Tag Archives: Netflix

‘Mute’ Review: A glimpse at a dull future

Mute, co-written and directed by Duncan Jones (MoonSource CodeWarcraft), is about a man named Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), who happens to be Amish and mute, trying to find his missing girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh) in a futuristic Germany. He has to fight gangsters, find clues that she left behind and put up with abuse for being unable to speak. An Amish mute? Fighting bad guys?! Having premarital sex?! The Future?! What sounds like a movie that’s at least mildly interesting turns out to be a complete bore, much like the slew of other Netflix originals over the past few months.

Paul Rudd plays Cactus, an American surgeon working for these gangsters, and is probably the most entertaining part of the entire movie. How he ended up in Germany taking bullets out of gangsters is a mystery, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Cactus is looking for a way back to America along with his daughter, and he’ll do anything to obtain that. It’s fun to see Paul Rudd playing a villain, a departure from his typical roles, but he deserves a much better movie around him.

If you’re wondering, “Wow, I wonder if Cactus has anything to do with Leo’s missing girlfriend,” you would be on the right track! There’s really nothing shocking about this movie, although I must admit I was taken aback by how advanced the sex dolls of the future are.

As much as I hate to say this about a movie Paul Rudd is in, Mute is one to steer clear of. It’s boring, its vision of the future is cliché and Cactus’s best friend is a pedophile. Watch at risk of wasting two hours of your life.

Grade: 4.5/10

 

Mute was released on February 23, 2018 and is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

Featured image courtesy of Netflix.

25 most anticipated films of 2018

As each year ends, it’s customary to look back on our favorite films, to spend hours on lists of the best that we saw. But it’s also a hell of a time to look forward at the films releasing in the coming year and start to build anticipation. The ones that immediately pop into mind are the blockbusters, the landmark events of the year like Solo: A Star Wars Story and the early Black Panther. They’re beyond exciting, not only for us, but for millions of people. The real fun for us film writers, though, comes with the research, with digging deep to find which prestige, Oscar-nominated or, simply, personal favorite storytellers (actors, directors or writers) have movies coming out that are currently under-the-radar to most people — and then going even deeper to find the films that even us film writers would miss on a first go around of digging.

What immediately became apparent after finishing our research and sitting down to pick our top 25 is that 2018 is going to be a spectacular year for film — hence our honorable mentions list being so long.

We thought 2017 was a never-ending ride of greatness, from Get Out back in February all the way to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread today. 2018 should be just the same. Whether it be the aforementioned blockbusters, or the return of both Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle, or Martin Scorsese pairing up with Netflix, or French female filmmakers taking on science fiction, 2018 films need to get going already.

25. Bios

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

Written by: Craig Luck, Ivor Powell

Starring: Tom Hanks

Release date: Possibly 2018, currently in pre-production, expected start shooting early 2018

This film might’ve been ranked higher on the list were it further along in production and guaranteed for 2018. With production meant to start in early 2018, there’s a definite possibility, considering the star power of Tom Hanks, that we could see it toward the end of the year, especially as an awards contender, which is why we’re including it. But there’s also a definite possibility that it won’t, as we never really know in regard to a film like this until the cameras start rolling.

Regardless, the team behind BIOS, a sci-fi story that follows a robot “built to protect the life of his dying creator’s beloved dog” on a post-apocalyptic Earth, is a heavyweight one. There’s the obvious, consistent, dependable brilliance of Tom Hanks. Then, there’s a Black List (a list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood) script from writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell. And finally, there’s director Miguel Sapochnik, best known for the final two episodes, Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Winter, of season 6 of Game of Thrones. He also directed the season 5 action heavy episode Hardhome. All three are all timers for the series, but Battle of the Bastards is a special piece of visual storytelling, as it features what is arguably the best directed, most viscerally brilliant war sequences in all of TV or film. The episode is truly a landmark piece of direction, one that rightfully won Sapochnik the Emmy and Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Drama Series. It was only a matter of time before he got the opportunity to direct a massive, visual-heavy film, and BIOS sounds like a film that could prove Sapochnik as an equally brilliant film director.

— Kyle Kizu

24. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Directed by: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman

Written by: Phil Lord

Starring: Shameik Moore, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Liev Schreiber

Release date: December 14, 2018

Finally, Miles Morales is coming to a theater near you. Sony Pictures hasn’t always done right by the webhead (2.5/5 ain’t bad), but bringing on the tonally unique duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller to oversee an animated theatrical Spider-Man release that introduces general audiences to Miles f$@#ing Morales as well as the breadth of alternate-earth Spider-Men is, well, amends enough. Although the first teaser only dropped recently, a photorealistic NYC in the background juxtaposed with the imaginative and malleable hand-drawn imagery of the protagonist himself makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse an aesthetic and, hopefully, narrative treat for comic book fan and casual moviegoer alike.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

23. A Wrinkle in Time

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Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by: Jennifer Lee

Starring: Storm Reid, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Zach Galifianakis, Andrè Holland

Release date: March 9, 2018

If there’s one incontrovertible truth about Ava DuVernay’s career thus far, it’s that all of her films are imbued with an unbridled sense of passion from a creative standpoint, and A Wrinkle in Time appears to continue that trend. Ever since its first trailer set to the tune of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), DuVernay’s take on Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic fantasy novel has seemed visually distinct, naturalistically cast and rousingly written and executed. The past few years have provided us with some fairly poor YA novel adaptations, but from what we’ve seen thus far, A Wrinkle in Time is set to break the mold.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

22. At Eternity’s Gate

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Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Julian Schnabel

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently filming

What’s poised to be a incisive look at renowned painter Vincent van Gogh’s life while he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, benefits greatly from its principal starrers, Willem Dafoe and Oscar Isaac as van Gogh and fellow famous painter Paul Gauguin, respectively. Combine Dafoe’s range with Isaac’s intensity and both with director and co-writer Julian Schnabel’s unabashed reverential directorial stylings à la The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and an eternity is just how far away this film’s release feels.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

21. Creed II

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Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.

Written by: Cheo Hodari Coker, Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren

Release date: November 21, 2018

Though admittedly hesitant to re-enter the ring after its predecessor’s knockout performance and conclusion (puns intended and necessary), we’d be fools to not want to see Adonis Creed again on the big screen for another fight of his life in Creed II. Now with Dolph Lundgren in the mix, hopefully Ivan Drago finally gets what’s coming to him.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

20. Proxima

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Written by: Alice Winocour

Starring: Eva Green, Lars Eidinger

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently in pre-production

Alice Winocour, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated Mustang, for which she also won Best Original Screenplay at the Cèsar Awards (essentially, the French Oscars), will dive into science fiction with her upcoming film Proxima. However, the film sounds as though it’s heavily based in reality. Proxima will follow a mother just before her departure on a year-long mission at the International Space Station, as she physically trains for space and prepares to say goodbye to her young daughter. The story seems incredibly emotional, and has basis, as she says, in Winocour’s own feelings of separation from her daughter when she shoots a movie — ringing a similar bell to the inspiration behind Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Such a basis should bring such genuine weight to the story, one that will explore a side of an astronaut’s life that not many films get into, and offer Eva Green material for a powerhouse performance. And to see a female astronaut who is also a mother as the lead character is necessary and empowering visibility. Oh, and the film will be in French.

— Kyle Kizu

19. Newsflash

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Directed by: David Gordon Green

Written by: Ben Jacoby

Starring: Seth Rogen

Release date: November 22, 2018

David Gordon Green has had a rather interesting career, breaking out with the incredibly small independent film George Washington, flourishing in the comedy genre with Pineapple Express, giving Nicolas Cage a platform to actually excel in Joe and devastating us with the powerful, human Stronger. Just a month before Newsflash, Gordon Green will release Halloween, another film in the Halloween franchise, and showcase yet another side of his directorial skill set with horror.

He can really do everything, which intensifies our anticipation of the recently announced Newsflash, a film about Walter Cronkite, who, on November 22, 1963, reported on live TV about the assassination of JFK.

The obvious thematic relevance of the film — the power of journalism (this time broadcast) — is enough to grip onto. But the specifics of the story offer it utterly dynamic potential; it could end up as much a story about the power of journalism as it is a study of that terrible moment in American history as well as a character study of Cronkite himself. The choice of Seth Rogen to lead the film is, initially, a bit jarring — but not in a bad way, as it very quickly turns into excitement at the thought of Rogen expanding his dramatic chops, after a very serviceable performance as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs, and showcasing the charisma we all know he has. Newsflash could very well play a similar role in 2018 that The Post is playing in 2017.

— Kyle Kizu

18. Mission: Impossible 6

Christopher McQuarrie/Paramount/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett

Release date: July 27, 2018

We appreciated the first. We drank to forget the second. We reluctantly saw the third. We cheered for the fourth. And we were in awe of the fifth. If Mission Impossible has proven anything up to this point, it’s that, much like lead actor Tom Cruise, this franchise has got legs. Mission: Impossible 6 has Christopher McQuarrie back at the helm (a series first) along with much of its predecessor’s cast in what is to be, hopefully, another enthralling action-adventure defined by its practically-performed death-defying stunts. Most of the film’s plot is still under wraps, but one thing is certain: Henry Cavill will be sporting a mustache that — if digitally removed — gives him uncanny valley face.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

17. On the Basis of Sex

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Directed by: Mimi Leder

Written by: Daniel Stiepleman

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

The story of On the Basis of Sex, following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for equality and journey to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, is fascinating and deeply needed in this moment in time, as well as reason enough, alone, for this film to make this list. But the pieces around the story are absolutely brilliant. Felicity Jones is one of the more emotionally powerful actresses working today; just look at her raw, moving performance in The Theory of Everything. Armie Hammer is resurfacing — to our delight — as a true acting talent, also channeling raw emotion in this year’s Call Me by Your Name. And the director behind it all, Mimi Leder — who has been sorely and unjustly underappreciated in Hollywood, but has become one of TV’s greatest directors, especially after her work on The Leftovers — will show everyone what they’ve been missing when she nails this film.

— Kyle Kizu

16. If Beale Street Could Talk

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Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Written by: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Regina King, Pedro Pascal, Dave Franco, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Aunjanue Ellis, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wittrock, Michael Beach, Colman Domingo, Stephan James

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Moonlight’s ethereally cathartic narrative and characters earned it the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017, so it should come as no surprise that we’re eagerly awaiting writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning follow-up, If Beale Street Could Talk. If Jenkins can invoke the same emotionally complex yet superficially subtle and restrained atmosphere when adapting James Baldwin’s novel of the same name for the silver screen, then the filmmaker could be looking at another critical darling in his filmography in the not-too-distant future.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

15. Suspiria

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Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Written by: David Kajganich

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

A remake of legend Dario Argento’s supernatural Italian classic gallo film from one of the most talented directors working today, who just blew us away with Call Me by Your Name and has built some kind of career with films like I Am Love and A Bigger Splash? With a cast of Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton and Mia Goth? With the first original score from Thom Yorke, the frontman of Radiohead? With an appearance from the original film’s star, Jessica Harper?

There’s no way that this film won’t be a gorgeous, gory descent into madness.

— Levi Hill

14. High Life

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Directed by: Claire Denis

Written by: Claire Denis, Jean Pol-Fargeau, Nick Laird, Zadie Smith

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently in post-production

Another French filmmaker is leaping into science fiction. Claire Denis, director of Beau Travail, White Material and 35 Shots of Rum, will simultaneously make her English language debut with High Life, a sci-fi story that Denis has been developing for nearly two years now. The concept, alone, is the stuff of sci-fi dreams: Monte, a criminal who chose to participate in a government project rather than serve jail time, is sent out into space with other convicts to find alternative energy as well as to participate in human reproduction experiments. Now headed toward a black hole, Monte must connect with his daughter Willow, who was born out of one of the experiments.

That Denis is experimenting, herself, with science fiction after a career of careful character studies is riveting — and likely means that this film will also end up being a complex character study in the setting of space. But that she’s doing it with such an original story and a lead actor like Robert Pattinson, who just turned everyone’s head with his performance in Good Time, makes High Life one of the most compelling projects of the upcoming year.

— Kyle Kizu

13. Roma

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Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Marina de Tavira, Daniela Demesa, Marco Graf, Yalitza Aparicio

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Not much is known about Roma, except that it’s Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s first film set in Mexico since his breakout masterpiece Y Tu Mamá También and his direct follow up to Gravity, the film for which he won that Oscar. With a cast of, to American audiences, unknowns and Cuarón’s distinct ability with setting, showcased in Children of Men, Roma will have an authenticity unlike many other films. We’re beyond excited to see whatever this incredible filmmaker can concoct.

— Levi Hill

12. Untitled Adam McKay directed, Christian Bale starring Dick Cheney biopic

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Directed by: Adam McKay

Written by: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Bill Pullman

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Who knew that Adam McKay, the man behind Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers, is a magnificent drama director. Perhaps it should’ve been more obvious that McKay could make a film like The Big Short, a searing and sharp film dissecting a complex moment in recent history; his success in comedy shows that he’s a deeply intelligent storyteller as comedy is the hardest genre to pull off and pull off well. That McKay is continuing in this direction, this time dissecting ex-vice president Dick Cheney, is exciting on multiple levels. But that he’s also teaming up with Christian Bale, who is, arguably, the greatest method actor of our time outside of Daniel Day-Lewis and whose transformation for this role has been mind-boggling, and Amy Adams, one of the most underappreciated actresses in the game and someone who should have Oscar gold on her mantle already, is a near dream. Throw in Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and what will surely be a script that does not hold back at critiquing that administration’s failures, and this film, rumored to be titled Backseat, will certainly be a knockout.

— Kyle Kizu

11. Wildlife

Eva Rinaldi/Courtesy

Directed by: Paul Dano

Written by: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould

Release date: Premiering at Sundance Film Festival in January 2018, will see a 2018 release date if, as expected, it is picked up by a distributor

Time will tell how Paul Dano’s directorial debut shapes up, because it’s premiering at Sundance within a few weeks. But Dano, as an actor who always chooses interesting projects, getting behind the camera is an intriguing proposition. Throw in the excellent starring duo of Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Wildlife, based on a true story adapted by Dano and his talented actress-writer-wife Zoe Kazan, might be the Sundance breakout of 2018 — at least on paper.

— Levi Hill

10. Ad Astra

Maximilian Bühn/Courtesy

Directed by: James Gray

Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Release date: January 11, 2019, with an expected limited release in late 2018

After Two Lovers, The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z, James Gray has proven himself as a respectable filmmaker, a traditionalist with such refined filmmaking talent. The move, alone, into heavy sci-fi is fascinating; Ad Astra will follow an “Army Corps engineer (Brad Pitt) [searching] across the galaxy for his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who had disappeared on a mission to find alien life 20 years prior.” The concept sounds harrowing, like the perfect opportunity for more gripping traditional storytelling in such a visually wondrous setting. Shot by Hoyte van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk) and produced by Plan B Entertainment team Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner (12 Years a Slave, Selma, The Big Short, Moonlight), Ad Astra is shaping up to be an absolute heavyweight production, and one that will surely have a limited release in December 2018 to compete for awards or change its official release date to late 2018.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Widows

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Directed by: Steve McQueen

Written by: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen

Starring: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya

Release date: November 16, 2018

Seriously, though, look at this cast — including the now Oscar-winning Viola Davis, she’s-everywhere Carrie Coon, the very underrated Michelle Rodriguez, the reforming-back-into-drama Liam Neeson, the breakout Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, and the multi-faceted and always interesting Colin Farrell — and tell us you’re not excited. Throw in Steve McQueen, the director of the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave — who, to us, in only three films, has proved to be one of the most exciting directors today — and Gillian Flynn, the author and adapting screenwriter of Gone Girl, and Widows might just be the most prestigious film coming in 2018.

— Levi Hill

8. Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Even with all of the production troubles that Solo: A Star Wars Story has gone through, this film is still an entry in the Star Wars franchise, which is, perhaps unfairly, enough to anticipate it anyway. To be fair to the film, Alden Ehrenreich is a wonderful choice to play a young Han Solo — his performance in Hail, Caesar! a testament to his talent — and the rest of the cast is filled with major players, Donald Glover being a badass choice for young Lando Calrissian. Co-writer Lawrence Kasdan deserves a lifetime of trust after writing The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark and, while a seemingly safe choice, Ron Howard is by no means a bad director. We’ll be there opening night.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Annihilation

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Directed by: Alex Garland

Written by: Alex Garland

Starring: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez

Release date: February 23, 2018

Alex Garland stunned with his feature debut Ex Machina, which is already being hailed by most as one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century. The film was not only written with careful, complex intelligence, but it was also directed with visuals that matched the story’s intrigue. To see Garland venture into sci-fi yet again, especially into what seems to be horror-sci-fi, considering that he’s also written 28 Days Later and Sunshine, is salivating. Based on a beloved novel and with a star-studded cast, Annihilation is, despite its shift to a February release date, a film that we cannot wait for, and one that we know, at least, will be a visual treat.

— Kyle Kizu

6. The Irishman

The Peabody Awards/Courtesy

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Steve Zaillian

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano

Release date: 2018, currently filming

While Bright might have been Netflix’s first foray into big budget filmmaking, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks to be the first unqualified success into big budget filmmaking. Starring Scorsese regulars from his ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s heyday, like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, and featuring the gangster narrative trappings Scorsese has made classic after classic in, The Irishman seems to be Scorsese doing everything he loves, and Netflix’s willingness to allow Scorsese an unchecked or unquestioned vision might just convince more filmmakers to follow in his footsteps.

— Levi Hill

5. First Man

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Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Written by: Josh Singer, Nicole Perlman

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jon Bernthal, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler

Release date: October 12, 2018

With La La Land, Damien Chazelle ventured to the stars metaphorically and musically. So, it was only appropriate that he make a movie that actually visits the stars. Re-teaming with Ryan Gosling, Chazelle will direct the story of Neil Armstrong. The character work should be fantastic, not only on an acting and directing side, but also based in great writing as Chazelle is directing a script from Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman and Spotlight and The Post co-writer Josh Singer. But no matter the story, after two spectacular films in a row, anything Chazelle does is something to look forward to.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Incredibles 2

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Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk

Release date: June 15, 2018

14 years in the making (and not a moment too late), Incredibles 2 is the latest in Pixar’s fairly recent string of sequels to its critically-acclaimed films. As we catch up with the Parrs immediately after the conclusion of The Incredibles, hopefully we’re treated to answers of some of the first film’s long gestating questions such as: “What are the limits of Jack-Jack’s powers?” or “Will Edna Mode ever officially get back into the super heroic fashion business?” but most importantly, “Where WAS his super-suit?”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Black Panther

Marvel/Courtesy

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown

Release date: February 16, 2018

Housing a sterling directorial record comprised of 2013’s harrowing Fruitvale Station and 2015’s uplifting and invigorating Creed under his belt, Ryan Coogler enters the ever-expanding comic book genre with the newest, and arguably most exhilarating, solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther. While Captain America: Civil War solidly introduced T’Challa into an eclectic world beset by self-aware robots, mirror dimensions and wall-crawlers, Coogler’s Black Panther has distinguished itself so far by its fixation on the racial and cultural foundations at the core of the character. With trailers scored to the beat of RTJ and Vince Staples, a cast primarily made up of people of color and ideas like afro-futurism, monarchic injustice and the relationship between heritage/identity in play, it’s not physically possible to articulate how hotly we’re anticipating this cinematic landmark.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

2. Isle of Dogs

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Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray

Release date: March 23, 2018

Wes Anderson has become one of the most idiosyncratic working directors, but, also, one of the most successful. His last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was his biggest box-office success, as well being his first film to gather not only an Oscar nomination for Best Picture,  but win multiple craft awards.

Adding new faces like Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Courtney B. Vance and Scarlett Johansson next to Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Frances McDormand, Isle of Dogs takes Anderson back to stop-motion animation, where he’s scored an Oscar nomination for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Yet unlike Fox, Dogs looks to be a darker, if still charming tale.

Set in a near apocalyptic, dystopian future, Isle of Dogs premise is fascinating: all dogs of Japan are cast away to a deserted island due to a “canine flu” that has wiped away a good portion of the population. The young son of the Japanese president wants to get his dog back, though, so against all of his family’s wishes, he makes an epic journey to the island to get his trusted companion back. Along the way, the young boy is aided by fellow dogs.

With Anderson’s typical blend of whimsy, and potential heartache, Dogs looks to be a story that will surely make us all weep over the animals that give their lives to us.

— Levi Hill

1. Avengers: Infinity War

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Directed by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Hiddleston

Release date: May 4, 2018

It’s all been building up to this, the arrival of Thanos to Earth. Ever since 2012, we’ve been waiting for that big purple guy in the post credits scene of Marvel’s The Avengers to show up. We saw glimpses of him in Guardians of the Galaxy and during the mid-credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron. And now, he’s here.

But he’s also arriving to a vastly different landscape than what was there in 2012. Both Iron Man and Captain America have seen fascinating character development throughout their trilogy of films, culminating in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. The Guardians of the Galaxy crew will finally join our heroes in the fight, crossing paths with our other galactic and now, apparently, hilarious hero Thor. Spider-Man and Black Panther are welcome additions to the team, with the former being a wonderfully interpreted younger version of Peter Parker and the latter being a badass, refreshing, layered hero from a different background that we will see more of in our #3 on this list, prior to Infinity War’s release. And while more female-led films need to come, Infinity War will bring together the many powerful women of Marvel: Black Widow, Gamora, Mantis, Nebula, Scarlet Witch, Okoye and, hopefully, Valkyrie.

As the trailer for Infinity War showed, this film has been 10 years in the making and it’s hard not to be swept up in the epic culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a phenomenon in modern cinema. Each film, alone, has been anywhere from modestly enjoyable to the pinnacle of blockbuster filmmaking, and Infinity War is the climax of everything. While there are other event films coming out in 2018, this is the event film, the film everyone will be talking about.

And we’re hopeful for it. There may be upwards of 30 — yes, 30 — characters in this film. But jumping over from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War are directors Joe and Anthony Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and if anyone can handle this massive undertaking, it’s them.

Some major characters will surely die, which is devastating, but also ups the stakes massively and takes Marvel to a darker place that they’ve been far too afraid to explore.

Our heroes’ fight will be a valiant one to the end, the epitome of epic and an absolute treasure on the big screen.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Honorable mentions:

As said above, there are too many intriguing films coming out in 2018 to just list our top 25. We struggled to cross films off, so we felt that we had to mention many of the hardest ones to cut, compiling a list that, itself, would be a great top 25.

After delivering the best male lead performance of 2017, Timothèe Chalamet will be back, garnering an equally heavy role as a recovering meth addict with Steve Carell playing his father in Beautiful Boy. Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant Sicario will, strangely, receive a sequel with Soldado, which sees the return of Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro and writer Taylor Sheridan. Lynne Ramsay’s Cannes-premiering You Were Never Really Here, which already has outstanding reviews and won Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor award at the French film festival, will finally screen in Spring 2018. Steven Spielberg will take on the “holy grail of pop culture” with Ready Player One. David Robert Mitchell, writer-director of It Follows, will team up with A24 for an underbelly Los Angeles-set neo-noir starring Andrew Garfield. Terrence Malick will return to the setting of war in his, apparently, more traditional film Radegund — that is, if he finishes his edit when expected, which is never expected. Gareth Evans, director of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 — deemed two of the best action films of the 21st century — will shift over to English language film with the religious cult drama Apostle, starring Dan Stevens and Michael Sheen.

We could go on and on throughout the whole list because each one genuinely is something we’ll be first in line to see. From David Lowery following up A Ghost Story with Old Man and the Gun, to Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie facing off in Mary, Queen of Scots, to Drew Goddard directing for the first time since The Cabin in the Woods with Bad Times at the El Royale, to two extraordinarily talented female directors in Jennifer Kent and Michelle MacLaren both making films titled The Nightingale, to Marielle Heller following up The Diary of a Teenage Girl with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, to performance capture master Andy Serkis stepping behind and in front of the camera for Jungle Book, to Terry Gilliam’s decades-in-the-making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, these honorable mentions should still be on everyone’s radar.

 

Beautiful Boy

Soldado

You Were Never Really Here

Ready Player One

Under the Silver Lake

Radegund

Apostle

Fahrenheit 451

Halloween

Venom

Black Klansman

Maya

The Beach Bum

Mary, Queen of Scots

Old Man and the Gun

Bad Times at the El Royale

Mary Poppins Returns

The Nightingale (Michelle MacLaren)

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)

The Favourite

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Jungle Book

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Destroyer

Outlaw King

 

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount/Universal.

‘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.

Top 10 war films since 2010

Cinema thrives when it comes to war films. These are events that many regular civilians would never understand on any level other than statistics and classroom lessons. So, that’s where cinema’s job comes in — to transport us, to help us understand. And recently, war films have gone beyond that. But we don’t like to confine the genre to just those of generals, political machinations and battlefields involving some form of Western force. Those are outstanding, but war is more than that. War drags children into conflict in countries that can’t defend them. War is the deeply human and deeply empathetic look at those not necessarily fighting, but suffering — either those subject to enemies and without the ability to fight back, like Holocaust victims, or those struggling in the aftermath of what they’ve had to do, like PTSD victims. Even genre films, superhero or otherwise, have utilized war and wartime settings to comment, in immensely effective ways, on violence. So, let’s extend the perceived boundaries of the war film. Releasing this Friday, Oct. 27, Thank You For Your Service looks to do just that, mostly leaving the battlefield to extend Jason Hall’s investigation into PTSD that started with American Sniper. Who’s to say that that’s not as much of a war film as any? Here are our top ten war films, both traditional and subversive, since 2010:

10. First They Killed My Father (2017)

Netflix/Courtesy

While Beasts of No Nation and First They Killed My Father confront the topic of the child soldiers whose lives are consumed by the wars surrounding them, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is unique in how it paints a portrait of a country’s history, and how it derives such a portrait from following its young lead (Sareum Srey Moch). Beyond being an affecting historicization of Cambodian history, it is a deeply beautiful film despite the horrors that it depicts — some of the dream sequences and the film’s multiple overhead shots transcend the vileness of war, suggesting that Cambodia’s own beauty as a country triumphs against the Khmer Rouge regime.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. ‘71 (2015)

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

Yann Demange’s directorial debut is a breathtakingly intense look at more of a guerrilla war than a typical war, following the “Troubles,” a conflict which centered around Northern Ireland’s status as either a part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. And that’s what’s so special about this film — that you can feel that distinction from the opening scene. Demange’s construction of tone through editing and cinematography that build tension in the streets of Ireland is masterful. Similar to Dunkirk, ‘71 is almost a silent film, a chase film filled with frightening stakes. It’s one of the better war films of recent times because it succeeds in spades in portraying a region under duress, not from enemies outside, but from fellow people within.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Lincoln (2012)

Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy

With a little bit of make-up, a sizeable amount of screentime and a lot of method acting, is there really any role Sir Daniel Day-Lewis can’t play? In Lincoln, the prolific actor practically becomes Abraham Lincoln as the renowned and revered president navigates a unique time period within the context of the American Civil War — its final few months and the repercussions of its aftermath on American slavery. Helmed by Steven Spielberg in, arguably, one of his best films in the past decade, Lincoln takes an incisive look at the intricacies behind not only Lincoln himself, but the president’s impact on shaping the United States’ perception of race-based politics into the modern era. Not only does Spielberg’s direction manage to entertain through a sheer cinematographic fixation on the enigmatic and truly revolutionary mind of Abraham Lincoln, but the film’s incredibly talented supporting cast, including a possibly show-stealing performance by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, ensures that the film goes down as one of the most compelling and meticulously recreated historical war dramas to ever appear on screen. There’s a sense of artistic passion that oozes from Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the strong-willed yet holistically perceptive Lincoln, one that envelops every scene he’s in (spoiler: with a name like Lincoln, it’s a lot of ‘em) but that never grows stagnant. Leave it to Day-Lewis and Spielberg to make a high school reading requirement into war cinema royalty.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

7. Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sure, on an instinctual level, Wonder Woman is a superhero film, but it uses its wartime setting as effectively as any other film on this list. The film posits that war is a product of man’s own destructive ways, and that it’s up to a woman to bring the compassion (and kickassery) that precipitates peace. If nothing else, the film’s argument makes it a unique entry in this list of war films, but the level of craft that director Patty Jenkins brings to Wonder Woman lends the film an edge that its peers lack — Jenkins does Zack Snyder action better than Zack Snyder, the production design alone is worth the price of admission and the “No Man’s Land” scene will go down in cinema history as one of the most inspiring moments ever filmed. Truly, where most war films claim to depict heroism, Wonder Woman defines the standard to which such heroism should be held. As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot channels Christopher Reeves’ Superman to give audiences a figure of hope they can aspire to — she is the hero the world needs and the one it deserves. But in Wonder Woman’s words, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Harrison Tunggal

6. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There may be less physical conflict shown in War for the Planet of the Apes than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the third Apes film is the first to truly be about war. Not every moment in war is physical conflict. Exemplified by Game of Thrones, war is often about the aura in the air and the disposition of every single person across vast regions, which, in War’s case, genuinely feels to be the entire planet. There is often silence in barren and broken landscapes that are strangely beautiful, and moments of harrowing communal strength in stake out locations. There are factions with warring ideologies, embodied by their leaders, and, most importantly, there’s a sense of history of what’s gotten us to this point. War for the Planet of the Apes holds all of that, and more, and is it arguable the most stunningly crafted of the trilogy. When it does come to physical conflict, it features some of the more viscerally abrasive battles of recent memory, especially the film’s opening. And it’s also host to some searing, haunting imagery akin to the Holocaust, as well as to any other conflict that involves mass imprisonment, such as the Japanese internment camps. War is one of the few war films, in general, to truly understand what “war” means, the implications of it, the often ignored visual and emotional impacts on both the small and wide scale, the ideological divide, the characters that perpetrate it and the characters that uphold the best of humanity — which, in this case, are the apes.

— Kyle Kizu

5. American Sniper (2014)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

American Sniper is a rorschach test of sorts. Some people see this film as a jingoistic piece of propaganda. Others see it as a sobering investigation into post traumatic stress disorder. It lands so high on our list as we mainly fall into the latter. While the film may not have a typical progression of narrative, we follow Chris Kyle, portrayed with unbelievable vulnerability by Bradley Cooper, through this growing sensory and emotional overload. Rather than use a typically inspirational score like Lone Survivor, American Sniper makes use of horrifying sound design that enhances the sounds of bullets and explosions. The film crafts this entrapment, most directly on his tours as gunfire rains down from all over and even hiding places are not so safe, but also in brief moments back in the U.S. as Kyle becomes entrapped in his own head. The brevity of his raw emotional moments shows just how much pressure and silence these soldiers dealing with PTSD feel like they have to put on themselves, making them all the more powerful — exemplified by the bar scene when Kyle arrives back to the U.S. without telling his wife and, when she calls, he breaks down and can only say “I guess I just needed a minute.” American Sniper is a war film that digs into you without you really noticing, so when you get to those points, you still feel all of what Kyle feels. It’s a necessary look at what war does to human beings.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Son of Saul (2015)

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Holocaust is a subject that is often focused on in World War II films. There have been a multitude of movies exploring the horrors and atrocities committed during this moment of history, with notable examples being the eight-hour documentary Shoah or the Best Picture winning Schindler’s List. The topic has been explored by filmmakers like George Stevens, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer, Vittorio de Sica, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven. With all of these major filmmakers being vital and their films classics, it may be hard for anyone to feel that cinema needs to retouch one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. Yet, László Nemes’ directing debut Son of Saul might just be the most stunning from both a filmmaking and pathos standpoint. The film follows Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish Sonderkommando, as he goes by his day-to-day activities, which includes the truly demoralizing jobs of being both the person who leads fellow Jewish people into the gas chambers, and then being the one who disposes their bodies afterward. One day, Saul sees a child — after the fact — that resembles what his son would have looked like. From here, the film plunges into the wearied psyche of Saul as he tries to find answers to where his son is, and if that boy was his son. Filming in mostly tight close-ups, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely create an extremely subjective view on the Holocaust, forcing the audience to rarely see the violence, but instead to hear it, to be surrounded by it, to be as closely immersed in this devastatingly tragic time as any film before it. It may be a grim film, but it’s about as important and courageous as film can get — showing that sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, we can regain our own humanity.

— Levi Hill

3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation represents not just one country, but the many that suffer from the type of atrocities and conflict of war present in this film. And this is where writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off a stunning feat of storytelling — we understand that this is the tragedy of many, but we get to know our characters so deeply and so vividly. We become so connected to this idea of a larger devastation because we get such intimacy with the singular devastation we see. Much of that comes from violence. The trauma that Agu (Abraham Attah) encounters is overwhelming in every way, something that we immediately recognize as far too much for a young child. And as Agu falls into his own head, we see the potential for what he can become in the film’s juxtaposition of him next to the Commandant (Idris Elba) — a broken man forced into fighting, addicted to fighting, but only for any semblance of individuality and not for the war’s cause. That’s what makes Beasts of No Nation such a vital war film. Not only is it gorgeously rendered with some arresting cinematography and some viscerally intense filmmaking, and not only is it a film that shows conflict outside of the Western world, but it’s so invested in its humanity, in the brutality that gets us to a point like that and in the psychology of the most psychologically vulnerable during wartime: children.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Director Kathryn Bigelow has never been one to shy away from war in cinema. Whether it be her first foray into the genre with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker or 2009’s Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, (which reminded Hollywood, yet again, directing isn’t just a boys’ club) Bigelow has proven time and time again that she is the female authority on war on the silver screen. Combine her directorial prowess in capturing the governmental manipulation behind contemporary conflict along with the moral ambiguity of modern politics and a tour de force performance from Jessica Chastain, and you have Zero Dark Thirty. How does one portray the relentless hunt for the leader of the militant organization that orchestrated the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? With an unwavering realism that produces a profound sense of patriotism that is simultaneously overpowered by a sense of conscientious repugnancy, Zero Dark Thirty earns its spot on this list not solely for the gripping fashion in which it fashions an intimate look at the minds integral behind the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but the staunch stance it takes in revealing how war affects those that aren’t on the front line, and what they, and we as a nation, are willing to sacrifice to win.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

1. Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros/Courtesy

Statistically speaking, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is, hands down, the film MovieMinis has written most about, by a margin wider than the English channel itself. And for good reason — beyond simply being a great war film, easily one of the best of all time, it is still the best film of 2017 (the ball is in your court, Guillermo del Toro).

You can read all about Dunkirk’s merits as a film here, but as a war film specifically, Dunkirk’s brilliance comes from its comprehensive, thorough subversion of every war movie trope ever put on screen. No character in this film pulls out a photo of his girlfriend back home, we hardly ever see enemy soldiers firing away at our heroes and, quite remarkably, the film maintains its thrills without spilling a drop of blood. In terms of war films, Dunkirk is the anti-Hacksaw Ridge — a film about evacuation rather battle, the empirical engineering of tension over mere spectacle. In this sense, where most war films are happy to indulge in hyper-masculine violence or cliched patriotism, Dunkirk intends to achieve none of it, preferring to blaze a new trail for what a war movie could be. Unlike any other film in the genre, Dunkirk is a purely experiential film, aiming to put viewers on Dunkirk’s beaches, in the skies above it and in the waters of the English Channel. The film’s IMAX format, expert editing, earth-shattering sound design and reliance on practical effects remind us how the language of cinema is a mimetic one. Speaking of Dunkirk, one feels the compulsion to pontificate about how audio and visual immersion is a quality unique to cinema, but let’s face it, such immersion is unique to Dunkirk.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Featured image via Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

‘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.

4 brilliant performances from actors under 15 years old

Unfortunately, young actors often stick out in films. It’s hard to blame anyone in those situations; these actors are usually out of their comfort zone in such a highly demanding atmosphere, and it’s difficult for directors to truly direct someone so young.

But children are so integral to stories, adding layers that are wholly missing in stories all about adults. So, it’s a wondrous delight when a film features a great performance from a young actor. They’re few and far between, and take extreme talent from both the actor and the storytellers.

In honor of the acclaim that 7-year-old actress Brooklynn Prince is receiving for her turn in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, which is currently in theaters, the MovieMinis staff is taking a look at some of its favorite young actor performances of recent times, from actors under 15 years old.

Dafne Keen, Logan (2017) — 10/11 years old

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Logan might be billed as Hugh Jackman’s movie, but Dafne Keen steals the show as a young clone of Logan, X-23. She matches Jackman’s trademark intensity in every way, snarling and stabbing just like Wolvie in his prime, maybe even better (she does have those rad foot claws after all). Don’t believe it? Just check out her screen test with Jackman. More than that though, Keen is able to showcase impressive dramatic chops throughout Logan. The film’s ending, though emotional already, is predicated on Keen’s command of the scene. The way she responds to Jackman on an emotional level is stunning to behold — we really do believe that a young girl is losing the father she just recently connected with, and Keen ensures that not a dry eye is left in the theater. Her quoting of the final lines from Shane as she stands over Logan’s grave is easily the most poignant moment in the X-Men franchise. Between Dafne Keen, Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things and Ahn Seo-hyun from Okja, would it be too much to ask for an Avengers-style team-up of pint-sized, kickass actresses? Hell, set it in the X-Men universe. 20th Century Fox, the ball is in your court.

— Harrison Tunggal

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation (2015) — 12/13 years old

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation is an intense film that presents a harrowing picture of war-torn Africa and the many child soldiers thrust into performing horrific acts. It’s a heart-breaking portrait of the violence committed and the dehumanization these children experience, but the film wisely puts the film’s quietly building emotional wallop on the shoulders of newcomer Abraham Attah. Attah, as a young boy who saw his family die at the hands of an invading war within his hometown, portrays the full character arc of innocence gone awry, to hate-filled violent monster, all the way back to a boy reconciling the loss he has experienced in a short time. It’s a tricky arc for any actor, let alone one who had never acted before. Yet Attah is perfect, and while was shunned by the Oscars, rightfully won the Best Actor award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

— Levi Hill

Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar (2014) — 13/14 years old

Warner Bros./Paramount/Courtesy

Without an amazing performance from Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar potentially collapses in on itself like a forming blackhole. Murph is the heart and soul of the film, the source of both its human vulnerability and its human strength. Her spark, vibrancy in a time of dust storms and food shortages is invigorating. Foy embodies all of that, from the upbeat tempo of her line delivery, to the subtle lift of her eyebrows when adventure calls. Yet, so much of that comes out of the character’s love of her father. As much as she is capable and willing to be independent, her father is her role model and her rock during such difficult times. Thus, his leaving is the greatest of betrayals.

And in that goodbye, a scene of immense tragic poetics, Foy is stunning. She has to traverse so many emotions, from quiet vulnerability to raw desperation to subtle hope to heartbreaking anger. In response to “I’m coming back,” her delivery of the line “when” shatters us. And as she runs out of the house, calling out for her father as he drives away, her tears shatter us.

It’s difficult to truly see how important Foy’s performance is at first. But she genuinely is the basis off of which Jessica Chastain works, granting each of Chastain’s most emotional moments even more weight because of how much we became invested in Murph as a child. And all of the immensely moving moments of Cooper’s guilt are just that much more moving because we found such a strong connection between him and Murph at the beginning of the film. Interstellar is about a father and a daughter, a relationship that defines the veins of the film, a beating heart that doesn’t beat without the brilliance of Mackenzie Foy.

— Kyle Kizu

Jacob Tremblay, Room (2015) — 8 years old

A24/Courtesy

In a film that focuses on psychosexual abuse, familial ostracization and guilt-induced suicidal tendencies, it’s hard, if not impossible, to perceive even a glimmer of hope in the wake of such trauma. Yet somehow, Jacob Tremblay gives an inconceivably optimistic performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. As Jack, Tremblay represents the only tether to humanity for the perpetually-victimized Ma (Brie Larson) — the crux of the film’s emotional weight rests on the duo’s shoulders. Tremblay masterfully combines elements of precociousness, curiosity and an indelible level of courage to convey an uneasiness of the unknown, of a world outside the eponymous room, while remaining a pillar of strength for his overwhelmed mother. Larson’s performance relies a great deal on her onscreen son’s presence, and Tremblay somehow intimately commands each scene he’s in not through long-winded dialogue or overt acting, but, rather, restrained emotion. The level of his abuse, of his victimization is just beneath the surface of his wonder with the outside world, and Tremblay hints to it but never reveals it until the moment’s right. It would’ve been easy for a child’s performance to disrupt the rhythm of a such delicately-written melancholic narrative, but when said performance actually acts as the emotional core, you can’t help but be minutely unnerved and immensely impressed.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

 

Featured image via A24.

Top 10 Netflix Original Films

Over the past two years, Netflix has been building itself in the image of a legitimate film studio. They got started with documentary films and have held a consistent and impactful presence in that space — we were and still are stunned by the likes of Virunga and 13th — but it wasn’t until the release of Beasts of No Nation when the potential to carve a space in narrative filmmaking really presented itself. And as with any company trying out new things, Netflix stumbled. For every The Fundamentals of Caring, there were five to six dramatic duds. Adam Sandler comedies drowned out the Win It Alls of the bunch. But recently, the conversation and controversy around Netflix has ramped up, and that’s because they’ve been making seriously good movies. Almost all complaints about the streaming company’s release model are valid, but it’s difficult to deny the pure quality and singularity of films such as Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father. 2017 is shaping up to be the best year for Netflix and truly just the start of what they likely intend to do down the line. And with The Meyerowitz Stories, which genuinely makes up for the Adam Sandler atrocities with a wonderful Sandler performance, the best of the best for Netflix throughout its film production/distribution endeavors is quite a formidable group. Here is our list for the top 10 Netflix original films:

10. The Ivory Game

Netflix/Courtesy

Following in the footsteps of Virunga, The Ivory Game presents itself as an international (Kenya, Tanzania, Hong Kong) thriller working to uncover the dark truths of elephant poaching. Unlike Virunga though, The Ivory Game is less tepid to show the true mutilations and horrors of the violence being committed against these beautiful, sacred animals. As with most advocacy docs, it is heavy-handed and straightforward in its approach, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.

— Levi Hill

9. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Netflix/Courtesy

Macon Blair’s directorial debut also happens to be the 2017 winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic competition, and for good reason. Its one-two punch of humor and violence makes for a quirky crime-comedy, one that simply asks for people to do right by each other. If anything, the film is worth checking out for Melanie Lynskey’s performance as a windpipe-breaking, novice vigilante, and Elijah Wood as a shuriken-chucking eccentric.

Harrison Tunggal

8. First They Killed My Father

Netflix/Courtesy

Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial effort also happens to be her best and most important. First They Killed My Father functions as a memoir of author Loung Ung’s childhood during the Khmer Rouge’s regime, but it also acts as the therapeutic recollections of an entire country. This film belongs to Cambodia, a testament to the country’s collective trauma, a filmic monument. Jolie crafts such a monument with precision, delivering some of the year’s most haunting visuals, making First They Killed My Father a singularly important film in Netflix’s library.

Harrison Tunggal

7. Our Souls at Night

Netflix/Courtesy

Our Souls at Night is a quiet piece, a film that, like those at the age of the main characters, takes its time and doesn’t take things too seriously, but, when real emotions are at stake, can engage and devote care unlike any other. And in that way, we don’t really realize how emotionally invested we are as viewers until the end of the film. The pacing is so methodical, the dialogue so calculated to construct a genuine naturalism that we become enveloped in a seriously refreshing type of cinematic experience. But the majority of work done to craft empathy is through Jane Fonda and, especially, Robert Redford. Redford is incredibly vulnerable, shouldering the weight of his character’s backstory in such immensely affecting ways, whether that be through the breathy delivery of a single line of dialogue at the end of the film or through a short glance during the various emotional moments. It’s a performance that is reserved yet entirely wholesome, and one of the best of 2017.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Gerald’s Game

Netflix/Courtesy

While It is undoubtedly the bigger crowd-pleaser and entertainer, Netflix’s Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game may honestly be the better film. Navigating one location and one character’s mind for a majority of its runtime, Gerald’s Game is a surprisingly visual and intensely engaging story. The editing, cinematography, lighting and, especially, the vigorous and committed performances from Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino all work harmoniously to construct a world of hallucinatory, overwhelming terror, and the story and main character are granted a sense of empathy and care, even if a bit too on the nose, that too many horror pieces are devoid of. If not for anything else, though, seek out Gerald’s Game for one of the most physically affecting gore sequences of recent memory. It’s truly sickening. In a sickeningly good cinematic way.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Virunga

Netflix/Courtesy

In due time, people will begin to see that, in 2014, Citizenfour wasn’t the most important documentary of that year, but rather, Virunga had the most to say regarding humanity, animal rights, conservation measures and how capitalism and war affect everyone and everything. Merging an investigative reporting style about bribery and greed for French oil companies depleting the natural beauty and resources of the Virunga National Park, with a tender look at the selfless gorilla caregivers in the park, the film presents a breathtakingly beautiful, but horrifically heartbreaking look at the complex political issues in the region.

— Levi Hill

4. The Meyerowitz Stories

Netflix/Courtesy

The Meyerowitz Stories features the best performance Adam Sandler has ever given. He nails this quiet complexity, where he is outwardly loud and has random moments of (comic) swearing, but, for the most part, keeps his pain under the surface. The film is pretty low-key and likely won’t gain much awards traction, but Sandler deserves notes throughout the season for his turn. The whole cast, though, is excellent throughout, with Hoffman being particularly affecting as a cranky, retired intellectual, and the film itself is truly wonderful, a very distinctive but realistic New York state-of-mind story that only Noah Baumbach could concoct.

— Levi Hill

3. Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

Even though Netflix tends to get flack for burying its projects deep in its library of titles, and for not properly promoting any of them, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is such a delightfully unconventional film that one has to commend Netflix for letting it see the light of day, especially when the release of Bong’s previous film, Snowpiercer, was fumbled by the true winner of Mirando’s super pig contest, Harvey Weinstein. Functioning as a 21st century, sci-fi reupholstering of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Okja has plenty to say about the meat industry, capitalism and Jake Gyllenhaal’s facial hair (it’s Oscar worthy). The film does it with a blend of humor, warmth and violence, and while such a combination would feel out of place in any other director’s hands, Bong maneuvers a wide spectrum of tones with ease. As a Cannes competitor, Okja is one of the year’s best films, and it’s a film that truly elevates Netflix’s stable of original projects.

Harrison Tunggal

2. 13th

Netflix/Courtesy

With 13th, Selma director Ava DuVernay returns to the topic of race relations in the United States, making an equally as powerful, yet strikingly different artistic statement as she did with the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic. Tracking the changes in racism and how it takes form from the abolition of slavery until now, DuVernay truly defines what “necessary cinema” means — but not simply with content, but also with how she directs and composes said content. Strangely for a documentary film, the interview cinematography is intimate and blunt. The score guides the viewer through the overwhelming amount of information to consume, and the editing renders the progression of over 100 years smooth and fluid. But DuVernay never allows it to be easy to forget the true weight of this all. Words slam onto the screen, highlighted by every aspect of the film to force us to confront the horrific facts that have been produced by a system built on slavery. The cliche is true: 13th should be in classrooms across the country. Or maybe Netflix has become that classroom, giving this brilliant film a massive platform.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix/Courtesy

What can be said about the film that put Netflix on the theatrical map, a great movie that went nearly unnoticed in traditional distribution and at the Oscars, is that people began to question if Netflix would be the right company to release these vital films. Regardless of how people feel about Netflix’s distribution model though, there’s no doubting that Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is not only his best movie, but the best movie Netflix has ever released. Featuring a heartbreaking debut performance from Abraham Attah, and what should have been an Oscar-winning turn from Idris Elba (he won the SAG and the BAFTA, only to be snubbed of even a nomination by the Oscars), Beasts of No Nation is one of the most politically important war movies ever made. Acting as a Heart of Darkness-esque descent into the violence that plagues young children who are torn away from their homes and forced to fight in militias, Beasts of No Nation never shies away from showing the atrocities of these wars created by adults and fought by kids. If you haven’t seen the film yet, then please do, as the fact that the film will always exist for streaming on Netflix is one of the many great elements of this new model of film distribution.

— Levi Hill

 

Featured image via Netflix.

‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ Review: Adam Sandler gives his best performance yet in this neurotic, affecting Baumbach ensemble

Imagine The Royal Tenenbaums, featuring a sprawling ensemble cast who all bring their A-game playing an entirely dysfunctional family, blending drama and comedy in equal measure, but without the Wes Anderson artificiality, and with a very distinctive but realistic New York state-of-mind story that only Noah Baumbach could concoct, and you get Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).

Yet comparing The Meyerowitz Stories to The Royal Tenenbaums might be a slight to both films, as each have their own pleasures. For example, and maybe most notably, The Meyerowitz Stories features the best performance Adam Sandler has ever given. As Danny Meyerowitz, the black sheep of the family, with a bad limp, Sandler plays one of the sons to Harold (Dustin Hoffman) — the son with the most strained relationship to his Dad. Once a seemingly talented musician, who blew his career on drugs and having a child at a young age, he is a caring father but a shell of a man when around his domineering, former sculpture professor father. As the story reveals more and more about Danny’s past, we realize that he and his sister Jean were neglected as children, because their father and his four wives (he was divorced three times) never spent quality time with Danny and Jean.

Partly because of this, he feels a great rivalry with half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller), who may be the only Meyerowitz child with a successful career — even though he is far removed from his father’s goals for having each of his children become a talented artist. Sandler nails this quiet complexity, where he is outwardly loud and has random moments of (comic) swearing, but, for the most part, keeps his pain under the surface. The film is pretty low-key and likely won’t gain much awards traction, but Sandler deserves notes throughout the season for his turn. It’s good to see him do this much character work, rivaling his performances in Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People.

The whole cast, though, is excellent throughout, with Hoffman being particularly affecting as a cranky, retired intellectual. In fact, the biggest complaint for the film would be its longish run time. At 1 hour and 52 minutes, it seems as if Baumbach loved the characters so much that, instead of maintaining the novelistic short story ambitions the film starts with, he creates three to four seemingly capable endings before deciding on the last sequence.

Overall, though, this neurotic, poignant dramedy is a welcome addition to the fall season.

Grade: 8.2/10

 

Featured image via Netflix.

‘Our Souls at Night’ Review: Robert Redford is masterful in this tender, quiet and profound drama

When we get old and our partners pass, the nights can get lonely with no one to talk to — that’s the idea behind Our Souls at Night, and the impetus that drives Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda), two 70-something widows, together.

At first platonic, simply to have someone to talk to, and then slowly and gently romantic, Louis and Addie’s relationship is something unbelievably intimate and profound to watch — and that’s due in large part to the quiet yet raw performances of Fonda and Redford. Fonda hangs on to moments, her eyes fluttering, nervous, capturing the vulnerability of Addie’s admittance of loneliness and efforts in bonding with Louis. Redford, whose performance is very much like Adam Driver’s in Paterson, incredibly reserved yet entirely wholesome, is quite stunning. The film focuses on the deep history of these two people’s lives, and while Addie’s history surfaces, Louis’ doesn’t. But Redford moves through the film shouldering that history, in small glances and brief words, and we feel the indirect presence of his past life as much as we see Addie’s directly. It’s truly the work of a masterful actor.

But much of what allows us to see all of this in Fonda and Redford in Our Souls at Night is the writing of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars) and the directing of Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, The Sense of an Ending). Neustadter and Weber’s dialogue is simultaneously a showcase of naturalism and of calculated specificity. Nothing is over-explained or overstated. Nothing seems written. Yet, every naturalistic word feels writerly, almost painterly.

And just as Fonda holds on to moments, so does Batra. It’s the editing that produces the film’s quietude, leaving many of the shots to play in silence or extend beyond our preconceived notions of where a cut should be or where a scene should end. And while it may be slow, Our Souls at Night never feels slow. It’s progression is refreshing, an organic and unrushed development akin to the way life is when we get lonely, and when we try to connect again.

Grade: 8.3/10

 

Featured image via Netflix.

‘First They Killed My Father’ Review: Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian film is a haunting, emotional testament to historical trauma

In First They Killed My Father, Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir of the Cambodian genocide, the sentence “A daughter of Cambodia remembers so others may never forget” appears on-screen — a perfect summation of the hauntingly emotional film. Though it is told from Ung’s perspective (played by Sareum Srey Moch), the Netflix film becomes the story of Cambodia as a whole, a recollective testament to an entire country’s trauma. The words aren’t etched on a stone monument, but a filmic one.

The film’s casting process was criticized for being exploitative, but whether or not Jolie’s exercise in improvisation was as innocent as she claims, the film deserves recognition as a true Cambodian production while many Hollywood films are marred by whitewashing and white savior tropes. Jolie wrote the script with Ung, and worked closely with acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh to ensure the film’s authenticity — First They is largely spoken in Khmer, and even the closing text is written in Khmer.

Nevertheless, the film doesn’t rely on its dialogue, preferring to convey the horrors of war through its own visual language. We aren’t told about the titular murder, but see it through Ung’s recurring nightmare, one of many dream sequences that communicate Ung’s interiority. This emphasis on visual storytelling comes at the expense of developing Ung as a character, but her seeming numbness makes sense in a world so rife with horrors.

First They Killed My Father also includes several overhead shots which underscore the notion that this film is about the entirety of Cambodia. In one such shot, dozens of makeshift campfires illuminate the families gathered around them, defying a seemingly invincible darkness.

Even though the film is often tough to watch, moments like these tastefully suggest that love and empathy always win the day. Later in the film, Ung stands before the withered shell of a captured Khmer Rouge soldier. She stares him down, neither condemning nor condoning his actions, but seeing him as someone’s father, a person capable of love but manipulated to hate. The film’s success lies in its belief in humanity’s capacity for goodness, putting the onus on the viewer to validate that belief.

Grade: 9/10

 

Featured image via Netflix.

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