“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.

 

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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

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

“Don’t Breathe” Review

There’s been a resurgence of quality horror/thriller films in recent years, despite the general quality of the film industry appearing to fade. Films like “The Witch,” “It Follows,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “The Babadook” have all taken tradition horror themes and adapted with innovative storytelling, subsequently creating an atmosphere of modern horror that we haven’t seen much before.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t still bad horror films out there, because there are many rotten eggs still floating around. The recent film “Rings” was so underwhelming I don’t even want to write a review for it (consider this my warning to stay away from it). I don’t normally love horror films as a whole, but even I have to admit there has been some quality products in the past couple years that I recommend every give a chance. But the one area we haven’t really gotten a chance to explore in a while is the home invasion film.

Growing up the first real thriller film I watched was Shia LaBeouf’s “Disturbia,” a film about a young man on home arrest who thinks his neighbor is a murderer and breaks into his home to find out. It wasn’t the most amazing cinema of all time, but it was definitely above average and will always hold a special place in my heart, as I’m sure it does for other viewers around my age. But since then, the only major home invasion films we’ve had are “The Strangers” (which was average) and “You’re Next” (which was decent but had it’s faults).

With “Don’t Breath,” though, we finally get a home invasion film that stands up the quality of other recent American horror/thrillers. “Don’t Breathe” focuses around a group of three friends who decide to rob a man who lives on a quiet street, and go in with confidence based on the knowledge that the owner of the house is blind and aging.

After assuming they had used gas to make the unnamed “Blind Man” unconscious, the three aren’t as concerned with being quiet, but carelessly wake the Blind Man up. After tragic events occur, we realize just how dangerous and crazy this Blind Man is, and the hunt begins.

This film adds interesting elements to the home invasion genre with its heightened sense of suspense. Having a character that can hear you but cannot see you adds drawn out suspense to shots you wouldn’t be able to have under certain circumstances. In other home invasion films, the main character spends their time hiding, but in this film, the characters often share the same room as the Blind Man and the question of whether or not they will be noticed is dragged out in heart-pulsing fashion.

At the core it’s a very innovative storyline, but I was concerned that it would develop into a repetitive routine of try to escape, get found, tension, survive (or not), repeat but this film’s story has a surprisingly level of depth. Twists you don’t expect and added complications give this film a far more satisfying story arc that easily holds the audience engaged for entire run time. Plus there’s actually some life written in these characters as well, which is more than can be said for many horror films.

It’s creative, engaging, and shot with the perfect amount of lingering shots to build up tension without making the movie feel as if it’s moving too slowly. Your heart is pumping the entire time and the story knows not to overstay it’s welcome. “Don’t Breathe” is a modern American horror classic and is able to compete with “It Follows,” “The Witch,” and “The Babadook” for the title of best horror film in recent years.

Don’t Breathe (2016): 3.5/4 stars

Find Dory Review

For over two centuries now, Pixar Animation Studios has been the leading force in creative animated filmmaking by churning a multitude of captivating storylines and uniquely engaging characters. One of the best films to have come out of this production studio is undoubtedly “Finding Nemo,” a film that rose to critical and commercial acclaim due to its colorful animation and the diverse group of characters and clever puns that have become expected of Pixar over the years.

In the early 2010s though, after the release of “Toy Story 3,” it seemed that Pixar was starting to run out of ideas with the releases of more somewhat unwarranted sequels (Cars 2), prequels (Monster’s University) and less powerful film entries (Brave). In 2015 Pixar made a bounce back with their release of the masterpiece “Inside Out,” which is easily one of their best entries of all time, rivaling the likes of “Toy Story,” “Wall-e,” and “Up.” In 2016, they attempted to continue that form and build on the success of “Finding Nemo” with their latest release: “Finding Dory.”

“Finding Dory” was unfairly brought into the cinematic world at a time when it was set up for disappointment. Not only did it have to contend with being the sequel to “Finding Nemo” but it also had to follow “Inside Out,” so the expectations were higher than for your average Pixar release. I was nervous going into this film because of these high expectations and wasn’t sure how Pixar would handle them. Thankfully, they came through with another solid film.

I am a firm believer that it is nearly impossible to create a sequel that will surpass the original, so sequels need to be taken with that in mind (the only better sequels that initially come to mind are “Aliens,” “Terminator 2,” and “The Dark Knight”). This rule is important to acknowledge when watching this film because it definitely falls short of the bar set by its predecessor, but that shouldn’t take away from the overall quality of this wonderful adventure.

The characters aren’t quite as well written, the adventure isn’t as vast, and the dialogue could be improved in comparison to the original, but it still does better than most animated films in these departments. The story relies more on themes of self-belief, family inclusion, and the importance of home being with those who you love. These themes ring true in the first film, but are on display in a much more obvious and well-constructed manner in this sequel.

The plotline is still strong and engaging, invoking a similar level of emotional resonance as most Pixar films do, and the characters are still funny and unique in their own ways. Also, as always, the animation quality is top notch. Any person who is a fan of Pixar films won’t be disappointed by this entry into their ever-growing list of animated gems.

Is it as good as “Finding Nemo”? No. Is it still a good film worth seeing? Of course. It’s a quaint, pleasant film that’s great for passing the time and will still warm the hearts of many audiences.

Finding Dory (2016): 3/4 stars

“Doctor Strange” Review

We’re at a point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where most of the characters have been established and the production company of Marvel Studios is now in cruise control with tossing out new movies every summer while working on finding the best way to combine their seemingly infinite amount of characters into a variety of films in order to raise more ticket stubs. And props to Marvel because they are by far the best at getting people to show up again and again to see their movies because, for the most, they do a decent job of making superhero films.

Of all the superhero films I’ve seen (excluding “The Dark Knight”), I have liked Marvel films the most. The first “Iron Man” film engrossed me when it came out and I fell in love with Tony Stark as a sort of anti-hero that progressed into a semi-anti-hero by the end of the film. I enjoyed the visual wonder of Thor and think that the second Captain America film is one of few sequels that actually manages to surpass the original. But over the years, I’ve grown tired of superhero films.

Many superhero films follow the same exact plotlines, have similar stories, and lack a sort of originality to them that would you find in most other genres of cinema (most being the key word; I’m looking at you horror films). After the release of the first Avenger’s film, I haven’t enjoyed a Marvel film besides “Captain America: Civil War.” The other films I find to be mundane repeats of the same exact thing over and over again and lacking in any new sense of excitement, which is why I was very excited to check out this new Doctor Strange film.

Doctor Strange had a lot of potential to be different for me. Instead of being some person who was born with superpowers or lived in a different realm, he was a regular person who had his life turned upside by a car accident and was forced on this path of self-exploration to give meaning to his life (kind of sounds like Batman doesn’t it?).   While most of the Marvel films deal with the physical world, “Doctor Strange” prides itself on dealing with the unseen world to most humans, working in separate dimensions and involving people casting spells and whatnot. While it may sound kind of silly, I’m not against it because at least it’s something different.

And working with these differing dimensions and laws of physics leads way to some of the most wonderful visuals I’ve seen on a modern film. It takes notes from Inception in the way that it bends buildings as if in a dream like state, with characters adapting to changes in gravity faster than the eye can follow. There’s a multitude of beautiful colors and images that are glorious to look at and make the movie worth seeing all on its own. I can’t give the visuals enough praise.

Sadly though, that’s about where my praises for this film stop. While I love the idea of an anti-hero and think that the arrogant Dr. Strange does have that potential to him, he consistently felt like a poor man’s Tony Stark with his exotic house and fancy playboy lifestyle. Tony Stark is a far superior version of Stephen Strange.

Secondly, despite the film being innovative and mainly working in different dimensions, the film follows the same painfully dull and generic path that every recent Marvel film follows and that makes the film quite boring in places. You know exactly what will happen before it happens and that ruins all of the fun. Also it falls in the typical Marvel pitfall of wanting to be too preachy, specifically about the whole “the world doesn’t revolve around you and saving lives is important” theme. It’s hammered into the audience’s mind again and again by various characters to the point where I want to smash my head against a wall in a similarly repetitive fashion.

Finally, given all the potential for really cool fight scenes that are exemplified through the main arc of the film, the finale is supremely underwhelming. The villain is too one-dimensional of a character for us to have any interest in; we legitimately know nothing about him. Maybe if they had bothered to spend more money on a better screenwriter and less on the visuals we might have had a halfway decent villain and the film would have been more interesting as a result. The run time doesn’t reach over two hours, so there’s more than enough room to add extra dialogue or backstory for characters without risking the film being too long.

Now granted, I will give Marvel credit for also giving us good background knowledge about their main characters and developing evolutionary based arcs for their journeys, which is the primary fault of every DC film since the turn of the century that hasn’t been directed by Christopher Nolan. They do make origin stories at least somewhat interesting, but they are a slave to the box office and their own precious formula, which has become overworked and mundane by this point. While the visuals are masterful to say the least, the story proves to be just too boring at this point in time and Marvel needs to learn to break the rules and be more adventurous if they want to stay relevant in years to come.

Doctor Strange (2016): 2/4 stars

Batman V Superman Review

It baffles me that Zack Snyder keeps getting paid to direct these potentially successful movies because he has proved to us time and time again that he simply doesn’t know how to direct a movie. He has no concept of pacing, can’t handle combining tones in any way, and seems to think that you can solve an issue by adding in an over extravagant action sequence or a different villain to the plotline. The only somewhat decent movie he has made is “Watchmen,” which in retrospect was only vaguely interesting due to the brilliance of the source material. “300,” “Sucker Punch,” and “Man of Steel” are all wastes of time for anybody that wants to be entertained by a movie, and “Batman V Superman” is no different. All the things that are wrong with Zack Snyder’s directorial tendencies are present in full force for this overlong, boring, and completely irrelevant superhero spectacle.

The premise of this film revolves around the fallout of two superheroes after the events that transpired in “Man of Steel.” The movie actually does a decent job of posing some strong argumentative questions in regards to Superman in a modern context. Who does he answer to? Is he too powerful to be trusted? What are we to do if he turns against us? All of these questions match the security driven paranoia of modern America that has arisen from the increased threat of terrorism. But the movie only asks these questions; it never bothers to attempt to answer them in anyway throughout the film. A gigantic opportunity missed with that one there. The story even has some interesting elements to it, but it never finishes half of the plotlines it creates and decides in the end to drop all reason for the sake of an action filled finale. Just as in “Man of Steel,” mass destruction in the final half an hour is considered to be a key point of entertainment, but all it does is make the first two hours of this film feel completely pointless. Nothing of any real significance happens for the first two hours and then the last half an hour tries to erase the boredom with excess action that turns out to be more frustrating than invigorating.

No character gets any justice in regards to development, especially Lex Luther. Luther is a character that was played rather well in my opinion by Jessie Eisenberg, but was one that was always there rather than one that was able to develop. Another big opportunity missed. The mood is completely wrong as well. A movie that contains Superman and Batman should be one that is at least somewhat fun and happy, just like Whedon did with “The Avengers.” I want to have fun when I go see a movie containing two of the biggest superheroes of all time, not depressed by the gravity of sullen cloud cast over every shot. Because Snyder is completely incompetent at combining seriousness with light-hearted moments of comic relief, we are given a two and a half hour long film that is filled with nothing but bleak moments that depress and bore the audience to the point where all interest is lost. It’s as if it tried to have the deep, complex emotions that Nolan was able to produce in his Dark Knight trilogy but tried to replicate it to such an extreme that it failed miserably.

There are some decent moments in the film, I will admit. The way they introduced the new characters for the upcoming Justice League film was well done. Again, Eisenberg was entertaining as Lex Luther, I didn’t entirely hate the older and grittier Batman that Affleck was portraying, and I thought this version of Alfred did a strong job of following the great performance from Michael Caine in the Dark Knight trilogy. Still these are trivial up sides for a film that clocks in at two and half hours in length and has so many things wrong with it. Maybe if Snyder learns how to mix various moods and figures out that the answer to solving an issue with the plot isn’t by adding another villain or twist situation, then this movie could have been somewhat enjoyable. The superhero movie genre is on the decline and this utter failure was a massive setback for an industry that is struggling to remain original.

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Batman V Superman (2016): 1/4 stars

City of God Review

Whenever it comes to cinema entertainment, the American public has an obsession with drug related crime dramas.   Movies like “Goodfellas,” “Traffic,” and “Scarface” all owe at least some of their commercial success to the appeal that is the drug industry in movies. Many people rarely feel the effects of crime and gangs in their every day lives, so being able to see it on a movie screen makes it all the more interesting to the viewer. “City of God” is another movie that has its entertainment factor increased by this allure brought about by the topic of drugs and gang violence. Instead of taking place in America, however, this film takes place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The other main difference between this film and other films that pertain to the drug trade is that this film doesn’t glorify that particular industry as much. Yes, the film is entertaining in its brutality, but none of the characters are driving fancy cars and living in large mansions such as in “Scarface.” It is a means of survival and a way to obtain a sense of respect, rather than to rise to the upper echelons of society’s elite.

While drugs are the center theme upon which this film revolves, there are many other underlying themes of power, respect, maturity, and friendship scattered throughout an extremely layered plot, which, while complicated, is never overwritten. While the entertainment comes from the violence and unique setting of the film, what truly makes this film great are all the individuals stories of the various characters and being able to watch as each character grows and evolves with his surroundings. How each character interacts with power with which they have been given and the rise or decline in morality that comes with an increase in power makes for an extremely riveting character study.

The acting may not be superb, but it has a realistic amateurism to it that makes the film more relatable and that much more human in a sense. Having non-professional actors can sometimes put more heart and soul into a film, and “City of God” is a prime example of that effect working to full force. The film is also shot in a very unique way, with every shot seemingly filtered with a variety of orange or blue that adds to the almost surrealist feeling surrounding the characters and the city in which they reside. This lifestyle is foreign to us, and the production enhances that feeling even more. The production also makes it more fun and puts a slightly lighthearted atmosphere on a rather serious and emotionally brutal film that leaves little room for hope and a true sense of happiness.

The film aligns rather well with the themes of classic Italian neorealism in the sense that the events portrayed on screen are not sugar coated in anyway. The film is harsh, realistic, and extremely violent because it portrays what life in a drug-trapped world of Brazilian slums would feel like. This isn’t a movie that was made purely for entertainment purposes, but rather, it was to show the world what the conditions of some of the people, especially children, living in Brazil have to deal with each and every day. It is a vicious cycle of poverty and violence that is even more difficult to escape with the false promise that drug lords and gang members can provide to a young adolescent that has yet to fully experience being a mature adult. Being able to kill another person doesn’t make you mature, yet some of the characters in this film falsely prophesize that notion.

For criticisms sake, the movie does feel like it runs just a tiny bit longer than it should, although none of the events in the script ever feel forced. It is filled with so much horror and disturbing content that it can be tough to take much away from the film other than the brutality of it all since most of the other emotions tend to be completely overrun by the feeling of shock that is experienced. Despite this though, the film is incredibly realistic and makes it a movie that, while painful to watch, is always engaging and feels much more relatable than other drug crime dramas that have been released in recent years.

City of God photo

City of God (2001): 4/4 stars