals. It’s a fine film, maybe slightly compromised by the fact that it goes weird...but not too weird. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2. is really, REALLY, weird, and it’s all the better for it.
Seriously, guys GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2. feels like a full length film of James Gunn taking all the good will that he has banked from the first film being such a gigantic hit and making a movie that pushes the Troma energy that he started with back into it. If one thing helps Guardians succeed where some of the other Marvel movies seem to fail, it is this particular energy, summarized best as what happens to a homogenized Marvel movie when the energy of a grindhouse 80’s film is peppered throughout the film just enough to turn funny but forgettable into, Holy Shit! That’s a lot of dead people and a tiny tree man holding a severed toe. If there’s one moment of the first movie that describes the tone here, it’s the scene when Groot skewers a row of guys and slams them all about. It’s a moment of hilarity, but also one where you’re left thinking about how all of those guys just got brutally killed. Vol. 2 is full of moments like that which benefits the film which actually focuses less on the banter this time and actually telling a story that is pretty interesting and dark when you get down to it. The Guardians themselves aren’t as excessively bantering, but we still know more about them by just the way that they react to situations like, intentionally, but not technically intentionally declaring war on a race of beings who believe themselves to be the perfect race in the universe.
What often made the first film though, that returns in a big way are the use of music and the way these cues could support the tone and here that comes back in a big and better way. The first moments that we spend on a foreign planet just about drops the best use of a song in the entire series, until it is all but topped by an escape scene later in the movie. If there’s one thing that the creative team of these films understand, it’s the intertextual weight that each of these classic tunes can bring to each audience member and the way that can manipulate the tone of a given scene. There’s joy to be found within the chords of “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Lake Shore Drive,” and as shamelessly manipulative as they are, each of these cues, much like in the first film, work better than you could ever imagine.
Of course, the returning cast and added ones are all brilliant. One hesitates to really call the acting in Marvel movies great, but performance is a huge aspect of making these movies tonally work out as multiple different genres start to compete for the spotlight. The core is great, much like the last time, but the inclusion of Kurt Russell is just incredible. Having just watched ESCAPE FROM NEW YORKfor the first time a few days ago, it’s nice to see Russell embrace the same powerful presence, but with a little bit of mania behind it rather than bravado. New addition, Pom Klementieff, as Mantis also fits well into the series, showing a character that is not jaded like the rest of them, but more innocent and trusting. It’s interesting to see her contrast alongside the rest of the cast.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2. is certainly the movie to see this summer. WONDER WOMAN nor JUSTICE LEAGUE nor SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING look of the quality on display here, so I don’t think it’s too far to say that this may be the best superhero movie we get all year. Then again, if we do get a better one...well that would be great because this movie is a wonderful experience.
I give GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2. an 8.5 out of 10.
Most crime films of the modern era seem to take a lot from the French New Wave because the rebellious nature of the time period fits so well with the rebellious cool of the modern crime film. This has resulted in many films that are cool in their superficial and referential natures like Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino’s best film), and almost any other straight crime thriller of the modern era, most of them entertaining. In fact, look up any review, and you’ll probably find a description of Free Fire as a knock-off of that type of movie. However, these almost seem to miss the point of Free Fire. Free Fire never wants to be cool. It just wants to be playful, and playful it is. The best way that I’m left to describe it is like a Shakespearean tragicomedy spiced up with the intensity of a paintball match, and it’s satisfying for being just that.
The reason I say Shakespearean is that the film’s characters and comedic methods are firmly rooted in Shakespearean drama. There are the main players, there are their comedic “subjects,” and most of the problems come out of misunderstandings and dumb shit that the subjects do. One is almost reminded of The Comedy of Errors as these dipshits shoot at each other with no idea sometimes of who is actually on who’s side or who has just shot at them. Fittingly, the gunfights display a crazed chaos, that never tilts over into being mean. Again, this movie isn’t cool. It’s playful. We know just enough about the characters by the time the shooting starts to care but little enough to have a sense of detachment, making every bullet hilarious.
The fact that the movie is directed by Ben Wheatley and written by him and wife Amy Jump also calls to mind that Free Fire is a film that is especially well read. The two are responsible for the great A Field in England and High-Rise, so any estimation that they were making a film that was just a superficial shootout is kind of an insult. They bolster their characters through intertextual connections to Shakespearean comedy archetypes keeping the film light on its feet while still feeling particularly rich, something that also wouldn’t be possible without the work of the actors here.
Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor and many, many, more are in on the gunfight here and if that’s not enough to get you into the theater it really should be. This movie is effectively a line up of all the world’s great, if slightly underappreciated, actors all crammed into the same movie and the tone being more funny than horrifying is up to them in many ways. Larson and Murphy have a rapport for the ages, creating agency just through the few words that they share. All the actors are good enough to do that, and most of them hit their mark just right. Some, however, are somewhat underutilized, but that seems to be kind of built into the premise. Also built in seems to be the film’s main flaw where the verisimilitude (the illusion time passing realistically) doesn’t always seem to ebb and flow correctly because of all the artistic flourish and big moments for each character that Wheatley chock fills the movie with. Of course, these moments make the movie for the most part so the sacrifice of some more realistic timing is definitely worth it, but it something you notice every once in awhile.
Free Fire was my most anticipated movie of the year and it, for the most part, paid off exactly how I thought it would. This is a small-scale miracle, both hilarious and richly layered. It’s low stakes certainly won’t be for anyone without an attentive eye for the archetypes that it finds itself wading through, but for those who do see them, I’d say Free Fire will be a hysterical, if a bit flawed 90 minutes.
I give Free Fire an 8.5 out of 10.
Hello welcome to FilmAnalyst. My name is Stephen Tronicek, and I really like movies. This is a way to get my opinions out to people. Thank you for visiting.