Category Archives: Crime

“American Animals” Movie Review

This is likely going to turn into a scenario where the people who keep demanding something new or innovative in cinema will reject this movie as “too arthouse” or “too weird.” If that happens, that means the filmmakers are on the right track for a solid career in the industry. This highly unconventional heist thriller premiered as part of the official competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, getting picked up by both The Orchard and the newly formed distributor MoviePass Ventures. Entering a limited theatrical release on June 1st, the film expanded into more theaters and has managed to gross nearly $3 million at the box office. Written and directed by Bart Layton, the film marks his first foray into narrative features, following his breakout with the 2012 documentary The Imposter. Layton virtually expands the elements on atmospheric reenactments from that film to feature-length here. Based on a crazy true story, the film follows 4 college students- Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, and Eric Borsuk -attending Transylvania University in Kentucky. The college library there is home to several priceless antique books, including two filled with very famous animal paintings by John James Audubon. In the 2003-2004 academic year, for reasons that still remain unclear, the men start joking about robbing the library blind. But they soon become serious about it, researching crime movies for help on their endeavor, setting up potential buyers for the books, and ultimately get ready to pull off one of the most daring heists in recent U.S. history. Movies centered on heists are hardly anything new in cinema these days, there are just so many of them. Any time a new one comes out, they have to REALLY work hard to impress me or stand out from the crowd in any way. And a former documentarian deciding to take on the story of 4 privileged white dudes pulling off a particularly stupid crime on a college campus? Interesting angle, but I’m still not entirely convinced that it’ll be anything special or memorable. And just because it premiered and competed at Sundance or any other festival doesn’t necessarily mean that it will always be worth the trouble of seeing in theaters, let alone worth reviewing. So take that as a sign of how much I liked Amercian Animals; I really had a lot of fun watching this movie. And trust me when I say that no reader here has ever seen any film quite like this in their whole life. Bart Layton may be working primarily with professional actors, but that doesn’t stop him from using his docudrama expertise to his advantage. While most of the film is told in a narrative fashion, it is directly followed by talking head interviews from the real-life subjects. They offer unique reflections on how everything went down, from first meeting one another to the sweat-inducing heist itself. But rather than just have them explain everything exactly as it happened, the filmmakers smartly decide to just let them provide more context as to their actions and motivations. Even better, each of them remembers certain scenarios or actions differently than others, providing both a slick comedic edge and some unreliable narrator shenanigans. Admittedly, it’s a little frustrating because it’s still left unclear why these 4 men did what they did. But I definitely enjoyed watching Layton try to add more thematic depth to the story. Errol Morris would be proud. Agents, studios, and cinephiles all need to start paying more attention to the 4 main actors in this movie. Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner do great in their respective roles, but Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan play Warren and Spencer, the ringleaders of the operation, and do particularly fantastic work together. Keoghan, who had a wonderful breakout last year with Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, plays Spencer as a decent, naive kid who seems unsure of what he wants in life, a quality many can relate to. Peters, meanwhile, is a total revelation as Warren. This is wholly different from his turn as Quicksilver in the new X-Men movies. He’s unpredictable, brazenly entitled, manipulative, profane, but also spiteful for no reason. His flawed logic for stealing the antique books is both insane and tragic, painting himself as more than just a sociopathic narcissist. It becomes disorderly and honestly somewhat unsettling when he becomes convinced that he can be just like a smooth criminal from the movies. From a purely technical point of view, there is an amazing amount of skill and confidence behind the camera. Ole Bratt Birkeland’s widescreen cinematography skillfully captures each environment and tone of each scene with grace. In some of the students’ imagined scenarios’, it’s all taken on slick, dynamic single-take shots. Other instances, like when things don’t seem to be going according to plan, it becomes very unsteady and shaky, at times a little disorienting. It also nails the atmosphere, which becomes increasingly darker and more hard-edged as the film goes along. The editing is a collaborative effort between Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, Luke Dunkley, and Julian Hart. It uses very precise cuts, moving back and forth from the acting portrayal to the real criminals themselves. For example, in one scene, Spencer begins a sentence, only to be finished by the real Spencer. It also works to create interesting visual contradictions between the subjects. A few hard cuts elicited a good laugh or two out of me. The musical score here is composed and conducted by Anne Nikitin, who had previously worked with Layton on The Imposter. The score is decidedly modern and appropriately moody for the material at hand, utilizing a number of synthesizers and severely low strings that would (hopefully) bring Johann Johannson back to life. She also uses some neat percussive instruments to wring out the tension in the viewer and softer electric guitar strums to provide an emotional through line. In some ways, it felt like a neverending crescendo as we watch the situation get more and more complicated. There are also a number of obscure songs from bygone rock and folk artists. It’s weird to say that songs by both Mobb Deep and The Doors fit perfectly in the same movie, but that’s how it is. Just like the original tracks, at times it’s playful and others it’s dead serious. I feel like this has a broader appeal than most audiences might think at first. Regular moviegoers will get to see an unconventional heist thriller, cinephiles will get to pick apart the various movie references laying about, and documentary fans will be satisfied with its taught approach. In other directors’ hands, this could have felt extremely forced or unappealing. Thankfully, with enough dramatic heft to match the stylish fun presented throughout, American Animals blends fact and fiction seamlessly into unique entertainment. Bart Layton is highly talented as a documentary filmmaker, but this shows he’s just as confident and comfortable with a narrative feature. Let’s hope both he and Evan Peters have amazing careers ahead of them.

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“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Movie Review

After 3 movies in a row released during the Christmas season, the Star Wars Saga finally sees its return to the more traditional summer movie season. Whether or not that’s an especially great thing is entirely up for debate, my friends. This space-western, marking the 10th live-action feature in the iconic franchise, premiered out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival before releasing in theaters worldwide on May 25th. While it has made over $345 million at the box office, the film was still produced on a budget of $275 million. With a historic drop in attendance during the second weekend, it’s estimated to become the first Star Wars movie to lose money. Co-written by franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who announced that this would likely be his last gig with the long-running series, the film was first put under the directorial hands of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. However, two weeks before filming could finish, the two were fired due to Lucasfilms’ disapproval of their more comedic, improv-heavy style. Ron Howard, who had previously been offered the chair for The Phantom Menace, was brought in to finish it and pull off extensive reshoots in a stupidly quick time. It has been reported that 70% of the finished film is of his own doing. Set many years before the events of the original trilogy, the story- as the title suggests -follows Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, a cocky smuggler with no real allegiance. Following a series of unwanted circumstances, Han, his new Wookie partner Chewbacca, and newly found mentor Tobias Beckett find themselves in the debt of renowned Outer Rim crime lord Dryden Vos. The team soon become involved in an intergalactic heist where, along the way, they meet Lando Calrissian and the Corellian spacecraft the Millenium Falcon. Since this project was first announced a few years ago, I’ve had… mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was excited to see more new Star Wars stories from different angles to get away from the somewhat tiring Skywalker Saga. There are simply so many fascinating worlds and species and characters worth exploring outside of the main storyline that can add more intrigue to the still-burgeoning Disney canon. On the opposite side of that coin, though, there was the burning feeling that we didn’t need or want to know the origins of arguably the most beloved character in the whole franchise. That it would become the beginning of the House of Mouse turning something dearly, intensely loved into a corporate brand. (Those who tell you The Last Jedi started it are wrong) So how does Solo: A Star Wars Story turn out to be? Well, it’s… fine, I guess. To be fair, the production process was far more hellish and dreary than it should have been in the first place. Considering the fact that Ron Howard only had a few weeks to finish the job AND have it ready in time for a late May release is honestly astounding. One has to give Disney some stones for not simply pushing it back to the holidays like the previous 3 movies under their banner. With all of that taken into consideration, the movie actually turned out far better and more entertaining than had been anticipated. Yet at the same time, it just doesn’t feel like it’s trying hard enough to distinguish itself from other entries in the series. Howard is great with some of the more heartfelt, character-centric moments, but the action sequences feel almost void of personality or unique style. Alden Ehrenreich is certainly on his way to becoming a household name thanks to his performance in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and this film, and rightfully so. He has just the right amount of charisma and rugged charm to fit into the character’s shoes and shares great chemistry with Chewie on nearly every occasion. The standouts for me were Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s motion-capture turn as the droid companion L3-37 and, of course, Donald Glover as Lando. While she is a radical, free-thinking robot who wants to challenge her people’s place in the galaxy, he is a wildly charismatic smuggler who steals every scene of the movie. Other actors in the ensemble like Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, and Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke, aren’t given much to say or do to leave a lasting impression. As always with the series, if for nothing else, you can count on Solo to deliver a technically riveting experience. Cinematographer Bradford Young, fresh off his nomination for his amazing work for Arrival, does a fairly good job at shooting the seedy underbelly of the galaxy. However, it seems like it took him a little while to get comfortable with the style and texture of the inimitable world. Much of the first act is very dimly lit and, with the constant shift from steady to handheld shots, it can be hard to discern what’s going on. The sound design and CGI is impeccable (For the most part) as both come together for some gritty action sequences. One particular battle early on involving the Empire makes for some riveting stuff; it’s also the point in the movie when I really started getting interested in the movie. As was the case with Rogue One, veteran composer John Williams sat out on scoring the soundtrack for this spinoff. However, he did contribute to writing and composing the main theme, which combines two unused tracks from previous films into one song that does a fair job at capturing the adventurous tone. For the rest of it, John Powell takes over duties and actually produces some memorable pieces, all of which have that classic Star Wars tinge. From the beginning, the classic opening crawl and blasting theme music is instead replaced with fading text describing the galaxy’s state. This is accompanied by menacing strings that are soon joined by dynamic percussion and skipping horn beats. It just feels so weird reviewing this movie. Normally, I’m excited to get my opinion on the newest installment from one of my favorite franchises out into the world. But I saw this movie nearly a month ago, and have been struggling with how to properly approach it. I didn’t hate it, but there’s also just not enough about it that’s remarkable enough to count among the “great” entries of the Saga. Then again, I had never really expected it to and it didn’t seem like it wanted to be. While your viewing experiences may differ, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable, uninspired space adventure starring amazing heroes. If you go into this movie just wanting to watch a fun, loose Western in a fantastical version of space, then it’ll be a blast. Expect anything earth-shattering or nostalgia-inducing and you’re bound to be disappointed. Either way, this movie has witty quips and obscure fan service for days- for better or for worse.

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“You Were Never Really Here” Movie Review

Never underestimate a film’s trailer when it stars Joaquin Phoenix. No matter how cool it looked it could have never prepared me for actually watching this film, just like you won’t be ready. Lynne Ramsay’s neo-noir crime thriller first premiered in the Official Competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Despite the fact that it was still a work in progress, it received an 8-minute standing ovation plus awards for Best Screenplay (Shared with The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and Best Actor. Strangely enough, Amazon Studios chose to skip awards season and instead released the film limited on April 6th, 2018. Thus far, aided by strong critical reviews, it has grossed over $3.4 million at the box office, becoming the director’s most commercially successful film to date. After dropping out of Gavin O’Connor’s Jane Got a Gun, Ramsay decided to lay low for a while until she came upon the source material. It is also her first full-length narrative feature in 7 years, her last one being the controversial We Need to Talk About Kevin. Based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames, Phoenix stars as Joe, a traumatized Gulf War veteran and former FBI agent now working as a contract killer. One day, New York state senator Albert Votto approaches him and begs Joe to save his teenage daughter Nina from prostitution. While Joe accepts it as a regular job, he uncovers a vast conspiracy web more complex and disturbing than he could have ever imagined. Just by giving that synopsis, the average reader might cast this film aside as yet another derivative crime thriller starring a big name actor. But if anyone has ever watched a film by Lynne Ramsay, then you should know that her films are not so easily pigeonholed. I have been looking forward to this movie ever since it premiered last year. Why Amazon Studios chose to forego a potential awards season run for the lead actor in the fall season and instead release in the spring is still something I’m trying to figure out. But please don’t let the familiar premise and all the “artsy-fartsy” festival buzz deter you; You Were Never Really Here is one of the finest crime thrillers I’ve seen in quite a while. And perhaps that has to do with its subversive take on a harsh topic such as child exploitation. Rather than create a semi-Romantic film that ironically glamorizes the profession of hitmen, Ramsay wisely makes the viewers observers. It’s arguably with this clinical, objective technique that she is able to fully explore the subject matter without fear of exploiting it. Imagine the most European arthouse version of Taken crossed with Martian Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and that’s about where the tone and style are at. But it never feels self-indulgent or overly obsessed with itself. It is able to find a beautiful balance between empathy for the characters and dispassion in the brutal violence. Joaquin Phoenix is an incredible method actor but, without a doubt, Joe is his best role to date. Imbuing an immense amount of humanity and confusion into the performance, we see just enough of his deeply troubling past to understand his motives and when Votto asks him if really is violent he replies, “I can be.” I will honestly be shocked if he isn’t at least considered for Best Actor this year, even if the film missed out last year. Opposite him is the young Ekaterina Samsonov as Nina Votto, who does a lot without speaking a lot of dialogue. While she sometimes feels more like a symbol than an actual character, hers is truly a breakout role since we can see so much pain and loss of innocence in her small eyes. The two of them are also supported by character actors like Alex Manette as the upset senator wanting his daughter back, John Doman as the hardened handler for Joe’s work, Judith Roberts as Joe’s helpless mother, Alessandro Nivola as the Governor with mysterious ties to the case, and Frank Pandro as a concerned middle man. They’re all great in their own way, but never even come close to Phoenix’s work. As for the filmmaking aspects of it all, Lynne Ramsay shows complete control with her own voice in nearly every department. Shot by underrated British cameraman Thomas Townend, the cinematography captures a seedy griminess to the story rarely found in New York-set cinema. There’s a constant contrast between steady, distant full shots of the scenes and close-ups where the actor might be looking directly into the camera. Not a single frame goes wasted or feels unnecessary, which gives us an opportunity to get to know the characters better without so much exposition. Also, frequent Werner Herzog collaborator knows exactly when to move between these haunting shots. There are a number of smash cuts between either the past, the present, or possible scenarios. This, along with the impressionistic and wholesome sound design, immerse the audience in a narrative that feels fractured, much like Joe’s state of mind. While his work has included both Paul Thomas Anderson and the band Radiohead, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has assembled his best work to date for the score. A highly dynamic soundtrack, the man often trades staccato strings and percussion with pieces on a dark-toned synthesizer. His side-job as a computer programmer and infrequent use of diegetic background noises in tracks helps to create a New York City that, much like Daniel Lopatin’s work on Good Time, feels so alien. There’s a beautiful scene near the climax of the film that combines all of the above mentioned techniques with an amazing piece composed by Greenwood. The mix of electric melodies and distant sounds create an emotional connection without trying to manipulate audiences. That being said, I feel like not a lot of people are going to watch this movie. The subject matter, and the manner in which the film deals with it, are so heavy that most mainstream audiences probably won’t even want to try it. Above all, it’s a sad film; these institutions do exist around the world and some of the most powerful men or women condone it. And while some of the characters here are truly despicable, the director rejects the want for them to get a real satisfying closure. Because of this, some may leave the theater wanting more in a bad way. However, I just grew to appreciate her restraint in this approach. You Were Never Really Here is a powerful sucker punch of intense brutality and emotions. One of the absolute best films of the year, I was totally riveted and glued to my seat for all 90 minutes of its runtime. It flies by, which for some may be a relief with its difficult and bold subject matter. This could be the future of action thrillers.

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“Heat” Movie Review

A movie so meticulous and unconventional that it often swings between being totally revered to highly underrated. You could also make the same case for the rest of the Mann’s filmography, but nowhere does he epitomize it more than in here. This contemporary crime thriller- written and directed by Michael Mann -was initially released in theaters on December 18th, 1995, just in time to get ignored for awards season. Though it was largely overshadowed by other big contenders that year, it still managed to gross over $187 million at the worldwide box office against a $60 million and also managed to receive positive reviews. Mann had apparently taken the concept of the movie from a real-life tale, initially drafting a 180-page pilot episode for a proposed T.V. series called L.A. Takedown. After that project ultimately fell through, he trimmed it down when Warner Bros. showed interest in a feature film. When it was all said and done, the main marketing material focused on the fact that its two legendary stars would appear on-screen together for the first time. Robert De Niro stars as Neil McCauley, a career criminal who pulls off a string of professionally armed robberies in the city of Los Angeles. After his latest heist goes wrong, veteran LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna picks up on the trail and begins an obsessive cat-and-mouse chase. While his crew members want to leave town as soon as possible, McCauley is pulled back in by recently found love and gets ready for one last hurrah. As is apparently a continuing trend with my New Year’s resolution, prior to this viewing, I had never actually seen the movie Heat. Small clips of famous scenes, sure I had watched on YouTube. But part of my fear is that when a movie like this is held up in such high regard when I sit down to watch it I may not have the same reaction as many other fellow cinephiles. A movie about a cop and a professional thief chasing one another around a big city for 2 hours and 50 minutes? That seems like an awfully big commitment, even for someone such as myself who loves watching long movies most of the time. Yet once again, my fears were almost completely unfounded; this film is amazing and inexplicably gripping. Most films will probably have one moment that shows any hint of realism or attachment to reality. Ultimately, while these moments might be nice, the film will have to sacrifice the rest for style, obviously to keep the viewer intrigued. What’s especially remarkable about Michael Mann’s Heat is how well he balances the traditional style of Hollywood with realistic combat and character interactions. From the intelligent lines of dialogue to the hyper-intense gun battles between cops and criminals, it all feels like something that could really take place in our own world. Not just because this story actually happened in real life, but also because these characters are fully fleshed out into tangible beings. And a lot of that credit goes to the remarkable all-star cast. The film may have been marketed solely on Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appearing onscreen together, but they’re incredible on their own as well. Both feel so alienated from the rest of society that they ironically complete each other, despite their opposing professions. The iconic scene where the two sit down for coffee is so simple and naturalistic, yet carries an invisible weight of tension. Their supporting players include Val Kilmer as McCauley’s restless sniper/right-hand man, Ashley Judd as a prostitute-turned housewife, Amy Brenneman as a young graphic designer looking for a bit of excitement in her life, Mykelti Williamson and Wes Studi as local cops running out of options, and an early role from 15-year-old Natalie Portman as a depressed step-daughter. They all bring their A-game and add little pieces to the overall puzzle. Meanwhile, Mann’s ability to balance out style and realism shows in the technical aspects. The cinematography by Dante Spinotti is caught primarily on a widescreen telephoto, which brings the city of Los Angeles to vivid life. Much in the same manner as Mann’s later film Collateral, some of the best shots in the film are captured at night time. The opening and closing shots are particularly artful, taking place in spaces that feel familiar yet strangely alienating. But major props to the sound designers for their commitment to realism. The gunshots during action sequences in this film sound and feel like the real thing. Cracking, echo-like, utterly shocking. This is especially the case during the famous heist shootout, which has quickly risen up to become one of my favorite action scenes in cinema. Combined with the frenetic, collaborative editing of William Goldenberg, Dov Hoenig, Tom Rolf, and Pasquale Buba, the 7-minute sequence never ceases to tense up and leaves little breathing room. It’s almost never shaky and rarely features multiple cutaways in the same scene together. Elliot Goldenthal, one of the most unconventional film composers in the industry, brings a harsh and unforgettable score to the table. Like much of his other work in the action genre, there are several atonal passages of French horns whining about. However, he also builds and sustains a penetrating, challenging atmosphere through a set-up of electric guitars. The soundtrack also includes works from other composers, including Brian Eno, Kronos Quartet, and Moby. The latter two are really impressive with a piece called “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” that plays during the final scene and over the credits. It’s a gorgeous track that perfectly captures the entire tone of the story thanks to contrasting piano melodies, low strings, and distant percussion. However, I have to recognize that there are probably going to be a handful of people who don’t like this movie. Michael Mann doesn’t really make movies that are in the mainstream, per se. The characters, lawful or chaotic, are all initially hard to like, despite their motivations and traits being laid down early on. And plus, as mentioned before, to some, the daunting runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes, will likely make viewers feel bored or uninterested. What sort of rime thriller ever has to be that long anyway? Thankfully, for today at least, I am not among that crowd. Heat is an amazing blend of character drama and cinematic style. Although I’ve only just recently watched it for my New Year’s resolution, I’m perfectly willing to rank it among the greatest films ever made. The coffee scene, the heist shootout, the final chase. It all adds into a action-packed yet still-human look at the dichotomy of professions. This should be taught as an example of style meets realism.

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“Game Night” Movie Review

As a really competitive person who likes to play board games with others every now and then, this movie resonated with me WAY more than I anticipated. Produced on a budget of $37 million, this comedy thriller was released worldwide on February 23rd, 2018. Since then, it has grossed over $85 million at the box office, boosted up thanks to a surprisingly positive critical reception. Directed by John Francis Dailey Jonathan M. Goldstein, the film is their second feature-length picture together. Following the disastrous reception of the 2015 reboot of Vacation, they apparently set out to make a name for themselves by adopting their own brand. And now, they’re going to be directing The Flash movie for the DC Extended Universe. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a super competitive couple who like to get all of their rages out by playing a variety of games with their friends. On one of their game nights, Max’s successful older brother Brook, played by Kyle Chandler, comes to town and presents his own game for them to play. What starts out as a fake, hyper-real murder mystery soon gets Max, Annie, and all of their friends wrangled into an actual kidnapping case. With little clue as to what’s real and what’s fiction, they must go forth to solve the caper- and hopefully get whatever prize comes at the end. It’s always interesting fare when someone wants to make a blend of different, almost dichotomous genres. In this case, comedy and thriller are two that one would never imagine going hand-in-hand. And more often than not, it’s the type of hybrid that almost never works well. This is just one of the things that had me somewhat worried about Game Night, not to mention the severe lack in genuinely good comedies in the last few years. Frances Dailey and Goldenstein are guilty of this with their extremely lackluster Vacation from 2015. And as two of the six screenwriters for Spider-Man: Homecoming last year, the duo still have a lot to prove for themselves. Thankfully, their second outing is a knock-out on nearly all levels. As sustained and confident as their direction really is, the true star here is the screenplay by Mark Perez. Whereas many “comedies” throw as much raunch and vulgarity on the screen as possible to elicit laughter, he manages to craft an original plot with expertly delivered dialogue. Not too mean-spirited but also not clean, there’s a bevy of pop culture references to sink your teeth into that make the film feel a little more grounded in reality. In some ways, it’s almost like a Quentin Tarantino script because more than one instance of humor involves a shock factor such as unexpected violence or characters suddenly talking over each other. At points, it feels like it does too much and gets a little too indulgent on its crime elements. The plot is very tight and intricate, with loads of unpredictable twists coming in left and right. But it feels like there were too many twists for its own good, and becomes convoluted by the end. For the most part, though, it keeps to its structure and pacing. And thankfully, the entire cast gives it their all, allowing an otherwise serious setting to be undercut by unexpected twists. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are hilariously terrific as Max and Annie. Where other actors may just come off as annoying in the roles, these two give their characters a bit of extra depth. Quite a bit of room is given to improvise, so we can see their extremely competitive nature juxtapose their apparent want for a more “normal” lifestyle. Kyle Chandler gets a rare chance to shine as the over-accomplished brother, who appropriately ridiculous the entire night. Their friends are played by Sharon Horgan, Kylie Bunbury, LaMorne Morris, and a breakout Billy Magnussen all confused in the ridiculousness of their situation. A drawn out scene of Magnussen slowly sliding dollar bills across a wooden table had my entire theater roaring with laughter. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jesse Plemons as the neighbor Gary. Similar to his other roles, Plemons plays him like a total creep, which allows for some deadpan delivery of idiosyncratic dialogue. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, Francis Dailey and Goldenstein have put a ton of effort into keeping Game Night distinct. Shot by comedy veteran Barry Peterson, the film is given a very dirty and grunge-like style thanks in large part to its use of the widescreen format. Steady shots in the city nighttime and fluid camera movements make it feel modern and really cinematic. Also worth noting is the equally fluid editing by Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin, and David Egan. The opening sequence is masterfully cut together between a variety of imagery as well as party games, helping to establish the passage of time. One scene in the second act sees numerous shots edited together and manipulated to look like one continuous shot. This can seem a little bit indulgent, but it honestly did help keep the flow if the movie smooth and nice. It becomes apparent that so much effort and intelligence and craft went into every scene. That level of craft extends to Cliff Martinez, who composes the film’s unique musical score. Like much of his other work, this soundtrack is primarily made up of melodies on synthesizers as well as subtle, more percussive elements. The dark overtones and intense chasing tracks definitely provide with a 21st century feel that’s hard to find. In some ways, it reminded me of last year’s Blade Runner 2049 in how it perfectly fit the dark and grimy world of the film. I’ve been listening to it on YouTube since i got home from the theater and I do intend on picking up on iTunes soon. Far better and more entertaining than I had been expecting and loaded with a bevy of surprises, Game Night is a chaotic, sharply written thriller with some comedic edge. Packed with rounds of gut-bursting humor and hilarious performances from a committed cast, there’s plenty to find and enjoy here, especially if you watch it in a packed theater. Although its rewatchability is admittedly questionable, I can’t deny the fun it gives on the first go-around. Game Night might be the biggest cinematic surprise of the year for me.

“Mute” Movie Review

Chasing your dream project for years on end can typically be a respectable endeavor. But when they result in something like this, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. This poorly conceived cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi drama was released by Netflix on February 23rd, 2018. Although its actual budget remains unknown at the moment, the film received a wave of negative reviews from critics. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, the same man behind Moon, Source Code, and (Unfortunately) Warcraft, the film is purported to be a passion project of his, with the earliest draft being written back in the 2000’s. Jones himself has described it as a spiritual sequel to Moon, and there’s even a scene with Sam Rockwell cameoing in his previous role. Set in a futuristic version of the city of Berlin, Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute Amish bartender named Leo who struggles to stay in touch with the technological world around him. After a fateful night, his girlfriend Naadirah, who works at the same club as him, vanishes without a trace. As she is the only person who truly communicates with him, Leo follows a series of clues in Berlin that ropes him into a world of prostitutes, black market dealers, and two American army surgeons who seem to be the center of it all. To be upfront here, unlike many other critics that have reviewed this film, I have not seen any of Jones’ previous works. I do plan on watching Moon and Source Code soon, but Warcraft is one I’ve been hesitant on. Seeing all the bad press that that video game adaptation received, one would hope that he would be able to bounce back from it. And for a long while, this Netflix Original was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. Even after reading some of the negative reviews, I figured this movie couldn’t possibly so terrible and unwatchable, right? Well… it’s pretty bad, guys. It’s also a damn tragedy for me to say this because Duncan Jones tried to get it off the ground for several years. The son of the late David Bowie (Who’s given a heartfelt tribute in the end credits) promoted it heavily on social media, sharing set photos and concept art almost daily. And that’s all great and dandy. Anyone who wants to make a lifelong passion project and share it with the world has already got my vote. Moreso than that, I always support anyone who wants to make an original science-fiction movie on a big studio budget. Netflix marketed this as their next big blockbuster, much like last year’s Bright. Also, like Bright, Mute fails at being either compelling or intriguing. Skarsgård has impressed me in past films with his performances, but something with Leo just felt off. I know it’s incredibly hard to act without any words, and he does a good job in some scenes, but most of the time he feels annoying and stupid. And that entire thread of him being an Amish man just feels tacked on. His girlfriend, Seyneb Saleh, isn’t any better and spends her spare moments whining and begging for a man. Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd is by far the best performer in the entire film as Cactus Bill, one of the American surgeons. Though his demeanor is uneven and acts like a conceded jerk, he clearly looks like he’s having the time of his life and is (mostly) able to power through the clunky dialogue. His best friend, played by Justin Theroux… is a pedophile. That’s not an exaggeration; Theroux’s character has a sexual attraction to young children in this movie. Admittedly, he does a fine job at being creepy and uncomfortable but the fact that it is played off like some sort of joke is wrong and honestly gross. As far as the technical aspects go, Mute doesn’t have too much going on that separates it from the cyberpunk noir genre. From the neon-soaked streets of night-time Berlin to the filthy interior buildings, the production designers try really hard to be like Blade Runner, a movie that will, unfortunately, get many comparisons to. The cinematography by Gary Shaw often opts for long wide shots, especially for some of the action sequences. Though it does provide a sense of character for the setting, showing as much of the world as possible without being too disorienting. Surprisingly, there’s a sparse amount of CGI used to create this futuristic setting, mostly relying on practical sets and oddball costumes to bring it to life. It definitely adds up to a grimy, lived-in feeling that it’s unfortunately unable to rise out of. Clint Mansell, one of the most versatile composers in the industry, gives us the musical score for this film. Taken as a whole, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a picture like this. The vast majority of the tracks consist heavily of synthesized beats and melodies, some of which seemingly go on indefinitely. On occasion, a new bit of percussion or strings were come in and reach for sentimentality in the story. Although that aspect failed, the soundtrack itself is actually pretty good to listen to and helps establish the somber tone of this world. But the film overall is wildly uneven in both pacing and tone. The first half is a slog to get through and even though it admittedly goes out on a high note, it would be perfectly reasonable if you turned it off by then. And the film seems unsure of whether it wants to be an all-in sci-fi extravaganza or a contemplative noir drama. Mute is a visually appealing busfire devoid of charm or pleasant characters. I could see why some people actually like Warcraft, but I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this Netflix Original. It makes me temper my expectations for all of their future content. And the saddest part of all is that, at the end of the day, Duncan Jones has nobody but himself to blame for this.

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My Final Oscar Predictions

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony is nigh upon us and now every cinephile around the Internet are putting in their last predictions for the winners and losers. This is the first year that I’ve done this, as previous years have had me bogged down by busy work and unavailability for some of the nominees. However, I’ve seen more of the Oscar hopefuls this year than I thought, possibly because the race has been seriously unpredictable. After last year’s unprecedented Best Picture debacle, there’s no clear frontrunner for the biggest prize. That being said I would like to throw in some of my own predictions about what will, could, and should win in each major category. I also wanted to include some films or players whom I feel were snubbed and deserved some recognition. No matter what, we’ll all have the same answers on Sunday, March 4th.

Best Picture

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Get Out

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound

 

Best Director

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Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Could Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049

 

Best Actor

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Will Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Could Win: Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: Hugh Jackman in Logan

 

Best Actress

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Will Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Should Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game

 

Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

Should Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Gil Birmingham in Wind River

 

Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Could Win: Allison Janney in I, Tonya

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

 

Best Original Screenplay

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Will Win: Get Out

Could Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

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Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Could Win: Mudbound

Should Win: Logan

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z

 

Best Animated Feature Film

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Will Win: Coco

Could Win: Coco

Should Win: ONLY Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lego Batman Movie

 

Best Foreign Language Film

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Will Win: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

Could Win: Loveless (Russia)

Should Win: The Square (Sweden)

Should Have Been Nominated: First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

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Will Win: Last Man in Aleppo

Could Win: Strong Island

Should Win: Icarus

Should Have Been Nominated: Jane or City of Ghosts

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

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Will Win: Edith & Eddie

Could Win: Traffic Stop

Should Win: Heroin(e)

Should Have Been Nominated: Long Shot

 

Best Live-Action Short Film

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Will Win: DeKalb Elementary 

Could Win: My Nephew Emmett

Should Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Have Been Nominated: Auditorium 6

 

Best Animated Short Film

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Will Win: Lou

Could Win: Negative Space

Should Win: Revolting Rhymes

Should Have Been Nominated: In a Heartbeat

 

Best Original Score

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Will Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Could Win: Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

Should Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Should Have Been Nominated: Good Time by Daniel Lopatin

 

Best Original Song

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Will Win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Could Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: “To Be Human” from Wonder Woman

 

Best Visual Effects

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Have Been Nominated: Okja

 

Best Cinematography

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z

 

Best Costume Design

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Will Win: Phantom Thread

Could Win: Beauty and the Beast

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

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Will Win: Darkest Hour

Could Win: Wonder

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: The Shape of Water

 

Best Production Design

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Post

 

Best Film Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Get Out

 

Best Sound Mixing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2

 

Best Sound Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2

 

How say you? What film do you believe should, could, or will win the top prize? Be sure to leave you thoughts in the Comments, and as always if you want to see more interesting content like the one on this list, be sure to like and Follow my blog.