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Average User Score: 7.9Jun 12, 2018Sometimes I will watch a newer film and start thinking "what would a bad movie do?" This question works especially well for films withSometimes I will watch a newer film and start thinking "what would a bad movie do?" This question works especially well for films with characters and storylines that are not entirely new but are rather adding a new flavor to existing ideas. The question is not meant to be an insult to the film: in fact, I really only think of the question when a newer film seems to be heading in a predictable and uninteresting direction but then takes an unexpected (or at least unconventional) turn into a new experience. It is easy for a novice filmmaker to find a camera and a few dollars and put together a low-budget picture, which makes it much more special when one of these filmmakers (Chloé Zhao) does just that and produces a work like The Rider that turns out to be one of the strongest films of its year.
Zhao's modern cowboy tale takes place in the badlands in South Dakota. The landscape is a character in The Rider, not unlike what the Coen brothers establish in films like No Country for Old Men and Fargo. Our lead character, Brady, deals with isolation; he lives with his drunk, unloving father and moderately autistic sister. Brady loves his family (and in fact demonstrates genuine gentleness and a general respect for living creatures around him in his interactions throughout the film) but cannot relate to them due to his excellence at and obsession with riding and training horses. His passion, however, is severely restrained by his recent head injury. Not only does Brady suffer permanent repercussions from his skull fracture, but he also rides under a cloud of dread knowing that another head injury could kill or severely handicap him. The question constantly occupies Brady's existence: is it worth risking his life doing what he loves most?
Zhao has managed to create a contemplative picture that puts its faith in the audience to ask the right questions. A bad movie would advertise the "rodeo of the year!" on some banner in town and show Brady training in a Rocky-like montage to overcome his head injury and win the big prize against some bully of an opponent. The Rider is so much more respectful of its audience and chooses to focus on character rather than sensationalism. There are no "bad guys" but rather people living their lives the way they know best. This film focuses on passion and its ability to drive a person too far. Suspense hangs in the air every time Brady mounts a horse knowing that it could be his last ride. He does not care; Brady is sure of his calling.
Summer blockbusters are fun and whimsical, but films like The Rider carry a much longer lasting personal impact than montages of car chases and one-liners. It is rare for a film to truly pierce the soul and shake the viewer from the core, elevating from entertainment to transformation, but The Rider comes pretty close to doing just that.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Jun 11, 2018Alfred Hitchcock created film experiences that, as the credits roll, both excite and depress me a bit knowing that they are near the peak ofAlfred Hitchcock created film experiences that, as the credits roll, both excite and depress me a bit knowing that they are near the peak of film mysteries in general. More than fifty years later, it is still a thrill to thrown on Rear Window or Psycho and become immersed in the always-clever "who done it" situations, whether they are confined to an apartment building or sprawled out over a national monument. It is incredibly rare to encounter a murder mystery that even belongs in the same sentence as one of Hitchcock's seminal works, and it is even more special to see one of these high quality films when the director's last name is not "Fincher." 2018 now has its great murder mystery in Beast.
In the vein of Hitchcock's thrillers, Beast quietly introduces Moll, a disengaged young woman living unwillingly in British aristocracy on an island. Similar to Titanic's Rose, Moll enjoys a luxurious but ultimately empty existence. Her family is not a unit to be admired; her sister is kind enough to announce her pregnancy in the middle of Moll's birthday party. Moll has had enough and decides to seek adventure via night clubs and island adventures. She soon meets Pascal, a mysterious young man who marches to his own drum and seems to lack any connection with society. Moll's family predictably rejects Pascal, causing increasing tension between Moll and her family and heightening her desire to simply run away and live the simple life with Pascal. Everything becomes far more complicated, however, when the police announce a connection between a string of murders that have occurred on the island in the past couple of years. The film then launches into a tense mystery where the audience and police race to figure out who could have committed these crimes. Beast is shockingly grounded and does not get caught up in the silliness that plagues far too many mystery films. Its grounded nature causes Beast to function simultaneously as a study of psychology and sociology, avoiding cliches and allowing certain character motivations to remain as thrilling a mystery as the murders themselves. Moll and Pascal both have troubled pasts but are currently well-behaved and even submissive to authority; what caused them to act out in the past? The film is greatly rewarding and ties together all loose ends without any cheap tricks. Beast actually becomes more and more engaging as it moves along and never forces any grossly sentimental moments or suspension of disbelief. Its small and grounded nature is what allows the film to achieve such a rewarding third act.
Comparing almost any film to the works of Hitchcock is a bit ridiculous, and Beast will certainly not be revered on the same level as Rear Window and Psycho. But not every mystery film needs to be a cinematic masterpiece, and Beast finds great success in its subdued nature. This strong mystery film is wholly engaging, shockingly deep, and full of enough twists and turns to provide a thrilling theater experience that is more reminiscent of film's greatest mystery installments than just about any other recent crime thriller.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Jun 11, 2018We are living in the golden age of horror. After enduring all of the mediocre, anything-but-unsettling films of the 2000's, we finally getWe are living in the golden age of horror. After enduring all of the mediocre, anything-but-unsettling films of the 2000's, we finally get year after year of intriguing, unique, and genuinely thrilling horror productions. A24 should take a large portion of the credit after producing The Witch, It Comes At Night, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and now Hereditary, which is possibly their strongest installment yet. While audiences will still have to endure commercials for quickly forgotten horror duds like Truth or Dare, they can find solace in this strong 2018 terror.
Hereditary follows a family living in somewhat isolation in the Rocky Mountains whose grandmother figure has just passed away. No one is sad. In fact, Annie (played by Toni Collette) seeks out grief counseling in order to understand her lack of sorrow for her mother's passing. Annie then reveals details of her troubled upbringing and troubles with her mother, making the audience realize that grandma's passing may be for the better. Annie also reveals her family's struggles with mental illness, illness that ultimately caused her brother to take his own life at the age of 16. Though Annie does not directly say it, she seems to have a burden lifted off of her in her mother's passing. The only person distraught over her death is Charlie, Annie's troubled daughter. Charlie and her grandmother were quite close, and Charlie is struggling to understand who will show her love the way her grandmother did. This film quickly devolves into madness, not unlike Eraserhead and The Shining; I often thought of Wendy running around the Overlook Hotel. Mental illness clearly plays a role in character actions and decisions, but so does the supernatural. The most interesting aspect of Hereditary (other than some fascinating camera work and set pieces) is its ability to blur clearly supernatural events and a reality altered by mental illness. Are the images that plague the family real events, or are they simply hallucinations? The answer is not clear. What is clear is that this family is about to go through some hardships, and grandma is to blame in one form or another. The film is genuinely terrifying, unpredictable, and filled with enough mystery and suspense to thrill the audience for a full two hours. Hereditary also adds an artistic touch to its brand of horror, which may polarize audiences but will certainly lead to some great discussion points.
By no means is Hereditary a "perfect" film. It plods a bit in early scenes. Some shots move quickly from terror to unintentional terror. Not all character motivations are entirely clear. No viewer should watch the film expecting perfection; the viewer, however, can expect two hours of tense, brilliantly crafted horror entertainment. Hereditary is a rare great film that ultimately more than makes up for its minor issues by keeping the audience guessing from scene to scene while conjuring up some of the most thrilling images and situations that the horror genre has seen in a long time.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Jun 8, 2018"Will God forgive us?" This question sits at the center of First Reformed, Paul Schrader's latest film dealing with faith, devotion, grief,"Will God forgive us?" This question sits at the center of First Reformed, Paul Schrader's latest film dealing with faith, devotion, grief, morality, hypocrisy, and a general feeling of existential crisis. Ethan Hawke stars as Reverend Toller, a Catholic priest at a dying church in upstate New York. Toller is given the task of counseling a young married couple, more specifically the husband, who is becoming reclusive and radical according to his wife (played by Amanda Seyfriend). Toller does not offer judgment but rather wisdom and comfort, sometimes successfully while other times at a distance. While almost exclusively patient, calm, and well-intended, Toller is isolated and removed from the world around him.
Early in the film, Toller reveals that his son was killed in Iraq after joining the military due to family tradition.Though he does discuss the pain and grief following his son's death, Toller does not physically demonstrate his pain beyond his stoicism. It seems impossible that a man could remain so faithful and reverent after the loss of his child and the dissolution of his marriage. Make no mistake: though he keeps it subdued, Toller's grief is central to First Reformed and its exploration of multiple individuals' characters and beliefs. The film does not take jabs at some of the obvious forces present in the film - military, religion, activism, capitalism - but rather sits back and lets the audience form its own judgments.
First Reformed is most exciting in its ability to navigate its many ideas and emotions in near fluidity. While often a dramatic and tragic character study, the film, at times, is a horror film at heart. At other times, it is a study and comparison of faith and religion. Sometimes its characters are distant while at other times their actions can be completely justified. The same steady, patient camera captures one shot of personal outburst and another shot of a still wine glass just a couple scenes away. Few filmmakers can even attempt to cover the before-mentioned topics of personal faith, religious devotion, overwhelming grief, and morality and its justification all within a two hour time frame, but Schrader, the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, not only exceeds expectations but also manages to fit in creative camera work, quiet moments of speechless physical performance, comedic relief, and pointed questions that do not leave the audience unsatisfied but rather motivated to begin asking introspective questions that are too personal to be answered on screen. In many ways, First Reformed is difficult to discuss due to its piercing, personal nature. In other ways, it merits some of the most interesting discussion in film this year. First Reformed does not seek to ties its events and ideas up into a neat package but rather to quietly explode on screen and draw the audience not only to seek discussion with other viewers but also to open an internal discussion and personal exploration that only the masters of filmmaking can inspire.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.3Jun 6, 2018I love a dumb comedy from time to time. Sometimes it's nice to completely leave behind any sort of critical analysis of a film and just laughI love a dumb comedy from time to time. Sometimes it's nice to completely leave behind any sort of critical analysis of a film and just laugh at some crude jokes for an hour and a half. The magic wears off, however, when seemingly every new comedy is of this ilk. In times of "dumb comedy overload," I have to sit back and reminisce about the first time I experienced the magic of films like Dr. Strangelove and The Naked Gun. Of course, Strangelove and nearly all of Leslie Nielsen's comedy films have plenty of dumb jokes that clearly required little thought. What separates these classic comedy films from the countless forgotten lazy, dumb, crude efforts that have fallen into the abyss of forgettable comedies is the fact that Strangelove and Naked Gun make the effort to exercise all of its writers' comedic chops. Some dumb jokes make it into the final cut, sure, but such humor is thrown into a comedic gumbo with all sorts of visual gags, clever dialogue, memorable one-liners, and a slew of characters ranging from the zaniest ex-Nazi scientists to dead-pan detectives. The mix of elements is what makes such films timeless; The Death of Stalin is one of those films.
The subject matter is simple: Stalin has died, and his underlings now must compete in a political king of the hill in order to claim power. Anyone with an elementary background in European history will know who ultimately succeeds, but it sure is a trip watching these historic figures bumble their way through necessary proceedings to get what they want. There is no one stand out performance as each cast member brings his or her own brand of humor to the table. Everyone gets a turn, and everyone delivers. Not every joke is a gut-wrencher; in fact, I chuckled more than I roared laughing. I doubt I even caught all of the jokes, as I was often too busy chuckling at a previous gag. For once, I enjoyed a barrage of comedy that did not build up to one big payoff but rather made the effort to keep me smiling and thoroughly entertained.
I do not want to spoil any jokes, as I myself was able to appreciate a spoiler-free experience and am grateful for such an experience, so I will make this review brief. Surprisingly accurate historical accounts and a mixed bag of gags, one-liners, and situational comedy make The Death of Stalin a refreshingly intelligent and hard-working 2018 comedy that gives its audience glimpses of influence from some of the greatest comedies in film.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.2Jun 5, 2018Why do action and adventure films seem to keep getting bigger and bigger? Of course it's a trip to watch our protagonists stand up againstWhy do action and adventure films seem to keep getting bigger and bigger? Of course it's a trip to watch our protagonists stand up against seemingly impossible scenarios, but I start to disconnect when one unstoppable CGI machine stands up to a slightly more stoppable CGI machine, defeating its opponent and leveling one of our major cities in the process (though the massive civilian death toll always seems to somehow be avoided, or at least not carry enough weight to merit discussion). The action and adventure genre is generally designed for escapism, a chance for the audience to forget about life's little cuts and bruises.
Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers on such escapism. Little background is necessary for the title character, a fact respected by Ron Howard as his film launches us straight into Han's peril. We know exactly what we need to know: Han is in trouble and needs to escape. A curveball is thrown when we meet Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra, Han's apparent love interest in his former life. There is no plot to save the galaxy or to avenge some unknown character's demise; Han simply wants to create a better life for himself and Qi'ra. While not particularly ambitious in scope or storytelling, Solo focuses on the same elements that drive A New Hope into the hearts of its fans: fun, engaging entertainment via a simple but original story about some complex but ultimately relatable and lovable characters. Howard's addition to the Star Wars universe succeeds due to its respect for the title character. The prequels prove that changing existing characters' personalities can be disastrous. The sequels often rely on regression and nostalgia, not just in humor or imagery but in story itself, which makes it hard for a viewer to view the most recent story as anything but a callback to the original films. Let's face it: anyone who experienced Luke, Han, and Leia's adventures at a young age cannot accept any major changes to these characters, but it can also be insulting to long-time fans to introduce new characters that end up shadowing the original adventures a little too closely. In a universe as developed as the Star Wars universe, a balancing act between originality and familiarity, is tricky but all too important. A new installment, especially a film about early adventures through the eyes of one of the most developed characters in the Star Wars universe, needs enough stakes to engage the audience but not enough impact to make the audience question "Why did Han not talk about these crazy adventures in the later films?"
Solo makes no effort to change Han's ambitions, background, or general character traits. This film is clearly not designed to challenge its audience's beliefs or cause them to consider Star Wars in a new way. Solo takes us on an adventure that features both some of the new and some of the old, and, while it breaks no new ground for the Star Wars franchise, the film allows us to have fun with our beloved Han Solo without any greater implications for the galaxy for the first time.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.8Jun 4, 2018We have seen films about grief before; the basic subject matter is nothing new. In fact, the ideas of military allegiance and its affects onWe have seen films about grief before; the basic subject matter is nothing new. In fact, the ideas of military allegiance and its affects on family left behind are starting to feel rather familiar. Many viewers, including myself, fear a film that will waste its time on worn out ideas. Make no mistake: Foxtrot is not a worn out film.
Foxtrot follows a family, mainly a husband and wife, in Israel who have just received news of their son's death in military conflict. Neither parent can handle the news as the mother passes out and the father emotionally implodes. Military personnel are accommodating and professional but, most importantly, cold and distant. No one can blame them since they are simply doing their jobs and do not relate to the hopelessness that their former coworker's family is now experiencing. From there the story further unravels, and we learn about the cause-and-effect nature of life's events and how simple choices can both create beauty and also destroy everything that a person has in life. Through such events, the film does not offer much judgment but rather lets the characters' lives play their course.
The marvel of Foxtrot is partially in its creative shots and unpredictable story, as well as its moments of unexpected hilarity, but, most importantly, in the unspoken dialogue between characters. Many films feel the need to fill space with dialogue, which can unfortunately clutter the soundscape and cause the audience to drift further and further away from the characters to whom they are supposed to relate. Foxtrot takes a much more simple approach and allows the viewer to see the characters for who they are without having to be told every detail. We learn more from the characters' expressions and physical emotions than we could ever learn from a scripted conversation. That is not to say that the dialogue in Foxtrot is unimportant; on the contrary, the dialogue only carries weight because it is used so delicately. The film can be both loud and quiet, often in juxtaposing scenes, and each dynamic complements the other more and more as the story engulfs the viewer.
This film is incomplete until the final scene, which made me realize that I have not seen such a sophisticated jigsaw puzzle of a film in some time. Too many films finish in the second act and simply meander on screen for a completely unnecessary finale. Foxtrot spends each minute sparingly, though this fact may not be apparent to the audience until the conclusion. All of the emotions, decisions, and questions fit together in a gloriously small yet powerful finale, but only those patient enough to let Foxtrot work its magic will earn one of the most rewarding film experiences of 2018 so far.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.7Jun 1, 2018Dissecting a Deadpool film is sort of like explaining a joke: it exists in the moment and is funnier left untouched. This second installmentDissecting a Deadpool film is sort of like explaining a joke: it exists in the moment and is funnier left untouched. This second installment in the sarcastic loud-mouthed superhero’s series is a bit of a surprise, since sequels rarely conjure up the same passion and fandom as the original film. Much like 22 Jump Street, Deadpool 2 succeeds in its self-awareness. Multiple self-deprecating jokes about lazy writing and some surprisingly bold decisions with regard to the story make this sequel, in some ways, more memorable, and certainly more unique in its genre, than the original. Deadpool is a standard superhero film with some R-rated humor baked into its crust whereas Deadpool 2 is a superhero film distancing itself from the formula. Without this distinction, Deadpool 2 would not be worth two hours of anyone’s time.
Little can be discussed with regard to the story without leading to spoilers (not that a film of this nature demands or deserves much analysis). Many of the jokes will not age well, and audiences may soon tire of Ryan Reynolds’s brand of humor in general. While I am certain that I left the theater the same person as before I walked in and had zero of my core beliefs or ideas challenged, I am not sure if I have been more entertained on a base level this year.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.4Jun 1, 2018We see films about the evils of religion. We see films that feel like religious propaganda. How often do we see films that just put theseWe see films about the evils of religion. We see films that feel like religious propaganda. How often do we see films that just put these elements out at face value? Such is the nature of Disobedience, a small but intriguing study of the clash between religious devotion and personal discovery. In the end, we learn that “right” and “wrong” often do not have a place in an adult world.
Disobedience has a simple premise that allows the performances of Weisz, McAdams, and Nivola to soar (though I will argue that Nivola is the shining star here). Three friends grew up in a traditional Jewish community in London, and one of those friends (Ronit, played by Weisz) rebelled and left to live in the United States, far from her religious affiliation. When Ronit’s father dies, she returns to London to pay her respects. Her trip leads us to meet Dovid, the most interesting character in the film, and McAdams’s Esti. The three characters have three different levels of religious devotion: Ronit has rebelled and is Jewish in background only, Dovid is an ambitious rabbi who conforms to all traditional Jewish rules, and Esti is somewhere in the middle. It may seem as if the character setup forces audience members to “side” with whichever character is closest to his or her personal level of faith, but the film has much more in store.
Entertainment is not at the center of Disobedience. Dialogue takes a back seat as the camera and direction focus on facial expressions. Jewish customs are presented without exposition. Characters are sometimes unlikeable and at other times closed off. Most importantly, however, expectations are subverted. In many ways, Disobedience chooses to focus on the beauty of humanity rather than the terrible things that men do, and, while some audience members will leave unsatisfied with such optimism, many of us appreciated a film with real people for a change.… Expand
Average User Score: 5.9Jun 1, 2018Have we seen enough romantic comedies? While many of us are burnt out on the genre, there still seems to be a market for such films asHave we seen enough romantic comedies? While many of us are burnt out on the genre, there still seems to be a market for such films as trailers do not seem to stop appearing in the theaters. It would be childish to write off an entire genre of film, especially one that has indeed produced some quality and thought-provoking works, but it tends to be a “needle in a haystack” situation. Believe it or not, conflicts do not always lead to resolution.
Let the Sunshine In is a film more committed to its characters than to its story, for better and for worse. The film rides on the wonderful lead performance by Juliette Binoche as a middle-aged woman named Isabelle who just wants to find true love. Isabelle is introduced at the end of a sexual encounter with a wealthy banker for whom she has little to no personal connection. Without any expository dialogue, within the first minute the cards are laid out on the table. Isabelle is unsatisfied. She sleeps with the banker in order to curb loneliness and a lack of security, but she is not happy. What follows is a journey of self-discovery, though, at times, it seems that Isabelle is caught in cyclical despair (as are many female leads in rom-coms).
Though it is a bit slow at times, Let the Sunshine In is an entirely personal film. While most films feature characters who fit certain roles and functions in the story, this film is simply about people interacting with one another. I was reminded of The Florida Project, another film that does not care about story as much as it cares about letting the audience truly get to know people, people who are often not very likable, charming, or fun to watch. But these films are not interested in entertainment, they are interested in personal connection, and, even if some people cannot fully understand all of Isabelle’s problems and decisions, most of us can, in some part, understand the frustration of the search for love.… Expand