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4 Stars Movies

Last Night in Soho (2021)

“Unusual movie” was what I heard from a fellow audience member at the end of the credits of Last Night in Soho, the latest film from Edgar Wright.

I responded something to the likes of “True, but that does not make it bad.”

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3 Stars Movies

The New Mutants (2020)

A lot of slack should be given to The New Mutants.

While a film’s release date getting pushed back would most likely be due to the film being overall bad, this film has its released date pushed back for a number reasons.

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4 Stars

The Lighthouse (2019)

When I started my DVD/Blu-Ray collection as a teenager, one of my key rules was that the film had to be in widescreen format. I quickly realized that not all films were made in widescreen, but still preferred the aspect of seeing all the screen that I could.

The first thing one would notice about The Lighthouse (along with it being in Black & White) is that it is filmed in 4:3. This is a vital film choice from the director Robert Eggers (who made 2016’s The Witch), as it is one of many key factors that makes his latest film so chill inducing.

Set in the late 1800s, the film revolves around two men tending a lighthouse somewhere off the shores of New England. Most of the story is seen through the eyes of the younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattison), who just took the job as a lighthouse keeper and is being trained by Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). We learn right away that one of Wake’s sincere orders is to never go to the top of the lighthouse and locks it up from Winslow.

Much of what Winslow learns is by the hard way (like cleaning the sewage before drinking from the well, how to deal correctly with seagulls (more on those later), and keeping the wind factor in mind when emptying the toilet bowls). While Wake is tough, he is not without reason (he does cook for both of them).

Not to mention the flatulence. This film has quite a lot of flatulence for a movie that is not strickly comedic.

I can’t remember entirely if the film has a concrete reason for the two to be on the island (aside from keeping it in order). We do get some background of the characters (failed marriages, failed jobs, and so on), but it is what happens on the island that is important. To say that cabin fever (or lighthouse fever?) ensues is a gross understatement. We get striking visuals (thanks in large part to the cinematography of Jarin Blaschke, who also worked with Eggers on The Witch) that make the film’s horror aspects more palpable than that of a film that tries to give us cheap jump scares. Eggers is patient in waiting to frighten us.

Both of the two actors are in top form. Dafoe has always been an actor who commands a unique force, and is never boring on screen. Still, I admit to being completely surprised by Pattison. Like many, I went in remembering this is the same guy from the Twilight film series (unseen by me), only to realize I had only seen him in one other film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was way back in 2005. I am not alone in saying I had my doubts when I heard Pattison would be the new film version of Batman, but now some of those doubts are dissipating.

Parents, this is indeed not a film for children. The film does have at least two main scenes with sexual content (as well as female nudity). There is a moment where (minor spoiler) a character is fantasizing about having sex with a mermaid (end minor spoiler). There is also a good amount of violence (especially at the end, with a truly haunting, visceral, yet somehow memorable shot), and swearing. Trust the R rating.

It is this fantasy aspect of the film, I think, that keeps the movie from being truly great. I am not sure if we needed all the fantasy aspects added, and instead just focused on the two men. Human’s diving into insanity (not unlike what we saw recently in Joker) is just as scary as the scenes we see involving seagulls (anyone who knows me is aware of my legit fear of birds).

I mentioned before how the film was shot in 4:3, giving a clear feeling of the characters being boxed in. There is indeed a sense of sheer loneliness, both for the men as individuals and together. It reminded me of moments in movies set in prison, when they would send the prisoner to “solitary”, or “the hole”. For a specific (or maybe not) amount of time, they are alone with only themselves and their thoughts.

And thoughts (mainly the sinful ones), is where horror can sometimes be birthed.

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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5 Stars Movies

The Witch (2016)

When it comes to paranoia, very few historical events are brought up before that of the various witch hunts (actual ones) that have occurred throughout human history (Salem being one of the most popular). I am not an expert (though I was rather intrigued when I did visit Salem), but it is hard to think that many of these incidents actually involved truth behind the accusations that were deployed. Of course, the fear behind the accusers would be more than understandable if they had been witness to the events of Director Robert Egger’s The VVitch, one of the best horror films of the decade (which has produced quite a good amount of horror classics).

Set in New England during the 1600s (a prime time of witch hunting), God fearing William (Ralph Ineson) and his Katherine (Kate Dickie) are kicked out of the local puritan village after accusing the villagers of being false Christians. Along with their five children, they set out to edge of the forest to start anew (“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.”). While it is clear that the family tries as hard as they can to be humble servants of God, things begin to slowly fall apart for them, as their newborn baby Samuel vanishes without a trace.

While the family believes a wolf had taken the baby, we the audience learn right away that it is indeed a witch (no real spoilers, since that is the title). What causes the sudden mysterious acts soon leads to the members of the family blaming each other, including Katherine, the oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and even the young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). The only two who seem to start having a cool level head about it is William and his second born son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw).

The imagery of the film is terrifying (only amped up by the searing soundtrack). What Eggers does so wonderfully (alone with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke) is there is little to no added light to any of the scenes: it is all purely natural (which is fitting, since electricity was nonexistent at the time). When you revisit the film (if you are not too frightened), you can honestly almost stop paying attention the narrative and just look at the artistry of the landscapes and texture of all that is onscreen. It is said that there needs to be darkness in order for light to shine, and the example here is pitch perfect. In short, it is breathtaking.

One of the true hidden gems of the film is how the script (also written by Robert Eggers) uses the common speech of the times, yet it does not confuse us. When we hear phrases like “Wouldst thou…” and “thy”, we may at first be a bit uneasy (since no one uses those phrases anymore). However, it does not take us long to put that aside and realize that we not just watching some English pilgrims talking weird: we are watching humans experiencing emotions both relatable and terrifying.

When it comes to horror films, one of the crucial elements is the pacing. A close friend of mine (and horror film fan) told me that, while he likes this film, he thought it went a little slow. I told him I thought it was perfectly paced. While other cheap horror films try to give you a lot of “gotcha!” moments all over the place, the true great horror films build the suspense, and (as Hitchcock would say) play you like a piano.

All of the performances are highly affective, but the three that stand out are Ineson, Taylor-Joy, and Scrimshaw. Ineson’s William is indeed loving but still firm, making sure his family knows he will put God first in any circumstances. Though I have not seen him in anything since, Scrimshaw still shows talent beyond his young years (especially in one scene). Overall, it is Anya Taylor-Joy who steals the show, and is still showing promise of being a star in the making (since this film, she went on to star in 2016’s Split and 2019’s Glass, both by M. Night Shyamalan).

Parents, this film is High School and above, by far. There is haunting imagery that will scare people of any age, not to mention some rather graphic (albeit brief and mostly non sexual) nudity. Kids today may think of witches as something intriguing (no doubt due to Harry Potter), but this deals with the true horror of the nature of witches. It makes you realize for certain why the bible did say to stay away from witchcraft.

As the movie progresses, we find out that each member of the family has hidden sin to confess (even Caleb). For Christians, unconfessed sin is a bad thing, and something that Satan always will feed off of (not just a witch).  While God always wins over Satan, the movie shows what can happen when true evil takes over. That is the true horror of the film.

That, and the goat and rabbit. Those will plague you for sometime.

Overall:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Categories
"Top Tens", and others Movies

Top Ten Movies of 2016

2016

To be honest, it took me sometime to realize that there were actually some really good movies to be released in 2016. So much so that the pictures you see above of movies like Sully, Hacksaw Ridge, Captain America: Civil WarMoana, Jackie, and Zootopia were not able to crack my top ten list.

Again, I don’t see every movie that was released (how I wish I could!), so please comment if I am missing one you liked.

A friend of mine said he does not like making lists like this, as they get harder to do every year. I am starting to get the idea of that more and more as the years go by. Some of the movies on my top ten edged each other out by the narrowest of margins.

If you must blink, do it now…

 

Wild Card

10-hell-or-high-water

Playing like a modernized version of an old western, Hell or High Water is refreshing in how original the concept is. Two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), desperate to keep their farm, resort to stealing from banks. Hot on their trail is the local nearly retired police sheriff Marcus Hamilton (a wonderful Jeff Bridges), who we don’t always root for when we see what the brothers (mainly the Chris Pine character) are going through.

 

10.9-arrival

Sorry fans of Rogue One, but the title of best sci-fi movie of the year belongs to Arrival. Clearly inspired from Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, the movie  depicts how being approached by beings outside of earth would not always immediately mean war fare. The movie takes time to show that we as humans need to reason before pulling a trigger. All the cast is wonderful, but the key performance is the one of Amy Adams, showing once again how versatile an actress she is. Director Denis Villeneuve gives us some stunning images as well.

 

9.

8-the-vvitch

 

It is rare for a horror film to actually scare you these days, especially if it comes out very early in the year (which is when most of the forgettable movies are sadly released.) That is not all the case for The Witch. While witches are now nearly forever associated with the world created by J.K. Rowling, this horror classic reminds us that, when witchcraft was feared in the 1600s, it was truly feared. The images and gorgeous cinematography reflect that, making us fear as the characters do. The film is directed by Robert Eggers. Remember the name.

 

8.7-moonlight

A movie sure to be up for many Oscar nominations, Moonlight tells a simple story of a man growing up in slums of Miami. To say it is more than that is a gross understatement. Told in three acts, I am still finding it hard to believe that the main character, Chiron, was played by three different actors (the same can also be said of his friend Kevin). It was almost like they filmed the same actor years apart like Boyhood. The stand outs are Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, sure to be nominees in February (alongside director Barry Jenkins).

7.

6-manchester-by-the-sea

While some movies feel like a punch in the gut, Manchester by the Sea feels like (as Rick Blaine from Casablanca would say) your “insides have been kicked out.” Casey Affleck gives a mesmerizing performance as a janitor who is sent back to his hometown after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies to take care of his nephew (an equally stunning Lucas Hedges) while face the demons of his past, including his ex-wife (the always reliable Michelle Williams). How often does a drama of this magnitude also produce laughs equivalent to a comedy? Kudos to the writer and director, Kenneth Lonergan.

6.

5-fences

It has been a while since I have seen a great film where the lead actor also directs himself in a performance for the ages. Yet that is what Denzel Washington does in Fences, based off the play by August Wilson. Casey Affleck may be the front-runner for Best Actor, but Denzel is clearly hot on his heels. However, no one will be catching up with Viola Davis in the Best Supporting Actress category, for her performance as Washington’s wife is sure to give Davis her Oscar she deserves.

5.

4-silence

Moving from an actor/director to arguably one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema, Martin Scorsese’s Silence just squeaked in at the end of 2016, meaning it was not screened in time for award consideration for the Golden Globes or SAGs. A shame, because it deserved to be. The film stars Andrew Garfield (who was also brilliant in Hacksaw Ridge) and Adam Driver (aka Kylo Ren) as priests trying to find their mentor (Liam Neeson) in 1630s Japan. The movie is hard to watch, yet you still can’t take your eyes from the screen. It is rare for a movie to be so difficult to observe you may not want to watch it again, yet at the same time filled with unanswered questions that multiple viewings are needed.

4.

3-life-animated

As someone who has (mild) autism, I can safely say I have not seen many films that approached the subject as well as the documentary Life, Animated. It tells the story of Owen Suskind, an autistic man who learned to communicate through his true love, animated Disney movies. Very few movies this year have touched me more on a personal level.

3.

SingStreetRunning.0.0

This entry was actually inserted much later, which is something I don’t do long after the year is over. Still, I cannot say enough about the wonder that is Sing Street. After classic hits like Once (2007) and Begin Again (2014), director John Carney strikes musical gold again with this coming of age tale of growing up in 1980s dublin. Like his previous films, it did not take me long to buy the soundtrack.

2.

2-la-la-land

 

If you have not heard of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land by now, well, it will be surely mentioned when the Oscar nominations are announced next Tuesday, for I feel it is the clear front-runner for Best Picture (it already set the record at the Golden Globes for winning all of it’s seven nominations). It is more than a love letter to Hollywood, or even to musicals of the past. It is a modernized musical as well, with glamorous performances by Ryan Gosling and (in particular) Emma Stone (her solo song at the end about her aunt is the best acting I have seen all year). I have no shame at all in declaring I bought the soundtrack the day after I saw this film. It made me proud to be one of the ones who dream.

 

1.1-kubo

At the end of the day, movies are stories, as told by many story tellers. When I first saw Kubo and the Two Strings, I was clearly affected by it, but did not know at the time that I would be selecting it as my favorite movie of 2016. Only months later, when I got on Blu-Ray was when I realized it more and more as a masterpiece. Of course, the animation is gorgeous, but what impressed me the most was the story. Laika (whose movies I still have to see) does not have the history and resume of Disney or Pixar, but it has more nerve. I found myself hoping Kubo would not end the way the audience would have wanted, and it didn’t. It ended the way the audience needed it to. Towards the end, Kubo gives a speech to his grandfather while in the cemetery. If you think of it, that speech is one to bring hope to those who may not have had the best 2016 they would have wished for.