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Molly’s Game Review

14 Dec

Molly’s Game works as well as it does due to the sheer vitality of Jessica Chastain’s performance. As an actor, she isn’t the most overt emoter, and she doesn’t need to be. She manages to draw an incredible amount of empathy out of her characters, always in control but willing to let the cracks in the armor show. She is one of the most remarkably restrained, yet emotionally potent, actors in Hollywood. She excels at taking these strong, resolute women through hell and back, coming out stronger and more complex while being very aware of the gender dynamics of her characters. Molly Bloom is by necessity steely and crafty, but she is also a human being in a world that oftentimes has no regard for humanity. As Bloom, Chastain is a scorching force of nature. It’s easy to praise her more dramatic moments later in the film, but watch her every move during her initial rise to power. You want to root for Molly as she begins to learn, as she faces disrespect from her boss, as she gains more and more confidence.

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The Shape of Water Review

27 Nov

I’m not sure if this is a good film or if Guillermo del Toro is just good at endearing stylistic pizzazz. For instance, the central romance here should not be at all believable, and not necessarily because it’s a romance that involves a juiced up frog monster; rather, it’s simply a woefully underdeveloped dynamic that’s asked to carry the film. Furthermore, the shifts among genres really don’t work together well at all, with the Cold War angle only providing some tension because Michael Shannon is a really goddamn fun person to watch. The majority of the supporting characters are relatively isolated and thematically limp.

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Call Me By Your Name Review

14 Nov

Why is it that in a film so enthralled by the concepts of love and passion, there is surprisingly little of both to be felt throughout? You can certainly see that love and passion play out on screen, but there’s a difference between seeing and feeling. All the more power to those who have been able to do both for this film, to those who have found something to viscerally connect to. However, there’s something glaringly missing for me, a huge disconnect between the supposed emotional foundation and the execution of the romance. The interactions between Elio and Oliver feel overwhelmingly physical, something that in theory should be completely fine because sexual maturation is an important element of the story (interestingly enough, Guadagnino seems to shy away from actually showing them having sex). In practice, though, there is simply very little depth that feeds into the physicality, probably because the interactions between the two never truly become elevated beyond the simple push and pull of surface level attraction. We get a lot of scenes between them, but not enough time with them, if that makes sense.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

11 Nov

Everything Martin McDonagh is going for here is admirable, but too much of it doesn’t work for this film to truly resonate. I’m a fan of McDonagh because he seems to realize the value in absurdity, in taking a look at people who have been through immense hardship and doubling down on the nonsensical nature of the world they live in. There’s a salient position in certain portrayals of trauma for pitch black comedy, and this approach can prove very fruitful for making striking observations about society. Three Billboards works occasionally in this realm, but people aren’t wrong when they point out that there are tonal issues throughout. The more specific problem, however, is that of the tonal issues as they relate to the character development. It’s one issue if scenes seem to make jarring turns within themselves–that can serve a very useful purpose–but tonal inconsistencies become more glaring when transitions within character arcs are weak. That’s the case here with Rockwell’s character arc in the latter half, a slight misfire of an attempt to bring him and McDormand together under the umbrella of redemption. The same goes for Rockwell and Caleb Landry Jones’ character, a dynamic that is unfortunately never fully developed.

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Lady Bird Review

7 Nov

It’s…good. It’s one of those well-made films that has nothing glaringly wrong with it and is impossible to hate because of the palpable passion behind the camera. However, it’s also one of those films that seems to get its mileage out of how much the audience connects with it, and any connection to it for me is on a smaller and more transient level. There are little moments throughout that are stunningly beautiful in their simplicity–a few pieces of paper late in the film hold a tremendous amount of power–but Gerwig’s slice of life approach doesn’t always translate to meaningful depth for every character and dynamic. I’m left marveling at a few select sequences and appreciating Gerwig’s grounded approach, but I’m also left wondering “Is that it?” as the credits roll. Clearly the approach here is true to real life, and perhaps the hype influenced my slightly underwhelmed reaction, but the film overall doesn’t quite have that element that pushes its collective whole into “great” territory. It’s solid but not special. And you know, that’s perfectly fine.

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Last Flag Flying Review

3 Nov

A Richard Linklater road trip comedy sounds like the greatest idea ever. It’s a perfect setup for his naturalistic, free wheeling dialogue and his vigorous commitment to character, for his nearly unmatched skill at drawing humanity and beauty out of apparent mundanity. He certainly accomplishes that at select moments throughout this film, but more often than not, the conversations feel artificial, strained in a way. The characters almost feel different for the sake of being different rather than different enough to draw out hidden complexities. Cranston’s hammy character is well acted–no surprise there, he’s one of the best actors alive–but it sometimes feels forced comedy-wise. Maybe that’s more the screenplay’s fault, and hey, maybe it’s wrong for me to ascribe your typical Linklater quality markers to this markedly different film. But I still get the sense that he’s trying to have it both ways. He’s trying to bring what he knows and loves to a more formalistic structure, and while I have no doubts that he has the talent to do so, it’s unfortunately not his greatest effort here.

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Suburbicon Review

30 Oct

Not particularly funny, insightful, or well constructed, and the first half is a complete bore with very little in the way of effective buildup. Then the always incredible Oscar Isaac shows up, and he singlehandedly provides the film with a healthy ass kicking all the way through its conclusion. He more than Clooney seems to embrace the zany energy that the brothers bring to even their lower tier scripts, and he does so much with so little that you’re left wondering why the film didn’t revolve around him. Nevertheless, the mini crescendo jumpstarted by his character at the end is a lot of fun to watch, and there’s a dark absurdity to some of the images that oozes Coen brothers (not to mention Robert Elswit, PTA’s regular guy and one of the best cinematographers alive).

Here’s where the film completely and utterly fails: every single attempt to tie the main storyline into a commentary on race. The initial juxtapositions are fine: a white family’s violent exploits and a black family just trying to live, the violence of a mob and the tranquility of a family home, the pristine nature of a suburban neighborhood and the tensions drawn over race. But if a film wants points for absurdity through juxtaposition–and believe me, I love things like that–it simply cannot have such a poor grasp on its tone. The storyline with the black family feels both deadly serious and entirely superfluous, a poor combination given the nature of the rest of the film. I get the gist: people in the neighborhood are so preoccupied with a perceived intrusion on their sanitized way of life that they don’t realize the real ugliness is happening right under their noses (and in turn, being facilitated by them). There’s a way to approach that in an effective manner, but every time Clooney and co. attempt to, the film screeches to a halt. Whatever, I love Oscar Isaac. Also, I got Clooney’s autograph at the premiere so all is good.

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