I started writing movie reviews in the summer of ’09, shortly after graduating from high school. It was something I had been wanting to do; I had really gotten into movies just a few years before, and writing reviews seemed like a way to not only express my love for cinema, but also make it tangible. So there I was, hunched over my laptop, drumming up a 416-word review of the animated 101 Dalmations to post on “Movies,” which was Flixster’s Facebook application at the time (if you recall being given 50 movie titles to rate out of five stars on that application, then you have a good memory). I found the process fun and rewarding, and I spent the rest of that summer cranking out reviews. Thus began a journey that took my newfound hobby from “Movies” to the New University, UC Irvine’s college newspaper, and then from sentence-long Facebook statuses to here at MediaBrewPub. Now, I’ve decided it’s time for that journey to come to an end.
Making a sequel to a classic film that doesn’t need one? I suppose such a task would induce more outrage if we weren’t so used to seeing this happen nowadays. Still, a sequel to a film like Mad Max and Star Wars is one thing, whereas the idea of Blade Runner sequel should ruffle some feathers. Accuse me of being pretentious all you want, but anyone who’s familiar with Ridley Scott’s 1982 landmark sci-fi picture will attest to how its specifically crafted thematic complexity, brimming with hypnotic ideas and cloaked in just the perfect amount of ambiguity, permeates the film and places it in a class of its own. A sequel would have to pull off an incredibly delicate balancing act, offering a new story that honors the original’s characters and themes while also introducing new compelling characters and ideas of its own. That said, director Denis Villeneuve has essentially done the impossible with Blade Runner 2049, an intoxicating and profoundly affecting experience that rivals its predecessor.
The relentless energy of American Made, coupled with a charming Tom Cruise performance, keeps this Barry Seal quasi-biopic intriguing and moving along. Gary Spinelli’s script certainly has a patchwork feel, as evidenced by the number of characters (played by noteworthy actors) dropping in and out of the story as well as the way it jumps from scene to scene. To compensate, director Doug Liman injects the film with a snappy vigor and bolsters its comedic punches. Doing so not only allows cinematographer César Charlone to get creative with his camera movements and placements, but also milks all the charisma it can from Cruise, whose broad grin is nearly omnipresent. As funny as the film is, it begs for a compelling protagonist, which the flat Barry is not. Sure, one could say that the character represents American foreign policy during the Carter and Reagan eras, but he lacks an arc worth investing in, which gives the impression that the story skims over the subject matter instead of really diving headfirst into it. Still, it does offer some impressive treats, like Domhnall Gleeson’s role as Barry’s sleazy CIA handler and Dan Weil’s faithful period design. The picture may be rather lightheaded, but it’s undeniably entertaining and well crafted.
* Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Making a sequel to a surprise hit is tricky business. Really, what needs to be said about the weight of expectations (from the studio, the filmmakers, the critics, and the audience) and how the movie has to meet them that we don’t already know? What could help is bringing back the same team who worked on said hit; after all, they should know how to make the sequel a hit as well while building upon what is already laid out. This is more or less the case with the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, as writer-director Matthew Vaughn, his writing partner Jane Goldman, most of the production crew, and a good chunk of the cast all return. Unfortunately, the result is nowhere near as encouraging as its prospects; Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an aimless, overstuffed, lumbering mess that manages to be something that this burgeoning franchise should never be: boring.
As It continues to rake in money at the box office, Andrew and Jun can’t help but wonder what the sequel will be like. They know it takes place 27 years later, so that means when the beloved Losers return, they’ll be well into adulthood. That said, the two of them decided to have some fun with this High-Low Report by fan casting actors to play the adult Losers. After significant debate, they came to consensus picks for each Loser. Read on for an in-depth look at their recommendations. These recommendations are based on their takes on the film and Stephen King’s novel, both of which will be openly discussed. There will be no spoiler tags this time around, so reader discretion is advised.
Say what you will about Darren Aronofsky, but he sure knows how to make an interesting film. From Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler to Black Swan and Noah, his filmography is rife with intrigue and surprises. Yes, some of his titles will elicit polarizing if not negative reactions from viewers, but if you ask me, there’s value in a film that seeks to do more than just tickling my senses and providing a break from reality. Aronofsky’s latest, mother!, is admittedly not as polished as his previous pictures, but it’s undoubtedly fascinating to watch this provocative film unfold.
Another month, another High-Low Report on a Stephen King adaptation! Though The Dark Tower left Andrew and Jun feeling numb, they weren’t in a funk for long; It was coming, and there was reason to be excited. Like they did for The Dark Tower, MediaBrewPub’s low-brow and high-brow decided to visit (or, in Andrew’s case, revisit) the source material before the film came out, so they read King’s celebrated novel and watched the Tim Curry-fronted 1990 miniseries, finishing in the nick of time. So, you may ask, did the film have them floating? Read on to find out. While they will venture into spoiler territory, spoiler tags have been added, so consider this a safe read if you haven’t seen the film.
Since I’m not familiar with the Death Note manga and anime, I can’t comment on the recent Netflix movie’s fidelity to the source material, but I can say that as a movie, it’s a wild mess that leaves much to be desired. The plot moves at such a rapid pace that investing in the characters and buying what unfolds prove to be difficult (if not impossible) tasks, though the movie is admittedly never boring. It doesn’t help that the characters act stupidly and make downright inexplicable decisions, requiring ridiculous suspension of disbelief. Despite its intriguing concept, the movie is scared of expanding its mythology and truly diving into the wider implications of using the Death Note. The tone routinely veers left and right, providing (unintentionally?) hilarious moments aplenty. His high-pitched screaming aside, a miscast Nat Wolff cannot save the character of Light from blandness. Margaret Qualley makes Mia fun to watch, and Lakeith Stanfield’s jittery performance as investigator L actually suits the movie’s pace and tone. The death god Ryuk is mostly sidelined, which is a shame because Willem Dafoe tackles him with much gusto. Director Adam Wingard is quite the visual stylist, with David Tattersall’s cinematography enlivening the frame through shadows and neon colors. Ironically, it feels like this movie wrote its own name in the Death Note itself, and we are here to witness its demise.
* Photo courtesy of Netflix
With the intentionally titled Gook, writer/director/actor Justin Chon crafts a vivid picture that slowly builds in intensity. Despite leading into the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the film doesn’t center on the unrest at all, instead using it as the backdrop for an intimate and deeply compelling story about the friendship between an African-American girl named Kamilla (Simone Baker) and Korean-American women’s shoe store owner Eli (Chon). The characters – particularly Eli – initially see-saw erratically between extremes with their behavior (the first act feels choppy as a result), but Chon patiently peels away their layers to reveal their complexity, and from that answers any questions the story raises. While apolitical, the film confidently navigates through a rich symbolic and thematic landscape, exploring keenly felt motifs like displacement, inter-generational conflict, and masculinity. Baker’s magnetic performance showcases a tremendous maturity, and Chon often lets his expressive face and body language speak for Eli. Also terrific are the other cast members, namely David So, Sang Chon, and Curtiss Cook, Jr., who command the screen with their dynamism. The decision to shoot in black and white results in some striking images, though the camera’s twitchy and zippy movements make the frame difficult to comprehend at times. An unflinching exercise in empathy, this film boasts incredible heart.
* Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Steven Soderbergh is back, and it feels so good. After flirting with the possibility of retirement since 2011, the filmmaker – known for his eclectic filmography – took a sabbatical from directing feature films in 2013 after completing Behind the Candelabra. That isn’t to say he hasn’t been busy since; aside from serving as an executive producer and cinematographer (credited as Peter Andrews, his longtime pseudonym) on a few films and TV shows, he directed the entire two seasons of The Knick, Cinemax’s acclaimed TV series. At long last, he brings his sabbatical to an end with Logan Lucky, a gleeful, rip-roaring, and surprisingly poignant flick.