December Round-Up, Part One

If you’re anything like me, December, with the holidays, relatives, and breaks from school/work, becomes the perfect month to catch up on all of your movie watching before Oscar season and a new year. In my case, this is also the month where I have the time and mind to catch up on some reviews, so let me offer some suggestions for what movies should be on your “nice” list. Here are six smaller films, some of which were released earlier in the year.

Sorry to Bother You

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It’s useless to try to describe this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I’m just going to say this: if you want to see one of the most bizarre, memorable, and radical pieces of art this year, see Sorry to Bother You. A defiant and explosive mix of satire, parable, and horror, it embodies the chaos our nation felt this year. It feels like 2018 in movie form, and it does so while feeling completely fresh and wholly unique.

A Simple Favor

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The movie equivalent of a twinkie, A Simple Favor is ridiculous and completely over-the-top but is well anchored by a great performance by Anna Kendrick and twists that never stop coming. Its mysteries are not ones the audience is supposed to be able to solve alongside the protagonists, so the fun comes from the absurd escalation of stakes. It’s not a good movie, and but it’s a perfect addition to the emerging Gone Girl knockoff genre. I think it has been well-established by now that yes, women can be crazy, but if you need more evidence, this film will suffice.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

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There have been lots of great films starring women this year, but less starring multiple women and close female friendships (no, Oceans 8 is not enough). The Spy Who Dumped Me then is a fun surprise for its likable and hilarious center of best friends played by Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. Sure, not every joke in this action caper comedy lands, and it doesn’t quite pay off in the end, but it’s hard for me to dislike a film that made me think of me and my best friend. It’s a solid perfect rental for a light movie night and despite some crudity and gory violence, it ends up being a sweet celebration of friendship.

The Grinch

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Dull. I’ve forgotten most of what happens in it. There is absolutely no reason to watch this instead of the original animated film.

Mowgli

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Thrown onto Netflix after seeing they wouldn’t be able to compete with Disney’s live-action remake, Andy Serkis’s version of the live-action Jungle Book is sadly in the right place, not on the big screen. I applaud the more mature tone and ambition of the film, but it ends up feeling like a joyless slog. Serkis’s effort to differentiate his version from the Disney versions means all of the characters are mean and without any strong characterization, making you wonder why Mowgli likes these unpleasant companions at all. The questionable choice of putting human faces on animals works against the film’s interest, actually keeping most of the actors from being able to get through, with the exception of Christian Bale as Bagheera, who is able to put in the strongest and tenderest performance. Mowgli is never able to give a spin on the story that justifies its existence.

Instant Family

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Instant Family, a movie about a couple (played by an extremely good Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg) who take in three foster children, isn’t a revolutionary family dramedy, but it gets the job done. It tells a sweet story that, while sanitized, is still able to get across many of the difficulties and complexities of its subject matter. I’ve been told by at least one family who fosters that the film is very realistic.

For what it’s worth, I cried at the end. True, I watched this right after finals, and its tear-jerker ending was the perfect outlet for my catharsis. But I also think it is just a good film without so much as a drop of cynicism, and I hope it is truly able to do some good and inspire people to accept the noble calling of being a foster parent.

 

-Madeleine D

Is It Really Stealing If It’s Fun?: Ocean’s 8

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Ocean’s 8 follows a simple premise, tried and true from the previous entries in the Ocean’s franchise (which disclaimer, I have not seen): head con gets crew of other cons, does dope stuff while being ridiculously cool and glamorous, gets away with it, everything is awesome.

This the perfect so-called “summer movie.” Was I surprised? No. Was I entertained? Yes. Did I assign the roles in the film to my real-life friends and begin imagining a heist of our own? I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.

If you are reading this review, I have a feeling you have some interest in seeing Ocean’s 8, and if the above sounds like what you want, then I say go see it. All of the actresses are amazing, director Gary Ross is competent, and if you don’t see it soon, the handful of celebrity cameos and pop-culture references are already going to be outdated. This movie is about seeing Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett blow bubbles outside of a window where Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway are talking about Met Gala dresses (true scene) and that’s almost exactly what I expected and got.

But is Ocean’s 8 more than that? Watching the film, I tried to scour it for messages and hidden depth besides “crime is fun and kinda easy” and “if you use stolen money for personal satisfaction, and you’re a likable person, all is well.” Here’s what I found:

One of the reoccurring themes in the film is that of women being invisible- and how in this game, it’s an advantage. At one point, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) discuss candidates for their crew and when Lou suggests a man, Deb says no because he’s “a him, and a ‘him’ get interest. A ‘her’ gets ignored.” Then throughout the film, the ladies show how their invisibility helps them, whether it’s using their bodies as a distraction, acting dumb and ditsy, or using the power of women’s bathrooms to hide. These women know how to use being ignored and silenced against others.

The film’s point is obviously to show that the joke’s on everyone who underestimates these women, including the moviegoer. You want to underestimate women? Okay, but now you’re 150 million dollars short and in jail. Take that, patriarchy.

Now that’s a serviceable message, but right now culturally we’re finally moving towards women being encouraged not to be silent. We’re are getting attention for all sort of things, getting interest for what we say and do. Leading up to its release, Ocean’s 8 had created a media narrative about being a part of this change, which is a good thing. Except, despite the fact that the film is about women who expect to be silent and ignored, and who use that to make a big statement (in the form of their successful heist), this film actually has nothing besides that to say. It’s thematically silent, pretty, and very shallow. So… you know…. like a stereotype of a woman?

Now to be fair, the Ocean’s franchise has always been a vanity project, first for Frank Sinatra and his buddies, then George Clooney and his buddies, and now Sandra Bullock and all these other famous ladies. There’s nothing wrong with making a sleek, fun, completely fantastical and glamorous film to make the rest of us feel inadequate.

So it’s wrong for me to ask this film to be extra, because as Ani Bundel says for NBC in her review of the film, “A women’s movie must be outstanding to get attention — especially if it’s funny. It cannot be a ‘Dante’s Peak’ style film; it must be ‘Bridesmaids’ or ‘Steel Magnolias.’” I don’t want to add to the pressure that films starring women must be extraordinary (and make millions at the box office) to be noticed.

But, as I try to do with all of my reviews, I assert that films should have something to say. And here the message goes no further than, “we can do it like the boys.” And that’s kind of disappointing, particularly since I think we’ve gotten past that as a culture. Women being “bad” is already chic right now.

I don’t love these full gender-swapped films because it causes the pendulum effect. Hollywood is high on girl-power right now, to right the wrongs of #MeToo, and so it’s going from the standard extreme all-male films to all-female films. Soon, it will hopefully settle in the middle, where everyone can be represented in media. But for now, this is what we’ve got, and while I wish it was a little more, it’s a fun ride and even has the potential to bring people together, as exemplified when my sister walked out of theater, turned to me, and said, “I would rob the Met Gala with you.”

As if I wouldn’t have been able to convince her otherwise.

-Madeleine D

Yell it out: A Quiet Place is great!

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One of the best parts of watching a horror movie is asking yourself, “Would I survive this? And if not, at what point would I die?”

I decided I would have probably died in A Quiet Place about halfway through. Emily Blunt’s character Evelyn lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with blind monsters with super hearing. She and her family live on a farm in constant fear of making noise. And she’s pregnant.

One night, with her family out, she hears the monsters come into the house. Then her water breaks. She goes down the stairs to hide, and steps on a previously upturned nail. It is at that point, I would scream and gladly let the monsters eat me.

But this scene, which my description gives no justice to, is one of the reasons A Quiet Place might be one of the most well-written films of all time. It does everything from a screenwriting perspective right. The stakes are constantly raised, all of the character have some kind of guilt, every scene has a purpose, every plant has multiple payoffs, and of course, it’s the epitome of “show, don’t tell.” And credit should go to director John Krasinski and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Fences, The Hunt) for letting the script “speak” for itself with practical, purposeful, and restrained directing and cinematography.

I was afraid going in that my movie-going experience was going to be ruined by the audience. But A Quiet Place shows what film has the power to do as a medium. The audience I ended up in was one of the most well-behaved ones I’ve ever seen. A minute in and everyone was dead silent. I heard someone struggling to eat popcorn as quietly as possible. There was not a peep during the whole film. A Quiet Place immediately sucks you into its mindset and plays with your every emotion. Each action is deliberate and every facet of the film- the acting, direction, set design, score, and sound editing- is used to engage the audience and force you into the place of the characters. Sound becomes the enemy and a character of its own.

It’s hard to talk about A Quiet Place, not only because it’s best to go in without any big spoilers, but the film is prime material to be a metaphor for something. But determining what that something is is all the more difficult without dialogue. Krasinski and Blunt have said it’s a film about parenting, which is clear by the end. However, it could also be about childbearing, our obsession with sound, or how we adapt and function when disabled.

Or, it could simply be an excellent film that uses all of the horror-genre conventions to its advantage, and will take your breath away. But once you see it, don’t be afraid to exclaim how good it is.

-Madeleine D

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tomb Raider

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*Mild Spoilers Ahead

In elementary and middle school, one of my favorite movie series was the Nicholas Cage National Treasure films. They were the perfect sleepover movies to watch with friends, to ooh and aww at the exciting chase sequences, and to laugh at the jokes. They weren’t great films, but they were fun, exciting, and tried to teach a little history and patriotism. I’m not familiar with the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films, or the original video game this film is based on, so as I watched the new Tomb Raider (2018) it was not those images that came to mind, but National Treasure.

Now, this new film is fairly predictable. There were a few times that I found myself saying the next line of dialogue (“The tomb’s not trying to keep people out… it’s trying to keep people in!”), and a careful viewer can point out the twists a mile away. Yet, by the end I had decided that at my next sleepover, I was going to switch out National Treasure for Tomb Raider, because while it’s not necessarily a better film, it’s a smarter one, and I couldn’t help but fall a little in love with it.

Alicia Vikander makes a star turn as Lara Croft, who goes on a search for her missing adventurer father (Dominic West). She teams up with Lu (Daniel Wu) to travel to a secret island off the coast of Japan to find him. This is Lara Croft’s origin story, showing the younger, less experienced Croft come into her own as the Tomb Raider. The film screams “franchise,” even setting up a sequel at the end, but it knows its strength, which is not the plot but the character the plot is based around. Even when I didn’t much care for what was going on in the film, Vikander’s Lara Croft had me hooked.

It adds another level of engagement and excitement when you can relate to the person on screen so deeply. Sure, I will never be Lara Croft, as much as I would like to be. But Vikander made me believe perhaps one day I can at least meet a Lara Croft-esque person that I can be friends with. The film, different from the original Angelina Jolie ones, is shot through the female gaze. This term does not mean the men in the film are treated badly, or that it is a feminist manifesto (it was even directed by a man with the manliness of names, Roar Uthaug). It simply means the film appeals to the female audience by not sexualizing the female characters and providing complex portrayals of characters that can enact female fantasies and escapism. And this worked wonders for my viewing; it was impossible for my friend and me not to spend the entire movie talking (and by talking I mean sparse whispering, as I am a courteous theater attendee) to the screen as if Lara were one of our friends.
“No, Lara, don’t go in there!”
“Punch him in the adam’s apple! YESSSS- my mom told me about that move.”
“Don’t let him talk down to you like that, Lara! Okay good, you’re escaping. Good call pal, good call.”
“I want to borrow your leather jacket. Where did you get it?”
“How… how do you get biceps like that? I can’t even do one pull-up.”
“Now that’s a nice guy, be friends with him!”

Lara Croft is a video game action heroine for sure. She does impossible stunts, survives insane injuries, and is perfectly film-suave. She doesn’t change much over the course of the film- she starts out independent, adventurous, and smart, and ends that way as well. But, there are a few details thrown into an otherwise pretty conventional film that both point to what possibly could have been, but also elevate it significantly.

There is clear attention to detail regarding how Lara could realistically take down men twice as strong as her, and the movie makes it clear how challenging that is. And when she does have her first kill in self-defense, she sits by the body and cries. It’s a stunning moment of humanity in a genre that rarely ever treats the villain body count as something to care about.

The film also takes the father-daughter storyline and elevates it by swelling to the emotional reunion- and then creating sophisticated conflict between the two that isn’t really satisfyingly resolved. The rest of the film is spent with the two in unease and heartache, and watching Lara wrestle with forgiving her father, and vice-versa, added a level of emotional resonance and maturity, even as Walton Goggins yelled about mummies and curses during the finale.

I could talk more about Tomb Raider’s flaws and how it is indicative of the origin-story- video-game-adventure genre overall, but honestly, I had a great time watching this film. If you like movies like National Treasure and Raiders of the Lost Ark– and you know who you are- then I really think you’ll enjoy this Tomb Raider. It’s a step in the right direction for the franchise which I hope will get a sequel, and I’m excited for Alicia Vikander to get to play this character again and get more roles in the future. Sometimes, fun movies can be fun, and Tomb Raider is just that.

-Madeleine D

Rockabye Baby: Baby Driver

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Every year there is a film that blows up at a film festival. There is tremendous hype for it as it moves from the festival circuit to wide release. There is a wave of rave reviews, Oscar predictions, and the main actors start signing major deals. Sometimes the film rides to the Oscars and lives up to its hype. But more times than not, it disappears a few months later and becomes lost.

This year, the breakout star of the SXSW (South by Southwest) film festival was Edgar Wright (The Cornetto Trilogy, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World) with Baby Driver. Can the film about a getaway driver survive in a summer of superheroes, transformers, and minions?

Baby Driver tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort) a young man paying off a debt to crime boss Doc (played by Kevin Spacey). He is a getaway driver who uses music on his iPod to drown out a ringing he has in his ears from a childhood accident. When Baby meets Debora (Lily James) he decides he wants to get out of his line of work and run away with her. And he will, Doc assures him. He just has one last job.

Edgar Wright is a director known for directing. That sounds weird to say, but it’s true. A lot of directors helm fine movies and are good at orchestrating the production of a film. But when Wright directs, he directs. The film is his breathing, living organism. And that applies to Baby Driver. Every scene is handmade, every detail significant. It simply isn’t a film that could be made by anybody else. Because of that, Baby Driver radiates passion, and I love when a movie does that. The more it seems like the filmmaker was dying to make the movie, the more I’m dying to see it.

For those who are here for a particular actor, I’m happy to inform you everyone turns in good performances here. It’s an ensemble film, though, so it’s the energy and personality of all the actors together that make the film tick along.

Speaking of ticking along, a major selling point of the film is the soundtrack. Almost every scene is set to rock n’ roll, making it like a musical where nobody sings. While it sometimes dances towards the line of being a gimmick, it mostly gives the film a surreal quality.  It ends up serving the film well, and makes the crazy climax feel more grounded.

The best compliment I can give Baby Driver is that it is unique, and in a summer where there are a lot of movies that are retreading old ground, unique is refreshing. Edgar Wright has created something that is a complete blast while still being smart and thought-provoking. It made me want to run out to my car and drive  around with my favorite playlist.  Did I? You’ll never know. But try and tell me you don’t feel the same way when you see it.

-Madeleine D

Movie Minute: Volume 2

Continue with me as I watch and review older movies!

Inkheart

Inkheart (2008)

Inkheart is in the tragic company of movies like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. 2005-2010 was not a kind time for book to movie adaptations. But Inkheart, based on one of my favorite books of all time by German author Cornelia Funke, has something those other movies don’t have. A sense of fun.

Inkheart is unintentionally hilarious, and is my ultimate guilty-pleasure junk food movie. I have seen it a few times now, and I will continue to love it unabashedly. There is something otherworldly and magical about seeing prestigious actors in B-level fantasy roles that I will never grow tired of. Helen Mirren riding a unicorn, Jim Broadbent watching on as Andy Serkis is eaten by a mythical shadow-monster, and Paul Bettany talking to a ferret and breathing fire is the movie I never knew I wanted. While I love the better adaptations we’ve gotten, The Hunger Games still has nothing on this.

RAIN MAN

Rain Man (1988)

It’s interesting to watch the commentary on autism Rain Man presents in 2017. On one hand, it is clear we have come further in our understanding of autism in the last 29 years. However, our depiction of autism on screen really hasn’t, making Rain Man an even more outstanding film. When movies do show autism, the characters generally must either be extraordinary, as to justify their existence within the film, or they must be tiptoed around, a beacon of representation without the humanity it requires to be a successful one.

Rain Man takes the bolder route of letting Raymond be a fairly standard autistic man, and making the other characters around him change. Raymond acts how he wants to act, and we as an audience, through Tom Cruise’s’ Charlie, have to adjust our own perceptions, not the other way around. Raymond never has to become a comfortable presence for us. This makes Rain Man a very interactive experience. Not only am I watching a movie, I’m experiencing the frustration that can come with interacting with someone who is different than I am, and am also experiencing frustration at Charlie for not being more sympathetic to Reymond. This push and pull between characters and audience makes Rain Man feel more real than the occasionally uneven screenplay does. While the film is well made, very-well acted, and has a lovely score, the unique experience of the film was my main takeaway. It is a must-see.

miss potter

Miss Potter (2006)

To be honest, Victorian period dramas are not my cup of tea. I’m a little tired of the standard petticoat and British accent award bait films. While not every period piece that comes out is made with Oscar intentions, there is something about actresses getting stuffed into a corset and bemoaning pre-liberated society that makes the academy go wild. Because of this, I was not naturally inclined to like this film.

Miss Potter is about the life of Beatrix Potter, the author known for her Peter Rabbit stories. Throughout the course of the film, she gets published, falls in love, becomes a conservationist, and that is about it.  If that sounds dull to you, then you’re right, it is.

The most important thing the film does is give a wider audience knowledge about Beatrix Potter. And while her story is not particularly thrilling, she is someone people should know about. Beatrix Potter is a role model, and it is because she is ordinary enough to be relatable, but just courageous enough to look up to. She interacts with her world as I think we all do, yet she is able to go the extra mile to become a person whom we can admire.

However, not even a great heroine could sway me to really enjoy this film. My biggest problem with Miss Potter is that it just doesn’t seem to have a point. Now sure, there are some nice messages here. The importance of conservation, telling stories, doing what you love, and moving on after loss. And telling the story of any human life has intrinsic value. But the film didn’t feel like it was directed with urgency, or passion. It does not seem like someone was bursting with the desire to tell the story of Beatrix Potter. It seems like someone just decided they might as well make a movie about Beatrix Potter, and not a particularly interesting one at that.

The-Godfather

The Godfather I&II

I don’t feel like I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about Francis Ford Coppola’s epic masterpiece, so I’ll just say this: it’s mandatory viewing for any cinephile. Or, anybody who just wants to see great art.

okja

Okja (2017)

Okja, a new Netflix original movie, is a message movie. And being a message movie is hard, especially when the message is about food.

Okja argues against GMO foods and the modern food industry, taking aim at pork production in particular. Because it’s a message movie, it doesn’t take a look at all sides. The villains are some of the most over the top and cartoony I’ve ever seen, and there isn’t much room for debate when you bring in Holocaust imagery.

But the saving grace for Okja from being a very on-the-nose movie about heroic animal activists and super pigs, is its direction. Thanks to director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) the film offers up much more.

The standout of Okja is newcomer actress Seo-Hyeon Ahn. She’s not only impressively able to act against a CGI pig with conviction, she’s also a force to be reckoned with against the adult actors and an action star in the making. She does some Tom Cruise level stunts in this film, and pulls them all off beautifully. The supporting cast all get time to shine, too. Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins all have particularly good moments.

In the end, it’s the stylistic direction of Joon-ho that keeps you going through the movie. The film has some clunkier moments, and the message will be grating to some, but at least it has a position, purpose, and drive. It’s a quirky, whimsical and dark fairy tale that may be one of the most unique things you see all year. It is clear that Bong Joon-ho was bursting to make this film, and it shows. That is what makes any message movie work.

-Madeleine D

Meh: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven: the movie you kinda sorta knew was coming out, but really only went when you saw it had your favorite actors in it. In honor of its name, here are the seven things you need to know about this newest Western.

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(l to r) Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio and Martin Sensmeier in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
  1. Story

This is a remake of the 1960 The Magnificent Seven, which in turn is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s epic The Seven Samurai. I have not seen the original Magnificent Seven (I know, I know, sorry). However, the movie doesn’t stray far from that story.

The film starts with Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a baddy capitalist who burns down a church and kills a handful of men in the opening scene. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the wife of a man who is killed, enlists Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUVqTzvyudQ) and Josh Faraway (Chris Pratt) to gather a team of heroes who can stop Bogue.

  1. Talent

Denzel Washington can do no wrong. The trailer for the upcoming film Fences (based on the play of the same title that Washington will be directing and starring in) played before this film, and reminded me of that fact. His Sam Chisolm is not necessarily a new type of hero, but is still a stoic one we can appreciate.

Chris Pratt plays Chris Pratt. I was hoping when he became a superstar, he would reveal a talent for playing interesting characters. Instead, he revealed that he has more abs than he does diverse roles. He still has time to show his acting chops, but right now he seems more than content to keep his blockbuster leading man image. If only that leading man was a little more interesting.

Ethan Hawke rivals Denzel Washington on the likeability factor here. He plays Goodnight Robicheaux (how can you lose with a name like that?) with finesse and passion. He makes the PTSD and guilt Goodnight feels real and adds some interest to an overdone story.

I wish I could say much about the rest of the cast. Haley Bennett does her best, but her job is mostly to be the 7th member of the party stand-in until the boys can all get there. Her role is similar to Hailee Steinfeld’s from 2010’s True Grit, and it isn’t near as interesting. And the other guys? Well, try to remember their names after you’ve left the theater.

  1. Diversity

This film caught a lot of people’s eye by showing off its diversity. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), starring Denzel Washington, with three other men of color in the leading roles. And I applaud that diversity. That said, the film tries to have its cake and eat it, too. It could be said that the story takes place in an alternative universe where all these types of men could get along in the Wild West (which, historically, they were all definitely present in). But then it doesn’t make sense when characters say racist things to each other. But if it had taken place in the real Wild West, these men almost definitely wouldn’t have gotten along so easily.

As for the characters themselves, it’s cool that the lesser-known actors of color get a time to shine in complex, original roles. As long as you forget about the stereotypes, like the Indian who eats the raw hearts of animals, or the Asian guy who is basically a quiet but deadly ninja, or the Mexican who… Well, he doesn’t really do anything. Or the fact that the confederate soldier and the black man get along just dandy.  Or that the only woman is practically prostituted by the men around her and her role is nudged out of the film quickly to make way for the heroes. But yeah progress! Now earn that title, movie.

  1. Style

A big part of Westerns is the distinct style. You need a bar scene, a horse scene, a sitting around the campfire scene. All of these elements are here. If those scenes are your jam, especially when they are stripped of soul and heart, then you’ll be happy.

The whole film is obsessed with style. I didn’t keep count, but I feel like fifty would be a modest number for the number of times the camera panned from Denzel Washington’s hand to gun to face to a slow motion walk. The violence might be gory, but these men are still stars, dang it! They’re the western Avengers, and everyone knows you can’t fight outlaws without looking hot.

But with the over-stylization comes some positives.  The score and cinematography are gorgeous. The soundtrack livens up formulaic scenes and adds intensity to scenes where you wouldn’t otherwise feel the emotion. The cinematography has the same effect.

  1. Making a Western

It’s difficult to change the Western formula, save for location change (Star Wars is an example- a Western in space). It is admittedly not one of my favorite genres for this reason. The Magnificent Seven doesn’t do a whole lot for changing the modern Western, save for its casting. However, there is no shame in making a solid genre film. The thing that struck me throughout the movie was the lack of a message. There is some religious talk. People muse over revenge and righteousness. But in the end, if the villain is just a mean capitalist (because heaven forbid we have villains that aren’t aliens, nazis, or rich people) and the only way to get rid of him is to brutally murder his army of men and destroy a town, so what? The movie doesn’t have much of a message. That’s the biggest crime of them all.

  1.  Locations

While the town the film is set in is your generic Western town, the fact that the film was shot on location makes a big difference. The setting feels real and lived in. The gorgeous natural beauty of New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arizona, the main places they shot, add to the aesthetic of the film. After seeing a lot of films that were shot on sound stages or with CGI, the authenticity of The Magnificent Seven is appreciated.

  1. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sorry, I got nothing. See how hard it is to have 7 focal points? That’s what the movie suffers from.

The Magnificent Seven comes down to this: If this isn’t your type of film, it won’t be very appealing. If it’s your kind of film, you will probably enjoy it, though I doubt it will be high on your list of favorites. A remake that doesn’t have a new message, or even a solid one at all, doesn’t seem like a remake worthy of anyone’s time. There is only so much enjoyment you can get out of actors running around in nice locations to a cool score before the emptiness of it appears

-Madeleine D

Going Gansta In Middle Earth- Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Welcome Taika Waititi, to a place in my heart. It’s a space you’ll have to share with my family, chocolate, the Lord of the Rings, and soft blankets, but I’m sure you’ll find room.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the native New Zealander’s fourth feature film after Eagle vs. Shark, Boy, and What We Do In The Shadows. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is based on a book by Barry Crump. The film is about a young foster boy named Ricky Baker (a fantastic Julian Dennison) whose last chance at a foster-home before being thrown in Juvie is an older couple, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). Bella is excited and inviting, full of positivity and charm. Hector is, well, not as excited, but doesn’t bother Bella or Ricky, so everyone is happy. Ricky begins to love his home, until tragedy strikes, and he and Hector find themselves in the bush, running for their lives as a massive manhunt tries to find them.

Wilderpeople takes cliches (fat city kid, grumpy old geezer, road trip that leads to bonding) and twists them just enough that they work. The city kid, Ricky, is a lovable protagonist, who is a bit off-putting, but wants a family, and will fiercely protect the one he gets. The grumpy old geezer is a man with heart, who is tough but not unwilling to learn, and in the end, makes the right decisions.

None of the characters are a complete subversion of the trope (characters like the social worker and incompetent police officer don’t get the above treatment at all), but there is still thoughtfulness to all of them that should be appreciated. All the performances are great, with Neill and Dennison as standouts with good chemistry.

Maybe the best thing about this film is the humor. My family and I laughed out loud several times. Not just chuckles, but belly laughs. The film is completely secure in its ability. It doesn’t turn its head and look at you for approval or acknowledgment, it keeps on trucking along in a mix of deadpan, slapstick, and exaggeration, with complete confidence. The scene with a cameo by Waititi is worth the ticket price alone.

It must be really nice to work in New Zealand. You get actors with amazing accents, breathtaking settings, Weta Workshop is nearby, and it’s full of Middle Earth goodness. Waititi makes good use of all of these things. The film is sprinkled with screensaver-worthy shots, a sense of magic grounded in a real world, and lovely accents. There aren’t many special effects, but one sequence in particular makes good use of a CGI wildebeest. The film also makes incredible use of its score. From indigenous music in a sweeping opening shot to more modern fare, I was moved to look up the soundtrack after seeing the film.

It’s worth mentioning that the film stumbles near the end. It has to make the decision to be realistic or to go in a more whimsical direction. It decides to go halfway, which leaves the audience with a content, yet not completely satisfying, ending. It makes the journey feel more important than the destination. However, since the journey is so wonderful, I’ll give it a pass.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about to be out of theaters (you might still have time to catch it at Circle Cinema!) but from me to you, please look out for it on streaming and DVD. It is a gem of a film. It mixes a tried-and-true story with new blood, a fresh perspective, and a sweet look at family and what it takes to be a family in a modern day world. It mixes sentimentality with raw emotion. The performances are great, and it is truly funny in a moving way. It is an ode not only to New Zealand, but to children still finding their homes, and to people who have one.

Now, who else is stoked for Waititi’s next film- Thor: Ragnarok?

-Madeleine D