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Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Among One of the Best Films of The Year
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the long awaited sophomoric effort from the brilliant S. Craig Zahler, the director of the 2015 surprise hit Bone Tomahawk. Brawl in Cell Block 99 tells the story of Bradley Thomas (played by an unrecognizable and equally amazing Vince Vaughn), a former boxer whose life is in a bit of a downward spiral. After he is let go from his mechanic job, he comes home to find his wife carrying on an extramarital affair. After dismantling her car with impressive accuracy, Bradley makes up with his wife Laura (Jennifer Carpenter) and the two decide to continue their marriage but Bradley wants to dabble into the criminal underworld in order to provide his future family the life they deserve. Fast forward a couple months, Laura is pregnant and Bradley is a drug runner. When a deal goes south and forces Bradley to get arrested and lose the shipment which results with him getting a light prison sentence at a cushy prison. After being visited by a drug czar's henchmen, Bradley is told that Laura and his unborn child will die if Bradley does not kill an inmate in Cell Block 99. Without giving too much more away, Bradley then becomes a one-man wrecking crew that is willing to do vile and brutal things to ensure the lives of his family are safe.
First off, this film is violent...and I mean, REALLY violent. Bone Tomahawk is a great companion piece to this film. It is very similar in the set up and the pay off is much the same but prolonged for this film. The film takes a good long while to kick off but when it does, it turns into one of the fastest paced action thrillers I've seen in a long time. It is almost as if it is two different films. The first part of the film is very grounded drama with crime elements within it. Then after Udo Kier's character leaves, it is like a storm erupts. This storm brings brutal violence, extreme gore and Vince Vaughn's impressive fighting skills and puts them on display for everyone to see in its uncensored glory. This film is amazing by every stretch of the imagination. It takes it's time with the story and immerses us within this world that Zahler carefully crafts with his script, production design and actors. We slowly become a part of this world which bodes well because I can't imagine this world going over well with someone just dropped into it. To quicken the pace would be to cheapen the work here. I'm a huge proponent of a lean running time but I was able to overlook the seemingly bloated 132 minute run time because everything was so damn well done, it didn't feel long at all. Furthermore, Zahler's love of one take fight scenes really shines here and it really gets the blood pumping. Seeing a quick edited action sequence up against something like this? There is no comparison and I wouldn't be surprised if more action directors take a page out of Zahler's vision.
Overall, Brawl in Cell Block 99 could have me going on for days upon days on how much I enjoyed it. It is a perfect balance between realism and pulp fiction, drama and brutality, production design and overall direction. It feels like a better movie than it will probably get credit for and showcases Vince Vaughn in a career changing performance that is bound to leave your jaw on the floor with how amazing he is in both a dramatic and physical sense. I can't recommend this movie enough especially if you're a fan of action films. It is far and away one of the best films I've seen this year.
This Was Just Not Good
I'm a huge fan of the Coen Brothers. To me, cinema doesn't get much better than No Country for Old Men or Burn After Reading or Raising Arizona...you get the idea. So when I heard that George Clooney was directing their next original script, naturally I couldn't wait to see it. Fast track a year and a half later and here we are. Clooney proved to me that it takes much more than a Coen Bros script to make it a Coen Bros film. Suburbicon is one of the few films that will come about where the talent attached to the project is so overwhelming and plentiful but the final product is so mediocre and bordering on bad that it leaves you scratching your head.
The film is very beautiful to start off. The cinematography is very crisp and extremely colorful which makes the setting of the 50s suburbs seemingly pop even more so. The production design and basically anything of a technical aspect is amazingly done here by traditional standards. So why is Suburbicon falling flat? Very simple: Clooney is woefully unqualified to direct a Coen Bros script as are most people. This feels like it was made by someone who watched Fargo and Burn After Reading a dozen times and decided to make this. It feels like it is an imitation and, by the end of the film, that is all it turns out to be. The cast is even really dull despite a fantastic performance from Julianne Moore. Damon can't decide whether to play it funny or serious and that really plays a big part in the violence of the film. It is comically set up but brutally executed. It doesn't feel right at all and it makes for a very tough watch.
Overall, Suburbicon is a film that will probably leave your mind as quickly as it came. It is a very forgettable film. It is a frustrating piece of cinema as well because we will always be left with the thoughts of what could have been. With the level of talent and star power, Suburbicon has no business being as dull and ragged as it is especially because in a technical sense, the film is great. But with Clooney's misguided direction and Matt Damon's very erratic performance, Suburbicon is a miss of the most disappointing fashion.
The Florida Project (2017)
DaFoe is utterly brilliant but the film leaves much to be desired.
The Florida Project is the third feature film from writer-director Sean Baker and, while being an improvement over Tangerine and Starlet, The Florida Project is still missing the heart it needs to be an everlasting and impactful film. From his cinematic conception, Baker has had a knack for showing very dingy lifestyles bursting with a color palate that would make George Miller weep. But underneath the colorful array that he includes is a superficial mess of a film. One that thinks it is smarter and more heartfelt than it really is.
Telling the story of a young girl living in a by-the-hour motel ran by a seedy motel manager (Willem DaFoe) with a heart of gold and having a drug abusing, prostitute mother doesn't exactly translate to feel good. The young girl decides to let her imagination take wind and shield her from the harsh realities of life. While this sounds like it should hit hard, it doesn't. Not even a little bit. The problem that Sean Baker has in all of his films is his characters. All of them are begging for sympathy when sympathy is the last thing they deserve. While I think the young girl, Moonee, deserves our sympathies, no one else does. Every one in this film has gotten themselves here by their own doing and Baker tries desperately to make us feel for them. It may work on some audiences but it was wasted on me.
Overall, this feels like a cheap grindhouse drama that really doesn't do any favors to the actors. The cinematography in the film is top notch and definitely shows that Baker has a visual eye but, as with his previous 2 films, the story is severely lacking. While I definitely think Baker has talent, it doesn't lie within his original stories. For those of you who enjoyed Baker's Tangerine or Starlet, give this a shot. Anyone else, you might want to skip it.
American Made (2017)
American Made is conventional Hollywood biopic filmmaking
American Made tells the story of Barry Seal, the pilot who transported drugs for Pablo Escobar from Columbia to the States. Seal was a crafty, good looking guy with a golden tongue that allowed him to operate as freely as he did. But just as crafty as Seal was, he was a daredevil. While Seal's life story is surely interesting enough to sustain a film, American Made is merely tipping the hat at conventional filmmaking and never really tries to do anything different to distinguish it from other crime films. And being directed by Doug Liman makes it feel like that much more of a missed opportunity.
American Made, while being conventional, is also very watchable. Tom Cruise brings everything Tom Cruise to the role where it is hard to distinguish whether Barry Seal was actually like this or if Tom Cruise thinks he is still playing Ethan Hunt. For me, I didn't see anything distinguishable from Cruise other than a half baked accent. This is especially frustrating because Tom Cruise can act and he can act better than most working actors. The problem is, his film choices have limited him to one liners and bombastic stunts. Not that I don't appreciate his work, I simply don't appreciate it in this film because it feels like Cruise is just getting by. I think he was an absolute miscast. The rest of the cast does well but we barely see them enough to make an opinion of them as we are with Seal for the majority of the movie which becomes exhausting.
Overall, American Made is a very conventional crime drama that makes sense for Hollywood to make. Unfortunately, those looking for a dark and gritty telling of Seal's life will be sorely disappointed as the film is the definition of conventional and plays rather light despite its dark ending. Tom Cruise makes the best out of his role and makes sure that he has more fun than anyone else...including its audience. American Made is a taxing film that relies on the star power of Tom Cruise rather than relying on the heft of its true story to carry it.
An Extreme Dose of Lynch and Kubrick come with Aronofsky's Very Pretentious Mother!
Mother! tells the story of a young woman and her older husband as they move into their dream home in the countryside. One night, an older couple shows up at their door and all hell breaks loose from there on out. Now, Darren Aronofsky has been a personal favorite since Requiem for a Dream. His sense of style and perfection to his craft always resonated in his films. The hiccup of Noah was understandable but this film is a film that just should have been better. While I did love a lot about this film, there was almost an equal amount that I didn't.
First off, I loved the sense of dread the film gives off. It is less interested in giving the audience jump scares rather than making the story and images linger in your mind like a bad dream. I loved Aronofsky's visual style here especially in his set design. The house is a character in and of itself (not to sound totally redundant). I also loved the cinematography. Much like Black Swan, this is a very sweeping spectacle of camera work that is intoxicating. As intoxicating as the technical aspects of the film are, the actual story, script, acting and overall pacing leave much to be desired.
Mother! is most certainly a film that plays with your mind but I wouldn't necessarily call this a psychological thriller. This film is a horror film that the minds of Kubrick and Lynch would bring you, not Aronofsky. The script is bare minimum, the story is paper thin and the acting is wooden and overall plain. There are no stand out performances like there was in Black Swan, The Wrestler and even Noah. It falls flat and that really takes you out of the film. Javier Bardem is another very strange casting choice. You'd think he would knock this performance out of the park but it really was quite opposite here. Truthfully, the actors don't seem like they're interested in the work until the final 15 minutes of the film and by that time, I had about given up.
Overall, Mother! is a very strange film that Aronofsky had seemed to not put that much thought into. While I do plan on watching it a second time to get the full effect of it because the last 20 minutes or so is a real mindf*** that is bound to throw everyone for a loop and/or anger a lot of people. Either way, this one is bound to be a divisive one among cinema lovers and Aronofsky fans as I doubt many average movie goers will take to this.
Good Time (2017)
One of the Absolute Best of the Year
Good Time stars Robert Pattinson as a desperate criminal fresh off of a botched bank robbery that tries to free his accomplice brother from Rikers Island before he gets sent to general population. Written and Directed by The Safdie Brothers, Good Time is an exhilarating crime drama that brings back the grit that made these types of films so palpable and treats us to both a visual and emotional journey through the underbelly of NY.
Starting off with the robbery and subsequent botching, Good Time starts off like a bullet train and doesn't let up for even a second. Centering on Rober Pattinson's Connie Nika, the film is a crime odyssey much in the vein of Scorsese's After Hours. This is a ticking time bomb of a film that brings Pattinson to his absolute best. Make no mistake, this is a master class performance from him. This is far from the performances he gives in sappy romance films. This is a fully realized performance that is bound to be talked about for years to come. But as great of a performance as he gives, the credit goes to the Safdie brothers' phenomenal script.
The story of Good Time is very race-against-the-clock. But when broken down, this is a film about a desperate guy that wants to make a change. He doesn't want the hustle and bustle of NY, he wants a farm and his brother. He doesn't want to do bad things but he's willing to do it if it advances him to get to his brother. The whole story is centered around Love, much like their previous film Heaven Knows What. Love is a central theme in Good Time and it might be hard to decipher that through its gritty absolution but the end result will surely make you realize what really was important all along to Connie Nikas. It's a truly magnificent and heart pounding film that has surprising emotional heft to it.
Overall, Good Time is a fantastic film that finally allows that NY grit back into the scene and really cranks up the tension while doing so. With a great script and an undeniably Oscar caliber performance from Robert Pattinson, Good Time ranks with the very best of the year.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Leaps and Bounds Better than Annabelle
Annabelle: Creation probably had all of you pondering the very thought of this horror universe and whether you could take it seriously or not. Derived from the brilliant 2013 horror film from James Wan, The Conjuring, Annabelle initially underwhelmed when the original hit theaters in 2014. However, cast all your doubts aside for this one. Annabelle: Creation is a solid throwback type of horror film that actually makes its jump scares work and doesn't rely on any forced drama or ridiculous exposition to get its point across. By many traditional standards, this film shouldn't be as good as it is but (thankfully) it is.
Telling the origin story even further, we're introduced to when the doll became an evil force rather than the banal story that was trying to be told before. Creation doesn't hold back. It is an origin story and it isn't afraid of being exactly that. It works for the film and it makes for some pretty interesting plot twists along the way. That's the beauty of this. Directed by David F. Sandberg, the director of last year's surprisingly great horror film Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation is a classical horror film that will bring fans back to the roots and will make casual audiences squirm in their seats and jump at every thud and creak. Overall, this is a rare horror prequel that works and works very well. If you're a fan of ghost movies and paranormal horror then Annabelle: Creation is a must see.
A Taut Yet Overlong Drama
Detroit is the latest addition to Kathryn Bigelow's lengthy filmography and it is the most Bigelow-esque film you'd come to expect from her. The film displays raw realism with the actors looking very real and naked from their famous personas. The story is jam packed and while I think this source material would have made a much better miniseries, Bigelow makes the story work with sacrificing some facts for the sake of cinema. The big question is: is it as good as the critics say it is? The answer: No. Not Close. But with that being said, it is a damn good movie that is definitely worth seeing.
Telling the story of three murdered African American men in a motel in Detroit during the city's infamous riots and civil rights movement, Detroit stars an all star cast that is certainly better on paper than they are in this film. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski, and on and on-but none of them are really served as a main character. Bigelow is so determined on telling the facts of the case that she sacrifices good performances in order to give us a slice of reality. The film plays out like the most expensive reenactment of a tragedy on Investigation Discovery and, when looking at the facts of the case, this is the best compliment I can give the film. It sounds back handed but it is extremely informative even if it is picking a side in all of it. The one thing Bigelow does best is showing a true story like it is unfolding in front of you. She does it brilliantly in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, but Detroit is where it is to a fault.
With a 140-plus minute running time and a gaggle of characters to keep track of, the story is just too big for a feature film and requires patience. Despite this, Kathryn Bigelow does her best to tame Mark Boal's bloated script to a digestible film and the results are mostly good. The performances from the actors are real, raw and authentic in every aspect but never enough to burst off the screen. Bigelow lets the events unfold and do that for them. Overall, Detroit is certainly a good film in need of an audience just a very patient one.
Is Climate Change is real? Yes. Is this a good documentary? Hell no.
2006 brought Al Gore's brilliant and scary documentary, An Inconvenient Truth blasting into cinemas and soon after, classrooms. With its raw exposure to a dangerous and (until then) quiet killer, Gore's position in the world went from being the biggest contested loser in American politics (until Hillary Clinton in 2016) to being a warrior for the earth. It was an amazing documentary and ranks in my top ten of all time. However, when I saw this sequel...things changed. My thoughts on climate change are cemented, it is real and anyone who argues that it's not is ill informed or just can't face facts. But one thing that is as much of a fact as climate change is how terrible a documentary and sequel this film is.
Rehashing points made in 2006 and coupling it with some pretty far fetched predictions for the future make this film more frustrating than informative. What Gore did in 2006 was he made an accessible documentary about a crisis and used it to try to create a better and more informed world. Here, Gore seems infatuated with himself and some of the film ends up feeling more about him than climate change. Ten years since his first attempt, one could feel that he could have come to the table with something more substantial than the same graphs spun differently and the same dialog written with a bit more finesse.
Overall, I feel the message is still here. Climate change is a big problem that the world faces every day and it is up to us to stop it. But it is up to Al Gore to make sure that when he wants to do a documentary, that his info can sustain a feature length film. Instead of a little bit of new information and showing how much damage we've done in 10 years, the documentary should have been much better. I wanted more interviews with people affected by the changes, I wanted more interviews with politicians on both sides. To be honest, there's more I wanted out of this film than was delivered. That, to me, represents a disappointing film. Which is so hard for me to take considering An Inconvenient Truth is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It is up there with Super Size Me, The Thin Blue Line, and My Brother's Keeper for me. To see this and feel as cheated as I do, it is any wonder why I don't give this a 1 on my sheer disappointment alone. But, I have to give the film credit for at least being entertaining and informative, even if much of the information is already 10 years old.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Gives Off the Feeling of Pure Redundancy
Atomic Blonde pits an elusive and brutal MI-6 agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) against hit men, secret agents, dual agents, thug after thug and (very briefly) James McAvoy. Directed by John Wick's David Leitch, Atomic Blonde is just what you would expect out of a close-to-August release. It is bland storytelling mixed with truly impressive action sequences. When the chips are down, it makes for a VERY frustrating film.
While the film is supposed to be somewhat of a period piece with taking place during the Cold War, it adopts the flaws of a handful of 80s and 90s action films in the worst ways possible. It is dull and tries to make sense of itself. Instead of embracing what could be a fun corny romp, Atomic Blonde tries being as realistic as possible despite never really challenging the characters. We never feel like they're in real danger. We never feel like there is anything at stake outside of a mysterious dossier and it translates to a pretty flat film. Leitch abandons what made John Wick so fun and it quickly turns to a drab and dull experience just after the opening sequence. With that being said, despite the film being more of the same, it still features some incredibly impressive choreography in its fight sequences. Leitch is known for impressive stunt work and it doesn't change here. You just get to thinking: had Leitch dedicated the same high standard to the story that he did for the stunts, we'd probably have a better film.
The film, however, is not all bad. The cast is exceptional. Charlize Theron and James McAvoy are incredible together. Theron's determination to deliver a strong female character is abundantly clear and it pays off. Lorraine is such a great character for Theron and allows her to continue to deliver strong women on screen. Despite the story being weak in its knees, the characters are strong and the performances are even stronger especially Theron. Overall, Atomic Blonde is a let down when considering the talent behind the camera. While Leitch hits nowhere near the mark that John Wick hit, he still hits in certain spots by delivering awesome action and a strong character.