Category Archives: Emotional

“To the Bone” Movie Review

Damn it, Netflix. You’re $20 billion in debt currently, yet you continue to purchase and distribute original content to us. If you would slow down and give us quality like this, maybe you would be financially better. Oh well. This R-rated independent drama made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the official competition. Shortly after its premiere, the online streaming giant Netflix acquired the distribution rights, one of many purchases at the event. Written and directed by Marti Noxon, the film is believed to have been inspired by her early battles with eating disorders. The story focuses on a young woman named Ellen who is struggling with severe anorexia, meaning she can’t eat food and she wants to vomit at the mere sight of food. Having run out of options, her family arranges for her to meet an unconventional specialist Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. This specialist, refusing to let her give in, moves her into a house with other patients determined to fight their condition. So earlier this year, Netflix released the original teen drama series 13 Reasons Why. Many people loved it, but I saw it as a manipulative, insulting, and sometimes disgusting interpretation of its incredibly sensitive subject matter. It took the nature of teenage suicide and tried to make it into something intriguing and sexy, neither of which did any victims any justice. Because of that, I clicked “Play” on both this and the new series Atypical (Which may end up being a review soon) with serious hesitation. Would it take a taboo subject like eating disorders seriously or try to pander to the lowest common denominator? Thankfully, To the Bone falls into the former category. Lily Collins is an absolute revelation in the lead role as Ellen. Losing so much weight for the role, her character’s a complete wisecracking cynic. If they had gotten someone else for the part, she would have just come off as unlikable and insufferable. Thankfully, Collins’ subtlety and sharp tongue make a person we can understand and side with, even in her lowest moments. Alex Sharp plays one of the other patients, a ballet dancer who struggled to eat after breaking his knee. Despite his extreme optimism towards the other house members, you can tell that he mentally tortured himself and wants to better. Although he came off as a bit annoying at times, he really grew on me over time. Keanu Reeves, meanwhile, gives a performance totally unlike any previously in his action-heavy career. An uncompromising doctor with a fundamental sense of optimism, he at one point encourages Ellen to find the dispiriting voice inside her head and tell it “Fuck off voice.” His lines are the only bits of levity and balance in this film, delivered only the way Reeves could do it. That’s a relief because this movie is not a fun time by any stretch of your imagination. This is an absolutely bleak, mature, and sometimes disturbing portrayal of eating disorders, and refuses to pull any punches. Some critics have labeled To the Bone as corny or misguided in its approach to the subject matter. As a person who has actually met people with eating disorders, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this movie is not corny at all. In fact, it accurately portrays not just how Ellen reacts to her own sickness, but how her loved ones deal with it, and the results aren’t always easy to watch. Let’s talk a bit regarding the technical side of everything. Cinematographer Richard Wong frames the picture with precision and focus, often giving us wide takes of the dinner table or at group meetings. It allows for us to have a good view of everyone involved. My favorite scene in the entire movie came when the Beckham and patients visited an underground waterfall with a small natural light at the side. It was a gorgeously shot and directed moment that gave the characters a glimmer of hope. It also went down to the song “Water” by Jack Garrat, and witnessing Sharp’s dance moves to it was perhaps the one part of the movie that made me smile. Lili Taylor is an extremely underrated actress, having proven her worth on the excellent show Six Feet Under. In this movie, she plays Ellen’s biological mother, who hasn’t been a major part of her life for quite some time. She tries to offer her support to her, culminating in a beautiful scene near the end of the film. On paper, it would sound kind of dumb and awkward, but the way it’s executed completely floored me. In fact, would dare say that it is one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of the entire year. I will say, I don’t think I could ever watch it again. As relevant and well-made as it is, I feel it was too powerful an experience to have more than once. Also, some things that happen late in the film feel a bit tacked on and forced, almost like they could have been left on the cutting room floor. I don’t consider this movie to be perfect by any means. Even so, To the Bone is an unflinching yet empathetic look at a highly undervalued problem. The writing is already great, but it’s the performances of Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves that make it what it is. Be warned of how challenging it can be for those with a weak stomach.

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“The Big Sick” Movie Review

Oh, come on. If I met someone as awesome and adorable as Emily, would I abandon my family and traditional ways of life just for her? You betcha. Produced by comedy legend Judd Apatow, this romantic comedy premiered to great reviews and accolades at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival before Amazon released it on June 23rd, 2017. It has earned back $25 million at the box office and rankings among several best-of-the-year lists by critics already. The R-rated story stars Kumail Nanjiani as a caricatured version of himself in a script that was co-written by him and his wife Emily V. Gordon. He’s a struggling stand-up comedian who is taken with a young white girl in Chicago. Coming from a conservative Pakistani family, he has to lie to them in order to keep them happy and also deal with tough love when Emily is put into a coma. Now he has to interact with Emily’s parents and wrestles with what he actually wants to do with his life. The romantic comedy has always been something of a hit or miss for me. For every 500 Days of Summer, we also get a stinker starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. If there were one genre in film that could be categorized as being the “easiest,” then I guess rom coms would probably take the cake. That being said, I am always willing to branch out and try new things, and in the case of The Big Sick, all of the advertisements promised me that it would be different. Thank God I listened. Previously best known for the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, Nanjiani is a wonderful discovery in this movie. He has a tender and wholesome presence that is punctuated by a rib-cracking sense of humor. He was funnier than Bo Burnham in this movie, which says something. One of his funniest moments is when he describes to an open-mic audience the “hierarchy” of jobs in Pakistan, with doctors at the top and comedian at the bottom- even below ISIS. Zoe Kazan is great as Emily, sharing great chemistry with her co-star and a strong personality. I mean really, anyone would ditch their loved ones just to spend time with her. Surprisingly, though, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter shine as Emily’s parents in their best roles in years. The only thing either of these two has done of note in the last 15 years were fun stints in animation; Hunter in The Incredibles and Romano in Ice Age, respectively. But here they give great performances as the parents, capturing the realism of a moment like this. In fact, I think it would be a fair bet to say that Romano qualifies for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. As far as technicality goes, there’s not much to say here. The soundtrack is filled with contemporary songs that feel appropriate to the moment. And some of Michael Andrews’ minimal score is fitting for some of the more emotional moments in the hospital. Most of it is just a bit of ambient strings and synthesizers. But what made me feel a bit warm inside was that the bits centered around the comedy club Kumail spends his nights at really felt real. Just the way the cinematography was shot and the atmosphere and even some of the hilarious routines made it feel as though I were sitting at a table watching an open-mic night. Kevin Hart tried to do this last year with the theatrical release of What Now? but it just came off as tacked on and commercialized. Here, director Michael Showalter uses those moments to help build characters and their quirky personalities. Where the film peaks, though, is the second act of the story when Emily gets sick and sent to the hospital. Normally, a romantic comedy, no matter how enjoyable or subversive it may seem, will ultimately subject to a formulaic structure that we’re all used to seeing. Guy and Girl meet for the first time, Guy and Girl hit it off, Guy and Girl have a nasty emotional fight, but in the end Guy and Girl get back together and live happily ever after. And this being a Judd Apatow production, it certainly seems like that’s how it’s going to go down. But the second act of The Big Sick dumps that structure down the drain and offers something highly original. It shifts the focus of Emily and Kumail over to Kumail and Emily’s parents and his parents as well. Even in 2017, cross-cultural relationships are still considered controversial, no matter how progressive your home may proclaim itself to be. Ever since 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, many auteurs of cinema have been trying to push the idea of interracial couples into the mind of the modern population. Even 2017’s Get Out had a similar sentiment on this issue, though that film had a bit of a more out-there premise that shook its head at realism. But even still, this film touches on that concept rather brilliantly. Kumail comes from a Pakistani from, a people who have the unfortunate distinction in America of heralding from the Middle East. While there are terrorist jokes abound in here, it mostly focuses on his unconventional home life. Arranged marriage is a common practice and you can’t argue against your family’s way of life. You have to become a doctor or a lawyer, and if you fail, you’ll be thrown out of the family and have all contact cut off from you. That’s tough. It’s not strictly speaking the best movie of the year, but The Big Sick is certainly the most original romantic comedy in years and one that packs some great laughs. It’s funny, relevant, different, and filled with some nice feel-good moments. What more could you want?

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“War for the Planet of the Apes” Movie Review

Isn’t it just the weirdest thing to be rooting against your own species in a conflict for the future of our planet? Is no one else feeling that right now? Just me? Okay. This science-fiction action drama was released worldwide on July 14th, 2017, earning back its large $150 million budget in no time. The third and (supposedly) final entry in the rebooted franchise and the ninth overall entry of the series that began all the way back in 1968 with Charleton Heston, Matt Reeves returns to direct this picture after his outing with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3 years ago. Two years after the events of Dawn, the highly intelligent and respected ape Caesar leads his people into a new conflict with the surviving humans. When a ruthless Colonel McCullough shatters his doorstep and threatens everything he’s built, Caesar must wrestle with protecting his people, controlling his darker self, and seeing a way for the future to hold hope… for either species. I vividly remember seeing the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thinking that it was going to be a piece of crap blockbuster that happened to star James Franco. To the universe, I was wrong and so I apologize. And then in 2014, a mere month or so after I began my blog, I was blown away by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, one of the few sequels that manage to outshine the original in almost all departments. So naturally, I was very excited to see what would happen with War, once again directed by Reeves. But I clearly didn’t know what to prepare for because when it was over, so many people walked out of the theater speechless. And after pondering on it for a few days, I’m ready to share my thoughts: go see and support this movie right now. The thing that the original film from 1968 was most famous for, aside from its iconic twist ending, was the convincing and groundbreaking prosthetic makeup. On a similar note, the reboot series has been famous for its astounding and realistic motion-capture photography. For those unaware, motion-capture is when an actor or actress is covered in computer animation but their voice, movements, and emotive responses are all their own. The results can be hit or miss, but whenever Andy Serkis is involved, it is almost instantly the former. The apes in this movie may just be the best motion-capture work I’ve ever seen in a feature film. At a point, I actually thought that the production crew had brought real apes on board to film the various scenes. Not only that but the environments of the San Francisco Red Forest and snowy winter terrain of a base look gorgeous with or without CGI, thanks to cinematographer Michael Seresin. Andy Serkis returns for the third time as the ape Caesar and gives perhaps his best performance to date. The man revolutionized how acting could be seen with the lens, with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings being arguably his most famous work still. But here, he gives Caesar a few tragic dimensions that just make you respect and understand him. He never asked for this war, hell, he didn’t even ask to be the leader of the apes. But he’s been thrown into this situation and has to deal with it and face his past demons, including the traitorous Koba. Comedian Steve Zahn joins the simians as Bad Ape, a hermit from a zoo in California. Putting a character as comic relief in a film like this was a huge risk and could have easily become a gimmicky misfire. But it paid off, and it got some genuine laughs out of the audience. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson is appropriately villainous and unstable as the Colonel, almost the complete opposite from his character in Zombieland. During one lengthy monolog scene, (The ONLY ONE in the entire movie) he gives an emotionally distant story concerning his son and the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to save humanity from extinction. The increasingly prolific Michael Giacchino composes his 6th film score in just over 12 months. And yet, this might be one of his best, next to The Incredibles and Up. Several of the tracks seem to pay homage to legends like Ennio Morricone, mostly consisting of mellow piano and strings and a haunting choir. The opening titles even feature an inventive all-drums version of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, establishing the truly bananas feeling of everything. But it also allows certain scenes to breathe with long takes of verbal silence and sign language between the apes elevated by faint piano melodies driving the characters. I do feel the need to give the disclaimer that, despite its title, War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action movie. While it does open up with a fantastic sequence in the woods and some other moments that occur later on, this is a bleak and mature exploration of dark themes. The necessity and desire for violence, torture, obligations to your species versus obligations to your loved ones, prejudice and hatred. Never flinching and sometimes hard to watch, the film pulls zero punches in regards to subject matter like this. And the characters almost never get the easy way out in the story. But because this is the end of a trilogy, you have to watch Rise and Dawn in order first since jumping right in wouldn’t give you that emotional oomph. And that oomph hits hard and moved me almost to tears. It’s extremely rare for a franchise to move through nine films and have a rebooted trilogy. Even rarer is for that one to be the best out of all of them. But War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best final installments ever and a deeply, emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the best trilogies in recent memory. Up there with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Bourne Ultimatum.

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“Inception” Movie Review

Ever wondered what it would be like if a traditional Hollywood blockbuster were to be combined with avant-garde or art-house movies? This movie should hopefully satisfy your search. Christopher Nolan’s complex science-fiction heist thriller debuted in late July of 2010, earning excellent reviews and over $825 million worldwide. This was probably due to the serious lack of entertaining movies that summer. The script, initially a treatment for a horror film, floated and developed around the film industry as early as 2002, with many tweaks and adjustments added over the years. The plot centers on Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a thief who specializes in corporate espionage of the mind. He and his associates use advanced technology to enter the subconscious of their targets to extract an idea and give it to whoever hired them. But now, in order to clear his criminal record and return home to his family, Cobb must perform “inception”; going deep into the subconscious to plant an idea in someone’s brain. That already sounds like a mouthful, but trust me. The story is much thicker and more nuanced than that. And while I’m honestly tempted to spend this whole post explaining every nook and cranny of this film’s lore, I’ll just skip right ahead and tell something you should have already guessed. Inception is a brilliant, downright amazing movie that every film fan should see. In fact, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe that this film is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. You could argue for days on Memento or The Dark Knight, and both are fantastic in their own right. But those films were based on pre-existing material, Memento being a short story written by his brother Jonathan and The Dark Knight an adaptation of the DC Comics character. This, however, is a wholly original film with no ties to any other franchise materials and only takes mere influences from previous classics of the genre. That is SO rare in Hollywood; if you can make a big-budget feature as original as Inception, consider yourself having taken the right path. Leonardo DiCaprio leads an all-star cast with some fine charisma and physicality. But he brings even more to the dramatic scenes, where his past life is slowly revealed. Like Nolan’s previous protagonists, this is an emotionally tormented man who struggles to move on from his past, which is almost suffocating him. The ensemble cast includes A-List talent such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page as the vocal reminders for Cobb to retain his humanity, Michael Caine as yet another elderly mentor, Ken Watanabe as the benefactor of this entire heist, Cillian Murphy and Peter Postlewaite as the targets of the mental infiltration, and Marion Cotillard as Cobb’s mysterious deceased wife obsessed with haunting him on the job. But let’s be real; the real show-stealer, here, is Tom Hardy as Eames. The British man is a straight-up action hero in this film and his lines of dialogue provided some great moments of humor. That being said, much of the dialogue early on is reserved almost exclusively for exposition. For the first half, practically everything to know about this universe is told to us through character interactions. It doesn’t quite feel forced, but it does require the audience to pay close attention to everything that is spoken. It can almost be exhausting. But in the latter half, as we now understand almost everything about the movie, it truly reveals itself as a slick mix of both heist crime thriller and science-fiction spectacle. The incredible production design and editing by Lee Smith create dreams that are both very elaborate and yet still grounded and believable. One of the most thrilling sequences in the whole movie comes when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fighting antagonistic projections in a hallway that keeps on turning and changing gravity. There’s no CGI or greenscreen whatsoever in this segment, hell not even wires. Instead, it was on an actual rotating set that took nearly two weeks to film. And several more of the action scenes are extremely well thought out and mix gritty realism with creativity. You want to get a large gun in the middle of a shootout? All it takes is your imagination. Hans Zimmer composes the music for Inception as part of the third collaboration between him and the director. Robbed of an Academy Award, the score is a unique mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds. Many of the tracks feature a steady guitar, reminiscent of the films of Ennio Morricone. The final track “Time,” in particular, is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of film score ever written, perfectly capturing a balance between heartbreak and nostalgia. And then there’s that ending. Holy crap, THAT ENDING. One of the most ambiguous final scenes in recent cinema, up there with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. I refuse to discuss it and spoil it on the off-chance that you haven’t seen this movie. But keeping it vague, it uses a certain device in the plot that we are familiar with by that point and leaves off on a big tease if ever I’ve seen one. Even though it’s been nearly 7 years since the movie was released, this ending is still intensely debated among film buffs to this day, with some creating their own alternative fan theories explaining everything. I don’t mean to disarm you with this, though. Inception is a stimulating labyrinth of ideas and action that is startlingly original and captivating. Touching on some existential and philosophical themes, this is a modern classic, one of my all-time favorites, and the best movie this decade has offered so far. You have to see it to believe it.

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“There Will Be Blood” Movie Review

So recently, actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was done with the film industry and will spend the rest of his life in private with his family. I absolutely respect this decision of his, but please don’t actually give up acting. You’re amazing at it. This epic historical drama was released during the height of award season in 2007, garnering more critical and commercial success than most independent films. Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern classic also earned 8 Academy Award nominations and is considered by many critics film scholars to be one of the best films from the 2000’s. Based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, we follow Daniel Plainview, a man in the San Fernando Valley who begins exploiting the rich amount of oil beneath the surface of the land. As the R-rated narrative moves from the late 19th into the early 20th century, his lust for more of this resource grows and grows, even when some meager competition gets in the way. But he won’t let them compromise anything for him. Many of Anderson’s trademark filmmaking styles are present here, as well as some differentiations. He directs the drama beautifully and confidently, as most of the cast seems to be made up of actors or actresses who know what they’re doing. And as good as Boogie Nights and Magnolia were, I would say that not only is this his most accessible film to date, but also his best. And this is coming from someone who enjoyed both Magnolia and Boogie Nights immensely. At the forefront of everything in this film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance, which may just be one of the best ever put to celluloid. Masterful and wholesome in every sense, his character is an interesting one. Plainview is someone you should normally hate but can’t help understand and want to see him succeed in his endeavors. When remarking on his ruthlessness and cunning intellect, he remarks to a comrade, “I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.” It’s no surprise that P.T. Anderson had written the part specifically with him in mind. In a duel role, the underrated but versatile Paul Dano plays two brothers both seeking a profit off the main protagonist’s petroleum ventures. One’s a carful-minded pragmatist wishing to benefit just for the sake of it, another is a devout pastor desperate to keep preaching his beliefs by acquiring the funds necessary to do so. Even as far as religious fanatics go, this guy was borderline unlikable. Note: The fact that Eli was this awful possibly made Daniel Plainview even more of a likable character than he had any right to be. But there are some that believe that without Day-Lewis’ phenomenal performance, the rest of the movie isn’t that good. I respectfully disagree, as there is enough brilliance behind the camera to match what is happening onscreen. Very few movies of the 21st century have attained the amount of technical mastery that Paul Thomas Anderson assembles here. One of the most notable attributes of There Will Be Blood is that of the cinematography by Robert Elswitt, which also nabbed an Academy Award. Many intimate conversations are characterized by focused close-up shots of the character most pivotal in that scenario. Even when someone else is talking, the camera refuses to cut or pan away from the primary subject, allowing us to get a better sense of closeness to these individuals. These harsh close-ups are contrasted by anamorphic wide shots of the gorgeous and vast frontier waiting to be dried up of oil. One of the most memorable sequences occurs near the end of the first act when Plainview discovers a whole ocean worth of oil beneath one of his large mines. As it continues to erupt from the late afternoon into the dark evening, a fire is lit near the top of it all. You see him as well as all of his employees drenched in black oil and soot as well as a beautiful coloring of orange firelight. Meanwhile, former Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes the musical score for this film, making this the first in five movies he has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson. Although it uses a lot of preexisting material, there is still quite a bit of new stuff to gouge down on. Often it’s just little bits of ambient strings that heighten the tension of a scene or when various percussion instruments are banged together in a cacophonic manner that is as raucous as it is poetic. In the vein of all his other work, though, There Will Be Blood is much more than just an excuse for Anderson to direct someone in a way that might earn them an Oscar. Much like a strip of barren land in Southern California, there is a lot of precious stuff to appreciate and dig for underneath the surface. In this case, we see the ideas of American capitalism and natural greed deconstructed to their very cores. During this period, some Americans had idolized Titans in this industry such as John D. Rockefeller. But this film does its very best to illustrate that these “heroes” at the turn of the century were anything but considerate, let alone worth idolizing. With Daniel Plainview’s ambitions and lust for wealth growing ever so much, he becomes more disconnected from everyone around him, thus making him more ruthless and dangerous. Similarly, Eli is so dead-set on acquiring this oil that he uses any justification, including and especially religion, to get it. There Will Be Blood is a believable meditation on greed with one stunning performance at the center of it all. It’s a damn shame that Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting because there really is no other thespian like him in the industry. May he enjoy his days in peace.

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“The Prestige” Movie Review

Thought it would make sense to review some of Christopher Nolan’s best films in preparation for Dunkirk this July. I’ve already done Interstellar, though, I’m tempted to do an update. You can expect the Dark Knight Trilogy to show up soon, as well as Inception, but let’s begin with one of his more overlooked projects. This magic-based mystery thriller was able to triple its $40 million budget after its premiere October of 2006. Released just after Batman Begins, it also marks a rare time when Nolan adapted a pre-existing material, as it was based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Set in 1890’s London, the incredibly complex story follows two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, who compete with each other to create the greatest stage illusion imaginable. Their game of one-upmanship turns into a series of tragedies. Of course, this being a film by Christopher Nolan, the PG-13 rated plot is much more involved and layered than that, and some really mind-bending stuff happens. Hugh Jackman is the real star of this film as Robert Angier, with all the charisma and showmanship that most real-life magicians lack. The things that happen to him are very sad and damaging. And as he goes down the path of competition, he begins to lose sight of what got him on that path to start. Continuing their relationship with the director, Michael Caine and Christian Bale are fabulous in their roles. Unlike many of his other films, Bale is actually allowed to retain his British accent, which added more heft to his emotional punch. Caine, meanwhile, plays a disconnected mentor who essentially works as a mediator between the two magicians. His wisdom is reminiscent of Alfred Pennyworth from the Dark Knight Trilogy, as he seems to be the one person who wants both of these men to settle their feud. The strong supporting cast includes Scarlett Johannson, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Ricky Jay, a rare live-action stint from Andy Serkis, and the late musician David Bowie. Bowie is particularly enigmatic as a man with many secrets on how to make a show even more dazzling than it already is. But he doesn’t use magic, he uses science. To go any further into any of these actors’ characters would spoil the plot. One of the things Nolan is known for is how all of his films are not what they initially appear to be. For example, his first directorial outing Following looked like a cheap student film, (And it kind of was) but turned out to be a focused and engaging mystery thriller. With The Prestige, he crafts a compelling narrative out of a subject that shouldn’t be that interesting; stage magicians. Through his trademark storytelling techniques, the story doesn’t initially progress in chronological order and jumps around in time. This makes the film even more intriguing and keeps the audience guessing from start to finish. Another trademark of Nolan’s is how practical and technically brilliant his films are. The production and costume designs are all top-notch and help it feel like a gritty and lived-in 1890’s London. When Borden or Angiers are on-stage, it feels as if we are actually watching a magic show unfold before our eyes. And the visuals are nice as well. In one scene, Angiers is standing in the middle of a snowy ridge when all of a sudden, these fluorescent lights come out. It added more beauty, atmosphere, and mystique to the 130 minute-long picture, topped by Wally Pfister’s surreal camera work. As pretty much the last film before Nolan’s long-term collaboration with Hans Zimmer, the musical score in The Prestige is provided by David Julyan. It is often consisting of eery synthesizers building up in a crescendo, punctuated by a shocking set of strings in revealing moments. And there are many. Holy mother of God, there are revealing moments. Like a traditional magic show, the film is broken up into three intertwined acts. The first two are impressive feats of visual flair and emotionally engaging performances. But in the final act, a jaw-dropping plot twist is thrown in to pull the rug from underneath the audience in a way that is both shocking and brilliantly believable. Were you watching closely? I was, and it worked. Without giving away anything, the twist also brought to light the philosophical themes hidden just beneath the crust. Because these two characters are neck-and-neck, they often give in to their inner ambitions and obsession. That obession to become the greatest at their profession leads to many bad outcomes and ultimately makes them less humane. To put it in the words of David Bowie’s character, “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie; man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” If you love the type of movies that make you think about the story and maybe even tempt you to watch it again to make sure you didn’t miss anything, you need not look any further than The Prestige. It blends seamless production and technical merits and fantastic performance with breathtaking precision. This is a very underrated piece of humanistic filmmaking that deserves all the recognition as Christopher Nolan’s other endeavors have endured.

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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Movie Review

And this is how to make a movie that is truly deserving of Best Picture. This provocative drama from director Milos Forman and producer Michael Douglas was released by United Artists on November 9th, 1975, earning back over $100 million on a small budget of $4.4 million total. Today, it is rated as the 16th greatest movie of all time on IMDb and listed as one of the late Roger Ebert’s favorite films. Based on the controversial novel by Ken Kesey- who apparently hated the finished product –One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest recounts the story of Randle McMurphy, an ex-con who transfers to a mental hospital in order to avoid more jail time. Once there, he falls into a trance when he’s introduced to a system where patients are heavily medicated, physically abused, and treated with almost no empathy. He begins to encourage the suppressed patients to fight back against Nurse Ratched’s tyrannical, bullying rule. Recently, I read the book this film was based on as part of a course examining the most challenged novels in American literature. And yes, there are many moments where artistic license is taken with the source material by screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, particularly of the point-of-view with the story. But I’m not here to nitpick the differences in the adaptation, I’m here to dissect this simply as a movie on its own. And on its own, this has to be one of the best pictures released in the 1970’s. In the performance that launched his storied career, Jack Nicholson is absolutely electrifying as Randle McMurphy. This basically set the groundwork for all of his crazy roles to follow, from the Joker to Frank Costello. But none were as memorable or arguably as likable as his work in this film. Slightly older than him, Louise Fletcher is completely heartless and uncaring as Nurse Ratched. Male or female, she has to be one of the most despicable characters in film history. Her rule emulates that of any infamous world dictator, manipulating every patient and staff member with careful words. The film also features early roles from Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and an Oscar-nominated performance from Brad Dourif as a stuttering man-child. Will Sampson as Chief Bromden, the narrator of the original book, is also worth noting. His captivating portrayal of a deaf-mute is a unique depiction of modern Native Americans and remains one of the most memorable fictional ones on the celluloid. Although sparsely present, what there is of Jack Nitzche’s score is beautiful. The film opens and ends on the same track with steady percussion and a high voice, punctuated by goosebump-inducing strings. It’s the kind of soundtrack that gives one hope for their lives and makes you want to live life to the fullest; the primary theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The camera work by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler is rather dry. Often the action will be shown in short cuts of editing. Other times it will keep on one shot to emulate the feeling that we truly are inside this mental hospital. Such a moment occurs late in the picture when after a large celebration, the camera focuses in on Randle. He’s not partying, not monologuing about his past. Just a static shot of him drinking a beer while sitting down, silently smiling at his accomplishments. It is this silent simplicity that helps give this film its advantage and likability. But that doesn’t mean that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is always fun and lighthearted. There are some moments that are so powerful that you can hardly finish. The actors and extras did a supreme job at making the environment as realistic as possible. But the portrayal of mental illness, and of the authority that tries to exploit it, is so raw and unpretentious that it sometimes borders on hard-to-watch. From challenged patients who refuse to take their medication to electroshock therapy for those who resist, the movie pulls almost no punches. Which is probably why it went on to win the Big Five Oscars. These were Academy Awards for Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. One of the rarest feats in the Academy’s history, to win all of these categories in one night is a truly astonishing achievement. And this is a film that really did earn all of it. It also has an ending that can make you feel teary-eyed from both sadness and joy. All I can say is that you will have the feel the feeling of you were graduating. With unforgettable characters, realistic dialogue, fantastic performances and a great sense of dark optimism, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an uncompromising and captivating look at standing up to your oppressors. It may not quite be perfect as a whole, but the smaller moments are the ones that truly make it what it is. It is hard to watch sometimes and to rewatch but it’s absolutely worth it to get a better understanding of mental illness and the will to survive in the face of adversity.

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