2017 Summer Movie Review: Maudie

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Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) gets married to Everett (Ethan Hawke) in the biopic Maudie. (Source: IMDb)

Ah—what a delightful little film!

Maudie follows the true story of Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), an arthritic woman from Nova Scotia (although the movie is filmed primarily in Newfoundland and Labrodor), who gets a job as a housekeeper for fish meddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). She brings the ad to his small house and starts working. While they may be rough on each other at times, they slowly begin to fall in love. One day, Maud picks up a bucket of paint and a brush. She decides to paint simple things from flowers to animals around the house until she is convinced by Sandra (Kari Matchett), a woman from New York City, to sell her paintings for five dollars (“Show me how you view the world,” she says to her). She immediately becomes the talk of the town.

What makes the movie works is the performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Since being nominated for her supporting role in Blue Jasmine, Hawkins has starred in Godzilla and Paddington. She portrays Maud’s physicality and charisma to perfection. It’s impossible to resist her big heart. Featuring a sharp wit and gorgeous scenery, Maudie is a pleasant surprise!

3.5/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Detroit

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Officer Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) tries to find out the commotion at the Algiers Motel in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. (Source: IMDb)

Director Kathryn Bigelow has come a long way from collaborating with her ex-husband on Point Break. A movie that is nothing but pure ‘90s entertainment. It’s dumb, hilarious, action-packed, and cool; featuring memorable dialogue and a great cast playing memorable characters. What’s not to love?

Heading into the 21st century, she—along with screenwriter Mark Boal—made the transition to capture the brutal realism of the War on Terrorism in The Hurt Locker (which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2009) and Zero Dark Thirty. This time, they go back to a devastating time in history. Detroit brings the 1960s culture and the racial tensions of the time to pure life.

Michigan’s largest city has become one of the most diverse in America. Known as The Great Migration (as stated in the film’s opening scene), millions of African-Americans moved from the cotton fields of the South to the Northern states in hopes of living a better life and earn extra money. After World War II, however, the white population moved to the suburbs which caused tensions to rise.

On one of the hottest days of 1967, the police force (who are mostly white) make arrests on the streets, which pisses off the black community. They start robbing stores, put buildings and cars on fire, and protest to no end. The National Guard, the Michigan PD, and the Detroit PD patrol the streets day in and day out, and address a curfew to the residents.

Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a security guard who hears shots at the nearby Algiers Motel. He goes over there to see what’s going on. Three white cops, led by Philip Krauss (Will Poulter) who has faced murder charges for killing a black male from robbing a grocery store in broad daylight. He lines people up against the wall to find out who’s responsible for shooting at the police. This resulted in three black males getting killed, and nine others—including a Vietnam veteran (Anthony Mackie) and two white females, Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever, Last Man Standing)—injured.

The riots from fifty years ago are relevant to the racial tensions of today—from the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, to the shooting of Oscar Grant at San Francisco’s Fruitvale Station (depicted in 2013’s overlooked Fruitvale Station), to the riots in Baltimore in 2015; where a game between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox went on without any fans in the stadium whatsoever. Detroit is a reminder of today’s racial discrimination.

Barry Ackroyd’s handheld camerawork resembles the films of Peter Berg and Paul Greengrass. The entire sequence at the Algiers Motel had the same impact as the lifeboat sequence in Captain Phillips; nothing but edge-of-your-seat intensity. While filmed in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the sets look as authentic as the city and the events that took place.

I cannot ask for a better cast. From Poulter’s sinister work as Officer Krauss to Boyega’s raw, convincing performance as Officer Dismukes (who seems to be a great guy to be around with, particularly in an early scene where he serves coffee to a small group of white officers), Algee Smith steals the entire movie as Larry Reed, the lead singer of the Dramatics, with a stellar voice. After his performance gets cancelled, reality begins to hit him across the face.

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, most of the audience members who attended the world premiere at the Fox Theatre were actually a part of the riots—from police officers to ordinary residents. They were moved to tears over the film’s portrayal. It’s a shame Detroit underperformed at the box office this past weekend. This is a movie everybody needs to see; not to mention being viewed in every high school in America.

4/4

 

2017 Summer Movie Review: A Ghost Story

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C (Casey Affleck) wakes up as a ghost in David Lowery’s magnum opus, A Ghost Story. (Source: Rolling Stone)

How can something so simple go somewhere so deep?

After Disney’s surprisingly wonderful remake of Pete’s Dragon, director David Lowery returns to his indie roots with the Sundance hit A Ghost Story. It reteams the duo of the sluggish yet decent Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It might turn people off who expect it to be a straight-up horror film. With a budget of $100,000 and shown in the 1.37.1 aspect ratio, Lowery explores the afterlife through the eyes of a person wearing the cheapest Halloween costume in the world. This is a strange yet devastating roller-coaster ride through the afterlife.

C (Casey Affleck) is a musician living in a house in rural Texas with his wife M (Rooney Mara). They both keep hearing bumps in the night; trying to find the source of the sounds. As C dies from a car crash, he wakes up in the hospital in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes. As a ghost, he walks back to his house to reconnect with M. No one seems to notice he still exists. C’s ghost goes on a journey through the past, present, and future.

In his first Sundance feature-length hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery pays homage to Terrence Malick with films, such as Badlands and Days of Heaven. It comes as no surprise for A Ghost Story that it has ties with Malick among other directors. Ranging from faraway shots and long takes, Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo put it to good use with every shot, accompanied by Daniel Hart’s haunting score. They are nothing short of breathtaking!

A Ghost Story features very minimal dialogue. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”, is rather appropriate here. In one particular scene, the ghost watches his wife grief in silence while eating a whole pie. During the long take, we see her get more upset after each bite until she rushes to the bathroom to throw it up. As devastating as the scene is, it’s quite impressive to see it done in one take. It proves how talented Rooney Mara is.

Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle yet ambitious performances to date. Fresh from winning an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, he spends most of the movie in the bedsheet without delivering a single line (with the exception of a few in the beginning and the end of the film). With the theme involving the endurance and perception of time, Affleck’s ghost spends time observing his wife move out of his house as other people start to move in; including a Hispanic family and one of the partygoers (Will Oldham) talking about the end of the universe. “We do what we can to endure…you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone,” he says, summing up the film’s main idea.

A Ghost Story may not be for everyone. It doesn’t move at a fast pace. However, for those who are patient and willing to give it a shot, be my guest. You might love it or hate it. For me, one of the main reasons why I think this one of the best films of the year is that it’s full of originality, which is rare for movies nowadays. This definitely requires repeated viewings.

4/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Dunkirk

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Three British soldiers waiting to be rescued in Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk. (Source: IMDb)

Who doesn’t love Christopher Nolan? He’s one of the most ambitious yet brilliant filmmakers working today, who has a very unique style relying on the practicality. He is widely known for rebooting the Batman franchise after the dismal Batman and Robin. He often transports the audience to another world in movies such as the mind-bending Inception and the disappointing and overrated Interstellar. His latest film, Dunkirk, is a different approach for Nolan. A film taking place in a historical setting; let alone, World War II. Is there anything he can’t do?

Dunkirk features three storylines set on land, at sea, and in the air, told in non-linear fashion (make sure you pay attention to what’s going on). During the evacuation on the beaches of France, Nazi Germany has surrounded 400,000 men from Britain, Belgium, Canada, and France. Among those who are waiting to be rescued are Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (One Direction’s Harry Styles), both of whom are in the British Army. While on the pier, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Col. Winnant (James D’Arcy, Agent Carter) are making sure the soldiers are settling on the ships safely.

Meanwhile, out at sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is driving in his yacht with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney). They rescue a wounded soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose U-boat got hit by a torpedo, while three Spitfire planes—one of them piloted by Farrier (Tom Hardy, who is in a mask again)—fly overhead to keep the Germans out.

It has been said a thousand times, but it’s a fact that every war is hell. Even every war movie depicts them as hell. This is no surprise for Dunkirk. Unlike the graphic nature of Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, this movie is more of a survival story than anything (hence the PG-13 rating). Nolan takes this incredible story to full advantage with minimal dialogue and tension that never lets up until the end. Hans Zimmer’s outstanding score, like the rest of the movie, resembles a ticking time bomb.

What I appreciated about Dunkirk is the authenticity and realism of its depiction. As stated above, Nolan is known for using more practical effects than CGI, which is rare for a summer blockbuster. Not only is the movie filmed at the actual location of the evacuation, it also features real WWII-era carriers, planes and guns. The action sequences—set in all three locations—are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It makes the audience feel like they are actually there witnessing these events.

Being their acting debuts, Whitehead and Styles both bring forth such nuanced bravery into their performances as the two British soldiers risking their lives. Featuring such a tremendous cast, the audience sympathizes with the characters while it shifts between these three storylines. It’s an experience that I’ll definitely revisit time and again.

There has never been a movie that hit me harder all year than Dunkirk. This is a suspenseful, emotional roller-coaster ride. Even Peter Travers went as far as calling it “the greatest war film ever”, which is saying a lot. Dunkirk is definitely up there with some of the greats. I would be surprised if it receives little recognition at this year’s Oscars. It’s easily a front-runner for Best Picture. The question is: Will Christopher Nolan receive his first nomination as director? We’ll just have to wait and see.

4/4

“War for the Planet of the Apes”: The Ending to Something Extraordinary

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) returns, and he is not happy, in War for the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Screen Rant)

“War has already begun. Ape started war. And human will not forgive,” says Caesar at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is a send-up to the next film in the beloved franchise.

It has been almost 50 years since Planet of the Apes revolutionized the science-fiction genre with its groundbreaking sets and costume design, thoughtful ideas on faith and evolution, and its shocking twist ending. The franchise has come a long way with the reboots. In Rise, a scientist created a possible Alzheimer’s cure tested on apes including Caesar. While Caesar and his apes are given enhanced intelligence which leads to a battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, the humans are given a virus. In Dawn, the so-called Simian Flu wipes most of humanity. The remaining survivors go into an all-out conflict with Caesar and his fellow apes, while Koba betrays him and begins his trek to kill every human soul. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) returns director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback to focus more on the apes, and give a much darker, grittier, and devastatingly powerful conclusion to one of the best trilogies ever made.

A military group called Alpha-Omega, led by vicious Col. McCullough (Woody Harrelson), begins to emerge. In a breathtaking opening sequence, they attack the apes’ sanctuary in the heart of Muir Woods. Caesar (Andy Serkis), who wanted to offer peace between his fellow apes and the humans for so long, is driven mad after seeing many lives lost. He has plans of relocating his homeland in the middle of the desert, so no humans can be in sight of the apes. Before he could do that, however, he must begin his quest for revenge. Along with Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Maurice (Karin Konoval), and Rocket (Terry Notary), they encounter a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and a chimpanzee named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who directs them to the facility on the border, operated by McCullough. Once they arrive there, Caesar sees his apes captured and used for slave labor to build a wall to protect his army (I won’t make any Trump jokes, I promise). This immediately becomes the battle of wits.

It’s no surprise that the original Planet of the Apes gained controversy for its allegory of American slavery and the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Movement. To be fair, we still live in a world where racial tensions are the norm. A different race will be discriminated anywhere at any time.  In the case of the Planet of the Apes movies, the irony is that the humans are the least dominant species. War, the ninth film in the franchise, is relevant to the Trmup era (again, no jokes). Reeves directs this social sci-fi movie to his full advantage with the themes of supremacy and prejudice. It asks the question: What does the future hold if the apes are the most dominant species, in terms of evolution?

In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert,[1] Andy Serkis explained that he had no idea he would return to motion capture after doing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. “This is the end of type casting as we know it,” he said. “Anyone can play anything.”

I can’t agree with him more. Motion capture is certainly the future of film acting. And hopefully for the better. Serkis has fully embraced the instinct of Caesar. Take note on how grayer and wiser he’s getting in each of these movies. In War, we finally get to see the darker side of this brilliant character. We see him evolve from a pet to a leader through compassion. Now—he is getting revenge on losing something so dear to him. With numerous references to the Bible and films of the past, he can be looked at as a Clint Eastwood-type protagonist (one of the film’s biggest inspirations is The Outlaw Josey Wales). He also resembles the biblical Moses.

When we finally get our first glimpse of Col. McCullough, we see a spine-tingling image of him wearing black war paint on his face (one of the references to Apocalypse Now). Later on, we learn more about his motivation and his ties with the Simian virus. With Caesar in his office, he explains how he made the ultimate sacrifice to kill those infected with the virus, which makes humans have the inability to talk. . “The irony is we created you,” says the Colonel. “And nature has been punishing us ever since…no matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature.” From watching the original movies, this makes perfect sense about the humans living on this particular Earth now!

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Comparing behind-the-scenes to the final product. (Source: IMDb)

Zahn, a newcomer to the franchise, provides the film’s comic relief. His Bad Ape is one of the franchise’s most fascinating supporting characters. Originally from the Sierra Zoo, he becomes exposed to the virus and has been hiding out in the snowy mountaintop for years. He becomes their guide leading them to the facility on the border. This results in a funny scene where they make their way through a tunnel.

The beginning and the end of War features two big action set pieces that are as nerve-wracking as they are breathtaking. With the gritty nature going on, what carries the movie through is the simple moments of poignancy. Miller’s Nova represents the innocence during the dark times. Her moments with Maurice are so sweet I want to choke up as much as the rest of the movie. Her moment of grace, however, is during one powerful scene where she sneaks into the facility. She sees Caesar tired and hungry from working on the wall. What does she do? She gives him food and water before escaping from the army. We see one of the apes holding two fists together side-by-side; indicating that “apes together are strong.” The other apes later repeat the act. Accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s outstanding score, it’s impossible not to get teary-eyed.

(As much as I loved Patrick Doyle’s score in Rise, his doesn’t quite capture the gritty nature and simple poignancy of Giacchino’s score in this movie and in Dawn.)

War for the Planet of the Apes may be the end of the trilogy, but the franchise is most certainly not over, according to Matt Reeves. “The idea would never be to remake the ’68 film,” said Reeves in a 2014 interview with JoBlo.[2] “But it would be sort of a re-telling of those events from a new perspective. And the events themselves would probably be a bit different since they will have grown out of these films.” I’m definitely looking forward to seeing exactly where the franchise will go.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64mWOoj68qo

[2] http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/exclusive-matt-reeves-talks-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-169

2017 Summer Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swings into action in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest in the MCU. (Source: Den of Geek!)

Who doesn’t love Spider-Man? The friendly neighborhood superhero who swings into action to stop crime in New York City? He’s one of the wittiest superheroes in the Marvel comics. He made his theatrical debut in 2002, starring Tobey Maguire, and has rebooted ten years later, starring Andrew Garfield. Spider-Man is rebooted yet again so he can show the Marvel Cinematic Universe whose boss.

He might have been brought in at the last minute. But—he exceeded everyone’s expectations in Captain America: Civil War. What worked was the authenticity of Spider-Man being played by an actual teenager. Tom Holland—who was 19 at the time—got the character right on the money.

It’s hard not to look forward to seeing him on the verge of becoming an Avenger. Spider-Man: Homecoming proves MCU is stepping up its A-game.

After Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to living with his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) at his home in Queens. He goes to a private high school, where he is one of the smartest kids there. Not to mention being on the academic decathlon. However, school is getting rough, particularly with his frequent encounters with his bully Flash (Tony Revolori).

While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is moving the Avengers Headquarters upstate, they remain his mentor. Things get worse when Spider-Man must face against Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), or the Vulture, who has plans of his own to take over the Stark’s business.

There is plenty to like here. One of the best action set pieces in the movie takes place on the Staten Island Ferry where Spider-Man saves the people on board after a weapon malfunctions. One problem, however, is that the ferry doesn’t allow cars after the 9/11 attacks.

Holland is the definitive Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He gets every one-liner and every web-slinging action pitch perfect! Keaton’s Vulture feels more like a real person than the previous Spider-Man villains. In terms of the MCU, he joins the ranks of Loki and Zemo as one of the best villains. But—in terms of the Spider-Man movies, he’s not quite as menacing as Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. John Batalon steals the show as Ned, Peter’s awkwardly funny best friend. It’s hard not to get a laugh out of him.

2017 has been full of surprises thus far. Spider-Man: Homecoming is another great addition to the MCU, and easily one of the best high school movies of all-time.

3.5/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Okja

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Mija (An Seo Hyun) bonds with Okja in Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film, distributed by Netflix. (Source: Slash Film)

South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has become an international sensation. His 2014 hit Snowpiercer is one of the best post-apocalyptic films in recent memory. It had a talented, diverse cast, strong action, marvelous visuals, and a message with an Orwellian touch. His new film, Okja (which released on Netflix June 28), is unlike your average monster flick. Despite the gifted cast, the results are quite underwhelming.

Mija (An Seo Hyun) is a young girl living with his grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) in the beautiful South Korean countryside. Her only priority is taking care of a “super pig” named Okja. One day, wacky zoologist Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a crew of his television show come to do a segment on this stunning creature. However, Mija learns the truth on what is happening with Okja.

Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the CEO of Mirando Corporation, constructs a plan to use the super pigs as food. Why? “Because they need to taste f***ing good,” she says during the opening scene.

Meanwhile, Mija goes to New York City where a festival is about to take place. She must save her only friend before it’s too late.

There is a great message about the environment and the livestock industry. But—the film’s satire and beauty fall apart after the first hour. It’s hard to determine what the audience is aiming towards. The tone is inconsistent throughout; ranging from childish and innocent to dark and upsetting. Although the movie is rated TV-MA, there are times in which the movie is too childish for adults. Swinton stands out from the rest of the cast (she is a chameleon!), while it seems like Gyllenhaal is doing his best impression of Jim Carrey as the environmentalist in In Loving Color. It gets annoying after a while.

Okja is the second movie this year in which it (ironically) uses John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”. Case in point, the song is used in a wonderful scene where Mija attempts to save Okja in Seoul until being picked up by the Animal Liberation Front, an animal activist group, led by Jay (Paul Dano). Other than that, I’m not a big fan.

1.5/4