Love, Simon


Simon is a teenager who has a loving family and a great group of friends, and he’s doing great in school, but he’s got one big secret: he’s gay. One day, Simon becomes pen pals with a boy at his school who comes out anonymously and tries to find out who he is, but soon another classmate finds out about Simon’s secret and threatens to reveal it to the whole school.

Love, Simon tackles what is obviously an important topic in our world, but would it be able to capture these themes realistically or would it try too hard to be a “message” film? Thankfully, it’s the former that we get here. This movie doesn’t get too unbelievable trying to convey the struggles of gay teens to come out to even the people closest to them, and instead presents it as a realistic story of a teen living life in the closet. It’s less about accepting others for being “different” but more about accepting yourself for who you are and being yourself. Simon feels like a person teenagers can relate to if they’ve ever struggled with their sexuality or identity, or if you’ve ever had a secret you’ve felt uncomfortable sharing with others. Nick Robinson is superb as Simon, delivering a humanly nuanced performance as a character you could believably buy as an everyday guy with a secret. His acting is very well-realized in every scene and he brings out a very heartfelt character to follow. Also great is Katherine Langford (who you may remember as Hannah Baker from the powerful Netflix series 13 Reasons Why) as one of Simon’s best friends, as well as Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents.

Love, Simon has a clever story and smart way of tackling its themes, with nearly every scene entertaining and many moments being touching, and though it’s a topic not everyone may love, it’s important to discuss in today’s world, and thankfully it doesn’t feel like propaganda for equality, and instead like a touching and authentic teen love story. We see the love Simon gets from his family and his friends, and one of the most powerful moments is when Simon reminds us that he’s still him, no matter how he chooses to live. Many scenes may get some viewers emotional, especially the heartwarming ending that everyone, regardless of sexuality, can be touched by. It’s a film that even as a critic I can agree is not just a movie with a good message to the world, but also a great film with a powerful story, as we feel for our protagonist as he goes through the film, and ultimately Love, Simon is worth checking out, even though it’s mostly centered towards teens, it’s funny, touching, and emotional for those who choose to see it.

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Phantom Thread


Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

I’ve always been a big fan of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, so I was glad to hear when this film was announced, as his previous collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent and even got Day-Lewis an Oscar. He is definitely one of the greatest actors of our time and it’s unfortunate that he recently decided to retire from the profession, but this is a very impressive film and a great sendoff for his career, with a superb final performance from him. He completely dominates every scene with his clever but quietly terrifying and greedy protagonist, a well-written character by the name of Reynolds Woodcock. Woodcock is a fashion designer who is too caught into his work sometimes to care about others and demands to stay in his routine, but his lover in the film finds a soft spot in him as they fall in love. The actress who plays his lover Alma is also very good and has great chemistry with the lead, and their relationship is the center of the film. It’s a dark and twisted love tale in a way but also deep and tense, but Anderson knows how to make us care for this relationship overall. Astounding production and cinematography can be noted throughout, but one of the best technical aspects of the film is the beautiful music which fills every scene artistically. This is a very different film than most, like all Anderson’s films are. He makes movies that don’t fit in certain genres, but films about people and the traits that construct them. Phantom Thread is a great example of what he can do, and this genius director hasn’t lost his steam since the ’90s. It’s occasionally slow, but at best it’s gripping and done like something not many other filmmakers would create. The ending is something I have to think about as well, as though I haven’t grasped the complete meaning of it, it will probably grow on me over time. Phantom Thread is not for everyone, but the elegant technicality and smart writing make this a nicely done character piece with a scene-stealing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, and once again a home run for Paul Thomas Anderson.

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The Post


The Post is the latest film from Steven Spielberg, and follows the true story of a cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents and pushed Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) the country’s first female newspaper publisher and her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.

There isn’t much to be said about why everyone is seeing this movie: Nothing can possibly go wrong when you have a trio like Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep, right? Well, the three of them continue to prove themselves in this timely tale of one of the biggest battles the press has ever faced, and how the biggest secrets of the Vietnam War were exposed to the public. Nobody could have delivered a story like this better than Spielberg himself, with the energy he brings into his sets and his extended camera movements (shot incredibly by frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski) never leaving the film. Meryl Streep is at her best (like always) as an important female figure in the history of the press, as Kay Graham was the first female head of the newspaper and helped publish classified secrets in the Washington Post. The strength she gives to her strong lead will captivate the audience and even have them clapping at some of Streep’s best moments in the film. Teaming up with Spielberg once again is the one and only Tom Hanks, whose talent is once again evident as the spirited Ben Bradlee who never loses faith in Graham and in the Post. Hanks and Streep have great chemistry and always demonstrate dedication to their roles and bring a lot of what makes Graham and Bradlee so important to the screen quite convincingly. This historical topic has a very important story that wasn’t just relevant then, it still is now. This movie is about telling the truth and about the freedom of the press, which we mustn’t forget is supported by the First Amendment. What happened then may happen in the future, and we must fight to let our people know what is really going on and not let the government punish what is supported by the Constitution. This is a very relevant theme to today’s politics and journalism, and I learned a lot from this fascinating story about perseverance and taking risks to do what’s right. Nobody could have executed this story better than Steven Spielberg, and I don’t think we could have asked for a better Kay Graham than Meryl Streep (same with Hanks for Bradlee). Streep’s empowering female protagonist is powerfully portrayed, as women were facing sexism while mostly men worked at these kind of jobs. Graham took a leap and brought the Post and this country to where it was today, and this kind of leading role is what will inspire many. Although a few scenes were a little long/slow-paced, and some of the editing could have used a little more music, speaking of which is incredibly done by John Williams, but other than that, I don’t see a reason why not to go see this relevant and thought-provoking true story that’s now in theaters and bound to shine at this year’s Oscar season.

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The Shape of Water


The Shape of Water is the latest other-worldly story written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962, where a mute janitor working at a lab falls in love with an amphibious man being held captive there and devises a plan to help him escape. Guillermo del Toro has recieved acclaim throughout his career for being a visionary director and writer, and his ability to bring fantasy stories like this one with as little CGI as possible is incredible. He’s finally getting Oscar buzz for The Shape of Water, his latest film that, while the concept of a character bonding with a creature of some sort and trying to save it from those attempting to kill it having been depicted in many films such as E.T.How to Train Your Dragon, and Beauty and the Beast, this one is far different in execution — and definitely not a film for kids. There is strong sexual content and violence, but it fits the overall tone and themes the movie is meant to deliver. Sally Hawkins is absolutely fantastic in the leading role of Eliza, and she delivers one of the greatest performance of the year — and her character has absolutely no dialogue! She is able to deliver an emotional performance with only her expressions, and she makes us care for her character deeply without having to speak a word. Another excellent performance is from Michael Shannon, who plays the main antagonist who is filled with rage and hate against the creature and anyone who gets in his way of hurting it. Octavia Spencer, who plays Eliza’s best friend at work, has some great moments of both humor and emotion, and Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are very good too. Not to mention Doug Jones, who plays the creature himself, with lots of costumes and makeup and no CGI for his transformation, which helps his performance feel more realistic and interactive with the other actors in the film.

Guillermo del Toro has stated that this is the movie he is most proud of, and it’s not hard to see why. He such a great eye for these stories and has a creative way of telling them, not just with his style but also with his writing. First of all, his directing of the film is marvelous, with some beautiful ways of capturing certain images and everything looks so artistic throughout the film. The production design and colors also stand out, and del Toro constantly references classic cinema throughout, there’s even a scene where Hawkins imagines herself dancing with the creature in a ’50s-style musical number. The music from Alexandre Desplat is also very nice to hear and it’s one of his best scores in recent years. Not only does the film look majestic, but the writing is very good because although the concept isn’t the most original, the themes and turns the plot takes are unexpected and different. Guillermo del Toro writes and creates this story like a fairy tale, like he does most of his stories, and though it’s not a literal fairy tale, he treats every character importantly and brings this story to life as if it’s a Pan’s Labyrinth-esque fantasy tale. The themes aren’t mostly about being kind to those who are different, about about those who feel lonely and incomplete, and how we try to fulfill ourselves. There is a lot of gore and nudity in the film, which may disturb some, so just a warning to those who don’t like explicit content. The overall plot may feel weird if you think watching a romance between a woman and a creature will disturb you, but the writing feels complex and the story is thrilling and powerful, bringing the story to life on the big screen very effectively. Although some of the scenes without Hawkins on screen felt less intriguing than the scenes with Hawkins as Eliza and Jones as the creature, and the ending, while not bad at all, felt a little bit like a missed opportunity, this joins Pan’s Labyrinth as one of del Toro’s best films, and the awards buzz for this one is quite well deserved, so I recommend you check this one out in theaters before the awards come around.

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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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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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