Dunkirk (2017)

Most history buffs and movie fans have been waiting for the release of Dunkirk for a while. I, of course, was one of those people. With a name like “Christopher Nolan” attached to it, the film comes with extremely high expectations. I was not disappointed.

As I mentioned above, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this summer blockbuster that opened on July 21 in the U.S.A. Although Nolan has a long list of film accomplishments, Dunkirk is his first war picture. Despite the huge cast, the film does not have a list of recognizable stars besides Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy. Nolan used mostly young and unknown actors to highlight that fact that the soldiers at Dunkirk were young and inexperienced as well.

Although most people are familiar with the story of Dunkirk, it does help to have some background knowledge before seeing the film. During World War II, approximately 400,000 British and French soldiers were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk after having been forced to retreat from the advancing German army. They were stuck with little food and water; survival looked bleak. Fortunately, the German advance was stopped for 48 hours, giving the Allied troops time to evacuate off the island and head to England. Hundreds of civilian boats and some military boats came to the rescue. War and humanity are not often synonymous, but this feat displayed otherwise.

The cinematography of Dunkirk is stunning. Nolan teamed up with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema for the second time, the first being for the critically acclaimed Interstellar.  There are many breathtaking shots involving the water and boats, but the shots of the planes flying throughout the sky caught my attention. The color palette perfectly fit the theme of the grit of war, but it also brought moments of warmth. Sky blue, dark blue, and orange were the dominant colors, and this was done on purpose to incorporate the idea of the air, the sea, and the land. Every color worked together to create a visually appealing product that added to an already compelling story.

Although Dunkirk has received extremely high praise from critics and audiences, there have been some complaints. The biggest criticisms seem to be that there is a lack of depth in the characters, providing no reason to be emotionally invested in them. While, compared to other successful films, this may be true, I do not believe that is what Nolan wanted to accomplish. Instead, he focuses on the battle as a whole. His script concentrates on the heroic act of a whole country, not just one person. If he were to narrow in on one or two characters, then the audience may have disregarded the other hundreds of thousands of men on the beach. Nolan was able to present a narrative that allows the audience to care for every single character. He is telling the story of Dunkirk, not the story of one particular brave soldier. There would not be much to develop anyways, because the only thing the men wanted was survival. To make something more out of that would be unrealistic.

I cannot write a review of this film without talking about Hans Zimmer’s music score. Nolan has used Zimmer for five of his other films, so this collaboration was no surprise. The combination of ominous instrumentals and a ticking clock increased the pulse of the Dunkirk. Zimmer actually used Nolan’s pocket watch to create the ticking noise on the score. I loved this aspect because it was a reoccurring theme and reminder that the time for evacuation from Dunkirk was limited. The score was not overpowering, but instead effectively complimented the pace and purpose of the film.

Dunkirk forces the audience to look beyond the characters and into the thematic elements of a major historical event. This was not a typical heroic war story. In fact, it was a serious blunder. But courage and perseverance shine through as the film presents a crucial moral victory. Nolan captures the importance of patriotism and how selfless civilians put their lives on the line to try and rescue the stranded soldiers. Disaster turned triumph and the Dunkirk incident ended up being a turning point in World War II. Dunkirk is authentic and a truly great historical film. I recommend!

Rated PG-13 for intense war sequences and some language. 

Image Credit: IndieWire

Wonder Woman (2017)

Written by guest contributor, Blake Harpold. 

While walking into the theatre to see Wonder Woman, I had many thoughts swirling through my head. 2017 marks the 9th year we have lived through since the historic launching of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the then edgy and exhilarating Iron Man (2009). Since then viewers have been pulled through fifteen Marvel movies and almost thirty other superhero films trying to hop on the money train that is Marvel. To say I am burnt out on superheroes is an understatement.

In an effort to jumpstart their rich catalog of characters, DC launched its extended universe with Man of Steel (met with mediocre reception) and then the polarizing Batman VS. Superman, and finally the disastrous Suicide Squad. All that being said, Wonder Woman has arrived at a time where DC is indeed in need of a Savior, a shot in the arm to get people interested in their franchise, and proof that DC can offer movies that have more depth and connection than Marvel’s shallow and fun popcorn flicks. Thankfully, Wonder Woman accomplishes this and much more.

From the very start it is clear Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is an absolute scene stealer. Her charisma, charm, and blissful naivety to the problems that plague a dark World War I is infectious and immediately captivating. Her counterpart Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is equally appealing and their chemistry is real, genuine, and laugh out loud funny at times, but not because of any cheesy one liners. Instead smart writing and great situational humor is found by putting a woman who has been raised by women in the male dominated society of the early nineteenth century. It really is quite the treat.

The depth to characters and real attachment missing from most marvel films is found in spoonfuls here. With a compelling backstory tied deeply in Greek Mythology, Diana’s quest to save the modern world is believable and grounded in a very interesting and dynamic way. Big questions are central to the story and the characters’ development and eventual change as they contemplate the origin of evil, why mankind fights and kills one another, is humanity redeemable, and why love, true selfless love, is the answer. This takes me back to depth and connection. Because of a well-crafted backstory, interesting and dynamic characters that feel like real people and not just plot ushering interactions, Wonder Woman succeeds in making you believe this story is real. Real people, real problems, and real solutions that are insightful and ahead of their time.

As to its entertainment, Wonder Woman soars. Gal Godot is stunning but also believably strong. She rides the line between a tough Ellen Ridley and a beautiful but not believable Laura Croft. The action scenes in this film are brutal and visceral but do not drag on like many found in modern super hero films. (X-Men Apocalypse, Age of Ultron 2, Civil War). Each scene is also brought down to earth by the constant reminder of the suffering around her, but the hope she is bringing to each scenario. She is unflinchingly pure, strong, and committed to helping others no matter the cost.

The depth and connection that is the highlight of this movie falls short a couple of times, most noticeably with the caring but often goofy crew that travels across enemy lines with Diana on her adventures.

Overall Wonder Woman succeeds on almost every front. It has given me a reason to care about super heroes, to care about DC and their roster of complex heroes, and most importantly it gives the viewer the perfect combination of fun, action, and drama that brings difficult questions to light. It is a rewarding experience and one that should be shared with the whole family.

8.8/10

Rated PG-13 for some action, violence, and suggestive content. 

 

October Sky (1999)

Since it is Thursday, I figured I would do a “throwback” review to one of my favorite films. October Sky is a film that I grew up watching, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a good family drama and a genuine story.

October Sky, directed by Joe Johnston, was released in February of 1999. It is a true story adapted from the memoir, Rocket Boys, written by Homer Hickam. The film follows the story of Homer, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a teenager who lives in a small town in West Virginia. Homer grows avidly interested in rockets after the Soviet Union’s launch of the first Sputnik. With the help of his math teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), and several friends, he builds many successful small rockets. However, Homer faces several obstacles along the way, including his own father, played by the great Chris Cooper. Gyllenhaal’s role in this film is often considered his break out performance; he was only 18 at the time.

“No. Coal mining may be your life, but it’s not mine. I’m never going down there again. I wanna go into space.” – Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal)

Storytelling is one of the features that makes October Sky stand out. It is simple and incredibly touching, especially since it is a true story. There is conflict between father and son, which many viewers can relate to, no matter their age. The film depicts a traditional coal mining town, and how there is a cycle of what boys are expected to do once they graduate high school. The only way they can escape the life of a coal miner is to receive an athletic scholarship. Homer is different. He wants to be a scientist. He does not want to follow his father’s footsteps into the coal mining business, and he is not good enough at football to catch the attention of a collegiate scout. It is no surprise that Homer’s uncommon rocketry interest causes a rift in the Hickam family. Homer fights to win his father’s approval, but he matures from the experience. The story gives every audience member something to focus on or take away from the film.

The presence of Miss Riley, Homer’s math teacher, has a huge impact on the outcome of the rocket building adventures. She encourages the boys, specifically Homer, to follow their dreams. Miss Riley acts as a silver lining in a town where the “Rocket Boys” are mocked and insulted. She allows them to see that there are other options besides being a coal miner, and that it is okay to stand up to the barriers that block them. Laura Dern was an excellent choice for this character because she brings tenderness to the role. The audience sees how supportive she was of Homer, and how much that attributed to his success. Miss Riley is a reminder of how important teachers are to young students, and how teaching can be such a rewarding job. Of course, Chris Cooper nailed his performance as Homer’s father, John. He took on the role of an extremely stubborn person that seemed incapable of showing his soft side. But Cooper does let the audience catch a glimpse at his vulnerability. As mentioned before, this film pushed Jake Gyllenhaal into stardom. He always has an incredible ability to show emotion through his expressions. He acts charming but intelligent, which makes his character immediately likable. Apparently, the real Homer Hickam looked like a “typical nerd” and Quentin (one of the “Rocket Boys”) was more handsome. But Gyllenhaal was considered a teenage heartthrob at the time, so the physical appearances of the characters were reversed for the film. The cast was solid and supported the compelling story.

October Sky is an authentic “Americana” narrative. Because it is based on a true story, it is considerably influential. It displays the working class sector of a small and struggling town. American pastimes such as football are involved as well as the coal mining industry, which helped build the economy for the country. And of course, the space race. By taking Homer Hickam’s memoir and putting it on the screen, Joe Johnston is able to reach to various backgrounds and individuals. The significance of perseverance when striving for a goal is highlighted along with the trials of a middle class family. These factors, plus the all-star cast, are why the film remains timeless and relevant.

I highly recommend watching October Sky if you have not had the chance. Please comment below if you have any questions or remarks about the film.

Rated PG for some mild language and sensuality. 

For more information about Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favorite actors, click here.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

I have not done a review on an Old Hollywood film in a while. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  was sitting in my DVR recordings, so I finally decided to watch it. I absolutely loved it, and it made me want to read the play so I could compare the two works.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was directed by Richard Brooks and released in the fall of 1958. Brooks also assisted with adapting the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which was written by Tennessee Williams, into a screenplay. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, Burl Ives as Big Daddy, and Paul Newman as Brick. It was actually Newman’s break out role and eventually pushed him to stardom. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was nominated for six Academy Awards but failed to take any home.

The story revolves around the Pollitt family and takes place within one weekend. Everyone has gathered at the family plantation in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. Although the festivities are supposed to be happy, the family is shrouded in conflict. Brick, the younger of the two Pollitt sons, is experiencing marital issues with his wife Maggie. He is victim to alcoholism and depression. Big Daddy is suffering from terminal cancer and the older son, Gooper, appears to be conniving with his wife to take Brick out of Big Daddy’s will. The plot covers the thematic topics of relationships, truth, masculinity, loneliness, and death. It is captivating and touching.

What makes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof great is the acting ensemble. Everyone was perfectly casted, even the supporting actors. Many A-list actors turned down the role of Brick, giving Paul Newman the chance. He went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He and Elizabeth Taylor work well together as a troubled couple and both are able to convey impactful emotions. Several words go unspoken between Brick and Maggie, but their expressions say it all. Even though their marriage is on the rocks, the convincing performances give the audience wistful hope that everything will sort out. Originally, the film was to be shot in black and white. Brooks then decided that color would be better so that the famous striking eyes of both Newman and Taylor could be enhanced. This decision was smart and the color adds to the dynamic appearance and personalities of both Brick and Maggie. One cannot help but root for both characters. Burl Ives was fantastic as Big Daddy. He is supposed to be a strong and belligerent man, which is what he comes off as. But Ives allows the audience to see a more vulnerable side of the powerful character as well. The seemingly perfect Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) are deeply flawed. They both strive to do everything that Big Daddy and Big Momma deem to be right, but they still fall short of love and approval. Although their characters are not likable, the actors display how problematic the Pollitt family is. Every single family member is deeply flawed.

Because this film was produced in the 1950s, there were many topics that Hollywood censorship would not allow. Tennessee Williams’ original play had heavy implications of homosexuality between Brick and his deceased best friend, Skipper. Williams claimed to strongly dislike the film because the screenplay cut the relationship out. He thought that Hollywood was making a mistake, and that the industry was blocking necessary progression. Not everyone disagreed with the “scandalous relationship,” even if studio executives did. George Cukor turned down the offer to direct the film because of the removal of the homosexual references and Paul Newman expressed his great disappointment.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof gives the audience a glimpse at the vanishing Southern plantation lifestyle. It is the mid-1950s, but the family still relies on servants. Big Daddy, who represents the traditional way of life, does not show much regard for the help. He also expects Brick to continue running the family plantation, but Brick shows no interest whatsoever. This creates a rift in their already troubled relationship. Big Daddy shows his “love” through gifts and money. He lacks the ability to show real love to not only his sons, but his wife as well. Probably the most emotional scene takes place in the basement. Big Daddy and Brick have come to terms with and discussed the complications in their relationship. They both help each other up the stairs, the beginning of a more caring and loving relationship.

I highly recommend this film. The actors transform the story into something tender and relatable. Although there are some differences between the film and the play, it is still worth the watch. Please comment below your opinions or questions. 🙂

Life (2017)

I will start out by noting that Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynold’s press tour for Life was much more entertaining than the actual film. If you have not seen their interviews, I highly recommend going over to YouTube to check out some clips.

Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa, was released on March 24 (2017). It follows the treacherous journey of a team aboard the International Space Station. They discover a life form originating from Mars, and it soon causes terror aboard the craft. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as David Jordan. He is accompanied by Ryan Reynolds (Rory Adams), Rebecca Ferguson (Miranda North), Hiroyuki Sanada (Sho Murakami), Ariyon Bakare (Hugh Derry), and Olga Dihovichnaya (Ekaterina Golovkina). I was expecting a film that was somewhat decent because of its accomplished cast, but my expectations were not met.

The biggest problem I had with Life was the lack of character development. The story never gives any reason for the audience to care about any of the scientists, except maybe for Sho Murakami because he had a newborn baby at home. I failed to pick up some of the crew’s names, and that made it even more difficult to build a connection. There were countless unanswered questions I had regarding some of the characters. Dr. David Jordan was noticeably quiet, and there was no explanation why. He is a gloomy person who hates Earth for some odd reason. I was concerned about this character only because Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors. I am puzzled as to why Gyllenhaal chose to do this film because I cannot imagine that the script was enticing. Ryan Reynolds was funny, but something was awkward about it. His smart-aleck comments and funny jokes were masked by someone else talking and poor direction. If they really wanted him to be an entertaining character, more spotlight should have been shed on him. Reynolds is a gifted comedic actor, but his part felt contrived, which was no fault of his own ability. The writers and director did not support the talent they were working with.

The plot of Life gave the impression that it was attempting to be the next Alien or something similar. There were several poorly written scenes that tried to be serious or touching, but I was not convinced at all. The first thirty minutes of this film were incredibly boring. I did not understand what exactly was happening because the scientists were talking in “scientific” terms and the dialogue was muffled. Everything was cliché and unrealistic. Why would NASA send up a group of scientists that repeatedly made stupid mistakes? There is no way the team would have passed as professionals in the real world. In one scene, Dr. Hugh Derry is attacked by the alien life form while working in the lab, and Rory Adams decides that it is a smart idea to go in and help him. Obviously that was not going to end well. Surely the writers could have written the script in a way that allowed the characters to avoid predictable scenarios and blunders. I almost screamed when Dr. David Jordan proposed a simple idea to save the scientists at the very end of the film. Where was that idea an hour ago? There was no logic in the storyline whatsoever.

The most cringe-worthy moment of the film was the ending, which was supposed to be a major plot twist. In a way it was, but it was executed in a laughable (I really wanted to yell) manner. I will spoil the ending since this review should have discouraged you from ever seeing Life. Dr. David Jordan creates a plan to use the two escape pods to safely return one astronaut to Earth and take one astronaut back into space with the alien. Jordan is supposed to be the one sacrificing his life by taking the alien with him, but somehow the alien takes control of his escape pod once the mission is underway. The alien steers Jordan’s pod towards Earth and the wrong pod is sent into orbit. Jordan’s pod lands in the ocean, and two fishermen open the door. The film ends there, but the audience assumes that the alien takes over Earth. I had a problem with this ending because it was idiotic and foolish. The pod in the ocean had a window that clearly showed the alien and Jordan inside. Jordan was loudly yelling “No!” to the fishermen, but they ignore him. Even though the fishermen did not speak English, “no” is a universal word. This “plot twist” was a failure.

Do not go see this film unless you want to waste money on a movie ticket. It was a terrible and lazy attempt at making a “legendary” sci-fi thriller. I cannot understand what Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds saw in this opportunity except for the fact that they would be working together. Life lacks in-depth characters, a logical storyline, and it contains too many foreseeable events. Very disappointing.

Life is rated R for language, graphic images, and violence. 

Image credit to http://www.cinemablend.com

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Everyone knows, or should know, the classic tale of Belle and the Beast. The original Disney animation of Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, and it soon became one of the most popular princess films ever created. I was excited to see this live action adaptation because of the stellar cast attached to it.

The live action Beauty and the Beast was released this past weekend on March 17 (USA). It scored a huge opening and is bound to set box office records for Disney. It was directed by Bill Codon and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Most people know the fairy tale of the prince who was turned into a beast. He can only be saved by true love, which he finds in Belle. Belle, a village girl, shows the Beast what he has missed in his years of captivity. When I was younger and first saw the animated Beauty and the Beast, I failed to realize the significant messages hidden within the storyline. Now that I am older, I am able to appreciate the many themes of the tale. The power of love is shown as well as the importance of looking at someone internally rather than just at his or her appearance. The film is something that both children and adults can learn from or relate to.

The casting for this film could not have been better. Emma Watson was radiant as Belle, a role she seemed born to play. One can tell that Watson loved playing the role and she did not half-heart her efforts. In interviews, she has commented that it has been her dream to play Belle since she was six years old. She actually turned down Emma Stone’s role in La La Land to play Belle. Ryan Gosling turned down the part of the Beast in order to star in La La Land. It is funny how things work out. Watson was joined by Dan Stevens, who did a magnificent job as the Beast. Stevens, who is primarily known for his role as the beloved Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, was able to bring an amusing personality to the Beast. Both he and Watson had to take dance classes and singing lessons to perfect their roles.

The mischievous duo of Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) was remarkably entertaining. The scene where Gaston, LeFou, and several of the villagers sing “Gaston” was one of my favorite scenes in the film. Luke Evans is very convincing as the arrogant and vain Gaston. Even though he is not a likable character, I loved watching his scenes. Josh Gad is fantastic as LeFou, but I did not expect anything less after seeing him as Olaf in Disney’s Frozen. The allegations of LeFou being gay are overblown. Although he does show admiration for Gaston, it is nothing out of the ordinary or shocking. There is no need to boycott the film or protest what Disney has done.

The production design of Beauty and the Beast was breathtaking. It is no surprise that the film cost $160 million to create, making it the most expensive musical ever released. The production designer, Sarah Greenwood, worked on the Sherlock Holmes films previously. It is no surprise that the sets for Beauty and the Beast were extravagant. Most of the filming was completed in England, which is apparent by the beautiful landscapes. I felt as if I was transported to a magical place. The music was done by Alan Menken, who wrote the original score for the animation. Although the classic tunes are present in the film, there is a new one. Dan Stevens performs “Evermore,” written by Josh Groban, as the Beast. I like the fact that the Beast was given a song, because he did not have one in the original.

This film carries a lot of expectations from those who are big fans of the original Beauty and the Beast animation. I was pleasantly surprised by it, because remakes have a reputation of falling short. The all star cast of Beauty and the Beast, along with the impressive sets, make it entertaining and engaging. I would recommend people of all ages to see it, because there is something for everyone. Please comment your opinions or questions below!

Rated PG for some frightening situations and action.

Image credit to Rolling Stone magazine. 

 

Lion (2016)

I finally had the chance to see Lion, which was nominated for six Academy Awards earlier this year. I was blown away by the film, and it caused me to reflect on everything that I take for granted in my own life. Films like Lion show us just how much we have to be grateful for.

Lion was released in limited theaters in November of last year, but it expanded to more theaters in early January of 2017. It was directed by Garth Davis and written by Luke Davies. The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family in India at the age of five. Saroo was adopted and raised by an Australian family. He tends to cover up his unknown past, but guilt and questions concerning it keep arising. Saroo is faced with the difficult task of delving into his past and not disrupting his current life.

The acting in Lion was incredible, and probably my favorite part of the film. Young Saroo was played by Sunny Pawar, and he stole the show. Pawar is adorable and he is able to show so much emotion with his eyes and expressions. I was captivated by his performance. Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel both received Oscar nominations for their roles as Saroo’s adopted mother, Sue Brierley, and older Saroo. Their performances are extremely heartfelt because there is so much love between the characters, even though Sue is not Saroo’s real mother. There is one scene in particular where Saroo acknowledges everything that Sue has done for him, and there was not one dry eye in the theater. Rooney Mara took on the role of Saroo’s girlfriend, Lucy. I read that Saroo actually had several girlfriends when he was older, but certain qualities of each girl were written into this one role. Mara’s character allowed the audience to see an unfamiliar side of Saroo; a side that was less ethnic and more general for a young adult. The cast of Lion was in a unique position because the screen time of the actors, for the most part, was equally divided. Each actor was able to give their own special attribute to the film.

I love films that can open the audience’s eyes to global issues. I left the theater wanting to adopt an Indian child or somehow help those in need. It was crushing to see how many children were in the orphanage that Saroo was saved from. Lion allowed me to reflect on how I can use my life to help those who may not have the opportunities that I have. There is one part of the film where older Saroo tells Lucy that she does not understand his situation. Saroo has lived in two contrasting scenarios: one in poverty and one in upper-middle class wealth. He knows how privileged he is. I think that the director wants audiences to realize the opportunities and gifts he or she has been given. It can speak to those living in poor situations as well, because Saroo was able to climb out of his past and make a successful life for himself.

Films like Lion sometimes have the tendency to gloss over the hardships that one may endure on demanding journeys. This is ironic and usually makes the films unrealistic. However, Lion does not do that. The amazing cinematography accompanied by a great score help convey the tough and emotionally exhausting life that Saroo leads. Not every moment is sad or gloomy, but there are some challenging circumstances. I love the relationships within the film. Although Saroo and Sue have an unbreakable bond as son and adopted mother, Saroo’s birth mother always holds a place within his heart. Saroo looks up to his older brother, Guddu, as a role model. Saroo carries the guilt of causing his family pain, especially Guddu, after becoming separated from them. This drives him to look into his past. These complex relationships give the film depth and help it connect to the audience.

I highly recommend Lion. It ranks in the top three of my favorite films of 2016.  The cast is perfect and the story is one that needs to be heard. I am excited to see what Sunny Pawar works on next, because he has such a bright future ahead of him. If you saw this film, please comment your opinions below!

Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and intense situations. 

Image credit: The Huffington Post India

Trivia and facts from IMDb.com

 

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Wow! 2016 has flown by, and sadly this will be my last review of the year. Thankfully, I am going out on a high note. No matter what other people say, I believe that 2016 was a good year for the film industry. Some truly amazing and quality films were released.

Manchester by the Sea opened in theaters nationwide on December 16 (USA). Kenneth Lonergan directed and wrote this film that explores a realistic story of a man named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and his relationship with his nephew Patrick Chandler (Lucas Hedges). Patrick’s father, Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler), dies suddenly, and Lee has to take care of Patrick. Lee and Patrick must rekindle their formerly close relationship once Lee moves back to Manchester, his hometown. The audience catches glimpses of Lee’s depressing past as he is reminded of the tragic events that caused him to leave his hometown. Guilt, redemption, and the importance of family are common themes that arise throughout Manchester by the Sea.

This film has received tons of Oscar buzz, specifically for Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture. I was curious to see if those claims were valid. After seeing it, I definitely agree that Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges should be rewarded with Oscars. However, I still think that La La Land deserves Best Picture. Manchester by the Sea was excellent, but it is not as unique or stunning as La La Land.

The acting is what makes Manchester by the Sea great. Lucas Hedges is extremely talented with his comedic timing. His witty character, Patrick, foils Casey Affleck’s brooding character, Lee, very well, and this is what ultimately makes both of them likable. Because of the flashbacks to Lee’s past, Casey Affleck has to play two different roles. Although it is the same character, he had to prepare for two contrasting personalities. Lee from the past has not yet been hurt by tragedy, so he is much happier and carefree. Lee in the present has been damaged by past events, so he is a loner and filled with grief. Affleck gives a fantastic performance because he is able to convey a lot of emotion with looks rather than dialogue. I agree, along with many others, that he is the frontrunner for this year’s Best Actor.

Another aspect I loved about Manchester by the Sea was the setting. It was all shot in Massachusetts, most of the locations being the exact places named in the film. The cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes, was able to incorporate the sea and the snow to fabricate some gorgeous images. I love when films are shot during the winter because the whole production becomes visually appealing. Lipes gives the film an authentic feeling because of how the Massachusetts towns are portrayed.

Although the subject matter may seem bleak, the frequent humorous dialogue between Lee and Patrick creates lighthearted moments. Other film reviews I read led me to believe that Manchester by the Sea would be a serious tearjerker, but I did not feel that way at all. I laughed out loud at various parts, and I only remember being sad during one particular scene. Maybe it is just me, but the film is not as dismal or unhappy as some viewers made it out to be.

The only real question I would have after seeing Manchester by the Sea is about the hype surrounding Michelle William’s acting performance. She plays the small role of Lee’s ex-wife, Randi. Critics seem to think that she may win Best Supporting Actress, but I do not agree. There is one scene where both Randi and Lee are brought to tears as they discuss their past marriage. Her character is not developed well enough for me to like or care for her. In fact, I was actually annoyed by her. If Williams is going to receive an Oscar for a role, it should be for a character that the audience can connect to or get to know better.

I really enjoyed Manchester by the Sea and I can see why it is one of 2016’s best films. The acting is flawless thanks to Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges. It is beautifully shot and presents Massachusetts in a genuine fashion. The ending might be unsatisfying to some, but it drives home the point that this story can happen, and does happen, to any family. Feel free to comment your opinions and questions below!

Manchester by the Sea is rated R for language, violence, and some adult matters are discussed. 

Happy New Year!

Image credit: http://www.latimes.com

La La Land (2016)

It would be an understatement to say that I was merely excited for La La Land. I have been waiting for this film for a little over a year. Luckily, I had the chance to see it a month earlier than its release date at a local film festival. I love musicals and grew up watching them, so the idea behind La La Land – along with its incredible cast and crew – was a dream come true.

*There are very light spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk.*

La La Land makes its nation-wide debut (USA) on Christmas Day. It is being released in several cities today, December 16. Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, it follows the journey of two aspiring artists in Los Angeles. One is a jazz pianist, Sebastian, who is played by Ryan Gosling. The other is an actress, Mia, who is played by Emma Stone. The story takes place in modern times, but there are inklings of classic Hollywood, which I appreciated. Both Sebastian and Mia start off struggling to achieve their dreams. Eventually, the two fall in love, and their dreams begin to grow realistic. Bittersweet sacrifices must be made in order for Sebastian and Mia to accomplish what each person wants in life. I walked out of the theater with all different kinds of feelings. I was amazed and overjoyed, but I was also reflective and emotional. I absolutely loved the film, and might even put it up on my list of favorites.

“Here’s to the fools who dream.”

La La Land was one of those films that was on my mind for days after I saw it. I have so much to say about it, but bare with me and I will try to condense most of it for this review.

First of all, I think that Damien Chazelle (who is only 31 years old) is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood right now. La La Land is his third feature film, his second being the critically acclaimed Whiplash from 2014. Chazelle actually came up with the idea for La La Land when he was a student at Harvard University, which was long before he started on Whiplash. However, studios were not willing to fund his idea because they did not believe that this type of musical could be successful. Not to be defeated, Chazelle put La La Land aside and began to write Whiplash. After the huge praise and success Whiplash received, studios were willing to give Chazelle the money he needed for La La Land. 

Chazelle was inspired by the musicals he grew up watching, and it is evident in the finished film. Some of those musicals included Singin’ In the Rain, Top Hat, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Chazelle was so passionate about those films that he would actually screen them for the cast and crew during production to show them what he envisioned for La La Land. He teamed up with his close friend and composer Justin Hurwitz, whom he attended Harvard and worked on Whiplash with. Hurwitz wrote six original songs and the score for the musical, making sure each one matched the tone and mood needed for the specific scenes that they would be featured in. The song that is played in one of the film’s trailers, “City of Stars,” took Hurwitz thirty-one rewrites to satisfy both Chazelle and himself. The music in the film was fantastic, and I had several of the songs stuck in my head for days. All of the songs fit their scenes perfectly.

Although I loved everything about La La Land, if I had to pinpoint my favorite aspect, it would be the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This is their third film together, including Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Both have said in interviews that it makes the experience a lot smoother and more fun when acting alongside a good friend or “buddy” as Emma Stone puts it. The two talented actors make the romance between Mia and Sebastian seem so authentic, that it is hard to believe they are not a couple in real life. I found myself so attached to both characters, and I wanted to see both be successful. Both Gosling and Stone give such great performances that fit their personalities so well, so I was shocked to learn that they were not the first choices Chazelle had. Originally, Chazelle reached out to Emma Watson and Miles Teller (who was the star of Whiplash). Watson was busy with another project, and Teller did not have the right chemistry with Stone. Thank goodness for this, because I truly think that Gosling and Stone are the closest modern-day comparison to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Obviously, Rogers and Astaire had more dancing talent and experience, but Gosling and Stone do match the chemistry of the legendary pair. There is one scene, which is probably my favorite, where Sebastian and Mia walk to their cars after a party. They are still acquaintances at the time, but that soon changes. The two begin singing and dancing with the Los Angeles skyline in the background, which creates a great cinematic moment.

It is fascinating to read about how much effort and practice went into nailing the song and dance scenes (choreographed by Mandy Moore) in La La Land. Damien Chazelle had the cast rehearse in warehouses for three months prior to when they began shooting. Ryan Gosling claimed in a recent interview that he spent four hours a day for three months practicing the piano pieces his character plays in the film. Yes, that is Gosling playing the piano himself without a hand double. My favorite story from the set is how the cast and crew managed to pull off the opening number (“Another Day of Sun”). Chazelle got a 48-hour permit to film on the 105-110 interchange in Los Angeles. Keep in mind that this interchange is 100 feet high; one of the production designers even questioned that someone might fall off. Somehow, Chazelle managed to pull it off in scorching 100 degree weather. The final result is stunning, and it brings the audience right into the film.

I could go on and on about this film, but I will stop here. La La Land is a must-see for 2016. It says a lot that I saw the film for the first time over a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. It will affect everyone in a different way, so I am curious to see what the final consensus will be. The film is already getting stellar reviews and awards buzz, but time will tell. The musical numbers and dialogue scenes are so well blended; there is no awkward jump from song to reality. It has something for everyone, whether that be a great love story, entertaining music, or witty dialogue. La La Land will speak to idealists and those who have big aspirations. All dreams have little snags here and there, but that does not mean the next step should be to give up. It is happy and it is sad, but without that, there would not be much of a story to tell. 🙂

P.S. There are appearances by J.K. Simmons and John Legend that make the film even better.

Fun Fact: The score composed by Justin Hurwitz was recorded with a 90-piece orchestra on a scoring stage. The stage was the same stage that many classic musicals, such as Singin’ In the Rain, had their scores recorded on.

La La Land is rated PG-13 only because of the very infrequent use of curse words. Other than that, it is a family film that everyone can attend. 

Please leave your comments below! I am very interested to see everyone’s opinions about this film.

Image credit to : http://www.theplaylist.net. and http://www.imdb.com

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Chilling, haunting, and complex are the words I would use to describe Nocturnal Animals. I was not sure what to expect when I bought a ticket to see this film, but I knew it was going to be a thriller. The trailer does not give a clear cut idea of what the film is about, but after seeing it, I can see why conveying the concept in the trailer would be difficult. Plus, it is the kind of film where less prior knowledge about the plot is better.

Nocturnal Animals will be widely released to the U.S. on December 9th, but I was lucky to live in one of the regions where it was made available early. It is adapted and directed by Tom Ford, the famous designer, making this his second feature film. The designer’s pristine touch and taste is evident in this film, which adds to the overall stunning production. I really liked the film and was completely enthralled by it, but it is not for everyone.

Adapted from the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals exhibits a story within a story. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a Los Angeles art gallery owner who is very unhappy with her current situation in life. While her apathetic husband is away, Susan receives a novel from her estranged ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). They have been divorced for twenty years, but he decided to send her his latest work in order to get her feedback. Curiosity gets the best of Susan, and she begins reading it. This is the first story. The second story is the novel come-to-life, which takes place in West Texas. It describes the journey of a man, Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whose life turns upside down when a family trip goes fatally awry. The powerful and agonizing narrative prompts Susan to question her first marriage and the terrible mistakes she made. She is haunted by the dark content of the emotional novel, which serves as an ode to the hate and pain Sheffield has suffered since their divorce. Oh, bitter revenge.

“Do you think your life has turned into something you never intended?”

Tom Ford and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, styled Nocturnal Animals perfectly. The first story, Susan’s perspective, takes place in Los Angeles. The shots are cold but sophisticated, with lots of red, white, and black. For the real-life novel, which takes place in West Texas, a more western-styled approach is taken with the shots. The colors are natural but prominent. The meticulousness of the camera work makes the film so visually appealing. Throughout Nocturnal Animals, I felt a Hitchcockian vibe. There is a profound element of suspense in the plot, but it is aided by the soundtrack which sounds similar to the one used in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The score, composed by Abel Korzeniowski, plays with the psychological state of the viewer as it becomes intense during apprehensive situations.

The greatest part of this film was the acting. Every actor gives an incredible performance, which makes the story even more compelling. Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays two different characters, is so good at baring his raw emotion. He is forced to portray a sensitive and charming Edward Sheffield as well as a grieving and depressed Tony Hastings. Gyllenhaal does both flawlessly. Honestly, I think he deserves at least a nomination from The Academy for this performance. Inside the novel, there are several other characters. Michael Shannon plays the police officer, Bobby Andes, who helps Tony Hastings after the horrific incident that took place during Hasting’s family trip. Shannon does a fantastic job of playing a stereotypical West Texas officer who is not afraid to bend the rules. His character helps Hastings track down the men responsible, one of them being Ray Marcus, who is portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Johnson nails the part of an evil and corrupted criminal. Amy Adams has the role of a very complicated person. Susan Morrow seems to be riding high, but she suffers from many conflicts, both internally and with her current husband. Adams pulls this role off very well as she creates a distant and cynical persona. Ultimately, her character becomes vulnerable because of the deplorable mistakes she made in her past.

As an aspiring filmmaker, I became so jealous of the storyline. Nocturnal Animals is one of those plots that I wish I had thought of or adapted myself. It is so cleverly coated with the theme of revenge. The imagery and metaphors throughout the thrilling film connect to the audience in an impactful way. As I was watching the film, I was curious to see how the “film within a film” would tie together, but Tom Ford manages to pull it off. The devastating and abrupt ending might leave viewers wanting more, but then the tale of revenge would not be as cruel. The audience is forced to deal with many emotions that are unsolved. I left the theater feeling unsettled but reflective. Nocturnal Animals is a true piece of art.

I recommend this film if you are a fan of Hitchcock or that type of genre. It is not for everyone because some of the plot points do become very dark and slightly scary. But the acting, the score, and the story make it well worth the watch.

Nocturnal Animals is rated R for violence, language, and nudity (in an art gallery). 

Image from: http://www.showtimes.com/movies