Movie Review: Green Book

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Tony Vallelogna (Viggo Mortensen) takes Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through the Deep South in Peter Farrelly’s exceptional Green Book. (Source: Vanity Fair)

A movie like Green Book sounds like another version of Driving Miss Daisy. This time, the roles are flipped; where the white person is driving the black person. Two people from completely different backgrounds. They learn about their prejudices and eventually becoming best friends. Peter Farrelly, known for directing such funny comedies with his brother Bobby as Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and The Three Stooges, offers so much more than that in his first solo feat that couldn’t have come out at a much better time.

The year is 1962. The Civil Rights Movement is in full swing. Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a black pianist, is about to go on a two-month tour through the Deep South. Tony Vallelogna a.k.a Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a white bouncer from New York City with a lovely wife in Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and two kids, is in need of a job while the Copacabana bar is temporarily closed for reconstructions. He reluctantly accepts to be Don’s chauffeur throughout the tour after receiving The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for black tourists containing segregated places throughout the South.

Despite their snobbish attitudes, they eventually begin to learn about the reality of the South and hard imagining not having each other’s back.

As Don and Tony, Ali and Mortensen (who gained 45 pounds for the movie) are pitch-perfect playing off each other. Don is a Cuban immigrant, polite and well-educated, while Tony is Italian-American, ignorant and thinks violence would get away with anything. Tony begins to follow Don’s rules and talk to about where they come from, and in need of Don’s help to write more expressively in his letters to Dolores. On their first night in Pittsburgh, Tony is impressed by Don’s piano abilities, he goes far as saying he “plays like Liberace but better.”

There are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. Throughout the trip, Tony introduces Don to the popular music that consists of black artists including Little Richard and Aretha Franklin. However, Don has no idea who they are. Later, Tony offers Don a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, in which Don reluctantly accepts. It comes to show that because his race enjoys those foods, doesn’t mean he has to. There are small moments that make the movie shine. I don’t see why these two great actors won’t earn Oscar nominations.

To quote Christy Lemire, “Green Book is the kind of old-fashioned filmmaking big studios just don’t offer anymore. It’s glossy and zippy, gliding along the surface of deeply emotional, complex issues while dipping down into them just enough to give us a taste of some actual substance.”

I couldn’t say it better myself. This is a buddy road trip film and a history lesson that works on both of those levels, kudos to Farrelly (who served as a co-writer) for bringing the 1960s to life through his confident direction. There’s a great message about no matter what color your skin is, the only way to view them is as one. This perfect film for the Christmas season is another contender for one of the best films of the year.

4/4

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Movie Review: Boy Erased

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Jared (Lucas Hedges) is attracted to boys in Joel Edgerton’s sophomore directorial feat, Boy Erased. (Source: Variety)

In 2015, Joel Edgerton made his directorial debut with The Gift. A movie, that sounded like a generic thriller, defied all expectations. It was an unnerving Hitchockian psychological thriller about a young couple’s world turning upside down when someone from the husband’s past comes into their life. Not only did Edgerton deliver a harrowing performance as the creepy stalker, but it also showcases a good future in filmmaking for the Aussie star. Now–he returns to the director’s chair for Boy Erased, a film that has a chance to generate award buzz.

Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, the movie is set in Arkansas in the early 2000s. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the only child of Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He’s living a happy life. He goes to church every Sunday, works at his father’s car dealership, and dates one of the prettiest girls in his school.

One day, Jared tells his parents he is attracted to boys. Due to their dismay, they force him to attend Refuge (formerly Love in Action), a gay conversion therapy program run by chief therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton). While Jared befriends some of the attendees, including Gary (Troye Sivan, the Aussie pop star who also contributes the film with his original song “Revelation”), he learns about the program’s secrets while on his journey to faith and redemption.

Boy Erased is one of those movies where it might go into soap-opera territory. What Edgerton does–thanks to his sublime direction and screenplay–is something raw, beguiling, and poignant. Like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and the more recent Love, Simon, the movie never exploits its message about self-discovery. The audience is with Jared every step of the way begging for his parents to accept him for what he truly is. Although conversion therapy seems to be a great opportunity for him, at first, it doesn’t turn out what it seems. “The truth cannot be converted,” helms the tagline.

Fresh from starring in two award-winning films Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, Hedges gives his most mature performance. The audience sympathizes with him and his struggle of coming out, which is shown in subtle yet harrowing flashbacks where he hangs out with some boys while attending college. The supporting cast–mainly Crowe, Kidman, Edgerton, and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame)–has their “big moment”, but Hedges is the one who makes this thoughtful and devastatingly powerful film shine bright. One of the year’s best!

4/4

Movie Review: The Old Man and the Gun

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Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) aims for his target in David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun. (Source: Cinema Blend)

In 2003, best-selling author David Grann wrote an article in the New Yorker about Forrest Tucker, the most charming criminal who ever lived. He writes about how Tucker was a troublemaker all of his life; serving time in jail constantly. His first crime was stealing a car at the age of 15. He successfully escaped from prison more than a dozen times. What brought the attention to the public was his most famous escape from San Quentin in 1979. Heading into the 1980s, Tucker goes back to rob banks with sheer politeness.

Fast-forward to 2018. Writer-director David Lowery adapts the stranger-than-fiction story with the legendary Robert Redford as the titular “old man”. If The Old Man and the Gun is his last role before retirement, he’s going out with a bang!

The movie opens up in 1981, where Forrest Tucker (Redford) escapes from the authorities after robbing a bank. He sees a woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek) with her truck broken down on the side of the road. As he gives her a hand, we see the police cruisers speeding past them. This is not the only time he gets away with it.

After pulling off a series of heists with his partners–Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits)–throughout Texas, as well as Little Rock, St. Louis among other cities, the bank tellers, the authorities, and the general public are pleasantly surprised by Tucker’s manners. This sparks the attention from Detective John Hunt (a superb Casey Affleck), who is on his tail. As Tucker and Jewel develop a relationship, it won’t be long until Tucker is caught.

From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Sting to All the President’s Men to The Natural to All is Lost, Redford has had a memorable acting career. His performance as Forrest Tucker marks another remarkable performance in his long repertoire (he might earn his first Best Actor Oscar). It’s damn near impossible not to smile at our protagonist when he gets away with pulling off his bank heists or when he says “riding a horse” is on his bucket list. Tucker is so optimistic in his hobby, but he is aware it might lead him into jail and planning on his escape. His sense of humor is as sly as a fox. His chance encounter with Detective Hunt is simply priceless.

Spacek–who also had a long, memorable acting career, and is still going–provides as much charm as Redford’s as Jewel, the love interest who might not believe in what Tucker does for a living. Elisabeth Moss makes a brief yet effective appearance as Tucker’s daughter, Dorothy, who is interviewed by Hunt about her father, whom she has never met.

There will never be a movie like The Old Man and the Gun. Compared to Lowery’s two previous indie films, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story, the movie might not move at the fastest pace. However, it’s never boring. Thanks to Lowery’s confident direction and witty screenplay, it takes its time wisely to move along to root for our protagonist. Joe Anderson’s stunning cinematography and the wonderful music–from Daniel Hart’s score to the songs by The Kinks and Jackson C. Frank–give the movie that warm, vintage feel while throwing in some subtle nods to Redford’s early work. This is something that will stick with you for the rest of your life!

4/4

Movie Review: First Man

Film Title: First Man

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) takes one step closer to enter the Apollo program in Damien Chazelle’s biopic First Man. (Source: Time Magazine)

In 1961, JFK announced before Congress a goal. A goal to send American astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union sent satellites into orbit before everyone else, not to mention Sputnik becoming the first ever satellite going around the Earth. They sent their first man to the moon that same year. Years after numerous failed missions, Neil Armstrong stepped into make history in 1969 with Apollo 11.

Almost 50 years after the historic landing on the moon, it’s brought to the big screen. Director Damien Chazelle has directed two of the best films so far this decade with Whiplash and La La Land. He showcases his talents as a filmmaker with both films about the protagonist’s anxieties of going to new heights. His latest film, First Man, with a screenplay written by Josh Singer (the Oscar-winning Spotlight), continues this streak.

Based on James R. Hansen’s biography, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the movie opens in 1961, with the NASA test pilot (Ryan Gosling) flying an X-15 into space. We get a beautiful, quiet moment in space, with Justin Hurwitz’s amazing score playing the background, until Armstrong heads back into the atmosphere with nerve-wracking, shaky camerawork making the audience feeling as if we are in the cockpit with Armstrong (same when he’s in the spacecraft).

Set from 1961 to 1969, Armstrong is depicted as a devoted father and husband to the loving Janet (Claire Foy). Along with their children, they move to Houston as Neil is offered to be in space programs, such as Gemini 8 and Apollo 1, after impressing everyone at NASA including Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler). It’s not until the historic day in 1969, where Neil joins Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) to be a part of the Apollo 11 program.

First Man has received controversy for its political stance and, more importantly, a scene where the American flag being planted on the moon not included in the film. Chazelle wanted the movie to focus on the emotional journey of Neil Armstrong. It might throw people off, but I don’t think it’s fair to miss out on an excellent, visceral biopic of an American hero for that particular reason (because of this, it only earned $16 million in the box office over the weekend). It’s a character study about entering into the unknown and the hardships of going the extra mile.

From Half Nelson to Drive to La La Land, Gosling proves he can portray nuanced performances. Leading a terrific cast, his performance as Neil Armstrong is the best performance of his entire career. He and his family make the ultimate sacrifice when he is offered to go into space. He loves his job so much that he wants to prove the Soviets their rival can bring a man safely on the moon. Look at his face during the scene where he watches a recording of JFK’s speech about sending a person to the moon. Foy is a tour-de-force as Janet, the housewife who roots for her husband every step of the way. She gets just as enough screen-time as Neil. Their scenes together will make you weep.

It’s refreshing to see a movie where the scenes in space are filmed with practical effects as opposed to CGI. It adds more to the film’s realism. The climactic moon landing sequence is like a dance, kudos to the cinematography by Linus Sandgren, who also collaborated with Chazelle in La La Land. It’s a moment that will be with me for the rest of my life.

There is never a dull moment in First Man. Gosling and Foy deserve attention this awards season. While it might have a tough run this past weekend, I hope more people will see it with an open mind and not worry about the controversy. It’s one of those movies where it should be seen on the biggest screen possible!

4/4

My Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards

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(Source: Oscar)

The Oscar nominations have been announced this morning. I’m grateful these movies got the nominations they deserve. The Shape of Water received the most nominations (13) including Best Picture. However, I was expecting a bit more. For Call Me by Your Name, I was expecting a nod for Best Cinematography and Armie Hammer getting nominated for his supporting role. Or–Best Actor nods for Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) or Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger). But–that didn’t happen.

Anyway–I’m going to share my predictions on who should win and will win in the 90th Oscars ceremony on March 4th. Here they are:

Best Picture:

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress:

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

Best Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Best Director:

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Jordan Peele, Get Out

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Animated Feature:

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Best Animated Short:

Dear Basketball

Garden Party

Lou

Negative Space

Revolting Rhymes

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Best Original Screenplay:

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

Best Cinematography:

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins

Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound, Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Best Documentary Feature:

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Faces Places

Icarus

Last Men in Aleppo

Strong Island

Best Documentary Short Subject:

Edith+Eddie

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Heroin(e)

Knife Skills

Traffic Stop

Best Live Action Short Film:

DeKalb Elementary

The Eleven O’Clock

My Nephew Emmett

The Silent Child

Watu Wote/All of Us

Best Foreign Language Film:

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

The Insult (Lebanon)

Loveless (Russia)

On Body and Soul (Hungary)

The Square (Sweden)

Best Film Editing:

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Sound Editing:

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sound Mixing:

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Production Design:

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Best Original Score:

Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell

Best Original Song:

“Mighty River” from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common

“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Best Makeup and Hair:

Darkest Hour

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

Best Costume Design:

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

Best Visual Effects:

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes 

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

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Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) writes a little something on her typewriter for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. (Source: Seattle Times)

Starring in about a hundred films, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest character actors working today. Ranging from Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK),  Commissioner Gordon (The Dark Knight films), Sirius Black (Harry Potter), Dracula, Stansfield (Leon: The Professional), and Zorg (The Fifth Element), he has one impressive repertoire. Now–he takes part in delivering the most ambitious role of his entire career.

Hundreds of actors have played U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill; from Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech to John Lithgow–a surprising turn–in Netflix’s The Crown. After spending 200 hours in the makeup chair, Oldman is unrecognizable as Churchill in Joe Wright’s new film Darkest Hour. With a screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, it might be a romanticized portrait of Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister, but there is a lot to like here.

In May of 1940, World War II is in full steam. Nazi Germany has just invaded Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Churchill (Oldman) steps in to replace Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, who took John Hurt’s place after his death) as Prime Minister, accepted by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Right away, he must find a solution to a peace agreement with Germany. With the support of his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), he does whatever he can to save British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour makes a great triple feature with this year’s Their Finest and Dunkirk. Through the long, unbroken shots, the dramatic close-ups, and the gorgeous, vintage sets, this is pure Joe Wright. Oldman delivers his performance with enough wit and empathy that the audience forgets they are watching an actor. We laugh when we’re supposed to (“Will you stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you!?” he sneers at his War Cabinet.), and we root for him every step of the way when he attempts to save the world.

While James and Mendelsohn are worth mentioning of their wonderful performances, Darkest Hour is Oldman’s show through and through. How can you not have the feeling of standing up and cheering after he delivers his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in Parliament? I would be shocked if he doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar. He is long overdue for one!

3.5/4

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) looks after his nephew in Manchester by the Sea. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Over the years, the State of Massachusetts has become one of the most popular filming locations. Particularly there are a lot of great films set in Boston; such as Good Will Hunting, The Departed, Mystic River, The Town, and so on. As a New Englander (Maine, to be more specific), the settings in those films are so familiar to me and the characters remind me of the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. Movies not only set but filmed anywhere in New England area feel just as authentic as its culture.

From receiving unanimous praise since its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Manchester by the Sea is also generating Oscar buzz. I can certainly see why.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is working as a janitor at an apartment complex in Quincy. Living by himself in a studio apartment, he spends most of his time drinking at the local pub. One chilly winter day, he gets a phone call about his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dying from congestive heart failure. Lee sorts out plans for his brother’s funeral while looking after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges, Moonrise Kingdom), who plays on the high school hockey team and has two girlfriends—Sylvie (Kara Hayward, also from Moonrise Kingdom) and Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov). Once he returns to his hometown, Lee’s past begins to creep up on him.

Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed a raw, funny, affectionate work of art centering on one man’s grief. Casey Affleck’s Lee may be stubborn and selfish, but he tries to connect with his nephew like he did years ago. It’s hard not to sympathize with him. Accompanied by a haunting score by Lesley Barber as well as segments from Handel’s Messiah, the audience sees him go through a lot after his brother’s death. The audiences learn about how and why he left for Quincy through a series of flashbacks—then, having to come back. In one scene, Lee meets his ex-wife Randi (the lovely Michelle Williams) on the street, and cannot make a conversation while she’s expressing her heartache. As devastating as that scene is, it makes up for it with its deadpan sense of humor. Especially when Patrick asks Lee what happened to his hand, Lee tells him he cut it by smashing a window. “For a minute there, I didn’t know what happened,” Patrick replies.

2016 has been a spectacular year for movies. I’ll be happy if Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight takes home the big prize. But, this is a movie about life. Best film of the year!

4/4