Category Archives: Coming-of-age

“Pan’s Labyrinth” Movie Review

This review marks two occasions. First, it’s October and I wanted to get out some reviews of scary-ish movies for Halloween. But also, Guillermo Del Toro’s new feature, The Shape of Water, is due out in early December. So I figured, why not just revisit his masterpiece, El Labyrinto Del Fauno? This Spanish dark fantasy film earned back over 5 times its $19 million budget when it was released stateside on October 20th, 2006. This follows its in-competition premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 22-minute standing ovation, one of the longest in the festival’s history. That’s right, a fantasy film centering on children got one of the best receptions ever from the most prestigious film festival in the world. According to Del Toro, he wrote the screenplay from the creature doodles of his notebooks as well as experiences of lucid dreaming from childhood. It’s also supposedly a spiritual sequel to his 2001 film Devil’s Backbone, and Del Toro even did the English subtitles himself. Set in fascist Spain during World War II, Ivana Baquero stars as a young and innocent girl named Ofelia who is obsessed with fairy tales told to her by her mother. When her mother remarries Captain Vidal, she tries to escape from reality at her new home by proving herself in a newly discovered fantasy world in a labyrinth just out near the garden. Encouraged by a mysterious faun to prove her loyalty as the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, Ofelia has to balance out the horrors of both the real world and the fantasy world. I said in my intro that this movie is somewhat scary and I stand by that observation. In particular with a scene to discuss later on, but at the forefront, the themes are the scariest thing about it. Throughout the 1 hour and 59 minute-long narrative, we see enough compelling evidence of how flawed both of these two beautiful worlds are. Reality is shaken by bullets exchanged from fascist soldiers and the republican rebels, while the fantasy world is populated by some truly horrifying creatures. And in a way, you’re left to wonder which world would be better to live in. You’re also left to wonder whether or not that fantasy was real or if she made it up in her head. I personally subscribe to the latter theory, but you’re welcome to interpret it at your own volition. In any case, just watch this movie. It’s truly amazing. My first experience with this film was in a course studying the relation between horror and fantasy fiction, as something of a Segway for the two. I had not known a single thing about the movie prior to watching it. All I knew was that it was a Spanish movie about creatures by the same guy who made Hellboy and Pacific Rim. The second the film ended, every single student, including myself, stood up from our seats and applauded it. This was one of only two times that ever occurred in the class. (The other time being Tim Burton’s Big Fish) Someone referred to it as Alice in Wonderland on crack after it calmed down. To say that would be mismarketing the film. Ivana Baquero gives an incredible performance as Ofelia, one of the best ever given by a child. We see the horrors of both words presented through her eyes and truly empathize with her every step of the way. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Captain Vidal is one of the most despicable characters to emerge in recent cinema. Played masterfully by Sergi Lopez, he’s a cruel and deranged villain who is not afraid of sacrificing his humanity for the cause of fascism. While Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, and Alex Angulo each do a nice job with their crucial supporting roles, American actor Doug Jones steals the show as the Faun. He completely loses himself in the role of a mysterious, ancient creature who moves like an especially rusty Tin Man. With a raspy, crickety voice, he tells Ofelia who he is by saying, “I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce.” That really makes me excited for his work in The Shape of Water. The film is also technically accomplished in almost all departments. The production design of both the mill and the labyrinth itself is stunning. Both are dreary and weathered down by time, even in the bright daylight. Guillermo Navarro’s camerawork is setup and progressed the way Del Toro likes it: smooth yet almost disorienting. It helps immerse the audience into both of these worlds simultaneously and rather deepens the sense of imagination. Some of the CGI looks pretty dated by today’s standards, but I’m willing to forgive it. Especially because the practical makeup is so impressive. The most memorable monster in the film is the Pale Man, again played by Doug Jones. With the cinematography and editing, it was an absolutely terrifying sequence that made me nearly piss myself on a rewatch. Combined with Javier Navarrete’s beautiful score of choirs and violins, there’s almost no reason to hate this movie. Touching on themes of fantasy vs reality and a marvel of imagination, Pan’s Labyrinth is a haunting fairytale brought to life by a sheer commitment to vision. In fact, it might just be my favorite foreign language film of all time, right beside The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Simply a masterpiece. Be sure to check back on my blog this month for reviews of Bone Tomahawk, Shaun of the Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Thing.

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“The Bye Bye Man” Movie Review

I purposefully avoid bad movies in theaters most of the time. But whenever they make it onto home media or VOD, I just have to put myself through the meat grinder. All because I want to love, serve, and protect the innocent from spreading the name of this movie. This low-budget indie horror film was released worldwide on January 13th, 2017, grossing over $26 million despite terrible reviews. That should tell you everything you need to know in one sentence. If rumors tell true, (Which they usually do in Hollywood) the script was adapted from a chapter in a nonfiction book The President’s Vampire by Robert Schneck. This isn’t uncommon in horror films, with many claiming to be inspired by real-life events. But with the premise alone, I have to imagine how much of stretch the screenwriter Jonathan Penner took to pump this one out. Directed by Stacy Title, we follow a group of friends, Elliot, John, and Sasha, who move into a new house not far from their college campus. Once they settle in, they learn of a spirit called the Bye Bye Man, who spreads like a virus whenever his name is said or even thought of. With no help or belief from the authorities, Elliot must discover how to defeat this mysterious force from killing them. I’ll be honest with you: That premise overall is kind of a neat idea. An apparition who can never be defeated because he will always be in the public mindset could make him one of the iconic horror villains of our time. And there was an opening scene set in the 1960’s that highlighted that potential with some genuine intrigue and suddenness. However, as soon as the setting changed to modern day, it became abundantly clear to me why this movie came out in the second week of January. Holy shit, this is such a stupid movie. Let’s start with the acting. All around, every single person is bad in their roles. Every line of dialogue they delivered felt as if they were on suppressants during the entirety of filming. I don’t necessarily blame them because the screenplay they’re armed with is so atrocious. But my God, they had to play some of the most insufferable and annoying horror protagonists this side of The Gallows. As soon as they appeared onscreen and started talking about their problems, I just wanted them to go away and meet their demise, which may have been the intention of the filmmakers. The Matrix star Carrie Anne-Moss appears as the local detective, and shifts from either trying her hardest to not caring in the slightest. But one interrogation scene between her and Elliot halfway through was unforgivably bad. It was almost as if they had hired a different writer for that scene. And that’s not even bringing up the fact that her character was an absolute idiot. Faye Dunaway appears in a single-scene cameo as an elderly woman whose sole purpose is to provide the audience with useless exposition. Doug Jones, meanwhile, plays the titular ghost. He is the quintessential monster actor, especially in films by Guillermo Del Toro like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth (Review coming soon) and the upcoming The Shape of Water. He is able to completely disappear into the creatures he plays, regardless of the movie’s overall quality. It honestly looks here like he genuinely cares about The Bye Bye Man, but the movie utterly wastes him. His scenes are undoubtedly the best, but he takes up maybe 20 minutes of screen-time- not nearly enough to make the journey worth it. And that’s not even taking in the technical aspects of it all. From a pure filmmaking standpoint, this film is incompetent. Awful lighting, whether it’s a lack thereof or too much of it, makes it sometimes impossible to tell what’s going on. Especially with the editing and effects. The makeup for the titular apparition himself is actually fairly impressive for what resources they had. But the CGI surrounding him, especially with his hellhound, was laughably bad. It looked as though a college film student spotted a stray dog on the street, wrapped it in a greenscreen blanket, opened up a Dolby After Effects for the first time, and went through the editing process at a friend’s sleepover. It’s that bad. I’m not even exaggerating. Hell, even the musical score is bad. Composed by the Newton Brothers, it barely counts as anything original. It really just consists of the theme song from John Carpenter’s Halloween, but with a twist. It tries to add an edgy electric guitar and a careful drumset into the background to give it a modern feel. The composers might as well just go to Garage Band and edit around John Carpenter’s iconic theme. Like almost everything else in the movie, it just felt cheap and obnoxious. And of course, they had to set up a potential sequel at the end. The fact that virtually nothing about the Bye Bye Man was revealed during the 1 hour and 40-minute runtime is already frustrating enough. But it feels a little more insulting when you consider that it’s probably because they wanted to save it for a later installment. At the very least, if you’re going to do that, at least let the first one establish how terrifying and serious of a threat the monster is. Films like It Follows and A Nightmare on Elm Street did that very well. But The Bye Bye Man is a pointless hodgepodge of better horror films with zero effort put into it. Terribly acted and horrendously executed, it’s not worth it even for the occasional moments of unintentional hilarity. Don’t buy it. Don’t rent it. Don’t say it. Don’t think it. Don’t even watch it.

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“Beauty and the Beast” Movie Review

It’s a tale as old as time with songs as old as rhyme. Meaning this is probably not the last interpretation of the story we’re getting in the next century or so. This is just a warmup. The latest live-action Disney remake, this romantic musical fantasy was released around the world on March 17th, 2017, going on to gross over $1.2 billion at the box office. It likely would have made more had it not been for a certain controversy that we’ll discuss in a little bit. Initially, the studio had planned an adaptation of the Broadway musical from 1994, which never made it past development hell. However, in the wake of other successful remakes such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book, a plan was put together. Twilight: Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon signed on and the whole cast was announced, making this dream become a reality. Emma Watson stars as Belle, a beautiful young woman who is ridiculed in her small French village for reading. After rejecting the egotistical hunter Gaston, she discovers that her father has been captured in a decrepit castle, hosted by a mysterious Beast. She offers to take her father’s place and begins a strange and unexpected relationship with the Beast. The word that has been tossed around the most in regards to this movie is “unnecessary.” An unnecessary remake, an unnecessary movie, an unnecessary cash grab by Disney. I don’t entirely disagree with this sentiment, as it is extremely (almost detrimentally) faithful to the 1991 animation classic. But last year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven wasn’t really necessary, and yet I still really enjoyed that one. And it’s the same case here. Did Disney have to do a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast? Absolutely not. But even so, Bill Condon did a fine job of reimagining this timeless story for a new generation. Like I said, this movie caused some pre-release controversy, but not because of its existence. It was because LeFou, Gaston’s plump sidekick played wonderfully by Josh Gad, was revealed to be gay. This was a landmark for Disney as their first homosexual character, but caused quite a stir in certain countries and theaters. The film was banned in Kuwait and Malaysia, was refused by a theater in Alabama, and received a very strict rating in Russia. Here was my reaction to the revelation: How could we have ever assumed that LeFou was straight in the animation? His mere behavior and the “gay moment” talked about by many pundits were very natural to the story. Emma Watson plays Belle very nicely but is nothing worth putting in the record books as an all-time great performance. Her beauty matches her character (whose name literally translates in French as “beautiful”) and her compassion is very much present. Dan Stevens, who has proven himself in the excellent thriller The Guest and Marvel’s Legion, is especially good as the Beast. He gives off a charm and wit that seemed missing the first time around. The supporting cast is filled out by a mass of big names, some of whom sing better than others. Kevin Kline plays Belle’s eccentric father, Ewan McGregor is delightful as a dancing candlelight Luminere, Sir Ian McKellen sounds Gandalf as the clock Cogsworth, Emma Thompson is warm as the teapot Mrs. Pots, while Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, and Audra McDonald play the rest of the lively house utensils. But the obvious show-stealer here is Luke Evans as Gaston, the handsome and cocky villain of the town. Seemingly born to play the role, he is so delightful and fun to watch, despite his character’s despicable nature. He absolutely looks like he is having the time of his life playing this guy up, and that energy really seeps off the screen. Whenever he was singing or riling the villagers up, I wanted to get up and dance with him at his side. Meanwhile, on the technical side of things, Disney spared not a dime of its $160 million budget. Beautiful, wide shots of the setting by Tobias A. Schliessler give it this certain feeling of being whimsical, as the story should be. It also brings out the amazing use of bright colors in otherwise drab-looking environments. Costume and production design is also gorgeous. Even when some of the CGI for the Beast or his servants isn’t very convincing, the sets and clothes of our characters are a joy to look at. The famous dance scene between Belle and the Beast was recreated to perfection here, and the design of her dress and his suit made it even more appealing to see. Alan Menken returns to compose the musical score not just for this movie but for his 11th collaboration with the studio. Virtually all of the songs from the original are present, but a few new ones have been added. Of particular note is the number “Evermore” sung by Stevens. I felt it added more depth to the Beast’s feelings for Belle and his struggles with accepting those in his hollow life. It’s possibly a contender for Best Original Song this February. Aside from that, most of the new songs are kind of flat. Even though it ultimately falls too far back on the original film, Beauty and the Beast is a lovely adventure for all ages to appreciate. Its lessons are conveyed the only way a Disney film can do it, with great characters and music to boot. If you just want a movie to watch with your whole family on a night in that’s relatively lightweight, it’s available on Netflix right now. Give it a chance.

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“Death Note” Movie Review

Full discretion before we begin: I have never read a page of the manga nor watched an episode of the anime series from which this Netflix feature was adapted. I’m going to review this with completely objective eyes. If there’s something I don’t understand in this post that you would like to correct or shed light on, feel free to comment below. This psychological dark fantasy was produced on a relatively small budget of $40 million. Though Netflix doesn’t release their viewership figures, it did attract a large crowd at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con before being released on August 25th. According to several sources, at least 10 studios were bidding for the rights to the Death Note franchise as early as 2009. In 2016, after Adam Wingard signed on as the director, there were outrages and accusations of whitewashing in the cast. Basically, it’s suffering the same fate as any Hollywood adaptation of a beloved anime. Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner, a lonely high school student who receives a mysterious notebook out of the sky. When he meets the death god Ryuk, he is told that anyone can die if he simply writes their name and cause of death in the book. He uses the book to start ridding the world of known criminals under the guise of a god “Kira,” and attracts the attention of an enigmatic detective named L. Now as I said, I have no familiarity with the franchise. Only in recent years have I started getting into anime, particularly ones by Hayao Miyazaki. And for those of you asking about my opinion on this year’s Ghost in the Shell… I bought a ticket to see Power Rangers instead. But just hearing the whole concept of Death Note intrigued me, as any anime usually does. And from what I heard, the original creators gave their official stamp of approval for the American version. So I actually was somewhat looking forward to watching this movie on Netflix. Honestly… I feel underwhelmed. Is it as terrible as some people are touting it to be? No, it’s not. But there are a lot of problems. Starting with Nat Wolff as Light Turner, who may just be one of the most uninteresting actors in recent years. He gives an absolutely lifeless and dull performance for this character who can actually be pretty compelling. Willem Dafoe voices Ryuk, and he really sounds like the Green Goblin from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man all over again. Except now, he sounds way more demonized and menacing than before, especially with the character’s sweet design. Though, it sometimes feels like he’s just waiting for his paycheck to clear. Margaret Qualley, who gave a brilliant role in The Nice Guys, is Light’s love interest and accomplice. She isn’t given much to say or do aside from encouraging our hero to give in to his darker instincts. But the best actor here, by far, is Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield as L. Having impressed me with his small part in Get Out, I feel like this could be one of the quirkiest and nerdiest actors around. His mannerisms and style of wardrobe are really relatable and badass, even if he feels underutilized. The visual style is rather unique, easily the most consistent aspect of the entire movie. The film uses bright neon lights to illuminate the characters in stark red and light blue. The way the David Tattersall uses the camera to focus in on characters or a scene feels odd, but it sells the idea that this is an (adaptation of) anime. There have certainly been worse Dutch angles used in cinema. The editing was sometimes awkward, choosing to use multiple cross-fades interjected into a single scene. I don’t really understand why, other than trying to add more and more style to the film. Atticus and Leopold Ross work together on the score and feels eerily similar to Atticus’ work on The Social Network. Mostly 80’s synthesizers, it helps build an atmosphere worthy of a psychological thriller. But there aren’t really any memorable or standout tracks. It also includes several real-life songs, particularly some bits of late 90’s soft rock. A friend of mine, who is familiar with the source material, told me a while back that they always think of anime when late 90’s or early 2000’s soft rock is laying. I couldn’t tell if they were joking or not. Let’s get right to the last act of the movie. It wasn’t very good, to begin with, but the last 15 or so minutes of Death Note kind of just bury it. In case you actually want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil it here at all, but my God. It might as well be the cinematic epitome of the word “convenience.” Because right when the end happens, it reveals an extensive contingency plan that our protagonist came up with on the fly on a public desktop. Also, a quick rant: Why would you have Ryuk built up as a third-act villain if the Rules he establishes can be easily broken, leaving to just loom large a lot of the scenes? I take one of two interpretations out of this: Either Ryuk is a useless character altogether or they’re setting him up for a potential sequel. I really doubt that this will be the one that causes Netflix to release a full-length follow-up to one of their originals. While its visual style is compelling enough, Death Note wastes a promising plot on bad actors and confused writing. If you want to watch it, go ahead. If you want to watch a good thriller, watch Adam Wingard’s other film The Guest instead. In all honesty, L is the saving grace of this picture. And this is coming from someone who, again, has never been affiliated with the source material. I can only imagine what real fans must have thought of.

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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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“Wind River” Movie Review

I would say something about the premise involving Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch reuniting to solve a murder mystery on a Native American reservation. But trust me when I say that to make that comparison would do the movie a huge disservice on my part. This crime thriller made a splash at the 2017 Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals earlier this year, winning an award for directing in the latter. Receiving a wide release on August 18th, it went on to earn critical acclaim and has doubled its modest $11 million budget. The directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, scribe of both Hell or High Water and Sicario, the film was said to be based on his own experiences on a reservation. He reportedly spent over a year building trust from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Councils (The tribes situated on the titular reservation) and even secured funding from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribes in Louisiana. So to say that everyone involved was careful about the finished product would be a correct assumption. Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a local member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services that helps hunt down whatever creatures are killing indigenous livestock. Out on a hunt, he finds a young Native woman named Natalie Hanson frozen to death without any winter gear, miles away from the Wind River Indian Reservation. Suspecting foul play, young FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is brought on the scene completely unprepared for the winter. Now Lambert, Banner, and the tribal police have to solve this case as the harsh blizzard of Wyoming comes rolling through. I’m always interested when a movie’s being made these days involving Native Americans. Not just because I love Smoke Signals, Dances With Wolves, and The Last of the Mohicans, but also because they are so underrepresented in today’s culture. And I also loved Sheridan’s writing in Sicario and Hell or High Water, being two of my favorite films from the past two years. So naturally, as soon as the buzz came rolling out of its premiere at Sundance this year, I was immediately looking forward to Wind River. And I left the theater 1 hour and 51 minutes later feeling bitten hard and cold but in the best way possible. What impressed me most about the film was the brilliant and almost humanistic screenplay. It’s very much a whodunit murder mystery but the presentation and concept behind it all feel so fresh and invigorating. It’s more of a drama examining how our government has failed to recognize and protect the indigenous peoples of America for so many years. I myself have visited several reservations in relief efforts to rebuild homes and playgrounds for young Native children, and I have witnessed the ugly nature of the poverty and isolation these groups face on a daily basis. How can these people, especially the women, blossom in the world when there’s nothing at “home?” There is some end movie text that comes onscreen that, without spoilers, completely knocked me down. My companion and I sat in our seats for a solid minute of silence before walking out and leaving. Jeremy Renner impresses me with every single movie he’s been a part of, from The Avengers to last year’s Arrival. But he gives easily the best performance of his career here as a complicated man with a seriously troubled past. Elizabeth Olsen was a bit of a mixed bag for me. At first, she came off as a typical “fish-out-of-water” a la Clarice Starling, soon transitioning into a sort of know-it-all. But she later proves her worth when she defuses a tense conflict between the characters. As for the Native actors, everyone present brings their A-game and feels completely natural. Smaller character performers like Julia Jones, Martin Sensmeier, Tantoo Cardinal, and Apesanahkwat all give subtle work as members of this harshly contained environment. First Nations actor Graham Greene provides some chuckle-worthy lines that are really the only moments of levity in this film. As the pragmatic chief of the tribal police, we can see quite a bit through his eyes. But the real winner here is Comanche actor Gil Birmingham as the victim’s grieving father. A haunting role that will most likely receive recognition from the Academy, (Just wishful thinking, really) he is so restrained and quiet in his anguish of a lost daughter. And when he finally lets it all loose, he is amazing. In fact, I think he gives one of my favorite performances of the entire year. The camerawork by Ben Richardson provides some stark shots of the desolate landscape in Wyoming. Be it wide swooping shots of the comparatively puny reservation or intense (And I mean, SUPERINTENSE) handheld close-ups of the ensuing conflicts, it rarely loses its visual luster. This, along with the minimalist score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, helped the town become a character in and of itself. The mixture of sad western violins and guitars makes it feel like a land of lost opportunity. As for flaws with the movie, there were moments where I felt like it was a tad overwritten. I appreciate the effort to bring such a taboo topic to the big screen, and Taylor Sheridan is famously allergic to conventional filmmaking. But sometimes the characters would go on monologues about their problems for quite a while. Occasionally, it felt a little in-your-face and unsubtle, as if it could have been delivered through context. And I’m not sure how rewatchable it is. That’s it. The rest of this movie, I loved. Wind River is a sobering look at the troubles of a deserving group of people. As someone who has seen these issues first hand, I highly recommend my readers to go see this movie and support those involved. Especially since the summer movie season has officially ended and the box office has pretty much been sucked dry. We’re just beginning the awards season, and we have our first leader.

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“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” Movie Review

According to the mythology of this movie, Judgement Day happened on August 29th, 1997. That happened exactly 20 years ago. And if you are reading this, that can only mean one thing: we have survived James Cameron’s prediction and can most certainly survive whatever happens with Donald Trump and North Korea. This science-fiction actioner was released in July of 1991 earned back over 5 times its $102 million budget. With the success of the first Terminator film, Cameron was able to produce a film and a world that he wanted to explore more of. It’s completely apparent because this film is ultimately bigger and more ambitious and more complicated than its predecessor. Approximately 10 years after the original concluded, a new Terminator, the T-1000, has been sent back to the past to kill a teenage John Connor in Los Angeles. However, in the future, the resistance has reprogrammed the T-800, the villainous robot from the last movie, and sent him this time to protect Connor from all danger. As the cat-and-mouse chase ensues, they uncover more about the bleak, impending future and comes to many realizations. I have a confession to make before going any further in this review: I had never seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day until earlier this year, around the end of May. Of all the films on my list of shame (Which also includes The Shawshank Redemption, Seven Samurai, Drive, and The Godfather Part II) I was most hungry to see this particular film. For one reason: One of my best friends consistently called it the greatest action movie ever made. And now, after purchasing the Blu-Ray and sitting down on my couch to watch it… I understand why. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprise their roles as the T-800 and Sarah Connor, respectively. Schwarzenegger is given so much more to say and do this time around due to being a good guy, though most of his “dialogue” is reserved for either technical exposition or cheesy one-liners like “Hasta la vista, baby.” His deadpan delivery is an embodiment of everything that the body-builder turned-actor could do when given the right material. Hamilton is a little nuts in this follow-up. She has transitioned from a timid, plucky waitress to a badass warrior ready for the impending doom of man. But thankfully, it’s completely convincing, giving us arguably Cameron’s best character aside Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Edward Furlong plays a teenage John Connor who, despite being consistently annoying and whiny, is able to hold his own when the action is going down. It isn’t until the last act of the film that he really starts blossoming into the savior that humanity needs years from now. Robert Patrick, meanwhile, plays the role of the T-1000, a liquid-based assassin sent from the future. His cold delivery and unassuming stare make him one of the best and most menacing villains in cinematic history. Even more so than his counterpart in the original, it becomes apparent that this is an enemy that cannot be simply beaten. He can adapt to any environment and can take as many punches or bullets that come his way. As far as technical attributes go, this is one of the finest accomplishments of the last few decades in cinema. The sound design is one to really be appreciated on a 5.1 audio system, and I can only imagine what it would be like in the theater. It matches the beautiful editing job of Mark Goldblatt, Richard A. Harris, and Conrad Buff IV. Each scene flows seamlessly with the next one and never allows the pacing to let up. But the visual effects are what truly made this film then- and still to this day -an eyepopper. Provided by the legends at Industrial Lights and Magic, the effects in Terminator 2 were way ahead of their time and in some respects still look better than some of the CGI we’re getting today. The scene in which the T-1000 passes through a metal gate with ease is one of the most enduring images of 1990’s cinema. It also netted one of the film’s 4 Academy Award wins, which gives it the distinction of being the only sequel to win such an honor when its predecessor wasn’t even nominated. Brad Fiedel returns to compose the musical score, and what a soundtrack it is. With pulsated electronic drum beats punctuated by sharp strings elevate the intense action scenes. But it’s also the franchise’s main theme on the synthesizer that gives the film some emotional levity in its characters, who inherently are the focus of the 137 minute-long picture. But unlike most other sci-fi action films, (And arguably its own sequels/reboots) Terminator 2: Judgement Day understands the intelligence of its audience. Because of that, it is able to convey real themes about human nature and our destiny as a species. The T-800, as well as Sarah Connor, is trying to gain an understanding of the value of human life since all they see are bags of sentient meat waiting for their inevitable deaths. Similarly, the Connors are wrestling with the idea that no matter how hard they fight, the future depicted is already set. If you drop a stone into a rushing river, will the current simply course around as if the obstruction were never there? Or will it completely block the flow of water out, forcing it to find another path? These are the questions the film forces us to ask. As one character puts it, “There’s no fate but what we make.” There are admittedly some pacing issues in the middle act when it simmers down. Not a lot happens aside from world building, but it’s still pretty fascinating. Aside from that, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the quintessential marriage between science-fiction and action, and one hell of a ride. I’m glad I got it off of my list of shame because it is now one of my all-time favorites. And don’t worry; I’ll be back.

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