Hello There!

This is my film review blog where I will post weekly reviews of new movies coming out. I will post film essays as well as compiling my list of films I think everyone should watch. Reviews will be posted on various dates across the week depending on when I have the time to write and post them. My reviews are scored on a five-star system.

Chris’ Great Films List

This is the list of all the movies that are in my “Great Films List”. I tried to do something along the lines of what the late Roger Ebert did with his list of “Great Movies”. The only criteria is, that before I consider adding a movie to this list and writing about it, it just needs to have been viewed by me at least twice and one of those viewings has to be right before the film is added. Films added also have to be at least five years old to qualify.

Dunkirk (2017)

★★★★★

Seeing Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in IMAX was one of the best theater-going experiences I’ve ever had; and it may be the best film I have seen all year.

The sound design makes it seem like you are in the middle of the action. Every bullet, every bomb, sent goosebumps through my whole body. Hans Zimmer’s terrific score starts playing as soon as the film begins. It doesn’t stop either, just like the action. We hear the sound of a stopwatch in the background sometimes, it sounds almost like the sound of a heartbeat. The heartbeats of the soldiers needing to evacuate Dunkirk to flee for their lives. The sounds of nervous pilots trying to save those lives.

There is little dialogue because it makes sense that there wouldn’t be much in a situation like Dunkirk. You just take in everything that is happening. The choice for the story to have multiple perspectives of the event was also a terrific choice. We get to see all parties involved (not the Nazis though) and a little part of their story. I will not go into each character as I think it is something that you will want to experience blindly the first time. But all of the characters have interesting perspectives and roles in the evacuation.

When I write these reviews for movies I really enjoy, I sometimes find it hard to put into words why you should see it. Other than “please watch this movie” because sometimes, I am afraid that explaining why I like it so much may ruin the allure of the film. I can (and did) tell you easily why not to see the other big release of this week, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Dunkirk is one of these movies. Something that leaves you awe-struck and speechless. A picture that, when someone complains about how “movies aren’t as good as they used to be” you use as ammunition to fuel your argument that cinema can still be exciting, new, and most of all, groundbreaking.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

★★½

Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has good intentions. A fun sci-fi adventure based off of the French comic strip, Valerian and Laureline (one of George Lucas’ inspirations for Star Wars). But sadly, it becomes nothing but a mediocre movie with some cool looking effects and terrible acting from its two leads.

Valerian actually opens quite promising. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” plays as the International Space Station has more and more different people become a part of it, including aliens. Then we are introduced to our two main characters, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). And both sound mostly like they are reading their lines for the first time. It also looked as if Delevingne had dubbed over many of her lines in post-production. Other than the wooden performances, the actual dialogue is hammy and forced. These characters interact with each in nearly deadpan fashion and their “romantic” dialogue is nearly the same level of Terrance Malik’s in Song to Song (2017). By then end of this movie I didn’t care about these characters because I felt like I didn’t have a good enough chance to know them.

As far as the other characters in the movie, it is surprising how many people have minor roles in this film. Ethan Hawke is a shady strip club owner that offers a bizarre performance which definitely is not up to par with his acting in The Before Trilogy, not that it was expected it was. John Goodman shows up for a couple minutes voicing an alien, Rutger Hauer is shown on a hologram, and Herbie Hancock is Valerian and Laureline’s boss.

The only redeeming factor from Valerian, is the amazing visual landscapes. The City of a Thousand Planets as mentioned in the title is really awesome to look at. The Mül planet is an incredible tropical and peaceful landscape. You can also see what things in the comic Star Wars was inspired by such as Valerian and Laureline’s ship resembling the Millennium Falcon as well as Valerian being a similar character archetype as Han Solo.

Valerian is a disappointment. It is too bad that something with this kind of potential was ruined with a lame story and a terrible lead cast.

The Big Sick (2017)

★★★★½

Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick is funny, sad, and another addition to the long line of things Judd Apatow has produced. The film is also based on the true story of how star Kumail Nanjiani (played by himself) and Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) met in real life. (It was also written by the two). That information would not matter if the story was not very good, but luckily, this movie is in fact, very good.

What I found interesting with The Big Sick. was the film’s structure. You would think that it would be more of a story about the two lovers overcoming cultural differences as Kumail is Pakinstani while Emily is American. Which is the direction that it takes itself in the first half, which then is curtailed by the very much clichéd break-up scene used in countless romantic-comedies. But they take this tired cliché and make it so the two characters don’t immediately get back together, and almost not at all. Then, Emily becomes sick and Kumail has to go to the hospital to sign off on a procedure so they can operate on her. He then has to call her parents and the film then, focus on Kumail’s relationship with Emily’s Parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and how the three connect over Emily’s sickness. It is nice to see a love story told in such an unconventional way.

Cultural differences also take center-stage in the film. As Kumail struggles between the love of his family and his love for Emily to not disappoint either one of them. As his parents have expectations that do not involve him dating a white girl or dating at all. Kumail’s parents still wish to live like they are still in Pakistan but Kumail doesn’t want that for himself. He also does not want to become a lawyer or doctor but a comedian to his parents disappointment. Kumail also has awkward discussions with Emily’s parents about his “opinion on 9/11” and a stereotypical-looking frat boy  heckles him from during his stand-up routine with “Go back to ISIS”. These lead to some hilarious and as well as sad moments in the film.

Who doesn’t like a good love story? The Big Sick is just that, it is an Apatow dramedy with the wit of Michael Showalter to guide it so it doesn’t get too depressing for it’s own good. And it is nice to see a well deserved happy ending to Emily and Kumail’s story.

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

★★★

While watching  Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion to this prequel trilogy, I felt like it was missing something. Yes, the film is well made. It has some terrific action and possibly the best motion-capture ever done in a movie. But it lacked the other ingredients that made the other two installments more enjoyable.

It may have been because, the film’s villain, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) in War, is a little to “cartoonishly evil” for my tastes. A fascist character who is not afraid to kill anyone and everything who even disagrees with his opinions on dealing with the Simian Flu that has consumed the world population. The problem with Harrelson’s character is that, it would be much more powerful for him to continue to act ruthless rather than tell Caesar why is is like this. It ruins the allure of his character, as someone who wouldn’t need to justify what he is doing because he doesn’t need to answer to anyone. But with that gripe aside, the only other major issue character-wise was the inclusion of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who is used as comic relief mostly which is odd, as both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) were played pretty much all seriously. I found his inclusion to not work too well because of this.

Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is still the best part of this franchise. With each installment we have seen the character grow mentally and in War he talks in pretty much all grammatically correct English. Serkis once again, creates a character that feels and looks authentic.

A discussion about the environments the apes travel through can also not be avoided. The snowy environments of British Columbia blanket many scenes in their beauty. A nice change from the environment of San Francisco of the previous installments.

This trilogy can not only be seen as showing the advancement of apes over man throught the years but also the advancement of excellent visual effects in blockbuster movies. The attention to detail is incredible. I noticed that the eyes of the apes especially, had differing amounts of color in them and at one time one of Caesar’s eyes were even bloodshot. It’s just some really amazing stuff to see.

“The beginning and the end” is spray-painted on the side of an oil tank in this movie. Telling us that the trilogy may be finished, but Planet of the Apes (1968) is just on the horizon.

The Graduate (1967)

★★★★★

The year was 1967, the counter-culture movement was at an all time high. The Summer of Love had just happened and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate was released in December of that year. The movie was a hit, on a budget of just three million, it made over thirty times what it cost to produce. It also is so undoubtedly part of that era of America. The cars that the characters drive, his parents and the Robinson’s respective houses, and the Simon and Garfunkel filled soundtrack.

So many things could have gone wrong while making The Graduate. Anne Bancroft was only six years Dustin Hoffman’s senior. But, through makeup, they made Bancroft look like someone in her forties rather than her real age of thirty-five. Hoffman was reluctant to audition for the role because he did not feel like he fit the part well enough. In his 2015 interview about the making of The Graduate, he recalled that thought Robert Redford fit the role much better than he did. (At least how the novel described Benjamin Braddock) Luckily, Hoffman was eventually convinced by director Mike Nichols to come and audition. On the musical end, Simon and Garfunkel were supposed to write new material for this movie but when approached by Nichols about the music they had, all that had was their now popular track “Mrs. Robinson“. The rest of the soundtrack was music from their newly released album Sounds of Silence. BBC film critic Mark Kermode has mentioned that the movie has an “accidental soundtrack”. And somehow songs like “The Sound of Silence”, “Scarborough Fair”, and “April Come She Will” have become synonymous with The Graduate and it is hard to think of a world where these songs existed before this film was released.

The gorgeous and colorful cinematography certainly helps the Graduate. A scene I always find myself re-watching is the scene were Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) first sleep together at the Taft Hotel. “The Sound of Silence” starts playing as we see the characters continue their affair as Benjamin drifts in the pool then “shuts the door on his parents” metaphorically before he sleeps with Mrs. Robinson again. The music ends and “April Come She Will” begins to play in the background as a way to direct the scene. The placement of the song is to show how much time is passing by. This time, the music ends with the transition of Benjamin jumping onto a raft which cuts to him jumping into bed with Mrs. Robinson.

The ending of The Graduate has the camera linger of the faces of Benjamin and nearly-wed Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross)  on the bus they catch after they run away from the church where Elaine was to be married at. Their smiles eventually dissipate. Did they make a mistake? If so will they admit to it? The ending it then followed by a third use of “The Sound of Silence” possibly representing what is to come in the future of Elaine and Ben’s relationship.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

★★★★

It’s pretty hard to believe that in a span of just ten years, we have had three different actors playing the role of Peter Parker. But where Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man movies did a lot of repeating what was done in the Sam Rami films, Spider-Man: Homecoming does pretty much none of that. Sure, characters like Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Mary Jane (Zendaya) are in the movie, but we no longer need to see the origin of Peter’s powers as well as the death of Uncle Ben. Instead, we are taken right into the events following Captain America: Civil War as we follow 15 year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as he tries to prove what he has to not be treated like a kid by his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).

The big difference between this and the other Spider-Man movies (other than what was listed in the paragraph above) is that this one is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Possibly the best instance of this, are the cameos with Captain America (Chris Evans) and just the way that Peter’s friends talk about the Avengers and know that superheros exist.

The best part of Spider-Man: Homecoming, is the characters. From Peter Parker’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) to Michael Keaton’s portrayal of classic Spider-Man villain, the Vulture, to even minor characters such as Hannibal Buress as Peter’s PE teacher Coach Wilson, they all add to what makes this movie work so well and makes it so funny. The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s (2014) Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson creates less of a stereotypical jock, but instead more of rival to Peter that is intelligent as well as arrogant. And of course, what would a Spider-Man movie be without a good portrayal of Spider-Man? Well, I can assuredly say that Tom Holland does a good job at portraying a teenager and while he may not look 15, he definitely sounds it. My only criticism was that I felt like the movie may have needed a bit more Tony Stark. This is because Peter Parker and Tony Stark have such great chemistry and I wanted more of it.

Thematically, Homecoming is reminiscent of the coming-of-age films from the 80s, mainly John Hughes films. The idea of the perfect girl, the homecoming dance all just screams this style. It also differentiates the movie from other superhero movies, showing that a superhero film doesn’t need to be cookie-cutter but can be a fusion of different genres.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is another addition to Marvel’s ever-growing portfolio of films and one of the best so far. I really enjoyed this movie and I think pretty much anyone can. This is a funny as well as character-driven movie that is also relateable (about growing up not becoming Spider-Man). And it was written by six people! Breaking the record held by The Mummy (2017) for the most screenwriters I’ve ever seen attached to one script. Except this one is actually…good.

The Beguiled (2017)

★★★★

Author’s Note: Don’t watch the trailer to The Beguiled. It pretty much spoils the whole movie. Instead, going in blindly is what I would recommend.

Fans of Sofia Coppola’s films know what they are going to get every time she makes a film. Her films for the most part, are very good at creating a certain type of atmosphere. Coppala’s sixth feature film, follows suit. With The Beguiled, Coppola uses her nineteenth-century southern-gothic visuals to craft a remake that is very different from the 1971 original while still telling the same general story.

Coppola’s version of The Beguiled gives the story a more feminist point of view, rather than the Clint Eastwood version which felt much more masculine. Eastwood could and would not portray Corporal McBurney the way that Colin Farrell portrayed him.

Other than the excellent set design, the casting is near-perfect. Nicole Kidman as Martha Fransworth did a good job as a teacher and really had that southern accent down. Kirsten Dunst as Edwina Dabney did well at playing a vulnerable character. And of course, Elle Fanning’s performance as Alicia continues to show that she is a brilliant actress that is miles better than her sister ever was. Colin Farrell as Corporal McBurney did good at playing a vulnerable and wounded Union Soldier. A surprise to the cast list was Angourie Rice who had her break-out performance in last year’s The Nice Guys and was arguably the best part of that film. It was good to see her in The Beguiled and hopefully she will continue to get work as she is very talented.

In The Beguiled, Coppola does so much by doing so little. Day by day, we see relationships grow and happiness is shared among enemies, until it all falls apart at the very end. Which makes the buildup all the more magnificent.

Baby Driver (2017)

★★★★★

After a four-year wait, Edgar Wright’s next film, Baby Driver is here. And it was definitely worth the wait. The soundtrack, the setting, the characters, all seem so incredibly like the Edgar Wright in the very British Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), The World’s End (2013)) while also reminiscent of his direction in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). And what we get with Baby Driver is funny, romantic, and so thrilling that it may give you a sheer heart attack.

At the center of it all is Baby (Ansel Elgort), who can’t catch a break. He wants to get out of crime but he has to payback Doc (Kevin Spacey). Then he meets a girl, Deborah (Lily James) and the movie tends to shift from a heist movie to something much more. Almost a character study of Baby, and our sympathy towards him.

The most important part of Baby Driver is the varied, deep-cut heavy soundtrack. The firing of bullets in the shootouts follow the beats of the music. The music creates the scene for the bank robberies in a way I wouldn’t have expected. This is because we never actually see the robbing of the banks but instead we see Baby, listening to his iPod, waiting in the car outside of the heist. While we do miss out on the intense bank robberies, the car chases more than make up for it. Wright makes use of multiple camera angles to create chase scenes that only have been surpassed my Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

The film has fun with Atlanta being it’s setting without being to “in your face” about it. People who have been to Atlanta will notice the Marriott Marquis, the Peachtree Center, and other landmarks of the city mentioned or pictured in the film. It just has a very genuine feel to itself. Just like Personal Shopper (2016) did with its Paris setting.

Baby Driver is a film that I believe has broad appeal to both audiences and critics. Just like this year’s Get Out had. Which is a rare quality for a film to have these days. Beautifully shot and full of color, Baby Driver reminds us that sometimes the going to the movies is about escapism. Whether driving away from our problems physically or mentally.