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First Reformed Review

26 May

Slow and deliberate, but fervent in its interrogation of faith and in its portrayal of all-consuming mental anguish. Hawke is a force in the film, his internal conflict clearly bursting at the seams in each and every intimate frame. The setting is utilized to full effect as the church becomes positioned between past and present, between an ideal and a reality, between the central tenets of religion and the insidious hypocrisy of corporate greed. It all builds up to an absolutely stunning finale that seethes with anger, yet challenges you to grab ahold of something in a world that too often seems devoid of hope and meaning.

GRADE: B+

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The Tale Review

20 May

Decidedly not formalistic, but much too often to a fault. I have great respect for what Fox is going for here, especially as it relates to the messiness of trauma and the profound impact it has on victims’ memories. The contradictions inherent in dramatizing a story about a kind of existing dramatization are endlessly fascinating, but the documentarian in Fox too often results in a stiltedness that outweighs the authenticity accompanying the approach. Continue reading

Tully Review

18 May

An unglamorous and therefore honest portrayal of motherhood infused with the sardonic wit of Cody’s screenplay. A fantastic Theron is the epitome of exhaustion in every form, but her character also has an admirable, steely-eyed quality to her that makes you care about her love for her kids. Davis, so fantastic in Halt and Catch Fire, drifts in and out of the narrative in an exceedingly bizarre yet endearing fashion. Even though the film doesn’t really stick the landing, that central dynamic is the heart and soul of the story, positing that it’s okay to both let yourself need something or someone and let yourself change.

GRADE: B (so close to that B+)

Disobedience Review

29 Apr

A tightly coiled web of emotions, all repressed and conflicting in ways that are difficult to fully express through film. The first half is understandably a bit uncertain with itself, given its job of establishing context while simultaneously having its characters reorient themselves around an extensive history. However, the film slowly moves into focus as the central characters reignite their passions, culminating in a love scene that is passionate and raw and beautifully filmed. McAdams and Weisz are both incredible throughout, perfectly calibrating what they do and don’t hold back without any sense of artificiality. It is perhaps through Nivola’s character that Lelio makes his most interesting choice: instead of this character serving as an impediment to love or a vilification of deeply rooted faith, he is just as conflicted as the two women. And it is through this trio that the film questions what it means to lose, to choose, and to have the ability to really, truly feel.

GRADE: B

A Quiet Place Review

22 Apr

Does remarkably little with a great premise, even going so far as to turn it into one of the film’s glaring weaknesses. What should be a unique form of tension-building dread is instead a conduit for the most basic studio horror crutches, resulting in an experience that sort of works only because it’s impossible not to have a certain type of visceral reaction. After all, this is what happens when a film doesn’t engage with its premise beyond its most basic function; it ends up relying on the laziest forms of storytelling to fill in the blank spaces. Here, we have an over-reliance on jump scares, awful dialogue, contrivances that make you roll your eyes instead of sink deeper into the film’s world, and rote emotional subplots that feel more obligatory than natural. Continue reading

You Were Never Really Here Review

6 Apr

Visually and sonically mesmerizing—Greenwood’s done it again—with a pained and physical lead performance by the always fantastic Joaquin Phoenix. However, it’s also a frustrating experience in many regards because it seems to use PTSD as a stylistic crutch of sorts instead of as a meaningful foundation to the story. I don’t doubt that Lynne Ramsay’s intentions are genuine, but getting us into the headspace of a character and his trauma is not necessarily the same thing as developing that character and his trauma. You can craft disorientation and rely on fragmentation all you want, but that approach tends to keep everything at a stagnant, surface level distance. This film manages to suffer from being too heavy-handed and too obtuse at the same time, and what results is a portrait of a character that feels unfinished. Additionally, the supporting characters feel less like characters and more like puzzle pieces without any place to fit, and anything meaningful the film has to say about violence, corruption, or trauma is diluted by Ramsay’s insistence on transcending genre conventions.

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Isle of Dogs Review

26 Mar

Wes Anderson is a very consistent filmmaker, but this is unfortunately one of his weaker efforts because he makes a structural miscalculation that renders the film inert for large portions of its runtime. Namely, his continued focus on the subtitled humans gets old after a few scenes, and aside from a hilarious sushi preparation sequence, those entire sections of the film feel dull and largely pointless. I get why they’re part of the script, but I have a huge problem with the execution of the themes and the ways in which the human storylines undercut the character development of the dogs. Anderson could’ve easily said everything he wanted to say, political or otherwise, without resorting to using the humans as mere dispensers rather than natural embodiments or expressions of certain ideas. Gerwig’s character in particular is a grating mess, and the film’s third act completely loses any of the tightness, emotional resonance, or childish wonder that Anderson brought to some of his other films.

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