2018 Summer Movie Review: On Chesil Beach

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Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) have doubts about getting married in On Chesil Beach. (Source: IMDb)

24-year-old Saoirse Ronan has certainly matured over the years. No matter how good or bad her movies are, her charming, glowing presence has moved audiences worldwide. A young English girl growing up in a wealthy family in Atonement, a badass heroine craving for revenge in Hanna, an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn, and a rebellious high school senior in Lady Bird, there is simply no other role Ronan can’t do. A young newlywed in On Chesil Beach is no exception.

Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle, Dunkirk) and Florence Ponting (Ronan), both in their 20s, just got married and they are very nervous about spending their first night together. On their honeymoon at a hotel on the English coast, they both confess they are virgins. They tell their love story through a series a flashbacks including their first meet-up in Oxford and introducing them to each other’s families. After they have sex for the first time, everything begins to go downhill.

First-time director Dominic Cooke and screenwriter Ian McEwan (adapted from his novella of the same name) do a good job expressing the anxieties of getting marriage at a young age. Kudos to the legendary Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, The Place Beyond the Pines, and the overlooked Byzantium) for giving a vintage feel in his cinematography. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up how dramatically dull the movie is. The flashbacks prior to their honeymoon, while amusing, are almost inconsistent to the point of boredom.

Ronan and Howle do fine work as the couple as they unravel secrets about each other, which results in a disastrously awkward makeout session. Their argument on the pebble beach is easily the highlight. Their frustration feels and sounds so real as if the audience is watching an actual young couple going at it. Other than the fact they both love music and walks in the forest, and have no sexual experience, they certainly have the feeling they rushed into getting married.

On Chesil Beach has its moments, but it slowly begins to sink as the movie progresses. Not to mention the last act being completely redundant. These two actors are going to star in another film coming out nationwide soon called The Seagull, based on Anton Chekhov’s play. I doubt it will be any better.

2/4

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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

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 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

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

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Atari Kobayashi joins a team of dogs to find his lost dog in Wes Anderson’s delightfully odd animated film, Isle of Dogs. (Source: IMDb)

Wes Anderson is one of the most original filmmakers working today. His deadpan sense of humor juxtaposing his unique visual style, his films are one-of-a-kind. After Bottle Rocket bombed in 1996, he continues to create some of the best movies ever made. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are the ones that made him gain attention in Hollywood. While The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited are very good yet uneven, I think the coming-of-age romance Moonrise Kingdom and the screwball comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel both showcase his talents behind the camera.

However, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is his most ambitious film of his entire career. Not only did he adapt and expand Roald Dahl’s book (in which he loved as a kid), it brings forth stop-motion animation like no other. Isle of Dogs, his ninth film, is his first–and probably, not his last–animated film aimed towards teens and adults (given it’s rated PG-13).

Set 20 years into the future, cats have become the most dominant pet in the Japanese city of Megasaki. Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand) translates the meetings of Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), who has banned dogs to a garbage dump called Trash Island due to a canine flu virus. His 12-year-old nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a plane to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), the first dog ever to be exiled to the island. Once his plane crashes, he is rescued by five dogs–Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and Boss (Bill Murray). Together, they embark on a journey to find the missing dog.

Meanwhile, Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) tries to produce a cure for the virus, and foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) becomes the leader of the dog-ban protests. All the hijinks will decide the fate of Japan.

For someone who has enjoyed all of Wes Anderson’s films, this movie still proves why Anderson is a genius! It’s another movie that has come out at a perfect time. It’s unusual for a Wes Anderson film to contain a political background including protests against a powerful mayor. It also contains a heartfelt message about the means of a man’s best friend. Top it off with flawless animation (developed by hundreds of animators), a massive voice cast, cartoonish yet occasionally gritty action violence and the fast-paced, witty dialogue, this is Anderson at his most beautiful!

It’s hard not to give Alexandre Desplat a break! He brings forth another great film score! Those taiko drums–which play during the opening and closing credits–sound spectacular!

This movie couldn’t have picked a better voice cast. Bryan Cranston is PERFECT as Chief, a stray and leader of the pack. He fears Atari will do something bad to him and his dog friends. Things do get rough (no pun intended) on the island whenever the dogs fight (which hilariously produces a cloud of smoke). But–he eventually gives in and learns how to be a normal, everyday pet. While the other actors playing the dogs are wonderfully deadpan, especially the circus dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Cranston’s timing hits it home.

Isle of Dogs is far from perfect. There are some narrative flaws and the use of the narrator–when introducing the proceeding chapter (while the words appear in English and Japanese)–becomes a little redundant. Nevertheless, this movie is a painting in motion and something I’ll revisit time and time again.

3.5/4

Movie Review: A Quiet Place

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Regan (Millicent Simmonds) tries to have her father’s (John Krasinski) attention in A Quiet Place. (Source: The Hollywood Reporter)

The offbeat comedic actor John Krasinski is widely known for playing Jim on The Office and the fifth incarnation of Jack Ryan on the upcoming Amazon Prime series. A Quiet Place is his third movie–and the first horror movie–he has ever directed. It raises the question: What can you do to protect your family? I have never seen a horror movie so smart and suspenseful.

In the not-too-distant future, the world is overrun by creatures who are blind yet highly sensitive to sound. The Abbots are the only surviving family who live on a farm and communicate through sign language. Lee (Krasinski), the father, has great survival skills, from growing crops to catching fish. He would go out of his way to protect his pregnant wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck), and son Marcus (Noah Jupe). Once the creatures begin to invade their house, they must keep quiet.

Two movies that easily come to mind while watching this movie are Tremors and Signs. While they similar regards to the main concept, what co-writer/director/star Krasinski brings to the table is something fresh for this day and age. This movie contains minimal dialogue and it’s high on suspense. Krasinski and Blunt (who are a married couple in real life) are at the top of their game here. While communicating through body language and sign language, they do express their love for one another. The movie is perfectly described as a metaphor about, as Krasinski says in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “what family is and the extremes you go to as a parent to protect your kids.” Evelyn makes a good question to her husband in one of the film’s most emotional scenes: “Who are we if we can’t protect them?”

I don’t think this movie would contain any authenticity if a non-deaf actress played the deaf daughter. Simmonds, who is actually deaf, is truly one-of-a-kind! Casting a deaf actress is the smart way to go. If the family didn’t have a deaf child, how would they survive on this terrible planet?

What carries A Quiet Place through is the atmosphere and building up tension. The scene in the bathtub (among other scenes) will make audiences squirm. I had my hand on my mouth throughout the entire movie. It’s difficult to look away from one of the best horror movies of this century!

4/4

Movie Review: Ready Player One

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Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) escapes into the virtual reality in Steven Spielberg’s ’80s pop-culture saga, Ready Player One. (Source: IMDb)

Over the years, Steven Spielberg has directed some of the most imaginative movies ever made. From Jaws to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to E.T. to Indiana Jones to Jurassic Park to Minority Report, those blockbusters are what stand out the most. He never ceases to amaze when he captures history with movies such as War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and last year’s The Post.

It’s obvious he has come a long way since the 1970s. This time, he gives ode to ‘80s culture in Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline’s book of the same name. Set in a futuristic world where the only magical place on Earth is located beyond reality, this is what Pixels should have been.

The year is 2045. The real world is becoming a junkyard. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen from Columbus, Ohio, lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch). He spends most of his time in the OASIS, a virtual world where he can interact with other users and engage in numerous activities. After learning about the death of OASIS creator James Halliday (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, becoming Spielberg’s frequent collaborator), Wade–as avatar Parzival–embarks on a dangerous treasure hunt to find three different keys left behind. Whoever picks them up first has complete control of the OASIS and possibly save the real world. He teams up with his friends–Art3mis (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki)–to help find them, or else the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) will take over OASIS.

For someone who has never read the book, it’s hard to imagine how long it must have been to approve all of the copyrights. The amount of pop culture references is overwhelming; I’m definitely going to watch it again and again to catch all of them. Thanks to Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, it’s easy to become immersed with the virtual reality more than the actual reality (not surprisingly, the least interesting part of the entire movie). The movie puts, as Halliday says, “the pedal to the medal” during the three climactic action sequences, which contains an amazing soundtrack featuring some popular songs of the ‘80s. With Alan Silvestri replacing John Williams (who decided to do the score for The Post instead), he provides another great score in his repertoire.

All of those qualities do overshadow its flaws. While it features likeable characters and a surprising amount of humor, their character development is limited. Mendelsohn’s Sorrento is, more or less, a stereotypical antagonist expecting to take over the world.

Nevertheless, Ready Player One is a treasure to behold! Step into the OASIS and see for yourself what ‘80s hijinks are thrown out there.

3.5/4