I literally cannot believe I’ve gotten here. There’s a wave of different but equally strong emotions coming over me. To some, it may seem somewhat inconsequential, but I absolutely have to something about it. Today, I have just earned over 100 Followers on my WordPress website. That is a huge and important number to me for a multitude of reasons. There’s simply so much that I want to say and acknowledge before carrying on with normal Blog Posts. Allow me to start by telling you a story. On June 30th, 2014, I was at a particularly transitional period in my life. I was in high school, more and more responsibilities were being dropped on my shoulders, and very few options for future job opportunities sounded very appealing to me. But then, my bright little sister, very much aware of my deep and passionate love of cinema, suggested I could start a blog. She and some of her friends had tried it a few years earlier but for some reason never got back around to it. I was looking to improve my writing skills, as I had some stories I really wanted to tell but wasn’t sure if I could. So I went out on a whim and created a WordPress account. The very first film review I ever published on my new Blong, titled Geek’s Landing as a play-on from Game of Thrones, was for Disney’s Maleficent. It was little more than a paragraph long and, in retrospect, I think I was far too forgiving to that film. And yet, the allure of sharing my opinion on films I had seen kept drawing me back to the desktop. So I wrote another review, this time for Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-Ho. Then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, then Guardians of the Galaxy. Then I started expanding and talking about video games and even T.V. shows every now and then. My reviews got longer and longer, the writing got better and better, and my opinions became more structurally formed. The whole time, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from having a Blog like this. What would people think of a kid from Austin, Texas, trying to share his passion with the world, when it may seem boring to others? I don’t have any social media whatsoever so if I have had an opinion on something, it was either writing up a new Blog Post or sending a letter to the local newspaper editor. If someone “Liked” my posts, it was good. I got one occasionally, but it wasn’t anything worth boasting. And then, on July 25th of that year, I had gotten my first official Follower; the user’s name was jgiambrone, and he still posts new stuff every day. And as more and more users Followed my Blog over the next 4 years, my confidence and organization skills grew. Which is why I wanted to take a moment here on Geek’s Landing to show you that I truly appreciate all of the support that I have received from fellow readers and users. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for sticking through, because it hasn’t always been easy. More than once, writing reviews or compiling “Best Of” lists on here has helped me chug through some extremely emotional periods of my life. At one point, I legitimately considered terminating this website and quitting my hobby altogether. Yet somehow, I still felt the need to write reviews for the people who kept Following me. And so I pressed onward, and it’s done so much more than just give me the idea that I might be popular online when I really wasn’t in real life. No, it’s made me truly realize that I am not the only one out there who loves watching movies and talking about them. That there are more people who feel truly passionate about the medium in the same way as I do. And I’m not trying to compete with my fellow movie critics here on WordPress. I am saying that you guys, especially, as well as every other user who has kept up or been curious with my writings, has helped reinforce my passion and why I one day want to be a part of it. In fact, I have actually written a number of screenplays just over this past year that I’m really excited about. Most of them are still in early draft stages, but there are a couple that I feel the most confident about making soon. I’ll hopefully have more details to share with y’all on them once I can get a financier from the Austin or San Marcos area involved. (If you know of any, please don’t hesitate to point me in their direction) Plus, a handful of my friends or colleagues might be willing to lend me a helping hand in production. And again, any of that probably wouldn’t have been possible without you guys, without your consistent support. No matter what my family might expect of me as an adult, or no matter how many educators and peers scoff at my excitement for it, I can always live with the comfort that at least some people on WordPress or other places will share my passion for cinema. Don’t worry, I do still intend to keep writing reviews and all as time goes on. But I just really wanted to let everyone reading know how much this Blog has genuinely changed my life for the better. And I look forward to whatever it brings to me, whether on this website or in real life elsewhere.
This is likely going to turn into a scenario where the people who keep demanding something new or innovative in cinema will reject this movie as “too arthouse” or “too weird.” If that happens, that means the filmmakers are on the right track for a solid career in the industry. This highly unconventional heist thriller premiered as part of the official competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, getting picked up by both The Orchard and the newly formed distributor MoviePass Ventures. Entering a limited theatrical release on June 1st, the film expanded into more theaters and has managed to gross nearly $3 million at the box office. Written and directed by Bart Layton, the film marks his first foray into narrative features, following his breakout with the 2012 documentary The Imposter. Layton virtually expands the elements on atmospheric reenactments from that film to feature-length here. Based on a crazy true story, the film follows 4 college students- Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, and Eric Borsuk -attending Transylvania University in Kentucky. The college library there is home to several priceless antique books, including two filled with very famous animal paintings by John James Audubon. In the 2003-2004 academic year, for reasons that still remain unclear, the men start joking about robbing the library blind. But they soon become serious about it, researching crime movies for help on their endeavor, setting up potential buyers for the books, and ultimately get ready to pull off one of the most daring heists in recent U.S. history. Movies centered on heists are hardly anything new in cinema these days, there are just so many of them. Any time a new one comes out, they have to REALLY work hard to impress me or stand out from the crowd in any way. And a former documentarian deciding to take on the story of 4 privileged white dudes pulling off a particularly stupid crime on a college campus? Interesting angle, but I’m still not entirely convinced that it’ll be anything special or memorable. And just because it premiered and competed at Sundance or any other festival doesn’t necessarily mean that it will always be worth the trouble of seeing in theaters, let alone worth reviewing. So take that as a sign of how much I liked Amercian Animals; I really had a lot of fun watching this movie. And trust me when I say that no reader here has ever seen any film quite like this in their whole life. Bart Layton may be working primarily with professional actors, but that doesn’t stop him from using his docudrama expertise to his advantage. While most of the film is told in a narrative fashion, it is directly followed by talking head interviews from the real-life subjects. They offer unique reflections on how everything went down, from first meeting one another to the sweat-inducing heist itself. But rather than just have them explain everything exactly as it happened, the filmmakers smartly decide to just let them provide more context as to their actions and motivations. Even better, each of them remembers certain scenarios or actions differently than others, providing both a slick comedic edge and some unreliable narrator shenanigans. Admittedly, it’s a little frustrating because it’s still left unclear why these 4 men did what they did. But I definitely enjoyed watching Layton try to add more thematic depth to the story. Errol Morris would be proud. Agents, studios, and cinephiles all need to start paying more attention to the 4 main actors in this movie. Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner do great in their respective roles, but Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan play Warren and Spencer, the ringleaders of the operation, and do particularly fantastic work together. Keoghan, who had a wonderful breakout last year with Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, plays Spencer as a decent, naive kid who seems unsure of what he wants in life, a quality many can relate to. Peters, meanwhile, is a total revelation as Warren. This is wholly different from his turn as Quicksilver in the new X-Men movies. He’s unpredictable, brazenly entitled, manipulative, profane, but also spiteful for no reason. His flawed logic for stealing the antique books is both insane and tragic, painting himself as more than just a sociopathic narcissist. It becomes disorderly and honestly somewhat unsettling when he becomes convinced that he can be just like a smooth criminal from the movies. From a purely technical point of view, there is an amazing amount of skill and confidence behind the camera. Ole Bratt Birkeland’s widescreen cinematography skillfully captures each environment and tone of each scene with grace. In some of the students’ imagined scenarios’, it’s all taken on slick, dynamic single-take shots. Other instances, like when things don’t seem to be going according to plan, it becomes very unsteady and shaky, at times a little disorienting. It also nails the atmosphere, which becomes increasingly darker and more hard-edged as the film goes along. The editing is a collaborative effort between Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, Luke Dunkley, and Julian Hart. It uses very precise cuts, moving back and forth from the acting portrayal to the real criminals themselves. For example, in one scene, Spencer begins a sentence, only to be finished by the real Spencer. It also works to create interesting visual contradictions between the subjects. A few hard cuts elicited a good laugh or two out of me. The musical score here is composed and conducted by Anne Nikitin, who had previously worked with Layton on The Imposter. The score is decidedly modern and appropriately moody for the material at hand, utilizing a number of synthesizers and severely low strings that would (hopefully) bring Johann Johannson back to life. She also uses some neat percussive instruments to wring out the tension in the viewer and softer electric guitar strums to provide an emotional through line. In some ways, it felt like a neverending crescendo as we watch the situation get more and more complicated. There are also a number of obscure songs from bygone rock and folk artists. It’s weird to say that songs by both Mobb Deep and The Doors fit perfectly in the same movie, but that’s how it is. Just like the original tracks, at times it’s playful and others it’s dead serious. I feel like this has a broader appeal than most audiences might think at first. Regular moviegoers will get to see an unconventional heist thriller, cinephiles will get to pick apart the various movie references laying about, and documentary fans will be satisfied with its taught approach. In other directors’ hands, this could have felt extremely forced or unappealing. Thankfully, with enough dramatic heft to match the stylish fun presented throughout, American Animals blends fact and fiction seamlessly into unique entertainment. Bart Layton is highly talented as a documentary filmmaker, but this shows he’s just as confident and comfortable with a narrative feature. Let’s hope both he and Evan Peters have amazing careers ahead of them.
If playing a simple game of tag was all I had to do to stay in touch with my friends for the next few decades, I would have started playing that long ago. Probably not nearly as intensely as these guys, but still, it’d be a lot of fun. Produced on a budget of $28 million, this high-concept comedy was released on June 15th, 2018. Despite facing some tough competition from Incredibles 2, it has done surprisingly well so far by raking in over $48 million worldwide. Directed by first-timer Jeff Tomsic, previously helming episodes for the Comedy Central show Broad City, the wacky story takes its inspiration from an unbelievable article in The Wall Street Journal. The film was originally written with Jack Black and Will Ferrell in mind to star before scheduling conflicts got in the way. Having reduced the number of players from around 10 to just 5, one of the stars ended up breaking both his arms during filming; they had to be recreated with CGI. Based on an absurd true story, (No, I’m not kidding) the movie follows 5 life-long friends from the state of Washington. For the past 30 years, they have all played the same game of tag in the month of May, going to ridiculous lengths and spending enormous amounts of money to not be “it.” One of their friends Jerry, who has never been tagged, is about to retire from the game and marry at the end of the month. The remaining 4 team up to do everything in their power to try and tag him before it’s too late. I love myself a fun, broad comedy every now and again. While studio comedies in recent years have floundered, special gems like The Big Sick or, more recently, Game Night have succeeded in making me laugh my ass off while still giving an engaging story to bite down on. For this reason, I was pretty excited to see Tag in theaters. Hearing the premise of the movie, alone, was crazy enough, but the added fact of it being based on a real-life story (For the most part) gave me even more incentive to watch it. And while Tag isn’t quite on the level of other aforementioned comedies, and certainly isn’t a genre masterpiece, it can still be a pretty fun time watching. It seems weird to say, but I think that the comedic aspects of the movie might be the thing ultimately holding it back. At its core, this is a genuinely heartwarming story about a group of buddies who play tag as a way of sticking together throughout multiple decades. It’s something very special to these men, repeatedly quoting Benjamin Franklin by saying, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” There are certainly moments that perpetuate that sentimentality throughout the movie, especially in the back half. But it feels as though more effort was put into watching these men humiliate themselves trying to tag each other. Granted, the source material does lend itself well to comedy and there were definitely more instances of me laughing pretty hard than not laughing at all. But still, it felt like that extra bit of cynicism wasn’t really needed to begin with. For what it’s worth, the 5 lead actors do a solid job and share believable chemistry enough to carry the movie through. Played by Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnston, Ed Helms, and Jeremy Renner, the men all bring unique quirks to the group. Renner is the one playing Jerry, and seeing his charm and wide smile seep through his pride is really fun, relying more on physical comedy than expected. Helms, whom I’m not typically a fan of, is definitely the heart of the group, bringing them all back together and suffering multiple injuries in a deadpan manner. The other 3, while really funny, are pretty exactly what you’d expect from the actors. Other supporting players like Isla Fisher as the hyper-competitive wife to Helms’ character, Rashida Jones as a long-lost love to Hamm and Johnston, Anabelle Wallis as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal following these friends, and Verizon’s Thomas Middleditch as the unsuspecting owner of a fitness center all provide their own funny moments that help propel the ridiculous plot. Meanwhile, similar to this year’s Game Night, the technical aspects do a nice effort to distinguish Tag from other studio comedies. Larry Blanford’s widescreen cinematography is smooth, steady, and slick, moving from one attempt at tagging Jerry to another with ease. The balanced lighting and shadows make for an intriguing suspense, as the friends could sprout up from nearly anywhere and take each other by surprise. This pairs rather well with the editing job by Josh Crockett, which is smart enough to show everything that happens just enough to keep us in stitches. The coolest aspect of the film by far is when it takes inspiration from the hyper-stylized fights in Guy Ritchie’s rendition of Sherlock Holmes. By this, I mean that certain scenes where the crew is trying to tag Jerry are undercut by Renner’s narration of what’s going to happen, followed by slow-fast-slow moves of the attempts. Normally, something like this would be distracting to me, but I found it rather engaging and different. With a capable cast, unique filmmaking techniques, and just enough substance to overcome its style, Tag is a funny, undemanding diversion of comedy. It’s nothing special or groundbreaking at all, but if you just want something sweet and funny to watch, you could certainly do worse. It’s quick, harmless, but also unambitious. And frankly, with this absurd story driving forward, it doesn’t really need to be.
Watching this movie as a grown man in a theater full of young boys and girls is roughly equivalent to my inner child fighting my older self for dominant opinion mindset. And trust me, that is a sight I would not like to visualize for my readers. This sci-fi actioner was released worldwide on June 22nd, 2018, almost exactly 3 years after the first Jurassic World. Despite dropping nearly 60% at the box office in its second weekend, the sequel has already accumulated north of $935 million worldwide. After massive success with the first film, Collin Trevorrow decided not to return for the second go-around, and instead developing his doomed vision for Star Wars Episode IX. Juan Antonio Bayona, director of acclaimed movies such as A Monster Calls and The Impossible, stepped into the director’s chair in his place. Interestingly, Bayona was executive producer Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the original film in the new series but declined. Trevorrow and Derek Connolly are still involved as co-writers, though. Set 3 years after the catastrophic events of the first Jurassic World, the world governments have all elected to let the cloned dinosaurs on Isla Nubar die on their own. When a massive volcanic eruption is imminent, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing team up with Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s former partner, to try and save as many species as possible. From there, it becomes a race against time as the dinosaurs reach their second extinction, and it becomes a mystery who’s meeting whose ends. The first Jurassic Park, released back in 1993, is one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. No matter how many times I watch it, nothing will ever be able to wash out the awe, terror, and magic of that Spielberg classic. 25 years later, and it’s kind of hard for me to believe it’s become such a big franchise. The first three attempts at following it up were fun in parts but felt uninspired and unnecessary. When I read that they were trying to approach this sequel as more or a horror movie or thriller, I got a little more excited as that was the foundation of the original film. And while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is arguably the closest in spirit to the first one, there’s still almost no justification to keep this thing going. However, I will grant that there was one particular scene that showed there’s still a bit of power left in the gas tank. I don’t really consider it to be a spoiler, so take it as you will. But when the human characters are leaving Isla Nubar, there’s a lone Brachiosaurus standing on the pier watching them. And we watch helplessly as this creature succumbs to the volcanic fumes and lava, hearing its horrible cries of agony and dying loneliness. That moment was unexpectedly dark, haunting, and brilliantly directed, showing a small ounce of human empathy in a series primarily focused on animals long gone. Aside from that though, what’s left are thinly-veiled, underdeveloped threads about the ethics of cloning, animal rights, and the right to die. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the first movie, and they’re still mostly charming. Although it feels like phoning it in, they do share some nice chemistry in a few moments. The new characters were an incredibly mixed bag for me. Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Rafe Spall, and Ted Levine never evolve out of there archetypes: a thankless nerd, an attractive doctor, a scheming businessman, and a grizzled mercenary, respectively. I’ll give credit to James Cromwell as the old, dying Benjamin Lockwood and newcomer Isabella Sermon as his granddaughter Maisie. Both did their best to contribute something new to the series, even if it didn’t always work out. And don’t get excited about Jeff Goldblum returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm; he only appears in 2 scenes, max. Meanwhile, the technical aspects are perhaps the only thing about this franchise that has consistently evolved or improved. While this film is heavy on using CGI, with somewhere over 2000 VFX shots total, the cinematography by Bayona’s regular collaborator Óscar Faura provides some lowkey backlighting in practical shots. These are directly contrasted by epic, swooping shots when we’re on the island, successfully capturing the scope and scale of the chaos. Combined with Bernat Vilaplana’s frantic but mostly smooth editing, there are a handful of entertaining action or chase scenes. The moment when our characters are running side-by-side with the dinosaurs to the shoreline utilizes both of the aforementioned tools to great effect. It is easily the most thrilling moment and second-best in the whole movie. To his credit, Bayona actually does show some skill behind the camera, ultimately feeling like his own style. Michael Giacchino, one of the most prolific and in-demand composers in Hollywood, returns to write and conduct the musical score for this sequel. Like its predecessor, he inverts many of John Williams’ classic themes from Jurassic Park to some success. Stirring strings and rousing low horns are often undercut by a large vocal chorus, giving a grand feeling to this adventure. And yet, he’s still somehow able to find a bit of the magic from that original by doing his damnedest to inspire awe in the ears. Outside of the soundtrack and fun effects, though, there’s little to no reason to watch this movie. Despite the promise of a new director at the helm, this comes off as a neutered, cold sequel that studios push out of the gate with zero motivation except for profit. There are kernels of good ideas in here; with recent advancements in cloning science, the ethics of bringing back an extinct species feels ripe with potential. But sadly, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom serves as a reminder why this series should have died long ago. Just come to terms with why it should have never become a franchise and give J.A. Bayona a project worth spending money to see. The humans in charge of this should have quit while they were ahead, 65 million years ago. Ironically, Universal Pictures has become to this franchise what John Hammond was like with the attraction in Jurassic Park. Quoth Jeff Goldblum in the original movie, “You were so busy thinking about if you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.”
I feel like I’m a little late on this one, but I’m glad I got to check it out. Because, quite frankly, I really needed this movie today. And hopefully, everyone else feels the exact same way. This family adventure film was released in the U.K. on November 10th, 2017, before hitting the United States on January 12th, 2018. It grossed over $226 million, only slightly less than its predecessor, but went on to become the highest-rated film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. (I’m not even making that up) Following the massive success of the first film in 2015, the sequel was set up for release at the Weinstein Company. Following the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, however, both producer David Heyman and British distributor Studio Canal looked for another American studio to handle a movie intended for children and families. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Pictures picked it up for $32 million and the film was officially saved. About a year after the previous installment, Paddington Bear, a kind-hearted anthropomorphic bear from Darkest Peru, has settled with the human Brown family in London. Approaching his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, he desires to get her an old and expensive pop-up book of London. However, the book is stolen by Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor, and Paddington is subsequently framed and wrongfully thrown in prison for it. Now the Browns, Paddington, and his fellow inmates must find the book and clear the bear’s name in time for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. I only watched the first Paddington movie back in December, and I loved it. It was not only one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had in a long while but I genuine regretted missing it in theaters. Even though I wasn’t entirely familiar with the late Michael Bond’s hand-drawn children’s books, it wasn’t hard at all for me to connect with the raincoat-wearing bear who loves his marmalade. Yet again, I missed the opportunity to catch the sequel in January, only getting the opportunity to finally watch it on an international plane. And, hand to God, I totally feel bad about it. Because Paddington 2 is one of the best family films I have ever seen in my life. I’m being completely serious here. And maybe a lot of that has to do with the fantastic timing of this movie’s release. Under normal circumstances, a studio movie about a talking bear acting extremely British would have been simply seen as “cute” and “fun” before being indefinitely put to the cinematic sidelines. But because the last 18 months under a new leader of the free world have made so many ordinary people feel so miserable on the daily, (This critic included) director and co-writer Paul King could not have put this out into the world at a better point in time. We needed a piece of accessible media, cinema, to remind everyone that “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Granted, they couldn’t have known all of the horrible things that would have been done or said under the Trump administration, but that’s beside the point. It acts as a superpowered antidote to actions such as Brexit and the travel ban, as well as the xenophobia that inspired both. Administering said antidote is Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear, whose charm will immediately win viewers over. Think of him like a British version of Mr. Rogers; he’s kind, well-behaved, gives everyone compliments, and never forgets to use his manners. While the two children of the Brown family aren’t particularly memorable, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville do great work as the parents. Both have their own insecurities but are still caring and try to help guide Paddington through the real world at every turn. Peter Capaldi, Julia Walters, and Jim Broadbent all turn in fun supporting roles that give more perspective to the silly plot. But to me, the true scene-stealers are both Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty and Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, respectively. While Gleeson is a rough prison cook with a heart of gold, Grant gives arguably the best performance of his career as a selfish, washed up actor trying to respark his fame. You can tell he’s having an absolute blast hamming it up as the villain, and there’s chatter that he could break into Best Supporting Actor. That’s no joke. And from a pure filmmaking point of view, Paul King is inspired with the way he tells this story. The steady, fluid camerawork by Erik Wilson does excellent work following the ever-moving plot. In fact, some scenes are planted with unique symmetry to highlight what’s important for the moment. Combined with the vibrant and dynamic color scheme, and you’d easily be forgiven for thinking that Wes Anderson made this movie instead. It sure feels like one of his more tame, fast-paced comedies except much more family-friendly. Plus the editing by Mark Everson and Edgar Wright collaborator Jonathan Amos is frenetic but never disorienting. Each cut feels appropriately planned and some shots are even cut together to create a sort of long-take montage. It also helps that the CGI work brings Paddington to life so convincingly. Having been highly prolific yet underrated the last few years, Dario Marinelli comes in as the replacement for composing the musical score. His score is a diverse one, with several tracks that contrast each other nicely yet still retain the innocence of the tone. Case in point, the opening track, when we’re introduced to Windsor Garden, is jolly and filled with life. The composition has upbeat percussion such as xylophones and high-hats running well alongside the strings. Then, another theme is a more serene piano melody that’s calming and nice to listen to but feels less fun or jovial than other tracks. In keeping with the happy spirits of the film, the filmmakers decide to end the film creatively. While a wonderful hand-drawn animation plays over onscreen, Harry Belafonte’s song “Jump in the Line” can be heard and acts as a cute dance number. So yeah, all of that is one long way of saying that we needed this movie now more than ever. In a world where so many awful things are seen happening on the national news on a regular basis, here’s a little bubble of escapism and happiness that reminds everyone to look for the goodness in them. And somehow, it encourages us to find it. Knowing exactly what it needs to do and how to do it, Paddington 2 is a warm slice of feel-good, life-affirming cinema that all families must watch. In essence, this movie is a ginormous bear hug both for our bodies and our souls. We may not deserve it, but it’s what we all require right now, to let us know that it’s not the end of the world.
Time for me to tackle the granddaddy of all modern literature and storytelling: William Shakespeare. But where to go? The overly stylized dreg of Baz Luhrmann or the dated drama of Lawrence Olivier? My favorite comes somewhere in between. This British historical medieval drama was originally released in the U.K. on October 6th, 1989, coming stateside a little later. The film managed to just barely make back its $9 million budget, supported by some of the best reviews from that year. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who had built a reputation in British theatre, the adaptation had been something of a passion project for him. Despite him having no previous experience with cinema, producer Bruce Sharman and the BBC agreed to back it for at least £3 million to start. In addition to the titular play, he also included elements from both parts of its predecessor Henry IV. Based on the stage play of the same name by William Shakespeare, Branagh stars as Henry V, the newly appointed King of England. Set in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, Henry and his court are in bloody conflict with the French royalty for the sovereign throne of both England and France. With a rough but loyal army that’s a mere fraction of their enemy’s forces, the King sets off on a campaign through the Fench countryside in an effort to defy all the odds and show his worth. Here’s a confession for everybody: I’m a big fan of Shakespeare’s work, always have been. So whenever a filmmaker wants to adapt one of his plays into a movie, I get a little excited but also cautious. Not all of his works have made for great movies, and the upcoming Ophelia, a version of Hamlet from the perspective of the main female character, looks like it’s trying too hard. And it’s pretty clear that some of Lawrence Olivier’s films from the 1940’s and 1950’s have not aged well. That being said, I’ve always had an affinity for Kenneth Branagh’s attempts at the source material, this being the first of 5 adaptations from the enigmatic playwright. And Henry V isn’t just my favorite of his, but quite possibly my favorite Shakespeare play of all time. What I love about it isn’t just the amazing dialogue that should come to be expected of this man’s work. It’s the simple, effective idea that Branagh understands both this story and the titular character so well, you’d swear Shakespeare’s ghost reached out and whispered to him. In any other director’s hands, we’d probably have gotten a film that lionizes Henry whilst ignoring the carnage and conquest left in his wake. And although it does portray him in a mostly positive light, we also see the internal struggle for respect among his peers and the immense weight this war carries on his shoulders. He has to be careful not to give privilege to men he once was friends with. One great moment sees the King sneakily investigating the state of his soldiers and contemplating all of the burdens he must carry. Sure, he had to fight for his right to the throne, but he also has to prove himself as just a man, and that’s the most human thing anyone can do. Kenneth Branagh has had a lot of interesting roles over his career, but he came swinging out of the gate with his Oscar-nominated lead performance here. With a powerful voice that carries across fields, he delivers an innumerable amount of monologues and dialogue exchanges with complete control. And he doesn’t mess around; when the French court sends a herald demanding surrender, he proclaims, “I pray thee take my former answer back. Bid them achieve me than sell my bones!” Another standout would be his ex-wife Emma Thompson as Katherine, the French King’s daughter. The scenes in which she attempts to learn English provide a nice bit of comedy to ease the tension, in true Shakespeare fashion. He also collects a great ensemble to assist him, many of whom have a background in Shakspearean theatre. These include Dame Judi Dench as a distressed common innkeeper, a young Christian Bale as a luggage boy in battle, Sir Drek Jacobi as the narrating Chorus, Ian Holm as a moralistic Welsh officer in Henry’s army, Brian Blessed as the King’s rousing and loyal uncle, and Paul Scofield as the weary King of France. Meanwhile, Branagh also proves to be incredibly skilled and distinctive behind the camera as in front. With the help of cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan, we are able to see the full scale of the King’s European campaign. Many scenes are done on static long takes, especially one near the end of the film that really captures the powerful consequences of conquest. We can see the gritty style of the film come through in the hazy mud and faces soaked with blood. Michael Bradsell’s editing is smart, knowing exactly when to cut and where to give pause. However, one of the biggest stars of the film has to be Phyllis Dalton, whose costume design deservedly won her an Academy Award. Like her work on Lawrence of Arabia, it’s range is wide, it’s period-accurate and detailed to a fault. Combined with the wonderful production design, it really does feel like we’ve arrived in Medieval Europe. In the first of their many fruitful collaborations, Patrick Doyle composes and the epic musical score for Henry V. The first Shakespeare film to recorded using Dolby Audio, the score is performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The vast majority of tracks consist of strings, often moving between being intense for conflict, melancholic for more sobering moments, or rousing for ones of hope. There are also a number of woodwind pipes that infect certain moments, undercutting the serious tone for something far more subdued. There’s also a beautiful rendition of the Latin song Non nobis sung at the end of the Battle of Agincourt, hands down one of the best medieval battle sequences put to film. It is sung by Doyle himself and gradually evolves into a massive choir while a 4-minute tracking shot highlights the aftermath of the carnage. It still kind of amazes me that Kenneth Branagh was able to make this movie despite having zero prior expertise or experience. Most filmmakers may wait after a few projects to tackle a medieval epic, let alone one from the mind of William Shakespeare. But he went right in and, much like Henry himself, proved his worth to everyone around him. The BBC more or less blindly trusted his vision, and that trust has paid off. Henry V is a captivating literary tale of loyalty, victory, and conquest. It still boggles me that Branagh only 5 Shakespeare adaptations, and then went on to do other things. A part of me really wishes he could return to it while his career is still going, get back to his roots. Until that happens, I’m perfectly content with watching this film again, a completely underrated masterpiece.
Right. I’ve been away from this Blog for far too long the past month or so. I had to deal with an academic transition in my life and also had to contend with a family trip out of the country. But now, I’m ready to continue this countdown of my favorite films of all time, starting with the second half.
#50: “Arrival” (2016)
In case you haven’t figured it out yet by my Top 100 picks thus far, I’m an enormous fan of the science-fiction genre. And while I do love me a good actioner, every now and then it’s wonderful to see a filmmaker stretch the genre to its limits in terms of storytelling and thematic ambition. One such filmmaker who proves this is Denis Villeneuve, whose Arrival is so profound and meditative that it leans more into speculative fiction. Anchored by a performance by Amy Adams that was completely snubbed, the film puts humanity and the concept of language under such a brilliant microscope through the lens of extraterrestrial life. a haunting atmosphere, an emotional finale, and so much more make this intelligent drama so great.
#49: “Cloud Atlas” (2012)
Often times when I feel down or hopeless, I like to think that all of life- past, present, and future -is interconnected somehow. Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis explore this concept beautifully in Cloud Atlas, a criminally underrated film that I believe is a masterpiece. From the bottom deck of a slave ship in the 1840’s to a mountainous village in a primal post-apocalyptic world, we get to see how 6 different stories are bound together either by time, by fate, or by mere chance. It is the type of film that shows the pure, unadulterated potential that the medium has to offer that no other form of art can come close to conjuring up.
#48: “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
Jonathan Demme was a director who really could do anything and last year, we lost him far too soon. His Oscar-winning horror thriller The Silence of the Lambs proves as much, as it is far more invested in the interesting characters than any type of gore. While that is still present throughout, the real tension and fascination come whenever Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling are onscreen together.
#47: “The Princess Bride” (1987)
This is just one of those films that I like to put on whenever I’m bored or want to get cozy during the late night or a rainstorm. Rob Reiner’s loving mishmash of different genres can be a bit jarring, but the fact that it does it all so well has to be commended. All of these quotes and locations are permanently ingrained into my memory that I can’t help but do-everything-along if it’s playing in a nearby vicinity. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched The Princess Bride all the way through, but I hope I can watch it at least 20 more times in my lifetime.
#46: “Logan” (2017)
This is not just a “comic book superhero movie.” This is a gritty, harsh, unflinchingly hyperviolent neo-Western drama that just happens to have comic book characters roaming about in the story. I feel like that’s been said already so much, but it’s absolutely true. How they managed to get away with making it from 20th Century Fox is still something that baffles me. What James Mangold and Hugh Jackman accomplished here is all-too-rare an achievement in the genre and, despite barely being a year old, Logan has somehow managed to stand head and shoulders above the classics in its category.
#45: “Boyhood” (2014)
Given the nature and themes of Boyhood, it’s actually quite ironic that the movie is already almost 4 years old. Richard Linklater’s wholly unique coming-of-age drama is a sprawling, earnest, and naturalistic look at the effects of adolescence. How it comes to affect not just the brilliant Ellar Coltrane, who aged in real time, but also his divorced parents, his older sister, his friends old and new. I’m still in awe of how they were able to capture that inevitable phenomenon so completely, in all of its messiness and awkwardness and joyfulness. And I feel like I can safely say that it will age very well.
#44: “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977)
Star Wars has always been an extremely important part of my life for a multitude of reasons. For one, it showed me the power of imagination and adventure that could be found in a place as abstract as a galaxy far, far away. Say what you want about the prequel or sequel trilogies, but it’s really hard to deny what George Lucas accomplished with the original. The far-reaching impact this series has had on future generations on cinema and pop culture, in general, is impossible to overstate. And to this very day, it’s still a total blast to watch anytime all the same.
#43: “Get Out” (2017)
One half of the comedic Key and Peele duo writing and directing a Blumhouse horror film that addresses relevant social issues? No way this film was going to be great, let alone appear on my all-time favorite films list. And yet, against all odds, Jordan Peele crafted one of the most original, thought-provoking, and terrifying films of the last several years or so. The way in which he and Daniel Kaluuya tackle race relations is neither covert nor overt; it just is shown in a wholly unique way. Plus, the first time I watched it in theaters was a great experience- one of the few times I have actually gotten up and cheered with the rest of the audience.
#42: “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” (1982)
Nothing like some good ol’ fashioned Spielberg movie magic, am I right? Anyone who has seen it at some point in their lives will not hesitate to agree. If, for some strange and unknown reason, you have not yet seen E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, please find the time to do so as soon as possible. Even the most heartless and cynical human being will be completely swept away by the timeless adventure.
#41: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)
It’s hard to think of a more subjective or personal genre, aside from horror, than comedy. For this reason, unless you’re entering with the right mindset, I’m unsure that you’ll be able to laugh as hard as I did watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the first time around. Like most of the late, great Miloš Forman’s work, this is a film loaded with pitch-black humor, wrapped in some angrily relevant social commentary. With its depiction of authority, mental illness, and will to live freely, no wonder it caused such a stir with society back in the day- and it still hasn’t lost its touch. There are a couple moments I absolutely hate myself for laughing at, but that just means the film is all the more effective.