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: ★★★★