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: 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: The Post (2017)

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Boy, does Steven Spielberg know how to get you into a story. Even one with a topic as dry and heavy-handed as this one. He turns moments that probably shouldn’t be emotional into things that get you pumping your fist with the win.

The Post takes place in Washington D.C. in 1971, dealing with the Washington’s Post decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, which contained thousands of pages of secret information about how the government had been lying about the actual objective of the Vietnam War.

The New York Times had already gotten some information and run some stories about it, but they were silenced by the government with a court injunction. So the Washington Post now has a choice to make. Does it run the rest of the stories at the risk of violating the court order?

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, owner of the newspaper, in a brilliant character transformation. Graham has mastered the ability to exploit society’s view of her as a “dumb woman”, playing it up to her advantage when necessary.

It’s also a film about the press in general. It was a much different world back then. Newspapers seemed to have more integrity because they had to. They were society’s main source of information. They couldn’t afford to state their blatant opinions as much as today. Nowadays, there are so many news outlets that the papers can have more of a bias because there will always be an audience for them.

It’s hard to imagine this happening in this day-and-age where information can be released by anyone with a keyboard, but in 1971, if no official news outlet ran the story, it didn’t get heard.

The Post is filled with some thought-provoking and powerful messages about freedom of press and protection of the governed. It doesn’t take a political stance on any one president, but on all presidents.

The most powerful scene is when Bob Odenkirk’s character, Ben Bagdikian, assistant editor for the Post, tracks down Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the papers. They meet in a hotel room and Ellsberg discusses why he chose to disclose the information and what he’s willing to sacrifice for the truth. He asks Odenkirk, “Wouldn’t you go to prison to stop this war?” As viewers, we have to think about if we would do the same. Odenkirk responds, “Theoretically, sure.” Most of us are on the same page. It’s one of the only scenes not featuring Streep or Hanks, yet it ties the whole film together and brings the uninvested audience members into it for good.

Like I said, this is dry stuff. The details are as convoluted as the Pentagon Papers, themselves, and so the second act drags a little. But somehow Spielberg makes a gripping movie about the topic. And reels us all in by the end.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Get Out (2017)

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Get Out is an important movie for where we are right now in this country. It’s a race-relations story that takes things to the extreme.

A young white woman, Rose (Allison Williams), takes her black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), to meet her parents at their rural upstate home. He’s immediately met with friendly, yet uneasy encounters with them. He jumps to the conclusion that it’s because of his race, but still tries to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

It begins with circumstances that are humorous, but that we know still occur in our society. Like blunt comments about his genetics, or awkward conversations about Barack Obama. But then it slowly adds more and more so that it soon becomes ridiculous.

Some things are almost too weird. To the point where almost every scenario exists only to support the twist at the end. So we just end up sitting there, consciously trying to take note of it all because we’re aware that we’ll be needing it again.

Luckily, the film doesn’t take itself that seriously. You might imagine writer/director Jordan Peele laughing to himself as he writes it. It’s silly, but it’s often rooted in truth. And it finds that happy medium for almost the entirety of the film. The tone is established early on. It’s not laugh-out-loud, but it’s also not too stern. And it has some touches of farce. Many touches.

I get that Peele is trying to prove a point. Actually, it’s less polemic than it is a hyper-exaggerated version of some reality (though in some cases, not entirely). It’s hard to believe that there are people out there who actually go around telling black people that they’re fans of Tiger Woods like it’s going to make them happy.

There are a lot of different pieces thrown at you along the way that you’re tempted to doubt that it will all come together in the end, but Peele gains our trust by making a smart movie to where we know it still will.

Peele has an excellent vision for Get Out. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s very good. It may not be as powerful as some would hope, but I also don’t think that was his intent.

It also should be noted that Lil Rel Howery’s role as Chris’ best friend, Rod, may be the highlight of the film. His earth-shattering comedic performance is one of the best I’ve seen in recent cinema and truly grounds this film.

Twizard Rating: 94

Quick Movie Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

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I always say that a film’s true greatness is found in how close the finished product is to the filmmaker’s true vision. This doesn’t always mean that it’s in line with our own personal enjoyment, but you can’t deny that it’s well-done.

The Shape of Water is a pretty good example. Not everyone will be into it. It’s very weird, yet it’s almost too normal to be weird.

Set in the early 1960s, Sally Hawkins’ character, Elisa, works as a cleaning lady in a government lab building. She’s mute, but can still hear. One day, she discovers a human-like animal that is being treated violently in some top secret room. It looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. She becomes very empathetic, and even sympathetic towards this creature, to the point of falling in love with it.

That’s when the weirdness starts. The film turns into a love story between Elisa and the creature. If you thought that Harold and Maude was too much, you’ll likely not enjoy this one either.

It all feels too relatable, while at the same time distances itself from us by using foreign examples to help us sympathize. It becomes preachy, which is actually a turn off, because of the fact that it’s a little too real. At times you just wish that it possessed more of a sci-fi tone, so then it could just be weird and nothing else.

It’s also hard to stay invested because the creature we are rooting for has few redeeming qualities. It’s animalistic and even eats cats. I mean, so did ALF, but at least he was able to joke around and cohabit with humans.

I appreciate the visionary set design and artistic direction, but it’s just too strange for me, and will be for many people. I usually don’t even mind if the themes and message of it all are too on-the-nose, but here it’s not worth sitting through all the weirdness.

Oddly enough, you still know that this is probably the exact film that writer/director Guillermo del Toro wanted to make. And that makes me respect it as art, but I just don’t really care for it as entertainment.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Molly’s Game (2017)

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A great film can present itself non-linearly and still have you understand all of the information just as well as if it were presented linearly. If it’s done poorly, it leaves you confused, but if it’s done well, you get a near-perfect film.

But along with a sporadic narrative, you also need a compelling story. Something that makes you want to follow a film through all of its twists and turns.

Molly’s Game is a film that’s appealing because it loves the grey areas. Mostly because writer/director Aaron Sorkin is a fan of these. Whether it’s in a character whose moral compass is pointing in no convincing direction, or a scenario that really has no right or wrong answer. In this case, he gives us both.

The film follows Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former competitive-skier who, after a bad accident during a competition, drastically changes her life, eventually leading to her starting one of the biggest underground poker rings in the country.

It’s a film of epic proportions, with Chastain giving a performance rivaling her best. Molly changes so much from beginning to end, while always allowing us to see her true self underneath it all.

While a movie like The Big Short explains complicated things in a colloquial fashion, Molly’s Game requires a little bit more work and previous knowledge of poker. There’s a lot of esoteric jargon, but it never leaves you high and dry. You have to understand the game a little bit, but instead of trying to explain it in a contrived way, Sorkin opts to just keep the poker, itself, as basic as possible–not really discussing hands outside of pairs, three-of-a-kinds, and full houses.

Idris Elba does an amazing job playing Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. He and Chastain have absolute firework chemistry. When they banter on screen you can’t look away.

Charlie is the real good guy in the movie. Molly is our protagonist, but not all protagonists come in a neatly wrapped package. Like I said, she walks the line somewhere in the middle, morally.  So if Sorkin makes his main protagonist an anti-hero, he still has to have an actual hero to represent the one end of the spectrum. Charllie is that guy. Then we have characters, like Player X (Michael Cera)–an anonymous actor who tries to ruin people’s lives by making them go broke–who represent the other end.

There are tons of things keeping this film afloat, but I suppose it could have had a tighter grip on its themes. A lot of times you get the sense that it’s merely a cool story for the sake of telling us a cool story.

Some may get the feeling of “why do we care?” Well, in a way it’s also a character study. Why do we ever care about a character study? Because the character being studied is a unique and complex individual. Not only is Molly Bloom both of these, but so are the situations she’s put herself in.

Molly’s Game has a tendency to act self-aggrandized for the sake of being cool. But it’s a cool film. Why wouldn’t it want to show it off a little? Maybe the most impressive thing Sorkin does here is make us believe that this topic is way more interesting and important than it actually is. That sounds like a slight, but it’s not. It’s actually high praise.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Bright (2017)

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Will Smith might be the very best at bringing genuinely hilarious humor to intense action films without making them feel like comedies. His jokes never cause a movie to lose its intensity, but bring a human-quality to it.

It’s a skill that fits in perfectly with Bright–a film about humans and fantasy creatures, like Orcs and Elves, living together on Earth. Smith plays Daryl Ward, a street cop who is partners with an Orc named Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton).

Jakoby is the country’s first Orc police officer. In this version of America, Orcs are considered low-class scum. Jakoby is hated by humans for being an Orc, and he’s ostracized by other Orcs for “selling out”.

The dialogue throughout the film is extremely smart. It’s like a more on-the-nose Blade Runner–and much more relatable. Because of that, you reflect on it a little bit more within the context of your own life.

The themes are heavy-handed, but not as preachy as you would think. It shows issues with racism from all sides, causing the entire audience to be self-reflective without evoking any hate or bitterness for either side.

To make the story even more interesting, it gives us a lot more to play with in terms of subplot and lore, so we can see perhaps another film set in this universe–either a sequel or a spinoff.

This is peak Will Smith–on par with anything he did back in the ’90s. Bright is easily Smith’s best movie in over 10 years.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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1995’s Jumanji is one of my favorite movies of all time. So, naturally, I was excited AND worried about the new film. Excited because I love the source material, but obviously worried that it would be bad. There was no more Robin Williams, so how could it even be comparable? I was also skeptical after finding out it was going to revolve around a video game rather than a board game. But the fact that it’s such a different concept actually prevents us from making any unfair comparisons. Luckily, nothing about this new installment feels forced or unnecessary.

In the film, four very different high school students wind up in detention. They’re forced to clean up a storage room, where they find an old video game system and begin playing the game inside, Jumanji. Seconds after selecting their avatars, they get transported into the game, becoming the adult avatars they’ve chosen.

The writers make it so the non-gaming teenagers have the weakest avatars in the game, brilliantly mimicking the frustrations of actual non-gamers all over the world.

It’s a mix of comedy and intensity, with the former being the priority. Though, the humor never undermines the action or insults the other things the story is trying to accomplish.

Many of the jokes stem from Jack Black’s character being played by a stuck-up teenage girl. So, everything he says is appropriate to that. Black is so good that you actually feel like there is a girl underneath it all.

In fact, most of the actors do a good job at this. Dwayne Johnson’s character has a timid nerdy boy inside. And Kevin Hart’s diminutive avatar is controlled by a football jock.

Jumanji is Hart and Johnson’s funniest film, individually and together. Usually movies rely on Hart to be the main focus and source of the humor, but there are other characters here to distract you from him, so when he pipes in it doesn’t feel like overkill. And seeing Johnson take on a different persona is refreshing.

This Jumanji sequel is a comedy more than anything else, and is very fresh compared to some of its contemporaries. It doesn’t break any new ground within its genre, but also never tries to become more than it actually is. Even if it’s not the perfect movie, it’s amazing entertainment.

Twizard Rating: 94