MOVIE: Barbie (2023)

Barbie Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours I’ll admit that the only reason I watched Barbie (2023) was because Greta Gerwig directed it. I loved her style in Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019). Going into Barbie, I was prepared for a full commentary on feminism, especially through the lens of the “perfect woman” that so many girls grew up with. And while the casting was flawless, there still felt like moments where Barbie could have gone deeper with the subject matter but declined due to pressure from Mattel. Its writing was smart and snappy, but it’s also a movie about a beloved childhood toy. Of course, a lot of Barbie wouldn’t work if the cast was different. Margot Robbie is the epitome of the classic Barbie look. Ryan Gosling gnaws on the scenery and almost steals the show (thus enforcing the patriarchy, ironically enough). Other standout performances go to Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, and America Ferrera. That there are...
Read More

MOVIE: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty Year: 2012 Rating: R Length: 157 minutes / 2.62 hours There are a few key moments from cinema that stick with me, even years after watching them for the first time. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a little frustrating to watch, but I suppose that's the whole point. Maya Harris (Jessica Chastain) had to deal with excessive government bureaucracy to avenge the United States after September 11th. That the last 30 minutes of this movie is the most gripping sequence I've ever seen is a testament to the payoff for two hours of buildup. What strikes me with this film is how raw it feels. It's unflinching in its depiction of torture. It doesn't hesitate to show that the U.S. would do anything to get back at those who killed so many on American soil. The problem is that it seems to insinuate that continuing in this extreme manner would have brought the eventual result a lot sooner. These red tape holdups...
Read More

MOVIE: Oppenheimer (2023)

OppenheimerYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 180 minutes / 3.00 hours Christopher Nolan's filmography has been building to this movie. Over decades, Nolan has had gimmicks in his films that make them stand out. Oppenheimer (2023) uses many of them to create a compelling story that's half scientific discovery and half political drama. That a movie like this—about unleashing the Pandora's box of nuclear weapons—hadn't been made like this before is perhaps the more impressive feat. The way Nolan weaves the two halves of the story together is masterful. However, the actors definitely do a lot of heavy lifting here. It took me a second viewing to piece together that the black-and-white segments followed Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) while the color segments focused on J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). This visual stylization hearkened back to the way Nolan made Memento (2000) unique. The shifted timelines between the black-and-white/color segments evoked Dunkirk (2017)., I'm just glad that I could actually understand what everyone was saying,...
Read More

MOVIE: Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Triangle of Sadness Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It speaks to the state of current society when 2022 churned out not one, but three films that focus on the absurdity of the rich. While The Menu (2022) focused on the "foodie" culture that surrounds so many wealthy individuals, Glass Onion (2022) highlighted those "influencers" who try to disrupt industries. The one film I feel best captured the satire of the ultra-wealthy was definitely Triangle of Sadness (2022). The humor was the darkest of all three, but it went further than the other two in exposing the uselessness of the rich. The first act sets up all the ridiculous things that rich people do. From absurd reasons to dump a romantic interest to how little money they actually have on hand, the audience gets a glimpse into their absurd world of opulence. Once the yacht enters the picture in the second act, we see all the different varieties of rich and...
Read More

MOVIE: Women Talking (2022)

Women Talking Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Some conversations are difficult. Things that people in power want to be covered up are often the conversations that need to happen the most. And while revealing these topics to the public is a great way to raise awareness, sometimes the most impactful way to effect change is to band together. A unified front against an egregious sin does more than merely asking those in power to stop. Women Talking (2022) takes on the heavy topic of sexual assault and makes it a not-so-simple conversation about what to do in a helpless situation. While I feel She Said (2022) received more visibility, the heaviness of the circumstances of these Mennonite women hit significantly harder. Granted, neither film really captured the tension the way Spotlight (2015) did. It's great that movies like this are coming out, despite being heavy topics that require introspection into the systems that enable them. Heck, even Promising Young Woman...
Read More

MOVIE: Tár (2022)

Tár Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours I hate to say that Tár (2022) is what's wrong with Oscar nominees, but it's really what's wrong with Oscar nominees. I had only seen a trailer for this movie once and it was a vague two minutes of Cate Blanchett blowing smoke, followed by her briefly conducting an orchestra. There was nothing to indicate to me what this movie was about. Then it was released on the coasts, never making it to the Colorado Springs cinemas until it was nominated for Best Picture and I was given the chance to watch it. Tár is weird. It's psychological and unapologetic about never explaining itself. I get that it's intended as an almost "out of body" experience following the titular character around. The "artsy" aspects of Tár's clearly untreated mental illness left me scratching my head more often than not. Still, I enjoy classical music and attending the Philharmonic, so it was interesting to see...
Read More

MOVIE: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

All Quiet on the Western FrontYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 148 minutes / 2.46 hours There has been a trend in recent years of remaking films that had previously been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Movies like A Star is Born (2018) didn't win the highest prize in previous years like West Side Story (2021) did in 1961. The latest in these remakes is All Quiet on the Western Front (2022), a German-language film based on the 1929 book of the same name that had a Best Picture-winning adaptation in 1930. And while visually beautiful, I think this new version misses parts of what made the 1930 version stand out. I'll admit that I haven't read the book these movies were adapting. However, there was a powerful message that the 1930 version conveyed that was missing in this newer version. Both successfully showed that war is hell and completely pointless for those fighting on the front lines. And while the 2022 adaptation...
Read More

MOVIE: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

The Banshees of Inisherin Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours After the masterpiece that was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), I was ready for the next film from Martin McDonagh. I appreciated the dark sense of humor he had in Seven Psychopaths (2012) and I understood his bizarre fascination with "boring" from In Bruges (2008), but for some reason, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) didn't quite hit for me. It's likely because the premise is a metaphor for something I don't entirely understand. On a second watch, I did laugh at the jokes more and I always thought the setting was pretty, but it still didn't click. Going in without completely understanding what this movie was about, it immediately struck me how stupid the prime conflict is. It felt like Colm (Brendan Gleeson) took far too long to admit why he didn't want to be friends with Pádraic (Colin Ferrell) anymore, and his reason was quite stupid. I can't stand...
Read More

MOVIE: Avatar – The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 192 minutes / 3.20 hours It's weird to me to see so many "science fiction" fans bash the Avatar franchise and then in the next breath complain that there aren't any new intellectual properties in the genre. Considering how recently these movies came out when compared to franchises like Star Wars, the Avatar films are the new intellectual properties in the genre. That there seems to be an overarching plan for the franchise gives me hope that James Cameron knows what he's doing. If Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) is any indication, he's done his homework with its world-building. I know people complain about the weak plot of these movies; but maybe with the state of the world, we need to reiterate stories about the harmful effects of colonialism and capitalism. As always, the visual spectacle of The Way of Water is on par with—if not significantly better than—Avatar (2009). A lot of what...
Read More

MOVIE: The Fabelmans (2022)

The Fabelmans Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours Steven Spielberg has been directing films for so many decades that it’s actually a little surprising that the semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans (2022) took this long to materialize. Because of his years of success as a filmmaker, I already knew some details of Spielberg’s rise to the successful director that he is today. Granted, I’m not sure how much of the family drama in The Fabelmans is a direct influence on Spielberg’s life or if he manufactured it for the movie itself. Still, it is interesting to see the early budding talent presented in this movie and be able to extrapolate to movies like Jaws (1975), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Schindler’s List (1993). Perhaps my one qualm with this movie is that it’s a bit too long. I understand the desire to show the entire life of Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) to understand the context of the origins of his filmmaking passion, but...
Read More

MOVIE: Elvis (2022)

Elvis Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 159 minutes / 2.65 hours Elvis Presley is one of those notable public figures that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. How could this singer not only cause teenage girls to lose their minds when he shook his hips but also have a military career while making Holywood movies, only to end up performing in Las Vegas until he died? It almost seemed like these were three separate individuals when, in reality, Elvis really did it all. I wasn't aware of the unfortunate relationship he had with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), but Elvis (2022) helped piece all the parts of Elvis' life together in an entertaining package. I don't think there is any director who was better suited to bring this story to the big screen than Baz Luhrmann. His tendency to create musical mashups blended so well with Elvis' background in both Gospel and Blues. Seeing this popular white man using his clout to...
Read More

MOVIE: Top Gun – Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours The COVID pandemic delayed the release of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) for a few years. Having only watched the original a few days prior to seeing this in the theaters, it was definitely worth the wait to see something like this on the big screen. The trailers only hinted at the spectacle that could be achieved over 35 years after the original wowed audiences with great fighter jet footage. That's not to say that this film doesn't lean heavily on its nostalgia—or plots that come strikingly close to other famous franchises. Part of the appeal of Top Gun (1986) was all the footage of fighter jet acrobatics. Most civilians never get to see these things outside an occasional air show, so there's an amount of awe involved when seeing what these marvels of modern engineering can do. Over three decades of advancements in cinematography allowed this sequel to surpass the original. Cockpit...
Read More

MOVIE: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Everything Everywhere All at OnceYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Multiverse stories are all the rage right now. While most of them seem to be relegated to comic book adaptations (like Loki, Spider-man: No Way Home (2021), and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022)), by far the best one to emerge from this pile of parallel universes is Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). It is the most bizarrely funny movie I've seen in some time, which just goes to show how films released by A24 are of a higher caliber than anything else. Most multiverse movies play it pretty safe when exploring branching paths of the known universe. Everything Everywhere All at Once throws literally everything at the audience, and the result is hilarious. Office equipment mechas, Human Ratatouilles, Rocks, Bagels. I honestly can't come close to describing the rapid-fire series of absurdist realities. Some moments were straight laugh-out-loud funny to me, and others were...a bit more adult...
Read More

MOVIE: Nightmare Alley (2021)

Nightmare AlleyYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours I appreciate Guillermo del Toro for his sense of artistic style. His genius usually comes out in movies set in the 1940s and 1950s, with such hits as Pan's Labyrinth (2005) and The Shape of Water (2017). And while there are fun popcorn flicks of his that I enjoy (like Hellboy (2004) and Pacific Rim (2013)), I feel Nightmare Alley (2021) is my favorite work he has done to date. After all, his best work comes from showing the audience that humans are the actual monsters of the story. A story told in a solid three acts, Nightmare Alley is a beautiful uroboros of fame and hubris. The all-star casting of Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, and Willem Dafoe helped to sell the story of a grifter who gets too greedy for his own good. The twists and turns are exciting, if not wholly predictable, but that's part of the fun of...
Read More

MOVIE: Drive My Car (2021)

Drive My CarYear: 2021Rating: UnratedLength: 179 minutes / 2.98 hours There are movies made to be entertaining, then there are movies that gaze into the soul of human existence and dare us to blink. Drive My Car (2021) is the latter. Grief is such a complex topic that few have successfully tackled it meaningfully or with the depth that this film does. It's slow, steady, and meandering through various subplots, but it eventually gets its point across in the most stoic ways possible. After all, it's challenging to grieve for someone who you know has wronged you. I am no stranger to three-hour-long foreign films, but even this one pushed my limits. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure what I would have cut from it to make it any shorter (although, they probably could have ended this film a little earlier since the last scene made little sense to me). All the subplots combine to make a meaningful statement of the...
Read More

MOVIE: King Richard (2021)

King Richard Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours It's a little surprising to see two critically acclaimed movies about talented children released in the same year. While CODA (2021) shows us what it's like to have a family who doesn't initially support a child's talents, King Richard (2021) highlights the amount of effort and sacrifice that dedicated parents give to their children when they recognize their talent early on. Granted, not every talented child with parental backing grows up to be extremely successful, let alone having this happen twice. And yet, Venus and Serena Williams are proof that it can happen. I found it odd how a movie that follows the early success of the Williams sisters focused so much on their father, Richard Williams (Will Smith), who made it happen by sheer determination and will. It makes sense considering how young these two prodigies were, but there's still a little sour taste to it, considering how their success was always...
Read More

MOVIE: Belfast (2021)

Belfast Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours It seems a little odd to me that there are so many films that focus on historic events, but this is the first one I've seen about "The Troubles" in Ireland. I was loosely aware of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in late-1960s Ireland, but Belfast (2021) felt like the first time anyone brought this topic to the big screen. It's clearly a personal story for director Kenneth Branagh, which is likely how it gained its notoriety in the lead-up to awards season. The problem with Belfast, though, lies in some of its inconsistencies. I understand that Schindler's List (1993) can get away with incorporating moments of color in an otherwise black-and-white film. However, when it happened in Belfast, it completely pulled me out of the story. It would have been much better to just keep the monochromatic aesthetic throughout instead of trying to be artistically edgy. I don't consider 1969 as a...
Read More

MOVIE: Licorice Pizza (2021)

Licorice Pizza Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Paul Thomas Anderson is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, I don't think I've completely acquired it yet. I absolutely loved There Will Be Blood (2007), which was my first exposure to this director. I saw The Master (2012) after that and was so confused that I stayed away from Inherent Vice (2014). Maybe the magic came with Daniel Day-Lewis, which is why I gave Phantom Thread (2017) a shot. Still weird. With Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Licorice Pizza (2021), the odd name prepared me for more weird, which it delivered. By "weird" I don't mean something filled with bizarre drug-induced visuals. It's more like the setting and plot ground it to reality, but the characters act strangely throughout. They're almost illogical. Luckily, most of these "weird" characters (like the ones portrayed by Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper) are minor distractions from the primary plot of the film. Still, having a child star who is...
Read More

MOVIE: CODA (2021)

CODAYear: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that's surprisingly unique. Like, you would have thought such a plot would have existed a dozen times already, but Hollywood has only remade it once from a version that was initially in French. CODA (2021) is such a film. Sure, it has elements that are common to other dramatic films—like fishers, singers, and family dynamics. The combination of these things makes CODA stand out as unique to me. Not only does its double-meaning title elevate it above other movies, but its heartfelt content is something we need more of in this depressing world. CODA's take on the "my family doesn't understand my talent and is holding me back" cliche hits differently in this scenario. It's not that Ruby (Emilia Jones) has a family that ignores her obvious talent for singing, it's that they literally cannot understand how much better she is at singing than the...
Read More

MOVIE: West Side Story (2021)

West Side Story Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 156 minutes / 2.60 hours I absolutely adore West Side Story (1961). When I heard it was being remade 60 years after it dominated the Academy Awards, I was skeptical. Why mess with perfection? Even with Steven Spielberg directing, I had my doubts. Then I watched the first trailer and had chills of nostalgia. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as I thought. After finally watching West Side Story (2021), I had to admit that this remake mostly recaptured most of the magic of the original. It even had some improvements, which I appreciated. The qualms I had with this version of the hit Broadway musical were relatively minor. First, Spielberg has a visual style that sometimes went a little overboard on the lens flare. We aren't talking J. J. Abrams-levels of lens flare, but it was enough to be distracting. Second, the choice to have more of the Puerto Rican characters speak Spanish really helped sell...
Read More

MOVIE: The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Power of the Dog Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along and gets a lot of award buzz. Often, these movies exhibit some traits of highly lauded films that came before them. Critics often think these latter films can "make up" for snubs of previous movies that they think should have won awards but did not. The Power of the Dog (2021) seems to fit this bill as the spiritual successor to Brokeback Mountain (2005) with its heavy tones of homosexuality in the lonely and harsh setting of the west. The problem I have with The Power of the Dog is how the main character, Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a prime example of toxic masculinity—to the point where it's almost parody. Sure, the audience wants to see him get what's coming to him, but we also have to sit through two hours of him being an incredibly manipulative and abusive person...
Read More

MOVIE: Don’t Look Up (2021)

Don't Look Up Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours I've only recently come to appreciate Adam McKay's films. Granted, this is a statement about the movies he's made after 2014—mainly, The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). His cynical and satirical take on complex topics like the 2008 mortgage crisis or former vice-president Dick Cheney positioned him for the "fictional" dark comedy of Don't Look Up (2021). This pointed examination of an apocalypse scenario is strangely possible despite all the bizarre turns the plot ultimately takes. While I can understand how this movie is polarizing, I am in the camp who thought it was one of the best expressions of our current global situation. As a Millennial, Don't Look Up speaks to the frustration many of us have with the current political and societal system. We can't change anything in United States politics because politicians surround themselves with nepotism and sniveling "yes men" who made significant donations to the politicians' campaigns....
Read More

MOVIE: Dune – Part One (2021)

Dune: Part One Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Adaptations of beloved books can be a challenging endeavor. It's not impossible, as we've seen with The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Harry Potter (2001-2011), or The Hunger Games (2011-2015) but there are certain traps that can doom a film version of a story to be hated by the community that loves the book. While Dune (1984) attempted to give this story life on the big screen, the special effects at the time and your opinion of David Lynch's filmmaking may have tainted an otherwise "impossible" adaptation. When a new adaptation of Dune came along with Denis Villeneuve as its director, I had hope that he would honor the source material. Villeneuve has proven himself to be a fantastic sci-fi director. From Arrival (2016) to Blade Runner: 2049 (2017), he has shown that he understands stories as much as aesthetics. The best way to honor Frank Herbert's legacy in this adaptation of...
Read More

MOVIE: Over the Moon (2020)

Over the Moon Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Over the Moon (2020) snuck under my radar until it was nominated for Best Animated Feature. At that point, I figured I had to check it out. I appreciate that there is enough room in the entertainment industry for CGI animated films not made by Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks, or *shudder* Illumination. Over the Moon is certainly unique, even if it's geared toward Asian cultures that I know little about. And perhaps that's my issue with this film: I'm not its target audience. While Disney wrote the book on adapting Euro-centric fairy tales into animated films, there are plenty of other cultures in this world that have their own rich lore from which we can extract interesting stories. However, because I haven't grown up hearing these stories, their adaptations seem strange to me when they're in a modern context like Over the Moon. What's worse is that some elements I know about Chinese culture...
Read More

MOVIE: Wolfwalkers (2020)

WolfwalkersYear: 2020Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours I wasn't sure what to expect when I sat down to watch the third installment in Tomm Moore's "Irish Folklore Trilogy." The Secret of Kells (2009) was a unique animation style that also carried over to Song of the Sea (2014). Wolfwalkers (2020) continues this "rough" visual style but perhaps has the strongest story of all three films. That's not to say its predecessors don't have interesting stories, it's more that Wolfwalkers builds upon the foundations established by these previous entries of this loose trilogy. As is the case with these films, Wolfwalkers follows a young girl (Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey)) who encounters the fantasy of the world adjacent to her own. Shapeshifting wolves and disappearing forests are more complex than she first realizes. Many stories based on ancient lore are meant to teach lessons to children, and this movie is no different. Granted, there are quite a few cliches in how the plot progresses,...
Read More

MOVIE: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Judas and the Black MessiahYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Isn't it funny how I only had a passing understanding of the Black Panther party until this last year, when it featured in two Oscar-nominated movies? Granted, it was more of a secondary plot point in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), so the movie where it was the star of the show was none other than Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). But, regardless of the coincidence, I did learn a lot about the Black Panther party through this movie and continue to hate the past that straight white males have created for others. Judas and the Black Messiah's title is quite fitting considering the unification that Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) managed to create in Chicago in the late '60s. I was shocked to see some of the groups of people he managed to bring together, even if it made sense for them to rise up against the...
Read More

MOVIE: Minari (2020)

Minari Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours One has to wonder if last year's Best Picture, Parasite (2019), helped pave the way for Minari (2020). While both are quite different films, the acceptance of South Korean cinema has been a long time coming. However, one thing both films share is their sense of foreshadowing. The subtle phrasings and actions of the characters seem inconsequential at first but evolve into hard-hitting plot points as the movie progresses. These story beats hit hard even with a relatively simple plot and left me emotionally devastated with each twist and turn. Set in 1980s America, Minari speaks into the evolution (or, some would say, death) of the American Dream. The belief that anyone from anywhere can come to this land of opportunity and make a living doing what they want to do is the strongest in the immigrants who came here hoping to capitalize on the United States' freedom. But, unfortunately, it's not as easy...
Read More

MOVIE: Promising Young Woman (2020)

Promising Young Woman Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours There was a time when a movie like Promising Young Woman (2020) couldn't be made because it deals with a difficult subject. However, in the wake of the #metoo movement, the narrative has shifted and allowed space for this eye-opening masterpiece to exist. Rape is never an easy topic to cover, but Promising Young Woman handles it with such blunt-force precision as to make itself required viewing, despite being difficult to watch. If it makes you mad, you should check to make sure it's making you mad for the right reasons. Of course, this film wouldn't work were it not for the excellent performance of Carey Mulligan. Mulligan has come a long way as an actress since An Education (2009). Her worn-out and tired portrayal of Cassie Thomas captures the essence of a woman who has made it her personal mission to teach men everywhere about consent. Equally strong performances from Bo...
Read More

MOVIE: Sound of Metal (2020)

Sound of MetalYear: 2020Rating: RLength: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours Movies have the power to give a perspective we might have no ability to understand. Much like the fantastic The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) gave viewers a chance to experience life through the eye of a paralyzed man, Sound of Metal (2020) was a revelation into the life of a musician who suddenly goes deaf. There are so many aspects to sudden deafness that Sound of Metal provided insight to that opened my eyes to the struggles of this particular disability. Of course, while this is the obvious takeaway from this film, the meaning is much deeper than that. Ultimately, the twist Sound of Metal gives to the deafness narrative is the power of addiction. It's encouraging to see positive handling of previous addiction through accountability, but it's even more striking to see how addictions can take many different forms. Whatever gives us dopamine, we can become addicted to. While...
Read More

MOVIE: Nomadland (2020)

Nomadland Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological structure that explains how people will obtain their basic needs before attempting to fill psychological and self-fulfillment needs. In the current American culture, these basic needs of food, water, warmth, rest, and safety are usually met by living in a house. Of course, there are plenty of strings attached to household living—such as a steady income through employment. While this is the most common way to reach self-fulfillment, people out there manage to achieve it without living as part of the standard American structure. Nomadland (2020) is an intimate look into the society of people who—for lack of a better term—are houseless. Part of me was jealous of the amount of freedom these people have to live the lives they want, experiencing much of the natural beauty of the middle of the United States. Much in the same way that Nebraska (2013) captured the realities of the...
Read More

MOVIE: The Father (2020)

The Father Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours The failing mental health of an elderly parent is a perennial topic for critically-acclaimed movies. Most of the time, the focus is on how their supportive family watches them steadily deteriorate until they can do nothing else. The Father (2020) is one such film, but with a unique twist that makes it hit a lot harder than the standard Alzheimers fare. While attempting to present this disease from the aging parent's perspective is a bold choice, The Father leans into some radically artistic choices that might leave some viewers more confused than enlightened. I'm trying to avoid discussing the avant-garde method The Father uses to induce the kind of confusion that comes with Alzheimer's, mostly because I don't want to spoil the effect for anyone who hasn't seen this film yet. Needless to say, things make sense...eventually. The point isn't to understand it; it's to empathize with the main character. Of course, with...
Read More

MOVIE: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours For decades, Aaron Sorkin has written some of the best films ever created. Classics like A Few Good Men (1992) still stand up, and modern masterpieces like The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011) are starting to become timeless as well. And while he's mostly been the writer of these films, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is his sophomore effort as a director. Somehow, the ability to accurately translate his words into the actors' performances created—in my opinion—the best film of 2020. It's clear Sorkin cut his teeth long ago with courtroom dramas, but this movie is by far the most intricately-crafted exposé of the corruption of the American justice system I've ever seen. The fact that the parallels to 50-years later are shockingly similar actually makes me sick, but that's perhaps why this film works so well right now. It doesn't give me hope that these...
Read More

MOVIE: Mank (2020)

Mank Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours When I first saw the trailers for Mank (2020), the premise intrigued me. As a "behind the scenes" look at the screenwriter for Citizen Kane (1941), I was interested to see his process in penning one of the most famous screenplays of all time. On top of that, I've generally enjoyed David Fincher's work and wanted to see this movie based on this fact alone. However, despite all it had going for it, I was ultimately disappointed in what Mank had to offer. Perhaps the most jarring part of this movie was how it tried to emulate the style of the films from the 1940s while also using more modern cinematography techniques to tell its story. At times, this juxtaposition made me wonder if this was filmed in the '40s or if it was merely a black-and-white modern film. Additionally, there's a particular visual style for Fincher's films distinctly lacking here—which may have been...
Read More

MOVIE: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon Year: 1975 Rating: PG Length: 185 minutes / 3.08 hours As someone who appreciates classic films, perhaps I had my hopes set a little too high for Barry Lyndon (1975). Going in, I already knew the technical challenges director Stanley Kubrick had to overcome to film indoors and by candlelight with no extra lighting. Of course, if that was the main thing I knew about this film before I actually sat down and watched it, that should have told me something about how boring the plot would be. Then again, even a master of cinema like Kubrick can only do so much with mediocre material. I will give some credit where it's due, though. Most of this movie did contribute to the tension of the climax. If certain events hadn't transpired in the way they did, Barry's (Ryan O'Neal) life would have been much different. Then again, the whole "rags to riches" storyline seemed overdone, even for the mid-1970s. And sure, duels can...
Read More

MOVIE: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Winter’s Bone Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours It feels like so few films deal with the actual consequences of poverty. It’s probably why Winter’s Bone (2010) seems like a raw and unflinching examination of what happens when a family is on the edge of homelessness. In fact, while I’m sure there are some inaccuracies, I almost saw this film as a documentary of life in rural Missouri. The handheld camera style was intimate and present as it followed Jennifer Lawrence in one of her breakout roles, investigating where her father disappeared to in order to save her struggling family. I didn’t understand why so much of the community around Lawrence’s character didn’t come to help and support her in a time of need. Sure, her father did some pretty terrible things, but why punish his family because of it? Perhaps this is just an aspect of the dog-eat-dog world of rural poverty that seems so illogical to me. In the...
Read More

MOVIE: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Cat on a Hot Tin RoofYear: 1958Rating: Not RatedLength: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours While I understand the ease of adapting stage plays into movies, the result still feels a lot like watching a stage play on the big screen. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) is no exception. Adapted from the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, this movie boasts a few big names like Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. I think this movie probably wouldn’t have been as notable unless it had these names tied to it in some way. After all, there’s a reason why we still remember these writers and actors today. Even if Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starts slow, the increasing amount of twists and reveals makes for an entertaining movie. I think part of my issue with the slow start might be with Elizabeth Taylor’s acting. It felt to me like she was reading memorized lines and didn’t put much emotion or effort into her performance....
Read More

MOVIE: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent AmbersonsYear: 1942Rating: Not RatedLength: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours Some films are timeless classics, like Citizen Kane (1941), then some are doomed to live in their shadows like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It’s easy to see how a success like Citizen Kane would incentivize studios to let Orson Welles direct another film in the hopes that he’d surpass himself. Unfortunately, I don’t feel The Magnificent Ambersons ever achieves that level of cinematic notoriety, merely acting as a footnote to much more famous films. Consequently, this movie hasn’t necessarily aged as well as its 1941 counterpart. I’ll still give credit where credit is due and say that The Magnificent Ambersons contains the visual charm and bold style that defined Orson Welles’ films. If only the story and characters were memorable enough to care about, then we might have a good movie on our hands here. As it stands, I didn’t care for any of the characters, nor did I even feel...
Read More

MOVIE: Milk (2008)

Milk Year: 2008 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours It seems like there are biopics for almost every notable person who has done anything significant in the last 50 years. In the case of Milk (2008), we get a peek into the personal, professional, and political life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). Unfortunately, as is the case with most biopics, I have found that the titular character is good at enacting societal change but at the cost of their relationship with a significant other. To me, I generally throw my hands up in the air and yell, “Come on!” when this happens since it seems to be ubiquitous with the genre. While I don’t mind watching a film about the activism behind gay rights, I do mind having to watch Sean Penn and James Franco make out. What struck me as odd was a portion of the film where people were encouraged to come out as being homosexual, which a...
Read More

MOVIE: Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage StoryYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Marriage Story (2019) isn’t a movie about divorce so much as it is a movie about the east coast vs. the west coast. While I’ll admit that there were some pretty good performances in this film (notably, Laura Dern was spectacular), there wasn’t anything new here that other movies like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) hadn’t covered. Additionally, it was a bit difficult to separate the two leads (Scarlett Johannsson and Adam Driver) from their other famous movie roles, which made it difficult to commit to the premise fully. Plus, movies like Marriage Story are just uncomfortable looks into lives in shambles that probably hit too close to home for some people. It’s weird how so many successful elements didn’t come together cohesively for me. Randy Newman’s score sounded great, but it made the film sound more like Toy Story (1995) than Marriage Story. Likewise, with the famous acting talent present: they had exemplary...
Read More

MOVIE: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Ford v Ferrari Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a “car guy.” Sure, my education was in Mechanical Engineering, and I can appreciate well-crafted machines, but I see cars as mere tools to get from point A to point B. Consequently, I don’t have much interest in car racing and didn’t initially want to see Ford v Ferrari (2019). Luckily for me, this film was chosen as one of this year’s nominees for Best Picture. After watching it, I can clearly see why. For someone who isn’t into cars or racing, I was completely enthralled and entertained by Ford v Ferrari. This movie is a tour de force when it comes to several filmmaking aspects. It expertly used its sound design, music, and cinematography to give the raw tension of racing highly-engineered machines meant for one thing only: to go fast. In fact, I only had two qualms with this movie on the whole. First, the “marketing...
Read More

MOVIE: Parasite (2019)

Parasite Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours If you haven’t discovered South Korean cinema yet, Parasite (2019) is a fantastic introduction for the uninitiated. Director Bong Joon-ho has been hard at work over the last 20 years, helping craft films that are thoughtful and horrifying. Movies like The Host (2006) and Snowpiercer (2013) give a sense of his artistic style. Parasite merely takes his ability to shed light on class conflict and molds it into a masterpiece that’s half heist-comedy, half horror-drama, and all suspense. If it weren’t for the somewhat lackluster ending, I’d give this film the full five stars it deserves. At the base of Parasite is a conflict between the impoverished and the rich. This theme could be easily applied to any country with a wide income disparity, which is probably why it works so well in the United States as well as in South Korea. To survive in these environments, the poor must do their best to...
Read More

MOVIE: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo RabbitYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I first saw the trailers for Jojo Rabbit (2019), I thought this movie looked like a fun and satirical romp through Nazi Germany. With the director (Taika Waititi) portraying an imaginary Adolf Hitler, the comedy was in full display during the trailers. After all, Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is arguably one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, Jojo Rabbit seemed to focus on a 10-year-old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the Hitler Youth, which gave some strong Boy Scout vibes that I could potentially relate to. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the trailers contained all the comedy in Jojo Rabbit. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the remainder of the film gave some amount of cynicism and reality to the fanatical enthusiasm of Jojo and the other members of the Hitler Youth. In fact, there’s a significant scene that really hits home...
Read More

MOVIE: Little Women (2019)

Little WomenYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours After the success of Greta Gerwig’s debut film, Lady Bird (2017), I was pleased to find her directing again with a tried and true classic, Little Women (2019). This movie isn’t new or its content original by any means (this is the seventh film adaptation after all). However, Gerwig has managed to give it a poignancy and relevance to today’s issues while still maintaining an apparent loyalty to the period. It probably helped that Gerwig had tons of acting talent along for this film, including collaborators from her last film: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. In the end, I found this to be perhaps my most favorite adaptation of this classic piece of literature. Where Gerwig shines in this film is her ability to use flashbacks and dueling timelines to show the contrast and growth of the characters in stark moments of brilliance. My one qualm is that this technique was perhaps used...
Read More

MOVIE: 1917 (2019)

1917Year: 2019Rating: RLength: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours While there have been movies filmed to look like they’re one long take (the Best Picture winner, Birdman (2015) comes to mind) and movies that revolve around key moments of retreat during war (Dunkirk (2017) comes to mind), never before have the two been so masterfully combined. 1917 (2019) is a rare piece of cinema that tackles the less-popular World War I as its subject matter, but doing so in a way that’s personal, gruesome, and tense. Those viewers who might be put off by the gore of this film might come to realize that cinema has been censoring the ugly side of war for far too long. None of the violence seems out of place in 1917. Its moments of horror highlight the ugliness of war that results in constant and ever-present death. Fortunately, there are enough moments of peace and rebuttal between these intense sequences to let the audience catch their breath....
Read More

MOVIE: The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours At almost three-and-a-half hours long, The Irishman (2019) might seem like a daunting movie to sit through. However, much like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) gave Quentin Tarantino the space to make the movie he wanted to, Netflix seems to have allowed Martin Scorsese to create the film he wanted with little-to-no interference. Consequently, the 3.5 hours of this movie could have probably stood a bit of a trim, but the pacing is so well done as to make the time fly by (similar to another movie of epic proportions, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)). One of the most significant strengths of this movie appears to be its de-aging technology. While it’s still a bit on the edge of the uncanny valley, the main actors did look significantly younger than their current ages during the flashback sequences. Instead of relying on look-alikes and teaching them the mannerisms of these incredibly talented actors, Scorsese...
Read More

MOVIE: An Education (2009)

An Education Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I’m not sure how I missed this film when it first came out. I suspect it was because I hadn’t started making a point to see all the Oscar-nominated films of that year—and 2009 bumped that number up significantly from five to ten. At any rate, I’m glad I eventually came around to it as it was a delightful—if not mostly generic—coming-of-age story. The only modern and recent example I can think of that equates to An Education (2009) is Lady Bird (2017), and I loved that film for similar reasons. As someone who generally grew up feeling “older” than his peers, I could relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan, in her best Audrey Hepburn impersonation). There’s a point when some teenagers like Jenny think they’ve figured out the “rules” of life and are therefore ready to jump into adulthood with both feet. This is definitely where the titular “education” comes in. It's both...
Read More

MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
Read More

MOVIE: Joker (2019)

Joker Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness. I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of...
Read More

MOVIE: Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours Chocolat (2000) is one of those movies that I was aware of but hadn’t watched until recently. While it received a Best Picture nomination, I don’t think it was up to the level of the winner for that year, Gladiator (2000). Nevertheless, Chocolat is a charming story that lies somewhere between Footloose (1984), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), and Babette’s Feast (1987). What’s maybe a little odd to me about this movie is how I thought Johnny Depp would have a more prominent role in it, since he covers almost half the movie poster. Instead, it’s more a bit part that comes in about half-way through the film. While the conclusion of Chocolat is practically telegraphed from the start, it was still entertaining to watch the townspeople warm to the newly arrived chocolatier. Despite most of the characters might feeling a little one-dimensional, they are so fully fleshed out in the one or two qualities that make them distinguishable that you can’t help but enjoy...
Read More

MOVIE: As Good as it Gets (1997)

As Good as it Gets Year: 1997 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to sit down and finally watch this movie. I’ve enjoyed other films by James L. Brooks, like Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987). If anything, As Good as it Gets (1997) is almost like the end of the trifecta of Brooks films, considering how well-received by critics they are. When it comes right down to it, the appeal of these movies is the characters. There’s a heart and realism rarely seen in comedies (most of which resort to stereotypes and fart jokes to get a laugh). As a more intellectual comedy, As Good as it Gets manages to bring together three unlikely people and push their boundaries to grow as characters. Of course, it’s somewhat easy to do this with abrasive characters like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). After all, actively trying not to be a jerk is great growth potential. Additionally, other characters grow through their...
Read More

MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
Read More

MOVIE: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential Year: 1997 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours There are police dramas, and then there are police dramas set in Los Angeles. Something about this town makes the crimes that much more interesting. Maybe it’s the intersection of fame and criminal activity. Perhaps it’s that the crimes are so much more grandiose due to the wealth of the area. Whatever the reason, L.A. Confidential (1997) is a fantastic film that manages to show different perspectives of the seedy underbelly of the glamor and glitz that makes the town so successful. If it weren’t up against Titanic (1997), it probably would have won a lot more awards than it did. It’s almost surprising how many famous actors are in this film. Sure, some of them were unknowns at the time. Even within three years, we’d see Guy Pearce in Memento (2000) and Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000), both rising into their stardom. This is not to mention the fantastic performances by Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and Ron Rifkin....
Read More

MOVIE: Vice (2018)

Vice Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It’s a little weird to me how a director like Adam McKay has gone from directing movies like Anchorman (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006) to entertaining exposés like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). Sure, I can see how his comedy background could lead to the razor-sharp wit used to educate the movie-going public about the 2008 mortgage crisis and the former vice president, respectively. It’s evident the Academy likes his new style as well, as both The Big Short and Vice were nominated for Best Picture. While I liked The Big Short a lot, Vice certainly had its moments. I’ll give props to Christian Bale for his ability to mimic Dick Cheney’s mannerisms in this role. Sam Rockwell was also pretty great as George W. Bush, but I couldn’t get past Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. I also appreciated the tongue-in-cheek “false ending” in Vice, as it was probably one of the funniest moments in the film. Just like how learning about the mortgage crisis was...
Read More

MOVIE: Roma (2018)

Roma Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Don't get me wrong. I like Alfonso Cuarón's films. I liked his films before I even really knew who he was as a director. If anything, he's shown that he's the master of cinematography, especially in long takes that seem to pan through almost the entire film. He first showed this talent in Children of Men (2006) and continued to impress with this technique in Gravity (2013). While he's shown he has mastered the long take, his signature style is still on display in Roma (2018) through its numerous pans. That being said, I found the content of Children of Men and Gravity to be much more interesting than that of Roma. Cuarón pulls us into his Mexican roots in this film, choosing the early 1970s to set this "slice of life" tale. The problem is, while the film looks quite artistic, with the black-and-white aesthetic fusing nicely with the expert camera work (along...
Read More

MOVIE: A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours If this movie feels like the same old song and dance, it’s because it is. This film is the fourth iteration of the same plot that was nominated for Best Picture back in 1937. While it’s been over 20 years since its last incarnation in 1976, A Star is Born (2018) is surprisingly still relevant. While they’re somewhat touchy subjects, alcoholism and depression are still as alive and well today as they were just over 80 years ago. After all, you can’t be an entertainer without sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That being said, I do appreciate this movie’s overarching theme of “words have power.” I did find it hard to suspend my disbelief with the casting in this film, though. I mean, even if Lady Gaga is playing some nobody, it’s not like I have to stretch my imagination to think that her character would suddenly become a music...
Read More

MOVIE: The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours What. The. Favourite. For those of us watching all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, The Favourite (2018) is certainly the token “artsy” film of the set. It felt like it was following in the footsteps of last year’s Phantom Thread (2017) in that the set decoration and costume design were exquisite, despite the—let’s face it—weird characters. Regarding the plot, though, I did find The Favourite to parallel the events in the 1950 Best Picture winner, All About Eve. While its art is on full display for all to see, The Favourite is a bit more than how it looks. Aside from the aforementioned set decoration and costume design, I have to applaud this movie’s cinematography. I’d wager that it’ll win in these three categories, but the cinematography stands out because it’s so different from most films. Heavily utilizing wide-angle fisheye lenses, as well as copious amounts of natural light (perhaps as an aesthetic homage to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), which also shares a somewhat...
Read More

MOVIE: Green Book (2018)

Green Book Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has the right balance of themes and execution to make it into an instant classic. When I first saw trailers for Green Book (2018), I initially thought it was just going to be an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Instead, what I got was so much more than that. Green Book tackles the difficult task of presenting a harsh mirror on our past, with a knowing wink that some of these challenges are still present today. It is more subtle than BlacKkKlansman (2018), but the message still gets across in a heartwarming and wholesome way. What makes Green Book so engaging is the simplicity that it approaches such a nuanced and complex approach to the topic of racism. The irony that rich white people in the south would hold Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in such high regard as a musician but treat him as less-than-human the second he is not performing...
Read More

MOVIE: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours The idea that an African American could become a member of the Ku Klux Klan is silly enough that it became a joke on Dave Chapelle’s television show. Of course, this movie isn’t a comedy sketch, as it is based on true events. Obviously, there were plenty of elements in this film that were likely fictionalized to make the story more “Hollywood,” but it’s still an interesting story, nonetheless. Part of the trick of this movie, though, is that it treats itself almost like a half-modern documentary of the KKK as well, which makes it seem like there wasn’t enough source material to make an engaging plot. Another part of me was interested in this movie for its setting. Living in Colorado Springs, it was interesting to me that certain landmarks and places in town were referenced, which merely added realism to the story as it was presented. From NORAD and Fort Carson to...
Read More

MOVIE: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It's difficult to hate a film that's filled with so many great songs. Fortunately for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), almost all of Queen's greatest hits are pulled out and strung together to cover a rather large timeframe of 15 years. Of course, like most musical biopics, it does tend to hit the same notes as predecessors before it. Perhaps this is merely due to the "rock and roll" lifestyle, but I couldn't help but see similar situations in films like De-Lovely (2004), Ray (2004), and Walk the Line (2005). While the cultural landscape has changed a lot from the 1970s and 1980s until now, some of the film's "reveals" that would have been a little more shocking (i.e. Freddie's homosexuality) were perhaps lessened due to the fairly famous end of this talented singer. That being said, some of the lyrics of these well-known songs take on a strikingly more poignant context during the recreated Live Aid concert in...
Read More

MOVIE: Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump Year: 1994 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.36 hours For the longest time, I had only seen pieces of Forrest Gump (1994). After watching it in fits and starts, I finally sat down and watched the whole thing in one go probably ten years ago. Upon re-watching this Best Picture-winner, I realized how it has maintained its cultural appeal for so long. After all, it’s not necessarily a story about a slow southern boy; it’s the story of history and the story of America. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, but they’re relatively minor compared to the impact of the rest of the film. What’s perhaps the most impressive part of Forrest Gump is the visual effects. From digitally inserting the titular character into archival footage to removing a Vietnam War soldier’s legs, even knowing these computer-aided elements are there doesn’t hinder how real they look. Although, being able to match the visual tone and style of several decades was equally as impressive....
Read More

MOVIE: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Anymore, superhero films are a dime a dozen. I get that they’re adding up to a greater narrative for Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but a lot of them seem almost indistinguishable from each other. Enter Black Panther (2018). Not only is this superhero not white, but almost all the action takes place somewhere other than New York City. There are a lot of strengths in Black Panther that make it feel like a cut above the rest. From the set design and aesthetic of Wakanda to the well-developed characters (including women warriors and women scientists), Black Panther shows how a superhero movie should be made. Despite its strengths, there are still a few, minor weaknesses in this film. First, some of the CGI felt a little off in the sense that my mind rejected it when I saw it. These moments were usually pretty rare but were unquestionably obvious. Secondly, one of the tenets of the superhero genre is the action/fight sequences. While...
Read More

MOVIE: Darkest Hour (2017)

Darkest Hour Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours There are plenty of films out there that claim to be “art” by pushing the boundaries of the medium. These movies often come off as just plain weird. Darkest Hour (2017) is an artfully crafted masterpiece, even if it seems to be a biopic about Winston Churchill at first glance. All the individual elements that go into a fantastic film are in top form here, as we see how lighting, cinematography, music, plot, and acting combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Darkest Hour doesn’t have one element that makes it stand out as an incredible movie; it uses all facets of its production to create a masterpiece of art. The look of this film is incredible. From the overhead shots of battlegrounds seamlessly transitioning into the carnage of war to the heavy contrast of light and shadow emphasizing the “darkness” of the “darkest hour,” the visual spectacle of Churchill’s unconventional rise to...
Read More

MOVIE: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call Me by Your Name Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Call Me by Your Name (2017) is the latest in a string of LGBTQ+ films nominated for Best Picture. Each year, we seem to see one of these LGBTQ+ films nominated for the highest award, but this year there’s a much more fundamental problem with it. Around the time the definition of marriage was changed by the U.S. Government, many opponents warned of a slippery slope that would lead to acceptance of lifestyles that are currently illegal. Call Me by Your Name is proof that we have proceeded down this slope. I understand that the themes of “first love” are what draw people to this film, and I’d be OK with that if the theme never entered sexual territory. As it is, this movie glamorizes sexual relations with a minor. This is statutory rape, which is illegal. Even if the parties involved were heterosexual, this would still be wrong. Unfortunately, I think it’s...
Read More

MOVIE: Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours It’s weird to think that 2003 was 15 years ago. As someone who graduated high school in 2004, Lady Bird (2017) hit me right in the nostalgia. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age films over the years, Lady Bird simplifies the experience to a quick-paced trot through the senior year of high school for the titular character (portrayed to great effect by Saoirse Ronan). All the trappings of the coming-of-age story are there, including experimentation with drugs, sex, and alcohol, but done in a way that is still innocent and child-like. In the end, Lady Bird is about independence and defining who we are as individuals. What really hits home in the narrative of this film is the things we do to make ourselves stand out. From declaring that our name is different from the one our parents gave us to choosing which friends we spend our time with, we inevitably realize that we’re seeking approval and acceptance...
Read More

MOVIE: Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Much like The Post (2017), Phantom Thread (2017) has a director/actor combination that just begs for an Oscar nomination. It seems that a decade after the last Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration, There Will Be Blood (2007), the Academy might want to pull their “should have won” trick and give the Best Picture Oscar to Phantom Thread. After seeing this film, though, I have changed my initial assessment. Sure, it’s good and has certain artistic elements that make it culturally significant, but other parts of it are just kind of . . . weird. First, the good. Daniel Day-Lewis, in his last role as an actor, unquestionably shows how good he is at his craft. I wouldn’t doubt that he has a good shot at earning his historic fourth Best Actor Oscar. The costume design and cinematography are noteworthy, but the best part of this film is a little more subtle: the music. The score for this movie permeates the...
Read More

MOVIE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The first film by Martin McDonagh I saw was Seven Psychopaths (2012). I enjoyed how he was able to take the audience through many entertaining twists and turns. For his follow-up film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), McDonagh has improved on the twists, as well as the darkness of the comedy contained therein. In fact, the comedy is so dark that at times it was almost uncomfortable to laugh. All this being said, the two areas that make this a standout film are the characters and its complexity. Let’s start with the characters. Almost every single character is introduced in a way that the audience wants to dislike them. And yet, over the course of the film, the significant amount of character development makes the audience root for people who threw individuals out of second-story windows or chucked Molotov cocktails at a police station. Part of what helps in these character developments...
Read More

MOVIE: The Post (2017)

The Post Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours At this point, I just wonder if every movie Steven Spielberg makes that has anything to do with war (Schindler’s List (1994), Saving Private Ryan (1999), War Horse (2012), Lincoln (2013), Bridge of Spies (2015)) is just automatically given a Best Picture nomination. Don’t get me wrong, Spielberg has made a lot of quality movies that should be recognized and awarded. The question is more about the state of Hollywood films. Is there nothing else out there by up-and-coming filmmakers that would supplant a Spielberg film in the nominee list? Don’t even get me started on Meryl Streep’s nominations, either. Of course, in part due to the all-star power of Spielberg, and the leading roles filled by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, The Post (2017) is a movie that builds its tension right until the very end. Despite a somewhat slow start, the stakes are never higher when the ambiguity of publishing classified documents is taken all the way to its logical conclusion. The...
Read More

MOVIE: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours For many years, the running joke about the movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar is that they only won because another film should have won years prior. Spotlight (2015) is this generation's All the President's Men (1976) in that it is an excellent film about investigative journalism that broke open a huge cover-up, changing the world forever. Both films deserved to be Best Picture, but Spotlight manages to take an uncomfortable subject and be frank and open about the problems that we still see in today's society. Since most of the movie is comprised of uncovering the truth behind the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, it's surprising how gripping and well-paced the film ends up being. Part of the genius of this film is the high-energy dedication these four journalists have in uncovering the terrifying truths that had been lurking in the shadows for decades. While such a subject could easily create a...
Read More

MOVIE: The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours The modern master of the monster movie, Guillermo del Toro is at it again with The Shape of Water (2017). Much like the Universal Studios monster classics, del Toro has created a career around directing films about how humans interact with these monsters. From building giant robots to fight giant monsters in Pacific Rim (2013) to hiring monsters to kill other monsters in Hellboy (2004), del Toro has also occasionally shown the more human side of monsters. Or, more accurately, he has shown how monster-like humans can become. Previous films by Guillermo del Toro, like Cronos (1993) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006) have highlighted the negative qualities of man while infusing these films with a sense of fantasy that can often border on straight-up fairy tales. The Shape of Water certainly falls into the "man is the real monster" category of del Toro's movies, but it kind of beats you over the head...
Read More

MOVIE: Get Out (2017)

Get Out Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I'll admit that I'm not a fan of horror films. The fact that Get Out (2017) was released in that weird, "horror month" of February that merely exists so people trying to catch up on their Oscar nominations don't have to watch anything new meant that it mostly passed under my radar. When buzz about the movie continued for the rest of the year, I was still skeptical as horror has been known for its cheap tricks and gratuitous violence, both of which I don't particularly care for. The trick is, Get Out is certainly a horror film, but with the minimum required trappings to be considered one. With a few jump scares and a violent and bloody ending, Get Out works on a level that's best described as "blatantly subtle." It's not so much that it screams about the racial differences between black people and white people, but that it does so...
Read More

MOVIE: Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Based on the surprise win of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, I had high expectations for Moonlight (2016). There were some fantastic, motivational, and inspirational films in the running for this award, including the “follow your dreams” story of La La Land (2016), the “communication is key” story of Arrival (2016), and the “overcoming adversity” story of Hidden Figures (2016). So, what did Moonlight have to offer? In my opinion, not much; but maybe that was because I’m a straight white (you could argue, privileged) male and there was little to relate to in this film. Sure, the cinematography was impressive at times, but there wasn’t any story that I felt was impactful enough to warrant its award. I will give credit to Mahershala Ali, as his performance was certainly deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. So, what lessons does Moonlight give us? Do we need to find good mentors in life?...
Read More

MOVIE: Fences (2016)

Fences Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Before going into this film, I knew it was based on a play of the same name. Of course, even if I didn't know this, I could have told you it was based on a play. Perhaps that's what kept bugging me throughout this movie: it was clearly a play. I could see in my mind's eye how it would look on the stage, which wasn't helped by the actors' cadence and almost continual monologues. If I wanted to see this as a play, I'd see it as a play; I watch a movie to get a more well-rounded experience. So, aside from this film being an almost direct adaptation of the play it's based on, the next thing that caught my attention was how many tropes were contained in the plot. Honestly, with topics like mental health, marital infidelity, inter-generational conflict, and death, the plot didn't seem that original to me at all....
Read More

MOVIE: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Part of the trouble with the reputation of a film preceding it is the film rarely lives up to the hype. At least, that has been my experience. If I go into a movie with my own idea of what it will be and the movie delivers, I feel it is a good movie. However, if my idea of the movie is skewed based on what I’ve heard about it, then I might be disappointed if it doesn’t match what I was expecting. This is why I’ll likely watch a trailer for a film, but I won’t read any reviews of it until I’ve already seen it. For Amazon’s successful foray into filmmaking, part of me expected a lot out of Manchester by the Sea (2016). After all, they don’t necessarily have to ascribe to the same processes and procedures that hold down other production companies. Add to this my impression...
Read More

MOVIE: Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's interesting to me to see how the current social climate in this country can mold a film into a Best Picture Oscar nominee. I've probably seen this same scenario a number of different times, but the reasoning behind it is what brings Hell or High Water (2016) into a different category. There have been tons of heist films, and often the robbers have a tight connection, like that of brothers. Heck, The Blues Brothers (1980) essentially did the same basic plot but with "putting the band back together" as their way of "saving the ranch." Partly because this film seemed so quintessentially Texas, I couldn't help thinking it was a toned down version of another Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men (2007). With last year's Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Big Short (2015), showing how many honest Americans were swindled by the greed of banks, it's no wonder that...
Read More

MOVIE: Lion (2016)

Lion Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Of this year's Best Picture Nominees, Lion (2016) is certainly one of the more . . . artistic ones. Heck, the title of the film wasn't clear until directly before the credits. In part due to the subject matter and the culture in which it takes place, this film can be hard to watch at times. The audience has to come to grips with the poverty and difficult living conditions present in India not only 25 years ago, but today as well. Perhaps it's my need to watch movies that help me to escape from these realities, but it was challenging to be shown such a stark view of another country's reality. While I understand that the larger, overarching message of the film is to bring to light the social issue of lost children in India, the more inspiring subplot had to do with adoption. Many couples have a lot of different reasons for...
Read More

MOVIE: Arrival (2016)

Arrival Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Despite all the mindless action and sex that hits the big screen every year, every once in a while there comes a film that's a little more . . . cerebral. Arrival (2016) certainly fits this category. Not only do you really have to pay attention to what's happening in this film, it makes you question how we perceive our world as it is right now. Never before have I seen the topic of encountering alien life forms approached from such a realistic and logical way. It makes sense that we wouldn't be able to understand them, so the first step in establishing an understanding is to establish communication. Much like Christopher Nolan, who has done a number of great, "cerebral" films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), I have recently come to appreciate the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve. From his previous films like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), I've seen him deliver...
Read More

MOVIE: La La Land (2016)

La La Land Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In a world where people worship everything and value nothing, I have found that I value the many messages present within La La Land (2016). While simultaneously shining a harsh light on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and showing how our dreams and passions move us to make tough life decisions, I found myself deeply moved by the narrative presented within this film, not only as a lover of movies but as a creative artist myself. This film is for the dreamers. It's for the people who never give up in pursuing what they want out of life. It's for those who have a talent screaming to be noticed by others. Aside from literally being the best musical I've seen in nearly more than a decade (Chicago (2002) is the only recent one that comes to mind), what I found most impressive about this film is that it is only the second directed by Damien...
Read More

MOVIE: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours For many years, Mel Gibson has been at the center of controversies and other unwelcome attention-grabbing incidents. While this normally kills any actor's chances of reviving their careers, Gibson has instead managed to remain somewhat unscathed by retreating into his other skill: directing. As we've seen from some of his other directorial efforts, he is skilled behind the lens, even if many themes remain the same. From Braveheart (1995) to The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson has a tendency to be pretty brutal in the imagery he brings to the screen. Granted, this is partly due to the semi-factual source material. In his latest work after a long hiatus, Gibson brings us the brutality that is World War II. Hacksaw Ridge takes some time to get to its emotional center, but the unfortunate side effect of this is a series of characters that feel almost comical in their exaggerations. From Andrew Garfield's goofily...
Read More

MOVIE: Avatar (2009)

Avatar Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 162 minutes / 2.7 hours For being 10 times the amount of money I would normally spend on a movie, I had hoped that this would be worth it. As per my previous stance on 3-D, I was hesitant on going to this film when it first came out. However, since I did some reading up on what forces went on behind this film, I decided to give the 3-D experience a try. What an experience it was! I can see why the film industry was really pushing for more movies to be in 3-D because it is spectacular. The glasses weren't uncomfortable, and if you took them off for a second, it wasn't a terrible color-shifted image, it was just slightly blurry. Although, one thing that 3-D cinema is going to have to fix is to have more things in focus. You can't rely on previous film-making techniques here. At any rate, if you can get over the blatantly...
Read More

MOVIE: Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours I often jokingly refer to my job as being a "rocket scientist." While it does involve rockets and space, it isn't nearly as "down in the numbers" as the jobs portrayed in this film were. I've worked with a lot of people over the years in this technical field, and my opinion has always been that, if somebody is competent enough to do the job, we should hire the most competent people to do said job. Even though this is a statement against nepotism and just knowing the right people in the right places, what this film has shown me is that it's not nearly that simple. In terms of competency, I will not judge you by your gender or your race, as long as you show you can do the work and not be a burden on the team. However, even though people are highly qualified, they have had the deck stacked against...
Read More