Darkest Hour


During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

Darkest Hour focuses on one of the most important political figures of WWII, and digs deep into his personal life and motivations. Churchill is not only an interesting figure to dig into, but he’s portrayed unbelievably by Gary Oldman. It was hard for me to imagine Oldman as Churchill when this film was first announced, but that was before the extreme use of makeup for such a transformation became a mainstream technique in cinema. Not only does the makeup transform him to look just like Churchill, but he delivers the complexity and confidence of the man extremely well and if he won the Oscar, it would be very well deserved. From the marketing, this seemed like the kind of film that relied on its leading performance to elevate the film from good to great, and this has worked well in films like Jake Gyllenhaal’s incredible Nightcrawler and his most recent film Stronger, but other films like this have struggled when their lead isn’t onscreen. I will admit that Darkest Hour does slow down in scenes when Oldman isn’t present, but whenever he is, it’s a riveting show to watch. He delivers anger, passion, and even charisma in his role of Churchill that will glue your eyes to the screen in the film’s most intense scenes. Also great are Baby Driver‘s Lily James as Churchill’s secretary and Rogue One‘s Ben Mendelsohn as King George IV, but Oldman definitely steals the show in his performance that’s nothing quite like anything he’s ever done before. Joe Wright’s direction is also magnificent, with the historical focus of courage and not giving in, just like British forces did during these times of struggle against Germany, working very well with this topic. We feel that Churchill demonstrated bravery when others, such as his predecessor Neville Chamberlain, didn’t, and Oldman brings this larger-than-life character to screen better than we could have asked. The cinematography is also beautiful, with symmetry and long takes being used very well, and the uses of sets and costumes are very fitting. The writing is well-balanced with inspiration, humor, and even some human moments that will entertain, like a great scene that takes place on a train. It’s the perfect companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s most recent masterwork Dunkirk, as it depicts the political side of the struggle to evacuate the British soldiers off the coast of France, and though the films are of different genre and appeal, both are very good at delivering their historical topics. Darkest Hour does slow down here and there, but its themes that are applied from British history are relevant to modern politics, that we must be brave and never give in to the more intimidating force. Gary Oldman’s performance brings the film forward and deserves some applause, and the film is ultimately an interesting and effective historical drama that should be watched if you have interest in the topic and one of the most important figures in one of the darkest hours our world has seen.

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Based on the best-selling book, Wonder follows a deformed boy named Auggie going to school for the first time, and with the help of his supportive family, he deals with bullies, makes new friends, and inspires many.

It’s no surprise that an acclaimed book like Wonder would get adapted into a film, and this could have been a cliche and skippable film considering the mainstream family genre hasn’t been at its best lately, but it ended up being a faithful adaptation that holds onto what made the book powerful and has great messages for both kids and adults. “If given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”, is a quote written on one of Auggie’s teacher’s walls, in a not-so-subtle way of conveying the theme of the film, which is kindness. Jacob Tremblay, who you may remember had his breakout as Brie Larson’s captive son in Room, is not only unrecognizable under all that makeup, but delivers all the emotion I hoped for out of the protagonist to reach out to the audience, and you can even get emotional by the end of the film. Julia Roberts delivers a very real and heartfelt performance as Auggie’s mother, and Owen Wilson is just as great as his father. What I like the movie did is showing the experiences of the film through every family member and not just Auggie. We see the difficulties of Auggie living with facial differences and how that affects how everyone treats him, but we also feel the unconditional love from his parents and the older sister who feels neglected because everything revolves around her younger brother. Wonder delivers its themes very well because it’s not only speaking out to kids about how you should be kind to everyone no matter how they look, but it also speaks out to teens and adults because it depicts the experiences they go through and demonstrates how your family will always love you no matter what. As someone who’s read the book, I noticed that this movie held onto its primary themes but doesn’t stay 100% true to the plot, which is nice because there’s something new to discover when watching the film. Whether or not you’ve read the source material, it’s easy to see where the film will go by the end, but the journey there is still sweet and touching. Although some editing choices are questionable, and the film does go on 10 minutes too long (I don’t think 113 minutes is too long for a film but 10 minutes before the ending, it finds a good place to finish but then goes on longer), I can guarantee you and your family will enjoy this fun and touching film. It’s by no means a must-watch, but Wonder has some meaningful themes to offer that’s delivered well by a good cast and script that kids and adults will enjoy watching together.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the latest installment in the most popular film franchise of all time, and I can’t tell you anything else about this one, because if you’re a huge fan like me and most of the world’s population, you don’t need a plot description to get you to go see it. This movie picks up right after The Force Awakens left off, and as soon as the movie begins, the return to the galaxy which the world has grown to love over the last 40 years feels intriguing from the first scene. Like its predecessor, The Last Jedi is completely unpredictable and this one is even more different than the last film.

The cast once again knocks it out of the park, from the original characters portrayed by Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, the returning characters from the previous sequel including Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, and new additions to the universe played by Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. Hamill is as terrific as he’s ever been as Luke Skywalker, the most beloved hero in the history of cinema. His performance and his character’s arc over the last forty years has been tremendous, and the addition to his arc here is an unexpected turn which Hamill portrays so well, as he expresses the loss of heroism and his giving up of hope after a mistake he made prior to the events of the trilogy. Fisher’s scenes are great as well, and her final film performance that was shot before her tragic death last year is poignant and the film does her justice, paying tribute to her like it should. If you loved Daisy Ridley as our new protagonist Rey, you won’t be disappointed in the path she takes in this movie, as her journey through the ways of the Force continues under Luke’s guidance. Ridley does a terrific job conveying the emotional conflict her character experiences and how she finds her place in the battle of good against evil. Driver is back as the menacing and superb antagonist of Kylo Ren, who is a complicated villain but perfectly developed, and experiences changes after he did something in the last movie that shocked us all. We root for the good guys and against him but we feel that he isn’t all-evil like his master Snoke, speaking of whom is very intimidating and well-acted by Andy Serkis. John Boyega as defected stormtrooper Finn is another one of my favorite members of the cast, and although the storyline he has with new character Rose isn’t as compelling as the rest of the film, Finn is still a character we enjoy going on an adventure with thanks to his great writing and acting from the awesome Boyega who had his breakout when he first played the character two years ago. Isaac as Poe Dameron has more to do this time around, and his clashes with authority and his morals are interesting to explore. Of course, expect appearances from your favorite creatures like the lovable wookie Chewbacca, droids such as C3P0, R2-D2, and BB-8, the adorable new birds from Luke’s planet known as the Porgs, and a shocking appearance from one of everyone’s favorite Star Wars characters.

As a middle installment that has the expectations as many set as high as Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi definitely reaches those standards for what has been set with The Force Awakens, which introduced us to this magnificent new setting within the universe we already love, and here we dive deeper into those characters and experience some dark twists and turns on the way. Many fan theories have been developed ever since everyone saw the first film in this new trilogy two years ago, but no theory was able to predict the events that happen in this movie. I loved J.J. Abrams’ direction of Episode VII, and although he will return for the last installment in the trilogy, this one is directed by Rian Johnson, who previously directed the high school mystery Brick and the sci-fi thriller Looper. Johnson does a very impressive job building on what’s already happened and bringing to life the new planets and settings. The cinematography is beautiful and so are the visual effects, capturing the memorable action scenes and sets magnificently, just like a Star Wars movie should. Reception from fans has been mixed, but I can’t see why. I was on the very edge of my seat for the entire movie, and stunned at what this had to offer. It’s risk-taking, unpredictable, and deprived of the familiar 3-act story structure, making it even more suspenseful, and it’s got plenty of originality for the eighth film in a franchise. It holds onto what people have loved about the series since 1977, but it still has room for lots of creativity and trust me, I was quite shocked by what happened in this film. It’s not the cheerful blockbuster that most big studio sequels are nowadays, but it’s a dark, thrilling epic that will have everyone, Star Wars fan or not, cheering throughout.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the movie everyone will be going crazy about, and whether or not you like these films, you really should see the definitive blockbuster of the year. As an enormous fan of the series, I was not let down by the amazement I got here. Star Wars has brought people together all around the world since the first film was released 40 years ago, and this movie brings back what fans have loved since then but also lots of surprises. Although a few minor moments/plot points were weaker than others, the cast, visuals, story, writing, and emotion redeem the film, and at best this is an epic and marvelous sequel that is strong with the force.

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The Disaster Artist


In 2003, Tommy Wiseau released his film The Room, which in wrote, directed, produced, and starred in — and today it is widely considered to be the worst movie ever made. If you’ve seen The Room and want to learn about the disastrous making of it and how Wiseau made it to Hollywood, or if you haven’t seen or heard of The Room but want a hilarious but inspiring comedy about dreams, this is the movie for you. James Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, the odd and mysterious man behind this “so bad it’s good” movie, whose age, birthplace, and source of his “bottomless pit” of money he used to fund the film himself, are unknown. Wiseau was rejected and laughed at a lot by everyone he worked with or tried to work with, and Franco blends in to the role so well, and we can’t even see him, we only focus on the weird personality he portrays so accurately and wonderfully. Wiseau is a terrible filmmaker and made a widely hated movie, but he was able to succeed (not in the way he intended) with the film’s awfulness which it’s so well known for and laughed at even today. The movie doesn’t just see Wiseau as a bad person, but as a person with a dream and a passion, and uses his story as a message that even the biggest failures can be successful. Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, Tommy’s best friend and costar of The Room, and the fact that they are real brothers makes their onscreen chemistry even more fun to watch. We feel for Sestero has he is dragged into Wiseau’s mess of a dream and his career is affected by it. Seth Rogen is also awesome in his role as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor of the film, who’s always pointing out Wiseau’s behavior and antics.

The cast, especially Franco as Wiseau, help make the movie as hilarious and entertaining as it is, but Franco as a director was aiming for a little more than just entertainment. Franco was passionate about making a project on this film, which did so badly it’s become a cult film, and of course he wanted us to laugh at the project and how horrible and nonsensical it all was, but maybe he was aiming for a little more. Franco wanted us to still feel for these characters, including Wiseau, as real people, and understand that you have to aspire for success, even though you may end up failing hugely. There’s definitely plenty to enjoy, however. Franco as Wiseau is almost life-like and made me, and the entire sold-out audience of the film, crack up about every 5 seconds, whether its a humorous line or just laughing at the stupidity of it all, which was part of Franco’s goal. The whole audience went wild at the outrageous humor and fun you’ll have with the nonsense going on with Wiseau, but Franco was also able to make these characters connect to the audience as real people. This film was definitely a true story about failure, but it’s a reminder that everyone has dreams, and no matter how far you go to achieve them, you should always reach out for them. Franco definitely achieved his goal with The Disaster Artist — making a fantastic movie about a terrible movie.

The Disaster Artist is an absolute blast to watch, from the constant, non-stop humor to the excellent writing and cast, and it’s a small but inspiring film, and don’t worry, you don’t have to see The Room in order to enjoy it. It’s one of Franco’s best roles and films, and I recommend you see this in theaters with an audience to simply have an awesome time with a very entertaining and hilarious yet heartfelt true story.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), who puts up three billboards to raise awareness about the brutal murder of her daughter after the police have failed to catch the killer after many months. I’ve seen previous films from the director, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, so I was aware of the talent he has with directing and writing. Both his films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, were not only directed well but were extremely entertaining and hilarious. I’m happy to say that this film is the best out of his three, because not only does he keep his terrific comedic style, but he blends it with some powerful emotion and relevant themes to make one of the year’s finest films. McDormand is mesmerizing in the lead, because despite lots of her lines being mostly for humorous effect, her delivery of the lines is as great as it can be, and we feel her character’s rage and anger at the world after her loss and at the police for not finding her daughter’s killer. The Ebbing police is led by Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, who is singled out by the billboards and is angered by this yet feels sympathetic for Mildred’s cause. His role isn’t as large as McDormand’s but Harrelson still brings the best out of his character for another memorable performance among his impressive resume. Another highlight of the superb cast is Sam Rockwell, who has worked before with McDonagh, and here he brings lots of fun to his character but also plenty of feeling for the audience to connect with. Also worth mentioning is Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s son, and this is definitely Hedges’ best work since his brilliant turn in Manchester by the Sea, as we feel a grieving brother who is looking out for his mother while also under her wing. The cast is definitely one of the best of the year, but that’s not the only part that makes this movie a must-watch.

It’s quite surprising when movies are able to make you laugh throughout but also make you get very emotional and attached to the plot and characters at the same time. We saw this with Manchester by the Sea last year, which had many humorous moments throughout and was even marketed as a comedy, but turned out to be an extremely depressing drama and last year’s most emotionally gripping film. This is a similar situation, but there’s so much humor that McDonagh carries down from his style in his other films that you can even call it a dark comedy of sorts as well. It’s shocking that McDonagh was able to fit so much comedy in this kind of movie, even though the trailer made it look only comedic. Whenever the humor is there, it’s absolutely hilarious, and every joke hit its mark. The trailer gives you a good taste of some of the best humorous moments but a lot of it is for you to see. However, McDonagh understands when we need to feel for these characters, and through this humorous style we get a great taste of who they are and some parts are definitely sad for these people. The themes about anger and hate elevate the story, and there are relevant storylines about the police today, and how the victims of crimes such as the one that triggers the plot of this film react to such loss. It’s almost satirical about the relationship between people and authority, or even just people and other people. When the plot first unravels, you are never told anything too quickly and we get we need to hear bit by bit. The script uses the show, not tell method very well to the story’s advantage, with great directing and scenery used to bring forward the plot and character arcs too. The characters written here have such personality and are so noteworthy that they even reach the heights of what the Coen brothers have been able to do with their characters. You’ll be guaranteed to laugh at the outrageous and brilliant humor but also reflect on what these people are going through and the realistic messages we get. It’s not a film about investigating the crime but rather about how people react to such a crime. The ending may be unsatisfactory to some, but I really liked the meaning behind it that McDonagh was going for. This film will make you laugh, smile, or even cry, but one thing is for sure — you’ll definitely be affected by this film but still enjoy the hell out of it at the same time.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the year’s most genius films about grief, loss, crime, hate and anger. The over-the-top humor makes this possibly the funniest movie I’ve seen all year but the strong emotion and messages make it the most emotional film to come out in a long time, and also one of the most thoughtful. The cast bring their characters to life wonderfully, and I’m glad to say that Martin McDonagh has found his masterpiece. My definitive pick to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and hopefully it will get nominated for the other awards too, or even win. The lengthy title may make some people stay away from it, but don’t be fooled, it’s a powerful and applaudable must-watch for all that you can also enjoy and laugh with throughout.

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In Pixar’s latest film, Miguel, a young boy who loves music despite his family’s ban on it, accidentally arrives at the Land of the Dead and must seek the blessing a family member in order to return home. The plot is a lot more complicated but that’s the easiest way to describe it without getting into any spoilers. The cast includes well-known Latino actors such as Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt, who are both fantastic in their roles, but I was also very impressed by the voice work of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, who plays the lead role of Miguel with lots of charm. Coco may seem to some like a rip-off The Book of Life, a great animated film released a few years ago which also focuses on a young man with a love for music despite his family’s ban on it, who ends up in the Land of the Dead on a  journey of self-discovery, but that is the only comparison the two movies share. Coco is much more beautifully animated, vivid with story and characters, and sure to make you shed a few tears by the end, a profession in which Pixar excels at.

When this movie first started, I was enjoying the nice animation and sweet heart its characters and writing had to offer, but I felt like I could tell where the plot was going to go and how everything would end up. However, the movie twists in a direction I did not expect, and becomes an even more complex family film with its themes about family, dreams, and legacy. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the husband-wife duo who won Oscars for writing the songs for Frozen, are very good and entertaining as well. What I liked is that the songs don’t serve a huge part in the film but they are still there and blend well with the Mexican culture of the film. By the end of the film, many young ones will likely cry as they did in previous films of Pixar, because the poignant themes are both happy and sad in this film, and work effectively in both ways. Pixar’s movies always looks magnificent in terms of the animation, and often millions of people work hours to months to get even a single frame (and that’s one per 24 in a second) to look nice. As I was told when I visited their studio 7 years ago, each film of theirs takes 5 years to make, and the effort each member of the studio gives in always pays off, and not only are the visuals majestic, but the storylines are unexpected, sweet, funny, and tear-jerking as well. Pixar has been in the filmmaking business for over 20 years now, and they even started the computer-animation movie-making genre with Toy Story. I grew up watching many of their films over and over again, and lots of their films shaped they way I watch and appreciate movies today. Without them, my love of movies and reviewing them may have not been the same. Some may believe Pixar has lost some of their steam and that their golden age is behind them, but I think they are still on their feet and are making stories as wonderful, family-friendly, and touching as they were when I was first introduced to their films many years ago.

Coco isn’t just a gorgeously looking animated film and tribute to Mexican culture, but it’s also Pixar’s most original and moving film since Inside Out. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and best of all, people of all ages can enjoy it. Parents will definitely want watch it over and over again with their families, and kids will want to watch it again through their childhood and eventually show it to future generations of their family. In a world where animated movies is a genre that is dying out, it’s a miracle Pixar is there to save it, and have their movies inspire families and become classics for the family genre instantly. Bottomline — go watch Coco with your family and have a blast!

Now I’m going to talk about the one problem I had about the movie, and it’s not even about the movie itself, yet it’s the worst decision Pixar has ever made by far. Before the movie, an awful, and I mean awful short film titled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure screens, and although I like the actual Frozen movie, this short film (which is a long 20 minutes as opposed to the usual 7 minutes of Pixar short films) is unbearable to sit through, with an absolutely terrible storyline and soundtrack, and even the cast’s singing is off this time for some weird reason. Disney decided to cram 6 songs in 20 minutes and pay Pixar to screen such an awful waste of time in front of a fantastic movie, which is a shame. So if you’re late to the movie, don’t worry too much about it because you won’t miss anything amazing. Otherwise, Coco is still a wonderful experience to watch with your family and nonetheless a great film that I had a blast with, regardless of the terrible short film that comes before.

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