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.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

★★★½

David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde is a confusing John Wick (2014) (another one of the films he has directed). And what I mean by that is that the plot is much too convoluted for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, it is still awesome, but it’s a shame that they didn’t attempt to make it more focused of a film than what turned out in the end.

Atomic Blonde is violent. Beautifully violent. The various color filters blanket the terrifically choreographed fight sequences, filled with 80s music. (murder to “Father Figure” by George Michael anyone?). This is expected from director David Leitch, as he had over a decade-long career in stunts before deciding to direct. And the way the film looks also stays very true to the fact that the source material that it was based off of was a graphic novel. It may not be as obvious as how much Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) was inspired by the graphic novel that it was based off of, but certain scenes like the fight scene during a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) (sweet reference by the way!) it can be obviously seen. Then there are scenes like the fight scene on the stairs; which is a whopping nine-minute continuous shot. It feels much more realistic as if it was more from a Bourne movie rather than the over-the-top action shown prior. It was still an enjoyable scene but it did feel jarringly different from other action.

Charlize Theron kills it as the lead character, Lorraine Broughton. Theron really succeeds as playing the part of a heartless and kick-ass secret agent. Delphine (Sofia Boutella) is the only character that felt a little pointless to have in the film. James McAvoy plays an archetype of character that he portrayed in Filth (2013), for those who have not seen that film, McAvoy plays a run of the mill, wild card/crazy guy as agent David Percival. All I can say that if you have seen McAvoy in other things that don’t include X-Men then you know what you are going to get. John Goodman is also there, and just does what he does best, at least for the role he was given.

Now to get to the problem that I had with Atomic Blonde, the plot. It starts out strong as a heavily stylized spy-thriller but, it slowly becomes more perplexing as the plot thickens and then the “big reveal” at the end feels cheap and unearned for what the film was trying to go for. This could also be because of the weird pacing at the end of the movie. But a re-watch may confirm my suspicions about that being the main issue.

So basically, if you wanna see cool shots of cool violence and watch Charlize Theron wear a bunch of wigs and fancy outfits, then Atomic Blonde is the movie for you. The plot may be a bit of a jumble, but it still is just really cool, and I think that point alone counts it as a movie that is definitely worth watching.

Detroit (2017)

★★★

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is something that I feel quite mixed about. It is definitely well made; and it has some terrific parts and performances. But the first and final acts take away from the experience of the picture.

First, the good. I really enjoyed how the movie was shot. It was done in that documentary-style that other directors like Paul Greengrass enjoy using. It added to the atmosphere of the movie and made it seem much more gritty and real. Which is smart as this is a dramatization of something that was inspired by a real life event. Will Poulter is the stand out actor in the film. If anyone will be getting an award for this movie, it will probably be him. As the main villain, he is menacing, and terrifying and all the right ways. Everyone else did a good job with the material, like John Boyega and Anthony Mackie as well. The dialogue, with a few exceptions was also pretty solid for the most part. It helped develop the characters and who they were as people without explaining everything. The whole scene in the Algiers Motel is so well done that it is thrilling and helps display Mark Boal’s screenwriting abilities. (Check out Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) to also see Boal’s talents as a writer).

As for my gripes with the movie, it all started with the editing. I disliked the cutting to real photos of the 1967 Detroit riots. It felt unnecessary to include and took me away from the actual movie. In the beginning, the film also felt oddly paced when leading up to the riots. As that part was rushed way too much and needed some more buildup. The ending also felt drawn-out and probably deserved less time then it was given. I understand what they were trying to do with the end of the movie.

With Detroit, the sad thing is that the whole middle of the film is an intense and emotional ride. And it is sadly book-ended by a mediocre and poorly paced beginning and end. Bigelow picked an interesting script about a deeply saddening event that happened, but I think that it could have been executed a little better than it turned out. But that doesn’t change the fact that Will Poulter is an extremely talented actor that gave it is all in this film.

The Incredibles (2004)

★★★★★

I had just got out of pre-school one day. My mom and my uncle stood outside, waiting to pick me and my brother up. “We’re going to the movies!” she says. My eyes lit up in excitement. Then she asks me, “Do you want to see Shark Tale or The Incredibles?” After four-year-old me thought long and hard, I decided on The Incredibles. I am still glad that I knew even at such a young age, that a Brad Bird Pixar movie about superheroes was miles better than Will Smith as a fish.

The Incredibles was only Brad Bird’s second movie. His follow-up to The Iron Giant (1999), arguably one of the strongest directorial debuts ever. Bird then made a movie that even surpassed the Iron Giant in story. Re-watching this movie today, I realized just how brilliant the writing is. The exposition never feels forced. And everyone talks like normal people. The plot runs swimmingly and includes great voice performances from Craig T. Nelson, Jason Lee, Holly Hunter, and of course Samuel L. Jackson. (“Where’s my super suit?” It also has the ability to be enjoyed by kids and adults. The comedy can be adult sometimes (not in the raunchy way) and at other parts it has some great action. I don’t know many other films that are this well put together.

The Incredibles was also the movie that helped Pixar perfect humans. Up until 2004, whenever humans were shown in a Pixar movie. They always looked…odd. Like take for example, Andy’s family and Sid in Toy Story (1995). They still looked like people, but in an uncanny valley sort of way. Boo in Monster’s Inc. (2001) showed improvements but that was because she was the only human in that whole movie. When The Incredibles also has a unique look, something that will never look dated. It doesn’t try for realism but more of a cartoon look.

And coincidentally, I am writing all of this on the day after The Emoji Movie comes out. A movie that has been hailed as one of the worst 3-D animated films ever made. Now, I myself cannot say that as I have yet to review it. But my recommendation would be to see something that is timeless, something that set the standard in it’s genre, and something that was made with passion, not to cash in on a trend.

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.