Category Archives: Adventure

“Rough Night” Movie Review

Man, talk about a movie that actually lives up to its title. If they were going for the literal interpretation of whatever movie titles they could come up with, congratulations this takes the cake. This raunchy female-centric dark comedy released on June 16th, 2017, happily drinking up about $24 million stateside thus far at the box office. The film is brought to us by the same writers and producers of Broad City, a hit on Comedy Central with similarly relevant (and funny) subject material. After nearly a decade without contact with one another, a group of five female college friends reunites for the leader’s bachelorette party in Miami. Following a night of drinks and partying, a male stripper comes into the house and begins his regular routine for the bride. But they accidentally kill the stripper and have to suffer the consequences of trying to cover it up and mending each other’s broken bonds throughout the course of one, really awful night. None of the advertisements for this movie really grabbed me that much. The trailers looked and sounded obnoxious, giving off the impression that it was trying way too hard to be a knockoff of Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids from 2011. But truth be told, this movie isn’t actually that bad; in fact, it’s pretty entertaining. The first and most important accomplishment for a movie to achieve before anything else is to make the audience laugh. And luckily, Rough Night packs a lot of those. Some moments I chuckled at the mere context of a scene, other times I was guffawing from line after line of utter absurdity. Is it great? No, not at all. The first twenty minutes of the film do feel obnoxious like the trailers, but that’s quickly washed away once the film unveils itself in full comedy regalia. Scarlett Johannson leads the mostly female cast and shows off a surprising amount of comedic talent. Since the beginning of the new decade, this actress has been recognized almost exclusively for her roles in action movies like Black Widow in The Avengers or the titular character in Lucy. But most forget she started in dramatic films like Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, and now she’s transitioning into comedy. She has a great sense of timing and shares excellent chemistry with the rest of her friends. Jillian Bell plays the attentive maid of honor who so obsessively arranges this party to be with her friends again. You get the feeling that she hasn’t really been in touch, and exhibits symptoms of OCD. Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer play off each other as two former lovers who have gone off in polar opposite directions of life. This subplot was undeniably funny, but some of the execution felt forced and unneeded. While seasoned comedians Kate McKinnon and Peter W. Downs are welcome additions, Ty Burrell and Demi Moore were just not funny. A sensual couple that’s all about open relationships, they felt unnecessary and uncomfortable to watch. But maybe that was the point. After all, isn’t the point of any comedy to push people’s buttons on what’s considered socially acceptable. After all, Rough Night is never afraid to dip into the low-brow territory, given the overall premise. When the women are out partying at different clubs in Miami, they avoid the advances of men by exclaiming to one another, “I need a tampon!” All of the women in my theater couldn’t breath whenever that was spoken. Also later, Downs is attempting to run to his soon-to-be bride in what he thinks is rekindled love and proves his sobriety to a police officer in an outrageous way. It was a cheap joke, but it got a good laugh or too out of me. Not nearly as awful as misogynistic, overly indulgent parodies like Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie, the movie manages to stay aware of what it is and work with its limited scope. But like any comedy out there, there is a real sense of seriousness and truth underneath all the shots, penis jokes, and sex talk. All of these women at the party have moved on with their individual lives, but you get the feeling that they still want to be together. This night gives that opportunity to live again as they did in their college years, even when things go wrong. Make no mistake, the story unfolds over 1 hour and 41 minutes without an ounce of unpredictability. But still, I appreciated the message of sisterhood that was promoted, especially with all of the drama unfolding in recent times. Rough Night is a thematic and hilarious, if predictable romp on a fun reunion, laced with some of the raunchiest humor this side of any collaboration between James Franco and Seth Rogen. It very much is the same type of scenario as Bridesmaids, and if you didn’t like that movie I’d suggest letting this one pass you by. For those who enjoyed it, you’ll probably have a great time here.

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“The Mummy” Movie Review

Oh, the things I do for you guys. This horror action thriller from debuting director Alex Kurtzman released nationwide on June 9th, 2017, surprisingly earning back nearly $300 million at the box office. It also marks the beginning of a brand new cinematic universe franchise entitled “Dark Universe,” a highly publicized reboot of the Universal Monster series from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Tom Cruise stars as a looter named Nick Morton who accidentally stumbles upon the grave of a thousands-year-old mummy princess, played by Sofia Boutella. Once she awakens, it’s up to him and Annabelle Wallis to prevent all hell from breaking loose in the modern world, while a mysterious organization looms over everything. Now this movie has been raked over the coals by critics and audiences everywhere, saying that it is a betrayal of everything this franchise stood for. Confession time: I was never a fan of Stephen Sommers’ original The Mummy from the late 1990’s or its two sequels. I haven’t seen them in years. I also think that some of the early Universal Monster movies are a bit overrated. In short, I genuinely do not care about this series, so I was able to enter the theater with a completely open mind. And after 107 minutes of my time absorbed, I walked out blown away… at how bad this actually was. Let’s start out with the positives in this movie, as I typically like to do. Like most of his other movies, Tom Cruise totally brings it to his role as Nick Morton in physical demand. The fact that this man is willing to perform most of his own stunts and retain that iconic All-American smile gives an edge and sense of being fun to watch that most action stars miss. While yes, he does run a lot, his character arc is essentially the same one he’s been playing for the last several years. Meanwhile, Anabelle Wallis plays his love interest with some great feistiness and is able to keep her wits about her. Their love story follows all of the beats you’d expect rather predictably and lazily. Sofia Boutella is a greatly underrated actress and action heroine who deserves more recognition than she already has. Her mummy actually had a relatively intriguing backstory Despite the rest of the cast consisting of A-list talents such as Courtney B. Vance, Jake Johnson, Javier Botet, Marwan Kenzari, and Russel Crowe, they feel wasted and wanting of more to say and to do. And that’s apparently because Cruise reportedly had way too much creative control over the production of The Mummy. From rewriting the meager script (Which already had six people credited to writing) to teaching Kurtzman how to properly direct to downplaying the roles of actors, this might as well have been his own directorial debut, Stanley Kubrick style. No wonder Universal Studios gave a monster salary for this film. Now I’m left to wonder if the movie would have become better if he had let the creators do what they wanted. I haven’t even gotten to the technical parts of the picture, which are an extremely mixed bag. The sound design and surround audio are crisp and nice, especially during gunfights or tomb looting moments. But the visual effects are the most inconsistent aspect of the film as a whole. Some scenes, it looked fine; not nearly impressive, but fine enough. Other times, it looked a wholly unconvincing sequence of greenscreen voodoo magic infused with whatever few practical sets were built on a studio lot. The design for the mummy herself, Princess Ahmanet, was pretty cool and showed off some impressive make-up, but that’s about the extent of it. Action movie man Brian Tyler composes his fourth feature film score this year, and can be deemed as “passable.” While it does lean on the tense strings during some of the more horror-driven moments, for the most part, the tracks often feature rousing orchestral arrangements in the vein of high-flying adventures like Indiana Jones. Which I find funny, considering that Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy actually started out as an Indiana Jones rip-off, which itself was a parody of tomb raiding adventures like the original from the 1930’s starring Boris Karloff. Everything that goes around eventually finds a way to come back around. But above all else, The Mummy is simply frustrating in its attempts to set up the much-talked about “Dark Universe.” Alex Kurtzman is so convinced that he has to create this world in which we can have sequels and spin-offs in the future that he and the other five screenwriters end up rushing through many beats. Whereas Marvel Studios took their sweet time establishing the whole universe and set of characters to come, The Mummy wants to get it all out of the gate immediately, using Russel Crowe’s character of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his organization as a thread tying it all together. Hell, even the DC Cinematic Universe seemed more patient than this one does. To be fair, that whole segment involving Jekyll and his people was the most genuinely entertaining part of the entire 107-minute runtime, and as far as I’m concerned watching the origin of his character and organization would have been a much more interesting movie than the one we ultimately got. All the hype around this new cinematic universe of iconic movie monsters coming together and this is the best thing they could come up with? Unless you’re the curious completionist or fan of brainless action, The Mummy is a desperately rushed and wholly underwhelming barrage of boneheaded potential. Confusing in tone and disappointing overall, there is honestly a compelling movie SOMEWHERE underneath this foundation; it’s there. I’m just waiting for the first person who finds it.

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“Batman Begins” Movie Review

Why did the Batman franchise fall? So that it could learn to pick itself up. Or at least when a competent filmmaker is given the reigns of it all. This superhero thriller drama debuted in June of 2005, going on to earn just under $375 million at the worldwide box office and helped propel this comic book property to critical heights. After nearly a decade of dropped directors, budget deficits, and scrapped ideas, (Including an early version of Batman v Superman) Warner Bros. finally hired director Christopher Nolan to reinvent the DC character, who at that point had only been known for Memento. The PG-13 rated plot ultimately takes the origin story of Batman, one of the most iconic fictional characters in American pop culture, in a dark and gritty direction. After billionaire Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents get murdered, he leaves to join the mysterious League of Shadows to learn the ways of justice. Years later, he returns to Gotham City and uses his money and resources to fight crime on the streets as the masked night-time vigilante known as Batman. After the disaster that was 1997’s Batman and Robin, so many comic book fans were skeptical that a relatively unknown director could bring one of their favorite characters back to life. At this point he had become a joke of a hero, what with plastic nipples and Bat-Credit Cards. But Nolan not only accomplished this goal with flying colors, he also made a great movie in general. Future Oscar-winner Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne/Batman and is absolutely perfect in the lead. He essentially plays a triple role; the real Bruce Wayne around his butler when he’s being himself, the vigilante caped and cowled in the night, and the facade of Bruce Wayne that most of Gotham’s people see him as- which is a drunken billionaire playboy who cares about nothing except money and women. And watching this man carelessly bringing European girlfriends to a hotel that he immediately buys out for a new swimming pool is rather funny. Speaking of funny, Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth brought both a fatherly figure and a great sense of comic relief without it feeling forced. He often offers our hero some great advice before he dons the outfit to fight more crime, but isn’t afraid to say what’s really on his mind. Liam Neeson shines as Bruce’s temporary mentor, Henry Ducard, in a role right before the man became a flat-out action star. Other veterans in strong supporting roles include Morgan Freeman as the technologically helpful Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as the one honest cop in Gotham James Gordon, Tom Wilkinson as the arrogant mob boss running the streets of Gotham City, and Cillian Murphy as an ironically insane mental doctor. Meanwhile, Katie Holmes as the main love interest feels like a shoehorned afterthought and would be better established in the nest installment. The action, like the rest of the movie, feels very gritty and grounded in reality. The character’s background in ninja expertise lends itself well, even if sometimes it looks a bit uncomfortable. This being only Nolan’s second big-studio film, his first foray into action scenes leaves a bit to be desired. But watching the Caped Crusader eliminating a gang of street thugs never gets old. In the first film of their long-running collaboration, Hans Zimmer composes the musical score in epic fashion. However, he brings on some professional help with fellow industry titan James Newton Howard. One of the more memorable superhero scores of recent times, the centerpiece consists of fast-moving strings building up to a horn sound off. Also worth noting are the pulsating electric drums in action scenes that help establish the tension. Batman Begins is also a fantastic film filled with thematic statements consistent with Christopher Nolan’s filmography. The most obvious of these is facing your fears, no matter how frightening it may be. Bruce Wayne as a kid is terrified of bats and still is as an adult. But he embraces his phobia and turns his dread onto his enemies. Proof positive that Batman is no laughing matter who sports plastic nipples and suits that can’t let him rotate his head. Joking aside, the titular character also seems to be looking for a father figure to mentor him in the realities of the corrupt world around him. Since his real father was murdered in cold blood when he was a child, Bruce has looked to both Alfred and Ducard for that hole in his personal life. This opens up an interesting philosophical dichotomy for the hero, with one side teaching him to counter a ruthless world with more ruthlessness and the other encouraging him to fight against corruption without excessive violence. While this film and The Dark Knight Rises were arguably overshadowed by the sequel to come, Batman Begins is a greatly realized and super satisfying start to a trilogy that’s among the proudest in its genre. Each time I watch it makes it better and remains a fine superhero movie. And Bruce Wayne doesn’t even do his cape and cowl until over an hour into the experience. That’s the craft and dedication they poured into it.

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“Wonder Woman” Movie Review

Sometimes, movies can teach its audience a valuable lesson. The lesson I took away from this one? Never question a woman when she has an opinion in the war room. Ever. This historical superhero adventure released worldwide on June 2nd, 2017, grossing over $220 million in the opening weekend. It took years for the character to make her onscreen debut, with Joss Whedon making attempts at it in the late 1990’s. Under the reigns of Monster director Patty Jenkins, Warner Bros. finally gave her a solo film this year. The titular character from DC Comics, played by Gal Gadot, lives on her paradise island of Themiscyra with her fellow female Amazon warriors. When American pilot Steve Trevor lands on their doorstep, Princess Diana is swept up into the War to End All Wars. Now, she must find the God of War Ares, who she believes is causing the conflict, and save humanity from tearing itself apart. Going into Wonder Woman, there was a certain level of expectations I had set. In the past, I was probably way too forgiving to Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a massive disappointment. But listening to the initial critical reactions, I was wondering if it would truly be the first great movie of the DC Extended Universe. Well, I’m very happy to report that that is the case. The biggest thing at the forefront of this film is the character interactions, particularly between Steve Trevor and Diana. And that is arguably the strongest aspect of the entire movie. Gal Gadot is practically flawless as the main hero, showing off all the charisma and charm of any cinematic male superhero you could think of. Her gradual discovery of mankind’s capability for violence and compassion gives her a genuine arc, rather than some god who is perfect at everything. Chris Pine is a magnificently funny counterpart to her in both essence and philosophy. While Diana believes strongly in the inherent goodness of man, Trevor is more world-weary and idealistic. Their back-and-forth banter is written sharply. In fact, the biggest thing distinguishing this film from its predecessors is just how funny it is. Previously, both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were total gloom-fests and Suicide Squad has some trouble finding its identity with a lack of balance. But Wonder Woman emerges with zero shame in its protagonist, highlighting much of the absurdity in a comical light. Is it cheesy and cliched sometimes? Yes, it is. You’ll likely hear this in many other reviews, but this charm is reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s Superman from 1978, the granddaddy of all modern superhero films, regardless of license. The period setting and “God-is-a-fish-out-of-water” premise are also familiar with 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. To be clear, Wonder Woman is better and funnier than either of those two, but seeing that kind of influence is just so amusing. The funniest segment comes in the portion set in London when they come to visit higher-ups. Not only does Lucy Davis nail the role of Steve Trevor’s secretary, but there was a scene when Diana saved Trevor from thugs in an alleyway. Yet again, that reminded me of Richard Donner’s classic. The main villains were a mixed bag for me. Two of them were actually interesting and it was rather nice to watch their plans unfold. However, I felt that the reveal of Ares in the final act was ruined by a bit of miscasting and predictability. And like the previous installments of the DC Extended Universe, as well as arguably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman‘s final battle is a CGI-heavy festival of explosions and fantasy elements. It wasn’t necessarily a mess, it was relatively easy to follow but felt drawn-out. Speaking of action scenes, when they do happen in the movie, they are absolutely riveting to behold. The greatest and by far most memorable sequence in the entire movie is when our heroes are trying to help their comrades survive a bit of trench warfare. Diana brings out her outfit, shield and God-Killer sword, and walks into No Man’s Land determined to bring down the Kaiser’s men. In some ways, this was the centerpiece of the film, elevated by Martin Walsh’s fast-paced editing and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ pulsating orchestral score. Mixing the titular character’s electric guitar-driven theme song from Batman v Superman with swelling strings and horns is an interesting play. Also worth noting, pop artists Sia and Labrinth wrote an original song for the soundtrack called “To Be Human,” which plays as the credits begin to role. Fans should hold out to listen to a rather inspirational song. Just don’t expect any post-credits scenes of any kind while you’re at it. Ultimately, this movie has a message. A very important and relevant message that all of mankind, let alone comic book fans, need to be reminded of. As most of the film is told through the eyes of Diana/Wonder Woman, we see the human world as she does: grimy, desperate, washed away, and on the brink of self-destruction. But she also sees that as deeply flawed as it may be, and as evil the atrocities it can commit throughout history, humanity is still worth saving from the darkness. Incredibly challenging and uplifting, this message is the kind of optimism and hope our world desperately needs right now. My faith in humanity has been what it’s always been, but movies like this remind me of something that seems impossible to conceive of, yet easy to grasp. That, or I have no idea what the hell I’m actually talking about. With thrilling action, tons of heart, great acting, and clever homages to the original films of the genre, Wonder Woman is a love letter to female empowerment and a celebration of man’s worth for salvation. Go see this movie and support it actively. And then buy it on Blu-Ray. That’s what I’m doing next.

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“Blade Runner” Movie Review

*The following review will account for the Final Cut version of Blade Runner, as I feel it’s the only one worth watching.*

In honor of the new film, Blade Runner 2049, which is due out in October, I felt it was appropriate to review the original classic. This neo-noir sci-fi thriller- written by David Webb Peoples and Hampton Fancher -released on June 25th, 1982. It vastly underperformed both overseas and domestically, only grossing $33.8 million against a $28 million budget. And that includes rereleases. But now it is considered among the best in its genre and one of the most highly regarded films of the 1980’s. Disclaimer: this review will contain significant spoilers, so read at your own discretion. It’s the not-too-distant (And not too absurd) future of 2019 in Los Angeles. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is the type of human who is tasked with finding androids that look like other humans and even imitate them. When a group of these androids, called Replicants, escape from custody on an off-world colony, he has to track them down and kill them all. Dystopian sci-fi futures aren’t anything new in cinema. Nor are stories that attempt to have sociopolitical allegories infused into their overall narratives. And yet, there is just something about Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner that makes it feel so singular, so original, and so memorable in almost every frame of the motion picture. But it’s not just a science-fiction story. Hell, even if you erased the flying cars, and any mention of future technology, what you’re left with is still a compelling drama. This is a movie focused on the question of general ethics and our capacity to follow them. Not just human beings but Replicants as well. In fact, some of the Replicants are more humane than some of the human characters we meet at all. This movie never did get enough recognition, especially when it first debuted in 1982. It bombed so hard because few people were interested in a science-fiction film that made the audience think about the story rather than big explosions or sentimentality. It also failed to recoup its budget because it premiered at the same time as E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, a fantastic movie in its own right. But in terms of filmmaking, Blade Runner is an infinitely more fascinating picture. Everything you see on screen, there is more of it to show behind the curtain. From the history of the Tyrell Corporation to the details of the off-world colonies, the whole universe oozes with detail and layers of personality. Being based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, It would have been so nice to see more of this interesting yet somewhat gloomy world. No one directs science-fiction films like Ridley Scott. From the original Alien in 1979 to 2015’s The Martian, every single one of his films looks absolutely gorgeous. They have lived in worlds made with sets that probably took several days to design and build. These sets seamlessly blend with CGI and bluescreen to create a unique and wholly original vision of what 2019 might look like. Even the way they are directed feel thematic, from the sexually-charge mystery of Alien to the isolation of Prometheus. And then there’s that ending. An ending that has had so much discussion that it puts the finales of both Inception and Birdman to utter shame. After saving his life, Roy Batty peacefully dies in the rain a content man. Not a machine, not a Replicant, a man. And when Deckard goes back to that apartment, he picks up that origami unicorn. “Too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?” he remembers Gaff telling him as a warning. And then he runs out. Is Rick Deckard a Replicant, the type of being that he’s been hired to track down as a Blade Runner? Or is he still just a human and feeling a sense of imagination or paranoia? It’s a great question to ponder with other people who have seen it. Personally for me, though, it would make more sense if he turned out to be a Replicant. Why go through all this trouble and all this discussion just for it to be untrue? It has to be true, for the sake of the themes of the story. While I ultimately have mixed feelings about Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming sequel set in 2049, I have no doubt in my mind they will address either of the two. How they approach it is the real trich, though. Blade Runner is not strictly speaking a perfect movie. The pacing, especially around the middle act, wanders from time to time. And some of the effects don’t necessarily hold up very well. But this is still one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time, and one of the greatest films ever made, period. Even with epic works like Gladiator, Alien, and even The Martian, this has to be Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, and one worth watching many times just to pick up something new each time.

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“The Prestige” Movie Review

Thought it would make sense to review some of Christopher Nolan’s best films in preparation for Dunkirk this July. I’ve already done Interstellar, though, I’m tempted to do an update. You can expect the Dark Knight Trilogy to show up soon, as well as Inception, but let’s begin with one of his more overlooked projects. This magic-based mystery thriller was able to triple its $40 million budget after its premiere October of 2006. Released just after Batman Begins, it also marks a rare time when Nolan adapted a pre-existing material, as it was based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Set in 1890’s London, the incredibly complex story follows two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, who compete with each other to create the greatest stage illusion imaginable. Their game of one-upmanship turns into a series of tragedies. Of course, this being a film by Christopher Nolan, the PG-13 rated plot is much more involved and layered than that, and some really mind-bending stuff happens. Hugh Jackman is the real star of this film as Robert Angier, with all the charisma and showmanship that most real-life magicians lack. The things that happen to him are very sad and damaging. And as he goes down the path of competition, he begins to lose sight of what got him on that path to start. Continuing their relationship with the director, Michael Caine and Christian Bale are fabulous in their roles. Unlike many of his other films, Bale is actually allowed to retain his British accent, which added more heft to his emotional punch. Caine, meanwhile, plays a disconnected mentor who essentially works as a mediator between the two magicians. His wisdom is reminiscent of Alfred Pennyworth from the Dark Knight Trilogy, as he seems to be the one person who wants both of these men to settle their feud. The strong supporting cast includes Scarlett Johannson, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Ricky Jay, a rare live-action stint from Andy Serkis, and the late musician David Bowie. Bowie is particularly enigmatic as a man with many secrets on how to make a show even more dazzling than it already is. But he doesn’t use magic, he uses science. To go any further into any of these actors’ characters would spoil the plot. One of the things Nolan is known for is how all of his films are not what they initially appear to be. For example, his first directorial outing Following looked like a cheap student film, (And it kind of was) but turned out to be a focused and engaging mystery thriller. With The Prestige, he crafts a compelling narrative out of a subject that shouldn’t be that interesting; stage magicians. Through his trademark storytelling techniques, the story doesn’t initially progress in chronological order and jumps around in time. This makes the film even more intriguing and keeps the audience guessing from start to finish. Another trademark of Nolan’s is how practical and technically brilliant his films are. The production and costume designs are all top-notch and help it feel like a gritty and lived-in 1890’s London. When Borden or Angiers are on-stage, it feels as if we are actually watching a magic show unfold before our eyes. And the visuals are nice as well. In one scene, Angiers is standing in the middle of a snowy ridge when all of a sudden, these fluorescent lights come out. It added more beauty, atmosphere, and mystique to the 130 minute-long picture, topped by Wally Pfister’s surreal camera work. As pretty much the last film before Nolan’s long-term collaboration with Hans Zimmer, the musical score in The Prestige is provided by David Julyan. It is often consisting of eery synthesizers building up in a crescendo, punctuated by a shocking set of strings in revealing moments. And there are many. Holy mother of God, there are revealing moments. Like a traditional magic show, the film is broken up into three intertwined acts. The first two are impressive feats of visual flair and emotionally engaging performances. But in the final act, a jaw-dropping plot twist is thrown in to pull the rug from underneath the audience in a way that is both shocking and brilliantly believable. Were you watching closely? I was, and it worked. Without giving away anything, the twist also brought to light the philosophical themes hidden just beneath the crust. Because these two characters are neck-and-neck, they often give in to their inner ambitions and obsession. That obession to become the greatest at their profession leads to many bad outcomes and ultimately makes them less humane. To put it in the words of David Bowie’s character, “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie; man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” If you love the type of movies that make you think about the story and maybe even tempt you to watch it again to make sure you didn’t miss anything, you need not look any further than The Prestige. It blends seamless production and technical merits and fantastic performance with breathtaking precision. This is a very underrated piece of humanistic filmmaking that deserves all the recognition as Christopher Nolan’s other endeavors have endured.

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“The Lost City of Z” Movie Review

Sorry for the lateness. I just had to take a few showers after that war scene in the middle. Holy crap, that shook me. This biographical adventure drama from Amazon Studios made a splash at the New York Film Festival in 2016. After a run at a few more festivals, the film opened in the United States on April 17th, 2017, earning back rave reviews but less than half it’s $30 million. Written and directed by James Gray, and based on the nonfiction novel by David Grann, the PG-13 story follows the account of real-life explorer and British soldier Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam. After getting sent to Bolivia in 1901, he makes many more expeditions later to try and find an ancient lost city in the middle of the Amazon simply called Z. Essentially, this is a story about obsession and the consequences impending from it. The main protagonist is so determined to find this piece of civilization that may not even exist that he will sacrifice anything, including his marriage and relationship with his children, to prove its existence. But how do you show your fellow scholars that the indigenous people of the New World are capable of building foundations and structures infinitely more complex than those in England? What will you do if they ridicule your ideas and call your thesis a fraud? These are questions that James Gray poses in The Lost City of Z, but they’re not always answered. Rather, they show you these concepts and then leave you to discuss them on your way out of the theater. That kind of filmmaking is rare these days, as many directors are eager to share their interpretations of what it all means. Charlie Hunnam is masterful as Percy Fawcett. Beating out three other bigger names that dropped, he former Sons of Anarchy star shows a remarkable range with the complex protagonist, shifting from being an apathetic opportunist to a genuine man who cares about his crew and family. It’s not an easy transition, let alone to occur consistently throughout the picture, but Hunnam does it very nicely. In fact, I would dare submit his performance under consideration for Best Actor next January. By his side for a majority of the film are Sienna Miller as his independent wife and Robert Pattinson as a drunkard-turned loyal expedition partner, who are both great and relevant players. Their dichotomous relationship with Fawcett provided an interesting contrast to his split love: the jungle or his family. While several European character actors such as Angus Macfayden, Franco Nero, John Sackville, and Star Wars‘ Ian McDiarmid in key roles, Tom Holland felt some conflicted. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor and gives a good performance in this film. But as far as his character goes, being Fawcett’s oldest son, his relationship often felt contradictory and somewhat superficial. On a technical level, The Lost City of Z is visually stunning and gorgeous. The atmospheric shots of the jungle by Darius Khondji are contrasted by the stuffy and condensed space of the English socialite buildings. The fact that most everything was captured on film on location in South America is impressive enough for this epic. Speaking of film, one of the formats available for showing is in 35 mm print. I urge you, if possible, to see it in this format, as it adds to the immersion and overall feel of adventure. And boy, doesn’t it ever truly feel like one? The running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes notwithstanding, it’s clear that Gray takes some inspiration from epics of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Specifically, it looks like he took cues from the dramas of filmmaker David Lean and epics of his such as the amazing Lawrence of Arabia or earlier films like The Bridge on the River Kwai. From the massive amounts of extras for big set pieces to contemplative verbal moments, everything about this film feels old-fashioned, and that’s not a bad thing. James Gray has been dealing with subject matter he’s not familiar with before, so why not again? Despite all of these homages, there’s still something about The Lost City of Z that feels modern. One of those factors comes in the soundtrack, composed by Christopher Spelman. Unlike classic films, this one doesn’t feature a sweeping orchestral symphony in large scenes. Rather, it’s mostly based on a feeling of ambiance and nature. It felt very natural to the environment presented and added even more to the atmosphere of the Amazon. In fact, the sound design is so immersive, you will actually feel as if you are with Percy Fawcett and his expedition team in the jungle. Although the less patient and those wanting an answer may not find satisfaction, The Lost City of Z is still a sprawling piece of contemporary epic filmmaking. I think James Gray has crafted something very special here and Charlie Hunnam gives easily his best performance to date.

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