Tag Archives: FilmReview

Only the Brave

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: In 2008, the town of Prescott, Arizona formed an elite team to combat any wildfires threatening the town. However, the crew, lead by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), did not start out as “Hot Shots,” the elite designation for wildfire fighters who can be requested by municipality within the United States. After their formation, they were only regular, Type-2 municipal firefighters who indirectly fight fires and had to take a backseat to the Type-1, “Hotshots,” who directly battle blazes. Through Prescott’s local fire chief and friend of the Marsh’s, Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), Marsh and his crew are finally able to get reviewed for Type-1 certification. Just as this process is getting under way, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a local stoner, discovers a past fling is pregnant with his child. Awoken by his impending responsibilities, McDonough interviews for an opening on the crack-shot crew, and because of Marsh’s own history, he decides to give McDonough an opportunity to prove his worth. However, by coming straight to the crew from the pipe, McDonough is the de facto weakest link as the team undergoes rigorous review for their long sought Type-1, “Hotshot” status.

It’s a slow time for movies right now in the United States. I needed a movie to see and Only the Brave was the highest reviewed movie out. I liked its cast, but the story sounded boring. Firefighting? That was just a job I wanted when I was four years old. Since then, its magic has faded making the movie have little appeal.

Please, don’t let such reasons discourage you from seeing this film. While the plot structure of an underdog team training to be great is overused, writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer fill it with rich details and small scenes replete with strong character development. These small asides allow the movie to be more than just an action/firefighter movie/underdog story. Instead, Only the Brave is also a movie about addiction, marriage, friendship, and bro-mance (seriously).

The last movie I remember striking such a delicate balance between creating small scenes that still utilize extraneous details to accelerate the plot was last year’s Hell or High Water. These small scenes could have just as easily torpedoed the movie by slowing the movie’s pace. My favorite of these scenes occurred after a rattlesnake bit McDonough sending him to the hospital. When he woke up from surgery, his roommate and best friend, Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), was in a chair next to McDonough’s bed, snoring so loud he sounded like a chainsaw. As the audience watches McDonough’s face as he struggles to decide on whether to wake up MacKenzie and stop the painful snoring or let him sleep, the camera slowly pans out revealing an assortment of donut related gifts (Donut is McDonough’s nickname on the crew): Donut balloons, a giant donut pillow, and donut cards. In these brief seconds, we learn through showing, not telling, the dedication of MacKenzie to their friendship and the crew’s love for Donut while maintaining a sense of humor.

“So what?” you might think, but what I didn’t tell you was the crew hated Donut when he arrived at their station for the interview, shaking from withdrawals. Yet Marsh, their respected chief, offered him a chance to fill a coveted spot on their crew. Mackenzie was the ringleader of the hate against McDonough, especially after the Marsh forced him to lend Donut a pair of limited edition sneakers so he could complete a training run, which ruined the shoes’ value. In this hospital scene, all it takes is just a few quick shots for the audience to see how far the relationship between the crew and Donut has grown without having a heavy-handed narration or even words exchanged amongst the crew. That takes skilled writing and excellent direction.

It takes even more expertise to make a serious drama humorous. I know I failed to do the above scene justice to its comedic elements, but, believe me, it was quite funny. Actually, the whole movie had an incredibly lighthearted air that was by far my favorite aspect of Only the Brave. 

If this movie is still on near you, go see it before Thor: RagnarokJustice League, or Pixar’s Coco kick it out of theaters. We’re in serious movie season now. I’ll try to keep  up the reviews. I’m sorry it’s taken me almost a week and a half to write this review, but I started a new job recently which has zapped my energy.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

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Gerald’s Game

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, kind hearted Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino)  and her older husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), retreat to their isolated holiday home on the Alabama coast. A sudden heart attack leaves Gerald dead on the floor and Jessie cuffed to the bed with no escape.

Released nine months apart, Gerald’s Game and Split tread across the same tropes. There is the terror of dying trapped in a locked room with a monster prowling just beyond. Against such fatalistic backdrops, women confront and use their past trauma of abuse to become stronger. Split is a thriller with dashes of horror, while Gerald’s Game is a pure horror film that uses the simple scene of a single inescapable room. Gerald’s Game is scarier, but Split is the better film.

Trapped in her bedroom, it is the monsters Jessie conjures up which frighten the audience. Gerald soon rises from the tiled floor. Back from the dead and full of venom towards his wife, Gerald constantly criticises Jessie, goading her to give up and maliciously articulating her death. Yet Gerald is a mere imp compared to the ‘Moon Man’, a pale deformed wraith appearing in the dead of night. Personifying death, Carel Struycken is far from the gentle giant he plays in Twin Peaks. Struycken is a Nosferatu figure that caused me to stop the film repeatedly when his misshapen face emerged on the screen. Director Mike Flanagan uses the Moon Man to great effect. The monster appears like the twins from The Shining, sparsely present on the edges of the frame and far away down corridors until it finally invades the screen.

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 Channeling Stanley Kubrik, The Moon Man observes Jessie from down the corridor

The bravest, and most unnerving part of Gerald’s Game was its commitment to showing Jessie’s abuse as a child. Naturally, the scene of abuse is not outrightly explicit, but there pervades a disgustingly churning level of detail. Most films, Split included, build up to the abuse through suggestion and then cease. By committing to the scene, Gerald’s Game reinforces that these acts can unfortunately be committed by anyone, not simply the opportunistic stranger. The film also layers an inkling of mystery about who the abuser is, with Jessie obtusely referring to the perpetrator. Flashbacks to Jessie’s childhood maintain the ambiguity until it is too late. I am surprised that another scene in Gerald’s Game instead of the abuse has garnered public attention.

Overall, Gerald’s Game lets Carla Gugino shine. As an actress who I have often seen in minor roles and cameos, it is nice to see Gugino’s character change from a timid wife into a strong woman. Bruce Greenwood is good as the infuriating Gerald but Struycken is the stronger villain. A physical actor, Struckyen’s use of body language provides an ethereal sense of menace as he observes Jessie and waits to snatch her away.

Sadly, the ending sours Gerald’s Game. Continuing ten minutes after a fitting cliffhanger, the story delves into an epilogue that turns Gerald’s Game into a made for T.V8. film. Yet at other points Gerald’s Game has the feel of a television film. The humour, dark or otherwise, which I expect from Stephen King films flared intermittently, while both Gerald and Jessie were quite flat characters. Occasionally I was simply watching a bad situation suffered by another, rather than willing for Jessie to live.

The drawbacks of Gerald’s Game probably stem from the source material. Prolific authors do have hidden masterpieces but I was unaware of the Stephen King novel. Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard did their best adapting the story to film and watching Gerald’s Game on Netflix did hamper its delivery. Being a coward, I paused the film when the tension rose too much during my first viewing. My cowardliness does underline something ignored by Netflix, that the public still perceive the service as ersatz television. Despite watching on a laptop I still leave the room and return to films, Netflix originals or otherwise, like a television. Netflix’s approach to its original films does not help the public’s perception. Only Okja received an advertising campaign nearing the attention afforded to a film created by the traditional film companies. Instead Netflix originals appear on the site, just like another television series. If Netflix wants to ‘disrupt’ the film industry, it needs to treat its original films like films.

I will try not to pause next time.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Blade Runner 2049

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: This review deliberately omits any real details of the plot, because Blade Runner 2049 is best enjoyed with all its twists unknown, just like the journey Ridley Scott first offered to viewers thirty five years ago.

Watching Blade Runner’s final cut at the B.F.I. two years ago was the closest I have come to having a religious experience. I still remember digging my fingers into the armchair as the camera swooped down onto the rooftop of the L.A.P.D. building while Vangelis’ haunting synthetic score rose to a crescendo. Blade Runner 2049 begins with a literal eye opening once more that surveys the surreal landscape of a future Los Angeles, born from Phillip. K. Dick’s Cold War vision and Ridley Scott’s direction. Once more the same euphoria washed over me as a car fluttered across the screen and pushed back the horizon’s edge. All my scepticism for Blade Runner 2049 was unwarranted.

Neither a sequel nor a spiritual successor, Blade Runner 2049 is a chapter in the exquisite world first witnessed over thirty years ago, created by people who both understand and love the original. Passing the mantle from Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott to Denis Villeneuve was the correct decision. Scott remains a great director but the taste he has developed for C.G.I over practical effects in recent years has betrayed the grounded future of Alien in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Scott would have likely had the same effect on Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve has kept Blade Runner’s engrossing visual realism alive by intermingling leftover concepts from the original with his own ideas. The Los Angeles from Blade Runner’s 2019 remains but is peppered with additions made by a predicted future grounded in the modern day. Blade Runner 2049 visits the world outside L.A. that Ridley Scott always wanted to include in the original. The film starts in a midwestern dust bowl swirling across bone-white synthetic farms in an environmentally exhausted world. A farmer emerges from a hydroponic tunnel of protein vats draped in a hazmat suit, covered in tubes and plastic. The farmer, the farm, and the world beyond, adorned by minute details, transcend the screen and become tangible.

A sense of reincarnation permeates Blade Runner 2049, concluding that the struggle between replicants and humans will perennially repeat itself. Echoes of the people and places from 2019 peel throughout the film like the old bones of Las Vegas which peek through the new structures above. The unbridled anger of replicant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks) is reminiscent of replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his childlike fury at an indifferent universe. Deckard’s own mention of Treasure Island is a reference to fellow Blade Runner Dave Holden, who reveals that the novel is his favourite book during a deleted scene in Blade Runner

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Rodger Deakins have created their finest work in Blade Runner 2049. Deakins conveys the dichotomy of the alien and the familiar in Blade Runner 2049’s world. He superimposes the structure of future L.A. over the individual characters while recognisable words and brands from English to Urdu spread across the cityscape. The depth of field in these scenes, especially when focusing on Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling), reinforces how tiny and equally inconsequential humans and replicants are in this strange new metropolis. Deakin’s masterful manipulation of colour segments the world. The smoggy grey and matte black of Los Angeles contrast with the rusted browns of the San Diego junkyards. Las Vegas stands derelict, swathed in a thick sodium orange soup as the desert swirls in silence. Deakins deserves every award he is nominated for this year.

Blade Runner 2049‘s visual opulence is matched by its bravery to broach the philosophical themes established in Blade Runner. The replicants in Blade Runner denote the arbitrary divides in human societies as I said in my 4th Wall piece here. Blade Runner 2049 returns to this central idea and offers a unique conclusion. The world of Blade Runner 2049 quickly reveals the schisms between humans themselves when K encounters fagin-esque orphanage manager Mister Cotton (Lennie James) in the bowels of the San Diego junkyards.

Beyond effects and cinematography, Blade Runner felt real because of its characters which were living and believable beings. At every rung of society which Blade Runner 2049 visits, the characters are alive and belong in this universe; from megalomaniac industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to toughly pragmatic L.A.P.D. chief Madam (Robin Wright). The personalities and motivations of the people K crosses propel the world around him. Unlike other modern blockbusters, Blade Runner 2049 is willing to financially invest in its characters by casting major stars like Jared Leto to convincingly depict supporting roles.

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Jared Leto as Niander Wallace

K was written for Ryan Gosling and no other modern actor excels at being a sympathetic vessel of violence. Watching Gosling in Drive, he effortlessly switches between tranquillity and rage while menace always smolders in his eyes. Contrasted to the silent Driver from DriveBlade Runner 2049’s refreshingly gentle pace lets the humanity and complexity of K seep out from his tough exterior. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since Blade Runner in his return to the role of Blade Runner Deckard, a man changed in the thirty years since the original. Wiser and warier, Ford’s performance is more emotionally charged than the hero he depicted in 1982, reflecting the price Deckard has paid to remain free.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch mesmerisingly emulates the classic soundtrack for the original Blade Runner by Vangelis. The noises of the world enmesh into the pulsating songs by Zimmer and Wallfish, perfecting the sound and vision of Blade Runner 2049.

Fans of Blade Runner have received a sequel they never deserved. Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of 2017.

By Saul Shimmin


My god. This film rocked me to my core with its sweeping opening of dust-ridden California as Zimmer and Wallfisch’s harsh, post-industrial score trumpeted over the speakers. If the Academy fails to nominate this film for every category (everything from Makeup & Hairstyling to Film Editing to Best Picture) it will be the greatest tragedy since Shakespeare in Love stole Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan in 1999.

Like Saul, I do not want to ruin any plot points, but I am dying to sing this movie’s praises.

The best part of the Blade Runner 2049 was its plot themes. They attacked issues that are just arising today, but will vastly affect our lives in the near future. I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence or AI and questions like makes something “alive.” Is it soul? Is it the ability to feel pain? Is it having the capability to reason? These are matters that may seem ridiculous to consider especially as Siri or Cortana struggles to understand your command to call your mom. But in due time, these will become problems that our generation will have to solve especially with the pace Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants are pouring money into developing AI. Blade Runner 2049 expanded on themes raised in movies like Her, Ex Machina, and, of course, the original Blade Runner.

Raising such social questions and projecting the technology of the future used to be what science fiction did best. With recent rubbish films like Flatliners, Transcendence, and Ghost in the Shell, it was refreshing to let this movie challenge my mind and open it to the possibility of crazy technology that could soon be in my living room.  

The next best facet of the film was its settings and set designs. The post-apocalyptic world (society hadn’t been extinct, but the world had survived some nuclear blasts and mass plant extinction) was unsettling. The fact that some characters had never seen trees and that one city spanned the horizon like the mega cities in Dredd struck me at how fragile our planet is and how sad our existence would be without nature. However, it was not just the emotions that the sets sparked that made me love them. It was also their detail. Alessandra Querzola, the film’s set decorator, made sure to film them with junk, giving Blade Runner 2049 the used world aesthetic that George Lucas first introduced to the sci-fi world with Star Wars. Because of all the little things like exposed pipes, Coca-Cola ads, and all the curious trinkets in Doc Badger’s (Barkhad Abdi) shop, the movie’s realism was superb and provided it with a certain horror that such a dead world could be ours.

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Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles

Finally, apart from Denis Villeneuve, who has entered my Directors Hall of Fame that includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Danny Boyle, the movie’s actors were the icing on Blade Runner 2049. The greatest surprise was Villeneuve’s casting of Dave Bautista as the replicant, Sapper Morton. Bautista has slowly been climbing into the A-list ranks from his WWE origins and, I would argue, doing a better job than Dwayne Johnson. Despite his hulking figure (I think he slimmed down for this role) his movements were precise, his words exquisitely spoken, and his emotions, raw. It was a drastic reversal from the loud and humorous role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, which reveals Bautista’s acting range is quite diverse. However, Bautista was not alone in acting excellence. Each actor/actress in the film similarly excelled in each of their roles. There was not one scene that was over or under-acted.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to dislike seeing movies twice, especially while they’re still in theaters. I normally get bored on second viewings after knowing the twists and turns of a plot. Blade Runner 2049, however, is a film I am dying to see again. And soon. I recommend you go enjoy this movie as soon as possible.

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below;

The Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Film Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)

Synopsis: Eggsy (Taron Edgerton), codenamed Galahad, is now in a relationship with the Swedish princess, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), who he saved through the backdoor in The Kingsman: The Secret Service. However, a former Kingsman recruit, Charlie (Edward Holcroft), quickly upsets the status quo on the behalf of the secretive drug cartel, the Golden Circle. Charlie hacks into the Kingsman database and accesses the locations of all the Kingsman agents for his boss, the mysterious Poppy (Julianne Moore), who executes a series of surgical missile strikes that eliminate all Kingsman agents except Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). Alone and without a base the two agents travel to their American counterpart, the Statesmen, for help in their mission to avenge their fallen comrades and save millions from the poisonous drugs Poppy has distributed across the globe.

When I read on Rotten Tomatoes that The KingsmanThe Golden Circle received the literally middling score of 50%, I expected to be thoroughly let down by the sequel to a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. While The Golden Circle failed to live up to its predecessor’s action, humor, and subversive elements, I still had a good time watching it. I’ve thought long and hard about why The Golden Circle did not recapture The Secret Service‘s magic. I believe the biggest reason for the disparity between the two films was the first was so unexpected with its John Wick-like bloody and excellently choreographed fight scenes alongside its lewd humor. Once the audience comes to expect such elements, it is difficult for a writer/director, in this case Matthew Vaughn, to one up himself on these accounts.

Vaughn tried to escalate his actions scenes with the heavy use of CGI, but this effort failed to boost them. Instead, these moments felt fake through the obvious presence of CGI. Also, the amount of cuts in camera angles distracted me and detracted from the intensity of the fights. The movie still delivered some great action pieces, but they were fewer in number than in The Secret Service. 

The humor survived into the second film, especially with its Glastonbury contest between Eggsy and the Statesman agent, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), to plant a tracking device in a mucus membrane of a target. However, like the action scenes, comedic scenes were also fewer than in The Secret Service. I would’ve enjoyed a few more ridiculous moments, like the ending scene of The Secret Service that I hyperlinked above. It was in such moments when The Secret Service subverted its James Bond origins where it excelled. The Golden Circle did not do this enough.

The Golden Circle‘s greatest strength is its characters. I greatly enjoyed their interactions, especially the ones between Eggsy and Merlin. Mark Strong’s handle on Merlin’s character is deft and he adds a lot of emotion to the plot despite receiving little screen time. Vaughn also wisely and believably brought Colin Firth’s Harry Hart back into the picture after being brutally executed in The Secret Service. Having Harry/Agent Galahad back from the dead added a double element of uncertainty to a seemingly straight forward plot both with the device they used to resuscitate him and the side-effects of such a procedure.

I hope Vaughn is just encountering a case of sequel-itis like the Oceanmovies suffered with Oceans Twelve and can fully recapture his mojo in the third film (if Fox chooses to make a third installment). But if you’re in need of a (fairly) lighthearted flick and don’t mind some exploding heads and gross humor in the context of a secret spy world then go see it and enjoy.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Girls Trip

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Highly enjoyable)

Synopsis: A group of four college friends, known as the Flossy Posse, decide to have a reunion weekend at EssenceFest in New Orleans after the festival chooses the group’s de facto leader, Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), to be its keynote speaker. Since college, the four friends have grown apart. Ryan has achieved celebrity status due to the success of New York Times Best Selling books while her former best friend, Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah), runs a gossip blog, a point of contention between the two. During their getaway weekend, the other two friends, Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), try to keep the two alpha-females happy as the reunion devolves into a party-fest filled with celebrity cameos, drama, and impressively good dancing.

Let me begin this review by stating that I had no idea what Girls Trip‘s plot was about going into the theater. My friend, Ben, demanded that we forgo It and Mother! (my two suggestions for our man-date), leaving Girls Trip as the only other well-reviewed movie out that neither of us had seen. Despite my reservations that Girls Trip would turn out to be another Bridesmaids (which didn’t connect with me despite winning over many critics), I am overjoyed we saw this film. It turned out to be a female version of The Hangover, but with a more grounded plot and acted with greater energy.

Girls Trip’s highlight was definitely Tiffany Haddish (center, below) and her character Dina. Dina, described as “the Wild One,” provided the spark to much of the movie’s humor. Her unpredictable nature caused me to follow her whenever she was onscreen. Her flawless comedic timing had me doubled over laughing for most of the movie. Thanks to Dina, I will now always chuckle to myself whenever I lay eyes on a grapefruit.

The other women took turns being the “straight” character to Dina’s craziness, which at times made them a little dull, but overall, each one had an interesting background that provided a wealth of material for the writers to pull from when they needed a motive for a scene.

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The writers, Tracy Oliver and Kenya Barris, both deserve props as much as the actresses in the movie. While they formed their story around the simple plot of divisive friendships resolved through a moment of clarity, their script was sharp, especially dropping subtle hints throughout the movie of a possible pregnancy that made Lisa’s failing relationship with her husband (Mike Colter) that much more damaging when his girlfriend informs Lisa she’s pregnant.

I removed one and a half points from Girl Trip‘s film score for two reasons. The half point comes from the ease with which the four friends forgave each other, which made their forgiveness appear false despite Lisa’s long voice-over in the ending montage proclaiming that they Flossy Posse had put aside their differences. This might seem petty on my behalf, but when a writer bases his/her movie around the idea of friendship, a simple “I’m sorry” wouldn’t heal the deep scars that existed between Lisa and Sasha. I also deducted a full point because so much of the humor came from the unexpected madness that poured from Dina’s mouth and putting four middle-age women in scenarios way out of their element. I do not expect to receive the same amount of joy from a second viewing. Call it the diminishing marginal utility of most comedic thrills, if you will.

However, don’t let my deductions stop you from seeing this movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m just trying to manage expectations. If you DO NOT have a problem with lewd and overly sexual humor, please go see Girls Trip.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Wind River

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Writer/Director: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Graham Greene, James Jordan, & Hugh Dillon

Synopsis: In the opening minutes of Wind River, U. S. Fish and Wildlife agent, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), discovers the body of young girl on the Wyoming Native American reservation, Wind River, while tracking a mountain lion. The reservation police report the girl’s death, and as a possible homicide, the FBI send Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. Realizing she’s out of her depth showing up to the sub-zero Wyoming spring in a windbreaker, Banner enlists the help of Lambert to help her navigate the frigid territory and the reservations unwelcoming citizens. Lambert and Banner’s investigation not only uncovers a terrible trail of crimes, but more importantly, it reveals to the audience the struggles Native Americans still endure today after whites forcibly removed them from their lands in the 1800s.

One of the standout aspects of the movie that came in haunting waves like the ever-present Wyoming blizzards was Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score. It never materialized into actual music like the stuff that made Cave famous. Instead, it turned out to be haunting strings mixed with a Native American chant that often set my nerves on edge. Even more important was the restraint Cave and Ellis showed. Many scenes were accompanied by utter silence, which is a factor horror fans know can heighten the drama on screen more than any Rocky soundtrack ever could.

Wind River‘s acting was just as strong as its score. In the lead role, Jeremy Renner flexed his acting chops for the first time since The Town. I had almost forgotten he wasn’t just The Avengers‘ Hawkeye. His character, Cory Lambert, is a father in mourning after a mystery man killed his daughter four years prior and is also suffering through a divorce. While helping out the FBI and Reservation police with the homicide, Renner never lets the weight of his offscreen hardships escape the audience’s eye. The key is he does not ell us his anguish (except once when we learn about his daughter’s death), but we see it in his eyes when he consoles his friend, Martin (Gil Birmingham), after he tells him his daughter was raped and killed.

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Cory Lambert (Renner) and Martin (Gil Birmingham) suffering in silence.

Birmingham is another winner in this stellar thriller. Even though his role is smaller compared to others, it’s a pivotal turn that lets the audience witness some of the repressed anguish that the citizens of Wind River have endured. After Lambert tells Martin of his daughter’s death, the camera moves away from the two men who step outside  to focus on Olsen’s and Greene’s characters. There is no score (well chosen, Cave and Ellis). However, instead of silence, we hear Martin howl and sob in pain. Hearing Martin’s guttural cries, that he hides from the white FBI agent (Olsen), reveals that there is more at play in this film than just a murder. However, this grief is something that Wind River‘s predominately white audience will most likely never know or feel. I’m glad Sheridan chose to open this small window into Native America’s world.

And it’s Sheridan who deserves the film’s real credit. While Wind Rivers‘s plot lacked the narrative complexity of Sicario and Hell or High Water, this man is a great creator. In each of his screenplays, he masterfully develops intimate settings that drip with authenticity. Despite all his screenplays containing western settings, each one grapples with vastly different subject matter: Sicario (Drug wars along the Mexican border), Hell or Water (bank robberies and Texas Rangers), and Wind River (Native American anguish and hunting). Besides his deep knowledge, I admire Sheridan for his ability to reveal humanity’s innate primality that we often tend to ignore and refuse in our day-to-day lives as we read newspapers, go to college,  and sip coffee on our way to our white collar job. Yet humans always come back to it. Whether it’s sex in musical lyrics, war in Afghanistan, or opiods that plague our nation right this minute, humans always hunger after our most base desires. Sheridan excels at finding frighteningly fascinating and believable ways to place his characters in scenarios where those desires are laid bare.

Go see this movie,  you won’t regret it.

Target audience: 21+ adults. People between 20 and younger either shouldn’t see it due to its graphic violence or will be too young to appreciate some of the film’s quieter but more poignant moments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Atomic Blonde

Movie Score3 out of 5 (Good)

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, & Bill Skarsgård

Director: David Leitch

Synopsis: Atomic Blonde tells a story of espionage and carnage during the final weeks of the Cold War. Set in Berlin 10 days before the fall of the wall, MI6 and the CIA have recently lost a list naming all of their undercover agents within the U.S.S.R. Both Western and Eastern spy services are scrambling to recover the list, which they believe is in the hands of a mercenary who is willing to sell it to the highest bidder. MI6 and the CIA are also looking for a double agent, known only as Satchel. MI6 sends their best agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), to recover the list and eliminate the traitor, Satchel. Once she arrives in Berlin, she must work with fellow agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone “native” during his time undercover in Germany. Soon the Russians show up and thrilling action ensues up till the credits roll.

The biggest let down of the movie was that I felt it was trying to emulate John Wick. It is easy compare the two films: both have beautifully choreographed fights, neon cinematography, and badass protagonists who have a penchant for double-tap head shots. Also, Atomic‘s director, David Leitch, produced John Wick and was the executive producer for John Wick 2.

Atomic Blonde‘s action, while very impressive, especially one sequence that was 7-8 minutes in length and shot in one take, could not match either of the Wick‘s bloody and often humorous fights.  The hand-to-hand combat of Atomic Blonde was entertaining, but the movie relied too heavily on it. The realistic and breathless fighting style that Atomic Blonde relies was forged by Bourne Identityhoned in Casino Royale, and taken to its peak by John Wick 2It is getting tougher and tougher for directors and choreographers to one-up previous movies. Notice how with each of these movies the fights have grown in length with fewer cuts which adds to more impressive battles. Atomic succeeds with the sequence I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph in increasing fight length while having no cuts. Yet in other sequences, Atomic Blonde lacked the umph of its predecessors. Also, there is a ceiling for how much awe a fight scene can inspire. I think, sadly, Atomic Blonde has hit that limit.

One thing I must note that I admired about Atomic‘s fights is that they showed the toll such extreme fighting takes on characters. During each sequence, we see the characters get winded and move slower as their injuries accumulate. This was a fresh idea in the genre and it made some of Lorraine’s moves more potent to viewers as she knocks out enemies while sporting visible bruises. However, I still prefer the tireless fighting that Bond or Wick exudes.

Overall, Atomic Blonde’s fight scenes were superb and fun to watch. Leitch also employed something similar to what Edgar Wright used in Baby Driver: sequencing action on the screen to music. He did not execute this to the extreme that Wright did, but there were well-timed shifts in the tone of songs or cutting off of music. My favorite happened with a flick of a lighter.

Atomic‘s soundtrack was another jewel of the film. Most of it was German or Eastern European sounding club music that complemented the pink-neon washed club scenes and gritty, lime street scenes.

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The beautiful neon scenes from Atomic Blonde

One of the movie’s premises was the search for the identity of the double-agent, Satchel. While this guessing game was fun for me during the movie, it quickly became a side note in the plot. The chief of MI6 (Toby Jones) hates Satchel. He orders Lorraine to bring back Satchel dead or alive in order to bring justice to this traitor. However, the movie never tells or shows the audience what Satchel did beyond being a double agent. Did he or she give up fellow agents to the KGB? Provide the Russians with enriched uranium? Help terrorists escape the clutches of MI6? Without any real development of this hidden enemy, the revelation of Satchel’s identity bears little impact. Leitch or his writer, Kurt Johnstad, should have increased Satchel’s villainy or good deeds (suffering to win valuable information for God and Country) to increase audience buy in.

Atomic Blonde is a fun, (fairly) mindless action flick whose lead (Theron) smolders in her smokey eye makeup and tears up the screen with her fighting skills. McAvoy’s Percival was a lot of fun to watch as he bumbles and connives his way around West and East Berlin. The acting in this movie was spot on. Kudos to these women and men.

Target Audience: Older teens and young adult males.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Dunkirk

Leaving the cinema after watching Dunkirk, I was compelled to write this piece; to write about the importance of what Christopher Nolan has created.

To know Europe, you must understand The Second World War. My parents grew up in the 1960’s playing in bombsites: open wounds across Liverpool even 20 years on. Joy Division and New Order took their names from Nazi projects. My father sometimes recalls neighbours who were veterans of the World Wars, men who left legs behind on a beach during D-Day and others whose minds cracked like china under the strain of trench warfare in France and Belgium. Travelling across Europe for the first time at 19, the Nazis haunted every nation I visited, from Anne Frank’s safe-house in Amsterdam to the crumbling ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The First World War razed the old Europe, but the pain of the Second World War forged the new.

Since the Ancient Greeks first told myths, the past has been the anchor which moors identity in a sea of clashing collectives. Across Europe, our anchor is weakening as the Second World War ebbs away from living memory onto the shores of textbooks and academia. The train from Birmingham back home stops at a particular station.  Built into the station wall is a memorial to the men from the Railway line who fought and died in both World Wars. The names of the dead stack up to the ceiling, but no one stops to read them.

Dunkirk is a gift to the future, a grain of bottled time giving meaning back to the marble names that dwell in railway stations, parks, monuments, and statues across Europe. When watching Dunkirk we can live in that unfiltered speck of memory. We can experience a time of survival where there is no good or evil, only the enemy who is everywhere yet nowhere, toying with the British as they scrabble for their lives while bombs fall, snipers fire, and submarines sink hospital boats. When death comes, there is no quiet reflection or glory, it is quick and uncaring. Pilots simply disappear and soldiers, flung into the air by Stukha bombers, with their Jericho horns deafening all,  never return to ground. The characters utter little dialogue as few words are needed: the story speaks through Hans Zimmer’s score and Nolan’s vision.  The tale of Dunkirk told in words of sight and sound, is hope in the face of horror. It is the ringing notes of stoicism, the images of heroism, of ships silently sailing to shore and pilots sacrificing themselves which kindled hope for the men trapped ashore, caught between the ocean and the German tide. Hope saved our men, hope saved us.

When the civilian boats quietly prevail and reach Dunkirk’s shores, Zimmer’s rendition of Elgar blares as red sails flutter in the cold Atlantic wind. I was moved. I felt proud  of my country. In a present where Britain seems lost inside itself, we needed the pride Dunkirk brings to remind ourselves of a moment when we stood alone, and vowed to return to our European brothers once more.

Hopefully we will return to Europe again one day.

Hagood’s review of the Dunkirk is here.

By Saul Shimmin

 

 

Bone Tomahawk

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Matthew Fox, & David Arquette.

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Synopsis: A stranger wanders into a small, western town. His suspicious actions draw the attention of  the town sheriff, Hunt (Kurt Russell), who wounds the man when he tries to run away from an interrogation. That night, Samantha (Lili Simmons), the town’s stand-in doctor, tends to the man’s injury at the jail as Hunt’s deputy stands guard. The next morning, a townsman alerts Hunt that savages kidnapped Samantha, the deputy, and the stranger, which prompts a rescue mission. A four-man search party forms and they set-out after the savages. A lot of fun, death, and fear ensues.

I realize my synopsis might make Bone Tomahawk sound like a rip-off of John Wayne’s 1956 classic, The Searchers, but trusts me, Bone Tomahawk surpasses its predecessor. I think my favorite part of the film is its realness. The movie’s actors skillfully embody the frailty of human life on the west. When the savages attack the town, none of the townspeople run scared or act crazy. Through their actions, the audience can see that such awful occurrences are not uncommon. Also, none of the characters are normal western “heroes” who can shoot from the hip and hit a running man at 100 yards. Each man shoots how a normal, somewhat-skilled cowboy would shoot.

Bone Tomahawk‘s greatest deviation from The Searchers though is its gradual descent from a western film into a horror one.  One of the first indications of such a transition begins with the Zahler’s decision to limit his shots to medium and close-up shots of the search party. At first, this limitation annoyed me because I wanted to see the grand landscapes that often paint western films. However, as Zahler restricts his shots, the audience loses more and more knowledge of what actions occurred outside of the frame, creating a sense of unease. Zahler compounds this feeling by electing not to add a score or soundtrack to the film. Breathing, crickets, and the wind are the only sounds the audience hears, which increased my fear because I felt so alone and lost while watching this movie. Normally, a movie’s score indicates when something is about to happen. Most horror movies have a soundtrack and when it stops, it is hinting that something is about to occur. Bone Tomahawk provided no such signposts leaving me on edge for most of the film.

Zahler also wrote the film and followed a tried and true formula. Place your characters in a bad situation and then make it worse. He did a fantastic job executing this strategy because with each passing moment, the search party fell into deeper and deeper peril. The reason I enjoyed this facet of the movie is because Zahler created believable reasons for each calamity to occur. My favorite was a brief moment of anger from Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), one of the four members of the search party. Mr. Brooder, another searcher, made a quip about Samantha that related to an earlier scene. Arthur responds negatively to the joke, punching Brooder. While his punch landed solidly on Brooder’s jaw, Arthur’s broke leg, in splints, lands unevenly on a rock causing the bone to break the skin. This injury forces Arthur to stay behind as the rest of the party carry’s on with its search.

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Despite all these great facets, the moment that pushed Bone Tomahawk from an excellent film to a classic occurred later in the film when the savages overpower the search party and take them captive. The savages, who are also cannibals, lock the survivors into a cage and take out the previously captured deputy. Up to this point in the film, most violence acts were not shown but only heard. In what was the most grisly scene I’ve ever seen in my life, the savages take the deputy out of his cage, scalp him, shove his scalp in his mouth, take a tomahawk to his genitals, and then devour him. Zahler’s relative restraint in violence up to that point, combined with the high morality of the sheriff and his cohort (except for Brooder at times), the scene was unsettling to the extreme and made hope unreachable for the heroes.

Target Audience: Adults only.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Behind the Scenes Trailer]

Today, July 15, in its measured roll-out in anticipation of The Last Jedi‘s December release, Disney delivered its second “trailer” for the film. While it is not a real trailer, the short video reveals just under three minutes of riveting tid-bits. We’ll discuss some key aspects of it below, but first, here is the trailer:

Key aspects:

  1. During their interviews, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill hint that The Last Jedi will depart from the Star Wars norm. I, and I’m sure many other fans, would welcome such a departure after The Force Awakens highly derivative plot.
  2. In a brief clip, Kylo Ren appears in front of an elevator and walkway that looks incredibly similar to The Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. Maybe we will meet Snoke here, face-to-face. But once again, I hope this does not indicated that Rian Johnson is ripping off the earlier films like J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did with Awakens.
  3. Who are the Stormtroopers with the black, First Order emblem emblazoned on their arms and wielding weird claw weapons?
  4. This video is laden with intriguing creatures and characters. I hope they mean that multiple, rich and well-thought out planets will fill The Last Jedi, unlike the two, rather boring planets from The Force Awakens.
  5. I’m extremely excited to meet Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters who we see for a few seconds in the trailer. The only thing I know about del Toro’s character is that people call him DJ. I also know he was a bad ass in Sicario so hopefully his savageness will carry over.
  6. We see Finn exiting his bacta tank so he is obviously alive and Kylo doesn’t appear too badly injured from the slash Rey dealt him at the end of Awakens. Also, who are the two young gentle sparring with him? Possibly, Luke’s padawans that Kylo and the Knights of Ren massacred? Rey seems to also have some sword fighting ahead.

Sorry if I criticiseThe Force Awakens too much here, but after each viewing, I dislike it more and more. Its dialogue failed to fit into the Star Wars universe, its world building seemed lazy, and, as I mentioned earlier, its plot relied way too heavily on A New Hope‘s.

I have high hopes for this installment, in no small part to Rian Johnson.I hope his skill at film making remains iconic and deft in this endeavor into the Star Wars universe.