Category Archives: Historical

“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.

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“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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“Only the Brave” Movie Review

I begin this review with a quote by former Vice President Joe Biden: “All men were created equal. But then a few became firefighters.” That pretty much sums it all up. This biographical drama was released on October 20th, 2017, only grossing $6 million on a $38 million budget in its opening weekend. Despite that, it has received great reviews from critics. Based largely from a GQ article, the film went through a massive shift late in production. Lionsgate all of a sudden dropped their distribution deal and the release date of late September went up in the air. Soon after, Sony and Columbia Pictures picked it up to be released a full month later and changed the title from Granite Mountain to Only the Brave. Co-written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, the true story follows a group of frontline firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Hotshots are a tight-knit group that literally fight fire with fire, holding the line against massive brush fires in various places around the country. This movie is a bit of a dramatization of the members of that squad, examining their own personal lives and how it interconnects with their professional ones. In the last few years, certain filmmakers have given us dramas based on real-life events or tragedies. Peter Berg did that twice last year with Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day which, while not the best ever made by any stretch, were at least very respectful to their subjects. David Gordon Green did that this year with his drama Stronger, and now director Joseph Kosinski gives us Only the Brave. Now his first feature Tron: Legacy is… not a movie I adore. And I haven’t seen his second film Oblivion, but I’m not particularly excited to see it from the trailers and clips I’ve watched. Yet I was very curious to see what he would be able to accomplish in the jump from sci-fi to true-story drama. And I gotta say, he does a pretty nice transition. It could have been so easy to make these Hotshots faceless heroes without any flaws or troubles whatsoever. Biopics are guilty of doing this a lot of times, and it seems like this one might be at first. But Kosinski and his screenwriters understand that each of these people were real human beings with real problems. Relationships, children, money, bad habits, etc. plague these men’s personal lives while they’re working to keep acres of forest safe. Obviously, some are better sketched out than others, but the film never shies away from finding them in their lowest lows. Josh Brolin leads the pack as the Superintendent Eric Marsh and is excellent. His traditional gruff nature and older wisdom is a stark contrast to the cockiness of the men under his command. One scene involves him sharing a dream he had of a bear on fire, saying, “It was the most beautiful and terrible thing I had ever seen in my life.” He’s surrounded by a surprising amount of talent. Particularly standing out from the crowd is Miles Teller as the new recruit. A burnt-out drug addict with a baby on the way, we get to see his redemption in a very convincing way through his experience with these men. James Badger Dale and Taylor Kitsch do great work as Marsh’s right-hand man and wild boy, respectively, while Jennifer Connelly is excellent as Marsh’s wife. She provides an interesting dynamic away from the character’s professional life and at one point berates him for choosing work over her. She can seem kind of bitchy, but she still emits a likability and commitment. Jeff Bridges plays a more modernized version of the character he plays. Like if his character from Hell or High Water shaved his mustache, adopted a cell phone and became a fireman instead of a Texas Ranger. The film is also technically brilliant. When the Hotshots are sent out on a job, there is some noticeable CGI to create massive brush fires. But it also blends seamlessly with real, practical fires, creating a very controlled yet sooty atmosphere. Kosinski excelled at this in Tron: Legacy (perhaps more than anything else in the movie), though I’m curious how it would have played out differently with an R-rating. But the way that Claudio Miranda frames each scene does a great job of illustrating the extreme risks these men take every day. It was almost surreal. In fact, it was kind of exhausting. Joseph Trapanese composes the musical score, and a minimalist one at that. Most of it is centered around synthesized orchestras, and really stays in the background most of the time. But where it’s supposed to hit, it hits with an emotional undercurrent. Meanwhile, country singer Dierks Bentley wrote an original song called “Hold the Light,” which plays out during a montage just before the end credits. It managed to bring back the fact that this really happened and these 20 men were real people. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it was rather powerful. Though admittedly, it did feel heavy-handed and a little bit cheesy. Just a little bit. With amazing visuals and fantastic direction by a first-timer for the genre, Only the Brave is a humane celebration of blue-collared heroism. This is exactly the kind of movie America needs right now. One that shows normal people committing acts of true bravery and banding with those around them, even if they’re hostile.

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“Bone Tomahawk” Movie Review

Who knew that a Western starring Kurt Russell could be so damn brutal? Produced on a modest budget of $1.8 million, this western-horror hybrid premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse Fantastic Fest in September of 2015, before receiving a simultaneous release in theaters and video on demand on October 23rd. This likely led to it only grossing about $232,800 worldwide, despite it’s relatively stacked cast. The film marks the directorial debut of western and crime novelist S. Craig Zahler. He apparently had experience in screenwriting beforehand, but this was the first one under his singular vision. Set somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, the story follows a small town called Bright Hope which is being terrorized by a mysterious tribe of cannibals. After a few townsfolk go missing, Sheriff Franklin Hunt assembles a hunting party to track down the savages and bring their people home. In my search of horror films to review in the time of Halloween, I decided to shake things up a bit and add a little interesting flavor to the mix. We don’t get to see many Westerns anymore, let alone ones that are hybrids of other genres. The latter examples that do exist are mostly just mixed in with sci-fi, but they’re usually terrible like Jonah Hex and Cowboys and Aliens. But I had heard some positive buzz about this little gem as well as the director’s newest film Brawl in Cell Block 99, so I was very curious to see what he could cook up with this particular recipe. And I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it by myself in the middle of the night on Amazon Prime. It is truly disturbing but my God is it entertaining and fun to watch. By far my favorite aspect of Bone Tomahawk was how well-written and believable the dialogue was. Being written by a novelist, Zahler has a clear understanding of how people in this time period talked. The civilized folk uses fancy words while low scumbags speak like they have only a few words in their lexicon. There a few lines that I still remember and think about quoting in casual conversations. It’s that great. A veteran of Westerns like Tombstones and The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell is a perfect fit for the lead role of Sheriff Hunt. With the usually gruff and rugged nature of a Western protagonist, he is a decent man forced into a terrible situation. Richard Jenkins plays his backup deputy perfectly, proving yet again why’s such a great character actor. Being the eldest member of the party, his wisdom is very welcome in the darkest of moments. One particular monologue he gives about his past at a flea circus is one bit of levity audiences will need. Patrick Wilson plays an understated foreman with a broken leg, desperate to save his wife, Lili Simmons, from these monsters. Lastly, former Lost star Matthew Fox is surprisingly excellent as John Brooder, a gentleman with an ego looking for an opportunity to boost. Although some of the things he says and does make him seem unlikable, we grow a certain admiration for him, thanks in no small part to his charisma and looks. The technical aspects of it all are fairly impressive as well, given its modest budget. The cinematography by Benji Bakishi chooses to mute certain colors to make the film look more desolate. It captures all of the action in wide shots, especially because of the Roger Deakins-esque use of lighting. And while it’s edited very well and precise by Greg D’Auria and Fred Raskin, it sure does takes its sweet time with some long takes. But the costumes and sets are all authentic, truly capturing a lived-in environment of a time long gone. Each of the actors seems comfortable in their outfits and seeing them riding through the desert landscape on horseback is pretty enticing. Alongside Jeff Herriot, Zahler himself composes the musical score, which is very sparse. In fact, to my knowledge, there are only 3 or 4 separate tracks in the entire movie, only used when needed. It’s mostly just a background compilation of moody violins and off-kilter percussion that really sell the vibe of the story. Most surprisingly, the two of them are pretty unsentimental in the music department, but still, keep the viewer engaged in a thoroughly oppressive atmosphere. Did I mention that this movie is brutal? That would be an inappropriate word to accurately describe the whole experience. Synonyms such as dirty, harsh, unforgiving, cold, gross, horrifying, and vile could also potentially work. It is by far the most violent Western I have ever seen and that’s because you really grow to hate the villains. They are cannibals without any compassion who do utterly repulsive things to our heroes. There is one scene near the end of the movie which is truly, unimaginably evil. I’m glad I didn’t eat anything beforehand, and I’m curious to show it to friends and family who haven’t seen it yet. I won’t spoil it just in case, but if you had seen my face when it happened…*shudders* Although its slower pace and unusual genre blend won’t be for everyone, Bone Tomahawk is a bold fusion of stark genres that’s utterly remorseless yet captivating. Despite its graphic content and harsh tone, you can’t help but hope for these characters no matter what. Featuring one of the most climactic endings to any Western I’ve seen, don’t let it slip by on Halloween season. It’s not for those seeking something completely tame in content, but maybe give it a shot.

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“Pan’s Labyrinth” Movie Review

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

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“Beauty and the Beast” Movie Review

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

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“Atomic Blonde” Movie Review

So, many people will probably tell you that this movie is a cross between Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and a female version of John Wick. I, for one, beg to differ. It’s a female version of John Wick crossed with Cold War-era The Usual Suspects… kind of. This neo-noir spy thriller from director/stuntman David Leitch first made waves at the South by Southwest film festival in March of 2017. After its wide release on July 28, it earned back over $45 million against a $30 million budget. The film was bought before its source material was even published and was meticulously put together over time. Based on the one-shot graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 operative in 1989. After a fellow agent/lover is cold-heartedly killed, she is assigned to find the killer who has a list of many other double agents smuggled into the West. Now she is sent to Berlin on the eve of when the Berlin Wall was torn down and gets entangled in a web of lies, spies, assassins, and murder. If the plot sounds like any spy thriller that you’ve seen before… that’s because you’d be right. I’ve always been optimistic about international spy thrillers, being a fan of films like The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Bourne Ultimatum, and the Mission Impossible and James Bond franchises. They often tend to be the same, but it’s typically both the style and the characters that keep them separated in my mind. Atomic Blonde definitely succeeds on a level of pure style, but its story and characters leave something to be desired. The style itself feels like a mixture of 80’s action with the slick production merits of modern filmmaking. The credits are shown through an old-fashioned computer screen and some of the graphics are shown through spray-poainting. Pretty much its own way of saying, “Look how different we’re trying to make this.” Most of the same technical crew behind the John Wick series are returning here and much of their talent is reused here to pretty good effect. Jonathan Sela’s cinematography uses many of the same color pallets and cues from before and uses them here. Seriously, this guy loves the contrast between blue and red, especially in the scenes of both Broughton’s apartment and various German clubs she attends. And yet again, it flows nicely with the editing job of Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir in many of the action scenes. The most talked-about sequence is a long and grueling fight in a hotel staircase. In a single 9-minute take, we follow Broughton from the top of the stairwell through two rooms, the lobby, a car, and the open streets of Berlin. It was a brutal and fast moment that kept me gripping my shirt (My seat was already gripped by someone else) and shocked at how they did it. Charlize Theron completely owns her role, officially cementing herself as one of the biggest female badasses of the decade. Although not as cool as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, her character is relatively interesting and keeps you guessing as to her true motive for everything. Apparently instrumental in getting this movie made, it’s also worth noting that she did all of her stunts and even chipped a tooth during filming. James MacAvoy is devilishly charming as her handler David Percival, a lustful con of a spy moving from West to East Berlin on a daily basis. His profane nature and mystery is a great departure from his role of Professor X in the new Xmen films. Sofia Boutella is becoming one of the fastest growing stars in Hollywood, and it’s clear to see why in her small but semi-essential role here. Her French accent and physique already make her attractive, but the way she delivers her lines is great. John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, and Bill Skarsgard round the supporting cast, and some shine more than others. Another thing worth noting is that Leitch clearly knew what to do about the music for this film. Even though Tyler Bates provides the original score, it’s completely overshadowed by the soundtrack of 80’s songs. From George Michael to the synthesized years of Queen to even some David Bowie, it was said that the director had requested a certain list of songs be used in the film, and roughly 75% of his ideas made it through. The film opens with a relatively tense scene set the beat of HEALTH’s cover of “Blue Monday,” which worked to establish the tough but fun tone. What weighs the film down is the execution of the story. As I said earlier, its plot is pretty much a retread of other spy films, specifically Mission Impossible from 1996. That would be fine, if safe, but much of the story is unfolding through a flashback inside an interrogation as Broughton is explaining the previous 10 days to her superiors. At that point, it felt like it wanted to be like Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, even throwing in a big whammy twist at the end for good measure. But the problem is that it twists itself into a messy bow and did it simply for the sake of providing a twist to keep people guessing. Say what you want about The Usual Suspects, at least it tried to satisfy us with a reveal that made sense and brought everything together. Oh yeah, and there’s a lesbian subplot. So? How did that help the movie overall? It didn’t make it any less tough to follow. Here, the story started out good but soon took a few too many turns for its own good. Atomic Blonde boasts some outstanding style and a badass hero but lacks much staying power. You’d probably be better renting this one. You don’t necessarily NEED to see this film, but if you do I’m sure you’ll have fun with it.

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