Category Archives: Biographical

“The Disaster Artist” Movie Review

Have I ever told you guys that I’ve thought about becoming a film director someday? Well, this movie has given me even more of an incentive to pursue that dream. That’s one of the few things we can thank The Room for. This biographical comedy-drama received a standing ovation at the premiere of its rough cut at South By Southwest in March. After another screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it released worldwide on December 1st, 2017, where it has already earned back its $10 million budget. Based on the tell-all nonfiction book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, Seth Rogen’s production company set up film rights with James Franco in place to star. Despite the real-life subject wanting Johnny Depp for the lead role, Franco and A24 replicated the marketing strategy by having an actual billboard on Highland Avenue where they would call him and he’d ask them to see his movie. Beginning in 1998, the true-story stars the director’s younger brother Dave as an aspiring actor named Greg Sestero who befriends a fellow student Tommy Wiseau. After the two move to Hollywood and struggle to find any work, they resolve to make their own movie, The Room. And as the production unravels, their friendship and passion for acting is tested by a number of blunders which lead to the creation of one of the worst movies ever made. For those wondering, I have seen The Room. I caught it on cable once a few years ago and kept thinking the entire time, “What the hell is this?” It earns its reputation as the epitome of “so bad, it’s good” because, despite its terribleness, I just couldn’t look away. I will say that the only way to truly enjoy it is with a crowded theater where attendees know the movie backward and forwards and throw spoons at the screen. But the idea of a movie about the making of that movie? That’s like a cinephile’s wet dream come true. Do you need to have seen The Room in order to appreciate The Disaster Artist? No, you don’t. But you should definitely see James Franco’s new film because it’s highly entertaining. You can tell his deep passion and respect for the subject at hand. In fact, some scenes from The Room, such as the rooftop or the flower shop sequences, are recreated exactly as they were, right down to the framing of the shots. But also because Tommy Wiseau is one of the most mysterious and eccentric figures in the history of the film industry. No one, not even Sestero, knows anything concrete about him except that he apparently has a bottomless pit of money. And screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, previously scribes for The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, find the empathy and the human being inside of him. At least, as much as they could. The younger Franco Dave finally finds himself a worthy role as Sestero, a good-hearted yet quiet actor. Having him play Greg was a stroke of genius because he manages to have great chemistry with his older brother and is the only one in Hollywood willing to give him a chance. But I’m sorry, no matter how many celebrities make a cameo in this film (I counted at least 45) none of them come close to James Franco as Tommy. A revelation in every part of his performance, he nails everything about Tommy Wiseau. From his strange accent to his oddball laugh, it was all spot-on. He has no business making a movie of any sort, but we still root for him in the end. If we’re going to talk about Gary Oldman receiving praise for his makeup-heavy work in Darkest Hour, then James Franco also deserves Oscar consideration for Best Actor. As I said, he has a clear passion for the subject at hand, and that also shows on the technical side of things. Cinematographer Brandon Trost chooses to use a shaky, vérité-style movement around the set in between takes of The Room. In fact, several shots are on one take which gives off this feeling that we’re watching a documentary about Tommy Wiseau rather than a narrative feature. With the creative decision to have several celebrities give interviews at the beginning in a cold open, everything felt real and lived-in. And like many other films of its kind, it ends with a montage of footage and photos featuring the real-life versions of both Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. While this strategy feels tacked-on most of the time, I felt like it worked here pretty well. The way that Stacey Schroeder edits the real footage together with what’s unfolding before our eyes is pretty nice. And for me, The Disaster Artist could not have come at a better time to come out. For all the scandals of abuse, harassment, corruption, cover-up, divorces, and indifference in current stories regarding the film industry, here’s a movie about a couple of goofballs who are genuinely trying to chase their dream. And seeing the tumultuous production of it progress was invigorating as they constantly butt heads on opportunities. As many of you probably know, The Room was meant to be a very gritty, Tennesse Williams style drama. And so when Tommy slowly realizes how people are actually reacting to the finished movie, it was heartbreaking to see his brainchild collapse. I felt like that was what this film captured best, even though, again, no one really knows anything about Wiseau. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to all the dreamers in the world. Some characters feel like they get left behind, and it occasionally panders to fans of The Room. Otherwise, I’m very happy with this product. In a way, Tommy Wiseau succeeded because his “masterpiece” is still shown and talked about all over the world. And he got a movie made about it.

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“The Man Who Invented Christmas” Movie Review

My 200th blog review!! So exciting for all the hard work that I’ve done!. Let’s celebrate it by reviewing a movie that nobody is probably going to see this weekend or even is expecting me to talk about. This Christmas drama from director Bharat Nalluri was released internationally in 500 theaters on November 22nd, 2017, only managing to gross about $600,000 within the first 3 days. Considering that it’s the Thanksgiving weekend and no one is seeing movies on Black Friday, (Except this guy) that makes sense. Based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford, the 104-minute story follows a rather fictional take on a very famous person. Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens, is struggling to come up with a new novel after his last 3 have flopped. With a tight deadline, he begins envisioning the story of A Christmas Carol around him and learns some of its own lessons for his life. In recent years, there has been a trend in Hollywood of telling the stories about some of the most popular stories ever crafted. In 2004, we got Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp, telling how J.M. Barrie was inspired to create the world of Peter Pan. Earlier this year, Goodbye, Christopher Robin chronicled the dichotomy of Robin’s World War I experience with the lighthearted family-friendly story of Winnie the Pooh. And now we have The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie I fully expected to despise because Christmas movies rarely strike a chord with me, especially ones in the modern era. But truth be told, I was actually taken aback by how enjoyable it was. Does that mean that it’s worth seeing in theaters? Eh, not really. The only reason I saw this was because 4 women in my family wanted to go see it, and I saw it as an opportunity to get away from the family for a couple of hours. The film is not without its moments, especially when we get inside the mind of Dickens in some really imaginative scenarios. But it follows the familiar story beats of almost any family Christmas movie that you’ve ever seen. At times, it felt like this film was originally set to air on the Hallmark Channel, but Bleecker Street picked it up for theatrical distribution at the last minute. To be clear, this is leaps and bounds better than the usual Hallmark schmaltz schlock put out every December. Dan Stevens has been having a wonderful year as an actor with Beauty and the Beast and the show Legion providing him some great success. Here, he divulges the best and worst elements of Charles Dickens, delivering some of the more sappy dialogue with Shakespearean authority. Christopher Plummer may be publicized for replacing Kevin Spacey later this year, but he deserves some recognition as the imaginary Ebeneezer Scrooge. He gives out some of the literary character’s most famous lines with almost deadpan delivery and provides some unique insight into the author’s dichotomous world. Other performers worth noting include Jonathan Pryce as Charles’ desperate yet warm father and newcomer Anna Murphy as the young housemaid Tara. They all do respectable jobs, but this is Stevens’ show through and through. And for what its worth, the technical production of it all is rather nice. The production and costume designs seem to capture the look and feel of the Victorian era London. Whether it was the prim and proper socialites or the dirty working class, what the characters wear adds just as much personality as the performances themselves. The cinematography by Ben Smithard contrasts between old-fashioned and musty Steadicam and modern sweeps across the setting. It also heightens certain colors particular to the holidays, such as red and green. Combined with the clever editing of Stephen O’Connell and Jamie Pearson, the camerawork makes for a whimsical take on the classic story we all know and love. Oscar-winning Life of Pi composer Mychael Danna provides the musical score for the film and it’s exactly what you’d expect. Big orchestras swelling up during some of the more emotional moments are pretty much par for the course in a Christmas movie. But it’s also some quiet melodies of the piano that come very close to hitting the audience in the feels. And then there a few moments when strings and percussion are somewhat bouncy, which serves well with the bizarre nature of Charles Dickens’ creative process. Speaking of process, this movie did speak to me, but not in the way most other people might think. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am an aspiring fiction writer, having crafted a handful of short stories. I am currently planning on my first novel, which has been in the works for a good number of years. However, I often run into that wall of writer’s block, and am currently stuck in a corner storywise. Watching this movie and seeing Dickens himself struggling with coming up with an incredible story was actually inspiring. Even the greatest of scribes have their problems, and that was more affecting than anything else in the movie. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a saccharine holiday tale fun for the family, but is not quite memorable. If you’re looking for a nice movie to watch with your loved ones over the holidays that’s not named Coco, go right ahead. Personally, the story didn’t do much for me, but I’m sure it might make you sniffle as it teaches you the tired lessons of the season.

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“First They Killed My Father” Movie Review

Yeah… I can’t really think of any jokes right now. This biographical coming-of-age war drama premiered at the city of Siem Reap, eventually making to the fall festival circuit. It got a positive reception at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival before being released on the streaming giant Netflix on September 22nd. Although they don’t release the number of people watching, it’s believed that anticipation was building up as it was being marketed as Beasts of No Nation set in Cambodia. Produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film has been adapted from the memoir A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, who also had a part in writing the screenplay. The story focuses on Loung Ung as a 5-year-old child in Cambodia, just as the United States Army pulled out of Vietnam. After the radical Khmer Rouge take over the country in 1975, she is trained as a child soldier while her family of 6 siblings and weary parents are forced out of their city home to live in a labor camp. Against her will, she is forced to take part in a 4-year regime that results in the death of over 2 million Cambodians. It’s clear how authentic Jolie wanted to be with this subject matter. There is not a single big name Hollywood star to be found on the casting list, nor is the film spoken in English for our own convenience. The film was shot on location where the co-writer had been to, all of the actors are real Cambodian citizens, and the film is spoken entirely in the Khmer Cambodian language. Relax, fellow Americans, it has been translated into English subtitles so that you can understand the plot. It’s pretty bold for someone as famous as Angelina Jolie to make a movie that rejects Hollywood conventions. She tried this previously with films like Unbroken and In the Land Of Blood and Honey. And while neither one is particularly amazing, this Netflix Original riveted me from scene one. Virtually unknown for the moment, I hope that young Sreymoch Sareum gets more recognition as a child actor. The entire film is told through her innocent eyes, unable to comprehend the true evil unfolding all around her. This arguably makes the tragedy of it all even more depressing. Looking over her shoulders for the first half of the picture is Kompheak Phoeungas and Socheta Sveng as Loung’s concerned father and mother, respectively. They present an interesting dichotomy, as the father is a disgraced army soldier hiding his loyalty, whereas the mother is miserable and depressed by their situation. Yet the two of them try their best to remain positive and hopeful for their children, the only logical thing to do in a situation like this. As mentioned earlier, there are no Hollywood big names filling out the rest of the cast. Every single actor, whether they are primary characters or one of hundreds of extras, was from Cambodia. And not a single line of dialogue is spoken in the English language, which is arguably even more impressive. Hopefully, this opens up a floodgate of possibilities for more chance of diversity in the film industry. But since this film was released on a streaming network, odds are that they’re probably not going to take it very seriously. But in a technical aspect, this film is quite accomplished. Anthony Dod Mantle frames the camerawork in a wholesome and naturalistic way for the scenes. Shot on location in various villages in Cambodia, the realistic lighting combined with the beautiful nature is something to behold. So that when some of these places start coming down, we feel even sadder and want Loung to get out of there even more. But since this is told entirely through her perspective, the film is edited by Xavier Box and Patricia Rommel to feel confusing to us viewers. We get strong implications of what is going on with the Khmer Rouge, but the film cuts away from explicitly showing us everything. In a way, this made things even more terrifying because, unless you’re already familiar with the story, it feels like anything could swoop in from out of the camera and take out our protagonist. Marco Beltrami is composing the musical score for this picture. While not necessarily his best soundtrack to date, it does feature his signature style of percussion like bass drums making a huge impact. Literally. At almost all times, there’s a hit that permeates in even some of the more quiet scenes. But he doesn’t succumb to emotionally manipulative strings common in films like these made by Hollywood. Instead, he brings out genuine feeling, even allowing us to tear up near the end when there might be light at the end of the tunnel. However, similar to Beasts of No Nation, I do not feel like this film is one that can be revisited more than once. I acknowledge this as one of the year’s best films, and will proudly tell anyone to watch it. But there are just too many scenes that are difficult to watch for me to recommend multiple viewings. The fact that this is based on a true story makes that pill even harder to swallow. Even so, First They Killed My Father is an empathetic look at evil through the eyes of innocence. Please seek this film out on Netflix and watch it. In this day and age, with atrocities regularly on the news, the subject matter has only become more pertinent. Mourning is the first step. Remembering is the next.

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“Only the Brave” Movie Review

I begin this review with a quote by former Vice President Joe Biden: “All men were created equal. But then a few became firefighters.” That pretty much sums it all up. This biographical drama was released on October 20th, 2017, only grossing $6 million on a $38 million budget in its opening weekend. Despite that, it has received great reviews from critics. Based largely from a GQ article, the film went through a massive shift late in production. Lionsgate all of a sudden dropped their distribution deal and the release date of late September went up in the air. Soon after, Sony and Columbia Pictures picked it up to be released a full month later and changed the title from Granite Mountain to Only the Brave. Co-written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, the true story follows a group of frontline firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Hotshots are a tight-knit group that literally fight fire with fire, holding the line against massive brush fires in various places around the country. This movie is a bit of a dramatization of the members of that squad, examining their own personal lives and how it interconnects with their professional ones. In the last few years, certain filmmakers have given us dramas based on real-life events or tragedies. Peter Berg did that twice last year with Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day which, while not the best ever made by any stretch, were at least very respectful to their subjects. David Gordon Green did that this year with his drama Stronger, and now director Joseph Kosinski gives us Only the Brave. Now his first feature Tron: Legacy is… not a movie I adore. And I haven’t seen his second film Oblivion, but I’m not particularly excited to see it from the trailers and clips I’ve watched. Yet I was very curious to see what he would be able to accomplish in the jump from sci-fi to true-story drama. And I gotta say, he does a pretty nice transition. It could have been so easy to make these Hotshots faceless heroes without any flaws or troubles whatsoever. Biopics are guilty of doing this a lot of times, and it seems like this one might be at first. But Kosinski and his screenwriters understand that each of these people were real human beings with real problems. Relationships, children, money, bad habits, etc. plague these men’s personal lives while they’re working to keep acres of forest safe. Obviously, some are better sketched out than others, but the film never shies away from finding them in their lowest lows. Josh Brolin leads the pack as the Superintendent Eric Marsh and is excellent. His traditional gruff nature and older wisdom is a stark contrast to the cockiness of the men under his command. One scene involves him sharing a dream he had of a bear on fire, saying, “It was the most beautiful and terrible thing I had ever seen in my life.” He’s surrounded by a surprising amount of talent. Particularly standing out from the crowd is Miles Teller as the new recruit. A burnt-out drug addict with a baby on the way, we get to see his redemption in a very convincing way through his experience with these men. James Badger Dale and Taylor Kitsch do great work as Marsh’s right-hand man and wild boy, respectively, while Jennifer Connelly is excellent as Marsh’s wife. She provides an interesting dynamic away from the character’s professional life and at one point berates him for choosing work over her. She can seem kind of bitchy, but she still emits a likability and commitment. Jeff Bridges plays a more modernized version of the character he plays. Like if his character from Hell or High Water shaved his mustache, adopted a cell phone and became a fireman instead of a Texas Ranger. The film is also technically brilliant. When the Hotshots are sent out on a job, there is some noticeable CGI to create massive brush fires. But it also blends seamlessly with real, practical fires, creating a very controlled yet sooty atmosphere. Kosinski excelled at this in Tron: Legacy (perhaps more than anything else in the movie), though I’m curious how it would have played out differently with an R-rating. But the way that Claudio Miranda frames each scene does a great job of illustrating the extreme risks these men take every day. It was almost surreal. In fact, it was kind of exhausting. Joseph Trapanese composes the musical score, and a minimalist one at that. Most of it is centered around synthesized orchestras, and really stays in the background most of the time. But where it’s supposed to hit, it hits with an emotional undercurrent. Meanwhile, country singer Dierks Bentley wrote an original song called “Hold the Light,” which plays out during a montage just before the end credits. It managed to bring back the fact that this really happened and these 20 men were real people. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it was rather powerful. Though admittedly, it did feel heavy-handed and a little bit cheesy. Just a little bit. With amazing visuals and fantastic direction by a first-timer for the genre, Only the Brave is a humane celebration of blue-collared heroism. This is exactly the kind of movie America needs right now. One that shows normal people committing acts of true bravery and banding with those around them, even if they’re hostile.

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“The Big Sick” Movie Review

Oh, come on. If I met someone as awesome and adorable as Emily, would I abandon my family and traditional ways of life just for her? You betcha. Produced by comedy legend Judd Apatow, this romantic comedy premiered to great reviews and accolades at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival before Amazon released it on June 23rd, 2017. It has earned back $25 million at the box office and rankings among several best-of-the-year lists by critics already. The R-rated story stars Kumail Nanjiani as a caricatured version of himself in a script that was co-written by him and his wife Emily V. Gordon. He’s a struggling stand-up comedian who is taken with a young white girl in Chicago. Coming from a conservative Pakistani family, he has to lie to them in order to keep them happy and also deal with tough love when Emily is put into a coma. Now he has to interact with Emily’s parents and wrestles with what he actually wants to do with his life. The romantic comedy has always been something of a hit or miss for me. For every 500 Days of Summer, we also get a stinker starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. If there were one genre in film that could be categorized as being the “easiest,” then I guess rom coms would probably take the cake. That being said, I am always willing to branch out and try new things, and in the case of The Big Sick, all of the advertisements promised me that it would be different. Thank God I listened. Previously best known for the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, Nanjiani is a wonderful discovery in this movie. He has a tender and wholesome presence that is punctuated by a rib-cracking sense of humor. He was funnier than Bo Burnham in this movie, which says something. One of his funniest moments is when he describes to an open-mic audience the “hierarchy” of jobs in Pakistan, with doctors at the top and comedian at the bottom- even below ISIS. Zoe Kazan is great as Emily, sharing great chemistry with her co-star and a strong personality. I mean really, anyone would ditch their loved ones just to spend time with her. Surprisingly, though, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter shine as Emily’s parents in their best roles in years. The only thing either of these two has done of note in the last 15 years were fun stints in animation; Hunter in The Incredibles and Romano in Ice Age, respectively. But here they give great performances as the parents, capturing the realism of a moment like this. In fact, I think it would be a fair bet to say that Romano qualifies for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. As far as technicality goes, there’s not much to say here. The soundtrack is filled with contemporary songs that feel appropriate to the moment. And some of Michael Andrews’ minimal score is fitting for some of the more emotional moments in the hospital. Most of it is just a bit of ambient strings and synthesizers. But what made me feel a bit warm inside was that the bits centered around the comedy club Kumail spends his nights at really felt real. Just the way the cinematography was shot and the atmosphere and even some of the hilarious routines made it feel as though I were sitting at a table watching an open-mic night. Kevin Hart tried to do this last year with the theatrical release of What Now? but it just came off as tacked on and commercialized. Here, director Michael Showalter uses those moments to help build characters and their quirky personalities. Where the film peaks, though, is the second act of the story when Emily gets sick and sent to the hospital. Normally, a romantic comedy, no matter how enjoyable or subversive it may seem, will ultimately subject to a formulaic structure that we’re all used to seeing. Guy and Girl meet for the first time, Guy and Girl hit it off, Guy and Girl have a nasty emotional fight, but in the end Guy and Girl get back together and live happily ever after. And this being a Judd Apatow production, it certainly seems like that’s how it’s going to go down. But the second act of The Big Sick dumps that structure down the drain and offers something highly original. It shifts the focus of Emily and Kumail over to Kumail and Emily’s parents and his parents as well. Even in 2017, cross-cultural relationships are still considered controversial, no matter how progressive your home may proclaim itself to be. Ever since 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, many auteurs of cinema have been trying to push the idea of interracial couples into the mind of the modern population. Even 2017’s Get Out had a similar sentiment on this issue, though that film had a bit of a more out-there premise that shook its head at realism. But even still, this film touches on that concept rather brilliantly. Kumail comes from a Pakistani from, a people who have the unfortunate distinction in America of heralding from the Middle East. While there are terrorist jokes abound in here, it mostly focuses on his unconventional home life. Arranged marriage is a common practice and you can’t argue against your family’s way of life. You have to become a doctor or a lawyer, and if you fail, you’ll be thrown out of the family and have all contact cut off from you. That’s tough. It’s not strictly speaking the best movie of the year, but The Big Sick is certainly the most original romantic comedy in years and one that packs some great laughs. It’s funny, relevant, different, and filled with some nice feel-good moments. What more could you want?

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“Dunkirk” Movie Review

Holy shit, that was so intense! This highly anticipated war thriller from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan was released internationally on July 21st, 2017, earning back $113 million in its opening five days. It is projected to gross even more than that and has the potential to do so. If the reports are true, Nolan wanted to make this film for many years but waited until he had enough experience in America to confront such a British topic. So in a way, it could be said that his entire career has been leading up to this movie when it finally entered production late in 2015. Based largely on a true story, (a first for the director) Dunkirk is set in World War II in 1940. 400,000 French and British soldiers have been trapped on a beach just 26 miles away from the coast of England. The Nazi army has completely surrounded them and is slowly encroaching on their position from every angle. But a distress call has been given out and now hundreds of pleasure yachts and fishing boats are riding across the English Channel in order to rescue as many of the soldiers as they can before it’s too late. To date, I have loved almost every single film Christopher Nolan has made, with The Dark Knight and Inception being among my all-time favorites. His storytelling is absolutely unparalleled by anyone else in Hollywood and consistently challenges wide audiences. So when I heard that he was making a thriller about one of the greatest miracles in human history, I was naturally excited to see what he would possibly put together. And now, Dunkirk can be added to the echelons of films like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line of World War II films that can be studied and beloved for a new generation. That’s what this movie is. In fact, I’m convinced that it is a masterpiece. Let me just start off by saying that this film is not what you would call conventional filmmaking. It contains Nolan’s trademark of skipping around a timeline and providing little hints before coming back in a big emotional payoff. It is told through a triptych narrative, meaning that it is shown through three different perspectives. In this case, we get to see the action from the soldiers stuck on land, the destroyers and civilian boats rescuing at sea and the British fighter pilots from the sky. Often, a scene that occurs features a character that was previously seen in a different time of day, and can admittedly get a little confusing if you’re not paying close attention. In a way, it reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a plot structure so complicated that it doubles back if you don’t try and process everything. And the film looks and sounds gorgeous. Through the use of 65 mm IMAX cameras, the first-ever ones to be handheld, Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema really captured a wide, almost vérité-style look to it all. The color pallet is an interesting one as the focus on the beach, sky, and ocean creates a unique look at war, with one of my favorite shots being in the nighttime when a vessel is being burned asunder. I saw this movie in 70 mm, which created a bigger anamorphic frame. Much like Interstellar, this is one of those rare features which is perhaps best experienced at the theater rather than at home. Not to mention the incredible sound design. You can literally hear everything in each frame of the film, whether it’s the sound of a gunshot or that ticking clock. Whenever we went back to the beach and the German planes came swooping back in, you could hear them slowly screeching nearby. And unlike any jump scare from any horror movie, it was absolutely and terrifyingly effective. Continuing his long partnership with the director, Hans Zimmer composes the musical score for Dunkirk. And this soundtrack is so unlike any of his other work yet also strangely familiar. Combining electronic synthesizers with orchestral pieces once again, he does a great job at earning emotional responses without having to manipulate the audience. But he also uses diegetic sounds such as a ticking clock on a pocket watch and the waves of a beach. This effectively creates an immersive atmosphere. Much like his previous epics, this film features a large ensemble cast of great actors. Of them all, newcomer Fionn Whitehead is perhaps the one that can be called the lead, even in a cast that includes big names like Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Harry Styles. (Who was surprisingly good) But even so, he barely speaks a word of dialogue in the first half of the movie, hell, so do a lot of the other characters. It was intentional that this is almost like a silent film, but in doing so, many have complained about the character development or lack thereof. Nolan did, after all, warn his audience that they weren’t the concern for him, and I agree. This movie is about capturing a moment in time, a zeitgeist if you will. That moment was swift, horrific, terrifying, and almost hopeless. In war, a lot of people will die scared and alone, and do they always get satisfying arcs or a moment to shine or a time to get you emotionally invested in them? Not always. Instead, they do such a great job at immersing you in this moment and making you feel like you could be anyone of these characters. While some other war films have been greater at character development, Dunkirk is an immersive experience into the hell of war, and perhaps the most patriotic British film ever made. This is probably the best movie of the year so far, and now one of my favorite war films out there. Just be sure to manage your expectations.

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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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