Category Archives: Historical

“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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“Dunkirk” Movie Review

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

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“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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“Wonder Woman” Movie Review

Sometimes, movies can teach its audience a valuable lesson. The lesson I took away from this one? Never question a woman when she has an opinion in the war room. Ever. This historical superhero adventure released worldwide on June 2nd, 2017, grossing over $220 million in the opening weekend. It took years for the character to make her onscreen debut, with Joss Whedon making attempts at it in the late 1990’s. Under the reigns of Monster director Patty Jenkins, Warner Bros. finally gave her a solo film this year. The titular character from DC Comics, played by Gal Gadot, lives on her paradise island of Themiscyra with her fellow female Amazon warriors. When American pilot Steve Trevor lands on their doorstep, Princess Diana is swept up into the War to End All Wars. Now, she must find the God of War Ares, who she believes is causing the conflict, and save humanity from tearing itself apart. Going into Wonder Woman, there was a certain level of expectations I had set. In the past, I was probably way too forgiving to Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a massive disappointment. But listening to the initial critical reactions, I was wondering if it would truly be the first great movie of the DC Extended Universe. Well, I’m very happy to report that that is the case. The biggest thing at the forefront of this film is the character interactions, particularly between Steve Trevor and Diana. And that is arguably the strongest aspect of the entire movie. Gal Gadot is practically flawless as the main hero, showing off all the charisma and charm of any cinematic male superhero you could think of. Her gradual discovery of mankind’s capability for violence and compassion gives her a genuine arc, rather than some god who is perfect at everything. Chris Pine is a magnificently funny counterpart to her in both essence and philosophy. While Diana believes strongly in the inherent goodness of man, Trevor is more world-weary and idealistic. Their back-and-forth banter is written sharply. In fact, the biggest thing distinguishing this film from its predecessors is just how funny it is. Previously, both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were total gloom-fests and Suicide Squad has some trouble finding its identity with a lack of balance. But Wonder Woman emerges with zero shame in its protagonist, highlighting much of the absurdity in a comical light. Is it cheesy and cliched sometimes? Yes, it is. You’ll likely hear this in many other reviews, but this charm is reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s Superman from 1978, the granddaddy of all modern superhero films, regardless of license. The period setting and “God-is-a-fish-out-of-water” premise are also familiar with 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. To be clear, Wonder Woman is better and funnier than either of those two, but seeing that kind of influence is just so amusing. The funniest segment comes in the portion set in London when they come to visit higher-ups. Not only does Lucy Davis nail the role of Steve Trevor’s secretary, but there was a scene when Diana saved Trevor from thugs in an alleyway. Yet again, that reminded me of Richard Donner’s classic. The main villains were a mixed bag for me. Two of them were actually interesting and it was rather nice to watch their plans unfold. However, I felt that the reveal of Ares in the final act was ruined by a bit of miscasting and predictability. And like the previous installments of the DC Extended Universe, as well as arguably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman‘s final battle is a CGI-heavy festival of explosions and fantasy elements. It wasn’t necessarily a mess, it was relatively easy to follow but felt drawn-out. Speaking of action scenes, when they do happen in the movie, they are absolutely riveting to behold. The greatest and by far most memorable sequence in the entire movie is when our heroes are trying to help their comrades survive a bit of trench warfare. Diana brings out her outfit, shield and God-Killer sword, and walks into No Man’s Land determined to bring down the Kaiser’s men. In some ways, this was the centerpiece of the film, elevated by Martin Walsh’s fast-paced editing and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ pulsating orchestral score. Mixing the titular character’s electric guitar-driven theme song from Batman v Superman with swelling strings and horns is an interesting play. Also worth noting, pop artists Sia and Labrinth wrote an original song for the soundtrack called “To Be Human,” which plays as the credits begin to role. Fans should hold out to listen to a rather inspirational song. Just don’t expect any post-credits scenes of any kind while you’re at it. Ultimately, this movie has a message. A very important and relevant message that all of mankind, let alone comic book fans, need to be reminded of. As most of the film is told through the eyes of Diana/Wonder Woman, we see the human world as she does: grimy, desperate, washed away, and on the brink of self-destruction. But she also sees that as deeply flawed as it may be, and as evil the atrocities it can commit throughout history, humanity is still worth saving from the darkness. Incredibly challenging and uplifting, this message is the kind of optimism and hope our world desperately needs right now. My faith in humanity has been what it’s always been, but movies like this remind me of something that seems impossible to conceive of, yet easy to grasp. That, or I have no idea what the hell I’m actually talking about. With thrilling action, tons of heart, great acting, and clever homages to the original films of the genre, Wonder Woman is a love letter to female empowerment and a celebration of man’s worth for salvation. Go see this movie and support it actively. And then buy it on Blu-Ray. That’s what I’m doing next.

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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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“The Lost City of Z” Movie Review

Sorry for the lateness. I just had to take a few showers after that war scene in the middle. Holy crap, that shook me. This biographical adventure drama from Amazon Studios made a splash at the New York Film Festival in 2016. After a run at a few more festivals, the film opened in the United States on April 17th, 2017, earning back rave reviews but less than half it’s $30 million. Written and directed by James Gray, and based on the nonfiction novel by David Grann, the PG-13 story follows the account of real-life explorer and British soldier Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam. After getting sent to Bolivia in 1901, he makes many more expeditions later to try and find an ancient lost city in the middle of the Amazon simply called Z. Essentially, this is a story about obsession and the consequences impending from it. The main protagonist is so determined to find this piece of civilization that may not even exist that he will sacrifice anything, including his marriage and relationship with his children, to prove its existence. But how do you show your fellow scholars that the indigenous people of the New World are capable of building foundations and structures infinitely more complex than those in England? What will you do if they ridicule your ideas and call your thesis a fraud? These are questions that James Gray poses in The Lost City of Z, but they’re not always answered. Rather, they show you these concepts and then leave you to discuss them on your way out of the theater. That kind of filmmaking is rare these days, as many directors are eager to share their interpretations of what it all means. Charlie Hunnam is masterful as Percy Fawcett. Beating out three other bigger names that dropped, he former Sons of Anarchy star shows a remarkable range with the complex protagonist, shifting from being an apathetic opportunist to a genuine man who cares about his crew and family. It’s not an easy transition, let alone to occur consistently throughout the picture, but Hunnam does it very nicely. In fact, I would dare submit his performance under consideration for Best Actor next January. By his side for a majority of the film are Sienna Miller as his independent wife and Robert Pattinson as a drunkard-turned loyal expedition partner, who are both great and relevant players. Their dichotomous relationship with Fawcett provided an interesting contrast to his split love: the jungle or his family. While several European character actors such as Angus Macfayden, Franco Nero, John Sackville, and Star Wars‘ Ian McDiarmid in key roles, Tom Holland felt some conflicted. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor and gives a good performance in this film. But as far as his character goes, being Fawcett’s oldest son, his relationship often felt contradictory and somewhat superficial. On a technical level, The Lost City of Z is visually stunning and gorgeous. The atmospheric shots of the jungle by Darius Khondji are contrasted by the stuffy and condensed space of the English socialite buildings. The fact that most everything was captured on film on location in South America is impressive enough for this epic. Speaking of film, one of the formats available for showing is in 35 mm print. I urge you, if possible, to see it in this format, as it adds to the immersion and overall feel of adventure. And boy, doesn’t it ever truly feel like one? The running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes notwithstanding, it’s clear that Gray takes some inspiration from epics of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Specifically, it looks like he took cues from the dramas of filmmaker David Lean and epics of his such as the amazing Lawrence of Arabia or earlier films like The Bridge on the River Kwai. From the massive amounts of extras for big set pieces to contemplative verbal moments, everything about this film feels old-fashioned, and that’s not a bad thing. James Gray has been dealing with subject matter he’s not familiar with before, so why not again? Despite all of these homages, there’s still something about The Lost City of Z that feels modern. One of those factors comes in the soundtrack, composed by Christopher Spelman. Unlike classic films, this one doesn’t feature a sweeping orchestral symphony in large scenes. Rather, it’s mostly based on a feeling of ambiance and nature. It felt very natural to the environment presented and added even more to the atmosphere of the Amazon. In fact, the sound design is so immersive, you will actually feel as if you are with Percy Fawcett and his expedition team in the jungle. Although the less patient and those wanting an answer may not find satisfaction, The Lost City of Z is still a sprawling piece of contemporary epic filmmaking. I think James Gray has crafted something very special here and Charlie Hunnam gives easily his best performance to date.

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