Category Archives: Coming-of-age

“Dunkirk” Movie Review

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

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“Spider-Man Homecoming” Movie Review

*Insert some witty/stupid quip about being “your friendly neighborhood movie critic” just to regret it immediately afterward* Let’s just get this thing started. This coming-of-age superhero adventure from director Jon Watts is the sixteenth overall installment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has since nearly doubled its $175 million budget worldwide. The second reboot of the titular character within 10 years, Marvel Studios and Sony finally worked out a deal in 2015 that allowed Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. Sony still has the distribution rights and handles the marketing but Marvel Studios is given complete artistic freedom to do with the character as they please. A couple months after the events of Civil War, Tom Holland returns as our friendly neighborhood web-slinger struggling to juggle his superhero passion with high school. When a new villain named the Vulture rolls into Queens and what’s left of the fractured Avengers team is nowhere in sight, only Spider-Man can take him down. I loved the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy so much as a child and still do today. (Yes, I even enjoy Spider-Man 3) They inspired me to want to be a superhero at a young age. And while Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot was an enjoyable and more realistic take on the iconic character, I didn’t feel like it was necessary. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, meanwhile was a disappointing, wholly underwhelming and rushed sequel that desperately tried to cram in as much world-building as possible. With that background in mind, I walked into Jon Watt’s new version of this character, my favorite comic book superhero of all time, with some trepidation. He may have been the best thing about Captain America: Civil War, but I was not sure how they could possibly reboot him with ANOTHER origin story in only 10 years. But the fact that the single most successful film franchise of all time had commandeered control gave me a bit of hope, and I was glad I had it. Although his actual breakout role was in J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible from 2012, this role was the one that landed Tom Holland on the map of American cinema. At 20 years old, he is the youngest actor to ever portray Peter Parker/Spider-Man but he also may just be the best, even beating out Toby Maguire and the 90’s animation. His portrayal captures everything that Stan Lee had envisioned for the character when he was first sketched in the comic books decades ago. His introduction consists of a clever home video he made of the airport battle scene from Civil War, which establishes his innocence and wants to fight alongside the heroes he grew up loving. While Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, and Zendaya do great work as his best friend, high school rival, and classmate, respectively, Marisa Tomei wasn’t given nearly enough to say and do as his guardian Aunt May. While she is more attractive and naturally younger than her counterpart in the comic book, she just felt kind of wasted. But Michael Keaton totally owned it as the supervillain Vulture. The 5-minute cold open is dedicated to building his character, bordering the line between evil and misunderstood. You understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing, becoming the second-best villain in the MCU behind only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and proves that some of the best antagonists are the ones with real and clear motivations. But be warned; his suit is all black, and some of the nighttime scenes involving him are hard to follow. Michael Giacchino returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the 2nd time after 2016′ Doctor Strange to give the musical score. Opening with an orchestrated version of the classic Spider-Man theme song from the cartoons, it builds some large sweeps of strings and horns, reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s theme 15 years ago. Since it’s centered on a teenager, the soundtrack also had some fun selections of millennial and 2010’s music that matched well with most scenes. At the very end of the movie, it goes from a surprising last line of dialogue to a smash cut to the end credits sequence with a crazy playing. It was downright awesome and got a big laugh out of me. But what I love most is that it apparently doubles as both a superhero adventure and a high school teen drama. Peter Parker is struggling to fit in at his small school in Queens and simultaneously take care of his single aunt. Yes, it’s just Aunt May. This skips the traditional origin story because let’s face it: we all know how it happens at this point and we don’t want to see Uncle Ben getting murdered again. At the same time, Spider-Man is the new kid on the block trying to prove himself to Iron Man and other Avengers. Unfortunately, he’s so young and naive that no one really takes him seriously, with Tony Stark being his only mentor. At one point, he tells the web-slinger, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve to have it.” Even though it can’t reach the heights of the original Sam Raimi trilogy, Spider-Man Homecoming is a hilarious, briskly-paced adventure featuring a faithful representation of one of Marvel’s best heroes. I had middling expectations to start off and walked out with a great big smile on my face. Especially because the obligatory after-credits scenes were amusing and cleverly set up future installments. And now, I genuinely look forward to what they’ll do with Tom Holland.

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“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Movie Review

I write this review with the full knowledge that not many of my readers will actually care about Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. I can live with that. This 3D computer-animated family comedy was released on June 2nd, 2017, where it grossed over $77 million against a $38 million budget. This makes this film the lowest budget animation from Dreamworks in the studio’s history. It also marks the second directorial effort of animator David Soren. Based on the long-running and recently-ended series of children’s novels by Dav Pilkey, best friends George and Harold, voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch, are a pair of prankster elementary school students who love writing comic books and stories. One day, they accidentally hypnotize their mean-spirited principal Mr. Krupp, voiced by Ed Helms. They then convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the hero of their comic books, and things don’t quite go as expected for them. I remember reading some of the books in this series when I was younger and enjoying them. I wasn’t immensely impressed, but it was still fun reading. And when I heard that they were adapting it into an 89-minute feature film, my reaction was something of passable trepidation. But then, I saw on Rotten Tomatoes (A website that isn’t always accurate) the film got moderately positive reviews, and so I actually spent $11 to see this in my nearby theater. And I walked out feeling the same way as I did with the books: not particularly impressed, but still rather pleased and entertained. Kevin Hart continues his streak of family-friendly animation from last year’s The Secret Life of Pets here, which is actually surprising considering how adult-oriented his stand-up routines usually are. He and Thomas Middleditch share some nice chemistry, as their youthful voices sell the ideas that these two have been best friends since the 5th grade. Some of the pranks they pulled had me in stitches, while others felt like they were trying a bit too hard. Ed Helms more or less plays an animated version of his character Andy Bernard from The Office, as both Captian Underpants and Principal Krupp are total idiots. Thankfully, he’s able to switch between the two of them relatively easily. One’s an angry but misunderstood school supervisor, the other’s a fictional superhero who introduces himself by singing, “Tra-la-laaa!!” In the world where superheroes have brooding catchphrases like “I’m Batman” or “In brightest day, in blackest night,” it is nice to listen to something a little more lighthearted. Nick Kroll and Jordan Peele both voice the respective bad guys in the film, albeit very different ones. Peele voices the arch-nemesis of George and Harold, a child prodigy obsessed with grades. Kroll shines as a German, humor-hating science professor with a very embarrassing last name. Both are good and play fair to the stereotypes they’re with. That being said, the sense of humor found in Captain Underpants is very juvenile. Similar to the source material, several of the jokes are specifically centered around toilets and farting kids. But the main characters frequently break the fourth wall to address this to the audience, adding a great feeling of self-awareness to the overall package. Potty humor is the lowest form of wit on this Earth, and they’ll either fully embrace it or poke fun at it. Occasionally they do both at the same time. In fact, the final act of the rather short 89-minute picture is centered around the idea that the antagonist is trying to rid the world of humor and laughter from children. The way he does it? A scanning laser from atop a massively enlargened, toxic toilet. Obviously, this isn’t going to be competing with any of Pixar Animation’s finest achievements over the years in terms of visual storytelling. But when it comes to the visuals alone, Captain Underpants is pretty damn impressive. The character models are shaped and animated just as they were in the books, faithful in at least its visual adaptation. All of the animation, in general, is smooth and crisp at 24 frames-per-second. Similar to 2015’s The Peanuts Movie, the creators managed to inventively bring a two-dimensional cartoon strip series into glorious 3D computer animation with imaginative flair. So if for nothing else, give them props for that. Ultimately, though, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie doesn’t do quite enough to completely justify its cinematic existence. The humor is mostly low-brow, the voice acting is good but not award-worthy, and the storyline is as predictable as a kids movie can get. But the still gets in some good laughs in amidst nice animation. It’s great that it remains aware of what it is. If it tried to have some sort of higher meaning then it would just be too awkward. But thankfully, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a fittingly absurd round of family-friendly fun that never really impresses.

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“Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” Movie Review

As of this entry, all entries from the original Star Wars trilogy (the ones that matter) have been reviewed. In hoping that Disney will continue to recapture such memories, I get into spoiler territory with a movie that apparently a lot of fans hate. The third and then-final installment in the epic space opera trilogy received its widely anticipated release on May 25th, 1983, accumulating over $570 million worldwide in box office receipts. Like the previous movie, series creator George Lucas chose not to take the director’s chair in favor of Eye of the Needle‘s Richard Marquand- though he stayed credited in screenwriting and making the story. As the film opens, our favorite robotic duo from a galaxy far, far away C-3PO and R2-D2 arrive on the desert planet of Tatooine. After trying to convince Jabba the Hutt, a nasty criminal lord in the Outer Rim and a cool showcase for ILM’s makeup department, to give up a frozen Han Solo, both of them are forced into Jabba’s servitude. A similar thing happens when a disguised Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, attempts to save the man she loves and ends up in chains. Any boy who grew up in the 80’s was bound to have some sort of fantasies about her now-iconic metal bikini. (I may have been one of them) After all of this, Luke Skywalker finally pays a personal visit to the Palace. And at this point, Luke is a completely different person than he was in the previous movies. He’s calm, calculating, but still willing to shoot first. Once he overcomes a tense battle with the mechanical Rancor, he and all his friends are sentenced to be throw into the Sarlacc Pit. Thankfully, former traitor Lando Calrissian shows to rescue them, making for arguably the most exciting part of the whole movie. But this also gave Boba Fett, one of the coolest characters in the Star Wars franchise, a lame death. A blind Han Solo bumping into him and setting off his jetpack is such a cartoony way to kill him off. However, because they filmed the scene from the graphic novels, it’s been confirmed that he is still alive in canon. Before meeting up with the Rebel Alliance, Luke keeps a promise and visits Yoda one more time on Dagobah. In one of the saddest scenes of the original trilogy, he dies at the age of 900, telling him, “There is another Skywalker.” Thanks to a ghost Ben Kenobi, Luke learns that the other Skywalker is his twin sister Leia, and they were separated at birth to hide from their biological father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. This revelation makes perfect sense, but also makes the kiss the two had in Empire Strikes Back gross. Later, the Rebellion learns that the Empire is building a second Death Star, and is guarded by an energy shield projected on the nearby moon of Endor. While Lando leads the space cavalry, Chewbacca, Leia, Han, Luke, and the droids take a small squad of soldiers to the surface of the moon to destroy the generator. And this is when we come to the most controversial part of the original trilogy: the Ewoks. Some like them, some loathe them, some can’t enjoy the movie altogether because of them. Were they a tool for George Lucas to sell more toys? Yes, they were. But I rather enjoyed them as a kid, and watching them take down the technologically superior Empire is reminiscent of how the Viet Cong defeated the U.S. Army. While these little fuzzballs are giving our heroes a welcoming feast, Luke decides the only way to truly confront his father is if he leaves and surrenders to Darth Vader’s forces. And when he turns himself in, he just doesn’t understand that Anakin Skywalker is not there anymore. The two of them finally meet the Emperor, played like a Shakespearean villain by Ian McDiarmid. The man is a word smith, knowing exactly how to manipulate his subjects into his will, and reveals that not only is the second Death Star fully operational, but that they are fully aware of the impending invasion. At that moment, as the forces on Endor are fighting for control of the battlefield, the Rebel fleet arrives, completely caught off guard by the entire Imperial fleet. Starting one of the greatest memes in internet history, Admiral Ackbar responds by declaring, “It’s a trap!” And then, after getting constantly taunted by the Emperor, Luke Skywalker grabs his lightsaber and is stopped by Vader, turning into a battle of father-versus-son. Not only is this three-way battle extremely entertaining, but it shows that Luke is a relatable Jedi who’d do anything we’d do in his shoes. After a threat to Leia, Luke wails away on Vader and cuts off his hand. I think he would’ve actually killed him. But when he refuses, the Emperor does something never seen before, and attacks Luke with lightning. Vader is absolutely conflicted, looking back and forth between his master and his son. In the end, he lifts the Emperor up and throws him over a precipice. And late in his dying moment, he takes off his helmet and James Earl Jones doesn’t voice him anymore. Redeemed in the eyes of Luke, Anakin Skywalker dies a hero, fulfilling the prophecy in the prequels. Later, after the Death Star is destroyed, John Williams’ score is sounding off in celebration, a funeral pyre is held for Vader. And Luke is the only one attending. During the final celebration, when all the characters have gathered in joy, the Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and a young Anakin are shown one last time before the film cuts to black. Many MANY changes were done in the Special Edition, particularly using crappy CGI early on. And later, Vader yells NO!” when he throws the Emperor to his death. But these changes aren’t enough to hurt the overall quality of the film. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying end to a magnificent saga. It may be super late, but May the Fourth be With You Always!

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“Power Rangers” Movie Review

There’s not a person alive who saw a trailer for the new Power Rangers movie and didn’t think of Chronicle meets The Breakfast Club. Furthermore, there’s not a person alive who saw the new Power Rangers movie and didn’t think of Chronicle meets The Breakfast Club. This is how the world is made, and it shall continue as such. This science-fiction superhero action film was released by franchise creator Haim Saban on March 24th, 2017. Despite generally positive reactions from the audience, the movie has yet to recoup its staggering $100 million budget and wasn’t even the highest grossing film of its opening weekend. A reboot of the highly lucrative Japanese media franchise, the plot follows five teenagers with attitude- Jason, Kimberly, Trini, Billy, and Zack -in the small town of Angel Grove after bonding in detention. They stumble upon an ancient artifact that leads them to Zordon, a being who informs them of their new position as the new Power Rangers. Now they’re tasked with defending life on Earth from the newly awoken threat, Rita Repulsa. As a child, I grew up with the Power Rangers, from the original Mighty Morphin’ series up to S.P.D. Looking back on it now, however, it’s clear that not only am I not in the demographic anymore, but the shows simply don’t hold up today. So I walked into the theater with some trepidation. And for much of the film, I was sitting on the razor’s edge of liking it and loathing it. However, by the end, I left having surprisingly liked it more than I thought I would. Are there flaws? Absolutely. But right now, let’s divulge the good things about this picture. Getting it right off the bat, the five main actors do a surprisingly great job with their respective characters. Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Becky G, Ludi Lin, and RJ Cyler have bright careers ahead in their future thanks to their commitment and chemistry with one another. Cyler, in particular, was excellent as the Blue Ranger. Though he’s a bit annoying at first, he (and consequently the audience) grows more comfortable with his role with a sense of heart and keeping his wits about. Aside from the newcomer leads, the supporting cast is filled with some rather large players in key side roles. The most notable one is Bryan Cranston as Zordon, marking his return to the franchise after voicing some of the creatures in the pilot episode of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers television series. His role as an almost ethereal mentor to a generation of new potential Rangers is a welcome relief from his villainous performances in T.V. like Sneaky Pete and his iconic character in Breaking Bad. Comedian Bill Hader brings his signature awkwardness to the voice of Alpha 5, a bumbling and precarious robot with good intentions. It’s clear that he loves his role. However, Elizabeth Banks’ portrayal of the villain Rita Repulsa didn’t feel believable or interesting. She spent the majority of her screen time over exaggerating her evil voice and stroking her long fingernails over new technology. Her character has always been an over-the-top intergalactic zealot, but it didn’t seem to flow with the tone of the movie. In fact, the areas this movie struggled the most in were in the tone and pacing. Much of the film’s marketing painted it as a darker, grittier reimagining of this kid-oriented franchise. Bryan Cranston, by his own word, even compared it to The Dark Knight. I would never go as far as to say the film has that much substance, but its influence is evident. While it does have moments of fun and humor, Power Rangers relies heavily on gritty story elements and visuals. Even their armor, as cool and practical as it looks, feels like an edgy Iron Man knockoff. The thing that made the original show so appealing is that it knew what it was, regardless of the cheese factor- and there was a lot of it. This one felt as if it suffered from an identity crisis at times. Also, the pacing of the movie was very wonky and inconsistent. In fact, the main characters don’t even get suited up until nearly 80% percent of the way through the 2 hours and 4 minute-long runtime. While they do take on a few threats before then, much of the time is spent examining these individuals’ personal lives. And in some ways, this is an interesting venture. In one particular scene, which was probably my favorite, all five of them sit by a campfire and discuss their deep personal troubles. It just made it feel a bit more human. Especially considering this is the first big-budget superhero movie to feature characters on the LGBT and autism spectrum- even if it felt a bit like tokenism. Known for extravagant action films, Brian Tyler’s score is a diverse one. Switching back and forth with intricate electronic tracks and big orchestral battle tunes is neat, if unmemorable. the best accomplishment from the soundtrack, however, has to be the inclusion of the theme song, “Go,Go, Power Rangers!” from the original show. Hearing that play as the Zords fought it out with giant monsters brought a warm feeling of nostalgia back, as if I were watching the old episodes in front of my old T.V. while acting out the fight moves. Nothing with a lot of substance or rewatch value, Power Rangers delivers great acting and nostalgia-inducing moments, especially for longtime fans. If you’re a newcomer to this franchise, you mayn’t be interested in trying this film out. You could wait a little while until it comes out on DVD or Blu-Ray, especially because this is the first in a planned six-movie story arc. Brace yourselves.

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“Moonlight” Movie Review

With the Oscars on the horizon, why not review some of the Best Picture nominees? Seems like the only logical thing that every other critic is doing. This captivating coming-of-age indie drama- written and directed by Barry Jenkins -premiered at the Toronto Film Festival before its nationwide release on October 21, 2016. Earning back $23 million in profit against its $5 million budget, it also was host to overwhelming acclaim, awards buzz, and was listed as the 4th highest rated film of all time on the website Metacritic, and for good reason. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, which was also supposedly taken from his own real life experiences, Moonlight is the story of Chiron. Chiron is a black gay kid who grows up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, tracing his life over the span of 3 decades. Like a play, it is split up into 3 separate acts, each of which is given a name that Chiron associates himself with and focuses on 3 pivotal moments in his complicated life. Being a reviewer, I try not to use the word “flawless” in the description of a movie’s nature. But in this case, there is no other adjective that can be used to accurately describe this film. Moonlight is, indeed, a flawless movie- on every level imaginable. Where to begin? How about the outstanding, entirely African-American cast? Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes all take on the daunting task of portraying the main protagonist at the different stages of his life. Each one has bright future ahead after the attention this film has gotten. Naomie Harris plays his crack-addicted mother Paula so convincingly. Although she was apparently hesitant to play a crack addict, being a black woman, her portrayal of this troubled single mother was an excellent adversarial element against the 3 actors playing Chiron. Her bickering and yelling are utterly realistic- to the point where it borders on being difficult to watch. And although his only around for roughly a third of the 110 minute-long running time, Mahershala Ali’s performance as the drug dealer/father figure Juan is especially powerful. Completely deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination, while he may appear intimidating and stereotypical at first, it’s shown how much he and his girlfriend genuinely care for Chiron as a child, or “Little” as many call him. On a technical scale, this movie is nothing short of breathtaking. Filmed on a widescreen CinemaScope digital camera, the cinematography by James Laxton is beautiful. Each act is kept distinct by a different film stock, with certain colors being saturated and wonderful contrasts. Specifically, the colors blue and red appear often throughout the film and are especially present in the final act. Many of the scenes are shot from the first-person perspective, really putting us into the shoes of Chiron. What makes it more effective is the fact that many of this respective shots are shown in 48 frames-per-second. But unlike other films that use this format like The Hobbit or Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, it isn’t nauseating. Rather, it enhances the realism of the moment, bringing to light more intensity and more subtle details like skin tone. As for the music, it’s excellent. Nicholas Britell eschews the standards of regular soundtracks instead giving us a beautiful score that is unlike any other last year. The score is very string-heavy, with one particular piece early on in the movie evoking the talent and complexity of legendary composers like Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven. It is also accompanied by a consistent bass playing up in the background that adds an almost melancholic atmosphere. The number one thing that Moonlight should be commended for, though, is how there is little verbal exposition. Almost everything major in the plot is given to us in subtext, like when a teenage Chiron’s first kiss on a moonlit beach is cut away to a shot of him grasping the crunchy sand. Or when Little has an intensive stare off with his mother before she returns to her room, where a man is waiting for her. The beautiful themes of Moonlight– such as masculinity, race, identity, and sexuality -are explored in a tender, completely empathetic manner. By the third act, Chiron is an almost completely different person than he was when we last saw him. But underneath all of the tattoos and hardened, muscle-heavy exterior is a fragile soul who just doesn’t know exactly how to fit in. Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, or otherwise, we can all relate to this story because growing up, we struggled to really find our place in the world. Hell, it took me until the latter half of high school to truly find mine own. A carefully handled, layered emotional drama, Moonlight is a beautifully relevant film that forces us to question who we are as individuals. Hauntingly powerful performances give this deeply human narrative much more believability, making this otherwise small indie film a hugely successful tour-de-force that all human beings need to be watching.

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“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Movie Review

If this movie proves anything in life, it’s this: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was not the only awesome film to come out of New Zealand. This adventure comedy-drama landed a limited release in North America on June 24th, 2016, following a lengthy festival run after its premiere at Sundance. It has since gone on to become the highest-grossing native film in New Zealand, with a box office take of about $23 million. Based in part on Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress, the story is set against the extensive wild bush of New Zealand and follows a juvenile delinquent named Ricky Baker, who has recently been adopted by a farmer couple. After a tragic happening, Ricky resolves to run away from his home into the bush, only to be found by his foster uncle Hector. When a nationwide manhunt ensues, they reluctantly have to work together to survive the wilderness. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is brought to us by writer-director Taika Waititi, who also gave us hidden gems such as the moving drama Boy and the hilarious mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. He will also be moving to the Hollywood blockbuster environment this November with Thor: Ragnarok so it would be wise to keep tabs on this one. His trademark quirkiness for characters and dialogue is ever-present in this latest effort, which may be his best work yet. His script is injected with immense heart and poignancy, contrasted by scenarios so absurd that it’s almost impossible to not laugh out loud. During one particular scene, the situation was mirrored to and alludes to The Fellowship of the Ring, something even the characters address. As a fan of the series, this made me chuckle. As for the cast, veteran Irish character actor Sam Neill gives us a performance unto itself completely different from his stint as a paleontologist in Jurassic Park. He’s gruff and occasionally closed off but shows a tremendous capability for compassion and care as a father figure. By his side is a breakout performance from the newcomer, native New Zealander Julian Dennison as Ricky. Even at the age of 14, this kid does a fantastic job with his lovable, yet deeply troubled character. You get the idea that Ricky has had a rough life up to this point, and it also becomes clear at a point that he wouldn’t last 2 seconds out in the wilderness without Hector. These two bounce off of each other with ease, as their relationship is a very believable one. Hector has to show Ricky various tactics for survival, such as building fires and hunting for food with a rifle. But it’s also their less stressful and quieter situations that make for some of the most human moments. Whether it’s when they’re both sitting by the campfire sharing their own painful pasts, or when they’re quietly sitting in the woods looking at a thought-to-be-extinct bird, it’s actually quite impressive how well these scenes were put together. However, we can’t talk about any movie set in the wilderness without discussing the look and aesthetic of it all. In a sense, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has the feel of a modern sitcom because it was almost entirely shot on a single camera. Even with that, the locations in the film look absolutely beautiful. There are so many aerial view shots of the lush green landscape that are immediately edited into quick cuts across the dense forest. This gives the film a feeling that puts it on level ground with the characters. Of all the places in the world that I would like to visit before I die, New Zealand is at the top of that list. This is the final proof of that goal. Commentary should also be given to the music. There is a very minimalist score from Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, mostly just background guitars. The soundtrack itself is comprised mostly of folk songs, all of which perfectly match the tone of the story. And now for the big negative of the movie: Regret. I regret not seeing this film in theaters in 2016 because it would have easily appeared somewhere on my Top 10 List by the end of the year. So please don’t let its seemingly foreign nature dissuade you; Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an irresistibly quirky and touching dramedy about the sacred bond between father and son. (Or in this case, uncle and nephew) A poignant yet hilarious showcase for great, lesser-known actors, it’s appropriately restrained in its direction. And for that, Hunt of the Wilder people absolutely deserves more recognition from American audiences.

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