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March 25, 2020

A Quiet Place (2018) --- “If They Hear You, They Hunt You. Silence Is Survival”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     In the not too distant future, Earth has been overrun by mysterious and extremely dangerous extraterrestrial creatures with ultra-sensitive hearing. Two parents (John Krasinski & Emily Blunt) struggle to survive in a desolate New York City in a new era of utter silence. Since this new enemy is attracted to sound, even the slightest of sounds, like a whisper, can be deadly. It’s been 12 months since the invasion and while an otherwise joyous event is threatening already frail stability, this resilient family is still going strong. The rules to surviving this muted dystopia are simple: No matter what, don’t ever make a sound. Directed by John Krasinski (A Quiet Place Part II), co-written alongside Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place Part II, Haunt) and Scott Beck (A Quiet Place Part II, Haunt), A Quiet Place (2018) is a highly original sci-fi horror thriller that is sure to keep you at the edge of your seat. 
     Most great horror films have achieved greatness because they make the audience become actively invested in the fate of the characters and involved in the events that are playing out before us. Rather than being a passive observer in an unfolding horror flick, A Quiet Place is designed to make audiences an active participant in a game of tension. It is a tight thrill ride that quickens the heart rate and plays to the audiences’ expectations while at the same time never treating us like idiots. Very early one we learn that sound is dangerous in this new world and that danger is intensified with the film’s opening 10 minutes. The rest of the film takes place nearly a year after that tragedy and now the unnamed family is preparing for the arrival of a newborn baby in a world where noise is deadly. Director Krasinski knows the kind of monster it takes to make a successful monster film and here he is smart in how he regularly and unexpectedly sets up auditory expectations and yet he manages to not overplay his hand. This is a world where sound is deadly and the story is told in a very subtle, no-nonsense, and clever way to build tension and pull the audience into this world, encouraging us to experience what the characters experience. A Quiet Place is definitely the kind of film where less is more and no audible dialogue conveys an entire conversation.
     Since we live in a world where we use noise to express ourselves it's hard to imagine that constant sound being taken away. Noise is such a big part of who we are as humans and the film uses it in a way that charts new ground for horror survival films. There are times when the silence becomes claustrophobic and feeds into the growing tension by amplifying the impact of even the faintest of sounds. In place of no audio dialogue, the characters communicate through American Sign Language which helps add a layer of the importance of silence. And since there is almost no dialogue, the film relies heavily on its visual storytelling, especially when it comes to the aliens. Taking a page out of Ridley Scott’s 1979 template, Krasinski mostly avoids long, lingering shots of the creatures choosing instead to only focus on fleeting glimpses of them here and there until the ultimate final scene. In addition, Marco Beltrami’s (A Quiet Place II, Underwater) musical score is understated by utilizing only a slight emphasis on certain scenes without ruining the carefully controlled sound design and editing. 
     The film takes time to establish the Abbott family throughout the course of the film. John Krasinki became famous on the American version of The Office for being able to express a myriad of thoughts and feelings with just a simple look at the camera. Here he puts his skills to use but in a more dramatic context as Lee Abbott. He describes his character as being a survivalist whose main focus is getting his family through each day alive and possibly finding a solution to fighting back. His real-life wife Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place Part II) portrays his character’s wife, Evelyn Abbott. She gives an equally strong performance where she sensitively raises her children to be fully-formed and fully thinking people, and all while preparing to give birth in a world where a baby’s cry could be deadly. Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) and Noah Jupe (Suburbicon, Wonder) are great and compelling as the children Regan and Marcus, especially Simmonds whose real-life deafness adds to the authenticity of her performance.
     Overall, A Quiet Place (2018) is a gripping, compelling, and expertly made a film that is unlike anything I have seen before. The film demands you to watch it silently as every piece is calibrated for maximum tension. The acting is incredible and solid throughout especially since there is no audio dialogue between the characters. If you a fan of films like Netflix’s Bird Box (2018) or just simply Jim from The Office then I highly recommend that you check out this film.


Final Vote --- 9 of 10 stars


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Movies Similar
Annihilation (2018)
Apostle (2018)
Bird Box (2018)
Cargo (2017)
Don't Breath
Get Out (2017)
Glass (2019)
The Intruder (2019)
It (2017)
It: Chapter 2 (2019)
In the Tall Grass (2019)
Midsommar (2019)
The Ritual (2017)
A Quiet Place Part II (2020)
The Silence (2019)
Split (2016)
Us (2019)
Unbreakable (2000)

March 23, 2020

The Way Back (2020) --- "Every Loss Is Another Fight."

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Directed by Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant) and co-written alongside Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace, Run All Night), The Way Back (2020) is a fictional sports drama about a man’s last shot at redemption. In high school, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) was a basketball star who could have punched his ticket to college or even the pros but due to his rough relationship with his father, he chose to walk away. Now his construction job is beating him down, alcohol abuse is slowly destroying him, and he’s been separated from his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar) for over a year. He’s essentially hit rock bottom but an opportunity presents itself when the head Priest at his former catholic high school asks him to step in part-time as the school’s basketball coach after the current coach has a heart attack. Unfortunately, their team is terrible and the last time they won a game was when Jack was on the team, back in the ’90s. Reluctantly, Jack accepts the position and as the team starts to win he may have found the strength and motivation to confront his demons, going on a journey towards healing, rehab, and forgiveness. 
     Over the years there have been a lot of films made about someone or a group of people redeeming themselves after a tragedy and most of those films are centered around sports. Not all of them are done well but they all manage to teach audiences a message about strength, overcoming adversity, and never giving up. In The Way Back we have a well-crafted storyline that evolves as the character evolved by slowly revealing the emotional depth of the main character with each scene. Not to mention the trailers hold a lot back, except the bare minimum so that the audience can go on the journey with the character. It's a poignant story that has been told a number of times but is told with such realism and attention to detail
     In addition to the story, the cast performances are incredible. Ben Affleck (Netflix’s Triple Frontier) has never been a favorite of mine. Sure I’ve enjoyed some of the films he’s been in but I have never cared for him as an actor, although his work as a producer seems to be his strength. Nonetheless, while I didn’t care for his acting in this film, he played Jack Cunningham quite well. I am not sure I could think of anyone else that could have done the role justice and played it with just as much realism and believability as he did. When his character gets angry, it becomes evident on his beet-red face, there’s no catharsis for the rage, instead, it sits there inside of him like poison. He doesn’t shy away from the character's flaws and failures and any information pertaining to how he let himself get to this point is left until the right moment. Janina Gavankar (The Morning Show) as Angela, Jack’s ex-wife who’s trying to move on, balances a levelheadedness that Jack lacks by demonstrating that she still cares for him but is also unsettled by his alcoholic behavior. Michaela Watkins is superb as Cunningham's sister Beth and her wistful way of expressing to her brother that she wants him to seek help is spot-on. The rest of the supporting cast also do a great job in their respective roles but I did feel that there were many moments in which they were underutilized, Gavankar and Watkins included.
     Overall, The Way Back (2020) is an entertaining film that demonstrates that when given to someone who cares about the story, it can be crafted into a compelling story about strength, overcoming adversity, and never giving up. It’s about fighting through the pain and coming out on the other side a new person with a new point of view. It’s about asking for help even when you're ashamed to do so or don’t believe you need any. With that being said, I was not overly blown away by what the film was trying to accomplish simply because, while it is a tune I’ve heard before, it dribbles the ball for far too long before finally making the last shot long after the time has expired. Nevertheless, if you're a fan of redemption sports films like this then I would highly recommend it to you, otherwise, I can’t say that you will be overly left out if you choose to skip it.


Final Vote --- 7 of 10 stars


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Movies Similar
42 (2013)
Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004)
The Call of the Wild (2020)
Draft Day (2014)
The Express (2008)
Facing the Giants (2006)
For the Love of the Game (1999)
Glory Road (2006)
Invictus (2009)
Just Mercy (2019)
Madison (2001)
My All-American (2015)
McFarland USA (2015)
Million Dollar Arm (2014)
Miracle Season (2018)
Richard Jewell (2019)
Savannah (2013)
Trouble with the Curve (2012)
When the Game Stands Tall (2014)
Woodlawn (2015)
We Are Marshall (2006)

March 18, 2020

Bloodshot (2020) --- “You Don't Need A Past To Have A Future”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel), an elite soldier who is murdered alongside his wife (Talulah Riley), is brought back to life by nanotechnology that turns him into a superhuman biotech killing machine. When his memories flood back and he remembers who killed his wife, or at least, who he believes killed his wife, he uses his newfound abilities to break out of the facility and get revenge. But he soon learns that there is more to the conspiracy than he thought and that not everything can be trusted. The true question is: Can he even trust himself? Directed by David Wilson, screenplay by Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island, True Memoirs of an International Assassin) and Eric Heisserer (Bird Box, Extinction), and based on the bestselling comic book by Valiant Comics, Bloodshot (2020) is the first installment in a superhero series set within a Valiant Comics cinematic universe. 
     Bloodshot is one of the flagship comics for Valiant Comics, an independent publisher with its own universe of heroes and villains for those tired of DC and Marvel, and despite being around for over 30 years, most of Valiant Comics’ characters and stories have yet to reach the same popularity as other comic book titans (Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc.) partially due to the fact that they have never received a film adaptation for one of their stories. Now this acts as both an advantage and a disadvantage to the film because since most people are not familiar with the story the filmmakers had a lot of wiggle room in terms of the story - even if it does sound like a mash-up of Terminator meets Iron Man meets RoboCop. The story is interesting in how it explores themes about enhanced human physiology and a person’s God-given free will. Can someone really be called a superhero when someone else is pulling their strings? Especially if it’s for their own selfish or malicious intent. There are scenes that help elevate the film beyond being just another mindless action film. For instance, there is a scene where it is suggested that the programmer who designed Ray’s memory sequence has seen way too many movies. However, the narrative tends to lack emotion and once the film lays all its cards on the table, the story starts to deflate. None of the characters have much emotional range so it makes it hard if someone is being friendly, unpleasant or just a straight-up jerk. Of course, the filmmakers try to combat this by throwing in some great action sequences and while they are incredible, they are also almost impossible to follow simply because everything happens way too quickly in such small spaces. 
     Meanwhile, CGI is possibly the most creative aspect of the film. The creativity that went into assembling Ray’s memory sequence was pretty neat, especially when they showed how they could adjust almost anything that they wanted. Almost like it was a video game still in beta testing. Additionally, the special effects help improve the action sequences by showcasing how the nanotechnology and other enhanced technology works.
     The cast performances were pretty good, although I believe that they could have been even better if the story allowed them to show the more emotional range that made it more difficult for the audience to figure out who was good and who was bad until necessary. Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious 9) is known for his deep rough voice, imposing physical presence, and possessing an emotional range that rarely goes too far in one direction. Here he does show some moments of vulnerability that are a little bit off-putting because the audience is not as invested in his character as they are with some of the other characters he has played. Nevertheless, he is still great for the role of Ray Garrison. The only issue that I had is that most of the dialogue is left to the supporting characters. Eiza Gonz├ílez (Baby Driver) as K.T. and Guy Pearce (Mary Queen of Scots) as Dr. Harting is compelling and carries most of the film’s emotional depth which is lacking throughout. Lamorne Morris (New Girl) is wonderfully hilarious as hacker Wilfred Wigans and quite literally steals the show with his version of a British accent and comic relief. Now I am a huge fan of Sam Heughan because he plays Jamie Fraser on one of my all-time favorite shows, Outlander (Starz, Netflix). In the show, he plays an honorable guy who is unofficially called King of Men or a King among Men, so it was interesting here to see him portray someone who is the complete opposite. It was actually quite unsettling but also interesting because I got to see Heughan’s acting range. The rest of the cast do a good job with their skeleton characters.
     Overall, Bloodshot (2020) is entertaining and worth watching the film. While Bloodshot may not be a very well-known comic, the story is a mash-up of Terminator meets Iron Man meets RoboCop. The cast performances were good but could have been even better if they were given a more emotionally in-depth story. The action sequences are fast-paced and the visuals are interesting. All in all, if you were already intrigued by the premise and a dedicated fan of superhero films then I recommend that you check out this film at your earliest convenience.


Final Vote --- 7 of 10 stars

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Movies Similar
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Batman Begins (2005)
Batman (2021)
Candyman (1992)
Chrarlie's Angels (2019)
Dark Knight (2008)
Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Guns Akimbo (2019)
Justice League (2017)
Man of Steal (2013)
Spenser Confidential (2020)
Superman (1948)
Superman II (1980)
Superman III (1983)
Superman Returns (2006)

March 10, 2020

Emma (2020) --- "Handsome, Clever, and Rich. She Love Knows Best?”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Directed by Autumn de Wilde and screenplay by Eleanor Catton (Luminaries), Emma (2020) is a comedy-drama based on Jane Austen's 1815 novel of the same name. Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a handsome, rich, and privileged young woman looking after her elderly and quirky father (Bill Nighy) in her family’s stately home. Despite the constant presence of 'family friend' George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), Emma has never fallen in love and yet finds it entertaining to meddle in the romantic lives of her fellow friends and peers by playing matchmaker. After successfully orchestrating the marriage of Mr. (Rupert Graves) and Mrs. Weston (Gemma Whelan), Emma’s next target is her somewhat lower-class friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), whom she plans to match with Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), a man far above Ms. Smith’s social status. For herself, Emma has set her sights on Mr. Weston’s son, the dreamy and mysterious Mr. Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) whom she has never met. Her tasks seem easy enough to achieve but soon Emma’s meddling creates a difficult situation that puts her and her friend’s feelings in jeopardy. Can she figure out a way to untangle it in order to ensure she and her friends find love and happiness? Or did she go too far?
     Matchmaking is tricky and requires a certain level of finesse that should be left to the professionals otherwise it will lead to heartbreak when it is left in the hands of enthusiastic amateurs. Jane Austen understood this all too well. While writing the film’s novel, Austen stated “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will like,” and she does exactly that. In Emma she brings us an irrepressible, confident, and incompetent match-maker who thinks she knows best, but when in reality she wreaks havoc on the lives of those around her. In contrast to the majority of Austen’s heroines, Emma has her own fortune, and therefore feels no pressing need to marry and even seems totally uninterested in the subject for herself, except of course when it comes to the mysterious Mr. Churchill. This is director de Wilde’s first feature film - the fourth film adaptation - and her vision is an uproarious comedy of manners that doubles as a heartwarming romance that leans into the protagonist’s unlikeable qualities while nevertheless making her an empathetic character. Her approach to this classic tale of frenzied and complicated social activity is both elegant and comedically awkward. And while the pace can be a bit frenzied, the script gives us quick glances into each character and their relationships with one another. There is nothing subtle about Emma’s opinions about everyone, the trivialities of her peers become the energy she feeds off of, especially since the society that the characters inhabit requires constant maintenance of one’s appearance.
     De Wilde clearly understands that comedy often comes at the expanse of other people and in Emma. that is very much the case. There are a number of visual gags, many of which come from Emma’s father Mr. Woodhouse played by Bill Nighy (Castlevania), who strikes a delicate balance between being a caring father and an aloof goof bag. Close-ups are used for comedic effect and a quick cut to a facial reaction allows the audience insight into the characters’ feelings.
     Thanks to de Wilde’s background in photography, Christopher Blauvelt (Certain Women) cinematography, Alexandra Byrne (Mary Queen of Scots) costume designs, and Kave Quinn (Judy) production designs, Emma is a colorful, bold, and stunningly visual masterpiece. Cinematographer Blauvelt utilizes unusual angles for the characters, almost painting them as a Renaissance painting with his camera lens. With his help the film is shot through Emma’s eyes and is confined solely to her world, showcasing how those she looks down upon are looked at with annoyance and disdain. For instance, she treats the Woodhouse servants like furniture, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) is completely ignored until the end of the film, and even the exuberant and the kind-hearted gossiper Ms. Bates (Miranda Hart) is treated like an incompetent ninny. For the most part, cinematography brings the audience into the aristocratic mindset, and yet that is not all the film has to go for it. After an earth-shattering exchange at a picnic, de Wilde and Blauvelt pull back the camera lens to reveal the consequences of Emma’s cruel and shallow behavior. And while the audience may deny ever partaking in the same thoughts as Emma, there is no doubt that the film tries to trick the audience into being just as cruel and shallow too. This way when the film’s point-of-view changes we realize how easy it is to have such callous disregard for other humans, especially those we view as a laughing stock. Byrne's costume design features unusual period details and specific hair and makeup styles that better accentuate the social differences of each character. The music by David Schweitzer (The Crown, White Princess) and Isobel Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) is playfully upbeat, while art director Alice Sutton (Bohemian Rhapsody) and set decorator Stella Fox (Judy) take full advantage of the existing mansions and landscapes.
The cast performances are even better than the 1996 version. Anya Taylor-Joy (Split, Glass, New Mutants) is perfect as the film’s titular character and manages to personify the character’s polarising nuances. She relishes in playing the role and there is a certain level of cheekiness when Emma is being mischievous or misbehaving, yet there is also an equal measure of compassion when a misadventure backfires on her. Johnny Flynn (Stardust, Vanity Fair mini-series) plays Emma’s family friend Mr. George Knightley, who is the Georgian-era version of the hot guy next door. He is both fashionable and rugged, and he is all too willing to settle next Emma at every social event so as to share their dismissals of the people around them, scenes in which Flynn brings some much-needed warmth to the film. Mia Goth's (Mayday) well-rounded performance as Harriet Smith was one of my favorite performances in the film, aside from Miranda Hart (Spy, Call the Midwife), who brought the perfect mix of ridiculous and sweet pitiable to Ms. Bates’ character. The rest of the supporting cast - Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, Rupert Graves as Mr. Weston, Gemma Whelan as Mrs. Weston, Amber Anderson as Jane Fairfax, and Connor Swindells as Robert Martin - also did good in their own way. If Josh O’Connor () was intending to convey Mr. Elton was being awkward and smarmy then he nailed it, and Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton was a great source of comedic relief towards the end.
    Overall, Emma. (2020) is a colorful and melodramatic comedy that is sure to entertain fans of Jane Austen. While it was not something that I found enjoyable or funny but rather found it to be quite boring and awkward, I cannot help but appreciate the amount of work that went into this film. It is a visual masterpiece, unlike anything I have seen before. All in all, if Jane Austen can create a character that no one will like then  Autumn de Wilde has created a film where those unlikable qualities are ones that anyone is capable of possessing.
Final Vote --- 7 of 10 stars


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Movies Similar
Becoming Jane (2007)
Emma (1996)
Emma (2009)
Mansfield Park (1999)
Northanger Abbey (2007)
Persuasion (2007)
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Pride and Prejudice, mini-series (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)