Quick Movie Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

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I don’t mind needing to give a film my attention. But Paul Thomas Anderson turns everything into an unnecessary 2 and a half hour movie. in fact, I truly think he believes that every film should be longer than 2 hours.

In Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed final film, he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a dress maker in 1950s London. His day-to-day life is very routine, until he meets a young lady, Alma (Vicky Krieps).

Woodcock is a bit crazy and obsessed with his own creativity. Alma immediately falls in love with him, but he is very blatantly just using her as his inspiration. We get the idea early on that this is a pattern with him. He finds a woman, exploits her in order to enhance his work, then eventually she gets tired of him and leaves. Only this time, the woman fully buys into his nonsense. Alma is fully committed, but all he wants to do is take. It’s actually almost too painful to be entertaining.

But something tells me we’re not here to be entertained. We’re here to learn about a particular unhealthy relationship and the truly deep nuances of its dynamic–however unrealistic it all is.

Woodcock’s insanity leads her to find her own crazy, which makes her do terrible things. We know Alma deserves better. He’s so impossibly hard to love, but she does it anyway.

It’s also a look into the culture and the commonly tortured life of a fashion designer of that era by dissecting the psychoanalysis of Woodcock himself.

Day-Lewis is expectedly great. From the very first moments, he never tries to capture the camera. Almost as though he doesn’t realize he’s being filmed at all.

While the story is painfully slow at times, Anderson takes full advantage of the long runtime. He builds tension and develops the complex relationship. There are some excellent and memorably distinct scenes. Unlike his film The Master, where all of the scenes just bleed together. Phantom Thread is intriguing up until the final ten minutes when it completely turns heel and becomes totally weird, breaking the consistently even tone.

In the end, Phantom Thread is a excellently crafted work of art. However, you can’t help but think that the film is just as self-aggrandized as Woodcock, himself.

Twizard Rating: 92

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Quick Movie Review: The Darkest Hour (2017)

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Often times when actors play historical figures, there’s a small inkling we have that they’re still only acting. Whether it’s due to forced or phony idiosyncrasies, or an unnatural sounding cadence. But there are those rare performances where the actor truly becomes the person they are portraying. So much so that you never once think about the actor. Some examples being Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln or Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. And now you have to add Gary Oldman in one of the best acting performances you will ever see.

What Oldman does as Prime Minister Winston Churchill feels so effortless. Each word and facial expression is so subtly nuanced. At times you can barely understand what he says, but even that is beautiful too. Everything he does feels so natural as if it’s actually Churchill himself.

A lot of it has to do with director Joe Wright giving Oldman the freedom to have at it. In a 2-hour film, it’s harder to keep up this kind of perfection for a leading actor. There’s more screen time to mess it up. But Oldman’s true genius is able to surface, with Wright honing it in.

The film depicts Churchill’s coming to power in 1940 and dealing with Hitler and his attack on British troops at Dunkirk. Most of Churchill’s advisors agree to come to a peace treaty with Hitler, but Churchill’s conscience keeps telling him otherwise. He doesn’t want to fall into the same trap that other countries have–feeding into and negotiating with an evil tyrant.

Initially, Parliament writes off the Prime Minister as a buffoon, but he rises to the task. And you get to see the growth of his relationship with those around him, especially King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn).

Most of the movie takes place in a war strategy room or at Churchill’s home. The subject matter is dry, but you feel its weight. Churchill is exhausted and we are too, in the best way possible. Like after a great workout at the gym or completing a 300-page novel. It’s tough, but we feel accomplished afterwards. If you struggle with slower films, I suggest watching the movie Dunkirk first. Although it, too, is slow for an action film, it really helps put all of this into context.

But the script, written by Anthony McCarten, is so fluid and catchy. It helps that the real Churchill always talked as though he was scripted anyway. But Wright and McCarten could’ve just told the story. Instead, they make the scenes memorable. You can tell they had fun making the project and that McCarten enjoyed writing it.

Perhaps the only issue is that, before we care about the ancillary characters, the film tends to flounder when Oldman isn’t on screen. This gets fixed about halfway through, once we’re fully committed.

Lily James plays Churchill’s secretary, Elizabeth Layton. James is flawless in her role, proving that she has the potential to become one of Hollywood’s best talents.

After watching The Darkest Hour, you will feel like you know Winston Churchill the man, as well as understand what he went through while in office. Luckily we have the perfect guy to show us.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Lady Bird (2017)

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I’m curious how people who can’t relate to Lady Bird will interpret it. They will see a good, well thought-out film with a very intentional and inspired script. But will they be able to see the deceiving magnitude of this small story? Filled with scenarios that may seem random and non-cohesive, but actually aren’t, coming together to serve a symbiotic purpose in the end. There are films, like Get Out, where seemingly random events take place and you obviously know they will all come together in the end. Whereas Lady Bird has these events that seem more like they’re organically just telling a story. And we smile when we realize their purpose. Or perhaps consciously we won’t. And that’s where director Greta Gerwig’s brilliance shines best here.

Saoirse Ronan plays Christine, AKA Lady Bird, a high school senior who is still discovering how to rebel against her mother, with an attitude that’s oddly reminiscent of Claire Danes’ Angela Chase. Amongst the unpopular kids, she’s a little edgier and worldly, but with the popular kids, she’s obviously out-of-place.

Attending Catholic school, Lady Bird toys with liberal ideas for the sake of them being liberal ideas. Often times liking the concept of their existence rather than actually having a full grasp of them–haphazard arguments and all.

Personally, I find the film extremely relatable. Growing up Catholic at Catholic schools in liberal California, most of my friends no longer practice their faith–or never have. From talks with many of them, I know that, although they’ve strayed, it’s something that stays with them in their hearts and their conscience.

Lady Bird is also Catholic by upbringing only. Basically. The disciplines learned. The idea of sacrifice. When she’s in the comfort of her school and her family, she rebels against it, but once she leaves and is no longer encapsulated in it, she’s able to better understand it all and grow from it–actually using it as a remedy for her homesickness.

A huge part of the movie is Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, eloquently played by Laurie Metcalf. Metcalf’s character is a study of neurotic OCD before it was trendy (the film takes place in 2002). She has an obvious complex. Outwardly, her daughter can never do good enough. She mirrors her own insecurities onto Lady Bird, often insulting the way she walks or dresses. To everyone else, it’s obviously some sort of deep-rooted jealousy, but if you called her out on it, she’d probably say she doesn’t do any of it at all. She’s a true nuisance. Yet she has so much vulnerability that you still seem to love her. And Gerwig shows her in a way only capable of being shown by someone who’s loved someone just like this in her own life. Perhaps.

The film and the narrative have an extremely indie feel to it. The script is poignant, but sometimes a little too expository. A result of the raw disjointedness that comes with the genre’s territory.

Lady Bird may feel like many other films, but the beauty of it is that once you dig deep, it’s not. It’s largely about the title character and her mother, yes, but it also makes you pay attention to those around them. Gerwig creates all these little subplots within this universe. They don’t all necessarily have a direct impact on the main storyline, but they all help to serve a greater purpose. They shape Lady Bird’s life and give it a bigger meaning. While as teenagers, we think the world revolves around us, we (hopefully) realize as we get older that it definitely doesn’t. Gerwig reminds us of that. The best line in the movie is, “Don’t you think, maybe, they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Well said. And a good reminder these days.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)

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Unlike other Marvel films, Black Panther’s premise isn’t convoluted or confusing. The fluid storytelling helps, but it also does away with aliens and paint-by-numbers villains. It doesn’t require any esoteric knowledge or a following of every previous Marvel movie up until this point. In fact, you barely remember that it’s part of that universe at all.

The story follows the African nation of Wakanda and its heir to the throne, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Wakanda is thought to be a third world country by the rest of the world, but it secretly has an infinite supply of the metal called Vibranium. Vibranium can cure disease, supply unlimited energy, and is used to make indestructible armor and the most powerful weapons you could ever imagine. T’Challa’s conflict is whether or not to share this technology with the rest of the world to help them. Will the world use it peacefully, like the people of Wakanda? Or will they abuse its power, invoking greed?

Boseman does an excellent job as the title character, proving once again that he’s one of the most reliably consistent actors in Hollywood. He carries the film well, showing us both earnestness and pride. There may not be anyone else who could have done this convincingly, properly giving us as good of a character transformation as he has.

On the other side of T’Challa is Killmonger, an Oakland-born villain who knows of Wakanda’s Vibranium and thinks it should be used to help the oppressed conquer their oppressors. Killmonger comes from the streets and has turned his frustrations into violence–like many do–but this time, he has somewhat of an “in”.

You get where he’s coming from and agree that Vibranium should be used to help people, but don’t necessarily like his violent approach to getting it done. In fact, T’Challa gets it too. The hero and the villain have the same end goal, but their way of going about it is just different. One is a tyrant while the other is a compassionate leader.

Killmonger is one of the most intriguing Marvel villains to date. He and X-Men’s Magneto. We dislike them, yet are given empathy for them. Killmonger is willing to sacrifice everything, including people he loves, for his beliefs, while the Wakandans are willing to sacrifice beliefs and morals for their own country. It’s subtle, but extremely poignant.

Wakanda has a lie that’s gotten out of hand. Like any big and necessary change, there needs to be conflict and civil disagreement beforehand. And that’s what happens here. Some serve their nation because of their own personal obligation, while others see that this is about much more than that. It’s about serving the greater good.

As far as surface-level stuff, Black Panther isn’t entirely unflawed. Other than a cool car chase sequence towards the beginning, the action scenes are lacking a bit of originality. However, the score by composer Ludwig Goransson and its utilization by director Ryan Coogler makes them feel epic. The whole movie has this feel. Maybe more than any other in this cinematic universe. And that’s with the subpar action.

The film is so nuanced. It helps that it has a director rooted in the independent film world. Coogler conducts the drama on the same level as the best we’ve ever seen in an action film. He knows how to build conflict and tension, and how to make the audience think. A little food for though is always good.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Batman Returns (1992)

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1989’s Batman is, arguably, a good movie. It tends to be overshadowed by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, relying so heavily on him that you forget what the actual plot of the movie is.

In Batman Returns, Danny DeVito plays the villain, Penguin, who helps carry this movie (and is actually much creepier than the Joker), but it never becomes solely about him.

Batman (Michael Keaton) tries to stop Penguin and the corrupt Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) from taking full control of Gotham City. Meanwhile, Shreck’s vendetta-filled ex-assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is figuring out how to become Catwoman.

It’s fun the watch the 1989 film first (and as a completist, I think you should), but it’s far from necessary. There are basically zero references to the predecessor. Luckily.

They’re both directed by Tim Burton, known for his dark and macabre style. Yet, this film does absolutely everything better than the last. There’s an actual coherent story, clearly defined motives, nuanced depth of the characters, and there are several villains to occupy us with.

The script explores much less of Bruce Wayne’s history, yet he seems more filled-out here. Possibly since Keaton appears to have an actual invested interest in both main villains–and so do we as an audience. Batman has no prior history with them, but he seems to have more at stake still.

It also helps that both Catwoman and Penguin are much more complex characters than the Joker. Their stories are more poetic. And so is this movie.

Batman Returns actually has something to say. With subtle jabs at the the media and our headline-grabbing culture.

It’s also more than just a superhero movie, but a character study paying dividends even in its final moments.

It’s also important to note that composer Danny Elfman’s score compliments Burton’s auteur in this film much better than the last. In those three years, he really found and established his style that we all know him by.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Batman (1989)

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I’m never sure how I feel about Michael Keaton. He always has such unorthodox delivery in his performances. I can’t deny the personality he brings to his characters. And a lot of the time that’s what makes certain performances so good. But he has such a specific style, that at times he seems a little out of place. Not every role is fit for his idiosyncrasies.

At times you feel that way about his role as Bruce Wayne. He does an okay job as Batman, but his usual tongue-in-cheek style gets somewhat stymied as Wayne. You can tell he’s holding back, but then other times he doesn’t, and it seems out of place. The result is a character who is neither stoic nor hyper. He’s just lethargic.

The premise is pretty convoluted, so I’m going to bare-bones it. The Joker (Jack Nicholson) becomes Batman’s first true supervillain as the Caped Crusader tries to clean up the streets of Gotham City.

Nicholson is the obvious standout in this film. He’s a psychopath who makes you uneasy just because you know he literally has no conscience.

Over the course of the film, the story turns into the Joker attempting to create some sort of political race with Batman to become the city’s favorite bad guy. It’s twisted and doesn’t make much sense–but in the most intentional way possible. The way only the Joker could pull off.

But this trend continues as other characters have muddled motives also. The Joker’s motives are supposed to not make sense, but the rest of the characters’ still should.

There’s some backstory in the first 45 minutes of how the Joker comes to be, but it’s confusing as well.

Watching the film now, it’s an exercise in nostalgia, but it’s still a very slow watch, sagging all throughout. However, the dialogue is snappy and holds up pretty well (the dialogue does–not the movie as a whole). The movie is definitely dated and would never fly as a Batman movie these days. Post-Christopher Nolan, we as a society have become extremely picky about our Batman films.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

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In The Cabin In the Woods, cliches turn to genre subversions almost seamlessly. By the end, you look back 90 minutes and can’t believe where it started.

With a setting that arbitrarily gives off the vibe of late-’90s/early-’00s teen horror films, we get five vicenarians with slasher film archetypes going away on a trip to a relative’s cabin in the woods. At the same time, in an undisclosed location, there are a couple of government employees, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who are involved in what immediately comes next in these young adults’ lives.

Written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, it brilliantly detaches the audience from any of the characters, both becoming like the many slasher films it mimics, and fulfilling a vital part of its satire. If we cared too much about the characters, we would, in turn, be alienated once bad things start happening to them–being more invested in them than in the film’s point. But actually establishing certain appealable traits also prevents the movie from becoming flippant.

The film gets very close to actually becoming self-aware–to where the satire becomes parody–but never does. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters mirror the audience, providing the subtle commentary for us. In fact, becoming commentary for audiences of horror films in general–getting too excited when someone dies or when a woman’s blouse comes off. Their perspective is the satire–but luckily that’s not its sole purpose

What’s great is that the film is about more than just critiquing the horror genre. It also gives us a fresh new story.

Visually, it’s very appealing. Narrative-wise, it’s a blast. The payoff is worth it. Whedon and Goddard give you exactly what you want and what you want to know, answering mostly all of your questions by the end.

The film isn’t without its holes, but I don’t think it really cares. And neither do we, because that’s never the point. It’s a throwback to when horror movies were simple. This time with a more involved premise–proving that it’s possible for the genre to survive and grow.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

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Hunger Games is, hands down, the most famous post-apocalyptic YA film series. And it’s ironic that only half of the series is good. The first two Hunger Games are fantastic, but the last two are pretty bad, with the 3rd film being borderline unwatchable. Maze Runner should be the real star of the genre. And while this final installment is a slight step below the previous two, it’s entertaining at the very least.

Even that aside, the series has a lot going for it. The characters are way more likable. We can relate to them more since they don’t just spend hours of the film brooding. I know it’s probably more realistic in these dire circumstances, but it’s just not very entertaining to watch someone mope about on screen for that long. In Maze Runner, we also don’t get some forced love triangle that turns out to have an even more forced resolution. Hunger Games may be filled way more with edgy political commentary and a grand philosophical meaning, but Maze Runner has stuff to say itself. Hunger Games began as a cool concept but didn’t know where to go from there. It almost wanted too badly to be artsy, which just made it seem self-indulgent. While the Maze Runner films know how to be entertaining and never really try to be pretentious.

With that said, the impact of this film, as well as the driving purpose for the characters in it, will only seem worth it to those of us who are fans of, and have an invested interest in the previous two movies.

Minho has been captured by WCKD so they can torture and run tests on him, so Thomas and his crew attempt to break him out of their headquarters. Pretty much the whole movie is based on this premise–including an elaborate and action-packed scene at the beginning where they steal a train car, hoping that Minho is inside. But it turns out it’s all for naught since they got the wrong train.

It’s an event that’s created to justify a nearly two and a half hour movie, but at least what follows is entertaining and gives us nice closure to the series. Even if it wouldn’t have happened at all if they hadn’t stolen the wrong train car.

It does get a little frustrating and confusing at times because you have the tendency to over think it. When reality is, there’s not much to think about. It’s a basic plot that takes 142 minutes to be accomplished. And while much of it turns out to be unnecessary and in vain, it never actually feels that long. Mostly because it’s really entertaining all the way through.

The only derailment of that enjoyment is when we get confused or lost due to the film relying too much on the audience remembering details from its predecessor. But even if you do remember, it gets slightly convoluted with the plot holes that keep popping up.

There’s nothing countering the tension–not enough at stake. Or at least, you don’t realize what’s at stake until the very end. It’s not quite as poetic and masterful as its predecessor, but that’s a really hard act to follow.

With the first movie being a great jump-off point for the series, creating mystery and intrigue, and the second movie being a near-perfect follow-up that not only improves on its predecessor, but becomes an amazing standalone film in its own right, this finale may not quite be the one we’ve been waiting for. However, they could have done the unthinkable and tried to separate it into two terrible films and it could have been much, much worse.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: I, Tonya (2017)

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2017 has truly been an amazing year for film, with I, Tonya being one of the highlights.

The film revolves around figure skater, Tonya Harding, played by Margot Robbie, and her relationship with her mother (Allison Janney) and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). It eventually, and expectedly, builds up to the controversial incident involving her peer, Nancy Kerrigan, getting her knee whacked by an expandable baton.

This story has next-to-nothing to do with Harding and Kerrigan’s relationship. In fact, the two never have any dialogue with one another–however badly we want it. Though, it does give you a different perspective on an event that was shown bias by the media in a sport that is obsessed with its image. It was America’s candy months before we moved on to O.J. Simpson.

It shows, in depth, the skater’s history with physical abuse–both by her mother and Gillooly. But I won’t go into detail on her complex psyche and the flaws in professional figure skating, because the film depicts both of those brilliantly.

Harding had a lousy upbringing. A redneck who never finished high school. Her dad left when she was little and she was dirt poor.

Even though Harding was likely not guilty and didn’t want Kerrigan to be crippled, she was bitter about her competitor’s pretentious attitude and how her image was everything the figure skating industry wanted. Kerrigan was the sweet girl next door who played the game in order to win the judges affection. Harding was the exact opposite. At one point, she says something like, “Look, Nancy gets hit one time and the whole world s***s. For me, it was an all-the-time occurrence.”

Never once does the movie feel constricted by formula or standards. It tells the story how it wants to and gets a lot done because of it. It’s blatant, but it fits the tone.

I love the creative narration–using recreated interviews from several sources in order to show several perspectives.

And the film properly utilizes cause and effect with how people change each other and how it’s never just one person’s fault. Harding gets constantly abused by her mother all her life. And the ironic thing is, it does make her a better skater. But at what cost? Is being a good skater even worth it if it makes the rest of your life worse?

Janney does a perfect job throughout the entire film. She is so aware of her every word and facial expression, while keeping them beautifully ambiguous at the same time.

But Robbie should also not be overlooked. It’s by far her best performance yet. She makes you feel for Tonya so much. Someone who was once a pariah and a punchline. You never thought you’d be watching a movie where Tonya Harding was the protagonist and you’d be moved to tears for her. It’s all so amazing. Hands down, one of the year’s best.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)

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1984’s Revenge of the Nerds didn’t need a sequel. Everything gets accomplished in that movie. It could have stood alone as a piece of history. A treasured work of art that we could look back on and admire. In making a followup film, you risk losing the quality and integrity of the predecessor.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Before sequels typically had any chance of being good, the filmmakers of Revenge of the Nerds decided to take this risk. While critics back then may have been less than pleased, true fans probably enjoyed seeing more nerds.

What makes Revenge of the Nerds so great isn’t only its goofy premise, but mostly its incredible characters. And when you like the characters, it makes an unnecessary sequel more justifiable.

However, these characters don’t always live up to their full potential in the sequel. Some fan-favorites from the first film are missing, and that messes with the dynamics a little.

Lewis and the rest of the nerds in the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity head to Florida for a national fraternity convention. They’re met with harsh adversity when their rivals in the jock fraternity get offended by how the nerds are ruining the cool vibe of the convention.

Their incentives aren’t exactly crystal-clear, but neither are they in previous film.

Fortunately, you can make a case that it’s even funnier than its predecessor. There are some bits that are even more clever, and less focus on sexcapades.

And in an unexpected twist, the film holds up just as well.

Twizard Rating: 82