Fighting with my Family

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This uplifting sports comedy-drama follows WWE wrestler Paige and her real-life journey from holding small matches with her family in England to becoming a worldwide superstar.

Fighting with my Family not only retains some rare, real genius in its humor that all audiences will love, but also delivers a touching and exciting story that will keep you rooting for the characters from beginning to end. Though Paige’s story isn’t a “shocking” or “never seen before” one, the movie lets you forget that it at times has some familiar aspects by delivering a heartfelt script that won’t take you of the scene for a second. Florence Pugh perfectly embodies her character, who is passionate, tough, and isn’t always set on looking “pretty” but not afraid to fight rough, and Pugh really brings some soul to the role as well. Jack Lowden also delivers some great heart as her brother who has an important role in the story that will also make you legitimately care for him and the relationship between the two siblings. Nick Frost and Lena Headey are not only outrageously hilarious parents who love wrestling as much as their kids, and bigger are cast to get some bigger names out there, but they feel like truly loving and supportive parents, despite their outgoing personalities. That’s where the film’s true strength comes — even when the movie goes for monstrous laugh-out-loud moments, it never forgets to deliver some true heart and soul at the same time, which makes it a terrific theater experience in both the enjoyment aspect, and the actual quality the film delivers. Vince Vaughn, who is normally a comedic performer, is surprisingly in the serious role here, and he excellently takes on a coach who goes hard on his wrestlers because he clearly cares about their future in the sport, and also has some down-to-earth moments with the main roles. And wrestling legend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has some very memorable appearances that remind us why he is such an icon in both the wrestling and film industries, and its nice to see him go for a more inspirational role than just the badass running from explosions, even if his role in this film is minimal.

Fighting with my Family proves an excellent debut for Stephen Merchant behind the camera, who, like I said, perfectly balances humor with some authentic substance and strong writing that will make you fall in love with the characters. Even though you can tell how the climax will end, this movie will have you constantly laughing out loud but also cheering for the leading character of Paige thanks to some great performances and an ultimately uplifting and cheerful experience you won’t want to forget.

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The Favourite

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In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her friendship with the Queen threatens Sarah’s place in court.
Yorgos Lanthimos has already made a name for himself as a filmmaker with a distinct style and a cult favorite, though his style definitely won’t appeal to all audiences. I, for one, am a huge fan of his dark humor that feels fresh and different from any other films, as well as the pessimism and dark character relationships and themes he presents. The Favourite brings the dark humor he’s known for and will make some laugh and other cringe and feel awkward. However, these moments make for some of the phenomenal scenes in The Favourite, ones that you won’t forget because they dare to break the standards of what one would expect in a period piece, though those familiar with Lanthimos know what they’re in for. The Favourite is a beautiful looking film with the best costumes and sets of the year and inventive cinematography that changes camera distance mid-scene or even mid-action and breaks known filming rules such as the 180 rule. Another standout is the performances from three exceptional women. Olivia Colman is a queen who often appears less as a leader but a woman “stalked by tragedy”, who is often rude and feels sorry for herself but also seeks to care for those closest to her, or her “favourite”. Rachel Weisz is also great as a deceitful woman who is unlikable but also just wants to maintain her relationship with the Queen. Emma Stone was the standout to me, and this is up there with her Birdman and La La Land roles as she nails an English accent and plays the only character you really want to root for, though by the end, the film makes us wonder if anyone was really a good person here. By powerfully showing a rivalry between these women begging for love and favour from the Queen, Yorgos conveys the themes that people want to reach high status and just want to satisfy their immediate feelings and passion, but do these prizes really solve everything? The Favourite is never really a fun film but you will be intrigued by this main storyline, even though the style is not for everyone. At times it does slow down whenever it focuses on the Queen’s leadership and the Parliament, but the main strength comes from the spirit these actresses bring to the screen. The Favourite is a movie that needs a lot of reflecting on, with a final shot that’s as meaningful as it is puzzling and odd but brings so much layer to the film.
The Favourite is top-notch filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos doing what he does best — bringing a unique style to the screen with spectacular prestige cinematography and strong, pessimistic themes anchored by three wonderful leading performances.
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The Mule

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Clint Eastwood directs this new crime film inspired by a true story, and plays a 90-year-old man who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican cartel.

As an actor and director, Clint Eastwood has been influencing generations of cinema for over half a decade, and he’s still staying strong in his career, having released 2 movies this year, and also starring in the leading role in this one. His performance is the standout of the film, as expected from him, and he carries the film with the force he always brings to the screen, making a complex character who isn’t always likable but you are interested to watch him throughout the events of the film anyway. Eastwood’s direction is also top-notch and reminds us why he’s one of the master filmmakers of our time. The overall plot is sometimes well written but also gets slow and repetitive at times, and at the end, a bit predictable. Like I said, Eastwood’s role really is great, but other known cast members such as Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Peña should have been given more to do in the film. The movie tackles some relevant issues like the stereotypes of certain races, but it only does so briefly and not very subtly when it is addressed. It’s got some good themes by the end as well as some good tension that Eastwood crafts well, like two men on opposite sides of the law sitting next to each other in a restaurant, which is intriguing when both talk as they don’t know who the other is. However, it often falls into familiar crime drama tropes and under-uses some of its best aspects. The Mule can be enjoyed for what it is and Eastwood brings the energy he always does to the film, but it doesn’t quite go above what one would expect from an average true crime drama, even though Eastwood’s directing touch is there and those who have been following his career should definitely check it out. But in the end it isn’t as memorable as other films he’s starred and directed in recent years like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino.

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Green Book

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Based on a true friendship between Tony Lip, a working-class Italian-American bouncer, and Don Shirley, an African-American classical pianist. In the 1960’s, Lip becomes Shirley’s driver on a concert tour through the American South.

We have received a lot of movies in recent years that focus on race and segregation through true stories, and it’s nice to have one on a very small scale that only focuses on a friendship between two people but still carries its point across as effectively. Viggo Mortensen stands out as Tony Lip, a somewhat selfish character who has a heart but also acts however he ants and isn’t afraid to use violence on whoever he deems needs to learn a lesson. Mahershala Ali is also great, as he clearly spent lots of training to learn how to become such a great pianist like his character, but his role is also sophisticated and caring despite facing racism in such a time in the Deep South. The chemistry between the two makes the film so interesting; Mortensen’s character has a narrow view of those outside of his poor Italian neighborhood in New York but learns to become good friends with those he never though he’d meet and become a friendlier person. The contrast between the two is also excellent — not just between race but also between social class — Tony Lip has a more uncultured manner, also having grown up in a poor neighborhood, while Don Shirley is a very elegant and honest man, and this contrast makes scenes like the two sharing a bucket of fried chicken come off as very entertaining. Shirley is a character who seems like he’s in a higher class and given more opportunity to perform than other black artists at this time due to segregation, but even though he never sees himself as any lesser than the white audiences he performs to, he feels that he’s treated as “just another black man” to the moment he steps off stage, as he explains in a powerful monologue that’s definitely the best scene in the film. This breaking of stereotype, a wealthy black man teaching a poor white man life lessons like kindness (and he even helps him write poetic letters to his wife), but maintaining of realism makes the film even more thought-provoking, and the dynamic between the two main characters while delivering themes about interactions between race and social class in the ’60s makes the film a worthy watch, that I’m sure won’t be ignored in awards categories like Picture and Actor.

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Creed II

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Adonis Creed, after winning the World Bodyweight Championship, is challenged to a boxing match by Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago, who killed Adonis’ father Apollo Creed in the ring three decades earlier.

Creed was the Rocky spin-off that blew the world away like nobody expected, and this franchise continues its winning streak with an emotional and exciting sequel. Michael B. Jordan can deliver one hell of a punch, both in the sport but also with the emotion he brings to Adonis, trying to isolate himself from his father’s legacy but getting lost in the fight to preserve his own. This is Jordan’s defining character in his career at the moment, as he adds so much humanity to the role from his love for his fiancee to his relationship with his mentor Rocky. Jordan delivers the determination but also the love and pain of the character with energy and you’ll always be rooting for him. As for the rest of the cast, Rocky has been played with such iconic force by Sylvester Stallone for so many years that it’s hard to imagine these movies without him. He’s a great father figure to Creed but it’s hard to forget the times when he was the leading man of the saga because he still carries the films like he is. Tessa Thompson has been everywhere this past year — from Marvel to films like Annihilation and Sorry to Bother You — and deservedly so. Her character Bianca is not just there to support Creed but also helps guide his emotional journey through the film and pursues dreams of her own by singing, though her character deals with a hearing impairment. Bianca is a memorable character because she’s got a strong voice as well and often helps Creed pick himself up.

What I loved in this sequel is that everyone has a potent and believable emotional arc throughout the film. Even the “villains”, Ivan and Viktor Drago, are fighting rough because Ivan is determined to escape the shame he brought to his family when he lost to Rocky, by pushing his son very far to defeat Creed. The main character Adonis is also dealing with a lot, like starting a family while deciding whether or not he wants to be seen as “Apollo’s son” and if the fight to “rewrite history” is worth losing it all. Rocky also has his own journey, and not just when he’s guiding Adonis. He’s also mourning the loss of his wife Adrian and trying to reconnect with his estranged son and grandson, and become a family man again like the one Adonis is becoming throughout the film. The fight scenes are very engaging and the direction isn’t as memorable as Ryan Coogler’s who delivered sequences like the long-take fight in the first Creed movie, but he’ll still make you keep your eyes on the screen and embark on this journey with Michael B. Jordan’s titular character. There’s also an awesome training montage keeping the spirit of classic training sequences like from the older Rocky films. Even though the runtime flies by quite quick and it’s still got that boxing movie formula you know from the other films, Creed II is a passionate installment that stays true to the characters the first Creed movie made us love and will make audiences have a blast, sports fan or not.

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Widows

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After four thieves are killed during a heist gone wrong, their widows step up to finish the job.

Widows is a heist film that chooses to focus more on the serious aspect of the genre, similar to films like Michael Mann’s Heat. Instead of quick montages of prepping for the heist or focusing solely on the main heist, Widows is a film about grief, corruption, and injustices that relate to country-wide issues. Steve McQueen creates a frightening look at the corrupt and dangerous crime in modern Chicago, led by a stellar cast. It’s no surprise Viola Davis can bring an audience to feel invested in the film with her strong emotion and passion in every one of her characters. Veronica Rawlins, a woman willing to go far lengths to protect herself after suffering from a loss, is no exception. Also great are Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez as two other widows who join Davis to pull off the heist their husbands failed to. Another standout is Daniel Kaluuya as a menacing henchman for a gangster who will not think twice to use brutality in order to get what he wants. Other popular names headlining the film include Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, and Robert Duvall, who are pleasing to watch even though some of the British actors’ American accents are questionable. Widows does not hold back on strong violence that not only feels brutal but scarily real, and excellent direction and cinematography that shines in many scenes. The script also has a strong focus on many different issues that could make you fear the world today even more — though it’s a heist film, there isn’t much action, rather violence because the intention of it isn’t to entertain but to provoke themes and often suspense. Even though it sometimes won’t subvert any expectations until the second half, some scenes will have your heart racing and the final act feels very unsafe for every character. I was never sure who would survive and who would die because Steve McQueen crafts a space where anything can happen. Unfortunately, there should have been more closure in the final few minutes for some important characters, but in the end, Widows is a mature crime drama that does not disappoint.

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Boy Erased

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Based on the true story of Garrard Conley (named Jared Eamons in the film), who was forced to join a gay conversion therapy program after being outed to his parents. While there, Jared comes into conflict with its leader and begins his journey to finding his own voice and accepting his true self.

Boy Erased is the second directorial effort of Joel Edgerton, who also writes and stars in the film, and I’ve been a fan of his acting even before he took a seat behind the camera. He’s proven himself to not only have a grip on a script and cast but also convey a theme strongly through filmmaking. Lucas Hedges has impressed me very much these last few years, especially in Manchester by the Sea and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but in the leading role he is once again able to shine as a young man who wants to be himself but his parents and peer’s beliefs come into conflict with who he is. Edgerton also stands out as the leader of the gay conversion program who also believes homosexuality is a sin and a choice, even though it is part of who somebody is. This head therapist acts as a source of passionate hate and demoralization for those who are at the therapy, even though back then some people thought this kind of therapy would “cure” people and make them heterosexual without considering what mental and emotional harm this would cause.  Also remarkable are Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as Jared’s parents, who seemingly must choose between what they believe and their unconditional love for their son. The movie is tough to watch in some parts because of how unfortunate the situation was — members of the LGBT community were forced to believe something was wrong with them and that they had to be “fixed”, and that this kind of therapy is even still allowed in 36 states. I’m glad we live in a time where more people accept others for who they are and more LGBT men and women can live life as they please and feel comfortable with their identity, even though the world still isn’t perfect. This powerful execution is resonant yet imperfect — a more linear storytelling and some more on-screen emphasis on the protagonists’ emotional state would have made his arc hit home even more, but the final 20 minutes are especially fantastic and deliver every performance to its fullest, and its theme wonderfully.

Boy Erased has powerful themes and outstanding performances that will resonate, as well as an important message that is as relevant today as it was then.

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