OkjaTitle: Okja | Rated: Not Rated | Runtime: 118 min | Netflix streaming

Creative freedom can be a funny thing. This is a time where it’s becoming more and more conspicuous that box office-mindful producers seem to be the ones calling the shots during a film’s production rather than the directors and screenwriters. This has left the latter group becoming more vocal about their want for creative freedom, and it could partially explain why so many are turning to television. This appears to be the case for South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (The HostSnowpiercer), whose latest picture Okja was backed by Netflix. No stranger to production troubles himself, Bong has been appreciative about the streaming giant, which granted him both the budget and creative freedom he wanted. Normally, this would bode very well for the film itself, but when it turns out to be an uneven picture that doesn’t operate at its full potential, then all that is ultimately on Bong.

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QUICK TAKE: Baby Driver

StuntTitle: Baby Driver | Rated: R | Runtime: 113 min | Theaters nationwide

If it wasn’t obvious before, then it is now: filmmaker Edgar Wright is an innovator and – dare I say it – a genius in this art form. His films – particularly the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and The World’s End) – demonstrate the personality of an unparalleled craftsman at work, and I can only refer you to Every Frame a Painting’s video essay to show how his knack for visual comedy is a breath of fresh air in the comedy genre. We’ve seen his capabilities on full display when it comes to mise-en-scène, but can we say the same for cinema’s audial properties? We can now; with Baby Driver, Wright proves that it’s possible to create a grand symphony out of a film.

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QUICK TAKE: It Comes at Night

Red DoorTitle: It Comes at Night | Rated: R | Runtime: 97 min | Theaters nationwide

It Comes at Night will either exceed your expectations or prove to be a harsh reminder about the risks that stem from misleading marketing. Take a gander at its trailers – if you get the impression that this is a supernatural, creature, or slasher horror flick, you’d be forgiven. Heck, the title itself seems to imply that. If that’s what you think, then for your sake, do not prepare yourself for such a film. Trey Edward Shults’ sophomoric feature isn’t so much a horror film as it is an extremely bleak and thoughtful rumination on distrust, family, and paranoia. It’s certainly unsettling and well-intentioned, but it’s also frustratingly ambiguous.

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THE HIGH-LOW REPORT: Wonder Woman (2017)

Trench WarfareTitle: Wonder Woman | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 141 min | Theaters nationwide

It’s been ages since the last High-Low Report, but it has joyously returned to mark the recent release of Wonder Woman, the latest picture to enter the DCEU (DC Extended Universe). Andrew and Jun, MediaBrewPub’s resident low-brow and high-brow respectively, are back to exchange their thoughts over a pint of digital brew. 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.

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REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

Daniels and TennesseeTitle: Alien: Covenant | Rated: R | Runtime: 122 min | Theaters nationwide

As far as I’m concerned, the xenomorph is the ultimate movie monster. Sure, you can point to the shark from Jaws, the T-rex from Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and countless others as contenders for the top spot, but to me, none of them come close to the horror and wonder of the creature that debuted almost 40 years ago in Ridley Scott’s Alien. That picture remains the pinnacle of hard-R sci-fi horror, and my memories of watching it are what make me look forward to the Alien films (in case you’re wondering, I do not count the Alien vs. Predator flicks). However, with the arrival of the immensely disappointing dud that is Alien: Covenant, I find myself fearing for the cinematic future of the xenomorph.

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REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

GuardiansTitle: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 136 min | Theaters nationwide

Like it or not, you can’t deny that the first Guardians of the Galaxy is lightning in a bottle. When I ask my peers what their favorite films in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) are, GotG tends to pop up quite often, and it’s easy to see why. There’s so much to like about it, from the lovable characters and the eclectic cast to the spirited soundtrack and the zaniness of it all, and they come together so brightly and confidently. The fact that it grossed over three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide in its theatrical run is a testament to how well people responded to it. Considering that few people even knew about the Guardians of the Galaxy before the film came out, it’s nothing short of a rip-roaring and surprising success. This begs the question, can writer-director James Gunn top that with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? I’d say he has – he takes this beloved gang of misfits to stirring heights, resulting in a film that feels much more emotional and mature, all the while delivering upon its promise of fun.

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CAPSULE: Free Fire

Free FireTitle: Free Fire | Rated: R | Runtime: 90 min | Theaters wide

While it does get messy, Ben Wheatley’s action-comedy Free Fire bursts with infectious energy throughout, which keeps its simple premise interesting. Mostly taking place in a single warehouse, the film depicts a shootout between arms dealers and IRA members after their deal goes south. Realism seems to have no place here, as characters get shot multiple times and yet their wounds seem to irritate them no more than a stubbed toe would. They fire off insults as much as they do bullets, and the film’s humor tends to come from their giggles and taunts. The cast have thin characters to work with, but they are undeniably enthusiastic, and their charisma carry their performances, with Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Jack Reynor impressing. Laurie Rose’s cinematography certainly helps in this regard, as the camera gets intimately close with the characters. The editing work by Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump give the film a frenetic, staccato-like pace that, while mostly effective, results in confusion during the action sequences. An idiosyncratic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow augments the film’s dark comedy aspects, and the many sounds heard during the shootout are deliciously crisp and emphatic. For better or for worse, this is an entertaining if not brainless affair.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

* Photos courtesy of A24