Movie Review: High Flying Bird

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Agent Ray Burke (André Holland) attempts to end the NBA shutdown in Steven Soderbergh’s latest film High Flying Bird. (Source: NPR)

Director Steven Soderbergh has returned to the director’s chair in 2017 with Logan Lucky, an overlooked redneck version of his 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven. Last year, he brought forth Unsane, an allegory of the Me Too movement. It became his first movie to be shot on an iPhone. While I didn’t particularly care for the movie, Soderbergh did a decent-enough job giving his cinematography (using his alias Peter Andrews) a claustrophobic feel. For his latest Netflix film, High Flying Bird, the talented filmmaker (who also writes and edits his films) decided to take a different approach with his camerawork. He wanted a much crisper look with the anamorphic lens. It’s so good Soderbergh is back!

Set during the course of a lockout by the National Basketball Association, Ray Burke (André Holland, Moonlight) is a sports agent struggling to get his players paid for playing the game. One of his clients is Erick Scott (newcomer Melvin Gregg), who just got drafted by a New York team (keep in mind, the characters never mention the teams by name). His boss David (Zachary Quinto) tells Ray that his bank accounts and credit cards have been frozen through the duration of the lockout, unless Ray can come up with a solution to end the lockout once and for all. Then, he comes up with a plan that would test the entire NBA.

Writer Tarell Alvin McCraney mixes the narrative with interviews with actual basketball players Reggie Jackson (no, not THE Reggie Jackson), Karl-Anthony Towns, and Donovan Mitchell talking about the thrill of the game. It is dialogue-driven, which will throw off a lot of casual viewers. The dialogue is part of what makes High Flying Bird shine. It’s as sharp as a clean razor. It’s better not knowing too much about it before going in. The subject on race and power off the court sticks with you once the credits begin to roll.

Holland is straight-up perfect for this material, playing an agent who striving to have his rookie player earn money. One day, he gives him a package containing a “Bible”, which will come in use to him at some point. However, he is shocked to learn that he used a loan without his consent and going at it with a teammate on social media. The real scene-stealer is Bill Duke as Spence Jones, the coach for a youth basketball program in the Bronx who happens to be Ray’s trusted friend. Whenever he hears about slavery, he gets ticked off. “I love the Lord and all His black people,” he says.

Soderbergh does a great job using this cheap filmmaking technology with a clever variety of angles and techniques. I’ll definitely have to watch it again, but there is a lot to like here. High Flying Bird is the first great movie of 2019.

8.5/10

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“Call Me by Your Name”: A Friendship to Remember

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Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) develop a beautiful friendship in Call Me by Your Name. (Source: Taste of Cinema)

Movies containing gay relationships are a mixed bag. If the movies handle the subject with care (i.e. Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight), they result in being poignant movies. If the subject is being exploited, they tend to be insensitive, disgraceful, and have the characters being portrayed as stereotypes. Only a few great filmmakers would put so much authenticity into their direction and their character development.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino (who is gay) is known for casting Tilda Swinton in his movies. Ten years after his feature debut, The Protagonists (1999), he became a household name when he directed the 2009 film I Am Love, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival of that year. A Bigger Splash (2016) was a good-ol’ time being around four people spending vacation in Sicily, from its gorgeous scenery to the erotic, sensual nature of its characters. Recently, he took charge in expanding the scary world of the Suspiria remake, by making it an hour longer than its original. However, it didn’t receive a warm reception, compared to his previous films. He would join screenwriter James Ivory to give his native country a brand new light in his 2017 film, based on a novel by Andre Aciman.

Nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture (with Ivory winning Best Adapted Screenplay), Call Me by Your Name is more than just a gay love story. It’s a coming-of-age story about the struggles of identifying oneself. It makes us wonder why we don’t get movies like this.

It’s the summer of 1983. 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is spending a quiet summer with his parents (Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg) in a village in Northern Italy. He spends most of his time reading books and listening/transcribing classical music. Unlike Chiron in Moonlight, Elio is living in his own perfect world, but he is trying to come to terms with his adolescence.

One day, he meets a ravishingly handsome college student from New England named Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is 24 years old. He arrives in Italy to assist Elio’s father, a professor of archaeology, with his paperwork. Although he is in a relationship with a French girl named Marzia (Esther Garrel), Elio becomes increasingly attracted to Oliver each day. They spend the first act teasing and flirting with each other until their friendship begins to change their lives forever.

Every single shot in this movie is nothing short of breathtaking; you can smell the grass as Elio and Oliver ride their bikes through the countryside or as they lie down to get some sun after having a quick swim. There’s a scene where Elio plays a piece of music by Bach (in three different versions) on the piano for Oliver. Kudos to Guadagnino’s smooth direction and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s stunning cinematography, the camera never cuts after each version he plays. With the focus going back-and-forth between Elio’s piano-playing and Oliver’s reactions, it gives the viewer the impression that sparks are about to fly.

The age-gap between the main characters might throw viewers off a bit. However, the age of consent in Italy was–and still is–14. The movie never suggests anything about molestation. The story about first love and desire contains a mature protagonist at its center, who is aware of his own surroundings and loves to explore. Hell, even his parents never look down his son, and they are always there for him whenever he needs a shoulder a cry on. The French story, in which the mother reads in one scene, asks the question, “Is it better to speak, or to die?”

It does take a lot of time knowing our star-crossed lovers, but everything about the movie works, due to–most importantly–the astounding performances by Chalamet and Hammer. I cannot imagine a perfect pair than these two great actors, who got along so well before, during and after making the movie. Their emotions are so raw, it makes it feel as if they are portraying actual people who love each other and embark on one helluva journey. After gaining indie stardom in Miss Stevens and Lady Bird, Chalamet is simply perfect as Elio, who, at first, has doubts about Oliver, particularly when he asks his parents if it’s arrogant whenever he says “Later”. Then, Elio puts Oliver’s red shorts around his head; foreshadowing their lust for one another.

He finds out they have one thing in common: they’re Jewish. One day, he sees Oliver wearing a necklace with the Star of David pendant. It begins to show that Oliver is not ashamed of who he truly is. Elio tells him that he and his family are only “Jews of discretion.” Eventually, we see Elio wear the exact same necklace and him celebrating Hanukkah with his parents. He shares the same feelings Oliver has. They become so attracted by each other’s statuesque appearances (notice the images of Ancient Greece) the same way their secrecy–with his religious beliefs and Oliver’s sexuality–brings the two together. When they walk around a World War I statue (representing a barrier for the two lovebirds), it becomes clear how hard it would be for them to leave each other’s side.

In one scene, Elio is eating a peach in the attic (one of his private hideouts). He takes a good look at the fruit. And then, he starts masturbating with it. Minutes later, Oliver shows up to see what his friend has been up to. Oliver sees the peach, and, playfully, tries to consume it, despite Elio’s denial. As strange as the scene is, it’s also hard not to shed a tear over Elio’s feelings. The peach symbolizes the desired intimacy between Elio and Oliver.

While the performances are superb, it shocks me, to this day, how Stuhlbarg hardly received any award recognition. Particularly his monologue near the end is enough to make cold-hearted people weep. He tells his son he would never have what he and Oliver had. “How you live your life is your business,” he says. “Just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out. And, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.” The writing by Ivory is simply marvelous!

Call Me by Your Name is one of the most beautiful love stories ever captured on film. Thankfully, everyone will get to see more of how the relationship between Elio and Oliver has evolved in a sequel coming in 2020, following the tradition of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. It will capture the era where HIV/AIDS is becoming more perceptible. Who knows if it will be as powerful as its predecessor, but Guadagnino sums up this movie perfectly, in an interview with The Guardian: “[This movie] encompasses what I’ve found striking about life: that you can be a better person, and you can build a bridge to go and meet new people instead of confining yourself within your own boundaries.”

Movie Review: Glass

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Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), Kevin (James McAvoy), and David (Bruce Willis) are checking into a mental institution in Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s conclusion to his Eastrail 177 trilogy. (Source: The Atlantic)

In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan made a movie where it used the superhero genre with a twist. While a modest hit in theaters, Unbreakable became one of the greatest cult classics of all-time. Filled with originality, subtle performances by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson as David and Elijah, two individuals who discuss a comic-book theory after David survives from a tragic train crash without breaking any bones, and Shyamalan’s clever writing and directing approach by having a comic-book feel to every shot (e.g. the greens and purples during the characters’ arcs).

After years of mishaps, Shyamalan returns to form with Split, an unnerving psychological thriller about the effects of dissociative identity disorder. James McAvoy’s wonderful performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb, inspired by the real-life DID patient Billy Milligan, will send chills down one’s spine. These three people would eventually meet each other for the first time in a third movie.

Enter Glass, a movie with every intention to become a satisfying finale to one of the best trilogies in existence. Unfortunately, this is half-true.

After the events of Split, security guard David Dunn (Willis) works at a security firm in Philadelphia. Taking the alias The Overseer, he uses his supernatural abilities to see crimes people have committed by bumping into them. He learns from his now-adult son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) that Kevin (McAvoy) is holding a group of cheerleaders hostage in an abandoned factory. After an intense fight, they are sent to the same psychiatric hospital that wheelchair-bound Elijah Price (Jackson), who has Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta (a rare disease in which his bone breaks really easily), has been staying at for years. While under the supervision of doctor Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) specializes in patients who believe to be superheroes (which sounds far-fetched beyond repair. There is something about her motivation that makes it somewhat captivating), all hell begins to break loose,

While not a complete disaster, it’s great to see Shyamalan return to his familiar roots after the surprise of Split. Jackson and Willis aren’t given much to do, but they do have their shining moments. However, McAvoy steals the spotlight once again as Kevin. While Split showed only nine of his 24 personalities, this movie shows 20 of them. Just like before, some of his personalities–particularly Hedwig–can be funny in an unnerving way. I swear, one of his personalities almost reminded me of Nic Cage. There is also more backstory surrounding him and other characters.

Along with his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, he uses a lot of clever film techniques (ranging from POV to its flashbacks). I love the shot where Elijah escapes in his wheelchair while a fight ensues in the background. The first two acts are gripping enough. It reunites the characters we know and love. It’s also surprising to see the return of some supporting characters from the previous entries, like Kevin’s former hostage Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard). There is a lot of patience given as the three characters start to evolve and learn about Elijah’s theory about the existence of superheroes, in which Glass does a great job exploring deeper into. There are plenty of twists throughout the film, in which Shyamalan is known for, which is part of the problem.

Without giving anything away, the last act, while exciting, feels a little too busy. It comes off as being preposterous and pedestrian, even by Shyamalan’s standards. It leaves people scratching their heads once the credits start to roll. Despite the disappointing final act, Glass is still gripping as it is fascinating. I’m more than glad these movies exist.

7.5/10

Movie Review: The Upside

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Dell (Kevin Hart) takes care of a wealthy quadriplegic (Bryan Cranston) in the American remake of the French-language classic The Intouchables. (Source: The Wrap)

In 2011, a movie called The Intouchables came out in France. Based on a true story, it followed the friendship between a white quadriplegic millionaire and a black ex-con. It became the most successful French film; earning about $300 million worldwide. It received a lot of awards including the Cesar Award for Omar Sy’s performance and was honored at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, where the directors earned the HOPE award for their terrific work bringing the story to the silver screen.

Director Neil Burger and screenwriter Jon Hartmere decide to bring the story back to life for American audiences. After its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, The Upside was put on the shelf amid the Harvey Weinstein scandal until right now. The movie has released during the controversy of Kevin Hart’s involvement of being the host for the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony. Talk about horrible timing!

Instead of taking place in Paris, the movie is set in New York City. Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is one of the wealthiest people in the city. A paragliding accident left him in a wheelchair. With the help of his assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), he tries to find the perfect candidate to be his caretaker.

Enter Dell Scott (Hart), an ex-convict who lives on the other side of town. He comes into his estate to get a signature for his parole officer. Without being aware, he gets the job as Philip’s caretaker. Later, they form an unlikely bond they will never forget.

The Upside recreates famous scenes from the original, as well as adding a few subplots to stand on its own. For instance, Dell tries to reconnect with his ex-wife and son, but gets thrown out of his crappy apartment. The movie also shows Philip’s dreams of his tragic accident. As a result, however, there are plenty of cheap laughs to even out the drama in this tasteless movie lacking any subtlety or grace that made the original so good.

It does have a few decent laughs, especially one scene where they both go to a hot-dog restaurant while high on marijuana. Then, there’s a gag that involves replacing a catheter that goes on for what feels like an eternity. Everything just falls apart. Cranston and Hart are trying their best here. Cranston does bring his deadpan charisma into his role of the rich quadriplegic. For Hart, he is doing the same shtick he’s known for in his stand-up. He simply sucks the life out of his character. I have no idea what Kidman is doing here.

With last year’s BlacKkKlansman and Green Book, they showcase the hardships of racism in their own distinct way; by being as authentic and faithful to their source material as possible while trying not to manipulate their audiences. They also contain a sense of humor to even out the harsh reality of their portrayal.

The Upside contains none of those. It doesn’t have the charm of the original, the humor falls flat, the characters feel like stereotypes, and hardly contains any surprises. With its 126-minute running-time, the movie is twenty minutes too long. If you will excuse me, I’m going to rewatch The Intouchables to get the bad taste of The Upside out of my mouth.

3/10

Top 15 Best Movies of 2018

2018 has, yet again, released a myriad of amazing movies; several of which made history. My list comes to showcase how miraculous and powerful these movies on my list are. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen every great movie that has come out. So–don’t get upset when movies such as Cold War, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Favourite are absent from the list. Let’s not waste any more time and dive right into my list of the top fifteen best movies of 2018. First things first…

Honorable Mentions: Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, First Man, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Hereditary, Isle of Dogs, Lean on Pete, Searching, Thoroughbreds, Three Identical Strangers, Tully, Widows

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(Source: The New Yorker)

15. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – The popular action-film franchise has been getting better with each entry. Starting off as a remake of the television show from the 1960s, the series has gotten a different director for each sequel to give them their own distinct style. I still think Ghost Protocol is my favorite in the franchise, but Fallout has so much going on it feels like I’ve been on a massive roller-coaster ride. Filled with twists and turns, death-defying stunts, and almost wall-to-wall action. Kudos to Tom Cruise, for risking his entire life taking on roles like IMF agent Ethan Hunt. Another kudos to director Christopher McQuarrie for making the most exhilarating thrill-ride of the summer. I bet you can feel every bone breaking during the brutal bathroom fight.

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(Source: Forbes)

14. A Quiet Place – This will surprise anyone I prefer this movie over another great horror movie such as Hereditary. No offense, but A Quiet Place is a much more superior horror movie that could work as an old silent film. Starring and directed by John Krasinski, this movie contains no spoken dialogue (save for one scene), but the suspense is at an all-time high. While the concept concerning a world where monsters are blind yet extremely sensitive to sound might be similar to Signs and Tremors, A Quiet Place has never come out at a perfect time than in 2018.

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(Source: Variety)

13. Boy Erased – Lucas Hedges is joining the likes of Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet as one of the best actors of the new generation. After receiving praise in Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, he gives another phenomenal performance in Joel Edgerton’s excellent sophomore feature as Jared Eamons, a teenager who is forced by his parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, also astounding) to attend a gay conversion therapy program. The audience is with Jared every step of the way as he tries to convince his parents to accept for who he truly is. Through subtle yet unflinching flashbacks, Jared’s struggle of coming out truly shines.

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(Source: IMDb)

12. Black Panther – The MCU has become the highest-grossing franchise of all-time. Things have changed since the release of Iron Man in 2008. New characters have been introduced and the stakes have gone higher than before. Black Panther has broken records left to right; becoming the highest-grossing film not only in the franchise, but also directed by a black director and starring a mostly black cast. And for good reason!

Ryan Coogler is a great director to look out for. He envisions a world unlike any other; with its distinct culture norms, environment, and politics. Chadwick Boseman leads an excellent cast portraying one of the coolest superheroes I’ve seen on the silver screen. The movie is not without its sense of humor, dazzling visuals, and thrilling action set-pieces. Wakanda Forever!

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(Source: The New York Times)

11. Green Book – This movie surprised the hell out of me! This time, Peter Farrelly goes solo as the director for this true story about a friendship between white bouncer Tony Lip and black pianist Don Shirley–played to perfection by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. It does sound like a reversed version of Driving Miss Daisy, but this is an entertaining history lesson and road trip movie that is hard not to smile all the way through. Containing some laugh-out-loud moments, hard-hitting realism of the Civil Rights Movement, wonderful music, and dazzling cinematography by Sean Porter. A future Christmas tradition, for sure!

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(Source: Phoenix New Times)

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – No one can simply go wrong with Joel and Ethan Coen. From Fargo to The Big Lebowski to O Brother, Where Art Thou to No Country for Old Men, they have created some of the best movies ever made through their dark, deadpan humor, memorable characters, and stunning visuals. In their Western anthology film by Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is another marvelous achievement from the brother duo. Being their first film shot digitally, they bring forth six short stories that range from laugh-out-loud hilarious to straight-up tragic. It features a massive cast including Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, and Tom Waits, and visuals so beautiful each image is a work of art (I think this is the first of their movies to ever contain CGI). Here’s how I would rank each of the stories:

  1. All Gold Canyon
  2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  3. The Gal Who Got Rattled
  4. Meal Ticket
  5. The Mortal Remains
  6. Near Algodones

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(Source: Vox)

9. First Reformed – Known for writing the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Paul Schrader directs this miraculous film about questioning one’s faith in a world where climate change is the norm. Starring Ethan Hawke, in one of the best performances of his entire career, as Reverend Ernst Toller of a small church in upstate New York, who helps a young woman (Amanda Seyfried, surprisingly superb) with an environmentalist husband. I have never seen a movie so grounded and so thought-provoking. I have a feeling this movie would be viewed in film criticism classes in high schools and colleges throughout America. The final ten minutes of First Reformed are some of the most intense I’ve seen this year; more so than a lot of action thrillers I’ve ever seen.

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(Source: Parade)

8. Eighth Grade – Yes, this movie might be rated R for its language and scenes involving and referencing oral sex. Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, however, should be required viewing for eighth-graders making the transition to high school. Elsie Fisher is straight-up fantastic as Kayla, a socially inept teenager who spends more on her iPhone and making inspirational videos on YouTube that receive little to no attention at all. She tries to get through her last week of middle school by becoming more open. It’s hard not to relate to this movie and look back at your time at middle school. Let’s hope Burnham directs and writes screenplays for more funny and poignant movies like Eighth Grade in the near future.

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(Source: The Atlantic)

7. The Rider – Two movies featuring horses came out this year–Lean on Pete and this one. While the first was great and went into directions I haven’t expected, this one is easily the superior one. Being her second film, Beijing native Chloe Zhao has a great future as a filmmaker. The Rider is a stunning outlook on life, with The Wrestler being a big influence. Featuring a wonderful cast of non-professionals, their performances–particularly Brady Jandreau and his family–feel like real people. This is a special movie-going experience.

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(Source: The Atlantic)

6. The Old Man and the Gun – 2018 contained two movies featuring two legendary actors playing criminals with a distinct charm. The more recent being The Mule, starring Clint Eastwood as a 90-year-old Korean War veteran unknowingly smuggling 200 pounds of cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel.

While there is plenty to like about Eastwood’s return to directing himself for the first time since Gran Torino, I prefer David Lowery’s magnum opus The Old Man and the Gun, starring Robert Redford in his (supposedly) last acting role. Based on the too-good-to-be-true story, it’s hard not to smile at our protagonist Forrest Tucker getting away with his bank robberies using his polite manners. Although John Hunt (Casey Affleck, delivering another marvelous performance) is on his tail, Forrest will be ready for his next escape after getting caught. It might not move at a fast pace, but this movie contains an offbeat sense of humor, terrific music, an excellent cast, and a vintage feel that gives subtle nods to Redford’s early work like The Sting. Great stuff!

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(Source: San Francisco Examiner)

5. Leave No Trace – Debra Granik returns eight years from directing the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone to write and direct another movie that is devastating and delightful. Leave No Trace showcases the slice of life in rural America. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie (who is going to star in Taika Waititi’s upcoming WWII satire Jojo Rabbit, coming out some time next year) are the heart and soul of the movie as Will and Tom, the father and daughter who are succumbed to come to terms with society after living off the grid for some time. I’ve seen this movie twice in theaters, and I’m surprised it earned a PG-rating (i.e. pay attention to Ben Foster’s tattoos early on). No matter what the rating is, it’s a subtle and powerful film that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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(Source: The New York Times)

4. BlacKkKlansman – Who knew Spike Lee would make his grand return with this too-good-to-be-true story about Colorado Springs police detective Ron Stallworth infiltrating the local Ku Klux Klan? And who knew it would become a future American classic?

Like with his 1989 film Do the Right Thing, Spike shifts the tone for BlacKkKlansman almost seamlessly. You laugh so hard one minute and you get chills down your spine the next. John David Washington leads the cast with his badassery and humbleness as Stallworth. His scenes with Adam Driver’s Flip are electrifying. This movie is a wake-up call to where America is today with its race relations. The ending will leave you speechless.

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(Source: The Dallas Observer)

3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – The documentary everybody needs right now! Fred Rogers was easily the most down-to-earth human-being who ever lived. He had a way with children and taught them how to love and be loved. It makes sense how his Christian beliefs of “Love thy neighbor; love thyself” work perfectly to the show. Director Morgan Neville dives deep into the life of Fred Rogers and the effect he and his show had on everyone. No matter the age, everyone should watch at least one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to forget about the harsh reality of the outside world. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? came out at a great time!

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(Source: Vox)

2. A Star is Born – The fourth version of A Star is Born has been in production hell since 2010. With Clint Eastwood once attached to the project, Bradley Cooper eventually took over to direct himself in this marvelous film about the hardships of making it big in the music industry while facing one’s personal demons. This is what happens when musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) develops a relationship with aspiring singer Ally (Lady Gaga).

I had a bad feeling this movie would become a manipulative mess. What Cooper does here is anything but. Through his impressive direction and excellent performance as Jackson Maine, he gets the tone for every scene down to a T. From the music to the amazing performances (particularly from Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, and Sam Elliott), everything in A Star is Born works. It might not be easy-viewing, due to its depiction of alcohol and drug abuse, but it’s hard to look away. There might be another version of A Star is Born in the future, but this version will be hard to top. I get chills every time I listen to the soundtrack.

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(Source: Playlist)

1. Roma – Alfonso Cuarón’s latest is, by miles, the best movie of the year. Being his first film since Gravity, he takes a more personal approach in this Netflix original through his astounding direction, screenplay, and camerawork. Bringing 1970s Mexico City to pure life through the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography (after his collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable), the story focuses on Cleo, a maid taking care a middle-class family during a rough time in history. With terrific performances from non-professionals, a straightforward narrative, outstanding attention to detail, there will never be another movie like Roma. There is so much that affected me on an emotional level. Definitely one to look out for during awards season.

There you have it! Don’t get upset that I didn’t include a movie you considered one of the best of the year on my list. Keep in mind, this is my list, not yours. I have my entire life to catch up on the movies I’ve missed.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my picks for the best and worst movies of the year. Please feel free to leave a comment on what you think are the best movies of 2018. I look forward to seeing more great movies in the coming year. Keep an eye out for changes coming to this blog in the new year. Have a Happy New Year!

Top 10 Worst Movies of 2018

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us! It’s time to take a look back at 2018 in film!

This year has been another powerhouse year for cinema! There have been numerous surprises (either good or bad), movies making history (Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing film in the MCU and one of the all-time highest-grossing films–featuring a mostly black cast and directed by a black director), and Netflix becoming the future of cinema by releasing its popular original movies in select theaters.

However–there have been plenty of stinkers a lot of people had to endure. Without further ado, let’s dive right into my list of the top ten worst movies of 2018. But first…

Dishonorable Mentions: Insidious: The Last Key, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Leisure Seeker, Mandy, On Chesil Beach, The Seagull, Unsane, Winchester

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(Source: Inverse)

10. The NunThe Conjuring universe is releasing spin-offs featuring its scary entities that the two movies introduced–from Annabelle (as witnessed in the terrible film from 2014 and its solid sequel, Annabelle: Creation, from last year) to The Crooked Man (in which we have yet to see a spin-off of the monster shown briefly in The Conjuring 2). The second film featured a spirit deemed the most sinister of all. The Nun is another big disappointment in the ongoing horror franchise; suffering from cheap scares, forced humor, and not enough atmosphere to carry through its shaky final act. Taissa Farmiga gives a decent performance as Irene, the rookie nun with a gift from the supernatural, but it ticks me off how she has yet to receive her vows before going to Romania. Other than that, I would rather wait for The Conjuring 3 than having to sit through The Nun again.

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(Source: Variety)

9. Death Wish – Remember when Bruce Willis was at the top of the world starring in the Die Hard movies? While he is no stranger for starring in big critical and financial flops, Death Wish continues that particular realm. Directed by Eli Roth, the master of torture porn, Willis stars as a surgeon-turned-vigilante after he witnesses his wife and daughter attacked in his Chicago home. His performance is not the worst in his career, but he is trying a little too hard in this nasty, derivative, incoherent mess of a movie that takes itself way too seriously, and focuses less on the narrative and more on the violence.

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(Source: The New York Times)

8. The 15:17 to Paris – Clint Eastwood is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. At 88, he is still going. The 15:17 to Paris is easily a big down-grade in his directing career. He is no stranger casting non-professional actors. Here, he casts the three people–Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone–who were involved in the potential terrorist attack on the train from Amsterdam to Paris as themselves. The particular sequence is as tense as one might expect from a movie like this, but leading up to it is pure agony. Containing wooden performances from a talent cast, poor pacing, and shallow dialogue. Thank God for Eastwood doing The Mule.

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(Source: The Atlantic)

7. How to Talk to Girls at Parties – This is a prime example of what happens when you adapt a short story by Neil Gaiman into a feature-length film. Its tone shifts so constantly that it’s excruciating. Set in London during the punk era of the 1970s, Enn (Alex Sharp) and his friends decide to go to dance parties and try to lose their virginity. When he falls for a pretty girl named Zan (Elle Fanning), he soon realizes she is part of an alien race.

I don’t mind bizarre and quirky, if done well. It does have some moments that are really funny (i.e. the scene where Enn’s mother talks about her experiences in Hollywood) and charming. Unfortunately, How to Talk to Girls at Parties loses completely its focus of what it wants to be–Romance? Science-fiction? There are times in which it feels like a overlong 90-minute music video.

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(Source: TV and Movie News)

6. Venom – Oh boy–what was Tom Hardy thinking when he signed on to do a project like Venom? One of Hollywood’s toughest actors is trapped in a superhero origin story that would have been alright, if it came out during the time of Sam Raimi’s 2002 version of Spider-Man. When Hardy’s Brock becomes infected with the symbiotes, he keeps hearing voices in his head, resembling Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Now that I think about it, Hardy would make a much more badass Jekyll and Hyde than Russell Crowe in The Mummy.)

When there is a scene where Venom calls Brock a “pussy” (I kid you not, I almost walked out of the theater from laughing so hard at that), it’s clear on where the movie is going to go from there. The pacing goes all over the place, the humor feels forced, the action is completely contrived, and the actors feel like their sleepwalking throughout the whole film. The chase through San Francisco is watchable at best, it goes downhill from there, even the climactic fight between Venom and Carnage is generic and predictable. With the movie ending on a cliffhanger, like with every superhero movie nowadays, I have a feeling we might see more from the antihero. And I am not looking forward to it.

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(Source: TIME)

5. 7 Days in Entebbe – I enjoy movies that are based on true events; from Schindler’s List to The Social Network to Captain Phillips. I try to steer clear from ones that are unintentionally funny, dull, and devoid of any tension. 7 Days in Entebbe fits right into those categories. This is a preachy, sluggish interpretation of the terrible event. Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike are two gifted, understated actors who are entirely wasted as two people hijacking a plane and putting all of the passengers hostage in Entebbe. There is a dance number that feels adjacent to the rest of the movie. If you want to watch a solid thriller starring Rosamund Pike, Beirut is more worth your time than this pile of garbage.

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(Source: Vox)

4. Sorry to Bother You – The fact that this movie has received a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7/10 rating on IMDb is pretty freaking amazing! Boots Riley’s directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You, feels more like propaganda disguised as a feature film. Centering on the down-on-his-luck Cassius, who finds a job as a telemarketer selling consumer products from the phone. He learns about a CEO named Steve Lift (a wasted Armie Hammer), who has plans to improve labor.

Despite some unique editing techniques, the political satire is forced, the characters looking like they are being controlled like joysticks, the second act feels more like a horror movie, and there’s nothing to laugh at. Easily the year’s most overrated movie.

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(Source: Variety)

3. The Hurricane Heist – Coming from the previews, this movie definitely had the feeling of being incredibly stupid beyond repair. However, I watched it expecting some fun out of its silly premise of two brothers from Alabama pulling off a heist of $600 million during a hurricane. From Rob Cohen, who also directed The Fast and the Furious, not only is The Hurricane Heist absolutely ridiculous, it takes itself way too seriously. If you can get through the actors talking in those silly Southern accents, beware of some terrible special effects and choppy action. What a waste.

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(Source: Yahoo)

2. Flower – Zoey Deutch is one of the most charming actresses of her generation. After her surprising turns in Before I Fall and Everybody Wants Some, Flower is a downfall in her career. Max Winkler–yes, the son of Henry Winkler–directs this disgusting ranchfest of an indie comedy about Erica, a sexually adventurous teenager who develops a bond with her new stepbrother Luke, and is on the road for vengeance after Luke tells her the truth about a schoolteacher. Things soon take a turn for the worse. And boy–they sure do! Nothing about Flower is funny, charming, or pleasant. Such a wasted opportunity from a gifted cast including Kathryn Hahn and Adam Scott.

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(Source: IMDb)

1. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare – Continuing the trend of terrible horror movies is Truth or Dare, produced by Jason Blum (who was also responsible for producing The Purge, Sinister, and The Visit). There has never been a horror movie I’ve seen this is unintentionally hilarious as well as incredibly boring. Lucy Hale (of Pretty Little Liars fame) stars in this wretched mess as a college student going with her friends to Mexico for spring break. One night, their innocent game of “truth or dare” turns into something supernatural.

With an uninspired screenplay (written by four people, no less!), the characters have no personality, the deaths are stupid, the image of the people doing their worst expression of Jack Nicholson’s Joker will make me laugh for as long as I live, and the mystery behind the curse is not interesting. If anyone can get through Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare without falling asleep, they deserve a medal.

I hope you enjoyed reading what I thought on some of the worst movies of the year as much as I did tearing them into shreds. Please feel free to leave a comment on what you thought of these movies, and I am beyond curious on why you hated or liked any of the movies on my list. And I’m also curious to know what terrible movies you’ve seen from this year. Now–it’s about time to think about the good stuff that came out. Expect my list of the best movies of the year to come out very soon. Stay tuned!

Movie Review: The Mule

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Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) makes some important life decisions in The Mule. (Source: Entertainment Weekly)

It has been ten years since Clint Eastwood directed himself in a movie. Being a filmmaker for half of a century, winning two Oscars for directing Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (both of which won Best Picture), starring in more than half of the movies he directed, it’s hard not to be impressed by what he has done for Hollywood. Gran Torino is a prime example of his talents as an actor and filmmaker; blending deadpan humor and hard-hitting drama set outside an all-American city–Detroit–and containing a diverse cast.

After directing big hits, such as American Sniper and Sully, he is back as the director after giving us the disastrous biopic The 15:17 to Paris. Not only that, he is also the main star in The Mule. Based on a true story of Leo Sharp, a WWII veteran smuggling hundreds of pounds of cocaine from a Mexican drug cartel through Michigan, Eastwood and screenwriter Nick Schenk make several changes to the true-life story to stand on its own.

For starters, Eastwood stars as Earl Stone, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran, who is facing foreclosure on his house and his horticultural business. Years of being neglected from his family, he is in desperate need of cash. One day, at a wedding party for his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), he is offered a job driving trucks. Earl doesn’t find that a problem since he had experience with trucks. However, he doesn’t know what he’s in for while driving all the way down to El Paso.

Since he has no criminal history, Earl isn’t worried to earn a little extra cash to cover Ginny’s wedding and college education. He eventually finds out he’s working as a drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel. This gets the attention of DEA agents Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, Earl thinks about his life decisions, especially when his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) falls ill.

This isn’t the first time this year where a legendary actor played a criminal. We already saw Robert Redford using his polite manners while robbing banks in David Lowery’s magnum opus The Old Man and the Gun. As Earl Stone, however, Eastwood gives another nuanced performance; providing the dry sense of humor and the charisma he is known for in all of his movies. Earl might be stubborn and ignorant, especially with the modern technology being taken over, but he tries to be there for his family after neglecting them for years. Although the two DEA agents might be on his tail, he continues to live his life especially sitting back in the driver’s seat of his truck singing along to old songs.

The movie is not without its flaws. It’s a slow-burning film that might throw off a lot of people expecting something along the lines of Sicario. Yes, the pace does drag here and there, and I would have done without the scene where Earl is invited to a pool party at an estate, run by drug lord Laton (Andy Garcia), where there lots of young women everywhere. Nevertheless, there is a great moral in The Mule about the importance of family and putting one’s own life is put at risk for something dangerous. At 88, Eastwood is still going strong. Nothing can stop him now!

3/4