Category: Film Reviews

Eyeing the Truth: February 2018

Unrest (Netflix)

Unrest, Jennifer Brea’s debut documentary about her own battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a powerfully uncomfortable viewing experience. Brea holds no punches in what she chooses to show us; she started videotaping herself early on in order to prove to her doctor’s that something was wrong, and she isn’t afraid to show herself huddled in a clump on her front patio unable to get inside the house or crying uncontrollably. She also holds nothing back in showing the toll that the disease takes on her husband, who is honest in how he is adapting to a different married life than he ever expected. Neither of them are perfect, and they aren’t afraid to admit their mistakes (or better yet, show them to us). She wants us to understand this disease and knows that you can’t completely understand it until you really see it, warts and all.

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The Morning After: Feb. 12, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

2017 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

I had a chance to view all of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films. I was not able to get to the documentary short films, but I did watch all of the live action ones and also caught up on the four animated ones I hadn’t seen yet and then re-watched the only one I had seen. Here is a quick rundown of my thoughts on the shorts:
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The Morning After: Jan. 29, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Maze Runner: The Death Cure


When this series premiered four years ago, it was an attempt by the studio to create another popular entry in the young adult-targeted dystopian thriller genre where The Hunger Games had found immense success. Based on the novel by James Dashner, the second film released a year later, but due to an on-set accident involving star Dylan O’Brien, the film was delayed. Now, we’re in early 2018 and the last movie is out and for fans of the series, it should be a satisfying conclusion.

After escaping a giant maze constructed to test their mettle (The Maze Runner), the Gladers fled across the desert to escape WCKD, the villainous corporation attempting to find a cure for a zombie plague ravishing the world, to find safety within a resistance cell (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials). Now, the surviving members of the tight-knit group of youths have found themselves trying to rescue one of their own from the experiments WCKD is performing on him. As they invade the last untouched city in the world, a walled behemoth of modernism, they unleash events that may ultimately lead to the destruction of and elimination of the human race, unless they can succeed.

The performances are about as unimpressive as they’ve always been and the setting is interesting, but loose plot elements do more to destroy the narrative than the zombies do. There was a lot of promise in the first film and the second did decently in continuing that. Here, things don’t work out quite as originally expected, but they are so well telegraphed that it feels like a natural conclusion. If there weren’t so many plot holes and dropped plot hooks in the film, it might have been a more solid film rather than just solidly entertaining.

The Morning After: Jan. 22, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Dunkirk


Christopher Nolan has been something of a populist fringe director for years. His comic book adaptations and sci-fi spectacles have been technical bonanzas, but whatever their qualities, they’ve all been hobbled by their genre roots. With Dunkirk, Nolan has made a valiant attempt to define himself as more than just a genre director covering the rescue of English troops from the shores of Dunkirk before they can be picked off by German aircraft.

With few familiar names in the cast, Nolan zeroes in on the fear, the apprehension, and the tragedy of those trapped against a superior land force. Fionn Whitehead’s Tommy becomes the audience surrogate for the film, representing all the hope, terror, and weariness of the average soldier. He is the audience’s rallying point throughout the film, a figure whose tragic circumstances highlight the brutality of war from the ground. In the air, the film’s surrogates are represented by Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden as fighter pilots protecting the soldiers on the ground and at sea from the German assault by air.

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The Morning After: Jan. 15, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Proud Mary


Somewhere within the shoddy framework that is Proud Mary, there’s an interesting concept trying to struggle out. As a member of the Boston Mafia, Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is becoming disillusioned and wants to get out. When she saves a young boy from the clutches of a rival mob family, instigating a war between her house and theirs, Mary finds the time to get free is imminent.

Proud Mary‘s first trailer made the film seem more like a type of espionage thriller than a mob film. While there are elements alike, I would have preferred seeing Henson as a secret agent. In this role, she’s good, as she always is, but the material is bargain-basement filmmaking. The first twenty minutes are incredibly choppy, cobbled together from too little collected footage. The scenes skip between themselves like poorly-edited form cuts, jarring the audience at regular intervals. While the clumsy filmmaking continues as the film does, the raw edges smooth out a bit and we’re left experiencing a plot that’s thin and frustratingly predictable.

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Eyeing the Truth: January, 2018

Gilbert (Hulu)

In an unexpected twist, one of the most touching love affairs in cinema last year may have been the notoriously vulgar comedian Gilbert Gottfried and his wife Dara. Director Neil Berkeley frames Gilbert sadly leaving their apartment for the road, her holding him dearly like a protective mother not wanting her kid to venture out into the world alone, and even gets him to open up about how much she means to him. Berkeley asks many of his friends about the relationship, and they are all flabbergasted by the couple, even after two decades. He takes his kids to museums and restaurants and there is a tenderness we don’t expect from the loud voice and obnoxious laugh we associate with him; that voice and laugh slyly disappear when Gilbert becomes more honest with the camera. She may not love every joke he makes, or his obsessive collection of every hotel shampoo he has gathered from 40 years on the road, but she loves him and he needs her.

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The Morning After: Jan. 2, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Coco


With a few exceptions, Pixar is one of the most creative and inventive studios ever, and the only produce animated features. Coco explores the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday wherein families revere their ancestors so that they may cross back into the realm of the living one night a year.

The story centers on Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), the youngest generation in a noted family of shoemakers. His passion is music, but his family has forbidden it because of a event that happened four generations prior. Hoping to win an annual contest to prove he has what it takes to become a successful musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), Miguel attempts to steal Ernesto’s guitar from his mausoleum, which curses him to land of the dead where he must find his family and earn their blessing to return to the realm of the living.

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The Morning After: Dec. 26, 2017

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Call Me by Your Name


Luca Guadagnino’s painterly exploration of young love and coming of age in Crema, Italy is a gorgeous piece of visual and narrative poetry. A leisurely stroll through the rural Italian countrside accompanies a complex romantic relationship that develops between a young man (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) research assistant (Armie Hammer), staying for a short period in the summer of 1983.

Reminiscent of Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours, Call Me by Your Name fills in its details with lush photography of the beautiful environs in which our protagonists struggle with societal influences, sexual urges, and the challenging task of growing up in a world of foreign beauty and differing social mores.

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The Morning After: Dec. 18, 2017

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

I, Tonya


The biopic has been a sometimes stuff, sometimes engaging part of cinema since the early days. Every once in awhile, a biopic comes along that’s fresh, engaging, and surprising. I, Tonya ends up being one of the most inventive I’ve seen in some time.

Leading up to the incident that stunned the United States, I, Tonya explore Tonya Harding’s childhood and life prior to the Olympic Games. Harding, played with crass indulgence by Margot Robbie, was at the center of a rivalry with fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Child and spousal abuse feature prominently in the tale as first her mother, a manipulative and almost-frightening Allison Janney, then with her boyfriend and eventual husband Jeff Gillooly, the mustachioed Sebastian Stan in loving and violent form.

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Review: Justice League (2017)

Justice League

Rating

Director

Zack Snyder

Screenplay

Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder

Length

2h

Starring

Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciaran Hinds, Joe Morton, Amber Heard

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action

Original Preview

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Eyeing the Truth: Dec. 2017

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Amazon Prime)

The Abacus bank is not one of the mega-banks that was deemed Too Big to Fail in the mortgage crises of 2008; the family-run bank at the center of Steve James’ remarkable new documentary is instead Small Enough to Jail, in the words of one expert interviewed in the film, which means that prosecutors could go after it and try to shut it down. The bank, and the family at the heart of both the company and the film, was caught up in a five-year legal battle after it was found that many lenders in the bank were falsifying documents in an attempt to garner loans for immigrant customers with no credit scores or reliable income. It is a story filled with sparkling characters and memorable images — one moment where the prosecution handcuffs all the players together like a chain gang to lead them into the courtroom has to be one of the indelible cinematic moments of the year.

It is also a story that could feel dense in anyone else’s hands, though. James delves deep into the story, bringing in major players from all sides and giving them all time to lay out the story. While it becomes clear by the end of the film where its sympathies lie, that doesn’t mean that it can’t honor everyone’s opinions and weigh them equally. James is too much of an assured hand to let the film skew in any one direction. The film is clear and complete while never being confusing. It is one of the most entertaining and easy-to-follow films about the financial crisis to yet come out, and reminds us what a great documentarian can do with a wonderful story.

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The Morning After: Dec. 11, 2017

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Lady Bird


After spending years toiling away in the indie circuit with plenty of recognition of her acting talents, Greta Gerwig steps behind the camera in a fascinating coming of age story that explores the young life a poor Catholic family in Sacramento.

Saoirse Ronan continues to impress as the best young talent of her generation as young Christine who has dubbed herself “Lady Bird” as a way to reclaim her own identity. As her High School career comes to an end, she begins to explore who she is as a person before heading off to college. As she explores rebellion in as passively aggressive a way as possible, she begins to understand who she is, who her mother (Laurie Metcalf) wants her to be, and whether she wants to truly strike out on her own or remain near the only home she’s ever known.

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Review: Get Out (2017)

Get Out

Rating

Director

Jordan Peele

Screenplay

Jordan Peele

Length

1h 44m

Starring

Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, Lil Rel Howery

MPAA Rating

R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references

Original Preview

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Review: The Post (2017)

The Post

Rating

Director

Steven Spielberg

Screenplay

Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

Length

1h 56m

Starring

Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for language and brief war violence

Original Preview

Click Here
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The Morning After: Dec. 4, 2017

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Shape of Water


Guillermo del Toro is a master of the science fiction and fantasy genres. His films often look at strange creatures and monsters who are more genuine and real than the human-monsters who chase them. With The Shape of Water, del Toro makes a natural progression from his creature features of the recent past to one that centers around an unlikely romance between a mute woman and creature from the South American rainforest.

Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa Esposito, a member of a cleaning crew at a secret government facility. Along with her friend and translator Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), she leads a rather simple life, waking each morning to make hard-boiled eggs, take a pleasurable bath, and spend time with her artist neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). After a regimented ex-military officer (Michael Shannon) arrives at the facility with a strange creature (Doug Jones) in tow, her curiosity leads her to the creature’s tank where she forms a fast friendship with him, bringing him eggs and introducing him to music, one of Elisa’s few sources of genuine pleasure.

Del Toro is a fascinating filmmaker. His vast imagination helps fill reality-based locations into strange locales. A franchise pie shop has a dark, almost sinister feel; the old movie theater above which Elisa and Giles live is a mammoth space of once-opulent grandness; a simple military facility is transformed into a fantastical science lab. Production design and costume design become characters of their own in his myriad visions with The Shape of Water feeling the most down-to-earth of his entire oeuvre.

Hawkins is luminscent as the Elisa, filling her life and the lives of those around her with positive energy, a ray of light in a world where Communism, racism, homophobia, and myriad other ills have seeped into the American landscape. Even the sinister Russian spy syndicate is given a humanistic guise in the form of a compassionate doctor (Michael Stuhlbarg). Each performance is meticulously enlivened.

If there’s a flaw in the film it’s that the story moves too quickly, almost inorganically. The plot moves quickly even while taking its time. Natural evolution of character is rushed in an effort to get this fantastical story to its ordained conclusion. You almost know precisely where each plot twist will turn, yet clues that seem obvious at first, are dropped unceremoniously, leading to the perception that a two-and-a-half-hour movie was compressed to two hours in a vain effort to appeal to antsy audiences.

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