The Bye Bye Man Review

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You toss and turn in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. “I’m terrified,” you think to yourself, “what if somebody walks through the door, and points at me?” You try sitting still, gazing at your wallpaper hoping that it will put you in a hypnotic trance. It doesn’t work. “Any second now, the wallpaper could move a little,” you theorize. Finally, you give up on trying to sleep and turn on the TV. You see The Bye Bye Man on one the movie channels thinking that it must be a lost episode of Are You Afraid of The Dark. You turn it on, and all of a sudden, all of your worst fears come to life. The pointing, the wallpaper, and an old man in a hoodie accompanied by a hell hound who looks like he was shat out of another dog. There will be no rest for you tonight as you kiss your sanity bye bye.

The Bye Bye Man tells the spine-tingling tale of three college-age intellectual heavyweights who have recently moved into a new home. Elliot (Douglas Smith) is quickly regretting moving in with both his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and his much more attractive friend John (Lucien Laviscount). When he goes up to mope in his room during a party, he finds a piece of paper that reads “don’t think it, don’t say it,” over and over again inside of a nightstand. Unfortunately, the paper both thinks and says “the bye bye man (Doug Jones)” a demonic entity who infects your mind to the point of insanity at the sheer mention of his name. Elliot starts to lose himself as The Bye Bye Man starts lurking his way into his everyday life, eventually forcing his friends into the fray as well.

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One has to wonder, if two male friends use the expression “bye bye man” upon leaving each other’s company, does the man of the hour take that as an invitation? How important is “the” in this equation?

Imagine that Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Ghostface and Pennywise all were high school boys sitting at a lunch table. They’re an inseparable clique, practically a family. They howl at each other’s stories about which teacher they slaughtered that day, happy as clams. The Bye Bye Man is the kid who sits across the table by himself, listening to Limp Bizkit while sipping on a non-alcoholic beer. He stares at this group every day, desperate to be a part of it. Sometimes he even gets up the courage to walk over, but whenever the slasher icons try to talk to him, all he can do is point and run away. This has to be most laughable attempt at a new horror villain in quite some time. This film really wants to sell us on the notion that the sheer idea of this man is what drives the characters insane. However, when we do see him, we never understand why he even bothers them. Sure, he points at you and sits nearby at the library, but that’s not exactly nightmare material.

We certainly don’t care about any of these characters, who are brought to life by three of the worst actors allowed to be in a major film in years. Every line delivery sounds like it is said by people who learned how to talk an hour before shooting. We have a couple veteran actors in Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway who show up late in the game, but they’re clearly so embarrassed that it’s hard to get much out of them. As these folks fumble through an abysmal screenplay by Jonathan Penner, one has to wonder if this was based on an elementary school Halloween Pageant.

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Stacy Title’s flat direction certainly doesn’t help matters. She has no eye for what makes a scary sequence, often leading us along in the dark for a few minutes only to show us the lamest payoff imaginable. This is clearly a film cut down from an R-Rating, as there is not a drop of blood when people are hurt or killed. I guess the studio just wanted to provide a safe space for a few teenagers to lose their virginity.

It doesn’t seem humanly possible to make a horror movie this devoid of anything remotely creepy, particularly one that was released in theaters. It takes a character who’s about as intimidating as Barney the Dinosaur, and doesn’t even let him do anything. The only thing this movie will make you scared of is staying awake to watch the rest of it. Unless there are several substances involved, you should let this thing continue to play in empty theaters until it goes – – well, you know.

Rating: F

Patriots Day Review

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Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have established themselves as the star-crossed lovers of American disaster movies. In Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon they depicted some truly horrific events with unflinchingly tense action and sincere reverence for the real people involved. Patriots Day is the most high profile story they’ve told so told far and as such will be held under the most scrutiny.There’s already been a bout of backlash against Wahlberg’s Tommy Saunders, a fictional police officer who anchors the real-life figures who make up the rest of the film. It’s impossible to not take some of this blowback from the city of Boston into account here. They were the ones who experienced it. However, to completely write this movie off would be ignoring some of Berg’s finest filmmaking yet.

The film bounces between several different people who all are at the epicenter of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Saunders is a recently suspended homicide detective who’s pulling grunt duty at the marathon when the bombs go off. Afterward, Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) set up a command center and try to track down the men who pulled off this horrific attack while Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) awaits orders to begin the manhunt. We also spend some time with the attackers in question, Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) Tsarnaev as their foolproof plan starts to crumble around them.

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Not only does Mark Wahlberg give a really strong performance here, but the film doesn’t cater to him as much as it may seem. Yes, Tommy is at the center of the film’s narrative, but he doesn’t take over the story. He gets us into the room where the nonfictional people are taking the real initiative. The film never pretends that Saunders solved the whole crisis just to feed Wahlberg’s ego, it merely brings him and us along for the ride. Goodman, Bacon, and Simmons all bring humanity to their largely procedural roles. We feel the rage and sadness that comes from having the hometown that they were sworn to protect being thrown into such chaos. Meanwhile, Wolff and Melikidze give us a pair of compelling antagonists. Melikidze’s Tamerlan is the alpha dog, who will stop at nothing to carry out his mission while Wolff’s Dzhokhar is just a stupid kid caught in the middle of it. It’s a harsh depiction of these two men, but it has enough depth to keep it from entering xenophobic territory, even if the casting of Alex Wolff is a little scummy). A great deal of attention is paid to the authorities’ fear of jumping to the conclusion of Islamic terrorism for fear of the political fire storm that comes with that, reflecting the film’s more restrained style of flag waving. It is a film about the American people, not America itself.

Berg places us right in the middle of all the mayhem, practically strapping the audience on top of the bombs. He is a master at building tension, playing with our fear of the inevitable. The wait for the explosion during the marathon is excruciating, especially with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ paranoia drenched score underneath. Once the violence strikes, there’s a perfect balance of brutality and restraint. Berg shows us the graphic and often fatal wounds these victims suffered, but he doesn’t linger on them with spurting blood and guts. All of the action sequences here take on that aesthetic, particularly an incredible suburban standoff towards the end of the film. These aren’t invincible action heroes spraying clip after clip in midair. Every bullet feels like it could hit somebody, and Berg masterfully uses the geometry of the street to set up new elements. The community itself is as much a character as anything, with the resilient civilians even acting as soldiers themselves in some instances. We feel like we’re in the fight ourselves, even if that occasionally means getting disoriented by the constantly moving camera. It’s not gratuitously shaky, but occasionally it does get a little lost in all of the mayhem.

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All of this intensity and sincerity should push Patriots Day into being a great film, but unfortunately, the script isn’t quite up to par. There’s a great deal of speechifying about the standard “this is good vs evil, hate is not love, love is not hate,” themes that seep into all too many of these films. So much of the movie does such a great job showing us these values, that it’s a little insulting that it so often needs to stop and tell us about them. There are also a couple of fatty subplots that drag things out over two hours, mostly involving the victims of the attacks. It’s one thing to show little snippets, but we devote several minutes to some of these people. It’s a movie about law enforcement, with little short stories of people lost and reunited awkwardly spliced in between. These victims deserve their own film, and seem to be getting just that with David Gordon Green’s Stronger later this year.

Patriots Day is as robust a showcase for the Wahlberg/Berg collaboration as there likely will be. It’s constantly tense and exciting while not sensationalizing the events to the point of disrespect. It doesn’t feel selfish, telling all sides of the story to the point of it feeling a little clunky at times. It may still understandably be too fresh a wound for some who were actually affected by the catastrophe, but if you can stomach it, it’s a haunting and inspirational gaze backward into one of the darkest weeks in our country’s history.

Rating: A-

Live By Night Review

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Evan as an actor with a decidedly mixed batting average, Ben Affleck has become one of the most respected directors in Hollywood. He gave us two well spun Boston crime webs in Gone Baby Gone and The Town, only to turn around and deliver an equally strong historical thriller in Argo. However, in each of those three films, it was clear that Affleck was still trying to prove just how talented he was behind the lens. After Argo’s Best Picture win, he knows that he’s in the club, and you can start to see that arrogant confidence in Live By Night.

 
Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a low-level crook who’s desperately trying to get out of the prohibition-era life of crime as quickly as he can. Unfortunately, he finds himself trapped in a love affair with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), the wife of kingpin Albert White (Robert Glenister). White destroys Joe’s life, and after a stint in prison, Joe decides to join up with White’s rival, Maso Piscatory (Remo Girone), who’s cornered the market on Rum in Florida. Joe ends up heading out to The Sunshine State, slowly establishing himself as the enforcer of that sect of the business and becoming a powerful outlaw in his own right.

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This is a lengthy and complex epic with a lot of chess pieces on the table. Affleck is aiming for a Martin Scorsese vibe here, even implementing voice over to string everything together. Unfortunately, Live By Night can only dream of having the energy and focus of movies like Goodfellas and Casino. Where Scorsese’s films feel like one story with a multi-layered narrative, Affleck’s feels like an entire season of television haphazardly crammed into two hours and ten minutes. The structure is largely episodic, with Joe taking on various adversaries in self-contained spurts. Each of these little chunks lightly sets-up the next, but in a way that feels like we should be waiting a week to see how it pays off. Besides Joe, none of these characters are really given the chance to have an arc, because they’re rushed off-screen so quickly to get to the next segment. The connections become so loose, that it’s easy to forget where we even started by the time the film comes to its climax.

 
Since these characters are so paper thin, the cast isn’t really given a chance to bring much to the table. Affleck is a capable leading man but he seems to be somewhere else whenever he’s on-screen. Trying to pull off this insane balancing act while acting at the same time must be incredibly stressful, and it shows. While he’s done solid character work in his other films, Affleck would’ve definitely benefited from using a different actor here. The supporting players are either too subdued or flat-out cartoonish. The other gang members and mobsters, in particular, feel like they’re pulled right out of a Sunday comic from 1930. Matthew Maher’s ridiculously over the top cross-eyed klansman is the worst offender, devouring the scenery like it’s a meal made just for him. Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller are wasted in one-dimensional love interest roles, while Brendan Gleeson and Chris Cooper do more subtle work that clashes with the more over the top bits. Elle Fanning gets a couple of strong moments as Cooper’s former drug addict turned preacher daughter who forms a strong uprising against a casino Joe is building. Joe’s choice of whether or not to snuff her out is the most interesting morality play in the film, and they get a couple of strong moments to play off of each other.

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Even with the film’s deep flaws, Affleck’s strong direction saves it from being a total wash. It certainly has the most unique visual style of any of his work. The cinematography has a very picturesque quality to it, with sharp colors and contrasts bleeding through every frame. It looks a living version of a mural you’d see hanging in a restaurant. The production design is beautiful as well, authentic without feeling showy. Every moment of action, large or small, is thrilling. Affleck has a keen eye for blunt violence, making every kill feel painful. It ranges from little murders on the streets. to car chases, to shoot-outs, and it all works. Unfortunately, Affleck’s screenplay is a lot more interested in the most procedural parts of the story. There is an absolute glut of table-set conversations here. In fact, there is so much sitting around that one has to wonder if Affleck just got tired of standing up on the set. Dialogue is absolutely a key part of any crime film, but it needs to be extremely dynamic, and so many scenes here feel exactly the same. It doesn’t help that much of the dialogue is extremely cliched. The film wants to say something new about morality, criminality, and cruelty, but you can practically see it looking over at a better movie’s paper to do so. It often seems as though the characters are more concerned with setting up lines for the trailer than they are for the story.

 
Live By Night is by far Affleck’s weakest and most indulgent film. It wears the clothes and shoots the guns of a great crime film, while unintentionally becoming a parody of itself. With that said, it’s not a total loss. It never stops being great to look at and there are several moments that hint at a better, more streamlined film. However, what we get instead is a bloated mess that can’t decide if it’s a cartoon or a classic, and ends up being neither.

Hidden Figures Review

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The majority of inspirational story movies these days might as well be made in a computer. It’s as safe a bet as they come. Underdogs lose, underdogs win, crowds clap. They’re practically a studio tax write-off at this point. However, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures has a very clear and important mission in mind. The directive: create an inspirational All-American biopic for all the young girls who stayed at home when their fathers and brothers saw Nice Athletes Beat Mean Athletes 7. This isn’t a film about winning, this is a film about scraping your fingers to the bone to do something valuable, even if said work goes unrecognized.

 
Hidden Figures spans the early 1960s during the Space Race, centering on three African American women critical to NASA’s enterprise. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a virtuoso mathematician assigned to be a human calculator for the Space Task Group. She’s a cog in the machine, grinding out equations to the somewhat apathetic eyes of her boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and higher-ranking co-worker Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is a tech savvy overseer a group of female number crunchers with ambitions of climbing higher in the administration. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is a gifted engineer desperately trying to go through the red tape needed to do such work for the company. The film mostly focusses on Katherine, with the other ladies’ stories running parallel and occasionally intertwining, as the three are close friends.

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Melfi could have easily coasted on the inherent importance of this story and phoned in a bland effort. Instead, he’s brought these amazing women to life with three pitch-perfect actresses at the top of their game. Henson does what may be her best work yet as Johnson. Many actors who take on ‘misunderstood genius’ roles theatrically infuse the character with social awkwardness. Henson takes an entirely different tact, practically overflowing with charisma in every scene. She’s the most intelligent person in the room and often uses that intellect for sharp humor. It’s great fun to watch her mow over people in higher positions who are clearly far below her league. Spencer is a little more reserved, with a more potent animosity for the people who have held her down. She’s somebody looking for the perfect opportunity to stand up for herself. Monáe brings a sharp determination to Jackson that’s so compelling, that it’s a little disappointing that most of her material seems to be on the cutting room floor. In fact, the three ladies aren’t on screen together as much as one may think, which is a shame, as their chemistry is electric.

 
Unfortunately, many of the supporting players do get lost behind our three wonderful leads. Kevin Costner might as well be checking his watch as he sighs through the mentor character we’ve seen him play hundreds of times. Harrison does get a few strong moments, but they are by virtue of the script, not Costner. Kirsten Dunst puts on what may be the worst on-screen southern accent in years as an administrator who’s trying her best to regulate Spencer. Parsons’ Paul Stafford is a sniveling brat who isn’t particularly dynamic, becoming a more of a stepping stone than a character by the halfway point. The only one who really shines is Mahershala Ali, who brings a warm charm to Henson’s love interest.

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This is a highly conventional movie, but what saves it from feeling trite is a sharp screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder. A story so full of procedural discussions about equations and mechanics could easily wear out its welcome. As such, the script works overtime to make sure every scene is filled with crackling dialogue. It also intelligently avoids making anybody into a mustache twirling comic strip racist. Most of the white characters are people who have nothing personal against African Americans but are simply so accustomed to how things are that they don’t have it in them to be different. It’s a nuance that extends to even the less well-realized characters, giving the whole film an extra layer of realism. Melfi’s NASA feels like a real workplace, with people desperately trying to get along and work together despite their societal biases.

 
At the end of this film, I looked to my right and saw a preteen girl sitting with her father. They both seemed delighted, but the look in the girl’s eyes warmed my heart. She seemed genuinely inspired by what she had just seen. Hidden Figures certainly isn’t going to win any praise for originality. However, that standard structure is built as meticulously as a rocket ship, with each piece designed to be as robustly entertaining and empowering as possible. In a world where most fantasy superheroes are male, it’s high time we start telling the stories of some real life heroines who are just as mighty.

Rating: A-

A Monster Calls Review

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J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls is a prolific medley of traditional fable and ‘boy and his monster’ tropes. It’s a Grimm fairy tale retelling of E.T, if the extra terrestrial were a nightmare fuel version of The Giving Tree. Bayona doesn’t so much aim to re-invent these beats so much as to meticulously implement them to wind up an emotional haymaker. Evoking Spielberg can be quite the risk, as it can be either highly successful via Stranger Things or reach Super 8 levels of obvious mimicry. On the eve of his Jurassic World sequel, Bayona could use a few positive comparisons to Spielberg. He’s certainly off to a strong start with the casting. For as much as we lament about different ethnic and social groups being represented on film, you can’t say that the giant tree demographic has been ignored. They’re even spanning genres now. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot had comedic timing to spare, but this hardwood thespian is out to prove that trees have dramatic chops as well.

The story centers on Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), an imaginative and artistic young boy forced into a living nightmare. He’s on the verge of losing his beloved mother (Felicity Jones) to terminal cancer that refuses to subside despite a number of treatments. Terrified of both his mother’s passing and the possibility of living with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), Conor goes into his mind to give. There, he conjures up a fantasy of a hulking tree beast (Liam Neeson), who decides to tell Conor three tales in exchange for a recount of the nightmare that won’t subside.

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A Monster Calls is a story that needs to very delicately balance its sappy and foreboding elements. If one is out of whack, we won’t believe the other. Fortunately, Bayona is becoming quite acute at just that. His viciously intense disaster film, The Impossible, never forgot that the bonds of family are far more important than seeing people get swept up by water. A Monster Calls never quite enters that level of physical danger, but the emotional trauma being dealt with here is very raw indeed.  Both Conor and the audience need a constant outlet of escape, and Bayona provides just that through his visuals. The entire film takes on a distinctly storybook esque look. It almost seems as though every room or landscape could have been drawn with the same pencils that Conor uses in his pictures. There’s absolutely no attempt to make the monster look real. He’s a figment, and his design is exaggerated as such. We’re also given a bit of eye candy in the tales he tells, as they’re depicted through stunning animated sequences stylistically reminiscent of the tale of the Deathly Hallows from the final Harry Potter films.

Since the entire thematic arc of the film rests on the psychosis of a child, an inauthentic actor could easily wreck this whole affair. That pressure makes Lewis MacDougall’s breakout performance all the more special. He brings a potent maturity to Conor, a boy with a very childlike mind who’s had to grow up all too fast. He’s a solid anchor for the whole film, but as he comes to his therapeutic epiphanies through his outings with the monster, MacDougall hits a couple of the most authentically heartbreaking notes I’ve ever seen out of a child actor. Felicity Jones also shines as a woman with too much love to give and all too little time to give it. Watching her decay from a vibrant and positive person into a shell of herself is almost as rough for us as it is for Conor. Liam Neeson is both terrifying and tender under all of that bark. The monster is certainly far from the most fleshed out CGI character in the world, but Neeson’s playful delivery ensures that he’s never generic. The only one who struggles a little is Sigourney Weaver. While she can play cold and strict with the best of them, she’s battles a horrific British accent that is clearly the product of a simple miscast.

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Even with the immense talent on both ends of the camera, A Monster Calls is often at the mercy of its screenplay by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the young adult novel on which the film is based. Since we’re revolving things around the monster’s three stories, the plot structure becomes incredibly rigid. We know exactly where we are in the plot simply by counting how many times we’ve seen the creature, and the dynamic between Conor and his new friend becomes a little predictable after a while. Extenuating said predictability are some laughably trite moments of dialogue that read as though they were copied off of a web generator of touching movie phrases. We’re stuck with a great deal of these sigh-inducing moments in the first act before the monster shows up, keeping the film from really gaining momentum for a while. However, all of the elements do eventually start to come together and then coalesce into a devastatingly touching final twenty minutes. It’s not an unpredictable ending by any means, but the earnest execution may be enough to make a even a regular tree cry. 

Even with a fair few moments of hokey storytelling, A Monster Calls is still a deeply moving little fable. It’s the kind of world-weary film that kids should be exposed to once and a while, tackling some deeply disturbing themes in a more approachable way. In fact, this could be a highly therapeutic story for any child who’s had the misfortune of losing a parent. Its effectiveness as a parable often overrides its flaws as a film, with Bayona crafting a story with an emotional core that’s as strong as oak. Best of luck with the dinosaurs my friend, you’ve earned some fun.

Rating: B+

Lion Review

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Barring a couple exceptions, American audiences generally don’t go for foreign films, especially when they chronicle harrowing subject matter. Prescribing a reason for this is pointless, as there certainly isn’t some nefarious motive behind this alienation. There just isn’t a market for these stories here. However, there is plenty of room for inspirational true tales of underdogs who triumph over adversity to swelling music and all that hubbub. With Lion, Garth Davis has created a Sunday-Night Sampler of these two styles. For all intents and purposes, he’s fused together two different short films to tell the tale of Saroo Brierley.

The first half of the film centers on Saroo (Sunny Pawar) as a young boy in India. When his brother Gaddu (Abhishek Bharate) brings Saroo along on a trip to find work, the two are separated in the middle of the night. Little Saroo finds himself on a train headed for Calcutta, where he is stranded for an extended period. However, he finds himself in luck when an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) bring him into their home. Saroo grows into a well adjusted young man (as Dev Patel takes over the role) who despite having lived a privileged life, is desperate to find the family he lost all those years ago.

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Davis has no qualms with depicting the hardships that young Saroo is forced to face, putting us in the shoes of a small child lost in a world he doesn’t understand. He paints the streets of Calcutta as crowded and cutthroat. We can barely see over taller people’s heads as Saroo evades one danger after another. There is barely a safe patch of dirt for him to sleep on. These sequences are not only extremely visceral, but are presented entirely in Bengali and Hindi. It’s a intense and compromise-free first half.

This portion of the film is carried handily by Sunny Pawar, who has outclassed 2016 turns by actors decades older than him here. He draws us in right away with pure adorable innocence and then completely sells the instant transition into maturity that he has to make. In only a few minutes, the rapport between him and his brother is utterly lovable, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when it’s torn apart. Even when he’s not saying a word, there isn’t a moment where we don’t feel his pain. We can’t imagine anything gruesome happening to this poor kid, which makes the white-knuckle suspense all the more potent.

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Then we transition into Saroo’s adult life with his new family, and the film takes on a decidedly different tone. While the emotional authenticity remains the same, everything starts to feel a bit more like a conventional biopic. We see Saroo in a much more prosperous position, in which he has far more agency in tracking down his home. What makes it work is the subtle and powerful performance by Dev Patel. With a thick Australian accent and those luscious locks, Patel disappears into the role. Saroo’s anxiety now comes less from danger, and more from separation from that danger. That may seem benign and is to a certain extent, but Patel’s work continues to keep us holding on. Kidman also shines as Saroo’s all too earnest adoptive mother, a devoted caregiver who desperately wants to help people beyond her circle of affluence. This is critically important, as in the wrong hands this relationship could have come off as a trite ‘white savior’ narrative straight out of The Blind Side. Thankfully, for as conventional as Lion gets, it never quite enters that territory.

Where the film starts to run into problems is in prioritizing the elements of Saroo’s college years to focus on. A great deal of time is spent with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), and frankly, she couldn’t be less interesting. Mara does what she can, but the part is criminally underwritten. She exists entirely to further Saroo’s arc, with no district personality of her own. One minute she’s caressing Saroo in bed while telling him that she’s there for him no matter what, the next she’s caressing Saroo in bed while telling him that she feels ignored. Are you bored yet?

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Meanwhile, there’s a much more compelling relationship set-up with Saroo’s adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), who suffers from severe mental illness, that the film decides to completely ignore. We hear that Saroo is protective of him, but we never see that in action. Whenever Mantosh is on-screen he seems to only serve as a cheap emotional punchline. It’s a baffling choice, as the contrast between the two brotherly relationships should be the thematic centerpiece of the film. It wreaks of studio interference and ultimately wastes a lot of time. Davis does bring the film to a deeply touching and tender conclusion, though, which makes some of the more superfluous elements seem worth it.

Lion has moments of ferocious power, particularly in the first half. When we’re in Calcutta with young Saroo, it makes a strong case for being one of 2016’s best films. However, while the second half is still enjoyable, it’s sullied a little by conventional elements that are below the story the film is telling. At the end of the day, Davis succumbs to making the kind of film that ends with a fun little Sia pop song, which may make for a more palatable movie, but it keeps it short of being a great one. Seriously, though, what movie doesn’t have a Sia single over the credits these days?

Rating: B

The 10 Worst Movies Of 2016

There I was, a 20-year-old man waiting for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows to begin. When the day started this just seemed like yet another dumb summer movie, but then a devastating thought occurred to me. I was spending my entire summer watching terrible film after terrible film. In that moment, I pondered giving up film criticism altogether. Alas, here I am, barely. Despite redeeming itself a bit towards the end, 2016 brought about a seemingly endless onslaught of brain dead garbage. We had stale sequels, baffling passion projects, and disheartening dreck galore, and today is the day that I have my revenge. Get ready folks, because the Turtles who almost broke me didn’t even make the list.

10. Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon

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The Neon Demon is a whole lot better than Refn’s previous effort, Only God Forgives, and it’s still absolutely terrible. Refn is undeniably a singular stylist, with Drive and Bronson standing as wonderfully bizarre near masterpieces. However, both of those films had source material to hold him back, and when he’s left to his own devices he goes hog wild with masturbatory pretension. Here, he’s crafted a story that on paper could have so much to say about the perception of women in modern society. How they’re expected to be perfect, to the point where they’re essentially turned into subhumans. He even starts things off strong, tricking us into thinking that he just might bring us the Black Swan for the fashion industry. Then the third act comes, and the film swings so wildly off the rails that any artistic tools used before are knocked over to create an ugly mush on the floor. It certainly gets points for atmosphere (bolstered by a brilliant score by Cliff Martinez) but reveals itself to be such a maddening mess that it brings itself into company that Refn is clearly above. It’s time to adapt something again, my friend. I’m rooting for you.

9. Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne

Jesus Christ it’s Jason Bourne.

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Imagine that Matt Damon and Jason Bourne were in an almost decade long relationship. Together, they re-defined each other, often for the better. Everything was great until it wasn’t. Through The Bourne Ultimatum, they took one last amazing trip together, getting everything out of their system before admirably parting ways. Matt wins the breakup, going on to numerous successes, one of which landed him an Oscar nomination. Jason Bourne tried another relationship with Jeremy Renner, but his heart wasn’t in it. After a few years of being single, he calls Matt Damon for coffee to “catch up.” This film is the boring, awkward one night stand that comes after, after which Matt Damon slowly slips out of bed while Jason Bourne is still asleep. Everybody involved in Jason Bourne seems as though they were forced at gunpoint to be there. Paul Greengrass, who is nothing short of a genius on his best day, seems intent on burying this franchise for good with his uninspired direction. It’s more of people in suits pulling up computer screens with a red dot on a map that reads “Bourne,” mean looking men going to find him, resulting in them getting punched in the face. When you’re in the middle of a ten-minute motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Greece, and the leading man looks like he’s about to pass out, how can you not do the same?

8. Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers

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I cannot tell you how desperate I am to love Kevin Smith’s movies. When he’s not making films, I can’t get enough of the guy. He’s so utterly genuine. However, part of that down to Earth persona is his persistent acknowledgment that he is not the greatest director in the world. Personally, I’ve found his comedies rather underwhelming, but was rather impressed with him breaking out of his comfort zone by veering into horror with Red State and Tusk. So much for that. Yoga Hosers, which spins off Tusk’s three most irritating characters, is Smith passively giving up and releasing a home movie in theaters. I would be willing to perhaps get past the evil sausages played by Smith if his two leads, played by Harley Quinn Smith and Lilly Rose Depp were given even a shred of something to do. I have nothing against these two girls, they even manage to wring some moments of chemistry out of this slog. However, this is clearly a screenplay written by a man in his mid-forties desperately trying to understand teenage girls. Oh, and did I mention that Johnny “How Actively Unbearable Can I Be In This Movie?” Depp spends a large section of the runtime making an Oscar campaign for Steve Martin’s Inspector Clouseau seem like a plausible notion. Kevin, perhaps you should film Moose Jaws on your Flip Cam, show it to your family, and spare us the cash, eh?

7. Ben Stiller’s Zoolander 2

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This one is all our fault. The original Zoolander was a hilariously zany piece of bubblegum with endless quotability. It still holds up today, but that wasn’t enough. We begged him for a sequel for over a decade. It didn’t matter what else he was doing, including the flat-out brilliant Tropic Thunder. “Zoolander 2, Zoolander 2, Zoolander 2!” shouted the hordes. Stiller commendably dodged this pressure for so long. He knew what this would be, but we just kept poking him. So he made it, presumably so that we could finally shut up about it. Notice how not a single person has asked him for Zoolander 3.

6. Edward Zwick’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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The first Jack Reacher looked atrocious, and I say that as a massive Tom Cruise fan. He just seemed bored in what appeared to be a rejected Bourne script. Shockingly, that was not the case in the slightest. Writer/Director Christopher Mcquarrie took what could’ve been a dime store action movie and turned it into a burly little film in which Cruise actually really shined as the subdued, no-nonsense Reacher. Five years later, we get Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Once again, the trailers looked like garbage. “Ne’er worry my friends,” I said, “Our old pal Jack simply plays a fool for the trailers.” Nope. Much like our pal Matt Damon, Cruise may as well be looking at his phone for a call from Doug Liman as he slogs through a flat diet soda version of the first film. However, where Jason Bourne was just lifeless, Never Go Back is utterly insulting. When Cruise manages to get through airport security with a fake passport picture that appears to be a picture of a 20-year-old Abercrombie model, this series died peacefully in his arms.

5. Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed

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4 years ago, Michael Fassbender signed on to lead an Assassin’s Creed film produced in part by Ubisoft. Having the developer play a major role in the film’s development seemed like a promising step forward for video game movies, especially with an incredible talent like Fassbender. Perhaps this could’ve been the first good one. What we get instead is a 125 million dollar fan film, if the fan in question was actively trying to ensure that nothing with the name Assassin’s Creed would ever see the light of day again. This is a film with no interest in making its’ “The Matrix but they stab instead of shoot” premise approachable to anyone who hasn’t played the games. Believe me, nobody is going to start after watching this mess, which reduces the virtual field trip into the Spanish Inquisition into 3 quick montages of blurry, bloodless action. Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of scenes with characters walking around a dark gray base, frowning at each other.  About halfway through the film, Michael Fassbender starts deliriously belting Patsy Cline’s Crazy as he’s literally dragged into the second “run run jump jump” scenario, and by that point, I considered joining him. The sad part? That is only the second most embarrassing scene involving Michael Fassbender in 2016.   

4. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad

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Most of the movies on this list weren’t exactly surprisingly bad, perhaps just disappointing at worst. Suicide Squad wasn’t just terrible, Suicide Squad broke my heart. Just when comic book movies were starting to seem a little stale, this looked like a brand new recipe. An edgy, Dirty Dozen-esque team up of super villains? Sign me up, especially after the incredible Bohemian Rhapsody trailer. 

Upon leaving the theater, I was genuinely unsure of what the hell I had just witnessed. David Ayer, a director who had proven himself with the excellent End of Watch and Fury, had wiped himself with the DC Extended Universe and flushed it into theaters. This is an ugly looking, poorly written and often utterly nonsensical film. It takes characters with so much potential and throws them into a Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark spooky witch story that mostly involves them running around on one city block. They’re so generically realized that the script has to constantly remind us that they’re bad guys. Sure, Will Smith, Jai Courtney, and the criminally wasted Margot Robbie have some fun moments but the movie does everything in its power to hold them back. Then, of course, there’s Jared Leto’s much buzzed-about turn as The Joker. Going into this film, I quite liked Jared Leto. Now, I could never see him in a movie again and it would be too soon. If they don’t recast him and give Margot Robbie a worthy Joker to play off of next time, they’re dooming any Gotham set DC film.

3. Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse

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Just when the X-Men series seemed to come roaring back to life with Days of Future Past and Deadpool, Apocalypse spends over two hours re-burying it. After finally finding the perfect balance of humor and drama in his previous effort, Singer returns to his previous model of tone-deaf comic book films. In introducing a new generation of mutants (or a recast generation) Singer gives these fresh actors nothing to do while flat out humiliating his veterans. Oscar Isaac, in particular, should delete Singer’s number after being forced to walk around looking a mascot for a condom brand while snarling all his lines in cheesy cartoon fashion.

Singer also gives us the year’s single worst scene, once again involving our friend Michael Fassbender. For the film’s first major destruction set-piece, what better place is there than Auschwitz? As Fassbender crumbled the concentration camp to the ground, all I could wonder is if this script went through a single person before it was shot. I can’t even do Power Rangers: Holocaust Force any justice. Take a look for yourself.

2. Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog

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There’s a pretentious fallacy that film students have in their first year that depressing equals art, even if nothing happens. Todd Solondz seemingly never broke out of that, delivering one of the strangest excuses for an anthology I’ve ever seen. Each of the four stories has at least one moment of utterly nonsensical screenwriting. We have a scene in which Julie Delpy describes to her 8-year-old son a dog in her old neighborhood who would rape the other dog, Ellen Burstyn talking to a bunch of creepy little girl clones of herself and a two minute tracking shot of runny dog shit on the street. Despite having so many threads, it’s a film with no point. I’m sure if you asked Solondz, he would say that is the point. All I know is that I had to spend two hours inside his head and it was utterly yawn inducing. Oh yeah, there’s a cute dog in it. You occasionally see him walking around, or something. Aww.

  1. Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation

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I cannot remember the last time I saw a film as utterly despicable as The Birth of a Nation. Nate Parker, who directs and stars, has turned what could’ve been a stirring tribute to one of slavery’s most iconic figures into an arrogant vanity project. He doesn’t care about the atrocities themselves, those are just set dressing. He wants an excuse to paint himself as a hero, a brave filmmaker who makes himself a martyr for one of the darkest periods in American history. That attempt only comes off as pathetic when you watch his cheap looking, emotionally barren, and exploitative film. It seems a little strange to watch an alleged rapist play out his fantasy of avenging the rape of Nat Turner’s wife. However, then you realize that the rape of Nat Turner’s wife was a fabrication of Parker’s screenplay, at which point I almost vomited. This film made me actively uncomfortable, and not in the way it wanted to. 

Dishonorable Mentions: The Darkness, Norm of The North, Office Christmas Party, Masterminds, The Legend of Tarzan, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Warcraft, Sully, Keanu, Independence Day: Resurgence, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The Top 10 Best Movies Of 2016

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, there are a few movies that I was unable to see as of yet due to release schedules. Those films are Silence, 20th Century Women, Live By Night, and A Monster Calls. If you don’t see them on this list, that’s probably why. With that out of the way, let’s get into the films that made this miserable sack of shit year somewhat bearable.

10. John Carney’s Sing Street

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This was a great year for films about music. Miles Ahead captured the madness that comes with iconography, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stoping parodied the very same thing, and another  movie on this list drenched itself in song and dance. However, none of them quite encapsulated the joy of making music like Sing Street. After all, what guy in high school doesn’t start a band to rope in some ‘gal? The camaraderie that these boys develop as their glitter soaked group of misfits becomes more and more confident is hysterical and authentic. It certainly helps that their music is actually pretty good in its own right. For all of this film’s somewhat exaggerated and romantic themes, these characters remain completely grounded. It’s a quirky and sweet film with just enough edge to keep it from feeling overly precious. For anybody who loves a good time and glam rock, unraveling the riddle of the model is a worthy endeavor indeed.

9. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight

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No film this year was as subtly powerful as Moonlight. Here’s a story in which the turmoil relies mostly on what the main character doesn’t say, as he becomes increasingly trapped by his own identity in a world that doesn’t welcome it. Each of the three segments walks the line between devastating and tender, with hauntingly beautiful cinematography capturing it all. It’s also not every day that three actors of vastly different ages are able to capture the essence of the same character so perfectly. Having amazing support certainly doesn’t hurt, with Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris giving nomination worthy turns as Chiron’s major parental figures. As far as character studies go, Moonlight is as strong as they come. Hopefully, it encourages more stories about LGBTQ + members.

8. Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople

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While I wasn’t a huge fan of Waititi’s previous film, What We Do In The Shadows, this one establishes him as one of the most unique comic voices in filmmaking. He has created a living cartoon here, with jokes of all sorts flying at a mile a minute. It’s not a movie that relies on indulging the actors’ improv skills to draw out the comedy. These jokes are fueled by sharp writing, camerawork, and editing. With that said, at the center of it all is the perfectly calculated relationship between Sam Neill’s rough and tumble survivalist, and Julian Dennison’s wannabe Biggie Smalls. Hopefully Waititi brings all of these qualities to Thor:Ragnarok, as the Marvel Universe currently only has one strong comedy director in James Gunn. I would say it’s the most charming indie comedy of the year, but it finds itself just short of – –

7. Daniels’ Swiss Army Man

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It may be ‘The Farting Corpse Movie’ but that certainly isn’t all there is to it. This is a rich meditation on the human condition that just so happens to have all manner of bodily fluids involved. On the surface, it has the same wildly entertaining cartoonish tone as Hunt. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are masters at using each shot to either convey a theme or set up a joke. However, this film pulls ahead by ultimately having much more fascinating ideas. It’s a story about Paul Dano’s Hank re-teaching himself about life through this isolated journey, with Daniel Radcliffe’s decaying hunk of bones acting as a cypher for all of his ignorance and innocence. Radcliffe in particular is a knockout here, physically committing to this role in a way that few actors would. It’s as heartbreaking and humorous as it is gross, and it’s pretty damn gross.

6. Bryon Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush’s Zootopia

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Who could’ve predicted that a Disney animated film about an animal city would prove to be the most socially relevant film of the year? I’m always really hard on animated movies that treat kids like little idiots, and the success of this film proves that they’re pretty smart after all. Beyond all of the themes, Zootopia is as visually creative as an animated world comes. Every corner of it is full of meticulous sight gags, with each distinct area leading to wonderful moments. The chase through the tiny rat town just may be the most inventive action sequence of the year. We also have Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman creating two insanely lovable characters in Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde. While I was underwhelmed with Moana, Disney proves here that they’re more than capable of pumping out further animated classics.  You may be reluctant to introduce racism, classism, and sexism to your children, but through Zootopia, they just might figure it out on their own.

5. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

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Here’s a film for people who yearn for the days when science fiction was about more than special effects. For once, we have a film about aliens where the goal is to understand them, not shoot them. Watching Amy Adams’  Louise and Jeremy Renner’s Ian slowly dissect the foreign   language of the mysterious space thumbs made for some of the year’s most fascinating moments. However, the movie never forgets to have an emotional core to offset some of the colder intellectual moments. As we slowly find out the inner workings of Louise’s mind, we become more and more devastated by the life she’s had to live. The direction here is also masterful, every shot feels meticulous, and every moment matters. Villeneuve has crafted a cerebral, challenging, and tragic story that demands multiple viewings.

4. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

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Here’s a screenplay so sharp that you just might start bleeding while watching it. Shane Black practically invented the modern buddy cop movie, but has never quite crafted as strong a caper as he does in The Nice Guys. It’s a film drenched in smog, porn, and bullets. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling create in iconic duo here, with Gosling in particular showing off virtuoso comedic chops. His performance as the absent minded if lovable Holland March is equal parts Inspector Gadget and Buster Keaton, with absurdly strong commitment to every single moment. Newcomer Angourie Rice is right behind them as March’s daughter, cementing the finest chemistry between cast members this year.

3. Tim Miller’s Deadpool

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This one is a bit of a personal victory, I’ll admit. I’ve spent the better part of a decade telling people how great a Deadpool movie would be. Back in my Youtube days, a video of my pre-pubescent voice screeching about this film’s potential got very more views than my self-confidence cares to admit. As predicted, this is one of the most unique and energetic comic book movies ever made. Ryan Reynolds finally gets to perfect the character he was born to play, while first-time director Tim Miller shows major chops as he guides us through this absurd story. However, Deadpool doesn’t just succeed on account of blood and dirty words. Somehow, these filmmakers managed to find the genuine humanity in a character who is essentially the comic book equivalent of Daffy Duck. The love story between Reynolds and Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa isn’t a cheap afterthought, it’s the beating heart of the film, keeping the film grounded in some form of reality even when its main character knows that he’s in a movie.

2. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

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This movie came out of nowhere. What at the outset seemed like a cold and artisanal drama ended up being the most brutal, tense, and traumatic nior thriller in years. It’s remarkable that this is only Tom Ford’s second film, as he shows the craftsmanship of a seasoned master with his Hitchcockian direction here. Every moment in this film matters, further contributing to the sense of unease it gives the audience. It’s all sold by 2016’s strongest ensemble cast, with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson turning in career-high work. Johnson, who up to this point has been a fairly weak actor, is particularly stunning in a turn that essentially turns him into a redneck Hannibal Lector.  It’s a film that explores how the devastation of reality can lead to some of the strongest storytelling, and if that’s the case, somebody needs to give Tom Ford a hug as soon as possible.

1. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land

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This movie makes me so happy. I didn’t think it was possible for Damien Chazelle to make a more satisfying film that Whiplash, but here he brings the movie musical roaring back to life by crafting one of the finest ones ever made. Despite being a love letter to a long bygone genre, this isn’t an indulgent film in the slightest. Chazelle does nothing but give to his audience. His musical numbers are lively, catchy and beautifully shot, but aren’t so pervasive to the point where they wear out their welcome. In fact, the majority of them are there to serve a story that centers mostly on musicians. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone create a movie romance that just may become iconic. It’s tender and filmic without delving into uncomfortable idealism. In fact, the bittersweet final five minutes of this movie is one of the most mature endings to a romantic story I’ve seen. La La Land is a pure delight, and in a year that sorely lacked happiness, that is more valuable than ever.

Honorable Mentions: Captain Fantastic, Don’t Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hell Or High Water, Hush, The Witch, Miles Ahead, Star Trek Beyond, The Edge of Seventeen, Manchester By The Sea, Dr Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences

La La Land Review

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While watching Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, a peculiar thought came to mind. “I don’t want this movie to end, ever.” A lot of films are perfectly fine at escapism. We look at the pretty lights and colors, stand up when the credits roll, hang in the aisle when the after credits scene comes on, and then go back to our cars largely unchanged. As such, it feels all the more special when a movie not only helps us escape but provides a place that is almost impossible to come back from. Covered head to toe in blissful reverence for the Hollywood musicals of old, and seasoned with a sharp awareness of modern romance, every frame of La La Land is a labor of love for its audience.

After one of the most spectacular opening musical numbers ever put on film, we’re thrown into a tale of two dreamers. Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) is a barista at a studio backlot coffee shop with aspirations of acting and playwriting. Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) is a classical jazz pianist with a chip on his shoulder and overdue rent checks in his mailbox. After a series of chance encounters, these two starving artists find themselves enraptured in one another. The question is, can both of them chase their wildly ambitious goals while keeping a healthy relationship together.

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Gosling and Stone have charmed our pants off before, but here they’re given a vehicle for an iconic Hollywood romance. Their chemistry explodes off the screen, striking a perfect balance between adorable and authentic. Sebastian and Mia aren’t an exaggerated movie couple going through the motions of a larger than life story. They feel like real people who just so happen to be caught up in a massive spectacle that tells their story. Gosling, who learned all of the complex piano parts played in the film, brings a cutting cynicism to Sebastian. However, the guy never becomes obnoxious. He’s arrogant, sure, but there’s something so inherently charming about his passion for jazz. Stone is an absolute force of nature here, showing the most range out of any role she’s taken on. We can’t help but fall in love with Mia’s drive to succeed, and Stone infuses her with so much earnestness and vulnerability that her successes and failures both hit hard.

Using these two wonderful performers to full effect, writer/director Chazelle emerges as the star of the show. The electric stylistic energy he brought to Whiplash certainly was no fluke. Conducting the music with his constantly moving camera, Chazelle infuses every number with a massive sense of scale. Long stretches go by without a single cut, even as his lens occasionally does more twirling than his dancers. He’s not content to just have his audience watch these songs, he wants us in on the action, practically singing and dancing along with the actors. These are numbers crafted from the ground up for film, not awkwardly transposed from the stage, and it shows. The skillful execution isn’t just left to the set pieces, though, as there is a palpable intimacy and maturity brought to the smaller moments. His screenplay deftly navigates between enchanting courtship and crushing anguish, all while injecting a great deal of humor into the proceedings. There are a couple mild pacing slumps in the second act, but when the film hits its heart-wrenching crescendo in its final moments, all is forgiven.

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As for the songs themselves, Justin Hurwitz has crafted an endlessly listenable group of tunes. They all hover under the show tunes umbrella, but the lyricism is so dynamic that it doesn’t come off as overly theatrical. His jazzy score is also a highlight, adding an extra layer of beauty to the film’s quieter moments. It brings us into a Los Angeles that we certainly know but is more akin to the one advertised to us; elegant, culturally rich and full of possibility.

At the outset, it would be easy to write La La Land off as a diet soda tribute to the song and dance extravaganzas that helped mold the studio system. However, Chazelle has made a film so astonishingly delightful that it manages to join the ranks of those classic predecessors. In many ways, this is the millennial Singin’ In The Rain, a delicious slice of chocolate cake served in a cafe with amazing live music. It also may be the date movie of the decade. There may be films this year with more important things to say, but none of those will leave you with as wide and dumb a smile as this one. To the ones who dream of great cinema, here’s to you.

Rating: A+

The Edge Of Seventeen Review

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Over the years, movies have explored virtually every corner of the all-American high school. We’ve spent time with the nerds, jocks, and hot ‘gals, and watched combinations of them all mate and mingle. It’s been a whole lot of fun, really. However, what we haven’t had yet is a coming of age story that drips with the unfiltered nihilism of somebody utterly agonized by growing pains. Enter The Edge of Seventeen, a cagey character study that enters the world of pent up adolescent rage in the year of our lord, 2016.

We find ourselves in the undeniably frustrating world of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld). She’s spent her whole life having trouble connecting with other people, with the exception of her best friend Krista (Haley Ku Richardson), especially following the death of her father. Not helping matters is the universal popularity of her hunky brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and a tense relationship with her widowed mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). Already unhappy, Nadine has what little peace of mind she does have turned inside out when she discovers that Darian and Krista have begun dating. Thus begins an existential spiral of sorts, as Nadine desperately tries to find something healthy to attach herself to.

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If you’re looking for a story about a plucky young ‘gal who deals with boy trouble with an adorkable sense of humor, this ain’t your movie. Nadine is a whirlwind of negativity, largely unable to cope with the world around her. In the hands of a subpar actress, this could have made for an unwatchable headache of a film. However, we’re fortunate enough to have Hailee Steinfeld, who finally gets a role worthy of her promising breakout performance in True Grit back in 2011. She creates a character who balances cutting wit with honest emotional turmoil. She delivers every line with such intense self-loathing that it feels as if each word out of her mouth strains her more than the last. She also displays a great deal of physical defensiveness, often shaking with rage or recoiling at any form of physical contact. However, underneath all of her pain, Steinfeld shows us shades of the kind person that lies deep inside Nadine. At the end of the day, she’s a sweet girl who is just having an incredibly hard time processing the world around her, and adjusting to the social interactions that she is actually comfortable having.

Steinfeld’s powerhouse turn certainly doesn’t overpower the strong supporting cast. Woody Harrelson shines in every scene he’s in as Nadine’s equally cynical history teacher. These two have several brilliant exchanges of tender depreciation. Seeing a student and teacher act like two old pals on a park bench is something entirely new, and it works like a charm. Hayden Szeto has a low-key charm as Erwin, a kind boy in Nadine’s class who she ultimately comes to bond with. Jenner, Sedgwick, and Richardson also get several wonderful confrontations with Nadine, and they all feel authentic. These aren’t characters with contrived movie issues. They’re characters who have caused each other severe trauma and do their best to work through it despite Nadine’s absolute resistance to any sort of reconciliation.

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This film is the brainchild of writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig (who makes her debut behind the camera here), who does a wonderful job at both ends. Her screenplay does very well at capturing the voice of high school kids without coming across as overtly quirky. If anything, Nadine is a middle finger to the Junos, Olive Penderghasts, and Cady Herrons of the world. Her direction is light on its feet. She keeps things moving at a nimble, energetic pace while giving her actors space to play in the moments that count. Time will tell if this is a case of beginner’s luck, but Craig does prove herself to be a generational voice to watch.

Unfortunately, there is a major problem that ultimately does harm the story’s emotional trajectory. The way that Krista and Darian’s relationship starts to develop proves them both to be fairly despicable people. The way they treat Nadine, somebody who is so close to both of them, is so cold hearted that it makes her fury towards them entirely understandable. The film continuously tries to paint this as a two sided issue, but no matter how many times it tries to sidestep how horrible these two are being, it never becomes less obvious. It’s certainly not completely devoid of nuance, but by the time the film circles back to them with its “the world isn’t about you” arc, the beats that follow don’t feel entirely earned. The rest of the narrative relies so much on our secondhand embarrassment for Nadine, that this very cut and dry element ultimately doesn’t mesh as well as Craig thinks it does.

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The Edge of Seventeen is one of the thematically rich and flat-out hilarious high school movies of the twenty-first century. It’s certainly the best one since 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It might lack the penchant for gut punching that film had, but it more than makes up for that with Nadine’s fascinating anti-charm. Not all of the subplots quite mesh together, and the conclusion does feel slightly contrived. However, following a film that may come across as all too real for many people in this phase of their lives, a little comfort food isn’t the worst thing. Take the family over Thanksgiving, and have a good old time squirming at days gone by together.

Rating: B+