Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Release Date: May 9th, 2016 (London premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Hugh Jackman (cameo), Caleb Landry Jones (archive footage)

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[sends the world’s nuclear weapons into space] Always the same, and now all this. No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! No more systems! No more! No more superpowers… So much faith in their tools, in their machines. You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike god!” – Apocalypse

At this point, the X-Men films don’t give a crap about continuity and I don’t care that Days of Future Past was used to try and fix that. Fox still dismisses a lot of what’s happened and just does what works well for each movie as a standalone picture. Because you can’t have Angel appear as a late teen in a 2006 movie and then have him in his twenties in 1983, regardless of whatever Doctor Who timey wimey shenanigans you try to pull. But truthfully, I don’t care at this point. I sort of just see each film as its own reality where each movie just shares some similarities. Sorry, I’ve got to make it make sense for my brain or I have to just dismiss the absurdity of it.

That being said, I don’t hate this chapter in the X-Men movie franchise. In fact, I liked it quite a bit in spite of its flaws, continuity hiccups and the underwhelming way that they presented Apocalypse.

What made this film work for me was the evolution of Magneto, who is the best character in these films and who seems to be handled with great care. I don’t care so much about all the teens and the constant influx of new characters every time I blink my eyes. It’s the core characters that matter in these movies. That being said, I think McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is damn good too.

When I first saw this film in theaters, my initial reaction was worse than it is now. Having time to digest and reflect on Apocalypse, it really isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it was at first glance. It is the weakest of the newer generation of pictures but it is certainly better than 2000’s X-Men and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Don’t even get me started on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as I find it less enjoyable than a piranha enema.

The plot in this is a bit rushed and shaky. Apocalypse, one of the most powerful forces in the entirety of the Marvel Universe just shows up, learns all about human history by touching a TV and starts taking over the Earth and brainwashing other mutants to be his “Four Horsemen”. It was interesting that Oscar Issac played Apocalypse because it wouldn’t have really mattered who played him, as he was just a dry, one note tyrant. Frankly, he should have been the X-Men‘s version of Thanos, at least in their movie universe.

The sequence with Wolverine is, by far, the high point of the movie. Hugh Jackman only shows up for about ten minutes but it is some of the best Wolverine action ever put to celluloid. Granted, Hollywood is allergic to celluloid now.

This is an epic film but it doesn’t feel as grandiose as its predecessor. It isn’t as good as its predecessor either and I think that is why I was disappointed with it initially. But the main players in the cast add more to their stories in a good way and ultimately, this enriched the modern X-Men movie universe.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie but I’ll still see it because these films still have more positives than negatives. But really, it’s just time for the X-Men movies to get a much needed reboot and join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The current crop of X-Men movies since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender took over the lead roles. Also, the last two Wolverine pictures.

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Also known as: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (stylized on screen)
Release Date: September 4th, 2017 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III

Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Cutting Edge Group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?” – Mildred Hayes

I’ve been hitting the theater, trying to catch up on some of the indie films I’ve been missing. Luckily, I have a lot of days off to use between now and the end of the year, so playing catch up should be fairly easy now that Cinespiria has gotten through Darktober and Noirvember and there isn’t a theme for the month of December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a really nice surprise. While I did expect to enjoy it, it wasn’t as straightforward and cookie cutter as I anticipated. But I probably should have known better with Martin McDonagh in the director’s chair, as In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths weren’t films that one could label predictable.

This picture has a magnificently solid cast but so did Seven Psychopaths and McDonagh has shown that he’s fully capable of managing an ensemble. Although, while this is an ensemble piece and everyone is well beyond satisfactory, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is center stage in just about every scene and she really put the weight of this picture on her back and succeeded, giving us another masterful performance. She is a tough cookie and she never relents in her quest to find justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both do fine in this film, as well. Both men play cops and, at first, based off of how the story starts, you aren’t really a fan of either man. Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby wins you over fairly quickly, as you sympathize with his illness and the toughness of his job and a system that can’t always catch the bad guy. Rockwell’s Dixon is incredibly unlikable for two-thirds of the film but there is a real turning point where the angry boy with a badge becomes a man. Both cop characters, like all the characters can’t not be affected by the events of the story. People change and this is a film about character evolution and redemption, just as much as it is about justice or lack thereof.

This is the second film where I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones play a nice and decent character, a departure from the psychos he played in Get Out and the revival of Twin Peaks. This guy has come along way since I first noticed him in X-Men: First Class and he’s really carving out a nice career for himself with a good amount of diversity in his roles. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future.

We also get to see character actors John Hawkes and Sandy Martin and both shine in their small but influential roles. Clarke Peters shows up and I always get excited when I see him, as he was one of my favorites in the underappreciated HBO show Treme. Another HBO alum, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, plays a nice and sweet character in this. Brendan Sexton III, probably most remembered as the young shoplifting shithead in Empire Records and as a bully in Welcome to the Dollhouse, plays a character not too dissimilar from his earliest roles.

Three Billboards is a film that carries a lot of emotional weight and unfortunately exists in our sad reality where sometimes the worst people get away with deplorable acts. The film ends with two of the characters having to make a grave choice but we do not get to see what they decide to do. Like these characters, you want justice for Mildred’s daughter but you also have to ask yourself where the line is drawn while understanding that nothing will bring her back.
Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: The Florida Project (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Cre Film, Freestyle Picture Company, Cinereach, June Pictures, A24, 115 Minutes

Review:

“Excuse me. Could you give us some change, please? The doctor said we have asthma and we have to eat ice cream right away. ” – Moonee

The Florida Project was a motion picture that I wanted to see since I first saw a trailer several months back, around the time it was playing at Cannes. Growing up in Florida, it was something that definitely felt relatable. Plus, Willem Dafoe’s performance was being heralded as his best ever. Considering Dafoe’s long list of amazing films, that’s a pretty bold statement.

To put it as bluntly as possible, this is the best film that I have seen so far in 2017. From my standpoint, I have more of an invested interest in it, as it correlates with not only taking place where I grew up but also with some personal stuff in my own life.

I’ve grown up around people like this. I have people like this in my family. Hell, the hotel where these people live is like every hotel I bought and did drugs in when I was in my teens and twenties. I’ve known girls like Halley. I’ve dated girls like Halley. I actually have a cousin who is similar to her, just switch out the prostitution part for drugs. Her son now lives with his grandmother, as my cousin is in and out of jail, rehab and back and forth between drugs and sobriety. But every step of the way, I have seen these scenarios pan out, time and time again.

If a film can be too real, this is it. Sean Baker wrote and directed a masterpiece in regards to its subject matter. This feels authentic and seeing everything pan out the way that it does, mostly from a child’s point-of-view, is heartbreaking. The fact that a lot of what you see is spontaneous and often times off script, gives The Florida Project a documentary feel, especially in regards to the kids and their banter.

I’ll get to Dafoe’s performance in a minute but the real show stealer here is the six year-old Moonee, played by Brooklynn Prince, who most assuredly deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance here. I have not seen a child resonate on screen like Prince in a very long time. She delivers her lines like a veteran and has a presence that transcends the 35mm celluloid that she was captured on. Her final moments are like an emotional punch to the gut. She is the glue that holds everything else in this picture together, as well as the heart and soul of the story.

Willem Dafoe was perfect as Bobby, the manager of the hotel that most of the characters live in. Dafoe is perfect in everything though but here, he truly represents us, the audience. He is the compassionate eyes and ears, a good person that has to seemingly carry the weight of the world on his shoulders but puts himself out in front because his heart aches for these characters, specifically Halley and Moonee. He’s an everyday blue collar guy that can’t help himself from trying to put a Band-aid on the world where he can. Dafoe doesn’t even have to say much because we know that he’s thinking what we are thinking and he’s able to convey it through his subtle facial expressions and body language. He’s the underappreciated hero of the film but has to deal with the weight that he can’t save these people at the end of the day.

Bria Vinaite has never acted before this. She really was Halley, though. Everything about her performance felt completely genuine. She constantly made poor decisions but you couldn’t not feel for her. Like Bobby, you wanted to help lift her up and show her that there is a better way to live. But helplessness and hopelessness are incredibly hard things to overcome. And the situation in which these people find themselves in, is not an easy one. When you’re pushed against a wall, it’s hard not to slip or to do bad things to make a quick buck. For Halley, the gravity of her situation prevented her from seeing the bigger picture. Vinaite took what could have easily become an unlikable and despicable character and gave her a real sense of humanity and an energetic spirit. After all, she’s just an incredibly young girl, lost in the world and borderline homeless, trying to raise a daughter.

The Florida Project is also impeccably shot. To me, it feels like a beautiful homage to the state I grew up in and have lived in my entire life. It highlights a lot of the bizarre places, shops and other things that you will find around Disney World. It really shows everything that is just outside of the Magic Kingdom, in the real world, that most people outside of Florida don’t even know about. It’s amazing to me how this film captures the darker side of things that are hiding in plain sight, obscured by the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle.

In a certain regard, the picture parallels how Sean Baker used Hollywood in his 2015 film Tangerine. The environment really becomes a character in the film and its uniqueness gives it an otherworldly fantastical feel that sort of offsets the harsh realism of what’s really happening to Baker’s characters. This isn’t an easy film to sit through, emotionally speaking, but the film’s atmosphere and its young characters give you a sense of optimism and joy.

Sean Baker really knows how to write and film people. This film is truly a treasure and showcases this talented director’s skill and his great sense and understanding of humanity. I haven’t seen a new film this good in quite awhile. I hope that when award season rolls around, this is getting some serious buzz.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Get Out (2017)

Release Date: January 24th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Music by: Michael Abels
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener, Erika Alexander

Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Man, I told you not to go in that house.” – Rod Williams

I wanted to see this in the theater but a lot was going on back in February-March. I went to a wedding out of state when this came out and then March was full of a ton of big new movies each week. So, unfortunately, Get Out was lost in the shuffle. But I did successfully avoid any and all spoilers because I wanted to experience this not knowing more than what was in the first trailer. I’m so glad I didn’t have it spoiled.

That being said, it is impossible to discuss this film without spoiling some of the details. Consider this a warning, if you haven’t yet seen Get Out. You definitely should go into this movie knowing as little as possible.

This picture is an incredibly unique experience. While it focuses on racism, it doesn’t showcase it in the way that you’d assume. This is really the first movie that I have seen that displays a more modern and realistic approach to how racism has evolved in America.

Get Out takes a serious look at how the guilt-ridden white middle class has this ideology that they have to atone for what their ancestors have done to blacks in the United States. They’re the type of people that have to add their voice to the voice of black America, often times yelling over them in an effort to show that they aren’t their parents or grandparents. They’re down, they get it and damn it, they’ll do everything to try and improve blacks’ lives whether blacks want them to or not. They force their helping hand into everything even though blacks didn’t ask for it. They overcompensate to the extreme because the weight of our nation’s history is too heavy for them to bear. But the result of this, is white people, despite their good intentions, taking it upon themselves to control black lives. It undermines the plight of black people and their fight. Is it any better to say, “We treated you like shit but get on our backs now, we’re going to keep you above the water.”

The point is, Get Out raises a lot of questions and exposes a lot of issues regarding race relations in today’s America. It brings things to the forefront that have never been showcased in this way. It looks at how America has changed since having its first black president and how the social issues in this country are a lot more complex than trying to force a Band-Aid on a massive boo-boo.

The film conveys all this through the motivations of the sinister characters in the film. And frankly, it is all summed up in one line of dialogue around the middle of the film when Stephen Root’s Jim Hudson says to Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “These people mean well but they’ve never really lived lives.”

The way that the film is able to convey these ideas is absolutely brilliant and even though I liked Jordan Peele before he wrote and directed this picture, I’m a much bigger fan now. A lot of the credit also has to go to the cast. Everyone was pretty much perfect.

The real weight of the picture rests on the shoulders of Daniel Kaluuya, though. He gave one of the best performances I have seen in years. Between the way he was able to connect with the audience compounded by how truly screwed up his situation was, I was completely overwhelmed by the emotion and the tension. Get Out is one of the most suspenseful and nerve-racking motion pictures I have ever seen. That’s a testament to the skill of Peele behind the camera, behind the pen and Kaluuya on the screen.

The performances by Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root and all the other townspeople were stellar. Lil Rel Howery was perfection as the much needed comic device in the film. Without him, the film may have been way too heavy. His character of Rod always showed up at the right time just to ease up on some of the tension. His scene with Erika Alexander is especially great.

Jordan Peele should feel a real sense of accomplishment for this film. He’s created a modern masterpiece and done more in just this one film than what most filmmakers do over the course of their whole careers. I really regret not seeing this in the theater, as it is now the best new film that I’ve seen in 2017.