The Guillermo del Toro film is getting much critical acclaim as award season approaches, and deservedly so.
Minor Spoiler Summary:
Set in the 1960's, a mute custodian, Elisa, works at a government lab, which has recently received an amphibious/human-like creature called 'The Asset,' which was taken from a secret location in the Amazon. The evil Colonel who captured the Asset, tortures it, and attempts to convince a general to have it killed so they can autopsy it for research purposes. Elisa must find a way to sneak the creature out of the facility, and eventually set it free.
It's a beautiful story about a lonely person who finds companionship in the strangest of ways. The characters are well written, and well cast. Del Toro doesn't pull punches in creating a terrifically mean antagonist. And as always, his setting is beautifully crafted.
The Shape of Water works best in small moments, as we see how isolated Elisa is from much of the world, and how much simple interaction with the Asset means to her. It works wonderfully when we see Elisa willing to risk what little she has to save the Asset. And it brings a tear to the eye when she tries to explain to her hard-to-convince friends how important this mission is to her.
There are some areas that trip the film up a minor bit. The free flowing camera movement is far overused. The film runs long, as, like so many recent movies, it tries to cram in two Act 2's &3's into one film. And it does push the boundaries of believability a bit too far at times. I thought the ending was especially problematic.
However, The Shape of Water is clearly one of the best movies of the year, and will go down as a classic love tale. This is the type of film that could only come from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. It will make you laugh, cry, and cheer, in truly creative ways. It's especially impressive given its modest $20M budget.
Del Toro is one of the best creative minds of our day. Don't miss out on his latest work. Catch The Shape of Water in the theatre, if you can.
Typically, I rave when storytellers try something different. When they stick to the basic three-act paradigm, with flawed characters growing through an arc while fighting through their obstacles, it all tends to be stale, unless it's somehow taken from a fresh angle.
Three Billboards smashes the basic rules. Often it's done in satisfying ways. However, as a whole, it's a hot mess, where the sum is not greater than the value of the often creative pieces.
The story is of a divorcee, whose daughter was raped and murdered. She decides to rent three billboards outside of her rural house to put controversial messages, bashing the local Sheriff for not solving the murder. That's the setup. After that, it's complete chaos for two hours.
Three Billboards excels in moments. The characters are well developed. But not a one of them is likable, except in short moments. In fact, much of the time, you'll dislike every character on the screen. They're just not slightly flawed, they're assault-people-who-disagree-with-them flawed. And they don't evolve much past that ugliness.
Yet, seeing them act like savages does have its moments. In fact, it's charming at times. Though by the end, you'd wish that there would have been more complete arcs. For me, you can create wonderfully flawed characters that you can easily fall for, but if they don't arc, it's just a trip that doesn't seem to go anywhere satisfying. That is the ultimate flaw in Three Billboards. (Along with an absurd coincidence in a key moment that is just horribly lazy writing).
That being said, if you're looking for unique moments, and like watching heavily flawed characters, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO is for you. You have to look past the typical Hollywood stereotyping of flyover land as a place where everyone is a racist, bumbling idiot. You have to not expect satisfying character arcs. You must not be in need of a typical three-act structure. But, if you're into moments that disturb, often very interesting ways, give the movie a shot. You just might like (parts of) it.
I'll mark the point where I start adding spoilers further on, below the safe stuff.
I saw the film at a midnight showing last night. Even though the reviews were very positive, I had low expectations, given my dislike of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Fortunately, it turns out at that The Last Jedi is much better written and directed than Episode VII.
The Last Jedi actually does what The Force Awakens failed to do: it decently develops these new characters which felt so flat in Episode VII. I had thought there was miscasting done in The Force Awakens, but I now realize I was wrong: these new actors just didn't have enough material to showcase their skills. I now dig Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren, whereas before I felt ambivalent about them all. And our new antagonist, Snoke—well he steals the show.
The Last Jedi is long, to the point of being a bit bloated. But most of the journeys are a lot of fun. There is humor mixed throughout, and most of it works. Where it doesn't, it's awful, because they stick it in some of the most serious points of the story. In that respect, I wish they would have learned from Rogue One, which benefited from keeping it serious.
One of the most awful parts of The Force Awakens was all the recycling of A New Hope that was done. There is some of that in The Last Jedi, but not enough to ruin the movie. And unlike The Force Awakens, the CG all looks good.
What The Last Jedi does best, is it effectively pushes characters into the struggle between the light and the dark side of the Force. Witnessing their internal battles with their identities in the mix of epic external battles is Star Wars done right.
And it needs to be mentioned: Mark Hamill's acting is superb.
I'd put The Last Jedi in the same territory as Rogue One, not as good as New Hope, or The Empire Strikes Back, but about as good as Return of the Jedi, and definitely better than the Clone Wars garbage trilogy.
Catch it in the theatre while you can.
Some things are just so dumb, they're hard to buy:
1. Why do bombers move so slow in space?
2. Why do bombs drop below the bombers in space?
3. Why are Rebel ships out of range of lasers from the Destroyers when they're still in visible range? What's exactly degrading these streams of photons in a vacuum? You can fire a laser and destroy a whole planet from space, but can't shoot a few ships that are a little ways out there?
4. What exactly was this BS that Rose and Finn figured out about the tracking?
5. If the Rebels were so close to an impenetrable base, why didn't they just go there in the first place?
6. How can there possibly be a wall considered impenetrable?
7. Why would Snoke allow himself to be killed so easily?
8. Why is Rey this incredibly powerful Jedi all of a sudden, and how did Rose become a first-class fighter pilot?
I can't believe they killed off Snoke. He was the best new character in ages, and they off him so easily like that? Off the flat characters and keep the good ones.
The entire side-trip to Vegas didn't fit the tone of the film at all. I would have rewritten and reshot that part with an entirely new concept. Benicio Del Toro's character was little more than a cheap stereotype.
I wouldn't have killed off Luke. Killing off a main character every episode in the trilogy is going to get very old.
Why is BB-8 still grossly underdeveloped after 2 films? We know who R2D2 and C3P0 are. BB-8 is pretty damn flat for being so round.
Even with all my complaints, I still loved the film. Rian Johnson did a stellar job with the writing and directing.
I'm actually looking forward to the third installation, and that's saying a lot, because after the first, I thought I'd never see another Star Wars film ever again.
I finally got around to watching the 2014 WW2 tank movie, starring Brad Pitt. I remember wanting to see the film at a theatre, but not getting around to it. Thinking it to be more grand of a film than it is, I'm not crushed that I saw it on Blu-ray.
I dig the concept: a medium-sized film about a new recruit joining a veteran tank crew, to face some of the fiercest action near the end of the war. Pitt plays the hardened veteran who started killing Nazis in Africa, and now must finish the job in Germany. His crew is tough but beat up, and has obviously aged decades in the few years they've fought. And now, in the last leg, they're forced to train a new guy.
The movie is contained, but in a decent way. Instead of massive battles, it's a handful of tanks against a couple other tanks, or a few hundred troops taking a town instead of thousands. Though it would have been nice to see the contrast between massive cinematic war scenes and those of a tight space within a tank, the film works fine in its non-huge scope, especially in an extended scene within an apartment in the ruins of a German town where the tank crew meet a couple of German ladies—a scene that is paced very well, and is written and acted in such a satisfactory way. It's in some of the slower moments that the film works best.
The different members of the crew are interesting, moderately well-developed characters, and you start feeling for them as they push through their horrific journey. I was hooked, waiting for the inevitable monster of a third act that would complete the film. But unfortunately, what played out in the last 30 minutes or so, was just far too unbelievable for me.
I still recommend the film. I think it's good. Brad Pitt, as usual, is great. But, it would have been much more satisfying for me had the third act been far more believable. I invested 100 minutes into the story, was hooked, and then the final thirty minutes played out, and I was left shaking my head.
I'm sure I'm a tougher critic on this sort of stuff than most. And budget may have had something to do with it. But, had the third act been a gem, this film would have gone down as classic. It just came up 30 minutes short.
It's been thirty years since I read the Agatha Christie classic. I was not a big fan of the 1974 film, but I sure did get excited when I heard that Kenneth Branagh was taking a shot at a remake, using 65mm cameras, no less.
The reviews were very mixed, so I went in with tempered expectations. Having loved the novel, and still remembering who committed the murder, clear as day, I was anxious to see this film, and to see not only how Branagh tackled the story as a director, but to see him as Hercule Poirot, one of the most loved protagonists in all of literature.
The film is much better than the reviews. The cast is stellar, although I do agree with some critics that the players don't seem to have the number of shining moments that they could have had. The pacing is actually terrific, with ample time given to the setup, and a pretty tight amount given to the mystery. The conclusion is handled well, with a wonderful teaser snuck in at the end. The film doesn't drag.
Branagh does a commendable job as Hercule Poroit, the perfection-driven detective that is pained by his own rigid personality which allows him to be such a world-class investigator.
There were some issues I had with direction, however. Since the bulk of the story happens within the tight confines of a train car, Branagh overcompensates with the exterior shots, which are far too grand, usually with video-game-like crane camera movements, and with far too much CG. Mixed in with an awfully bland color grading, the film doesn't feel as serious as it should.
Yet, I really enjoyed it. I don't know at what point in the story I would have figured it out. Maybe not until the final reveal. Though like any Agatha Christie mystery, the clues are numerous, and after the end, you certainly feel like a dummy if you didn't figure it out. The mystery unfolds in such a satisfying fashion.
I recommend seeing Murder On The Orient Express. It's solid. I don't think hardcore Agatha Christie fans will ever be fully satisfied with any film adaptation, but this one is definitely worth the watch. With a modest $55M budget and a solid opening weekend, hopefully, we haven't seen the end of Branagh as the amazing Hercule Poirot.
I had such low expectations for this film given the modern state of the movie industry. However, when the initial reviews came out stating that this was a worthy successor and an instant sci-fi classic, my expectations started to rise, but I pushed them back down, knowing all too well I was bound to be disappointed.
I then watched the film and realized it's one of the best movies in years and is easily one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Denis Villeneuve and company knocked it straight out of the park.
A superbly cast Ryan Gosling plays a replicant LAPD blade runner. This newer model of replicant is designed to fully obey, and to track down older replicants who could pose danger to humans. He uncovers a mystery–one that could lead to significant consequences to the world, and must solve it by finding the old blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The answers found to the mystery are wonderful. The whole concept is clever. It's storytelling done right.
The casting of this film is exceptional from top to bottom. From Robin Wright who plays Ryan Gosling's boss, to Ana de Armas who plays his simulated girlfriend, to Jared Leto who plays the very evil founder of the Wallace Corporation, one part after another is acted in ways that continually impress. There is no weak link.
But the real icing on top of the cake is the film's epic look and sound. Roger Deakins, one the most acclaimed cinematographers of all time (Shawshank, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), absolutely stuns you with one amazing visual after another. And the great Hans Zimmer, along with a very talented sound effects and design team, finely craft the future world with amazing sounds that go straight to your core and keep you on continual edge.
Now, as a point of warning: this is not a film for the Instagram generation. It's slow, long, intelligent, and relentlessly punishing. If you favor sugar candy over a fine filet mignon, this film will not work for you. It can probably only be appreciated by moviegoers who prefer substance and depth over sparkle.
That being said, if you are a grownup who appreciates deep stories and characters, and appreciate amazing visuals and sound, Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute must-see. It's beautiful and brutal enough to make you cry. It will make you think long after you leave the theatre. It is, finally, a deserving sequel to a classic that we all loved—which in Hollywood history, is but the rarest of gems. Catch it on the big screen while you can.
At some point, an item is priced so low, it's too good to pass up. That's what's happened recently with MoviePass.
I've always loved going to the movies. It used be much more affordable to me, especially the first showings of the day. At some point, even the matinees got to a price point where I'd feel guilty going that often. Fifteen years ago, I probably saw 35 films a year at the theatre. Last year, maybe it was ten. And I live right across the street from a large AMC.
So when MoviePass announced a few weeks back that they were lowering their price to $10/month, I knew it was too good of a deal to pass up. I waited awhile, since I knew demand was heavy, and then a week ago, I ordered my card, and I tried it out today for the first time.
It's awesome. Once your card arrives, you download the app, then select the theatre you're going to (the nearest ones will be on top of the list). And as long as you're within 100 yards of the theatre, you select the movie you want to see (and the time). That activates your card to work for that particular purchase. You can then use the kiosk, or stand in line at the window. It's easy. See as many movies as you want, as long as they're not IMAX or 3D. All for only $10/month.
Now, my small drink still cost $6.10. So, hopefully they come up with a monthly service to pay for that too. But without having to pay the $10.50 for the matinee ticket, I didn't feel too guilty about buying an overpriced cup of syrup water.
If you love going to the movies, MoviePass is too good of a deal not to get. I believe it works at any theatre that accepts MasterCard. If I didn't have a full day of stuff to do tomorrow, I'd go right back to the theatre. I anticipate my films/year will head right back up to 35 or more.
It's a killer deal. I'd highly recommend it. Go see more films.
I skipped Alien: Covenant at the theatres because of the mediocre reviews. I finally caught it last week while on a plane ride from MI to CA. I'm glad I watched it for free on a very small screen because I would not have been happy if I had sacrificed time and money to see it on a big screen.
The film has a very promising premise which I won't give away. But almost every scene felt like it needed further work. I'm guessing it was grossly under-written, and at $97M, under-budgeted. They should have added another couple million for rewrites alone.
One of the biggest problems with the film is that it was hard to care about any of the characters because they were so one-dimensional and underdeveloped. A lot of the writing seemed downright sloppy. For instance, Danny McBride plays a guy named Tennessee. What an annoying, cliched name. There's one scene where the other character calls him by his name about a dozen times. The cliche was hard to handle the first one or two times. By the end of the scene, it was so annoying, I almost stopped watching.
Another big issue was that there wasn't an A-list star to carry the film. Michael Fassbender is a terrific actor. He lacks A-list shine, however. And there was nobody even close to a Sigourney Weaver. In fact, after watching Covenant, you realize how much she carried the first three films.
I'm even going to complain about the effects. At times the Aliens looked awful. Other times they looked alright. Maybe another few million would have fixed that issue as well.
The premise was clever, however. I can see why the pitch was bought. But, this is yet another classic case where the film went into production long before the script was ready. My guess is that if Fox had ponied up another $50M for bigger stars, better effects, and most of all, better writing, Ridley Scott would have had a lot more to work with.
I've been a big fan of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, especially of Skyfall, which I thought to be the best film in the entire series. When Spectre came out, I passed on seeing it in the theatre, primarily because of the mediocre reviews and word-of-mouth. I finally watched the 24th installment in the series, on my tablet, while on vacation, and I now regret not seeing it on the big screen.
The opening scene takes place during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and it's an extraordinary series of long, epic, tracking shots that effectively pull the viewer back into the Bond universe. The main aspect of the plot is set up rather quickly, as is the ovearching mystery. Another tremendous, tense, action scene unfolds in Italy, complete with the requisite eye-popping car chase.
Sam Mendes excels at making these huge, action films. The cinematography is top notch, with one stunning composition after another. Though most of the complex action sequences are cut well, there are issues, which get to the core of the film's main problem.
Spectre has all the elements of a grade-A Bond film: intriguing plot, terrifying antagonist, excellent acting, grand action-filled scenes, a beautiful femme fatale. But the second half of the film has something that is the Achilles' heel of these type of movies: believability issues.
There are a handful, maybe more, of instances that are ridiculously unbelievable. These almost all happen in the second half of the film, and the closer you get to the end, the more frequent they are. And it's a shame. You spend millions of dollars setting up an elaborate action sequence, but blow it on the writing, because the escape is far beyond the scope of believability. It's a few instances of lousy writing that end up preventing Spectre from being a fantastic chapter in the Bond series.
That being said, I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. It's better than the critics gave it credit for. And I still have enormous hope for the next installment now that Daniel Craig has finally signed on. And I do wish I had seen those action sequences on the big screen, even with the let-downs.
Spectre is one of those rare cases where a movie costs $250M, and you look at it and say, I can see where all that money went. Perhaps another $500k on another draft would have been money well spent, however.
Incredible reviews aside, the reality is that Dunkirk is an excellent film, but not an excellent film compared to other Christopher Nolan films.
Nolan made an interesting choice in approaching this story. He took the enormous historical event of the Battle of Dunkirk, and decided to tell it via three relatively small plot lines. Each is well crafted, and the glue that holds the harrowing scenes together is Hans Zimmer's wonderfully chilling score. The acting is solid. There are great moments of visceral impact. At times the cinematography is excellent. At times it's a little blasé. Though at its best, as in scenes of ships sinking, and soldiers fighting for their lives via canted angles, the film delivers brilliance.
Dunkirk is a showcase of a monstrous event. There are few character arcs, few deep relational interactions, few moments when a character's growth wows us. Instead, the wow factor is in the showcase. Therein lies the problem. Dunkirk is a $100M film. It plays much smaller than a recent $40M war film, Hacksaw Ridge, which had the deep emotional arcs satisfyingly imbedded into it, along with wow moments far more impactful than those found in Dunkirk.
I recommend seeing Dunkirk. It's much better than the vast majority of war movies out there. Yet, coming from whom many consider to be the best director of our day, Mr. Nolan was outdone by Mr. Gibson, and not by a narrow margin.
The other day I watched the film for the first time since I was a kid. The 1973 Western was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood. I had forgotten what a good film it was.
We see few Westerns made today because they tend to do horribly at the international box office. I think High Plains Drifter could be made today and could probably see profit. The beauty of the film is in its simplicity. It's based on character much more so than plot.
Clint plays a stranger who rides into a small Western mining town, gets into immediate trouble at the saloon, proves his skills at shooting a revolver, and is then hired to defend the town against a gang who will be coming to cause havoc. What makes the film so interesting is the cast of characters that inhabit the town, and their interaction with the stranger who has them do outrageous things in preparation for the final showdown. It's that simple. They prepare for the gang, and then the gang rides in at the end.
The film ends with an ambiguous/supernatural tone that isn't needed at all. It tried to go a bit too far. But besides the over-the-top reveal, it worked well throughout, and in very limited locations. Ninety percent of it takes place in a small town, one that was obviously built for the shoot. There are the scenic shots of the vast plains of the American West to add cinematic value, all of which looked to be simple, easy-to-shoot setups.
Fascinating characters who are well cast are what makes High Plains Drifter work. It is in some ways the anti-Western with a true anti-hero. It relies on character to make up for the limited space in which it takes place. It hits its notes well, and besides the disappointing try at the end, it doesn't attempt to be more than it should.
It's definitely worth the watch.
This is full of spoilers, so please don't read on if you haven't seen the movie.
Kenneth Lonergan wrote an incredible script. However, I'm not satisfied with his ending. This is the second fantastic movie from 2016 (the other being Hell or High Water) that went with a soft ending to the detriment of the film. This is breaking with the tradition of having a climax, and then a denouement to finish the story.
Manchester by the Sea ends with Lee, sitting at a dinner table, telling his teenage nephew Patrick that the family friend George will adopt him so that he can stay in Manchester. In the following scene, Lee and Patrick walk down a road, bouncing a ball. Lee tells Patrick that he can't stay in Manchester because he "...can't beat it," meaning he can't beat the bad memories of the place, and that he'll look for a two-bedroom apartment so that Patrick can visit him. The film closes with the two going out on the boat to fish.
The reason why this ending is so unsatisfying is because it ends with a reveal and not a completion of Lee's character arc.
A much better ending would have been: Lee drops off Patrick at George's house. They hug and hold back the tears outside of the house as Lee hands Patrick off to his new family. Let gets in his car, turns it on, and starts backing out of the driveway. He stops at the end of the driveway. He contemplates. A tear drops down his face. We see a CU of his hand fumbling around the keys near the ignition. The hand shakes. He turns off the car. Cut to Black.
This would have shown that Lee finished his arc: that he had grown to a place where he'd be willing to face all of his demons in order to honor his dead brother and take care of the nephew who he really loved.
I can't argue with Lonergan's decision. He made one of the best films of recent memory. However, I'm sick of these soft endings attached to otherwise fantastic films. This devastating film would have been so much better by alluding to greater hope for Lee's future. It would have made all the pain that we suffered while watching through the incredible sadness dissipate away in a most satisfying way.
Pop the balloon. Don't let the air squeeze out of a pinhole leak. That's no way to end a great story.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the film in the theatre, so like most of the world, I waited around for it to get to Amazon Prime. I'm not sure why, but for some reason, I didn't believe I'd like this film as much as the critics. Maybe it was the Matt Damon connection, not sure.
Turns out, I was wrong. Manchester by the Sea is one of the best American films in recent memory.
For a sub-$10M picture, this film is extremely well-crafted. Yes, there's the occasional poorly framed shot, or cut that doesn't work as well as it should. But for every one of those instances, there are many compositions and sequences that blow you away. There are scenes that are fantastically well done, like a funeral scene without dialogue. It's done entirely in slow motion (and I usually detest slow motion) under music, and all you can do is read the actors' lips, but you don't need to, because the performances are so strong, you understand what was being said.
I now understand why Casey Affleck won that Academy Award. This is a performance for the ages. Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams are superb as usual. And Lucas Hedges kills it as the teenager trying to deal with the death of his dad. But the excellent casting doesn't stop there. From top to bottom, this film is solidly acted.
Yes, this movie is heartbreaking. It's so emotional, it's hard to sit through at times. But it's so well written, acted, and directed, it's something to be appreciated. The nuances in the relationships are absolutely incredible. It makes this story believable. The scenes ring so true, it's almost as if the film bar has been raised.
There are two minor problems with the film. First, it pushes too far in some instances. A bit of restraint would have been more effective. And second, (minor spoiler alert), I'm not a fan of the soft ending.
That being said, Manchester by the Sea is a prime example of storytelling done right. You could teach a semester-long filmmaking class on this movie alone. So if you haven't seen it, grab that Kleenex box, and turn on your Amazon Prime.
One last note: thank God that Matt Damon had to drop out of the lead because of scheduling. Without Casey Affleck, this wouldn't have been half the film it turned out to be.
My rating: 9.8/10.
With a 98% RottenTomatoes rating and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, I was looking forward to seeing Hell or High Water. I hadn't heard a negative thing about it, but unfortunately wasn't able to catch it during its short run in theatres. After all, who could pass up seeing Jeff Bridges play a Texas Ranger in West Texas? That alone sounds like a formula for great success.
The story covers two very seasoned Texas Rangers, one played by Bridges, the other by Gil Birmingham, who chase a couple of young bank-robbing brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. The relationships between each pair of partners is what makes the film. The brothers, in dire straights, have nothing but deep, open love towards each other. The Rangers, coming from a more reserved generation, show their fellow admiration through more strained methods. Bridges, as we would expect, is absolutely terrific in the role. We feel his pain as he nears the end of a career that is the prominent part of his life, in a vast, barren world that doesn't seem to give a damn.
The open plains of West Texas are the perfect landscape for this story, and DP Giles Nuttgens captures them well, allowing the film to play much bigger than its meager $12M budget. But, this movie isn't at its best in the grand exterior scenes. Where Hell or High Water really shines is in the confined hotel room, where the two Rangers have to indirectly discuss life, or in a backcountry steak house, where they have to show ultimate respect to an old, ornery waitress who commands nothing less.
If I had to nitpick the movie, I'd point to the soft ending, which I'm sure many people found underwhelming. It was a creative choice that plays on the long, slow life of the Rangers in that part of the country. It's delivered with a little tack hammer that I'm afraid will keep this movie from having a chance of winning Best Picture. But I was okay with it.
The four leads did a fantastic job. However, I feel that if a bigger name was attached, the movie would have had better success at the box office. This is a modern Western, and any Western tends to run into trouble with the international box office. Having a not-too-successful domestic release, the foreign release was very limited. When a critically-acclaimed Western sputters with movie-goers, that doesn't bode well for green-lighting future pictures in the genre.
Yet, I still loved this film. Yes, a greater punch in the gut at the end would have made me love it more. That being said, I do feel Hell or High Water is very deserving of its Best Picture nomination.
My rating: 9.1/10
I recently rewatched The Sixth Sense for the first time in years. I remember seeing it in the theatre in 1999 and being absolutely wowed. I've seen it several times since and have read the script more than once. I still absolutely love this movie. Everyone raves about the twist, but I love everything else about it as well: the pace, the dialogue, the compositions, the acting—it's all fantastic. It's one of my favorite films of all time.
Although officially M. Night's third film, I feel to most of us, it feels like it's his first. It gave us enormous expectations for his future films. They came, and each one, unfortunately, seemed to be a little worse than the previous. For every person that loved Signs, a few less loved The Village, and a few less loved Lady in the Water.
None of M. Night's movies resonated with me nearly as much as The Sixth Sense, but I found some amazing quality in all of them (I didn't see The Last Airbender or After Earth). I did see The Visit, M. Night's 2015 low-budget return-to-horror flick, and liked it a lot. I'll go see his upcoming film Split as well. I think for too long he was far too intent on smacking us with a twist ending. None could ever live up to The Sixth Sense reveal.
M. Night comes out with a new film about every couple of years. That means that he's probably only taking six months or so to write each script. I wonder what would happen if he took a couple of years to write each script and came out with a new film every 3-4 years. I'm not sure he could afford to do it, but I bet it would increase the quality of his films dramatically.
I'm still an M. Night Shyamalan fan. I hope he ends his career with films that are his best yet. That will be tough to do. A good sabbatical might do him well in the mean time.
My rating for The Sixth Sense: 9.7/10
This morning I rewatched Rogue One, this time in 2D on a normal=sized screen. In my previous review, I pointed out the two biggest flaws I found with the film: weak character development and an almost complete lack of LS's. Since 3D tends to make big shots look small, I was interested to see the film in 2D to see if it played larger.
During the second viewing, I had the exact same problems I had during the first. The character development was thin. Who the hell is Saw Gerrera? Why is he in this film? Cassian Andor? What's his backstory? At least we learn a little about Jyn, but not enough to make her as satisfying as she could be. Bad-Guy Orson? Why wasn't he developed at all?
Seeing the film in 2D did very little to hide the fact that besides the large XXL CG shots, 90% of this film is shot too close.
When low-budget indie filmmakers shoot their films, they often rely heavily on MCU's in order to hide the fact that they can't afford extensive sets to paint the background with. It makes the film feel low-budget. There is never an excuse to do this in any large action film that you don't intentionally want to feel cheesy.
An example: what does Saw Gerrera's HQ's look like? We only see tight shots of it, along with terrific XXL's when it comes crumbling down. But we never get a feel of size and shape like we did inside of Jabba's chambers.
This is most noticeable in the first two acts. By the third act there are so many CG shots, it covers it up some. Having to squeeze in a big Walker does force the LS. But in crucial moments, the MCU's are used as cheats and it's very annoying. One example is when Jyn jumps onto the data storage tower. We correctly start with a LS of her jumping, and then cut to a MCU of her arm and head as she grabs the tower. This is a cheat. They then do it correctly with Cassian, showing his whole body make the jump. It's much more satisfying.
If 20% of the shots were shot too close or too zoomed in it would be annoying. But with a Rogue-One, it's the vast majority of shots. I guess the director, Gareth Edwards, and the cinematographer, Greig Fraser, have to share the blame. There just isn't any excuse for a movie with a $200M budget to be shot like this.
I still loved that third act though. And of course I still loved Felicity Jone's performance.
Although a very good film, with an outstanding third act, Rogue One has some serious flaws. But I guess with the subpar quality of the last few Star Wars films, we should be happy with the greatness that does exist within it.
Two viewings of Rogue One is satisfying. A third would be too many. That puts the film close to Return of the Jedi quality, and a huge notch below New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, yet far above the other films.
Few things are as frustrating as what has been done to the Star Wars universe, post-Revenge of the Jedi. While most people seemed to think that The Force Awakens was adequate redemption for the three films which preceded it, I disliked the film, and thought it to be a squandered opportunity.
Hence, when I walked into the 3-D, AMC-mini-IMAX viewing of Rogue One, I came with low expectations. Very few films would justify my losing of a Jackson and +2 hours of my time. But Star Wars still holds a strong place in my heart, and I wasn't going to wait around to watch this film on my TV.
First the bad news: Rogue One mostly squanders two acts on mediocre film craftsmanship and character development. There are far too many MS's and MCU's prior to the third act, making the film look cheap. The occasional XXLS looks fantastic, but there is an extreme dearth of LS's, to the detriment of the film.
There is not one character in Rogue One that is as well established or as engaging as Luke, Han, Leia, Ben, R2D2, C3PO, or Vader. Though I liked many of the characters, they were awfully thin. Some of the casting was great. Felicity Jones was fantastic in the lead as Jyn, and Ben Mendelsohn of Blood Lines fame, is terrific as a higher-up Emperial officer. How the hell they returned Peter Cushing from the dead, I'll never know, but they did it in very convincing fashion.
To repeat: the biggest flaw of this film is the weak character development.
After those two very mediocre first acts comes some of the best Star Wars filmmaking we've ever seen. The third act is an enormous, world-class crafted, epic masterpiece that is as great as any of the previous Star Wars films. It's a battle that happens on land and in space, with a well-paced build-up of tension, that leads to a fulfilling transition into A New Hope.
If only the characters had been crafted as well as the ones in New Hope.
However, this is a one-off, and as a big spectacle popcorn movie, it greatly succeeds. I couldn't fall into it during the first two acts, but I'm sure most people did. I enjoyed the hell out of the third act up on that big screen. To me, it is easily the fourth best Star Wars movie, and is a much better film than The Force Awakens.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that Disney has made with the Star Wars franchise was separating from Michael Arndt during the early stages of pre-production on The Force Awakens. He is exactly the type of scribe they need to bring Star Wars back to where it deserves to be.
Though I had my issues with it, Rogue One, if for but 30 or 40 minutes, brought me back to the Star Wars of my childhood. And for that I'm happy and satisfied. And just to be clear: I think Felicity Jones is a huge star in the making.
My rating: 9.3/10
Ever since the positive buzz surrounding the film during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September, I've been looking forward to seeing Arrival, a movie that critics and audiences have both seemed to love. Intelligent, emotional, astonishing--or so say many of the reviews. Since well-produced sci-fi is so hard to come by, my expectations were high.
I'm not going to give much away. Arrival is a story that begins with alien ships arriving in different parts of the world. Amy Adams plays a linguist who is hired by the federal government to try to figure out what the aliens are saying (their speech sounds like whale grunts, and their writing is a series of very complicated looking circles). There's a love interest played by Jeremy Renner who is some sort of scientist, also hired to figure out what the aliens want.
To be honest, this was the first film I fell asleep during, in many, many years. I don't think I missed much, as my snoring quickly woke me up in the crowded theatre. One could easily snooze through fifteen minutes of the first hour of this film and not feel like you missed a beat.
Hence the problem: this is an alien movie with little excitement. Adams decodes the alien language in a ridiculously and completely unbelievable short period of time. We don't feel part of this finding, as it's just shown that she has the moment where the circles make sense. Awful story telling at this key moment ruins the entire film.
Though Adam's performance is terrific as usual, it can't save this story, whose last act is exactly the opposite of what the critics claim it to be. It's not intelligent. It's dumb. It's very dumb.
This film tries so hard to be something from the mind of Terrence Malick or Christopher Nolan, but ends up being a poor man's version of either. I hadn't believed an ounce of it throughout, and the big attempt at a spiritual conclusion fell extremely flat with me. Arrival ended up being a solidly-crafted, well-acted film, that suffered from poor story conception by the writers.
I'm glad an adult sci-fi drama is doing well with critics and audiences, however. Hopefully, we'll see a bit of resurgence with the genre. And with a bit of luck, every ten years or so, we'll be able to see a top-quality epic like Tree of Life or Inception, and a bunch of films, like Arrival, that attempt to be such a masterpiece, but end up falling far short.
My rating: a very generous 7/10.
Love him or hate him, Mel Gibson has been on an extraordinary run as a director. Braveheart ('95), The Passion of the Christ ('04), Apocalypto ('06), and now Hacksaw Ridge. These are all first-rate films, and few directors have matched Mel's consistent high level of quality over the last twenty years.
Hacksaw Ridge, based on an almost unbelievable true story of a man who enlisted to fight in WWII, but who refused to carry a gun, is the type of character-driven drama that Mel exceeds at directing. Unlike Saving Private Ryan, Mel takes a more traditional war movie pace, starting with a slow, small town establishment, upping the stakes and action through a somewhat reserved boot camp act, and finishing with some of the most vicious war scenes we've ever seen on the big screen. Andrew Garfield shines in the lead, playing a conflicted character, who so badly wants to help the American cause, but who needs to stay within his firm belief in the Ten Commandments.
Simon Duggan does a fantastic job with the cinematography, especially during the brutal wars scenes. The size and scope of the battle, although not the largest ever, certainly feels epic in size, They somehow pulled off shooting this important part of the invasion of Okinawa, and the rest of the 131 minute film, extraordinarily well, for only $40 million. This is a huge accomplishment for Mel and his producers. I don't remember ever seeing such a large, epic film shot on such a medium-sized budget.
Hacksaw Ridge is clearly the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan, and deserves to be mentioned in the greatest war movies of all time. This is definitely the type of film you want to see on the big screen. If you can stomach the brutality of hand-to-hand combat, complete with flame throwers and machine guns, please go see Hacksaw Ridge, not only to experience filmmaking at its best, but to learn about this true story of bravery, the likes of which will blow your mind.
My Rating: 9.5/10
Below is one of my all time favorite scenes, from one of my favorite films. It's wonderfully written to capture the nuances of the Upper Midwestern culture. It's fantastically acted. The pace is perfect. And Joel and Ethan Coen masterfully decided not to include the reversal shot.
Even though the framing is awful, the image of small town humanity in front of the large Midwestern industrial mill is highly fitting within the themes of the film. It's scenes like this that I love to study in order to better appreciate the brilliance of great filmmaking.
I wish I was able to write something as amazing as this scene. This is why Fargo is such a classic movie:
I've watched all 464 minutes of the five-part, much-acclaimed ESPN series by Ezra Edelman. It's a quality, painful look, not only at O.J., the crime, the trial, and all within, but also at the long, complex racial history of Los Angeles, and how O.J. and Nicole fit within that history.
It's the length and depth that makes this documentary so wonderful to watch. Most of the main players are interviewed at length. The details that we've long forgotten, and many that we never knew about, keep coming at us at a pace fast enough to never allow us not to be glued to the screen. The different, strong, viewpoints, as passionate as ever, twenty-one years after the verdict, hook us back into the story and the drama that went down throughout.
But a word to the wary: this documentary will upset many of you, unlike anything you've ever seen. You will see how the defense team played unconscionably dirty tricks. You will hear and see the history of how O.J. beat the hell out of Nicole on so many occasions. You will see gruesome crime scene photos. You will hear a juror state outright that the majority of jurors thought their verdict to be payback for Rodney King because "We protect our own," and how she thinks she might vote differently had the trial happened today.
In other words, it's ugly. But it's a well-crafted ugliness that teaches us so much beyond that which is O.J. and a knife.
If you can stomach the horrible nature of the content, I'd highly recommend it. Though it might get a bit too preachy at times, especially early on, it's a very satisfying watch at the end of it all.
My rating: 9/10
I hadn't planned on going to see Kubo and the Two Strings, but there was a call to arms on Reddit about the film, since it was flopping pretty hard at the box office, and so many felt it deserved to do better. The reviews by the Redditors made it a must-go for me (along with the 96% RT rating).
Kubo is a charming, odd, heartwarming, adventurous tale of a young boy in search of his true family history. It doesn't shy away from being dark. In fact, it's pretty frightening for a kid's story. Its humor is reserved compared to most animated films (though it does have its moments). Its cast is not broad, and that's a good thing, because the few characters that have a lot of screen-time are well developed. The plot kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
But where Kubo really shines is in two particular places:
The first is its absolutely stunning stop-animation visuals. I don't remember seeing an animated film that looked so gorgeous, in every frame. It's enough to take your breath away. Most compositions are fantastic. The blocking of the characters, especially in the fight scenes, is terrific. But the quality of the animation, from the forests and sunsets, to the monstrous waves rocking the ship, is mind-blowingly awesome.
The second place where Kubo shines is in the morals upon which the story plays out. This film has heart, mountains of it, unlike few films you have seen. It, like Toy Story 3, is enough to make a grown man cry.
I only have one minor complaint. I think Charlize Theron was miscast, but it's nowhere near a deal-breaker.
If Kubo and the Two Strings is still playing on a big screen near you, go see it! If you can't catch in the theatre, make sure you see it on the biggest, sharpest screen you can. It's an absolute classic. And keep that Kleenex next to you, to wipe those tears away.
My rating: 9.7/10
I finally got around to watching Richard Linklater's groundbreaking film that follows the life of a family over the course of twelve years (using the same actors throughout). The film has a 98% RottenTomatoes score and a 100% on Metacritic. It simply doesn't get any better than that.
During the 165 minute journey, Linklater casually tells the story of a young boy growing up within a broken family in different parts of Texas. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play the parents as superbly as we would expect them too. The boy, whose journey we are experiencing, is also played extremely well by Ellar Coltrane, who through the course of all the years, becomes an excellent actor right before our eyes.
There is plenty of drama, as different father figures come and go, and as the adults make various decisions which turn out to not be the best. They, along with the kids, realistically mature throughout the narrative as they pass through different stages of life, and just as in our lives, their decisions start getting better.
This is fundamentally a story about the boy, Mason, who has far too many adults pushing him to commit to a direction throughout his childhood, when he has no idea upon which path he should take. At an early age, he learns how chaotic life can be, and he learns how hard it is to choose the correct answers when they seem so fuzzy at times. As adulthood is pushed on him by his parents, we feel the weight and pressure of the over-parenting.
The story itself is wonderful. It's easily relatable which is what Linklater does best. He delivers moments where we're thinking "Oh, we've been there. Yes. We. Have."
What's frustrating is that this excellent film could have been a masterpiece if it weren't for some very suboptimal execution mechanisms. One of the most annoying is how Linklater continually uses dialogue far too blatantly to dictate to the audience how much time has lapsed. If Mason walks into his birthday party, someone has to ask him his age right off the bat to alert the audience where we are in the timeline. It's distracting, completely unneeded throughout, and felt forced every single time.
The film also lacks subtlety in many scenes that would have been played more effectively had they been cut down. Ethan Hawke was well established early on as a father who tried too hard--that pushed his children to believe his views too much. Then it's reinforced again, and again, and again. One particular scene that would have played out much better was one where Mason sits in the minivan with his father and his new wife, and it's revealed that the father had sold his old sports car to pay for the minivan. The scene then drags on with Mason getting upset because it had been promised to him when he was a young kid, and with his dad blathering about how cars are bad investments. The point is that the dad had gotten to the point in life where he had to sell his dream sports car because his priorities had changed. That would have been enough to shock Mason into seeing his dad differently. All the rest was excess that just dragged an already too-long movie further than it needed to go.
Some scenes are handled brilliantly, however. Mason talks to his dad in an empty balcony of a club, while a band tunes up on the stage below. After some needed small talk to establish the scene, Mason asks his dad what it (life) is all about. His dad reveals that even at his point in life, he has no idea, and nobody else does either. It's a great moment between father and son, and shows a very specific couple of points in life that they had each grown to. Linklater's handling of the scene was superb.
I love how Linklater ended the story. It was laid back in his usual style, yet it was profound as well, and a fitting conclusion to Mason's arc of childhood. As the credits roll, one has to just sit back and think about what all has been absorbed. It's a heavy moment.
I think Linklater deserves an enormous amount of credit for daring to get this film made. IFC Films also deserves credit for taking a chance on such a long-term project. Hats off to the actors as well. This movie is truly groundbreaking, something that is rare in the current era of film.
Though I had some problems with it, I did fall quickly into the story and truly did want to see where the characters were going. A few unwanted annoyances did kick me out at times, but each time I was able to fall right back in. It's hard to complain about such a huge undertaking that was crafted so well for just a few million dollars. Richard Linklater has done some remarkable work. I think he's proud to have this project on his mantle.
My Rating: 8.7/10
I've talked about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian on this blog before, not only for my love of the novel, but because there have been several attempts to adapt it into a film (most recently by James Franco)--something that many in the industry feel is an impossibility to do well, given the novel's immense violent nature. In fact, Ridley Scott, who once tried to get the project off the ground, famously said that "It would have been rated double-X."
A few years ago, William Monahan (who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Departed), was given the chance to adapt the novel. I've long wanted to read his draft, and thanks to a nice redditor, was finally able to get my hands on it.
Monahan's first act was written extraordinarily well. I fell into the story as quickly as I did the first time I read the novel. Although no one could match McCarthy's vivid description of mid-1800's Texas, Mexico, and California, Monahan does a serviceable job to say the least, especially with the limited amount of space he had to work with. The Kid's travels down to Texas, the Glanton gang's move into Mexico, the initial battles with the Apaches--it's done well.
Then the Judge is established, and it's clear where Monahan diverges from the book--to the detriment of the story. The master-craftsman McCarthy brilliantly layered the Judge within the multitude of members of the Glanton Gang, The character is slowly established, and it's not until deep into the novel that we realize his true significance, not only to this story, but to the world as a whole.
Monahan was restricted by time, so he hacked out most of the other character's dialogue. He gave the Judge much more prominent of a place in the story--right from his establishment. This ruins the whole character, and frankly, does immense damage to the story as well.
However, with the exception of this unfortunate fact, the Monahan script is relatively strong, specifically in the first act, and first-half of the second. The end of the second act and the entire third act do need some work. But, this is a very workable script, much to my amazement.
Monahan changes the ending (one of the greatest endings in fictional history, in my opinion), and absolutely crashes and burns with it. One has to wonder what the hell he was thinking. It's bizarre that he would even attempt to alter such a brilliant end to an amazing story. But he does. Probably an ego thing, but when you're adapting arguably the world's greatest living writer, don't fuck up the ending. Is that too much to ask?
I think with a bunch of work, which would definitely include the removal of (perhaps) 70% of the Judge's dialogue, and with the beefing up of some of the side characters (such as Toadvine and the Delawares), this script could be made to work to the level of our high expectations attached to McCarthy adaptations. Above all, that ridiculously bad ending would have to be changed back to McCarthy's original intention. (The greatest scene in the whole book is removed for some reason).
So, overall, I was impressed with Monahan's attempt. This is truly a near-impossible project. He took a hard shot, and it ended up being decent. In fact, the first third of the screenplay is pretty incredible. As it stands, however, I'd hate to see this script shot. The magic of who the Judge character is would have to be added back in, and that addition would certainly be made through substantial subtraction.
There's a fascinating article at theverge.com entitled "Does 'Unfilmable' Really Mean Anything Anymore?" The author, @TashaRobinson, makes a fascinating claim: Cormac McCarthy fans say that Blood Meridian is unfilmable, but they know their claim is untrue. In fact, they don't want the movie to be made because they're afraid that it'll never live up to the greatness of the book.
Tasha then goes on to state other projects that were once thought to be unfilmable, such as Blue is the Warmest Color and Game of Thrones. She claims that there are very few books which are truly unfilmable today, and goes on to state Lolita and House of Leaves as examples.
This is a fascinating argument to me. There's a lot of truth to it. Tasha states that most of us would be frightened by the casting of The Judge because it would be hard to find someone who would live up to that role. I agree with her that it would be hard but not impossible to cast that iconic character. She implies the tone would be hard to capture and that the visual medium would be different, but not necessarily a letdown. Perhaps that's true as well.
I'm torn on this because I see both sides of the issue.
Yes, we're afraid to have this movie made. In our minds, it is near impossible to be as good as the book. If it's butchered, it will butcher our hearts. We can truly be hurt if it goes South, and we're afraid it will affect the legacy of the book. I'll admit all of that.
However, Tasha gets some things wrong in her assessment. For starters, whereas Lolita is truly unfilmable, it's not because of child pornography laws. A movie adaptation of Lolita wouldn't be hampered severely by lack of explicit sex scenes. Lolita is unfilmable because the beauty of the story is within the wicked thoughts inside of Humbert Humbert's head, and even with v/o, this could never be effectively translated onto the screen (the two adaptations failed horribly at this).
In the same vein, the absolute brutal nature of Blood Meridian wouldn't translate well without unspeakable violence committed on the screen. This would make it nearly impossible to reap significant box office returns. No studio is going to give someone $100M or $150M to make this Western (a genre that almost always does poorly in the international markets) and allow an NC-17 rating. Remember, the remake of Lolita, which was only an R rating, had an enormously difficult time securing a distributor. It was released in the U.S. on Showtime before getting a very limited theatrical release and bombing at the box office everywhere.
So, yes. I do agree with some of the thoughts in this article. We are afraid to see someone try to adapt Blood Meridian. It would just be too hard to pull off. It could never live up to our expectations.
But, part of this is because in the current marketplace for films, realistically speaking, the story is 'unfilmable.' That might change in the future, but as it stands today, I see no way that this could be pulled off to the satisfaction of most Cormac McCarthy fans, fear or no fear.
Jon David Rosten, author of
Order "The Wicked Trees" off of Amazon, today!