Category Archives: Coming-of-age

“The Emoji Movie” Movie Review

After looking over my archive of the past month, I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of reviews are for films that I actually liked. And the perfect way to balance that out was by sitting through The Emoji Movie because… yeah. I’m a true masochist if ever there was one. This computer-animated adventure “comedy” was released worldwide on July 28th, 2017. Made for the budget of about $5o million, the film somehow managed to find an audience as it grossed over $217 million at the box office. Announced at CinemaCon 2016, there was actually a bidding war for the script from director Tony Leonidis, with Warner Bros. also a possible contender. But Sony Pictures won out and even went so far as to cancel Genndy Tartakovsky’s plans for a Popeye adaptation to make room for this new concept. Hey, it’s their mistake, not mine. Set in modern day, most of the story takes place inside of a phone where all of the apps and emojis live together in Textopolis. T.J. Miller stars as the “Meh” emoji Gene, who is outcast by everyone for being able to create other expressions. After something goes wrong with the phone’s owner, a high school freshman named Alex, Gene must embark on a quest with his best friend Hi-5 and a hacker named Jailbreak to get back into society. All the while, Alex is struggling to communicate in the real world with a girl he likes. Alright, no B.S. here; when I first heard about this movie back in Spring, I genuinely thought that it was a joke. I was convinced it was an Onion article satirizing Hollywood’s apparent shortage of fresh movie ideas. But no, this is a real, feature-length film brought to us by the same company behind Sausage Party and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Because of this, I didn’t see it in its theatrical run because I refused to give them any of my money. Thankfully, (Or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) it came to me on home media streaming for a short time. And now I’m sitting here… trying to come up with the words to describe my hatred. In fact, I’ve come to one solid conclusion. After careful consideration and enough time to sit on it, I can say without reservation that The Emoji Movie is the worst animated movie I have ever seen. Also true story: I saw this a few weeks ago. So why did it take me so long to get my thoughts out when it seems like they’re abundantly clear? Well, I actually gave this movie a genuine chance. I spent that entire time trying to think if there was a single redeeming quality within this mess. And I honestly couldn’t find even one. In better hands, the concept could potentially work as a satire of the digital age. Ever since The Lego Movie, I’ve been willing to give animated films the benefit of the doubt if they just seem like giant advertisements. But sadly, that’s all this is. All of the voice actors are phoning it in, probably because they’re aware of the fact that this is a “kids movie.” (More on that later) The most shocking member of the cast is the esteemed Sir Patrick Stewart, an accomplished Shakespearean actor, and former Professor X, voicing the poop emoji. There’s nothing funny about him since all of his jokes are related to feces, but there’s some novelty in saying that his role is literally shit. If we’re being real, he probably didn’t even know what emojis are and just sent a tape recording of his lines to the studio. But it’s not just him; all of the characters are given insufferable quirks and lazy surface-level jokes that never made me laugh. The only time I chuckled is when I realized the film was finally over after 86 minutes. It felt like a lifetime. What’s perhaps most baffling about The Emoji Movie is the amount of product placement shoved in. In fact, it’s bloated to the point of absurdity. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, at least half of the apps on display are outdated, such as Just Dance, Candy Crush Saga, and even Crackle. The only one of those that provided any sense of fleeting enjoyment was when the blue Twitter bird swooped in to save the heroes from peril, a la Lord of the Rings. But perhaps most annoyingly, one of the most important plot points is that the characters have to get into Dropbox and upload into the cloud. Into DROPBOX!!! Oh, and did I forget to mention that Spotify plays an integral role in saving the world? On the one hand, it’s suddenly become easy to tell where all the funding came from. But then again, it’s just heavy-handed and dumb. Speaking of heavy-handed and dumb, I have rarely seen an animated film that hamfists such a mean and disrespectful message to children this century. There’s a common excuse that gets thrown around in the industry that argues, “Oh you’re being too hard on it, it’s just a kids movie. It doesn’t have to try as hard as everything else.” I find this argument to be an insult to the intelligence of children, but still not as insulting as this film. Do you really want your child to learn that using computer expressions is better than face-to-face interactions? It’s as if the writers took all the wrong cues from Inside Out and Wreck-it-Ralph and doubled-down on pandering to the lowest common denominator. Just thinking about it right now makes me angry. Trite as can be, predictable to a fault, and feeling over 3 hours longer than it should, The Emoji Movie is an agonizingly cynical and stupid exercise in corporate advertisements. It’s completely disconnected from whatever audience it was trying to find and thus feels utterly pointless. Save yourself the trouble and just watch something like Inside Out. That’s a film that treats its audience with respect and intelligence.

Related image

Advertisements

“Raw” Movie Review

In all of 2017 cinema, I don’t think there has been a single film that lives up to its title quite like this one. Dear God, I had to take a few showers after watching this. The debut feature of writer-director Julie Docournau, this sexually-charged horror drama premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival under the International Critics’ Week section where it won the top prize. It was released worldwide on March 10th the following year and just barely earned back its budget of $3.1 million. It also held a screening at TIFF, and the screening for it was apparently was so real and volatile that two viewers fainted and were escorted out via emergency medical services. That should give you some idea as to the effect this movie had upon audiences, including this critic. The story follows a young woman named Justine who begins attending an unnamed veterinary school somewhere in France. Upon meeting up with her older sister Alexia, she becomes embroiled in harsh hazing rituals from upperclassmen. Despite being a lifelong vegetarian, she is forced to eat raw meat on campus and her craving for flesh only gets stronger as she goes on a personal journey. How do you even evaluate a film that repulsed you in almost every possible way yet still loved everything about it? This movie had gotten a lot of hype leading to its release, if only because of how explicit its content was. I’m not typically one for foreign films, but I was still intrigued. There’s not much I can build up to saying this, so I feel it’s appropriate to put out there: Raw is one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century so far. One could easily write this off as the nothing more than the next shocking entry in art-house French horror cinema. You’d be forgiven for thinking just about that. But it’s also a surprisingly involving coming-of-age drama about Justine’s transitional period in life. There’s a sensual undercurrent flowing with every act of brutality carried out onscreen. She’s just budding her true self out into existence in a very horrific yet captivating manner. It’s not until she finally blossoms like a flower that we discover what she’s truly capable of. And it’s not exactly comfortable viewing. Garance Marillier totally knocks it out of the park in her lead role as Justine. She evokes all of the insecurities and naivety typical in a teenage girl, but she also brings something charming and different about the character. She and Docournau were made for each other, evident in the fact that they made a short together before this. Her sister Alexia is played by Swiss actress Ella Rumpf, who brings something neat to the supporting table. She’s definitely the more unstable and party-hungry of the siblings, and her wildly unpredictable decisions throughout the movie take the viewer further down the rabbit hole of juvenile hedonism. And finally, Justine’s roommate Adrien is played well in a fantastic debut from Rabah Naït Oufella. Of the characters, he was perhaps the most interesting one because of his contradictory nature. And his scenes provided most of the spare laughs in the film. And Raw also makes sure to grab viewers’ attention through its technical aspects. Belgian cameraman Ruben Impens contrasts the lens’ technique quite often. Often times, a scene unfolds from a beautiful, distant wide shot which helps develop the atmosphere. We can’t see the faces of the people, but we know what they’re doing. The one exception was a during a party scene early on in the film that was captured on a single shaky shot. We follow Justine the whole way through the event, and we really share her feeling of discomfort. Other times, a shot will linger on one particular subject for a certain amount of time which heightens the uneasy and foreboding tone of the film. The musical score is composed by British man Jim Williams in his 6th feature film, and boy is it memorable. The soundtrack at times feels like an homage to old-school horror movies, with plucked strings and organs switching off from each other. In fact, that’s probably not too far off from he had intended. But still, the main melody is composed of a harsh synthesizer that works to further establish the warm feeling of tension and anxiety. It also succeeds in keeping the audience humming after the credits roll. Before you start humming, though, you’ll have to wash out all of the disgusting imagery you’ve just witnessed. Despite its 99 minute-long runtime, virtually everything horrendous or provocative that you could imagine is placed somewhere in the movie. Want a bit of context? Arguably the tamest part of the entire movie is when Adrien, Justine’s roommate, is watching gay porn on his laptop. But it’s not exploitation. There is ultimately a purpose for the violence and gore, it pushes the plot and character development forward. All of it leads to a shocking final twist where everything is suddenly given more meaning and all we’ve seen is explained. To be honest, it’s actually not as bloody as I had anticipated, but that’s not saying much. While it’s certainly not for everyone, especially the faint of heart, Raw is a lurid parable of flesh and sexuality. It has finally been added to Netflix after months of failing to hunt it down. It’s genuinely one of the best films of 2017 and reveals Julie Docournau as a brand new talent to keep it an eye on.

Image result for raw movie

 

“The Girl With All the Gifts” Movie Review

I didn’t know that originality still existed in zombie flicks. The world still has a few surprises in store for me. Released in theaters earlier in February this year, this post-apocalyptic horror drama made a lengthy run on the festival circuit the previous year, from Toronto all the way to the BIFF. Despite favorable reviews from critics, it only managed to earn back half of it’s $5 million budget. The craziest thing about this film’s production isn’t the fact that the book it was based on was written in tandem with the screenplay. What was more insane is the fact that the filmmaker Colm McCarthy got aerial shots of London by going to Pripyat, a part of Chernobyl. Adapted from the novel by M.R. Carey, who also wrote the screenplay, the story is set in an England following the breakdown of society due to a fungal infection. Anyone who is turned becomes a sort-of zombie called “hungries.” But one special girl named Melanie oscillates between humanity and damnation. With the help of a teacher, a scientist, and two soldiers, she embarks on a journey that may lead to mankind’s survival. I know what you might be thinking from hearing that premise: The Last of Us. Many people who have seen the film have compared it to the highly acclaimed video game by Naughty Dog, and indeed it does share some similarities from both a thematic and storytelling standpoint. You learn just the right amount of backstory to get the apocalyptic picture and see the characters in their current state. And as an enormous fan of the game, I was quite enticed to watch this horror movie. By the time the credits rolled, I was a mini-mess. This is a gorgeous and fantastically entertaining movie, horror or not. Much like The Last of Us, the focus is not on zombie violence. Make no mistake, the hungries are ferocious and allow for some really tense moments. But they’re almost secondary to the human drama and how the characters react to the situation. With most of the population wiped out and the children in danger of infection, humanity seems doomed. But along comes this girl with a special ability and high I.Q. Indeed, it does sound like familiar ground for the genre, and there might be some viewers who might not connect with a young girl in charge of saving the world. Even some of the characters question it, with one character saying, “Why should it be us who die for you?” There are long stretches of the movie with quiet, asking for patience from its audience. A total newcomer to the industry, Sennia Nanua is an absolute star as Melanie. Highly intelligent yet incredibly innocent, the film is often terrifying because we’re scared for what could happen for her. Gemma Arterton has struggled with films like Quantum of Solace and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunter. But here, she is captivating and compassionate as a teacher assigned with normalizing children on the military compound. When the main group is let loose into the British wilderness, she is the one that tries to keep everyone under a level head, unafraid to put her own life at risk. Meanwhile, Glenn Close impresses as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, a pragmatic scientist bent on finding a cure for the disease. She wants to help Melanie, but she has a hard time trusting anyone else, especially the hot-headed soldiers. And technically, The Girl With All the Gifts is an astounding motion picture. As I said, some scenes were shot near Chernobyl, which contributes to enhancing the oppressive and apocalyptic atmosphere of the picture. Simon Dennis chooses to film a lot of scenes with handheld cameras, but still keeps attention to what’s happening to the characters. A sequence where our heroes make their way through a field of still hungries in the streets of London was particularly terrifying. The couldn’t make a single sound, and each time the camera cut away to an undead being even just twitching, my heart would stop. Another moment of note is when the character’s are taking a pit stop in the forest, and they start hearing signs of other life (Or lack thereof) around them. Such was the power of the editors. The soundtrack was composed by first-timer Cristobal Tapia de Veer, and honestly, it’s not that memorable or noteworthy of a score. It’s pretty similar to other films of its kind in terms of style and structure. Moments of intensity and violence are backed by rigid guitar and pulsating percussion, while quieter moments are bolstered by emotional strings. But the key difference here is that the score also incorporates ambient sounds of nature, chaotic vocals, and the outside world. In a way, this further immerses the audience into a decaying world with the broken remains at our feet. Aside from that, I won’t be going on YouTube to replay certain tracks. There’s really nothing left that I can add. Almost everything about this movie worked for me, and tells a story with a big scope on an intimate scale. And that’s what makes it such a mini-triumph. The Girl With All the Gifts is a breath of fresh air in a dying genre. It’s currently available on Amazon Primer, and I implore you to give it a chance. It’s one of the year’s most overlooked films.

 

Related image

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Movie Review

Here we are, my friends. We’ve come to the end of all things. Well, at least when it comes to reviewing this saga of movies. I’ll always still be here for you guys. The final installment of Peter Jackson’s epic high fantasy trilogy was released worldwide on December 17th, 2003. It went on to gross over $1 billion at the box office, the second feature film to ever do so after Titanic. It also became a huge favorite with critics, scoring 11 Academy Award wins, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Let that sink in for a moment: A fantasy film from a big studio swept the Oscars and earned a record-high amount of trophies, tying only with Ben-Hur and Titanic. Picking up right where The Two Towers left off, Sam and Frodo are making their final push towards Mount Doom with Gollum acting as their guide. Meanwhile, Gandalf the White and Pippin make a plea with the kingdom of Gondor to prepare for Sauron’s impending invasion on the city of Minas Tirith. And as the armies of Rohan advance for aid, Aragorn sets off to fulfill a prophecy that would make him King of Men. Every trilogy has a challenge of closing out with a third installment that’s up to par with its two predecessors. But the sad truth is that that is a rarity in cinema. For every Bourne Ultimatum and Return of the Jedi, we still get films like The Dark Knight Rises and The Godfather Part III. When you add the massive success of the previous two Lord of the Rings films and the insane anticipation that was built up, this third entry seemed doomed to fail. But Return of the King not only surpassed all expectations, it became one of the greatest movies ever made. In fact, it’s my favorite movie of all time. Just as with the other two films, this one runs at over 3 hours long, even more so with the Special Extended Edition. And yet again, I iterate that there is not a moment wasted here. In fact, there are some scenes in the Extended Edition I feel are vital for understanding certain plot or character arcs. How one sequence involving Saruman was cut for theatrical release I will never understand. The pacing is perfect as well. I have seen films that are literally half as long as this one that feel like they drag on forever. Beginning with a shocking prologue directed by Jackson’s wife and co-writer Fran Walsh, and concluding with one of the most deeply moving endings in cinematic history, (Which doesn’t go on and on as some may lead you to believe) there is not a single thread that is left unsatisfied. Pretty much all of the major players were introduced in the first two entries, the one exception here being Denethor, played malevolently by John Noble. One of the most despicable human characters in cinema, his madness and grief intertwine in a scary and believable way. Another character I didn’t get to mention was Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, a strong-willed shield-maiden who wants nothing more than to prove her worth. Those type of characters can usually be annoying, but you grow to care and root for her. But the scene-stealer this time around is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee. As Frodo grows weaker, Sam has to step it up and prove himself as the real hero of the story. Even for a series as technically accomplished as this one, Return of the King is one of the most visually striking films of the last 50 years. Containing 1,488 visual shots, the VFX work really comes to life during the battle sequences, particularly the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Nearly 20 times as large as the Battle for Helm’s Deep, but still just as personal, nearly every character in the cast, save for Frodo and Sam, gets a chance to shine in the conflict. It also better fleshes out some effects-heavy characters, such as the giant spider Shelob. That sequence scared me to death as a child, and it still sends a shiver down my spine to this day. Outside of CGI, the production design continues to be be impressive with some of the most elaborate sets ever built. The practical model for Minas Tirith is quite an awesome sight while Shelob’s Lair is creepy enough to make your skin crawl. And Howard Shore’s music has never been better than here. Each track is elevated to a level of epic proportions thanks to an operatic choir and fantastic strings. It all captures the right emotion of the moment, and earns that response from audiences. All of the leitmotifs we know and recognize are present, but they’re amplified to an insane degree of beauty. Upon all of that, the film closes its credits with an Oscar-Winning original song called “Into the West” by Annie Lennox. A cathartic ballad that brings all of the emotions drained out of your system back to where you began, it also serves as the perfect ending to the finale from the last few frames. And this really does feel like what J.R.R. Tolkien wanted as an end to his saga. There are definitely changes to the source material- much to the chagrin of his son and literary heir Christopher -but the spirit and the intent of the story is all still present. The novel is considered both the pinnacle and the model of fantasy literature in most corners of the globe. On a similar level, the film adaptation is considered to have created the template for how to adapt a story, regardless of genre. Many have utilized that template but none have quite mastered it like this film trilogy. Visually stunning, emotionally rewarding, and satisfying beyond words, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an astonishingly powerful and endlessly beautiful masterpiece of peak filmmaking. I reiterate my earlier sentiment: This is my favorite movie of all time. It crafted the sci-fi/fantasy nerd you’re reading right now and ultimately showed me the magic of the movies. And it’s an example I measure all other films to come. If you don’t like this movie, well then you might as well just un-Follow me.

Image result for return of the king movie poster

“Coco” Movie Review

This is just what I needed right before stuffing myself with with turkey at a table full of relatives who I only see a couple times a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family to death, but come on… it’s Pixar. This computer-animated fantasy musical premiered in Mexico on October 20th, 2017. Following its stateside release on November 22nd, it has grossed over $62 million, becoming the most successful film of all time in that country. Directed by Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich, the story was supposedly developed over the course of several years of research. This included writers taking extensive field trips down to Mexico and taking notes from the entirely Hispanic cast. The PG-rated story follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, whose passion for music is marred by his family’s generations old ban on it. Following a chain of events, Miguel finds that he has accidentally placed himself in the Land of the Dead. After a very unconventional family reunion, Miguel must travel across the underworld with the assistance of a hermit named Hector to find his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, and return to the Land of the Living before the end of Dia de Los Muertos. It should be no surprise at this point that I’m a huge fan of Pixar Animation Studios, having produced a string of classics within a span of 15 years. And while they did stumble with the Cars franchise, they have created too many masterpieces to simply walk into a cinema with low expectations. And so I was very curious to see how they would tackle a subject like the Day of the Dead, the first time they focused on an ethnic holiday. Having seen the movie, (And suffered through an overlong Frozen short for it) I left with a big smile on my face. It’s clear that Unkrich and his co-director Adrian Molina did a lot of meticulous research for the project. I’m familiar with only a little bit of Mexican culture, but I am aware of some of the practices for Dia de Los Muertos. But the only way that the screenwriters could have done justice is if they took extensive field trips and consulted heritage experts such as Octavio Solis, who ultimately received a writing credit. And I can also tell you this movie is a leap ahead of 2014’s The Book of Life, another animated film dealing with this subject. There were concerns that this film would be too similar to that one. Not only did Coco begin pre-production before The Book of Life, it also highlights everything that the latter was missing. The respect for the Mexican culture extends to its cast, comprised almost entirely of Latin-American actors. Anthony Gonzalez may be young, but he imbues Miguel with all the naivete and wonder a child could ever possess. He represents the youth that so stubbornly believes that some family traditions are not worth keeping, a sad thing reflected in reality. By his side, Gael Garcia Bernal is excellent as Hector. His rickety movement and adventurous tone make him fun to watch. But underneath the ragged clothes and charisma lies a layered spirit fearful of being forgotten. Benjamin Bratt doesn’t appear for a large portion of the picture, but his performance as Ernesto de la Cruz is noteworthy. Without giving away much, his personality was an interesting one, seemingly bogged down by celebrity and the need to be remembered. The rest of the cast, including Renee Victor, Alanna Ulbach, Alfonso Arau, Selene Luna, Dyanna Ortelli, and Herbert Siguenza, do their parts well and contribute something interesting to the overall package. And it might seem a little cliche to say at this point with Pixar, but this movie is just absolutely gorgeous. The level of detail found in the background is astonishing, with one shot containing at least 8 and a half million lights. In particular, the film uses the colors red and orange to a great advantage, differentiating the various landscapes with a certain panache. Apparently, the skeleton characters had to be animated separately from the human ones since their bodily structure was drastically different. And that difference is seen in how the two groups move around differently. But those details really can’t be stressed enough. Every frame of the film looks as though a real photo was taken and animated characters were added over it. It’s that realistic. But it’s still imaginative in the vein of previous Pixar films. The musical score by Michael Giacchino affirms my statement about him being one of the best film composers of his generation. Beginning with a Mariachi variation on the Disney logo and containing little bits of guitar and piano throughout, it’s some beautiful stuff. It’s not his best score, but he does make the most of it. The soundtrack also has some a selection of original songs from Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the same duo behind Frozen. Of particular notion is the lullaby “Remember Me,” which perfectly encapsulates the film’s celebration of family and memory. Some other tunes are lesser in comparison, but can still admittedly initiate those man tears. And yes, this one knows exactly how to pull your heartstrings in a wholesome and natural way. It deals with some surprisingly dark themes like death and the danger of legacy. But that’s not what makes it so emotional. Rather, it’s the filmmakers’ examination of how infinitely life and death are interconnected that’s just so beautiful. The last 10 minutes of the film are particularly powerful as everything comes to a head and everything starts to make sense. I looked around in the theater and there was not a dry eye in the house. If for nothing else, kids will learn how to process death. I’d be willing to entertain arguments that this isn’t the studio’s best. It does follow familiar story beats pretty predictably. But Coco is a beautiful and respectful examination of the afterlife through another culture’s eyes. As soon as you’ve recovered from that Thanksgiving food coma, go out and head to the theater for this one. Pixar has done it again.

Related image

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Movie Review

It’s official. J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium is getting the full-series T.V. treatment from Amazon, a prequel to be exact. Personally, I would much rather they do an adaptation of The Silmarillion than even try to touch these movies. The middle entry of the extremely successful epic high fantasy saga saw a worldwide release on December 18th, 2002, grossing nearly 10 times its $94 million budget. Unlike most trilogies, all three movies of the Lord of the Rings were filmed back-to-back and were finished in the years of their individual release. This is rather smart as it allows for more time to be given to perfect everything going into the final product. Picking up right where Fellowship left off, Frodo and Sam make their way to Mount Doom on their own, gaining the unexpected help of a mysterious creature called Gollum. Meanwhile, Aragorn, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli are drawn to the horse kingdom of Rohan to help drive a corrupt power tearing the nation by war. And finally, Hobbits Merry and Pippin find themselves negotiating with a mythical taking tree called Treebeard about their mutual enemies. Many film buffs argue over whether or not The Two Towers is better, on-par with, or worse than The Fellowship of the Ring. I personally don’t have any interest in these types of arguments. (The answer is Fellowship, by the way) Assessing these films as standalone is difficult because they were all meant to be watched in one sitting. As soon as the final shot fades from the first installment, you’ll immediately want to watch what happens next. And when a 3-hour movie makes you want to watch another 3-hour movie afterward, that’s an impressive accomplishment. And that’s what The Two Towers does. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the Special Extended Editions of the trilogy on Blu-Ray is the one to go for. Each movie is given about 45-50 minutes worth of additional footage, giving greater context to situations or characters. Including bonus features and behind-the-scenes extras, the trilogy now spans approximately 12 hours- and I have no problem sitting through all of it multiple times. Most “director’s cut” or “extended editions” of movies I’m usually against as it really just pads out the runtime and adds unnecessary filler. I want you to find me a single scene like that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go ahead, I’ll wait. This time around, we get even more characters to care about in the cast. Chief among them is Bernard Hill’s commanding performance as Theoden, King of Rohan. Almost Shakespearean, he faces a constant moral struggle of what’s best for his people, with the wolves of Isengard never too far behind his party. David Wenham is convincing as Faramir, a Ranger come between a rock and a hard place. As you learn more about his character, you actually grow to empathize with his hardships. Someone who I didn’t talk about last time was Saruman the White, played masterfully by the late Sir Christopher Lee. Initially being the White Wizard, his throwing in with Sauron makes you long for his defeat. He’s essentially the central villain of this film. However, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum is, both from a technical and acting standpoint, an absolute revelation. Essentially the drug addict of Middle-Earth, he is brought to life by brilliant work from Weta Workshop and Serkis’ own facial expressions translate directly to the final product. Despite his gross outward appearance, you can’t help but pity the poor thing. He represents a metaphor for the toll that the One Ring can take on someone, and also serves as a reminder for Frodo to get going to Mount Doom. His performance was so great, it has prompted serious arguments about whether or not motion-capture qualifies an actor for the Oscars. (It absolutely does) And this series continues to be a marvel in the technical department. All of the behind-the-scenes crew from the last movie carry over into the installment. I would say that the sound design is much more crisp and sharp this time around. Every time an Orc was slashed with a sword, you could the crunching of their bones and the squishing blood. All aspects of this department culminate in the famed Battle of Helm’s Deep, one of the greatest battle sequences ever put to the big screen. Pitting 300 Men and Elves against 10,000 Uruk-Hai, (Orcs beefed on steroids by Saruman) the fight lasts from the rainy evening until the morning. How it cut away from the action to the women and children hiding away in the caves gave it this extra humanity. Howard Shore continues to impress as the musical composer of the trilogy. Carrying over many of the same leitmotifs from the first film and creating some new ones, the “Uruk-Hai” track is considered to be the main theme song of the entire saga. This time around, he seems to favor harsh horns and pulsating percussion for the antagonists, especially as they march toward our heroes. Meanwhile, the country of Rohan gets its own theme, made of a solo, melancholic violin that illustrates a nation’s uncertain future. How he got the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play for him I don’t know, but I’m glad he did. And unlike many fans of Lord of the Rings, I like the risks that this second installment took. While the tone itself has become a little more somber, the intelligent dialogue is taken in a really funny direction. The rivalry between Legolas and Gimli produces some hilarious moments. And I actually like the Ents. Yes, Treebeard and all of his slow-moving friends didn’t annoy or bore me at all. Like its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a stunningly beautiful fantasy brought to life with feverish passion. While not quite my favorite of the trilogy, I will never disagree with anyone who loves it most. Featuring even more interesting characters and a fantastic ending battle scene, this sequel is definitely worth it.

Related image

“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.

Related image