Category Archives: Reviews

‘The Post’ Review: Steven Spielberg delivers a prescient drama that lacks subtlety

With The Post, which follows Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) during the leak and coverage of the Pentagon Papers, director Steven Spielberg employs immersive filmmaking techniques to evoke the feeling that we’re a fellow journalist amid this madness. He and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski opt to shoot many of the scenes handheld, constantly moving as they follow those in the newsroom. A particular sequence, with journalists packed into Bradlee’s house, is riveting in its composition, the camera panning to the different reporters as they make discoveries, the editing fluid and the chemistry between the actors magnetic. Even when the key players are motionless, the camera is often moving, slowly tracking and observing — like during a discovery — or in close-up.

Both Hanks and Streep lead this film brilliantly with charisma and charm, particularly in Hanks’ all American gravitas. He’s not particularly masterful in anyway, but his take on Ben Bradlee, with a slightly cocked East coast accent, is entirely engaging and just plain fun to watch.

But — not to discount Hanks — The Post, in regard to its actors, is Meryl Streep’s show. Much of the film is about the resolve of Graham as a women leading a newspaper with a board and newsroom full of, almost entirely, men, and Spielberg’s visualization of this is intriguing. Graham is often shot from behind as she walks into a room with a sea of black suits, their heads all turning to her. And Kaminski pushes in close on Graham as we see her try to find the words that she knows, but feels like she can’t say due to the overwhelming men talking over her.

Streep injects Graham, who is comfortable with people yet uncomfortable in her position, with a simultaneous confidence and vulnerability that is incredibly fine tuned. There’s something so controlled about how Streep paces out her dialogue and movement that’s difficult to grasp because it is such an intangible skill to be so precise while maintaining naturalism. While Graham, as a character, may be crowded by these men, Streep herself commands the screen, which renders Graham’s moment of power so satisfying.

The Post, though, is a difficult film to grapple with on multiple levels. Spielberg has, as of late, lacked subtlety and this film is no exception. It seems as though The Post wants to make sure viewers confront its themes directly and explicitly rather than allow the subtlety of the progressing narrative to seep into them, which changes how audiences consume the story. The ending literally states the themes through dialogue spoken in close-up.

While this is a problem for other films, it doesn’t hamper The Post’s effectiveness because of the time during which it’s arrived. For many, championing the press’ first amendment rights has been an everyday scenario for about a year now. Subtlety in narrative would’ve surely made the film a masterpiece. But explicitness, with the topic being something so many agree on and find so prescient now, doesn’t negatively impact the enjoyment of the film even if it doesn’t allow it to be, on a technical level, as good as it had the potential to be.

Regardless of its faults, it’s hard not to appreciate the feat that Spielberg pulled off, delivering the film just under eight months after beginning principal photography. It’s also hard to deny that, since it’s good, The Post is a valuable film in today’s age.

Grade: B

 

Featured via 20th Century Fox.

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Review: A humanist, subversive, new kind of ‘Star Wars’ story

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the most signficant franchise in popular culture awoke from a deep slumber. However, it did so with a sense of familiarity that, while perhaps necessary, hurts the film in hindsight.

But Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes another necessary step, that of subversion of the very things that The Force Awakens hinged on. And in doing so, The Last Jedi breathes urgent purpose into the new trilogy, purpose it had yet to prove.

What’s immediately evident about The Last Jedi — through a nailbiter of an opening sequence, which includes an absolutely hysterical bit that tops Poe’s opening of “who talks first?” in The Force Awakens — is that this film is interested in people. While some large scale action films focus on the spectacle, writer-director Rian Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yedlin’s camera situates us with the fighting, the sacrificing and the dying that fuel those battles.

When it comes to his focus on our main characters, Johnson succeeds in giving them all heavy, deeply personal character arcs. Finn needs to learn how best to fight for the Resistance. Poe needs to learn leadership that thinks ahead of the enemy, that thinks of everyone that a potential failure in leadership might affect. And John Boyega and Oscar Isaac inject the same kind of charismatic vigor into their characters that made them so lovable in the first place.

But Johnson’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker, this mammoth figure in pop culture, is the film’s most dynamic feature. And that’s because Johnson takes him out of the familiar, out of what we know him to be. Essentially, Johnson dissects “the legend” of Luke Skywalker, questioning that title by focusing in on Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side years prior while at Luke’s Jedi school. It gives Mark Hamill new space to explore, as a rehash of pure heroism would’ve failed to be profound, and Hamill offers up a hilarious, pained, tired and tender performance. Though the trilogy jumps decades, we still get to feel the weight of those decades because Hamill bares it tangibly and beautifully.

Johnson intertwines Luke’s arc with those of Rey and Kylo in a way that challenges Rey’s almost original-trilogy-Luke sense of purpose, and in a way that cuts straight to the heart of Kylo’s light-dark conflict. It’s a brilliant framework, as the film adds new layers to Kylo, not only in the context of his turn but in the context of his purpose moving forward. Adam Driver ingrains those emotions deep into his performance, rendering him as one of the more complex villains in large scale cinema.

The framework also places Rey at the forefront, mainly through her search for identity now that she’s been thrust into the world of the Force. The film’s answer is decidedly feminist, fitting into Johnson’s overall idea of who heroes are, and Daisy Ridley capitalizes on the material, delivering a performance that is, appropriately, searching, yet also gripping in its painful anger and raw vulnerability.

The film is truly an ensemble piece, even more so than most typical ensembles as there’s a sense of individualized growth within nearly every character. And the performances of the rest of the cast are wholly committed, including vibrant work by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, a towering presence from Laura Dern and a brave turn by the late Carrie Fisher.

This is, however, where the film slightly falters, as it becomes, at times, too stuffed with so much character work happening at the same time and in different places, which impacts the film’s pacing. Certain moments, such as when the plot needs to catch up, happen too quickly or conveniently and other moments, such as those of thematic significance, feel a bit too drawn out. The film also has four acts, which is not unusual, but it requires an extremely careful sense of flow and progression, perhaps exemplified by The Dark Knight. And while the flow from the third act into the fourth isn’t terrible, it’s unbalanced.

But the film, despite its flaws, is genuinely stunning. Johnson choreographs action — both in space and on the ground — with such rhythmic intensity and fluidity, but also with an underlying grit informed by the film’s humanism. And the settings within which that action takes place are so singular and transfixing, often due to Rick Heinrich’s spellbinding production design and Steve Yedlin’s soaring and awe-striking cinematography, especially in his long shots. 

The story, while not perfectly executed, also holds beauty. As said before, this film is about people. And Johnson engages with the political, shedding light on the First Order’s impact on the poor and forgotten, on those that come from nothing but a little bit of hope. Fascinatingly enough, however, Johnson, while portraying the Resistance lovingly, doesn’t shy away from critiquing the larger notion of the “machine” of the Resistance.

But it’s those like Rose Tico (Marie Tran), someone who works alone in the dirty underbelly of a Resistance ship and is not really a part of any “machine,” who can embody a heroism in the face of tyranny that leaders of the Resistance have yet to fully understand. It’s heroes like Rey who can represent the greatest that hope can stand for.

In that sense, The Last Jedi is a new kind of Star Wars story. Along the way, the film challenges a lot of what we’re familiar with, especially in regard to the mythology of the universe. At points, the film almost feels satirical in how it critiques what we expect a Star Wars film to be.

Therein lies the film’s value. More of the same, especially in a wasteland of traditional, unengaging hero stories, would’ve been a shame. It was necessary for The Force Awakens, for that film to care about what we thought of it.

But The Last Jedi believes in a new kind of hero and, thus, a new kind of Star Wars.

Grade: A-

 

Featured image via Lucasfilm.

‘Darkest Hour’ Review: A rousing, vigorous yet excessive chamber piece

Darkest Hour, in a way, is the other end of the story that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk tells. While that film steers clear of political machinations, Darkest Hour indulges in them, specifically in those of Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister while he orchestrates the evacuation at Dunkirk.

Thus, with such a story, the film had the potential to amount to not much more than typical British TV movie-esque extravagance. But Darkest Hour rises above, mostly due to Gary Oldman’s unbelievable transformation, yet also because of Joe Wright’s vivid, firmly controlled direction.

There’s an energy behind each frame that nearly mirrors the physical energy of Oldman’s performance. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is particularly striking in how it lights interiors. Much of the film takes place in halls and chambers, and there’s a persistent haze that’s as equally eerie as it is strangely invigorating. Delbonnel and Wright also venture into the slightly experimental, shooting long shots of the interiors of rooms with complete darkness outlining the room’s edges, and often framing Oldman’s face in enclosed boxes to mirror the trapped nature of Churchill’s position.

When such visual splendor combines with perfectly paced editing and Dario Marianelli’s stirring, pulsing score, Darkest Hour is electric.

There are moments, however, when the film veers into excessiveness. Churchill, at least this film’s version of him, is a man of far too many words, and focusing so often on his speeches — there are roughly seven or eight speeches made by Churchill throughout Darkest Hour — and on Churchill’s character itself causes the narrative’s energy to waver. To be fair, pulling off such a balance of energy is incredibly difficult, but the film does end up, in a way, adopting the faults of Churchill in its own structure.

But the film is never without the raw power of Gary Oldman, who disappears into the role in every way, literal and mental. We can see a precise, specific and consistent physicality in the way that Oldman delivers dialogue, in his physical interactions with both space and people and in his command of the frame as he marches across it. It’s a towering performance, quite literally at times when the film shoots him from a low angle, and one of the best of the year. Without it, or one like it, Darkest Hour would’ve likely been a dull two hours.

Grade: B

 

Featured image via Focus Features.

‘Coco’ Review: A deeply felt depiction of culture and family

Animation is a platform for boundless imagination. Pixar’s maximization of that platform rocketed them to the top, until they lost it. But with Inside Out, the studio began to regain its form. And with Coco, the studio continues that return — at least for its original ideas.

The film is steeped in Mexican culture, and not just as representation for representation’s sake. The intricacies of its culture are deeply felt on a visual, auditory and thematic level. Traditions and family dynamics that sprout from those traditions are integral to the progression of the plot. Dialogue consists of both English and Spanish, the latter not being subtitled nor placed on any level of less importance than the English. Each frame pops with wonderful colors in costumes, festive decorations and more. Michael Giacchino’s score uses instruments and style that come from the culture to create swells that enhance emotional moments. Like Moana before it, Coco shows that, when researched and executed on all levels, culture and its representation can be beyond profound.

But while Coco’s characters, especially Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) and Héctor (Gael García Bernal), are well-defined, the film’s narrative isn’t quite as refined, and thus as intricately affecting, as Pixar’s best outings. Much of the middle of the film is predicated on convenience and obstacles rather than true conflict, stifling the energy of even the wondrous visuals. And the themes of family, death and forgiveness are intertwined, evident and developed — but only so much so. Miguel’s initial goals are, naively and innocently so because of his young age, misguided and ignore the specific importance of the women in his family. While Miguel learns a lot that allows him to appreciate family, he’s not afforded the deeper lessons that hold the men of the film as accountable as they can be held.

However, Coco does hit emotional highs that can compare to even Toy Story 3. In its last 30 minutes, while not as deeply mined as it could be, the film does enough with its central family and their culture to push even the hardest shelled people to tears. It’s trademark Pixar, constructing a build of emotions that provoke such a response because we care.

Grade: B+

 

Featured image via Pixar.

Note: We at MovieMinis denounce the alleged sexual harassment of Pixar’s now ex-executive John Lasseter. His significance in the creation of Pixar and its films is undeniable and we would be remiss not to acknowledge that. We do believe that, with ‘Coco’ specifically, which Lasseter produced but did not direct, and with animation in general, because there are so many brains behind the creation of a film and even the creation of a single frame, to write it all off because of one man would be irresponsible, especially when it’s doing such important cultural work like ‘Coco’ is. However, we would also be remiss not to acknowledge that Pixar films have a glaring problem with how they depict women both in the animation of their bodies and through their roles in the stories, which likely stems from the fact that they’ve only hired one woman to co-direct one of their films and the understanding that, with a man like Lasseter in power, women were and are excluded from or feel unsafe in being a part of important conversations and stages of development that they should be involved in. Overall, we would like to extend our support to the victims of Lasseter’s alleged abuse and make sure that this discussion is had where it must be.

‘Mudbound’ Review: Flowing with powerful symbolism, novelistic ambitions

Mudbound, exquisitely directed by Dee Rees, is an epic tale of two families — one black (the Jacksons), one white (the McAllans) — intertwined before, during and after World War II. Within this grand scope of two large families connected by financial and emotional trials and tribulations, Netflix’s Mudbound poses an intimate yet still relevant examination of racism, familial bonds, God, war and love within American society.

Featuring incredible, depthful performances from Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke, this ensemble brings the requisite emotion to this tale set in the harsh, rainy, muddy land in Mississippi during the Jim Crow South.

Thanks to the strong performances, sweeping timeline and a significant amount of voiceover, the film creates a novelistic feeling to its story. The audience is given insight to the motivations behind Ronsel’s (Mitchell) decision to join the military, why Jamie (Hedlund) became an alcoholic after World War II, why Florence (Blige) only prays for her son Ronsel instead of her other children. The devices at play with time and voiceover create a narrative structure akin to watching something in the vein of a great novel by Steinbeck or Faulkner, yet Mudbound always uses the voiceover for character interiority rather than forced exposition.

While straightforwardly told, classically so, director Rees and editor Mako Kamitsuna create dynamic parallels between the families, as Jamie experiences a brutal dogfight in a bomber plane while Mulligan’s Laura (married to Jamie’s brother) experiences a disheartening miscarriage after an indescribably stressful situation.

Yet these crosscuts are used in strong ties between the two families, as Jamie and Ronsel describe their horrific war experiences to each other, both shown with flashbacks over the sharing of a strong whiskey in present time.

All of this world and character building create an expansive look at many issues within American society. However, the film makes clear the ways in which racism creeps into the lives of good people. In particular, the muddy land that the Jacksons and McAllans are forced to share becomes often symbolic of the two families intermingled relationship to each other — at times fertile with hope and respect, and at others drowned of any light and filled with mud that is bound to slow any sort of progress.

When the film moves towards its heartbreaking and unexpected ending — Rees’ sense of how this history still plays out in today’s society — the film paints a damning portrait of what it means to be living in a divided America.

As with every classic story though, there’s a sense of optimism in the power of hope and unity. And if there is an element of Mudbound that seems to be its most vital and hopefully rewarding aspect to viewers, it’s that, with a shared understanding of the human experience and the ability to realize the stronger similarities between us all rather than the general differences in appearance predicated on something only skin deep, there may be hope in America’s future.

History, like the one seen in Mudbound, will tell what comes next.

Grade: 9.0/10

 

Featured image via Netflix.

‘Justice League’ Review: A cleaner, but more jarring and hollow failure

On a storytelling level, Justice League is a better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s more cohesive, better paced and easier to follow. But it comes at a steep cost.

What the DCEU had gotten right up to this point — maybe not with Suicide Squad — was an investment in theme and how character and story both shape theme and are shaped by it. Batman v Superman is a mess of a film, but it’s an interesting story. It’s ideas of man vs. god, of the repercussions of Superman and the lengths to which Batman’s anger would take him in response, which feels like a continuation of Man of Steel, offers some semblance of narrative satisfaction.

Justice League, seemingly a continuation of Batman v Superman, a third film in this trilogy, is jarringly hollow in comparison. Superman’s death and Batman’s guilt are hardly investigated, and if they are, they’re parsed through in ways that don’t make sense with character; supposed steps taken in regard to those themes turn out to be more circumstantial, convenient and simple than actual elaboration on the story’s previous interests.

In essence, the film abandons what it was set up to be in order to be a cleaner film. It’s slightly, slightly understandable considering the position of Warner Bros. and DC, but it is such a disappointment. There’s nothing to latch onto in Superman’s character (surprise, he’s in the movie). He leans Christopher Reeve in tone, which, to some, might be exciting — but that’s not the Superman that’s been built in this universe. A short moment after his resurrection has the potential to take his character in a frightening, complicated direction, but that potential is quickly passed on and we get a one-dimensional figure that doesn’t even feel like a character.

The same can be said with villain. Batman’s visions of impending doom in the previous installment move nowhere with Steppenwolf, a monstrosity that falls flatter than the horrific CGI that creates him. He’s a typical, bland god-like bad guy spouting boring, cliched lines of fate for the “primitive beings” he’s fighting.

There aren’t many dimensions anywhere in Justice League. The Flash, while decently snappy comedic relief (which, itself, becomes tiresome), is barely two-dimensional. Aquaman’s motivations and backstory are washed over. Wonder Woman’s arc feigns at actual interest in the character — she’s dealing with the grief of losing Steve Trevor and the subsequent struggles she has with being a leader — but the timeline difference makes it difficult to swallow and, in horrifyingly gross fashion, the film sexualizes her and submits her to the filmmakers’ male gaze.

The only character that’s remotely fleshed out is Cyborg. His biomechatronic body has a brain of its own and he’s struggling to learn how to control it. But, considering that Ray Fisher gives a strong performance, it only ends up as disappointing that that arc is traversed here and not more thoroughly in a solo film.

It’s strange because one can almost feel that Justice League wants to be a cleaner movie. Too much of the plotting is expedited and, in turn, easy, leaving us with a lot that’s clean and digestible — until we realize that there’s no substance to any of it. But even in its attempts to be clean, it ends up as a messier looking film than most blockbusters in general. It’s embarrassing that we can tell where the reshoots are, not only narratively but visually. Literally, we see where actors are digitally inserted after the fact and where continuity is interrupted.

And Henry Cavill’s digitally removed mustache leaves his face as… by god, there’s no excuse.

Even the DCEU’s inarguably greatest element, its scores, halts dead with Danny Elfman’s work. We hear, perhaps, ten seconds of Wonder Woman’s theme before it never shows up again. We never hear Junkie XL’s Batman theme as Elfman opts to use his original one. We never hear Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme. Elfman leaves us with nothing memorable about his score. The use of original themes don’t make  auditory sense for where the characters are meant to be, which, even worse, results in music that fails to serve the narrative on any level.

The film is cheap. It inserts quirky quips here and there to induce laughter that can, momentarily, help us forget its shortcomings. But even those quips wind up yanking us out of the film. They’re infuriating. They’re tonally imbalanced and out of character — especially for someone like Batman. The film also shoves in comic book references to help some of the comic book familiar folk look over its cheap nature, most of which will be missed by audiences not familiar and create no difference as none of the nods have narrative implications.

Some of the fight sequences work and work well. Characters are clear and distinguishable, and the overall battles are well shot in regard to spatial geography.

But it’s difficult to even want to talk about that with any layer of enthusiasm. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy notably lacked well-composed action, but they’re still some of the best superhero movies of all time because of their unparalleled execution of storytelling.

Cumulatively, Justice League is overbearingly cheap. It’s a middle finger to the audience, a “course correction” that does no correcting.

Grade: D+

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Review: Hidden behind visual brilliance and irreverent humor, story and character fall flat

Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows), attempts to make up for the weaknesses of Thor, an otherwise bland character, by enveloping him in the immense potential of the universe’s magic and humor — or, in truth, by making it similar to Guardians of the Galaxy.

For the first two-thirds of the film, the jokes land, and land hard, pulled off with pitch perfect timing by Waititi, the editing and Chris Hemsworth, in one of his finer performances. In fact, the momentum of the film’s energy, fueled plenty by the comedy, is so vivid and infectious that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in Ragnarok. It’s also quite refreshing to get a superhero film that knows how to shoot action and render visually interesting spectacle. Colors pop brilliantly through production design, CGI and costumes. Dynamic choreography, along with coherent composition, create action scenes that are easy and exciting to engage with.

But it’s hard for the energy and visuals to keep us engaged when the film, all along, has been failing its character and, thus, its story. Toward the end, there comes a moment when Thor is meant to realize something about his family and the Asgardian people, about who he is now that the villain, Hela, has broken his hammer — similar to Iron Man 3’s journey of Tony learning to be a hero without the suit. It’s the close to an arc that would’ve been fascinating for the character — had Thor actually traversed and earned that arc. Throughout the film, there are obstacles placed in front of Thor, but they never create conflict in his character. He’s simply resolute in that he has to save an endangered Asgard from Hela, which is not a journey that holds much depth, since it strangely has no effect on his character. Ironically, at one point, Thor says that Loki hasn’t changed and won’t, when it’s actually Thor who’s not changing one bit in this film.

In fact, the film seems to be strangely aware of its own shortcomings. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) appears, and Banner has some dialogue that addresses how Thor is simply using the Hulk because he’s a good fighter. And he’s right. The film makes no legitimate reason for Hulk to be present in a way that makes sense with his character. It seems like simply a ploy for the sake of spectacle. And Hela is yet another entirely whiffed villain in the MCU. Cate Blanchett is great, but the character is one-dimensional and disappears for much of the second act.

It’s tough to hate Thor: Ragnarok, as the film is beautiful to look at and one of the funnier entries in the MCU. But it’s more difficult to love it, especially because the failures in story and character make the beauty and humor feel empty and tiresome in the final act. It’s not a bad film. It’s just rather frustrating, given its potential.

Grade: C

 

Featured image via Marvel.

‘The Florida Project’ Review: A joyous, visually stunning playground of wonder and humanity

The Florida Project may follow six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her gang of friends at The Magic Castle, the cheap hotel they live at, but it’s truly one of the more hauntingly emotional films of the year.

And it’s a strange concoction that results in that. The film doesn’t shy away from or take shame in childhood, fully delving into the freedom, bliss and almost aimless wandering of young children to a point where the film becomes a free flowing journey that defies standard narrative conventions. Rather than try to make scenes with Prince and the other young actors adult friendly, the film truly comes at it from the perspective of Moonee, and realizes that there’s so much beauty in the eyes of children — that the world, even a run down motel, can become a grand playground, and not necessarily in stereotypically childlike ways. Shot with transfixing, mesmerizing, constant motion by cinematographer Alexis Zabe, who lingers like Lubezki and tracks like Deakins, but almost always places us on a low angle next to the kids, The Florida Project is a visual wonder that embraces its greatest source of imagination.

Yet, co-writer, editor and director Sean Baker realizes that, despite there being a certain sense of innocence within them, children are never free of the difficulties of the world, especially those born in particularly difficult circumstances. Baker expertly layers the growing story of family struggle, always shown from the eyes of Moonee. We see scenes of loving connection, of joyful play — but as Moonee starts to confront more and more, while she may not realize it in full, there comes a point when we understand what’s been happening all along as most that view this film have the adult luxury of inference. It’s a harrowing approach, one that humanizes and empathizes with Moonee and her mother Halley, portrayed with bracing strength by Bria Vinaite. And that’s what elevates The Florida Project — empathy. The film never exploits its characters’ lives, but simply understands them and, in turn, portrays them both sensitively and candidly.

Playing the manager of The Magic Castle, Willem Dafoe is a massive source of empathy. He moves from stiff strictness to overwhelmed frustration to soft, deep care in a way that’s somehow so subtle, yet something we can still feel throughout.

But surprisingly, Dafoe’s performance, despite warranting all the awards talk that he’s getting, is not the biggest one of note in The Florida Project. It’s Brooklynn Prince’s. It’s understandably difficult for young actors to fully envelop themselves in roles, but Prince gives every ounce of herself over to this film. It’s from her that we get the sense of wonder and joy in childhood — her energy infectious and singular and so real. It’s from her that we confront sobering truths. In the final minutes, Prince delivers a scene of emotion that is quite genuinely arresting, that takes the weight of the entire story and lays it bare with an overwhelming vulnerability. Baker composes his climactic moment with such expert, dynamic editing. But Prince is the one who causes this scene’s humanity to reverberate from the screen and dig into our bones. It’s an accomplishment that can’t properly be described, and something even more jaw-dropping when realizing that this is a seven-year-old actress we’re watching.

The Florida Project may be film’s pinnacle representation of childhood. It presents both its most wonderful qualities, without indulging, and its most genuine truths, without exploiting. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen.

Grade: A

 

Featured image via A24.

‘The Foreigner’ review: Jackie Chan is criminally underused in this passable political thriller

In The Foreigner, director Martin Campbell — savior of the James Bond franchise and the reason why Deadpool had a Green Lantern joke — dares to pose the question: “Why on earth would you make a Jackie Chan movie without Jackie Chan?”

Even though the marketing of The Foreigner suggests a Jackie Chan revenge-thriller, don’t go into the film expecting The Legend of Drunken Master by way of Taken. We see Chan’s Quan use his very particular set of skills, but not nearly as much as we’d like. For every minute of Quan kicking ass and taking names, we see eight minutes of Pierce Brosnan’s ex-IRA politician drink, demean and describe Quan as “the Chinaman,” when in fact we Chinamen prefer the term “Financiers Of This Let-Down.”

To be fair, Quan isn’t the film’s main character, doing very little to move the story forward. The film is about Brosnan’s character identifying the IRA bombers who killed Quan’s daughter. Quan pops in every now and then to hurry him along — blowing up bathrooms, beating up henchmen and generally prodding him whenever he feels slightly unmotivated. Quan is Gordon Ramsay, and Brosnan is the chef who gets called an “idiot sandwich.”

While The Foreigner makes the mistake of underusing its most bankable star, Chan proves that, at 63, he’s still film’s ultimate martial arts legend. Campbell doesn’t have to resort to quick cutting to obscure a stunt double during the film’s action scenes — we know that it’s Chan himself punching goons, bursting through windows and falling down stairs. To Campbell’s credit, he knows how to direct an action scene. The energy and pace of the film’s set pieces make The Foreigner entertaining, though only for a fraction of the film’s runtime.

Ultimately, while The Foreigner might please some, it isn’t necessarily worth seeking out, especially when The Legend of Drunken Master is on Netflix.

Grade: 6.0/10

 

Featured image via STX Entertainment.

‘Battle of the Sexes’ Review: Emma Stone and Steve Carell are dynamic in this empowering sports duel

Battle of the Sexes isn’t necessarily about the central tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Moreso, it’s about the battle that women of the time took up against overarching oppression, and the match is one of the pinnacle representations of that.

That’s what directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) lay out beneath the surface of the picture, and rightly so. To simply focus on the match would be a disservice not only to Billie Jean King’s efforts, but also to what women encounter on a systemic scope. In this light, we see Bobby Riggs not as the main antagonist, but as an example of masculine fragility that enforces and takes advantage of such a system. Toward the end of the film, King breaks down sobbing, and it’s not because of what just happened in the moment, but because of what it means moving forward. And in that moment, writer Simon Beaufoy inserts a nod to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights that is still ahead of them.

While the angle of a grander image of feminism lends Battle of the Sexes a larger weight and greater stakes, the film is sadly a bit un-engaging. There are so many moving parts — a brand new tennis association forming in the fight for women’s rights, Billie Jean King exploring her sexuality, marital issues stemming from her exploration, Bobby Riggs dealing with gambling issues and post-fame withdrawal, Riggs manipulating the system in order to face off against King and how all of that represents the system at work and its impacts — and the film begins to buckle as it struggles to work each layer into a dynamic, unified progression.

Fortunately, though, Emma Stone and Steve Carell are both absolutely dynamic as King and Riggs, respectively. While Stone is mostly just good during moments of outward expression, it’s in King’s vulnerability where her acting chops shine — similar to her moments of strength in La La Land. However, it’s Carell who steals the show. We can see threads of the boisterousness of Michael Scott, but there’s something much more egotistically charismatic about Carell’s performance here. His energy is infectious and, with a slightly altered look in hair and teeth, there’s a physicality through which that energy manifests. And, in terms of that masculine fragility, Carell sells the dramatic moments when Riggs’ shell starts to break and his confidence is humbled. It’s certainly one of his best performances.

Those performances push us through the slower moments, rendering Battle of the Sexes worthwhile for what it hopes to achieve with its larger message.

Grade: B

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight.

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