First Man

Directed By Damien Chazelle

Starring – Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

The Plot – A Biopic on the life of the legendary American Astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling) from 1961-1969, on his journey to becoming the first human to walk the moon. Exploring the sacrifices and costs on the Nation and Neil himself, during one of the most dangerous missions in the history of space travel.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Masterful sound mixing. One of the most difficult things to channel and articulate about a space movie are those often overlooked aspects of atmosphere that are rarely ever channeled properly in audio capturing. That is until Phil Barrie instills his influence of perfectionist touch upon the presentation. Phil’s consistency constantly overshadows what transpires throughout the many missions in space that the film depicts, and does so in a way that combines them into a chorus line of measurements that continues to magnify the tension associated with every scene.

– Needless to say, this film is much more terrifying than any science fiction horror film can muster up. What Chazelle’s intimate exploration proves is that space never needed a world-ending asteroid or an army of venom spewing aliens to relay the risks that follow, illuminating the uncertainty of timely technology that was anything but a perfect science. You’re almost waiting for something to go bad during each attempt, and this thought process only highlights the desire of the mission that is every bit as urgent as it is delicate.

– Without question, my favorite aspect of this film is the seductive camera work and grainy cinematography. On the latter, it’s incredible that IMAX cameras were used to film a majority of this movie because the film’s intentionally dulled down color pallet is something that moved miles in terms of time period consistency, giving “First Man” a transformative feeling to a time when film quality wasn’t as fortunate. On the former, the decision to shoot the ship scenes with so much intimacy and claustrophobia, in addition to the occasional first person point-of-view, is one that pays off immensely for communicating not only the high stakes of the mission, but also how alone and isolated they feel from those they love. Most space films, especially during the 90’s, got this kind of thing wrong, but Chazelle more than anything wanted to illustrate the fragility associated with space exploration, especially during a time when science was anything but exact.

– In addition to the film’s look channeling its respective time period, the production props and wardrobe also vibrate a sense of authentication in subtlety that are sure to please. We are treated to a lot of short sleeve button up business shirts, with a thin tie to bring it all home. Likewise, the many peeks of classic automobiles and outdated Busch Beer cans were something that was a treat behind every corner, leaving no stone unturned for superb production details.

– Depthful screenplay by Josh Singer. In learning that this was the first film that Chazelle didn’t pen, it did have me remotely fearful for him covering someone else’s vision, but the very man who covered such important topics like child molestation with Catholicism in “Spotlight”, as well as the battle for free press in “The Post”, more than filled my glass of optimism with the amount of versatility he provides in 133 meaningful minutes. More than just another space movie, this film values the battle of what’s going on at home with the wives of these astronauts. It also brings to light the increasing pressure of the United States and NASA to come through with a meaningful triumph, and how those demands fell on the shoulders of one man who bordered obsession in such a mission. All of these subplots continue to play into our thought process as we watch the film, and give us great investment for Neil’s character, if only even for this drained man to finally attain the peace of mind he has worked so hard for.

– While this is Chazelle’s first film that doesn’t revolve around music, it doesn’t mean that the accompanying scores by longtime partner Justin Hurwitz don’t breathe a level of importance for the particular story. What’s appreciative is that they are mostly saved for the moments when their inclusion serves the atmosphere and scenery the loudest, capturing an essence of dramatic wonderment in American achievement that constantly fishes for goosebumps. Strangely enough, there’s one number in the film that repeats twice that I swore was a number from “La La Land”, only slowed down, and that’s quite possible considering the very same man who composed the Oscar winning numbers from that film also perfected the patience and prestige that accommodated “First Man”.

– A touch of the past. I was very surprised and humbled with the film’s decision to include the actual audio transmission of NASA headquarters in Houston, during such a monumental time. Even more pleasing than this however, is the use of 1969 stock footage between American commentary on the failing space program, as well as the influence that arguably the greatest achievement in American history had on the citizens who watched it in droves.

– Surprising assortment of supporting cast. In watching the three different trailers for this movie, I did manage to spot Kyle Chandler and even Jason Clarke, but never did I expect that this film was more of an ensemble piece than I thought. Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Ciaran Hinds, Shea Whigham, and of course the gret Corey Stoll all play important pieces that interact with Neil before his missions, and prove that the big names are beginning to flock to Chazelle as one of the prime directors of our generation, and with films like “Whiplash”, “La La Land” and “Grand Piano” under his grip, it’s easy to see why.

– The big payoff. It’s no secret the event that this film is building to, but after over two hours of build and exposition does it truly payoff in size? You bet your ass it does. My suggestion would be to see this film in the biggest screen possible, because the combination of breathtaking aesthetics, as well as magnitude in scope remind us not only why this story is so fascinating to us, but why American perseverence never quit. There’s one shot in particular that is almost frozen in frame, giving the audience plenty of time to soak in the immensity of it all, and single-handedly solidifying itself as my single favorite shot of 2018.

NEGATIVES

– If there was one thing that I wasn’t worried about, it was the work of Ryan Gosling, but that proved to be my undoing. This opinion might be unpopular with a lot of people, but Gosling’s reserved performance here is remarkably underwhelming for never giving us a single instance of gripping delivery. Beyond Ryan however, the film’s direction never allows us to see inside of Neil, instead choosing to continuously view him from the outside and come to our own conclusions about what’s going on inside. This proves a huge disconnect for the screenplay, and served as the only real negative that I took away from an otherwise flawless movie.

9/10

Mandy

Directed by Panos Cosmatos

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

The Plot – Taking place in 1983, Red (Cage) is a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough) spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader, who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a chainsaw and other weapons, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Rated R for scenes of terror, violence, and nudity

POSITIVES

– An invitation into the Panosphere. For only his second film, Panos Cosmatos continues to raise the bar of expectations, bringing to ‘Mandy’ a serene sense of hallucination that is the closest I’ve ever been to feeling on drugs. Visually, this film is a rock and roll fever dream of epic visuals and an over-the-top color pallet that constantly amazes. Shot with a Panavision AL series with an anamorphic lens, Benjamin Loeb’s mesmerizing cinematography is unlike anything that I have seen in such a long time, bringing beauty and euphoria to such nightmarish imagery.

– Marc Engels manipulative presence behind such sharp sound mixing. One sign of great mixing is when a film is able to fool me into hearing something that may very well not in fact be there, and it’s a constant in this film for my eyes to continue wandering, as I heard a barrage of animals and chanting that never appeared once in the film’s vantage point. Even better, it never intrudes on Johan’s sacred territory of scoring this midnight terror.

– Speaking of Johan, the gifted composer’s work in ‘Mandy’ is unfortunately his swan song cap on a legendary career, and he brings his A-game to outlining this other-worldly dimension that feels present in this film. Besides his love for the dark and ominous, it’s Johan’s range in electronic instruments and synth strings that gives this film’s horror and humanity the effective layers needed. Johansson has always been one of my absolute favorite composers, and from this critic and fan I say thank you for the memories. I’m glad you went out with arguably your most evasive and daring work to date.

– On a level of horror, many might be offended by ‘Mandy’ because it doesn’t have jump scares or conventional tropes, but this film does for atmosphere what others can only dream of. Much of this film deals with the devotion to the occult, so in depicting the helplessness and brainwashing, it truly is terrifying how one man’s guidance can be so dangerous based on how he chooses to unleash it. I found the thought process of this group to not be necessarily scary, but more unnerving and disturbing, for how they continue to believe they are doing the right thing.

– Cage unleashed. While Nicolas has never been one of my personal favorite actors, I can say that he is the perfect man for this project, if even just for the pure insanity that he brings to every character he takes on. As Red, Cage’s indulgence for overacting is the status quo, bringing a combination of grief and vengeance to his demeanor that feels animalistic when he reaches his road of revenge. His words are minimal, instead allowing his actions to do the talking. Cage’s crimson mask is worn like a trophy for his savage retaliation, and for the first time in a while, he feels inspired to give his all to a role that deserves him.

– Pays homage to the classic horror films before it that obviously influence this student-of-the-game director. I’m sure there are more than the ones I found, but my first viewing brought obvious dedications to films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, ‘Phantasm 2’, and of course ‘Evil Dead 2’. The one common factor here is that they are all sequels, but interesting enough, this is Cosmatos’s second directing effort. It takes two indeed.

– Unintentional humor that speaks volumes for the designated time period. Considering this film takes place in 1983, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the infamous disco versus rock and roll war are prominent in an environment even miles from society, and Panos heart lies with the latter. Our two protagonists don metal t-shirts that bear the obvious pentagram influence, but it’s in the cult’s musical choice of The Carpenters that nearly brought tears to my eyes. In so many words, Panos is relaying the idea that only people under the influence of some higher power can listen to such melodramatic music, and these few instances served as a welcome breath between terror shrieks that were the majority.

– Artistic expression. I know, big shocker right? But far beyond even the variety of colorful vibes associated with the film’s vibrant color scheme, the deposits of animated sequences were also a welcome breath of fresh air. These trippy free-flowing layers represented the dream sequences of those who the focus was on for that particular scene, and echoed accordingly the drug-enhanced vibe that is everywhere throughout the film. Even beyond this, I loved the neon title screens that introduced each character to us the audience. In accordance to this, the film’s title screen doesn’t pop up until halfway through the movie, signaling the start of the movie that was advertised as promised.

– Simplicity in story. What I appreciate about this film most of all is it didn’t require itself to feel cryptic or mythological with where it was headed, despite the first act that sets the stage for some abrasive folklore. At the end of the movie, the decision to hone this as a pretty conventional revenge flick is something that amazes the most, because it’s garners such a gut-punch of an impact from the imagery you partook in. This gives the film such an immense return that doesn’t require poignancy in material to spread the word of its mayhem. The film’s after midnight portal to another world more than takes care of that.

NEGATIVES

– Far too padded out in dialogue and sequencing. This film has no right to be over the 100 minute mark, and it’s unfortunately in its uneven first act where it wears too much of its weight. Dialogue is redundant, editing is testy in its delayed response, and the progression of plot feels most stunted during this period. This aspect will no doubt be the most difficult sell to audiences in terms of pacing, and I can understand it, because this film was one more edit away from being perfect.

9/10

Eighth Grade

Directed by Bo Burnham

Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

The Plot – Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school; the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like an authentic experience that goes far beyond being an entertaining piece of cinema. This movie immersed me right away to the very feelings of isolation and awkwardness that plague early adolescents, and lifted some of those repressed memories from my own developing childhood that were stored in the back of my psyche. Burnham never relents in his documentation for this important time, placing it ideally right in the final steps of middle school, before the change takes full course in high school, where you can re-create yourself. That idea of metamorphosis surrounds this film, and leaves our youthful protagonist drowning in this sea of change that feels laps ahead of her.

– My biggest respect to this first time Youtube star-turned-director, is what he manages to accomplish in terms of atmosphere, that constantly shapes differently throughout similar set-ups. Burnham doesn’t turn away from those down-time moments of boredom where a kid is shown playing with their face, or a random voice yells something to throw a teacher off. Instead Bo frames them to feed more sternly into that authenticity of environment that I mentioned earlier. What is so brilliant about this take is that it establishes a layer of relativity to Kayla’s own experiences with social anxiety, forcing us to see things in the same way that she does without sacrificing storytelling elements.

– The performances couldn’t be better, most notably from Fisher and Hamilton, who live and breathe these vital roles. Fisher’s timid posture speaks volumes to what she’s feeling inside, but it’s the way her facial expression reads and how they study and react to a room that truly captures this lamb being led to slaughter. Hamilton as well channels the sometimes intruding parent, who just seeks answers without trying to diminish the cool factor in how his daughter views him. When these two are together on-screen, it’s pure magic, especially that of a long-winded exchange in the closing moments that really tugs at your heart strings. Aside from these two, I also greatly credit the supporting cast around, as every child actor looks and feels synthetic to that of the role they are supposed to be playing. This is nothing like other movies who cast 18 year olds models to play 13, this is the real deal. As to where aspects like facial acne and bodily scars would be taken out of a typical sterilized Hollywood rendering, Burnham embraces the struggles of teenage growth, giving a feeling at times of a documentary instead of a picture with a script.

– Much of the musical score by Anna Meredith in the film also strikes a similar chord in mirroring the ever-changing atmosphere that Kayla partakes in. Sometimes it is loud and abrasive to commute Kayla’s dread, and other times it can be tender and smooth when she sees a certain boy she has a crush on. Even more beneficial and cerebral is how it only pops up when Kayla is full steam into a situation that has previously been playing out, serving the film as more of an extra emphasis factor instead of something that caters to the presentational benefit of the film. Enya’s “Sail Away” is the only familiar song played in the film, and even its gentle strokes balance Kayla’s escapism into the internet perfectly, in an almost hypntozing sense.

– As for the self-help Youtube element itself, Kayla disappears in this recorded personality that differs so far from who she is in her own real life. This gives the subplot an intentionally hypocritical, yet therapeutic feeling, in that all of this advice she dishes out is really more for her than it is her sparse social media following. She knows how fake her demeanor comes across on-screen, yet can’t escape this overwhelming demand from within to conform to what society wants her to be, creating this battle for struggle with the real Kayla lying somewhere in between. I love my flawed protagonists, and this one is the very definition of that angle.

– This film is time-stamped to this particular generation, most notably in the measures that adults take in trying to relate to kids, with all of their “cool lingo” like slang and dabbing, but its intended humor succeeds despite the fact that Burnham was nowhere close to growing up in today’s scholastic landscape. His greatest ability as a screenwriter is his handle on the material, and how it constantly feels like he wrote this while shadowing an actual middle school. It’s second to none in terms of its genuineness, and highlights Burnham as a major force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood landscape.

– When you speak of important movies that should be shown to our youths, ‘Eighth Grade’ is certainly among the best and most important in this regards. Its message is easily transmitted without feeling spoon-fed or forced, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to show the decay of interaction because of dependency upon social media. Like our very kids growing up in 2018, there is advancement, yet great warning that comes with great technology, and as a screenwriter Burnham perfectly expedites this by comparing this delve with the ages-old wish of wanting to be popular, marrying the two in a frought ceremony that only further advances and enhances the inevitable confrontation that Kayla is faced with, and who better than one of Youtube’s own (Burnham) in capturing that pressure.

– While I could be wrong, ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like the first movie that takes a touchy subject such as the struggles of junior high, and orchestrates it in such a way that is entirely serious regardless of the sometimes humorous experiences. Because of this mature approach, it stands out from plots similar to this in approach, that market itself as the very same comedy that diminishes the importance of what it’s documenting. ‘Eighth Grade’ instead feels comfortable in what it is, and never backs down in putting the moment first.

– While I don’t fully understand why this film is rated-R, I support that stamping because it will require adults and kids to see it together.

NEGATIVES

– A24 always has problems ending their film, and unfortunately ‘Eighth Grade’ continues this direction. I won’t say the ending was entirely unsatisfying to me, but it feels every bit as unresolved as it does unaddressed. One could interpret this as adolescence more times than not as feeling unsatisfying, but there’s a subplot involving Kayla in a car that never gets addressed any further. It’s an important scene because it underlines the issues of truth to our youth, but its lack of weight or consequence feels irresponsible in its teaching. The rare blunder that I had for this otherwise outstanding film.

9/10

Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle

Starring – Silvi Alzetta-Reali, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman

The Plot – New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, but it also unlocks an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives, and could transform our understanding of human nature forever.

Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material

POSITIVES

– Masterful storytelling in the form of the brothers, as well as the dozens of family members, doctors, and authors who played a pivotal role in this one-of-a-kind story. Eddy in particular, has such a unique tone of voice and passion when he describes someone he loves or a particular event in how it went down, and that kind of energy being tapped into played wonders in keeping me engaged in them throughout the picture.

– Articulate dramatizations that play hand-in-hand with the storytelling being told audibly. Most biopic documentaries use this feature, but use it in a way that is corny or comical in presentation to the way that takes away the focus on the details. But in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, this aspect in visual storytelling captures the essence involved with the atmosphere that feels honest to the imagining.

– A surprisingly big budget feel in musical favorites. Even if music isn’t the prime focus in a story like this one, the inclusion of tracks like disco and southern rock that were all the rave at the time of this discovery, do wonders in immersing us into the right time and place for this setting. Beyond just the triplets, this is a story about pop culture in the 80’s, a time when people started understanding that you don’t have to be in the movies to be considered a celebrity.

– There’s a rich combination of humor and dramatic material in the film never stumbles or cuts short the power of the other. For as much as I was authentically laughing during the first act of the movie, the evolution of maturity in material during the second and third acts when the relationship of the brothers becomes tested, felt very compelling in the sense of heartbreak for my immense interest in this uncovering of the truth that the trailer promised us endlessly.

– Speaking of that mystery, the less you know about these brothers and their circumstance, the better. I myself knew absolutely nothing about these triplets, other than what I was told in the trailer, and even that might be too much. In my opinion, go into this film completely blindfolded, because only then will the impact of helplessness cast upon these three gentlemen reach its boiling summit, and you’ll be moved to the point of being an information seeker because of it. Sometimes 91 minutes of a film just isn’t enough, and you’ll find yourself searching for what has happened since the cameras got turned off.

– With spoiling as little as I possibly can, the material focuses on the age old debate of nature versus nurture, and while the final verdict doesn’t feel anymore conclusive because of this shining chapter, the many ups and downs of uncovering this dark past certainly provide plenty of ammunition for both sides. Throughout the movie, I was debating with myself, occasionally changing sides with the more I knew about what these brothers had been through, pointing to that aspect of genetics that lies somewhere in the middle. Engaged and enraged, this film played chess with my opinions, and even still I’m as confused as ever.

– BAFTA nominated filmmaker Waddle does a superb job at piecing together the facts and the vast collection of TV appearances and newspaper articles of this story, while leaving his finger firmly on the pulse of human psychology. Selflessly, Waddle never allows himself to be much of a presence on-screen, albeit in just brief question deliveries that he has for his guests, but instead spends his time preserving the thriller aspect of the real life story that sometimes feels too compelling to be a true story, proving that drama plays for stronger stakes in the world far beyond the silver screen.

– Something interesting happens with the dialogue throughout the film that required you to constantly pay great attention. The only thing I could compare it to are the Saw movies, when a line of dialogue is re-inserted during the closing moments of the film to add new meaning to the clues it gave early on. That same thing happens many times in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, and does so without ever spoiling what’s to come, because most phrases in human conversation have double meanings when played out of context. Truly provocative in how it forces you to hang on to every word.

– Doesn’t waste time in getting to the meat of the story. What you do learn from reading the synopsis above, happens in the first twenty minutes of the documentary, leaving that inevitability that something bigger and darker lies just underneath the surface of human interest pieces. What evolves, does so without taking away from the luster of the enchanted tale, all the while harvesting this level of regret in somber details that only gains our interest so much more.

NEGATIVES

– In the heated debate throughout the film of nature versus nurture, there is one disappointing aspect, most notably in the time devoted to the lives of these kids and their adopting families. Everything is summarized briefly, but I feel like this particular angle needs more attention paid to it, especially during the third act, when we start to see the laces of theories and narrative thesis being tied together. Some more family experience or elaboration could’ve done wonders in making this a perfect film, but as it stands it is the only aspect of the movie I was disappointed with.

9/10

Sorry To Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

Starring – Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler

The Plot – In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use

POSITIVES

– Boots Riley is one of those film revolutionaries when it comes to the way he views the world. Considering this is the musical maestro’s first effort behind the director’s chair, it’s astonishing the way he blends colorful chaos and air-tight editing to feed into the absurdity of channeling a world so satirically unbalanced from our own, while leaving enough truth in the material to see the similarities. This is a music video director who transitions over to the big screen, and he does so without it ever feeling minimal like a music video, nor sacrificial for his volume of art that he unleashes.

– The material itself (Also written by Riley), ages like a fine wine, initially feeling like a full-on comedy that eventually morphs into horrific circumstance. While a film like ‘Get Out’ opened the perspective on interracial relationships, ‘Sorry To Bother You’ does so much more in exposing the delirium in the workforce that minorities wake up to every day. It’s every bit as smart as it is precise with its focus, feeling like the most elaborate episode of ‘Black Mirror’ that you will ever find.

– Beyond the confines of corporate consumerism, Riley also points a finger at slavery-like business models, corporate racism, dumbed down media programming, and even the blurring of lines between what really makes a celebrity. The thing is that the material is done in such an originally metaphorical sense that it will more than likely fly over the heads of a majority of its audience, but I found it to be very much intelligent and even brave for the way it takes the tense initiative and uses humor as its own kind of puppet to enhance the lunacy.

– As far as performances are concerned Stanfield might be my absolute favorite one so far this year. In emoting Cassius, Stanfield’s transformation and his vibe change so frequently throughout the film to mirror his corporate influence, and he never misses a single note. Everything is finely timed out and crisply directed for him, and Lakeith himself has plenty to add in animated facial reactions that tell the story of how the heart is feeling inside. This leaves you plenty of empathy to donate to the character, all the while he isn’t making some of the best decisions that we as an audience agree with.

– Not since ‘Requiem For a Dream’ has an environment surrounding our story felt so reactionary and ever-changing on the same path that our protagonist takes. As the film finishes up its pivotal second act, we barely start to recognize any of our characters, and it overall feels like the world could burn down around them at any time. The most impactful storytelling takes one person’s angle and enriches the volume to feel suffocating, and there were many times in Riley’s film where I felt like the progression of this future will do more harm than good to these people striving for the American dream.

– One interesting tidbit to the transition sequences involving Cassius talking on the phone to his customers, is that it is actually a practical effect. Boots hired many strong men to lift the desks at the beginning of every sequence, giving Lakeith that frazzled and shook feeling that could only reach for the kind of authenticity that comes with practicality.

– Never anywhere on this planet will you find someone who can even remotely label this film as predictable. The trailer itself is done in such a clever way that only showcases much of the first act shenanigans, leaving plenty along the way that transforms this story in the most weird and elegant of ways, creatively. This is a very quickly paced 100 minutes that look like two completely different films from start to finish.

– My favorite scene of the film is a transition montage sequence that I really don’t want to give too much about it away. What I will say is that it represents the rags-to-riches story that Cassius embarks on, duplicating the change in material things that spring up in his own life, done in the most elaborate and beautifully eye-hatching method of visual storytelling.

– My hat is off to any film that figures out yet another way for Danny Glover to utter the line “I’m too old for this shit”. Cliche? YES, Overdone? YES, Funny? Even still. It’s every bit as expected by now as Tom Hanks urinating in a movie, and it’s definitely my favorite of obvious Easter eggs in the movie.

NEGATIVES

– I hate even mentioning a negative in this film, because it’s so close to perfection for me, but the love triangle between three central characters was definitely the sloppy weakness of the film. Because of its lack of resolve and inconsequential weight within this story, it feels almost pointless to even introduce this subplot into the script. It is mentioned once during the third act, but then never elaborated on, leaving a noticeable flaw with some of the way these characters shake out in the end of the film.

9/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring – Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Francois Scarborough Clemmons

The Plot – From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and adult language

POSITIVES

– Assertive, informative, and moving . Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the perfect documentary for all kinds of fans, passionate or occasional, who wish to immerse themselves one more time in their childhoods. It’s a heart-warming dissection of the man who refused to change in an ever-changing world, giving way to the kind of loving and supportive ideals that some in 2018 still struggle with.

– Documentaries often follow chronological time as their directing narrative for storytelling, but that predictable spin gets lost in favor of Neville’s focus on the impacts with the world at hand that only Fred could commute. In his unmatched relationship with his youthful audience, Rogers because a pioneer with a lasting legacy for positivity, something that figures from our childhoods are quickly being removed from.

– With any documentary about a particular person, I look forward to information about that person that I rarely knew about, and this film accomplishes this in spades. Aside from our own intimate portrait of Fred front-and-center, the film also has several deep psychological spins for what the many characters in-and-around the neighborhood represented.

– There is that stirring feeling watching the film, when you almost forget that Rogers has been deceased since 2003, and this is because of the masterful editing by Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden, that manipulates that feeling of real time. Aside from this consistent bending of time, there’s also an innovative way that the visual effects puts you in the seat of watching this on your own television, giving off that live vibe before our very eyes.

– With absolutely no shortage of scenes to reach for tissues, it specifically was the scenes of Fred supporting a gay cast member, as well as a child confined to a wheelchair where I lost it like I haven’t in years during a film. What’s even more credible is that these somber instances have absolute zero to do with negativity of the situation, and more to do with how truly beautiful Fred’s one-of-a-kind outlook on life truly was. If this movie doesn’t make you smile at least once, you should have your pulse checked.

– Wide assortment of friends, family, and colleagues that vividly paint the picture. It’s no surprise, nor small feat the kind of legend that Rogers became saddled with, but in hearing the perspectives of so many adults who he helped along the way, you start to understand that while children were his pedigree, the universal language of love was something he lived every single day of his life.

– Intercut during several points during the film, are some experimental animation with Daniel Tiger that added a layer of independent cinematic depth to perfectly capture the roller-coaster of moods that the film takes with its material. These illustrations by Jason Fruchter offer a kind of mature shading palate of the typical Daniel Tiger cartoon that can currently be seen on modern day PBS, where the color scheme breeds more psychadelic effect here that visually pleased.

– What was most impressive to me is that even though Rogers lacked the kind of controversy or trouble that a protagonist in these films always seems to have, the movie never lost steam to me in following along. This is proof that good storytelling doesn’t require a juicy circumference to hook its audience. Positivity still holds a place in this world, even though that aura of good does omit itself a bit after you leave the theater.

– Tons of behind-the-scenes footage that offer us that rare glimpse of him enjoying the many passions in his life. Even more beneficial in this aspect is the fading effect of this wall that divides character and person, reminding us of this rarity of them being the same person. Rogers lived and breathed his daily life lessons to those he constantly spoke to beyond the camera, giving much credibility to why his show worked despite the fact that it went against everything that was defined as great television for the time.

NEGATIVES

– Although I felt like the stuff involving Fox News certainly added a dimension of unnecessary backlash to Rogers consistently inspirational message, the focus aimed at the many shows and people who parodied Mr Rogers is something that I felt was strongly unnecessary during this particular film. Lashing out against these misguided comedians who are only doing it for a laugh makes Rogers almost come down to their level, and if it were up to me, I would be fine with Neville ignoring them all together instead of wasting minutes to even give them recognition. Even with Rogers comments on them, it never feels consistent with the rest of the film’s positive message of nothing coming between Fred and the kids.

9/10

American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton

Starring – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

The Plot – The unbelievable but true story of four young men who brazenly attempt to execute one of the most audacious art heists in US history. Determined to live lives that are out of the ordinary, they formulate a daring plan for the perfect robbery, only to discover that the plan has taken on a life of its own.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material

POSITIVES

– Because the words “Based on a True Story” have become an overdone cliche in Hollywood cinema, Layton instead capitalizes on the direction of this real life heist by valuing the reality about its jaw-dropping details. As to where most films will let the A-list cast tell the story, Layton instead as a writer brings forth the real life figures involved in the story to narrate us in a dramatization-meets-feature-film kind of marriage that holds our interest for nearly two hours.

– Even more respectable is the impeccable use of artistic direction that adorns the picture and depictions from the people telling the story. There’s great use in the ability of change and almost erasing something out of frame all together when a character doesn’t remember it going down a certain way, and if this wasn’t enough, the backdrop in canvas stylization breathes that immersive touch. Each location feel like it radiates its own color palate, controlling the very aura of a room with its mesmerizing allure.

– Sharp editing. More so in the first half of this film, the story feels like it’s breezing to its robbery destination, and while this is true in terms of the overall pacing for the film, the answer in reality lies with the sequencing of each scene by master editors Nick Fenton and Julian Hart that makes the previous one feel overlapping. Because of this, the film’s events offer very little breathing time along the way, replicating the impending clock that feels hot on the tails of these animals whether they embrace it or not.

– What I loved about this screenplay is that the robbery is only half of the story. The real drama and traumatic experiences come AFTER the robbery, paying homage to a film like Alpha Dog that this film constantly reminded me of, although done so much better. Because much of Layton’s script is so cerebral in the mind of our deviants, we start to see the consequences of such a plan once step two comes into focus. It all feels like an exceptionally balanced beam of paranoia and inexperience that constantly play off of one another.

– Most surprisingly was the level of humor that the film harvests, despite this being a mostly serious narrative. The humor works because it feels authentic with the personalities and speech patterns amongst this tight little group, and less like it was written by some screenwriter in a chair. Its awkwardness amongst the unfolding madness demands you laugh at the sheer stupidity of it all, giving us that much needed moment of release amongst the ensuing pressure that keeps building.

– For my money, the work of Keoghan and Peters easily maintains control throughout for completely different reasons. For as much as Keoghan’s subdued curiosity spins the necessities of empathetic protagonist that the film so desperately needs, Evans Warren is the devilishly delightful antagonist of sorts on our left shoulder who forces us (As well as everyone on screen) to indulge in riches so close that we can reach out and touch them. Evans brings with him the same endless charisma and untimely rage from American Horror Story that has made him a household name in just over seven years.

– What this film does that benefits its heist scenes so much more than a film like Ocean’s 8 is that it maximizes the intensity of these environments and shifts that prove no matter how much you plan something, shit happens. In fact, it’s in the boys ability to adapt that makes this thinking-on-their-toes ideal spring those feelings of anxiety that we get while watching them get through the movements. The less you know definitely works for the better, but even if you know everything there is to know about this true American heist, Layton’s soaking up of environmental sights and sounds, when combined with Anne Nikitin’s musical drum-building triumph, makes for the perfect time to rid yourself of the facts and just get lost in matters so surreal that they could never be manufactured.

– Much appreciation for the tiny Easter eggs that were sprouted as a result of classic heist films. I won’t spoil them all, but a couple of examples come in the form of Blockbuster Video titles that the guys watch to prepare them for their big day, the use of ‘A Little more Conversation’ by Elvis Presley during a montage sequence (Ocean’s Eleven), and of course my personal favorite, the use of codenames that bares a striking resemblance to one of my favorite Tarantino flicks. This film not only homages, but it echoes these films effect on white suburban Americana.

– There’s an overall sense of feel in the film that relates this to a dream-turned-nightmare scenario that these kids can’t wake up from. Because so much of what we’re seeing is true and actually happened, the audacity of such twists and turns give off this narcoleptic state that we as an audience wait to be pulled back into a dream, only the horror gets worse the longer we stay under. This is something that most horror films can’t even attain, but Ann Dowd films have already managed this feat twice this year.

NEGATIVES

– If I had one problem with the film, it’s in the inability to relate to the thinly-layered oppression that this privileged group suffers from to make them feel motivated. No one between them ever feels truly desperate by their college lives to really need this heist, and because of such, the mission itself can’t escape this unshakeable feeling that this is all character boredom, omitting some of the momentum needed later when the sanctions come down.

9/10

Revenge

Directed by Coralie Fargeat

Starring – Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe

The Plot – Jen (Lutz) is enjoying a romantic getaway with her wealthy boyfriend, Richard (Janssens) which is suddenly disrupted when his sleazy friends arrive for an unannounced hunting trip. Tension mounts in the house until the situation abruptly, and viciously, intensifies, culminating in a shocking act that leaves Jen left for dead. Unfortunately for her assailants, Jen survives and reemerges with a relentless, wrathful intent: revenge on those who left her for dead.

Rated R for strong bloody gruesome violence, a rape, sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and adult language

POSITIVES
– From a presentational standpoint, ‘Revenge’ is the single best film of 2018. Sleek, transfixing sexy style in camera and color coordination that speaks vibes to 70’s exploitation horror with a French style of cinematography. Great close-ups on the Lutz’s body for how males in the film see her, and great close-ups on the males for how disgusting and predatory their long stares equate

– Measured, meticulous performance by the talented Lutz. Her transformation is one that is slowly calculated, and never feels superhuman once the turning point happens. She still very much feels pain, and that fact alone keeps this film from ever being predictable. Likewise, the male antagonists share a stark contrast in personality from beginning to end that reminds audiences that behind every warm smile is a hunter not afraid to get his hands dirty. It almost forces you to go back and watch the film again to see how elaborate the act of a pervert truly is.

– Fargeat is as ferocious as it gets as a director. There’s a fine mixture of feminist onslaught, combined with bloody brutality that not only satisfies audiences, but also has something to say about modern communication between the sexes. In addition, she never sacrifices style for substance, instead proving that a game of aggressive vengeance can feed into both.

– My early favorite for best musical score of the year by Robin Coudert. These tones capture a techno/new wave synth that command the strings of tension for each inevitable conflict. Even more impressive, Robin’s numbers are never redundant or derivative of the same ten seconds of audio on repeat. They very much expand in the same way the violent sequences do.

– There’s almost a satirical aspect to the screenplay that brings together every stereotype for white, rich males, but the air of familiarity keeps the impact of illusion firmly at bay. Sometimes the most difficult things to express are the loudest truths, and this film gives you more than a few perspectives at female dating that so-called ‘Chick-flicks’ just can’t capitalize on.

– The title is short, sweet and straight to the point. I don’t often give points for a title, but ‘Revenge’ hits the nose with everything the film encapsulates.

– Carnage candy for days. Even for a horror enthusiast like myself, there were two scenes in this film that made me wince in agony. Fargeat is happy to oblige in giving us the most disgusting and volatile angles that she can muster, choosing to never look away or put on the brake pedal from karma’s greatest game. Beyond this, each form of revenge in the film is a form of penetration, and that’s something that I don’t think was an accident when you consider the touchy subject matter of the first act.

– What is so astonishing about Fargeat as a first time director is not only her ability in giving genre enthusiasts what they want, but also the twists with genre cliches that she offers another take for. In this film it is the man who bares his body. In this film it is the men who make the stupid decisions. In this film the rape sequence doesn’t need as much spoon-feeding as in other films like ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ to be effective. The way it is shot and focused upon proves that the implication is more than enough to get her audience so invested in the moment.

– Much of the sound mixing here offers a stark contrast than what we’re used to, in that it heightens those moments of quiet in which characters are known to hide or plot to offer us a perspective into blood-rising or adrenaline boiling over. This made for some of the more exciting scenes than even that of the attacks because a volcano won’t blow if it’s not given the pressure to rise to the top, and the payoffs each time are that much more stimulating because of the poking and prodding to the audience.

NEGATIVES

– Some of the imagery edited into frames are a tad bit too practical for my taste. While they all make sense from a creative standpoint, I couldn’t escape this taste of obviousness a time too many. I feel like the film works best when its social commentary feels earned and not forced, and sometimes these brief moments of inclusion soiled the impact of letting Lutz take the reigns for herself.

9/10

Avengers: Infinity War

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

Starring – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt

The Plot – As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos (Josh Brolin). A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment; the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, some adult language and some crude references

POSITIVES

– You have to admire the task that the brothers Russo are faced with, combining 10 years and 18 films worth of characters to an explosive destination that packs the most dynamic of scopes in a superhero film to date. The Russo brothers establish the fun and surreal nature in combining our favorite personalities together to share the screen, and in doing so establish the exclamation point on a decade of this cinematic universe.

– Because this is an action flick first and foremost, the decision to shoot the entirety of the film with IMAX cameras is one that I greatly admire. Much of the tight-knit shots, as well as rocky camera work are traded in for smooth, wide-angled lens captures that allow you to keep your eye on everything in frame, despite the overwhelming nature of it all.

– Much of the C.G work is done beneficially enough, despite a few brief glare-ups that stick out like sore thumbs. Much of my problems dealt with a certain Avenger donning the Hulkbuster armor, in which the face of said actor looked jarringly hollow. Thankfully, the C.G landscapes and backdrops all capture the versatility in worlds that the film invades, and the destruction and devastation move mountains with their believability in weight impact.

– Best Marvel Villain to date. What makes Thanos such a great villain isn’t just his ability to adapt to the many fight styles that each Avenger member brings, but also his speed for a man his size that impresses and makes it easier to comprehend how he can keep up. Besides this, his backstory is one that allows plenty of empathy in respecting the tough decisions that this character has to face. In my opinion, the sign of a good villain is when you still see those brief peaks at the human side of emotions still yearning to get out, and Thanos rides this difficult roller-coaster commandingly, reminding us that big rewards come with punishing sacrifice.

– Speaking of Thanos, the overall makeup work here masters peak status for the entire Marvel series. In their prized antagonist, we get a mountain of a man with muscles stacked to the sky, but it’s in his facial features where I felt most impressed. Despite the immersion in this character from another planet in all of the purple makeup, there’s still enough definition in Brolin’s facial features to remind you that this is being played first-and-foremost by a live actor and not just a computer hologram.

– Anyone who reads my writing knows that my biggest problem with superhero films in general is that there is rarely any consequences to what transpires, and ‘Infinity War’ leaves this concern in the dust tenfold. I won’t spoil anything, but if you think this many characters will just glide through this movie unscathed, you’ve got another thing coming. There were grown men crying in my theater during the somber concluding moments, and this only further establishes the power that Thanos has not only on his prey, but also on the adoring audiences who have witnessed this super-villain come to life before our eyes. My only fear is that a convenient plot device within the Infinity Gauntlet might soil this in the second part of this film.

– Surprisingly, the many different tones are juggled wonderfully in this film. For some like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Iron Man, comedy has always been the dominant tone to their respective series, yet the serious dramatic take of ones like Doctor Strange or Captain America compliment these without alienating the former. I’ll mention a problem I have later with the immense number of characters, but I feel like the tone never suffered, nor did it separate the feeling that you might be watching five different movies stitched together.

– Because of the volume of A-listers sharing the screen, there are few chances for anyone to truly breakout performance-wise, but this is definitely Brolin’s film for the taking. Not only does Thanos receive the entirety of the backstory in exposition, but Josh’s careful juggling of menacing presence covering up a map of pain and sorrow just beneath the surface, is something that articulately illustrated levels of depth to his range as a performer. I honestly think this will go down as one of his best performances when his career comes to an end someday.

– As with other Marvel films, this too has some poignant social commentary conveniently rising to the surface. Some themes within the film that we see in our own world involve suicide bombers dying for the cause, heaven and hell, and most obviously the use and necessity of nuclear weapons (Infinity Stones). On the latter, there’s much reflection that the Russo’s offer in suggesting that we get rid of these objects that we have sworn will protect us that might ultimately be our undoing, and these serious issues never weigh down or preach their intended message to soiling the overall atmosphere of the thrills they accompany.

 

NEGATIVES

– There are obviously no shortage of superheroes sharing screen time here, and while that does wonders for the overall pacing of the film (Even at nearly two-and-a-half hours), it only hurts the movements of each respective subplot. With there being seven different groups of stories being told simultaneously, the uneven time deposited to certain ones clearly become obvious, making it feel like ages before your personal favorite story arc is returned to again. My solution is that some of these could’ve easily been converged with others, improving the interactions as well as trimming a few minutes off if you feel necessary.

9/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and adult language.

THE POSITIVES

– The aesthetic touch couldn’t be better, bringing to life the vibrant visuals of the OASIS with a synthetic gaming feel. I would normally call out other films that depend so much on C.G graphics, but this kind of effect was made for a film that almost entirely takes place in a world so foreign from our own.

– Art imitating life?? Because of the beauty and adventure involved in the OASIS, the real world is associated with a bleak, almost hopeless feel by comparison. There’s a real sense of escapism with this gaming world, and while that comes with endless exhilaration for our protagonist, it ignores the real problems that have doomed society because of their dependency upon this magical place. This responsible take is every bit as refreshing as it is vocal about our own addictions to technology.

– There’s no secret that this film could easily be called ‘Easter Egg: The Movie’ because of its endless displays of pop culture icons from film and gaming that give it an overall big budget feature. What’s surprisingly pleasing however, is that with the exception of one scene, their appearances feel necessary in upping the ante of importance to Halliday’s future and never steal the film’s focus for themselves. In catching them all, this film has outstanding replay value, and will welcome hundreds of upcoming Youtube videos to point out the ones that are extremely obscure.

– Spielberg has directed adult or child protagonists before, but surprisingly never teenagers until now. In doing so, it feels like he has a real grasp on their psychology and mannuerisms when it comes to their overall sense of spontaneity. ‘Ready Player One’ could easily pass for a teenage genre film in any of the eras it homages, and it’s clear that Spielberg’s latest awakens the adolescent from within him that has constantly kept beating through over forty years in cinema.

– This film is a collective audio scrapbook of 80’s synth hits that each meet their desired emotion in their respective scenes without feeling topical. From Van Halen, to A-Ha, to even Twisted Sister, this soundtrack mirrors that of the fictional star power shown in the film, and serves as a respectable nod in our present day to the past era of music that felt bigger than life.

– Sound mixing at its finest. You have to listen and pay attention closely, but the sound effects in the OASIS that serve as a reaction when something has been hit or destroyed also borrows from film, carefully placing a sound that the audience is familiar with into a new atmosphere to give it a new lease on life. For instance, the fading picture noise in ‘Back to the Future’ is now used for the key reveals.

– Precise casting. I have only read ‘Ready Player One’ once, but for my money the casting of Sheridan and Cooke feels right on point. The two emote an on-screen chemistry that radiates without being forceful. What’s even more impressive is that these two must connect on a spiritual level and not a physical one since a majority of the film takes place in the OASIS. It’s also in the care and backstory of their respective characters that the film takes in drawing them together. You feel strong empathy and investment into their conflicts because of their conflict with this major corporation that has taken everything from them.

– It’s not often that I get edge-of-my-seat giddy during a film, at the age of 33 years old, but the second key challenge in the film had my eyes glued to the screen with anticipation. Many people will be raving about the third challenge in this film, but my vote for coolest scene goes to the second challenge that bends the pages of historical film without desecrating them.

– If you listen to me about anything, hear me when I say that ‘Ready Player One’ is the film you go all out for and pay top dollar. This is a film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes on the biggest screen possible. The 3D actually added effects work to the outline of characters and backdrops that put you front-and-center inside of the game, and for once the colors don’t diminish or fade with the thick lenses of these theater goggles. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

THE NEGATIVES
– A majority of the action sequences are shot a bit too close for my taste. What this does is make it slightly more difficult in registering each deciding blow with the kind of clarity needed in keeping the audience’s focus. Because so much of these scenes are cluttered with characters, I could’ve used that wide angle shot in seeing things from the grander scale, instead of feeling like I was holding the hand of the main character.

THE EXTRAS

– It hit me about midway through that this is a modern day ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Five kids work closely together while mining through a series of tests for the prize of winning a genius’s empire. Sound familiar?

9/10

Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring – Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

THE PLOT – Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.

Rated R for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood with another truly mesmerizing musical score for his friend, Anderson. Greenwood always feels like he has his hands on the pulse of the films he accompanies, but it sounds like his piano-dominant numbers breathe life and narration into the picture, following along our group of characters through their rocky tribulations that heighten our experience. He’s simply needed more here than ever before.

– The trio of performances by Lewis, Krieps, and Manville that all bring their best game to the forefront. If this is Lewis’s rumored final film, then he goes out on top, breathing life into the workaholic Woodcock that depicts a man burdened by his passion. Together with Krieps, the film’s couple feels like the most honest depiction of love on the screen that we have seen in a long time, channeling a kind of childish bickering between them that gives the audience plenty of innocent giggles. Krieps herself has such rendering facial expressions that she could play her part without ever vocalizing a single word.

– Anderson is impeccable as a triple threat, commanding the camera, screenplay, and helming the luxurious cinematography for the first time. On the latter, Paul uses soft, dreamy backdrops to accentuate the vibrancy that the fashions that adorn. This makes the work of Woodcock pop that much more to the naked eye, and blossoms what I feel is Anderson’s best feature of the irreplaceable work that he takes on.

– Costume designer Mark Bridges and his elegant styles that immerse the film with such first class tastes. Bridges uses layers to sell his gifts to the audience, and if there’s any film that appreciates his artistic vision, it’s one that values and depicts what goes into the perfect dress.

– The screenplay hints that every beautiful gift that is bestowed upon someone can in turn be a curse that renders them lost in their work. This gives our protagonist a kind of man-becomes-monster kind of feel, in that it’s great to see him work, but we know it’s a cancer of sorts to his own well-being.

– I greatly appreciated that this film never took the low hanging fruit that was quietly hinted at especially during the second act. There are enough twists and turns that keep this sometimes redundant screenplay infused with the spark needed to get through the dry spots, and it gave the film enough momentum to carry over into hour two.

– There’s a kind of awkwardness in the idiosyncrasies that surround Woodcock’s lifestyle and routines that value this as anything BUT a casual 20th century love tale. Once we delve deeper, we come to understand the reasons behind this abstract man that stands before us.

– One of the messages that I took away from the film was when you’re in love with someone, you must tailor yourselves to each other. There’s further argument that opposites may attract, but those opposites must learn how to merge together to create something beautiful for all to adore. Sounds like one of Woodcock’s creations, eh?

– Because of so many seamless tonal shifts, there’s more uncertainty as to where this film is headed. There are times of laughter, sadness, and even horror that spring to life, and all of it feels like the necessary ingredients needed for the mental game of chess in the finale that will leave you frozen in your seat.

THE NEGATIVES

– It’s a small problem, but I almost wish that the film would’ve explored the secrets that Woodcock stitches in every creation a bit more. I just feel like to bring it up and use it very little for the remainder of the film makes it either a lost opportunity or a pointless conversation piece.

9/10

I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring – Margot Robbie, Allison Janey, Sebastian Stan

THE PLOT – Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband (Stan) intervenes, paving a road of faith to this moment that has taken her through a lifetime of mental abuse from her Mom (Janney), and physical abuse from her husband. When all is said and done, Tonya will be one of the most memorable names in the sport….for better or worse.

Rated R for pervasive adult language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity

THE POSITIVES

– The decision for a two hour runtime allows the WHOLE story to be told, feeding into the before, during and after of the famous incident that will label her for a lifetime.

– Even Hollywood writers can’t make up the absurd chain of events depicted in this film. Stories like this are movies before they ever see the light of day on the screen.

– Exceptional production qualities like stage lighting and versatility in camera angles and framing, keep this biopic from ever garnering a typical movie-of-the-week artistic vibe

– The transformative performances of Robbie and Janney that take no prisoners with their audience. Janney is the devil incarnate, channeling the worst parenting job since ‘Mommy Dearest’ with a fiery register behind rimmed glasses as big as her ego. Robbie originally felt too beautiful for this role, but she won me over in juggling the emotional roller-coaster that is Harding, who truly always feels alone in what she endures.

– Presents a refreshing angle to Harding that offers an empathetic take without framing her in innocence. This highlights the idea that she is a product of her environment, and never shook the ideals instilled upon her by her mother.

– Harding’s underdog story of sorts for competing against an entire organization and their precious traditions. Revealing looks at historical events like this one certainly provide insight into the pre-determined mindset of the judges who wanted Tonya to fail before her skates ever hit the ice. This makes it easier to stand behind her.

– The precise editing of the skating sequences, conjuring up an intensity in performance that I never paid attention to for the sport.

– Screenwriter Steven Rogers unshaken direction to leave the truth somewhere in the middle, between what actually happened on that fateful day. The interview style leaves just enough room for there to be skepticism provided by the questionable characters telling it.

THE NEGATIVES

– The facial C.G animation during the skating sequences is jarring. There are often scenes where a huge head feels like it is plastered on a small body, giving the authenticity a cartoonish vibe that is not needed in the otherwise perfect production value.

– Too often the narration cuts in, limiting the story from playing out in real time. Only half a point was taken off here because the problem fixes itself in the third act.

9/10