Movie Review: Baby Driver

Details: Released in 2017. A little under two hours long. Stars Ansel ElgortJon BernthalJon Hamm. Written and directed by Edgar Wright.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of this movie. Which is surprising given just how many big names are in the cast. The title sounds like the name of an Adam Sandler comedy. Anyways, when the film was released, a wave of reviews came out and this movie is seemingly one of the best reviewed films of the year. Without knowing much about what this film was about, I decided to give this film a watch and found a highly stylized film that I greatly enjoyed.

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Movie Review: The Silence of the Lambs

Details: Released in 1991. About two hours long. Stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney.

The Silence of the Lambs is another one of those movies which I’ve seen piecemeal many times, but never in its entirety in one sit-through. I decided to change that today and I will join the consensus in saying that this is one of the greatest movies of its genre ever made.

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Movie Review: Logan

Details: Released in 2017. About two hours and twenty minutes long. Stars Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen. Directed by James Mangold. Rated R.

No spoilers in this review and for any of my reviews unless specifically stated otherwise. I usually have a small tagline or summary blurb that doesn’t really go into anything beyond the act one of the movie, but that’s it.

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Movie Review: The Other Guys

Details: Released in 2010. Stars Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg. About an hour and fifty minutes long. Rated PG-13.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never seen The Other Guys. What a fool I’ve been. The Other Guys is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

The Other Guys is a Will Ferrell styled comedy about two lame police officers who want to be successful police officers. If you’ve seen other Will Ferrell comedies, then you should know what you’re in for. If not, then expect stupid, toilet humor and lots of celebrity appearances.

This film is largely a parody of police genre shows, but even further, it’s just a setting for Ferrell and friends to launch off into hilarious bits and sketches. There are so many funny scenes in this that were exactly the kind of humor I enjoy. I think there is a valid argument that this is the funniest Ferrell comedy in his career.

Everyone in this movie does a great job. The straight men do their parts well and the funny guys are hilarious when they’re supposed to be. Even the guest stars (like Derek Jeter) are great. Wahlberg and Ferrell were especially good. They make a great team and play off each other well.

The only issue I can think of for the film is that many people might simply hate Ferrell’s style of humor. It’s dumb, childish humor. I love it, but I can foresee other people not feeling the same way.

Overall, a great comedy that I thoroughly recommend. Additionally, it got a PG-13 rating so younger people can watch it, too. I can confirm that there’s nothing that racy in the film, just stupid funny humor.

Score: 8/10

Movie Review: Lion

Details: Released in 2016. About two hours long. Stars Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara.

This is the last movie that was nominated for an Academy Award this year that I had yet to see. I hadn’t heard much about it, but the trailer looked promising.

Lion is a movie based on a true story. It’s about a boy in India who got lost by wandering onto a train and not being able to find his way home. He ends up stuck on the train for days and becomes a homeless child in Calcutta. After weeks spent on the street, he gets picked up and sent to an orphanage, where he is then adopted by an Australian couple. Decades later, the boy is now a man and tries to use Google Earth to find his original home and his birth family.

There was actually a segment on 60 Minutes (a journalistic program on CBS) on this very story. I did a little more research after watching the film and was amazed by how truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. There were points in the film where I felt the director took creative license in order to create drama. To my surprise, a lot of those plot points actually happened. It’s an amazing and tearful story that I recommend taking a look at.

As for the film, bring Kleenex. I choked back tears a number of times in this film. It’s a touching story made that much more emotional by the fact that it was based on true story. The film generally goes along chronologically starting from the boy’s childhood and through his adulthood and decision to find his birth family. There are welcome time skips along the way to see how his life has developed as well as flashbacks to prior points in his childhood. It’s a film where the majority of the film is spent building up to that ending reveal and the discovery of what happened to his family and what he finds at the end of his journey. I’m not going to ruin the ending here and I suggest you don’t either. Just watch it first before looking it up online.

The film is definitely reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire in some respects, and not just because Dev Patel is in it. There is this feeling of East meets West, with a dash of contemporary popular culture thrown in. Where in Slumdog Millionaire, the modern factor that adds color and makes the story relatable was the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire television show, Lion has Google Earth as the primary tool that is used to find his home.

The actors also do a great job. Dev Patel is great, but Nicole Kidman is fantastic. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Kidman in a role that really moved me. As good as Kidman was, it was the Indian children in the movie which had the most authentic roles. Seeing child actors always bothers me in that it is well-known that child talent is often taken advantage of in show business. I can only hope that the kids here were properly taken care of and compensated for their work.

Overall, I loved this film and think it is very likely to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The subject matter and story are moving and relevant, while not being polarizing. The performances were great. The only reason that I can see this being clearly snubbed is because the film feels familiar (so as not to be “new”) in that it does as good a job as Slumdog Millionaire in portraying India in a contemporary, gritty, yet respectful way. This is a good movie, possibly the best of 2016. Go watch it.

Score: 8.4/10

Movie Review: Fences

Details: Released in 2016. Stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Stephen Henderson. About two hours and twenty minutes long.

Fences is a movie directed by and starring Denzel Washington. It’s based off a fairly famous play which I read through in college. The role that Denzel plays was also famously played by him in the play and by the talented James Earl Jones. There’s one especially memorable monologue that sticks out and I enjoy it every time I hear it.

Here’s the premise: Denzel Washington plays the head of a working class family in 1950’s America. We watch as him and his family try to get through life. This is a family drama.

Before watching this movie you need to know that it was based on a play and stays true to those roots. This is a good thing. Most scenes take place at one place: their house. There are seven primary characters, all in some way members of the family. That’s it. Despite the lack of locations and actors, this movie is still a resounding success.

You also need to keep in mind the history of a film like this. The play this film was based on is so well-known that it is likely part of the syllabus of most theater courses in the United States. It’s material that many with interests in the theater go back to periodically. So when you look at these characters and these lines, realize that there is a long history of people approaching and portraying these characters.

I imagine that when you are the first to play a character, a lot of time and effort is spent deciding how the character should be portrayed. With characters like these, these monoliths who’ve been played by so many and whose lines are known by so many, the approach, I imagine, is different. You want to stay true to the material and the performances that came before yet you want to make it your own. I imagine this to be a difficult line to straddle.

Denzel Washington gets a free pass in the acting department I think because he was already well-known for playing the exact same part in the theater production. If you do an internet search of his theater performances in Fences, you’ll find many results. You may even be surprised at the different approach he took toward some of the scenes. Denzel is great. Viola Davis is also amazing and after watching this film, I think there is no question she deserves the nod, if not the win, for the Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role. Everyone was very good, though Denzel and Viola stand out.

Overall, a great adaptation that retains and furthers the emotion and intensity of the play. The thing about plays is that the only people who can watch a play are those who can fit into the theater. Film allows more people to enjoy a story in it’s intended medium. While I don’t think it is the clear winner of best picture of the year, it is definitely a contender and deserves the win if it were to receive it.

Score: 8/10

Movie Review: Heat

Details: Released in 1995. Almost three hours long. Stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. Directed by Michael Mann.

I was looking for some movies to watch and I realized that there were a lot of classics which for some reason, I’ve never seen. Movies that could be considered mandatory watching for true movie fans. Heat is one of those movies.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers and keep discussion of anything related to the narrative to a minimum. The premise is this: Robert De Niro plays a career criminal who commit heists with his crew. Al Pacino plays a cop who specializes in bringing down criminals like De Niro’s character. The two clash in a game of cat and mouse as Pacino tries to catch De Niro.

The heart of this story is crime story. This is a heist movie and it’s easy to see how many other works of fiction took inspiration from this film.

There are so many great scenes in this movie. So many scenes which are undoubtedly a part of cinema history. Almost every line uttered by De Niro and Pacino is memorable. Seeing these two legends share scenes together is sight to behold.

While I will keep as much of this review spoiler free, two scenes need to be mentioned: the shootout and the scene where Pacino and De Niro talk. I’ve watched behind the scenes footage and interviews with the actors in regards to the shootout scene. They all trained to operate real guns and I’ve even read somewhere that the armed forces used footage from this film to show trainees the ideal way to reload a weapon. The action in this movie, and specifically the shootout scene, were amazing in their direction and their editing. The sound of the guns along with just how much chaos spills out make this one of the most memorable action scenes in film history. When anyone talks about this film, this scene is almost always mentioned.

The other scene that is almost always mentioned is the talk between Pacino and De Niro. Having two of these Hollywood legends in the same movie and not letting them share at least one scene would have been criminal. Luckily, Mann let the two have that scene and it was amazing. I won’t say anything about what happens there, but the tension, the emotion, just ooze from the actors and even though it’s just dialogue, you aren’t really sure what’s going to happen.

Overall, a great crime film that is required watching for any cinemaphile. Heat is a classic which I would recommend to almost anyone. Except children. This is a very adult film with some graphic violence and adult subject matter. Don’t let kids watch this.

Score: 8.2/10

Movie Review: The Matrix

Details: About two hours and sixteen minutes long. Stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving.

I watched this movie again the other day and I decided to write a review. I thought a lot about whether or not to include spoilers in this review and decided that this movie had such a profound impact upon me, that the reveals in this film were so integral to the film that this needed to be spoiler free.

I first watched this film back around the year 2000. I did not watch it in theaters, but on video. Somehow, despite the ridiculous popularity of this film at the time, no one spoiled it for me. When I eventually did watch this film, it was in it’s whole, unspoiled glory. I then understood why everyone I knew was buying Matrix sunglasses, wearing black trench coats, and admiring overpriced cell phones. This movie was transformative for me. I must have watched this video over one hundred times. I watched this film to the point where I memorized every single word of dialogue spoken by any character. It was insane. I had never seen such a movie as this. Fast forward to a few nights ago when I decided to give it another watch and this movie still holds up wonderfully. Despite its age, this movie is still one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

The premise is this: a hacker (played by Keanu Reeves) is contacted by a mysterious figure named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) who offers to reveal the truth about this world. That’s really all you need. There are so many reveals in this movie that anything more might take away from the film.

It’s been so long that many people likely forget the impact this film had on the movie industry. This film was one of the first films to truly show what computer generated effects are capable of. This film coined the term “bullet time,” where we not only go into slow motion, but the camera moves around while the characters are moving in slow motion. This was something that before this point had never been done nor been done this well.

However, where this film shines and truly elevates itself to a timeless classic is in its practical effects. I’ve watched the behind the scenes featurettes on this film and what they went through to create some of these scenes is amazing. Reeves, Moss, Fishburne and Weaving spent months with legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping and his team training in martial arts and wire work in preparation for this film. Their efforts are apparent in this film and add an authenticity and realism that is often done wrongly in other films. There are not a lot of Western films that can portray Chinese style martial arts action well, but this is one of them. It is a joy to watch these action scenes.

I’d love to talk more about the action but I don’t want to spoil this film if I can help it. All I can say is prepare yourself for guns and kung fu.

And we haven’t even gotten to the performances. While Keanu is certainly a wet blanket, the rest of the cast do an incredible job. Most notably, Hugo Weaving does one of the most iconic performances of a villain in cinema history. His performance reminds me of Carl Sagan with a little more evil added in.

It’s just such a great movie with such a unique, memorable tone. This movie oozes style and throughout the film, I was reminded of ideas and images from comic books and anime that I’d seen before. It just attempts so many things and had so many imitators subsequently try to copy what this film achieves.

If you have any doubt whether or not you should watch this film, don’t. Go watch this film. Do no ask anyone about their opinions nor should you go and search the internet for anything regarding the film. Rest assured this is a great movie and one of the greatest action movies ever made. It is so good, so forward thinking that it easily holds up, even now.

Score: 9.6/10

Movie Review: La La Land

Details: Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. About two hours long.

I just came back from watching this film at Lincoln Center and there is a lot I feel towards this movie and a lot that should be said. I am listening to the soundtrack as I write this and getting choked up again.

The premise is this: Mia (played by Emma Stone) and Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) are two aspiring artists. Mia aspires to be an actress and Sebastian a jazz musician. They meet and fall in love while chasing their dreams.

This is a musical through and through. I remember seeing a clip on YouTube where the director stated that the film was meant as a 1960’s era style musical in a modern setting. I think this is exactly right. If you don’t like musicals or romance, this film is not for you.

With that said, I loved this movie. I don’t want to go into spoilers and fortunately, there are aspects of this film which are very formulaic in terms of musicals and can be discussed. For instance, the opening number is your standard, big, flashy, tone-setting musical number that you’d expect in other musicals or Disney movies.

I found myself having a strange reaction to the first two musical numbers. It was jarring to me and I realized that it had been a good, long while since I’d seen such a flamboyant musical as this. I missed musicals like this. And while I did not love the first two songs or how they meshed with the plot, they reacquainted me with this genre and I thoroughly enjoyed each subsequent song and dance number.

The strongest parts of this film are easily the musical arrangements and the visual imagery. Bright colors are in vogue throughout this film and delight the eyes. There are many, many long shots throughout the film which lend authenticity to the performances and make you question just how far the choreographers and directors had to plan in order to get these shots. I advise you watch the opening number with an eye towards how many cuts are used. Answer: there are none. It was all shot in one shot. It was amazing. The main theme is wistfully threaded throughout all the plot points and songs in the film and really triggered my emotions each time I heard that melody.

The performances, at least dramatically, were great, especially the scenes between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Which leads us to the weakest part of the movie: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s singing and dancing ability. While watching this film, I had flashbacks to West Side Story and Singin’ In the Rain, and it was clear that, unlike the protagonists in those films, these two were actors first and singers and dancers second. There was something undoubtedly muted about their movements and songs. Emma has a decent voice and has a good song towards the end, but it’s clear that more octaves should have been included to add more feeling to that song. That would likely have pushed it outside her range unfortunately. Gosling’s singing sounds like Gosling’s talking, which wasn’t all that impressive. Gosling’s saving grace was that he tried to put some emotion into it, covering his lack of ability.

The dancing was generally great, but, again, there was something missing. I thought about the dancing that I’d seen from prior musicals and there is a clear difference in energy and movement between one who has trained in this style of dance all their lives versus someone who spent a few months in pre-production trying to get up to speed. This is simply my opinion. I imagine that a person who is not analyzing the film as closely as I was may have a different opinion and not even notice. In fact, a friend that I watched the film with liked that they were less talented in regards to singing and dancing. She said that it added authenticity to their performances.

Furthermore, I’m not sure casting no names with greater dancing, singing, and acting ability would have been a good idea despite my complaints. Star power is a real thing. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are familiar faces and have worked together on two prior movies. They have convincing chemistry on screen and in this film. I’m not sure this movie would have worked without that name recognition or that chemistry. I’d watched a clip on YouTube where the director comments that he casted the two because of their chemistry, that they were like a Bogart and a Bacall. After watching this film, I agree. This film centers on the relationship between these two and without Stone or Gosling or another pair of known actors with similar abilities, this film probably wouldn’t work. There would likely be a lot less people who would even watch it.

Score: 8/10 By the end of the film, I was choking back tears. A friend asked what I thought and it was all I could do to give a thumbs up. I applauded along with the audience I watched it with. It’s a great film done in a style that has not been seen in a while. Don’t listen to the soundtrack first. Don’t go in with too many predictions or expectations. Just walk in with an open mind and give it a watch. You’ll have a good time.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Details: Released in 2016. Runs for about two hours and twenty minutes. Stars Andrew Garfield. Directed by Mel Gibson.

Gibson triumphantly returns with this World War II movie. The thing about WWII movies is that the best WWII scene has already been shot, and that is Spielberg’s Normandy beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. No other film has since come close and anyone who’s tried has come up short. In order to make another WWII movie that can hold a candle to Saving Private Ryan, a filmmaker would have to approach it an a new, unique perspective. That is exactly what Gibson does here.

The premise is this: Desmond Doss joins the army as a medic and a conscientious objector. Due to his religious beliefs, he will not hold a gun nor will he kill. Doss must overcome the disdain of his fellow soldiers as well as the horrors of war as he maintains his beliefs, no matter the danger.

It’s an incredible story made that much more incredible by the fact that it’s based off a true story. One thing I appreciated and which is lacking from many other films that are based off true stories is that at the end of the film, you get interviews from the people the characters were based off of and from Doss himself. The interviews compounded the emotional impact for me and gave me a greater appreciation of the film overall.

It’s just such a ridiculous tale that I think, without the real world scenes at the end of the movie, this story might just be too hard for the audience to buy into. Anyways, that’s enough about the real world aspects of this film.

The best performance here was obviously by Andrew Garfield, with Hugo Weaving in close second. They may have been able to find somebody better suited to be a drill sergeant, but Vince Vaughn does just fine.

The true star here is the directing. Gibson tells a great story that truly explores the key experiences that end up shaping a man like Desmond Doss. From childhood, to adulthood, Doss grows to become a man of faith and conviction. There are certainly the “horrors of war” scenes, as is necessary in a good war film. What sets this story apart is that it is told from the perspective of a pacifist, and yet Doss is a pacifist who recognizes the necessity of war. This is a story about a person who must reconcile his beliefs with the harshness of reality. It is about a person who decides that he will not back down or compromise, even if it costs him his life.

Part of my appreciation for this film comes from my own personal bias towards stories like this. I love stories where an underdog overcomes great tribulations, all in the pursuit of some ideal. This is exactly that kind of story. I certainly shed a tear at certain points when the opposition seemed strongest and Doss, even still, stuck to his convictions. I don’t cry for most kinds of tear jerking stories, but a person overcoming overwhelming odds in the name of his ideals, that just starts the waterworks.

Score: 8/10 A good movie that tells a decidedly different WWII story from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Gibson has told a story which needed to be told and I’m very glad he did.