Review: The Favourite

Mark my words! You will not find a more ravishingly scintillating, sumptuous and stellar motion picture than Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest achievement, The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, who are all excellent players in this stunning period piece.

Queen Anne is physically besieged by ailments and mentally subdued by traumatic events in her past, which has taken a toll on her spirit as she reigns over a kingdom at war with France in the 18th Century. Anne is aided by Lady Sarah Malborough, who acts as Anne’s proxy in matters of state. When Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives at the palace for employment, her services catch the eye of Sarah, who takes Abigail under wing, while the new servant girl enacts a power play to return to her status as a prominent Lady using any means she can at her disposal.

Let’s just say that this movie goes places where dramas like Downton Abbey do not and it is done with great aplomb! Yorgos Lanthimos and screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, have crafted a tantalizing, snappy and robust female-driven vehicle about the pursuit of power, ruthlessness, scandal and intrigue. Act by act, The Favourite is dripping with lush, rich storytelling that compliments the visual aesthetic of the picture perfectly! The final act of the film drags a bit but it doesn’t diminish the impact of the picture at all.

Lanthimos has garnered acclaimed from pictures such as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer but I dare say that The Favourite may be head and shoulders the best work he’s done to date! In fact, I dare say that his vision and execution of the film is probably the best I’ve seen this year. His craftsmanship, it’s subtle and he just allows these three major characters, Anne, Sarah and Abigail, to drive the story in this stunning period piece.

Colman, Stone and Weisz are phenomenal in their own right and as an ensemble! You will not forgot their performances when the year is out and the rest of the cast is quite strong including Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, LillyRose Stevens, Jennifer White and the debut of Horatio is one to remember as well.

The technical acumen of The Favourite is breathtaking! Robbie Ryan’s cinematography and camerawork, possibly the best usage of wide shot, panorama, tracking, you will ever see this year! Yorgos Mavropsaridis’ editing feeds off the excellent camerawork and is high caliber in its own right, Fiona Crombie’s production design is stupendous, as is the art direction courtesy of Lynne Huitson, Caroline Barclay, Sarah Bick and Dominic Roberts, Alice Felton’s set decoration is rich, Sandy Powell’s costumes are exquisite, the make-up is striking, the music is tense and full of flavor; the work that went into the production of this film is outstanding!

The Favourite has so much to offer and it practically spoils the viewers with the finest filmmaking 2018 has to offer! In fact, this movie should be the marquis female-powered motion picture of the year and be heavily uttered in any and every conversation as the best film of the year!

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Review: The Front Runner

Hugh Jackman is truly stellar in the scintillating and quick-paced story about one of the greatest political fall from grace in American history called The Front Runner.

The year is 1988. The Democratic Senator from Colorado, Gary Hart is considered the odds-on favorite to win the Presidency; he is innovative, forward-thinking, his message resonates with Americans of all demographic circles, it seems like he is the candidate who can do no wrong until he is spotted entering and exiting his Washington D.C. townhome with a woman who is not his wife. To Hart, this is nothing of concern for anyone but for a man who seeks the highest office in America, it is a concern and a moment of “Monkey Business” transforms into a monkey wrench that will ultimately derail Hart’s train to the White House.

The Front Runner is one of those movies that just comes out very fast right out of the gate; meaning you aren’t given time to know who these players in this story are, they are just there and audiences need to keep up with who is who and what is going on without question. As the film progresses, your attention is held throughout because of this picture’s sharp writing, gripping performances and sweeping execution.

Jason Reitman helms this fascinating adaptation based on Matt Bai’s acclaimed book, and Reitman and Bai are to be credited with the writing of this feature along with Jay Carson and I truly liked the writing of The Front Runner and how the film tackled the subject matter of how the press is a means to keep elected officials accountable for their actions and how there is no privacy when it comes to public figures.

Hugh Jackman delivers an exceptional performance as Gary Hart. Watching him rail against the media and fighting his character’s downward spiral as he tries to keep up the impossible task of keeping his private life private is a riveting ordeal that audiences should invest in. Vera Farmiga as Lee Hart and J.K. Simmons as Bill Dixon are just as great as Jackman and the rest of the cast including Alfred Molina, Mark O’Brien, Kaitlyn Dever, RJ Brown, Chris Coy, Alex Karpovsky, Oliver Cooper, Ari Graynor, Spencer Garrett, Bill Burr, Bob Martindale, Jenna Kanell and Sara Paxton are fine.

I thought Eric Steelberg’s cinematography was well-executed, Rob Simonsen’s music is decent, Stefan Grube’s editing is mediocre, Steve Saklad’s production design is okay, Cameron Beasley’s art direction is fine, Melinda Sanders’ set decoration is very good and the costume designs by Danny Glicker are well done as well. Technically, The Front Runner gets by on doing enough to the right degree; nothing too flashy but satisfying.

If you are planning to see this movie just to see Hugh Jackman flex his acting muscles, I think you’re going to get more than you bargained for. When it comes to The Front Runner, there is plenty to be impressed with and I think that what will truly make a mark on audiences in how relevant the themes of scandal in the political system echo to this day.

Review: Green Book

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali strike a fine chord as a tandem headlining the recently released Green Book, which struck me as very watered down and dull for wholesome entertainment.

The picture is adapted from the real life friendship built between an Italian-American night-club bouncer named “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, portrayed by Mortensen, and prominent African-American concert pianist Doctor Don Shirley, who is portrayed by Ali. Shirley hires Tony’s, well let’s just call them, “services” as a driver and the two travel across the country from New York to the Deep South for two months for Dr. Shirley’s concert tour and the trip is an eye-opening experience for both gentlemen as they witness how different the issues of race and stereotyping are treated in this country.

Director Peter Farrelly with his co-writers Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie spin a good yarn and it is entertaining but outside of the exemplary portrayals from the leading men, it’s like “been there, done this”. I’m saying anyone who has seen their share of films that deal with racism and stereotyping in America during the 1960s, they come out of Green Book knowing that they’ve seen better.

I believe what really undercut the appeal for this film for me was the writing. It’s interesting to see how these two men from different backgrounds found common ground in a very divisive time in our history but the material was treated with kid gloves. We get a few laughs in the story, but it’s so watered down it leaves a weak taste in my mouth; this is a very underwhelming picture that that is kept afloat by Mortensen and Ali.

It should go without saying that the major selling points for Green Book are undoubtedly the performances of Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. Their collective mannerisms, their speaking patterns, the habits of the men they are portraying whether Ali is on the piano or Mortensen is scarfing down fried chicken or pizza, I definitely believe they should be in discussion for two of the most excellent performances of 2018. They could be Awards Season contenders in my opinion.

The rest of the cast are alright at best. Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco, Mike Hatton, Dimeter D. Marinov, P.J. Byrne, Joe Cortese, Von Lewis, Don Stark, Quinn Duffy, all of the players in this film are given relatively little screen time but they all make their mark as best they can given this story is told from the perspective of Vallelanga and Shirley.

Technically, this is a rather tame picture, which is to say that this is good enough to remember but hardly anything to truly astound audiences. Kris Bowers’ music is good to fill the background of the film, Sean Porter’s cinematography is decent, Patrick J. Don Vito’s editing is fine, Tim Galvin’s production design is satisfactory, Scott Plauche’s art direction is fair, Selena van den Brink’s set decoration is very good as is the costumes courtesy of Betsy Heimann.

When it comes to Green Book, all you get is the main attraction of the two leading performances. Everything else is bland, from the writing to the overall execution.

Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet left me positively aglow! This highly anticipated feature is purely a beautiful and inventive follow-up to the highly acclaimed 2012 animated hit from Walt Disney Pictures.

In order to save Sugar Rush, the most popular game in Mr. Litwak’s arcade, Wreck-it Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz embark on a wild adventure into uncharted territory: the internet, by way of a new wi-fi router installed by Litwak himself. Ralph and Vanellope leave the world of the arcade behind and embark on an eye-opening and dazzling adventure in the world wide web to save Vanellope’s game.

I was so excited to see this movie and while I was watching it, I couldn’t stop smiling throughout. I loved Ralph Breaks the Internet as much as I loved Wreck-it Ralph six years ago because this was not only a gorgeous animated spectacle but it was a thoroughly creative, smart and just plain fun picture! What’s really amazing is that as you sit through this movie, it doesn’t feel like the first movie happened six years ago; it’s still so lively and entertaining and the plot doesn’t skip a beat in the slightest and it’s amazing to behold.

Writer/directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore along with Pamela Ribon, Jim Reardon and Josie Trinidad went above and beyond Ralph’s catchphrase of “I’m gonna wreck it”; they crushed it and they deserve the highest of praise for crafting a story a very layered and cohesive story that melds so many concepts of their depiction of the internet, Disney princesses, the dark web, spam; every detail that went into the crafting and assembly of the story of this picture is ingenious and I loved everything that went into this movie. Job well done to this creative team of storytellers!

The vocal talents behind these characters were damn near perfect starting from the holdovers from the first feature including John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer and Ed O’Neill but the infusion of new voices behind these new characters were incredible from Gal Gadot, Teraji P. Henson and Alan Tudyk and surprises from the voice talents Vin Diesel, Anthony Daniels, Brad Garrett, Tim Allen, Corey Burton and of course seeing the cadre of Disney Princesses and the voices behind them from Jodi Benson, Auli’i Cravalho, Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Linda Larkin, Mandy Moore, Ming Na-Wen, Anika Noni-Rose etc. was an utter delight.

Nathan Werner’s cinematography was great, Henry Jackman’s music was equally great, Jeremy Milton’s editing could not be more excellent, Ami Thompson and Matthias Lechner’s art direction was superb, Cory Loftis production design is damn near picture perfect, visually, technically, Ralph Breaks the Internet is practically impeccable in all phases!

2018 is shaping up to be a marquis year for animated features and Ralph Breaks the Internet certainly makes a compelling case for being ranked one of, if not the, absolute best of the year. It’s vibrant, refreshing, heartwarming and delivers on everything you could ask for and more if you loved Wreck-it Ralph. An absolute must-see in my opinion!

Review: Widows

Widows is that type of movie where you are just riveted to the point where you forget to breathe! Steve McQueen, Viola Davis, Gillian Flynn are the names you need to remember when it comes to crediting this utter knockout of a movie!

Davis plays Veronica Rawlings, the widow of a notorious Chicago thief Harry Rawlings, played by Liam Neeson, who went up in ball of fire with his crew after pilfering $2 million from a promising alderman candidate named Jamal Manning, played by Bryan Tyree Henry. Manning wants his money back and he has put Veronica on a deadline, thus spurring Veronica into action and recruits the widows of Harry’s crew, played by Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki, to pull off a job that can not only square off her debt to Manning but keep the widows alive for the future, both financially and literally.

Widows is damn good! I’m talking about “bare-knuckle right to the jugular, hit you so hard, you lose consciousness” type of damn good! Steve McQueen has certainly crafted a picture that is so unapologetically in your face with real-world grit, detail, a twist that floor you, but the tension in this film? There are moments when the drama skyrockets so fast and so high, your breath is stolen away and my hat is off to McQueen one of the most invigorating movies of 2018!

Credit for the success of this picture must be shared equally between McQueen and Gillian Flynn. This film and McQueen’s superb direction feed off McQueen and Flynn’s intricately layered and thoroughly well-structured screenplay adapted from Lynda La Plante’s novel; there isn’t a moment where I felt that someone was going to get shot. That is how much this film is dripping with pure tension and suspense!

Viola Davis fires on all cylinders and the cast doesn’t mess around at all! Rodriguez, Debicki, Henry, Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya is especially outstanding, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Carrie Coon, Cynthia Erivo, Garret Dilahunt, Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo this is one of the best acting ensembles of the year across the board!

Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography definitely should be in the conversation as some of the best in the year, Joe Walker’s editing is excellent, Hans Zimmer’s score is outstanding as always, Adam Stockhausen’s production design is crisp, the art direction by Gregory S. Hooper and Heather Ratliff is fantastic, Elizabeth Keenan’s set decoration is clever and ingenious, the costumes by Jenny Eager certainly catch your eye; the level of detail that went into the production of this picture is certainly among 2018’s best to date.

I just knew that a movie featuring the great Viola Davis, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and the author/screenwriter behind Gone Girl would give audiences an outstanding picture but Widows is a film that blows the roof off whatever expectations you have going in! This heist thriller is a knockout, powered by tension and the clout of these incredible, strong women characters! Bravo!

Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Wands at the ready! Audiences are walking into a spirited, fantastical, intense and I will say overloaded installment in the newest adventure from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World dubbed Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them picks up a few months after notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, is captured, only to escape back to Europe to enact his grand design to place those of magical blood atop the hierarchy of the non-magical community. Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, is recruited by one of his old professors at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, played by Jude Law, to find Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller, and shield him from the dark wizard and his sinister intentions.

As a long-time admirer of the Harry Potter series, I’ve waited to see this movie for a long time and I can say that I was satisfied with the finished product that is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald but this movie could have been streamlined with more finesse from writer J.K. Rowling.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has unexpected twists, surprising tie-ins to the Harry Potter series, and adventure and excitement galore but whilst I enjoyed the film, I felt that the film was more novel than cinema; that is to say that the story jumps from setting to setting and subplot to subplot in a way that the Harry Potter books used to rather than stay grounded in the central action of the story.

Director David Yates, once again is up to the challenge of shaping and giving life and the right sense of scope to the magical realm Rowling has created and I can say that I liked the finished product, but one can definitely tell that this movie tries to do so much and it feels a touch different from the first picture; in the first film Newt’s beasts were at the forefront of the story with Grindelwald in the background and now that there is a reversal in that, the feel of the film is different but it does enough to hook audiences into what is supposed to happen next.

This cast is deep and very good. It’s great to see Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Allison Sudol, Ezra Miller back in these roles again and the newcomers including Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Victoria Yeates, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam and Brontos Jodorowosky are all superb.

Phillipe Rousselot’s cinematography is great, James Newton Howard’s music hits every note, Mark Day’s editing is hindered by the film bouncing between subplots but it is effective, Stuart Craig’s production design is outstanding, the art direction is splendid, the visual effects are dynamite, Anna Pinnock’s set decoration is rich and Colleen Atwood’s costumes are marvelous as always.

We’re two films into J.K. Rowling’s prequel series and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has certainly done more than enough to get me on board to find out what lies in store for Newt Scamander, Albus Dumbledore, Grindelwald, and the rest of these incredible characters going forward.

Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Claire Foy is the latest actress to tackle the role of punk-hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a drudging and woefully unexciting Dragon Tattoo story adapted from materials by Steig Larsson and David Lagercrantz. Foy herself does a good job as the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but the film is weighed down by shoddy camerawork, pacing problems and hit-and-miss execution from director Fede Alvarez.

Lisbeth is approached by a man named Balder, who conceived a computer program capable of giving a single individual sole control of every missile launch protocol and program on the planet. Balder seeks Lisbeth’s aid and talents to steal it from the Americans and destroy it but finds herself ensnared in a tangled web of corrupt government officials, cyber-spies and mercenaries orchestrated by Lisbeth’s long lost sister Camilla.

There were times when I felt this movie didn’t know what it was or what it wanted to be. The plot and how this movie set itself up, felt as though it was derived from a James Bond movie and I wasn’t sure if that was what Alvarez wanted to do with this movie but the film just lacked a true sense of identity, especially since we’re all a few years removed from David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lisbeth Salander is a strong female protagonist and this movie makes a sincere effort to showcase her strength, intelligence and independence and I credit Alvarez, Jay Basu and Steven Knight for adapting that strength and intelligence from Lagercrantz’s novel and into this movie and again, Claire Foy does a fine job with the character. The problem is that there were times where I didn’t believe that this plot was out of place with this character; maybe that is an issue when it comes to the book, but I just felt as though the movie is out of step with the strengths of that character.

The cast is alright. Foy does a good job, as does Lakeith Stanfield, Sverrir Gudnason, Stephen Merchant and Sylvia Hoeks but the rest of the cast is reduced to just background. If anything, you go see this movie if you are a fan of Claire Foy.

Technically, this movie is hit-or-miss for the most part. Pedro Luque’s cinematography and camerawork is probably the worst I’ve seen all year. The use of Steadicam and the tracking shots are painful to watch in places because the camerawork is so unbalanced and shaky and it hurts the appeal of the film.

Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing makes up for the bad camerawork though, if that is any consolation. Roque Baños’ music is forgettable, Eve Stewart’s production design is mediocre, the art direction fades into the background, the set decoration is okay, Carlos Rosario’s costumes are decent; there are things to like when it comes to the technical aspects of The Girl in the Spider’s Web but that is countered by significant flaws in its design.

It was nice seeing Lisbeth Salander return to the big screen but I don’t believe The Girl in the Spider’s Web was the right vehicle for her to make her comeback.