Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) (PG-13)














This review contains SPOILERS!
"Rogue One" should be un-spoilable (which isn't a word, I realize). This is the nature of prequels. We know what's going to happen and from just the trailer we know roughly what the movie is about: the reconnaissance mission that captured the plans for the Death Star prior to Episode IV. If this comes as news to you, you either didn't read the spoiler alert, didn't watch any of the trailers, or have no idea about any of the "Star Wars" movies, in which case you probably shouldn't watch "Rogue One". This is a movie filled with Easter eggs and wonderful side moments to placate the many "Star Wars" fans.
But as much as it fits into the cannon of "Star Wars",  "Rogue One" is most decidedly not a "Star Wars" movie in the modus operandi of the original Lucas films. This is because Lucas is, against all odds, an optimist and due to the structure of a simple narrative, we can expect certain outcomes. "Rogue One" defies this, and rightly so.
Although the Lucas optimism might make a safer film, the critical and popular reception to this movie thus far has proven that the writers made the right decision. All that being said, do not go into "Rogue One" thinking that it will be a perfect movie because—even though it adds so much complexity to the original trilogy without treading on the sanctity of the beloved franchise (no easy feat)—this is a movie with a lot of faults.
The first half of the film is clunky and slow. We jump between crucial figures who get no real introduction including Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), two characters whose important is soon explained by their proximity to the story's protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). It feels like Roger Ebert's complaint of Nolan's closing "Dark Knight" film: there is too much going on in too short of a time. Sometimes the cue cards that tell us which planet we are whipping off to show of writer Tony Gilroy's "Bourne" franchise credentials. It should come as no surprise that Darth Vader makes an appearance but after all the hype, I almost wish that that scene was cut from the movie because it feels patronizing and cheap.
Yet the film slows down and introduces a few crucial characters like Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus (played by Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang) and the robotic sassy character K-2SO voiced pretty perfectly by Alan Tudyk. What's almost amazing about all this is that we don't feel so lost when the movie gains its footing.
"Rogue One" asks complex questions about determination, ethics, and self-sacrifice. Although it does wrap up very nicely, the impact of the movie was very clearly felt in the theater I went to see it at. The reaction was very physical.
I think the reason "Rogue One's" second half is so splendid is because it decidedly moves away from the Lucas campy film making that we somewhat expect. This is a movie almost forty years later that is re-imagining the entire franchise and somehow this works really well. Although there seems to other alternative, it's nice to see a movie with this kind of budget committing to the only outcome that feels honest to the story it is telling. It does not coddle its viewer.
This also proves that Gareth Edwards is a force behind the camera. As only his third movie, "Rogue One" will likely not be the high point of the "Monsters" and "Godzilla" director. He handles the action sequences with such spectacle that it's almost breathtaking.
"Rogue One" feels like the very first "Star Wars" movie that actually lives up to its namesake. This movie is about a war; and we realize that immediately.
All my complaints aside, "Rogue One" is a testament to everyone who worked on the film. It's artistry meeting blockbuster and I feel hopeful (pun intended) that other action movies will take cues from this and follow in its footsteps.
"Rogue One" deserves all the praise it is getting. Go see it in the theaters.







Score: ★★★½

Arrival (2016) (PG-13)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
There's something familiar about the idea of aliens coming from the far corners of the universe to visit us. Maybe it's because we have an idea of our self-importance and place in the cosmos that makes Earth the central target for all these types of movies. And naturally, there are two possible outcomes for an extraterrestrial visit to earth: it is in peace and in the name of science, or it is in the name of war and conquest.
Hearing the setup for "Arrival" one would immediately assume that something like "Independence Day" would ensue. Twelve monolithic type ships descend from space and stop at various places across the globe. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) in voice-over narration makes note of the occurrence as not something that she views as a beginning or ending or anything; but simply a monumental visit that changed everything.
We expect, in the first five minutes, to be thrown into a government meeting with military experts who will then tell us that violence appears to be the only answer; but this isn't what we get. Instead, "Arrival" side-steps every single major convention of the genre that we have some sort of Pavlovian reaction to. We see an alien ship, we start to salivate.
Instead, we get a sense of unease a dread from a civilian perspective, and in all truth, it's this that grants understanding that "Arrival" might be the very first movie to treat this subject with any sense of severity, emotional integrity, and intellectual gravitas.
Louise Banks, a linguistics expert, is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who plays her a sampling of an interaction with the beings in the ships. This recording is incomprehensible but Louise still asks to be taken to the ship itself because the interactions with the aliens might be more helpful to her. After denying this request, Weber is back with a scientist in tow, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). It's very clear that these are the two ways of approaching something like this: the scientist who wants to know the how and the linguist who has the ask the question.
"Arrival" is a movie that thrives on its script more than anything else. It's a precise work that is almost shockingly perfect. There is not a dull moment in the middle section of the movie and most of this should be credited to both Eric Heisserer and Denis Villeneuve whose previous work has made him into a critic's darling, and rightfully so.
A simple UFO visitation turns into a poetic contemplation on time, language, the meaning of communication, the media's fear of the unknown, memories, and being able to chose your own destiny. Though some of that is almost eye-rolling cliche at this point in cinematic history, "Arrival" manages to present the issues and themes in entirely new ways with such pacing and immersion that you might forget there is anything else besides this movie.
The ending strains for a climax that it ultimately cannot deliver quite as well as the set-up but what we're left with when the dust settles is an evenly paced, magnificently scored, eerie commentary on a host of issues.
There is no loss of the sense of irony that I must rely on words to convey how much I liked "Arrival". Most of the movie allows to realize that a bad translation without connotation or intent is like taking a sentence out of context and ending civilization with it. Every word matters.
And with that weight we are given two incredibly understated and wonderful performances by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Their chemistry is powerfully quiet and restrained.
"Arrival" is not just the best science fiction movie of the year, it's one of the best films of the year and it's one of the smartest science fiction movies in the last decade.








Score: ★★★★

Enter the Dragon (1973)


















Bruce Lee is a large figure in cinematic history. Not because of his stature or his personality, but because he along with a few other people like Jackie Chan, popularized the martial arts movie genre in Hollywood. As perhaps the most well-known of his works, "Enter the Dragon" shows why he became such a superstar that his name is still a household feature even to those who have never seen his movies.
A decade after the first James Bond movie, "Enter the Dragon" feels very much in the vein of 007. Its premise is eye-rollingly simplistic and its execution is very standard and yet, this isn't an art house movie attempting to revolutionize the film industry. This is something that was made to entertain and it succeeds on most fronts.
The movie is acceptably short and never contains any unnecessary scenes, albeit the script might contains unnecessary characters.
In the film, the poetry of martial arts is not lost to Lee (Bruce Lee) who is being trained at one of the most illustrious academies in the world. A prior student has left the school and its altruistic manner of thinking and has decided to go rouge, as it were. Any suggestion of Sarah Palin aside, this is pretty much "Star Wars" before "Star Wars" and here martial arts is the Force and this school is the Jedis. But whatever...moving on.
This rouge ex-student is named Han (Kien Shih) (yes, Han like Han Solo) and he holds a tournament on the island he owns for masters of martial arts to come and compete for a prize. This kind of rough and tumble free for all method of fighting is not Lee's style, yet a few officials in some government agency approach Lee and ask him to be their spy. Lee also has emotional ties to this case, but I won't say anything on the matter.
Anyways, so there's the premise: assemble the best fighters in the world on one island where shady somethings are happening and ask Lee to figure it all out.
The aforementioned Bond franchise should not be forgotten because the music is so jazzy/rock-n-roll that it's impossible to ignore James Bond's impact on the action film before "Enter the Dragon". There's nothing in the movie that would be particularly rememberable and yet, it is very fun throughout. It moves quickly, it has a solid, if beaten down plot, and Bruce Lee is a very watchable lead.
The movie does break down in terms of the actions of the protagonist. We see him teaching a pupil early in the movie about what martial arts is and he tells the student to fight him with emotion...but not anger. Well, don't pay any attention to that because Lee does becomes somewhat of a rage monster towards the end of the movie and other films would take these moments to show how the protagonist is flawed and have them learn from it...but not this flick. It just barrels past these moments at a breakneck speed to the conclusion. And I suppose I can't blame them for that.
Spies, thrills, fights, etc. What more did you want?








Score: ★★★

Batman Returns (1992) (PG-13)













Tim Burton's second voyage into superhero territory is probably best known for its villains. Though "Batman" and its sequel were crafted with the goal of being blockbuster movies—the film's carnival approach to death and destruction a far cry from the quasi-'realism' of the Nolan movies—it feels like all the right pieces of an art house movie inside something Terry Gilliam only dreams about. The large sets, the overt acting—it all rings true of a less poignant "Brazil". Yet what escapes the almost incoherent revelry is a solid movie and a few iconic performances.
After the Joker was defeated in "Batman", a new super villain emerges, The Penguin. The movie opens with the birth scene of this deformed animal/man and his parents decision to throw him into the sewer on Christmas so they can be rid of the responsibility of raising him and also to save their own socialite public figure. This sets up the wrestling issues and themes of the rest of the movie: the privileged versus the tenacious; the stable versus the sane; and the politics of manipulating power.
A few important figures are introduced in the beginning moments of "Batman Returns", we see Shreck (Christopher Walken) a business man whose villainy is not so subtly hidden under his dealings. He wishes to control all the power of Gotham, both figuratively and literally. Then there's the sitting mayor (Michael Murphy) who seems to just be a pawn in the hands of those who wish to take his place. Shreck's shady dealings don't go unnoticed by his anxious secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) but she is either too innocent or too naive to realize that she might have gotten in over her head until its too late.
"Batman Returns" doesn't follow any typical trajectory of a superhero movie. We're never really quite sure who the "big bad guy" is, because the power dynamics keep shifting throughout the film. Pretty much every characters besides Batman goes through ups and downs in their ability to adhere to the audience's sense of morality, which is to say, they switch from Batman's side to the other side and back again. The Penguin (Danny DeVito) is sometimes the mastermind of a plan and sometimes he falls into the hands of a more conniving Shreck and vice versa.
Although this view of shifting powers is true in the context of the movie, it's also possibly giving the film too much credit. After all, this is a movie that was designed to please crowds and it's very enjoyable to watch. The story arc of Selina Kyle turned Cat Woman is so deliciously fun that the movie is worth watching for that alone. Michelle Pfeiffer pulls out all the claws and scratches her way into a mentally disturbed, power savvy antihero who wants to exact revenge on her shady boss. There are some inconsistencies here with Cat Woman, mainly with the writing and how she seems to be able to get easy access to each other and is commonly united against either Shreck, the Penguin, or Batman at different times depending on where you are in the plot. Yet what the movie lacks in organization, it makes up for with sheer color.
The film's greatest success is that it never entirely loses its sense of tragedy and sorrow even underneath all the cooky costumes and robotic penguins. This, actually, is something Roger Ebert criticized about the movie; but I appreciate that, amidst all the crazy explosions and frankly bizarre plot turns, we see the back of Selina Kyle, looking into a glass store and saying "why are you doing this?" It's a small moment that gets lost in a larger performance but it reminds us that some of these characters are actually struggling and hurting inside their masks (a not so subtle theme the movie threads into the dialogue).
There is a lot to roll your eyes at, particularly some of the more comical dialogue provided by the Penguin. But maybe Nolan ruined the Adam West style of Batman, or maybe Tim Burton is just deftly standing in between madness and humor and nonchalantly shrugging, letting us love or hate the gray areas.





Score: ★★★

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (R)
















It's hard to keep on open mind when you go into "The Shawshank Redemption", mainly because its reputation precedes it. This movie tops "best films" lists time and time again and, if we are to believe IMDb, it's the best movie of all time. That's saying a lot and so, when watching it for the first time, it's hard to get rid of the idea that you're watching the best movie that's ever been made. Being the kind of person I am, I immediately go on the offense and look for errors in the film to justify to myself why my favorite movies are 'better' than this, which is probably not the right frame of mind.
I first watched "The Shawshank Redemption" a few years ago and I decided to give it another chance today. On first viewing, I found it long, boring, and counter-intuitive—on second viewing I must say I was more impressed with it.
The spoofs, rip-offs, and references to this movie are so numerous almost nothing is left as a surprise, even for first time viewers. And for those who know nothing, the script's tendency to lean towards optimism usually allows you to predict what's going to happen.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is wrongfully convicted of the double murder of his wife and her secret lover. He is sentenced to two life sentences and finds himself inside Shawshank, a prison run by a fundamentalist warden (Bob Gunton) and enforced by a violence prone Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown). There is something giddy and righteous about these two men and the power they hold over the prisoners of Shawshank, it plants the seed of resentment in both the audience and the prisoners themselves.
Like any movie with this power conflict, we are led into several situations in which fairness and equality are thrown away and the lack thereof is flaunted in front of our face. It's enraging and it's very energizing. Andy becomes a pawn in this world, but, as his new friend and our narrator Red (Morgan Freeman) points out, he may be the match the prison system is waiting for.
Unlike "Cool Hand Luke", "The Shawshank Redemption" gives us a hero who is in no shape or form a rebel. Andy likes to play by the rules, but he likes to be smarter than everyone else and use his knowledge to gain control of limited situations. When he hits a walls a realizes that he has come to the extent of his power, this is when his world starts to collapse.
The biggest theme that pieces together the more episodic moments of the film is hope. Red thinks that hope is dangerous and Andy thinks hope is the only thing left worth fighting for. It is clear by the end of the movie which man we are supposed to believe.
"The Shawshank Redemption" isn't what I would like it to be: a commentary on prison; but instead it's a movie about hope and how good things happen to good people. This is my biggest problem with it. There is nothing in the movie that feels believable, and yet the vacant spaces between acts of courage and intelligence are filled with the depressing realization that the world isn't fair. The karma of the movie winds up in a final trope that allows us to take a deep breath and realize that everything is going to be okay.
This is very different from "The Green Mile", director Frank Darabont's other Stephen King prison movie, which ended a little bleaker and a little more powerful. "The Shawshank Redemption" states its purpose in the title itself, it is a redemption of Andy Dufresne and the injustices done not only to his physical body but to his emotional well-being. And by the end of the movie, we realize that he is one such protagonist who deserves this redemption.
If I would have had my way, the film would be much more dismal than it, which would defeat the reason that "Shawshank" has become so ubiquitous to the American film oeuvre. In my mind, it would make a more honest film; but maybe that's not what people want, they want the good guy to win, they want to see the bad guy suffer, and then want—all ironies understood—escapism.
But still, watching the movie, you have to appreciate its artistry and the care that went into it, particularly Thomas Newman's evocative score.







Score: ★★★

Shaodw of the Vampire (2000) (R)














"Shadow of the Vampire" will mean nothing to you if you haven't seen the original 1922 "Nosferatu". Hollywood, as per its usual homage to itself, captures the madness of the production of the horror classic and mixes in its own psychedelic horror and poetry in order to establish something a little out of grasp than what it can achieve: art. That is to to say that the film is deftly made and often hypnotizing, letting little screentime go to waste; but it does try to overreach its boundaries.
Probably your marker of enjoyment of "Shadow of the Vampire" would come with how well you like the original "Nosferatu" and if you're a fan of vampire lore in general. I myself am a fan of both, therefore, this was not a movie that was difficult to like. The premise of the movie is so absurd it's almost impossible for the movie to function at all: maybe, the actor who played the vampire in the 20s, was actually a vampire. While this may seem a little too full of itself, when the film starts to play out, the similarities between the movies and life itself becomes purposefully blurred and the escapism of the film, in its more brilliant moments, allows us to believe in the story itself.
Friedrich Murnau (John Malkovich) is determined on making an amazing picture about a vampire. Having just been denied the rights to Bram Stoker's Dracula, he has replicated a similar story with a new villain called Nosferatu. Surrounded by a skeptical production team and hell-bent on making something lasting, Friedrich becomes obsessed with the relatively new technology of film and decides that this medium will be the one that will make his name go down in history.
In his research for the film, he comes across a method actor named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) who seems so fit for the role of the vampire that it is soon too late to realize that he might be more than he originally said.
"Shadow of the Vampire" is very smart for two reasons: the intermingling of the original shots of the 1920s movie, and the way that Willem Dafoe handles himself so eerily like Schreck's mannerisms. Of course, Werner Herzog's influences are seen here as the vampire is then seen in many scenes reading from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's epic poem "Tithonus" about a man trapped by immortality These moments fade into the background as the vampire's more "human" side fades and he just becomes the villain of the movie, motivated only by bloodlust and greed.
John Malkovich's Murnau is a much more problematic character. He seems so ensconced in the idea of his movie that he risks other human lives for the sake of his art. In the final frames of the movie, he stands behind the camera, seemingly oblivious to the carnage, and commands that his will be done. His god-complex comes to fruition throughout the movie and it leaves the viewer wondering at what cost art is manufactured.
The issues with the movie are numerous, even considering its fantastical themes that excuse the less realistic feeling scenes. The wavering accents of the cast is a problem, as is Malkovich's tendency to over-play his characters with a typical scream-and-shout tantrum technique.
The take aways of the film far outweigh any of its problems; bu at its core, it remains deeply in love with itself as any film about films would be.







Score: ★★★½

Moonlight (2016) (R)

















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Moonlight" feels like many things at once. It is an example of the indie movie meeting great critical reception (and, no doubt, limited theater attendance); a poetic look at the anxiety of living as a gay, black man; and the story of a boy growing up in isolation.
It's no surprised that one of the first moments we see Chiron "Little" (Alex R. Hibbert), he is inside a run-down apartment, escaping the bullies outside. There is almost no light inside, but soon the window is pried open and Juan (Mahershala Ali) walks in and invites the little boy to lunch. The boy doesn't speak for hours, not even after he's taken back to Juan's house. Eventually, he tells them that his name is Chiron, but everyone calls him Little. 
Chiron lives with his mother in Miami and things aren't great at home. His mother and he have a strained relationship and he starts his mother's addiction become more important than his well-being. Juan sees this too—Chiron and Juan spend much of the first third of the movie together, talking about seemingly nothing. The first shift in the movie occurs when Chiron leaves his mother's house, walks all the way to Juan's place and asks him two important questions: 1. what is a faggot? 2. Are you a drug dealer?
The answers to which lead to the abrupt fade into the next section: Chiron as a teenager. Everything from the first part influences the anxieties that are now made much more evident in the movie's second act. We see Chiron (Ashton Sanders) now much older, much taller, skinny, and very, very anxious about his sexuality. The kids tease him constantly for being gay, bullying him and pushing him around. At home, his mother's addictions are getting worse and the only solace he finds is with Juan's old girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe). This is probably the best portion of the movie, not only because Sanders is such a compelling actor to watch; but also because it perfectly focuses the tensions of the movie into a stretch of very precise film making.
As the film movies on and Chiron ages again (played this time by Trevante Rhodes) we begin to see the possibility of resolutions. The last act is the movie's weakest, not only for its curious optimism but also for its quick repair of all things we have come to be anxious about for the sake of the protagonist.
In some ways, the film is straight-forward, a coming-of-age story about one boy in a particular circumstance. Yet, the way the film defines itself, and is being defined by the wealth of critical acclaim it has already received, is a much more interesting idea: a gay black drama. Certainly, this is a far cry from "Brokeback Mountain" and it's probably the closest thing we have gotten to a virtual queer masterpiece ever since Haigh's "Weekend"; but I find myself resisting the urge to call it just a "gay drama". It becomes limiting.
It is enlightening to see how the movie tackles issues of masculinity, violence, and pride; but it never defines any of its characters within the normalized white queer culture, and for that, it becomes something we haven't really seen before.
The film making itself is beautiful to look at, from the classic inspired soundtrack to the more Dolan moments of emotional release and artistry. It's powerful and keenly acted. Everyone in the film feels honest and true to their parts. "Moonlight" should see some Academy Award attention when the time rolls around.
By the film's ending, it does seem that writer and director Barry Jenkins is very clearly stating that this is a gay film and the optimism in the end is appreciated for once. It doesn't feel campy or cliche and no one is killed off or destroyed by the end of the film—it is a resistance of those tropes. The last moments seem to indicate a healing of sorts that occurs; and in this, there is some mystery.
Whether or not I understand every idea and symbol in the movie is irrelevant. What is important is that the film gives us honest portrayals of people rarely seen on the screen before.







Score: ★★★½

Fiend Without a Face (1958)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Fiend Without a Face" seems, at first, like a movie that so disgustingly and perfectly embodies the woes of a post WWII world. Atomic energy, the military's intrusion into civilian lives, and the yearning for a 'simpler' time—they all seem to line up fittingly for a world that was just wrecked by a powerful war in which an atomic bomb seemed to be the genesis for mass hysteria and paranoia. Yes, at first all these themes and more make sense in a historical context...if the movie had come ten years prior.
But due to the gap between the end of the war and the movie's debut, one might have to reconsider these ideas—although, certainly, they should not be dismissed entirely...after all the second world war was no small issue. Instead, think of an international paranoia gripping the world because of intelligence. It shouldn't surprise you that central to the film's titular monsters is a radar powered by atomic energy that can peer thousands of miles away into the homes of everyday Russians.
While this fact is lost in the larger, gory, more entertaining suspense of a story about Canadians being attacked and strangled by brain sucking monsters from space, it should not be dismissed.
"Fiend Without a Face" concerns the American and Canadian border where a military base is testing out an atomic powered radar which they will use to gather intelligence on the Russians. Cold War panic was just about to hit its zenith in America, so the film seems fittingly targeted on Soviet territory. But, rather than be focused on the impact the radar might have should the enemy gain control of it, "Fiend Without a Face" presents a problem that allows us to examine it introspectively.
No, don't get me wrong, the film isn't that smart and purposely so, but it isn't a stupid movie. Here, rational arguments and complex ideas are pushed aside for "mental vampires" as protagonist Major Cummings (Marshall Thompson) describes the phenomenon.
Civilian lives are dropped like flies due to an unseen, unknown serial killer and the tensions between the Canadian agrarian community and the American military stationed on the border. These farmers want the base gone; but the military chain of command is digging in its heels and shaking its head. Here is a classic stand-off.
Add a few deaths in there and voila, you have a perfect recipe for less than hospitable foreign relationships. In the case of "Fiend Without a Face" we can take a break from all the drama now and again for a scene now and again where important and periphery characters are taken down one by one by this mysterious killer.
Naturally Cummings' love interest is introduced at one of these initial deaths and from there the sparks fly, because nothing says "I love you" more than looking into the hollowed out skull of a man who just had his brain sucked out of his back like a hardboiled egg...oh, but don't worry, the man is also this love interest's brother. Barbara (Kim Parker) pops back into the plot again and again like an unwanted alarm clock that keeps getting snoozed. It's clumsy the way the script entangles her in the detective work of Cummings.
As they come closer to discovering who or what is causing these deaths, the stakes are revved up because the end of the world could be coming, as is only natural. By the end of it, having gone from political to the absurd and back, we are left wondering if "Fiend Without a Face" is discouraging any sort of rational thought. It might be suggesting that we stifle ourselves and not attempt to stretch our minds; but then again, maybe I'm reading too much into it.
Considering all it has against it, from the Irish accents that are supposed to be Canadian, to the more vibrant gore scenes in the end of the movie, "Fiend Without a Face" works...and it works surprisingly well. While it's philosophies may have gotten tangled, I'm still impressed that a B-horror movie could thrive on such a level of critical thinking and such a lack of monsters.







Score: ★★★

The Last Picture Show (1972)















At one point in "The Last Picture Show", Lois Farrow turns to her daughter and begs her to leave the small town of Anarene, Texas. The town is "flat and empty" and Lois has spent her whole life trying to spice up the monotony. It's no surprise that there is nothing to do in the town, the opening shot of the movie shows Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) struggling with his truck on what appears to be the biggest street in the whole town. It's empty except for his car.
Anarene has one pool hall, one theater, and perhaps only one bar. "The Last Picture Show" traps its characters in this town as it traps its viewers into it. A more optimistic approach might see the quaint-ness and intermingling of the people thereof as a reflection of proximity of people and find something uplifting about that. I don't see it this way, from the opening shot of Sonny's sole car puttering down the street to the deep chill that the movie's more emotional moments take place during, there is a stillness that is almost stifling here; and this is not a movie with dull moments. The gossip alive in the movie thrives in the underbelly of small-town America. It's this kind of film that inspires works to come after it like "The Ice Storm" or "Blue Velvet". In fact, Peter Bogdanovich gives us the most coherent David Lynch style of film.
With all that said, you can imagine how pleasant it is to watch.
A film more concerned with "life" than a gripping plot, "The Last Picture Show" is a snapshot of a year in Anarene as characters grow up, become more mature, lose their virginities, and decide about their future. The three highschoolers that receive the most screentime are Sonny, Duane (Jeff Bridges), and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd). As they grow older, we begin to realize there is something almost malicious about the story itself. It's a not so subtle "losing of innocence" story; but what it entails feels rather ordinary. There is gossip about people sleeping around, there is heartbreak when relationships end, and there is the misery of knowing that at one point it might all be taken away from you.
The movie is slow and steady, never rushing and never preaching. It doesn't build into anything grander like Kubrick or Lynch might be tempted to do. Instead, it relies on its characters being multi-dimensional and nuanced to bring its emotional impact to a crescendo. What is most shocking about this is how well it works. I felt drained by the end of the movie, hopelessly crushed, desolated, but somehow hopeful. As the protagonist, Sonny is allowed to have a quasi-happy ending even though he might not deserve it.
Perhaps the film's greatest accomplishment is how fragile everything seems and how aware the viewer is of this fragility but how unaware the characters are. The dread comes from us knowing the small-town life has its host of issues; but no one saying or doing anything about it.
I won't really go into what happens in the movie because it's not really the point of the film. The affair during the middle of the movie is one of the most famous in cinema, but it really shouldn't define the film because there's so much more going on here.
With all these gears turning, sometimes the plot devices seem excessive, like watching Jacy's sexual, voyeuristic debut, or a moment where the town's caretaker figure Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) tells us about his highschool sweetheart. People claim this is the high moment of the film, but it seems like more of the same.
Not everything in the movie works; but it does take the breath out of you.








Score: ★★★½

Star Trek: Beyond (2016) (PG-13)


















This is a guest review by Elizabeth Jones. Follow her on twitter here.

I've been a Star Wars fan all my life. I cut my teeth on next generation and was lovingly introduced by my father to the Original Series, Voyager, and Deep Space 9. More than any other franchise, Star Trek shaped my view of science fiction, television, philosophy, and literature.
I was so excited when I heard that a reboot for Star Trek was in the works. However the first two movies in this series met with some disappointment from me. Although I found the first movie to be highly entertaining and enjoyable and a really interesting look at different generations and origins of the characters, it felt more like Star Wars or space cowboys or some generic space action movie than the Star Trek that I knew and loved.
Into Darkness, although it gave us a tall, dark, British villain (let's keep that trend going, guys) was even farther from my idea of a good Star Trek movie. It violated a lot of the core principles of the show and did not pay attention to the details of technology and character development that the fans of this franchise are so good at noticing. I was greatly disappointed in the movie and I felt like there was no place the franchise could go after that that would hook me in the way Star Trek usually does.
I was happily surprised.
Star Trek Beyond felt like Star Trek again. A little cheesy a little campy but it recaptured some of the philosophical and personal questions that the characters on the show often wrestled with: questions about self and purpose and fate and destiny and sacrifice.
It also revitalized some of the core characters, their interactions with each other, their behaviors, and their brilliance. I feel like it made the characters people again in a way that the second movie was never able to capture. We also see a more mature and controlled Kirk. He's not the selfish self-absorbed kid he was in the first movie or the brash young captain from the second. He's more introspective; he's more careful; he is willing to delegate important responsibilities to his crew and he trusts his crew to come through in a crisis. I felt like this depiction of Kirk was much more in keeping with the character of Kirk from the original series. It was lovely to see.
(Mild Spoilers Ahead) Early in the movie, one of the most significant parts for me was the destruction of the Starship Enterprise. There were a few little details like the escape pods for the bridge crew being named Kelvin pods after the ship in the first movie that Kirk’s father died on to let his crew escape. It was a lovely tie into the theme of fate and destiny as Kirk is put in the same position as his father. There was the emotional devastation of seeing the starship destroyed and potentially witnessing the loss of thousands of lives. It was beautiful and heartbreaking.
Beyond that the world felt more like the world is Star Trek. It was peopled with new and interesting and intelligent species that played many different roles. While some of the message of the movie seemed a bit on the nose, it was still an enjoyable and entertaining movie.
For most of the movie, the cinematography and camerawork was average. There were a couple absolutely spectacular scenes that definitely make me want to go back and rewatch this movie many times. I don’t consider this to be outstanding cinema or brilliant scriptwriting. But it was fun, engaging and it honored the source material, especially those from the original cast who have passed on. 



Score: ★★★

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) (PG-13)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
I am not familiar with any franchise that "10 Cloverfield Lane" belongs to. Any other movies besides this one have not been seen by me. Maybe that's an issue and maybe not; but I think having not explicitly known exactly where the movie was going before walking into it was actually part of the appeal of this film. Most of the time prequels and sequels and companion pieces feel too bound to the source material and then cater to the original, the book, or the first film.
But then you have something like this which, although tying in at the end to a greater narrative, is a stand alone movie. Serving as a genesis story, assumedly, "10 Cloverfield Lane" works as a thriller first and foremost.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is running away from her fiancee. The first five minutes of the film are told without sound, as the audience watches her pack up, make a few phone calls, and leave her ring behind. It isn't clear what has happened or who is at fault, but soon she is out of the city and driving into the countryside, stopping only to get more fuel.
And then she crashes her car and wakes up in a strange room chained to a pipe.
Without giving all the juicy details away, although it's hard to talk about the concepts the movie evokes without spoiling every last aspect of it, Michelle finds herself under the care of a man named Howard (John Goodman). She and another man named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), are injured and begin to live with Howard as mystery upon mystery falls down on them to solve.
"10 Cloverfield Lane" is not an immediate success. There is some cheap movie making and some awkward moments that are supposed to make us feel things as viewers. Instead of being genuine, it feels necessary in a required sense. We all know that the characters have to get backstory at some point because otherwise apparently we wouldn't care for them and yet the film may realize that there are strengths in not explaining everything...strengths in realism.
Michelle finds herself at the center of multiple conspiracy theories, mysteries, and perhaps even crimes. The film easily recreates the sensation of being caught in a pressure cooker. Claustrophobia? Check. Insanity? Check. Ruthlessness? Check.
And yet, for being so accessible to audiences (note the PG-13) rating, the film never compromises its grit, integrity, or horror.
By the end, you may feel cheated by it all; but "10 Cloverfield Lane" is not a rubix cube. This is popcorn entertainment pure and simple and I don't remember being so pleased by something as smart and well-executed as this.
The performances are great, particularly an unhinged John Goodman, finally movie a blockbuster cash-in on what the Coen brothers have been utilizing for years. What I have to really applaud is J.J. Abrams' production placing virtual unknowns at the helm of what turned out to be a pretty successful movie. Dan Trachtenberg has made no other movies of this caliber and the writing team is mostly comprised of previous editors.
Movies like this are solid and fun and help usher in new talent to the mainstream film world. If this is the of blockbuster movies, count me in.










Score: ★★★

The Truman Show (1998) (PG)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
There's no doubt that Peter Weir isn't a conventional director. His breakout film "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is anything but coherent and yet somehow the surrealism the movie thrives in works. "The Last Wave" is no better, although definitely attempting at something more apocalyptic. If the sense of dread from his first two major pictures carries over into the "The Year of Living Dangerously" and then into "Gallipoli" we understand something crucial about the director: 1) he is keenly invested in interesting characters and 2) his narratives are often filled with trauma.
This is not really different from "The Truman Show" which is probably Weir's launch into Hollywood fame; and deservedly so. What differs here is that Weir doesn't just tell a story for the sake of storytelling—although "The Truman Show's" narrative is annoyingly tight, perfect, and contained—but also for the sake of a philosophical idea. "The Truman Show" has so much going on from the idea of us all being solipsistically self-made stars, to the paranoia of being watched, to the infectious desire to live dangerously and do something with your life. When the film opens, its onset starts the climax, the unrest of the character. A light falls from the sky. From here, the mysteries continue to abound, forcing Truman to confront his purpose existentially while physically escaping from a Foucault inspired nightmare. 
The movie concerns a man thrust into stardom, unknowingly. He is the man that everyone is watching without realizing it. From the moment he was born Truman (Jim Carey) has been living in every television set, letting the world see the broadcast of his life. He is the material brain child of Christof (Ed Harris) who wants to give the world some small piece of an authentically perfect life.
There is so much that terrifies me about "The Truman Show". The complacence of everyday living, the routines that we must all follow, the trajectory that we will one day grow up, get a house, get married, start a family, and eventually die. Morbid perhaps, but this kind of living seems to spring out of the necessity to mimic our parents, who in turn are imitating their parents, because we live in a social society and this is expected of us. For Truman Burbank, this expectation materializes all around him at the slightest provocation, agitating the narrative with clever nods to the American nuclear family unit. But this routine seems dangerous because we all desire to be "more". Truman feels this from the beginning of the film, where hints are slowly dropped that he wants to go to Fiji. Later we'll find out that this is motivated by an obsession he has from a one-night encounter with a beautiful lady—this, in of itself, must be considered unordinary, the solitary moment that has shaken Truman's boringly, routinely normal life forever. Although this trip to Fiji seems to be for a woman, when it becomes impossible, he opts for a trip to anywhere, an ill-fated bus trip to Chicago which doesn't even let him get out of the station. The people watching in the bad ask themselves "Why does he want to go to Chicago?" A question that the film never answers aside from Truman's desire to shake up his life.
But then there's the fear of the unknown, that elusive adrenaline that pushes Truman to escape, to find a way to regain power over his life. But in this there is the loss of innocence, the gaining of knowledge, and perhaps the road to a worse life. Truman knowingly moves from comfort towards emptiness and although we all see a part of ourselves in him, perhaps that's not the case. For Truman, the best alternative seems to be for him to escape into the real world and truly "live". For the rest of us, are we really that brave or are we stuck inside our routine worlds, always saying the same things and reciting the same mottos? And, the even scarier question: are we ready to give up luxury? But perhaps that's not fair, and maybe there is a sense of security that is worth the routine.
In feeling, the movie is somehow intimate. The cast of characters is perfect, and the acting is sensational. Jim Carey has almost never been better, proving himself a viable actor and not just "the funny guy". The filmmaking reflects the world of the show, and each time the actor looks at the camera, as if to break the fourth wall with the viewer, it is cleverly understood that there is another layer between us watching Jim Carey and them watching Truman Burbank. This kind of ingenuity doesn't came around but every so often.
"The Truman Show" moves past the idea of passivity and the unknown and challenges us to ask questions. Christof, in an enlightening moment, says "We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented. It's as simple as that." At the end, maybe we take away from "The Truman Show" that accepting reality is never enough. We must question everything.
In college I had to read a short story called "The Sky Is Gray" by Ernest Gaines. Though the story is about race in Southern America and passivity towards injustice from power figures, one line rings true: "Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything." This comes at a pivotal moment in the story, like when Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens, literally falls from the sky and shatters in the middle of the road.








Score: ★★★★

Beauty and the Beast (1991) (G)
















"Beauty and the Beast" is not an original movie. Disney captured this fairy tale/legend that has been remade lots of times and each time with less success than the 1991 animated turn. To the knowing cinephile, The Disney version of the story is not even the most well-regarded, Jean Cocteau's 1946 version is. Yet in comparing the two, though Cocteau's live action movie is splendid at parts, Jean Marais (Cocteau's muse) is kind of stiff as the beast. The makeup on Marais makes him look very nonthreatening, and his voice can be kind of shrill and goofy. Not to say that Cocteau's won't always be the critic's pick for the "best" version of the movie; but Disney here proves something that is hard to refute: the best isn't always the most memorable.
I would argue that Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is the definitive rendition of the story and one that will never be topped, not even by their live action remake coming out in the near future. What Disney realized is that the grand scope of the enchanted story could not be captured by live action filming in the 90s and thus, animation saves the day. There has never been a stronger case for this medium than "Beauty and the Beast" which dazzles with sweeping shots that would make any live action director green with jealousy, as well as powerful voice acting performances that almost outdo any other Disney film to date.
The story, to borrow a line from the iconic song, is as old as time. A girl's eccentric father gets lost in the woods and stumbles into a magical castle which is under the spell of an enchantress who wants the spoiled prince responsible for the transformation to realize that beauty isn't about outward appearance. The father becomes a prisoner of the prince turned prince and the girl rushes out to find him, trading places with him and becoming the beast's prisoner.
Belle (Paige O'Hara) is bookworm, proto-feminist protagonist who has become the precursor for such characters as Elsa. She is being courted by the town douchebag, Gaston (Richard White) who feels entitled to Belle since he is handsome and she is pretty. Gaston is the foil to the moral of the story not so cleverly inserted to make viewers cringe at the ridiculousness of his actions and his villainy.
From a logistical perspective, animating "Beauty and the Beast" makes much more sense than attempting to place an actor in prosthetic makeup in order to tiptoe the boundary between believable, charming, and scary. The movie's set designs are Gothic, creepy, and always lavish. One could look at the backgrounds of this movie for hours.
The musical numbers, courtesy of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is probably Disney's most recognizable. Though "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" are both arguably in contention, I cannot think of another Disney song where every number has escaped its source material.
Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise would go on to direct lesser lauded Disney films "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and the incredibly underrated "Atlantis: The Lost Empire"; but would never recapture the respect and admiration of the public and critics again like they did with this film. "Beauty and the Beast" was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, and remained the only one for well over a decade and if that doesn't speak for the film itself, I don't know what will. 
Borrowing a broadway epic feel slyly for numbers like "Be Our Guest", "Beauty and the Beast" is nothing short of magical. Thematically, one might find it confused and most likely problematic; but owing its allegiance to the source material, the liberties that Disney took with the story make it flashy, entertaining, and relatable, even underneath all the magic, singing candlesticks, and Stockholm Syndrome.









Score: ★★★★ 

Sausage Party (2016) (R)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Sausage Party" is shock comedy and shouldn't be considered anything else; but this in of itself isn't a bad thing. The writers and producers are allowed to get away with a lot, and I mean, a lot, just because of the group of faces that we're familiar behind the film: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, etc. etc. These may be the voice actors, but you'll notice that the production team also tends to gravitate to the same works. So take "This Is the End" and mix it with "Toy Story" and you've essentially got "Sausage Party".
Here's the set-up: food has sentience and believes that humans are gods that will take them to the "great beyond" (outside the supermarket) and there they will experience paradise. So on the Fourth of July weekend, all the food wants to be picked so it can be taken to a better place, little knowing that outside the grocery, a grisly death awaits them.
The premise of sentient food starts to become a little hazy for me as intimate objects are introduced to the plot as well. One of the villains of the film, aside from humans themselves, is a douche (Nick Kroll riffing off his "Parks & Rec." character) who wants to cause the demise of our leads Frank (Rogen) the frankfurter and Brenda the bun (Wiig), a lovely couple waiting until 'the great beyond' before they can 'do it' if you know what I mean. For me, as we start seeing more and more objects gain sentience, I wonder where the line should be drawn. Obviously for the sake of the film, there are some liberties are made, but the writers open pandora's box for the sake of comedy and aren't quite able to shut it for the coherence of the plot.
Paradise is viewed as a place of great sexual pleasure, and food must abstain from from mixing while in the store for fear of displeasing the gods. Obviously 'taste' and 'sex' are cleverly playing off each other; but 'nuance' is not a word that I would use to describe this movie.
First let's address what Rogen and company do 'intelligently' with the movie. There are two large commentaries going on here: racism and religion. The latter is the more obvious and "Sausage Party" becomes a not-so-subtle attack on everything Christian and conservative. The idea of sexual purity is also mocking more conservative ideas, because, obviously you can't expect a bunch of weed-smoking produce to come up with the idea of God-inspired morality at the end of their movie.
The racism commentary is something cringe-worthy mainly because it's treated like the non-issue the writers see it as. Sometimes it feels a little too optimistic for its own good (a large arc involves food-puns on the conflicts of the Middle East). Most of these moments are designed to offend, particularly as Frank realizes that these gods are just after blood and gore, which while might be one way of reading religion, the end result is the intellectual superiority of Frank about the rest of the "f**king idiots".
"Sausage Party" feels like it has something to prove. It knew it had to get an "R" rating, but sometimes its humor doesn't ring true, plus it doesn't make that much sense. For instance, not to be too crude, but I'm not sure how honey mustard would know the intricacies of human ejaculation pornography; but maybe that's none of my business.
The movie is rude, and crude, and shocking, and funny at times. This is a film that tries to make you laugh through the shock, and yes, there is some clever writing with food-puns aplenty but that's not really enough for me to make up for the lack of something a little more solid.
And sure, this isn't striving to be fine art; but somehow the film has managed to charm many a critic and audience...and I see why. It targets just the right group of 'bullies' to be shockingly satirical; and there's enough f-bombs dropped to keep kids out of the theater. Maybe it's escapism, or maybe it's just hollow at the end.
Once you've thrown the 'rule book' of acceptable behavior out the window, the shocks become a little more predictable and a little less in your face. And of course there's the ending which blows everything else out of the water. I don't think anyone is just going to stumble into the theater not knowing what they're getting themselves into, but just in case, maybe you shouldn't take mom to this one.









Score: ★★½

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) (PG)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Kubo and the Two Strings" is the newest animated feat from Laika, the stop-animation company behind "Coraline", "ParaNorman", and "The Boxtrolls" who are slowly establishing themselves as reigning royalty of stop-motion movies. "Kubo and the Two Strings" should be no exception. From the first moment, in which our protagonist tells us not to blink lest we cause the downfall of the hero, the animation is breathtaking. It looks genuine, yet fantastical and it pulled me in quickly. It's baffling how long some people take on this kind of animating style (although for some sequences it seems impossible without the aid of a computer, but maybe we're now having a conversation about the purism of the animating process and not the movie itself).
"Kubo" is a movie about family, death, and the power of love. Thematically, there's nothing incredibly new here, and sometimes the plot turns of the film feel ludicrous and contrived; but the heart of the movie is genuine (and yes, I know how cliche and stupid that sounds, but that doesn't make it less true). The movie is essentially "Harry Potter" with a talking monkey and a beetle samurai guy. Yes, this much has been explained in the trailers and the first time we see these characters it's hard not to roll your eyes and dismiss it.
But magic is important here, and storytelling. "Kubo" if anything, proves that a well told story makes up for the holes in the plot; and this is a very compelling story with a lot of ingenuity in terms of the vehicle of presentation.
The hero's journey begins as a great perilous entity emerges with one goal: to steal his vision, quite literally. Kubo is a plucky, good-hearted child with a natural knack for storytelling and soon the imagery of paper telling the story becomes novel to the movie (see what I did there?).
Kubo's stories that he tells others soon become reality as his world inverts and he must go on a quest narrative to collect protection for himself, lest he fall into the wrong hands and be extinguished forever.
It's pretty simple isn't it? It's almost every fantasy movie we've seen before. It has the epic scope of Jackson and the colorfulness (as well as the darkness) of del Toro, and of course J.K. Rowling's influence should not be forgotten.
For an animated movie, the target demographic feels very mature and you'll notice that "Kubo" doesn't fall into a lot of plot devices that other animated movies do just to tie everything up in a "happy ending". What I appreciate about the movie is that it allows certain actions to be challenging to both the viewer and the protagonist. For this reason, maybe this isn't a kid's movie, although there are some stupidly funny moments geared towards a younger audience.
Sometimes, certain fight sequences between good and evil feel so real you forget that you're watching an animated film, let along something produced by stop-motion. The voice acting is spot-on, except for an out of place Matthew McConaughey, who awkwardly grows into his character. Charlize Theron proves a stern center to the sometimes overwhelming narrative arc. For me, the best part of the movie is the horror-inspired appearance of two henchmen characters voiced by Rooney Mara who is chilling.
But perhaps you should be the judge of this yourself, because "Kubo" is a pleasant, thrilling film that once again reminds us that storytelling should be essential to our lives. At the end, the existential idea of our lives as stories is left hanging in the air as we all climb towards our own endings, praying that they be happy. "Kubo and the Two Strings" reminds us that life is an adventure, but more than that, life isn't always easy. And so, yes, it may be cliche because more mature works would frame the idea differently and little more cleverly; but at moments when the film astonishes, the script is forgivable.
For a movie lauding spoken stories, "Kubo" is a dying art; but art nonetheless.








Score: ★★★

Suicide Squad (2016) (PG-13)















I hold no allegiance to the comic books. I know nothing of the DC universe; but one gets the sense immediately upon starting "Suicide Squad" that DC is trying to expand to compete and to better its superhero counterpart in "Marvel" and on all counts it fails miserably doing so. That being said, "Suicide Squad" isn't as offensively awful as everyone else has made it out to be.
The concept of the movie is really nothing new: good bad-guys, or bad good-guys or however you want to phrase it. It's like "Dirty Dozen" or "Ocean's Eleven" or even "The Dark Knight" except Nolan's movie allowed things to be complicated when it comes to the good/bad dichotomy whereas "Suicide Squad" not so subtly or surprisingly, makes it very clear that even the most reprehensible people have redeeming qualities...that is, unless they're the "good" guys.
See Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Clearly, see is a turn on what we would consider a "good" character. She works for the government and is trying to prevent World War III. If you've seen the commercial you know what happens next: she assembles a group of "meta-humans" to help in case of a bad Superman.
Already the movie is incoherent and jumbled and the result of apparent re-cutting of the film. It should be said right up front, the editing team should be fired. No amount of pop-rock songs on the soundtrack are able to salvage the beginning thirty minutes of the movie which unravels as a hot mess with no apparent end in sight.
But then we get to the villain, which the trailers actually manage to leave out of most of it, so it will not be explained here. Surprisingly enough, I bought into the villain, even though there are some major issues with how the movie accelerates.
We expect a final showdown in superhero movies. The ultimate good vs. bad moment where good will triumph and we'll be left unperturbed and we can leave the theater in peace knowing that the escapism of the moment is done. "Suicide Squad" attempts to be something greater than that, except it doesn't deliver an intelligent script.
This movie comes on the heels of two Marvel movies of note: "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Deadpool". Both are good movies and DC is attempting bravely to tackle both of them to the ground.
The trailers might make it seem that Harley Quinn is the most important character of the film, but that's definitely not the case. Deadshot (Will Smith) is the epicenter of the "Suicide Squad" mostly because he has the most 'redeemable' qualities we look for in a villain-turned hero. Deadshot is a sassy mercenary who has killed hundreds of people; but has a daughter and therefore  is a good person because he loves his offspring. The way the movie handles this thread is like watching a Lifetime movie, complete will sappy music and fake tears. It's a bundle of horrid filmmaking.
But that's not the end of the movie. The film goes on to blunder through scene after scene while we wait for the plot to predictably unfold; and it does, but do you know something? It's not entirely terrible.
The main fault of the movie is the editing which jumps and clashes and tries to assemble a coherent plot without establishing full characters. The other huge fault is the script, and then the acting.
"Suicide Squad" feels like it was attempting to be the vehicle for two things: a method actor's movie, and an "event". Big actors, big money, and big source material doesn't always make a big hit. Every actor in the film is straining for something larger. You have Margot Robbie trying to ditch her Australian accent and failing, Will Smith doing a solid job of being Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman doing some sort of southern accent, and then there's Jared Leto.
The publicity around Leto's joker has been enormous and the payoff, incidental. I have too much to say here about why I think what I think and whether it's the fault of the directing or the editing I don't know; but it comes down to Leto's bit part as the Joker and he is terrible. It's a misguided idea that isn't helped by the lackluster approach the movie has towards its audience.
But even while all the collective shit is hitting the fan (although based on the trailers, you would expect a bigger explosion) it's still not a terrible movie. It has a lot of faults, but there's nothing in it that makes me roll my eyes and scream at the film.
"Suicide Squad" is not great cinema; and the saddest part is that it had that opportunity. I wonder what would have happened if there was an extra thirty minutes in it, if the budget was bigger, if it had a better script, if it had a higher rating, and if it was made by people who actually cared about the movie they are making.
I think if everything shifted hands, it will make a hell of a sequel; but Lord forgive the current team should they try to pull a slipshod mess again. For me, the mess was fun to watch; but I probably wouldn't appreciate it the second time around.








Score: ★★

Ghostbusters (2016) (PG-13)














Okay so I should start this with a heretical statement: I'm not a fan of the original. I know that's blasphemy for anyone who's actually seen the 1980s sci-fi comedy classic; but I must confess, I didn't care for it. There's a haphazard review floating somewhere around the ether that I did a few years ago attempting to be pretentious and amazing; but it's really crap so I won't be linking to it here. The sad fact remains: I didn't find it all that and a bag of chips. Maybe it's because I didn't witness it in the 80s and I didn't grow up with it, nor was it one of the heralded classics of my childhood. Whatever reason I can give, the movie is kind of goofy and forced to me and all the hype surrounding it only made me super critical.
So take this lauded sausage-fest of a movie and remake it and tell me that you aren't going to have controversy when all the leading stars are displaced by women. Now, before I really get into it, the "Ghostbusters" remake works logically for two reasons: 1) it is a movie that deserves a remake and 2) it's not a remake! This just rebooting the series using the same name; and the fact that women occupy the leading roles should be the least of anyone's concern.
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a renowned physicist on the cusp of receiving tenure at Colombia when a ghost from her past resurfaces: a book she wrote a long time ago. The book concerns the paranormal and would ruin her reputation as a scientist because "real scientists don't believe in the paranormal". The book's co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has put the book on Amazon to provide herself with some extra cash, not realizing that this will jeopardize Erin's career. So they meet again, after a long, long time separated.
Their meeting is forced by the supernatural coming out of the basements in New York City. A sudden huge wave of activity is causing these ghosts to emerge and Erin and Abby find themselves trying to track down the poltergeists with some help from Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The wise-cracking awkward team find themselves joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and the rest, they say, is history.
The gender issue is enormous surrounding the movie and incidental within the film. Yes, the women are treated remarkably different than the original cast; but that's the whole point of the movie. Some of the funnier tongue-in-cheek moments references how women are treated online, how women are treated in academia, and how women are treated by the popular media. But don't worry, the film isn't here to preach to you, because that wouldn't be fun.
The movie captures the original zaniness of the first "Ghostbusters" and supersizes it with flashy effects, funny one-liners, and blatant sexism towards Chris Hemsworth's idiot secretary Kevin. It feels like the joke is being beaten into the ground, until you realize that this is one of the first times we've really seen this flipped on its end. The jokes might be easy, but they all land.
The plot of the movie is ridiculously fun and entertaining, though sometimes "Bridesmaids"director Paul Feig feels lost in genre. Thankfully, the movie's script keeps the film rolling quickly so that it feels like a short rollercoaster of thrills.
This is not to say that it's a perfect movie, because it's far from it and "Ghostbusters" purists will probably not appreciate the Wiig/McCarthy banter that does not resemble Murray/Ackroyd at all; but for the premise, for the nonsensical fun that the movie brings, I can't think of it as anything but a success.
Then again, I didn't like the original, so what do I know?








Score: ★★★

A Very Natural Thing (1974)


















To my eyes it seems that there are two ways when confronting non-normative behavior in the mainstream. The first way is to present that who do not cater to the hegemony's expectations of sexuality (read: non-heterosexual) or, the more queer approach, is to thrive in the marginalized space assigned to them and to proclaim that they do not want to be part of the majority. One assumes that underneath it all, we're all the same and the other does just the opposite.
Based off its title, I'm guessing you know which approach "A Very Natural Thing" takes. Late in the movie one character justifies infidelity in general by saying "we all have urges" or something to that extent. Though it may not feel that political by today's more extremist climate, make no mistake that this is a film that is political...but not terribly so. It's making its point, but making it to a very small audience who probably already agree with the sentiments that it sets forth.
David (Robert Joel) is recently out of the Catholic church where he was spending time as a monk. After he came out of the closet, at least to himself, the religion collapsed and he found himself not believing in a god of any kind. He goes out to a night club and runs into Mark (Curt Gareth) who is three years younger and has a much less romantic approach to sex.
David is the romantic, the one that we are supposed to identify with, which was not a problem for me. Mark is the less certain, more masculine one who has hang ups on committing himself to one man for the rest of his life because that would be...*gasp* romance.
In terms of representation, this is considering to be one of the first gay dramas made in America. Whether it's the very first or not is not really important because the nuance that we are given to these characters is surprising considering the time period it was made in.
As the movie's very slight plot continues, we are reminded of possible budget issues, studio drama, and actors risking the rest of their careers on this film. It's not surprise that you haven't heard of any of the stars of the, let alone the film itself.
Half of me wants to respect the film as a pioneer for its time, and the other half isn't compelled by the drama present. It feels forced and cliche, though at the time it was breaking new ground and maybe this is an issue of being a 21st century viewer. You cannot understand the time unless you lived through it. This is why so many films age horribly...but that's another topic.
"A Very Natural Thing", to increase it's running time, includes a mini-documentary in the middle where the filmmakers appear to have interviewed LGBTQ people during a pride parade on what it meant for them to be out of the closet. The answers vary from inspiring to simple but it's a little more interesting than David and Mark's drama central to most of the movie's plot.
The writing is sharp and not too self-indulgent like "Boys in the Band" was. It's a movie that knows it won't receive mass consumption so it plays its hand cleverly. It can be a little more forward and some of the things present are surprising.
But at the end of it all, just considering the way it wants to be viewed: just as a drama and not a "gay movie", it doesn't hold up in comparison but I'm not sure anyone is at fault for that.








Score: ★★½

The Good Dinosaur (2015) (PG)


















This review contains SPOILERS!
There's always a moment when you're watching a Pixar movie when you realize that they've struck gold. At least, that's been the case with their track-record so far. I can't think of another company that we expect masterpieces from with every subsequent release. But, to be fair, Pixar has only done this to themselves. The lore surrounding the movies, and then all the fan theories included, make us regard the company's films with something like awe. And then we get "The Good Dinosaur".
Let's be perfectly honest, it's hard to screw up a movie with dinosaurs in it. Even "Jurassic World" which wasn't loved by critics, made enormous sums at the box office, unlike "The Good Dinosaur" which was hit by a meteorite.
Interesting enough, the premise of the movie is most interesting in its first twenty seconds. What if the meteor that had destroyed the dinosaurs had missed Earth? A couple of millions of years later, when man begins to evolve, the two would come in contact for the first time. Except, this time, dinosaurs are the heavily evolved creatures and man is a brutish beast that walks on all fours and probably don't wipe after he poops.
At least, this is what Bob Peterson and company who are behind the "conceptual idea" of "The Good Dinosaur" would have you believe. Now, it's hard to just erase a couple of decades of dino-stereotypes that we're used to seeing in films. Even in movies like "Dinosaur", we are reminded of a few things: the dinosaur world is always far removed from the human one. Now, with this movie, that image is flipped. Everything human we have come to expect from a run of the mill western movie belongs to the dinosaurs.
In the first scene present, we witness the birth of reptilian agriculture, which is kind of preposterous, but fine, let's ignore that for a minute. Not only do these herbivores plow a field, water it, grow corn, store it in a silo, and raise chickens, they also have a house for some apparent reason and probably indoor plumbing. All of the voice actors in the immediate family of our hero Arlo, are directed to be Southern and genteel, yet aggressive like every coming-of-age story we've ever seen.
Arlo is the smallest of his family. He's scared of pretty much everything but he needs to "make his mark" within the family...which, in this case, isn't metaphorical, he literally needs to put a muddy footprint on the side of the silo in order to gain credibility with his fam.
But not everything is so simple and soon, thanks to multiple "deus ex machina" moments, Arlo is separated from his kind with a lot of emotional baggage tied to him. And so he begins a journey back home...sound familiar? Yeah, it's pretty much "Homeward Bound".
Anyways, along the way he bumps into a human that he names Spot, because in this evolutionary reimagination of the history of the world, humans must have more relatives with dogs than with apes. Spot's name should be the first clue of his canine ancestry, but he also scratches, pants, begs, fetches, and howls at the moon.
Moving on...
Placing dinosaurs in this western world presents a few more imaginative moments, where you can seen the creative genius of Pixar lurking behind the concept. One of these moments places a T-Rex as a cattle herder and wannabe velociraptors as rustlers. But for the rest of the "journey home" it feels nothing but a long beaten down trope. We know what's going to happen as soon as the story reaches its climax and when it does, it's not emotionally satisfying enough to make us cry or laugh. This is like flat soda, sure it's sugary but without carbonation you realize you're just drinking toxic waste that will eventually kill you.
Okay, so it's definitely not that bad.
But it is very bizarre, and very, very incoherent. Side moments are pointless and add onto the movie's running time for no reason and only prolong the inevitable.
My advice: just pirate the T-Rex scenes online and then skip the rest.










Score: ★★

Atonement (2007) (R)


















This review contains SPOILERS!
I don't think it's any coincidence that the play Briony Tallis writes at the beginning of "Atonement" concerns a heroine named Ararbella. Arabella, is also the progagonist in a book called The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox. Lennox is a cohort of Austen, who Ian McEwan references in the title pages of his novel, upon which the movie is based. The Female Quixote involves a woman raised on the brink of society who doesn't understand social norms because all her learning comes from cheap French Romances...pulp fiction for impressionable female minds. While the book's gender commentary and its classism may fade in comparison with McEwan's more perceptive work, it would seem that he had to have come across The Female Quixote and thus reinvents Arabella as Briony writing a play.
The complexities are many and perhaps I do not articulate them very well. The point being, the movie and the novel are very conscious of playing with perceptions. For a novel to be good, it must follow a certain trajectory and when, too engrossed with literature, you find yourself placing tropes of fiction onto real life, you may become an author of other people's lives which, if you are to believe this movie, is nothing short of murder.
The novel's prose is something rich and lovely, achingly sad and filled with contemplative meta-levels on writing itself and the definitions of words that get included only for a moment in the movie when, laying on the grass in the heat of the day, Briony asks Cecilia what it would be like to be another person.
At the center of the movie there is a misunderstanding concerning Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony, playing by James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Saoirse Ronan.A thirteen year old girl's imaginative mind makes everything feel like a fairy tale and thus, everything is either chivalrous or evil. For being such a word grounded in definitions and literature itself, Atonement translates very well to the screen with a few minor changes.
Childlike imagination, or perhaps the critique of such an idea, causes Briony to think the worst of Robbie and maybe even Cecilia at every turn of the first part of the movie. She selects herself as the sole voice of reason and the camera allows for this freedom, following her stiff walking with quick editing and rapidly tracking shots in the opening scene.
The music to the film also allows for the creativity of fiction to be manifest as the typewriter becomes the percussion to the soundtrack. Everything in the movie screams the art of writing, and yet the irony of the novel is lost simply because of the mediums there are portrayed in.
The second part of the movie deals with the consequences of Briony's creative liberties and quest for altruistic justice. Her 'fanciful' ways caused her to err and so she becomes a nurse during WWII as a way to serve penance for her deed. We see her, hunched over a sink, viciously scrubbing her hands, attempting to remove the sight of blood or the stench of death. Clearly, she hates both what she is doing in that moment and herself. Yet, she has to, because it still leaves her in power of her own decisions.
Cecilia and Robbie however, have been stripped of their power and live through the war in vastly different ways than Briony.
There is an epilogue of sorts to the movie, a third act reveal in which we go back and reconsider everything that we've seen and we have to reevaluate Briony once again. I will say watching the movie the second time allowed me to realize new complexities of the themes of creativity and poetic liberties. It's quite a feat of screenwriting and movie composition.
"Atonement" isn't perfect, mainly because it is so difficult to translate a book dedicated to the written word into a movie. The ghosts of Ian McEwan's words are here, seen in the illustrious costumes and the rich staging of the film. It looks like poetry.
But then, at the end, when Briony looks at the camera and asks if we think creative liberties are acts of kindness, I find myself thinking 'no'. I think Briony remains a villain, desperately trying to atone for her sins the only way she knows how: by writing.
And this is what makes the movie so achingly sad. It's all an illusion of repentance, but misplaced repentance because at the end, when asking if this act was righteous and kind, I find it would have been better to never have thought as a child.










Score: ★★★½

Boogie Nights (1997) (R)














This review contains SPOILERS!
There's something about Paul Thomas Anderson's oeuvre that makes me think he just really needs a hug. His characters attempt to explore the more extreme edges of humanity and reveal something about "human nature" that maybe we find disgustingly beautiful. That's a hypothesis that I don't really want to delve further into simply because I don't want to have to face the consequences of myself being wrong. The only other alternative I see, and I really don't want to be lead down this road, is that the figures present in his movies teeter on inhuman, simply because they only are caricatures of themselves.
This is the case with "There Will Be Blood" which has powerful performances if anything but human. I feel this way about "Magnolia" as well. Anderson owes a lot to Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese and frankly, if you've seen "Short Cuts" and "Goodfellas" you won't be surprised by anything you find here.
"Boogie Nights" starts of with a pretty compelling premise: open the doors to the pornography industry in its preliminary stages during the 70s, then track its process as technology helped make it more accessible to everyday people and wham! you've got a hit. But it's not so simple, because we need a "fall from grace" saga as well that warns us, yet again, that opulence may not be the best lifestyle. And so the film rolls over, and so do my eyes.
Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) wants to be a famous something. He's working at a night club and staying with his unstable parents. One of the first clues that we have about the movie's trajectory is a scene in which his mother tells him he's really dumb and that he should run away from home with nothing since he didn't buy anything. Besides the fact that this cruelty is only a plot device to make out character jump into porn (and thus, negating any second-wave feminist ideas that he could do porn because he wants to), it's way too early in an already long movie for me to care about anything.
Much like "Pulp Fiction" or any Scorsese flick ever, the movie flits and flirts with the time period while introducing many new characters to the camera in increasingly glamorous ways. There is no question that "Boogie Nights" is a fantastic looking movie. These colorful characters include Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) a sound mixer and pornstar, Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) another porn actor who desperately wants to impress everyone, and Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) a 'film director' with a knack for finding new talent.
As Eddie comes into the porn world he is treated to a new side of riches that he has never seen before, and naturally, it only takes until the 80s before shit starts hitting the fan. At the turn of the decade, in true cliche fashion, the aggressive use of drugs is introduced to the baby-faced newly named Dirk Diggler—Eddie's alter ego—and the intensity of the movie starts to amp up.
One minor note that I think is important to note is the use of homosexuality as a use for the bottom of the pit to which characters fall. It's not particularly uncommon—and besides the fact that multiple characters hit their lowest point at the same exact time on the same exact street—but it is unsettling to see these conceptions...then again, it was made in the 90s, so what am I trying to say?
As the movie comes and goes it feels too short. The emotional highs and lows of periphery characters like Little Bill (William H. Macy) are just there for shock factor, sort of a deliberate and flashy sentiment that reminds us that we are both watching a movie and supposed to feel bad for these characters.
There is no denying Paul Thomas Anderson's talent because "Boogie Nights", if anything, is immaculately constructed.  What it lacks is some sort of purpose. At the end of a long meandering plot, we are treated to a "Raging Bull" mirror pep talk and a shot of the infamously long penis and we have to ask ourselves, was it really worth it? Who cares if Dirk Diggler is a rock star with mommy issues and drug problem? In Hollywood movies, those are a dime a dozen.
Or maybe that was the point.








Score: ★★½