2018 Summer Movie Review: The Rider

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Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) looks out in the distance in The Rider. (Source: Vanity Fair)

Movies featuring performances by non-professional actors are always fascinating to watch. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in Once. Brooklynn Prince and the kids in The Florida Project. Harry Styles in Dunkirk. The cast of City of God. All of these examples feature those who weren’t familiar with the craft. As a result, they give some of the most natural performances so far this century.

After suffering through this year’s The 15:17 to Paris, starring the three heroes of the terrorist attack as themselves (let’s be fair, they cannot act), a new indie film has finally come out nationwide that features–gasp!–non-professional actors.

Beijing native Chloe Zhao (educated in London and America) met Brady Jandreau in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation while filming her directorial debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me. As a rodeo expert ever since he was a child, he taught her how to ride a horse and help him and his family with cattle. After Jandreau suffered a severe skull fracture from falling off his horse during a rodeo, Zhao knew she wanted to cast him in her second film The Rider, a semi-autobiographical take on Jandreau’s life. With Lean on Pete being the first masterpiece this year to feature horses, this movie truly deserves the praise it keeps receiving ever since its premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Jandreau plays Brady Blackburn, who used to be a massive star in the rodeo circuit. After his freak accident, he learns his riding days might come to an end (“10+ concussions–by NFL standards–I should be dead,” says one of his cowboy friends while sitting around a campfire). Brady has staples in his head after the doctors in the hospital put a metal shield in his skull. He returns to his trailer where he lives with his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) and 15-year-old sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. One day, Brady slowly goes back to training a new horse named Apollo, who has never been trained before. With the support of his friends and family, he learns how to go through life in the American heartland.

One of the main reasons why The Rider works is the authenticity between its characters and setting, kudos to Zhao’s wonderful direction and screenplay and Joshua James Richards’ gorgeous cinematography. The actors don’t just feel like characters, but real people. Brady Jandreau, in particular, is a tour-de-force. He is a physically broken man searching for his true self. While he eventually wants to go back training horses (in which he has been doing for most of his life), he decides to work at a grocery store to give plenty of time to heal. In one scene, he stands out in the middle of the prairie watching the storm roll in (as seen in the image above). It’s a quiet yet beautiful moment that I will never forget. You might be thinking his performance is inspired by Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler. It’s hard to argue that it isn’t. Zhao did, in fact, show Jandreau The Wrestler in preparation for this movie.

The movie is a special experience, and a beautifully heart-rendering tale about self-discovery. While the year might be far from over, I think I found my personal favorite movie of 2018! The Rider is going to be hard to beat.

4/4

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2018 Summer Movie Review: Deadpool 2

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Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) holds a cassette player in the sequel to Deadpool. (Source: Forbes)

Ryan Reynolds is back as Douche–I mean, Deadpool.

The foul-mouthed, wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking superhero with incredible healing powers made his Marvel debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He might be one of the only standouts throughout this terrible movie, but the movie played him off a bit safe. In his 2016 standalone feat, the audience witnessed the true nature of his character. Despite the villain being too generic, the movie is as violent as it is hilarious; poking fun of the superhero genre and the film’s budget (“It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.”). It also became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all-time (worldwide). The sequel, Deadpool 2, contains a bigger budget, lots of laughs, lots of wall-to-wall action, and it’s unexpectedly poignant.

Two years after saving his fiancee Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) from Francis, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) tries to get back to his normal life. It doesn’t take long for him to dress back up in his red spandex suit to reunite with Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), among other mutants to protect Russell a.k.a. Firefist (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), a teenage mutant with the ability to shoot fire from his hands, from the hands of the orphanage staff who vigorously abused him to no end. Deadpool later learns Firefist is the target of Cable (Josh Brolin), a cyborg soldier who can time-travel. He–along with his buddy Weasel (T.J. Miller) help form a team of other mutants including Domino (Zazie Beetz), Bedlam (Terry Crews), and Peter (Rob Delany) to save the teenager.

There is no arguing Reynolds being the perfect choice to play Deadpool. He does crack jokes on X-Men, DC and Marvel Comics, and generally pop culture (not to mention with perfect timing), but he begins to evolve as a human-being. With his crew, he learns the true meaning of family. Brolin’s Cable, just as effective, is also trying to forget his dark past.

David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) replaces Tim Miller as director for the sequel. As one of the up and coming masters of action cinema, his direction is put to great use here with some excellent stunts, gruesome action sequences, and hilariously stunning visuals to mix with the film’s humor and amazing soundtrack. Not without its problems, Deadpool 2 is slightly better than its predecessor and certainly the best X-Men sequel since Days of Future Past. Make sure you stay for the credits. Trust me!

3.5/4

2018 Summer Movie Review: Tully

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A nighttime nanny (Mackenzie Davis) comes to take care of Marlo (Charlize Theron) and her newborn child in Jason Reitman’s Tully. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

The collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody started in 2007 with Juno. The film following a pregnant high schooler trying to make the decision to adopt it to a loving couple earned Cody an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Four years later, they did Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron as a fiction writer returning to her hometown to reconnect with her high-school sweetheart. Now–Theron reunites with the duo in Tully, the latest film about the hardships of motherhood. After going in blind, I’m happy to admit the movie surprised me in every way!

Theron plays Marlo, a mother of three children: 8-year-old Sarah (Lia Frankland), 5-year-old Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica)–who is on the autism spectrum, and newborn Mia. She loves her family very much including her husband Drew (Ron Livingston), although he spends more time traveling for his business job. She spends many sleepless nights trying to take care of her newborn child. As a way to get the much needed sleep, Marlo’s wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass) hires Tully (Mackenzie Davis, Blade Runner 2049 and The Martian), a night nanny in her 20s. She reluctantly accepts Tully’s presence, especially noticing she had the time to clean the house and bake cupcakes. They form a bond together, and Marlo begins to look at the bright side of life.

Theron is no stranger to going above and beyond while preparing for her roles. She gained weight for 2003’s Monster, in which she won her first and only Oscar. Here, she put on 50 pounds to play Marlo. Her diet consisted nothing but junk food–from burgers to milkshakes. It took her more than a year to lose the weight. All the hard work she had to endure pulls off brilliantly! Her chemistry with Davis’ quirky title nanny is what makes the movie shine. While Marlo maybe a bit rude, she decides to give in when Tully shows up. She couldn’t imagine what she will do without her. “You can’t fix the parts without treating the whole,” Tully explains to Marlo when she’s there to take care of not only her baby, but Marlo entirely.

With a screenplay filled with razor-sharp dialogue and dark humor, I have never seen a film about parenthood so odd, so delightful, and brutally honest. And better yet, it never feels forced. It’s hard for mothers not to relate the pain Marlo endures in the movie. This is the perfect film for them to watch with their (older) kids. It might be slow early on, but it is something special once Tully picks up the pace.

3.5/4

2018 Summer Movie Review: Lean on Pete

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15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) begins helping jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) in Lean on Pete, Andrew Haigh’s first American film. (Source: Collider)

I wrote it once, and I’ll write it again: A24 is killing it!

From the Best Picture winner Moonlight to last year’s astonishing coming-of-age film Lady Bird to the haunting tearjerker A Ghost Story, the studio keeps bringing forth some of the most unique and the most amazing films in recent memory. They never do it better when they distribute films about poverty. Last year’s The Florida Project was a gritty yet unforgettable film about poverty from the point-of-view of a 7-year-old girl, who spends most of her time getting into trouble. It features natural performances from the kids and showcases one of Willem Dafoe’s best performances of his long career.

Since the 20th century, films about poverty have always been the most endearing because we see the characters struggle to live on a day-to-day basis. Lean on Pete (the first of two films coming this year featuring a horse) is nothing compared to what we have seen in National Velvet, The Black Stallion, or even War Horse. British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (45 Years) delivers something dark yet totally real.

Based on Willy Vlautin’s novel of the same name, Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) is a 15-year-old living with his single father/warehouse worker Ray (Travis Fimmel) in Portland, Oregon. But–they are struggling to earn enough money because the loving yet irresponsible Ray is spending too much time at the house with women. One morning, while on his run, Charley comes across the Portland Downs nearby. Eventually, he is offered by horse owner Del (Steve Buscemi) a summer job at the racetrack. He becomes attracted to a failing horse known as “Lean on Pete”. When he learns more about the horse from Del and jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), Charley decides to take Pete on a hectic journey to Wyoming.

This movie goes in ways I have never expected! Plummer’s Charley has never made any friends in Portland until he connects with Pete. He cares about his father very much, but his main motivation is to find a permanent home with meals he can endure, and get a proper education while probably earn a football scholarship. He tells Pete stories about his whole family situation, particularly one where he wishes he lived in a nice home like one of his friends back in Spokane, Washington. The 18-year-old actor is a straight-up natural! Definitely one to look out for in the future!

Leading an excellent cast including Buscemi (providing some dark comic relief) and Steve Zahn as a homeless alcoholic who lives in a camper, Lean on Pete avoids melodramatic cliches to bring forth a subtle, unflinching, astounding film of U.S. poverty. Who knew another British filmmaker would make a future American cult classic? Haigh’s wonderful writing and direction are the icing on the cake. By far, the best movie of 2018!

I’m looking forward to seeing The Rider very soon.

4/4