Lady Bird

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Saoirse Ronan stars in actress Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut exploring the senior high school year of a girl living in Sacramento. Lady Bird is without a doubt a sweet and very entertaining coming-of-age film that’s especially impressive for a debut. I’ve always considered Greta Gerwig a great actress, with her touching and quirky performances in Frances Ha and 20th Century Women demonstrating her rare and impressive talent, and here she proves she can create a great story behind the camera as well. Ronan brings out her best performance since Brooklyn as an interesting lead role with a lovable personality. Her character is often self-centered and foolish but her emotion, charisma, aspirations, and love for her family makes her a unique protagonist. The way her relationship with her mother is depicted is very heartwarming and definitely the core of the film, offering another great performance from Laurie Metcalf. The supporting cast including Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges as one of the protagonist’s boyfriends and Tracy Letts as her father also give it their all and they bring a nice approach that make their characters feel like people involved in this world built around Ronan’s character. The plot and emotions from each character feel very human and aren’t exaggerated too often, and although there are some plenty of hilarious moments, it also known when to be more serious and the comedy and drama elements are balanced really well. Every scene flows from one to the other as if it was real life, and the realistic character personalities, emotions, and actions are reminiscent of films Gerwig has starred in herself. Although it doesn’t have any surprises in the story as it is another coming-of-age film, and some of the events at the end feel a little familiar, but Gerwig brings lots of humor and heart to create an affecting and human story about family, adolescence, and life.

Lady Bird is a great debut from Greta Gerwig with a fantastic performance from the talented Saiorse Ronan. Its mature content makes it one to be viewed by teens and older viewers, but its touching emotion, cast, and writing make it a recommended watch for those who are interested in a grounded and human story that will not fail to entertain you.

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Justice League

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Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

The DC Extended Universe has been on a bumpy road lately, because even though I liked Man of Steel, the films that followed, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, placed this franchise in a dark state. This year, Wonder Woman helped many regain some faith in the franchise, and although I did enjoy that movie, I was very skeptical about this one. Zack Snyder returns from the previous films to direct his third film in the franchise. However, he was replaced by Joss Whedon after leaving the post-production process to cope with the tragic death of his daughter. Although I was sad for Snyder and curious about a new style that could improve on what we’ve seen before, I was afraid the end result would be extremely inconsistent. Although as a movie, the director changes aren’t too noticeable, at times this feels like the slo-mo infested Zack Snyder movies he originally shot, and other times it’s trying to be a funny and light-hearted Marvel movie. Batman v Superman was dark and slow, and although Snyder’s directing is clealry shown here, the tone is definitely tweaked and improved for the future of DC. He should have understood we don’t need a gloomy, boring, overly dramtic/metaphorical film with no emotional payoff, when you can spend more time focusing on the great superhero characters you have. Justice League feels different from the rest of the DCEU in tone and mood, but also from the new boundaries Wonder Woman set, which is unfortunate, but I was still able to have a fun time, despite a $300 million budget that still couldn’t make good CGI and a rushed, formulaic, and uneven script.

Ben Affleck once again leads the cast as the charismatic Batman, and Gal Gadot is once again fantastic and steals the screen, although the script is too reliant on the events of her solo movie to have her character arc work, and emotionally she isn’t given anything new to work with. Ezra Miller is hilarious and perfectly cast as The Flash, with a well-established backstory and great writing and humor. However, the other two new characters, Aquaman and Cyborg, are underdeveloped and given no reason for us to care about them. The writing for their characters is occasionally humorous and effective, but we can’t get invested into them too much besides Wonder Woman, even Batman fell flat from a character development stance at most times. We should have gotten standalone movies for these three characters before they all teamed up, this culmination was too rushed and hardly set up. The reason The Avengers and Marvel’s new Netflix miniseries The Defenders felt so anticipated and great were because we had already met these characters individually, and the studio took their time to get us excited when they finally interacted and had great chemistry. Here, the characters we’ve already been introduced to have already all fought together and the rest are new to the game. If DC had waited to set up great universes and backstories for all six of the League members instead of only three, we would have gotten something even more exciting and satisfying. The chemistry between the entire team was also something I hope a lot more from, the had no time to make the team feel like a real team and interact with fun banter like the Marvel teams I mentioned, instead the team’s chemistry feels absent and rushed past.cDC has done a terrible job with their villains, such as Doomsday, Enchantress, and most recently, the dull and horrible Ares, but Steppenwolf is on a whole new level of awful. His CGI is video-game quality and his motive and posing of a threat are nonexistent. There are also some underused characters (I was excited to see J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, only for him to appear in two brief scenes), and lots of plots that are set up and go nowhere or only feel around for a short while.

The DC Extended Universe has been a huge mess, and although Justice League is a step in the right direction, it’s not as impressive as many would hope. I didn’t expect much form the movie, but the changes in tone are mostly for the better. The shorter 120-minute runtime is justified and the story feels rushed, as a plot conflict is introduced then immediately dealt with in the next scene, and although there are fun action scenes, including one taking place at Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira, the stakes never feel there, and the overly used slow motion from Snyder and the moral dialogue from writer Chris Terio don’t blend in well with the lighter style Joss Whedon was hoping to bring. Although I was even able to enjoy some uses of Snyder’s signature style, this feels the least like a Snyder movie like all of his films which relieved me since his style in Batman v Superman wasn’t used very well. There are scenes in which characters discuss conflicts and the ideals behind the events of the previous films, and then the comedic moments come by and that’s when it starts to not blend in. I liked the lighter, more Marvel-esque tone it was going for and it should have stuck with that. Also, a certain character’s return makes for a fun scene but definitely weakens the plot later on. When all the action ends, nothing felt emotionally satisfying or triumphant, as most of it is predictable and formulaic, and I couldn’t have cared less about the post-credits setup for who knows how many sequels. Although Wonder Woman brought this new DC universe in a much smarter direction, Justice League blends in the directing and writing styles from previous films with the positive humor and fun that fans like us were hoping for, and although this makes for an uneven and predictable plot with some fun moments and a better tone and direction than previous DC films, it ultimately isn’t a must watch unless you absolutely love these characters and the comics.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable decision after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

I’ve seen many movies over the years that dare to do something different, that have an unconventional style or method of storytelling and challenge the mainstream audience in some way, but nothing has compared to the pure insanity that I witnessed watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer. There is no film that you can call similar to this movie, because everything going on in this film is so unprecedented and different than what we’re used to seeing in film. The opening shot alone convinced me how messed up and different this movie would be, and this film is effective in its thrills and scares like no other horror/thriller movie could. There are no jump scares or supernatural threats, most of what is going on would have seemed completely normal if Yorgos Lanthimos had not directed it. He directed probably the most bizarre film I had seen before this one with The Lobster (which got him a screenplay Oscar nomination, and I hope he gets another for this), and his style is notably dark, unsettling, and uncompromising about the worst of humanity. His cinematography is gorgeously in unexpected places and he breaks the rules of how every other director chooses to place their shots. No filmmaker has been quite this daring since Stanley Kubrick, and you can even draw similarities to his work The Shining, with the symmetry and tracking shots that are used. The music is also beautiful and loud and promotes the tension and uncomfortably even further. With The Lobster, Lanthimos was able to create a dark and painful yet funny and satirical dystopian indie, and here he takes all those elements and kick them up a notch to create one of the most horrifying, tragic, and powerful horror movies I’ve ever seen. If you go in expecting a typical horror, thriller, or even an art movie that is slightly challenging, you will be unprepared for the unimaginably gruesome imagery, terrible decisions made by the characters, and the dilemma the main character, portrayed brilliantly by Collin Farrell in a career-best performance, is facing, which is a shocking journey Lanthimos invites you to take.

Despite Farrell’s great acting in the lead role as a rather friendly family man whose past returns to haunt him, the film is stolen by Dunkirk‘s Barry Keoghan, who plays a psychotic teenager named Martin with terrible morals, who makes Colin Farrell’s characters life a living hell. Nicole Kidman is also great as Farrell’s wife, but all the film’s most awkward and horrific moments are thanks to Keoghan. There is a chance that you will dislike this movie, as some even walked out mid-film in disgust, because the humor is dark and odd and the story is so pessimistic yet so thrilling and inviting that I somehow was able to love it. The unorthodox filmmaking and techniques used in the film are used to elevate the feeling of distress, and the fascinating plot and dialogue feel so off yet so intriguing. Lanthimos knows that what makes a good horror movie isn’t showing the audience fantastical creatures such as zombies or ghosts, but by showing the audience the worst that could happen in real life — a character with a Sophie’s Choice-like dilemma, a teenager with a tragic past and a messed up mind , and characters with desires and sexual interests that are so uncomfortable to dive into, which is how it gets so deep under your skin. We feel like these characters could even be someone we could one day know, or these events could be real-life nightmares, and that’s what makes the grotesque content even more elevating in this hideous but poetic thriller. The plot takas es many dark turns that we are constantly invested in — unless you have been grossed out by the film’s disturbing moments and themes too much, that is — leading up to a gut-wrenching climax that had my heart pounding, which results tragically and leads to a magnificent final scene that will have you shocked beyond when the screen cuts to black and the title is shown. A24 is known for releasing films that are very odd and difficult for some audiences to love, but this is on a completely new level of weird and puzzling, and even beats the strongly allegorical, disturbing, and divisive mother! as the most unusual film to be released in a long time.  Many audiences will hate the macabre and sickening violence and the weird and dark humor, and that’s completely understandable, as it’s definitely not for everyone, but I have never been more invested and emotionally attached to a thriller movie in a very long time — a truly eccentric film that refuses to lighten up but I personally loved, with the powerful emotion and uncomfortable horrific feel adding so much to the suspense.

Yorgos Lanthimos has made a film for only the most patient and daring moviegoers, and although some viewers may believe that only a human as sick as the antagonist Martin could enjoy such a movie, but this thriller, that won multiple awards at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is simply groundbreaking and unforgettable — but only in the good way for some, so be cautious, because you may boo out of horror and disgust or cheer in awe and break into applause — both reactions were received by the film at its premiere. I can’t recommend this complex, bizarre, and shocking psychological thriller for everyone, but in my opinion, it’s a masterful film that has resonated with me and stunned me like hardly any other film out there, and hopefully there are many out there who believe the same.

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Murder on the Orient Express

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In the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, Kenneth Branagh directs and plays Hercule Poirot, who must solve a murder on a train and bring the killer to justice. The large ensemble cast also includes Josh Gad, Michelle Pfieffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, and Judi Dench as the other passengers on the train whose guilt or innocence must be discovered by Poirot. Although the classic murder mystery style is entertaining and the cast is great, there isn’t much to offer other than an interesting mystery that is only sometimes inviting. Some of the cinematography feels out of place and some of the green screen effects and CGI feel obvious, but what matters in this kind of movie is the story, which isn’t perfect either. The opening scene set in Jerusalem is very entertaining and sets up a light tone for the rest of the movie, but later some darker elements are kicked in and it feels unbalanced. The titular murder only takes place about 30 minutes into the movie, and there is too much that’s unnecessarily built up before the inciting incident, and this could have easily been shortened. Some of the supporting cast, including Pfieffer, Gad, Ridley, Depp, and Odom, get their moments to shine, and it works really well for them, but lots of the other cast members do nothing and don’t get much significance. However, Branagh is definitely the standout of the cast and the film with his charming and great performance as the famous detective who’s been loved by many generations for nearly a century. He is able to bring his character to life very well and his presence is always fun and exciting. However, he may have not been the best person to direct the film, and although the sets and costume design are outstanding, the pacing and writing are uneven, and while some of the mystery is intriguing, a lot of the runtime feels rather slow and the movie could have been easily been cut down to a shorter runtime of maybe 10 minutes less, which would make it feel more like a nonstop thrill ride mystery like it should have been. Although I liked the big reveal and the solution to the murder, the way the very end was handled was heavy-handed and betrayed the way the character of Poirot was being established throughout the film.

While Murder on the Orient Express is surely not a bad film, it’s a remake that doesn’t offer anything new if you already know the story other than a great cast and some nice production design. The execution is uneven and could have used more balanced runtime and pacing, and it’s somewhat forgettable but will interest those who like the classic murder mystery style.

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Thor: Ragnarok

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Two years after he helped the Avengers fight Ultron, Thor has returned to Asgard, only to find a new threat who wants to bring an end to Asgard, and he wounds up on the planet Sakaar with his old friend the Hulk and his adopted brother Loki, so he must now fight his way back in order to return to Asgard and protect it from the powerful enemy who seeks to destroy it.

Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered some of the decade’s greatest blockbusters, their Thor movies are the weakest in the franchise, despite Chris Hemsworth’s great performance as the titular character. This one, however, with much more humor, colorful sets and visuals, and a creative style offered by director Taika Waititi, is able to deliver as an entertaining Marvel film that many hoped for, but also a very smart, funny, and pleasing one. The first two Thor films, although watchable and sometimes fun, didn’t have as much depth and feeling as it could have, as Thor is a great character that can be done a lot with, but Waititi is able to grasp onto what we love about Thor, and boast it with an incredible amount of humor, gorgeous set pieces and visual backdrops, and a lot of heart as well. The return of Hemsworth, Hiddleston as Loki, and Mark Ruffalo as the tough and angry but lovable hero we know as the incredible Hulk, are very satisfying, especially Ruffalo, as he isn’t the main character but he is given plenty of time for us to enjoy his time on screen and set up a character arc that will hopefully be explored more in the next films, Ruffalo and Hemsworth once again have great chemistry, and it’s awesome to once again see the team-up of two main Avengers in one of their solo films, after we saw Captain America join forces with Black Widow in The Winter Soldier. In addition to these returning characters, we also get some great new characters, including Jeff Goldblum is the hilarious, charming dictator of the planet Sakaar, known only as The Grandmaster, Creed‘s breakout star Tessa Thompson as a complex and ass-kicking warrior named Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Asgardian warrior Skurge, and Cate Blanchett as the ruthless villain Hela, who are all great as well, and not to mention a funny motion-capture character named Korg played by director Waititi himself. The cast has plenty to offer, as well as some expected and unexpected cameos, but that’s not all that makes Ragnarok such impressive fun.

There are lots of callbacks to the other Marvel films and the popular comic book storylines in this movie, but that’s not all that will please fans. There is plenty of clever humor, and you can tell the director just wanted to poke fun at a lot of it in many scenes. Apparently, 80% of the movie’s dialogue was improvised, and this style of directing made it seem like the cast and everyone else involved had so much fun making the movie, and I sure bet they did. I’m glad that they chose to make this film a comedy, but in some scenes the humor overstayed its welcome in parts where it felt like it was time to resume the plot, and it takes too much time for those specific scenes to leave the goofy, humorous parts, but most of the humor did turn out to be effective. The characters also get some good arcs and development, although some things are left unexplained that I really hoped the movie would address, such as how Loki survived the events of the previous Thor movie. Although lots of the ambition does pay off both visually and story-wise, this didn’t feel like a groundbreaking movie in terms of Marvel films. Last year, Civil War completely ditched the classic formula that was used in the past MCU films and instead we got a dark and complex story that was completely unpredictable. Although the movies Marvel has released this year (like this one) don’t really follow the established formula too much anymore, and I wasn’t expecting something extremely unexpected from this one, the past films we saw from Marvel this year both had something new to offer. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had a fantastic message about family that was delivered wonderfully and made it feel more heartfelt and meaningful than most the other films. Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s themes about adolescence made it also feel different and rather a coming-of-age film than the familiar movie about self-discovery and powers. In Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel pretty much shoots for the same things: lots of humor, cool action and visuals, and lots of comic book references and characters/appearances. The directing and style make it feel very exciting and light-hearted, and this movie definitely put a smile on my face, but Marvel didn’t really offer much that was new or unanticipated with the substance and overall product of this movie. What did take me by surprise was how much has changed by the end of the film. Unlike most superhero films, Ragnarok involves sacrifices with real consequences being made, and our hero has lost some important things to him by the end, which makes his journey to the next Avengers film even more exciting. We’ll just have to see how it’ll go for him this May, when we get the big team-up we’ve all been waiting for: Infinity War.

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t one of the best Marvel movies out there, but it’s certainly a blast to watch. The creative style, great cast and visuals, and entertainment level make this one a worthy watch in theaters, and you will definitely be satisfied with the final part of Thor’s individual journey, until he will once again team up with the Avengers next May in Infinity War. Until then, the hilarious, colorful, and awesome fun this movie has to offer will be enough to make you cheer this franchise on.

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