Category Archives: Mystery

“Alien” Movie Review

Whoever said that you should only be allowed to watch “scary movies” in October? This film (and its sequel) are perfectly enjoyable to watch around the summer time. After all, what could possibly be more worthy of the summer movie season than small aliens bursting violently out of the chest? The inaugural picture of this sci-fi horror franchise was released in the United States on May 25th, 1979, coming to the U.K. 3 months later. Although critics were slow to acknowledge its brilliance, the film made back over 10 times its $9 million budget worldwide. Over the years, it has spawned a franchise consisting of 7 more movies, in-depth novels, crossover comics, and numerous video games, some better than others. Directed by Ridley Scott, his second full-length feature, the screenplay was conceived by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed production of Dune. Many, many drafts later, and with the help of producer Walter Hill, the gears actually started turning. It was only after the monumental success of Star Wars that 20th Century Fox agreed to finance the science-fiction film, a dangerous genre in those days. Set in the early 22nd century, the story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship transporting 20 million tons of ore back to Earth. Under assignment from the intergalactic company Weyland-Yutani, they land on a planetoid called LV-426. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious and highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature sneaks onto their ship as they make the return journey. As the creature stalks and takes out members of the crew one by one, the survivors, led by warrant officer Ellen Ripley, must find a way to beat what is seemingly the perfect organism. Let’s make something abundantly clear here before going on: Alien is a horror film. You can be snobby about it and put it away in any other Blockbuster aisle that you want, but at its bleak core, Ridley Scott has made a horror movie through and through. This is one of many things that distinguish it from its sequel (Which you’ll absolutely see a review of later this month) and very little beats watching it in the middle of the night all on your own. It took a little bit for me to fully appreciate it, though. On my first watch, I felt a bit cold from the overwhelming atmosphere that seemingly clouded the emotional involvement. But now, having rewatched it as part of my New Year’s Resolution, I have finally seen its brilliance. Something that really struck me on this rewatch was the deliberate pacing the director moves the film along at. With an opening scene that slowly establishes the setup with just the slightest amount of on-screen exposition, we learn everything needed to be known about the mission. Scott is wise not to rush to the survival horror aspects of the film, instead carefully building up the world and motivations for the characters. Interestingly, the creature itself doesn’t really show up or take full form until at least halfway or maybe even two-thirds of the way through the movie. But much like Jurassic Park 14 years later, it does a really great job at sucking viewers in and engrossing them in a place where no one can hear you scream. One reason to get so invested is thanks to the capable ensemble cast. Sigourney Weaver’s storied career was launched thanks to this franchise and for good reason. One of the most powerful female characters ever written for the big screen, watching her pretty much act as the only one aboard who is following orders is enticing, even if we don’t know much about her backstory. Interestingly, she isn’t even made the main character until around the time the creature finally shows up. We really get to know and get attached to her crew members before then. Tom Skerritt as the cowby-esque captain, Veronica Cartwright as a particularly emotional engineer, the late Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt as minor but vital members of the crew, Yaphet Kotto as a muscleman, and Ian Holm as corporate overseer Ash. While Ash arguably gets more screentime than anyone else, (And for good reason) you can’t help but care about everyone onboard and fear for their lives. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, it’s hard not to see the impact this film had on the sci-fi genre in the years to come. Cinematographer Derek Vanlint wisely chooses to expose shadows and dark corridors for our heroes to go down, tracking their every move with steady shots. The slow move-ins and unexpected pans or tilts only increase the amount of dread that each frame is filled with. It is combined with the editing work of Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther that adds up the intensity. Comprised almost like a wound-up guitar string, the movements and cuts work perfectly together to build up the dread and terror. A fine decision, as anything with a whip-fast pacing, could have put the story in danger of no longer being scary. But the big star here is the late, great art designer H.R. Giger. He brings his signature style of ghastly, gothic, and darkly sexual work and design to the eponymous creature as well as many other environments. Never before had a planetoid surface or a derelict spaceship looked so terrifying yet intriguing at the same time. There’s also something just immediately disturbing just by looking at the alien and thinking of all of the things it could do to someone. The famous chestbursting scene is one of the most unsettling momenbts in the history of cinema, thanks in large part to Giger’s practical handiwork. And the best part? None of the cast members were told what was going to happen when it was filmed; their reactions on-screen are real. Nearly 40 years onwards, and Ridley Scott’s breakthrough feature hasn’t lost an ounce of its horrifying touch. Not only did it set a standard for his own career buit also for sci-fi and horror in general. Alien is a frightening, suspense-filled classic of atmospheric terror. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, this has inspired an entire generation of film lovers and filmmakers and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll get a very warm feeling in your chest as you watch it, but it’s not becuase some monster is about to burst out. It’s because you’ll be so petrified by what’s happening that no one will be able to hear you scream.

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“You Were Never Really Here” Movie Review

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

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“The Death of Stalin” Movie Review

The universe is under no obligation to make any sense to us, no matter how ludicrous something may seem. This philosophy allows me to better comprehend politics, whether it be in the Kremlin, the White House, or elsewhere. This dark political satire was initially screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival before finally releasing in theaters on March 9th, 2018. While it has grossed over $14 million at the worldwide box office, the film caused significant controversy and was officially banned from Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. (No surprise here) Directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, the man behind the HBO comedy Veep, the film was apparently born out of a visit the filmmaker made to a hotel in Moscow. He was particularly fascinated by how former Soviet leaders still had portraits up on walls while someone like Hitler was trying to be forgotten by history. He’s also made clear that he had to tone down a lot of real-life facts because they were just too unbelievable to put in a movie. Beginning in 1953 Moscow, the film mostly focuses on the political machinations within the Soviet Union. At the height of the U.S.S.R.’s powers, their revolutionary leader Joseph Stalin unexpectedly suffers a cerebral hemorrhage and dies. Soon after, it primarily becomes a power battle between Minister of Internal Affairs Lavrentiy Beria and Communist Party Head Nikita Khrushchev. The well-being of Russia is caught up in the fight and soon both the military and the NKVD secret police clash heads as well. Although I haven’t watched Veep in its entirety, the handful of random episodes I have seen made me burst out laughing. Armando Iannucci had no fears about heightening the ridiculousness of American partisanship for both ends of the spectrum, creating some pretty hilarious moments. So the prospect of that show’s creator making a feature-length satire about Russian politics being released in theaters? That could be more appealing to someone like me. Especially with the ongoing controversy about their alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections, it felt like we needed something to give us a little better insight. Thankfully, The Death of Stalin delivers that in spades. However, I feel the need to let you know that this film isn’t just line after line of nonstop, suffocation-inducing laughter. The trailers may make it look like a slapstick farce, but it’s actually a lot more serious than I anticipated. Iannucci holds absolutely nothing back here, allowing the audience to become awed by the utter lunacy of Communism. Yes, this does produce some pretty big laughs, some of which you’ll probably end up hating yourself for. But as far as the true context of the story goes, it’s surprisingly grim, nihilistic even. Obviously, there are a number of historical inaccuracies due to the satirical nature but is smart enough on its own to justify certain creative licenses. The funniest (And most absurd) license taken is that the whole cast speaks in English with their natural accents. This ultimately becomes a gold mine, especially when it comes to Khrushchev and Beria. Portrayed by Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale, respectively, the two feel completely natural in their roles and manage to deliver some hysterical dialogue effortlessly. For the most part, we’re meant to be rooting for Khrushchev in the film, who actually draws a lot of similarities to another Buscemi role as Nucky Thompson on the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire. Other standouts include Monty Python alum Michael Palin as a staunch supporter of Stalinism, Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough as Joseph’s two volatile children, and Olga Kurylenko as a disgruntled concert pianist. My favorite one is Jason Isaacs as Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov, a key military player in the game. He’s heavily accented and looks like he’s having a blast playing an over-the-top general. And, continuing a trend started this year by Game Night, Iannucci is able to keep the audience’s interest and attention thanks to unique filmmaking. Zac Nicholson’s dynamic cinematography is much in the same style as Iannucci’s work on Veep, which frequently uses handheld cameras or sudden close-ups. This kind of vérité perspective does a great job of always keeping the audience involved in what’s happening, almost as if they’re a fly on the wall watching these events play out. A handful of scenes, such as mass soldier movement or the introduction of new characters, are shown on steady, fluid full shots. This makes a great pairing with the editing job by Peter Lambert, which knows just when to cut a shot. Rather than just doing a jump cut for every comedic punchline in the movie, we follow the subject and get great context at the horrors of the Soviet Union, such as citizens who are killed just off-screen in the background. The musical score is composed by Christopher Willis, whose previous work includes Veep and, strangely enough, the Disney Mickey Mouse House Shorts. His score is a fitting one for its era because it combines huge classical orchestras with deep vocals. Willis’ specialty with 18th-century music shows off in the big arrangements of strings and bellowing horns. Often, the tracks either match the grim imagery of the Communist regime or starkly contrasts it for hilarity. Although it’s early in the year, I am already willing to put this forth as a frontrunner for Best Original Score come next January. My predictions can often be wrong this early, but this soundtrack truly is that great. With ingenious direction, period-accurate costumes and sets, a fantastic cast, and a director that’s unafraid to hold back, The Death of Stalin is an uncomfortably relevant satire that spares no one. Even though it was undoubtedly hilarious, the fact that it dove into dark territory with its subject matter made me love it all the more. In case you ever doubted how ridiculous politics are, just watch this film.

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“Heat” Movie Review

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

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“Game Over, Man!” Movie Review

Fancy a drinking game much? Take one shot every time a joke involving dicks is spouted out in this movie and I swear you will die of alcohol poisoning before the halfway mark. And frankly, that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. The latest low-brow comedy from Netflix premiered on the streaming service on March 23rd, 2018. The film, directed by Kyle Newacheck, received an onslaught of terrible reviews, with many citing it as something even Adam Sandler would pass on. The film was produced and co-written by the same team behind Workaholics, a show on Comedy Central that was similarly raunchy and juvenile. The script was supposedly taken from their collective love of the 1988 film Die Hard, and it really shows. But somebody apparently saw the appeal and both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg boarded as producers, thus giving it real life. Adam Devine, Anders Holm, and Blake Anderson star as three down-on-their-luck friends who work as housekeepers at a hotel in Los Angeles. The night that they seem close to funding their video game, their potential financier and a host of other celebrities at a lavish party are suddenly taken hostage by terrorists. Now the housekeepers- Alexxx, Darren, and Joel -must use their knowledge of action movies and video games to save the day. Even with such a terribly derivative and predictable plot, there was some potential here for a good parody. Although I haven’t actually watched any of Workaholics, I have seen Devine in the first two Pitch Perfect films as well as some episodes of the sitcom Modern Family. At first, I thought that he was a pretty funny guy who was able to churn out some naturalistic dialogue in most scenarios. I also watched another Netflix comedy earlier this year starring him called When We First Met, which was watchable but showed a bit that he’s wearing off rather quick. And now with Game Over, Man!, it’s becoming clear that he and his buddies are a lot like Adam Sandler; this is one of the worst movies of the year. Generally speaking, I consider myself a supporter of Netflix Original films. In an age where studios are increasingly defined by watering down projects to appeal to the lowest common denominator, here’s a service that offers a great leash on creative control. No reliance on franchise names or IP recognition is usually found in their library. *Cough Cloverfield Paradox *Cough A lot of films that they release are ones that normal distributors wouldn’t even consider touching, and sometimes that’s to Netflix’s benefit. But ever since the start of the new year, it has become increasingly hard for me to keep defending their original content. It just seems like they’re getting desperate to hit that 80-movie mark they promised last year, and there are bound to be a lot of stinkers on that list. Say this for Devine, he’s grown to be comfortable with his usual shtick, and apparently so have Anderson and Holm. However, within the first 6 minutes, these friends- who we’re supposed to be rooting for -are introduced as some of the most insufferable, annoying and obnoxious individuals to surface in modern comedy. Their needless vulgarity makes it hard to care about them, especially in the second half with an unexpected barrage of homophobic jokes. However, the film is somewhat boosted by good work from familiar faces like Neal McDonagh and Home Alone‘s Daniel Stern. Most of the rest are just F-list celebrity cameos, many of whom this generation probably hasn’t even heard of. Donald Faison, Flying Lotus, Shaggy, King Bach, Joel McHale, Fred Armisen, and Jillian Bell all show up for a few seconds, with Shaggy getting the most screen-time. Why they had him perform a song, I’m still wondering. And there really isn’t anything to talk about from a behind-the-scenes perspective because the filmmaking aspects are unimpressive. Loads upon loads of unconvincingly fake blood, CGI or cheap squibs, feel gratuitous at best. It mostly is reserved for gross-out killings of the terrorists and even party guests, along with obviously rubber cut-off genitals. The lighting feels far too overly flashy for this kind of plot if only used to heighten the glamour of L.A. nighttime party life. Plus, the camerawork by Grant Smith always feels so unnecessarily glossy and way overdone. It does a mixture of slow motion and hanheld shaky cam for the uninspired action scenes and (Unfortunately) lingering static shots for some of the more obscene jokes. And… that’s it. I have nothing else to add. It’s all just a bunch of hogwash and terrible mishmash of vastly different tones and ideas. The score just sounds like a lot of leftover tracks from Steve Jablonsky’s other films, there’s no clear direction, and everyone is either trying way too hard or not trying at all. Admittedly, there are far worse options to watch before falling asleep and forgetting about in the morning. But that doesn’t change the fact that Game Over, Man! is an overly juvenile excuse for a comedy loaded with unlikable characters. If for nothing else, this movie exists to provide Netflix naysayers new evidence at the overall lack of quality in original content the streaming service pumps out. I’ll keep trying to defend them whenever I have a chance, but now I’ve become more tempered on it. Damn you, Workaholics crew.

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“A Quiet Place” Movie Review

Watching this movie in a packed theater at the Alamo Drafthouse was a truly surreal experience. Seriously, even with their strict etiquette of behavior, that auditorium was ridiculously silent. That added to the experience. This near-silent horror thriller premiered as the opening night picture at the 2018 South By Southwest Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation and rave reviews. Internationally released on April 6th, 2018, the film had a huge opening at the box office, raking in over $71 million against a $17 million budget. Directed by John Krasinski, the spec script by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods was inspired by various silent films they watched in college and was tossed around Hollywood for a number of years. According to the two of them, many studios were scared by the prospect of something so different and unique. When producer Michael Bay got a hold of it, the project finally got traction at Paramount, thus giving these Iowa boys their dream some life. The story is set in an unspecified future where society as we know it has broken down following a mysterious invasion. Krasinski also stars opposite his real-life wife Emily Blunt as two parents trying to keep their children alive in an extremely survivalist manner. They are constantly living in complete silence in order to avoid a set of violent creatures that are hypersensitive to sound. And for the next 95 minutes, we watch them deal with this peril as the monsters slowly start creeping in on their secluded farm home. If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t really have much initial interest in this film. Jim from The Office directing a straight-up horror flick? Seemed doomed from the start, but I became more enticed upon hearing the driving concept. It’s always nice to see filmmakers, and especially major studios these days, trying something new that we haven’t seen before. I had just barely missed its premiere here in my hometown but was encouraged by the positive response coming out the gate. Thankfully, A Quiet Place is exactly what I had been hoping for. Better yet, Krasinski is able to fully flesh out Beck and Woods’ screenplay to the max with uncommon originality and pulp. With a couple of exceptions, it’s pretty clear that everyone on board knew exactly how to “Show, don’t tell” the story and build the world. Although there is some dialogue present, the characters mostly interact through American Sign Language. Everything feels so lived-in and confident and thought-out that it resonates directly with the audience. It may be only his third feature, and his first one for a major studio, but he shows a considerable grasp on the plot and structure throughout most of the runtime. It’s lean and mean, gets right to the point, and doesn’t waste any time with narration or on-screen text. The man is also really good in the lead role as the survivalist father. He is willing to go to some pretty extreme lengths to keep his family safe, but never loses sight of his humanity with some moments of genuine heart-to-heart. Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds play his son and daughter, respectively. While both offer up great performances in their roles, Simmonds steals the spotlight frequently for her strength and determination. Not to mention the fact that she’s actually deaf in real life, which adds another layer of realism to this world. Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is fantastic as the mother of the family, who’s never content to just lay low at home. This may be a horror film released in late Spring, but her work here is honestly Oscar-worthy, especially a scene where she has to climb into a bathtub. Late in the picture, defeated and tired, she softly inquires, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, Krasinski & Co. have put together a handsomely-produced film. Charlotte Bruus Christensen uses the widescreen format to her full advantage with numerously well-planned shots. Virtually everything seen in a frame can be used to help advance the story (Occasionally to a silly degree) and almost nothing is handheld. The practical sets, such as the cornfield littered with noise-reducing grain, are all caught on camera and make it feel like we’re actually there. Moreso is the pitch-perfect sound design by Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Vyn. With the minimal amount of spoken dialogue, so many diegetic background noises are allowed to be heard in increased volume. If you see this film in theaters, it’s a special treat; little details like the snapping of a twig make it all the more immersive. But also, the editing by Christopher Tellefsen is very clever. Like how it cuts to complete silence when the perspective shifts to Simmonds or amplifies when a creature comes on-screen. Horror veteran Marco Beltrami composes and conducts the evocative musical score for this film, which may be my favorite that he’s done. There are a handful of tracks that are meant as jolting violins for jumpscares, though they’re surprisingly effective. But the best ones are low-key bits of plucked electric guitars and subtle yet repetitive piano melodies. Also worth mentioning are a handful of low strings that either delve deeper into the intensity of the thrills or the emotions. Either way, it works to get to the emotional core of the family drama. While it was a truly visceral theatrical experience, the film, unfortunately, gets a little hampered by the end. One of the most annoying things in horror movies is watching main characters make really dumb decisions solely to keep the plot going. While this film is mostly successful in avoiding that, the last act came fairly close to dropping some of the logic- such as how much sound the family is allowed to make. Also worth noting is that the creatures themselves felt like they were scarier offscreen. While their overall design is pretty cool, it definitely felt heavy on CGI. You can’t help but feel it would have been better with something a little more practical to witness. But taken as a whole, for a first-timer in the horror genre, John Krasinski shows a knack for telling a tight, resonant story that is sure to please crowds. A Quiet Place is a tautly accomplished thriller that truly lives up to its title. It’s films like these that give me hope for the future of mainstream horror cinema. Good PG-13 flicks in this genre are a rare breed, but this might be an exception to the rule. I would definitely encourage seeing this in a packed theater, especially something like the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema like I did. No one will make a sound.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” Movie Review

Oh boy. It’s that time, ladies and gentlemen. This moment is one I’ve dreaded ever since starting my Blog on WordPress. The so-called “Sacred Cow” conversation of cinema simply cannot be avoided any further. And what better way to embrace it than in its 50th(!) anniversary? Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction drama was originally released in the United States on April 3rd, 1968. While it turned out to be extremely profitable with a box office take of $190 million against a budget of $10.5 million, critics and audiences were entirely split on what to make of the film. While Roger Ebert hailed it as one of the greatest films of our time, others like Pauline Kael threw words such as “pretentious” and “boring” at it. Today, the consensus has generally fallen over to the positive side of reception. Co-written by the acclaimed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, the movie was written in tandem with his titular novel. Kubrick was supposedly less interested in the book itself and instead drew from 6 other short stories by Clarke for inspiration. This is a commonality in his oeuvre,  as he really just wanted to explore the concept of extraterrestrial life and our relationship with the stars. The plot is very hard to explain without delving into speculation. On a literal level, the setting is the year 2001 where human beings have mastered both artificial intelligence and space travel. (Note: None of this came to life) After a mysterious black monolith is discovered buried on the Moon, two astronauts, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, are tasked with tracing its origins all the way to Jupiter. They are assisted by HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced computer, and unexpectedly embark on a journey concerning evolution and what it means to be human. I think. As said before, even trying to discuss this film is bound to be controversial. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Sacred Cow” is an idiom usually referring to a piece of art that is held above criticism, sometimes to a ridiculously unreasonable level. There are many people who will likely murder me if I even dare to say anything negative about the film. In fact, I’m going to put something forth that may anger them even more- I’ve been somewhat lukewarm to most of Kubrick’s features. While I do “get” a lot of things he’s trying to say and absolutely understand his importance to cinema, most of his pictures are ones that I respect and appreciate more than I actually love. There are two exceptions to that rule, and the best one is 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the boldest films ever put on the silver screen. This is not going to be a review in which I try to analyze every frame of this movie trying to search for the hidden meaning. There are already plenty of essays, dissertations, and YouTube videos covering that area. Rather, I just wanted to break down the fact that this movie is so beloved for that exact reason. A whole lot of movies, whether they be effects-heavy blockbusters or ambitious indies, almost always try to relay information to the audience and leave little breathing room. It’s certainly common among today’s cinema but also prevalent in several films from years ago. The beauty about someone like Stanley Kubrick is that while his narratives are well-told and satisfying, it’s the themes that make him a true auteur. There are only a handful of living filmmakers that can reach that level of profundity and ambiguity. One thing a lot of people don’t really talk about when reviewing this film is the acting. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood both do fine work in the roles of human doctors, Bowman and Poole. While the film is famously minimal on dialogue, the two of them are able to deliver the technobabble with a surprising sense of naturalism. But both of them are outdone by Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL 9000. Even with such a monotone voice, this robot is able to convey more emotion than either of his human colleagues during the entirety of their cosmic journey. Late in the plot, when he decides to defend himself against deactivation, he menacingly tells his creator, “I’m sorry, Dave; I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Aside from them, Daniel Richter is also notable as the chief of the man-apes in a surprisingly haunting prologue. Using nothing but a suit, primate vocal sounds, and a large bone at his disposal, he leaves a lasting impression for the remainder of the film. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an unprecedented achievement even now. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography does some incredible shots of both the African landscape in the prologue and of space itself. Kubrick’s signature tracking shots and static wides are all present here, and looks especially impressive if you can see it on 70 mm film. What’s really impressive is how scientifically accurate much of the film is, especially the scene set on a lunar base. The director spent months consulting with NASA to ensure that everything would be plausible, including his use of silence and slow movement in space travel. The sets and costume designs are all entirely practical, built with hands and shot with pure celluloid. Compare the effects, spaceships, and costumes with any sci-fi movie going into the early 2000’s- it really holds up. In fact, a lot of CGI fluff we’re getting today pales in comparison. Similar to most of Kubrick’s other works, this is not a film meant for everyone. While several film fans will be completely immersed in the glorious spectacle of it all, just as many will proclaim it to be the most boring motion picture of all time. There are no concrete answers to everything on-screen and moves at an unusually slow pace. Plus, it contains one of the most ambiguous, head-scratching, straight-up WTF endings in the history of cinema- even to this day. I totally get why I lot of people don’t like this movie, and it actually took a rewatch for me to truly appreciate it. But for those with the patience to go on the journey, those who will dare to keep an open mind to all that comes forth, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a peerless cinematic embodiment of sheer visual poetry. Every science-fiction film in the last 50 years has been influenced by it in one way or another. And hopefully, it will do so for at least 50 more.

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