Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider | Pretty Decent
Week 12

Tomb Raider is the next installment in a rather spotty line of video game inspired movies. It is even more specifically the next installment in a fairly embarrassing line of movies based around the Tomb Raider franchise. Going into this film I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be another painful flop or an entertaining experience?

Much like the Bond franchise, the Tomb Raider games were recently reimagined. In this new direction, Lara Croft was given more humanistic traits and because of that was more apt to get injured. The gameplay was revisited and the biggest improvement was how the storytelling improved. All of this would lend itself to improving a movie based on the franchise and I believe it worked.

This most recent Tomb Raider movie showed a bit of the Croft origin story, had fun chase scenes, quick-time inspired action sequences and a storyline that kept moving forward. The film wasn’t perfect and there were some moments that left me bored and none of the shots or editing were as well crafted (Crofted if you will) or thoughtful as some of my favorite movies of the past year, but if we are comparing it to the onslaught of terrible video game films than Tomb Raider stands strong.

With all of the improvements, one of my favorites was leaving Angelina Jolie behind. The casting of Alicia Vikander, as Lara, and Walton Goggins, as the main villain, were great choices. There were many other great actors and each played a large role in making this an enjoyable viewing experience, but I think Alicia could be a constant part of a long string of these films.

This movie wasn’t amazing and I probably will never watch it again. However, if you are looking for a rather simple movie that is entertaining you should go check out Tomb Raider. If you enjoyed the latest games I believe you will enjoy what they have done for the big screen. Now we can just wait and see if Rampage, the next video game movie coming out, is any good.

 

 

 

Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds | Enjoyable, But Not Great
Week 11

Thoroughbreds is a film that ran into some release issues when one if it’s stars, Anton Yelchin, died in a car accident prior to the film making it’s way to theaters. This tragedy pushed back its release and seemingly left it without a marketing budget. The only way I knew it had been released was by looking at movie times and seeing it on the list. With that aside Thoroughbreds left me in quite a panic when preparing to write this, so let’s get into it!

Thoroughbreds is filmed beautifully, acted extremely well, and contains dialogue that is quirky yet dark. I would even go as far as saying that this film entertained me from start to finish, but while walking out to my car I wasn’t sure if I had enjoyed what I watched.

It’s based on two girls from an upper-class family. One is a diagnosed psychopath and the other is struggling with family issues and is incapable of being empathetic to others. What I would only assume is supposed to be a metaphorical illustration of all the different emotions and inner struggles everyone deals with, I didn’t pick up on it at all from the film. It seemed like the writers wrote a couple of characters that would have proper banter and allow a story to be exceedingly dark while remaining humorous at times.  I am also worried that the idea of being a psychopath is being overused and not dealt with the care other more common mental disorders are given. Within the past year I have seen a handful of shows and movies that contained a character labeled as a psychopath and in most, it’s not dark or debilitating but is used as a comedic hook.

If I am judging the movie simply on if it was enjoyable I would give it an extremely high rating, but if I am looking at this film on its ability to communicate a message to me I would have a hard time recommending it. Thoroughbreds did so many things right, I just don’t understand if it was anything more than a fun movie. It was presented as an artistic film with deep undertones, but when I looked for them I was left empty-handed.

Game Night

Game Night | Surprisingly Great!
Week 10

Game Night is the first outright comedy that I am reviewing for the #52Films project. When I looked at the movies available for week #10 I was sort of bummed.  This is the first week where there was honestly nothing I wanted to see. I went into this film with really low expectations simply because “dumb” comedies usually bore me and leave me wanting to walk out. Here is why I not only stayed to the end but left stoked on what I had just watched.

The movie follows a group as their game night is crashed by a couple of thugs who have kidnapped the host! Is this just part of a greater murder mystery game or is this real life? What I just explained is all shown in the trailer and though it had me laughing I didn’t think it would have the capability to fill a feature-length runtime. The only promise this movie had for me was the fact Jason Bateman is hilarious. What I found, to my surprise, was a movie full of chemistry, whit, family struggles, and most surprisingly a handful of clever twists.

I was fully entertained from start to finish. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams onscreen chemistry allowed them to riff off each other and build off each other’s actions. Every reaction left my sides hurting and ultimately sad when it was all over. This movie was not only continuously funny it was also clever. There were a couple moments where my lack of expectations left me a little lost. I wasn’t prepared for this comedy to have story twists and at some points deep moments where characters struggled with self-doubt and family drama. I’m not going to lie and say this movie impacted me on a personal level, but the fact there was some content with substance sprinkled in between hilariously stupid dialogue or jokes based on different character’s pain was really refreshing.

I highly recommend Game Night for anyone looking for some comedic relief. It is the best comedy I have seen in years and I can’t believe it is going to go unnoticed by so many.

Annihilation

Annihilation | You Need To See This In Theaters!
Week 9

I went into this film with very high expectations. I try not to do that with movies because I am almost always let down, but when a film stars my favorite actress, Natalie Portman, and is from the director behind one of my favorite movies, Ex Machina, how can I not get excited!

What I hear most from people is how they loved the aesthetics and beauty of Annihilation. I can’t argue this at all. It’s diverse scenery spanned overgrown suburbs, to vast forests, and even claustrophobic caves. Every atmosphere more different than the next and yet somehow familiar. Not once did something seem out of place and it always harkened back to the over all effects of the Shimmer. My only complaint with the movie’s visuals is that there were a handful of scenes where plants seemed fake and bodies looked waxy. This was not enough to kill the movie for me, just didn’t match the quality found throughout the rest of the film. Even though the aesthetics were far better than most movies I believe Annihilation had strengths that stood much taller and cast a shadow over it’s art direction.

A major triumph of this movie is it’s cast. The cast of this film was almost entirely female. Even greater than that is how I did not once hear anyone bring that fact up or see it used in any marketing. Annihilation is a great film, because of more reasons than it’s cast. The fact Natalie Portman and a handful of other women are the main focus in almost every scene felt no different  than a movie composed of an all male cast. I believe this is a far greater triumph than what Wonder Woman did, simply because Wonder Woman made sure you knew how weird it was for a woman to lead an action movie, when in 2017-2018 this should be no weirder than a male driven film. You can read more about my opinions on these issues in my Black Panther review.

The greatest component of this movie, for me, was Annihilation’s metaphorical nature. Unlike many sci-fi films, which are made to allow you to enter worlds you can’t visit in reality, Alex Garland created an experience that was meant to teach and impact it’s viewers on an intellectual level. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who watched his other movie Ex Machina, which was similar in that sense. From some of the very first scenes to the the very last this movie dives into how we all change over time and how our experiences change us and make us new. More than just how we change, Garland explored ideas of how we impact our surroundings through our experiences and how we change those around us by our actions. These ideas came to a climax when Natalie Portman asks  her husband, who recently came back from his deployment “Are you Kane” and he replies “I don’t think so”. These ideas are so important and  many veteran based movies have attempted to tackle this topic, but Annihilation did it to perfection. If the impact of war doesn’t particularly interest you please still go see this movie because it also touches on the effects of cancer, losing loved ones, homosexual struggles, and depression. It did all of this without it feeling forced or over crowded. Every moment was heavier than the one before and I left with my mind being filled with concepts I obsessed over for the past week.

Everything from the acting, to the art direction, and it’s deeply important message made Annihilation a truly great film. You should work very hard to see it in theaters. There are some scenes that will lose almost all effect if watched on a small screen.

 

Black Panther

Black Panther | Don’t Get Your Hopes Up
Week 8

I was going to try and write this review as if it were just another comic book movie, rather than a movie with strong sociological implications. I wanted to look at this movie as simply another addition to the MCU, but feel as though that level of thoughtlessness wouldn’t be fair. This pressure to look at it as more than a Marvel movie is greatly based on two factors. The first being… I am bored of the onslaught of Marvel cash-ins. I feel as though they are normally quite predictable and do nothing to challenge the mind. The second factor is that even though I was really bored while watching the movie, some of the messages and concepts followed me to my car and throughout my week. I believe a movie that sticks with you is normally worth digging in a bit deeper than whatever summer explosion-fest is coming out next.

So let’s get my basic view of the film, as just a visual achievement, out of the way. The art direction and it’s reference to a multitude of African cultures was beautiful, while the visual effects often left me unimpressed. There were many moments where the film was screaming “Check out these awesome effects!” rather than allowing the digital components to simply fade into the scene and enhance the visual experience. Its narrative was quite bland and even boring at times. If I am comparing it to any of the other MCU movies I would say it’s dialogue stands out, but that’s all it offered me. The acting was some of the best I have seen in any recent Marvel movies, but it never once let me forget I was watching a comic book film. Black Panther was bombarded with the usual inside jokes, cliches, and hokey comedy. Overall if you do not care about comic books or the lineage of the Marvel Universe, then this movie should do nothing for you.

If the film wasn’t being praised for what it’s true intentions were, being the first superhero movie led by an African American cast, my review would end there. Here are my thoughts on the political and sociological implications of this film and the marketing surrounding it.

I’m scared. I’m scared because this film, along with many others in the past few years, is being praised as an achievement for a people group. Is this movie really planting a flag for equality? Coming at this from a marketing background I am afraid that what we are truly seeing is a people group being sold as a product. I think rather than just being a good movie, this movie was really focusing on the fact it was African American in every respect. This would all be different if I believed it was spreading a message and being used as a tool to help bring awareness of some kind, but I don’t. The movie illustrated multiple points of historical views on race, the main two were similar to the opposing views of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. It also discussed the importance for those who have a place of power needing to take care of those in need. It even ended with a not so subtly scene telling us that countries who appear to have nothing, can still benefit the most powerful countries. While these discussions and topics have a place and are important, Black Panther never sought to take a side. This fear of ostracizing an audience left me feeling unsatisfied. We see these topics on a daily basis with our current political climate, but what we need is a voice standing up for something. I wanted to be challenged and maybe even heartbroken as this film dove into the inequality of a people. A people struggling not only in our country but in countries all across Africa. Instead, I was in an echo chamber of popular news topics and headlines.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical and I just need to lighten up and appreciate that African American kids now have a superhero to look up to. Maybe I’m just reacting negatively to a movie that was marketed so heavily it couldn’t be escaped. I did, however, just watch a sci-fi movie that featured an almost entirely female cast. A movie being talked about much less than Black Panther, but had many powerful messages deeply embedded without ever mentioning its achievement in female representation. After seeing this film, I probably criticised Black Panther even more.

Black Panther, with all its faults and with its weak approach to important topics, was still one of the better Marvel movies I’ve seen. Maybe when it’s available at Redbox and I watch it again I will have a vastly different appreciation for the movie. For now, I am not impressed.

Winchester

Winchester | Avoid At All Costs
Week 7

Could the reviews be true? Could a movie with an interesting place in history combined with a solid enough story be terrible? Well… yes and the Spierig brothers show us how!

Winchester is set in the early 20th century as a widowed  Winchester is crazily building a mansion with stairs to nowhere, multiple locked wings, and around the clock construction. After listening to a 99 Percent Invisible’s episode about this very building I was so hopeful that its mysteries would be the perfect jumping off point for a solid movie experience. Then I find out the story is about this house being haunted, and in turn dictating it’s construction, by the souls of men and women who were killed by the many Winchester rifles that had been produced. So we have an interesting setting and what I consider to be an interesting story and yet this movie fails on every other front.

With movies like the Witch and The Conjuring, I have come to expect a certain quality from horror films but Winchester did not provide. It’s acting was stale, forceful and at times painful.  It’s B-roll consisted of dozens of fly over shots showing workers as they toiled away, but at times it felt like they were almost reusing footage. I’m convinced these shots were utilized to make the video longer rather than better. For a home that had hundreds of rooms, the film was almost completely shot in what felt like 10 rooms. Repeating hallways, bedrooms and parlors made this mansion feel no bigger than the one I am currently sitting in. Almost worse than all of this was the film’s reliance on jump scares. Shrieking sounds and quick panning cameras cluttered this movie from start to finish.

If I had to describe this movie in one word it would be “cheap”. It’s lack of creativity, production quality, and acting made this the worst movie I have watched this year. I highly recommend you avoid it and spend your time watching something better.

The Post

The Post | A Must Watch
Week 6

The Post covers many of the events surrounding the Washington Post’s 1971 decision to published classified documents about the Vietnam War. The movie’s greatest strength is its ability to not only show the evilness of government but how the newspapers are often wrong in their own right. The truths in this movie are as true now as they were then, which is why The Post is worth watching.

I have an unpopular opinion which is that Tom Hanks is not a very good actor and I don’t really enjoy Meryl Streep either but both gave an amazing performance in The Post. Their on-screen chemistry allowed the moments to seamlessly flow from comedic and light to beyond stressful. Both actors were able to portray the severity of the decisions they were facing, even though there was no true illustration of intimidation or opposition on screen. What this film was able to do with dialogue alone is what I feel All The Money In The World was unable to do with the enemy on screen. I could feel the weight of the situation and felt the importance of each action.

In addition to the timeliness of this film, it’s second greatest strength is it’s cast. Streep and Hanks share the screen with Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, and Bradley Whitford just to name a few. Everyone’s performance really made this movie a great watch. It was nice to see so many small screen actors from shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men play really important roles in this movie.

Sadly outside of those two factors, this movie doesn’t offer much else. The shots weren’t inspired, the editing wasn’t special, and the flow of the movie was nothing to call home about. Please don’t get me wrong, nothing was bad or distracting, it just wasn’t stand out. If you are hoping for a crafted film in which it’s framing creates the anxiety the characters are feeling this movie is not for you. If you are looking for a well-made film, with an interesting story, and wonderful performances by so many accomplished actors than make the time to go see The Post!

Hostiles

Hostiles | Maybe Wait For The Blu Ray
Week 5

Hostiles immediately introduces you to a violent world filled with despair.  It follows Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) as he attempts to get Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to Montana.

If you enjoy Western films as much as I do, especially the most recent stories and retellings, then you will enjoy Hostiles. It presents the beautifully stark plains of North America and tells a story filled with violence, questionable morals, and tough decisions. It has the methodical pacing you have come to expect and fully embraces moments of silence rudely broken by the angry screams of attacking Native American or striking gunfire. Now if you are thinking “But Will… that pretty much describes all Westerns” you would be right and that may be the only reason I am not encouraging everyone to rush to the theater to catch this movie before it can no longer be seen on the big screen.

Hostiles does so much right, but it doesn’t do anything perfect or better than the lineage of films to proceed it.  Christian Bale’s performance is decent throughout and it always a joy to see Wes Studi’s native portrayal. but everyone else was forgettable or worse distracting. The storyline of the hardships that came with traveling across miles of uncivilized land has been done to death and without a special twist or unique element, I wonder what the point is.

Perhaps the only strength a movie like this could have is it’s painfully strict policy to recreate the period as truthfully as possible, but from what I’ve read it didn’t even get that right. I don’t have enough knowledge in this to judge for myself but a quick Google search will show you the same results I saw that accused them of using the wrong guns and even putting tribes against one another that most likely never fought in that era.

Even though I am bashing Hostiles I did enjoy it, it just didn’t surprise me. With movies like Legends of the Fall, 3:10 to Yuma, and True Grit (just to name a few) Hostiles had to do something special in either story or creative production and I don’t believe it did either. If you are one to see every 19th-century Western movie based around Montana (like I am) go see this before it leaves the theater, but for the rest, it will be well worth your $2 at Redbox in a few months.

 

Phantom Thread


Phantom Thread | A Must Watch
Week 4

Phantom Thread is a movie driven by loneliness, manipulation, and at times confusion. It focuses on the relationship of renowned fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Alma (Vicky Krieps) who begins the film as a simple waitress. From the first scene to the last you see a man not only obsessed with his work but a man who treats the people around him as if they were an object to be assembled and used as he sees fit. Though this premise may seem straightforward it is anything but. To be honest I left the theater a bit confused. Not confused on what I had just watched but more about how I felt.

A typical, boring movie, sets up the heroes and villains and lets the scenes play out, but in Phantom Thread the roles seem to seamlessly switch between characters. At times you are convinced that Woodcock is a heartless and manipulative man, but from one scene to the next you could say the same about his sister or even Alma.

This story, though slow at times, is exactly what I like to find in a movie. It doesn’t spoon serve you answers like a summer blockbuster. It allows you to derive your own opinions on what you are watching. Not just that, but it continually makes you question your opinions. Normally with movies, you watch it as an outsider looking in, but this movie almost seems to be having a side dialogue constantly asking “Are you sure you feel that way?”

In addition to the deep storyline and amazing chemistry between Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps this movie provides beautiful filmography, a world built cohesively, and costume design that truly helped express the situations on screen. This movie, unlike any other I have seen, told the story through the costume design. There are two situations I want to specifically call out. They could be easily missed, yet sum up everything that I loved about this film.

The first spans two scenes. The first being Alma’s first appearance as a waitress and later when Alma is wearing one of Woodcock’s dresses. The uniform at the restaurant is a simple red dress, white accents, and a white apron. The dress I am concentrating on is a red dress with an ornate lace front, forming a sort of apron itself. Through costume design alone the director is telling a story of transformation. It needed no words and was a clearer example of character development than most movies can express throughout an entire runtime.

The second situation happens when Woodcock becomes ill, ruining a wedding dress by falling onto it. Moments later he is hunched over a bed and angerly driving everyone out of the room. As his body is failing he only has Alma by his side. The film then cuts to a scene of the wedding dress with a dozen seamstresses all performing what can only be described as surgery on the dress. The juxtaposition of his priorities, the dress and himself, is truly remarkable and again in such a small compilation of scenes, lacking dialogue, we can see right into the soul of the characters

I cannot recommend this movie enough. Not so you can be entertained or leave the theater feeling fulfilled, but to be challenged. Place your own priorities into the film and reflect on how you treat people around you versus how you treat your passions.

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour | A Must Watch
Week 3

Darkest Hour portrays the days before what was captured in the movie Dunkirk, but rather than from a soldier’s point of view, it follows Winston Church Hill as he battles not only the Nazis but also the British Government. Throughout school, I always enjoyed learning about WW2 and was always intrigued by Churchill. So without knowing anything about the film other than this, I went to go see Darkest Hour.

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