Movie Review: The Lighthouse

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Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Wake (Willem Dafoe) get on each other’s nerves in Robert Eggers’ sophomore feature The Lighthouse. (Source: Slate)

Robert Eggers is becoming one of the most versatile filmmakers in the horror genre. His debut, The Witch, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (with a nationwide release the following year) with critical acclaim. Its subtle nature didn’t win everyone over, the Old English dialogue, the creepy atmosphere and music, and its portrayal of a family’s grief during the time before the Salem Witch Trials was wonderfully brought on by Eggers’ writing and directing (not to mention being a breakthrough role for Anya Taylor-Joy). This time, the New Hampshire native shifts the time forward for his second feature, The Lighthouse

Set in Maine in the late 1800s, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) arrives on a tiny island to serve as a “wickie” (or, lighthouse keeper) with the veteran Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Hoping for a fresh start, Winslow spends an entire month trying to get used to Wake barking orders at him. As a storm approaches, they begin to get on each other’s nerves.

Eggers did a lot of research for this movie–from the location to the period accuracy. The dialogue (in which the characters sound like pirates) is influenced by the works of Sarah Orne Jewett. From visiting and studying the lighthouses, the production designers had to build a 70-foot lighthouse. Although filmed in Nova Scotia, he and co-writer (and brother) Max Eggers both capture the beauty and spirit of Maine to a T.

Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, The Lighthouse is a darkly comedic, trippy, and batshit crazy film relying on psychological terror, and a slight improvement over The Witch. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography (shot on 35mm film with a 1:19.1 aspect ratio) and Mark Korven’s score are enough to give the film a sense of claustrophobia. Dafoe and Pattinson are so good working of each other as two men who hold secrets that will shock audiences and would require repeated viewings. Once the storm hits, they both descent into madness. The terrifying imagery is enough to keep you up at night. An instant horror classic!

10/10

Movie Review: Zombieland: Double Tap

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Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita (Emma Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) are back to kill more zombies in the sequel to 2009’s surprise hit Zombieland. (Source: Salon)

2009’s sleeper hit Zombieland was one gory, hilarious road trip. It was a clever spin on the now borderline tiresome zombie subgenre featuring one of the funniest cameos by one of the funniest actors. There is great chemistry between the main cast who have perfect comedic timing. After years of being in production hell, Ruben Fleischer returns as director after several misfires (including the uneven Gangster Squad and the dismal Venom), as well as the four leads–Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin–to give us familiar gags and nostalgia as well as some fresh ideas in the long-awaited sequel Zombieland: Double Tap. In most cases, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

After the events of its predecessor, America is still overrun by zombies. Columbus (Eisenberg) has never been happier in his life; living in an abandoned White House with the three other survivors–the gunslinging, Twinkie-loving Tallahassee (Harrelson), the sarcastic Wichita (Stone), and the rebellious Little Rock (Breslin)–who came together as a family near the end of the first film. Columbus decides to take his relationship with Wichita to the next level. When she learns about Little Rock going on the road with hippie Berkeley (Avan Jogia), she joins with Columbus and Tallahassee, which means they encounter more zombies and other survivors including a dumb blonde named Madison (Zoey Deutch).

Before any of you get worried, this sequel is a nonstop blast. It recycles the same gags and it’s not ashamed of poking fun at its predecessor. There is more rule-making and rule-breaking, more gore, more special effects, and more zombies with personalities (ranging from dumb to semi-intelligent). The action set pieces are just as fun as ever (of course, the movie would play a Metallica song during the opening credits). Although it isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious as its predecessor, it has plenty of laughs to have audiences in stitches.

It’s great to see the four leads mature over the years. Eisenberg’s Columbus is still the offbeat, fast-talking geek adding more rules to survive the zombie apocalypse. Along with Harrelson’s Tallahassee (who makes this movie as worthwhile as before), they go back on the road again. The movie also has memorable additions to the cast including Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as two guys who are similar to Tallahassee and Columbus. Deutch is a hoot-and-a-half as Madison, whose stupid decision-making might get her and others into trouble. Rosario Dawson is straight-up awesome as Nevada, the owner of an Elvis Presley-themed motel near Graceland, who bonds with Tallahassee over the late singer. Tallahassee’s anecdote about him singing and dancing to “Hound Dog” like Elvis on top of a cafeteria table will have you smiling.

Zombieland: Double Tap is a sequel that didn’t need to happen, but it’s great to see the actors back in action. Make sure you stick around during the end credits. Trust me, you will not regret it.

8/10

Movie Review: Joker

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Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) flips the tables on society in Todd Phillips’ dark re-telling of the Joker. (Source: Observer)

Just like Batman, the Joker has been portrayed by numerous actors who give different portrayals to each of them. Most famous ones include Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and Heath Ledger (in which he, posthumously, won an Oscar for The Dark Knight). The only terrible portrayal is, indeed, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, who plays more as a gangster than the Clown Prince of Crime. Now–it Joaquin Phoenix’s turn in director Todd Phillips’ (Old School, The Hangover) dark, gritty take on the villain’s origins focusing more on the protagonist’s psyche.

Set in the early 1980s, Gotham City is stricken with crime and unemployment. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) has a neurological disorder that makes him laugh at inappropriate times. He works as a clown entertainer, and lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) in a small, run-down apartment. Every night, they both stay up to watch a late-night show with host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Arthur pursues his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. One night, he invites his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz), a single mother, to a show. Then, things start to enter a downward spiral until he puts on white face paint and dyes his hair green to become the infamous Joker.

I appreciate how Phillips, co-writer Scott Silver, and cinematographer Lawrence Sher give Gotham City an unsubtle yet vintage feel (there is no CGI at all; thumbs up for practicality). The director has used influences from the films of Martin Scorsese before. Joker is no exception. Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are two of the film’s biggest influences. It involves our anti-hero making his target with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullon), the city’s richest person who is running for mayor. At the same time, Arthur proves he can be part of a society that seems to be his biggest enemy. “I used to think my life was a tragedy, but now I realize it’s a f—ing comedy,” he says in a pivotal moment.

Not surprisingly, Phoenix throws Leto’s version out of the water. He gets everything right on the money–his physicality (he lost a whopping 52 pounds for the role), his evil laughter, and not ashamed to show his violent side or dance the night away. When the Joker makes his dream a reality, he gives a monologue that will knock your socks off. However, his performance is not as amazing as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line or Theodore Twombly in Her. He leads a rock-solid supporting cast including De Niro, who has never been this good in a long time as the late-night talk-show host who seems to be laughing at our protagonist.

The movie, however, is far from perfect. It’s easy to see why it has become one of the year’s most controversial movies. It’s unpleasant in every sense of the word. The violent, gritty nature might be not for everyone to stomach. And finally, its social commentary on the social structure could have been explored more. Joker didn’t bore me for a second. The origins are compelling enough, and Phoenix’s performance is enough to recommend the movie. I might not see it again anytime soon, but I’m somewhat glad this movie exists. Oh–and I like the use of Frank Sinatra here.

7/10

Movie Review: Ad Astra

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Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) looks for answers about his father in James Gray’s marvelous space opera Ad Astra. (Source: Cnet)

Brad Pitt has had a great decade. He got nominated for an Oscar for Moneyball, produced such amazing films as 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, and made audiences cheer in World War Z, Fury, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Now–he stars in probably the most complex and understated performance of his entire career in Ad Astra. Directed by James Gray (We Own the Night, The Immigrant), he takes inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now (which he used a lot of in his previous film The Lost City of Z). I have never seen a more realistic portrayal of space. “Ad Astra” is Latin for “To the Stars”. I couldn’t think of a much better title.

For thirty years, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) has been presumed dead on Neptune while going on a mission to search for intelligent life. His gifted son, Major Roy McBride (Pitt), learns that he might be alive. Learning about power surges in the Solar System, threatening humanity, he accepts to embark on a daring mission with Col. Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) to find him and bring him back to Earth. Fearless, he leaves his ex-wife Eve (Liv Tyler) to find connection.

Already stealing the show in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt leads a diverse cast while giving one of the best performances of his career. Although it’s never implied, it’s clear Roy is on the Autism spectrum. His biggest strengths are his courage and intelligence, but pay close attention to his body language and self-control. Even through his narrations, he is always thinking. Veterans Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland have minor roles, but both have their shining moments.

A movie like this, containing the theme involving the desire to reconnect with family, would have been as corny as Christopher Nolan’s pretentious space adventure Interstellar. What Gray does here is anything but. He hits the tone just right. It’s devastating. It’s suspenseful. It’s cerebral. And it’s visual dazzling–from the massive sets to the visuals. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Max Richter’s neoclassical score makes audiences feel there are in space with Roy. Ad Astra needs to be seen on the big screen. This joins Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Gravity as one of the absolute best films in the science-fiction genre.

10/10