Category Archives: review-movie

Review: Annihilation

Director(s)Alex Garland
Principal CastNatalie Portman as Lena
Oscar Isaac as Kane
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress
Release Date2018
Running Time 115 minutes

If you haven’t already seen this movie, avoid the trailer because it spoils so much of the movie that I don’t understand why or how it was released.Now that I got that out of the way, Annihilation is one of the most ambitious science fiction movies I’ve seen in recent memory. The story follows a group of 5 scientists as they’re tasked with entering a zone enveloped by an alien aura known as “The Shimmer”.

This movie is a big discussion on creativity and its relation to the death drive. The Shimmer is filled with mutations that are either beautiful, horrifying, or some mixture of both. These creatures are not only meant to be horrifying, but are also used to provoke discussion on the nature of the alien substance. There are answers to its nature (the movie is fairly up-front about it), but the end of the movie is open enough to allow discourse on the meaning of it all. It’s a great movie to watch with friends and talk about afterwards because the movie does a great job of balancing giving direct answers and hinting at answers with multiple meanings. You could watch the movie straight up as a horror sci-fi movie with crazy sequences , but that would be a disservice to the layers going on. I’m not going to pretend to act like I got all of this on my first view. Honestly, the first time I saw this movie I really disliked a subplot focused on Lena, our protagonist. But on later viewings, I came to appreciate how it added to multiple themes in the movie. I still think it could’ve been done better, but I appreciate the reasoning behind it. Big Lovecraftian energy.

For those of you who are looking more for the sci-fi or the horror in the movie, don’t worry. The movie has them in spades. The movie might start off slow for some. There’s a lot of character work done (mainly exposition and introduction) here that pays off later, so I think it’s worth it, but I can see how it can feel grating. Thankfully, the movie soon transitions into “The Shimmer” and everything goes off the wheels. The visuals are jaw-dropping and watching the alien substance interact with everything is something you can’t stop looking at. Not to mention, the movie has one of the scariest creature moments in recent memory. It really stays with you. Once the 3rd act is underway, everything gets amped up another notch. The story and its themes come together in an audio-visual experience that’s wholly unique.

Every scientist feels developed and the audience gets a good insight into each of their personalities (even if some of that is done via the characters analyzing each other)They’re all good enough for the story and I could remember bits and pieces of them after I had first seen the movie. The cool thing about them is how the movie uses them all as foils to Lena which not only makes her decisions more interesting, but also nicely develops the themes.

The only issues with the film are some strange narrative choices. There’s a really odd framing device that’s used to explain a lot of the narrative. It feels almost like someone didn’t trust the audience to put the pieces together (which is false), so a lot of the movie comes to a painful standstill so that Lena can explain what we just saw to a room of people. It makes the movie feel bloated and I really wish it wasn’t there at all. The ending also feels odd – like it was tacked on to please audiences (which based on what I’ve read about production seems true). I don’t dislike it now, but I remember really thinking it was wonky on my first viewing.

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TLDRAnnihilation is a thought provoking treat on the eyes. It’s packed to the brim with sci-fi goodness and a real mystery. There are some story issues that make pacing a bit wonky, and the story takes a bit to start up, but once it does you’re in for something that can’t really be explained.
Rating9.4/10
GradeA

 

Review: Tag

Director(s)Sion Sono
Principal CastReina Triendl as Mitsuko
Yuki Sakurai as Aki
Release Date2015
Running Time 85 minutes

One day while randomly browsing YouTube, I found an raw trailer for this movie and was left in shock. It looked cutesy but then devolved into seemingly disparate situations of violence. I knew that I had to see what it was all about, so I waited till it came out with subs and proceeded to experience an audiovisual piece the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

The story picks up on Mitsuko, a shy high-schooler who’s busy writing poetry as she and her classmates head off on a trip. However, soon after this start, a gust of wind comes through and kills everyone on the bus besides Mitsuko. Streams of blood and guts envelop the screen and Mitsuko is forced to run away from the wind to survive.

What follows is a story that never lets up with WTF moments and sequences. Every time I thought I had a grasp on what the movie was, it went in a completely different direction, each as violent as the one preceding it. If you’re someone who likes having answers immediately, then this movie is going to get under your skin. Answers only come near the end of the third act and they’re still ambiguous at that. It’s a movie that assaults the senses with gore and absurdity while dragging the audience at breakneck speeds through a story that seemingly makes no sense. However, once things start clicking, the movie becomes something else entirely. I was floored with everything I had seen. The movie takes a lot of risks and I thought they more than payed off by the end.

Without getting into spoilers, I can say the movie’s analysis of agency is interesting and provocative. Just like Mitsuko, the audience never has a stable foundation to begin to determine what is and isn’t real. That’s because those perceptions are conditioned not only by our perspectives of ourselves but by the perspectives of those who control the levers of society. If we’re taught that certain protocol is the only way forward, then it becomes easy to see how true freedom can become hidden away. Sono takes this idea and then wonderfully infuses both a queer and feminist subtext into it, giving the idea a sense of nuance that most movies can only dream of. Multiple people can watch this movie and all of them can come away with different interpretations (outside of the blatant message of the movie). Even now the ending gets to me and makes me really think both of the meaning of the story and the way I contribute to a society that strips people of agency.

Now for my more squeamish readers, you might want to watch this one with a friend who can let you know when the gory stuff is over. The movie is filled with splatters and grotesque murders. The first time I watched it, I had to look away a few times because of how visceral the experience would get. I think it gives the movie a really distinctive feel, but I can see how it could turn people away.

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TLDRTag is a movie that deserves to get seen by more people. It’s a masterclass in storytelling and has one of the most unique plots I’ve seen in a story. The way the mystery builds and resolves itself is shocking and thought provoking. If you like gore or art-house movies, you owe it to yourself to watch this.
Rating9.8/10
Grade A+

Review: The Conjuring

Director(s)James Wan
Principal CastVera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron
Release Date2013
Running Time 112 minutes

I can still remembering watching this movie when it came out opening day. I thought Insidious was a pretty good movie, so I was excited to see what Wan would bring to another supernatural horror movie. Though it may not be as “real life” as it purports to be, The Conjuring is a well crafted, humanizing, popcorn horror movie that should please both average movie goers and critics alike.

The story is your typical haunted house movie chock full of things that go bump in the night, supernatural delusions, well-timed jump scares, a likable set of leads in the Warrens, and a heartwarming core to latch onto. The story starts with a creepy ghost case and then cuts into a classroom setting. This short introduction simultaneously sets the creepy tone for the movie and establishes that our leads are professionals. I love how much care Wan takes to establish the Warrens as legitimate professionals. They don’t rush to haunted conclusions, don’t seek to exploit individuals for gains, and show real tact when dealing with the supernatural. It makes them easy to root for and gives the audience a reason to care about their success.

Acting is great throughout the cast from the children to the Warren’s technical assistants. Lili Taylor does a great job as the matriarch of the haunted Marron family and conveys the terror of watching ones family being attack with a real clarity. Both Farmiga and Wilson are great as the Warrens. They come off as likable and serious. The former radiates empathy and a desire to help which feels surprisingly wholesome in the commercial horror landscape.

Most important, the movie is packed with effective scares. A good variety of shots combined with excellent pacing creates an effective ramping supernatural threat. The spirit feels menacing and the way the movie approaches the madness makes the sequence of the haunting coherent as opposed to feeling like a ghost just messing around for the hell of it. My only problem with the scares is the lack of thematic coherence.The movie is focused a lot on family, the importance of the bond between parents and their children, and how evil wants to desecrate that bond. However, until the third act the scares never feel related to that theme so they don’t hit as hard. It’s what keeps the early scares from feeling distinctive.

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TLDRThe Conjuring is a horror movie done right. The characters are effective and make you want to root for them. The scares are effective and are paced properly through the movie. The movie doesn’t revolutionize the genre but it’s certainly a welcome addition to it.
Rating9.0/10
GradeA

Review: Insidious

Director(s)James Wan
Principal CastPatrick Wilson as Josh Lambert
Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert
Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier
Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert
Release Date2010
Running Time 110 minutes

Looking back on it, Insidious is probably one of the most important horror movies of the past decade. I don’t remember huge horror blockbusters being as commonplace before this movie, but after its success companies took notice and now the screens are filled with them. It’s crazy to think that despite the time that’s passed since then, few horror movies have been as commercially successful or ubiquitous among horror lovers and the general movie going public.

The story follows the Lambert family as they move into a new house. Unfortunately for them, soon after the move , their son Dalton enters a comatose state with no discernible cause. In their desperation, the family calls Elise, a psychic, to to determine if something supernatural is at foot. I can say after having seen Poltergeist, that I simultaneously enjoy both movies more, the former for how influential its template is to modern horror (and this movie in particular) and the latter in how it cleverly modifies the formula to keep it interesting. The Lambert’s family attempt to save Dalton has recognizable moments from the genre at large, but has enough twists to warrant a watch.

The movie spends a lot of time exploring “The Further”, an astral realm that contains the souls of the dead. It’s a purgatory with a dark and eerie atmosphere. The concept and its subsequent exploration gives the Insiduous franchise a cool metaphysical experience that’s unique and distinct. Traditional exorcism scenes are replaced with more definable struggles. The ambiguous nature of the realm adds a dimension of mystery and unease when characters explore it. My only complaint is that there’s not enough action in these moments. Some kind of spiritual “anime”-esque fight would’ve been cool to see but I can appreciate the attempt at being different.

Shot composition and effective use of sound keeps the scares in the movie feeling earned. Yes, there are jump scares. No, they do not suck. Wan understands that a good jump scare requires a meaningful visual scare that a character (the audience) would actually find scary on top of some kind of noise. He places them sporadically so tension actually has time to build. Music only plays when needed so it feels like it has a purpose. It’s not the most memorable in end of itself, but it’s effective in helping set the tone.

I only have a few problems with the movie. Like Saw , action scenes can feel jumbled and rushed. It’s a weird aesthetic choice that immediately took me out of the moment. Thankfully, this movie only has to deal with this issue a few times. There’s also a TON of exposition. To the movie’s credit a lot of it is introduced naturally and it never feels boring. I also originally had a love/hate relationship with the ending. I thought it was entertaining and unexpected but it also felt undeserved in some sense. My opinion on this has changed more because of Insidious 2 which serves as a good conclusion to a lot of the ideas in this movie. Personally, if you watch this you should watch the second- treat them as two parts of a larger episode and I think you may enjoy both of them more.

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TLDRInsidious is a creative take on the supernatural family horror genre and has a ton of scares to boot. If you can deal with a few exposition dumps and like more metaphysical aspects in horror, check this one out.
Rating9.1/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Weathering with You

Director(s)Makoto Shinkai
Principal CastKotaro Daigo as Hodaka Morishima
Nana Mori as Hina Amano
Shun Oguri as Keisuke Suga
Release Date2019
Running Time 112 minutes

I’ve always liked Shinkai’s work (5 Centimeters per Second, The Garden of Words) but I’ve never fallen in love with anything in the same as I did with Your Name.Like tons of other people around the world, I couldn’t stop gushing over the 2016 runaway hit. As such, I came into this movie with high expectations. I know ,I know, bad idea. Thankfully, Lady Luck was looking out and I got more than what I expected. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the way the movie ended or been able to stop humming the main theme, so suffice to say I think it’s pretty good.

If you haven’t seen trailers- don’t. I think most trailers for this movie spoil too much and the experience will feel more magical if you go in “blind”. The story follows Hodaka, a high-school boy, who runs away to Tokyo and runs into Hina, a girl with the magical power to change the weather. Such an ability would be an amazing in the ordinary, but in this world where huge downpours and flooding are commonplace, a ray of sunshine can mean the world. The movie explores homelessness, climate change, and humanity’s spiritual connection with the environment with almost seamless execution while telling a fun fantastical romance.

I really like the post-apocalyptic/slow apocalyptic feeling the movie has. Hope in spite of the crushing weight of everything is something that I can relate to, especially in relation to the climate crisis we’re in that shows little hope of being reversed. Eventually, when events like mass flooding become more commonplace ,humanity is going to be forced to adapt or be eliminated. Can there still be hope and optimism in a world where everything is slowly being subsumed ,doomed to eventually disappear? Is a world like that tragic or can life still be happy in spite of it all? The story does a good job introducing these beats and developing them in ways that are bittersweet.(Mostly) Nothing feels unearned or easy.

The movie is gorgeous when it wants to be (so most of the time). There are scenes from the 3rd act that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting any time soon. Backgrounds look life-like and the rain is mesmerizing. The sheer power of nature comes through each and every frame. There are a few moments of CGI that feel abrupt and really took me out of the movie. The movie is just so beautiful that any incongruous element feels even more off putting than it would be normally. If you liked the soundtrack from Your Name, you’ll be pleased with what RADWIMPS has cooked up for this story.

My problems with the movie lie with the execution of certain sub-plots. The issue is most of the plot lines in the movie are executed almost impeccably. The moments and relations are grounded even though they’re mystical at the same time. Unfortunately, one of the more important plot threads for the third act falls short of the above. It’s not given the same sense of realism and feels more gimmicky. It’s not that big of an issue because thematically the thread is great. I just wish it didn’t come at the cost of the meticulous sense of consequence that had been building up till that point.

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TLDRWeathering for You is a beautiful fantasy romance that delivers a thematically rich story with wonderful characters. There are only a few plot issues, but by the end of the movie you won’t be thinking about them. If you liked Your Name, check this out. If you’re looking for a meaningful tale about our relationship to the planet , I’d also recommend giving this a view.
Rating9.3/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Get Out

Director(s)Jordan Peele
Principal CastDaniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington
Allison Williams as Rose Armitage
Lil Rel Howery as Rod Williams
Release Date2017
Running Time 104 minutes

I’ll admit , as someone who actually went and bought Key and Peele Seasons 1-3 on Blu-Ray, I was more than a bit excited when I realized part of the duo that made “Substitute Teacher” was making a horror movie. I even kept myself away from trailers because I wanted to make sure I came into the movie fresh. When the credits started rolling, I was left floored. I couldn’t believe a movie could be this smart but digestible at the same time. Social commentary mixed real with horror is already not prevalent, but to take on neo-liberal racism? That’s wild. I have no doubt that in the next 15-20 years, horror fans will look back on this movie fondly as an all time great. It’s bold, innovative, and works on almost every level.

The plot focus on Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) as he travels with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) to her parents house in an attempt to get to know them. Everything starts off innocuous at first but it’s not long before things start feeling off. I didn’t know what the plot was going into my first watch and only really caught on when things started becoming more direct in the third act. However, on recent re-watches it’s almost obvious what the movie is about. There are hints littered in the dialogue, scenery, and visual cues abound. It makes you appreciate just how much attention when into crafting this story, and it all pays off.

The movie is shot and scored with a finesse I’m not used to seeing. The score in particular has a distinctive feeling to it. Peele’s extra effort in incorporating black voices into the music makes the themes of the movie that much stronger. Music that’s functional, thematic, and great to listen to doesn’t happen a lot. Usually it only serves one or two of the above so getting a score that does all three is something else. The fact that Childish Gambino’s Redbone plays at the beginning of the movie is genius. It sets the tone with the way it sounds and does the same thematically with the lyrics that play.

All the performances are stellar. The romance between Rose and Chris is done well and it makes their subsequent actions make a lot of sense. I can’t say more without spoiling anything, but a lot of the actors/actresses are required to emote varied and widely distinct emotional states. Once everything starts making more sense, you begin to appreciate the performances and character actions take on a new sense of meaning. It’s amazing just how much there is to unpack. However, I can’t help but mention just how great Howery’s performance is. He had me laughing myself to tears with his delivery and cadence and absolutely gave the movie some real levity in spite of the bleak subject matter.

Finally, what makes this movie a classic is just how nuanced its take on racism is. It recognizes that anti-black discrimination is not just present in outright demonstrations of hate but also in neo-liberal forms of fetishization. It’s not white people bad (there’s an Asian man in a scene for this very reason), as some reviews might lead you to think. There’s a lot to unpack here, but one thing’s clear. Racism is more than meets the eye and it’s folly to think it’s been resolved or has easily discernible limits.

My only issue with the movie is the presence of two random jump scares that are low hanging fruit. That’s it.

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TLDRGet Out is a masterpiece in storytelling. A fresh social commentary – the story is believable and shocking. The careful attention to detail makes multiple re-watches fun and entertaining. With an impeccable score and amazing performance, this movie is one of the best to grace the screens in the past decade.
Rating10/10
Grade A+

Review: Bad Boys For Life

Director(s)Adil El Arbi
Bilall Fallah
Principal CastWill Smith as Mike Lowrey
Martin Lawrence as Marcus Burnett
Jacob Scipio as Armando Armas
Kate del Castillo as Isabel Aretas
Release Date2020
Running Time 124 minutes

I’ll be upfront and say I don’t really remember Bad Boys or Bad Boys II outside of a few moments, and I wasn’t going to go through the effort of re-watching them for this newest release. Thankfully for me, the movie doesn’t require knowledge of the previous movies, but does reward people who have kept up with Mike and Marcus’s journey up to now. I left the movie immensely satisfied and think this movie will please old and new fans alike.

The movie follows a more mature Mike and Marcus, the former desperate to continue fighting bad guys while the latter is getting ready to retire and enjoy the comforts of life, including his newly born grandchild. However, a string of murders brings the two together for one last ride (pending the imminent sequel). While I may not remember the last two movies, I know I will remember parts of this one for a bit. The reveals in the third act were fun and well-earned- definitely not what I expected when I was walking in. That’s not to say the story is perfect. It definitely has some moments of fat that could be trimmed off, especially in the second act which feels like it goes on for a while. There’s a lot of “find X” guy sub-plots happening which feel like they could have been condensed and streamlined. But in spite of all of that, it’s entertaining.

If you were a fan of the frenetic cut based directing of the previous movies, you may be upset with how tame this movie feels. There’s still a ton of action and movement, but it feels more contained and refined. I personally enjoy this style way more and appreciated how clean the action sequences looked. I could tell you exactly what was happening on the screen as it happened, which I rarely can in modern action movies.

Like the action, the character development and pacing of the plot feel more refined than ever. Both Mike and Marcus have meaningful character arcs in this movie. Martin Lawrence’s performance as the latter proves he still has his acting chops. He’s just as funny but has a clarity about him. Even the side characters get some love here. The buddy-cop duo find themselves joined by tech-driven operations team (AMMO) and each member brings a little spice to the formula. I loved watching them bounce off the main duo and their interjections keeps the movie feeling fresh. The crazy part is – none of the above are even my favorite character from the movie. That honor goes to the villain Armando, a man who’s as complex is he as dedicated to executing justice. He’s a hardened criminal who has a moral compass and nothing about it feels off. Ruthless and violent, but not a deranged monster. I dig it.

Honestly, my biggest issues concerning the movie stem from its identity crisis. The movie wants to be funny (which it most certainly is), serious, have a message, and be action-packed. The issue is that it mixes those elements in ways that make them oppose one another. For example., there are moments where something serious happens and then someone makes a funny joke almost undercutting the impact of what was said. I get that it’s funny and is poking fun at the scenario, but it really takes you out of the moment. Likewise, the humor compounded with some missed opportunities, takes away a lot from some of the themes presented in the first act.

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TLDRBad Boys for Life should satisfy fans of the franchise and newcomers alike. It’s bold and has genuinely fun moments that set it apart from predecessors, but it never takes the following steps to become something truly innovative. Good popcorn flick and one of the better buddy-cop movies.
Rating8.0/10
GradeB

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!