Monthly Archives: January 2017

Retrospective: Best Films of 2016

The year has drawn to a close, and there were lots of movies to see. 2016 was perhaps the most divisive and unique year so far this decade, in terms of cinema. To select the singular best movie of the year is no easy task for a reviewer such as myself. I could have easily made a list of the Top 20 or Top 15 movies of 2016, but in the end, I had to cut it down to just 10 feature films. As I always remind my Followers, only films I actually did see this year are in the running. There were probably at least 20 movies I wanted to see that came out, but this is what I have. So here’s a list of honorable mentions of films I really wanted to see this year, or just didn’t quite make the final cut. Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Movies of 2016.

Honorable Mentions:

Hacksaw Ridge, Doctor Strange, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, The Jungle Book, Lion, Captain America: Civil War, The Edge of Seventeen, Moana, Zootopia, Finding Dory, Fences, Manchester by the Sea, Nocturnal Animals, Paterson, Green Room, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Sing Street, The Witch, The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, Sausage Party, Star Trek Beyond 

10. “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Thought that Disney would get a spot on this list? Well, they’ll have their obligatory place soon enough, but no animation was quite as incredible as this Laika production. Beautiful animation mixed with a bravely original and melancholy story bring this to new heights. Not only that, but the world-building brilliantly establishes a mountain’s worth of rich lore to get invested in. Plus, Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron’s voice performances add a sense of sincerity and humanity to animals. That says something.

9. “10 Cloverfield Lane”

My goodness, wasn’t this an intense film? Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut stayed completely secret and unknown until just 2 months before release. May Elizabeth Winestead shines as the beautiful, yet determined and intelligent protagonist. But John Goodman totally steals the show from right under her, as he’s the one thing scarier than anything outside the bunker. Though it virtually has nothing to do with the original Cloverfield, the story and characters will keep you up at night for a few days afterward. Proof that excellent movies can indeed take place in one place for 2 hours.

8. “Jackie”

A fascinating portrait of one of the 20th century’s most scrutinized figures, Jackie serves as a brilliant reminder of the short yet memorable term of JFK. The first of 2 movies on this list that almost made me cry, at the forefront is Natalie Portman’s powerful performance as the titular First Lady. And given the recent happenings in the United States, this story seems very timely. A strong tour-de-force for acting, this is a heartbreaking biopic worth watching at least once.

7. “Hell or High Water”

One of the more overlooked films of the year, Hell or High Water concerns the dilemma of 2 brothers who begin robbing a string of banks and the Texas Ranger hot on their trail. The original screenplay flows along with complete confidence in the pacing of director David Mackenzie. While the 2 brothers are fabulous in their roles, it’s Jeff Bridges’ scene-stealing turn as the Ranger that makes this story so satisfying to watch. Hell or High Water is truly a neo-Western in every sense of the word.

6. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

No “Best of the Year” list would be complete without an entry in the Star Wars franchise. The first entry in the newly planned Anthology series, Rogue One concerns a group of Rebels who have to steal valuable information in order to defeat the Galactic Empire. Aside, from the great performances and stunning visual effects from ILM, this movie also helped clear up one of the biggest plot holes from the original Star Wars movie in 1977. A rare spin-off that stands on its own while tying previous elements together.

5. “Silence”

This has to be Martin Scorsese’s best film he’s made since Goodfellas, 26 years ago. A passion project that took decades to get off the ground, Silence follows a group of Jesuit priests who go to 17th century Japan to save their disgraced mentor. While some people may find this film frustrating and unsatisfying, the themes of holding onto your beliefs and what truly constitutes faith can resonate with damn near anyone. A beautifully filmed and acted movie, Silence may fly under your radar, but at least give it a shot.

4. “Deadpool”

We moviegoers had a bevy of comic book superhero movies to salivate over in 2016. But none of them made me laugh my ass off harder than Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds was born to play a foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed costumed crime-fighter, in a role that completely washes the bad taste from Green Lantern and Xmen Origins: Wolverine from our mouths as early as the opening credits. It may not be one to watch with your children, but damn if it isn’t so fun and hilarious.

3. “The Nice Guys”

Writer-director proves to us that buddy-action comedy mysteries are far from dead with The Nice Guys. Lost in the superhero shuffle of mid-May, this sharply written story about an enforcer and a private investigator is deliciously funny and intriguing. The two leads, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, are endlessly watchable in their banter and interactions. It’s a bummer not many people saw this picture, but that just adds even more reason as to why you should watch it.

2. “La La Land”

The most important thing we take away from this movie? Musicals can still be made in this day and age. Damien Chazelle channels his passion for jazz and classic Gene Kelly productions with La La Land. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as 2 aspiring stars in modern-day Los Angeles, every musical number is catchy and keeps your foot tapping throughout. The gorgeous costumes and seamless cinematography help pull together La La Land into a heartwarming story about following your dreams, no matter what. A colorful, poignant masterpiece paying tribute to a bygone genre.

1. “Arrival”

After well-deserved acclaim for Prisoners and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve rounds out this list with a breathtaking piece of science-fiction. After UFOs land on Earth, a linguist played by Amy Adams is recruited to communicate with the aliens. Not only is it a showcase of beautiful visual effects and haunting performances, but what truly sets Arrival apart from other counterparts is the concept of how language is so important to human culture. There are many layered metaphors that are best seen in the theater. Heavy on speculative ideas, and a poetic “what-if” story, Arrival is not only the best movie of the year, but also arguably one of the best movies of the decade so far.

Do you agree with my list? What was your favorite movie of 2016? Be sure to let me know in the Comments, and be sure to Like this Post and Follow my blog for interesting content like you see here.

2016 in Film: Retrospective Superlatives

I know what you’re probably thinking right now. You’re expecting me to publish my list of the Top Ten films of the year. Rest assured that is coming, but as a bit of a prelude, I decided to give some superficial awards to other movies deserving to be recognized. To be clear, almost none of these will appear on the Top Ten list to be published in a day or so. Rather, I just had fun because I saw more movies released this year than any previous one. So let’s get down to business.

Most Original Film: “The Lobster”

Never before has a vision of the future been so terrifying yet hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos’ black comedy revolves around a newly single man who has 45 days to find a new mate before he’s turned into any animal of his choosing.. in his case, it’s a lobster. Collin Farrell is subtle and low-key as the main character, in the most absurd situation possible. How many other films can you say feature a man who may have the possibility of becoming a crustacean? The answer should be none.

Most Overrated Film: “Hail Caesar!”

Some may remember my overall appraisal of this film in m review back in February. And for the most part, I still stand by it. However, upon a second viewing, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pointlessness in the story. The fantastic cast and sharp script, aside, the Coen Brothers have certainly done better in the past, and I believe they can still do better in the future. A good love letter to fans of classical cinema, and decidedly nothing more.

Most Underrated Film: “The Magnificent Seven”

Despite the criticism it received for its unoriginality, it’s important to remember that this is technically a remake. Going into the theater, all I wanted to see was a reminder of why I love the Western genre. An excellent leading titular crew who share great chemistry, lead by Denzel Washington himself, make this a fun adventure for a modern era. And that final gun battle was really some exciting stuff to behold.

Most Overlooked Film: “Midnight Special”

Overshadowed by other, much larger films released during the Spring, it’s a shame that Midnight Special didn’t see many viewers in the theater. However, that absolutely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the time to watch it. Jeff Nichols’ beautiful science-fiction drama is a gorgeous blend of emotional family drama and action spectacle. A truly original “modern sci-fi,” I implore you to find a way to watch this by any means.

Most Disappointing Film: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

To be clear, I’m not saying this film is outright terrible. It’s just nowhere near as good as the hype had told us it would be. A real tragedy, considering this is the first feature film where the titular heroes and Wonder Woman all appear on-screen together in live-action. The action scenes were undoubtedly enjoyable, but the substance of the story and the relevance of various subplots is still lost on me.

Funniest Film: “Keanu”

Predictable? Yes. Funny as hell? Yes. As a fan of Key and Peele’s sketch show on Comedy Central, I had been looking forward to their first theatrical movie together. And boy, did they deliver on the laughs? Remaining 100% self-aware the entire time, the chemistry between the two leads, alone, is worth the price of admission. All of the pop culture references hit the right chords, and the scene where Key is tripping balls in the club was probably the hardest I laughed all year long.

Worst Film: “Now You See Me 2”

They can’t all be good, though, and that’s why my pick for the worst film of 2016 is Now You See Me 2. At what point after the first one’s release did they see the need to produce a sequel that’s somehow even less comprehensible than its predecessor? I was all set to give this spot to Meet The Blacks, but I remembered this movie and just became infuriated. Numerous plot holes and forced acting aside, the magic tricks are condescendingly and unbelievably explained, making me just mentally check out. Avoid this.

Do you agree with my picks? What was the worst or most overrated movie of the year to you? Whatever it may be, be sure to leave a Comment below and Like this Post. And if you’re interested in seeing more content like this, be sure to Follow my blog and I’ll see you in the future.

“Green Room” Movie Review

About 10 months ago, I professed that Deadpool was the most violent movie released in 2016. I would now like to retract that statement after having seen Green Room. This slasher horror-thriller- written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier- premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 before receiving its theatrical release the following April. Barely turning a profit on its $5 million budget, the A24 production further provides proof of Saulnier’s repertoire as a character-focused indie director. Following a series of less than desirable circumstances, the young punk rock band, the Ain’t Rights, reluctantly agree to perform a gig at a neo-Nazi bar in backwoods Oregon. After their performance, the bassist, played by the late Anton Yelchin, accidently walks in on a horrible crime being committed in the green room. The band gets held hostage, and now we have an intense, grisly, unforgiving game of cat-and-mouse. Jeremy Saulnier is also responsible for bringing us the 2014 revenge film, Blue Ruin, a well-crafted piece of thoughtful, original cinema rarely seen in the thriller genre. This horror film is a stupendous follow-up to that, no doubt, but I have issues with some decisions certain characters made. I’ll discuss that a bit later, but let’s first talk about the cast. The lead and supporting actors did a fantastic job with their respective roles. Anton Yelchin is truly the underdog of this story, thrown into one of the worst scenarios imaginable with little knowledge on how to get himself- or his friends- out of it alive. The two biggest standouts were, first of all, Macon Blair as the skinhead Gabe. For all intents and purposes, he was the only reasonable neo-Nazi in this movie. He’s the one who keeps trying to come up with ways to clean this situation up without anyone dying. But he has to put up with his superior, Darcy. In the other standout, Patrick Stewart gives an against-type performance as the leader of these neo-Nazis. Mundane, intelligent, and almost entirely unsympathetic, watching Jean-Luc Picard becoming the methodical leader of a group of violent hate criminals deserves more recognition. While on the topic of the antagonists, Green Room did a surprisingly unique job with its portrayal of white supremacists. Make no mistake; they’re all terrible human beings who probably deserve to rot in jail or even get killed. But it establishes that this kind of group serves as a family for troubled outsiders. In fact, half of the skinheads onscreen don’t even look beyond the age of 20. It brought an interesting human element to these villains because the one thing scarier than any movie monster is the random man on the street no one would think of twice. On a technical level, this is a very impressive film. The exterior shots of the dense outdoor woods around the bar are stunningly beautiful, bringing a sense of realism and isolation for our protagonists. Meanwhile, on the inside, Julia Bloch’s sharp eye for editing shows when the band members feel closed in by their oppressors. And yeah, in case you didn’t catch it in my intro, this is one violent movie. Every act of violence happens for a reason in the plot, so nothing is gratuitous with any drawn out close-up shots of people dying. But the sheer brutality may turn off some of my more queasy audiences. From disembowelments to broken arms to Pitbulls chewing off a person’s neck, Saulnier holds absolutely nothing back. But the area where I felt this film faltered were the decisions some of the characters made in the script. Similar to Blue Ruin, some of the people on-screen made a number of choices ranging from questionable to just outright stupid and frustrating. Much of the runtime is spent seeing the band debating about their plan of action in the titular waiting room before going out in the open, and retreating back to the green room. Were I in their shoes it’s difficult to say if I would have made the calls they had to make. All I know is that were Michelle from 10 Cloverfield Lane one of the band members, the whole plot would have been over in maybe 15 minutes. But I guess they had to find a way to expand it to an hour and a half to justify the theatrical release. If anyone ever gets into this kind of situation, keep this in mind: Never run off by yourself when the shit goes down. Sticking with your party is the most efficient way to stay alive in a game of cat-and-mouse. That’s not anything to say that the movie is bad. In fact, Green Room is a fantastic and unique horror film to have come out this year, an otherwise baren wasteland of mediocre attempts in the genre. The realistic dialogue flows well with the character interactions and the setting itself, making for one hell of an intense and gorey thrill ride. Though, I can’t recommend it for everyone.

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“Sing Street” Movie Review

During my years in high school, I tried putting a band together with my friends. Now after watching this movie, I’m tempted to do so again. This musical dramedy from writer-director John Carney premiere at the Sundance Film Festival before gaining a release in the United States in April of 2016, going on to gross $13.6 million at the box office. It initially gained little attention from Western audiences, but the rave reviews encouraged the Weinstein Company to give it a run in select theaters in the U.S. Set in inner-city Dublin in 1985, the story follows a young teenager named Conor Lawlor who is moved to a free-state Catholic school in the middle of family turmoil. After making some friends, he meets a beautiful model named Raphina. In order to impress her, he assembles a band called Sing Street whose music videos she can star in as a stock character. This movie already sounds more boring than it actually is, but it surprised me. Everything in Sing Street oozes 1980’s fodder, from music records to retro music videos MTV to outfits to the original songs. If you are an adult who grew up during this decade, this movie could be one of the biggest nostalgia bombs ever conceived. I mean it; it’s trippy. All of the child actors, lead by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as the charismatic head of the titular band, are terrific. Something tells me that I’m going to be seeing a lot more of them in the future. In supporting roles, Game of Thrones alum Aiden Gillen is mundane as the protagonist’s father, Don Wycherley is a stern school teacher whom Conor frequently butts heads with, and Maria Doyle Kennedy is unstable as the mother. The real standout player, however, is Jack Reynor as Conor’s older brother. A washed-up, profane, yet oddly insightful burnout, his unconventional sincerity make for some of the sweetest scenes in the movie. Some scenes made me laugh when he would be verbally pouring out his knowledge of 20th-century music, others left me breathless at how realistic his relationship with Conor is- to the point where it’s almost hard to watch. Reynor’s performance may be one of the greatest siblings ever put to the celluloid, be it in this century or the last. And of course, what’s there to talk about a musical without actually talking about the songs themselves? I call it a musical because even though nobody breaks out into song in the middle of a scene, there are enough original songs in the soundtrack that help tell the story to qualify. My personal favorite from the selection was the track “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which is played about two-thirds of the way through the plot. Easily the biggest throwback to the 1980’s in the entire movie. “Why,” you might ask? Watch Robert Zemeckis’ original Back to the Future film from 1985, and it will make sense as to why it was so awesome to watch. But there’s no denying that every song written for the movie is totally original, and invokes the vibe of this lost decade. Synthesizers? Check. Ridiculous wardrobes for music videos and live stage performances? Check. Absurd vocal range? Check. Sappy, mushy love ballads contrasted by fast-paced anthems? Double Check. Also, the two leads in the movie share great chemistry with one another. Lucy Boynton as Raphina was mysterious and intriguing, just said in the band’s song,l “The Riddle of the Model.” Their story is completely heartwarming from start to finish, wearing a fierce sense of optimism firmly on its tweed jacket shoulder. Looking at the decrepit state of inner-city Dublin, you know they should just find a way to get out of there. So whether you’ve ever done absurd things to impress someone you have a crush on or have a sibling you can rely on for help, I don’t see a reason why audience members wouldn’t be able to relate to this movie. If you can’t, well that just means you haven’t been running around in the social world long enough to understand. Available on the streaming service Netflix for free, Sing Street is an understated yet beautiful love through music and character interactions. I encourage my American viewers to give this one a shot, if you haven’t already.

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“Mass Effect” Game Review

With a 4th installment due out this March, now seemed as good a time as any to look back and review the first three games. Developer Bioware’s epic science-fiction action RPG was originally published on November 2oth, 2007, as an exclusive for the Xbox 360 before coming out on the other systems 6 months later, becoming a critical and commercial smash. The game underwent 3 and a half years in development, and was a total game-changer in terms of storytelling and technology. There’s a rich backstory to the world of Mass Effect that you should know in order to understand everything. Long story short, in the year 2148, a manned mission to Mars discovered a piece of ancient alien technology that opened up the possibility of faster-than-light travel. This was known as Mass Effect. The discovery led to a First Contact War that nearly wiped out humanity, until peace accords were made. Now the intergalactic government called The Council has integrated us into their conglomerate. In the present day, 2183, you play as Commander Shepherd, a male/female human soldier who becomes a Spectre, Council-sanctioned agents who operate independently from the systems. One of the Spectres, a turian named Saren Arterius has gone rogue, and you and your crew are tasked with taking him down before he can go through with his plan. And then you embark on one of the most epic journeys in video game history. Companies were becoming more ambitious with their games, but few games before or since have a scope or scale this big. As far as gameplay goes, it’s a pretty standard third-person shooter with cover mechanics. It’s actually quite fun, but occasionally I would get bogged down in the weird upgrade system for each of the guns. I could be good at a few, but not great at just one. This customization does lend itself well to the RPG aspects of the game, adding cool replay value. However, as fun as it is to fight evil aliens and humans alike, you’ll be spending some good time fighting the inventory; it’s cumbersome and terrible. Items I didn’t need or want kept getting equipped at the wrong moments, making firefights very problematic. But the worst part of the gameplay was the Mako. Every time you wanted to explore a planet, players would have to go on foot in a Land Rover  called the Mako. The controls were so wonky, I often flipped over the vehicle and couldn’t continue. I hope it’s much better in the new game. However, the game makes up for this with the power menu. There’s a piece of tech known as the Omni-Tool that pretty serves every purpose possible in the game. It allows you to order your teammates to perform a move that is unique to them on the battlefield. Be it disrupting all electronic devices or swinging enemies around with special forces called biotics, you’ll be tempted to swap teammates around each mission. But where the gameplay fails, the story completely makes up for. Bioware are the masters at making the game revolve around your decisions. Sometimes, you’re forced to make tough calls with your buddies, and there’s not always a right answer. To be clear, the climax of the plot will remain the same regardless of your choices, but that type of narrative freedom was unprecedented in 2007. And if we’re going to talk about the villain in the game, Saren Arterius is actually quite badass. You’re immediately interested by what he’s up to and his reasons for suddenly leaving. But there are big things going on I want to tell you, but it’s better to find out for yourself. I will say he is one tough guy to defeat. Normally, a game will have one supporting character that you wish you could meet in person. Mass Effect had at least 4 teammates I can think of that are in that league. First, Tali Zorah, a quarian engineer who’s really good at figuring out the kinks of your ship, the SSV Normandy. Her face remains covered for the next two games, so it intrigues you. Next, the asari Liara T’Soni is the love interest you should go for. You’re given a few options on your crew to potentially romance, and she was my favorite. Her powerful biotics make her a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. Then, the krogan warrior Urdnot Wrex can charge enemies head-on and shoot everything in his way. He would be an awesome character even if he didn’t have any relevance. But he does, and his story gives insight into deep-rooted conflicts with his people. The most memorable character of the game is the turian marksman Garrus Vakarian. He says everything that’s perfect for the moment and made me laugh quite a bit when I needed to. He’s an excellent choice for picking off enemies from a distance, but on the Normandy, he constantly is repairing the ship guns. This continues as a running gag in the next two installments. The themes the game touches on are very relevant today. Prejudice, artificial intelligence, loyalty, history as a cycle, and war are not uncommon topics explored in the science-fiction genre. But the way the story presents itself makes it feel very fresh and very real. There are just some conflicts between civilizations that will simply never get resolved. In the end, Mass Effect‘s gameplay may be frustrating at times, but the interactive storytelling places this game in the realm of modern classics. It excellently sets the foundation for the rest of the series to come with fascinating characters, an engrossing narrative, and top-notch voice acting. You can buy this for less than $20 on Steam, along with Mass Effect 2, a review for another day.

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“Silence” Movie Review

Well… that was a pretty heavy movie. This captivating epic historical drama from renowned Hollywood director Martin Scorsese received a limited release on December 23rd, 2016, before expanding in a rollout the following weeks. A passion project that remained in pre-production for nearly 25 years, the $40 million film- based on the novel of the same by Shusaku Endo- finally saw the light of day in its Vatican premiere in late November. Set in the 17th century, a group of young Jesuit priests, Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe, receive word that their mentor, Father Ferriera, has renounced their faith in public while traveling in Japan. This was during a time when Christians were persecuted by the predominantly Buddhist state. Refusing to believe the news, Rodrigues and Garupe travel to the country of Japan in secret on a mission to help any Christian peasants and hopefully save Ferriera from captivity. The first word I said to describe Silence when I walked out of the theater was, “That was powerful.” There were several scenes that were tough to watch, especially regarding when peasants were being persecuted for their beliefs. The only way these people can be let go is if either they step over a fumie, a crudely drawn portrait of Jesus Christ, or spit on a crucifix and called the Virgin Mary a whore. That’s not easy for them; not with all the ideology and practices they’ve come to know over the course of their time worshipping. Leading the cast is Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues, who completely kills it in every scene. I always knew he was a great actor, but this is a fantastic showcase for his talent. He is so transformative in the role. At the beginning, he’s a devout and prideful priest who strongly believes in the word of The Lord. But by the end, he is such a broken soul that he can barely look anyone in the eyes anymore, Christian or otherwise. Right by his side for a good chunk of the movie, Adam Driver shows us that he’s not just an evil Dark Force user like Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. His performance as Father Garupe provides a neat contrast with Rodrigues, as the two frequently bicker over whether or not the Japanese peasants (and subsequently Father Ferriera) can truly be saved. Of the two, Garupe is perhaps the most dedicated and loyal to their cause, which is saying something. For those of you who saw the cast list and expected to see a lot of Liam Neeson kicking ass with his particular set of skills, you may be disappointed to know that he is relegated to a supporting role. But amazingly, this has to be his best post-Taken performance that I’ve seen. A very complicated man, he appears as though he doesn’t want to surrender the Jesuit faith, but is comfortable with his new circumstances. I don’t know if he’s in the movie long enough to qualify, but he definitely seems worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars. The screenplay by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, who previously collaborated together on The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, floods the story and dialogue with many subtle references to scripture. I’m not saying the audience has to be religious in order to enjoy the movie, but those who are will understand and appreciate the story a bit more. And that feeds into my point about the perspectives of this conflict,. and how they’re handled really well. With a movie like this, centered on Christian priests, it could have been very easy to write off the Buddhist hierarchy of Japan as evil, monstrous villains. But it doesn’t. Rather, people on both sides of this battle of faith are portrayed as layered human beings with their own motivations. In fact, the one character in Silence that could be considered a villain, the Inquisitor, is introduced and shown with a nice sense of humor. It may have come naturally from underrated comedian Issey Ogata’s performance as a wry, reasonable, and surprisingly patient leader who wants nothing more than to get the whole ordeal over with as soon as possible. This respect for character perspective also is reflected in the film’s soundtrack; there virtually is none. Katheryn and Kim Allen Kluge bucked the trend of epic orchestral scores in historical dramas and instead allowed the background to be sung mostly by the sound of nature. This is respectful to both the beliefs of Buddhism and the Christian idea that God is with us in nature. The scenery is also utterly stunning and beautiful. Rodrigo Prieto’s keen cinematography is able to capture the scope and nature of 17th century Japan with long shots of the landscapes and villages. It’s debatable whether or not these shots could have been trimmed down a bit, considering the film’s run-time lasts a whopping 2 hours and 41 minutes. However, it never felt that long to me, as it was engaging the whole way through. If you don’t like long movies, then this one could potentially feel like a drag to you at parts. For those who do like long movies, (Like myself) Silence is a worthy addition to Scorsese’s pantheon of classic masterpieces. Arguably his most personal film, it forces the audience to ask serious questions about their faith and the consequences of staying loyal to a potentially dangerous proposition. Ultimately well done.

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“Lion” Movie Review

*I realize there are a plethora of December movies to review. This was just the first one I saw. More reviews will come out as they expand to wider releases. In any case, the Top 10 list will be posted by January 31st.*

So I have heard for a while now that a film about Google Earth has the ability to leave grown men bawling in the movie theater. Come to find out that even in the year 2016, the world can still surprise you. This critically-acclaimed emotional drama from director Garth Davis premiered November 25th, 2016, earning back just under $10 million as of New Years weekend. Don’t let the trailer fool you; this ain’t your typical, generic biopic that studios churn out every year. Based on the novel A Long Way Home, Lion tells the amazing true story of Saroo Brierley, a Lost Boy from India. In 1986, after falling asleep on an empty train car, he gets lost in the city of Calcutta before getting adopted by an Australian couple, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, respectively. 25 years later, adult Saroo still wonders about his real family’s whereabouts and discovers a brand new software program: Google Earth. And so he goes on a trip down Memory Lane, using this application to locate his biological family in India. That premise already sounds fantastic and is the primary reason I went to see it. However, the execution of the narrative is so brilliant and engrossing, you feel as though you are in the Jewel of Southeast Asia. Dev Patel plays the adult version of Saroo, and I cannot think of a better actor to play the part than him. Although his career has been relatively low-key since the release of Slumdog Millionaire, this is the movie that will get him more high profile attention. He plays a convincing young man who is just out of touch with his home and his family, desperately wanting to reconnect by any means necessary. Nicole Kidman really brings it as Saroo’s adoptive mother, who is desperately trying to keep her family strung together in the wake of Saroo’s discovery. There’s been buzz about her getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars later this month. When you watch it, it’s hard to tell who the better actor: her or Patel. Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka come together to give a great musical score to accompany the emotional tone of the movie. Though no particular track stand out in my head, it’s minimalist production of violins and piano melodies find the right balance between Western music and Bollywood music. Pop star Sia brings an original song to the table with her tune, “Never Give Up,” and after just one listen, you won’t want Saroo to do so. That and the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Following up on his amazing work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Grieg Fraser’s cinematography makes Australia and rural India look beautiful. Wide, birds-eye view shots of the big landscapes are contrasted well by intensely personal close-ups. In fact, I dare say that natural lighting was used for a few scenes, in the same vein as The Revenant. It seems crazy to think that this story really happened a few years ago, but it did and that alone is incredible. So many emotions swirl through the air as you watch this movie; hope, and despair, joy and sadness. It’s my personal opinion that the primary goal of Lion was to infuriate audiences at how often children in India go missing so that they may do something about it. In fact, at the very end of the movie, a text comes up on the screen explaining how 80,000 Indian boys and girls are lost every year. I would strongly encourage anyone who sees this movie to make a difference about that. And yeah, by the end of this movie, straight-up man tears. In case you didn’t catch it in the intro, this movie made me cry. It’ll make you cry as well, no matter how tough you say you are. If some people don’t at least WANT to cry by the time the story wraps up after 118 minutes, I feel bad for your robot state. In short, Lion is a super emotional ride of a true story. Not afraid to touch on themes of love, home, and finding your place in the world, this is one of the better made biopics I’ve seen in a while.

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“Hell or High Water” Movie Review

Brilliance. Absolute, unhinged, mindblowing brilliance. Director David Mackenzie’s neo-western heist-crime drama was released on August 12th, 2016, grossing $31 million against its $12 million budget, heaped with rave reviews following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Written by former actor Taylor Sheridan, the script had been tossed around for the better of half a decade until it won the annual Black List. We follow two brothers, Toby and Tanner, struggling to save their family’s old farm from financial foreclosure. In order to do this, they rob a string of fictional banks across West Texas, attracting the ire of one determined Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement. While that premise may sound thin and uninteresting on the surface, it is executed in the most engrossing and believable way possible. For starters, you become invested in all of the characters that appear onscreen. It’s not as simple as “Good law enforcement agents have to track down Evil bank robbers” or vice versa. Every person introduced was as full-bodied and layered as any human being you would probably meet. Their motivations make sense, and each character gives enough logistics to back their stance on certain issues and circumstances. The relationship between the two brothers is key to this entire movie’s function. If you didn’t gravitate towards either of these two, or the actors playing them did terrible, this whole film would just become forgettable. Thankfully, everyone working on the movie realized this importance, and it totally works. They carried a lot of the story, even when they didn’t have to. You can tell there’s an element of resentment, but they have to trust each other because they’re family; they have to get through these problems together. The frustration of the economy has forced these two to realize that the only way they can truly keep the memory of their family alive is to break the laws and steal back from the banks, whom they feel are actually stealing the land from natural owners. This is a fantastic showcase for Chris Pine and Ben Foster’s acting abilities. We already know Pine’s steely charisma from the Star Trek franchise and his surprising musical turn in Disney’s Into The Woods. But Foster has not had a chance to prove himself as a great actor; he deserves more name recognition. However, in a universe where supporting characters can completely steal the show, Jeff Bridges as the Ranger Hamilton is definitely award-worthy. At this point, he pretty much plays the exact character you think he would be: a cowboy-like macho man with a chip on his shoulder and a nearly incomprehensible Texan accent to boot. But he is so natural at his craft that he transcends the difference between actor and character. Though he can come across as bigoted, Bridges brings enough heart to this Ranger to score himself a possible nomination for Best Supporting Actor. And when I say this is a western, I mean it in every sense of the word. No, nobody in the movie rides into a small town on horseback, bent on restoring it to its former glory. (Ahem, The Magnificent Seven) Rather, the characters in Hell or High Water are planted in modern day, and cross wires in a hunt for treasure and glory across a sweeping land of desert wilderness. Even its title sounds Texan. During one of the brothers’ bank robberies, a group of men gather in a posse to fend them off… with guns of their own. It made me laugh at the circumstance, and it honestly raises the question as to whether the screenwriter is an advocate of the N.R.A. Although they’re more affiliated with experimental rock from the late 20th century, musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis broaden their horizons by composing the musical score of this film. Low-key but not unmemorable, the violin and guitar-heavy soundtrack solidifies the western vibe, even when there are occasionally intense gunfights. But gunfights are not actually what sell this movie. The driving force behind Hell or High Water is the dialogue and character development, both of which are written really well. Not since Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction has a Hollywood movie been so focused on realistic conversations to accelerate the story. This is a western. That should never happen in a genre like that. Taylor Sheridan eschews that mindset of illogical gun battles in favor of three-dimensional characters. All of this adds up to make Hell or High Water one of the most surprising and overlooked film to come out in 2016. And also one of the best. It’s a completely satisfying story that is confidently paced from start to finish, with David Mackenzie’s immense passion channeled into every frame of every scene. I urge you to find a streaming service or video rental to find this movie and watch it… come hell or high water. There I said it. Happy? I couldn’t hold it any longer.

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