Posts Tagged ‘movies’

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I, Tonya (2017)

February 22, 2018

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Director: Craig Gillespie (Fright Night, Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours)

Bottom Line: Absolutely loved it. This is the story of American Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie), her brutal upbringing by her abusive and alcoholic mother (Janney), her struggle for acceptance (despite her enormous talent) in the ice skating world because of her trashy background, her tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Jeff Gillooly (Stan), and the controversy that arose from all of these things, including the infamous Nancy Kerrigan Incident. I love the way this movie is delivered via present day interviews and flashbacks and a knowing wink that everyone involved might be twisting the truth about what actually happened. The use of multiple unreliable narrators allows the story to unfold without presenting everything as 100% factual and adds an extra layer of humor to what is easily the funniest 2017 film I’ve seen to date. I, Tonya manages to tell Harding’s story without really taking anyone’s side. Tonya Harding might be at the center of this biopic, but she’s no hero and even though the film might want you to feel pity for Harding at times, I think it clearly understands that she was an incredibly flawed human being and though she was surrounded by horrible people, she wasn’t merely a victim of circumstance – she didn’t exactly shy away from controversy. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are brilliant in this movie, both delivering tour-de-force performances worthy of their Oscar nominations.

I, Tonya is definitely one of my favorite 2017 films. It’s hilarious and entertaining, ever-so-slightly heartbreaking, with some top notch acting from Robbie and Janney – a must see dark comedy about a troubled former celebrity that will make you laugh out loud and almost feel bad for her.

Replay Value: I would eagerly watch this again and I’m sure my wife will love it.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for three Oscars: Robbie for Best Actress, Janney for Best Supporting Actress, and Film Editing. I haven’t seen all the movies nominated for Best Costume Design or Best Makeup, but anyone that can make Margot Robbie look even slightly unattractive probably deserves some acclaim. Also, it seems like adding I, Tonya as a tenth nominee for Best Picture wouldn’t be asking too much.

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

February 15, 2018

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Bottom Line: I can see how Nocturnal Animals has divided audiences and I’m actually surprise the audience score is as high as it is on Rotten Tomatoes (72%). This is likely not a movie for the casual filmgoer or really anyone that doesn’t want to think too much while watching films. I loved it though. It’s beautifully shot, extremely well acted, and the multiple narratives seem complex but are actually pretty simple and intertwine extremely well.

Here’s the gist: Amy Adams plays a woman deep into her second marriage and things seem to be falling apart between them. While her husband is away in NYC (cheating on her) she receives a manuscript from her previous husband (Gyllenhaal) that she begins reading. The story is about a man (Gyllenhaal again), and his wife and daughter, driving along a deserted Texas highway and being forced off the road by some hooligans that torment the family and eventually take off with the two women. The man teams up with a local sheriff (Shannon) to locate the two women. While reading the manuscript, Adams’ character finds herself reflecting on her own life and wondering about the choices she’s made.

I tried to type that synopsis up with as few spoilers as possible. I highly recommend watching Nocturnal Animals knowing absolutely nothing about it… like I did.

Michael Shannon gives a terrific (and Oscar nominated) performance as the Texan sheriff and the rest of the cast is great as well. Jake Gyllenhaal always seems to be solid, if not quite amazing, in any role he takes on and this film isn’t any different for him. Amy Adams’ character is quite a bit more interesting. In flashbacks, she seems genuine, somewhat optimistic, and perhaps quite a bit naive and in the present she says very little but exudes sadness and a palpable coldness. It’s a nuanced performance that will probably be appreciated more over multiple viewings. Also, it’s a bit of casting genius to have Isla Fisher in the role of the wife in the manuscript as Fisher and Adams have long been linked as doppelgangers of one another.

Nocturnal Animals is a brilliant film. If you found yourself unsatisfied when the credits started rolling, work a little harder. Do some research and figure it out. If you don’t want to do that, then Nocturnal Animals definitely wasn’t for you. This movie fires on all cylinders, while combining Western thriller with psychological warfare and a classic revenge tale. I still haven’t seen some critically acclaimed films from 2016, but right now I feel comfortable ranking Nocturnal Animals as high as #3 on my list and I won’t be surprised if ten years from now I look back on 2016 and it’s the film I remember most. I highly recommend it, but be warned: you’re going to have to use your brain because it’s not all spelled out for you.

Replay Value: This is the kind of film that if you liked it, you’ll surely want to watch it again. Probably immediately.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Michael Shannon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and, in what I felt was a rather weak year for films, was probably robbed of multiple other nominations. Nocturnal Animals stuck with me way more than La La Land and Fences, for instance, and it seems criminal that the film received zero technical nods.

Grade: 8 (Must See)

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

February 1, 2018

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Director: Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash)

Bottom Line: Call Me By Your Name is naturally going to draw some comparisons to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and that might be all the information some of my followers need to decide to stay away. But 2018 is not 2005 and we live in a much more accepting (though still incredibly prejudiced) world nowadays and maybe some of you will appreciate this for what it is: a very solid coming-of-age love story set in Italy during the early 1980s… between a 17 year old boy and a 25 year old man. Yes, not everyone’s cup of tea – and the age difference borders on suspect – but I really enjoyed it. There are some cringe-worthy moments – as is the case with lots of foreign language films – but it’s funny, moving, and plenty memorable. It’s an emotional journey you are truly invested in and the Italian backdrop really engrosses you in the story. Timothee Chalamet gives the strongest 2017 performance from a lead actor that I’ve seen to date and Armie Hammer is also very good in a role I wouldn’t have really expected from him. I also really appreciated Elio’s (Chalamet) parents (Stuhlbarg and Casar). They were very progressive and supportive of what their son was up to, which would be cool enough in 2018, but is even more remarkable for a film set in the 80s.

Call Me By Your Name was a lot of fun and highly recommended. If you’re wary about a love story between two guys then it’s probably not for you, but I thought it was one of the better overall films of 2017. I think this could easily be a film I look back on in a few years and realize it’s better than I’m giving it credit for right now.

Replay Value: The more I think back on it, the more I’d like to watch it again.
Sequel Potential: Director Luca Guadagnino has already announced a sequel, which is rather surprising.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Song, and Timothee Chalamet for Best Actor.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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La La Land (2016)

August 24, 2017

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Bottom Line: It seems that La La Land is a pretty polarizing film. It cruised through this year’s Academy Awards so dominantly, with six wins, that it was accidentally awarded Best Picture before the production team corrected the error – with the whole cast and crew already on stage giving an acceptance speech – and gave Best Picture to Moonlight in the most bizarre Oscar moment I’ve ever seen. And then there’s a number of people that absolutely hated it. The number of one star ratings on IMDB are alarming and this was my own family’s thoughts:

Wife (30 minutes into movie): I’m going to take a nap.
Mom: I think I’m going to go home.
Aunt: I’m ready to go.
Me: What just happened?

I can’t say that La La Land had me in its grip at that moment, but I’m not one to give up on a movie because other people aren’t enjoying it. I think a lot of the common criticisms of this film are pretty fair, but I also found plenty to like. I seem to be in the very small minority of people that agree that it is tremendously overrated, but still actually enjoyed it.

But let’s be real: La La Land isn’t even the best musical of 2016. Disney’s Moana had better songwriting, better vocal performances, and – gasp! – a more engaging story. La La Land was great in a lot of the technical departments like costume design, editing, cinematography, set design, etc., but when focusing on the music and songs, Moana wasn’t just better, it was substantially better. The songs in La La Land aren’t nearly as catchy or memorable. I was expecting to be blown away by “City of Stars,” La La Land‘s Oscar-winning song and… well, it’s criminal that Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t win for Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go.” I honestly can’t think of a great musical where at least one song wasn’t stuck in my head for days and La La Land simply doesn’t have a single song like that. They are all rather forgettable.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are pretty great in this movie… when they aren’t singing. When they are singing they are merely okay. I can’t say whether or not Stone is deserving of her Best Actress win because I still haven’t seen any of the other nominees, but I thought she was pretty adorable in this role.

While I was pretty disappointed with the musical aspects of this movie, I thought the script did a good job of tackling themes of love and sacrifice and how pursuing your passion can be all encompassing, even to the detriment of your relationships. It’s sad and charming and it did resonate with me emotionally.

I can’t give La La Land a glowing recommendation. It’s obvious that it is not for everyone. The rest of my audience couldn’t make it through the first thirty minutes and I think they are pretty good representation of the casual film watcher. As a film buff myself, and a fan of musicals, I was disappointed considering all the praise and awards heaped upon this movie – it’s just not that good. I much prefer director Damien Chazelle’s last film Whiplash.

Replay Value: Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch this again.
Sequel Potential: None?
Oscar Potential: 6 Oscar wins: Directing, Cinematography, Original Song, Score, Production Design, and Best Actress for Emma Stone; plus another 8 nominations!

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

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Dunkirk (2017)

July 26, 2017

Starring: Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento)

Bottom Line: This is not “the best film of Christopher Nolan’s career” or “one of the best war films ever” like many critics have made it out to be – it’s not even as good as last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, which hit me right in the feels. I’m shocked at how well received Dunkirk has been because it is absolutely hollow. Dunkirk made me feel nothing. Nolan is still a master at making beautiful films – Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises were both very easy on the eyes – but this is now the third straight film of his where I’ve left the theater thinking “eh” because of his writing.

Set during World War II in the city of Dunkirk, France, Allied forces are trapped on the beach and surrounded by German troops. The story has three different timelines: one takes place over a week following a group of soldiers on the beach, a second takes place over a single day following a man and two kids from the British Empire on a boat headed towards Dunkirk to help out, and a third takes place over the course of an hour, in the air, following a couple of pilots in dogfighters. The problem with these intertwining stories is we are completely immersed into the action, from the very first scene, and there is virtually no character development so you never really care about what happens to anyone or what is at stake. Maybe just knowing this is a true story and a number of real people were in a similar situation is enough to make some people feel something, but watching a movie, following certain characters, I want to feel something about them – and I never did.

Mark Rylance does a very fine job as the ordinary British man that sails into battle and his story is definitely the most interesting. In contrast, Tom Hardy plays one of the pilots and that entire story arc is completely devoid of any investment from the audience. How can you possibly care about someone when you can’t understand a single line of dialogue they say the entire film? That’s another issue I had with Dunkirk. Even though everyone is speaking English, subtitles felt like a requirement, particularly during the flight scenes – the sounds of the jets are so loud you can’t hear anything that is being said. While that might be authentic, the audience isn’t equipped with a headset like the pilots are. I suppose Harry Styles does a fine job as one of the soldiers on the ground, but again, I wasn’t invested in his story and even though the script follows a select group of soldiers it isn’t particularly easy to tell them apart, especially since I wasn’t familiar with the actors.

So yeah, Dunkirk is visually great, as all Nolan’s films have been, but the script falls short. Even though the movie is riveting and Hans Zimmer’s score adds lots of tension, the script doesn’t invest you in the story and there is simply no emotional payoff. Maybe I will change my mind when I watch it again but I can’t say I’m exactly excited about a second viewing. I appear to be in the minority in not loving this film, so take this review with a grain of salt and go see it for yourself, but I can promise this much: there is no way my wife, a casual film watcher, would have enjoyed Dunkirk.

Replay Value: I didn’t love Interstellar or The Dark Knight Rises the first time I watched them but I did see them again. I think a second viewing of Dunkirk would be more laborious, however.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: I would be appalled if Dunkirk was the film that finally got Nolan an Oscar statue, but the praise being heaped on it makes it a pretty strong contender for things like Best Picture and Best Director. I would have no problem with Dunkirk being nominated for Best Cinematography or and visual categories though.

Grade: 5/10 (watchable)

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Moana (2016)

July 21, 2017

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement
Director: Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules)

Bottom Line: Walt Disney Animated Studios had a pretty massive year as both Zootopia and Moana are arguably the best films the studio has produced since Tarzan all the way back in 1999 (Note: Walt Disney Animated Studios and Pixar are NOT the same company). Moana is a spectacular blend of Polynesian mythology and coming-of-age story thanks to a large team of writers collaborating on a great script with amazing songwriting contributions from famed Hamilton playwright Lin-Manual Miranda. Miranda’s work here cannot be understated: I was singing the songs from Moana for days after watching the movie and immediately added the soundtrack to my Apple Music library. Miranda has proven that he is a master songwriter and a true genius and I am actually quite sad that he didn’t win an Oscar for “How Far I’ll Go.” He even makes Dwayne Johnson sound good!

Infused with a smart, funny script seeped with mythology, memorable characters, solid vocal performances from Cravalho and Johnson, and unforgettable songs, Moana continues Disney’s best run of animated features since the early-to-mid 90s.

Replay Value: This is one of my favorite recent Disney movies. I’d be happy to watch it again today and it will be a must own when we have kids.
Sequel Potential: A theatrical sequel for a Disney animated film used to be unheard of: Winnie The Pooh and The Rescuers are the only Disney originals that got sequels in theaters. Tradition seems to be changing, however, as recent Disney films Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen both have sequels scheduled for theatrical release in the next two years. Straight-to-video sequels are common for Disney, so it will be interesting to see what happens with Moana.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Song, but lost to Zootopia and La La Land, respectively.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)

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War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

July 20, 2017

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson
Director: Matt Reeves (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Let Me In, Cloverfield)

Bottom Line: Chalk up another win for the rebooted Apes franchise. War For The Planet Of The Apes continues the franchise’s trend of combining amazing visual effects with storytelling that pulls on the heartstrings and another phenomenal motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis. Caesar really has become one of the best film heroes of the past decade and it is largely because of Serkis’ nuanced acting. This role probably won’t get him that elusive Oscar nomination, but many have said it’s his best work yet. Woody Harrelson provides a worthy villain, one that will make you hate him and actively root for the apes against the humans.

The latest Planet Of The Apes trilogy has had a great run, breaking ground with its motion-capture performances and awesome CGI, while developing plenty of non-human characters. I still think the first film with James Franco was the strongest, but the last two entries have been very enjoyable as well, although not quite as memorable. This is an obvious must see if you are a fan of the franchise and an all around strong sci-fi sequel.

Replay Value: It will be cool to watch all three in sequence, but the first one is by far my favorite.
Sequel Potential: Obviously this is a franchise that will always have possibilities, but I don’t know if there are plans to continue with any of these characters.
Oscar Potential: A shoo-in for a Visual Effects nomination but the series is yet to get a nod for anything else and Andy Serkis will likely be ignored again.

Grade: 7/10 (highly enjoyable)