Score: 5 out of 5 

THIS movie…where do I even begin? I’ve been waiting for this one for a hot minute. I remember watching the trailer months back and immediately knowing I needed to see it as soon as it came out. Over the last few months I’d search for any new info on this movie and there was never much but just enough for my hype levels to grow. A hype I can liken to waiting months for those brand new retro Jordans to drop (only to, of course, take another L at 6 am and have to pay resell because the sneaker game is all sorts of messed up, but that’s another conversation entirely). Why was I so hyped? Well this movie feels like it was practically made for someone like me. It takes place in and was filmed in Oakland, it’s about sneakers, it has a cast made up entirely of people of color, and it has some nice hip-hop flavors to it too (Biggie’s son is even in it!). I’m trying to contain my excitement as I write this intro but this movie spoke to me on so many levels, it lived up to every expectation I had and then some.

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Overview:

The story follows a young high school aged boy from Richmond named Brandon. Brandon is an underdog in a hundred different ways; he can’t ball because he’s too short, he can’t get girls because he’s too young and timid, and worst of all he’s forced to wear the same tattered white Nikes to school while his friends rock fresh J’s because his mom can’t afford to buy him anything nicer. It’s not much of a spoiler to say Brandon finds a way to scrape his way towards his most coveted prize, a pair of Bred Air Jordan 1’s, the Black and Red Ones, the OGs. Unfortunately for Brandon, an undersized young kid walking around the ghetto, there are bigger fish around salivating at the chance to beat his ass and take his shoes, which is exactly what happens. A story as old as time!…yet one that is rarely depicted on the silver screen.

Before Liz and I drove to Grand Lake to watch this, I asked my brother and sister if they wanted to come watch. I explained the basic premise to them only for there to be a pause followed by a “…that’s it?” But that’s the beauty of it! Obviously there’s much more going on below the surface but essentially this is a film about a boy who has his shoes stolen. Why isn’t that worthy of the silver screen? We have more movies than I can count about 20-something year old straight white couples trying to find love in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. Why isn’t a movie about a black teen getting robbed and dealing with the social pressures of the ghetto deserving of the spotlight? Well let me tell you, stories like that are deserving of the spotlight and this movie is great proof of that.

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“Levels to this Shit”

Before I get down in the trenches with this, a word on how I’ll be structuring my analysis. I felt like a recurring theme here was, as Meek Mill says, “its levels to this shit, levels to this shit.” (shout-out to Meek, still think you’re a better rapper than Drake). Another way of putting it for you more academic folks, “Onions have layers. Ogres have layers…You get it? We both have layers.” I think I pulled that from Confucius on ethics or Aristotle on physics or something like that, someone check my sources. Anyway, this movie has a hell of alot of layers and because of that I’ll often be moving between analyzing the surface versus the deeper implications. This may sound obvious as any review worth anything should be able to analyze things beyond the surface but you’ll get what I mean as you read on.

The Plot: 

Let’s talk a bit the plot. As I mentioned, there’s more going on here than just a story about a boy getting beat up for his shoes. On the surface this is a really authentic, gritty, and occasionally humorous movie about Brandon’s quest to get his shoes back. It follows the standard narrative structure: Exposition (background info, character set-up, funny jokes) -> Complication (the shoes get stolen, the quest to get them back)-> Climax (all the action of the later act)-> Resolution (not gonna spoil it), or whatever graph structure you’re familiar with. Clearly it’s a little more complicated than that, but that pretty much covers it. If you only look at the movie like this, through what’s presented on the surface, I still think it’s an enjoyable movie. It’s still something refreshing that you don’t see often. What makes the movie special though is that there’s so much other stuff implicitly going on that grabs our attention, stuff that takes a little more effort to notice. Layers, people, layers.

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Social Pressures:

This brings me to my first level of deeper analysis. This is a great movie about the social pressures that come with being a young male growing up in a chaotic environment. While it’s true that Brandon doesn’t necessarily have the worst environment; he’s in school, his mom seems to provide for him (except shoes), he’s relatively safe (never been in a fight), and his friends seem like decent people, he still has plenty to deal with. All of our problems and the social pressures we face, including Brandon’s, are relative to what’s around us. Relative to Brandon, his friends always have the coolest Jordans while he’s stuck wearing his tattered Nikes everyday. Naturally he covets those bred Air Jordan 1’s more than anything else in life. I can relate to that, while I wasn’t ever stuck wearing old shoes with holes in them as a kid, I never could convince my parents to buy me any retro Jordans. When I was really young any shoes more than like $50 were too expensive, as I got older any shoes above $80-100 were too much. Meanwhile at school it was like the Italian Renaissance of fresh kicks! I guess all friends had parents who were sneakerheads because they’d show up to school with new Jordans every few weeks. I mean I wasn’t out there in crocs, I had my shell toe Adidas superstars and K-Swiss classics, but I definitely wasn’t turning any heads.

If you’re not into sneakers like that this may all sound ridiculous but it’s about more than just the shoes. Obviously one half of it is actually liking the shoes themselves because they have incredibly iconic silhouettes, colorways, and designs. We have Peter Moore, Tinker Hatfield, and the rest of the Nike design team to thank for that (if you’re interested in that story I highly recommend watching the 30 for 30: Sole Man on Netflix). The other part of becoming obsessed with sneakers is the fact that they’re more than just shoes, they’re status symbols and a part of a whole cultural nexus. They’re a part of hip-hop culture, street wear culture, basketball culture, etc. Of course this creates a huge demand for shoes that give the person wearing them a feeling of being on top of the world. And yes, this is consumerism and capitalism at its finest but when you’re walking down the street in some fresh 11s with the icy soles, who cares?! I’m rambling but the point is that Brandon wants these shoes because he wants to fit in but also stand out. When he sees them on the feet of the guy in the hallway he looks entranced and says something like “If I had those, no one could fuck with me…” (or something like that), an example that this is about more than just shoes.  All of the nexus categories I mentioned earlier intersect greatly with Brandon’s identity which serves to amplify what the shoes mean to him. We know he likes hip-hop given that he’s always freestyling, he seems to like basketball as he and his friends are constantly playing it, and while he’s not rocking Margiela or Rick Owens he definitely has his own little aesthetic going that the shoes would bolster. I can relate to that, I like all of those things as well and maybe that’s why this movie resonated deeply with me.

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Coming of Age:

Another thing this movie has going for it that I enjoyed is that it’s a great depiction of cycles of violence through the context of a coming of age story. The whole social pressures aspect comes into play here too. Like I said, Brandon doesn’t seem to come from the absolute bottom but we see constant reminders that he still lives in a violent place. We see the assault that occurred at Brandon’s school, the improvised sidewalk memorials to those slain on the corners, constant gun-toting, Brandon’s own beating when his shoes are stolen, etc. We also know that this is normal to him, this is what he’s grown up with. We see evidence of this when Brandon talks about how he’s only never been in a fight because he’s too fast and what he dreams of is being an astronaut so he can float away and be at peace. He says this all so calmly and without hesitation because it’s simply his reality, he’s been running since birth. I don’t know if this stood out to me because it was the director’s intention or just because I could identify with it.

Growing up in Oakland you end up seeing some shit throughout the years. Despite my parents giving my siblings and I a safe home and every opportunity, they couldn’t shield us from everything. I remember in elementary school we had a security guard instead of counselors and one time she had my friends and I help her chase a kid down and handcuff him. I was glad to see him go at the time because he was one of a few terrifying school bullies who had beaten up some of my friends but I didn’t realize then that this was kind of a messed up event. I remember some of my 8th grade friends not being able to walk the “graduation” stage because they were caught smoking and drinking in the bathrooms. I remember never being allowed to wear blue or red shoes or clothing because of all the drive-bys and assaults that ended up being cases of mistaken identity. I remember having to call the ambulance because a car pulled up next to me on the sidewalk and the driver was hysterical because her husband in the back had been shot. I remember the cops pulling the guy’s blood soaked child out of the back seat, the guy died later that day. Chain snatching, street racing, underage prostitutes, robberies, all of it was normal and I saw it many times. Perhaps most chilling of all I remember chaperoning my brothers’ 4th or 5th grade field trip and on the walk to BART the kids were laughing about how on a recent school trip they had to walk the other way because a man across the street was being stabbed. These are kids, who knows if they were telling the truth, but either way this kind of stuff was just as normal to them as it was to me growing up. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that this kind of stuff isn’t normal to a lot of other people. Again, this is probably me projecting my own experiences onto this movie but I could see a lot of myself in Brandon. No, I didn’t skip class and go drink 40s with my friends but I did grow up with the same sort of numbness to the inner workings of this mad city.

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“Can’t be a man if I let another take mine”

So we see the kind of world Brandon grew up in but we also see that there’s levels to this shit. I didn’t have it as bad as Brandon but Brandon and his friends don’t have it as bad as the characters they run into later in the film. Brandon and his friends really aren’t about that life the same way Flaco and his crew are, the same way his uncle is, or the same way his uncle’s friends are. Despite that, Brandon feels the need to prove himself and risk it all in order to get revenge and his shoes back. Why does he feel the need to do this? Social pressures. The savage beating he endured was videotaped and put online and even his own friends are roasting him for having his shoes taken. One of the pressures young men like Brandon feel in this environment is the need to “be a man.” We know this because one of the lines Brandon repeats in his freestyles is, “can’t be a man if I let another take mine.” This brings up the topic of gender identity and masculinity. Not only does Brandon feel disrespected, he feels emasculated. In some situations, like his, that can drive someone to feel the need to overcompensate and do something crazy. This is a huge part of what drives cycles of violence not just in the movie but in real life. People continually retaliate against one another even though they know this means they’ll have to live in constant worry of walking alone, alleyways, slow moving cars, etc. That’s how powerful the pressure to feel like a “man” was to Brandon, so powerful that it led him to risk his life and the life of his best friends. And you can see that this pressure doesn’t affect everyone the same way, Brandon’s friends think he’s insane. At one point they even turn their back on him because he goes off the deep end. They know they’re not about that life, they’re content with cutting their losses and moving on. This is obvious based on how tentative they are to follow Brandon into some trap house in Oakland, into a car heading for the sideshow, and towards a certain person’s house later in the movie. This is a world where people getting run over and killed doesn’t result in horror but laughs and a YouTube video of people making jokes at the scene. You can see how these cycles of violence perpetuate themselves, it’s like a rabbit hole that you never get out of. The events Brandon puts in motion elevate the stakes to the point to where there’s no turning back.

Another representation of cycles of violence is through the use of innocent youth and remorseful adults. One scene in particular that stands out occurs around the middle of the film when Brandon goes to his uncle’s house for help. While there, we see his uncle’s newborn child in bed next to a handgun. This in and of itself represents cycles of violence too as this impressionable young mind is growing up around gang members and handguns within reach. Moments before this scene we see Brandon asking his uncle, a remorseful adult, for help dealing with his shoe problem. I’ve been saying there’s levels to this shit and the uncle represents the deepest level, beyond even that of Flaco and his gang. The uncle is one of the lucky few who experienced the cycle of violence and was able to make it out alive. He represents the only possibility of redemption that someone who chooses to go down Flaco’s (and seemingly Brandon’s) path can have. On one side we have the newborn child, a symbol of innocence and a blank slate. On the other side we have the uncle, someone who has been through it all and is trying to keep Brandon from going down the same path. In the middle we have Brandon himself struggling to make the decision to either back out before things get out of hand or taking the handgun and continuing on his quest for revenge.

Yet another symbol of youthful innocence comes from an unlikely source, Flaco. Well ok, not Flaco himself, but his son. This was another great plot choice the writer made. While there are clear protagonists and antagonists, they managed to still find a way to ground Flaco and make us feel for him to a certain extent. He may be a horrible person with an almost non-existent conscience but he’s still a person. We see that everything Flaco does regarding Brandon’s shoes is for his kid. In fact, the only thing he seems to care about is his kid and that’s kind of touching. There’s a few stand out scenes I want to talk about in particular. First, we see Flaco playing basketball with his kid early on in the movie. It’s one of the first not-horrible things we see him do and it tells us there’s more to this character than just an asshole who assaults people for fun. Later we see the life Flaco’s son lives and can’t help but feel heartbroken. If Brandon and his friends aren’t from the absolute bottom, Flaco’s son definitely is. There’s a scene that almost felt like it could’ve been the music video for Kendrick Lamar’s Cartoons & Cereal (an underrated classic). Flaco orders his son to play with his toys and turn up the volume on his cartoons instead of allowing him to observe what his father is doing (“I wonder if you ever knew that you was a role model to me first…you told me ‘don’t be like me, just finish watching cartoons.’”) Lastly we have the end of this film, the real climax of it all. It’s killing me not to go into detail but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone reading this review. Let’s just say Flaco’s son saying the Spiderman shoes with the Velcro straps were all he wanted and Flaco telling him it’s about the principle of it all was downright depressing. If you watch the movie, which you should, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

So to wrap things up here, the story was fantastic. I know a large part of the reason why I think this is because I relate to the movie so much. I also realize the story probably won’t speak to most people the same way. If you’re someone reading this thinking you won’t like the movie because you don’t connect with it the same way, I urge you to please give it a chance because it’s still a great story on it’s own.

The Cinematography:

Next I want get a few words in regarding the cinematography. While not exactly “visually stunning” by regular standards, the movie was filmed beautifully. It’s not a beautiful movie but the material it’s depicting isn’t beautiful, in that way it sort of is beautiful because it accurately captures the griminess of it all. They managed to use the grittiness very artfully. For example, there’s a scene where Brandon is in his overgrown backyard messing with a Nerf gun and shooting at a reflection of himself in a broken mirror. Nothing about this is beautiful but it feels very genuine and artful. Speaking of reflections, I liked the use of them in this film with that mirror scene being just one example. Another example is the way we see Brandon’s reflection in the helmet of his astronaut companion, a figure I’ll get into later. I can’t say for certain what those reflections were supposed to represent, perhaps Brandon’s adolescent identity issues, but they were well used regardless. I also liked the use of lighting, specifically I remember the use of artificial bright lights at various indoor locations. There’s the pink of the young braided girl’s room, the flashes of red from Flaco’s house, the white natural lighting of Brandon’s room, etc. There’s also great use of slow-mo in this movie. I know slow-motion can get tiring after a while but it never felt out of place here. Slow-motion was used in some of my favorite scenes like the sideshow and the scenes of Brandon walking through his neighborhood which created an interesting dreamlike effect. The cinematography isn’t what I remember most about this film but it’s really good and they managed to create some truly creative and authentic feeling scenes.

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The Script/The Acting:

In the interest of keeping this review from getting unbearable long I’ll talk about the script and acting in the same section. As to the former, there’s not much to be said but this isn’t because it wasn’t good. Much like the cinematography, this wasn’t some master class writing full of witty banter but that’s not the subject matter we’re dealing with so it’s hard to fault it for that. The script is pretty much perfect for what it’s trying to be, a realistic portrayal of how people interact in places like this. Nothing sounded out of place or fake or like it was trying too hard. I particularly liked the voiceover sections where Brandon is telling us his innermost desires, those were powerful moments.

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As for the acting, I have a little more to say. I’ll start with Kofi Siriboe who plays Flaco. Apparently he was an extra in Straight Outta Compton (2015) and a bassist in Whiplash (2014). Unsurprisingly I don’t remember seeing him in either of those but good god was he noticeable here! First of all, this dude is huge. There’s a reason why everyone in the neighborhood advises Brandon to forget about his shoes. He plays the role well but not just because he does a good job of being terrifying but also because we see the other side of him, the fatherly side. He acts both sides of his character well and really does a solid job of showing convincing emotion when those two sides of him are forced to intersect.

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Next we have Mahershala Ali, the most well known actor here by far. You may recognize him as Remy Danton from House of Cards (2013-) or as Cottonmouth from Netflix’s latest hit, Luke Cage (2016-). His role here is small but very powerful and important. He plays Marlon, Brandon’s uncle from Oakland. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to seeing him play Remy but I was really impressed by how well he played the role of the wise ex-convict, great performance.

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Christopher Meyer plays Rico, one of Bradon’s two best friends. He’s another actor who has been in a bunch of tv shows. The only one I’ve watched is Wayward Pines (2015-) but I don’t remember him from there. Anyway, here he’s the popular one of Brandon’s friends, the one who can ball and can flirt with girls. I hate to sound like a broken record but he’s great here too. While we get the sense that he’s the leader of the trio, in this story he follows Brandon for support. We can tell he thinks Brandon is being stupid for much of the film but that’s his boy so he’s going to follow him. One example of this being when Brandon confronts one of Flaco’s friends by hitting him in the head with a basketball. Rico thinks Brandon has lost his mind but doesn’t hesitate for a second to put up those hands to help his friends. Later on he also does a great job of being angry and hurt when Brandon goes too far.

Christopher Jordan Wallace. Christopher Wallace. Let’s see, where do I know this name from? That’s right, Brandon’s other best friend is played by none other than THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.’s son! I didn’t realize this at all until Liz told me days afterwards but I guess Biggie’s son decided to go into acting. Can we take a moment to just appreciate how cool it is to have Biggie’s son in the movie regardless of his acting ability? Luckily he’s also pretty good here. I guess he was in Notorious (2009) but I definitely don’t remember him from that. Here he plays Albert, aspiring rapper and ladies man who likes to practice his left handed layups. Looking back, it’s really cool they added a scene where Albert is trying to record in his makeshift studio/closet, cool little allusion there. Much like Rico, Albert is loyal to Brandon to a reckless extent but it comes off as very genuine. He’s toes the line of being comic relief sometimes and he’s definitely the jokester of the bunch but he’s also a key part of some of the movie’s most dramatic moments.

Now to the man of the hour, Brandon himself. Brandon is played by Jahking Guillory. He’s a relative newcomer to the acting world, especially when compared to the rest of the cast. There’s no way you’d be able to tell that from his performance though. Aesthetically he’s perfect for the role with his borderline iconic head of hair and underdog/hungry look. I had no problem at all believing that Jahking was anyone other than Brandon from Richmond, CA. He does an absolutely fantastic job of portraying a young man in conflict. Like I mentioned earlier, Brandon wants to fit in but he also wants to stand out. He’s having some serious identity issues and over the course of the movie he grows dramatically which is what kind of makes this a coming of age story. He nailed it with his stoic demeanor and was perfect for the role. If he decides to pursue acting I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his career. Fun fact, apparently he’s a junior Olympic champion in track which makes it even more cool that the film pretty much opens with him saying he’s never had to be in a fight because he’s too fast.

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Before I forget, I mentioned Biggie’s son was in this movie but I still can’t get over the fact that the director got Oakland legend and hyphy master MISTAH F.A.B., the yellow bus rydah, to do a cameo as the hilariously sketchy sidewalk shoe salesman. That was awesome, I really appreciated that.

Style/Presentation:

The last substantive thing I want to talk about with this movie was the style and presentation. This isn’t a category that would come up with most other movies but there are many things this movie does well that just don’t fit into any other category.

One of those things is the surreal atmosphere the movie has. We get this vibe right off the bat when Brandon talks about his dream of just flying away so no one could harm him. We see him literally imaging himself floating off into space. Throughout the film, often at times when Brandon feels most alone, we see his imaginary astronaut companion show up. I hesitate to call this figure Brandon’s guardian angel because he never really protects him. I also hesitate to call him Brandon’s conscience because he never influences Brandon’s decisions, good or bad. His presence is simply there and it gives off very surreal vibes. Another thing that adds to this atmosphere are the constant slow motion scenes. I don’t know what it is about them but whether it’s Brandon walking through his neighborhood or him staring at his reflection, the slow motion has a palpable effect. Add to this the bright artificial lighting I mentioned earlier and you end up with many scenes that feel really dreamlike.

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The next thing I want to talk about is simply the aesthetic and authenticity of the movie. You can tell that the director, Justin Tipping, had a very clear vision of what he wanted here. You can also tell that he’s dealing with subject matter that isn’t foreign to him. Everything feels so real; the shots of the environment, the overhead shots of BART, the shots of the liquor stores, the sideshows, etc. Beyond that, just the look of the characters was super legit. Brandon in his white or black t’s, long-ass hair, and bred 1’s looks just like the people I see when I go home. This movie is like Dopes (2015) much more cool and authentic cousin. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Dope but at times it felt that they were cramming in references or sayings just to come off as authentic. Adding to the unique style of this movie are all the little things that end up being memorable like the fact that the movie is split up into parts with each part being named after a rap song that foreshadowed what was going to happen or symbolized what just happened. The music was spot-on; you have people driving their scrapers bumping Get Stupid by Mac Dre. I already mentioned how cool it was they had Biggie’s son and Mistah Fab but there’s other clearer things that show this movie is very hip-hop inspired. For example, we have Brandon constantly free styling to himself when he’s alone (I do this all the time!) and I absolutely loved how at the end he finally figures out how to end his song.

The feel of this movie was something I can’t accurately put into words, the best way I can put it is that it has serious style and it connects to the culture of the Bay Area perfectly.

Conclusion and Why This Movie is Important:

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To conclude I want to say something about why this movie is important. You already heard me ramble on and on about why I like this movie but I haven’t said much on why it should matter on a larger scale. Well to begin with, like I said earlier, the cast is made up entirely of people of color and the director is also a person of color. Don’t you dare try to tell me there aren’t available, young, and talented black and brown actors out there, Hollywood, because we saw a cast full of them here. Another reason why this movie is important is because of what it’s about. I talked extensively about the role of cycles of violence and gang activity in this movie but at the end of the day it’s still a movie about a kid trying to get his shoes back. This movie is proof that not every film about people like Brandon, people kind of like myself, has to be a gang epic (Boyz n the Hood (1993), Menace II Society (1993), etc.) or a sports movie (Coach Carter (2005), Love and Basketball (2000), Hoop Dreams (1994)). Those are obviously all very good movies but there are other subjects to be explored. And to be fair there have been recent attempts to do just this with movies like Dope and Fruitvale Station (2013), both of which are great movies.

What more is there to say? Obviously I loved this movie from top to bottom. 5/5, if you ever get the chance to watch it I absolutely recommend it. Justin Tipping did an amazing job which is impressive given that this is one of his first films. His directing and writing was something I’m going to remember for a long, long time. Let me know your thoughts, even if you entirely disagree.

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Score: 4.8 out of 5 

Time to get back to writing reviews more often! Then again I say that every time. You know it’s hard having a ton of things you like to do but not enough time to do them all. Law school takes up almost all my time so when I have free time I have to decide between playing basketball, working out, finally turning my PS4 on again, reading a book, painting, watching tv, watching a move, writing a review, etc. It’s just not right having so many things you enjoy but such little free time but such is life, onto the review.

This time I’ll be reviewing Hell or High Water, a David Mackenzie movie in theaters now. I haven’t seen any of this guys other movies but if they’re as good as this one I’ll have to go back and do that. I have to give my friend Brenn Coyle a shout-out for recommending this one or else I would’ve missed out on one of the best movies of the year. I have to say that it’s been longer than I would like since Liz and I saw the movie so some of the details are starting to fade but most of it is still fresh (at least the most important parts). This movie is easier to review weeks after watching than others because since I watched it I’ve been trying to think of things to complain about during my review and I’ve largely drawn blanks. This was true even immediately after watching, back when everything was fresh. The movie has been on my mind ever since. With that being said, lets get down to the details

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Overview: 

This is a modern western/heist film that takes place against the backdrop of various dusty and sparsely populated cities in West Texas. At the center of the story are two brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard, played respectively by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. The Howard brothers, our thieves, are joined at the center by Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton and Alberto Parker, played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. In short, the plot focuses on two brothers strategically robbing small banks across West Texas to pay off the bank that screwed over their recently deceased mother and is trying to take the family farm. The two Texas Rangers are hot on their trail, led by Hamilton who is on the brink of retirement. Laid out in this fashion you may be wondering what’s so special about this movie as this is a story that’s been told many times before. You may be thinking there has to be a big twist or something for me to give it such high praise. While there are a few unexpected twists and turns, the story really doesn’t make any major deviations from it’s course. What makes this film great is the subtlety through which it plays out. This movie is polished to perfection with no excess action sequences, no bloated or excessive dialogue, no pointless characters, and so on. To explain what I mean by this let’s jump straight to the details.

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Can we take a second to appreciate how terrible the above poster is? It’s like whoever was in charge of making the ads for this movie realized the day before their assignment was due that they forgot Jeff Bridges was also in the movie and decided to just photoshop his face into the background. But anyway…

The Characters (and Performances):

It’s hard to decide what’s the most impressive part of a film that’s this all-around good. It’s like trying to decide what’s the best part of Steph Curry’s game. Is it his handles? His three-point shooting? His IQ? Who knows, it’s all great! The good thing is that we don’t need to decide. Now if for some reason I was forced to decide I’d probably give it to the acting and the characters.

What makes these characters so great is that we have this situation where it’s law enforcement against criminals and it’s easy to make it so that we’re rooting for either side but here all four of our characters are relatable, likeable, and a joy to watch. Toby is the anti-hero who is doing something bad for a good reason. Tanner is a bit insane and brash but he’s unflinchingly loyal. Marcus may be jaded and too by-the-book but he’s a hell of a cop and can hold his own against anyone half his age. Alberto is too soft-spoken and lets Hamilton give him too much shit but he’s very capable and composed. All the characters are so well balanced that none of them feel unnecessary or one dimensional. This is partly a function of great writing, all four of our characters at the center of attention are really well developed characters, but great acting also plays a part.

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I already respected Chris Pine’s acting before this movie but he tends to play similar characters, the charismatic and good-looking main dude (at least in all the movies I’ve seen him in). In this movie he plays a very introspective and muted role and while he feels like the main character, he’s never thirsting for attention or trying to make himself standout. Part of the reason why that works well is because of Ben Foster, his brother. Pine doesn’t have to be the charismatic scene-stealer because that’s Ben Foster’s role. Foster plays the unhinged Howard brother who seems to relish when things get aggressive and doesn’t mind throwing caution to the wind to a stupidly reckless level. That being said, there is more going on underneath the surface here. The movie never explicitly mentions it but there are hints that Tanner is a veteran. The natural logical leap to make here being that his mental state and aggressive tendencies are at least in part due to his time in the military. This theory is even more likely when you consider his final scene, the decision he makes, and how at peace he looks through it all. Anyway, that’s just my guess and whether that’s true or not doesn’t change the fact that Foster was fantastic as well.

The brothers work because they’re great individual characters but they interact like actual brothers would act. The fierce loyalty, jokes at each other’s expense, affection, and conversations are all natural. And like I said, with this movie less is more. They don’t feel the need to be heavy handed in showing us their bond through flashbacks or anything like that. Instead the scene that stands out to me is them being able to take a break between the craziness of what they’re doing to tackle each other and mess around while the sun sets. No words needed to be said, we could tell there was a genuine bond there.

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Jeff Bridges is my favorite actor in this movie, clearly the man can act and that was certainly on display here. He plays a crotchety old cop on his way out who is dreading retirement because he only feels a sense of purpose while he’s out catching bad guys. It’s a trope that’s been done a hundred times before in movies, TV shows, books, etc. While his character is nothing new, he plays him to perfection. He reminded me of a modern-day, more professional, version of his character from the Coen Brothers’ film True Grit (2010) (another fantastic western). One scene in particular really elevated Bridges’ performance. Late in the movie, during an emotional climax, Bridges reacts with so much raw emotion on his face and in his voice that I felt like I could feel what he was feeling. It was impressive! Like with the Howard brothers, his scenes derive much of their intimacy and power from the great relationship he has with his partner. His partner is played by Gil Birmingham, the actor I know least about in the movie. You’d never notice he has way less experience than the other actors because he keeps up with Jeff Bridges the entire time. His character probably had the smallest role of the main four but that doesn’t mean he has a small impact. Towards the end he’s even a key part of one of the most important scenes in the movie.

The Script:

The characters in this movie are great because their roles are acted well but this would mean nothing without a good script. For how deep and compelling the characters are, they’re still roles that we’ve seen many times before. It’s thanks to the script that the characters are elevated beyond being clichés. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a lean movie. There is no excess of anything here and that goes for the script too. This doesn’t mean that it’s a movie where no one talks or that’s full of silence like Drive (2011). There is plenty of great banter, especially between the two Rangers. What this does mean is that nothing feels out of place or like filler. Everything the characters say, even the ones who are just there to deliver one-liners, has a purpose and fleshes out the story or adds to the atmosphere.

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Again, another scene comes to mind that demonstrates what I mean. Early in the film Hamilton and Parker are forced to pull over on the highway as a group of cowboys are herding cattle across the road to flee from a large fire. After an interaction with them Parker asks something along the lines of, “Should we call somebody?” and Hamilton replies, “No, there’s nothing we can do. Those boys are on their own out there.” I probably butchered that quote as it’s been weeks since I saw the movie and I couldn’t find the quote online but even so it stands out as much now as it did then. I was wondering if the fire or the cowboys would be relevant later on in the film but they didn’t appear again. I realized that that short interaction and comment were actually meant to be symbolic of the Howard brothers and their journey (at least I think). The Howard brothers are two simple, old school guys who were left hung out to dry by the bank. They’ve exhausted their options and, like the cowboys, they’re on their own. It’s up to them to survive and find a way out, no one can or will help them.

Moments like the one I mentioned above occur throughout the movie and I think that’s why I was engrossed in the story from beginning to end even though the plot and characters were nothing revolutionary. It felt like everything every character had to say served a purpose and I didn’t want to miss any of it. This screenplay was penned by Taylor Sheridan, the same guy behind Sicario (2015). There’s another movie that I enjoyed, although not nearly as much as this one. I had many issues with Sicario but I can’t deny that it was a very well-written movie. Sheridan only has three writing credits under his belt and for Hell or High Water and Sicario to be two of the three makes him someone to keep an eye on.

The Cinematography:

Again, as you’ve noticed in my other reviews, cinematography is one of my favorite aspects to talk about. Without wanting to go into a tangent on the difference between cinematography and mise-en-scene, I’ll just say that both are working seamlessly well together here. The framing Giles Nuttgens used throughout the film was masterful. Whether it was a low-angle shot during a robbery, a huge crane shot of the West Texas countryside, or a great side-car shot during a getaway, the framing was top-notch.

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Besides the framing, the color palette was perfect. The entire film has a washed out look to it, as if everything is covered in a layer of dust. This lends itself well to creating a thick atmosphere. By that I mean that you don’t just watch this movie, you can feel it in a way. The impression given is that this is a rough place to survive, either you improvise and toughen up like the Howard brothers or you get burnt to a crisp by the fire. Even the wallpaper and colors of the various restaurants and banks all seem so fitting. From dusty town to dusty town and the large empty expanses in between, this movie makes you feel like you’re watching something authentic. Speaking of large expanses, there are plenty of those. The characters spend ALOT of time driving from city to city and during that time we get these really large scale shots of huge landscapes. Those scenes are beautiful to look at; it’s like looking at a painting. The film also makes great use of the ominous clouds in the sky to indicate a sort of calm before the storm. Additionally, the lighting here was great. Again I’m not saying it was anything revolutionary but it was really well used to create some beautiful scenes. The one that stands out to me is again the scene of the two brothers wrestling, their shadows illuminated by the gorgeous night sky. If we didn’t know any better, they might just pass for two innocent kids messing around in the backyard.

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Lastly, the setting, palette, and atmosphere reminded me a great deal of No Country for Old Men (2010), another Coen Brothers masterpiece. I hesitate to say this because I don’t want anyone to think I just think every movie involving cowboys and set in Texas feels the same but there are some legitimate comparisons to be made here. No Country for Old Men is another movie that creates a similar atmosphere, although much more bleak. There is a similar use of color palette, clouds, broad expanses, and lighting  in both of these movies. Huge credit to Giles Nutgens, he did an amazing job with this one. I haven’t watched any of the other films he’s worked on but this was great.

The Story:

Lastly, I want to talk about the story. The reason I saved this for last was because this was my least favorite part of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the story was excellent but it was just the weakest part of the film in relation to all the other aspects I discussed above. The reason why I say this is because the plot as a whole was nothing too revolutionary. That being said, this movie doesn’t seek to be something revolutionary and not every story needs to be in order to be a good story. That is, however, what’s holds the movie back from me giving it a perfect score. To get a perfect score I think you need to not only be a very good movie that does everything right like this one does, you need to change the game up at least a little bit.

As I outlined earlier, this movie is about two brothers robbing banks to save their late mother’s home and the two Texas Rangers intent on stopping them. Sounds like a pretty standard setup right? Well, it kind of is. I don’t want to spoil anything but there are a few unexpected twists and turns that make the story more unique but the weight everything has in this movie, at least for me, was largely due to all the stuff I mentioned above (characters, atmosphere, the script, etc.) rather than because the story itself was so engrossing.

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The Verdict:

To conclude, clearly you can tell I loved this movie. I can’t believe I almost missed it! I really recommend this one to anyone who enjoys extremely polished, well-acted, and well-written movies (so like…everyone). Above I mention that the story was the weakest link but even the story was really damn good so what does that tell you? Watch it!!

Score: 4.5 out of 5 

A few years back, when I was in my prime of Netflix binge watching, I watched this strange film called Dogtooth (2009). That was my time watching a film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. The stream of new movies discovered or released will always be constant and endless. As a result, sometimes I forget movies only hours after watching them as I move onto the next one. For some reason Dogtooth stuck with me. The storyline was original but beyond that the mechanics and how characters talked and interacted was also unique. When I heard about the concept behind The Lobster (2015) and watched the trailers I was initially surprised to see it was written and directed by Lathimos. Unlike Dogtooth, this movie seemed much more comedic and quirky. After watching the movie I can totally see the similarities and I left the theater even more impressed by Lanthimos. I will ABSOLUTELY be keeping an eye out for his future works!

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Overview:

So I bet you’re wondering what this movie is all about, right? If you haven’t already, take a second to look at the picture above. Yup. The movie is as odd as it sounds. In this alternate universe, single adults register to be a part of a matchmaking program at The Hotel. Once at the hotel, people have 45 days to find a match or they are turned into an animal of their choosing and let loose. I’m hesitant to say people are forced to take part in these programs because the story never really explores that but it’s hard to imagine why anyone would volunteer if they didn’t have to. The story begins with David, a disinterested and slightly overweight middle aged man played by Colin Farrell, finding out that his wife is leaving him for another man. As a result, David and his dog/brother head to The Hotel where David’s 45 day timer begins to tick.

The Humor:

The main thing I liked about this movie was the humor. I want to be careful to preface this discussion by saying I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the majority of people I know. It’s simply too unorthodox! I can easily picture myself in a room full of friends that are staring at me like I’ve lost my mind because I’m laughing throughout this film that they don’t find funny at all. And that’s not meant to be a comment on having some sort of superior sense of humor or anything but this movie is just so deadpan and dark that I don’t think most people would find it as funny. In fact, those are the perfect two words to describe the humor of this film. Almost painfully deadpan and the blackest of comedies. I’ll give you some example to describe what I mean. Like I said, the film opens with David finding out his wife is leaving him for another man. Usually you’d expect this to be a very emotional scene yet he simply sits there and asks, “Does he wear glasses or contacts?” It’s not because he’s unhappy in the relationship but simply because no one seems to care about anything at all in this film in a hilarious way and all he cares to know is whether his wife’s lover wears glasses ,like he does, or contacts. There’s another scene where David is asked what animal he has in mind in case he can’t find a partner. He answers without hesitation with something along the lines of, “A lobster because they live over 100 years, remain fertile all their lives, and are blue blooded like aristocrats. I also really like the sea.” Clearly this film’s sense of humor is very difficult to describe but I promise it’s much funnier than it sounds! Other jokes include a man who bashes his head against walls to make his nose bleed in order to have something in common with a woman who suffers from chronic nosebleeds and nervous flirtation between hotel guests over the howls of a suffering woman’s failed suicide attempt.

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The Visuals:

The next thing I really like about this movie are the visuals and camerawork. I know what you’re thinking, “What kind of movie reviewer is this guy? He never has anything bad to say about camerawork!” Well here I go again, the visuals here were fantastic! The camerawork wasn’t too creative in terms of angles or anything like that but the framing of shots was great. Off the top of my head, approximately two weeks later, I can still recall various stunning wide frames that captured so much in each shot. Besides framing, the visual style of the movie was also worth mentioning. I don’t know how to describe it, there’s great use of sepia tones and washed out gray colors that work very well together and make this a very pretty movie. The outdoors shots in particular reminded me a bit of Skyfall (2012), a movie that I really appreciate visually. And since I’m making comparisons, I don’t know how to put words to the style I’m describing but if you’ve seen Her (2013) then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The best way I can describe it is very neat and soft around the edges, everything seems to be in its place. Lastly, this may not be the correct category to highlight this under but I greatly enjoyed the running visual gag with the various exotic animals randomly appearing on screen in the backgrounds. These animals of course being guests of The Hotel who have been released into the wild.

 

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The Characters:

Another aspect of this movie that I enjoyed was the interesting cast of characters. As I’ve noted in other reviews, often movies have great main characters or individual characters but side characters feel weak. That’s not the case here where every character feels unique. I think the movie really accomplished something on this front because, like I said, the humor and style is so deadpan that it would be so easy for the characters to seem flat or blend into each other but they don’t. Colin Farrell was fantastic! He really sold his character well which is saying something because he’s this former bad boy/heart-throb actor playing a sort of pudgy and pathetic guy who I surprisingly ended up caring and rooting for. Just as a side note, I never used to like Farrell. That’s putting it mildly, I REALLY disliked the guy for no good reason. Oddly enough I started to like him when I randomly watched Phone Booth (2003) randomly on tv (not a very good movie but pretty fun one). After that I stumbled upon In Bruges (2008), one of my favorite movies ever, and I really started to appreciate him and his choice of roles. More recently he was easily the best part of what was a very disappointing season of True Detective and I appreciate him for that. But back to the movie! The rest of the cast is kind of star-studded. Rachel Weisz plays The Short Sighted Woman aka the main love interest Olivia Colman plays The hotel Manager. John C. Reilly plays Lisping Man, one of the sadly hopeful hotel guests who David befriends. Lea Seydoux plays the batshit crazy, beautiful, and hilarious resistance captain, Loner Leader. Ben Wishaw is fantastic as Limping Man, another of the odd hotel gusts who David befriends. All of these characters have unique personalities and are truly memorable. Angeliki Papouila is especially worthy of praise. She was not on screen for very long and I don’t know much about her she was outstanding as The Heartless Woman. She was terrifying but in a really funny and outrageous way, major props to her.

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The Story (and Script):

While great characters and actors with good delivery are crucial for a great movie, a good story and script are at the very least just as essential. I clearly enjoyed the story and script of this movie, the unique concept is kind of the whole point. That being said, the story is also where my biggest complaints come from.

The Good: Everything the movie does well, it does REALLY well. The concept is very clever and kind of reminded me a bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), another one of my all time favorite movies. By that I mean that the story takes place in a world that’s grounded in a reality very close to ours yet there are elements of really strange, almost supernatural events that are happening. In Eternal Sunshine that’s the erasing of memories and to not knowing if what we’re seeing is inside Joel’s mind or a real life. In this movie that’s the turning of people into animals, clearly. All of Lanthimos’ films are meant to be social commentary on something or another. Here that thing is relationships and the various silly mechanisms society sets up to facilitate meeting people. I enjoyed that aspect of it because you may miss it at first given how explicitly absurd the plot is but when you think about it afterwards it starts to make sense. Movies like that are the kind that you end up reflecting on way after you watch them and that’s always a good thing.

One thing I should note is that the movie never explains the mechanics of how anything works. Why and how did society evolve to the point to where turning single people into animals is the law? Is this a global rule or just regional? How does someone even get turned into an animal? The movie is obviously aware of these unexplained aspects as it makes a couple jokes about it throughout. I can see how this would bother some people but it worked well for me. If they had tried to explain everything the story would’ve become way too bloated and there would’ve been a forced feeling to it all.

I have to get a few words in here for the script. The writing was almost perfect! You can tell the writers (Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou) are very talented at knowing what the effect their words will have on audiences, where to insert and how long to hold pauses to make things uncomfortably funny, and how to give each character a unique flavor. The script was not dynamic at all and this kind of writing and delivery on most other movies would result in a tough to watch film. Here the style works perfectly and while everyone talks in a disinterested and superficial way, it doesn’t compromise anything. In fact it added another layer to the movie for me because the story is all about relationships, either being forced to find one or forced to stay out of one. Underneath the very superficial and stilted dialogue you can feel the desperation in the character’s voices to find something more substantial. Lastly here, this is an example of how to properly use voice-over narration. One of the characters gives narration throughout most of the film but I always found myself looking forward to it and her delivery was a spectacle on its own, I can still hear the voice in my mind now.

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The Not So Good: Regrettably the story and pacing also have their shortcomings and that’s the only thing that held this movie back from being closer to perfect. The first half of the movie is laid out extremely well with the perfect amount of jokes, plot progression, and pacing. Once we leave The Hotel, things slow down dramatically. Everything that goes on after that isn’t exactly bad or boring but it’s noticeable different from the stellar first half. The film didn’t feel too long yet I think it would’ve been an overall better movie if some of the second half were trimmed. If you watch the movie I’m sure you’ll notice the same as there are many more instances of lingering and silence in the latter half. Additionally, while I didn’t have a big issue with it, I know plenty of people won’t like the ending. I saw the movie with Liz and she also really enjoyed it but she wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending. Obviously I won’t spoil it for you but I feel comfortable saying it’s the type of ending that may feel like a cop out or unresolved. Personally I was very comfortable being left in the dark as to many of the deeper details of the film’s universe from the beginning so the ending wasn’t unsatisfactory. I won’t say that I loved the ending either but not every movie needs to have a mind-blowing ending to make it as a good movie.

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The Verdict: 

Overall I enjoyed this movie greatly. Like I said earlier, I can’t comfortably say I recommend this movie to everyone. If you don’t mind unexplained trip movies, black comedies, and endless amount of deadpan humor then I think you’ll enjoy this one. If you like more traditional plot structures with clear motivations and circumstances and endings that are neatly wrapped up then stay far away.

Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Let me tell you a little something about the stressful circumstances that have led to this review. This has nothing to do with The Witch so if you’re here strictly for that, go ahead and skip past the next paragraph.

Today started off well enough. My property class was cancelled; I knew that before I woke up. This meant I only had a torts class sitting between me and loads of free to time to study, nap, cook, read, watch basketball, or whatever else. This stream of consciousness thinking about all the possibilities the day was ripe with was enough to distract me from the fact that property was my morning class, not my afternoon class. I downloaded the new Nyck Caution mixtape, Disguise the Limit, to listen to later (and it’s absolute flames, check it out). After a nice shower I hopped atop my bike and peddled towards what I thought was my morning torts class, a class that in actuality is scheduled for 2:00 pm. I even left my house a tad early since I’d been craving some boba. As usual I biked listening to music and sports radio because I live far from campus and rather not think about the distance. After some technical difficulties with the lid machine I got my boba and again worked my way towards school. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bike cop. I didn’t even know if I was doing anything wrong, in fact I was sure of it, but I was absolutely certain he’d find something to pull me over for. It was like when the professor asks a question and no one raises their hand but you just KNOW they’re going to call your name for the answer. What do you know, as sure as Donald Drumpf is a racist this dude points a finger at me, “Pull over, let’s have a talk.” 10 minutes later I was again biking, milk tea in one hand and citation for biking with headphones on in another. I pulled into campus a bit less cheery than I was when I woke. As the great Marshawn Lynch said, “I know I’m gon get got but I’m gon get mine more than I get got though” so I headed though those doors determined to salvage the morning. That was the exact moment it dawned on me that I didn’t have class for 3 hours, I had confused my schedule. Damn. It’s ok, I already made the bike ride, I might as well sit in the library and do some work for a few hours. I was on a roll 20 minutes into my studies but everything changed when the fire nation attacked, and by the fire nation I mean my allergies. In a city like Davis it was only a matter of time befoe the itchy eyes and sneezing started but I’d been lucky to avoid it up until then. When it rains it pours and today I’ve been rained on enough to solve California’s water crisis. After 3 sneezes I walked out because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit in there with what was about to happen. As soon as I left the room I sneezed close to 20 times in a row and simply left the entire building. I put on my Indiana Jones cap and went hunting for my holy grail, Zyrtec. Did I find any? Of course not! Utterly defeated I stumbled into Panera Bread, still sneezing, with eyes more red than a college freshman who just discovered the Devil’s lettuce. While pouring my coffee I saw a wheel chaired man struggling with the front doors; I set my coffee down and helped him. The old man looked to me and said, “thank you…fuck doors.” with that thought in mind I took a seat and decided that maybe my day wasn’t as bad as it seemed. That’s the story of how I found myself at Panera Bread with enough free time to finally write another movie review.

Thank you to those of you who read that above paragraph! Ultimately though this IS a movie review blog so let’s get to it.  The Witch (2016) is writer-director Robert Eggers’ directorial debut and damn does he deliver. I came across the trailer for this film a few months back and it was so mesmerizing that I had to watch it two more times to soak it all in. I showed the trailer to Liz soon after and we both agreed we had to watch it as soon as it came out. Here, see for yourself:

See? You can immediately feel that it’s not your standard horror film. There are no jump scares, all the tension stems from the music and drab visuals, you can tell that this is a movie that’s dripping with atmosphere. All of those aspects of the trailer are thankfully highly representative of the film. Too often trailers end up being absolutely nothing like the movie (I refused to be burned by The Purge series again!) but this is not one of those times. This is a movie that is absolutely full of tension but none of the thrills are cheap.

I’ll go ahead and introduce the cast and also praise it. The acting and casting is absolutely one of the best parts of the movie. Everyone involved did a fantastic job and was extremely convincing. This might be due to the fact that essentially the whole cast is relatively unknown. The film’s most well known star is the mother, Kate Dickie, of Game of Thrones breastfeeding fame. The father, William, is played by Jesus Christ look alike Ralph Ineson. And I don’t say Jesus Christ look alike to be funny, I’m pretty sure he was supposed to look like Jesus for symbolic purposes. The film’s best performance comes courtesy of Anya Taylor-Joy, a complete unknown who plays the role of Thomasin, the family’s oldest child. I’m certain we’ll be hearing her name in the future because her performance here surely put her on the map.  Similarly, Harvey Scrimshaw delivers a knockout performance as the second oldest child, Caleb. The rest of the family is rounded out by Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson playing twins Mercy and Jonas. Even these two little ones give good performance in their limited roles.

The story starts with the family on trial and ultimately exiled from their Puritan New England community. They set out to find a new home and settle on a decently sized plot of land by the creepy woods, what could possibly go wrong? Maybe I’m just too used to the city but if you decide to live by the woods I just assume you’re gonna get eaten, killed The Strangers (2008) style, chased by Acromantulas, or face the same dilemmas this family did. But I’ll forgive that because these were different times and settling by the woods just meant easy access to building materials and probably plenty of game to hunt. The family builds a pretty sweet house and farm and everything seems to be going well but then as subtly as a slap in the face everything goes wrong. The family’s newborn baby disappears, the crops fail, the woods end up being devoid of animals, and the family’s faith is repeatedly tested.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the cinematography. Jarin Blaschke nails it in depicting everything that is creepy about the woods. The remoteness and massiveness of the woods is one of the scariest things about the movie. To make it more clear think of those times when you’ve sat up in bed at 2:00 am, unable to fall asleep, thinking “Whoa, we’re less than specks of dust in this massive universe.” For those of you less existentially inclined, an even better example, think of floating over the Mariana Trench knowing that you can only see a few feet below you and also knowing the water stretches far deeper than you can even comprehend. You know you’re probably safe but there are countless of unseen creatures, massive and miniscule, that could end your life. And maybe, just maybe, Cthulhu himself is staring right at you. Similarly, the woods are dauntingly huge and confusing, one wrong turn and you may never find your way back. Beyond the sheer size of the woods is also the fact that the woods hide unseen evil. Every scene in the woods creates the impression that the family is not quite familiar enough with it to be able to wander into it carefree. Speaking of camerawork, I love that the scariness did not come from spastic jump cuts. The scariness came from the camera lingering much longer than you’d like on the same spots, you are powerless to escape from whatever may come. If you were there in person you would’ve turn around and ran a long time ago but here you’re forced to stare into the danger.

The lighting in this movie was also top notch. There wouldn’t be any tension in any of these scenes if it were not for the superb lighting. Given the time period the only sources of light once the sun set were moonlight and lanterns, creating the opportunity for menacing shadows and limited visibility.

I already talked about the acting but all the acting chops in the world wouldn’t have mattered if the story was weak. As you might’ve guessed, I really liked the story. The story was impressive not because it was a masterpiece that blew your mind but because it withholds just the right amount and right kinds of information. This is NOT a movie that tries to explain its entire universe or the mechanisms by which it operates. This is a movie where you observe a family’s faith being tested and struggling against an almost entirely unseen evil they cannot comprehend. You get just enough allusions to classic children’s folktales of the past with the twins’ songs and the imagery of the red cape. You get classic witch lore like the idea of bathing in blood for power and mentions to the book of witches. You get biblical references to things like the Book of Job and how this family feels like they’re being similarly tested. You get references to demonic entities and symbols through exorcisms and the imagery of the goat. All of this and more combines to make you see that this family exists in a rich world and while we may not ever find out exactly how all of it works, we know that it is there. At the end there were a few moments before the actual ending where I thought the movie would just fade to black but I’m glad that it didn’t because the actual ending was fantastic. The ending strikes a great balance between giving closure and leaving enough unexplained to keep you thinking.

I want to make a quick comparison that I have no doubts most people won’t relate to. Watching this movie made me feel a lot like I did playing the video game Bloodborne in the way the story is dripping with atmosphere, tension, and a deep lore that remains mostly unexplained.

Obviously I have nothing but praise for the movie, keep that in mind when I say that the music is my favorite part. That’s how good the music was. Mark Korven truly outdid himself with this one. The music kept me on the edge of my seat from the very opening. This is a movie that would’ve still been great with very sparring use of music and artificial sounds but instead it makes great use of Korven’s work. If I had to pick one word to describe the music it would be unrelenting. The longer the movie went on, the more I was impressed by how sound alone could make me feel so uneasy and tense.

I’m trying to think of things I didn’t like about the movie but there really isn’t much. The thing that bothered me most was the dialect that was spoken throughout the movie because it made it difficult to understand what was being said at times. I could make out more than enough to know what was happening but I undoubtedly missed some good stuff. In the end I don’t dislike the decision to use this type of dialect because it made the movie feel more authentic and it just gives me an excuse to watch the movie again with subtitles.

Also worth noting is that this movie reportedly had a tiny budget. I remember hearing that the whole thing was made for about $1 million. That’s a very low budget for what they accomplished! I know that shouldn’t influence my review but the fact that they put out such quality for that budget is very impressive.

After all the great things I had to say about this movie, I cannot say that I would recommend it to everyone. If you’re the type of person who only enjoys jump scares, a fast pace, a deeply explored story, and horror that really gets your heart racing then I really don’t think you’ll enjoy this movie very much. This isn’t to say that liking those kinds of movies is a bad thing. For every Lupe Fiasco or Kendrick Lamar you’re going to have a Chief Keef or 2Chainz and there’s nothing wrong with liking one style over the other or in liking both. Similarly, for every The Witch or It Follows (2014) you’re going to have a Dead Silence (2007) or Annabelle (2014). While I definitely appreciate both styles, I prefer the former category. I don’t know if it’s a trend or if I’m simply choosing different movies to watch but I’ve seen more and more movies move towards tense atmospheres and sounds to provide scares rather than jump scares and gore. Just this past year alone I’ve seen It Follows, The Babadook (2014), Goodnight Mommy (2014), and The Witch, all of which fall into this category I’m talking about. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those are some of my most recent favorite movies. I’ll gladly watch the new Insidious or Paranormal Activity but it’s refreshing to see alternative styles of horror. Back to my point though, if you thought something like It Follows wasn’t scary enough for you or if you found The Revenant (2015) boring then you should probably skip this one.

To end my review I just wanted to say happy birthday to Liz! We were unable to watch this movie opening weekend but we eagerly watched it the weekend after on her birthday. For some reason we have a habit of watching some pretty twisted stuff on special occasions. It’s not on purpose or anything, it just happens. I still remember one of our first dates was me getting her to watch We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), not exactly a heart warmer. Anyway I’m glad I have a partner who has an open mind about watching crazy stuff like this because otherwise I’d be alone in the theater more often than not.

Liz: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh hello!  It’s been awhile hasn’t it?!  I will admit I’ve gotten quite lazy with writing reviews, but with the Golden Globes coming tomorrow, it was time that I churned one out.  Omar and I saw The Revenant (2015) yesterday, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardyas well as Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck.

Movie trailers tend to always attach quotes such as “masterpiece,” “the most amazing movie in the whole wide world,” “the best ever,” etc etc you get the point.  I was excited to see this movie as soon as Omar first shared the trailer with me some time ago.  It looked beautiful and interesting from what I saw and I was ready to see Leo on screen again.  I don’t tend to believe what the quotes attached to trailers say about a movie, but after seeing The Revenant, WOOO I BELIEVE IT!  I loved loved loved this movie.  I can honestly say that it was definitely in the Top 10 Most Visually Beautiful movies I’ve EVER seen and though it didn’t have the most amazing story or anything, this movie will always be in my favorites of all the time.

Quick summary before I get going: The Revenant tells the story of a terribly injured (like really terribly) frontiersman, Hugh Glass, who is left for dead in the cold cold wilderness by the group of fur traders he was leading.

So why the perfect 5 out of 5? Let’s begin.

First, like I already said, DAMN this movie was MAJESTIC AND MESMERIZING.  Just about every single minute of this movie was visually breathtaking.  Whatever I write here will not do it justice, you really have to see it yourself to understand what I’m talking about.  Let’s look at some pictures though to give you a taste:

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So much nature!  So much snow! So much forest!  I mean if this movie doesn’t win all the awards for Best Cinematography, I’ll be shocked.  (Note: I am horrendously behind on watching all the movies being nominated for all the awards and such so I shouldn’t really be saying anything, but let my above statement be a testament to how impressive this movie was).

Second: the cast.  Before I go into my love rant about Leonardo DiCaprio, let me just say that I give all the applause to this entire cast (AND CREW!) because filming this movie must have been absolutely brutal.  Just watching the movie made me feel cold and so actually being in that environment and then filming a movie on top of it is quite a feat.

The acting was superb.  I’ll start with Forrest Goodluck, who plays the son of Leonardo DiCaprio.  Yaaaas, Native American actors on screen!  Forrest Goodluck is only 17 years old but from reading about him online, the kid has already done so many amazing things director-wise, which is crazy! Read about him!  This is his first breakout role as an actor, and I hope he continues to get roles in the future because he was great.

I was also excited to see Will Poulter in this movie.  He’s starting to turn up in a lot of movies and it’s so cool to remember him in School of Comedy in the UK and now he’s in these super-huge epic movies.  Also shoutout to Domhnall Gleeson who is also showing up more and more.  The dude was in this movie AND Star Wars VII.

Now to Tom Hardy and of course, my sweet sweet Leo.  First of all, I need to acknowledge that this is their second time on screen together (the first being Inception).  There’s really no point to acknowledging that other than the fact that I love when actors appear in different movies together.  Tom Hardy is a talented talented man.  I love him and his acting ability really impressed me in this movie.  He was a terrible character but he played it so well.  I’ve seen him fit into a number of different roles now and I’m happy that he can move from romcom to action movie to gritty British crime thriller to biographical etc etc easily.

Ok, let me the millionth person for the millionth time say JUST GIVE LEO THE DAMN OSCAR ALREADY. Haha, I know that the Oscars and other such awards aren’t an indication of the true talent that an actor has, but I really feel like he deserves all the awards for this role.  From reading about how he was close to hypothermia often (I guess most of the actors were but moving on..) to sleeping in animal carcasses… to how he spent most the movie grunting and crawling and screaming in pain… I just think he gave up his mind body and soul to this role.  He didn’t speak much in this movie at all, but that doesn’t matter at all.  I love Leo in just about every movie I’ve seen him in, so I might be biased, but he really put it all into The Revenant and I hope he is recognized for that.

Third: the screenplay / (lack of?) script.  There wasn’t much talking in this movie.  There was a lot of grunting and silence.  Yet I was enthralled and hooked in the entire time.  I don’t have much else to say about that, but it’s always impressive to me when I’m captivated by a movie so intensely that I don’t really notice that the movie as a whole was relatively quiet.

Fourth: Alejandro Iñárritu is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. I haven’t yet seen Babel, but I’ve seen the rest of his feature films, and though it is a short list, all of them have been extremely strong and impressive movies.  Furthermore, this movie must have been extremely frustrating and difficult to take on, especially after two directors had already left the project.  Also yaaaas Mexican representation!

Nitpicky things: I guess the story wasn’t that incredible looking back.  I don’t want to sell it short, but the movie was essentially a revenge story with other factors mixed in.  But I don’t care about that at all.  I enjoyed the story and I think that a complicated one might have ruined it.

Penultimately: I’m glad that this movie cast Native actors for the Native roles.  I’m also glad that it touched on the destruction that white people brought to their land and people.  I appreciate that the movie didn’t romanticize the white frontiersman nor did it trap the Native actors into horrendous stereotypes.

Lastly: THAT MUSIC THO. Absolutely beautiful score and it paired so well with the cinematography and the action happening in the movie.

I thought that this movie was simply incredible.  I enjoyed it from start to finish.  Go see it.  I will be intently watching the Golden Globes tomorrow and I will cry for Leo out of pride, no matter what happens.

 

Score: 4.0 out of 5

(This review is NOT spoiler free!!!)

Here we are, the big one. I’ve been thinking about writing this review for a few months now, ever since we started this blog. To be honest I haven’t looked forward to writing this one because it’s such a massive series, one that I’ve followed since I was a child. How do you even begin to write about something like that? How do you organize your thoughts? Regardless, for better or worse, here we are.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed splendidly by J.J. Abrams,  is the seventh entry into the film series created by George Lucas way back in the 70’s. It’s hard to imagine a individual series as successful or popular as Star Wars. Star Wars has spawned countless video games, tv shows, documentaries, board games, clothing lines, novels, etc. You get the picture, the series is massive! Needless to say, the pressure was on when it came to making this film. After the abominations that were Episodes I-III, all I hoped for was a decent movie that opened the series up again for future development. I didn’t expect anything too risky or innovative by any means. I’m happy to report that the film blew my expectations away! This movie was so good that I went to see it twice in the same week and it was even better the second time around.

One of the first things that immediately stands out in this movie is the great script, something the prequel trilogy did not have. Let’s face it, no actor in the world could have made some of the lines in episodes I-III work. When you compound that with having wooden/monotone Hayden Christenson as your lead, you’re gonna have a bad time. Luckily the team that put the script together in this newest film did a great job. There was the right amount of fan service with plenty of clever quips and references and it was also the funniest Star Wars movie yet. At some points it almost even felt like it was becoming too comedic like in that later scene with Fin and Captain Phasma but luckily they never really went overboard with it. One thing that did bother me a tad was the amount of moments that felt like pure exposition. Specifically I noticed this in the moments where Kylo Ren and General Hux were talking to Snoke. These dark side conference calls felt like it was just the bad guys monologuing and outlining their plan in order for us to know what they’re doing. I made a point of focusing on these moments more the second time around and they didn’t bother me as much but I still noticed it. Given how sharp the writing was, I’m willing to give these small moments a pass because I’m really just nitpicking here. Han sounded like classic Han (“Move, ball.”), Leia sounded like Leia, and Chewbacca sounded like Chewbacca. None of the heroes we know and love were ruined or said anything that was out of character. As for the new characters, they have their own eccentricities and personalities that felt fresh.

Getting back to the acting, the casting here was spot on. A large part of why the original trilogy is far superior to the prequel trilogy is that Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were all relatively unknown actors when they were cast so they WERE Han Solo, Leia, and Luke Skywalker. Their acting was believable. I hate to beat a dead horse here but the prequel trilogy has incredibly cheesy dialogue and bad delivery which completely breaks immersion and the authentic feel of the original trilogy. Don’t even get me started on the whole, “I hate sand” debacle! Anyway, this new movie is a return to form and whoever was in charge of casting deserves a bonus.

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I don’t know where they dug up Daisy Ridley but she is a straight up gem! Daisy plays the badass female lead, Rey. I’ll get more into characters later but I love the fact that Rey, a woman, is the main protagonist here and yeah, she’s pretty, but she is never sexualized or simplified or inferior. Rey is a well written character who everyone is dying to know more about and she’s a star not just in the context of the film but outside of it because now little girls around the world have a character who they can identify with and look up to and she bucks the trend of what a female character traditionally is in these types of films.

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John Boyega also knocks it out of the park as FN-2187, better known as Finn. I actually watched Boyega’s acting debut on the big screen back when my cousin gifted me passes to a special screening of Attack the Block (2011). I was pleasantly surprised with both the film and Boyega, who certainly stole the show. In the years between then and now I’ve occasionally re-watched Attack the Block found myself wondering if he’d ever make it big or if I’d ever see him again. When I saw his face pop up in the initial trailer for the new Star Wars, I was pumped! He’s a talented and relatively fresh actor who certainly has the ability to fill his big role. He was probably the most innocent and funny character in this movie and he clearly has the heart of a hero. I have high hopes for Finn in the future! I will say that his American accent threw me off the entire first showing because I only ever knew him as having a thick British accent but I got used to it. The same way Ridley is a hero young girls can look up to, Boyega is a hero that young black kids can look up to. I won’t jump into a sociological tirade because I could go on for days but we all heard of the outcry from a certain ignorant portion of the population regarding the “impossibility” of a black stormtrooper. That should be enough right there to show you that there was a need for a character like Finn. Sure, Star Wars had Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu in the past but neither of those two ever took center stage the way Finn did. And to those people out there hating on Finn I say: 1. Brush up on your Star Wars lore because the Empire stopped using clones for their army way before the destruction of the first Death Star 2. Shut the hell up.

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OSCAR FREAKING ISAAC, this is my dude right here! It’s really a toss up as to who my favorite new character is. On some days I might give it to Rey but on most days I’d have to go with Poe Dameron, the best fighter pilot in the Resistance. I’m very biased here because unlike the other new main stars, I’ve seen many of Isaac’s previous roles and I’ve been a fan of every single one. I liked the guy in Drive (2011), he really caught my attention in Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), and by the time A Most Violent Year (2014) and Ex Machina (2015) came around, I was completely sold. Oscar Isaac is one of my favorite actors given his role selection and he kills it as Poe. There will never be another Han Solo but Poe Dameron gives me the most Han Solo vibes of anyone besides the man himself. Poe has the swagger, the charisma, (had) the leather jacket, the piloting abilities, and the one-liners that have me thinking Han Solo 2.0. Not to mention he’s latino! Maybe that makes me more biased but he’s definitely tied for #1 coolest Guatemalan I know (shout-out to Mario Briones).

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Adam Driver as the new red saber wielding bad guy, Kylo Ren, is certainly the most controversial of all the additions. Part of the complaints are that Kylo Ren acts like a spoiled child in some scenes and part of it has to do with his appearance. I’ll get into that former part a bit later but I’ll get the latter part out of the way here. I agree that the reveal of Kylo’s appearance could’ve been handled a bit better. There was a palpably awkward moment in the theater when Kylo first took off his helmet for the first time because we all knew by then that he was Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia. Everyone in the crowd had expectations as to what he would look like and when he took off his helmet he just didn’t look like what anyone was expecting. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily but it could’ve been done way better. I agree that Kylo looks nothing like Han or Leia but I think he has similarities in likeness to a young Darth Vader aka Hayden Christenson, which is good enough for me. I’ve pictures of Driver with what looks like a trademark goatee and mustache and I would’ve much preferred if they kept that look because he looks a bit more sinister and less like a smooth faced tantrum-thrower. Anywho, I’ve read nothing but great things about his acting abilities and he showcased them well here. His character had some critical moments of internal struggle in the film and Driver handled it very well! With the wrong actor the lines he had to deliver and the pain he had to show could’ve come off as really cheesy but he executed it well. He’s what I wish Anakin Skywalker had been in Episode III. Driver also certainly nails the voice! His deep voice fits perfectly as the villain.

Those are the only new additions I wanted to branch out and discuss because I feel like they were the most important and most talked about. Besides them there were obviously others that are worth a mention at least. Domhnall Gleeson takes over the new Governor Tarkin role as General Hux. I’ve been a fan of Gleeson’s previous roles but here there simply wasn’t enough of him to really say much. His speech to his army before the first firing of the Starkiller weapon was some of the best acting in the movie though and it bought him a pass in my book. Lupita Nyong’o is also in the movie but this was possibly the biggest let down for me. Lupita has all the acting ability in the world and she has a KILLER aesthetic for making a badass Jedi or Sith or something. Instead they used Lupita as the cgi Maz Kanata. Maz is a cool character, she’s supposed to be like the new Yoda or something, but it feels like a criminal underutilization of Lupita’s talents. They could’ve used anyone’s voice for Maz! Save Lupita for something special!

Before jumping in to discussing my thoughts on the events of the film, I want to finish off praising the film’s other aspects. The movie predictably had a perfect score given it was the master John Williams in charge. If anything I think we could’ve used a little more innovation in this area. Again, this just more nitpicking because the classic star wars music was just as fun to listen to today as it has been in every other movie. Williams also brings some solid new sounds. Moving on, the cinematography was also fantastic! This wasn’t the most gorgeous movie of the year by any means but the set pieces were great. The landscape views of Jakku and Takodana were beautiful. If you know me or have at least read some of my other reviews you’ll know I’m a big fan of the tracking shot. There was a phenomenal tracking shot here where Poe takes on about five or six tie fighters that I felt captured the thrill of being a pilot better than any other Star Wars scene before. Back tracking a little bit, I want to say a little more about the locations in this movie. As I was saying, Jakku and Takodana were cool. There were a few more locations that were great as well but overall if you think about it the locations were a bit too familiar. Starkiller Base was essentially Hoth, Jakku was obviously reminiscent of Tatooine, and Takodana was reminiscent of Endor or any other lush, green planet. This wasn’t extremely bothersome but it was something that I was very conscious off both times I watched the movie.

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Now let us get to the heart of the thing here, what we all came for, the STORY! I loved the story of this new Star Wars but it wasn’t perfect.

First of all, let me say that I was disappointed by how familiar the story felt. If you look at the story broadly you’ll notice it is almost step for step the same thing as A New Hope (1977). You have the young force-sensitive prodigy from a desert planet who gets caught in an intergalactic struggle against an Empire-like entity who wields a planet destroying weapon. I said before that I expected them to stay sort of safe with this one and just reintroduce us to the series but that’s different than straight up copying the plot of the original movie. That was a bit lazy in my eyes.

One of my biggest story complaints was HOW THE HELL did Leia and the rest of the Resistance STAY the Resistance?! If you backtrack to Return of the Jedi (1983), the entire point of the movie is that the evil of the Empire is defeated. The Emperor is killed, Darth Vader finds redemption in his dying moments, and the rebels party like crazy with the Ewoks because they did the impossible. We don’t know yet what officially happened in the time between A New Hope and this movie. Since Disney took over the series they’ve undone a bunch of the previously canon storylines. I know there is going to be a series of books that bridges the story between A New Hope and The Force Awakens but until then I’m left wondering how the rebels screwed up so bad that they’re still the rebels. How terribly did they mess things up that with Darth Vader and the Emperor out of the picture, Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, and the rest of their army still couldn’t finish off the remnants of the Empire?

Another thing that bothered me, what exactly was going on between the Republic and the Resistance? I know it was stated by Hux that the Republic was responsible for supporting the rebels but we didn’t get much more than that. The whole thing just raised many questions that were never answered before the Republic was destroyed. How was the Republic supporting the rebels? Why weren’t they seemingly doing anything about the fact that the Empire was still out there regrouping? Why did they not see giant lasers coming at them from across immense distances? I don’t know, maybe we’ll get some answers some other time.

Before jumping into a discussion on the bad guys, a quick word on the good ones. The cast of characters that form the heroes is fantastic because there are cool and fleshed out people everywhere. I’ve said enough about Rey, Poe, and Finn, you get the picture, they’re all great! I love how they gave Rey the most power or potential for most power, it was about time. I have my fingers crossed that she decides to go with a saber staff instead of a traditional saber when it inevitably comes time for all of that. Anyway, this movie was all about the new faces and passing the torch on while honoring the legacy of the characters that came before. I’m glad they went in this direction instead of trying to make our classic heroes the focal point. How awesome was it that Han could see how talented Rey was that he basically passed on the Millennium Falcon to her?! (Speaking of which, that initial escape from Jakku almost made me jump out of my seat in ecstasy after Rey powered the ship off, Finn got that perfect shot, and then they sped off into space!) We all know how cool Han and Leia are and about the amazing things they’ve done but lets face it, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer are old. Maybe being old isn’t as big of a damper on Leia because she’s a general and not out in the field but it was hard for me to imagine them pulling off Han Solo as a hotshot gunslinger for much longer. Note that I didn’t mention Mark Hamill. This is partially because we essentially didn’t see him at all in this movie. On top of that, you can get away with being old if you’re possibly the most powerful jedi master of all time. Actually, being old kind of helps because it just makes you seem more wise and experienced. I definitely had chills seeing Luke at the top of the hill at the end of the movie.

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Now for the bad guys! I don’t know who these people really are, I don’t know if they’re considered the Sith or not. Snoke references the Knights of Ren and the fact that Kylo is their leader but we don’t explicitly hear who they are or what their ultimate goal is. I didn’t like Snoke one bit in this movie. He seems to be the new Emperor type character and he may very well have incredible power but we never get to see it. I assume he can hold his own if he’s training Kylo Ren and is treated as all powerful but again, we only ever see his hologram. I was not in favor of the way they presented Snoke either. First of all, his name is trash. You can’t go from having great sounding bad guys like Darth Vader, Darth Maul, The Emperor/Darth Sidious, General Grievous, etc. to Snoke. Whenever I think Snoke I also think snot and that’s not a good look. Speaking of looks, I didn’t like that either. I don’t want to sound like I just hate cgi characters since you already know I wasn’t a big fan of Maz’s appearance but that was for a different reason. I had no problem with Maz’s appearance itself, I had a problem with them not using Lupita’s appearance as a character of her own. As for Snoke, he didn’t look menacing at all. We only saw his hologram but he looked decrepit and fragile. I’m willing to rethink my stance on Snoke after learning more about who he is and what he’s done or after we see more in future movies but as for now this is all we have to go off of.

I’ll keep my bit on Captain Phasma short, I was disappointed in her character. She has the potential to be great and I’m sure she will be but she wasn’t developed at all and barely made any appearances. I only included her here because I assume she’s special if she’s wearing that special chrome suit which admittedly looks really cool.

Likewise, I’ve said pretty much all I’ve wanted to say about General Hux as well. He has potential and his speech was great but I need to see more of him before I form an opinion either way.

Now, Kylo Ren, the divisive. I already talked about Kylo’s appearance but I’d like to address other complaints people had. The reason I do this is because I think Kylo Ren is the most compelling villain amongst the lackluster “bad” side. The previous movies always had great villains, even the prequels did a solid job of that. You always had a good set of bad guys to keep you interested. If you’re like me, sometimes the villains were even your favorite characters. I think Kylo has the most potential to be one of these great villain. People didn’t like that he seemed to throw tantrums when things didn’t go his way or that his arrogance often times had him do something stupid. Everyone has to remember Kylo is young! He isn’t a master yet, he hasn’t even completed his training. He has so far showcased impressive powers like being able to read people’s minds and being able to stop a powerful blast in mid-air. Think back to Anakin when he first became Darth Vader, he was reckless and arrogant too. His recklessness and arrogance is what ended up getting him into that iconic Vader suit in the first place. What do we know about the dark side of the force? We know that rage and anger are the tools of people who use the dark side. Being able to passionately channel rage at the right moments and being able to control it is the whole point. Of course Kylo is going to be angry and show displays of frustration, he hasn’t learned how to fully control his anger yet. I think it would’ve been a huge misstep and boring if they had made Kylo Ren a master of sorts from the get go. Think about it, have we ever had the pleasure of watching a bad guy really mature? Count Dooku was always quite powerful and so was Darth Sidious. General Grievous seemed to be at the peak of his power as well when we met him and Obi-Wan killed him quickly anyway. We had Darth Maul but he was diced up quickly too. The only bad guy we’ve really seen develop is Anakin/Vader but we only got a real glimpse of that in Episode III and once we’re into Episode IV, Vader is already a master. Give Kylo Ren a chance, I don’t think the people in charge of writing the story will screw him up. Also I think his struggling with the draw of the light side versus the dark side was a nice touch that shows he still has Luke, Leia, and Han’s spirit in there somewhere. To people saying he’s weak because he couldn’t beat Finn and Rey in a lightsaber duel there at the end, remember two things: 1. Rey is obviously some sort of prodigy who tapped into the force to catch an overconfident Kylo off guard. 2. Kylo had just taken a hit straight on from Chewie’s blaster which the movie made a point of showing as being very powerful.

Of course, I can’t write this review without talking about the death of the beloved Han Solo. I was lucky enough to have not had this movie spoiled for me so when this moment happened it really hit me full on. Han Solo is without a doubt my favorite Star Wars character. I know he doesn’t wield a lightsaber and he can’t use the force but he’s undeniably the most cool character and the fact that he’s a legend in a universe where superheroes essentially exist speaks for itself. I won’t say the moment was entirely unexpected when it happened, looking back it was pretty obvious at various points that something terrible was going to happen. For me it went a little something like this: 1. Han and Chewie splitting up had me worried a death was coming. 2. Han approaching Kylo on the bridge made the thought of Han dying cross my mind but I didn’t want to think it was possible. 3. The vagueness of Kylo’s speech when he was talking about Han helping him do what he had to do pretty much gave it away. 4. When the light dimmed I knew it was the end. At first I felt extremely sad and angry that Han died in that way because I couldn’t imagine this great smuggler and survivor taking such a stupid risk but the more I thought about it the more I accepted it as the correct decision. Han wasn’t just a smuggler and escape artist anymore, he was a father. He knew there was a good possibility of death but he used the last minutes of his life to try and save his son. I didn’t know if they’d ever kill Han Solo but I assumed that if they did he’d go out with a bang. He didn’t go the way I was expecting but he went unflinchingly knowing he was staring death in the face and that’s about as cool as it gets. Despite all of this, his death stung. While I saw his body fall into the pit below I still had hope that he was alive and would find a way out. He’s Han Solo after all! You never tell him the odds! I knew it was practically impossible but Han had been in tight situation before. I bet I wasn’t the only one who felt that way either.

After a few minutes I of course knew that was the end of Han but I accepted it. We have to realize that Star Wars has never been about an individual person. No one is bigger than the galaxy itself. Maz said it best when she said she’s been around for a long time and has seen the same eyes in different people. There have been many names and groups, some of which have destroyed planets, but everything balances out and life continues. Over the years I’ve spent many hours on Wookiepedia reading all about Star Wars story arcs that take places dozens of generations before the movies to dozens of generations after and everything in between. Many of those stories are substantially more fleshed out than even the movies are. The story that we all know is but a speck of dust in the overall story of beings throughout space and time. This is one of the biggest appeals of the series for me. We have this epic adventure with huge implications but it is still only the tiniest slice of what is happening in the grandest scheme of things. There will always be people struggling for something or other, when you zoom out far enough the lines of good and bad don’t even matter anymore. The most you can hope for as a character in Star Wars and even in real life is to make an impact relative to your existence. In the incomprehensibly large Star Wars timeline, Han Solo may just be a blimp on the radar but if anyone could have as large an impact as he did in his time and place, then that person is undoubtedly a legend as well. In a universe full of stars, Han Solo’s star will always be one of the brightest there ever was.

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P.S. They better do a hell of a job casting Han Solo for his spin-off because whoever gets the part will have an immense amount of pressure and wild expectations to live up to, mine included.

To close out this review I’m going to mention a few quick things I didn’t find a place for elsewhere. I want to give props to whoever choreographed the fights scenes. The lightsaber duels here were perfect. I’m not going to lie, as a kid I really enjoyed the crazy fights of the prequel trilogy. Once I grew older and was able to appreciate more, I realized that sometimes less is more. The fights here were believable and the tension had me on the edge of my seat without the need for flips and spins. Speaking of the final fight scene, I was disappointed in the way it ended with the Earth splitting to separate Kylo and Rey. Of course I didn’t think they’d kill Kylo Ren then and there, that would’ve really been wild, but there were better ways to spare him. You could’ve had the planet really start to erupt and Chewie show up just in time for them to get on and leave. You could’ve had Rey think she fatally injured him only to be mistaken. You could’ve even had Rey take some sort of pity on Kylo and leave him to die on an exploding planet. Instead we ended up with the earth splitting perfectly to put Kylo Ren juuuuust outside of Rey’s reach. That felt lazy and like a bit of a cop out but it wasn’t a huge deal.

BB-8 was phenomenal! It’s crazy how they can create a droid that communicates in beeps that has so much personality but it was done once with R2-D2 and they struck gold again with BB-8. C-3PO was in the movie for a little too, the line about his red arm was funny. Overall great job on the droids.

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Lastly I want to praise the use of cgi in this movie (not Snoke). That whole thing about less being more applies here even more so than in the fight scenes. I’ve seen the documentaries and read the stories about how George Lucas went from being reined in with the original trilogy to being allowed to run wild in the prequels. Obviously this shows when you look at the prequels and see the overwhelming amounts of crappy cgi that was used for essentially everything besides the actors. This film did a great job of bringing back the feel of the original where cgi was used much more sparingly and in the right places. We aren’t forced to watch entire planets made of cgi, everything looks much more believable this way.

Well there you have it! This was a big review and a bit of a mess of one too. I apologize for the messiness of this review but like I said, I had much to say and no clue how to organize it. I hope I got my general message across though, this movie was a very pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting to like it but I wasn’t expecting that it would have a legitimate case for being one of the best movies of the year. Is it the best movie of the year? No, probably not, but it is one of the best Star Wars movies ever made and that should be enough to excite us all for what is to come.

Omar: 4.0 out of 5

It has been a little over one month since my last review, I swear that wasn’t intentional! Every week I’d plan to write a review only to find myself putting it off for some reason or another (mainly law school). Now that I’ve finished writing my first law school final I am back to hit you with a Spectre review! I am a huge fan of the 007 series, specifically I am a huge fan of Daniel Craig‘s take on James Bond. I’ll be honest, Spectre wasn’t my favorite movie in the series but it wasn’t terrible by any means. Spectre is also one of those films that is worth the price of admission and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you watch it in theaters.

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Spectre is the twenty-fourth film in the James Bond series, the second directed by Sam Mendes, and the fourth starring Daniel Craig as the main man. That’s quite a bit of 007! Just to make it clear, I have NOT watched all of the previous movies or read the books, I apologize if that offends you. I have watched pretty much all the classic films in the series though. I wasn’t as big a fan of the series before the Daniel Craig era because I grew up watching Pierce Brosnan as a kid and his Bond movies were too ridiculous and comic-like  for my taste. Craig came on the scene at the perfect time when I was old enough to appreciate a more dark and brooding character and storyline. I won’t waste time going too deep into it but Casino Royale (2006) hooked me completely, I enjoyed Quantum of Solace (2008) when factoring in the circumstances surrounding the movie, and I absolutely loved everything about Skyfall (2012). I had extremely high expectations going into Spectre because Skyfall was one of my favorite films of 2012 and Sam Mendes was returning to direct. The additions of Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, and Andrew Scott also had me counting down the days until I could rush into theaters. These new additions didn’t collectively disappoint but they didn’t exactly hit a grand slam either.

As always, I’ll begin with the positives. Spectre is a gorgeous movie. You might think that this isn’t saying much because all four of the last Bond movies have been gorgeous but this movie might just be the prettiest one yet. I was enamored with the cinematography, locations, set-pieces, etc. in Skyfall and I didn’t think Spectre had a chance of topping it. Whether Spectre actual tops Skyfall is subjective but I think at the very least the films are even in this regard. One of the fun things about these movies is that they have specific elements that you look forward to seeing in every movie like when the Bond girl will show up, the opening song, when Bond will say “Shaken, not stirred”, and the opening sequence. There have been many great opening sequences but the one in this film was the coolest and most gorgeous one to date. Maybe I’m biased because dia de los muertos is a part of my culture and I have an obsession with tracking shots but that scene was jaw-dropping from a technical standpoint. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone back to watch True Detective‘s stunning tracking shot in season 1 episode 4 and the same is probably going to happen once this film’s opening sequence is on Youtube or I buy the blu-ray. While Mexico City highlights one of the film’s more colorfully eye-pleasing moments, the scene at the Spectre meeting in Rome highlights a different type of beauty. The scene in Rome is gorgeous for its use of shadows, silence, and pauses to create what is likely the film’s most menacing and tense moments. In typical Bond fashion, the cars, locations, and clothing were all beautiful. You get the picture, this is a good looking film.

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The second thing I liked about the film was the script. I wouldn’t say this was a masterpiece script but it was fitting for what it was. Bond was suave and confident under pressure as ever and there was more than enough witty banter to go around. Waltz was clever and cruel, Seydoux was funny and alluring, and Scott was as big a jerk as always. I also want to sprinkle a little praise onto Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw, all of whom were dynamic in their roles. One of the things I hate is when a film focuses too much on developing one or two characters and leaves the side characters feeling flat. Again, the script won’t be winning any Oscars but it was solid.

I’ll give some brief praise for the film’s score. During my very short time double majoring in film sound was always one of my worst subjects. I can’t recall exactly why but I definitely didn’t do those sound chapter readings. Anyway, this movie has an awesome score. It’d be kind of hard to mess this up when the series has such iconic sounds. Think of Star Wars, just recycle those classic Star Wars sounds in the new movies and your job is done. As for the opening song, Sam Smith is no Adele but I enjoyed his rendition.

Onto the action sequences, you can’t review a 007 film without talking about the action. As you might expect, this movie had spectacular sequences! From the opening scene in Mexico to the car chase in Rome to the plane scene in Austria, this is a movie that is worth watching on the big screen.  I like to compare this movie to The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in that it is such a grand movie that you just enjoy it more watching it at least once in theaters with a large screen and great sound system.

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Now for the bad stuff, I’ll carry my Batman comparison a bit further to explain how this movie fell short. At this point I hope we’ve all watched The Dark Knight (2009) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). I think most people would agree that the former was a near perfect movie (for a comic book movie). TDK introduced Batman’s most iconic enemy in The Joker, had the series’ best acting performance (Heath Ledger), had a fantastic story, and had very few, if any, plot holes that broke immersion. Fast forward to TDKR and we have another great and authentic comic book film with all the series staples. That being said, Bane (Tom Hardy) was never going to be as compelling as The Joker, the story wasn’t as good, and there were many plot holes and moments where you had to consciously suspend your disbelief to enjoy what was going on. In the context of the recent Bond series, Skyfall was my Dark Knight and Spectre was my Dark Knight Rises. This isn’t a perfect analogy because Skyfall certainly had some notable plot holes but they never truly broke my immersion. There were many moments in Spectre where I had to make a real effort to not let a wild action sequence, random sex scene, weird character motivation, etc. break my level of immersion. Specifically (but not too specifically for spoilers sakes), Blofeld’s motivation and Madeleine Swann’s relationship with 007 were highly unconvincing. I wasn’t as upset with the outcome as I was with the way the film got there. The way Swann and Bond developed really cheapened the authentic feeling of Bond’s relationship with Vesper (Eva Green). The results were fine if I look back at them in a vacuum but in the larger context of the film they weren’t convincing enough for me to feel entirely happy with them.

I want to talk specifically about Christoph Waltz now. Waltz is one of my favorite currently active actors. In fact, I like him more than every other actor/actress in Spectre. Christoph Waltz’s name is usually enough to get me to the theater and usually I come out with no regrets. Spectre is guilty of criminally underusing one of the best actors in Hollywood! IT’S CRIMINAL I SAY!! It’s my understanding that Blofeld (Waltz) is supposed to be Bond’s foil, the Joker to his Batman. If that’s actually the case then I think the writers missed a big opportunity with Waltz. I feel that Javier Bardem did a much better job of being Bond’s foil than Waltz did. Bardem was intelligent, physically imposing, flamboyant, and everything you could hope for in a Bond villain. I don’t want to give anything away but Blofeld’s motivations were pretty lame. Hell, even Dave Batista was a more menacing villain! There was one moment when Blofeld finally posed a real threat to Bond, one moment that had me on the edge of my seat, only for it to end in disappointment with another plot hole. Spectre (the organization) was shrouded in mystery and menace for the first three movies, an organization that moved in the shadows and had seemingly limitless power. When this movie revealed the inner workings of the organization it felt like your mom came in and turned the lights on when you were telling a scary story and the whole thing lost much of its bite.

This movie was great for many reasons beyond what I listed above and I definitely recommend watching it while it’s still in theaters but if you go in expecting to be blown away you’ll probably leave a bit underwhelmed. This movie seemed like a return to the older style of Bond film where things were less realistic and a tad more on the ridiculous side. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it marks a difference in style from the rest of the films in Daniel Craig’s run. I had heard criticism that Craig’s movies were too much like regular spy movies and had lost the flair and wonkiness that were in previous entries into the series but I was a fan of the more serious and brooding style. Maybe that explains why I wasn’t as thrilled with Spectre as I was with Skyfall. All that being said, watch this movie.

 

 

Liz: 3.3 out of 5 stars

I’M ALIIIIIIIIIIIIVE! Wow. It’s been about two months since the last time I wrote a review, and I’m really ashamed.  Totally believed that I could keep up with reviewing regularly along with law school but life caught up real bad and after reading all my cases for the day, I just had no energy to crank out a blog post.  I haven’t been watching as many movies as I did over the summer but luckily, school hasn’t taken up all my life and I still get my movie time.  Since the last time I wrote, I’ve seen a lot of Gene Kelly x Frank Sinatra movies and a bunch of Halloween-y films (finally got around to Scream, Scream 2, and The Thing!!)

Last weekend, Omar came home from school and we watched Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Crimson Peak. The former was hilarious, but surprisingly fine for like the 5th movie in this series. Creepy little children are very creepy.  But this review is about Guillermo Del Toro’s newest film, the gothic romance Crimson Peak, starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Jim Beaver (yay Supernatural hiiiiiii Bobby!).

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Quick Liz summary: The daughter (Wasikowska) of a rich American industrialist (Beaver) falls very quickly in love with a visiting British baronet (Hiddleston) who is seeking investors in his new mining invention.  Father is not pleased and unearths some mysterious bad information about the baronet and bribes him and his sister (Chastain) to leave and never come back. However, he “accidentally” dies and since his daughter has no one left (her mother died too), she marries the baronet and moves to England with him and his sister.  She begins transferring her money to her husband but she (as well as her friend back home played by Hunnam) gradually begins unveiling some really creepy shit in the very eery mansion she lives in.

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I’ll start with everything that was just so right about this movie. The atmosphere, THE AMBIANCE!!!! Everything from the costumes, to the creepy and barren English landscape, to the disintegrating yet incredible Allerdale Hall, oozed gothic romance.  It was an aesthetically beautiful movie and it was all essential to creating that uncomfortable vibe that something wrong was happening inside the mansion.  The movie’s trailer made the movie seem like it was a pure horror movie, but that’s not what the actual film was.  Like the beginning says, “it’s a story with ghosts.” Crimson Peak was really creepy and there were definitely some huge jump scares.  The ghosts were extremely horrific -looking- the dripping blood and skeletons were awesome; I haven’t quite seen anything like it.  However, I wouldn’t say that this movie is one that will give you those kinds of horror thrills. It felt more like a gothic murder mystery, which I loved. The vibe of the movie reminded me of what Sucker Punch looked like (even though I haven’t even watched all of that movie).

Anyway, this movie definitely deserves some recognition for the amazing set and costumes.

Spoiler alert: there’s a sex scene with the baronet and his wife, and YOU SEE HIDDLESTON’S BUTT. ok that’s all.

Also: shoutout Jessica Chastain… that acting. wowza.

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There was really only one negative about the movie. It had a mediocre story. The beginning to climax of the movie had this really great build-up. It seemed like something reaaaally dark and twisted was happening and it was going to be a hugeeee surprise.  However, I kind of figured out what was happening and when everything was revealed, it was a little disappointing. I won’t say anything further.

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Overall, Crimson Peak was a really fun movie, especially with Halloween coming up in a couple days. I loved it simply because the ghosts and creepiness and gothic theme are all things I love.  However, it pales in comparison to Pan’s Labryinth. I recommend seeing this movie if you’re into all the things I’ve mentioned above but it’s definitely not a 5 out of 5 for me.

Omar: 5 out of 5

I feel the need to apologize before saying anything else for the huge gap between this review and the last. I think it’s fairly obvious that law school has been eating up most of my (and Liz’s) time. If you think about it though, some of the world’s best creative talents take their time between projects and everyone puts up with it because they know once something new comes out it’s bound to be worth the wait. Now I’m not saying I’m George R. R. Martin, Guillermo Del Toro (director version), or Frank Ocean but I certainly won’t deny the rumors that my reviews are comparatively in a similar upper echelon.

Moving on!

Liz and I love Halloween and try to watch as many horror/sci-fi/thriller/etc. movies that we think fit the theme during the month of October. We try to stick to ones we have not seen before, a perfect opportunity for me to finally watch the original The Thing! I know it’s considered a classic, one that has been on my to-watch list for far too long.

Before jumping into the review I’ll give you a little context. Back in 2011 there was a prequel/reboot of The Thing, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. As someone who had not seen the original, I didn’t enter the theater with any expectations. In a way I’m glad this was the case otherwise I would’ve been too critical, too wary of the prequel ruining any of the magic of the original. The main reason I even went to watch this movie was because I knew it was supposed to be a bit of a big deal and one of my friends was a diehard fan of the original. As a result of my ignorance the prequel was highly enjoyable and ever since I’ve been meaning to watch the original. I liked the prequel so much that I even looked into the backstory and lore behind the series because when I really like something I become a bit obsessive. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent on Wookiepedia or researching the complex history of the Alien series. Besides the great plot, good acting, and awesome monsters, I also enjoyed the film because it starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead. This was all hot on the heels of her role in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, another film that I highly enjoyed (including the comics and video game). Anyway, in the process of doing all my post-watch reading I believe I spoiled a bit of the original for myself. Luckily it took me four years before I actually watched it and by then the details had become hazy.

Going into this viewing I had very high hopes because this movie was the work of John Carpenter, maybe THE no.1 master of horror. This is the same man who directed my second favorite horror movie of all time, Halloween (second only to The Shining, by the way). It’s rare to find things that live up to immense levels of hype and that is especially true for me when it comes to horror movies. When it comes to The Thing, BELIEVE THE HYPE!

This movie begins right where the prequel ends, in Antartica with a Norwegian helicopter in pursuit of a escaped dog. It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that the things don’t end well for the helicopter crew. Do things ever end well for helicopters in movies? This is something I don’t seem discussed much but if I see a helicopter in a film I almost automatically that everyone inside is as good as dead and about 8/10 times I’m right. The American research team, the characters of this story, see the aircraft go down and send a team to investigate at the nearby Norwegian camp. Once inside the camp (pictured above) they find the charred and disfigured remains of everyone inside. These first scenes set the stage for what comes next at the American camp. While watching this I kept getting excited seeing everything at the Norwegian camp thinking, “I remember this! I remember what happened here!” and that was an awesome feeling. I mentioned the Alien series earlier and I think these two series are highly comparable. In fact I think that The Thing deserves just as much praise as Alien and Aliens get. The reason I bring this up here is that I had similar moments as with the Norwegian camp when I first watched Prometheus. While in the end I didn’t really love Prometheus in the Alien universe, I did think it was awesome to see things the movie explored that connect to the original series (despite whatever Ridley Scott may say about how the ships are unrelated or whatever).

I don’t want to give away the events that unfold at the American camp in this movie but lets just say it’s a wonderful mix between Alien and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers but with more jaw-dropping makeup and effects. Honestly, the makeup and effects in this film are probably the best I’ve seen in any film. This was made prior to things going the way of cgi yet the team here managed to create some of the most original and grotesque creatures I have ever seen. You know how certain movies have gruesome transformations or killing that makes you go “siiiiick, that was awesome!”? Well this movie was FULL of those moments. This is one of those things where if I had watched the original before the prequel it would have made me enjoy the latter a bit less. That isn’t to say that the prequel didn’t do a good job because it did but the original just can’t be topped in that category. Take a look at some of these images below:

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Another thing I really enjoyed about this film was that the characters actually acted logically! I’m all for suspension of disbelief but certain things are just too ridiculous to forgive. The horror/sci-fi genre is known for having characters, individually or in groups, who make the incredibly stupid decisions that make you roll your eyes and lost sympathy for them. In this movie the characters react much like I would expect any logical group placed in their situation might react. Of course people aren’t robots and some handle pressure better and others are less stable but those are realistic attribute variances that this movie does a great job of depicting. Speaking of characters, the main guy here is Kurt Russell and props to him because he was a complete badass in this movie. Not only does this guy handle pressure well, he also has some luscious locks, a beard that commands respect, and WIELDS A F***ING FLAMETHROWER!

As a fellow beard enthusiast I have to give ’em an A+ rating for the combo of beard + leather jacket + flamethrower. The acting by the rest of the cast was great but it’s not secret here that Russell is the star of the film.

I wanted to discuss another aspect of the film that Liz brought to my attention. Before watching the film I had read that opinion was split on the sound in the movie. Carpenter decided to do with very minimal use of music. Instead he decided silence or the sound of harsh winds blowing outside were a better substitute to a concrete score or horror sound effects. Liz told me that this movie was given a Razzie nomination for worst original film score. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! The score here, when used, was absolutely fantastic! And the point of using the sound of the wind or complete silence most of the time was to emphasis the desolate and isolated atmosphere in which this movie takes place!

Clearly I was a BIG fan of this film and while writing this review I went back in forth mentally as to what score I should give it. I felt a little hesitant to give this movie a 5 because I realize I’ve given 5’s out a few times before now I had to wonder if maybe I was handing them out a bit too liberally. After some reflection I realized that it would be a complete injustice to reduce this score simply because I’ve watched a handful of other great movies recently. Without any real intention I end up watching far more horror movies than any other kind and most of the time they are awful, sometimes they’re original and thought-provoking, and very rarely are they entirely impressive and original. I am happy to report that this is one of those rare horror movies that will forever be a 5 out of 5 in my book.

Omar: Unrated out of 5

Well, well, well…the time has finally come for me to review Straight Outta Compton (2015), directed by F. Gary Gray but lets be honest, this movie is the brainchild of Dr. Dre aka Andre Romelle Young. Man, I gotta admit, this is a difficult review to write for many reasons. The main reason why this review is tough is that it’s just too hard to separate my love of N.W.A., Eazy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre’s music (not to mention all the people Dre has heavily influenced like Tupac, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, etc.) from what was depicted on the big screen. My love of hip-hop and rap would have me say, “10 out of 10 stars! This is a hip-hop movie done PERFECTLY!” but I can’t say that because to do so would be hypocritical. There are simply too many important thing left out of this movie and to further ignore them in writing this review would be an injustice. But we’ll get into that in a minute.

Before getting into all the heavy criticism, I’ll start with the positives because there are plenty of positives to be discussed. I stand by my early statements that this is the best hip-hop/rap movie I’ve ever seen. For starters, the casting and acting were phenomenal. I’ll be honest, I don’t know too much about MC Ren or Yella so I can’t speak to how faithfully Aldris Hodge and Neil Brown Jr. were in their portrayals but to the untrained eye they did a good job. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., was about a perfect as a casting call gets, for obvious reasons. He channeled his father’s aura well. Jason Mitchell was DOPE as Eazy E! I was a bit doubtful when Eazy first appeared on screen but the guy has some acting skills. That piece of acting at the end of the film hit me on a deep emotional level. Corey Hawkins did a good job of channeling Dre to the extent that the script and plot allowed him too. I can’t say his portrayal was accurate to what Dre was like in real life but that’s not his fault. Paul Giamatti was great as always in the role of the white, corporate, scumbag, exploiter. Also shout-out to all the side characters! I don’t feel like googling their names but the guy who played Tupac looked uncannily similar, I really thought they just got hologram Tupac to star in the film. The guy who played Suge Knight was perfect and the guy who played Snoop Dogg may not have looked entirely accurate but his voice and flow were very well done.

The atmosphere of this film was awesome in that it did a good job of showing the harsh environment that was the necessary incubator in creating a group as revolutionary and in-your-face as N.W.A. Some specific examples to this are the numerous instances of police brutality, the L.A. race riots, and the heavy gang presence. They showed the social reality of the time that was essential to N.W.A.’s message. I read that before 2005’s awesome Hustle & Flowhip-hop/rap movies too often focused on glorifying the hood and the hood lifestyle instead of showing the desperate reality of the situation. This is one of those movies that shows the harsh nature that comes with living in the ghetto and the desire to find a way out by any means necessary (school, music, drug-dealing, etc). This movie also shows just how violently mainstream America reacted to N.W.A., a group that did nothing but speak the truth about their lives.

Another thing I liked about the movie was how they incorporated all the iconic music, labels, and figures that comes with making a film about west-coast hip-hop at the time. I loved seeing how bits of different iconic songs are pieced together or teased as the film progresses. Seeing Death Row Records or Tupac and Snoop Dogg in the studio are just example of things that today have huge status but at the time were just everyday occurrences. That was all really cool to see. I also HAVE to make a statement about all the RAIDERSSSS gear. Being a diehard Raiders fan, it was awesome seeing all the Raider influence.

This movie was a long film but it was impressive how it didn’t feel anywhere near as long as it is (2 hours and 30 minutes). Maybe this was because I love the subject matter so much but I really feel like the movie was just paced well. Every time it looked there was going to be a lull, something significant would happen.

I could honestly go on for much longer about what this film does right because it is undeniable that this film is well made and tells a hell of a story. For the purpose of this review I’ll leave the praise there and move on to the critical portion of this review.

If you didn’t already know, Dr. Dre is a bit of a temperamental ass in real life and that’s putting it mildly. Ice Cube and Eazy E were no saints as well. By no means am I judging them because I don’t have that authority or desire. Society can’t give people failing schools, failing institutions, failing social services, and deny them access to opportunities and expect them to grow up to be upstanding law-abiding citizens. This sort of reminds me of how middle-class and upper-class (predominantly white) pundits, citizens, and the media have no restraint when it comes to chastising people like Dez Bryant or Josh Gordon for things they say or do without acknowledging that they come from an entirely different world. (Btw I highly recommend this recent Rolling Stones interview with Dez Bryant: http://rol.st/1KeotM37). Also it’s a bit hypocritical to bump someone’s music, a product and reflection of their lifestyles, and then call them bad people for genuinely being what they say they are, what entertains us when it’s music but repulses us when it’s real.

That being said, what I have a problem with is erasing history. Specifically what I’m talking about in this instance is violence against women. This movie does an amazing job of talking about the horrifying state of race relations in this country but it says nothing about violence against women. In fact, this movie does worse than ignore the subject, it avoids and erases it entirely. Dr. Dre and Eazy E have a history of abusing women to brutal levels and the film says nothing. Until very recently (conveniently coinciding with the release of this film), Dre didn’t even apologize for his past. Dr. Dre is a figure who has largely remained immune from criticism for his repeated history of abusing women because he is such an influential character and that is an injustice.

Originally I was just going to give this movie a very high grade and dock it a few points for failing to acknowledge some important issues but that didn’t sit well with me. To have done that would be to continue to trivialize a very real and very pressing issue harming our society and ruining countless lives. The point of N.W.A. is that they are flawed individuals with awful circumstances who said, “So what?” and threw everything back in your face, to erase history goes entirely against this. I can accept and respect flawed individuals portrayed honestly SIGNIFICANTLY more than I can appreciate fabricated squeaky-clean images. That’s unfortunate in this instance because this really is an amazing story that was told powerfully well if we choose to ignore it’s few troublesome flaws.