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

TV Review: Stranger Things (Season 2)

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Will (Noah Schnapp) and the gang (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo) notice something weird for the second time in their hometown in the new season of Stranger Things. (Source: Nerdist)

I had no idea what I was in for before watching the first season of Stranger Things last year. From the very first scene (paying homage to E.T.), I knew I was in for a treat! Each episode did not disappoint. It never ceased to surprise me, make me laugh, scared, and imagining I lived during the Reagan era. I recently rewatched it in preparation for the new season. It was great to see these characters I have known and loved (and loved to hate). With season two, the Duffers continue to bring back what made its previous season a joy.

In 1984, a year after Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) returned from the Upside Down, the town of Hawkins is preparing for Halloween. However, it’s struggling to go back the way things were. Pumpkins are beginning to rot, Will is being picked on at school (“Zombie Boy” is what his classmates call him) and is suffering from post-traumatic stress. He is seeing visions of a giant monster terrorizing the entire town. His condition is worsening every single day. His mom Joyce (Winona Ryder), his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and the new kid Maxine (Sadie Sink) are with him every step of the way trying to get rid of his condition.

It’s great to see these characters evolve over the course of one season (also continuing to deliver wonderful performances). Officer Hopper (David Harbour) is still dealing with the loss of his only child. He’s trying to do it all over again while protecting Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown)–now with slightly longer hair. Of course, there will be discipline. For Eleven, however, she is wondering all her life who her real parents were. She goes through Hopper’s paper clippings, and goes out of his way to meet her mother (prepare the tissues). Meanwhile, after what she put Will through last time, Joyce will always be there to protect her kids. This time around, Joyce has never experienced Will’s peculiar behavior until his return from the Upside Down.

The most interesting story arc of all is of Nancy (Natalia Dyer). She is grieving the loss of her best friend Barb (a favorite among fans; not to mention social media users using #JusticeforBarb). She and Jonathan decide to take a road trip on whether authorities know where she is. I love their dynamic because they trust in one another–in my opinion, they make better pair than Nancy and Steve (Joe Keery)–and, just like the younger kids, they don’t take shit from anybody.

There are new faces in the new season. Joyce’s new boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin) is a particularly great addition. A techie who works at the RadioShack hopes to be a positive influence on the family, especially Will. There is a great scene where they are talking in the car. Bob understands Will’s situation. He talks to him about standing up to his biggest fear. He explains that he used to have nightmares about this monster as a kid. One night, he tells it to simply “go away”. Then, his nightmares washed away. He’s suggesting to step up and be a man.

The Shadow Monster, inspired by H.P. Lovercraft, is just as eerie as the Demogorgon. The soundtrack features some of the best songs of the time, from Bon Jovi’s “Runaway to The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (also used in the first season where Jonathan reminisces him listening to this song with Will) to Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film”, and the list goes on and on. I would like to have the next season to feature A-ha’s “Take on Me”.

While I enjoy the show, it does drag a bit and the tone shifts during the seventh episode. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching the same show at times. But–the Duffers put things back on track to provide the thrills, pure emotion, and laughs (i.e. Dustin making a new pet gets a chuckle here and there). The finale is some of the craziest fun I’ve ever had. And the very last scene in the episode is nothing short of perfect! I hope the Duffers keep it up in the future.

3.5/4

BONUS!

My Top 5 Favorite Episodes:
1. “Chapter Nine: The Gate”
2. “Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer”
3. “Chapter Five: Dig Dug”
4. “Chapter One: Madmax”
5. “Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak”

Movie Review: The Snowman

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Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is trapped in a series of unfortunate events in The Snowman. (Source: IMDb)

The Snowman, based on Jo Nesbø’s best-selling novel of the same name, has the ingredients of a great thriller. They are: A talented cast, a talented filmmaker (Tomas Alfredson, of Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), edited by a legendary editor (Thelma Schoonmaker, who collaborated with Martin Scorsese for years), and it has an interesting mystery at its core. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is simple: EVERYTHING!

Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole (I later found out it was pronounced “hol-eh”, not the correct English way), a police inspector of the Oslo Crime Squad. He is assigned to investigate a series of murders of women on the first winter’s snow Along with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Harry uses his police skills to take down the killer, who keeps threatening him with letters.

Believe it or not, legendary director Martin Scorsese was attached to direct the film at one point until Alfredson took the director’s chair. I love a good mystery, and there is so much potential to be had with The Snowman. But–it doesn’t deny it from being an incoherent mess. One of the main reasons why the movie sucks is that Alfredson stated that a part of the screenplay didn’t make it into the film, causing him to rush production. According to The Playlist, he said, “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.”

I did read the book prior to the movie’s release, and I enjoyed it. Comparing the movie to a good book, the film’s mystery hardly makes any lick of sense. None of the characters are interesting and the plot holes are massive.

Fassbender has been in a lot of great movies. Known for playing young Magneto in the X-Men films, a nasty slave owner in 12 Years a Slave (in which he received an Oscar nomination for), and the founder of Apple in Steve Jobs, I have never seen him play a character so dull and cliched. It’s clear from the beginning that he has a drinking problem and is a heavy smoker. The audience barely sees him do any police work that is considered great. With a supporting cast featuring Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Chloe Sevigny, Toby Jones, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, this is a such a wasted opportunity. Val Kilmer earns the strangest-performance-of-the-year award as a police officer whose involvement in the investigation is connected somehow. How can you not crack up at his overdubbed voice?

There is a possibility we will get another adaptation of The Snowman in the future that is worth watching. But–if you want to see a good Scandinavian thriller with a mystery that feels complete, watch either the original Swedish version or David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They are both brutal yet keep you on the edge of your seat. The Snowman is just as entertaining as getting your wisdom teeth removed.

0/4