‘Manchester By The Sea’ Review: Casey Affleck Gives His All In This Gripping Emotional Drama

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Kenneth Lonergan tackles loss, depression, and death in this Oscar contender

Taking such a personal and intricate concept as death, it needs to be opened and surgically examined from every angle while constructing characters that feel real. Having such a movie bring in humor moments is such a big risk, and therefore, needs to be done meticulously for the film to work. Fortunately, Manchester By The Sea takes its time telling a heartbreakingly bittersweet story that is elevated by Kenneth Lonergan’s script as well as his directing.

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‘Sing’ Review: It’s More About The Characters Than The Songs

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Sing’s characters carry the movie, but it doesn’t live up to its name

Illumination is becoming quite a force to be reckoned with. Just short of Pixar and Disney, it continues to grow each and every movie. Using the minions as a selling point is working and continues to. Illumination’s second movie of the year has a great cast and some great characters, but the ‘teeny bopper’ type song covers make the songs unmemorable.

The once successful Moon Theatre was the host of some amazing plays. However, now it’s becoming a quite a dump. The owner of the theater, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), has failed to make a single successful gig.

One day, he comes up with the idea that could save his decaying theater, a singing competition. Johnny (Taron Egerton), Rosita (Reece Witherspoon), Ash (Scarlett Johansson), Mike (Seth McFarlene) and Meena (Tori Kelly) all give it a shot hoping to achieve their dream. Along the way, they find out that their dreams may require more sacrifices than they may be ready to deal with.

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Buster Moon is perfectly voiced by Matthew McConaughey

For a movie named Sing, it’s quite surprising that the singing is not the most exciting part. The characters are the real stars as they steal the show more than once. Each character is given a very human reason as to why they want to participate in the singing competition. The passionate and optimistic koala bear is beautifully voiced by a vibrant Matthew McConaughey. Taron Edgerton and Scarlett Johansson also give terrific performances as a gorilla trying to escape a difficult life and a wanna-be front singer porcupine. Each is given interesting stories, and those stories do carry the whole movie. To make your audience fall in love with every character is a hard thing to achieve and fortunately, Sing realizes just that.

Not so memorable are the songs which are lacking. Actually, the songs are pretty terrible. Playing off the same mediocracy of Trolls‘ songs, Sing transforms well-known songs to a Mini-Pop Kids’ special. Almost every song is glossed over with techno beats and autotune making “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John almost unbearable. Worst is that the whole singing competition gimmick (apart from the auditions which were funny) feels like fillers.

It is only when director Gareth Jennings (Son of Rambow) finds a way to weave in the characters’ stories into its central singing competition plot that the story starts to shine. It makes up for the fact that the singing is mediocre. In the end, it’s not about the singing competition but about a group of people (or animals) fighting against the various obstacles to attain their dreams.

From all that Sing has working against it, it does end up working, and there are moments of pure brilliance, but one should wish for more from a studio which is currently up there with Pixar and Disney. The characters all work in their own ways, and you feel for them through their ups and downs. If you can get past the fact that a movie called Sing doesn’t have any great songs, then just like me, you will enjoy this film.

GRADE: B-

‘La La Land’ Review: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Dance Their Way To Brilliance

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Whiplash director, Damien Chazelle, creates a gripping story about two passionate people trying to succeed

Everyone has those dreams and that passion that drives us to achieve them. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) inspires those dreamers to do what you love even if at first it seems impossible. It’s no surprise that La La Land is both funny and serious, happy and sad because the journey of achieving such dreams is undoubtedly going to be a long emotional ride.

Failed audition after failed audition, aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone) is left with a life she wishes she could escape. When she meets jazz lover and pianist, Sebastien (Ryan Gosling), they both fall in love. Life seems to be going great. However, as they settle for gigs and jobs that do not reflect their dreams, the relationship between them start to crumble. Their passion that once brought them together is now tearing them apart.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfect as the passionate couple. Both have the look of classic Hollywood while still being able to portray a very modern couple. Stone is the better shining star in this story. Her charisma and friendly nature make her a character that the audience can quickly fall in love with.

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Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have that great classic Hollywood aesthetic

Along with Stone and Gosling, John Legend, Rosemary DeWitt, and Callie Hernandez sing in La La Land‘s various musical numbers. The songs are not the problem, they are fantastic and placed at just the right moments. When compared to the other singers, Stone and Gosling reveals their lack of vocal skills. When John Legend sings his song, it’s not hard to hear the huge difference it makes. Not that Stone and Gosling don’t pull it off, but in a movie filled with great singers, their mediocre vocals are more apparent. Nevertheless, the songs are vibrant, and I even found myself tapping foot at the beginning.

Set in a beautiful Los Angeles, Chazelle continually takes jabs at the bittersweet California city. Gosling playing in a restaurant while nobody is listening is just one of the many hits. Contrasting these punches, cinematographer, Linus Sandgren (Joy, American Hustle) captures some gorgeous shots. Playing with different color lighting, La La Land becomes the dream that the characters are aspiring for. Everything from the dancing to the colors feels like a daydream and it is perfect for a movie about passion and goals.

To achieve a dreamy nature, one must be a terrific craftsman. The trouble with musicals is that musical numbers should be placed at just the right moment. Missing one beat can result in a musical feeling forced. Fortunately, Chazelle never struggles with timing. The transitions to musical numbers are genuine and fun, an immense strength to have in this very genre.

Classic musical legends would be proud of what Damien Chazelle has created. Musical lovers are going to love this, and even non-musical fans can find something to love. There’s a sense of nostalgia both in the film’s aesthetic and the story without driving too much in the déja-vù territory. Playing more like a love letter to dreamers than to Los Angeles, La La Land finds the perfect note.

GRADE: A

‘Passengers’ Review: Morton Tyldum Doesn’t Tell The Interesting Story Everyone Wants

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Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in a ‘Titanic’ meets ‘The Shining’ in space

In space, no one can hear you scream but everyone can see cheap scripts. Morton Tyldum (The Imitation Game) picks up a famous black list script which should have stayed in its place. Add in two of the most popular actors working today mixed with a love story and what could possibly go wrong? Well, almost everything.

Aboard the Starship Avalon, 5,000 passengers are hibernating in pods. The travel is still 90 years until they arrive at a new planet, Homestead II, where the passengers are to colonize it. However, one of the pod malfunctions and opens waking up Jim (Chris Pratt) too early. He soon realizes that he is the only one awake and that there is absolutely nothing he can do to go back to hibernation.

Loneliness turns him mad, and he is left with a tough decision, does he wake up someone else ultimately committing murder. Jim quickly gets obsessed with a beautiful writer named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). Eventually, he decides to wake her up, and they fall in love. Jim is left with the dilemma to tell her or not that he is the one who has awoken her.

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Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt can’t save this self-defeating sci-fi romance

Wrestling with interesting and dark moral questions, Passengers fails to explore any of the issues it conjures up. It starts off as a story about a lonely man turning mad in a Shining kind of way. It brings up fascinating questions about loneliness and humans’ need to interaction. As Jim becomes a little too lonely, the film never seems to answer these issues. Instead, it turns its ship around, and it ultimately becomes a mediocre Titanic love story in space.

Not without potential, the movie’s own script does not call for a love story. Aurora being awoken by Jim is in itself an act of murder. The script builds Pratt’s character has a selfish man in need of someone. The love story doesn’t quite fit, and it seems rather force. Passenger ignores a more interesting story for a cheap love story. How better would have been Passengers if Pratt was a Jack Torrance type character?

The set designs around the characters are magnificent, and the CG is phenomenal. Passengers explore its surrounding in great details. From the pool to floating in space, the movie nails its aesthetic. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Wolf Of Wall Street) creates beautiful wide shots. The futuristic style of the Avalon from his sleek design to its beautiful interior gives the movie both a sense of realism and otherworldly.

Ultimately, Passengers‘ script has built such a strong wall that the rest of the film is constantly trying to take it down. Beautiful futuristic surroundings can’t overcome it either. They take the long boring route instead of the easier thrilling one. For a movie to have so many Shining references, it’s surprising that Tyldum never thought to tell that story instead.

GRADE: C-

‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Review: A Gritty Star Wars Spinoff Unable To Pack The Emotional Punch

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Rogue One is enjoyable despite the lack of character development

Prequels are still a bad name around the Star Wars universe and that still lingers on everyone’s mind. Everyone who will sit in the theater waiting for Rogue One to start will have that tiny bit of doubt in the back of their minds. Is this prequel as bad as Episode I or II? No, but Rogue One has one serious flaw – a lack of interesting characters.

Opening to an already rough time in the Star Wars universe, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) teams up with a gang of Rebels to fight the Empire in the civil war. Their mission is to find the Death Star plan and give it to the Rebels. As we all know, that will be a young Princess Leia but what comes before is what ultimately is the story of Rogue One.

From the first shot, fans will know that this Star Wars story will be different from the Episodes. The beautiful cinematography first catches the eye. This is undeniably director Gareth Edwards’ (Godzilla) strength. Probably the most beautiful Star Wars film to date, Rogue One uses this strength to its full potential. The gang of Rebels visits various different locations, from a Normandy beach-like area to a Middle Eastern-like desert.

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Rogue One’s war scenes are impeccable

Jyn Erso isn’t the only newly introduced character. Others include Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Imre (Donnie Yen), Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). In a Guardians of the Galaxy type deal, Rogue One‘s task, right away, is to introduce us to each individual character and make them relevant to the audience. Unfortunately, the movie never fully achieves this. Standing before us are easily defined one trait characters with the exception of Jyn Erso. Her backstory and persona make her the more well-rounded character in the group and the only interesting one in the group.

Probably the most underused character is Bohdi Rook, Riz Ahmed’s character, in which he is barely in the movie. As the movie searches to make these characters relevant, it comes up with very little. Some small tasks are performed but nothing that special that would make them great heroes.

Darker and grittier than the previous Star Wars movies, Rogue One isn’t afraid to take big risks. From the start, the film shows you just how high the stakes are. Coming around to the third act, the movie shows you just how daring it is, and it does deliver quite a bit. Some of the more emotional parts weaved into the final act don’t always land, but the war scenes are a thing of pure beauty. Edwards rips a page from directly from Saving Private Ryan to deliver some suspenseful moments.

When the credits come rolling, either way, you’ll be in shock. The problem arises whether or not the characters’ were compelling enough to carry the movie. They pose the biggest problem for Rogue One, particularly in the more emotional parts. However, this is still a Star Wars film with plenty of beautiful and suspenseful action. If all else fails then at least, you will get the fan service, which is weaved in flawlessly.

GRADE: B+

‘Nocturnal Animals’ Review: Tom Ford’s Sophomore Film Is Both Bizarre And Beautiful

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Amy Adams is spectacular in this high-class dramatic thriller

Rich people can be obnoxious. This is just but one of Tom Ford’s commentary on high-class living. His argument seems pretty relevant as he has seen these behaviors first class working in the fashion world. A lot of pretty faces and luxurious settings bombard Nocturnal Animals and yet Ford meticulously shows the sadness and superficiality, something rich people try to hide.

A sad Susan (Amy Adams) is seen unimpressed by the art surrounding her, standing alone with dead obese women shown on platforms. This is just one of Susan’s art exhibits. But why is she so sad? Her husband (Armie Hammer) didn’t come to her art show. Wanting to confront him at home, something catches her mind as she comes home – a package is waiting for her. This mysterious package is revealed to be a draft of her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The draft of a novel dedicated to her.

The novel’s story is of dark, sad and violent nature, not the content one would want to be associated with. Though, the story reveals something closer to home, Susan’s relationship with Edward. As she reads through the pages, Susan can only think about her memories with Edward and how it eventually went all wrong.

On the surface, it seems like a boring story, but it’s elevated with a great script. Going back from a novel to reality is in fact, Nocturnal Animals‘ greatest strength. Not one story is superior to the other. Instead, both stories offer a fascinating look into each character without being overly intolerable. The novel story helps the audience get an interesting look into Jake Gyllenhaal’s character which is only seen in a couple real life shots. A bold choice that is rewarded more than once.

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Ford beautifully captures the essences of egotism and superficiality

Tom Ford plays each right cards, and the biggest most audacious card is played at the very end where he leaves it to the audience to decide just how much both stories mirror themselves. On the one hand, Ford shows an incredibly violent and gritty Texas story perfectly contrasting the wealthy and fancy lifestyle Susan inhabits. Proving that this isn’t just another “sad rich people” story. Her life, filled with beautiful dresses and decadent parties, paints a portrait of why her character seems so sad. But in the end, it’s the actions and the depth of the relationship that pulls the story to its own.

Playing with similar themes to the ones in The Neon Demon, an apparent similarity between both Nicolas Winding Refn and Tom Ford emerges. Not only is Karl Glusman and Jena Melone in both film but the aesthetic of Nocturnal Animals fair strikingly similar to Refn’s. Although, enough effort is made to differentiate both films, this is sure to come up in the minds of people who have seen both films.

Helping out with the movie’s excellent story are the incredible performances across the board. Adams’s sad eyes leave just enough room to see her broken soul. Same goes to Gyllenhaal as he shines as a sensitive author. However, easily the favourite is Michael Shannon’s depiction of a Texas sheriff.

Proving once again that his eye for fashion translates well to film, Ford’s scrupulous nature and vibrant visuals take centerpiece. Made with high precision and attention to detail, Nocturnal Animals is the biggest gamble of the year. In a movie where nothing should cinematically work, almost everything does.

GRADE: A

‘Moonlight’ Review: Berry Jenkins Creates A Powerful Story Of Poverty, Sexuality and Drug Abuse

moonlightA talented cast and unique cinematography create an ambitious impressionistic coming of age story

Moving between rap songs and a violin-heavy score, Nicolas Britell (Free State of Jones) perfectly show how the main character feels growing up; His struggle between being himself or being what people want him to be. Berry Jenkins’ second film is a thing of beauty and power, unveiling like a sad personal poem to humanity. Moonlight is everything Boyhood was not.

Following the life stages of Chiron, dubbed as Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Saunders) and Black (Trevante Rhodes), the film takes us on a journey through what it is like growing up in a poor, homophobic black community. Playing out like a constant hell, Chiron gets beats up at school only to come home to his abusive drug addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris).

To escape these misfortunes, Chiron visits another healthier environment. Both Teresa (Janelle Monae) and Juan (Mashershala Ali) are Chiron’s second family. They provide help and a more liberal environment to the ones he’s been accustom to. Along the way, he cannot help to struggle with all these things and more importantly his identity.

At it’s boldest, Moonlight‘s visuals are stunning. The impressionism embedding in the cinematography offers a dazzling look into the life of a misunderstood young man. The shots are ambitious and unique while still adding emotions. A blend of blues, purples, and fuchsias perfectly capture the colors of the moonlight while still symbolizing the struggles of drug abuse and poverty. Scenes in which Paula’s bedroom flashes of fuchsia colors before she enters to use drugs are powerful ones and are exactly how Moonlight tells its story.

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Jenkins’ impressionistic approach offers that much more to an already flawless movie

As Chiron grows up, the characters surrounding him, age as well. Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) uses physical change to tell the characters’ story. When we see Chiron’s mother, her change is both sad and shocking. Without telling his audience what happened between the gaps, Jenkins brilliantly uses these physical changes as signs that time has passed.

Tributing to an already flawless film, everyone in the cast is magnificent. There are no standout performances because everyone delivers and beyond. Naomie Harris correctly portrays the drug addict mother and all three actors doing the part of Chiron are incredible. Marshershala Ali and Janelle Monae are exquisite as the very likable surrogate parents. Their performances all feel incredibly genuine and convey so much emotion.

Jenkins explores the concept of masculinity and identity with such ease. He understands the hypocrisy but also the urgency of conforming to it. Masculinity changes throughout Chiron’s life and only becomes more and more toxic. Jenkins shows just how powerful this concept is in shaping men and how hard it is to reject it.

Moonlight poses a series of questions and one of the questions that were raised to Chiron was “Who is you?” The sad truth is that the movie ends the exact same way as how our present society is – with ambiguity. That final note is both terrible and perfect transcending to your own experience. So, I ask you again, “Who is you?”

GRADE: A+