Monthly Archives: April 2018

‘Blockers’ Review: A comedy as raunchy as it is heartfelt

The primary narrative strand in Blockers follows Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) as they try to stop their daughters — Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) — from losing their virginity on prom night. Immediately, it sounds like a comedy we’ve seen before.

What makes Blockers so refreshing and delightful, though, is that this point-of-view is not the location of our heroes, who are the daughters, but it’s also an entirely necessary point-of-view to pull off what the film sets out to.

Blockers is littered with its share of awfully raunchy, unambiguously absurdist moments of comedy, and director Kay Cannon injects an infectious energy into each one, primarily through razor sharp pacing. But Cannon also utilizes nearly every single one of these moments to develop character. Comedies can run themselves into the ground when the humor exists for the sake of itself, but Blockers dedicates itself to its story and never falters.

Most of these moments, in fact, challenge the parents and their perceptions of their children. Is it right for these parents to try to “save” their daughters? Would they do the same if it were about their sons? The trio are framed as anti-heroes, but are still allowed sympathy, leaving the door open for redemption.

As these parents learn to accept their daughters, the daughters are learning to accept themselves, but not necessarily from a starting point of negative. Cannon brings a tone of sensitivity to these women’s explorations of their sexuality, affirming them rather than shaming them, while still offering them their own hilarious bits.

It truly is an outstanding balancing act from Cannon, who is aided by an equally outstanding ensemble. Mann, in the leading role, is as steady as she ever has been. Barinholtz both plays into type as the over-the-top idiot, while also playing against type as a surprisingly progressive father. Cena capitalizes on the tough guy persona, rendering his sensitive moments hysterical in juxtaposition. Newton is certainly serviceable, but Adlon shines with her vulnerability and Viswanathan nearly steals the whole show.

And when Blockers brings the families together toward the end, that dedication to the story the film set out to tell from the beginning pays off, leaving us with some genuinely powerful quiet moments.

Grade: 8.0/10

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

‘Chappaquiddick’ Review: An unsettling portrait of political gaslighting

Political scandals are nothing new, or quite surprising, in today’s world. And as possible, even likely, as it is that Chappaquiddick was made without the specifics of today’s world in mind, its release at this moment in time colors the film in a deeply unsettling way.

The film picks up with Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke), brother to the assassinated John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, at a turning point in his life. After a party and some drinks, he takes a drive with Mary Jo Kopechne — a drive that ends with the car flipped off of a bridge into the water off Chappaquiddick island, and Mary Jo dead by drowning.

But Chappaquiddick doesn’t choose to focus on the event itself for too long. A majority of the story revolves around the aftermath, around Ted Kennedy’s attempts to turn himself from a possible criminal into another victim of the event. And that is where the film reaches into the filth of politics.

Rather early on, the film takes a side. Ted, on his way back to mainland, is advised by his cousin Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms) to immediately notify the police the night of the accident, and director John Curran chooses to crosscut between Ted ignoring Gargan’s advice and Mary Jo screaming for help, clinging onto the sliver of air left in the car as it sinks. The sequence is incredibly uncomfortable and infuriating to watch, but that’s purposeful and effective to the story the film tells.

Much of the visual look of Chappaquiddick, in regard to the costume design and production design, is rather standard, and risks rendering the film dull. But Curran’s composition of the film continues to work to reveal political filth. As Ted and the powerhouse publicity/legal team put together by his father plan their “version of the truth,” Curran chooses to literally manifest and show the type of story that they plan to feed to the American people, granting the film an almost dry-yet-unnerving humor in the immorality of it all. At a point, the film’s use of visual juxtaposition becomes almost cruel in its effectiveness, such as when the edit reveals that the manipulation is working on, of all people, Mary Jo’s parents.

Chappaquiddick does present us with some sense of identification in the form of Gargan. While the film makes clear in its editing that Gargan is, at the end of the day, complicit, the character creates constant tension at nearly every development. Ed Helms is particularly magnificent, the role playing into the typical good-guy tone that Helms is so good at, while also offering some quiet (and loud) dramatic moments that we don’t see much of from him.

But the film undoubtedly rests on the shoulders of Jason Clarke, and Clarke turns in one of his finest performances. He takes a character so clearly positioned as an anti-hero and doesn’t necessarily make him sympathetic, but makes him intriguing, accentuating the despicable faults of Ted Kennedy with force. Clarke hits on the pressure that the character feels with that last name and, in turn, evokes the whiplash infantilism, masked in the facade of the mysticism of “Kennedy,” that that pressure has resulted in.

And that is precisely why the film succeeds. It doesn’t deny the mysticism of the Kennedy family. It just simply understands that that mysticism can turn very, very ugly.

Grade: 8.3/10

 

Featured image via Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.

‘A Quiet Place’ Review: A juggernaut of a horror film

About half way into A Quiet Place, which follows a family living in silence due to monsters that track down victims by sound, Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) asks her husband Lee (John Krasinski) a question that defines the entire film. “Who are we if we can’t protect them?”

“Them” refers to the Abbott’s children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf, and Marcus (Noah Jupe). A Quiet Place is, by all means, one of the scariest films of recent memory, but it’s even more effective because it’s a horror film with a gripping emotional basis — that of parenthood and the lengths we go to to protect our kids.

The film is almost entirely silent, with most of the interactions utilizing sign language. That set up leaves co-writer/director John Krasinski — wearing many hats on this project — with the difficult task of achieving the emotional basis through the physicality of the characters, through the actions they take more so than the words they say or sign. But Krasinski pulls it off.

A Quiet Place is a tight, lean picture — every second dedicated not only to Evelyn and Lee trying to protect their kids, but also to the kids learning the bravery necessary to begin to survive on their own. Many of these character moments are elevated immensely by the performances, and each one feels entirely integrated into the world. Movements through space are careful and calculated. And facial expressions are exacerbated excruciatingly, as they would be for people living in such a situation. The clear standout, however, is Emily Blunt, who bears the weight of her character — the weight of love, grief and the worst physical pain of any character — so thoroughly.

While Krasinski is undoubtedly rather strong, with his performance’s emotion sitting right under the surface, his most assured role on this film is as the director, composing every feature into a brilliant whole. The sound design is bare, but brutal. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography is stark, but tender. And the production design builds a world far beyond the frame. In fact, it’s the world-building of A Quiet Place that is so astonishingly impressive. Some aspects of the layout of the Abbott’s home exist without explanation (to the film’s benefit) — and are then capitalized on for some harrowing imagery.

Yet, the film isn’t just harrowing and scary. It’s often incredibly invigorating and fun. And as A Quiet Place turns to its end and champions its female characters specifically, especially in a banger of a closing shot, it’s difficult not to walk out with a big, stupid grin on your face.

Grade: 8.6/10

 

Featured image via Paramount Pictures

Editor’s Note: Scaling back, changing approach and preparing for shutdown

This site has been such a significant creative outlet, and the past eight months were incredibly exciting and immensely fulfilling. Unfortunately, however, MovieMinis likely won’t last.

Running this site during my senior year at college has been difficult. The inconsistency of content — and the inability to publicize that content as strategically as I would’ve liked — has resulted in a flat, stunted and almost non-existent readership. A lack of readership means that there won’t be enough money to renew my WordPress business plan. And as I search for jobs post-graduation, I won’t be able to commit to the monstrous task of turning this site into something profitable before the plan runs out in August.

Considering the situation, MovieMinis will be scaling back and changing its approach for the remainder of its existence. We will no longer post any news content and the category will be taken off the front page. Reviews will be the main focus of the site, but there will still be projects and lists here and there.

Rather than continue to try to make this a serious film website, it will revert to being a film blog, which means adopting the approach and format of a film blog. That means that I will become the main source of content, and that it will mainly be about the reviews.

I love every single writer that contributed to this website over the past eight months. I am so grateful for them and beyond honored by their contributions. Growing with them as writers and friends has been a highlight of this year and the last. Spending hours putting together the MovieMini Awards was a hilarious and painful journey that I’m glad I had with them.

Many of them will still contribute in some capacity. But it will no longer be a “team” per se. I want this blog to be a platform for them to write and show off their writing, so their contributions are welcome for as long as MovieMinis still exits, but we won’t necessarily be rallying together as a “staff.” In fact, there won’t be a “staff” anymore — only a set of contributors.

And like I mentioned before, the business plan runs out in August. Unless this site gets enough readers in that time to make enough money not only to renew it, but to warrant further time and effort put into it, I won’t renew it. I don’t know what happens to a site when the plan is not renewed. But, after that, I will be going back to a basic free blog for personal reviews and projects. I might even switch over to another platform, such as Medium.

While readership has been almost non-existent, there are certainly those of you who tuned in for a lot of our content. So, I want to say thank you. Writing is an art form, a form of personal and creative expression. It takes a lot of energy to “write something.” But when someone reads it, when even one person reads it, it means something. If you’re reading this and have tuned into our content before — and even to the people not reading this who have tuned into our content — thank you. You have helped make these eight months mean something.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies — The Champions

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

After a month of intense, nail-biting competition, we finally have the winners in our four brackets for the March Madness of Movies.

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

Peter Jackson won the Best Director Oscar for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. That film has cemented itself in cinematic history as one of the best epics, one of the best fantasy films.

But, more recently, we got another cinematic landmark, this time in the action genre (while also in the fantasy realm). Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially a two hour action scene. That it works, that it feels like a full movie with thematic heft — let alone the fact that the action is masterful — is a testament to how truly astonishing George Miller’s directing job was.

Winner: George Miller — Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Superhero Villains of the 21st Century

Black Panther‘s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) will be long remembered. What he means as a character, as a villain, within a film that, itself, means so much, transcends cinema.

But there’s just something different, however, about The Dark Knight‘s The Joker (Heath Ledger). The master of mad dogs, The Joker is a villain of chaos, a terrorist who causes you to cower and to flee before you really have reason to. His visage is iconocraphic, a remnant of a harrowing time of fear in our a real world.

Winner: The Joker — The Dark Knight

Best A24 Films

This was the closest matchup in the entire competition. We needed a tiebreaking vote between Moonlight and Lady Bird, and the vote took up an entire day with it coming down to the final one.

At the end of the day, Moonlight came out on top. As the Best Picture winner that defied everyone, it sits as our champion in this bracket triumphantly.

Winner: Moonlight

Best Cinematography Since 2010

Sorry Roger Deakins. You got your Oscar for Blade Runner 2049, but we couldn’t give you the win here.

Hoyte van Hoytema won quite easily for Her, a sci-fi love story that is far more tender, vulnerable and powerful precisely because of how van Hoytema’s photography evokes a lonely, beautiful world.

Winner: Hoyte van Hoytema — Her

Featured image via Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies — The Final Matchups

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

The last results offered us the winners of each subcategory — Ryan Coogler took best superhero directing for Black Panther, Peter Jackson took best franchise directing for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, George Miller took best original/prestige/non-franchise studio directing for Mad Max: Fury Road and Pete Docter and Bob Peterson took best animated directing for Up.

Those four finalists offered us fascinating matchups as the subcategories were pitted against each other for the first time. Coogler took on Jackson and Miller took on Docter and Peterson. While Coogler was able to take down the goliath that was Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight, he couldn’t best the Oscar winner Peter Jackson, whose achievement with The Lord of the Rings final film continues to hold strong.

And in the bizarre matchup of Miller vs. Docter/Peterson, animation just couldn’t quite compete, as Up was pummeled by Fury Road.

Now for the final matchup — two absolute epics, handled masterfully by their directors. While only one won the Oscar, there are plenty of arguments out there that the other should’ve as well.

Best Superhero Villains of the 21st Century

This final matchup is not much of a surprise. With the way seeding and layout ended up, the paths were clearly laid out for the two contenders. That’s no disrespect to any of the other contenders. Both Magnetos of the two X-Men trilogies were always going to have strong showings. Bane, from The Dark Knight Rises, surprised many with both seeding and performance.

But it was inevitably going to come down to Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) from Black Panther and The Joker (Heath Ledger) from The Dark Knight — Marvel’s best villain and DC’s best villain. The strengths of the two are a bit different. While Jordan’s performance isn’t necessarily outstanding — remember, this bracket is judged on performance, writing and directing of the character — the writing and directing, in the backstory and themes that Killmonger’s journey evokes, are nearly unparalleled. With The Joker, Ledger’s performance is, quite obviously, the standout. The dialogue is brilliant, and the choice of a lack of backstory and the ways in which Christopher Nolan visual frames The Joker are superb. But Ledger’s performance is one of the best, of any character of all time.

Best A24 Films

Similarly to the bracket above, the paths were clear for our two finalists. They simply had to traverse those paths. What the matchups prior to this final were meant to represent was the ridiculously briliant resume of A24 and how, in almost any matchup in any round, it was incredibly hard to decide between films. Had the other two finalists, 20th Century Women and Ex Machina, been pitted against one another, it would’ve been another extremely tight matchup.

But here we are, with the expected Moonlight vs. Lady Bird, the two landmark A24 films that have found a place in cinema’s history so quickly. And as was the case with this bracket, these two will be nearly impossible to choose between.

Best Cinematography Since 2010

While big budget directing was rather up in the air, this bracket might’ve been even more so. We do have our two top seeds, but they both had to battle hard to get to this point and could’ve easily been knocked out for other contenders that would’ve made for a fascinating finale.

Look at the two of the final four that didn’t make it — Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk, who lost a tie-breaking vote, and Mihai Malaimare Jr. for The Master, who lost by one vote. These are two cinematographers who, with this film, offered stunning iconography, specifically in 70mm film.

But we have Hoyte van Hoytema for Her and Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049, and it’s an equally as stunning matchup, but with digital lensing. Arguably, this matchup feels a bit more right than any other would have. In the finale, we have Roger Deakins, one of the best cinematographers of all time, and Hoyte van Hoytema, a DP who is quickly rising to that status.

Stay tuned for the championship results, which will be posted this week on Friday, April 6!

 

Featured image via A24/Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies: Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century — Round 3

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

This final four is a bit different than the rest of the brackets. While “Best Superhero Villains” did have subcategories, the entries from each were mixed from the beginning. With “Best Big Budget Directing,” the subcategories were laid out as the four sections of the brackets, so these final four are the winners of their specific subcategories.

In the superhero directing subcategory, Ryan Coogler came out on top for his direction of Black Panther, upsetting Christopher Nolan’s work on The Dark Knight, which many thought deserved a Best Director nomination ten years ago. While there was some heated disagreement among the staff, and while the vote was very tight, it’s difficult to say that Coogler isn’t deserving. He bested both of the Russo brothers outings in the MCU before taking on and taking down Nolan. Ryan Coogler is our official winner of the best superhero directing subcategory.

In the franchise directing subcategory, #1 seed Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King easily beat #2 seed Matt Reeves for War for the Planet of the Apes. As the only person in this bracket to have won the Best Director Oscar — four other contenders (in another subcategory) were nominated — this was expected. Peter Jackson is our official winner of the best franchise directing subcategory.

In the original/prestige/non-franchise studio directing subcategory, George Miller beat Christopher Nolan (Inception) for a second time, after beating Nolan’s Dunkirk direction last round, to earn a spot in the final four. That leaves Nolan, the director with the most entries in this bracket, entirely out of the top four. But it is quite hard to argue against Miller’s efforts for Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the best action films of all time. And after #1 seed David Fincher was knocked out in the first round, Miller was the highest seed left. George Miller is our official winner of the best original/prestige/non-franchise studio directing subcategory. (We know that Mad Max is a franchise, but Fury Road is a slightly separated story, the only film of the series released in the 21st century and more tonally consistent with the entries of the subcategory.)

In the animated directing subcategory, Up stepped forward as the clear favorite. After Pixar dominated the entries with six, it was clear that it was going to come down to a Pixar film. The only question was which one. And after Up beat WALL-E and Toy Story 3 didn’t make it to the Elite Eight, it all seemed wrapped up. Pete Docter and Bob Peterson are our official winners of the best animated directing subcategory.

Now for the fun part, the mixing of the subcategories. Ryan Coogler will have some terribly tough competition in Peter Jackson. And how fun of a matchup is Mad Max: Fury Road vs. Up? We bet you never put those two in the same sentence.

Stay tuned for the round 4 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, April 6!

 

Featured image via Marvel/New Line Cinema/Pixar/Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies: Best A24 Films — Round 3

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

“Best A24 Films” is yet another of our brackets where the final four aren’t simply the four #1 seeds. There was no world where Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight doesn’t make it to here. And while Room was a Best Picture nominee and The Lobster is a cult favorite, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird made too heavy of an impact to be taken down by anything.

And that’s appropriate. When one thinks of A24, they likely go straight to Moonlight and Lady Bird as the best two. Even A24 themselves took such offense to the idea of those two films being pitted against each other in the first round of a Twitter A24 bracket that they tweeted out in opposition from their official account.

In regard to the bottom right of the bracket, The Florida Project firmly earned its #1 seed and Good Time is a very popular film among our staff. They both posed serious threats to Ex Machina, but Alex Garland’s feature debut film pushed through. In truth, Ex Machina won A24 one of its first Oscars and was a key film in defining the company’s brand.

The bottom left of the bracket offered a lovely surprise. While it was a #2 seed, 20th Century Women could’ve easily lost out to #1 seed A Ghost Story or other fan favorites like The Witch and Under the Skin. Mike Mills’ film, however, assuredly earned a final four spot.

But it may all be for naught, as both 20th Century Women and Ex Machina will have trouble making it passed Moonlight and Lady Bird. If any film could, it would likely be Ex Machina, so we’ll simply have to wait for the votes.

Stay tuned for the round 4 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, April 6!

 

Featured image via A24.