Category Archives: Books

“Gerald’s Game” Movie Review

And so THIS is why I never want to get into kink. Ever. This psychological thriller drama made a splash at Fantastic Fest before premiering on Netflix on September 29th, 2017. It comes to us from Mike Flanagan, director of underrated gems such as Hush, Oculus, and Ouija: Origin of Evil. According to one source, he took a copy the book it was based upon to every pitch meeting on getting it made for about a decade. In an age where directors are unfamiliar or just indifferent to beloved materials, it’s refreshing to see his love for such a complex book. Adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name, (his 5th adaptation this year) the 100 minute-long story follows Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as Jessie and Gerald Burlingame. A wealthy but quiet couple, they decide to go to a cabin retreat in hopes of spicing up their sex life once more. After Gerald suffers a heart attack during their foreplay, Jessie is left handcuffed to the bed. And with no neighbors around, a hungry stray dog, and the cleaning crew not due for quite awhile, she begins to let the demons and voices inside her head take over. To date, I have read most of King’s novels and several of his short stories. Even when they’re not great, it’s impossible for him to write something bad. And while this isn’t one of his best novels, it’s still a great read for a rainy day. And I loved Hush, a very underrated and subversive home invasion thriller on Netflix, so I was very excited to see what Flanagan could put together. And with Gerald’s Game, he closes out his so-called “Controlled Space” trilogy of horror films with one of the finest and most faithful adaptations of Stephen King. What really makes the movie great is Carla Gugino’s lead performance as Jessie. Having enjoyed supporting roles in the past, I would go as far to say that this is one of the best female performances of the year. She is honestly Oscar-worthy; I don’t care if it’s for a movie on a streaming service, just give her a damn nomination. Bruce Greenwood is also excellent as her husband. While he looks charismatic, he exudes a fear of his masculinity being at risk. And after he dies, he comes back to Jessie as a voice inside her head and brings up questions of their emotionally distant relationship. And really, there are very few other actors in the movie. Carel Struckyen excels as a creepy creature illuminated by the moonlight, while Flanagan’s wife Katie Siegel and E.T.‘s Henry Thomas are great in a flashback as Jessie’s parents. Aside from that, the two leads carry the entire film on their two shoulders for its entire 100 minute-long runtime. Meanwhile, Gerald’s Game is very accomplished in its technical aspects and direction. Michael Fimongnari, who previously worked with Flanagan, gives long, uninterrupted takes cast in natural light. He makes sure to capture in the room that is necessary for survival, whether it’s a glass of water, the length/width of the bed, or objects on the dressers. In a way, it makes you long for Jessie to escape even sooner as you pick up smaller details that may or may not be consequential. Flanagan’s direction shouldn’t go unnoticed either, as he frames the characters in unorthodox situations. But, this being a Stephen King adaptation, one should know that there is more to the story than what the logline says. Inherently an allegory for female independence, the film shows us Jessie’s backstory of how she’s basically been a doormat her entire life. When we see flashbacks with her father as a 12-year-old girl and the ugly things we see, it’s kind of eye-opening. I am not naive enough to say that something like that has never happened in real life. And now with this present situation, she finds herself an opportunity to break free from her physical and mental captivity of masculinity. This all culminates in a graphic scene that is as disgusting as it is hard to look away from. My main issue with the movie, as I’m sure many other critics have pointed out, is that the ending is a tad flat. As mention before, it is very faithful to the book. But the problem is that it felt very blunt and obvious as compared to everything else that preceded it. If you try to be as faithful as possible to the source material, you’re going to also adapt its problems. Does that really detract from the movie as a whole? I don’t really think so. Despite a hiccup with its conclusion, Gerald’s Game is a riveting, minimalist thriller with fantastic performances and relevant commentary. Keep an eye out on my blog for a review of another piece of progressive horror filmmaking in the coming month. In the meantime, this film should keep you occupied and satisfied.

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“Fifty Shades of Grey” Movie Review

Let me just come out of the gate here by saying that I love you guys. I did this review for you and your entertainment. Just keep that in mind. This so-called erotic “romance” was released worldwide on Valentine’s Day of 2015, grossing over $571 million(!) at the box office. That means it was breaking several box office records for both an R-rated movie and a movie released in February. And it opened in 3.646 theaters. Based on the novel by E.L. James, my guess is that you already know the plot synopsis for this movie. A young woman named Anastasia Steele takes over her sick friend’s interview with Christian Grey. Grey is a billionaire entrepreneur who is secretly into BDSM- bondage, domination, and sadomasochism. They begin a relationship of sorts and begin going into this world of eroticism and control. Look, I’m going to be completely honest with you guys: I actually read the book before I watched the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, I did a double whammy here. Why? you might ask. For two reasons. 1) Morbid curiosity sometimes takes over my better instincts. 2) I am a fucking idiot sometimes. But seriously, I gave this book/film a genuine chance to surprise me. I had heard all of the negative press going in. It was quite shocking honestly. And I figured it couldn’t be as bad as I heard it was. I mean, make no mistake, there’s only so much that can be expected of a movie that’s based on a book that started out as Twilight fan fiction that was written on the author’s Blackberry. (Look all that up, it’s real, and it shows) Unfortunately, much like my experience with Manos: The Hands of Fate, there’s absolutely no reason to like this movie and was even worse than all of the tales had suggested. The leads in the movie, as attractive as they may be, share zero chemistry whatsoever. I have seen Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan be great in other roles, like The Fall or The Social Network. But good God, they had no conviction to for their roles here. Their laughably written dialogue and banter didn’t help much either. The amount of people and drafts the script went through and still managed to get lines like “I’m fifty shades of fucked up” or “I can’t bear to hurt you because I love you” is simply incredible. The main female is one of the weakest female characters I’ve ever seen in a feature film and/or novel. She seriously is going to keep going back to this guy even though she hates being slapped and beaten in BDSM? How am I supposed to like this woman if she is a complete and utter idiot? The man, meanwhile, is a total creep who wants to control her, despite having only bumped into her a couple times to justify their relationship. Actually, let me correct myself: he warns her every so often that he’s not the man for her, and yet they keep going at it. And yeah, how about the sex scenes? With so much hype surrounding it, and virtually being the only thing driving the plot, you’d expect the sex scenes to at least to be passably interesting. They’re explicit for an R-rating, for sure. But if it really wanted to go full Blue is the Warmest Color for its audience, it should have been rated NC-17. (I apologize for comparing this pile of shit to Blue is the Warmest Color. Call it an insult if you want.) But since they want to make money, they just settle for something that teenagers can see. Instead, for the (And I’m being generous here) three scenes where it does actually happen, it’s just passionless intercourse cut together with contemporary pop songs. It was so awkward and dull, despite ample nudity. The least a movie about eroticism could do is make me feel excited at two attractive people taking off their clothes and having sex for about two hours. But it’s too horrendously boring to be sexy and features too much plot to be called a piece of pornography. It wants to be theatrically and be judged with the big boys? We are going to judge this as a movie. I can’t go on any further. I’m too mad and angry to keep chugging out words to describe how truly awful this “film/book” is. It is, hands down, one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my entire life. Believe the horror stories. Fifty Shades of Grey is a boring glorification of abusive relationships masquerading as a romance. Even members of the BDSM culture have taken offense to this movie, which is really saying something. If you really want to watch two young millennials getting it on in a steamy, sexy way… just watch Blue is the Warmest Color or any number of PornHub productions. I will never understand why so many single women find this so appealing. And we’re getting two more of these. (Three depending on if they split the last part into two halves) But look at it this way: As long as there’s one of these infecting theaters near you, I will be there to inform you of its terribleness. Am I looking forward to it? Nope. But I’m all about balance in the world.

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“IT” Movie Review

In the universe of this story, Pennywise makes a reappearance every 27 years. This new big-screen adaptation comes to us exactly 27 years after the original T.V. miniseries. Is that purely an incredible coincidence? Or is something larger at play happening? Who knows. This coming-of-age horror thriller from Mama director Andy Muschietti released worldwide on September 8th, 2017. Following a record-breaking Thursday night preview proceeds for an R-rated film, the film has grossed over $117 million and was the most pre-ordered horror movie ticket of all time according to Fandango. Originally announced in 2009, Beasts of No Nation helmer Cary Fukanaga was all set to take on this new adaptation. But something happened, the deal fell through and they pretty much had to start over from scratch. Adapted from the first half of Stephen King’s novel, the story takes place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. A group of friendly outsiders known as the Losers Club starts noticing that children are disappearing all over town. They soon realize that it has something to do with a demonic entity known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. With no help from the adults, they must take down Pennywise and face their own demons in the process. Confession time: I don’t like the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry. He is great, but it never scared me and the second half of the series was downright awful. And having read the massive book by King prior to this film’s release, I was very skeptical. Especially with the film’s troubled history, which included the swap of directors and stars. But I became more optimistic as the trailers started appearing. And not only is IT far better than I expected, it may also be one of the author’s best adaptations to date. The reason why Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite authors is that he never forgets to emphasize the human element inhabiting the characters and story. Whether it’s psychological torment or physical growth, he knows how to develop people. Thankfully, Muschietti understands this important trait and gives each of the Losers a distinct personality. In the first 30 minutes, we learn everything we need to know about them and the struggles they deal with on a day-to-day basis. In a way, you can emphasize with everyone as you see their lives unfold. Even the school bully, played terrifically by Nicholas Hamilton, is given depths as we see his emotionally troubling home life. And the cherry on top? All the kids here talk and curse like actual kids. It’s not squeaky clean and sometimes leads to some really funny moments. As the stuttering leader of the Club, Jaeden Lieberher is quickly becoming one of the top child actors of his generation. In the same vein as his performance last year in the vastly overlooked Midnight Special, he is much smarter and more capable than his meager outlook would suggest. Continuing his string of horror roles for children, Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard is perfect as the comic relief. He delivers, hands down, the funniest lines in the entire movie; a couple of times, the whole theater was roaring at the things he said. Newcomers Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Jeremy Ray Taylor portray the rest of the Losers and each stand out for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the lone girl is Beverly Marsh, played by Sophia Lillis, who evokes both the looks and chops of a teenage Amy Adams. When we’re shown glimpses of her terrible home life, it becomes apparent that she isn’t the whore her classmates make her out to be. As someone who has met girls like that, I understood her struggles. One of the many things that set IT apart from most other modern horror films is just how well-produced everything is from a technical standpoint. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography makes the film lovely to look at. At once, he tributes classics with several sequences of Steadicam. At other times, the camera is following the characters handheld but never gets shaky and hard-to-follow. This is especially thanks to the outstanding editing by Jason Ballantine, who did similar work on 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. There are just enough cuts in each scene so that you can get the horror present while leaving some things to the imagination. Benjamin Wallfisch composes the musical score, his 4th one for a horror in just over a year. While yes, there are many tracks with strings, it doesn’t just consist of manipulative jolts saved for a cheap jump scare. He mixes strings with subtle percussion and low-voiced choirs, evoking something out of Danny Elfman or the Harry Potter films. It often trades intense orchestrations with softer melodies for the character-driven moments. It’s not overly sentimental music and earns an emotional response from the audience just through small guitars and wind instruments. And as for Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the new IT? No taking this back, but he completely blows Tim Curry out of the water. His eyes are often glowing and look askew, giving him this otherworldly presence. They were going to use CGI for that, but Skarsgard could actually separate his eyes. He also supposedly worked with a contortionist to perfect some of the character’s crazy movements. His voice is playful at first but soon drops to a menacing monotone. Some of the CGI edited around his body, especially near the end, was a little weird. But for the most part, the makeup and CGI were seamlessly blended, coming together to create one of the greatest villains in the history of horror fiction. Another thing of note: Stephen King isn’t afraid to kill children, and the movie never holds back its R-rating. Some have complained about the film not being as scary as advertised, and in a way, I agree. But it’s similar to this year’s Get Out. It’s a hilarious commentary on timely themes, told in the vein of a horror movie. IT isn’t just a great horror movie, it’s a great and inspiring coming-of-age story. Stop complaining about The Dark Tower and go support this film. It’s already breaking records, so please help it break a few more in the coming weeks. Otherwise, you’ll float too.

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“Cloud Atlas” Movie Review

“Epic.” It’s a word that has been tossed around by writers, scholars, and illiterates for several decades. What’s it actually mean? A long story, one typically derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic and legendary figures or in the history of a nation. In the days of yore, authors would create grand masterpieces that fit that description, from the iconic poem Beowulf to the big daddy of them all War and Peace. They were hard to get through but still superb. Nowadays, if you simply typed up the word “epic” into the search bar on YouTube, you’d get somewhere in the neighborhood of 98 million results. Most of them are just stupid comedy videos such as “Most Epic Nerf War in History” or “Epic Battle Music.” I, myself, am guilty of watching those and can safely say that none of them really live up to their titles. It’s completely apparent that many have forgotten in this day and age what the word actually means. On a similar level, they are very few movies that can be appropriately called an epic. To reach that achievement would be to go beyond the boundaries of convention and time. To make one would be to inhabit the modern spirit of David Lean, who made such films as Lawrence of Arabia. To immerse the audience in a world as vast and lush as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To have an experience on the scale of epics like Titanic just doesn’t seem possible anymore. Along come Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, who absolutely endeavor to create an epic together called Cloud Atlas. It is based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell, which may be one of the most impressive pieces of modern literature I’ve read. That’s right. I read the book a film was based upon before actually sitting down to watch the film. I rarely do that, but I was so fascinated by the division to a film like this that I was curious. And I sit here at my desktop stunned. Cloud Atlas recounts six separate stories spanning many centuries and many genres. Starting with a dying American lawyer on a 19th century vessel, followed by a forbidden love story with a penniless English composer, cut in the middle with an intense detective conspiracy, making us laugh in the present with an editor on the run from the mob, a neon-soaked future with clones and rebels, and a crazy post-apocalyptic society that has a strange dialect. Whereas in the book each individual story is cut in half and shown in chronological order, the movie edits the stories together seamlessly, scene-to-scene. And despite its mammoth running time of 2 hours and 51 minutes, there’s not a minute wasted or rushed here. It flies by and time becomes nonexistent. And while I could whiff on and rave about its fantastic editing, the point isn’t the stories per-say. In fact, none of them are really given any priority over the other. The point of this film, as well as the novel, is to show us that everything in life and death is connected. As one character puts it, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of cinema or literature that tackles topics as ambitious as that more brilliantly than Cloud Atlas. By the final 30 minutes of the picture, it brings everything to a head in a very emotionally satisfying way. I acknowledge that this isn’t a perfect movie. There are some editing choices that I would have cleaned up, and I’m pretty sure at least one character was useless. But isn’t it human to be flawed? All of the characters here are flawed individuals. And when a movie takes on such a big task of tackling a massive story, it can be forgiven for a few mistakes. And thankfully, there are only a few. I’m sure if I saw it again, I’d hardly notice any flaws at all the second time. Not to mention its beautiful and sometimes moving soundtrack by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil. Arguably the biggest thread tying everything together is the piece “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which also exists in the book. It’s a gorgeous piano melody that inspires upon first listen. The whole rest of the orchestral score is stunning, but it baffles me that this didn’t get a nomination from the Academy. In fact, the film wasn’t nominated for anything, which either blames tough competition or lack of diverse tastes on part of the voters. I’m usually the kind of guy that likes to get his opinion of a movie out there immediately. But with this particular picture, I had to let it marinate for two straight days and nights. Let every little detail get soaked in and think about the themes of it all. I have rarely seen a movie that forces me to wait overnight to form an official opinion on it. Even more unique is a film that can also be the basic definition of the word “epic.” And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Cloud Atlas is, indeed, that rare movie. It is as brilliant as it is gorgeous and proves the potential of modern filmmaking. Those who once thought that this novel was “unfilmable” have been proven wrong. While not perfect, it has been on my mind way too much for me to give it any less than high praise. For now, until I decide otherwise, I’ll say this: Cloud Atlas is one of the best movies I have ever seen and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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“There Will Be Blood” Movie Review

So recently, actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was done with the film industry and will spend the rest of his life in private with his family. I absolutely respect this decision of his, but please don’t actually give up acting. You’re amazing at it. This epic historical drama was released during the height of award season in 2007, garnering more critical and commercial success than most independent films. Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern classic also earned 8 Academy Award nominations and is considered by many critics film scholars to be one of the best films from the 2000’s. Based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, we follow Daniel Plainview, a man in the San Fernando Valley who begins exploiting the rich amount of oil beneath the surface of the land. As the R-rated narrative moves from the late 19th into the early 20th century, his lust for more of this resource grows and grows, even when some meager competition gets in the way. But he won’t let them compromise anything for him. Many of Anderson’s trademark filmmaking styles are present here, as well as some differentiations. He directs the drama beautifully and confidently, as most of the cast seems to be made up of actors or actresses who know what they’re doing. And as good as Boogie Nights and Magnolia were, I would say that not only is this his most accessible film to date, but also his best. And this is coming from someone who enjoyed both Magnolia and Boogie Nights immensely. At the forefront of everything in this film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance, which may just be one of the best ever put to celluloid. Masterful and wholesome in every sense, his character is an interesting one. Plainview is someone you should normally hate but can’t help understand and want to see him succeed in his endeavors. When remarking on his ruthlessness and cunning intellect, he remarks to a comrade, “I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.” It’s no surprise that P.T. Anderson had written the part specifically with him in mind. In a duel role, the underrated but versatile Paul Dano plays two brothers both seeking a profit off the main protagonist’s petroleum ventures. One’s a carful-minded pragmatist wishing to benefit just for the sake of it, another is a devout pastor desperate to keep preaching his beliefs by acquiring the funds necessary to do so. Even as far as religious fanatics go, this guy was borderline unlikable. Note: The fact that Eli was this awful possibly made Daniel Plainview even more of a likable character than he had any right to be. But there are some that believe that without Day-Lewis’ phenomenal performance, the rest of the movie isn’t that good. I respectfully disagree, as there is enough brilliance behind the camera to match what is happening onscreen. Very few movies of the 21st century have attained the amount of technical mastery that Paul Thomas Anderson assembles here. One of the most notable attributes of There Will Be Blood is that of the cinematography by Robert Elswitt, which also nabbed an Academy Award. Many intimate conversations are characterized by focused close-up shots of the character most pivotal in that scenario. Even when someone else is talking, the camera refuses to cut or pan away from the primary subject, allowing us to get a better sense of closeness to these individuals. These harsh close-ups are contrasted by anamorphic wide shots of the gorgeous and vast frontier waiting to be dried up of oil. One of the most memorable sequences occurs near the end of the first act when Plainview discovers a whole ocean worth of oil beneath one of his large mines. As it continues to erupt from the late afternoon into the dark evening, a fire is lit near the top of it all. You see him as well as all of his employees drenched in black oil and soot as well as a beautiful coloring of orange firelight. Meanwhile, former Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes the musical score for this film, making this the first in five movies he has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson. Although it uses a lot of preexisting material, there is still quite a bit of new stuff to gouge down on. Often it’s just little bits of ambient strings that heighten the tension of a scene or when various percussion instruments are banged together in a cacophonic manner that is as raucous as it is poetic. In the vein of all his other work, though, There Will Be Blood is much more than just an excuse for Anderson to direct someone in a way that might earn them an Oscar. Much like a strip of barren land in Southern California, there is a lot of precious stuff to appreciate and dig for underneath the surface. In this case, we see the ideas of American capitalism and natural greed deconstructed to their very cores. During this period, some Americans had idolized Titans in this industry such as John D. Rockefeller. But this film does its very best to illustrate that these “heroes” at the turn of the century were anything but considerate, let alone worth idolizing. With Daniel Plainview’s ambitions and lust for wealth growing ever so much, he becomes more disconnected from everyone around him, thus making him more ruthless and dangerous. Similarly, Eli is so dead-set on acquiring this oil that he uses any justification, including and especially religion, to get it. There Will Be Blood is a believable meditation on greed with one stunning performance at the center of it all. It’s a damn shame that Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting because there really is no other thespian like him in the industry. May he enjoy his days in peace.

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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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