Category Archives: Romance

“Raw” Movie Review

In all of 2017 cinema, I don’t think there has been a single film that lives up to its title quite like this one. Dear God, I had to take a few showers after watching this. The debut feature of writer-director Julie Docournau, this sexually-charged horror drama premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival under the International Critics’ Week section where it won the top prize. It was released worldwide on March 10th the following year and just barely earned back its budget of $3.1 million. It also held a screening at TIFF, and the screening for it was apparently was so real and volatile that two viewers fainted and were escorted out via emergency medical services. That should give you some idea as to the effect this movie had upon audiences, including this critic. The story follows a young woman named Justine who begins attending an unnamed veterinary school somewhere in France. Upon meeting up with her older sister Alexia, she becomes embroiled in harsh hazing rituals from upperclassmen. Despite being a lifelong vegetarian, she is forced to eat raw meat on campus and her craving for flesh only gets stronger as she goes on a personal journey. How do you even evaluate a film that repulsed you in almost every possible way yet still loved everything about it? This movie had gotten a lot of hype leading to its release, if only because of how explicit its content was. I’m not typically one for foreign films, but I was still intrigued. There’s not much I can build up to saying this, so I feel it’s appropriate to put out there: Raw is one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century so far. One could easily write this off as the nothing more than the next shocking entry in art-house French horror cinema. You’d be forgiven for thinking just about that. But it’s also a surprisingly involving coming-of-age drama about Justine’s transitional period in life. There’s a sensual undercurrent flowing with every act of brutality carried out onscreen. She’s just budding her true self out into existence in a very horrific yet captivating manner. It’s not until she finally blossoms like a flower that we discover what she’s truly capable of. And it’s not exactly comfortable viewing. Garance Marillier totally knocks it out of the park in her lead role as Justine. She evokes all of the insecurities and naivety typical in a teenage girl, but she also brings something charming and different about the character. She and Docournau were made for each other, evident in the fact that they made a short together before this. Her sister Alexia is played by Swiss actress Ella Rumpf, who brings something neat to the supporting table. She’s definitely the more unstable and party-hungry of the siblings, and her wildly unpredictable decisions throughout the movie take the viewer further down the rabbit hole of juvenile hedonism. And finally, Justine’s roommate Adrien is played well in a fantastic debut from Rabah Naït Oufella. Of the characters, he was perhaps the most interesting one because of his contradictory nature. And his scenes provided most of the spare laughs in the film. And Raw also makes sure to grab viewers’ attention through its technical aspects. Belgian cameraman Ruben Impens contrasts the lens’ technique quite often. Often times, a scene unfolds from a beautiful, distant wide shot which helps develop the atmosphere. We can’t see the faces of the people, but we know what they’re doing. The one exception was a during a party scene early on in the film that was captured on a single shaky shot. We follow Justine the whole way through the event, and we really share her feeling of discomfort. Other times, a shot will linger on one particular subject for a certain amount of time which heightens the uneasy and foreboding tone of the film. The musical score is composed by British man Jim Williams in his 6th feature film, and boy is it memorable. The soundtrack at times feels like an homage to old-school horror movies, with plucked strings and organs switching off from each other. In fact, that’s probably not too far off from he had intended. But still, the main melody is composed of a harsh synthesizer that works to further establish the warm feeling of tension and anxiety. It also succeeds in keeping the audience humming after the credits roll. Before you start humming, though, you’ll have to wash out all of the disgusting imagery you’ve just witnessed. Despite its 99 minute-long runtime, virtually everything horrendous or provocative that you could imagine is placed somewhere in the movie. Want a bit of context? Arguably the tamest part of the entire movie is when Adrien, Justine’s roommate, is watching gay porn on his laptop. But it’s not exploitation. There is ultimately a purpose for the violence and gore, it pushes the plot and character development forward. All of it leads to a shocking final twist where everything is suddenly given more meaning and all we’ve seen is explained. To be honest, it’s actually not as bloody as I had anticipated, but that’s not saying much. While it’s certainly not for everyone, especially the faint of heart, Raw is a lurid parable of flesh and sexuality. It has finally been added to Netflix after months of failing to hunt it down. It’s genuinely one of the best films of 2017 and reveals Julie Docournau as a brand new talent to keep it an eye on.

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“The Disaster Artist” Movie Review

Have I ever told you guys that I’ve thought about becoming a film director someday? Well, this movie has given me even more of an incentive to pursue that dream. That’s one of the few things we can thank The Room for. This biographical comedy-drama received a standing ovation at the premiere of its rough cut at South By Southwest in March. After another screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it released worldwide on December 1st, 2017, where it has already earned back its $10 million budget. Based on the tell-all nonfiction book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, Seth Rogen’s production company set up film rights with James Franco in place to star. Despite the real-life subject wanting Johnny Depp for the lead role, Franco and A24 replicated the marketing strategy by having an actual billboard on Highland Avenue where they would call him and he’d ask them to see his movie. Beginning in 1998, the true-story stars the director’s younger brother Dave as an aspiring actor named Greg Sestero who befriends a fellow student Tommy Wiseau. After the two move to Hollywood and struggle to find any work, they resolve to make their own movie, The Room. And as the production unravels, their friendship and passion for acting is tested by a number of blunders which lead to the creation of one of the worst movies ever made. For those wondering, I have seen The Room. I caught it on cable once a few years ago and kept thinking the entire time, “What the hell is this?” It earns its reputation as the epitome of “so bad, it’s good” because, despite its terribleness, I just couldn’t look away. I will say that the only way to truly enjoy it is with a crowded theater where attendees know the movie backward and forwards and throw spoons at the screen. But the idea of a movie about the making of that movie? That’s like a cinephile’s wet dream come true. Do you need to have seen The Room in order to appreciate The Disaster Artist? No, you don’t. But you should definitely see James Franco’s new film because it’s highly entertaining. You can tell his deep passion and respect for the subject at hand. In fact, some scenes from The Room, such as the rooftop or the flower shop sequences, are recreated exactly as they were, right down to the framing of the shots. But also because Tommy Wiseau is one of the most mysterious and eccentric figures in the history of the film industry. No one, not even Sestero, knows anything concrete about him except that he apparently has a bottomless pit of money. And screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, previously scribes for The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, find the empathy and the human being inside of him. At least, as much as they could. The younger Franco Dave finally finds himself a worthy role as Sestero, a good-hearted yet quiet actor. Having him play Greg was a stroke of genius because he manages to have great chemistry with his older brother and is the only one in Hollywood willing to give him a chance. But I’m sorry, no matter how many celebrities make a cameo in this film (I counted at least 45) none of them come close to James Franco as Tommy. A revelation in every part of his performance, he nails everything about Tommy Wiseau. From his strange accent to his oddball laugh, it was all spot-on. He has no business making a movie of any sort, but we still root for him in the end. If we’re going to talk about Gary Oldman receiving praise for his makeup-heavy work in Darkest Hour, then James Franco also deserves Oscar consideration for Best Actor. As I said, he has a clear passion for the subject at hand, and that also shows on the technical side of things. Cinematographer Brandon Trost chooses to use a shaky, vérité-style movement around the set in between takes of The Room. In fact, several shots are on one take which gives off this feeling that we’re watching a documentary about Tommy Wiseau rather than a narrative feature. With the creative decision to have several celebrities give interviews at the beginning in a cold open, everything felt real and lived-in. And like many other films of its kind, it ends with a montage of footage and photos featuring the real-life versions of both Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. While this strategy feels tacked-on most of the time, I felt like it worked here pretty well. The way that Stacey Schroeder edits the real footage together with what’s unfolding before our eyes is pretty nice. And for me, The Disaster Artist could not have come at a better time to come out. For all the scandals of abuse, harassment, corruption, cover-up, divorces, and indifference in current stories regarding the film industry, here’s a movie about a couple of goofballs who are genuinely trying to chase their dream. And seeing the tumultuous production of it progress was invigorating as they constantly butt heads on opportunities. As many of you probably know, The Room was meant to be a very gritty, Tennesse Williams style drama. And so when Tommy slowly realizes how people are actually reacting to the finished movie, it was heartbreaking to see his brainchild collapse. I felt like that was what this film captured best, even though, again, no one really knows anything about Wiseau. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to all the dreamers in the world. Some characters feel like they get left behind, and it occasionally panders to fans of The Room. Otherwise, I’m very happy with this product. In a way, Tommy Wiseau succeeded because his “masterpiece” is still shown and talked about all over the world. And he got a movie made about it.

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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.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” Movie Review

My 200th blog review!! So exciting for all the hard work that I’ve done!. Let’s celebrate it by reviewing a movie that nobody is probably going to see this weekend or even is expecting me to talk about. This Christmas drama from director Bharat Nalluri was released internationally in 500 theaters on November 22nd, 2017, only managing to gross about $600,000 within the first 3 days. Considering that it’s the Thanksgiving weekend and no one is seeing movies on Black Friday, (Except this guy) that makes sense. Based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford, the 104-minute story follows a rather fictional take on a very famous person. Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens, is struggling to come up with a new novel after his last 3 have flopped. With a tight deadline, he begins envisioning the story of A Christmas Carol around him and learns some of its own lessons for his life. In recent years, there has been a trend in Hollywood of telling the stories about some of the most popular stories ever crafted. In 2004, we got Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp, telling how J.M. Barrie was inspired to create the world of Peter Pan. Earlier this year, Goodbye, Christopher Robin chronicled the dichotomy of Robin’s World War I experience with the lighthearted family-friendly story of Winnie the Pooh. And now we have The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie I fully expected to despise because Christmas movies rarely strike a chord with me, especially ones in the modern era. But truth be told, I was actually taken aback by how enjoyable it was. Does that mean that it’s worth seeing in theaters? Eh, not really. The only reason I saw this was because 4 women in my family wanted to go see it, and I saw it as an opportunity to get away from the family for a couple of hours. The film is not without its moments, especially when we get inside the mind of Dickens in some really imaginative scenarios. But it follows the familiar story beats of almost any family Christmas movie that you’ve ever seen. At times, it felt like this film was originally set to air on the Hallmark Channel, but Bleecker Street picked it up for theatrical distribution at the last minute. To be clear, this is leaps and bounds better than the usual Hallmark schmaltz schlock put out every December. Dan Stevens has been having a wonderful year as an actor with Beauty and the Beast and the show Legion providing him some great success. Here, he divulges the best and worst elements of Charles Dickens, delivering some of the more sappy dialogue with Shakespearean authority. Christopher Plummer may be publicized for replacing Kevin Spacey later this year, but he deserves some recognition as the imaginary Ebeneezer Scrooge. He gives out some of the literary character’s most famous lines with almost deadpan delivery and provides some unique insight into the author’s dichotomous world. Other performers worth noting include Jonathan Pryce as Charles’ desperate yet warm father and newcomer Anna Murphy as the young housemaid Tara. They all do respectable jobs, but this is Stevens’ show through and through. And for what its worth, the technical production of it all is rather nice. The production and costume designs seem to capture the look and feel of the Victorian era London. Whether it was the prim and proper socialites or the dirty working class, what the characters wear adds just as much personality as the performances themselves. The cinematography by Ben Smithard contrasts between old-fashioned and musty Steadicam and modern sweeps across the setting. It also heightens certain colors particular to the holidays, such as red and green. Combined with the clever editing of Stephen O’Connell and Jamie Pearson, the camerawork makes for a whimsical take on the classic story we all know and love. Oscar-winning Life of Pi composer Mychael Danna provides the musical score for the film and it’s exactly what you’d expect. Big orchestras swelling up during some of the more emotional moments are pretty much par for the course in a Christmas movie. But it’s also some quiet melodies of the piano that come very close to hitting the audience in the feels. And then there a few moments when strings and percussion are somewhat bouncy, which serves well with the bizarre nature of Charles Dickens’ creative process. Speaking of process, this movie did speak to me, but not in the way most other people might think. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am an aspiring fiction writer, having crafted a handful of short stories. I am currently planning on my first novel, which has been in the works for a good number of years. However, I often run into that wall of writer’s block, and am currently stuck in a corner storywise. Watching this movie and seeing Dickens himself struggling with coming up with an incredible story was actually inspiring. Even the greatest of scribes have their problems, and that was more affecting than anything else in the movie. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a saccharine holiday tale fun for the family, but is not quite memorable. If you’re looking for a nice movie to watch with your loved ones over the holidays that’s not named Coco, go right ahead. Personally, the story didn’t do much for me, but I’m sure it might make you sniffle as it teaches you the tired lessons of the season.

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“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Movie Review

Here we are, my friends. We’ve come to the end of all things. Well, at least when it comes to reviewing this saga of movies. I’ll always still be here for you guys. The final installment of Peter Jackson’s epic high fantasy trilogy was released worldwide on December 17th, 2003. It went on to gross over $1 billion at the box office, the second feature film to ever do so after Titanic. It also became a huge favorite with critics, scoring 11 Academy Award wins, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Let that sink in for a moment: A fantasy film from a big studio swept the Oscars and earned a record-high amount of trophies, tying only with Ben-Hur and Titanic. Picking up right where The Two Towers left off, Sam and Frodo are making their final push towards Mount Doom with Gollum acting as their guide. Meanwhile, Gandalf the White and Pippin make a plea with the kingdom of Gondor to prepare for Sauron’s impending invasion on the city of Minas Tirith. And as the armies of Rohan advance for aid, Aragorn sets off to fulfill a prophecy that would make him King of Men. Every trilogy has a challenge of closing out with a third installment that’s up to par with its two predecessors. But the sad truth is that that is a rarity in cinema. For every Bourne Ultimatum and Return of the Jedi, we still get films like The Dark Knight Rises and The Godfather Part III. When you add the massive success of the previous two Lord of the Rings films and the insane anticipation that was built up, this third entry seemed doomed to fail. But Return of the King not only surpassed all expectations, it became one of the greatest movies ever made. In fact, it’s my favorite movie of all time. Just as with the other two films, this one runs at over 3 hours long, even more so with the Special Extended Edition. And yet again, I iterate that there is not a moment wasted here. In fact, there are some scenes in the Extended Edition I feel are vital for understanding certain plot or character arcs. How one sequence involving Saruman was cut for theatrical release I will never understand. The pacing is perfect as well. I have seen films that are literally half as long as this one that feel like they drag on forever. Beginning with a shocking prologue directed by Jackson’s wife and co-writer Fran Walsh, and concluding with one of the most deeply moving endings in cinematic history, (Which doesn’t go on and on as some may lead you to believe) there is not a single thread that is left unsatisfied. Pretty much all of the major players were introduced in the first two entries, the one exception here being Denethor, played malevolently by John Noble. One of the most despicable human characters in cinema, his madness and grief intertwine in a scary and believable way. Another character I didn’t get to mention was Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, a strong-willed shield-maiden who wants nothing more than to prove her worth. Those type of characters can usually be annoying, but you grow to care and root for her. But the scene-stealer this time around is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee. As Frodo grows weaker, Sam has to step it up and prove himself as the real hero of the story. Even for a series as technically accomplished as this one, Return of the King is one of the most visually striking films of the last 50 years. Containing 1,488 visual shots, the VFX work really comes to life during the battle sequences, particularly the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Nearly 20 times as large as the Battle for Helm’s Deep, but still just as personal, nearly every character in the cast, save for Frodo and Sam, gets a chance to shine in the conflict. It also better fleshes out some effects-heavy characters, such as the giant spider Shelob. That sequence scared me to death as a child, and it still sends a shiver down my spine to this day. Outside of CGI, the production design continues to be be impressive with some of the most elaborate sets ever built. The practical model for Minas Tirith is quite an awesome sight while Shelob’s Lair is creepy enough to make your skin crawl. And Howard Shore’s music has never been better than here. Each track is elevated to a level of epic proportions thanks to an operatic choir and fantastic strings. It all captures the right emotion of the moment, and earns that response from audiences. All of the leitmotifs we know and recognize are present, but they’re amplified to an insane degree of beauty. Upon all of that, the film closes its credits with an Oscar-Winning original song called “Into the West” by Annie Lennox. A cathartic ballad that brings all of the emotions drained out of your system back to where you began, it also serves as the perfect ending to the finale from the last few frames. And this really does feel like what J.R.R. Tolkien wanted as an end to his saga. There are definitely changes to the source material- much to the chagrin of his son and literary heir Christopher -but the spirit and the intent of the story is all still present. The novel is considered both the pinnacle and the model of fantasy literature in most corners of the globe. On a similar level, the film adaptation is considered to have created the template for how to adapt a story, regardless of genre. Many have utilized that template but none have quite mastered it like this film trilogy. Visually stunning, emotionally rewarding, and satisfying beyond words, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an astonishingly powerful and endlessly beautiful masterpiece of peak filmmaking. I reiterate my earlier sentiment: This is my favorite movie of all time. It crafted the sci-fi/fantasy nerd you’re reading right now and ultimately showed me the magic of the movies. And it’s an example I measure all other films to come. If you don’t like this movie, well then you might as well just un-Follow me.

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“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Movie Review

It’s official. J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium is getting the full-series T.V. treatment from Amazon, a prequel to be exact. Personally, I would much rather they do an adaptation of The Silmarillion than even try to touch these movies. The middle entry of the extremely successful epic high fantasy saga saw a worldwide release on December 18th, 2002, grossing nearly 10 times its $94 million budget. Unlike most trilogies, all three movies of the Lord of the Rings were filmed back-to-back and were finished in the years of their individual release. This is rather smart as it allows for more time to be given to perfect everything going into the final product. Picking up right where Fellowship left off, Frodo and Sam make their way to Mount Doom on their own, gaining the unexpected help of a mysterious creature called Gollum. Meanwhile, Aragorn, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli are drawn to the horse kingdom of Rohan to help drive a corrupt power tearing the nation by war. And finally, Hobbits Merry and Pippin find themselves negotiating with a mythical taking tree called Treebeard about their mutual enemies. Many film buffs argue over whether or not The Two Towers is better, on-par with, or worse than The Fellowship of the Ring. I personally don’t have any interest in these types of arguments. (The answer is Fellowship, by the way) Assessing these films as standalone is difficult because they were all meant to be watched in one sitting. As soon as the final shot fades from the first installment, you’ll immediately want to watch what happens next. And when a 3-hour movie makes you want to watch another 3-hour movie afterward, that’s an impressive accomplishment. And that’s what The Two Towers does. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the Special Extended Editions of the trilogy on Blu-Ray is the one to go for. Each movie is given about 45-50 minutes worth of additional footage, giving greater context to situations or characters. Including bonus features and behind-the-scenes extras, the trilogy now spans approximately 12 hours- and I have no problem sitting through all of it multiple times. Most “director’s cut” or “extended editions” of movies I’m usually against as it really just pads out the runtime and adds unnecessary filler. I want you to find me a single scene like that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go ahead, I’ll wait. This time around, we get even more characters to care about in the cast. Chief among them is Bernard Hill’s commanding performance as Theoden, King of Rohan. Almost Shakespearean, he faces a constant moral struggle of what’s best for his people, with the wolves of Isengard never too far behind his party. David Wenham is convincing as Faramir, a Ranger come between a rock and a hard place. As you learn more about his character, you actually grow to empathize with his hardships. Someone who I didn’t talk about last time was Saruman the White, played masterfully by the late Sir Christopher Lee. Initially being the White Wizard, his throwing in with Sauron makes you long for his defeat. He’s essentially the central villain of this film. However, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum is, both from a technical and acting standpoint, an absolute revelation. Essentially the drug addict of Middle-Earth, he is brought to life by brilliant work from Weta Workshop and Serkis’ own facial expressions translate directly to the final product. Despite his gross outward appearance, you can’t help but pity the poor thing. He represents a metaphor for the toll that the One Ring can take on someone, and also serves as a reminder for Frodo to get going to Mount Doom. His performance was so great, it has prompted serious arguments about whether or not motion-capture qualifies an actor for the Oscars. (It absolutely does) And this series continues to be a marvel in the technical department. All of the behind-the-scenes crew from the last movie carry over into the installment. I would say that the sound design is much more crisp and sharp this time around. Every time an Orc was slashed with a sword, you could the crunching of their bones and the squishing blood. All aspects of this department culminate in the famed Battle of Helm’s Deep, one of the greatest battle sequences ever put to the big screen. Pitting 300 Men and Elves against 10,000 Uruk-Hai, (Orcs beefed on steroids by Saruman) the fight lasts from the rainy evening until the morning. How it cut away from the action to the women and children hiding away in the caves gave it this extra humanity. Howard Shore continues to impress as the musical composer of the trilogy. Carrying over many of the same leitmotifs from the first film and creating some new ones, the “Uruk-Hai” track is considered to be the main theme song of the entire saga. This time around, he seems to favor harsh horns and pulsating percussion for the antagonists, especially as they march toward our heroes. Meanwhile, the country of Rohan gets its own theme, made of a solo, melancholic violin that illustrates a nation’s uncertain future. How he got the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play for him I don’t know, but I’m glad he did. And unlike many fans of Lord of the Rings, I like the risks that this second installment took. While the tone itself has become a little more somber, the intelligent dialogue is taken in a really funny direction. The rivalry between Legolas and Gimli produces some hilarious moments. And I actually like the Ents. Yes, Treebeard and all of his slow-moving friends didn’t annoy or bore me at all. Like its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a stunningly beautiful fantasy brought to life with feverish passion. While not quite my favorite of the trilogy, I will never disagree with anyone who loves it most. Featuring even more interesting characters and a fantastic ending battle scene, this sequel is definitely worth it.

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“Upstream Color” Movie Review

This film has been on my mind way too much for me to not write a full-length review of it. I’ll try my best, but I doubt I’ll get anywhere on the right track. Premiering as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the Sundance Film Festival, this experimental science-fiction drama was released on April 5th, 2013. Made for just the mere budget of $50,000, it went on to earn back over 11 times that amount during its theatrical run. This is the second feature film from writer-director/everything else Shane Carruth, 9 years after his debut Primer. The story follows a young woman played by Amy Seimetz who is trapped in a cycle by a complex parasite. During her torment, she meets and subsequently falls in love with a man in a similar condition, played by Carruth himself. As they try to put together the fragments of their past lives, they also try to find where it all started and break free. To say anything further would ruin the surprises of the story. It’s not like the movie lives or dies off of these twists and turns, but it goes in some very unexpected directions. And for that, I will remain silent. It has been a long time since I was unable to form a real opinion on a film after the first viewing, but that’s just the case with Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. In fact, it’s so different and organic that I feel like calling it a “film” or a “movie” would do it an injustice. This was an experience. Now to let you know off the bat, I have not seen his debut feature Primer. For some reason, that one has been unavailable to me through the resources at my disposal. So as my first time with Carruth, I approached this one with a completely open mind because the synopsis was extremely vague and the trailer even more so. None of the reviews would tell me a single thing about it, and I’m glad they didn’t. Going into it cold without much prior knowledge was probably the best way for me to absorb this movie. That being said, I do feel like I should watch this movie a few more times to truly absorb everything that they were trying to say here. The film feels like a 96 minute-long metaphysical poem about the tests of love and dedication. At its most basic, Upstream Color is a romance story with characters who have been emotionally fractured and are trying to put the pieces back together. Even the parasite was replaced with something else like, say, a prescribed medicine, the message would still make sense. But this approach allows the story to become far more universal and abstract. It’s also a gorgeous movie to look at. Carruth is one of those “one-man-show” types of filmmakers, as he completed virtually every aspect of production himself. In a way, that allows his own unique voice to resonate with all departments of the filmmaking process. This includes cinematographer, where he crushes many different colors under a hazy palette. The bokeh-like photography is enhanced by David Lowery’s editing techniques alongside Carruth which cut away with many shots. There isn’t a single shot in the movie that feels misplaced. Every frame has a purpose for the story or its message. Carruth also tries his hand at composing the musical score, which feels right out of a film from the 80’s. Primarily made up of droning synthesizers with different sounds it helped add an ambiance and atmosphere that felt appropriate to the surprisingly melancholic mood. There’s one track, in particular, played near the end, that I keep looping on YouTube as a way of keeping me calm and relaxed. It doesn’t swell with big horns and strings. It just keeps the emotional undercurrent flowing throughout the runtime. However, this film is not made for everyone. I feel like I should inform you of that right now. It breaks many different conventions of storytelling and standard structure. The way the arcs unfold over the course of the movie don’t feel forced or contrived. It takes its time to show (and rarely tell) these two’s story go about. It demands the audience to remain completely engaged. Otherwise, not everything will make sense to them. I had to watch this film twice (back-to-back viewings, in fact) in one day to get a better understanding of it all. This isn’t your typical romantic drama or science-fiction movie. Upstream Color is a wholly original and challenging film that represents the power of singular filmmaking. Shane Carruth is a newfound treasure of American cinema and we shouldn’t lose him anytime soon. At the very least, I want to see what he can come up with in The Modern Ocean.

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