Ford v Ferrari – James Mangold

For v Ferrari movie review

Christian Bale and Matt Damon star in Ford v Ferrari.
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Despite the title, Ford v Ferrari is not about the cars. Nor is it about the giants Henry Ford II or Enzo Ferrari. And, contrary to how it may appear in trailers, it’s not even a “rah, rah, go America!” film that’s designed to make you go out and purchase a Ford as soon as the movie is over. In fact, it may actually make you feel less strongly about the company because of how beaurocratic is appears to be. Anyway, the movie is essentially about a group of men in the mid-60’s who attempt to build a Ford that could take on Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France…..in 90 days.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in this 2.5-hour drama/action/comedy that is receiving amazing movie reviews from general audiences and critics alike. It’s an easy film to recommend to almost anybody. The characters are fantastic, the story is both moving and exciting, the race scenes are spectacular, and you will be fully immersed for the full length of the film. Some scenes will have you laughing out loud while others will have you at the edge of your seat. And if you see Ford v Ferrari in theatres, you will really get the full experience of feeling like you are inside the cars as they are racing down the track at 200mph. What’s not to love?

While it takes about an hour to get to the main story (building the race car to beat Ferrari), that first hour is definitely not time wasted. You really get a chance to know each of the characters and understand their motivations.

Ford v Ferrari movie review

Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari.
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Carroll Shelby (Damon) is a retired race car driver and previous winner of Le Mans in 1959. He is in the business of car sales and modifications when he gets approached to do the impossible: find a way to get a Ford to beat a Ferrari at Le Mans in ‘66. Ken Miles (Bale) is a hotheaded driver who lives and breathes cars (he also runs a repair shop) but has fallen on hard times since racing doesn’t really pay the bills. He is completely dedicated to his wife (Caitriona Balfe) and son (Noah Jupe) but can’t pass up the opportunity to work alongside Shelby, especially when Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is sparing no expense in this endeavour.

The Ford Motor Company isn’t painted in the best light as folks from the marketing department (a loathesome Josh Lucas) are in danger of derailing the whole project due to “image issues” and don’t really seem to understand how difficult the task at hand actually is. Thus, the main conflict isn’t really between Ford and Ferrari, it’s mostly between Ford beaurocrats and their own progress/innovation. If you don’t know who wins out in either situation, all the more reason to check it out.

Bale pulls off a character that not many others could in Ford v Ferrari – Ken Miles is a know-it-all that rubs people the wrong way in every aspect of his life (aside from family), but as a viewer you have nothing but love for him. Bale can truly transform himself into any character and it’s amazing to watch him bring the famous driver, racing engineer, and Motorsports Hall of Famer to life in the film. Director James Mangold (Logan, Knight and Day, 3:10 to Yuma) made sure that the character of Carroll Shelby was the anchor – the reliable, cool-under-pressure type to balance out the fiery Miles.

Ford v Ferrari movie review

Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Both Damon and Bale give off a really refreshing “buddy” vibe as the movie plays out – resulting in some giggle-worthy moments. You get the sense that there is mutual respect and confidence in the other’s abilities (both on and off the screen). As mentioned before, this is not a car advertisement pretending to be a movie – it’s more about the people behind the cars than the vehicles themselves. You don’t even have to be a “car person” to appreciate what plays out on screen. It’s fun, the dialogue is great, and it’s not all action and no substance (looking at you Fast & Furious franchise).

It’s an exciting time in the history of motorsports that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Interestingly, this movie is called Le Mans ‘66 in a lot of other countries. Probably because the brand names mean more to the North American general public (young and old) than the name of a race in France (this is where certain people in their 60’s will shake their heads in shame). But, it was probably a smart move because it has already grossed $84M domestically since its release on November 13, 2019.

James Mangold takes his experience in multiple genres (rom com, gritty drama, biopic, and even dabbling in the X-Men universe) and creates something truly enjoyable with an interesting retro feel. You’ll definitely be watching this one more than once!

If you’re at all in doubt about whether it’s your type of film, just check out its Rotten Tomatoes score below:

For v Ferrari Rotten Tomatoes

Watch the official trailer here:

Joker – Todd Philips

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Joker, a Warner Bros. picture

Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert DeNiro.
Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Joker has been making headline after headline after surpassing 1 billion dollars at the box office this past week, so it only makes sense to share the ReelDecisions movie review while it is still top of mind. Joker has done something that has never been done before; it became the first R-rated movie to cross the billion-dollar mark – all without being released in China. It’s a jaw-dropping achievement, especially for a movie based on a comic book character that is not part of a series (and made with a modest budget). Billion-dollar movies are usually made with huge budgets, not something as little as $55M-70M. But as Joker shows, a well-crafted film mixed with controversy and a character virtually everyone is curious about makes a perfect combination to drive people to the theatre.

Joker’s feat is both surprising and telling. It means there is a huge market for well-crafted, dark films that deal with topical (and polarizing) themes – namely, mental illness and the struggle between rich and poor. Its unparalleled success also may have had something to do with the fact that it was an origin-story for one of the most notorious villains in the DC universe. And not just any origin story either, a gritty and violent one with, arguably, one of the most talented actors at the center of it – Joaquin Phoenix.

Despite the rawness in which it deals with its contents, and the remarkable performance by Joaquin Phoenix, it’s still a tough film to recommend to anyone. At the same time, there are people who have seen this movie 7-10 times in the theatre. But it must be said, Joker will only appeal to a “certain” type of moviegoer, and it is certainly not something that will be universally enjoyed by all. It is not your typical run-of-the-mill comic book movie. It’s not funny, it’s not action-packed, there is virtually no hard-core CG imagery, and the focus is more on believability rather than outrageous otherworldly powers. In other words, it’s more of the “cinema” that Martin Scorsese was talking about rather than more Marvel drivel.

Joker is the origin story for Batman’s arch nemesis, a tale that has never been shown before on the big screen, and one that audiences have been waiting for. Sure, The Joker has been portrayed by a number of Oscar-winning actors on screen (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto), but how The Joker came to be and the troubles he faced in order to morph into one of the best-known villains of all time has never been done. We got a glimpse of how good a Joker arc could be with The Dark Knight (hell, Heath Ledger won an Oscar for it!), but Todd Phillips takes it to another level entirely. He should probably send a big ‘Thank You’ note to Christopher Nolan for successfully priming the market for dark origin storytelling though. At least people had an idea of what to expect with this one.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Joker

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a part-time clown who eventually becomes “The Joker”.
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a troubled individual who really got the short end of the stick in life. He has a terrible job, is constantly mistreated by others, has fits of uncontrollable laughter in the worst possible situations, and has ultimately been left behind by the system. Things slowly unravel after finding himself in a number of unfortunate circumstances – including brutal, unprovoked beatings; finding out new truths about his loved ones; being forced to stop medications; and generally feeling rejected and irrelevant. The whole thing is a slow burn and mostly a gritty, dark character study. If that doesn’t appeal to you right off the bat, or if seeing Joaquin at his absolute best isn’t enough to sell it, steer clear.

Even as everything is happening, you feel close to Arthur, you truly understand why he is spiralling out of control and you just wish someone would help him. You can’t really blame him for the criminal things that he does – including murder (hence the controversy before the movie was widely released). From feeling like the scum of the earth to experiencing the feeling of immense power and adrenaline that accompanies his crimes, Arthur slowly transforms into someone else. People were concerned that it glorified gun violence and would inspire it in others, especially in America where everyone is afraid of another movie theatre shooting. Couple all that with corrupt authority figures and depictions of violent protesters reacting to a David (poor) vs. Goliath (rich) type of crime story in Gotham City, you begin to understand why Joker was not even released in China. Yes, there is violence. Yes, there are riots. Yes, the rich get away with terrible things. Is this anything new? Aren’t good movies supposed to get you to draw similarities between real life and fiction?

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Joker, a Warner Bros. picture

Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert DeNiro.
Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment

This whole film is a very unique experience, crafted by Todd Phillips who is better known for his R-rated comedies (The Hangover series, Due Date, and Old School). It’s very edgy, fairly long, gritty, and takes acting to the next level. Calling Joaquin’s performance Oscar-worthy is actually an understatement. Plenty of questionable actors have won Oscars; but this, this is a performance that should be studied in the years to come. He wouldn’t even be the first actor to take home the prize after portraying the Joker (Heath Ledger won posthumously for The Dark Knight).

Just because it has grossed over 1 billion dollars doesn’t mean everyone who saw it liked it, or would even see it again. It is a guarantee that some people even hated it. But those who liked it loved it enough to see it multiple times in theatres, contributing to its huge success. Oscar buzz also helps. But a lot of people will actually find it too dark and too violent to be truly enjoyable. It’s something you should see, but something you might not actually like – if that makes any sense. Just be prepared for something you’ve never seen before and to be challenged mentally (perhaps even emotionally).

If film festivals mean anything to you (admittedly, this moviegoer doesn’t always “understand” the big winners at these events), you’ll be happy to hear that the movie received an 8-minute standing ovation at it’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival this year. Whether it takes home any golden statues this year is up for debate, but there’s no denying you’ll be hearing a lot about it for the next 4 months.

The movie may not be funny (at all), but you can bet that Todd Philips and Warner Bros. are laughing all the way to the bank with this one.

Joker was released on October 4, 2019 and has grossed over 1 billion dollars in less than 6 weeks.

Rotten Tomatoes score for Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix

Watch the official trailer here:

Last Christmas – Paul Feig

 

Emilia Clarke in the movie Last Christmas.

Last Christmas starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, and Emma Thompson.
Photo credit: Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures

Last Christmas, named after the iconic Christmas song by Wham!, is the first “real” holiday movie of the season to hit theatres. The term “real” is used in this review to emphasize that it is not produced by Hallmark and features a storyline different from the typical single-and-snowed-in-at-an-idyllic-country-lodge narrative that we are all used to by now. Last Christmas introduces us to Kate (Emilia Clarke), a young woman who seems to be stuck in a rut and can’t find her way out of the cycle of bad decisions that has become her life. Last Christmas is a romantic comedy through-and-through, complete with witty banter and laugh out loud moments, but – unlike a lot of Hallmark movies – the caliber of the actors allows the story to go a little bit deeper without losing the interest of the audience.

As the title leads one to believes, the film takes place during the Christmas season, which means the London streets are often filled with soft, romantic lights; a few light snow flurries; and people bundled up in warm clothing – the perfect scene for falling in love. But Last Christmas isn’t just about one character falling in love with another, it’s actually more about Kate learning to love herself and really existing instead of just being. Admittedly, it sounds pretty cliché, but you likely won’t be going to see this movie if you aren’t at least a little bit prepared for that type of thing. Over the course of 1hr and 43 mins we learn more about why Kate is the way she is and are introduced to the people who inspire her to climb out of the life-ditch.

A photo of Emilia Clarke, star of Last Christmas (movie) released in November.

Kate (Emilia Clarke) dressed as an elf for her job at a year-round Christmas shop in London.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures

Kate works as a cashier/elf at a year-round Christmas store run by an Asian woman (Michelle Yeoh) in the heart of London and seems to have lost all passion for her job, her family, and (in most cases) her dignity. At his point she is living off of the generosity of her friends and the patience of her boss and seems to have hit something close to rock-bottom. Enter uber-hunk Tom (Henry Golding). The mysterious Tom pursues Kate and the two seem to complement each other as they go on late night treks through the city streets – Kate is a disaster surrounded by constant drama and Tom seems to have it all figured out. Per the no spoilers policy, there’s not much more that can be said in terms of plot, but it’s certainly worth watching for those who generally find these Christmas-themed romantic-comedies appealing.

One of the highlights of this movie is Kate’s mother (Emma Thompson), who is a Yugoslavian immigrant who is overbearing, critical, and generally depressed with her own life. It is not unexpected given her track record, but Oscar-winner Emma Thompson (who also happened to be the producer and screenwriter) steals every scene she is in. The dynamics between her and the rest of the family feel very real and every interaction is fun to watch. There may be critics that say her accent isn’t correct or it’s too stereotypical – if that’s something you care about then this movie probably isn’t for you in the first place.

Emilia Clarke and Emma Thompson star in Last Christmas, a romantic comedy.

Emilia Clarke and Emma Thompson play mother and daughter in Last Christmas.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures

The beginning of the movie, particularly the first interactions between Kate and Tom, feels a little forced and not quite natural at times – which may be a result of the writing – but Last Christmas quickly finds its rhythm. In fact, it’s something that many viewers will not even notice (or will soon forget) as the story unfolds. The runtime is perfect and as long as this type of film is your cup of tea, you won’t ever be bored. If you liked the trailer, you will like the movie. It’s as simple as that. The (right) audience will love it and most (if not all) critics will condemn it – which is echoed pretty clearly in the Rotten Tomatoes scores.

Paul Feig (A Simple FavorSpyThe HeatBridesmaids) directs this charming tale in a way that’s a lot more family friendly than some of his other films. There’s no raunch and no awkward scenes that would make you want to avoid watching it with parents and children. All characters in this movie are loveable and were created with that notion in mind, even the ones who only appear for a couple of minutes at a time.

If you’re looking for a wholesome story, a few laughs, a couple tears, and some really good-looking people, Last Christmas will fit the bill. Oh, and if none of this convinces you, the entire soundtrack is George Michael hits. Yes, including the beloved “Last Christmas”.

Last Christmas was released on Nov 8th, 2019.

Last Christmas movie reviews according to Rotten Tomatoes

Watch the official trailer here:

Deadpool 2 – David Leitch

Deadpool 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, and Julian Dennison.
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Since the first Deadpool film smashed the box office in 2016 (grossing over $783M worldwide), fans have been waiting for Ryan Reynolds to reprise the role as the vulgar, hilariously honest Wade Wilson. The original broke records for an R-rated film – a rating it wholeheartedly earned – and it was only a matter of time before Deadpool 2 became a reality.

It’s simple; if you enjoyed the first one, you will enjoy the second one.  The quick-witted, nasty outhouse (toilet just doesn’t cut it) humour is about the same, they routinely break the 4th wall, make cheeky pop culture references, and the R-rating is embraced at every turn.  It may not be quite as funny the second time around, but it is still exactly what you would expect the sequel to be.

Deadpool 2 starts off with a literal ‘bang’ as a depressed Wade attempts to kill himself in spectacular fashion. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he lives (he can’t die) and in an attempt to pull himself together (mentally and physically), he works alongside a bunch of X-Men trying to save a seriously disturbed mutant teen from a time-travelling super-villain called Cable (Josh Brolin). There are a number of amusing cameos along the way – watch closely or you might miss them – and it just solidifies what we already know: every one loves working with Ryan Reynolds.

Audience members who were on the fence about the original Tim Miller version have no business watching the second installment (this time by Director David Leitch, of John Wick fame). For those who never got around to seeing Deadpool, don’t worry about it, you’ll still get it. The plot itself isn’t overly complex and you don’t need a whole lot of background to understand what’s going on. A person with a healthy understanding of the X-Men characters will be rewarded, but again, it’s not a requirement.

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Josh Brolin plays a pretty decent villain who, coincidentally, isn’t totally unlike the other famous villain he played this year – Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War). Both “men” are incredibly strong, incredibly misunderstood in their actions, and are killing for “the greater good”. Julian Dennison, a young New Zealand actor in his breakout role of Firefist, will certainly be getting more work after this film. He was endearing, hilarious, and a little creepy all in one. His character is hellbent on revenge for being treated poorly by staff at the orphanage. Feeling sympathy – or any other deep thought for that matter – isn’t necessarily something you would expect in a movie like Deadpool 2, but it still takes you there, albeit just briefly since you know there is always a wisecracking joke around the corner.

Oh, and the end credits are equally amusing. Props to Celine Dion for having a sense of humour in addition to her singing chops. Again, her involvement just proves that everyone loves Ryan Reynolds.

Watch the official trailer here:

Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Impossible – Fallout starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames,and Rebecca Ferguson.
Photo credit: Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures

It’s pretty clear that Christopher McQuarrie (Director – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Writer – Edge of Tomorrow) likes working with  Tom Cruise, they have collaborated on five other films before Mission: Impossible – Fallout in various capacities. When a Producer/Director/Writer has a good working relationship with an actor, it typically comes out on the screen. In the case of McQuarrie and Cruise, it has resulted in many wildly successful action films over the last decade, with Fallout having the best opening weekend for the entire six-movie franchise. 

Critics have called Fallout one of the best action movies ever made. And it’s true, the action doesn’t stop – it is pure escapism at its finest. It’s hard to believe that the hanging-from-an-airplane-scene or the underwater-scene-done-in-one-breath could be topped, but the stunts in Fallout do just that.  Yes, stunts – with an “s”. They are the cornerstone of the franchise and, frankly,  no one can do it better than Tom Cruise. It never leaves you doubting the reality of what you’re seeing on screen because you already know it’s real. In a world where visual effects are generally overdone and entire films are done with the help of a green screen, Mission:Impossible still clings to the notion that “real is better than fake”. When it can be pulled off like it is in Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout, that is most definitely true.

Fallout follows Ethan Hunt and his team on another mission to stop world destruction when a group gets their hands on a set of weaponized plutonium. Again, Hunt finds himself in a compromising situation (or three) when he has to take matters into his own hands to stop the criminal organization. Lane (Sean Harris) is back from the previous film and is hellbent on destroying Hunt and everything he holds dear. In true Mission: Impossible fashion, there’s double crossing, hand-to-handle battle, a lot of running, intriguing villains, and beautiful women. There’s even a surprising connection to the first Mission: Impossible through one of the new characters, but if you don’t catch it, it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Henry CavillVanessa Kirby, and  Angela Bassett are welcomed additions to the franchise and each new character makes Hunt’s journey a little more interesting this time around. 

Photo credit: Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures

Typically after six movies, some of the cast starts to drop off or replacements are used for certain characters. In the case of the Mission: Impossible film franchise, that hasn’t seemed to be the case. It leads one to believe they really enjoy their work. Tom Cruise may not necessarily be the most likable actor due to his religious beliefs and prior talk show antics (Oprah’s couch), but it certainly appears that he is well-liked in Hollywood, and not just for his almost-guaranteed box-office draw. Between all the stunts and the witty banter between characters, the Mission: Impossible movies just look like a lot of fun to be part of – and a big part of that (like it or not) is due to Tom Cruise. Action movies aren’t known for being very genuine and typically whatever “depth” they attempt to throw in usually seems a bit forced. Mission: Impossible has always been a little bit different though – the balance just….works. You’ll laugh, hold your breath, and take Hunt seriously, all at he same time.

It’s an easy franchise to be loyal to. The formula is the same, the actors/characters are the same (for the most part), and it just keeps getting bigger and better. Oh, and Tom Cruise runs. What’s not to like?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to run (Tom Cruise style) to the nearest theatre and watch the latest installment on the big screen. You won’t regret it. *cue iconic theme song*

Watch the official trailer here:

Red Sparrow – Francis Lawrence

Red Sparrow starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton.
Photo Credit : Twentieth Century Fox

If you’re looking for an R-rated film with a take-no-prisoners female lead, graphic violence, and full frontal nudity, look no further – Red Sparrow has it all. Unlike most spy movies, this one does everything it can to deglamorize the spy world. Red Sparrow tries to shock you at every turn, and for the most part it succeeds. This is the main reason the film’s reception was hot and cold for the most part. Some found it intriguing and suspenseful, while others were overwhelmed with the violence and thought it cheapened the bleak tale of survival.

The story features a secret Russian government training program that trains its agents to use their bodies and intellect to extract intelligence information from unsuspecting marks. In this case, the mark is a C.I.A agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) who is caught up in a complicated Russian-American intelligence battle. It turns out former ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is something of an expert in the art of seduction and is tasked with getting Nash to reveal his source, a high-ranking Russian mole. The plotline starts out simple enough, with Egovora being unwillingly thrust into the spy world,  learning the ‘tricks’ of the trade, and beginning her mission. It gets more and more complicated as it goes on as you aren’t sure about anyone’s motives (but that’s the deal with spies, no?). All you do know is that Egovora wants out of the life, and at any cost. Despite the mind-boggle, Red Sparrow stays interesting and – in true spy-thriller fashion – concludes with an epic triple-twist.  It also features the most realistic knife fight ever to be seen on screen. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but altogether a really impressive scene for all involved.

Director Francis Lawrence, best known for three Hunger Games films (Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 & Part 2) and I Am Legend, has worked with Jennifer Lawrence and is clearly familiar with her talent. Her craft is certainly on display in Red Sparrow – from her Russian accent to her brief stint as a ballerina to a disturbing rape scene, she is undeniably one of the best actresses of our time and is as far away from being typecast as possible. While he may have directed a number of music videos in the early 2000’s for the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith (for real…), Francis Lawrence clearly has a passion for darker, dystopian-style films, and Red Sparrow is an obvious example of that. Supporting actors include Jeremy Irons,  Matthias Schoenaerts, and Charlotte Rampling

All in all, Red Sparrow is a good watch. But while some people may have raved about it (in a positive way), it isn’t likely they (or anyone else) will be in the mood to watch it more than once. However, if you can withstand the wrenching torture scenes and typically enjoy a good thriller, taking the time to see it at least once is recommended. You will more than likely be satisfied with the ending – it’s one that sticks with you – and it’s almost-always exciting to see the darker side of the intelligence game. As mentioned before, the spy life depicted in this thriller is anything but glamorous. It turns out it’s not all disguises and martinis after all.

Watch the official trailer here:

 

Darkest Hour – Joe Wright

Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ben Mendelsohn.
Photo Credit: Jack English/Focus Features

It’s a movie that was made for the Oscars; you have a brilliant performance of a historical figure, impressive makeup and costume to go with the times, the inclusion of a powerful wartime speech, and artistic camera work. Darkest Hour is not the best movie to come out in 2017, not by a long shot, but no one can argue it’s a quality film and quite enjoyable. You get a glimpse into Winston Churchill’s battle to gain the trust of the Cabinet when he takes over as British Prime Minister for Neville Chamberlain in the early days of World War II.

It actually fits in really well with another film that was featured in the same Best Picture category at the Oscars – Dunkirk. They take place at the same time and it would benefit moviegoers to watch them both for historical purposes. It’s a time in history that not everyone is familiar with and it’s very interesting to see things happen from the soldiers’ perspectives as well as the political perspective. The two films couldn’t be more different but they stay true to their perspectives: the soldier’s point of view is action-based while a politician’s point of view is all about words.

Most people can agree that Gary Oldman deserved an Oscar a long time ago. He finally took one home at the 90th Academy Awards in early March for his portrayal of Churchill. It wasn’t even a question that he would win. He disappears into the character and brings a lot of spunk to a man most people have only read about in history classes. But of course his performance wouldn’t have been as effective without the makeup team, so the three of them also brought home Oscar for their efforts in Darkest Hour. The supporting cast of Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, and Ben Mendelsohn is good, but be under no false illusion that Darkest Hour is anything but the ‘Gary Oldman Show’. It’s a mere snapshot in time after all, when Churchill was facing his biggest decisions as Prime Minister, so most other characters are just filler.

In addition to Best Actor in a Leading Role (won), Best Picture, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won), Darkest Hour was also nominated for Best Cinematography. It’s one of those things that is actually hard to ignore in this film. If it’s something you don’t usually notice, you likely will notice it here.

Darkest Hour takes place at a time in history where things could have gone very differently for Britain, and the rest of the world. It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller but you definitely feel the sense of urgency. Knowing the outcome, the movie is done in such a way that makes you want to slap some sense into the opposition. During Churchill’s speeches you may even find yourself thinking, “Damn straight! You tell ‘em Winston!”. It’s as close to a universally enjoyable movie as you can get without being animated and released by Pixar. At just over 2 hours it’s a fairly standard run-time for a film of this nature. There is also no content in it that would be any cause for concern while watching with family, young or old. It’ll make you giggle, make you cheer (internally), and you might even learn a few things! If you’re a historian, as long as you forgive the filmmakers for taking dramatic license to tell the story, you won’t regret watching Churchill navigate through Britain’s “darkest hour”.

Watch the official trailer here:

Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
Photo credit: Merie Wallace and A24

Creating a film that so many people can identify with is not an easy task. The sheer amount of people who have responded to the film and title character in such a positive way leads one to believe that Greta Gerwig has succeeded with Lady Bird. Many people, young and old, who have seen Lady Bird have responded by saying, “That character is/was me!” or, “That is exactly how I felt about my parents/school/hometown/friends growing up!” and that is a true sign of success for a writer/director – aside from the movie being nominated for five Oscars. This is Gerwig’s directorial debut.

Lady Bird could take place in any decade and in any town but it happens to be Sacramento in 2002. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is in her senior year at a pretty normal Catholic high school and trying to figure out what she wants to do for college. On one hand it’s a fairly standard coming-of-age story where nothing exciting or out of the ordinary happens, but on the other hand it is completely unique. Lady Bird – an odd name, but soon it’s the last thing on your mind – has a strained relationship with her hard-working mother (Laurie Metcalf) and is yearning for independence and adventure. She is trying to fit in but at the same time is trying to break free. What you get is a very funny and very touching story of a seventeen-year-old navigating through one of the most important times of her life.

Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) has been one to watch since she broke out in 2007 with Atonement. Her role in Lady Bird has earned her a third acting nomination in ten years, which is very well deserved, especially for a twenty-three year old. The interactions between Lady Bird and her parents are timeless, and that is probably thanks to the brilliant Oscar-nominated script. It’s so good and so real that you probably won’t even notice it, which is the sign of an amazing screenplay. Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) is also nominated for her supporting role as an overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated mother of two. Special mention goes to Beanie Feldstein who plays the extremely likeable best friend.

Since Lady Bird doesn’t follow the traditional flow if a film with an introduction, climax, and conclusion, it feels more like you are just observing a girl’s senior year unfold and not watching a movie at all. You feel like you just popped in to observe a piece of Lady Bird’s life; you know a lot happened before you got there and you feel that the characters are still living their lives after the credits roll. What’s a shame is that in the absence of action or a plot twist, a few people will mistake Lady Bird for boring and mundane. What they won’t get is that that is the whole point – high school is generally unexciting, but at the time, losing a best friend, falling in love, figuring out your future, and trying new things is the be-all-end-all of your life!

Lady Bird was shown at many international film festivals and received a wider release later in 2017. It was a difficult film for many people to see in theatres, which is a shame. But following the 90th Academy Awards in March, it will surely be in high demand. Lady Bird has been nominated for five Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards:
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Directing
Best Original Screenplay

Watch the official trailer here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNi_HC839Wo

The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) loves to make movies and it’s obvious that actors and members of the production teams love to make movies with him. Those who have worked on The Shape of Water have called it “magical” and “beautiful” and during del Toro’s Best Director award speech at the Golden Globes, he moved his two leading ladies to tears. The love and the respect people seem to have for del Toro certainly translated to the screen and their performances in The Shape of Water. This film was so well received, it has been nominated for thirteen Oscars (just one shy of the record), including the big ones (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay) and a number of the technical ones (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing).

Sally Hawkins (Maudie, Blue Jasmine) turns in a performance of a lifetime as Elisa, a mute cleaner at a highly classified government facility who meets and eventually falls in love with an amphibian creature being held captive at the facility. She doesn’t say a word, but through her facial expressions, use of sign language, and that sly smile, you know exactly what she’s feeling. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) is equally impressive as Zelda, Elisa’s cleaning colleague. She’s funny, doesn’t stop talking, and never really requires a response from Elisa in order to know how she feels about something. It must be difficult to play a part when your lines are like one big rant but it never really shows. The rest of the supporting cast couldn’t be any better – Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Michael Shannon is an over-the-top villain named Strickland who you despise in every single scene. He never lets up and it’s perfection.

The film is set in the 1960’s when everyone was afraid of Russians spies. When a creature from the Amazon is brought into a secret research facility its apparent that the views on how to treat it are opposing. One man wants to learn from it, the other man wants to torture and destroy it before enemies can get their hands on it. In the middle is Elisa, who somehow finds companionship with the strange, misunderstood creature. It’s a weird story that brings together elements from familiar movies like Splash, King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, and Creature from the Black Lagoon – and some may say the narrative has been done before, so why bother? If this type of thing troubles you, if you were angry that Avatar got so much hype even though it was basically Pocahontas, stay at home because this type of fantasy film probably isn’t for you. It’s what a director does with a familiar story – either visually or with beloved characters – that can make all the difference. What James Cameron did to revitalize the popular story with a huge budget, del Toro does with and a small budget and pure passion.

This movie is too different to be universally likeable. The magical/unbelievable element will throw off some moviegoers– but if you go into it prepared and with an open mind, it’s really hard not to love every minute of it. Guillermo del Toro has said that on a few occasions, his fairy tales have saved his life – The Shape of Water being one of them – and that is evident in how personal the film feels. It explores the loneliness in being different, the dream of being loved and understood, and the harsh cruel realities of the world all at once. The score (Oscar-nominated Alexandre Desplat), the almost-excessive romanticism, and overly adorable characters will either make you smile with delight for two hours or have you rolling your eyes, wishing for it to be over. Like everything, it’s a matter of perspective and what you’re in the mood for.

The Shape of Water has grossed over $95M worldwide; with less than a $20M budget that is quite the success. The Shape of Water has been nominated for thirteen Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards:
Best Achievement in Directing
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Best Achievement in Production Design

Watch the official trailer from FOX Searchlight here:

Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, and Robin Wright.
Photo Credit: Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros Pictures

When the executive producer of a movie openly admits the movie is too long, and that executive producer is also a director notorious for making movies with 150 min runtimes, you have to believe him when he says it. Blade Runner 2049 is many things: visually stunning, intriguing, artistic, and, as Ridley Scott so delicately put it, “f***ing way too long“. Even if it takes more than one sitting, even if you need a couple bathroom breaks in the 2hrs and 44mins; if you’re a fan of quality sci-fi drama (think Arrival), Blade Runner 2049 is a must-see.

Just like the original Blade Runner (directed by Ridley Scott 35 years ago), it’s not for everyone. If you have no patience for slow films and for scenes that are easily 2 minutes longer than they have to be, avoid this sequel like the plague. If you are the DC/Marvel type who needs humour and constant action, avoid this movie like the plague. If you are the other type of movie watcher, sit back and get completely sucked into a new (or not so new) world.

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners, Sicario) took a 35-year-old movie and made it fresh and relevant. A very serious Ryan Gosling plays “K”, a young “blade runner” for the L.A. Police Department. Blade runners are tasked with hunting down and retiring old Replicant models, a type of bioengineered android that looks identical to a human. Apparently older Replicants rose up against humans at some point, but that’s not really important. The important thing to know is that Replicants look and act like humans; older models are not wanted and are hunted and killed; and there is a giant, powerful corporation that is experimenting with new models and new features that make it even more difficult to tell the difference. During a routine stop, K stumbles on something strange that requires further investigation. His boss (Robin Wright) tasks him with getting to the bottom of the strange events surrounding the death of an old model, all while trying to stay ahead of the CEO of the corporation (Jared Leto), who wants answers for a very different reason. The story is fairly complex, and although it doesn’t require one to see the original, it probably helps one understand the world a little better.

Lucky for fans of the original film, K’s investigation leads him to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). It’s been 30 years and he’s a little older, but there’s still a lot of fight (and heartache) left in his character, not to mention Mr. Ford himself (see video ‘Ryan Gosling Nearly Knocked Out by Harrison Ford‘).

The main features of the movie are the cinematography, production design, and the music/sound – all things that Blade Runner 2049 has been nominated for. The dusty, dirty, futuristic dystopia is breathtaking in almost every scene. If camera work and set design are not things you typically notice in a film, you will surely notice them in this one. They make the ugly future strangely beautiful. The score is eerily similar to Arrival, so much so that it is hard to believe that Jóhann Jóhannsson had no part in it; in fact, he was replaced by Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception) and Benjamin Wallfisch (IT) shortly into filming. For a film with fairly limited dialogue, the music is quite noticeable and gives the sweeping landscapes more “oomph”.

To sum up, although Blade Runner 2049 is an acquired taste just like the original, it will surely satisfy those who enjoy a science fiction drama with spectacular visuals. Denis Villeneuve brings his typical darker style to the film as well as his talent for perfect endings.

Blade Runner 2049 brought in just under $260M worldwide and has been nominated for five Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards, including:
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Production Design

Watch the official Warner Bros. trailer here: