Author Archives: cadepb

“Come Sunday” Movie Review

In a world cluttered with God’s Not Dead sequels, Kirk Cameron after-school specials, and Nicholas Cage’s Left Behind, along comes a small little film that actually tries to treat faith and religion with respect. Keep in mind that the operative word here is “Tried.” This biographical drama from director Joshua Marston initially premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to a generally mixed reception. It was later released worldwide on the streaming service Netflix on April 13th. Originally produced by filmmaker Marc Forster, the film is said to be adapted from a 2005 episode of the radio podcast This American Life, with the host Ira Davis hopping on board as a credited producer. The screenplay written by Marcus Hinchey has been in development supposedly since at least 2010, with several potential actors and directors moving in and out. Based on a true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal minister who went on to become one of the most prominent African-American priests in recent history. In the late 1990’s, he briefly becomes disillusioned with his own faith after the suicide of his uncle (Who he had every opportunity to save) and witnessing the Rwandan genocides on T.V. news. Looking to use his televised persona to help give people hope, he begins preaching the radical concept of universal salvation, which implies that all men and women will be forgiven by God in the end. This causes quite a stir within his own tight-knit household and the broader Christian community, particularly his mentor Oral Roberts. Come Sunday is a frustrating movie, but not in the sense of narrative or emotional involvement. After bashing some Netflix Original films earlier this year, here’s a movie that shows that they are still capable of producing higher quality drama. And the fact that they’ve released low-brow “comedies” (Game Over, Man!) and toxic sci-fi thrillers (Mute) instead of picking up more anticipated or acclaimed projects is simply frustrating to cinephiles like myself. And honestly, after a wash of borderline-propaganda films that try to shove Christianity down the throats of audiences, it’s nice to see one that attempts to explore the religion from a secular view. While Come Sunday is undoubtedly interesting and well-acted, there’s a lot left to be desired. Like Martin Scorsese’s Silence, having grown up in a religious household, there was a lot here that I definitely appreciated more. I knew little to nothing of the story prior to pressing “Play,” so watching a man of the cloth portrayed as a real human being was quite refreshing. Similarly, the movie never condescends on the viewer how faith is important to a lot of people, good or bad. There are some individuals who genuinely want to use their religion to help others, as is shown in the opening scene on a plane. The problem is that Joshua Marston gives the whole thing to the audience straight, lacking an emotional punch on the themes. He seems to work well with his actors, but the direction feels kind of bland and holds back on any power in storytelling. You can’t help but feel that the film would have been more satisfying and engaging if it were put in the hands of a more experienced and confident filmmaker. Thankfully, Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in great, subtle work as Bishop Carlton Pearson. Even without saying a word, we can see the deep conflict in his eyes, a good man who is tortured by his own devout faith. Also, Jason Segel is surprisingly great in a dramatic role as Henry, one of the church’s main financial backers. While it could be easy to paint him as close-minded, Segel does respectable work at making him feel understanding of Pearson’s intentions, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye. Similarly, Martin Sheen, who just seems born to play men of the cloth, inkles some sympathy out of Oral Roberts. He personally groomed Carlton for his career and is a constant, if sometimes a frictional voice of help and guidance on the matters at hand. Other actors like LaKeith Stanfield as the church’s closeted organ player, Danny Glover as the Bishop’s doomed uncle, and Condola Rashad as his unfulfilled wife all do great work but don’t quite leave the same impression. And when it comes to the technical aspects of the film, there’s something about it that just feels dry and uninspired. The cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg uses a lot of muted or crushed colors, helping to illustrate the dark reality this story takes place in. The only one that really seems to stand out that much is purple, which is a major part of the Bishop’s clothes and organization. The editing is pretty finely tuned to each scene, with some clever imagery shown here or there. The two elements come together remarkably well in the moments when Pearson is actually delivering his sermons to a diverse crowd. Given the fact that the Pentecostal ministers were being televised during their preaching sessions, it puts the audience right into the moment. Like we’re watching the man give a sermon right before our eyes, in person. Neither outright horrible nor groundbreakingly amazing in any sense, Come Sunday is a well-intentioned but uneven look at sacrifice. It is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of most Netflix Original films so far this year, but still not remarkable enough to give a definite recommendation. Films like these should be made more often, as they’re far better looks at faith and religion than what you might be used to. Director Joshua Marston and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hearts are in the right place, but it sadly lacks the punch necessary for this story.

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“BlacKkKlansman” Movie Review

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more hit by a metaphorical truck than the opening and closing sequences of this film. Whatever you may read about beforehand, trust me when I say that you are not prepared for it. This biographical crime drama competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Although it didn’t win the big prize, the film ultimately took home the Grand Prix, which is essentially second-place in the competition. It was later released by Focus Features in theaters on August 10th, 2018, grossing over $43 million at the box office against a modest budget of $15 million. Co-written and directed by Spike Lee, the spec screenplay Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinwoltz was originally written around 2015 after stumbling across the titular memoir. After many months of unsuccessful pitches to Hollywood studios, the project came to the attention of Get Out producers Jordan Peele and Jason Blum, who immediately wanted to get it made. Peele handpicked Lee to direct the picture, and production practically accelerated last year after the Charlottesville Unite the Right ally in mid-August. Based on an insane true story, John David Washington (Son of Lee’s long-time collaborator Denzel) stars as Ron Stallworth, the first black man to become a detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1979. Following an inconsequential stint infiltrating a speaking event by Kwame Ture, he comes across an ad in the local newspaper asking for support for a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. On a whim, he calls the number and puts on the guise of a white supremacist, and actually earns their trust. He then assigns a white Jewish partner named Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, to play the part in person as they advance further and further into the organization. I’ve read a great number of reviews for this film saying that it’s Spike Lee’s “best film in decades” or “his return to form.” Truth be told, I have only seen a handful of his films, and a couple clips from his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, so I can’t make either claim. I was very excited, however, to see this film mainly because of the director’s reputation and the absurdity behind the true story. It seemed impossible for something that started out as a hilarious skit by Dave Chappelle to have happened in real life. Yet time and again, truth can always be stranger than fiction. Which is why I can confidently say that BlacKkKlansman is my favorite Spike Lee joint thus far, and one of the best films of the year. There are a number of different aspects that work hand-in-hand in the film, many of which you wouldn’t expect to at first. Namely, how Lee is able to balance the very light with the very heavy. There are a number of hilarious moments, mainly which highlight the inherent stupidity of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. But there are other scenes that extremely intense or dark, such as a scene where a character played by Harry Belafonte tells a sickening story of brutality. There’s also a very unconventional pastiche prologue that just didn’t quite click with me. John David Washington is on his way to being a star like his father, and his lead performance here proves as much. He’s extremely charismatic and intelligent, but not ignorant to the institutional prejudice he faces; he’s often wondering if he can make positive changes to what’s seemingly a broken system. By his side are Adam Driver and Michael Buscemi as his white partners on the investigation. While both have reservations- particularly with Flip’s sudden acceptance of his Jewish character -they are perfectly willing to go along with Stallworth’s plan to end the bigotry. Other notable players include Laurie Harrier as a fiery Black Student Union president, Cory Hawkins as the infamous Kwame Ture, and Jasper Pääkkönen as the most radical Klansman. But the scene-stealer to me is Topher Grace’s icy cold portrayal of David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klan. It saddens me to say that he feels born to play the role, and it’s his best one yet. The conversations he has with Ron over the phone provide some great insight into his ideology. After all, he managed to make bigotry somehow more mainstream and sophisticated in modern day society. Meanwhile, Lee shows off most of his stylistic trademarks through some wonderful technical flourishes. Chayse Irvin is an inspired choice for the cinematographer, as he also photographed Beyonce’s Lemonade in 2016. We see a number of dolly shots, showing characters practically floating from one destination to another, creating a dreamlike feeling to the story. There are also a handful of shots that either carry out from curious dutch angles or from Steadicam drifts. Either way, it’s all captured on a glorious 35 mm lens. It meshes extremely well with Barry Alexander Brown’s quick and decisive editing skills, reportedly his fastest job in decades. Many of the phone conversations are given a split-screen treatment so that we can see reactions from both ends. It also manages to keep the story flowing in a clean three-act manner, which is apparently a rarity for the director. Jazz musician Terence Blanchard returns for his 15th collaboration with Lee to compose the musical score. It’s a real doozy, mixing a number of unique instruments to make a cool sound. With a central riff on the electric guitar and gradually building flutes and strings, it sounds almost as if it belongs in a major spy picture. It’s also curious how it mixes the percussion. One minute it’s a smooth beat on the drumset, the next it’s playing out on a marching snare as if we’re marching off to the war many characters prophesize. Regardless, the main theme sticks in your head and is the backbone for many tracks. Not to mention the sweet selection of 70’s dance songs, which help seel it’s homage to blaxploitation films of the era. And as I’m sure many of you have heard, the ending sequence right before the credits roll comes out of nowhere. I don’t necessarily see it as a spoiler, so I’ll just tell you: BlacKkKlansman ends with actual footage from the Charlottesville rally, and the reactions of officials afterward. Jarring, powerful, confrontational, and completely sincere. My jaw was on the floor and no one in my theater left with a single word said. BlacKkKlansman is a dynamic play on multiple genres with a sharp bite. It’s an extremely entertaining buddy cop story with a broad appeal, but also unafraid to run its audience over with a ginormous truck. Spike Lee not only crafts a thought-provoking and all-too-relevant meditation on brutality and perseverance, we’re left to question just how much has changed in the nearly 40 years since then. But it is worth noting that having that conversation isn’t only okay, it’s important.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” Movie Review

This is that kind of superhero movie for those who want a relative break from all of the $200+ million blowout epics. Despite what many may say, we need to have this every once in a while. This superhero comedy actioner was released worldwide on July 6th, 2018, marking the 20th (!) film in the impossibly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Receiving positive reviews, it has so far grossed over $$450 million at the box office against a budget of around $162 million. And that is reportedly one of the franchise’s lowest budgets to date. Following the success of the first Ant-Man in 2015, director Peyton Reed was immediately excited to get involved with the sequel. According to him, including the titular female hero in the second go-around was a “no-brainer” and constantly insisted that they were equal to one another. It’s also the first Marvel film to feature a female superhero in a lead role, even if it’s shared with her male co-star. Taking place shortly before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, we once again find star/co-writer Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a petty con man turned crime-fighting superhero with the technology to shrink or grow in size. In the last few days of his house arrest, he gets a signal that might lead to Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp and wife to Pym Particle inventor Hank Pym, who vanished into the quantum realm decades earlier. This attracts the attention of Pym and his daughter Hope, who seeks to take her mother’s mantle as the Wasp, and have to perform a few heists to get the right equipment. They are, however, being followed and sabotaged by a mysterious woman named Ghost, who possesses the ability to walk or phase through solid objects. I enjoyed the original Ant-Man, released in 2015, for what it was. It was a light, funny, breezy heist comedy with a superhero makeover. It also made for an extremely memorable viewing experience, as my theater that day experienced a power surge followed by 5 minutes of footage that were completely silent. While it was frustrating to me that Edgar Wright was bumped off of the project after years of trying to get it off the ground, the end result by Peyton Reed was surprisingly joyous. And following the game-changing events in Infinity War this April, I was curious to see how Ant-Man and the Wasp could handle following it up. Turns out, it came at a perfect time to relax from the heavy, devastating moments of that huge crossover. This provides a nice, smooth viewing experience for the summer. I really like how appropriately small the scale and stakes are in this film. Lang and Pym aren’t concerned about saving the world because there are other heroes for that- something that’s constantly referenced by them. In fact, almost all of the action takes place within the San Francisco Bay Area, keeping things tight and contained. Unfortunately, that strength also turns out to be the films biggest weakness. While I do like how much more lowkey everything is, it just feels void of any real consequence. There is a mid-credits scene that does bring things back into perspective, and it even got an audible gasp out of me and the audience. Paul Rudd is as likable and fun as ever playing Scott Lang. He perfectly balances the sensibilities of a struggling single dad with that of a costumed superhero trying to do the right thing. Since he co-wrote the screenplay, a lot of the dialogue for his character feels natural and fluid in his mouth. Michael Peña and Evangeline Lilly both return as Lang’s friend Luis and Hope, respectively. Luis and his security crew were funny, even though their improv abilities was downplayed this time around. Lilly, meanwhile, is an absolute badass as The Wasp, fitting into the costume perfectly and carrying a great burdDen of responsibility. Her determination to find her mother offers some nice context and motivation. Hannah John-Kamen takes a little bit to grow comfortable in her role as Ghost, but once she does, she ranks among some of Marvel’s better on-screen villains. Her motivations don’t make necessarily evil, and in some ways can draw some sympathy from the audience. But as always, I didn’t feel there was enough screentime for her character. As is fitting with the nature of the film, the technical aspects of Ant-Man and the Wasp are lowkey but still notable in some regards. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who has previous experience with some comic book adaptations, paints the story in fullscreen glory. There are a surprising amount of practical sets used, which helps some of the scenes pop. The color palette is a bland grey, which makes the colorful costumes standout more. Speaking of costumes, the designs for the titular heroes and Ghost are outstanding. They’ve been updated since the previous installment, and look great on the characters. The film is edited jointly by Marvel veterans Craig Wood and Dan Lebenthal. The most impressive sequence, as last time, is a flash montage in which Luis breaks down events as actors mouth his words. And while the dramatic and comedic moments feel rightly stitched together, the action scenes, are once again, cut to shit. Virtually all of the MCU films have this problem, and I’m starting to get sick of it. Frequent action movie collaborator Christophe Beck composes and conducts the instrumental film score for the picture, which is about exactly what you’d expect from the studio at this point. The typical fanfare for when our heroes show up, a dark and brooding theme to highlight the villains, and fast-paced tracks for when action is going down. The theme song in the end credits, however, was a fun change of pace. It included electric guitar riffs, bass walks, and drum kit fills. Interestingly, that theme felt reminiscent of theme songs from old comic book movies in the 60’s and 70’s. It also makes use of the song “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, which feels like the perfect fit for the story. It does take two heroes to make things right, further emphasizing the teamwork dynamic of the titular protagonists. By no means remarkable or overly important in the grand scheme of things for the franchise, Ant-Man and The Wasp is still a fun, lightweight palette cleanser for the whole family. Pretty much on par with its predecessor, you can expect another round of breezy entertainment from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s great as a breath of fresh air following the gut-punch that Infinity War was. Nothing more, nothing less.

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“The Meg” Movie Review

So, Jason Statham is taking on a gigantic shark all by himself, while his pals join in on the action with a number of cheesy quips. I don’t care how stupid it ends up being, this movie could not possibly be more My Shit. This sci-fi horror flick was released worldwide in theaters on August 10th, 2018. Produced on a budget of $130 million, it made a second-best Thursday preview gross and has managed to far outperform predictions for its opening weekend. It’s also on track to a healthy and hopeful box office intake from China, who helped co-produce the film. Based on the novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten, the rights for a Hollywood adaptation were originally purchased by Disney and its mature production label in 1996. After a few years, the rights were reverted back to the author and stayed in development hell for a number of years. After many production companies and attached directors or producers kept abandoning ship, Warner Bros. Pictures finally moved forward with Eli Roth, who eventually left the director’s chair and replaced by Jon Turtletaub. Set in a somewhat futuristic time, the story mostly follows the crew and administrative staff of Mana One, an underwater research facility off the Chinese coast. When its main financier Jack Morris comes to celebrate their discoveries, the team manages to find an extremely deep part of the ocean. During the mission, they accidentally attract the attention of a megalodon, an enormous, prehistoric shark long thought to be extinct. The team has to recruit the help of washed-up rescue diver Jonas Taylor, played by Jason Statham, in order to get out alive and face the megalodon in the open waters. If that premise doesn’t sound like the most insanely, delightfully idiotic thing that’s ever been concocted, then I’m at a total loss for imagination. The fact that it’s based on an existing (And apparently, beloved) novel just adds to that fact at least 5 times over. From the trailers, I expected The Meg to be one of those monster/disaster flicks that had a cool setup but ultimately succumbed to too much self-seriousness. That’s unfortunately been happening a lot in studio monster movies lately, leaving the campy fun of the genre to straight-to-video dreg like Sharknado. And I absolutely hate that series and the cult it has inexplicably spawned as a result, so really Deep Blue Sea was the last decent shark movie. Thankfully, The Meg proves to be just stupid enough to be a fun time at the movies. Maybe I’m just growing more lenient and soft as I get older, but this mostly self-aware B-grade monster flick proves to be an odd breath of fresh air in an environment dominated by superhero epics and overly ambitious franchise-starters. This honestly feels like a throwback to a time (Oh, let’s say, the mid- to late-90’s) when major studios could still be allowed to make stupid-but-entertaining blockbusters. Statham vs a giant shark is going to get a ticket out of me, no questions asked. Obviously, this is not going to be competing with something like Jaws in any capacity whatsoever. There are a number of absurdities and plot points that make almost no sense in the slightest and shows the titular beast far more than Bruce to be considered that menacing. Then again, it doesn’t really need to be, nor does it even really show that much interest in trying. Jason Statham plays his usual caricature of rough and complicated badass with complete and utter ease. His physical commitment to the diving scenes, as well as his generally great comedic timing, make him very watchable as Jonas Taylor. Dwight Schrute from The Office A.K.A. Rainn Wilson is surprisingly good as essentially the comic relief. As the billionaire financier of the whole operation, it’s clear that he has little to no clue as to how to work at sea. The supporting cast is filled with some great international talent. These include Cliff Curtis as the general leader of the crew, Winston Chao and Li Bingbing as the father and daughter in charge of the research, Page Kennedy as a swaggering tech designer, and future Batwoman Ruby Rose as the wisecracking tech expert in the whole facility. Each actor does a fair job, but don’t expect development outside of their archetypes. I’m also rather impressed by how technically proficient The Meg really is. Shot and composited by Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer Tom Stern, the digital camera moves in and out of the Mana One with ease and fluidity. Mixing neat, practical production design with gorgeous underwater visuals, it occasionally gets a tad hard to figure out where the CGI starts and ends. There are also a number of obligatory P.O.V. shots just at level with the surface of the ocean, adding to the tension of certain scenes. It’s also edited by Steven Kemper as if it’s a full-stop action movie. Although not hyperactive in its cuts, it does mostly utilize them well for moments when the megalodon might be near. During some shots, it becomes clear when the shark will strike against its next victims, but it tries to draw out that anticipation. Tries, but not always succeed. The prolific composer Harry Gregson-Williams provides the musical score, which is appropriate and sometimes dynamic. It employs the obvious accompanying strings and horns that are virtually customary for the genre. But it makes use of a few leitmotifs. While the shark itself is clearly backed by the low cellos and basses, there are also instances of more percussive drums and wooden flutes. In a way, it helps to add a bit more characterization to certain characters, particularly the Chinese father and daughter. It was a cool score, but nothing I’d pick up on iTunes or listen to again. That’s really everything to be said about the film. If you go in expecting this to be like a gamechanging monster horror movie with thematic or character depth, then look somewhere else. It knows exactly what it is and makes no intention or hints of apologizing for it. The Meg is an unapologetically dumb piece of fun popcorn entertainment. Possible to forget come the next morning, but surprisingly better and more fun than I had initially anticipated. Save for a rainy Friday night.

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“Lawrence of Arabia” Movie Review

The day that the casual viewer is able to make it all the way through Lawrence of Arabia with little to no guidance is the day that they truly fall in love with this medium. That’s happened to me, and I sincerely hope that that is what happens with other future cinephiles like you. This epic historical drama was first released around the world on December 10th, 1962 by Columbia Pictures. Grossing over $70 million at the box office against a budget of $15 million, it also won massive critical praise and scored multiple award nominations. It ultimately went to win 7 out 10 total nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, has been included in several “Best of all time” lists, and- easily most important of all -has been proclaimed by Steven Spielberg as his favorite film of all time. It’s also been rereleased in theaters multiple times in different formats, both digital and celluloid. Directed by David Lean, the long in-development production on the true story marks the second collaboration between him and producer Sam Spiegel, who had worked together on  the war film Bridge on the River Kwai. It took many years to convince the titular figure’s surviving father to sell the rights of several writings collected. Mainly taking inspiration from his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson traded several drafts, which tried to juggle the study of the main character as well as the more political aspects of the events., but were forced to start filming without a complete screenplay. Based mostly on the true story, Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a highly educated British Army lieutenant who has the personality of a misfit. During World War I, he is sent to the Arab Peninsula, where Prince Faisal and the gathered Arab tribes are in need of support for their uprising against the Ottoman Empire. To the surprise of pretty much everyone around him, he becomes an important figure for the War to End All Wars in this sector of the world. His accomplishments and exploits turn him into a messianic hero for the cause, but also must contend with the emotional and psychological toll the journey brings on him. It feels cliché to say this, but I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet that every cinephile out there has at least one film that ignited their passionate love for movies. Some might be seen in the theater, others are probably found on home media. Either way, it must have awoken something deep inside the viewer, an unquenchable thirst for answers on how a motion picture like this could be so amazing. For me, Lawrence of Arabia is that type of movie. For it not only opened my eyes to things once thought impossible on the film canvas, but proves to be a true gem in a seemingly forgotten time of ambitious filmmaking. I can still vividly remember the first time I watched it. It was the first weekend after 7th grade started, my mother suggested we go see it together. It was showing at the Paramount, an old movie theater in the downtown Austin area,  screened in 70 mm with an intermission. It is one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and the moment that I wanted to fall in love with cinema. What strikes me most is how well-balanced everything is, whether it’s intimate moments with the big or broad themes with character-centric ones. David Lean never gets enough credit, in my opinion. In his first major acting role, Peter O’Toole gives a stunning performance as Lawrence himself. Whilst it exaggerates certain aspects of his character and legacy, the subtlety in his gradual spiral. This is best illustrated in two moments when Lawrence looks at himself in the reflection of a dagger, and the circumstances of both. He also employs a wry sense of humor, as the first thing he tells a soldier after trekking through the desert is, “We want two, large glasses of lemonade.” Opposite him is Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, the protagonist’s primary Arab guide in the adventure. Far more pragmatic and stern than Lawrence, it’s clear how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the Arab cause. Like O’Toole, he deserved to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, despite not winning. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Lawrence of Arabia are almost entirely what caused me to seriously examine filmmaking. Freddie Young’s astonishing cinematography brings the Arabian desert to glorious, beautiful life. Gorgeous wides of the vast landscape paint the scope of the story on 70 mm Super Panavision film. With static push-ins and steady shots, this film as some of the most breathtaking frames my eyes have ever laid eyes on. In fact, in many ways, it eclipses the craftwork of other crew members. Which is not at all to bash Phyllis Dalton’s fantastic costumes or the amazing production design of Johns Stoll and Box. Equally impressive is the editing by Anne V. Coates, which is extremely precise and engaging. The now-famous transition from a match flame to sunrise in the desert is so unexpectedly perfect in its simplicity and effectiveness. In many ways, that one transition captures the whole scale and scope of the film, and it’s so simple. Maurice Jarre composes and conducts the musical score, which has become so iconic over the years that it defines multiple film scores’ templates. The main theme, which is used as the backbone for most of the tracks is just like the film itself: huge, bolstering, jaw-dropping, and beautiful. It primarily utilizes a series of elaborate strings to eschew the main melody several times, while also using a number of other great instruments. These include bouncing percussion such as xylophone, timpani, and auxiliary equipment to more harsh brass trumpets. There are even brief bits of marching military snare drums and trills on high-pitched flutes. The theme builds and then drops again constantly, almost like a Shephard’s Tone built specifically for the desert. It’s grand and flamboyant, much like the titular protagonist. And what an accomplishment it should be to all those who can withstand the mammoth task of finishing it all in one sitting. Clocking in at 3 hours and 42 minutes, it may sound like an intimidating commitment of time. But trust me when I say that that running time actually flies by, for it not only engrosses you in the adventure but makes keeps you enthralled by way of all of the stated qualities above. Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible and sweeping epic destined to inspire for eternity. This is the kind of movie that, as you’re watching, feels like the only movie that there was, is, or ever should be. Films like Lawrence of Arabia remind me why I love cinema in the first place, and makes me fall head over heels for the medium every time I see it. And someday, if I ever get to fulfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker, this David Lean masterpiece is the one I’ll watch right before production.

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“Eighth Grade” Movie Review

Full disclaimer before starting this review: If awkward moments legitimately stress you out, this movie might literally kill you. If anything, that should be proof enough that the film did its job perfectly for me. This coming-of-age dramedy premiered as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Following a string of screenings at other events such as South By Southwest, the critically acclaimed film received a limited release on July 13th and expanded to more cities and theaters in the following weeks. It has thus far received over $10 million at the worldwide box office as well as some of the best reviews of any film released this year. Written and directed by Bo Burnham, a standup comedian mostly known for quirky YouTube videos, the film was born out of his own anxieties about the Internet and other concerns in the past couple years. He wrote the first draft of Eighth Grade in less than two weeks and was quickly brought to the attention of producer Scott Rudin and distributor A24. According to him, the hardest part was trying to have enough time to work with the child actors- and fighting the R-rating that would ultimately deter their demographic from seeing it in theaters. The 94 minute-long plot follows Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, a shy and awkward young girl struggling to come to terms with growing up. In her last week of eighth grade, she decides to start making a series of self-help YouTube videos that could hopefully boost her confidence. As she gets more wrapped up in various social media shenanigans, she discovers more about herself and the classmates surrounding her, most of whom seem to spend the vast majority of time on their phones. While I was excited to see Eighth Grade because of all of the extremely positive buzz that it’s been getting, I won’t hesitate to admit that I was unsure if I could relate to it. I’m a (somewhat) grown man with virtually no social media account whatsoever. I’ve never been a 14-year-old girl with long blonde hair and a crush on the popular boys in the classroom. I have never really found the desire to vent a lot of my problems into some social media app like Snapchat or Instagram on my phone. And yet, that probably means that Bo Burnham, a 26-year-old man making his directorial debut, is a lot more informed about our current culture than I am. And that should be the highest praise that Eighth Grade can receive because it’s just such a marvelous film to watch. It’s truly a wonder how well Bo Burnham actually “gets” just how awkward and awful it is to be a middle schooler in the modern era. He has no reservations whatsoever about expressing the pains of growing up as a teenage outsider. That undesirable span of time when it feels like you’re stuck between at least two different worlds, one that wants you to leave as soon as possible and the other that doesn’t want you in the first place. I honestly don’t know how Burnham was able to grasp this world and tone so realistically and beautifully. To the best of my knowledge, he never had the experience of being an adolescent girl growing in the post-Millennial era. But again, that’s what makes it so well-done. Elsie Fisher gives a star-making performance as Kayla, and everyone should be paying attention to this. She’s so naturally shy and dorky as Kayla that it almost seems like the part was written for her. Without any makeup hiding her imperfect skin, and with a real-life age that corresponds with her character, she virtually is Kayla Day. Pretty much all of the supporting cast members are made up of unknown actors, all of whom are age-appropriate for the story. But the one person who can match Fisher is Josh Hamilton as her loving if confused single father. While he doesn’t quite understand what all she’s going through, he tries his hardest to be there for her. He delivers an impassioned monologue near the film’s end about how lucky and proud he feels to be her family. In some ways, he seems, a little too good to be true. But there’s no denying that any child would be lucky to have him there to support them. But what’s also extremely impressive about Eighth Grade is how well-constructed it is from a filmmaking perspective. I had been expecting a lot of shaky, handheld camerawork, but cinematographer Andrew Wehde sidesteps this successfully. The camera is almost always steady as it focuses on different characters when needed. The spontaneity of the shot composition unfolds almost in real time for scenes, which makes it seem as awkward as our protagonist. What’s interesting is that when Kayla’s often with her father, it sticks to static wide shots as if to illustrate the distance between the two of them. The editing is handled very well by Jennifer Lilly, who employs enough cuts to maintain continuity. For example, more uncomfortable moments are drawn out while others are more filled. What’s more is that the actors are all using real Snapchat and Instagram accounts made by the director himself, creating realistic lighting effects. And often it’ll use one of Kayla’s videos as a transition tool between scenes. The instrumental score is composed by Anna Meredith, an electronica artist whose debut album released a couple years ago. Her sensibilities are well-met, as the soundtrack replaces ditzy guitar-heavy pieces commonly found in these films with tracks consisting almost entirely of synthesizers. Most of them are made up of only a few chords and create a certain dissonance that fits the uncertainty of the characters. A select few also include electronic drum kits and melodies that strike a surprisingly effective emotional chord with the audience without having to be overly saccharine. There’s also a great use of the song “Orinoco Flow” by Enya in a montage sequence that feels incredibly appropriate for the tone. Overall, this is a great soundtrack worthy of its approach. In all seriousness, I’m quite convinced that this is the masterpiece many critics and viewers are touting it as. There were a couple of elements in the story that just seemed a little too far removed for me to be able to empathize with completely, plus the lack of rewatchability. I definitely see why it’s been getting all of the hype, but something felt missing- I can’t quite put my finger on it. Regardless, Eighth Grade is an immensely relatable piece on the ambivalence of the Internet. I really emphasize enough how shocked I am to see how complete Bo Burnham’s feature debut is. It makes me eager to see what else he has in store for creative output. It also is anchored by perhaps the best female lead performance of the year so far. Elsie Fisher is a star that deserves love and recognition. Be wary of intense awkwardness, though.

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“Toy Story” Movie Review

In the vast world of cinema, there are game-changers and then there are THE game-changers. Consider this film, dear friends and readers, to be among the latter group. This computer-animated comedy, the first of its kind in feature length, was originally released by Disney on November 22nd, 1995. It made back over 12 times its $30 million budget at the worldwide box office and became one of the highest grossing films of the year. Later spawning a franchise, the film also garnered unanimous critical acclaim, dozens of award nominations usually not considered for animated features, and was one of only 6 films to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility. Directed by John Lasseter, the then-unproven company Pixar Animation Studios was offered a deal to make a full-length picture after the success of multiple shorts. Written by no less than 8 individuals, including Joss Whedon and Andrew Stanton, the original story reels for the film were so disastrous that Disney almost abandoned it on several occasions. Executive producer Steve Jobs (Yes, the creator of Apple) had such shaky faith in the production that he began thinking about selling Pixar to other rival computing companies. As most people are probably aware of, the high concept story is focused on Andy, a young boy whose various toys come to life whenever humans are not around. On the day of his birthday party, the whole team is thrown off when a new action figure comes in named Buzz Lightyear, who’s actually unaware of the fact that he’s a plastic toy. This begins a rivalry with Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll who has general leadership over the gang. After the two of them accidentally get lost, they must work together to find Andy and the rest of the toys as the family is soon moving to a new home. Hollywood, and the movie industry in general, has a certain pattern that it unintentionally adheres to. There’s a particular genre or style that most studios and filmmakers like to continue or imitate because it’s simply the norm. Any initial attempt to break away from that mold is kind of scoffed at by the larger community. And then comes along a film so original and different that it literally changes everything. I mean, EVERYTHING. Toy Story should certainly be counted among those films, for it not only showed the untapped potential of computer animation, but also revealed Pixar as a forerunner in creative storytelling. And while it may be their first, it’s still unequivocally their best. It’s truly impossible to understate just how impactful this film was at the time of traditional animation being much more acceptable. That’s not to discredit anything that came before this one. (My favorite animated film is still a classic Disney picture) But a bunch of newbies heading up a company that just started as a computing branch for Steve Jobs cut their teeth so effectively. The screenplay was the first one for an animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination, which would become almost precedent for future Pixar endeavors. Witty without being cynical, and heartwarming without being sappy. And the most amazing part is that the film is able to cram so much worldbuilding and plot into just 81 minutes, yet never feels rushed or bloated. Two of their most career-defining roles, Tim Allen and Tom Hanks were practically born to voice Buzz Lightyear and Woody, respectively. The chemistry between them is so natural and on point that you’d swear they’ve been doing this for years. Their comradery provides much of the emotional punch throughout, whether it be touching or hilarious. One of the funniest characters is Mr. Potato Head, voiced by the late great Don Rickles. Despite his mean-spirited nature, there’s just something lovable about his breakable parts that makes him endearing to audiences. Another notable player is John Ratzenberger as Hamm the piggy bank, who would go on to have a role in every single Pixar film. And while Toy Story may have aged in some parts, it’s still a wonderful piece of technical prowess. As the first full-length film of its kind, the animation was extremely revolutionary for the time. The crew use the full 24 frames per second watching it and then walking out wondering how they did it. Admittedly, some of the animations for characters or actions, particularly ones for humans and the dog Scud, look fairly aged on rewatches. But it still holds up amazingly today thanks to fantastic sound design and editing choices by Robert Gordon and Lee Unkrich, who’d go on to direct Toy Story 3 and Coco. Randy Newman composes and conducts the musical score, which perfectly matches the whimsical and childlike nature of the story. He uses conventional strings and bombastic brass during some of the more sweeping scenes for adventurous effect. He also brings his signature jazzy, seductive style to more piano-heavy tunes. Newman lends his sweet voice to a handful of original songs that are performed throughout the film. The most famous and memorable one is “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” which plays during the opening and closing credits. The lyrics are a swell ode to the core themes and motifs of the story, as well as the later two sequels, of friendship and trust regardless if you’re made of plastic or flesh. Packed with unforgettable characters, creative set pieces, excellent quotes, and plenty of heart to propel forward, Toy Story is an extraordinarily realized landmark adventure full of groundbreaking moments. Nearly every frame in this film featured what would come to be expected from a film made by Pixar, and spawned an entire generation of imitators in its wake. Not often can it be said that something has so boldly changed the ebb and flow of a cinematic tide. But Toy Story can lay such a claim, as it still shows how much other companies, including themselves, what can be accomplished in the field of animation.

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