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BEST FILMS OF 2016!

30 Dec

yes, it’s that time of year again folks.  Break out the champagne because 2016 is finally done for. As we collectivly brace ourselves for the Trump shitshow that’s arriving in the new year we can look back at the movies which expressed all of our anxiety-ridden fears about this past year. Here are my top 25 films presented in a clever video supercut for your viewing enjoyment.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/197551059″>Top 25 Films of 2016!</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/reedmovies123″>Reed Movies</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Be sure to check back soon for a list of what i’m looking forward to seeing in 2017

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

1 Dec

Celebrity fashion designer Tom Ford returns to the director’s chair with his sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals. Boasting an all-star cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Laura Linney, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the film focuses on the relationship between Susan, a successful L.A.-based installation artist, and Edward, her novelist ex-husband. One day at work, Susan receives a manuscript from Edward, in which he seemingly writes himself (or at least an idealized version of himself) in as the main character of a pulpy crime novel set in rural Texas. The film follows Susan’s ever-shifting perspective as she is moved enough from reading the work (titled Nocturnal Animals) to reconcile her shady romantic history with Edward. Nocturnal Animals as a film dives into the story-within-a-story framework to show us onscreen the events Susan reads about, as well as her ever-changing mental state. The fictional and non-fictional worlds collide in more ways than expected.

Ford, a director who has taken great interest in the psychological headspaces of his characters, is at the top of his game. It’s surprising to see a director with only one film under the belt (Ford also directed the Oscar-nominated drama A Single Man) deliver such solid results. Everything about Nocturnal Animals bleeds a sophisticated and professional kind of drama; whether the on-screen events are focused on something as explosive as a rape or as subtle as a romantic dinner conversation, the film sustains hefty amounts of dramatic tension throughout.

Much of Nocturnal Animals’ success also has to go to its acting. Gyllenhaal and Shannon are both some of the best powerhouse talents working today, and they each bring enormous amounts of frantic energy to the table. It’s Amy Adams who really brings the film’s emotional core home; she has a heartfelt subtext to her complex and layered character that binds the film’s dual stories together. Nocturnal Animals also looks amazing. Shot by Oscar-nominated Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina, We Need To Talk About Kevin), the film displays elegant camerawork that compliments the multifaceted storytelling. Though the melodrama runs a bit too thick at points and some moments seem to serve little purpose and disrupt the narrative flow (one flashback tragically interrupts one of the films’ most suspenseful scenes), Nocturnal Animals is exactly the sort of sophisticated filmmaking hollywood needs more of.

Bottom Line: With an emphasis on story and performance, director Tom Ford creates a multi-layered and stylish drama supported by an all-star cast. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film recipe: Gone Girl + Blue Valentine + Mystic River

American Honey (2016)

6 Nov

Director Andrea Arnold‘s latest film, the aptly titled American Honeyis a thoughtful coming-of-age drama told through the lens of an impoverished teenager named Star (Sasha Lane).

Star is an unemployed 18-year-old who spends her time wandering the streets of rural Oklahoma and looking for food with her two young children. It becomes immediately apparent from the film’s opening (which features her passing a whole chicken from the bottom of a dumpster into the hands of a toddler) that Star is a societal outcast; a misfit who has become so accustomed to life on the streets that any chance of gaining employment or schooling is non-existent.

She soon crosses paths with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), an impulsive bohemian salesman who makes his living by finding recruits to help him go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions. Jake, who becomes infatuated by Star, presents to her an opportunity to leave the street life behind in favor of joining a vagabond group of young adults who are traveling throughout the southern states. “It’s a business opportunity…” he confidently says, “We explore America, we go door-to-door, we party.”

What starts out as a story of Star shedding her childhood and coming to terms with her adult independance gradually becomes a cinematic display of millennial counterculture. Andrea Arnold’s restrained direction yields a “fly on the wall” approach to the story, meticulously capturing every realistic detail of the lifestyle these young adults lead in their search of the American dream.  We get a diverse cross-section of rural American life through American Honey; in one scene we see Jake and Star make a door pitch in an affluent white evangelical neighborhood – in another we are witnesses to the hyper-masculinized working class culture of Dakota oil fields. Each moment feels so geuinely nuanced and rich; Arnold presents the narrative to us casually through the earnest eyes of Star that most of the film feels less like a movie and more like a documentary of sorts. One doesn’t get a sense that these are actors on a stage (even with a mega-movie franchise star like LaBeouf who fits his role like a glove) so much as these are real people living their lives out on screen.

The end result is a film that gradually immerses you in its details and becomes more hypnotic with its imagery as it progresses. However, at a running time of over 160 minutes, the film’s aesthetic wears a bit thin, (there are only so many shots of the group listening to hip-hop and smoking pot in the back of a 15-passenger van that you can get away with) and some scenes tend to drag more than others. Still, the effects of watching American Honey linger on after the credits roll, and Arnold does a great job of avoiding unnecessary melodrama and creating an authentically vivid filmic experience.

Bottom Line: Though it desperately needs a shorter edit, American Honey is an immersive and detailed look at the effects of contemporary American poverty and one that feels both refreshingly ordinary and beautifully cinematic.

Rating: 7/10

Film recipe: White Girl + Gummo + Spring Breakers

The Girl on the Train (2016)

5 Oct

The latest entry to try and cash in on the missing-persons crime drama is The Girl on the Traina film adapted from it’s best-selling source novel by screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Tate Taylor.

The film follows Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee who becomes obsessed with a certain house she sees everyday on her train ride commute. We learn that Rachel and her ex Tom (Justin Theroux) used to live not far from this mystery house, and that Rachel has sort of fantasized on an alternate reality featuring the happy family who resides there. This obsession takes a dark turn when Rachel sees the current tenant Anna cheating on her husband from the train window. The next day Anna has vanished, leaving Rachel tangled in an investigation that slowly consumes her.

It’s obvious that Girl on the Train is trying to tap into whatever magic made films like Gone Girl or Prisoners such popular successes. However, unlike its predecessors the film trying so to intimidate, Girl on the Train never really engages with its viewers the same way and ends up feeling flat and tired. With a skinny plot and underwhelming pay off, Girl on the Train simply takes too long to say too little. There are some interesting perspective shifts that are thrown into the mix, but – thanks to some poor editing – the differing and jumbled flashbacks and flashforwards only end up distracting us from the mystery rather than enhancing it. When looking at the narrative at face value, Girl on the Train never reaches the levels of suspense it might have been capable of.

The one saving grace the film has is with its protagonist. Emily Blunt gives one of her career best performances, playing the girl-gone-crazy trope with enough nuance to make her character infinitely more interesting than the investigation surrounding her.  None of the other characters (the villain might as well have a name tag labeled Mister Misogyny) contain near the amount of intensity or dramatic subtlety that Blunt brings to hers.

Bottom Line: Poor editing and writing make Girl on the Train a lackluster adaptation that never escapes the shadows of its predecessors (most obviously David Fincher’s Gone Girl), but Emily Blunt’s intensity and commitment to her character make the film a somewhat enjoyable watch. 

Film Recipie: One Hour Photo + The Gift + Stir Of Echos + AA Meetings 

Rating: 6/10 

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

7 Sep

Western Texas might seem like an odd setting for director David Mackenzie. To the born and bred Englishmen whose last film, Starred Up, captured the grit and violence inside a British prison, the cowboy persona of Texas might seem like too big of a culture clash for the filmmaker to make sense of.  Amazingly, Mackenzie wholeheartedly embraces his inner cowboy with Hell or High Waterand the result is a suspense-ridden crime drama that surprisingly feels 100% Texan.

The film follows a pair of brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard (played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine respectively) who start of the movie with a good ole’ fashioned bank robbery. We quickly learn that the brothers share different histories – Tanner is fresh from a stint in jail and Toby is a recently divorced father – as well as views on morality and what exactly the stolen cash will be used for. Hot on their tail is Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Gil (Alberto Parker), who make a mismatched but loveable pair. From here, the film becomes a cat-and-mouse game as the rangers try to follow and predict the Howard boys’ next move.

Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) bring a lot of exhausted tropes from the cops/robbers game to the screen, but something about the quality of the writing and Mackenzie’s uncanny ability to fit into the culture of wild west makes these tropes seem fresh and exciting. Sheridan’s script adds some great characterization (the racial banter between Marcus and Gil is fantastic) as well as some genuine humor to what would otherwise be a tiring cliche’ of a plot.  The result is a film that works well in terms of suspense and emotional delivery, and gives us the best acting performance from Jeff Bridges in years.

Bottom Line: It borrows a lot from previous westerns, but its authentic realism and outstanding performances make Hell or High Water an incredibly satisfying film. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: No Country For Old Men + The Place Beyond The Pines 

Suicide Squad (2016)

3 Aug

Suicide Squad feels like a bit like an experiment. One that was hastily put together by a procrastinating 12-year-old at 2:00 a.m. the morning of the science fair. In other words: it’s an obvious but well-intentioned mess in the form of DCU trying to tap into the magic money-making superhero formula (one that Marvel has down to a T), and turn it in for a passing grade.

Directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch) the latest follow up in the DC Cinematic Universe takes place right after the events of Batman vs Superman and is a tragic misstep for the franchise in what should have been Warner Bros’ bonafide summer hit. Superman is now dead, and the US government is dealing with the repercussions of having superheroes, superantiheros, superpeople, meta-humans (which we quickly learn is the DC term for mutants) among the public. “What if Superman had decided to walk in the Oval Office and steal our president?” US official Dexter Tolliver (David Harbour) asks. This notion prompts Amanda Waller (Viola Davis playing arguably the movie’s most interesting character) to assemble a team of expendable baddies to be used as a safeguard in case things go south. Which they inevitably do when one meta-human decides to go rogue and unleash a 6000-year-old magical force named Incubus upon Midway City (it unfolds just as nonsensical as it sounds).

After a hasty segment that introduces our many beloved anti-heroes via expository flashbacks, (so he is called Deadshot because he is good with guns hunh? You don’t say!?) we get on with a rescue mission of sorts. This is where things get a bit bland; what should have been the beating heart of the film ends up feeling flat and uninspired with a shoehorned chase-the-magic-thingy plot device. To top off the magic, we get to see our squad battle it out with some hokey CGI fossilized zombies? (because these things don’t bleed, thereby saving the film from the R-rated blockbuster stamp of doom). It’s a wild, illogical ride but also perplexingly enjoyable – possibly because the actors go out of their way so often to convince us that, yes… they are having a really good time bashing stuff up together.

The scenes are so clumsily sewn together; sure, the Marvel movies were boring and predictable but at least they had a sense of fluidity to them. Characters seem to come and go as they please with little motivation (one member of the squad gets killed off in the first act without much of an afterthought) or efforts towards the overarching narrative. The dialogue is often clunky and awkward; lines like “Her sword steals the souls of its victims” are said so nonchalantly it’s as if the characters were discussing college sports. The film’s humor is also a little off, though thankfully it doesn’t go overboard on the snarky, self-aware banter via Deadpool. Most of the jokes are put on the backburner while the action and attitude take center stage.

For all its flaws, something about Suicide Squad works, at least on a popcorn turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy-the-ride level. David Ayer clearly has a love for these characters and his passion is felt strongly through the screen. A couple shine brighter than others though, specifically Margot Robbie‘s version of Harley Quinn, Viola Davis’ hardass embodiment of Amanda Waller, and Will Smith‘s Deadshot. And then there is the infamous Joker, played by Jared Leto who gives a solid method-driven interpretation of the beloved character, but also one that feels a bit out of place and unnecessary. Still, he is a lot of fun, and watching the clown caress others’ faces while talking to them about his debauchery is one of the film’s best moments. Stylistically, it’s obvious Ayer and his cinematographer Roman Vasyanov were going for something dark. Crank up the Mad Max: Fury Road obsession with guns, knives, and makeup and you have a nice visual aesthetic which works well in a film devoted to the baddies.

The real villain here is in the editing. With rumors of reshoots and re-edits to the film 3 months ago, one can’t help but think that once upon a time there was a version of Suicide Squad that actually made sense, one that was properly timed with one plot point leading to the next. What I saw wasn’t so much of a bad film in and of itself as it is was a prime showcase for what could have been.

But who cares? This is Suicide Squad, the film that was Warner Bros’ saving grace at keeping up with the Marvel juggernauts that dominate the box office every year. And you know what? I bought into it. There is an undeniable charm to the film’s scatterbrained chaos. Sure, it’s ugly, but what David Ayer has done with these ragamuffin characters is definitively cool, if not outright admirable, and it goes beyond anything Disney has done with their Star Wars or Marvel franchises. Yeah, it might be a bit of a messy disaster project, but by the time the credits roll, you still can’t help but smile at that poor 12-year old’s desperation, give him a pat on the head, and say with a half-assed smile “good job kid”.

Bottom line: Suicide Squad feels so remixed, chopped up and dead set on pleasing audiences, there is little substance left to show whatever original artistic vision director David Ayer might have been capable of. 

Rating: 5/10 

Film recipe: The Avengers + Hot Topic + dysfunctional romantic relationships  

The Neon Demon (2016)

24 Jul

In the world of modern auteurs, few have made a name for themselves quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. Aesthetically engaging at his best and pretentiously dull at his worse, he is man whose distinctive flavor of violence and storytelling has its fair share of both fans and detractors. His latest work, The Neon Demon fits nicely enough into his filmography but still offers up something new.

The film follows Jesse (Elle fanning), a 17-year-old who is looking to break into LA’s infamous fashion industry. She arrives, innocent and puppy-eyed, though not without ambition or a constant drive to be successful. Completely naive, she is obviously out of her element and desperate for some chance to show her seemingly natural capacity for modeling. She soon crosses paths with Ruby (Jenna Malone), a makeup artist who becomes sexually infatuated with Jesse and who also acts as a mentor of sorts. It’s through Ruby that Jesse finds her entry into the ultra-competitive industry, and the two form a bond with each other in order to survive the ruthless and narcissistic competition who become dangerously involved with Jesse’s quick rise to fame.

There is no doubt about it – The Neon Demon is a thing of beauty. The film perfectly captures the cattiness and falsity of the industry and more importantly – those who make a living selling their image. Featuring bold cinematography, Refn’s DP Natasha Braier (The Rover) creates a daring world of stark color and shadow through her lens. The result is a colorful candy store on overdrive. In almost every frame, Braier extracts and magnifies notions of plastic-ness and vanity from the industry’s glitzy and glamorous reputation. Refn just doesn’t just simply exploit this idea of a sexy falseness towards to fashion – he revels in it to an extreme, self-indulgent degree.

Never a fan of subtlety, things get pretty extreme in Refn’s surreal and dark universe (especially during the film’s bizarre WTF-did-I-just-see final act) but it takes its time getting there and viewers with little patience will be turned off within the first 20 minutes. Still, the film is stylistically unique enough to be redeeming, and the way Neon Demon’s visuals are used to tell the narrative becomes intensely mesmerizing over time.

There is a lot of underlying ideas Refn is trying to say here, but there is even more Refn wants you to think he trying to say; most attempts at any underlying themes often turn up empty handed. Like Refn’s view of the industry itself, there is little meaning to be found beneath the film’s polished external shell. But yet, Neon Demon is perplexingly impossible to look away from.

Bottom Line: It might be an excessive work of placing style over substance, but with a little patience the self-indulgent Neon Demon can also become a deeply hypnotic and tantalizingly fun experience.

 

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Only God Forgives + Black Swan + Upstream Color + lots of synths

 

 

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016 Review)

14 Mar

In what is being touted as “The best sci-fi blockbuster thriller of the decade”, 10 Cloverfield Lane marks a different approach to storytelling than its cinematic sibling Cloverfield. Released in 2008 as a found-footage alien invasion, the former isn’t so much as a direct predecessor as it was inspiration for this J.J. Abrams-produced mystery.

Something has happened. Something big. Our heroine Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a sort of make-shift hospital after a car accident. She learns that “an attack” of some sort has left much of the civilized world in shambles and she had been brought underground for her own safety by a mysterious ex-military man named Howard (John Goodman).  Tensions between the two characters rise as the films progresses, creating unexpected results.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and co-written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a quieter, scaled back, and more intimate film than Cloverfield, though equally as anxiety-ridden and claustrophobic. By restricting most of the action to a few rooms, the film becomes heavily reliant on the writing strength of its plot and characterization. Unfortunately, this is where 10 Cloverfield Lane falls a bit short; the few characters are simply a flat and uninteresting mix of tropes we have seen many times before, and the narrative becomes convoluted and veers dramatically off course during the film’s second half. At points the film almost feel comically hokey in the same way something like Grand Piano does (a film that was also written by Chazelle). However, if you liberally apply your suspension of disbelief and just accept whatever happens, then 10 Cloverfield Lane actually becomes a lot of fun. Though it’s filled with tropes and plot holes, the story, most importantly, is a largely unpredictable slow burn, with several twists awaiting the viewer during the chaotic third-act.

Bottom Line: Though it suffers from basic character tropes and less-than-stellar writing, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a surprisingly fun and unpredictable thriller if one is willing to suspend expectations. 

Rating: 6/10

Film Recipe: Room War Of The Worlds 

Eddie The Eagle (2016 Sundance review)

3 Mar

The “secret screening” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was a biopic about Michael Edwards, the famous British ski-jumper who earned the moniker “Eddie the Eagle“.  Young Michael (Taron Egerton) had always dreamt of becoming an Olympian, even when doctors discouraged any kind of competitive sports at an early age due to leg braces.  As Michael grew, the dangerous sport of ski-jumping captured his attention, and he set his sights on becoming Britain’s first ski-jumper in over 60 years. Soon, he crosses paths with a retired American jumper Bronson (Hugh Jackman) who reluctantly serves as his mentor after a series of unsuccessful attempts at jumping the 40 meter ramp.  Even though the British Olympic Committee is against letting the unorthodox athlete compete for safety reasons, the misfit duo of trainer and trainee soon prepare for a bid at the 1988 Winter Games. The rest is history.

From the first scene of Eddie The Eagle, we know what we are getting into. This isn’t serious, Oscar-baiting affair, but rather a family-friendly underdog story with a good helping of comedic touches. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, Eddie The Eagle is a delightful combination of quirky characters and earnest storytelling. However, the film is given to us in an extremely tired and overused package, and it’s hard not to see Eddie as anything more than a well meaning but dressed-up cliche.

Still, Eddie is incredibly charming in its earnestness. Edgarton is perfectly cast here as the sheepish and innocent athlete, while Jackson fits his role like a glove playing Bronson, the cowboy renegade who always has a whiskey flask in hand (emblazoned with an American flag, of course).  Both give great performances and the quick-witted, dry-as-a-desert remarks between the two characters are some of the film’s finest moments. It becomes clear that Fletcher knows his story well, has a specific audience in mind, and (like any good director) caters towards what the audience wants to see. Thematically and aesthetically, Eddie excels with flying colors and manages to be entertaining throughout its runtime thanks to a combination of solid editing, music, and photography choices. Much more sophisticated than it’s cartoonish nature would imply, I was surprised how much I found myself rooting for Eddie The Eagle.  

Bottom Line: Though it takes the form of a conventional sports drama, light-hearted Eddie The Eagle is playful enough to stand out with an overdose of British wit, ingenuity, and charisma.

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Cool Runnings (1993) + A Walk In The Woods (2014) + Rudy (1993) 

 

Deadpool (2016)

18 Feb

Deadpool, the long-gestating passion project of Ryan Reynolds, has finally seen the light of day. After a decade of negotiations with 20th Century Fox over if/how/when the beloved comic book character would get his own film (the studio had its speculations after the lackluster Green Lantern from Warner Bros), test footage featuring the foul-mouthed superhero was “leaked” in 2014, which elated passionate fans who took to the internet to petition for a proper, R-rated movie.

Directed by VFX artist Tim Miller, and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who both worked on the cult comedy Zombieland), Deadpool focuses on the origins of the titular character, a cancer-ridden mercenary who is as meticulous with his snarky word choice as he is with his aim.  After an attempt to get cured by a mysterious man named Ajax (Ed Skrein) goes south, Wade Wilson aka. Deadpool decides to seek vengeance on the man who hurt him.

Deadpool is no fan of subtlety, and most of the film features our anti-hero in full R-rated glory. A gritty, violent, and foul-mouthed take on the genre, Deadpool wears its MPAA “R” like a bright and bloody badge of honor, making every use of the word “fuck” you can think of.

Despite its rating, however, this is far from being anything close to an “adult” film; with a heaping supply of genitalia jokes, masturbation jokes, drug references, fourth-wall-breaking gags, and quips at other characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Deadpool seems set on being both an accessible and juvenile action flick while still attempting to take the superhero genre into dark and subversive territory. The edginess often runs thin however, and Deadpool ends up – more often than not – falling back into the same tropes it’s desperately trying to poke fun of.

Still, it’s surprisingly satisfying to hear Deadpool riff on and on in a meta state of self-parody, and there are a few jokes scattered throughout that are actually smart (and pretty damn funny as well).  Ryan Reynolds fits his role like a glove and makes a huge comeback performance as a leading action-hero. Technically, the film is a marvel considering its “small” budget of 58 million; Miller’s keen eye for visuals works wonders in his direction, and the action scenes feel fluid, engaging and fresh. Structurally, the many flashbacks and flashforwards actually work in the film’s favor, contributing to Deadpool’s self-aware, Brechtian quality.

Bottom Line: It might play out like a nauseating wet dream of a 15-year old, but Deadpool still has enough bite to put a uniquely funny spin on the ever-tiring superhero formula.

Rating: 6/10 

Film Recipe: Watchmen (2008) + 4th wall breaks + masturbation jokes (both of the literal and figurative variety)