Category Archives: War

“Pan’s Labyrinth” Movie Review

This review marks two occasions. First, it’s October and I wanted to get out some reviews of scary-ish movies for Halloween. But also, Guillermo Del Toro’s new feature, The Shape of Water, is due out in early December. So I figured, why not just revisit his masterpiece, El Labyrinto Del Fauno? This Spanish dark fantasy film earned back over 5 times its $19 million budget when it was released stateside on October 20th, 2006. This follows its in-competition premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 22-minute standing ovation, one of the longest in the festival’s history. That’s right, a fantasy film centering on children got one of the best receptions ever from the most prestigious film festival in the world. According to Del Toro, he wrote the screenplay from the creature doodles of his notebooks as well as experiences of lucid dreaming from childhood. It’s also supposedly a spiritual sequel to his 2001 film Devil’s Backbone, and Del Toro even did the English subtitles himself. Set in fascist Spain during World War II, Ivana Baquero stars as a young and innocent girl named Ofelia who is obsessed with fairy tales told to her by her mother. When her mother remarries Captain Vidal, she tries to escape from reality at her new home by proving herself in a newly discovered fantasy world in a labyrinth just out near the garden. Encouraged by a mysterious faun to prove her loyalty as the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, Ofelia has to balance out the horrors of both the real world and the fantasy world. I said in my intro that this movie is somewhat scary and I stand by that observation. In particular with a scene to discuss later on, but at the forefront, the themes are the scariest thing about it. Throughout the 1 hour and 59 minute-long narrative, we see enough compelling evidence of how flawed both of these two beautiful worlds are. Reality is shaken by bullets exchanged from fascist soldiers and the republican rebels, while the fantasy world is populated by some truly horrifying creatures. And in a way, you’re left to wonder which world would be better to live in. You’re also left to wonder whether or not that fantasy was real or if she made it up in her head. I personally subscribe to the latter theory, but you’re welcome to interpret it at your own volition. In any case, just watch this movie. It’s truly amazing. My first experience with this film was in a course studying the relation between horror and fantasy fiction, as something of a Segway for the two. I had not known a single thing about the movie prior to watching it. All I knew was that it was a Spanish movie about creatures by the same guy who made Hellboy and Pacific Rim. The second the film ended, every single student, including myself, stood up from our seats and applauded it. This was one of only two times that ever occurred in the class. (The other time being Tim Burton’s Big Fish) Someone referred to it as Alice in Wonderland on crack after it calmed down. To say that would be mismarketing the film. Ivana Baquero gives an incredible performance as Ofelia, one of the best ever given by a child. We see the horrors of both words presented through her eyes and truly empathize with her every step of the way. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Captain Vidal is one of the most despicable characters to emerge in recent cinema. Played masterfully by Sergi Lopez, he’s a cruel and deranged villain who is not afraid of sacrificing his humanity for the cause of fascism. While Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, and Alex Angulo each do a nice job with their crucial supporting roles, American actor Doug Jones steals the show as the Faun. He completely loses himself in the role of a mysterious, ancient creature who moves like an especially rusty Tin Man. With a raspy, crickety voice, he tells Ofelia who he is by saying, “I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce.” That really makes me excited for his work in The Shape of Water. The film is also technically accomplished in almost all departments. The production design of both the mill and the labyrinth itself is stunning. Both are dreary and weathered down by time, even in the bright daylight. Guillermo Navarro’s camerawork is setup and progressed the way Del Toro likes it: smooth yet almost disorienting. It helps immerse the audience into both of these worlds simultaneously and rather deepens the sense of imagination. Some of the CGI looks pretty dated by today’s standards, but I’m willing to forgive it. Especially because the practical makeup is so impressive. The most memorable monster in the film is the Pale Man, again played by Doug Jones. With the cinematography and editing, it was an absolutely terrifying sequence that made me nearly piss myself on a rewatch. Combined with Javier Navarrete’s beautiful score of choirs and violins, there’s almost no reason to hate this movie. Touching on themes of fantasy vs reality and a marvel of imagination, Pan’s Labyrinth is a haunting fairytale brought to life by a sheer commitment to vision. In fact, it might just be my favorite foreign language film of all time, right beside The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Simply a masterpiece. Be sure to check back on my blog this month for reviews of Bone Tomahawk, Shaun of the Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Thing.

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“Cloud Atlas” Movie Review

“Epic.” It’s a word that has been tossed around by writers, scholars, and illiterates for several decades. What’s it actually mean? A long story, one typically derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic and legendary figures or in the history of a nation. In the days of yore, authors would create grand masterpieces that fit that description, from the iconic poem Beowulf to the big daddy of them all War and Peace. They were hard to get through but still superb. Nowadays, if you simply typed up the word “epic” into the search bar on YouTube, you’d get somewhere in the neighborhood of 98 million results. Most of them are just stupid comedy videos such as “Most Epic Nerf War in History” or “Epic Battle Music.” I, myself, am guilty of watching those and can safely say that none of them really live up to their titles. It’s completely apparent that many have forgotten in this day and age what the word actually means. On a similar level, they are very few movies that can be appropriately called an epic. To reach that achievement would be to go beyond the boundaries of convention and time. To make one would be to inhabit the modern spirit of David Lean, who made such films as Lawrence of Arabia. To immerse the audience in a world as vast and lush as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To have an experience on the scale of epics like Titanic just doesn’t seem possible anymore. Along come Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, who absolutely endeavor to create an epic together called Cloud Atlas. It is based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell, which may be one of the most impressive pieces of modern literature I’ve read. That’s right. I read the book a film was based upon before actually sitting down to watch the film. I rarely do that, but I was so fascinated by the division to a film like this that I was curious. And I sit here at my desktop stunned. Cloud Atlas recounts six separate stories spanning many centuries and many genres. Starting with a dying American lawyer on a 19th century vessel, followed by a forbidden love story with a penniless English composer, cut in the middle with an intense detective conspiracy, making us laugh in the present with an editor on the run from the mob, a neon-soaked future with clones and rebels, and a crazy post-apocalyptic society that has a strange dialect. Whereas in the book each individual story is cut in half and shown in chronological order, the movie edits the stories together seamlessly, scene-to-scene. And despite its mammoth running time of 2 hours and 51 minutes, there’s not a minute wasted or rushed here. It flies by and time becomes nonexistent. And while I could whiff on and rave about its fantastic editing, the point isn’t the stories per-say. In fact, none of them are really given any priority over the other. The point of this film, as well as the novel, is to show us that everything in life and death is connected. As one character puts it, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of cinema or literature that tackles topics as ambitious as that more brilliantly than Cloud Atlas. By the final 30 minutes of the picture, it brings everything to a head in a very emotionally satisfying way. I acknowledge that this isn’t a perfect movie. There are some editing choices that I would have cleaned up, and I’m pretty sure at least one character was useless. But isn’t it human to be flawed? All of the characters here are flawed individuals. And when a movie takes on such a big task of tackling a massive story, it can be forgiven for a few mistakes. And thankfully, there are only a few. I’m sure if I saw it again, I’d hardly notice any flaws at all the second time. Not to mention its beautiful and sometimes moving soundtrack by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil. Arguably the biggest thread tying everything together is the piece “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which also exists in the book. It’s a gorgeous piano melody that inspires upon first listen. The whole rest of the orchestral score is stunning, but it baffles me that this didn’t get a nomination from the Academy. In fact, the film wasn’t nominated for anything, which either blames tough competition or lack of diverse tastes on part of the voters. I’m usually the kind of guy that likes to get his opinion of a movie out there immediately. But with this particular picture, I had to let it marinate for two straight days and nights. Let every little detail get soaked in and think about the themes of it all. I have rarely seen a movie that forces me to wait overnight to form an official opinion on it. Even more unique is a film that can also be the basic definition of the word “epic.” And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Cloud Atlas is, indeed, that rare movie. It is as brilliant as it is gorgeous and proves the potential of modern filmmaking. Those who once thought that this novel was “unfilmable” have been proven wrong. While not perfect, it has been on my mind way too much for me to give it any less than high praise. For now, until I decide otherwise, I’ll say this: Cloud Atlas is one of the best movies I have ever seen and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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“Dunkirk” Movie Review

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

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“War for the Planet of the Apes” Movie Review

Isn’t it just the weirdest thing to be rooting against your own species in a conflict for the future of our planet? Is no one else feeling that right now? Just me? Okay. This science-fiction action drama was released worldwide on July 14th, 2017, earning back its large $150 million budget in no time. The third and (supposedly) final entry in the rebooted franchise and the ninth overall entry of the series that began all the way back in 1968 with Charleton Heston, Matt Reeves returns to direct this picture after his outing with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3 years ago. Two years after the events of Dawn, the highly intelligent and respected ape Caesar leads his people into a new conflict with the surviving humans. When a ruthless Colonel McCullough shatters his doorstep and threatens everything he’s built, Caesar must wrestle with protecting his people, controlling his darker self, and seeing a way for the future to hold hope… for either species. I vividly remember seeing the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thinking that it was going to be a piece of crap blockbuster that happened to star James Franco. To the universe, I was wrong and so I apologize. And then in 2014, a mere month or so after I began my blog, I was blown away by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, one of the few sequels that manage to outshine the original in almost all departments. So naturally, I was very excited to see what would happen with War, once again directed by Reeves. But I clearly didn’t know what to prepare for because when it was over, so many people walked out of the theater speechless. And after pondering on it for a few days, I’m ready to share my thoughts: go see and support this movie right now. The thing that the original film from 1968 was most famous for, aside from its iconic twist ending, was the convincing and groundbreaking prosthetic makeup. On a similar note, the reboot series has been famous for its astounding and realistic motion-capture photography. For those unaware, motion-capture is when an actor or actress is covered in computer animation but their voice, movements, and emotive responses are all their own. The results can be hit or miss, but whenever Andy Serkis is involved, it is almost instantly the former. The apes in this movie may just be the best motion-capture work I’ve ever seen in a feature film. At a point, I actually thought that the production crew had brought real apes on board to film the various scenes. Not only that but the environments of the San Francisco Red Forest and snowy winter terrain of a base look gorgeous with or without CGI, thanks to cinematographer Michael Seresin. Andy Serkis returns for the third time as the ape Caesar and gives perhaps his best performance to date. The man revolutionized how acting could be seen with the lens, with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings being arguably his most famous work still. But here, he gives Caesar a few tragic dimensions that just make you respect and understand him. He never asked for this war, hell, he didn’t even ask to be the leader of the apes. But he’s been thrown into this situation and has to deal with it and face his past demons, including the traitorous Koba. Comedian Steve Zahn joins the simians as Bad Ape, a hermit from a zoo in California. Putting a character as comic relief in a film like this was a huge risk and could have easily become a gimmicky misfire. But it paid off, and it got some genuine laughs out of the audience. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson is appropriately villainous and unstable as the Colonel, almost the complete opposite from his character in Zombieland. During one lengthy monolog scene, (The ONLY ONE in the entire movie) he gives an emotionally distant story concerning his son and the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to save humanity from extinction. The increasingly prolific Michael Giacchino composes his 6th film score in just over 12 months. And yet, this might be one of his best, next to The Incredibles and Up. Several of the tracks seem to pay homage to legends like Ennio Morricone, mostly consisting of mellow piano and strings and a haunting choir. The opening titles even feature an inventive all-drums version of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, establishing the truly bananas feeling of everything. But it also allows certain scenes to breathe with long takes of verbal silence and sign language between the apes elevated by faint piano melodies driving the characters. I do feel the need to give the disclaimer that, despite its title, War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action movie. While it does open up with a fantastic sequence in the woods and some other moments that occur later on, this is a bleak and mature exploration of dark themes. The necessity and desire for violence, torture, obligations to your species versus obligations to your loved ones, prejudice and hatred. Never flinching and sometimes hard to watch, the film pulls zero punches in regards to subject matter like this. And the characters almost never get the easy way out in the story. But because this is the end of a trilogy, you have to watch Rise and Dawn in order first since jumping right in wouldn’t give you that emotional oomph. And that oomph hits hard and moved me almost to tears. It’s extremely rare for a franchise to move through nine films and have a rebooted trilogy. Even rarer is for that one to be the best out of all of them. But War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best final installments ever and a deeply, emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the best trilogies in recent memory. Up there with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Bourne Ultimatum.

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“Wonder Woman” Movie Review

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

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“The Lost City of Z” Movie Review

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

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“Sophie’s Choice” Movie Review

And we all thought that there was no way Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins could be matched in performance. Released in the fall of 1982, this drama received both critical and commercial success just in time for awards season. After leaving his small-town home in the South, aspiring novelist Stingo moves into a shared boarding house in Brooklyn in 1947. Soon after settling in, he meets his upstairs neighbors, Polish immigrant Sophie Zawistowski and pharmaceutical worker Nathan Landau. While they immediately become the best of friends, Sophie and Stingo must brave Nathan’s emotionally tempestuous behavior and violent mood swings. It’s only a matter of time before Sophie trusts Stingo enough to share her harrowing experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. As the synopsis suggests, Stingo acts as our primary point of view for much of the runtime. A young man in his 20’s, his inexperience in the large city of New York, and his desire to understand human love allows the audience to relate to him in his struggles. When he discovers new locations across the city, it’s as if we’re walking in his shoes, seeing what he sees, learning what he learns. The city is a massively scary place for someone of small town background like Stingo, almost as if it wants to suck you in and never let you leave. The desired effect worked well for the most part. That being said, it felt as though the scope was very restricted. Most of the turbulent scenes are told inside of the characters’ boarding house, only one floor apart from each other. In that, it sometimes felt more like a stage play on Broadway, with nondescript locations and a plot that mostly develops from various characters exchanging bits of dialogue. One notable exception to this occurs early on in the picture when the trio goes to Coney Island for a day. While they move through a variety of different rides and attractions, the whole sequence plays like a silent film with color without any verbal or background noise. We only see these three people have the best day of their life, backed by Marvin Hamlisch’s beautiful and subtle score. This is undeniably creative, but it sometimes felt unappealing. However, Alan Pakula makes up for this in the latter half of Sophie’s Choice, when we start getting glimpses and flashbacks of Sophie’s life in Auschwitz. Many colors are desaturated or muted, similar in style to Steven Spielberg’s later Holocaust film Schindler’s List. It is clear that as the situation becomes bleaker, the colors fade even more. To add further authenticity, a rather large portion of the film is spoken in either Polish or German, a choice that throws me into the admittedly conventional drama. This is contrasted by scenes of Sophie explaining her every action in the present day to Stingo. These cutaways to the modern setting are filmed in a first-person perspective, giving the impression that we are listening to her talk to us in person. This allows the audience to better relate to her and her story; especially in the final act when everything comes to a gut-wrenching head. All three leads are terrific in their respective roles. Peter MacNicol, in his second movie ever, does convincing work as Stingo. Right at home with his Texan accent, his naive demeanor and great ambitions make him a man of great compassion. While he may be better known for comedies such as A Fish Called Wanda, Kevin Kline is fantastic as Nathan Landau. An unpredictable paranoid schizophrenic, some scenes were just uncomfortable to watch. But he’s still an indelible figure to look up to and find some warmth in, like when he first met Sophie and they bonded over reading Emily Dickinson poems. Or later, when he declares in a touching monolog that Stingo is destined to become one of the great American writers, alongside Whitman and Wolfe. But the true standout, as you may already know, is Meryl Streep, who completely deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress. It really can’t be overstated how incredible she is. Aside from her near-perfect Polish accent, she manages to hit almost every single emotion imaginable. She bounces between joy, anger, confusion, and unspeakable sadness with ease. If anyone else was cast as the titular character, this performance (as well as the movie) would probably be forgettable. Aside from being an experiment in acting and emotions, there is a point and meaningful purpose in the story of Sophie’s Choice. Through the eyes of Stingo, we are subject to the capacity one man (or woman) has for both love and suffering. When Sophie first arrives at the concentration camp, she is forced by an SS Officer to choose: will her son or her daughter go to the gas chambers? This is nothing easy for anyone. While she has endured so much pain, she still finds the ability to love other people. No matter how many times Nathan hits her, they keep reconciling and rekindling their relationship. There are brief moments of humor, like Sophie incorrectly mistaking Stingo’s seersuckers for “cocksuckers.” But aside from small moments like that, this film is not uplifting, or even very enjoyable to watch. By the time the credits start to roll, you will be left either speechless in your seat or in ugly tears of sadness. Maybe even both. If you aren’t brought to either one of those states, then it’s questionable if you’re truly human. Although it may be too upsetting for some and a little too conventional for its own good, Sophie’s Choice is a fantastically written and beautifully poignant drama about the distinction between love and suffering. It features one of the greatest performances ever put to film and an ending that will haunt viewers for many weeks after.

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