Category Archives: Crime

“Brawl in Cell Block 99” Movie Review

Another S. Craig Zahler film has come our way. Another instance of me wincing at the horrific violence on-screen. And yet another time when I can’t look away from it and actually have fun with it. This director knows just how to mess with me. This gritty action drama thriller first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 2nd, 2017. After subsequent screenings at both TIFF and Fantastic Fest, it was released in select theaters on October 6th, 2017. While actual box office numbers are uncertain, because it premiered on VOD platforms a week later, it’s believed to have sold quite well. Having previously won success with his Western horror Bone Tomahawk, writer-director Zahler apparently knew exactly the type of movie he wanted to make next. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, drug courier Bradley Thomas, played by Vince Vaughn, is sent to prison where he immediately becomes undesirable. Soon, he’s informed that he is forced to kill a fellow inmate in Cell Block 99 in order to save his pregnant wife. Just as with his debut feature Bone Tomahawk, this plot can be easily summarized in two sentences, which I love. S. Craig Zahler proves to be the rare writer-director in this day and age who truly understands the power of simplicity. And because this story is simple, he’s able to find a way to punch through and get to the entertainment value with ease. Sure, it takes a while to get to that point, but the wait is well worth it. The biggest audience that he’s going to rouse up are fans of the Grindhouse Era. For those who want to know, “Grindhouse” refers to a specific type of action movie, typically coming from the 1970’s. They were all dealing with dark, brutal subject matter in badass yet playful ways. And yet most of them were made in poor quality and covered up that fact by showing multiple releases back-to-back. In some cases, it bordered on exploitation. Zahler seems to have an affinity for these so-called “cult classics,” as Brawl in Cell Block 99 dons the coat of an intense prison drama yet revels in all the genre violence fans could want. There’s a guy whose face is de-gloved when being pushed against the concrete floor. If that sounds like too much for you, don’t bother with this one. For anyone else, you’re going to fall in love. Vince Vaughn has proven himself in both comedies and dramas, but this is easily the best work of his career. No one else could have played this stone-cold man who hides his emotions very well, but still shows us how tortured he is in moments of quiet. When asked by a counselor whether or not doing time would do him any good, he sarcastically remarks, “Prison will give me plenty of time to look at guys I don’t like.” Former Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter is also quite good as his pregnant wife Lauren. She manages to break out of the simple archetype and never loses her wits, even when the bad guys have taken her. Meanwhile, the two villains are portrayed by Udo Kier and former Miami Vice star Don Johnson, who do malevolently excellent work. Both are comfortable veterans of this genre, and just as with the Troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk, you really grow to hate them both. And for a movie homaging trash cinema from the 1970’s, there’s a surprising strength in the technical aspects. The production design lends itself well to the brutal environment of prison, which becomes more decadent as the story moves along. This along with the simplistic costumes add a lived-in feeling to the world. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi frames all of the scenes with beautiful, elongated wides capturing everything on-screen. A scene where Bradley tears his car apart with his bare hands in just a few different takes is as riveting as it is terrifying. The sound design is equally effective. Depending on what speaker you have, you’ll be able to hear every bone crunch and every punch land on the flesh. Stylistically, it’s fairly similar to John Wick. But whereas that neo-noir actioner had a lot of precise choreography, this one is really about a big dude pummeling his way through anyone standing in his way. What enhances the intensity even more is the fact that during these sequences, there is no music playing. No original score, nothing sentimental. But in other instances, the soundtrack will play off of some funky big band tune from the 70’s or 80’s. In a way, this choice further reinforced its simplistic, understated style. They were fun to listen to at the moment, but I’d be lying if I said I remember the names of the artists. As with Bone Tomahawk, the biggest issue facing this film is the pacing. It spent a surprising amount of time in the first half setting up its characters and story. That was all fine and dandy for making me care about Bradley Thomas, but with all the long takes, I feel like it went on a little too long. Some fat could have been trimmed in the editing. And there is one shot of what is clearly a mannequin standing in for a human being near the end. You could argue that it was to further homage the cheap nature of the Grindhouse Era. But to me, it just became rather glaring. Despite some uneven pacing, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is still a gritty, badass slice of pulp entertainment anchored by an incredible lead performance. 100% unapologetic for its brutality and finding veils of light beneath the dark subject matter, it’s not for the faint of heart. But for those wanting something outside the box of the industry, you’re going to have a total blast with this movie. S. Craig Zahler was already a talent to watch, but now he has my attention for any of his future projects.

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“Die Hard” Movie Review

There are two types of people in this world: Those who believe that Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who do not. I’ll let you decipher which camp I fall under. This holiday-themed action classic was released on July 15th, 1988, and went on to earn back over 10 times its $28 million budget at the box office. A critical success, the film spawned a lucrative franchise including 4 sequels and 6 video games. Directed by John McTiernan, the same man behind the original Predator and The Hunt For Red October,  the script was shopped around to various established action stars. After they all turned it down, then-comedian Bruce Willis took it up for a surprising salary, changing the entire course of his career. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the superbly simple story follows an NYPD cop named John McClane who travels to Los Angeles to be with his family for Christmas. In a last-ditch attempt to save his marriage with Holly Gennaro, he goes to her company’s Christmas Eve party at the Nakatomi Plaza when, all of a sudden, a team of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber takes over the entire building. Managing to slip away, McClane must fight off the assailants to save everyone inside and also get help from the authorities. Everyone, no matter who you are or what your tastes may be, has a movie that they like to watch every holiday season. Maybe it’s something you like to sit down with your family to enjoy or perhaps a guilty pleasure that you want to hide from loved ones. It doesn’t matter as long as you have that one special picture. And while I could go on about my love for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Gremlins, nothing will beat watching Die Hard before unwrapping the presents underneath that big green tree. What makes it a Christmas movie, though? Yes, it’s not traditional in that the characters don’t scramble to get each other presents the night before it all. But, in the most unconventional yet entertaining way ever conceived, we get to witness the true spirit of Christmas come into play with the plot. To me, it evokes the importance of being together with the ones you love even in the most bizarre and incomprehensible situation possible. Does it shake things up with bullets and guns? Yep. And glass. Lots and lots of glass. There are only a handful of actors who were born to play certain roles; Bruce Willis as John McClane is among those titans. Despite his badass nature, he gives the character shades of relatability with a sarcastic wit and a genuine desire to reunite with his family. Opposite him is the late Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who subverts the typical action movie bad guy who’s simply villainous for its own sake. His sarcasm and intelligence bounce off of that of Willis perfectly, making for one of the truly great cinematic duos of hero and villain. But that’s not to discredit everyone else by their side, who make do great in what have since become genre archetypes. Cops trying to figure out what’s going on from the outside? We have The Breakfast Club‘s Paul Gleason and Reginald VelJohnson as the Deputy Chief and a bumbling-yet-lovable Sargeant, respectively. How about the menacing right-hand man of our main antagonist? Alexander Godunov covers that basis as Karl. Hell, do we want a snobby reporter making things worse just to have headlines? William Atherton basically reprises Walter Peck from Ghostbusters. As far as technicality goes, the team behind the scenes lend some extra helping hands. Jan de Bont’s fluid camerawork is an antithesis to the shaky, cut-to-shit style of most genre movies in recent years. We see everything that is necessary to know in a scene at any given time. And his use of lighting is damn-near haunting, especially in the second half when the hay really hits the fan. But the real miracle workers here are both John F. Link Frank J. Urioste with their immaculate editing. The precise cuts and movements between smart angles keep the story advancing constantly for the 131-minute runtime. The way it cuts back between the intense shootouts indoors with the red tape-laden politics of the law enforcement outside increases the stakes without ever losing what makes it personal. There are copious amounts of blood, and the two of them never shy away from it or any of its R-rating. And because of these characters and scenarios, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have crafted an absolutely iconic action movie template. If it were to come out today, critics and audiences would label it as unoriginal and watered down. That should give some great context to its impact. Many action movies afterward (Including some of its sequels) mimicked its style. Olympus Has Fallen? Die Hard in the White House. Air Force One? Die Hard on a plane. Escape from New York? Die Hard in a dystopian city. (Okay that one’s pushing it, but you get the point) But unlike almost all of those imitators, there’s almost nothing trite or dumb about this movie. The script is tightly focused on one location, the characters are always given something to do, and there are virtually no gaps in logic. In other words, this movie is pretty much perfect. Following an unpredictable screenplay with fully realized characters and boasting a decades-defining premise, Die Hard is a true genre original with plenty of holiday cheer. It has since become one of my premier traditions this time of year and perhaps my favorite. Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and no one can change that. Yippee-ki-yay to one and all, and to all a good night.

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“Bright” Movie Review

I have come up with the best summary imaginable for this movie: Imagine if the son of Bad Boys became best friends with Harry Potter, spent an entire afternoon vaping some Old Toby in a bong, and then proceeded to binge-play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim before finishing up the night by writing some Warhammer fanfiction. That is probably the best (And most accurate) idea of how this movie came to be. This fantasy action crime thriller from director David Ayer was released on Netflix on December 22nd, 2017. Although the streaming service never reveals their viewership figures, it’s estimated to have been produced for a whopping $90 million. In fact, the media giant purchased the spec script from Max Landis for $3.5 million alone, on top of its big-ticket cast. Having gained traction at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International, this is officially Netflix’ first original blockbuster film. And they’ve even greenlit a sequel already. Starring Will Smith, the story is set in an alternate present-day where humans and various mythical creatures have lived side-by-side forever. Daryl Ward, a tough-as-nails LAPD cop, is partnered up with Nick Jakoby, the world’s first-ever Orc police officer. Though they share social tensions, they must learn to put aside their differences to solve a crime involving a powerful Wand, a lot of corrupt parties, and potentially the end of the world at the hands of some renegade Elves. If you’ve been following my Blog for the past few months, you already know that Netflix has been steam-rolling a seemingly endless supply of original content. Some were smaller indies picked up at film festivals, others were produced by the company from the very beginning. And of the ones I’ve seen this year, I was perhaps most excited to see Bright. Not just because of its great cast of actors but also because I’m a gigantic fan of fantasy stories and was interested to see if Netflix could actually do a blockbuster. So you can conjure up the feeling of disappointment that I was left with after the credits rolled. Sadly, Bright represents two sides of the exact same coin. On the one hand, it’s an answer to the masses begging Hollywood to give more original screenplays a chance to have large budgets and total artistic freedom. But then on the flipside, it also represents the inherent problems which come when a director and writer have virtually no leash holding them back. Netflix can literally do whatever it wants right now. Letting their filmmakers have unprecedented control isn’t a problem for them, but the results are rather dull and, for the most part, uninteresting. It isn’t without compelling lore, but it appears that David Ayer loves bullets more than magic. Will Smith is Will Smith in this movie and there’s no changing that formula. He’s snarky, likable, and never ceases give street-wise commentary on the situation. His Orc partner, meanwhile, is far more noteworthy thanks to Joel Edgerton. Beneath the gruff voice and chipped-off teeth, we see a person who’s caught between two worlds as the LAPD’s “diversity hire.” The supporting cast is filled out with the likes of Edgar Ramirez and Happy Anderson as a secretive Elf and human both working for the FBI; Ike Barinholtz as a quirky corrupt human cop; Brad William Henke as the feisty leader of an underground Orc gang; and Noomi Rapace as the antagonistic dark elf stalking our protagonists. Meanwhile, Lucy Fry isn’t given much to say but less to do as the fearful Elf who sets the whole plot in motion. As a piece of technicality, there are a number of hands who try their best to make it worthwhile. Chief among them is the makeup and hairstyle crew, who go to some lengths exploring this oddball world. Although the designs for the individual species are what you would expect out of a typical film of this genre, for an urban fantasy set in LA, it was pretty nice. The Elves are lush and elegant while the Orcs and Faeries are ugly and unappealing to most people. Edgerton himself was unrecognizable as Jakoby with a skin color that rashed between green and yellow. And while the editing could have definitely used more fine tuning in the action scenes, the color palettes of the various races were interesting. Light blue teal for the Elves, murky grey for the humans and a mixture of everything for everyone else. The soundtrack is composed by David Sardy. While it consists of the big, sweeping orchestras typical for a fantasy epic, it’s entirely forgettable. Instead, the main draw of the soundtrack are the many different tunes from hip-hop or pop artists. This gave it a feeling of reality and placed the audience on the rough streets of LA. There are also heavy rock songs that apparently Orcs love to listen to. In a comical scene, Jakoby turns a death metal song on the radio and refers to it as “one of the greatest love songs ever written.” It was a clever moment that actually produced a good chuckle out of me. But aside from that, most of the worldbuilding consists of boilerplate “Chosen One” prophecies with verbal exposition out the wazoo. Despite the runtime of 117 minutes, Landis really tries to punch in a ton of material, like he’s practically begging to make sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. There’s a great opening title sequence that informs us of the world’s story simply through street graffiti. After that, much of the story, as well as the hamfisted social commentary, is given to us via conversations and monologues. I get where Landis and Ayer were going with the idea of racial discrimination with the placement of Orcs in place of minorities, but it was so obvious. Though it boasts some decent visuals and an interesting setting, Bright traps a fascinating world inside of a generic story. I’m interested to see where they go with a potential sequel on the future, but for now, I wouldn’t really recommend this. Easily the most disappointing film of the year, I hope Netflix takes cues from this reception. Probably not.

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“Mudbound” Movie Review

I’m crazy behind on writing movie reviews. I’ve effectively canceled plans to review The Phantom Menace to get more out there. Let’s start with one of the most triumphant. This historical period drama made a splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival when it premiered to critical acclaim. Following an intense bidding war, Netflix landed the distribution deal at a whopping $12.5 million. It was widely released on the streaming giant on November 17th alongside a limited theatrical run. So if there’s any movie this year that Netflix is gunning for Oscar consideration, it’s going to be this one. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two families- the white McAllans and the black Jacksons -who are forced to live and work together on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. When their two eldest sons Jamie and Henry return from World War II, tensions rise as serious ethical and moral questions are brought up. They must wrestle with poverty, racism, love, and loyalty in a Deep South that doesn’t seem to want either of them. I know what you must be thinking from that short synopsis: This is yet another movie existing solely to make white people feel guilty about their past, yet in the end, lets them know that prejudice is a thing that has long since ended. My friends, please wash that thought out because this film is far more than something so simple as that. I had heard lots of buzz from this picture ever since it premiered back in January. Whispers that Netflix may finally have a major contender for the Academy Awards on their hands. One might easily scoff at that idea, but those whispers were true. Director Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a huge step forward for the service. As you may recall from a previous review, it’s been reported that Netflix is currently $20 billion in debt from all of the original content they’ve been putting out. In fact, there was another report a month or so ago saying that they want to produce and distribute as many as 80 films next year. In my humble opinion, that’s not a good idea for them. If anything, they should become more selective of their library of content. Films like this and Okja have the potential to set them up as one of the great Hollywood studios, and indeed, this film’s Oscar chances may send more filmmakers flocking towards them. The whole cast does a fantastic job here, but this is clearly a show for the matriarchs of the family. Carey Mulligan’s role as the wife Laura defies period stereotypes by being neither a White Savior or a racist plantation wife. Instead, she is a headstrong woman stuck in a household run by masculinity. Mirroring her is singer Mary J. Blige as the concerned Florence Jackson, who easily trumps everyone else in the film. Despite having the best of intentions, her world is constantly swirling as the families clash and reconcile. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell play the two prodigal sons with excellent chemistry. The scenes of their bonding and sharing stories from the War give the audience hope that everything will be okay. The one character who’s not shades of gray is Pappy, played well by Jonathan Banks. A virulent racist, most of the families’ problems stem from him, and I didn’t like watching his scenes. Mudbound isn’t just a showcase of pure acting, as the technical aspects are very accomplished. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography reflects the dirty world the characters have to live in. It’s a rich and down-to-earth aesthetic that perfectly captures the scope of the story. The shots of vast fields and open land are contrasted by the small houses the McAllans and Jacksons are trapped in. There’s also some visceral editing from Mako Kamitsuna with near-perfect cutaways in every instance. Two particular examples standout. The first is when Jamie and Henry are losing friends in combat over at Europe while a Gospel service begins singing heavenly tunes. The other is a disgusting act of violence committed near the end of the film that moves away enough for the viewer to see with their imagination. Both were powerful and unveiled a bigger picture than just this farm. The musical score is composed by artist Tamar-Kali Brown. He manages to bring an Americana voice to this story, fitting since it’s a Southern drama. Most of the tracks mix together sorrowful low strings with a soulful African-American chorus. Some other tunes sound like bits and pieces of rhythm and blues music from the early part of the century were mixed together in a melting pot. Blige also contributes her beautiful voice for an original ballad called “Mighty River” that plays over the ending credits. Much like the message of the film itself, it’s lyrics are clear: we’re not so different from each other. And we need to clean our wounds of the past. Which brings me to the thing binding this film together: hatred. Both of the families have it in them, and even give it out in small doses. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that racism is far from over. Yes, we have come a long way since the days of both slavery and Jim Crow laws were considered societal norms. But Dee Rees understands how deeply rooted and complex of a problem this topic is and even makes a case that may never evaporate from the land of America. That’s not to say that the film is misery porn with no hope for humanity. Instead, it presents the parasite of prejudice as it is, and even ends on a note of love. Although it occasionally feels like there are too many characters at once, Mudbound is a sprawlingly relevant Southern triumph of character and melodrama. It’s one of the most essential films of the year, with a heavily involving story and shaded individuals with humanity to spare. It gives me hope for the future of Netflix originals. Please set aside 2 hours and 15 minutes to watch this movie, and you’ll feel the same way.

“Murder on the Orient Express” Movie Review

Well, that was stylish. This mystery drama has thus far grossed over $148 million at the worldwide box office since it was released on November 10th, 2017. Overall, this new interpretation from director Kenneth Branagh is the 4th adaptation of the highly celebrated novel by Agatha Christie. It’s also reportedly the first installment of a new franchise starring this iconic character if it’s successful enough for 20th Century Fox. Set in the 1930s, the film stars Branagh as the Belgian PI Hercule Poirot, perhaps the greatest detective in the world. On a ride back home on the lavish Orient Express train in Europe, an American tycoon is found slain in the middle of the night. Trapped in the mountains by an avalanche, Poirot must deduce the killer’s identity before the train gets back on track and they can get away. This might be the part where I lose some readers, but I feel like I should lay my cards out on the table before proceeding any further: I don’t much care for Christie’s bibliography. I mean, I have read the eponymous book and remember liking it, but it’s been quite a while since that happened. And I only vaguely remember episodes of the BBC adaptation of the character where he was portrayed masterfully by David Suchet. But aside from that, most of Poirot’s other stories didn’t click with me as they seemed like cold cases with no real stakes involved. However, I was somewhat interested in the prospect of Kenneth Branagh taking on a new adaptation of the novel. After all, he’s a thespian king who directed Henry V, one of my all-time favorites and a very underrated film. And I gotta say, this movie… really wasn’t that impressive. But I’ll give Branagh and Co. credit; they really tried. After all, this is the 4th live-action adaptation of one of the most popular mystery stories ever written. They added a whole new sequence at the beginning which, aside from forced humor that didn’t click with me, did a good job at setting up Poirot’s skills as a genius. Then, as soon as the murder actually happens, the tone completely shifts from lighthearted and jovial to serious and moody. It works to a point, but ultimately feels jarring the more I think about it. Whatever shortcomings the film has, Kenneth Branagh carries the whole film with his own mustache. Brimming with quirky humor and an inimitable level of intelligence, it’s quite a joy to follow this man as we’re solving the case with him. He spouts a majority of the dialogue in quick bursts with ease and never loses the attention of either the suspects or the audience. Meanwhile, he is backed up by a huge supporting cast of great actors and actresses. *deep breath* Johnny Deep, Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Lucy Boynton, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin, Marwan Kenzari, Michelle Pfieffer, and frequent collaborator with the director, Sir Derek Jacobi, all become involved in the central case. But it feels like too many characters to juggle at once without much of an earnest connection to them. Were a couple of them cut out, I don’t think the story as a whole would’ve been hurt. But there’s no denying the film’s technical brilliance. Haris Zambarloukos frames the cinematography in a way that’s almost old-fashioned. (Whenever there isn’t CGI snow) Since the movie mostly consists of Poirot interviewing the suspects, he keeps the viewer interested through unique moves such as overhead view and wide shots. The film ends with a tricky but impressive tracking shot on 65 mm, the same format used for the director’s version of Hamlet, which gives the feeling of this grand scale to the murder. Meanwhile, the editing from Mick Audsley uses great saturation and contrasts of big colors for many scenes. For the lavish looking interior of the train, we get a mixture of red and blue teal. But as Poirot deduces the clues, we see flashbacks in drowned black-and-white, much like an old Hollywood movie. Scottish composer Patrick Doyle creates the musical score for his 10th collaboration with director Kenneth Branagh, and he goes for an interesting route. For the scenes of action or intense investigation, there would be these rousing orchestral beats to bring excitement out of the viewers. For the more quiet, emotionally-driven character moments, he’d move to a soft melody of piano and strings. Often, the flashback scenes are shown without any sound; just narration and the sweet or mellow music to fit the mood. It’s certainly one of the prolific composers better scores recently, if not quite his most memorable one. And for anyone who wants to see this movie but hasn’t read the novel, I won’t spoil the ending here. But for me, it fell kind of flat. It made perfect sense and brought a whole new level of depth the film’s interpretation of justice. But it just didn’t really capture the big picture of its implications. And with all the characters the film attempted to swap in and out, it was kind of hard for me to feel anything really emotional. Again, the ending was fitting for the story and made everything you’ve just watched become more nuanced than initially realized, but screenwriter Michael Green’s approach felt more heavyhanded. Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish but flawed take on a time-worn story. Were this one to come across me on cable later on, I’d give it another go. If for nothing else, it’s a great film that should be saved for a rainy Friday night when you have nothing else to do. This adaptation isn’t without entertainment and even has legitimate merits for a franchise, but it could have been so much more. Oh well.

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“The Silence of the Lambs” Movie Review

Another piece of progressive horror. I like it and want more. This bone-chilling horror thriller from director Jonathan Demme was released on Valentine’s Day in 1991, grossing over 14 times its relatively modest budget of $19 million. It went on to win the Big Five Oscars; Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Wait a minute: A horror movie released in February won a bunch of Oscars the next year? Could this be setting up for Get Out‘s potential success at award season?  Joking aside, the film, which went through a tumultuous pre-production involving the departure of star Gene Hackman, has been included on several “Best Of” lists. The American Film Institute even listed it as having the greatest villain in the history of American cinema. Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, which itself is a sequel to the novel Red Dragon, the story follows Clarice Starling, a young FBI recruit who is tasked with tracking down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. When no leads come up, she turns to the cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter for help on the case. Now with the abduction of a state senator’s daughter, they must race against time to find Bill while learning to open up to each other. This is one of those “classic” films that are extremely difficult to review because of two reasons. 1) So much of it has already been said by other people. 2) I want to review it with objective eyes, blocking out all preceding praise heard of for this movie. I hadn’t even watched the damn picture until earlier in the month. Thankfully, I managed to get my hands on the Blu-Ray while Halloween shopping and waited until I was alone at home in the evening to watch it. And my God… I barely have the words to describe how brilliant and intense this film is. To give you some context, I was watching the movie with a warm blanket wrapped around my person. From the first scene until the end, I held that thing up to my chin as the film built and built and built in its tension and anxiety. I never got up once to go to the bathroom, I never even got up to feed my own dog her dinner. As I became invested in the fascinating characters and the believable dialogue, I realized that Ted Tally’s screenplay completely made this movie into something beyond a disturbing thriller. No, it’s something far more subtle and intricate than that, although that element is really good. It’s really a character study of a group of broken human beings who need each other more than they want to admit. Now while the supporting cast of people like Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, and Anthony Heald all doing great work in their own complex roles, it’s the two leads that really carry the whole thing. I can’t think of a better Clarice Starling other than Jodie Foster. She’s strong-willed, determined, and incredibly smart, yet you can also see how vulnerable she is. But she’s practically dwarfed by her counterpart Sir Anthony Hopkins, who delivers one of the best performances of the 20th century. An astonishing piece of acting and insanely iconic, you can’t help but respect Hannibal the Cannibal’s character, despite being a true psychopath. When describing his own personality, he tells Starling, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”  Not just a plot-focused film, The Silence of the Lambs is also very impressive on a technical scale. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography makes excellent use of close-up shots that add something a little more uncomfortable to the nature of the characters. Thanks to the minimal lighting and rather singular color tones, the scenes feel and look more dreary and lived-in. The way that certain conversations or situations are edited by Craig McKay help to wring out even bigger amounts of tension from the audience. But the movie is smarter than to give a piece of shocking string jolts that are manipulated to be like terror. It sometimes will draw a single take out, leaving you to see when it’s going to cut. A full decade before he brought Middle Earth to life with his Lord of the Rings score, Howard Shore composed the soundtrack for this film. Using a full orchestra, each track creates a foreboding atmosphere that perfectly captures the brutal, all-too-real world the people live in. This made the film far more sinister and unsettling, which is saying something. But this continues a trend which I call “progressive horror,” in that it tackles a real issue through the vein of horror. In this case, it’s a woman proving herself in a male-dominated society. Not only is it her workplace at the FBI where she’s looked down on, but also the field. Her first visit to the mental hospital is marred by rude advances from the head doctor and particularly troubling patients. As more of Clarice’s backstory is gradually revealed through either conversations or flashbacks, we see how much trouble she’s dealt with in the past to now. And now, this psychopath may be her ticket to getting out. But he doesn’t flat out save her. Instead, he gives her just the right tools to break free all by herself and show her superiors, in both work and society, she’s much more badass and powerful than expected. Even on first viewing, I genuinely don’t have any problems with this movie. It’s essentially perfect in most aspects of filmmaking. The Silence of the Lambs is a twisted and ominous look at the duality of sanity and genius, with fantastic performances. Truly genius and taut in every conceivable way, how this led to two sequels, two prequels, and a T.V. series I still don’t understand. The original is destined to be studied for a long time for its contemporary contributions to the genre.

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“Blade Runner 2049” Movie Review

I have been sitting at my desktop for the past two hours trying to come up with the words to describe my feelings toward this film. This sci-fi noir thriller from director Denis Villeneuve opened on October 6th, 2017. Budgeted at about $155 million, the movie has thus far only made back around $82 million in its opening weekend worldwide. Rumors of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic original circled around Hollywood as far back as 1999. In 2015, after Scott stepped down from the directing chair to the position of a producer, it was officially announced that Villeneuve was in charge of directing duties with the new cast filled out soon after. So much like the new Star Wars trilogy, a 35-year-old dream has become a reality. Set 30 years after the events of the original film, a new blade runner named LAPD Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling, discovers a secret that could potentially destroy the remains of human and replicant society. His journey takes him on a path that eventually leads to Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, the star of the original film. When this film came out, press screenings received personal notes from Villeneuve himself to keep spoilers out of their reviews. That is so refreshing to hear in a major studio production. Even though there are some characters and plot points I don’t consider to be spoiler-y, out of respect for the director, I will not discuss the story any further. Instead, I will discuss how genuinely excited yet cautious I was with this sequel. I loved the original by Ridley Scott, especially the Final Cut version. But decades-later follow-ups rarely pay off well, especially for a film that’s so beloved as Blade Runner. But Denis Villeneuve delivered us Arrival, my favorite film from last year and one of the best science-fiction films in recent memory. This 2017 film is even better than that. Starting with the performances, Ryan Gosling once again proves his leading man status as a tormented protagonist. Caught in something of a crossfire, his journey is one of self-discovery as he learns more about the world around him and we get to learn more about his past. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play the primary antagonists this time around and are both great. Leto is a creepy weirdo like he usually is and Hoeks was a downright menacing Terminator-esque hit-woman. Robyn Wright, Lennie James, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi, and Hiam Abbass fill out the supporting cast. The film does a great job at fleshing out everyone who is pertinent to the story, making them all feel like tangible individuals rather than archetypes. Harrison Ford returns to play Rick Deckard after 35 years, and much like his performance in The Force Awakens slips back into the role with ease. A major concern many people had was whether this sequel would ruin the mystery of if he is a human being or not. But thankfully, screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green opt for strong implications rather than overt explanations, allowing us to pick this character back up after decades of absence. Technically speaking, this is the most complete motion picture of the year. Nominated 13 times but never taking home a trophy, the inimitable cinematographer Roger Deakins has crafted his best shot yet at the Oscars. Most of it is taken on-camera and contrasts gorgeous colors with harsh, controlled lighting. Even if it was on a sound stage, it looked incredibly real. And the beautiful, elongated direction of Villeneuve made it all the more compelling, especially with the (sparse) CGI surrounding the sets and characters. I saw this movie in IMAX and I implore you to see this movie on the biggest screen with the loudest speakers possible. The sound design and particularly the musical score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallifisch are glorious to the ears. Replacing Vangelis for the soundtrack, the two of them crafted their own beast while not losing sight of what made the original literally sound great. At least on par with their work on this year’s Dunkirk, the incredible synthesizers mixed with orchestral beats creates an eery, uncertain atmosphere perfect for the world. During some action scenes or moments of intense emotion, the score would practically drown out every other sound. I will definitely be picking this soundtrack up on disc as soon as I can, even for some of the more ambient tracks of introspection. But notice how I said “some” action scenes. Much like the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is much more investigative and concerned with meditating on ideas than putting out scene after scene of nonstop action. That could have been so easy for the studio to do, but this movie takes its time to tell the fascinating story. It’s running at 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and at times, I thought it was something of an epic. The film is definitely slow and deliberate in its pacing, but it’s never once boring. With every frame a painting and such craftsmanship on display, I don’t see how one could hate this movie. And whereas the original had very broad themes to share, this sequel has very specific ideas on its mind. In regards to identity and how prejudice can shape that for you and the consequences of keeping a society in order, it’s all quite relevant with everything happening recently. Wright’s character points out, “The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall you bought a war… or a slaughter.” Arguably better than its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is everything that science-fiction should be, with arresting photography and thoughtful introspection. Everything about it reminds me why I love movies and why I want to someday make one. With this film, Denis Villeneuve has become arguably the best living director of this generation. And I’m excited to see more of his work to come.

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