Mini-Reviews: Allied & Manchester by the Sea

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Allied

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Steven Knight

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Daniel Betts, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode and Simon McBurney.

Synopsis: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fight on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressure of war.

 

Robert Zemeckis is back with a World War II drama that sees two great actors come together to give the genre a little twist. So it’s a little hard to fathom how Zemeckis was able make a bit of a water-downed film with great performances, but overall the structure of the film really hurts the film.

Allied follows spy Max Vatan (Pitt) who goes undercover in French Morocco in 1942 where he meets with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) to pull off a mission to kill the German ambassador. The two eventually fall in love with each other and move to London where they get married and have a child. However, Max suddenly gets called in by British intelligence and is told that his wife could be a German spy. Not only that, if it is true, Max has to kill her himself. What follows is Max’s quest for answers to something he doesn’t believe.

Allied works on some levels. Pitt and Cotillard are great together and hold their own when need be. However, the first half of the film is much better than the second half. Also, Cotillard has much more to do and is fleshed out a lot more in the first half than the second. Seeing her work her charm against high ranking German officials so they can get close to the ambassador they need to kill was fun to watch, but afterwards it becomes Max’s story on whether or not his wife is a spy and what is he willing to do to prove it’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with it becoming Max’s story, but when it does turn all its attention to him, Cotillard doesn’t really do anything until the final twenty minutes of the film.

The film also loses some of its intensity after the first half of the film. Some of the big tension moments don’t have the sense of level of urgency or intense moment of fear or not knowing, so it doesn’t really help considering this is a spy drama thriller. There are great moments, I don’t want to take away anything from the film on that front, but overall the film lacked a certain push the film needed to push it over the top.

All in all, Allied is a fine film with good performances, but the sudden change of perspective and it lack of focus and intensity like the first half hinders the film from being great.

Allied

3 out of 5

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Manchester by the Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Writers: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick

Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

 

Manchester by the Sea’s synopsis sounds rather simple, add in the fact that it’s getting a limited release at first will add to people’s decision to maybe pass this up. However, the film has been making a ton of waves on the film festival circuit, and is already getting people predicting this is a huge front runner come Oscar season. Finally watching the film, I can see why. Manchester by the Sea is truly one of the best films of the year, and one that is very human when it comes to dealing with loss and grief.

The film follows Lee Chandler (Affleck), a loner janitor/handyman in Boston who is a bit rude and doesn’t seem interested in anything going on around him. That changes a bit when he gets a phone call saying his brother Joe (coincidently played by Kyle Chandler) has passed away. Lee makes the journey back to the small town of Manchester to settle his brother’s affairs, which also includes dealing with Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Hedges), and Joe’s wish of Lee watching over him. What follows is Lee and Patrick’s story of the both of them dealing with the loss of Joe, and how the deal with their situation as well as Lee dealing with linger thoughts of his own traumatic event.

Like I mentioned before, the synopsis sounds rather simple but there is a lot to unpack in the film, and all of it is worthwhile. The film doesn’t rely on usual character yelling at each other before reaching that peak moment of emotions that they forgive each other and are finally happy. The film feels real, and lets every character go through their own emotions like everyone does. Everyone grieves differently, and the film shows that in its way.

The great thing is that we spend enough time with Lee and Patrick, and get to know them. Casey Affleck continues to show that he can handle great material and isn’t just Ben Affleck’s brother. Affleck as Lee is rather intriguing to watch. A good chunk of Lee’s backstory is told through flashbacks that not only make us understand a bit of where Lee is coming from, but is tremendous effective and dramatic. I’d be surprised if Affleck isn’t at least nominated for Best Actor come Oscar season. However, it’s Affleck’s rapport with young actor Lucas Hedges that carries the middle of the film. Hedges has done some projects like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and even a small role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but this really allowed him to break loose and show his range. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing Hedges in a lot more things soon. The rest of the cast fairs well too with Michelle Williams making the most of her small screen time with a powerful performance near the end of the film.

All in all, Manchester by the Sea is one of those films you should experience for yourself. It’s a very real emotional film that is lead by Casey Affleck in one of the best films of the year. All the buzz surrounding the film is completely worth it, and while at times the film may feel aimless, it’s done in a way that actually works.

Manchester by the Sea

4.5 out of 5

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A Special Thanksgiving Podcast

Hello, everyone!

A pre-recorded a special podcast for all of you. I hope you enjoy and, of course, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

 

‘The Edge of Seventeen’ Review

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Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Woody Harrelson, Eric Keenleyside and Kyra Sedgwick

Synopsis: High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Coming-of-age films are always a fun experience. Some of them touch a nerve and bring back memories, while others could alienate some people because they didn’t have or share some of those experiences. However, most of them all share one thing in common: we’ve all thought like these kids at point or another, and we all love seeing a character transform in front of us in a a very human way.

The Edge of Seventeen follows high school junior Nadine (Steinfeld), who isn’t like her peers. It doesn’t help that she’s in the shadow of her perfect older brother Darian (Jenner) and has a strained relationship with her mother, Mona (Sedgwick). The only good thing in her life is her lifelong best friend Krista (Richardson), who she can also count on. However, after finding out that Krista and Darian slept together, Nadine feels betrayed and cuts Krista out of her life. What follows is Nadine trying to figure out what to do with her life, and that includes dealing with her nerdy and awkward classmate Erwin (Szeto), her from afar crush and local school bad boy Nick (Calvert) and her rapport with her equally sarcastic history teacher Mr. Bruner (Harrelson).

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Like the coming-of-age films before it, the film isn’t really plot-driven but instead follows Nadine through her misadventures after finding out Krista slept with her older brother and the two have started dating. However, the good thing is that everything feels real. Sure, Nadine follows the trope of being a bit more sharp witted than a real teenager but that doesn’t take away the fun of the film and of her mishaps, which are pretty funny to watch.

What also makes Nadine a great character to follow is how Steinfeld plays her. Nadine could have easily been an unbearable and unlikeable character, and I’m sure some will see her that way and she is to some extent, but Steinfeld plays her so well and with a great amount of charm and wit that it actually makes us invest in. And yes, we want to see her grow and even go through her unfortunate situations and encounters. It also nice to see Steinfeld let loose a bit and find a role that lets her showcase her full potential like she did back in True Grit.

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The rest of the supporting cast is also great and play off each other really well. Blake Jenner has had a breakout year starring in this and Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! Haley Lu Richardson as Krista never comes off as distance or mean, we actually feel for her when Krista and Nadine fight. Hayden Szeto as Erwin is one of the biggest highlights of the film, and someone I hope we all get to see in future films. Woody Harrelson is the other cast highlight as his relationship and back-and-forth between Steinfeld and him is what makes the film just fly by. Kyra Sedgwick as Nadine’s mother has her own arc in the film that was nice to watch unfold.

All in all, The Edge of Seventeen isn’t perfect, as it loses some steam for just a bit, before it picks up again. It’s also not the best or a groundbreaking coming-of-age film, but one that you should definitely take the time to watch. The cast overall is fantastic, and its easily one of the best movies of the year.

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The Edge of Seventeen

4.5 out of 5

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ Review

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Director: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ron Perlman and Jon Voight

Synopsis: The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

J.K. Rowling, her first feature film credit, and David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films, have returned to bring all of us back to the Wizarding World, and for the most part, it feels pretty great to go back. It also helps that the film is set many years before the events of Harry Potter, so we get to see essentially a brand new world of magic and characters. Of course the action now takes place in American, rather than England, but the new characters and world are fun and enlightening in their way. However, and unfortunately, if you’re not familiar too much with Rowling’s history and lore she’s created, you might be a bit in the dark on some things, which does hinder the experience just a bit.

The film takes place in New York, 1926, as Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives by boat with his magical suitcase that happens to hold bevy, well, fantastic beasts. However, as he makes his way through the city his suitcase gets mixed up with a “No-Maj,” what the American Magic Community call their humans with no magic opposed to the word Muggle, in Jacob Kowalski (Fogler). When Jacob accidentally opens the case, many of Newt’s beasts get out and run rampant around New York. This gets the attention of Tina Goldstein (Waterston), who works for the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA). During this, head Auror (think security/magic cops) Percival Graves (Farrell) leans on a young troubled man, Credence (Miller) for help to find someone, or something, that is attacking New York City that might cause the magic world and human to go to war. All of this is happening while the looming threat of a dangerous wizard makes his way to America.

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So as you can see, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has a lot going on, and because of that, the film does stumble a bit to keep it all together and moving smoothly. There’s Newt’s storyline about tracking his beasts down with the help of Jacob, that eventually bleeds into Newt and Jacob meeting Tina and her sister Queenie (Sudol). There’s Graves and Credence’s story that is a culmination of Credence’s story and there’s the MACUSA, lead by President Seraphina Picquery, who have the looming threat of the dangerous and powerful wizard Grindelwald, who is briefly seen in the beginning, and will be the new big bad for this series of films. Each have their fair share of screen time, but everything still feels underdeveloped. Of course, knowing there are at least four sequels coming, it makes some sense, but doesn’t make it okay – Especially if people aren’t familiar with the history and lore.

Of course that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop you from enjoying the film because it is really enjoyable, especially when it relies on the humor, and of course, the titular fantastic beasts. People will definitely get a kick out of the creatures and beasts that have some really cool designs and lead some of the funniest and great moments in the film, including one particular creature that is introduced early in the film. Some of the dark themed material is interesting too, and again, is a bit underdeveloped but I would have loved to see more of that in the film considering the time period and how strict the magic community is in America.

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The cast chemistry is pretty solid, and one that we invest in right away. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is equal parts awkward but caring toward the creatures in his case, almost as if he rather be around them than people. That is until he meets Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, who I would arguable say is one of the highlights of the film, and even steals the show – at least human wise. Jacob is also pretty much our surrogate for the film, but also one that is a vital character to how No-Maj’s probably view the world they don’t understand.

The magic community is constantly trying to keep their world hidden from the human world, and it’s something that is on the verge of breaking because of the attacks Grindelwald has been doing. This connects to Ezra Miller’s character Credence, because he’s the adopted son of a Mary Lou, the leader of the Second Salemers, who look to expose the wizarding world saying they are all evil, and that being said, she isn’t the nicest person either. However, when we go to Jacob, he doesn’t see the wizards or creatures he encounters as evil. He is scared when he first encounters them – as all of us should and would be – but he’s more in awe and amazed by them, which leads to the great relationship between him and Newt.

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Katherine Waterston continues to prove she belongs on the big screen and can handle big characters. Although she is sworn by duty to bring in Newt and his briefcase, she eventually knows that Newt is kind hearted and helps him. Alison Sudol’s Queenie is a rather interesting and wide-eyed character who has never meant a No-Maj before. Ezra Miller, who should have had more screen time makes a worthy and worthwhile impression as his tortured soul character. Colin Farrell is always reliable, and is so here, but again, I wish we had more time with his character. Carmen Ejogo as the “President” of Magic doesn’t do much in the film, Jon Voight is in the film for literally three scenes, and while it feels like he’s character is important – and it is in a sense – the storyline is quickly dealt with, which feels rather odd and like a cheat.

While I had fun watching the film, Fantastic Beasts does have some odd pacing and tonal shifts. One moment we go from a fun and humorous moment and then suddenly go to a dark and ominous scene. While I can see what they were trying to do, it was a bit jarring the first time, and it happens more than once.

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All in all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good start to a new franchise, however, not without its drawbacks and missteps. If you’re not too familiar with the history and lore that’s not just in the books, you will be a little lost, but thankfully J.K. Rowling probably knew that. This new batch of characters and creatures is a magical – pun intended – bunch, and while I had my reservation about the film, I’m interested in seeing where his new story will take me.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

4 out of 5

New Podcast: Ryan Reynolds Comments on Tim Miller, The Crow Reboot, & A Ton More

Hey everyone!

I got a new podcast for you guys, so sit back and enjoy.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Review

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Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffths, and Vince Vaughn

Synopsis: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Directed by Mel Gibson, his first since Apocalypto in 2006, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of a real-life hero during World War II in Desmond Doss, whose story I’ve personally never heard of, and it’s unbelievable that his story isn’t told more. The film isn’t a full look into Doss’ life, nor is it his full time in the war, but only a small part during the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge. Gibson himself said that he took some liberties with some parts of the battle and didn’t including everything because he thought some audiences wouldn’t believe it, which if and when you watch the film, it hard to believe that Doss did even more than what was shown.

Hacksaw Ridge follows Desmond Doss (Garfield), a religious man who is the son of a World War I vet, Tom (Weaving), who decides to enlist into the army to be a medic and help save his fellow soldiers. However, his beliefs of not picking up a gun puts him into a headstrong battle with his military superiors and fellow soldiers, who see him as a coward, and after getting through a Court Marshall hearing, is sent into war without a weapon to defend himself with, becoming a Conscientious Objector. What follows is an incredible heroic story of what Doss was able to do and how many lives he saved during that horrific battle.

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Doss’ life is certainly one that will make you question his beliefs, which is reasonable and it’s something that Gibson doesn’t shy too much away from, especially at the time this film takes place. However, Gibson and Andrew Garfield’s performance do bring humanity and reason to Doss’ beliefs, and his convictions keeps us invest throughout the film. We almost have no choice but to root for him, especially when the army tries to punish him.

His heroism is put on full display during the war scenes. Of course, we know that Gibson can direct war battles, and this was a real event were many men lost their lives, so walking in we already knew that this was going to be brutal to watch – and it was. The constant bombs going off with bullets whizzing by makes you feel that sometimes you’re running with the men on Hacksaw Ridge. The battle sequences are brutal, but not as brutal as Gibson’s other films, especially since the film relies a bit of CGI for some scenes – you can’t go blowing people’s face off now can you?

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Despite this being a war film, the film is carried and driven by the performances. Garfield is terrific as Doss, playing him at first as the off-beat character from Virginia, so harrowing hero in the midst of death surrounding him. Teresa Palmer plays his future wife, Dorothy, who brings levity to the film, but once Doss goes to the war, she is never seen again, which is kind of a shame but makes sense. Luke Bracey’s Smitty Ryker is one of the antagonistic soldiers to Doss, but has a great scene with Doss near the middle of the film that makes you forget he was in the Point Break remake.

Vince Vaughn pops in as Sgt. Howell, and while it is a little hard to believe him as an army sergeant at first, but Vaughn plays the role well enough. Sam Worthington play Captain Glover, who leads the charge to get Doss to quit the army. Worthington has been great since taking a break from mainstream big studio films, and he continues the trend here. Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father, Tom, has a great arc in the film and even with minimal screen-time he does what he has to do. The rest of the cast do well too, but most of them have only small amounts of screen time and once we get to the battle scenes it’s a bit hard to really recognize them.

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The most important thing about this film is that it doesn’t go straight into the war battles. We really get to know Doss before and after he registers, and see who he is before he’s thrown into war. The film does introduce someone close to Doss’ life that suddenly disappears without reason, and while you can say “that’s a little thing,” when you look at the film with a wider lens, it would have been nice to see that character mentioned or seen again.

All in all, Hacksaw Ridge is a great look into a hero that I don’t think many people knew about. Andrew Garfield brings Desmond Doss to life and shows us the hardship he went through to save others during World War II. Filled with some great action, and some surprising humor, Hacksaw Ridge has me waiting to see what Mel Gibson does next.

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Hacksaw Ridge

4.5 out of 5

‘Arrival’ Review

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Abigail Pniowsky, and Tzi Ma

Synopsis: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the short story called “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (which I haven’t read so I’m basing this review off the film), Arrival is directed by one of my new favorite directors in Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). The film had me hooked from the teaser trailer, and the film has been on my watch-list for a while and then hearing all the positive word of mouth from film festival and critics, I was finally happy to go watch it. While Arrival takes a while to get going, the film is definitely going to be one of those films you either get invested in or want to stay away from.

The film follows renowned linguist Dr. Louise Brooks (Adams), who is brought in by the government, more specifically Army Colonel Weber (Whitaker), to attempt to learn and decipher the language of the aliens that have just arrived on Earth. However, the aliens stay in the oval alien ships, called Shells by the government, so with a team that also includes scientist Ian Donnelly (Renner), they must figure out a way to communicate with the aliens before the world takes matters into their own hands.

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The plot synopsis there is a bit vague, and for a reason, since I don’t want to give too much away plot and story-wise. In fact, the less you know about Arrival the better. Thankfully the trailers and ads haven’t given too much away, so you can go in and just enjoy the ride the film lays out for you. However, you should know this film despite being an “aliens coming to Earth” film, this is a drama. So don’t go in expecting a random shootout or aliens running wild through New York (even though New York is never shown in the film). That being said, I liked the fact that the film is just a drama, and it really all lands on the leads.

Amy Adams is also someone you can rely on because you know she’s giving it all in her performances, and she does the same here. The film rests on her shoulders, similar to how Louise probably feels in the film. Everyone is counting on her and Ian to come up with some way to figure out a language that no one has seen before. Adams is pretty much in every shot in the film, and for good reason.

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When it comes to the rest of the cast, they do their part. Jeremy Renner has his moments, and for a good part of the film is like the audience in he’s in both awe and excited to meet aliens for the first time. Forest Whitaker plays the straight-laced, no-nonsense army colonel, but other than that he doesn’t really do much, but having Whitaker in your film never hurts. Michael Stuhlbarg, who’s someone you should get to remembering, plays an agent who comes and goes throughout the film and is somewhat antagonist to Louise and Ian, but for good reason. He’s basically everyone else in the world saying what if the aliens just decide to attack. Stuhlbarg also disappears from the film for a while, but when he appears his scenes carry weight.

One thing that, again, will divide people from potentially watching the film is Arrival is a drama, but more importantly a sci-fi film – there are aliens after all. The characters and film bring up interesting, thoughtful, and important questions that – if this really happened – we would hope anyone involved would ask and try to figure out. The film has things to unpack, but not enough to overwhelm you or make you wonder for long. The other nice thing is the film never tries to talk down or dumb things down for the viewer, which the film could have easily done, and I’m glad that writer Eric Heisserer didn’t do so.

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Also, for a film devoted to language, the film also – to steal a line that I read somewhere – speaks the language of film. The cinematography by Bradford Young is fantastic, especially the shot we get when Louise and Ian first see the Shell from a distance and the rolling in fog coming in from the mountains. The visual effects that combine with the production design are pretty top notch, and are mostly on display in the Shell with the aliens. Speaking of the aliens, their design is rather interesting to say the least, I won’t go into how they look, but the design was something I was not expecting. Finally, the score by Johann Johansson (who did the score for Sicario) really puts you in the state of mind of the characters and the environment. There are parts that equal fear and dread, but also moments of wonder.

All in all, Arrival will not be for everyone. In fact, I’m sure most will be heavily divided on the film. However, that doesn’t take away anything from everyone involved. Arrival takes the sci-fi alien genre and turns it on its head to full and great effect. The film could require multiple viewings to find deeper meanings and fully embrace the concepts and final act, but overall, Arrival is a film that will leave you leaving the theater and talking about it all the way home.

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Arrival

4.5 out of 5