Category Archives: Netflix

“The Cloverfield Paradox” Movie Review

Here we are, the first new release review of 2018! What better way to kick off the year than with a movie that dropped its announcement completely last-minute before premiering on a streaming service where it’s bound to get lost in the shuffle? In other words, just another one to add to the pile. Produced by J.J. Abrams, this sci-fi horror thriller had a surprise release on February 4th, 2018, dropping immediately after the end of the Super Bowl LII. That’s not a hyperbole; Netflix actually released this Bad Robot production 2 hours after putting a 30-second teaser on during the game. Paramount Pictures was set to distribute it, as they have both previous Cloverfield movies. But following a massive shift in leadership, and the budget ballooning from $5 million to $45 million, post-production was repeatedly pushed back for nearly two years. According to several sources, at a point, they basically just gave up and let Netflix take care of the rest. Directed by first-timer Julius Onah, Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ava Hamilton, one of a handful of astronauts on an international space station. In the near future when many countries are on the brink of war due to an energy crisis, the world’s space agencies launch the Cloverfield Station, which houses a powerful particle accelerator. The mission goes terribly wrong and the team discovers that the Earth has completely disappeared, igniting a fight for survival and a perilous search for the way home. It should be no surprise that I loved both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane a lot. While many people were not happy with the ending for Lane, I saw it as a great springboard for a potential franchise. And up until this one’s release, I had assumed that it would just take the form of an anthology series, akin to Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone. But this new film, previously title God Particle, attempts to put in more references and tie-ins to the 2008 found-footage original than is probably necessary. And because of this, The Cloverfield Paradox ends up being a monumental disappointment, the first one of 2018. Let me be clear: I have no problem with a movie that wants to crossover with other installments of its franchise. Anything that wants to bring the whole thing full circle in a literal sense is perfectly fine by me, as long as it’s done in a way that’s not contrived or shoehorned. Unfortunately, the references in this movie are just that; contrived and shoehorned. If you want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil anything for you. It’s seriously available on Netflix right now, go ahead if you wish. But the more I think about some of the connections to its two predecessors, the less sense it starts to make. Come to think of it, the whole idea of this being a Cloverfield sequel/spinoff feels more like an afterthought than anything else. The stacked cast, for the material they’re all given here, does try her best in the lead role. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, previously impressing with the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” does pretty good work as the lead Hamilton. You can tell the personal torment in her character that she tries to overcome. Chris O’Dowd was one of the biggest saving graces of the film, providing the right amounts of levity and sly timing. Even when the comedy elements feel really forced, O’Dowd is there to give a crack at it and delivers in most areas. Selma actor David Oyelowo gives his role as the crew’s captain as much command and wisdom as he can. Though it somewhat felt like he was confused whether to impersonate Captain Kirk or reenact MLK in space. Daniel Bruhl, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, and John Ortiz fill out the rest of the station’s crew. Again, they all try their best, but it doesn’t always work out very well. Technically speaking, this is a very mixed bag of a picture. Dan Mindel’s cinematography is decent enough and captures both the look and feel of a J.J. Abrams production without the overuse of lens flares. Of particular note is a scene when Mbatha-Raw is sitting up against a windshield with space on the other side. A simple moment that at least tries to showcase the scope of the story. The set designs are also fairly impressive and, although nowhere detailed as the sci-fi films it wants to pay homage to, do a good job at bringing the titular space station to life. Metal hallways are filled up with contrasting colors, which were visually appealing. However, one of the biggest areas of issue concerns the editing. So many sequences are chopped together like they were edited by 5 different people in post-production (3 are actually credited) And rushed the dailies in to get the finished print out in time. Bear McCreary is one of the most underrated film composers working in Hollywood today, but it’s nice to see Bad Robot giving him some recognition here. The score here is surprisingly passable, all things considered. Whenever we’re in the claustrophobic halls, we get low-octave, moody tracks to set the horror movie tone. But whenever the action decides to move outside into space, we get bigger, more exhilarating songs. You know the type, large orchestral tracks with pulsating percussion and quick strings. But all of it honestly feels like leftovers from a better score by McCreary. As a derivative, low-key sci-fi horror flick found on a streaming service, this movie actually works a lot better for rainy late-night viewings. As a “continuation” of a big-budget franchise, however, The Cloverfield Paradox is an unholy slapdash of last-minute ideas and dumb decisions. While I give Netflix credit for releasing it completely out of the blue, it’s now clear why Paramount didn’t really want it. If rumors are true, then Overlord will redeem this series later in the year. A shameless Alien rip-off or a new installment of an unexpected franchise. You ultimately can’t have both.

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Retrospective: 2017 Superlatives

Now that my Top 20 Best Films is published and out of the way, I wanted to go into more specific categories with Superlatives. No specific rankings here, but I just wanted to file away certain films that I saw that deserve at least some recognition. Some of these were in contention for the Top 20, others were not. But regardless, I wanted to continue my tradition from last year and give some thoughts on these.

Most Original: “Okja”

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In my experience, Bong Joon-Ho’s films can range from hitting the exact spot that they should hit or struggle to decide what tonal path they want to take. Okja is a mixture of both but there’s no denying how it is unlike anything else that’s pouring out of the studio market these days. The concept of a child forming a close bond with a creature may be familiar, but the way that Joon-Ho goes about it in this Netflix original is so unexpected and exhilarating. Filled with both heart and searing satire, this is the kind of film that more studios and production companies should be putting faith in.

*Read my full review here.

Most Surprising: “Coco”

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I had little doubt in my mind that Pixar Animation would score more laughs and fun out of the audience with Coco. But what shocked and particularly impressed me was the deep respect and reverence the creators had for Mexican culture, which is often overlooked or misappropriated by Hollywood. Moreover, the film was surprising in its examination of death and the afterlife, a topic rarely discussed in family pictures. Topped off with some of the most gorgeous visuals the animators have had to offer yet and a beautiful score by Michael Giacchino, Coco is a glorious return to form for Pixar.

*Read my full review here.

Most Overrated: “Atomic Blonde”

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Now, this just makes me sad because I really wanted to like this movie like everyone else. And while I did enjoy parts of Atomic Blonde, nothing could overcome the excessive feeling of “all style and no substance.” Charlize Theron and James McAvoy are great in their respective roles and seem to be having a lot of fun. But the spy plot needlessly and constantly twists itself in a tangled up knot to hide its inherently generic nature. And while the color scheme and use of graffiti are nice, it ultimately feels indulgent.

*Read my full review here.

Most Underrated: “Mother!”

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I know a lot of people who not only disagree with my choice on this category, but they don’t like Mother! Not at all. And honestly, I can’t blame them since the film has no regard for the audiences’ comfort level. But for me, growing up in a religious household, seeing this allegory played out with total control unleashed from Darren Aronofsky is exactly the kind of disturbing I look for. My jaw was on the floor for the last 30-45 minutes of the movie, and the controversy this film has accumulated for its plot and violence is exactly the kind of conversation that film buffs should be having.

*Read my full review here.

Most Overlooked: “The Girl With All the Gifts”

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One could attribute this film’s relative lack of success to the overcrowded zombie genre, and you’d probably be right. But unlike many other films in that worn out niche, Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts has an effective emotional core in the midst of all the flesh-eating terror and guts. Featuring a breakout performance from Sennia Nanua and some chillingly real zombie effects, the film feels like a believable examination of what would happen to children in the collapse of society. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to a live-action adaptation of The Last of Us.

*Read my full review here.

Most Disappointing: “Bright”

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“It’s like a nuclear bomb that grants wishes!” An actual line of dialogue from this huge let-down. I’ll give Netflix some credit here; they tried. In an age of studios whittling visions down to empty projects, Netflix actually tried to make an original fantasy blockbuster. They’ve even committed to a sequel already! But David Ayer’s Bright failed not just at setting up a potential franchise, not just at pathetic social commentary, but also at the most simple job: making a good movie. Max Landis seems to have a ton of ideas floating around his head, but someone really should have given this one a total rewrite. Sorry, Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, I love you guys. But make better choices.

*Read my full review here.

Funniest: “The Big Sick”

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Aside from Get Out, I can’t think of a single movie from 2017 that caught more people by surprise than The Big Sick. Revealing Kumail Nanjiani as both a brilliant screenwriter and a capable actor, the awkward true story speaks volumes about current cultural barriers without ever becoming too preachy. It is increasingly rare to find honesty or sincerity in romantic films, but Nanjiani, along with his co-writer (And real-life wife) Emily V. Gordon do just that. It doesn’t avoid the emotional weight of a loved one falling ill, but they still find genuine humor amongst it all. Capped off with the single best and most unexpected 9/11 joke in cinematic history.

*Read my full review here.

Worst: “The Emoji Movie”

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In all honesty, who was actually expecting this movie to be any good? When I first heard the announcement, I thought it was an article published by The Onion, but nope. Even so, I might be willing to subside some criticisms if Tony Leonidis and T.J. Miller really put some muscle and effort into it. But The Emoji Movie not only comes across as lazy garbage but also a stupidly cynical feature-length advertisement for various corporate phone apps. Rarely have I seen a movie that is so blatantly insulting to the intelligence of both adult AND child audiences. (Sir Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji included) The Emoji Movie is easily the worst movie of the year, and the worst animation I’ve seen yet.

*Read my full review here.

Do you agree with these superlatives? What do you think was the worst or most underrated movie of 2017? Be sure to leave your picks in the Comments below, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to like this post and Follow my Blog.

Retrospective: The Best Films of 2017

Well, folks, another year, another season of new cinema has officially come to a wrap. While many people felt miserable from all the horrible news pouring out daily, (This critic included) filmmakers were busy giving us films that reminded us what it truly means to be human. The good, the bad, and the gray areas in between. Over the course of the last year, I have watched a personal record total of 124 feature-length pictures released in 2017. In fact, I dare say that this was the best year of the decade so far in terms of newly released movies. Horror cinema broke all sorts of box office records, independent films saw releases in multiplexes, and a number of original films (as well as a few sequels) subverted all expectations. It was such a good and massive year that I had to expand to a Top 20. Here are some honorable mentions before we get started.

Honorable Mentions:

Coco, Only the Brave, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Gerald’s Game, Good Time, Mother!, The Disaster Artist, Darkest Hour, The Girl With All the Gifts, I, Tonya, Icarus, Columbus, Stronger, The Meyerowitz Stories, Spiderman: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, The Big Sick, It Comes at Night, Okja, The Survivalist

Without further ado, let’s count down my Top 20 Movies of 2017.

#20: “Brawl in Cell Block 99″

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Let’s kick things off with an especially brutal and violent movie that very few people actually saw. In a year chock full of cinematic surprises, S. Craig Zahler’s prison Grindhouse action thriller Brawl in Cell Block 99 is one of the biggest. Having been a fan of his debut Bone Tomahawk, I was curious to see what the burgeoning filmmaker could come up with. A powerful, unapologetic ride of crushed bones and purple punches, absolutely nothing is held back. From the understated style to the simplicity of the story, virtually everything worked. And most of all, we get to see the best work of Vince Vaughn’s entire career on display as he unleashes fury on everyone in his way.

*Read my full review here.

#19: “Wonder Woman”

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The best film out of the DC Extended Universe by at least two country miles, and a charming affirmation of the better sex’s power, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gave us something we were all waiting for so long. The most recognizable female superhero on Earth was done incredible justice, due in no small part to Gal Gadot’s charismatic lead performance. But she’s not simply pandering to teenagers or making a politically correct statement. The two them, together with some of the best men and women working in the business, wanted the world to know that humanity is not too far gone. For all the horrible things we see happen every day, it’s this kind of cinematic optimism that we need.

*Read my full review here.

#18: “IT”

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One of the many things that 2017 will be remembered for was the Year of the Stephen King Adaptation. And while Gerald’s Game was a pretty great movie on Netflix, It edges out simply because of fun factor and sheer shock at its success. A movie about a demon clown becoming the highest-grossing horror movie of all time? Speaking of clowns, Bill Skarsgård was a perfect choice to play the terrifying iconic villain, while the kids all give a wonderful personality to the story. Rarely has a horror film made me feel so emotionally involved in its narrative; to feel the terror and sadness that the characters do. By all rights, this shouldn’t have worked. But director Andy Muschietti somehow made me excited for a sequel.

*Read my full review here.

#17: “First They Killed My Father”

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By far the most criminally overlooked film on this list, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is a haunting portrait of a period rarely shown in media. The semi-autobiographical story of a young Cambodian girl desperately making her way through the Killing Fields would have already been crushing. But Jolie wisely chooses to show us this truly evil conflict through the innocent eyes of a child, which makes for a path of empathy uncommon in tragedies. The fact that the film was shot on location, has an entire cast made of Cambodians, and the primary language is Khmer is particularly impressive for an American filmmaker. She unflinchingly captures the aftermath of Communist takeover following the Vietnam War. Speaking of which…

*Read my full review here.

#16: “The Post”

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I get the idea that putting up an Oscar Bait-y movie like The Post on my Best Films of the Year list makes my tastes look cheap and predictable. I understand that. I also don’t care. Steven Spielberg continues his hot streak into his early 70s with this relevant historical drama concerning newspapers that tried to uncover government deception in the 1970’s. Anchored by incredible performances from Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and an enormous supporting cast, the movie looks and feels like a master at his craft working to tell an immediate story with actors who know exactly what they’re doing. Regardless of how forced the message may seem, there’s no denying the importance of the freedom of the press which Spielberg and his collaborators saw when they first read Liz Hannah’s script 9 months ago.

*Read my full review here.

#15: “The Lost City of Z”

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I bet a lot of people forgot about this movie back when it was released in April. I didn’t, though. James Gray’s musty, jungle-obsessed historical drama is a hallucinogenic throwback to the grand epics of filmmakers like David Lean. A sweeping story about one of the most mysterious treks in British history in the unknown Amazon, someone could easily be fooled into thinking that this was a 35 mm print only discovered recently. While the character of Percy Fawcett is softened up a bit, Charlie Hunnam does excellent work as the complex explorer who became obsessed with a small idea of civilization by the Natives. It’s definitely a slower movie than most audiences are probably used to, which probably explains why it bombed at the box office. But it’s still just brilliant and glorious in scale.

*Read my full review here.

#14: “Lady Bird” 

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The little festival indie that absolutely could, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is not the last directorial debut you’ll find on this list. While the story of a young woman wanting to escape her confined small-town life may sound familiar, every single frame of the movie is fleshed out into a three-dimensional object or person. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf do magnificent work as a daughter and mother whose relationship is increasingly strained as the day comes when the titular girl has to leave for college. But Gerwig fills in many moments with great levity and humor that solidify its honesty, keeping it from being a stressful affair. We all reach our time to fly sooner or later.

*Read my full review here.

#13: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

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Aside from having a highly unconventional title and a bevy of veteran actors at his disposal, writer-director Martin McDonagh also chooses to navigate taboo territory. By focusing on a mother who takes a militant stand against the authorities for failing to solve her daughter’s 8-month-old murder, he manages to walk on thin ice with grace. It also helps that Frances McDormand gives one of the best and most vulgar performances I’ve seen all year long while Sam Rockwell is total dynamite as the virulent racist of a cop. And while the film could have easily been drenched in misery and depression, McDonagh bombards the audience with unexpected doses of bleak humor that you really shouldn’t be laughing at. Excellent writing and acting come together perfectly.

*Read my full review here.

#12: “John Wick Chapter 2”

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John Wick Chapter 2 was awesome! It combined slick, stylistic filmmaking techniques with beautifully choreographed action sequences. Even something that simple is hard to come by these days. But still, Chapter 2 builds upon the original film’s worldbuilding by giving us an even bigger peek into the world of assassins. How are they organized? What involvement do the governments have? And whenever something like that isn’t happening, all of the actors are delivering the unsubtle dialogue with complete Shakespearean authority. What more could you want from an action movie?

*Read my full review here.

#11: “Raw”

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Easily my favorite foreign language film of the year, and one that feels absolutely foreign in many different ways, Raw is really a movie that lives up to its title. It’s quite often that horror movies tend to revolve around scenarios or circumstances that could never happen in reality. The horrifying beauty of Julie Docournau’s Cannes debut is how believable every instance of gore and lust is presented, which arguably makes it even more uncomfortable to watch. A lurid coming-of-age tale of budding sexuality with no easy emotions or cop-outs, those with a weak stomach are sure to have a panic attack during Raw. (Just research its screening at TIFF) But it’s a prime example of modern directors still finding little wrinkles of fresh air and forming their own distinctive voices.

*Read my full review here.

#10: “Wind River”

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Top 10 territory now! Wind River was one of the most realistic films I saw in 2017 of any genre. Taylor Sheridan proves that he’s just as capable in the director’s chair as he is a gifted scribe, proved in Sicario and last year’s Hell or High Water. A murder mystery set on a Native American reservation in Wyoming, Sheridan balances sober commentary on an undervalued issue with a big heart at the center. Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham give some of their finest performances as two fathers searching for closure on the deaths of their daughters while highlighting the cold, unforgiving frontier of the titular reservation. One of the most intense films of the year as well as one of the most satisfying, it’s movies like this that major studios should come around to making more often. These voices need to be heard.

*Read my full review here.

#9: “Mudbound”

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Don’t let the Netflix logo at the beginning of this movie deter you; Mudbound is as artful a film as anything released in theaters. Dee Rees’ stunning, complex epic is a 2-hour and 15-minute Southern ballet of family drama and suppressed hatred. It speaks to the relevant, deeply rooted problem of racism that ceaselessly dogs America with subtle storytelling and highly mature writing. An able-bodied cast of either color give shades to what could have easily been archetypes in a feel-good historical fantasy. But both they and Rees refuse to let the audience have any easy answers to the issue, leaving us immersed in the dirty farmlands of rural Mississippi. An essential piece of literary cinema, Mudbound may take place in the time of Jim Crow but it still holds truths for today.

*Read my full review here.

#8: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

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A stunning piece of visual storytelling and one of the few concluding chapters that is actually satisfying, the franchise with increasingly long titles reaches a bleak end. War didn’t just offer more proof that Andy Serkis deserves Oscar recognition as the ever-so conflicted ape leader Caesar. This ninth installment also showed us dark themes rarely seen in a summer blockbuster, including an indictment of the audience’s capacity for enjoying brutal violence portrayed on-screen. A barrage of intense emotions and hard choices hit the viewer with beautiful imagery that will haunt me for weeks. And considering that only one scene of verbal exposition was included here, that’s especially impressive. Also, Steve Zahn as Bad Ape provided some good levity for an otherwise completely dark and harsh story.

*Read my full review here.

#7: “Baby Driver”

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Having wrapped up his Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy 4 years ago and after walking away angrily form Ant-Man, it’s safe to say that most film lovers were curious about what Edgar Wright could come up with next. But none of us could have predicted him bringing such an exhilarating and stylish film quite like Baby Driver. A clear homage to old gangster heist movies from the 1930’s and 1970’s, Ansel Elgort stars as a getaway driver who’s coerced into one final job by his criminal bosses before falling in love with an innocent waitress. Filled with Wright’s trademark kinetic editing and gorgeously precise camera work, the killer soundtrack never misses a beat. Presenting us with a colorful variety of characters, including the deaf J.D. or the profane murderer Bats, this was just a blast.

*Read my full review here.

#6: “The Shape of Water”

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Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is this year’s only worthwhile movie about the romance between a mute woman and a humanoid amphibian creature. Joking aside, this was a genuinely great and enthralling picture built as a passionate loveletter to classical cinema. (Wipe transition included) Sally Hawkins does phenomenal work in a role dominated by silence and sign language while Doug Jones proves his worth as a brilliant chameleon of an actor. But the real star is del Toro, who weaves together a beautiful love story which, despite the Cold War backdrop, still feels relevant today. Some may feel a little cold, but there’s no denying the brilliance behind the camera, not the least of which is Alexandre Desplat’s whimsical score. It truly is a “Fairytale for Troubled Times.”

*Read my full review here.

#5: “Logan”

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No matter how long I’m a film critic and no matter how many superhero movies I watch down the road- and there are a LOT coming down the pipe -I will never forget Logan. By stripping down a comic book icon like Wolverine to his bare essence, without any superhero spectacle or save-the-world stakes, director Jame Mangold gives us a gritty Western character drama. Not since The Dark Knight has a superhero movie felt so different from both a thematic and technical standpoint. Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart sink deep into their iconic roles, finding new corners not yet explored with two men- or in this case, mutants -tired of the violent world around them. A rollercoaster of R-rated action and capped off by an emotionally gut-wrenching finale, it’s films like Logan that give me true hope for the future of the genre.

*Read my full review here.

#4: “Get Out”

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Who on Earth could have possibly predicted the pop culture phenomenon that Get Out would become when it was released? Jordan Peele’s stunning directorial debut made waves back in February and the buzz just never let up from there. A searing satire of how white people respond to accusations of racism, Peele drops subtle hints left and right only to reveal the frightening horror behind it all. Daniel Kaluuya proves that his one-episode stint on Black Mirror wasn’t a hoax by playing Chris, an African-American stuck in one of the most bizarre situations imaginable. Few films moved the national conversation of race quite like this, spreading like a wildfire in multiplexes. Upon rewatches, you’ll find new details that feed further into the subtextual richness of Get Out. Unpredictable, hilarious, and wholly original, if I told you there was a single movie from 2017 that I had more fun watching in a packed theater than Get Out, I would be lying to you.

*Read my full review here.

#3: “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”

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In the four years that I’ve run my blog here on WordPress, I don’t think any year was as cinematically divisive as 2017. Few films illustrated that more widely or intensely than the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise. Unlike a lot of fans, I do understand some of the hate this movie has received, but at the same time, I love it all the more for it. You’d be hardpressed to find a modern blockbuster that is as bold or risk-taking as Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which sees much of the iconic mythology questioned by our beloved heroes. While the action sequences, especially a beautiful lightsaber duel involving Rey, Kylo Ren, and the Praetorian Guard, are truly extravagant, it’s the storytelling and development of Luke’s character arc that really grabbed me. Some rewatches are probably mandatory, but I’m still in awe of what Disney let Johnson do.

*Read my full review here.

#2: “Dunkirk”

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When I first said this in my review, it felt like a great hyperbole. But it’s been about 6 months since I first watched the film and I still feel quite confident: Dunkirk is the most patriotic British film ever made. Having had little knowledge of the actual history of the titular event, involving 400,000 troops stuck on a beach in 1940 France, I went into this movie expecting a straightforward war movie. But instead, Christopher Nolan immersed me and the auditorium in a 70 mm simulation of what it was like to live that moment; from the land, the air, and the sea. Because of this, many have complained about the severe lack of character development or emotional involvement. I get that criticism, but the attachment shouldn’t come from a monologue about a girl back home. Personally, I didn’t think that was necessary to feel the immense fear, anxiety, and relief of the soldiers in each story. I swore to God it was going to be my best film of the year. Until I saw…

*Read my full review here.

#1: “Blade Runner 2049”

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I get the hate for Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and even Star Wars. However, I genuinely don’t understand how anyone could hate Blade Runner 2049. For the second year in a row, Denis Villeneuve has directed my favorite film of the year and rightly so. Maybe it was the IMAX syndrome. Maybe it was the jaw-dropping, immaculate cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. But I wholeheartedly believe that this sequel is better than Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, with a sprawling story bolstered by impeccable visuals and a solid beating heart at the center. In fact, this could be the movie that convinces some people to switch over to 4K. Ryan Gosling proves his worth as one of the finest actors around as Officer K, but it’s Harrison Ford that steals the show. No real easy explanations are dolled out, just strong storytelling driving the mystery of Rick Deckard forward. Blade Runner 2049 is a complete technical masterpiece and one that will hopefully come to inspire a new crop of aspiring filmmakers.

*Read my full review here.

So there’s my list! Do you agree with my picks? What was your favorite movie from 2017? Leave a comment below, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to Like and Follow my Blog. Bring on 2018!

“Bright” Movie Review

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

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“Mudbound” Movie Review

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

“First They Killed My Father” Movie Review

Yeah… I can’t really think of any jokes right now. This biographical coming-of-age war drama premiered at the city of Siem Reap, eventually making to the fall festival circuit. It got a positive reception at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival before being released on the streaming giant Netflix on September 22nd. Although they don’t release the number of people watching, it’s believed that anticipation was building up as it was being marketed as Beasts of No Nation set in Cambodia. Produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film has been adapted from the memoir A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, who also had a part in writing the screenplay. The story focuses on Loung Ung as a 5-year-old child in Cambodia, just as the United States Army pulled out of Vietnam. After the radical Khmer Rouge take over the country in 1975, she is trained as a child soldier while her family of 6 siblings and weary parents are forced out of their city home to live in a labor camp. Against her will, she is forced to take part in a 4-year regime that results in the death of over 2 million Cambodians. It’s clear how authentic Jolie wanted to be with this subject matter. There is not a single big name Hollywood star to be found on the casting list, nor is the film spoken in English for our own convenience. The film was shot on location where the co-writer had been to, all of the actors are real Cambodian citizens, and the film is spoken entirely in the Khmer Cambodian language. Relax, fellow Americans, it has been translated into English subtitles so that you can understand the plot. It’s pretty bold for someone as famous as Angelina Jolie to make a movie that rejects Hollywood conventions. She tried this previously with films like Unbroken and In the Land Of Blood and Honey. And while neither one is particularly amazing, this Netflix Original riveted me from scene one. Virtually unknown for the moment, I hope that young Sreymoch Sareum gets more recognition as a child actor. The entire film is told through her innocent eyes, unable to comprehend the true evil unfolding all around her. This arguably makes the tragedy of it all even more depressing. Looking over her shoulders for the first half of the picture is Kompheak Phoeungas and Socheta Sveng as Loung’s concerned father and mother, respectively. They present an interesting dichotomy, as the father is a disgraced army soldier hiding his loyalty, whereas the mother is miserable and depressed by their situation. Yet the two of them try their best to remain positive and hopeful for their children, the only logical thing to do in a situation like this. As mentioned earlier, there are no Hollywood big names filling out the rest of the cast. Every single actor, whether they are primary characters or one of hundreds of extras, was from Cambodia. And not a single line of dialogue is spoken in the English language, which is arguably even more impressive. Hopefully, this opens up a floodgate of possibilities for more chance of diversity in the film industry. But since this film was released on a streaming network, odds are that they’re probably not going to take it very seriously. But in a technical aspect, this film is quite accomplished. Anthony Dod Mantle frames the camerawork in a wholesome and naturalistic way for the scenes. Shot on location in various villages in Cambodia, the realistic lighting combined with the beautiful nature is something to behold. So that when some of these places start coming down, we feel even sadder and want Loung to get out of there even more. But since this is told entirely through her perspective, the film is edited by Xavier Box and Patricia Rommel to feel confusing to us viewers. We get strong implications of what is going on with the Khmer Rouge, but the film cuts away from explicitly showing us everything. In a way, this made things even more terrifying because, unless you’re already familiar with the story, it feels like anything could swoop in from out of the camera and take out our protagonist. Marco Beltrami is composing the musical score for this picture. While not necessarily his best soundtrack to date, it does feature his signature style of percussion like bass drums making a huge impact. Literally. At almost all times, there’s a hit that permeates in even some of the more quiet scenes. But he doesn’t succumb to emotionally manipulative strings common in films like these made by Hollywood. Instead, he brings out genuine feeling, even allowing us to tear up near the end when there might be light at the end of the tunnel. However, similar to Beasts of No Nation, I do not feel like this film is one that can be revisited more than once. I acknowledge this as one of the year’s best films, and will proudly tell anyone to watch it. But there are just too many scenes that are difficult to watch for me to recommend multiple viewings. The fact that this is based on a true story makes that pill even harder to swallow. Even so, First They Killed My Father is an empathetic look at evil through the eyes of innocence. Please seek this film out on Netflix and watch it. In this day and age, with atrocities regularly on the news, the subject matter has only become more pertinent. Mourning is the first step. Remembering is the next.

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“Stranger Things” Season 2 T.V. Show Review

*Fair warning: This review contains some spoilers from the end of the first season.  Please catch up so I don’t have to be the asshole who ruins it for you.

Since the creators of this show are treating this second season as more of a sequel rather than a straight-up continuation of the series, I will approach it in a similar fashion. With as much objectivity as a reviewer that I can muster, of course. The second season of this science-fiction coming-of-age horror series premiered all 9 of its episodes on October 27th, 2017, generating high ratings and a feverish anticipation. Following the surprisingly massive success of the first season from last year, the creators, the Duffer Brothers, stated that writing a followup was the hardest thing of their dual career. Set about a year after the first season wrapped up, we pick back up with the characters in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Will Byers has escaped the Upside Down, but still is affected deeply by the experience, as are his friends and family. New faces come into town, and the gang tries to return to normalcy in time for Halloween of 1984. But there might be a brand new threat waiting for them in both the Upside Down and the government laboratory. Following up an impressive first season is difficult enough. But when that first season is for a show that has so gradually gained a rabid fanbase like Stranger Things, that’s even more difficult because you have to live up to the expectations of your fans. But the Duffer Brothers said this season acts more like a blockbuster sequel than a continuation of a television series. And that’s completely apparent because almost everything this time around is bigger and, in some ways, better than the first season. What I appreciated most about this season is that it dared to try different things than last time. The most obvious of these is the highly controversial 7th episode, which sees one of the characters take a detour away from the main action. Many fans hated it, saying it was unnecessary and pure filler. Personally, I thought it was delivering vital information and character development needed for that person, and in a way shows that there is a bigger picture outside of Hawkins. Could it have been done better? For sure. But the fact that they were willing to do the episode suggests new territory for them to travel through in the coming seasons. They tried something new and original, and for that alone, they deserve praise. By this point in time, all of the regular cast members have grown comfortable in their roles. Noah Schnapp is especially impressive as Will, always looking over his shoulder to make sure that the Demagorgon is never behind him. His personal arc is one of overcoming trauma and the repercussions of growing up afterward. David Harbour is great once again as Chief Hopper, this time more world-weary and cautious of his actions. He arguably has the best dynamic with most of the characters, particularly when he cares for Joyce Byers and a preteen Eleven, to whom he’s a close father figure. Some of the new characters were a mixed bag. 80’s stars Paul Reiser and Sean Astin were great additions, but Max and Billy felt a little out of place. Sadie Sink played Max well enough, but the way she was written felt like a typical young girl with unusual angst. Dacre Montgomery’s portrayal of Billy bordered on the edge of parody with a seemingly stereotypical high school bully. But the show-stealers this season have undoubtedly been Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo as Steve and Dustin. Their bromance was awesome and by far the most watchable part of the season. Meanwhile, this show continues to be a technical marvel. The steady camerawork by Tim Ives and Tod Campbell emulates films made by John Carpenter from the 1980’s. Not one single aspect of any scene is left unfocused or obscured by a shaky cam. Instead, it sustains a heavy and consistent atmosphere that this series has built so well. Also, the visual effects have been upgraded quite a bit. With the expansion of the world and the benefit of a larger budget, the Duffer Brothers got to be more creative. Some constraints are still noticeable, (This is a T.V. show after all) but the design for the new villain is utterly fascinating. Like if the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft had inhabited the mind and body of Stephen King and wrote a screenplay centered on a new monster in his universe. As with last time, the musical score for all 9 episodes is composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, also going by the band Survive. They continue to eschew the cliches of big boisterous orchestras in favor of synthesized melodies and beats. When it comes to the action scenes, they’re heightened and intense. But in the slower character-driven moments, it’s more emotional and subtle. At all times though, it feels like the unofficial soundtrack for a horror movie. Guys, it’s the same thing as last time. Stranger Things 2 is a worthy sophomore outing with an intriguing story and likable characters. Although I ultimately like the first season a little more, this followup is definitely worth a marathon or two on Netflix. I’m eagerly awaiting where this series goes in the future.

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