Movie Review: Justice League

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Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and the rest prepare to kick some ass in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. (Source: IMDb)

The DC Extended Universe has finally released a great movie this year with Wonder Woman. Not only did it become the highest-grossing film ever to be directed by a female, but it sparked a new light into popular culture; as it did back in the 1970s. Wonder Woman teams up with Batman and new group of heroes in Justice League, the shortest film in the franchise (clocking in at two hours). Zack Snyder returns to the director’s chair to give a big, beautiful mess. Surprisingly, however, I find it to be quite solid.

After Batman’s (Ben Affleck) fight with Superman (Henry Cavill), Gotham City is in mourning after Superman’s death. Bruce Wayne recruits Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to save the world from a group of mythical aliens, led by Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). They assemble the Justice League. This includes Barry Allen a.k.a. The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (Ray Fisher). All of them work together to show Steppenwolf who’s boss.

I will never forget what Snyder did to ruin Batman vs. Superman. He has a tremendous visual style, but he never has enough substance to carry through. While Man of Steel had a different take on Superman, Batman vs. Superman fell apart after the first 30 minutes. The biggest problem with DCEU is how their movies (except Wonder Woman) take themselves so seriously. While Justice League can draw comparisons to The Avengers, I had a good time with it. With a screenplay written by Joss Whedon (of all people), the movie manages to have somewhat of a sense of humor. While the cast does a good job, Miller is the one who steals the show. He maintains Barry Allen’s geeky personality almost to perfection.

While there is a lot of kick-ass action to feast the eyes (how can you not get pumped during the scene where Wonder Woman takes down those terrorists in London?), the movie falters with its bland villain and dull subplots surrounding Superman and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). It’s riddled with holes and it should have been a little longer. But–at least we all got a taste of the upcoming Aquaman. And boy–does it look good!

2.5/4

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Movie Review: Lady Bird

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Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) with her boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) in Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig. (Source: IMDb)

Ah–how refreshing it is to see something totally original.

Lady Bird marks the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. The offbeat actress is known for collaborating with Noah Baumbach in movies such as Frances Ha, Greenberg, and Mistress America. For her first film in which she also wrote the screenplay, she makes a coming-of-age tale based on her own life living in Sacramento, California, set almost exactly one year after 9/11. I have never seen a movie this touching all year.

Set during the 2002-2003 school year, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)–who chooses to go by “Lady Bird”–is a senior going to an all-girl Catholic high school. She really wants to move out of her parent’s house to go to college in New York City. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a hard-working nurse, disapproves of her daughter leaving Sacramento and wants her to be close to home. Because she works double at the hospital, she struggles to give her enough support for Lady Bird and her unemployed husband Larry (Tracy Letts).

Throughout the school year, Lady Bird slowly begins to learn how to be accepted by those around her including best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), her boyfriends Danny (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet, the upcoming Call Me by Your Name), and her teachers.

The most rewarding aspect about Lady Bird is how Gerwig avoids any coming-of-age cliches. She puts the post-9/11 factors to fair use (“9/11 Never Forget” are the words on the bulletin board early in the film). For instance, the father is laid off at his job and is there for his daughter every step of the way about her decisions after high school. Every character feels like they are real people we see every day.

From delivering stellar performances in movies such as Atonement, Hanna, and Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan dazzles once again as our protagonist. She’s not upset about the politics, but she wants to be accepted by her family and peers. Most importantly, her mother (Oscar-worthy performance by Metcalf). The dynamic between the two is easily the highlight of the film. They do argue with each other every now and then, but they love each other very much. When her mother tells her daughter to be the best version she can be, Lady Bird replies: “What if this is the best version?”

With Sam Levy’s smooth cinematography and a great soundtrack, Lady Bird is filled with twists, turns, and humor. There is one particularly hilarious scene where a priest (who is also a football coach) takes charge of the theater company. In preparation for the school’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he shows the kids a play-by-play of how the play is going to turn out. What a delightful love letter to Gerwig’s hometown and one of the best films of 2017!

4/4

Movie Review: The Florida Project

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Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) see a rainbow over the motel in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (Source: IndieWire)

Director Sean Baker brought attention in 2015 with his indie film Tangerine. Shot entirely on an iPhone, it follows a transgender prostitute finding out her lover has cheated on her. On a $100,000 budget, its groundbreaking film techniques mixing with tough issues were enough reasons to make it the talk-of-the-town at its premiere at Sundance.

His new film, The Florida Project, gives the audience a glimpse of poverty through the eyes of a child. The results are simply electrifying!

Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) is an optimistic 6-year-old girl living with her selfish, unemployed mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) at the Magic Castle, a run-down motel run by manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), which is located near Walt Disney World. Set during the summer, Moonee and her friends–Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera)–spend their free time getting into trouble, from spitting on a stranger’s car to setting an abandoned house on fire. This is a summer she will never forget.

The characters in The Florida Project feel like real people. Without any adult supervision, Moonee begins to see the world around her despite the situation she has to go through. With a breakout performance by Prince, she carries through providing the film’s humor and heart. Vinaite’s Halley takes zero shits from anybody while struggling to give the support she needs for her daughter (whom she loves with all of her heart), especially by earning spending her time selling cologne to tourists. The legendary Dafoe has delivered great performances over the years. He gives one of his finest of his career as a manager who always runs into problems at his motel.

There is irony when it comes to the “Happiest Place on Earth”. While not an easy movie to watch, one thing that makes The Florida Project so powerful is its message about the joys of childhood, even in an unpleasant environment. Shot almost entirely on 35 mm film, Baker’s wonderful direction and Alexis Zabe’s cinematography make every scene look like a painting coming to life. I love the scene where Moonee and Jancey sit on a tree while eating bread topped with jam. It might not be a movie I’ll watch again really soon, but seeing it once in theaters is an unforgettable

Movie Review: Only the Brave

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Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and his team of firefighters take down wildfires in Only the Brave. (Source: AZ Central)

Based on an article in GQ magazine, Only the Brave is a powerful tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who work together to prevent the spread of wildfires in Arizona. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy, Oblivion) and written by Ken Nolan and Eric Singer, this is a movie Peter Berg and Paul Greengrass would have directed if they used steadicam (I mean no disrespect). Josh Brolin leads a stellar cast as Eric Marsh, a fire chief of the Prescott Fire Department, who develops a team of firefighters including amateur Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), womanizer Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale), and many others. Together, they bond as brothers. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. Most of all, it will make you soar. The scene where Marsh talks about his dream of a bear on fire is hard not to hold those tears back. “It was the most beautiful and most terrible thing I’ve ever seen,” he says.

3.5/4

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) join to save the world in Thor: Ragnarok. (Source: Crave Online)

I enjoy Thor a lot as a character in the MCU. His first outing in 2011, directed by Kenneth Branagh (known for adapting some of William Shakespeare’s plays), had the right amount of fish-out-of-water humor, mythology, and action. While not perfect in any way, there is no doubt Chris Hemsworth was the perfect choice for Thor. The sequel, Thor: The Dark World, was quite underwhelming and, in my opinion, the weakest entry in the MCU. This time, there is no Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgård. New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) is the perfect choice to direct Thor: Ragnarok, in which it never takes itself seriously.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back with a new haircut, new group, and a new motivation.. He finds himself on the planet Sakaar, ruled by the deadpan Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Without his trusty hammer Mjolnir, he must fight to the death against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a duel, which excites him (“We know each other! He’s a friend from work!”). Why does he do it? It’s the only way for him to return to his homeland to prevent Ragnarok, destroying Asgardian civilization. Thor and Bruce Banner join Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Korg (Taika Waititi) to stop the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett) and save Asgard.

Thor: Ragnarok has a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe. Not only is it visually stunning and action-packed (how can you not smile when Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” is playing during the opening scene?), it’s also really funny (probably just as funny as Guardians). Waititi also does a great job expanding Norse mythology. Hemsworth proves he still has it; succeeding the physicality and emotional gravity of the story. The supporting cast is memorable. Waititi is known for starring in his own movies. Thor: Ragnarok is no exception. He provides some really funny lines as Korg, a rock warrior imprisoned on Sakaar. Blanchett is downright awesome as Hela, who plans on taking over Asgard. Great stuff!

4/4