2017 Summer Movie Review: Wind River


Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is on the hunt in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. (Source: Slash Film)

Taylor Sheridan has crafted two of the best screenplays so far this decade with Sicario and Hell or High Water. He perfectly blends graphic violence with humanity set in a social and economic climate—for instance, the War on Drugs of Sicario and the economic crisis of Texas in Hell or High Water. Sheridan’s latest, Wind River, is his directorial debut and brings forth what made his two previous films so brilliant. This time, set in the most remote area of the United States. So remote even the officials do not have the statistics of how many Native American people have gone missing.

In Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is assigned to hunt for predators who kill livestock. One day, while out in the snowy wilderness, he stumbles upon the corpse of an eighteen-year-old Native American girl named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Along with FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), Lambert is assigned to investigate the presumed murder of the girl, whose father (Gil Birmingham) is stricken with grief about his loss.

Filmed in and around Park City, Utah (the home of Sundance Film Festival), this movie is as realistic as it is devastating. Sheridan puts it to miraculous use with his great screenplay and direction, hauntingly beautiful visuals, and violence so sudden it’s effective. The characters feel like real people.

Renner’s Lambert almost resembles the tropes of a classic Western hero. He’s a caring father who is dealing with a rough past. He knows every area of the snowy Wyoming Mountains (not to mention a keen eye when it comes to hunting game). The scenes he has with the girl’s father (superb performance by Birmingham) are some of the finest moments I’ve seen this year at the movies. Olsen’s Banner, in contrast, is a rookie coming from Las Vegas. She arrives on the scene without bringing any winter clothes. But—she ends up being in charge of the investigation with Lambert. These two stars are at the top of their game here.

Once the violence comes into the picture, it makes the audience jump out of their skin. With its slow burn, the movie leads up to one satisfying payoff. I’m hoping Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay will be a tie-in for an Oscar nomination. This is one of the year’s best films.


Top 15 Best Movies of 2016

With a handful of bad movies 2016 had to offer, this year had some of the best movies I’ve seen in recent memory. From the bizarre to the unique to the poignant to the surprising to the most fun I’ve had in the movie theater, those are the terms that define 2016 when it comes to film. Without wasting any time, let’s get started with my top fifteen movies of 2016. There were so many phenomenal films.

Honorable Mentions: The BFG, The Conjuring 2, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Everybody Wants Some!!, Finding Dory, Florence Foster Jenkins, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Midnight Special, Remember, Sully, The Witch


(Source: IndieWire)

15. The Nice Guys – Shane Black goes back into his roots of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon to write and direct a buddy-comedy that taking place in the 1970s with ‘80s-style action and irony. I cannot picture a better dynamic duo than Jackson Healy and Holland March, played to perfection by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. They work off each other so brilliantly as two detectives investigating the murder of a famous porn star. Who needs toilet humor when you got references to The Waltons or having Gosling do a famous Abbott-and-Costello-esque silent scream when he discovers a dead body? With a good mystery, thrilling action set pieces, a witty script, and a gifted cast, it’s a shame The Nice Guys didn’t earn the money it deserved. I would love to see a sequel featuring these two detectives.


(Source: American Society of Cinematographers)

14. Swiss Army Man – When it premiered at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival, a lot of people walked out within the first ten minutes. One of the biggest challenges while seeing Swiss Army Man is get used to the toilet humor. Because there is a whole lot of it! Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheibert – otherwise known as The Daniels – go into a deeper territory with the toilet humor. The corpse’s farts are symbolic for having a connection with one another. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe star as the oddest pair of characters in years. Not only that, their performances are some of the most ambitious in recent memory. Thanks to its refreshing use of practical effects, the stunts resemble those of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. The chemistry is one of the reasons why the movie works. It’s funny. It’s heartfelt. It’s an original piece of work! I have been waiting to a movie like Swiss Army Man for years!


(Source: The Verge)

13. Don’t Breathe – Whether you call it a horror film or a straight-up thriller, you cannot lie that Don’t Breathe is a genuinely chilling piece of entertainment. Fresh from directing the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez uses a variety of film techniques to build up tension. From the long, quiet tracking shots to perhaps the best example of night-vision filmmaking, this movie pins you to your seat. Jane Levy is a revelation as one of the three protagonists who breaks into people’s house around Detroit to earn enough money for California. Known for starring in Avatar, it’s refreshing to see Stephen Lang to play a horror movie villain. His Blind Man may not see anything, but can hear that something is up to no good. The city of Detroit also serves as an important role not only in this film, but the horror genre in general. It Follows serves as another great example. Don’t Breathe is nothing compared to your typical home-invasion flick.


(Source: IndieWire)

12. Captain America: Civil War – It’s official! The Marvel Cinematic Universe has finished one of the best trilogies in history! Spider-Man might have been brought in at the last minute, but he deserved to be in this movie! With Winter Soldier, Anthony and Joe Russo bring politics into the MCU. The titular “Civil War” showcases what is funny and thrilling. Funny, exciting, and just as devastating as The Winter Soldier, I had a blast with Captain America: Civil War. Seeing characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther makes me look forward to their solo films.


(Source: IMDb)

11. Zootopia – This movie surprised the hell out of me! With a concept that might sound like your average animated film from Disney, it actually has a great message for kids and adults alike about prejudice. While they are different, Nick the Fox (Jason Bateman) and Judy the Rabbit (Ginnifer Goodwin) begin to overcome their negative feelings toward one another and work together as a team. While poking fun at pop culture, Zootopia is the entire package: funny, thoughtful, suspenseful, gorgeously-animated, and rife with emotion. Thumbs up for this movie referencing The Godfather.


(Source: NPR)

10. Loving – After directing the overlooked sci-fi gem Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols goes back to an important time in history. A movie following the 1967 court ruling of Loving v. Virginia would have ended up being your typical sap-fest. What Nichols brings to the table, however, is a subtle and heartwarming tale of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, fighting for their lives in a rough time in history. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga have tender chemistry while keeping their dialogue short and sweet. The scene where a photographer for LIFE magazine (Michael Shannon, in his fifth film with Jeff Nichols) is hired to capture the life of the married couple is one of the best movie moments of the year.


(Source: IMDb)

9. Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair after Apocalypto to create a graphic but courageous portrayal of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in the performance of his career), who never picked up a gun in his life but nevertheless served in the Battle of Okinawa to save 75 people. It features the horrors of war with the old-fashioned drama featuring beautiful 1940s sets and a sweet love story between Doss and his sweetheart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer, in the performance of her career). Once Doss talks about his religion, we immediately know why he never picked up a gun. Featuring a great cast (Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington) and the most realistic war scenes since Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge is a marvelous World War II-epic.


(Source: The New York Daily News)

8. Eye in the Sky – Wow! Talk about being pinned to your seat from the get-go! Eye in the Sky is one of those movies that went under everybody’s radar. It brings the morality into the subject of modern warfare. Through Gavin Hood’s sharp direction and Guy Hibbert’s miraculous screenplay, what makes this movie all the more suspenseful is it primarily takes place in a surveillance room in London or Las Vegas, or in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Originally written as a male character, Dame Helen Mirren brings enough sheer confidence and energy into her role of Col. Katherine Powell. With a gifted cast including Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), this movie is also worth seeing for Alan Rickman’s final performance as Frank Benson, who has been contributed in the war for a number of years. The final moments of the movie showcase how the brilliance of one of the best actors who ever lived. Rest in peace, Alan Rickman. You will be missed.


(Source: Flickering Myth)

7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – This quirky comedy from New Zealand is one of the funniest films of the year. Julian Dennison and Sam Neill make an odd dynamic duo as they run off together into the “bush” learning how to survive as well as encountering a wild boar or two (which makes for one of the best running gags of the year). Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok; writer of Moana) creates an offbeat comedy about caring for those around you. Juxtaposing the humor with New Zealand’s beauty, I have never laughed so hard yet felt moved by a movie such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It features the best Lord of the Rings reference since The Martian.


(Source: The Irish Times)

6. Sing Street – 2016 had a lot of fantastic movies about chasing your dreams. Sing Street is another movie showcasing the talents of director John Carney. His 2007 feat Once is a masterpiece that defies the traditional musical genre. It follows a pair of musicians in Ireland who form a friendship through their passion of music. He goes across the Atlantic Ocean to film Begin Again, following the same structure of Once, but in New York City. While it was great, it doesn’t quite hold up its beauty as Carney’s predecessor.

Carney goes back to his native Ireland to create Sing Street. This movie, which takes place in 1985, following a boy’s dream of making a band to impress a girl, is guaranteed to put a smile across anyone’s face. Featuring wonderful characters you wished you hung around with every day, gorgeous cinematography, and toe-tapping music numbers, it throws every mainstream musical out of the water. I bought the soundtrack after seeing Sing Street in theaters. And it kicks ass!


(Source: The Atlantic)

5. Hell or High Water – Another movie where morality comes into play quite brilliantly. Ben Foster and Chris Pine have never been better playing two criminals who come off more as the heroes of the story rather than the villains. They plan a series of bank heists to save their family ranch in Texas. Jeff Bridges plays the Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement whose last assignment to go out after them. You can really feel the Texas heat, kudos to David Mackenzie’s direction and Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography. The tension of the bank robberies pins you to your seat. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is perhaps the best of the year, featuring a lot of razor-sharp wit, especially when Bridges’ Marcus pokes fun of his deputy’s Indian heritage. If you have to pause Hell or High Water at any time during its 102-minute running time (on the DVD/Blu-Ray, the running time says it’s 122 minutes long, which is entirely false), you are looking at a work of art.


(Source: Film Dispenser)

4. Arrival – Denis Villeneuve strikes back to bring back the lost art of science-fiction. A form where it makes you think and wanting to see it again and again. While Arrival can be compared to Closer Encounters of the Third Kind and Signs, this movie is more than just your typical alien-invasion flick. It asks questions such as: Who and what are these beings? Why are they here? Do they pose as a threat to humanity or not? That’s the part of this film’s brilliance; is that it transports the audience into a world of mystery and the need to communicate. I hope Amy Adams earns an Oscar nomination for her performance as Louise, a linguistics professor who won’t stop at anything to find answers from these beings. Arrival is what Interstellar should have been.


(Source: The Verge)

3. Moonlight – I have never seen anything so devastatingly powerful all year. Moonlight is writer/director Barry Jenkins’ second film which talks about neglect and self-discovery. Separated into three acts, we follow Chiron as a kid, as a teenager, and as an adult trying to find his purpose in life in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era. Every character is portrayed naturally to the point where the audience connects with them. Seeing this movie twice, the rough portrayal of Miami moved me to tears more on the second viewing. I cannot think of a better ending than in Moonlight.


(Source: IndieWire)

2. Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan has created an affectionate, raw, and funny film centering on one man’s grief. Premiering at countless film festivals, Manchester by the Sea earned unanimous praise. Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a stubborn and selfish person who goes through a lot after the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler, in flashbacks) and tries to make it up for it by connecting with his nephew like he did years ago. While it is a depressing film, it also has a deadpan sense of humor. I’ve seen it twice in theaters, and I loved it more the second time. Manchester by the Sea feels as authentic as the culture. It makes me so proud to be from a part of New England.


(Source: The Playlist)

1. La La Land This was extremely difficult for me to determine which film as the best of 2016. Both this film and Manchester by the Sea are fantastic on their own right, but La La Land reminds us why movies like this don’t exist anymore. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, writer of 10 Cloverfield Lane) has created another masterpiece! Seeing this film yesterday at a packed movie theater is the best cinematic experience of my entire life.

From the opening musical number taken place during a traffic jam in Los Angeles, I was immediately hooked. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are electrifying as the star-crossed lovers who are trying to make ends meet by achieving something really special. They provide enough wit, charisma, and rhythm in this miraculous world of vibrancy, expectations, love, and disappointment. Every single shot is truly a work of art, especially the spectacular dancing sequence at the Griffith Observatory makes you feel like you are watching a dream coming to life. From the originality, its toe-tapping, beautifully-choreographed music numbers, and use of tracking shots, La La Land pays tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood and features the best portrayal of Los Angeles I’ve ever seen. I absolutely loved it!

I hope you enjoyed my picks for the best films of 2016. I’m beyond curious to see what your favorite films of the year are. Here’s to a good 2017!

2016 Summer Movie Review: Hell or High Water


Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) try to save their family’s ranch in Hell or High Water (Source: IMDb)

2016 has provided some of the most original films in recent memory. For Hell or High Water, it has the plot devices of a traditional Western. Two outlaws wreak havoc in town. They do everything they can to get away with it. Someone is out after them. This time, it’s set in modern times. Instead of riding on horses, the outlaws drive in cars and trucks. Instead of the good-ol’ saloon, they eat at restaurants and cafes. Along with Eye in the Sky and last week’s Don’t Breathe, I have never seen movie this thrilling all year. But, this is something quite special.

In West Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father who wants to do anything to be around his sons. The ranch operated by his family is being foreclosed by the Texas Midlands Bank. He calls upon his older ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to plan a series of heists in order to save their ranch. Meanwhile, the county sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement. As the brothers plan their final robbery, he and his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are out to put an end to it.

David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens make every scene look like a painting. The robberies offer enough tension as if the audience feels like they are part of the robbery. In their first movie since The Finest Hours (one of Disney’s biggest box-office flops), Foster and Pine have never been better. The irony in Hell or High Water is the villains are the banks rather than the criminals. Toby is focused, while Tanner is a giant hothead. Together, they are trying everything to exceed their limits in saving the ranch. Even though this will be the last time they might see each other during this economic crisis.

The characters know how to get around every situation. As suspenseful as the movie is, the movie has a razor sharp wit, thanks to the wonderful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan of Sicario. In one scene, Hamilton likes to make jokes about Alberto’s Indian heritage. One day, they decide to get a bite to eat at a restaurant. “What don’t you want?” the waitress asks. These two are confused. She tells a story about a customer wanted trout instead of T-bone steak and baked potatoes.

Hell or High Water defines the summer. Let the Oscar buzz commence!


2016 Summer Movie Preview: August

Damn, is it that time already? Yes, August is here, which means the summer movie season is about to come to a close. 2016 has been a wonderful year for movies so far. This month, however, doesn’t have a lot to look forward to. A lot of you might be as pissed as I am that The Founder got pushed back to December 16. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on what has yet to come out in August.

August 5


Suicide Squad – A lot of summer action films tend to have scenes set in Chicago. It’s always under attack, either Autobots fighting the Decepticons or Batman taking down bad guys in Gotham City (used as the backdrop). In the case of Suicide Squad, DC’s latest “superhero team-up”, it is far from another Avengers. It features a team deemed as the worst heroes ever. The cast is nothing short of stellar. Will Smith. Margot Robbie. Jared Leto. Cara Delevigne. Viola Davis. That’s almost enough reasons to see this movie, along with the visuals, the seemingly dark humor, and the soundtrack.


Nine Lives – I don’t know what the hell Kevin Spacey was thinking before signing for a movie like this. Remember when I said the trailer for Bad Moms was one of the worst I’ve seen this summer? It’s not worse than the trailer for this Shaggy Dog rip-off. As a cat lover, I would rather watch the first Cats & Dogs, Keanu or Homeward Bound rather than this dirty pile of cat litter. It looks like Christopher Walken, who plays the person responsible for turning Spacey into a cat, thought he was doing another movie. So far this decade, we have seen some great computer animation. The CGI on the cat doesn’t look too bad…if the movie came out in the 1990s. And the story alone sounds relentlessly tiring. I am skipping this one for sure.

August 12


Sausage Party – Seth Rogen is a hit-and-miss, in my opinion. Like with other comedic actors, I think he’s much better delivering dramatic roles (for example, his portrayal as Steve Wozniack in last year’s Steve Jobs). When he gets the comedy right, he gets it right. For the most part, his sense of humor can get a little twisted for my taste. Sausage Party, the first computer-animated film only suitable for adults, is no exception.

Apart from the beginning, Jonah Hill’s exorcism, and the end of the film, I found This Is the End to be one of the most overrated films so far this decade. And this might be the new This Is the End. I’m amazed on how many people are looking forward to seeing this (not to mention getting positive reception at this year’s SXSW festival). I was flat-out terrified from watching the previews. I might see it, but I won’t get my hopes too high.


Pete’s Dragon – With Disney remaking their classic films, this remake of the 1977 film seems to be the most standard one yet. Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford are two of the most gifted actors working today. From the looks of it, it looks another Jungle Book. But hey—it might be more than just that.


Florence Foster Jenkins – Ah, now this is more like it! Stephen Frears has been popular since the 1980s, and is still going strong. High Fidelity, The Queen, and Philomena are some of his best of the 21st century. Florence Foster Jenkins looks like a masterful piece of work. With the Oscar season in mind, this might be one to pay attention to. Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant are the true definition of “classy”. It’s great to see Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory) in a movie directed by one of the best filmmakers out there. I honestly can’t wait for this!


Anthropoid – Perhaps the first film to depict the World War II operation to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich from entering Czechoslovakia. For a history buff like myself, this mission has never been talked about in history classes. This might be more than just a basic history lesson rather than an experience.


Hell or High Water (everywhere August 19) – The western genre is slowly becoming deader than a doornail. The Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit is one of the biggest hits of this decade, while Jane Got a Gun became one of the biggest flops. After its premiere at Cannes, Hell or High Water (as well as the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven) might bring the genre back into the mainstream. Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges look stellar here.

August 19


Kubo and the Two Strings – Ever since providing the animation for Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Laika Animation has become a familiar but rather underrated production company. Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls are the only three hits from Laika. Kubo and the Two Strings might be the best animated film of the year. The voice cast is great: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey (who seems to be hilarious here), Rooney Mara, and Ralph Fiennes. The animation (mixing stop-motion and CGI) looks breathtaking.


Ben-Hur – The remake of the Academy Award-winning film from 1959 seems to be an overblown mess. I don’t know what Morgan Freeman is doing here. Skip!


War Dogs – Miles Teller and Jonah Hill sure do make a great comedic duo. This might the case here in War Dogs, the latest from the director of The Hangover Todd Phillips. There hasn’t been any great comedies this year. I know this might be another Wolf of Wall Street, but I’m hoping there will be some good laughs sprinkled here and there. And hopefully, this will be a massive step-up to those horrendous Hangover sequels.

August 26


Mechanic: Resurrection – Jason Statham is one of the coolest action stars today. His villainous portrayal in Furious 7 is among the best in the series. I have never seen the first Mechanic from 2011, and I have no interest in seeing that or the sequel.


Don’t Breathe – With a few exceptions, horror has become a tired genre. The Conjuring 2 is by far the best horror film of the year. Don’t Breathe seems to be what horror is meant to be; having the sense of fear and feature an eerie atmosphere. It’s great to see Stephen Lang after appearing in Avatar seven years ago. His portrayal of a blind man with a dark past might rank among some of the best horror movie villains such as Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, among others. I’m ready for a needed end-of-summer tension-filled thrill ride.


Hands of Stone – Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull is one of the best of his long acting career. He is back in the boxing film genre as a retired trainer going back to his work to train Panamanian fighter Roberto Duran, played by Édgar Ramírez. This might be your standard boxing film, but having it star two wonderful actors is enough to see it.


The Hollars – It’s hard to resist the presence of John Krasinski. In his directorial debut, he plays John, who returns to his home after hearing his mother being diagnosed with brain cancer. You can hardly go wrong with the cast: Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Charlie Day, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Josh Groban, among others. This looks like a very funny and sweet film.


Southside with You – The first film to feature Barack Obama as the main character is, surprisingly, not a biopic of his life leading to becoming the President of the United States. This follows his first date with his future wife Michelle in 1989 in Chicago’s South Side. It has the same simple structure of Richard Linklater’s Before films (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight). I love movies like this!


Most Anticipated: Don’t Breathe, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hell or High Water, Kubo and the Two Strings, Southside with You

Least Anticipated: Ben-Hur, Mechanic: Resurrection, Nine Lives, Sausage Party

I hope enjoyed reading my thoughts on what has yet to come out in the month of August. Please feel free to leave a comment on what your most anticipated movies for this month are. I appreciate each and every one of you reading my thoughts on the biggest summer blockbusters as well as some independent films. I’ll definitely do this for next year and the year after that and so on and so on. Stay tuned for more reviews this fall. Take care.