Best Picture Countdown #2: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“This didn’t put an end to shit, you fucking retard; this is just the fucking start. Why don’t you put that on your Good Morning Missouri fucking wake up broadcast, bitch?”Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Dir: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, etc.
Runtime: 1hr55min
Rating: R

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows Mildred Hayes (McDormand) as she utilizes three billboards to air her grievances with the local police department over the unsolved murder of her daughter. Her desire for vengeance puts her at odds not only with the police, but with her own family and others in the town.

Whooo boy, this one was tough!


I’m going to say this straight up, although Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was only my second favorite Oscar-nominated film this year… I do think it is going to win Best Picture. And that would be a 100% justified victory, because this film is incredible.

As a personal anecdote about how powerful this film is, my father – who does not get into awards shows or artsy/indie films to the extent that I do – asked me to tell him when the Supporting Actor, Lead Actress, and other relevant categories were announced during the BAFTAs so he could watch, and he cheered out loud when “my boy!” Sam Rockwell won the Golden Globe. He is actively rooting for this film and continues to praise it whenever it pops up in conversation. Also, when I saw this film with my parents, we were the only people in the film aside from one other man, who I’m 75% sure snuck in without paying. That’s a crime, considering how brilliant this movie is. We also call it “Three Billbos” in my house, because that’s what the marquee said when we were at the theater, but I digress…

Sam Rockwell is, as far as I’m concerned, a lock for Best Supporting Actor. I don’t think it’s even a contest. I have never, ever in my life had such a back-and-forth, rollercoaster of a reaction to a film character, and it’s all down to Rockwell’s performance. I went from thinking Dixon was a moron, to hating him, to really hating him, to kind of liking him, to rooting for his success, to feeling ambiguous about him, and so on. Though Harrelson turns in a spectacular performance as Willoughby, he’s easily eclipsed by his co-star – though the moments their characters share onscreen are a treat to witness.

Similarly, I consider Frances McDormand the front-runner for Best Actress – she perfectly executes the simmering rage of a mother out for vengeance over the cruel, unsolved murder of her daughter, spitting vitriol at anyone who would try to impede her mission, yet she also shows the vulnerability and heartbreak of a woman who has suffered an unimaginable loss and is still trying to piece together the fragments of her life. There are moments – as with Dixon – where I didn’t like Mildred, either because of some heartless jape she says, or something she does that seems more vindictive than justified, and also moments where I wanted her to torch the entire town to ashes or reach through the screen to pat her shoulder. She is the heart of this film and carries it on her shoulders, in her fury, her pain, her moments of delinquency, and her emotional struggle. The nuanced characters and the emotionally-layered performances of the actors are a major strength of this film – but it’s also a testament to the writing.

Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is rife with dark humor, sharp dialogue and a relevant social commentary, unpredictable and jaw-dropping moments, cutting insults and heart-wrenching expressions of pain and soul-stirring explosions of anger, and characters that pop off of the screen like real, breathing people. Even the side characters, like James (Dinklage), are distinct and have memorable lines and scenes. This film is poignant, dark, and the type of narrative that will illicit emotions that you might not want to feel, but the powerful, lingering message it delivers is one that deserves and demands to be heard and seen. If it doesn’t win Best Original Screenplay, I’ll be surprised – and I think McDonagh was totally snubbed for Best Director. The “window” scene with Dixon and Red was pure cinematic gold – I was actually squirming in my seat through the whole thing, and I think my pounding heart left bruises on my ribs.

Though Burwell is an underdog for Best Score, I actually like his score the best of all the nominees – regardless, I don’t think he’ll win, but it does make me excited to hear more from him in future films. Film Editing is up in the air, but I’m predicting at least three wins for Three Billboards…and maybe four, if it can edge out the rest in the close race for Best Picture. And if the awards season trend continues as it has been, Three Billboards just might take it home.
Oscar Nominations
Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson)
Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)
Best Actress (McDormand)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Film


Film Review: Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois
Rating: R
Runtime: 2hr 12min
Spoiler level: Minor (some dialogue is revealed)

Each year, I make an effort to see every Best Picture nominee for the Academy Awards, and was lucky enough to have time to see Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me By Your Name on the last day it was playing in my town, after a mere 6-day run at one of two local chains. I went into this film unsure of what to expect, and emerged from the theater, 2.5 hours later and teary-eyed, with a new personal favorite for Best Picture at the Oscars this year.

By Source, Fair use,

Adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, Call Me By Your Name explores the relationship between seventeen-year-old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) and twenty-four-year-old Oliver (Hammer), an American scholar who is staying with the Perlman family as an assistant to Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg), as it evolves over a summer in 1980’s Italy.

Call Me By Your Name‘s strength is a combination of beautiful cinematography, strong performances from a brilliant cast, and the way it delivers its messages and themes to the viewers. While fellow Best Picture contender Phantom Thread (which I saw the day prior) is a film that makes you think, to wrack your brain trying to pick apart the character’s motivations and desires and connections to one another, Call Me By Your Name is a film that makes you feel. It draws on emotions from various different angles – from the awkwardness of adolescence, to the conflicting pain and elation of first love, to the lamentation of wasted days and the curiosity of sexuality, to the bond between parents and children and family of different generations, to the thrills of desire – and it never feels disingenuous. The emotions felt and expressed by the characters resonate off the screen and linger long after the credits have rolled and the lights come on, and it will be a film that sticks with me for a long time.

Overall, the film is paced in a way that allows the relationships between the characters – not only the leads, but the supporting cast as well – to develop in an organic manner, that does not feel rushed or forced. The film also does a marvelous job in exploring the beauty of small moments – small gestures, brief touches, the flicker of a gaze or a soft sigh – and it makes every scene, even the ones with no dialogue (only the excellent soundtrack) – explode with purpose and meaning. The scenery of a summer in Italy provides a gorgeous, lush backdrop for the character interactions, and is shown in a way that I could almost feel the heat or the gentle breeze or the coolness of the river.

Though it will be a challenge to dethrone current award-season Best Actor champion Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Chalamet’s performance as Elio is remarkable, and might just be my current favorite dark horse in the Oscar race. His nuanced portrayal of a seventeen-year-old experiencing the roller coaster of emotion that comes with a first love is rife with subtle mannerisms, evocative dialogue, and familiar elements that anyone who has felt a similar way, or who has ever been a somewhat awkward teenager growing up in a world they don’t fully understand yet, can likely relate to. His final scene in the film was enough to draw a tear or two, and the way his voice broke on the “Can you come get me?” line was enough to split even my cold heart in half.

Hammer delivers a powerful and moving performance as Oliver – I found myself often focusing on his facial expressions, and how he was able to masterfully portray a myriad of emotion in such small, subtle motions and gestures, especially as he grapples with his feelings for Elio and the worry of how his actions might be perceived. Though the age gap between the characters might draw the side-eye from some (and understandably so) their relationship unfolds in a way that does not come off as exploitative or manipulative, and does not rely on common LGBTQ tropes or themes. Their chemistry is palpable, their conversations feel raw and genuine, and their connection to each other is expressed more prominently in their growing emotional intimacy than the physical. It’s somewhat of a subversion of the genre, and a breath of fresh air – as is Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance as Elio’s father. His speech to Elio in the third act of the film is so real, and so wonderful – the line “But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” (which originates in the novel) is the single greatest line I’ve heard in a film all year, and Stuhlbarg delivers it beautifully as he attempts to support and help his son navigate the tribulations that come with such an intense emotional journey.

Call Me By Your Name is a unique coming-of-age-film that expertly handles matters of the body, heart, and soul, and exposes the vulnerability of emotion, relationships, and first love in a beautiful, compelling, and heart-wrenching fashion. It might be a dark horse, but any gold statues it takes home on March 4th (and I hope it gets some) will be utterly deserved.

Overall rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr 5min
Spoiler level: Minor

The moment I saw a screenshot of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill some months ago, I knew I was going to see this movie. I had to travel an hour away to do it (drawbacks of small-town living) but Oldman’s Golden Globe win last Sunday solidified that his turn in Darkest Hour was a performance I didn’t want to miss on the big screen. Also, The Shape of Water isn’t playing within 50 miles of me, so…

dhFollowing Winston Churchill (Oldman) as he takes the mantle of Prime Minister in May 1940 with World War II brewing ominously on the mainland, Darkest Hour offers insight (both in public and behind closed doors) into Churchill’s first tenuous/strenuous days in office as he faces opposition and doubt from his fellow party members, the crown, and himself.

First things first; the cast is superb. Kristin Scott Thomas is great as Clementine Churchill, as she conveys the inner and outer struggle of a wife and her efforts to support her husband as he endures such intense scrutiny. Ben Mendelsohn (who I didn’t even recognize, a total fail on my part) does an excellent job expressing the turmoil of King George VI, who grapples with his opinion of Churchill and what is best for the nation as a whole as it faces the possibility of invasion. Lily James turns in a nuanced performance as Churchill’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton, and Stannis Baratheon Stephen Dillane’s determined and frustrated Halifax stands toe to toe with Oldman’s Churchill as he argues for appeasement over war. But obviously, the film is carried by Oldman, who delivers Churchill’s famous speeches with passion and fire, but also shows vulnerability as he is assailed by doubt and criticism from all sides, not to mention the looming war with the Axis Powers on the horizon. He plays off of the other key characters with aplomb, as the chemistry Oldman shares with Scott Thomas, while only shown in a few scenes, is an inspiring look into the strengths and strains of an enduring marriage, while Oldman’s scenes with Mendelsohn evolve over the course of the film as their interactions go from tension-riddled and uncertain to tempered hostility to grudging respect and beyond. Hearing the “We shall fight them on the beaches,” speech coming from Oldman is electrifying, as his words build in intensity and fervor and serve as a contrast to those poignant flickers of uncertainty and wavering confidence he suffers while debating whether or not to enter peace negotiations with the monster threatening to invade and conquer.

One of the film’s main strengths is that it isn’t a wide-spanning look at Churchill’s life and career, sprawling over the course of several years; it’s a snapshot centered on Churchill’s earliest days in office, which encompasses only a few weeks and culminates in the evacuation at Dunkirk. This lends the film a greater sense of focus and a deeper look into Churchill’s mindset and emotional state, and permits a greater exploration into the opinions of those around him, particularly Halifax and Chamberlain. It doesn’t seek to show Churchill’s entire legacy in two hours, and the result is a more intimate film with a greater focus on the gravity of his decisions and their possible consequences, rather than a blustering epic about his greatness with no time to breathe in-between scenes. The pacing is a bit dodgy at times, but the film also strives to show the criticism that Churchill faced during his tenure and references some of his more controversial actions, including the Gallipoli Campaign, which provides a somewhat more “balanced” portrayal of the historical icon, rather than a 2-hour lovefest.

Darkest Hour also shines on a technical level, as the cinematography, lighting, sound (including Dario Marianelli’s score) and direction are stellar, and all components function together to make a visually (and audibly) beautiful film. Certain shots and sequences are framed and shot in such a evocative, visceral way, it gives even more weight to whatever is happening onscreen at the time. Lots of great “hallway” shots and tracking shots, and one particular shot of Churchill in an elevator shows the perfect image of a man who feels utterly “alone” not only physically, but in his convictions. Plus, I’d be shocked if Tsuji and team don’t win the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling (Sorry, Beauty & The Beast), as Gary Oldman’s galvanizing performance is enhanced by the amazing physical transformation he undergoes to become one of the most well-known and revered figures in British history.

One of Darkest Hour‘s taglines is also one of Churchill’s most famous phrases, “Never surrender.” And though those famous words have been heard countless times, and WWII has been depicted repeatedly on screens of all sizes, Darkest Hour is a semi-unconventional “war” film that brings something fresh and new to the table in offering a closer look into Winston Churchill’s life and legacy, his personal and professional relationships, and his unwillingness to give in, even when facing such grave odds and innumerable doubts.

P.S. I might suggest this film and Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk as a double feature, though viewing both films back-to-back could be pretty draining… though you could start off with Tom Hooper’s 2010 Oscar-winner The King’s Speech, for a bit of levity.


Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Dir. Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon (uncredited)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, and Ciaran Hinds.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr
Spoiler level: MAJOR.


This review will be a bit more rant-y and personal opinion based, so the thoughts expressed might contain some bias.

MV5BYWVhZjZkYTItOGIwYS00NmRkLWJlYjctMWM0ZjFmMDU4ZjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Coming on the heels of 2016’s Batman V Superman and Superman’s demise, Justice League follows Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) as they attempt to recruit new heroes and “unite the league” against the threat of Steppenwolf and his parademons. Though they attempt to convince Aquaman (Momoa), The Flash (Miller), and Cyborg (Fisher) to go all in and save the world, simply coming together might not be enough to prevent the doom of the planet.

As a big JL and general DC fan, I’ll start with what I liked, then go into a bit more detail. I will say, though, that I did enjoy the film, and I think it is a better film than the RT score would indicate. No matter what the reviews say, it is worth seeing, especially because the divisive reception makes it all the more important for people/fans to forge their own opinions about it before taking someone else’s interpretation as law.

*Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen / The Flash. He injected some much-needed comedy and I enjoyed his running scenes.
*The new cast-members are all great, as are the returning cast.
*The humor in general was a VAST improvement over previous films. Aquaman sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso was especially hilarious.
* Seeing the team together, onscreen, and with such an amazing cast, is a big thrill, and they have a great team vibe.
*Hearkening back to the “Lois is the key!” Flash scene from BVS. I’m pretty sure that’s what was implied, anyway.
* Green Lantern Corps Easter Egg!
*Both post-credits scenes. I am sooooo ready for Deathstroke.

I think it is important for me to admit that Zack Snyder is one of my favorite directors due to his incredible vision, his great passion for his projects, and the fact that he always seems to want to do justice to the material he is adapting while also inserting his own ideas. His visual style is absolutely stunning, he knows how to frame a shot, and I always enjoy the color choices for his films. Though he does over-rely on slo-mo, his style is incredibly distinct, so it’s also clear (to me, at least) that both Whedon and Snyder had a hand in the final result of this film, and the contrast in style led to a disjointed tone throughout. The scenes between the two directorial styles weren’t seamless, and if two folks are going to be behind the camera, it shouldn’t feel like there are differing visions grappling for screen time. That said, I completely understand and support Snyder’s decision to leave the project, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing so, but it does make me wonder what a total Snyder film would have looked like. I think, watching the finished project, that it’s pretty obvious that there were issues during post-production and after the re-shoots. The CGI is just one example –  I’m usually pretty forgiving, but it’s jarring in some scenes.

Fortunately, Whedon inserted some much-needed humor into the film, which helped lift the grim tone of its predecessors and present more lighthearted, enjoyable moments into what has been a fairly bleak series thus far. Humor, and coherency, are the two things the DCEU films seem to be lacking the most (with the exception of WW) and while JL picks up some laughs, the plot is still thin. Also, the dialogue in general comes off as so clunky to me a lot of the time; I had the same issue with BVS. A lot of “comic-booky” dialogue does not sound good when voiced aloud, even though it is passable in speech bubbles on a page. Some of the one-liners in this film are a total “cheese-fest” and made me think, “Oh…. no.”

I’ll also admit, as blasphemous as it is, that I am one of the folks who prefers Snyder/Cavill’s portrayal of Superman. I like the dark tone, the disconnect/conflict with humanity, and the fact that he doesn’t always pull punches. I enjoyed Man of Steel quite a lot (except the final fight with Zod was WAY too long) though I wish he’d had more screen time in BVS. But in JL, the only Superman scene that stood out to me was after his reawakening, when he forgot who he was and attacked the JL members. That was excellent. But the CGI mouth was atrocious, and it was present in nearly all of his scenes, which means that most, if not all, of his spoken scenes were from re-shoots. Most of his dialogue (especially in the field with Lois) was cringey and uninspired, and very different from his previous appearances. I did like him coming in to save the day at the end, as predicable as it was, and enjoyed his new rapport with The Flash, but could have done without the “I’m a big fan of justice” bit. It’s like Superman came back to life with a sudden 180-turn in sense of humor and demeanor, and although he might be more like how Superman is “supposed to be,” he doesn’t feel like the version from this universe, and the change is too abrupt. I’m okay with the changes in general, and I look forward to future Superman appearances to see where his character goes, but I think it comes off as a total upheaval instead of a gradual shift. Then again, he probably should have had another solo film before all of this, to allow his personality to develop more, and shoving his resurrection into a 2 hour movie made it feel rushed and lacking in emotional depth.

This is also one of few Snyder films that I think would have benefited majorly from about 20 extra minutes, at least. Back when BVS came out and viewers got their first glimpse of Wonder Woman, her brief appearance did an excellent job of setting up and building interest in her solo film, which went on to be both a critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, JL introduces three new characters, and that feeling of “gosh, I can’t wait to see more of *character*!” is also colored with a feeling of “I wish we’d seen more of ‘so-and-so’ before this.” While I’m excited for Aquaman next year, and am doubly excited for a Flash solo outing after Miller’s stellar portrayal, I think Cyborg’s development suffered from being crammed into a movie with 2 other newbies. Ray Fisher was great as Victor, but trying to shove three new characters with elaborate backstories into a 2 hour film does not work and did Cyborg no favors. Aquaman also suffered a bit – the Atlantis reveal is kind of underwhelming, and Aquaman has few opportunities to really show off his water-based skills. Ultimately, it leaves more unanswered questions and rushed exposition instead of creating intrigue, which is a shame because although the glimpses we got of these new additions were good, they were not fulfilling. I almost wish we’d gotten at least a couple more of the solo movies out before this, so the exposition and setup could have been trimmed down for this film, as audiences would already be more familiar with these characters. The only character who really didn’t need a solo film prior to JL is Batman, and I think Affleck has performed the role extremely well thus far. Apparently the strict time restriction is due to studio interference, and this time around, I genuinely believe it was a misstep. However, a 2-hour runtime would have likely worked had we been introduced to all (or most) of the major players before this film. Also, some big names (J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred) are given virtually NOTHING to do but be around for a couple of scenes, and it’s a damn shame. In trying to do too much on restricted time, the film ended up doing too little.

Though I’ve seen a lot of criticism levied at the villain, I didn’t mind Steppenwolf that much. Critics and reviews made him out to be the worst CBM villain of all time, and he certainly wasn’t great, but I’d rank him above a few of Marvel’s more forgettable villains. Justin Hammer, anyone? Malekith? Ultron? CGI dodginess aside, Steppenwolf, his massive hammer/axe, and his dramatic monologues were par for the course, and no worse than the underdeveloped baddies from other films. However, I do love Ciaran Hinds, so maybe that’s my bias speaking.

In additional terms of directing, I’m not sure who we have to thank for the upskirt shots of Wonder Woman (I have my theories), but they were about 10000% unnecessary, considering her outfit is plenty short already. An absolute disservice to the character and her solo film. On the other hand, I don’t think the Amazon midriff outfits were nearly as bad as social media made them out to be, though the way they were shot was pretty pervy. Several had armor similar to their attire in WW, though the more revealing versions are definitely deserving of some side-eye. You could play devil’s advocate and say that Momoa as Aquaman fought Steppenwolf shirtless, which is equally as impractical. I, for one, was certainly looking forward to shirtless Momoa, and was not disappointed.

Unfortunately, the first phase of the rushed DCEU has tried too hard to keep up with Marvel instead of establishing itself as it’s own universe and has fallen short of the finish line. Though I enjoyed several moments of Justice League, the disappointing aspects ultimately left this viewer with a longing for “what could have been,” though a flicker of optimism remains for the future of the franchise. If you want these films to succeed, go and give JL a shot in theaters – it has a lot of box office ground to make up. I do have faith that the DCEU can turn it around, and I’m still “all in” if it means we get to see these compelling heroes onscreen for future movies. I just hope that the ensuing installments can do these characters and their evolving personalities the justice they deserve with more well-developed plots and compelling narratives.


Overall Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Dir. Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, and Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr10m
Spoiler level: Light, some mention of plot points but no end spoilers.

Of all the MCU major Avenger film trilogies, I have generally considered the Thor films to be the weakest, so I went into the third installment, Thor: Ragnarok, with tempered expectations. Two hours later, I came out of the theater with sore cheeks from laughing so hard and my expectations thoroughly blown away, as if by the sheer force of Hela’s wrath, Hulk’s incredible smash, or Thor’s lightning prowess.

MV5BMjMyNDkzMzI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxODg5MjI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpgThor: Ragnarok follows the titular hero (Hemsworth) as he strives to free Asgard from the chaotic rule of his previously exiled elder sister, Hela, Goddess of Death (Blanchett). In an effort to prevent Ragnarok, Thor must endure capture by an outcast Valkyrie (Thompson), forced combat with the Hulk (Ruffalo), continuing sibling strife with adopted brother Loki (Hiddleston), and the loss of his beloved Mjolnir.

I’ve always thought that, when in the presence of the other Avengers, Thor’s character tends to get overshadowed, but Hemsworth nailed it in his third solo outing and has officially proven that Thor can hold his own against the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. He rocked the heroic moments and his humor was on point – Thor’s otherwordly humor has always been a highlight of his character, and it’s dialed up to ten for this film with hilarious results. The “Get help” bit had me laughing so hard I was afraid the woman behind me was going to ask me to get a grip. Hemsworth’s chemistry with Hiddleston as Loki is also stellar, and Hiddleston continues to ooze both charm and deception in what is likely his last outing as the semi-sympathetic villain, and stands as possibly the most well-developed menace of the entire MCU. Blanchett is delightful as the near-unstoppable Hela, and shows what might have happened had Galadriel become a queen as great and terrible as the dawn. Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, and his rapport with Hemsworth is a highlight along with Hulk’s overall development, as he now carries conversations and doesn’t devolve into smash mode on a constant basis. The introduction of Valkyrie is a pleasant one, as her complex history and abilities as a fighter prove her to be an excellent ally for the Asgardian hero. Hopkins also briefly returns as Odin, and though his appearance is short, it makes an impression. Idris Elba as Heimdall and Karl Urban as Hela’s conflicted henchman Skurge are both great in supporting roles. And how could I leave out Jeff Goldbum, as Grandmaster? All I can say is… he’s Jeff Goldblum. And it’s fantastic.

The cameos are enjoyable, with a peek at one of 2016’s breakout heroes Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and three surprise cameos (I won’t spoil them) during an early scene on Asgard. It’s a “Is that really __________?” moment, thrice over, and done very well. Sad we didn’t get to see Sif this time around, but honestly, the film is enjoyable enough that I didn’t even feel her absence, and I didn’t feel the loss of Jane Foster one bit (I do love Natalie Portman though, for the record, and Jamie Alexander as well). I didn’t even miss Thor’s hair! Additionally, the music is great, the colors are fun and bright, which creates a much more visually-pleasing aesthetic than some of the previous films, which have a darker, more serious atmosphere.

The strength of this film is easily the humor and more lighthearted nature, as the film-makers perhaps looked to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy for what tone and direction to take, and it certainly pays off. I laughed out loud several times, and just started giggling again thinking of a particular joke. Though, that’s not to say that the action doesn’t deliver, because it does; the battles are all vivid and engrossing and none of the action sequences feel dragged out or too long. The overall pacing is done well, and though it seems as though the plot starts to meander a bit in the middle, the jokes and the character interactions keep it from feeling drawn out, and the final battle does not feel rushed and crammed into the end. The narrative is balanced between action with dire consequences, focus on the lead character and his inner conflict, and all of the external conflicts going on at the same time, with Hela’s wrath being unleashed upon Asgard, the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial games, and Thor’s efforts to wrangle a new team to assist him with saving the realm(s). With so many players on the field and such a stacked cast, it would be so easy for this film to devolve into a muddles mess with several personalities vying for screen time, but each plot point gets a decent amount of attention and no character feels like they got left to the wayside. And, though it might just be my inability to pay attention to detail, I didn’t really predict how the final conflict was going to play out, and there were enough surprises throughout the film to keep me on the edge of my seat.

After the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, I wasn’t looking forward to Ragnarok as much I was some of the other MCU installments, but the third Thor outing definitely stands as one of the best, might be a top contender for the funniest, and has made me even more excited to see our favorite golden-haired Asgardian prince in action during Infinity War next year.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Home Again (2017)

Dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Candice Bergen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr37m
Spoiler level: Light

This past Tuesday, for the first time in ages, I went into a film without looking at the RT score. I saw the trailer a couple of times, chuckled a bit, and decided that I wanted to see it based on that, and it turned out to be a wise move; the RT score is currently at 35%, but I still loved the film!

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

Home Again follows newly-separated and newly-40-year-old mother of two Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), the daughter of a renowned filmmaker, who, while attempting to rebuild her life, ends up offering her guest house to 3 aspiring 20-something filmmakers. Naturally, as the boys lives become entangled with her own, Alice learns how to let go, move on from the past, and embrace the future.

The story is straightforward and solid, but many plot points are predictable; Alice striking up a romance with Harry (Pico Alexander), her ex-husband Austin (Michael Sheen) re-entering the picture and stirring up a whole bunch of tension, the boys negotiating with producers and directors on their dream project, etc, but don’t let the familiar premise fool you; the narrative does contain a few (mostly pleasant) surprises. While there’s shades of tales told many times before, there are a couple of fresh twists to keep the viewers guessing or hoping for a particular outcome. There’s a smooth balance of humor and drama, though perhaps less romance than a traditional rom-com, as the film takes the time to explore a variety of real-life issues, such as ambition versus reality, turning a new page, and taking risks.

The exploration of numerous ideas is both a boon and a bane, as there are times where the film feels as though it is stretched too thin and tries to do too much, so certain plot-lines don’t get as much resolution or attention as they deserve. Issues get resolved in a “last minute” fashion, almost like an afterthought. For example, there’s a plot device about Alice’s deceased father being a filmmaker that is intriguing, and is a stepping stone for Alice connecting to her three unlikely house guests, but sort of gets discarded in the latter half of the film. The music and montages seem to aim for an old Hollywood type feel, but at the same time, the tone doesn’t remain consistent. When the boys get into an argument, it gets resolved in a disproportionately swift manner compared to the set-up. As such, the pacing suffers a bit, as resolutions don’t live up to the set-ups, but regardless of this, the film doesn’t drag – I found myself engaged throughout.

The cast also delivers; Witherspoon carries the film with a charming performance that reflects both strength and vulnerability as a woman dealing with a new start at 40 years old. The 20-something trio (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander) all shine in a unique way, particularly Rudnitsky as George. Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen are also great in their roles, despite having less screen time, and both of the children (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) were delightful in their supporting roles, and looked like they could be the actual children of Witherspoon and Sheen.

Honestly, the film is not awards fodder, but it provided me with a fair amount of laughs, and even if it treads familiar ground, it conveys a message that doesn’t get old despite multiple re-tellings. If you need an enjoyable way to pass a rainy afternoon or have a couple of hours free in the evening with nothing else to do, and you enjoy a decent rom-com for a bit of light-hearted fun, this film is a treat. Or, you know, if all the showings of It are sold out, this is a nice, if not comparable, alternative.

Overall rating: 7/10

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Dir: Chris Nolan
Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min
Spoiler Level: Light

A lot of the early buzz about the latest WWII drama Dunkirk has called it Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. Considering he’s the man who brought us both critically-acclaimed Inception (2010) and widely-lauded The Dark Knight (2008), that’s a statement that isn’t to be taken lightly. Now that I’ve seen it, I have one thing to say about the monumental praise this film’s gotten thus far; it is 100% deserved, and Dunkirk may well be Nolan’s best so far.

Dunkirk_Film_poster.jpgBased on true events, Dunkirk presents three different timelines (land, sea, and air) within a non-linear narrative that chronicles the journeys of various characters – from struggling soldiers to stalwart civilians – during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.

Story-wise, I didn’t find the three different timelines too difficult to follow – it was compelling to see land, air, and sea diverge from and intersect with one another. The timelines are a bit disjointed, and it might take a bit to get used to the switching between perspectives (at one point it’s day, then night, then day again, though less than 24 hours have passed) but the narrative is consistently captivating, and as the timelines merge, it’s intriguing to see how certain characters meet and interact with one another.

The entire cast is strong; newcomer Fionn Whitehead delivers a mesmerizing performance as an Army private desperately trying to survive a relentless wave of peril, Tom Hardy, a Royal Airforce Pilot, evokes powerful emotion even while most of his face is concealed, and Mark Rylance is solid as a civilian mariner heading to Dunkirk to try and save some of the stranded soldiers. No one really stood head or shoulders above the rest, but in that same vein, I don’t think there was a weak link among the cast. Performances all around were impressive, especially considering the sparse dialogue, as great acting speaks much louder when there are no words at all. The narrative is carried by everyone, and even though about 90% of the character’s names don’t get spoken onscreen, it’s easy to get invested.

And for those of you wondering, Harry Styles is fine in it – definitely holds his own against the talented veterans. From what I’ve seen browsing around the internet, I imagine a significant chunk of this film’s box office will come from 1D fangirls, because anytime I’ve looked up anything about this film I have to slog through pages upon pages of Harry Styles swooning before getting anything of use, and there were as many middle-aged history professor type men in the theater last night as there were middle-school and high-school 1D fangirls. That’s not a criticism, though; it was actually awesome to see the IMAX theater in my local cinema close to full for a film that isn’t from Marvel. But I find the voracious media attention Styles has received simply for being in a popular boy band prior to this film is unfortunate because Dunkirk is an ensemble effort, and the other actors all deserve just as much, if not more, attention and praise for their performance.

Visually, the film is absolutely stunning – that’s an odd thing to say about a war film, I suppose, but the cinematography (per usual for Nolan) is gorgeous and the film is beautifully shot and edited. Dunkirk is also Nolan’s tightest film to date, as it offers nothing in excess; it’s clean and concise, presenting a well-balanced narrative and a clear picture without delving too deep or dragging too long. Sure, the film doesn’t show too much in the way of blood or gore, but it also didn’t need crimson spills in the sea or severed limbs splayed around craters to convey the horror and cost of conflict, nor does the lack of blood and guts glorify the idea of war in any way. The unseen enemy threat closing in, the stark faces of fear, a foot sticking out from a sandy grave, and the dead bodies floating in with the tide, are all images that stand out long after the credits have rolled.

The music (by Hans Zimmer) and the sound weave together to enhance the intense, knuckle-biting atmosphere. The scream of sirens, the whine of engines, the creak of sinking ships, the wails of dying men, the boom of torpedoes and crash of bombs and the ticking of precious time running out – and at times, silence – all serve to make the events of the film more visceral, more engrossing. The sound of bullets made me jump out of my seat on more than one occasion and honestly, I was so stressed out and tense throughout this film that I forgot to eat my Reeses Pieces. (I’m eating them now, don’t worry).

If it is possible for you to see this film in IMAX, you MUST do so – it’s worth splurging for the price of the ticket. The sound is incredible (VERY loud, but not deafening) and the sweeping shots of the beach and the sea and the dogfights in the air are best seen on a massive screen. My only quibble with the IMAX experience was the dialogue, as it was difficult to discern at times. It didn’t detract too much, since the gist of the narrative is easy to follow, but there were times that I genuinely had no idea what the characters were saying and wish I could have picked it up better. This might be different for the standard version, as it usually is.

I don’t know if this is Nolan’s best, but it is certainly a contender for the spot, and well worth seeing for fans of Nolan and war cinema alike. A sprawling film with a strangely intimate feel, Dunkirk shares bleakness and hope in equal measure, and though countless war films have been made, especially about WWII, there are still so many stories to be told, and Nolan’s put a unique stamp on this one. There’s not much bravado, virtually no soap-boxing, no victory-touting, no medals doled out, and the film doesn’t offer a lot of chit-chat about the horrors and toll of war; it simply shows it, along with the dedication and perseverance of the soldiers who yearn for home, and the civilians striving to get them there. It’s not as gory as Saving Private Ryan or as in-depth as Band of Brothers, but it certainly deserves a place among the memorable high-tier war films.

Overall Rating: 9/10