Category Archives: Thriller

“Brawl in Cell Block 99” Movie Review

Another S. Craig Zahler film has come our way. Another instance of me wincing at the horrific violence on-screen. And yet another time when I can’t look away from it and actually have fun with it. This director knows just how to mess with me. This gritty action drama thriller first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 2nd, 2017. After subsequent screenings at both TIFF and Fantastic Fest, it was released in select theaters on October 6th, 2017. While actual box office numbers are uncertain, because it premiered on VOD platforms a week later, it’s believed to have sold quite well. Having previously won success with his Western horror Bone Tomahawk, writer-director Zahler apparently knew exactly the type of movie he wanted to make next. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, drug courier Bradley Thomas, played by Vince Vaughn, is sent to prison where he immediately becomes undesirable. Soon, he’s informed that he is forced to kill a fellow inmate in Cell Block 99 in order to save his pregnant wife. Just as with his debut feature Bone Tomahawk, this plot can be easily summarized in two sentences, which I love. S. Craig Zahler proves to be the rare writer-director in this day and age who truly understands the power of simplicity. And because this story is simple, he’s able to find a way to punch through and get to the entertainment value with ease. Sure, it takes a while to get to that point, but the wait is well worth it. The biggest audience that he’s going to rouse up are fans of the Grindhouse Era. For those who want to know, “Grindhouse” refers to a specific type of action movie, typically coming from the 1970’s. They were all dealing with dark, brutal subject matter in badass yet playful ways. And yet most of them were made in poor quality and covered up that fact by showing multiple releases back-to-back. In some cases, it bordered on exploitation. Zahler seems to have an affinity for these so-called “cult classics,” as Brawl in Cell Block 99 dons the coat of an intense prison drama yet revels in all the genre violence fans could want. There’s a guy whose face is de-gloved when being pushed against the concrete floor. If that sounds like too much for you, don’t bother with this one. For anyone else, you’re going to fall in love. Vince Vaughn has proven himself in both comedies and dramas, but this is easily the best work of his career. No one else could have played this stone-cold man who hides his emotions very well, but still shows us how tortured he is in moments of quiet. When asked by a counselor whether or not doing time would do him any good, he sarcastically remarks, “Prison will give me plenty of time to look at guys I don’t like.” Former Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter is also quite good as his pregnant wife Lauren. She manages to break out of the simple archetype and never loses her wits, even when the bad guys have taken her. Meanwhile, the two villains are portrayed by Udo Kier and former Miami Vice star Don Johnson, who do malevolently excellent work. Both are comfortable veterans of this genre, and just as with the Troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk, you really grow to hate them both. And for a movie homaging trash cinema from the 1970’s, there’s a surprising strength in the technical aspects. The production design lends itself well to the brutal environment of prison, which becomes more decadent as the story moves along. This along with the simplistic costumes add a lived-in feeling to the world. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi frames all of the scenes with beautiful, elongated wides capturing everything on-screen. A scene where Bradley tears his car apart with his bare hands in just a few different takes is as riveting as it is terrifying. The sound design is equally effective. Depending on what speaker you have, you’ll be able to hear every bone crunch and every punch land on the flesh. Stylistically, it’s fairly similar to John Wick. But whereas that neo-noir actioner had a lot of precise choreography, this one is really about a big dude pummeling his way through anyone standing in his way. What enhances the intensity even more is the fact that during these sequences, there is no music playing. No original score, nothing sentimental. But in other instances, the soundtrack will play off of some funky big band tune from the 70’s or 80’s. In a way, this choice further reinforced its simplistic, understated style. They were fun to listen to at the moment, but I’d be lying if I said I remember the names of the artists. As with Bone Tomahawk, the biggest issue facing this film is the pacing. It spent a surprising amount of time in the first half setting up its characters and story. That was all fine and dandy for making me care about Bradley Thomas, but with all the long takes, I feel like it went on a little too long. Some fat could have been trimmed in the editing. And there is one shot of what is clearly a mannequin standing in for a human being near the end. You could argue that it was to further homage the cheap nature of the Grindhouse Era. But to me, it just became rather glaring. Despite some uneven pacing, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is still a gritty, badass slice of pulp entertainment anchored by an incredible lead performance. 100% unapologetic for its brutality and finding veils of light beneath the dark subject matter, it’s not for the faint of heart. But for those wanting something outside the box of the industry, you’re going to have a total blast with this movie. S. Craig Zahler was already a talent to watch, but now he has my attention for any of his future projects.

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“The Shape of Water” Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro has officially called his new movie “a fairytale for troubled times.” There is no better description to be found. Seriously, there is none. This fantasy romance drama won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Internation Film Festival when it premiered on August 31st of 2017. Following a lengthy festival run, it received a limited release on December 1st before expanding in the succeeding weeks. Made for the budget of just under $20 million, it has done considerably well in its limited run but it remains to be seen how successful it becomes when it goes wide. Primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s also believed that the full concept of the movie was conceived during a meal 6 whole years ago. 3 years were spent just trying to bring the updated Gil-Man to life, which means this was just as much of a passion project for the Mexican auteur as Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in Cold War America, (1962, to be exact) Sally Hawkins stars as a mute custodian named Eliza Esposito who has spent much of her life alone. While she’s working in a secretive government facility, she discovers that the authoritative Colonel Strickland is holding an ancient amphibian-humanoid captive for research. Out of pity and loneliness, Eliza befriends the creature, falls in love with it, and soon resolves to help it escape. Of all the movies that have been getting hyped up for awards season, none of them had me as excited as The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s work can usually be hit or miss for me, but he really hits it out of the park when he’s on top. And Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just his masterpiece but it’s also my favorite foreign-language film of all time. The fact that this new movie won top honors at Venice only boosted my anticipation for it. A Cold War, adult version of the myth of Beauty and the Beast? Who wouldn’t want to check that out? And I can happily say that I was blown away by del Toro’s newest film. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most hopeful movies of the year to come out. In the post-Obama era, several filmmakers have had no problem dealing out their feelings on the potential fallout from Trump’s presidency. Another film I’m looking forward to, The Post, addresses this rather directly. But most of these storytellers, no matter how good their intentions may be, come off as either stubbornly naive or relentlessly pessimistic. The Shape of Water addresses contemporary issues- such as prejudice against outsiders and trying to express yourself to people who won’t listen -but does it in a loving way. By avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism, we’re given a whimsical tale that never loses sight of its maturity. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Sally Hawkins in much, but I hope that changes with her lead performance in this film. She does a lot without saying anything, her use of Sign Language and facial expressions being almost too real to think of as acting. Alongside Frances McDomand in Three Billboards, she gives perhaps the best female lead performance of the year, and it hopefully scores her a Best Actress nomination. Opposite her, in his sixth collaboration with the director, Doug Jones is fantastic as the god-like Amphibian Man. With spots on his skin that glow and moving gills, some viewers might be turned off by this type of romance. But the way that he moves around and expresses himself underneath the thick suit is so magnificent and even sexy. The supporting cast is filled out by Michael Shannon as the villainous Colonel in charge of operations, Octavia Spencer as the snappy work friend of Eliza, Michael Stuhlbarg as a reclusive yet brilliant lab scientist, and Richard Jenkins in his scene-stealing, career-best role as a closeted neighbor. But if I were to be honest with you, I would say that Guillermo del Toro is the real star of this picture. He brings his unique eye to the technical aspects without being clouded by a filmmaker’s ego. Dan Laustsen frames and moves the camera in ways that masters of old Hollywood would have been proud of. It’s steady, fluid, and several scenes are made as if they were shot on one take. There’s even a wipe scene transition, which cemented both its 1960’s setting and love-letter to cinema. Del Toro also flaunts his love of digital cinematography and specifically highlights the color green. Using it as its own character, it plays a factor in defining the future-obsessed setting and even contrasts with the ancient force of the Amphibian Man. Whether it’s the green Cadillac, the green walls of the facility, the green candy, or the green Jello, you’re gonna find a shade. One of the most criminally underrated film composers in the industry, Alexandre Desplat lends his unique talents to the musical score. And man oh man is it lovely to hear in a theater. Because this is still essentially a fairytale, there’s a whimsical quality to the sound, often incorporating plucked strings and soothing flutes. He also blends a French romanticism into the tracks with hints of the accordion and subtle bits of whistling. And the primary piano melody is so elegant that it makes it feel as though we’re floating through the sea. It’s sentimental for sure, but it’s not cheesy or manipulative. But again, there are bound to be people who will walk away from this film feeling cold because let’s face it: This is a story about a mute woman and a fish man falling in love during the Cold War. If that doesn’t scream “weird,” then I don’t know what does. For others like me, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous, warm-hearted love story celebrating the outsiders. By far one of the most impressive fantasy films of recent years, it’s also Guillermo del Toro’s finest English-language work. Given time, I may even say that it’s his best, if not his most mature.

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“Darkest Hour” Movie Review

I know that the advertisements for Darkest Hour sell it as the newest completely generic Oscar-bait biopic about the life of yet another highly revered historical figure. And while it’s tempting to make such a write-off, please give Darkest Hour some benefit of the doubt. This historical war drama premiered at the Telluride Film Festival at the beginning of September of 2017. Following another screening at TIFF 10 days later, it received a limited release on November 22nd, 2017. After it went wide a full month later, it has struggled to make back its $30 million budget. Directed by Joe Wright, after it was announced, half of the cast had to be replaced; namely, the late John Hurt. But Oldman was always the choice to play the central character. Set in May of 1940, the early days of Britain’s involvement in World War II come to a head when Nazi Germany shockingly encroaches in on their position. After Nevel Chamberlain is proven to be incompetent in wartime, Winston Churchill is appointed the new Prime Minister. Facing opposition from within his own party to surrender to Hitler’s regime, he must overcome the odds of politics and unite the nation against their enemy. If this had come out in 1999, this movie would have already been the clearest contender for Best Picture. But now after the Academy went through drastic changes following this year’s Best Picture debacle, many are looking at movies like this and scoffing with pride. “That’s just old-fashioned hagiographic garbage” they might say, and they’d be forgiven for saying so. Studios are afraid to make these kinds of movies anymore. Especially if they’re World War II movies, then they have to REALLY work hard to get some recognition from just beyond the middle-aged white man. However, I’m here to tell you that Darkest Hour is worth a recommendation to general audiences. What makes it so enticing is its handling of the famed Operation Dynamo, where 400,000 soldiers were to be rescued from the beaches in France. That rescue was the centerpiece of another excellent war movie from earlier this year, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The two make a perfect companion piece, quite possibly the best one in years. But whereas Nolan’s film was an experimental and neverending barrage of intensity, this movie shows the machinations and how Dynamo came to be. We see the surprising amount of opposition to continuing war against Hitler, despite Churchill having warned the country about him decades earlier. As the man himself puts it, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Speaking of Churchill, the rumors are indeed true: Gary Oldman’s performance is something stunning to behold. Behind the thick makeup job and cloud of smoke from Cuban cigars, he gives us a man put into the right position at the wrong time. Energized by a ticking clock of Britain’s doom, a powerful orator is unveiled who is never afraid to speak his mind with an extensive vocabulary. But we’re still given a human being who is terribly conflicted on his job and has problems socializing with other people; the first time we meet him, he’s in a thin bathrobe in his bed. If Oldman doesn’t get a nomination for Best Actor come January, I will be very surprised. In fact, he’s so good that he almost overshadows the rest of the great cast. Although she isn’t given too many scenes, Kristen Scott Thomas does great work as Winston’s wife Clementine. A strong-willed woman, she is always at her husband’s side even as he fumbles in politics. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane is given a lot to do as Foreign Secretary Lord Hallifax. Despite initial support for Churchill, his paranoia gets the better of him as his party seeks the agenda of peace talks. Ben Mendohlson is restrained and nuanced as the terrified King George VI, while the young and beautiful Lily James provides a nice surrogate for introducing us to the world of this man. As much of a showcasing for top-notch acting, Darkest Hour excels in its technical aspects. Previously nominated for work such as Amelie and Inside Llewyn Davis, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel plants us in the middle of these stuffy cabinet room meetings. Underneath a distinctive film grain, we see many colors desaturated into murkier shades of grey or white. This permeates the feeling of hopelessness felt in many during the time of this terrifying war. Most of the compositions are of close-ups, which makes sense since most of the movie is just talking heads trying to figure out what to do. But he makes sure to keep the audience on their toes as he never loses sight of the urgency of the story. While it’s all of Steadicam, there are many quick cutaways between conversations which makes it more riveting. Meanwhile, Dario Marinelli brings us a musical score that matches the grand urgency of the situation. With help from pianist Vikingur Olafsson, he crafts a slew of memorable melodies. The piano is almost always contrasted by swift strings or bouncing percussion such as the timpani. I definitely think that it shouldn’t be overlooked by the Academy in Best Original Score. Carried by the best male lead performance of the year and featuring some desperately needed speeches in these dire times, Darkest Hour is a rousing and energetic look at a powerful figure in history. Gary Oldman will most likely get a nomination and may even win, but it’s Joe Wright’s brilliant direction that brings the whole thing together.

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“Die Hard” Movie Review

There are two types of people in this world: Those who believe that Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who do not. I’ll let you decipher which camp I fall under. This holiday-themed action classic was released on July 15th, 1988, and went on to earn back over 10 times its $28 million budget at the box office. A critical success, the film spawned a lucrative franchise including 4 sequels and 6 video games. Directed by John McTiernan, the same man behind the original Predator and The Hunt For Red October,  the script was shopped around to various established action stars. After they all turned it down, then-comedian Bruce Willis took it up for a surprising salary, changing the entire course of his career. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the superbly simple story follows an NYPD cop named John McClane who travels to Los Angeles to be with his family for Christmas. In a last-ditch attempt to save his marriage with Holly Gennaro, he goes to her company’s Christmas Eve party at the Nakatomi Plaza when, all of a sudden, a team of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber takes over the entire building. Managing to slip away, McClane must fight off the assailants to save everyone inside and also get help from the authorities. Everyone, no matter who you are or what your tastes may be, has a movie that they like to watch every holiday season. Maybe it’s something you like to sit down with your family to enjoy or perhaps a guilty pleasure that you want to hide from loved ones. It doesn’t matter as long as you have that one special picture. And while I could go on about my love for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Gremlins, nothing will beat watching Die Hard before unwrapping the presents underneath that big green tree. What makes it a Christmas movie, though? Yes, it’s not traditional in that the characters don’t scramble to get each other presents the night before it all. But, in the most unconventional yet entertaining way ever conceived, we get to witness the true spirit of Christmas come into play with the plot. To me, it evokes the importance of being together with the ones you love even in the most bizarre and incomprehensible situation possible. Does it shake things up with bullets and guns? Yep. And glass. Lots and lots of glass. There are only a handful of actors who were born to play certain roles; Bruce Willis as John McClane is among those titans. Despite his badass nature, he gives the character shades of relatability with a sarcastic wit and a genuine desire to reunite with his family. Opposite him is the late Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who subverts the typical action movie bad guy who’s simply villainous for its own sake. His sarcasm and intelligence bounce off of that of Willis perfectly, making for one of the truly great cinematic duos of hero and villain. But that’s not to discredit everyone else by their side, who make do great in what have since become genre archetypes. Cops trying to figure out what’s going on from the outside? We have The Breakfast Club‘s Paul Gleason and Reginald VelJohnson as the Deputy Chief and a bumbling-yet-lovable Sargeant, respectively. How about the menacing right-hand man of our main antagonist? Alexander Godunov covers that basis as Karl. Hell, do we want a snobby reporter making things worse just to have headlines? William Atherton basically reprises Walter Peck from Ghostbusters. As far as technicality goes, the team behind the scenes lend some extra helping hands. Jan de Bont’s fluid camerawork is an antithesis to the shaky, cut-to-shit style of most genre movies in recent years. We see everything that is necessary to know in a scene at any given time. And his use of lighting is damn-near haunting, especially in the second half when the hay really hits the fan. But the real miracle workers here are both John F. Link Frank J. Urioste with their immaculate editing. The precise cuts and movements between smart angles keep the story advancing constantly for the 131-minute runtime. The way it cuts back between the intense shootouts indoors with the red tape-laden politics of the law enforcement outside increases the stakes without ever losing what makes it personal. There are copious amounts of blood, and the two of them never shy away from it or any of its R-rating. And because of these characters and scenarios, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have crafted an absolutely iconic action movie template. If it were to come out today, critics and audiences would label it as unoriginal and watered down. That should give some great context to its impact. Many action movies afterward (Including some of its sequels) mimicked its style. Olympus Has Fallen? Die Hard in the White House. Air Force One? Die Hard on a plane. Escape from New York? Die Hard in a dystopian city. (Okay that one’s pushing it, but you get the point) But unlike almost all of those imitators, there’s almost nothing trite or dumb about this movie. The script is tightly focused on one location, the characters are always given something to do, and there are virtually no gaps in logic. In other words, this movie is pretty much perfect. Following an unpredictable screenplay with fully realized characters and boasting a decades-defining premise, Die Hard is a true genre original with plenty of holiday cheer. It has since become one of my premier traditions this time of year and perhaps my favorite. Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and no one can change that. Yippee-ki-yay to one and all, and to all a good night.

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“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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“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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“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.