Dunkirk Trailer Thoughts

I may be one of the biggest critics of Christopher Nolan right now. I found “Interstellar” to be a complete waste of time that did nothing to break new ground in the sci-fi genre that “2001: A Space Odyssey” didn’t already do before and ten times better. “The Dark Knight Rises” was too muddled and convenient at times to be a suitable ending to the Batman trilogy. “The Prestige” also gets caught up in its own desires to be something fancier than it is by simple tricks of non-linear storytelling. And while I did like “Inception” I think it’s far from perfect and certainly has issues that could have been addressed by a director that isn’t living in such a fantasyland built by his own hype.

Nolan has the potential to make some great films and there’s no denying his ambition and continuous attempts at originality, but for every good film he makes like “The Dark Knight” or “Insomnia” there are equally bad films that try so hard to be special that they end up getting lost in achieving that goal before it can even focus on just being good. Nolan is at his best when he ignores the hype. “Insomnia” came when he was still relatively unknown except for fans of “Memento” and “The Dark Knight” followed “Batman Begins,” which was a good first film in the trilogy but nothing close to the level of “The Dark Knight” that catapulted him to stardom.

Yes, “The Dark Knight” is one of the premier mainstream films of this century no doubt, but most of that is due in large part to Heath Ledger’s stellar performance. The writing is still impeccable in this film and it would still be great without Ledger, but it certainly wouldn’t be the classic that it’s regarded today.

Enter: “Dunkirk.” I can never fault Nolan for his ability to be versatile in his directing endeavors. He can blend between genres with relative ease and I’m excited to see what he does with a war film. Are we going to see the pompous and obnoxious Nolan, or the humble and driven Nolan that’s created some great modern works? It’s tough to tell from the trailer.

The trailer from “Dunkirk” is certainly engaging, presents some of the morality themes of war that Nolan wants to address, but it still keeps much to be desired, as a good trailer should. The set pieces look lovely at first look with a good mix of prominent actors and potential newcomers. The film is set up to allow for naval, aerial and land battle sequences to give some variety to the war sequences (this makes me think it’ll be a long film and this use of different military divisions will allow for changes of pace throughout).

Overall the trailer is fine but I have one major concern going in. Christopher Nolan loves filming complex ideas and concepts like in “Inception” and “Interstellar.” Both these films suffer because they care more about explaining the complex storyline rather than focusing on the characters that should be humanizing the film. As Nolan’s budgets and ambitions grow bigger, his characters become more of a formality.

“Saving Private Ryan” is my favorite World War II film and while the battle sequences are fantastic, what makes it a classic is the connection to the soldiers that Spielberg instills in between each sequence of war. We care about Private Ryan and all the soldiers in the company and that’s what makes it stand out above the rest. I don’t see Christopher Nolan being able to do that in this film. The lovely set pieces and varying battlegrounds have so much attention in the trailer that I’m concerned they’ll take away from the humanizing elements of the film, which above all else are most important in the war genre. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll make a classic, but I’m not convinced at this point.

 

“Dunkirk” comes out to theater on July 21st, 2017.

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“DAMN.” Review

Over the past few years, Kendrick Lamar has arguably given the strongest case for best rapper currently making music. His amazing storytelling, brilliant lyrical play, keen ear for beats, and creative nature for themes in his albums have separated him from the rest of the pack in many areas. While I think he doesn’t quite reach the creative heights that Kanye reaches, I think his rapping ability and storytelling do manage to be better than Mr. West on most occasions, with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” being the main exception. Nonetheless, since the release of “Section.80,” Kendrick has given us not only some of the best hip-hop albums, but some of the best concept albums of recent years.

But despite creating such acclaimed works, he never really reached the superstar status that some artists have. He certainly has no problems with albums sales, but his numbers have always paled when compared to the Drake’s of the world, despite Drake being a much worse artist. But all that changed with “DAMN.” When he announced his new album would be coming out, all fans of hip-hop went into a frenzy unlike any I had seen since the lead up to “Life of Pablo.” Kendrick has finally reached superstar heights, so was he going to release a superstar album?

As I’ve come to expect with any new Kendrick album, it sounds like nothing he’s ever recorded. His versatility over his career is continuously astonishing, and this album’s diversity is no different. He manages to have a variety of tones and atmospheres on this album that keep it interesting even after multiple listens. Yet these different sounds come together in a pleasant way that still manage to sound coherent and work as an overall free-flowing project.

I do like “DAMN.” I think it’s one of the better hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year and Kendrick has some amazing songs here. Tracks like “DNA” and “HUMBLE” are undeniably addictive and braggadocios but still have multiple layers to them and songs like “FEAR” and “ELEMENT” help us into the mind of a truly troubled artist struggling to find answers to some incredibly philosophical questions. “LOYALTY” sounds like a quality, light-hearted summer song and “LOVE” shows Kendrick can take Drake’s music formula and create a track that’s better than anything off of “More Life.”

But unlike some of Kendrick’s other albums, there are a few tracks on here that I found to be really uninspiring. I didn’t think much of the song “GOD” and whatever Kendrick was doing with his vocal inflections. “YAW” was another track that seemed rather lackluster and didn’t contribute a lot to the album sonically. Those two tracks are the only two I skip when going through the album now, but that’s a rare phenomenon for me when listening to previous Kendrick albums.

I’ve always had my favorites on albums like “Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City” but I’ve never felt the desire to skip a track when going through the entire album. While “DAMN” is undeniably good, it’s just not quite as good as Kendrick’s previous works such as “Good Kid” or “To Pimp a Butterfly.” I like his level of confidence being displayed here and applaud him for deciding that he just wants to rap rather than create another layered concept album, but this album feels too safe, too mundane at times when compared to what we know he is capable of producing. It’s by far my least favorite Kendrick Lamar album out of his major studio releases, but at the end of the day, most artists would love to have their worst album be as good as “DAMN” is because it’s still better than any album we’ve heard from Drake or J. Cole. It only helps his case for the best rapper of all time and he absolutely has to be in that discussion after providing another piece of quality hip-hop.

 

What Makes “Archer” So Good?

Every now and then I get asked if I watch television shows in between all the various movies that I view. While I don’t love television and will often get bored with many shows after a season or two, there are a handful of shows that I really enjoy. I love watching “Breaking Bad” any chance I get and think “Game of Thrones” has the same entertainment and production value as most quality fantasy films. I will choose to watch a movie over a television show when given the option and most shows I watch are anthologies like “Black Mirror,” but there are always exceptions. While the two shows I named above are my two favorites, I will always hold a special place in my heart for “Archer.”

Everything about “Archer” is so perfect to me. The running gags, brilliant premise, amazing voice cast and outrageous situations combine everything you could ever want for a James Bond comedy spin-off. The show never takes itself too seriously, much like the titular character, and it’s the better off for it. It is definitely an acquired sense of humor that most people would equate with being geared at 16-28 year old males, but I think there are moments that most people could relate to and find amusing.

The show started off being about the adventures of Archer and the other employees at the spy agency ISIS. Naturally, no mission ever went how it was intended, leading to a variety of amusing situations. But after season 4 the creators realized that their material was in danger of running dry. So for season 5 they decided to change things up and have them be drug dealers for a season. When they realized that they were selling cocaine for the CIA, they ended up being CIA contractors for a season until that came crashing down in a blaze of glory. When we last saw Archer, he and his colleagues were working as private detectives in a Chinatown style situation.

It is amazing to see how a simple spy show has been able to develop their running jokes, character’s personalities, and plot over the course of seven years, and this year sees them excelling even more. Archer finds himself in a coma at the beginning of this season, so the creators decided that they would take advantage to place the characters in a 1940’s LA Noir Dreamland setting. Again, Adam Reed and the rest of the “Archer” writing team manage to change the scenery to keep things interesting and prove that they can place this group of characters in any situation and have it work out for them.

None of the comedy is lost in this new season after the premiere. All the beloved characters are still in the story. But most importantly, the noir style is executed rather well for a series that was initially meant to be a spy show. The versatility of the past four seasons has proven that “Archer” has a talent that few other shows have: it can keep the same characters while constantly changing the situations each season to keep things interesting. It’s become a sort of anthology in a way and it guarantees that the show will never become stale, as each season from here on out will continue to be interesting and engaging with each change of setting. And there’s no reason to doubt that Adam Reed and his writing team won’t be able to choose any theme and have it work for their characters.

They could go futuristic like “Blade Runner”/“Minority Report,” turn the show into a heist series like “Ocean’s Eleven,” or go back in time even further to the bootlegging era and it would still be a success. No other show on television can succeed as a regular sitcom while also being an episodic anthology in its own right. That’s something that other shows could learn a lot from, but I don’t ever see a series pulling this off as well as “Archer.” “Archer” may not have the quality as some shows like “Breaking Bad” or “The Sopranos,” but I would still consider it one of my favorite shows for its undeniably successful adaptability.

Burning Sands Review

Netflix’s newest released film, “Burning Sands,” tells the story of a young, African-American college student who is pledging Lambda Lambda Phi fraternity, one that his father had dropped during the pledge process. The centerpiece of the film is the intense hazing that the main character and his fellow pledge brothers have to endure in order to gain initiation into the organization.

This isn’t the first film that has handled the topic of hazing, and many audiences, especially amongst the Greek community, may have an immediately negative predisposition to the film since the assumed lesson condemns hazing and the Greek system as a whole. While hazing is the main action that helps the film move forward, condemning the actions as a whole is not the ultimate message as film. The hazing does provide some shock factor and more emotional connection the characters in the film, but it manages to handle these scenes in a more mature way than other films, such as “GOAT,” which came out last year.

The themes of the film are hidden within the pledge class as a whole, as shown through the constant wide shots that always focus on the group rather than just one individual. It is rare to find a close up of someone’s face except during extremely emotional moments, such as the movie’s ending. The focus is on the group as a whole rather than the individual. It’s a well-directed film that has a better attention to detail than I initially anticipated. This ending and the emotional resonance through the director’s cinematic choices add great impact to the story that can’t be displayed through any scenes of hazing alone.

Interwoven throughout this story of pledging are quotes and ideals of Frederick Douglass about anti-slavery mentalities. The references to this great historical figure do help make the messages about standing up against an oppressive group (in this case the oppression is coming from the already initiated fraternity brothers) have another layer of depth to consider. In some ways, the inclusion of these continuous references proves bittersweet for me. On the positive side, it does bring about an increased level of education and self-awareness that other films of this nature lack, but at the same time I feel that the film didn’t quite reach the level social commentary it was aiming for.

I thought the social commentary of this film could have been slightly improved, and despite the short run time, I think there were some scenes that didn’t add much to the overall story. But those are the only complaints I really have for this film. I was impressed with this work as a whole, and I applaud its mature direction and attention to subliminal themes that make the audience think more than relying on pure shock factor. Also this film manages to paint a portrait of the African American man that is more realistic and relatable than other films such as “Straight Outta Compton.”

And that point is something that can’t ever be overstated. Too many films that want to contribute to the social commentary about a racial divide in America want to use historical stories that cause a rift for contemplation on modern life. This film manages to provide the modern setting, with realistic and relatable characters that the film industry doesn’t have enough of.

Burning Sands: 3/4 stars

Logan Review

The “X-men” series has always been a difficult collection of films for me to appreciate. There are some brilliantly constructed action films such as “X-2” “X-Men: First Class,” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” But at the same time, there are some unbelievably bad entries throughout the series, most notably being “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “X3.” While I think “X3” is a shameful excuse for a piece of entertainment, the film I’ve always had the most issues with was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

So much about this film annoyed me. The pacing was terrible, the script was rather unbearable and the film was extremely violent but very cheesy. This was primarily due to its desire to have a PG-13 rating for the sake of the box office numbers. Hence no blood was included in the film, even though Wolverine, with his metal claws, is a hero that warrants large amounts of blood when he fights bad guys. It was a wasted story that was a slave to the box office and ruined what could have been a riveting storyline for the series.

There was another stand-alone film for Wolverine titled “The Wolverine” that was definitely an improvement on its predecessor, but was still in no way a quality film. The biggest problem with the second entry was its forgettable nature. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was so bad that at least people still remember and talk about it, potentially making it better than the sequel because, like the saying goes, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

With “Logan,” though, there was a revived sense of hope that this film would be different. The preview showed a film that seemed more like a western road trip film than a cliché superhero entry. But ignoring that, this film was always going to be interesting because of its R rating (it seems we’re already seeing the influence of “Deadpool” permeating through the realms of summer blockbusters). Because of these somewhat unique cinematic traits, I had high hopes that this film would be the closest thing to “The Dark Knight” that Marvel has ever released.

But despite my optimism, I still had a lot of issues with this film. The beginning is fine as we see an older Wolverine and a deteriorating Professor X struggling to get through life. Seeing these two characters deal with old age in a very human way was an intriguing part of the story and the opening 45 minutes was the perfect set up for the rest of the movie. But it never felt like the movie got into its stride in the later stages of the film with action and violence being balanced out with more humanized moments. I appreciate what the writers were trying to do by giving even minor characters a more humanized persona, but it was done in such a way that the film never felt like it was going anywhere. It’s still a better story than your generic superhero film, but I expected something a little more balanced and nuanced.

But what surprised me most about the film was my reaction to the R-rated violence. I was initially relieved that this film was going to get an R-rating to feel more authentic, but the blood and gore is so over the top and unnecessary that it makes it feel just as cheesy as a slasher film.

After the film went to black, I couldn’t decide if I enjoyed it or not. There were some undeniable positives to take away from it, but there were too many pitfalls to allow me to feel truly satisfied. In a way, this film is the perfect summary of the X-men series as a whole. There will always be some high points but at the end of the day, the drawbacks will prevent me from truly feeling content with this film and the X-men series as a whole.

Logan (2017): 2/4 stars

John Wick Chapter 2 Review

When “John Wick” came out in October of 2014, it took everyone by surprise with it’s sleek styling, bombastic violence, and unquestionable cool factor. “John Wick” was a simple film that didn’t try to overstay its welcome, got right to the point, and added an invigorating attention to detail that modern action films tend to ignore for an increase in over the top explosions. It had an impressive body count and even more impressive style. When it was announced that there would be a “John Wick Chapter 2” I couldn’t have been more excited.

Many sequels fall short of their originals because they try so hard to be different that they stray away from the qualities that made the original so good. “John Wick Chapter 2” doesn’t have this issue at all. It has all the similar themes and cool style of the original with even more violence, more stunts, and a slightly more complex plotline. Admittedly, the dialogue the first ten minutes of this film is absolutely atrocious, the fight sequences seem to come straight from a Batman movie, and the film quickly moves past the clunky exposition and on to what makes this franchise great.

The choreography of the action sequences is done so well and the intense preparation that Keanu Reeves put into the roll pays off with an added sense of realism to the action. It manages to be creative with each kill as the body count soon becomes too high to handle. The original had great action but this film arguably has even better moments of intense violence.

The dialogue does improve from the opening 10 minutes but is never going to be Oscar-caliber work. And the film realizes this when one character pokes fun at John for being a man of few words. The film knows its success lies in the action and not the dialogue, keeping the conversations short yet impactful and full of the necessary information we need to understand why fifty people have been assassinated in the last half an hour.

The plotline has a few more characters than the original and a more complex path of growth for our main character. John was a relatively stagnant character in the original film, but here we see glimpses of him questioning his sense of purpose with what he really wants out of his life while simultaneously showing a growing emotional rage that came across as more cold-blooded in the previous entry. Hopefully, this development will be improved upon even further in the third film, which given the ending will most certainly happen.

The style in the last half an hour is gorgeous to look at and every production designer’s dream as John fights an army of henchman through a room of reflective mirrors. It’s not a new concept (“Man With the Golden Gun” had a similar climax) but it is utilized to full effect to make for a brilliantly satisfying ending.

It’s hard to say whether I like this film or the original more. I like the denser plot and the final thirty minutes was truly great. But I enjoy the consistently better style of the original and less painful dialogue. This sequel has more noticeable pitfalls but also better highs that ultimately round out to a similarly satisfying experience. Anyone who liked the original will like this film and even those who missed the original would still get an enjoyable experience from this entry. It is a lovely complement to the original and sets up a highly anticipated ending.

John Wick Chapter 2 (2017): 3/4 stars

February Film Review

Historically, February is the time of year when the world of cinema is focused on wrapping up the awards circuit rather than releasing quality films. This month is typically the downtime between Oscar season and the start of the summer blockbuster releases. Films that have incredibly low quality plague the month of February and it’s a time where most film fanatics can take a break. But for some reason this year was different.

Contrary to tradition, there were a handful of quality films to be released this past month that everyone needs to check out if they went under your radar. Three films received highly positive reviews from critics: “The Lego Batman Movie,” “John Wick: Chapter 2” and “Get Out”.

“The Lego Batman Movie” looks to build on the success of its predecessor, “The Lego Movie,” which was a surprise hit with critics and audiences in 2014. This new film’s themes don’t resonant as deep as the original, but with Batman at its focus, it’s a far more enjoyable experience than say “Batman V Superman.”

“John Wick” was one of my favorite action film a few years ago. It was sleek, stylish, classy, and overall, fun as hell. It’s everything you could ever need from a revenge assassin film. If you missed “John Wick” when it came out, do yourself a favor and watch while also getting in line to see “John Wick: Chapter 2.” This film doesn’t try to do anything different; it only focuses on more action, more style and more fun. What more could you ask for? Answer: nothing.

Finally, “Get Out” is a metaphorical horror/thriller from Jordan Peele, famous for his roll on the Comedy Central show “Key and Peele.” Peele is known for being a comedic mind, so when I found out he was going to be directing a horror film that revolved around themes of racial oppression, I thought it was going to be overly preachy and eventually fall short of any substantial quality. Turns out I was wrong. Peele uses his creative satirical mind to enhance this horror film into a more dense and self-aware storyline than most horror films. This continues the American horror film resurgence of recent years alongside films like “It Follows,” “The Babadook,” and “Don’t Breathe.” Hopefully “slasher” films are out and intelligence horror films are here to stay.

Is the February curse over? I’m not sold but I hope these three films can continue to improve cinematic executives’ opinion of a releasing a quality film in this historical lame duck month. We’ll all be better off for it!

10 Oscar Takeaways

Well, it was an interesting Oscars to say the least. And while most people will be talking about the mix-up with the Best Picture award and the endless jabs at the Trump administration there were actually some pretty intriguing takeaway from the 89th Academy Awards. So here are 10 takeaways that we have learned from this year’s Oscars.

  • Moonlight Deserves the Respect It Got – Yes the mix-up drove social media crazy. Did they do it on purpose? How does a mistake like that happen? How upset must the “La La Land” people be? But at the end of the day, the best movie from last year was rightly recognized in “Moonlight,” which just so happens to be the first film with an all African American cast to win Best Picture. It’s a landmark piece of cinema in many ways, and by winning this award the gates are open for a new wave of cinema to alter the landscape of movies moving forward.
  • Viola Davis is the Queen – When she didn’t win an Oscar for her work in “The Help” it was heartbreaking to say the least. Her and Octavia Spencer shined next to each other in that film, and while Meryl Streep was immaculate in “The Iron Lady” part of me always wanted Viola to win. This time around she finally got her golden statue, gave an amazing speech, and is on her way to being cemented as not only the greatest African American actress ever, but one of the best actresses that Hollywood has ever seen. She is a blessing to us all.
  • Best Foreign Language Film Was a Political Choice – While “The Salesman” is a very good movie, and Iran has been creating many great films recently, “Toni Erdmann” was my favorite nominated film. But once “The Salesman” director announced he would not be attending the Oscars due to the travel ban from Trump’s administration, the race was all but ended because how could the Academy pass up the opportunity for that acceptance speech to be delivered with such a political backdrop. The Oscars love a good political statement with their voting.
  • …But Sometimes They Are Able To Avoid Politics – When the award for Best Actor was given to Casey Affleck, a part of me was surprised. He was easily the best acting performance last year, but after recent allegations of sexual assault from years ago resurfaced during the awards circuit, I thought his chances would have gone down the drain with the Oscars not wanting to support someone with that case hanging over his head. Plus they had a very viable back up in Denzel Washington that would help erase their “Oscar’s So White” label. Instead they chose to ignore all the noise and actually picked the actor that did the best job. They still have the potential to surprise us when we think we know exactly what they’re going to do.
  • They Should Have Used All 10 Spots for Best Picture – The Academy can nominate up to 10 films for Best Picture, but since changing to this format, they never have. For what reason? If you can nominate 10, and you have 10 good enough films like you did this year, they why don’t they just do it. It seems like the logical thing to do.
  • Hacksaw Ridge Was Over Awarded – “La La Land” only walked away with 6 Oscars for their 14 nominations, which will surely leave many fans of the film upset. Some awards that people thought the film was a guarantee in, like sound mixing and film editing, went to “Hacksaw Ridge”. I was surprised to see “Hacksaw Ridge” receive so many nominations, and the fact that it was able to steal two Oscars from “La La Land” was lunacy to me. It was a decent film that deserved to be in conversations, sure, but it had no business winning. If you want to be mad “La La Land” fans, be mad at “Hacksaw Ridge” not “Moonlight.” t, it was still in serious discussion for screenplay nsidered for nominations or be a true favorite for awards. ll get critical
  • There Were Still Best Picture Nomination Snubs – “Lion,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hacksaw Ridge” were all lucky to be nominated for Best Picture. Films like “Eye in the Sky,” “American Honey,” and “Silence” were all better options for the Best Picture shortlist, but just weren’t as popular with audiences. The Academy still has an issue with favoritism to box office success films that also get critical acclaim, even when those films pale in comparison to other possible entries.
  • You Can Be Released In The Spring and Still Be Nominated – With “Boyhood,” “Mad Max,” and “Hell or High Water” all being nominated in subsequent years, the Academy are slowly erasing the stereotype that you need to be released during “Oscar Season” (anytime from end of September to December) to be considered for nominations or be a true favorite for awards. “Boyhood” and “Mad Max” both took home awards, and while “Hell or High Water” didn’t, it was still in serious discussion for screenplay and acting awards. Hopefully this will allow more movies to be shown throughout the entire year so we don’t have a four-month dry spell each summer season.
  • Best Actress Category Is On The Rise – This year was one of the best years we’ve ever had for the Best Actress category because an argument could be made for each nominee, whereas in other years, there’s a struggle to even find five nominees. Hopefully this positive trend continues for year’s to come.
  • You Don’t Need Be Good To Win An Oscar – There was a time last night when “Suicide Squad” (yes, Suicide Squad) had more Oscars than “La La Land.” Granted that quickly changed, but the fact that an atrocity that is “Suicide Squad” gets to prance around and say they won as Oscar pains me to my core. It was by far the worst movie of last year; it may have been one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’ve never been so angry with myself than when I was wasting my life away watching a movie that could have been scripted by a five-year-old with some colored pencils. Who knows, maybe that’s what actually happened. So all of you people who want to win an Oscar but don’t have any talent at producing a quality piece of cinema, there’s still hope yet! And this new Transformers film will probably receive some special effects nomination come next year. Oh, happy day…

So there you have it. Another year of cinema in the books and now we can begin looking forward to a summer of unrelenting blockbuster trash in the coming months. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, especially “Moonlight.” It turns out that 2016 wasn’t the worst year of movies we’ve had, so let’s hope that 2017 can continue to improve with even more great works.

Moonlight Review

A few days ago I did an official review for “La La Land” since it’s the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture, along with a plethora of other awards, today. I think there are many positives to say about “La La Land,” but it won’t go down as one of my all time favorites from last year. I understand why it is getting the Oscar attention, but I think there were a handful of other better films this past year. Most namely, the Barry Jenkins emotional drama “Moonlight.”

If “Moonlight” slipped under your radar last year then shame on you because it is by far the best film that was released in 2016. It revolves around the life of a young African-American man in Miami growing up surrounded by poverty, violence, and drug addiction.   Add on top that he has to deal with being homosexual in this environment and you have a truly gripping character-study drama about a topic that hasn’t been addressed in detail before. Over the course of three decades, and three different actors, we see Chiron (or “Little”/“Black” as he is referred to throughout the film) deal with drug addition, the destruction of his family, and coming to terms with his sexuality.

This film resonates on an emotional level that “La La Land” could never achieve, or any other film this year quite frankly except for maybe “Manchester by the Sea.” Unlike “La La Land,” “Moonlight” is subtle, slow moving, and meticulous in all the right ways. The attention to detail in this film shouldn’t go unappreciated. It’s this attention to detail and care with crafting Chiron as a character that allows the emotional resonance last weeks after seeing the movie.

“Moonliight” isn’t emotionally impactful in the way that “Room” was last year. “Room” was immediate in it’s emotional power as you felt it while watching the events unfold. “Moonlight” on the other hand, continues to grow and grow with you after the movie has finished, which is a much harder task to accomplish.

The film is beautifully shot, with wonderful storytelling and some fantastic actors across the board. Mahershala Ali should win an Oscar for his supporting role and Naomi Harris did a painfully good job at portraying Chiron’s drug addicted mother. Sadly, there’s no way she can compete with Viola Davis in “Fences.”

In my article about “La La Land” I talked about how it did a good job of restoring the old magic of Hollywood to modern cinema, but “Moonlight” creates a new sense of magic. The magic that, not dissimilar from “Fruitvale Station,” creates a world unknown to most audiences and carefully crafts characters that audiences can’t help but care for. Even after Chiron becomes a drug dealer, you still want the best for him and have an unconditional desire for him to find true happiness within himself, which is more than we can say for our own self-valuations sometimes.

“Moonlight” isn’t preachy, it isn’t overly self-confident, and it isn’t focused on being showy (all pitfalls that “La La Land” succumbs to in one way or another) yet still manages to be a near masterpiece. I will adore this film for years to come and even though it probably won’t win “Best Picture,” it is undoubtedly the best film from last year.

Moonlight (2016): 4/4 stars

La La Land Review

La La Land Review

“La La Land” is the movie that Damien Chazelle has wanted to make for a while. Unfortunately, you can’t be a new director in Hollywood and get given loads of money to make an extravagant musical without proving yourself. His solution? Make one of the best films of 2014 in “Whiplash,” a film that would go on to win awards at the Sundance Film Festival and receive a plethora of Oscar nominations.

With such high praise underneath his belt, he was given free-lance to go big and strive high with “La La Land.” And he did just that. “La La Land” pays homage to the magical Hollywood musicals of years gone by, but with more style and an increased sense of extravagant atmosphere.   The production design is beautiful and well crafted with the assured directorial hand of Chazelle.

While I had some premonitions about Emma Stone being cast as one of the main roles, she continues to build on the talent she displayed in “Birdman” and gives a very strong performance filled with diverse subtle emotions. And her singing voice is better than what I expected. While I don’t agree that she was the best female acting performance of the year, she will probably will the Oscar and I won’t have a lot of issues with it.

I’m not normally a big fan of musicals, but when I initially saw this film, I rather enjoyed it and thought it was a well-made film even if it wasn’t my favorite from that year. After seeing it a second and third time, though, I’ve developed more issues with the film.

Firstly, I think Ryan Gosling was the completely wrong actor to cast in this role. I have nothing against Gosling as an actor and enjoy his performances in films like “Drive,” “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.” While he isn’t appalling in this film, he does nothing to help the movie and there are a plethora of other actors that would have given better performances. I think it’s laughable that he was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars this year.

The second major problem I have with the movie is the script. The screenplay really isn’t anything special and some of the dialogue is obnoxious at times. Also the story doesn’t have a direction or sense of purpose until the final twenty minutes of the film, but that is too late for a feature length film to have a sense of significant purpose. It seems that they focused too much on the production than the actual writing, which is the opposite of how Chazelle was in “Whiplash.”

All in all I think “La La Land” is a beautiful film to look at and is really well directed. It does a good job of respecting the musicals of the last century and will appease musical fans everywhere. It manages to bring back a sense of magic that is lost in modern Hollywood films and I will always respect that. It will win many Oscars because it is Hollywood’s love child and the Academy will try their best to give it as many awards as possible.

But I personally don’t love the film. I think it’s good but I won’t rave about it and think “Arrival,” “Hell or High Water,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and most importantly, “Moonlight” are much better films. Definitely worth the watch if you are a film fan or like musicals, but I will be disappointed when it inevitably wins the Oscar for Best Picture this year.
La La Land (2016): 3/4 stars