Category - Movie Reviews

Review: The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth is perhaps the most highly anticipated Sci-Fi film in Chinese cinema history. It stars Wu Jing, who was also the star and director of China’s historical blockbuster Wolf Warrior II, as well as Qu Chuxiao and veteran actor Ng Man-tat.  

Earth’s sun is at the threshold of going nova. In a mere 100 years it will explode and destroy the solar system. Faced with inevitable extinction, humanity comes together to create the Wandering Earth project. A series of giant thrusters are built to break the Earth out of its orbit and propel it on a centuries-long journey to a new star system. Half the population, selected by random drawing, is sent to underground cities as the Earth’s surface turns into a frozen wasteland.

A space station is built and launched ahead of the Earth to act as its navigation system. Liu Peiqiang (Wu) leaves his young son on Earth to join the first crew of the space station for seventeen years. During this time his son Qi (Qu) grows up in one of the underground Chinese cities.  Just as Peiqiang is about to conclude his service on the station and return to his son, both he and Qi are thrust into the middle of a desperate struggle to stop the Earth from colliding with another planet and once again save humanity from extinction.

While the idea of relocating the Earth to another solar system may be novel, it’s hard to ignore the common apocalyptic Sci-Fi clichés in the movie such as humanity moving underground to escape destruction, the parent leaving a child behind to embark on a long space voyage and the philosophical scenes of deciding what to do when you can’t save everyone. However, there’s enough quality graphics, powerful acting and plot twists that you can forgive some of the more predictable elements.

As with most any science fiction movie, the discerning viewer will likely question how much the premise of the movie conforms to the laws of physics. They might also question the realism of two fellow astronauts having seamless conversations with each other while one speaks nothing but Chinese and the other nothing but Russian. Scientific and linguistics discussions aside, The Wandering Earth is a profound depiction of the eternal struggles man faces against nature, technology, society and even himself. From beginning to end, characters fight on and cling to hope when there is no logical reason to have any.

Adding to the drama is the presence of Chinese New Year, irrefutably the country’s most important celebration. The film was released on China’s New Year’s Day and the climax of the story takes place during this holiday. Wu’s character very accurately describes it as “a time of reunion” before issuing a call to action by saying “I don’t want this to be the last reunion.” The message being, perhaps, that to save our planet and secure the future of our children, there’s nothing we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice.  

Review: The Wild Pear Tree

The Wild Pear Tree is a contemplative, beautifully minimalist story about the clash between youthful idealism and the world’s often harsh realities.

The movie centers on Sinan, a young man who returns to his quiet hometown in the country after graduating college. He has high hopes of becoming a writer and fights hard to pull together the money to publish his book. He seeks support from everybody from the town mayor to a local business owner to an established writer. However, his dream of becoming a successful author routinely hits roadblocks that include the cold-hearted economics of the real world, his father’s gambling addiction and, frankly, his own insolence and naiveté.

Though it is a Turkish film, Sinan’s experience is one many can relate to. The English major who took a job in a grocery store or the International Studies major who became an insurance agent will easily see themselves in Sinan. The optimistic youth who discovers almost nobody wants what he is so eager to offer the world is a story that cuts across borders. Indeed, at times it is almost painful to watch as it is such a stark reminder of how cavalier and detached from reality that time of life can really be. In one particularly poignant scene, Sinan’s mother opens up about how short-sighted and hopelessly romantic she was in her own youth, while Sinan continues stubbornly refusing to accept the notion that anyone could see or understand the world the way he does.  

Sinan’s own story is enmeshed with dialogues that reflect social realities of modern Turkey. This can be seen from the very beginning when the town mayor gives a short speech about how lack of transparency breeds political corruption to the very end when Sinan’s father reflects on how the education system in the country has changed. While these are conversations that have been particularly relevant in Turkish society for some years, they are discussions that you don’t need to be Turkish to understand and appreciate.

The dialogue is truly what takes center stage in this film. The wind blowing through the trees is its soundtrack. The picturesque settings are its CGI. The simple, graceful cinematography keeps you engaged and intrigued for the duration of the film. The Wild Pear Tree is a testament to the struggles of finding your place in the world in a country that has long defined itself as a crossroad of humanity.

Review: ‘Vice’

American film director Adam McKay debuts his second biographical comedy-drama feature known as Vice. Starring big names such as Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, and Jesse Plemons, the film tells the story of Dick Cheney and his rise in political power.

Told through the narration of a fictitious veteran by the name of Kurt (Plemons), we are introduced to a young Cheney (Christian Bale) in 1963, as he works as a lineman and struggles with alcoholism after he drops out of Yale University. His wife Lynne (Amy Adams) convinces Cheney to get his life together. Fast forward to 1969 and Cheney becomes an intern at the White House under Nixon’s economic advisor, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). The story then unfolds as we see Cheney progress from an intern to a successful politician in the later years.

While the film tries to add comedy, the comedy at times seems inappropriate and edgy considering this is a film that’s supposed to be a biopic about Dick Cheney. 75 percent of the film is narration from Kurt, and considering he’s a fictional character it takes away from the biographical element the film is supposed to have. There’s a lot of random visuals added in between segments that don’t seem to have anything to do with whatever subject is being discussed between characters and are just added for metaphors that are confusing to understand. The film is also very messy and all over the place from talking about Cheney’s family life and his political life. It is also extremely biased and portrays Cheney as well as other Republican figures as drunken idiots with cartoonish personalities. We all have our own opinions on how certain politicians act, but when creating a biopic it’s important to portray them in a way that’s appropriate for audiences to understand why there’s a division among people when it comes to politicians.

The film was nominated for 6 Golden Globes, and Christian Bale took home the award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Review: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

Columbia Pictures along with Sony Pictures Animation and Marvel bring back the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the big screen in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. However, this story of Spider-Man is told in beautiful animation along with comic book panels and page turning effects in order to give viewers the feeling that they’re walking into a comic book story.

While most Spider-Man films introduce us to Peter Parker being bit by a radioactive spider, the film’s protagonist is an Afro-Latino boy named Miles Morales. Miles struggles to fit in at his new elite boarding school and has dreams of pursuing in street art. However, while doing graffiti in an empty subway station, Miles is suddenly bit by a radioactive spider and develops spider-like abilities overnight. Miles investigates the subway station to find the spider that bit him. This investigation opens a whole new world for Miles, as he learns he is not the only spider person in his world.

The film takes an interesting approach on the classic Spider-Man story that many audiences grew up watching on the big screen. Other Spider-Verse characters introduced include Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, Peni Parker and SP//dr, and of course the classic Spider-Man himself. Despite being animated, the film did a very good job at adding diversity in the characters as well as each character having their own story as to how they became involved in the Spider-Verse.

The film has gained praise on its unique animation style. It recently won a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film among other titles including Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, and Ralph Breaks The Internet.

Review: ‘The Grinch’

The Grinch, is the newest film adaptation of Dr Seuss’ timeless Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The movie topped $67 million in its first weekend, surpassing the last film version of the story from 2000.

It is a tale few American kids or adults haven’t heard before. The Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lives in solitude in a cave on Mount Crumpit, above the town of Whoville. While the Whos in Whoville all adore Christmas, the Grinch despises it. Although in this day and age more than a few of us could probably relate to his desire to escape from incessant Christmas music.

During one of his incognito visits to Whoville, he bumps into Cindy Lou, the daughter of an exhausted but loving single mother. That evening, they both make a resolution; the Grinch to, of course, steal Christmas, and Cindy Lou to catch Santa so she can ask him directly to help her mother.

The film’s animation does justice to all the charming artistry that was so characteristic of Dr Seuss. It has wit, humor, plenty of feel-good moments and a few tear-jerkers that genuinely tug at your heartstrings. It also speaks to some very real experiences on Christmas such as loneliness, commercialism and the importance of family. The character of the Grinch has a complexity that children will enjoy and adults can appreciate.

At the same time, The Grinch offers very little new to the story. The film’s makers play it very safe and take care not to tamper too much with what made the tale so universally appealing. While some might appreciate the movie staying true to the classic story, others might be left a little bored from its predictability.

Review: ‘El Angel’

El Angel shows the true effects that a child goes through while growing up in a working-class family. A child in this type of social class family grows up wanting freedom and not working to be a slave to the workforce. The lead character Carlito Puch is a remainder of this effect. Within the first 20 minutes of the film, the word freedom is repeated with a sad demeanor, but with an adventurous eye position. We become eager to know and understand freedom through Puch’s eyes.

Puch’s dad’s philosophy is that working hard will get you the things you want. A person should follow this theory instead of borrowing things from people. Puch follows his father’s advice in an utmost way throughout the film. Puch is a character that makes you want to enroll at a university to study Stealing 101. Is this an Argentina version of Robin Hood? The film makes it seem that people who are not outlaws or artists are not cool or need to reevaluate their lives. His partner in crime partner Ramon sums it up. “The world belongs to artists and outlaws.” Yes, this could be theoretically true because in both worlds the person is solely working on themselves and their deep passions in life. Whereas, people outside of the outlaw and artistic world, for the most, are working to survive and put food on their table. Puch has watched his father work for companies in which he did not own.

In the first seven minutes of the film, the young boy’s mother mentions them not having enough money. This implies the effects that are put on parents living as a working-class citizen. Puch hears this and wants to be out of the government’s work entrapment. His mentality becomes rebellious. The opening lines to the film are about him wanting to live in a world with no rules and to do whatever he wants at any time. This character’s rebellious nature shows just how much he does not want to be like his parents. To him, they are not happy and not free. His goal seemed to not become a product of the working class and fall into the mentality of “Being obsessed with work. Working endless hours on something that has nothing to do with him. Not owning anything but bettering someone else.” His answer was to go against the system in the ways he thought were possible. It was to use his imagination and fight hard to get it. He becomes his boss, which got him his own money and other resources. Also, we get the sense that outlaws are the freest in this world and the most artistic. Puch’s character says, “They don’t know about art. They are outlaws.” The style of the people Puch hung with and his mind creates the theory that to be insubordinate is a good thing because you become adventurous and creative enough to explore the world.

This film shows criminalization from an artistic, ambitious, and meek point of view. Puch is not stealing for the money, but more for the fun of it. He is a young boy who has blonde hair and a very skinny body frame. He is not a very average criminal. The Argentina native was also free with his sexuality, but not with love. He came from a shy family, and he embodied this same shyness. His sexuality was implicitly relayed to the audience and not very much said through his mouth. El Angel is based on a real story of a male with the same name who is the longest serving inmate in the Argentina’s prison system.

Review: ‘Happy as Lazzaro’

Happy as Lazzaro has garnered a number of awards and nominations, including the Canes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay. It is an enchanting insight into an aspect of Italian history and tradition that doesn’t often take center stage in the movie theaters.

Rather than sweeping cathedrals or regal art galleries, Happy as Lazzaro opens on a dusty, rustic farm. The impoverished farmers who work the land are apparently engaged in sharecropping; trying to pay off a suspiciously large debt to the wealthy family who owns the land with the crops they cultivate and harvest. Between the feudalistic layout, the presence of modern machinery and folksy atmosphere, you as a viewer are left genuinely uncertain as to what era the film is meant to take place in.

In the midst of all of this is Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a pixie-like young farmer who floats through the dirt and noise with childish acquiescence and an angelic demeanor that makes him seem like a being from another world. Lazzaro befriends Tancredi (Luca Chikovani) the son of the farm’s cruel mistress, which leads to a shocking twist that explains the mysterious nature of the estate and injects a dramatic dose of magic, mysticism and traditional Italian folklore into the story.

The movie may test the short attention span of today’s cinema goers. In the beginning it moves rather slow, depending largely on keeping the audience confused to maintain their interest. As the story progresses, a powerfully relevant theme of worker exploitation and the tremendous gaps that can exist in a society emerges.

 

Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

David Yates and J.K. Rowling bring the magic back to the big screen in the second installment of the Fantastic Beasts series, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Taking place in the Harry Potter universe during the 1920s, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travels to Paris to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a boy with the power of the dark magic parasite known as the Obscurus. Along with the help of his American friends witch Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and witch Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), the crew discovers secrets along the way including dark family pasts and the involvement of dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald.

Despite the film being called Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, you don’t really see much of these crimes. As a matter of fact you don’t see much Grindelwald either. Yes, Johnny Depp makes his official character debut as the dark wizard and sworn enemy of Albus Dumbledore. However, any appearance he makes in this film is just small subplots.

A big problem with this film is that it tries to tell four different stories at once, essentially seeming more like a bunch of subplots smashed together to make one movie. The film at times is very hard to follow, with too many unexciting plot twists thrown in just to keep the time limit of the film going. The film is visually stunning and introduces new magical creatures, however it lacks any of the heart or charm that the original Harry Potter series gave audiences.

The film is top box office in North America with $62.3 million, however this is a 16% drop from its predecessor film. It also marks the lowest opening for a film in the Wizarding World franchise.

Director Plays a Director in “Newly Single”

“Newly Single” is not the peppy romantic comedy its name may suggest. This explicit film, directed by and starring Adam Christian Clark, is an intense emotional rollercoaster about the dating life of an unbalanced filmmaker.

Clark plays Lester, a conceited young man struggling to make it as a writer and director in Los Angeles. The movie weaves back and forth between his efforts to get his film off the ground and his romantic life after/during a difficult breakup.

As the story progresses, the parallels between the two become more and more evident, in ways that range from comical to sinister. By the end of the movie you can’t help but wonder whether the film he is struggling to make is his outlet for how he would like his love life to be, or the other way around. What’s clearer is Lester’s inflated ego is far more fragile than it appears at first. He wears a different mask depending on who he’s with, and he’s with so many different people in the story that even you, the viewer, has to actively try to discover who he really is.

Through its music, style and clear use of symbolism, the movie definitely has an old-fashion vibe to it. Indeed, the old-time charm that it opens with makes its increasingly explicit sex scenes that much more surprising.

Its plot is fragmented to the point of feeling directionless at times. While its seeming lack of purpose can make it hard to stay interested, Clark’s riveting and convincing portrayal of a delusional, insecure teenage boy in a man’s body, as well as the performance of rest of the cast, does not.

Review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

“Fearless Lives Forever.” That is the slogan of the trailer for the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it is indeed suitable. This movie is not shy about depicting for the audience how Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury, was all about defying labels and transcending conventions in every aspect of his life.

Mercury was born in Zanzibar, a kingdom which would cease to exist within his lifetime, and spent most of his childhood in India before his family moved to England. His status as an immigrant is not given lavish attention, but from disputes with his family to being mistaken for Pakistani, it is definitely present. In many ways the story of Mercury’s early life is reflective of the struggles children of immigrants around the world face; the conflict between conforming their present surroundings and the expectations of their heritage.

Mercury, it seems, resolved this dichotomy by rejecting both. Musically and personally, he created a whole new identity for himself instead of accepting any that were offered to him. He broke all the rules. The movie showcases this by depicting the smallest details, from methods for composing music to his chronic tendency to show up late. In his very first performance in the movie, he dresses in women’s clothes and breaks the microphone off its stand because he finds it too limiting. “Formulas,” he says in response to criticism of the song Bohemian Rhapsody, “are a waste of time.”

Mercury also refused to accept the boundaries of limitations. From the start of the movie, we see him unapologetically aspiring for greater things after his day job moving luggage at the airport. He convinces a band about to give up taking a chance on not just him, but themselves. He convinces them to believe in music that defies categorization.

For being a film about one of history’s most famous rock bands and its famously flamboyant front man, the cinematography is rather tame, at least in the beginning. The dusty looking scenes where dialogue takes center stage creates more of a documentary feel. Slowly but very surely it builds to the climax of Queen’s performance for LiveAid. Here, just as with the real performance itself, nothing is spared and Mercury’s ability to captivate every single member of such a massive audience is beautifully recreated.

“The big difference is that unlike a concert movie, we’re trying to tell a story,” said cinematographer Tom Sigel in an interview with Motion Pictures Association of America. “There is the occasional point of view of the audience member, but really the great thing we can do in a movie and the thing that this story demands is you put the audience on the stage with the performer.”

The film strives to present an intimate portrait of who Freddie Mercury and the band Queen were rather than an experience of going to one of their shows, and it achieves that beautifully.