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. 

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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

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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!

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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 : and

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). 

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The Girl on the Train (2016)

I walked into the theater to see The Girl on the Train not knowing what to expect. I never read the novel and I had not read any summaries about the story.  I just knew that it was going to be an intense thriller, based on the trailer, and I was correct. The film was not perfect, but it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat.

The Girl on the Train was released this past weekend on October 7 (USA). It is an adaptation of the New York Times best-selling novel The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins. The film was directed by Tate Taylor, who also directed Best Picture nominee The Help. It stars Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux, supported by Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, and Rebecca FergusonLisa Kudrow and Allison Janney both make appearances, playing minor but significant roles. The story takes place in New York, rather than London, as in the novel.

Emily Blunt plays the role of Rachel Watson, a divorced woman who finds solace in alcohol. She commutes to Manhattan every day on a train that passes by her old neighborhood. As the train passes by Rachel’s old house, she is forced to see her ex-husband Tom’s (Justin Theroux) new life with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and baby daughter. But this couple is not the only one that Rachel focuses on. She also takes notice of Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), who live just a few houses down. She imagines the Hipwells as the most ideal and perfect couple. She is proven wrong when she discovers a dark secret that Megan is hiding. After a night of drinking and commuting, Rachel runs into deep trouble that disrupts her life. Megan Hipwell goes missing and Rachel is one of the primary suspects.

As mentioned before, The Girl on the Train was not perfect. It definitely had flaws that caused it to be confusing at times. The style of editing and use of flashbacks tended to be misleading, and the audience has to be sure to keep track of each character’s story and position. The beginning of the film is really the only point where viewers may be lost because so many characters are introduced. This may have been done on purpose to keep the attention of the audience, because the audience is very curious to see which character plays what role within the story. Despite these minor setbacks, the story was still very intriguing. Since I did not read the novel, I had no idea how the film was going to end. I did not know for sure who the antagonist was until the last fifteen minutes. Tate Taylor did an excellent job of incorporating a thrilling aspect into the mystery without making it too predictable (for those who have not read the novel).

The acting was my favorite part of the film. Emily Blunt did a fantastic job as Rachel. The role demanded a very serious and depressed personality, which is not always easy to pull off because actors can be too dramatic. Emily Blunt also had to act as a drunk for several scenes, which can easily be overdone. Rachel has so many complexities, which is different from the simple characters women in Hollywood are given these days. I really enjoyed Justin Theroux’s role as ex-husband Tom Watson. In my opinion, his character is one that viewers tend to automatically like. He seemed to be the good guy that came out of the Watson divorce. The audience is led to believe that Rachel is the one with all of the problems, which is not aided by her struggle with alcoholism. Haley Bennett (Megan) and Rebecca Ferguson (Anna) play two strong females that add so much to the plot. The performances in this film enhance the tension already created by the complex story.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train. Although there are some weak moments, the story is elevated by the exceptional acting by the whole cast. The story is fascinating and keeps the audience interested in how the events will unfold. If you love a good and entertaining mystery, I recommend this film. If you have seen it or have any questions, feel free to comment below!

This film is rated R. It is very violent and contains a fair amount of adult situations. Although it is one’s discretion, I would not recommend this film to anyone under the age of 17. 

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Don’t Think Twice (2016)

I have always been interested in improv because that is how several of my favorite entertainers got started in the film or television industry. Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell…the list goes on. Don’t Think Twice focuses on an improv troupe in New York City. There are six comedians, and one of them gets a big break. This film gives an inside look into the lives of the members of the troupe and the conflicts they deal with.

Don’t Think Twice, written and directed by comedian Mike Birbiglia, was released in July of this year. As mentioned before, the film follows a popular improv troupe, called The Commune, through their adventures as comedians. The troupe is like a close-knit family, but they all have their individual goals and desires. All six of them aspire to be on Weekend Live, which is supposed to represent the well-known Saturday Night Live. Jack, played by Keegan-Michael Key, finally receives his chance and takes it. This changes his life as well as the rest of the troupe’s lives.

I loved the messages in this film. As an aspiring filmmaker, I found the lessons to be helpful and a reminder of what “success” really is. Miles, played by Mike Birbiglia, is the leader and oldest of the troupe. He was Jack’s former improv coach, and has always had joining the cast of Weekend Live at the top of his bucket list. Miles auditioned once before, but did not make it. The big breaks never seen to come to him, as he watches the rest of his “improv family” move up in their careers. However, Mike finally realizes, near the end of the film, what his purpose in life is. This is his version of success.

The acting in this film was very authentic. I felt as if I was actually watching a real improv troupe and their documentary. Although the film is not made in documentary style, it sometimes felt that way. I felt as if I was just standing off in the corner of the room as the troupe performed, or sitting at a nearby table when the troupe was at a bar. The audience and character connection is strong. All viewers care and want to see each character achieve their dreams and do well. It shines an honest light on the trials that the troupe endures, whether that be envy of another member or the change in a relationship caused by diverging paths.

Personally, Sam (short for Samantha) was my favorite character. Gillian Jacobs does a great job of presenting a well-liked, sweet person who is happy with the little things in life. She, like Jack, has the chance to audition for Weekend Live, but she chooses not to go. Sam realizes that her version of success is being in the improv troupe and performing shows every night. She does not want the fast-paced, glamour life that she sees at Weekend Live. Sam is someone who is content with herself and her position in life. She has a moment of self-discovery at the end of the film, when she performs on the stage by herself. She knows that the small stage is where she belongs.

Don’t Think Twice shows that “making it big” does not make life any easier. It might even make it harder. Jack’s new job thrusts him into the limelight, and they have a hard time understanding that. The rest of the troupe has the impression that Jack can put in a good word for them and they will be hired for Weekend Live just like that. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Just because Jack is on a higher level does not mean he has a secure job where he can just say or do whatever he wants. This whole dilemma puts a strain on the friendships in the troupe. These clashes not only happen in improv, but in other professions as well. This is why the film is so relatable.

This film is different, but it is probably one of my favorites (if not my favorite) that I have seen this year. It was a limited release, so it has not gotten the buzz it deserves. Don’t Think Twice is a comedy, but it contains touching and emotional aspects that capture the audience. It is rare to watch a film these days where one can enjoy such a caring connection with the characters. It shows that even as one chases his or her dream, reality always gets in the way. But eventually, everyone finds their place and where they belong. If Don’t Think Twice is in theaters near you, I really recommend seeing it!

Main Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard

*Don’t Think Twice is rated R for language (minor) and marijuana use (minor)*

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Half Nelson (2006)

Many people have probably never heard of Half Nelson, a film that was directed by Ryan Fleck and released in 2006. It had a budget of $700,000, which is considerably small compared to other modern day films. However, this film is the source of Ryan Gosling‘s only Oscar nomination (so far), one that was rightfully deserved. Gosling is joined by Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps, two solid supporting actors.

“The sun goes up and then it comes down, but everytime that happens what do you get? You get a new day.”- Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling)

Half Nelson follows the day-to-day struggle of drug addict Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling). Dan is a history teacher and basketball coach at an inner city middle school in Brooklyn (NYC). He truly wants to inspire his students to make a difference in the world. He encourages them to speak their minds and use their imaginations. However, Dan simultaneously fights a deep drug addiction that he cannot seem to stop. As the film progresses, his addiction spirals. Fortunately, one of Dan’s students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), realizes the problem and stands by his side. The responsible Drey faces conflicts as well, with a full-time working mom and a drug dealing “friend” (Anthony Mackie). The chemistry between Dan and Drey is special, because both need each other to survive the situations they live in. Both are dreamers that want to do more for the world, but they are hindered by their backgrounds and surroundings. The challenge for the pair is how to overcome and have faith that things will become better. The film ends with a glimpse at Dan and Drey as they turn over a new leaf, giving hope to the audience that the silver lining has been discovered.

The acting performances are what make Half Nelson so convincing and touching. As mentioned before, Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Dan Dunne. Surprisingly, that was the only Oscar nomination the film received. Gosling did an excellent job portraying such a likable but struggling person. One cannot help but sympathize for him since he shows such a good and promising personality when he is with his students. His performance is very authentic. Shareeka Epps does a fantastic job playing the role of Drey. Drey is very mature and Epps shows powerful emotion through her expressions. Anthony Mackie portrays the person that Drey does not want to become, and this is significant. Each presentation of the characters is raw and believable.

Half Nelson focuses on just how destructive addiction can be. It shows the unfortunate reality that a good person, like Dan Dunne, can fall into an extremely deep hole. There is one scene in particular that gives the audience a hint to where Dan’s addiction originates. His parents are alcoholics, so he is not able to turn to them for assistance with his own problem. It is within his DNA to have an addiction, which makes it easier to get lost and more difficult to escape. Drey lives in a similar situation. Her parents are divorced and her mom works a full-time job. Her brother is in jail and she does not have any close friends. Drey does not have anyone to reach out to when she faces conflict. She is only thirteen and has to act as an adult. These circumstances are why Dan and Drey form a close bond.

This film is compelling to those who have faced addiction or know someone who has. It can be relatable or shed a new light on something one might not be familiar with. The portrayal of the struggles are real and eye-opening. The cast and crew deliver a strong story about an unusual bond and the fight to conquer an intense battle. I really recommend this film!

Please comment below your opinions about this film or if you have any questions 🙂

This film is rated R for language, drug use, and adult content. 

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Psycho (1960)

I have not done a review on a classic film in a while. I watched Psycho recently, and I am still blown away by the timelessness of this film. It was so innovative and unexpected at the time it was created, and still influences horror films today.

Several critics say that Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. That means it has to be very good in order to beat his other classics like Rear Window or North by Northwest. Psycho was released in September of 1960 and shocked audiences everywhere. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch, the film explores the psychological effects of death and possession. It follows the story of a woman, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who steals $40,000 and tries to run away. She stops at the Bates Motel, where she meets the aloof Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Trouble ensues when Norman follows the powerful desires of his elderly mother.

Alfred Hitchcock ran into a lot of conflicts when trying to create the film. Paramount Pictures was not impressed with the plot, so they gave Hitchcock a very small budget to work with. The film was more risqué than typical films released during that time, so the studio was sure that Psycho would not be successful. Hitchcock also had to go to great lengths to make sure the ending of the story was not spoiled for the public. According to IMDb, he bought as many copies of the novel as he could so people would not figure out the ending. He also made the cast and crew swear not to reveal any aspects of the plot to anyone outside the set. Lastly, any viewers who were late to the theater were not let in. Hitchcock did not want viewers to walk in during the middle of the film.

The characters and acting in Psycho are part of what make it so compelling. Marion Crane is a criminal, but one cannot help but feel a little bit of sympathy for her. She steals the money so she and her boyfriend can be financially stable and get married. It was an impulsive move that was encouraged by her stagnant and ordinary lifestyle. Janet Leigh does a fantastic job of playing a brave but vulnerable character. Norman Bates is a very complex character. He is frail but clever. He suffers because of traumatic events he experienced as a young boy. Norman’s relationship with his mother is what causes the most disturbances. He is dependent on her but also wants to live his own life. This internal conflict helps create and drive the plot. Anthony Perkins, referred to as “Master Bates” by Alfred Hitchcock, was excellent as Norman Bates. He captures the complex and susceptible nature of his character. Although an adult, Norman has a child-like quality which Perkins portrays well.

The score of the film completes it. The renowned Bernard Herrmann was in charge of the score, and even got a raise from Alfred Hitchcock because he did such a fantastic job. The shower scene is 80% less frightening without the shrilling music. The entire score was composed with string instruments, which makes a huge difference. It is a lot more impactful to be scared by music coming from instruments that are generally associated with peace and tranquility. It reminds me of the music in The Shining, and how much the music in that film adds to the fear factor. The piercing noises throughout the film correlate with a viewer’s heart rate as he or she watches the intense scenes.

From the start of the first scene, I was captivated. Psycho broke all of the boundaries previously set in the film industry. I mean, it was the first American film to show a toilet flushing on screen!  I was connected to the characters and even sympathized with them at times, even though some of them committed very evil actions. If you have not seen this film, or it has been a while, I encourage you to watch it. It is no surprise that it was Alfred Hitchcock’s most profitable film. It just shows what greatness can be produced on a low budget.

If you have seen Psycho or have any questions, feel free to comment below!

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All facts are from the Psycho trivia page on IMDb.