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An unconventional edge-of-your-seat thriller that never disappoints
Searching is a mystery film co-written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty. Starring John Cho and Debra Messing, it is an unconventional edge-of-your-seat thriller that never disappoints.
In San Jose, California, David Kim (John Cho) has a strained relationship with his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) ever since her mother Pam passed away from leukaemia two years prior. One day, Margot goes missing and David desperately searches through her laptop for clues as to what could have caused her disappearance. After finding nothing helpful for over 36 hours, David files a missing persons report and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to assist him in tracking down Margot's last whereabouts.
Suspenseful and well-made, Searching near-perfectly makes the most of its simple, low-budget (US$1 Million) premise to become one of the best mystery thriller films in years. It is just so rare for a film of this type to elicit such an amount of tension in the viewer and not be seen as nothing more than a cheap marketing stunt, which is often what happens nowadays. Each time it feels like the mystery has been solved, the film will often throw in a red herring to keep the case going until the real answers become clear. There's no cheating either, all of the clues are there. In a rather unorthodox move, the film is told entirely from the perspective of computer screens, iPhones, and YouTube clips, but this never once feels gimmicky or awkward thanks to the creative direction of newcomer Aneesh Chaganty. Instead, we are given a clever commentary of how modern technology has changed the way society view news stories and the way in which social media spreads it. John Cho does a brilliant job holding the film with his convincing performance as a desperate father wanting to reunite with his daughter, and Debra Messing is also worth mentioning as the detective doing everything she can to solve the case.
I rate it 8.5/10
Creed II (2018)
A solid follow-up to its predecessor and a great boxing film in general
Creed II (a.k.a. Rocky VIII) is the sequel to 2015's Creed and the eighth installment in the Rocky film franchise. Starring Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and Dolph Lundgren, it is a solid follow-up to its predecessor and a great boxing film in general.
Three years after the events of the previous film, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) has won several boxing matches to become the World Heavyweight Champion. However, Adonis' celebration is short lived as Viktor Drago (Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), steps forward to challenge him. Despite the refusal of support from his trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Adonis decides to accept the challenge as a means to get revenge against Viktor's father Ivan for killing his father 33 years prior.
Still as feel-good as the Rocky films as can get, Creed II matches its predecessor in just about every way possible. Michael B Jordan is once again fantastic in the title role and he does a superb job holding the viewer's attention throughout the story. His scenes with Tessa Thompson were so touching and added a necessary degree of sweetness to the film that was often needed. Sylvester Stallone is also great as the elderly Rocky Balboa, and despite being limited to a supporting role, he still manages to have a memorable role in the story, especially when seeing him go eye-to-eye with his old nemesis Ivan Drago. In terms of plot, the film is an amalgamation of Rocky III and Rocky IV and while some outcomes were fairly predictable, there are still the occasional surprises to keep the audience on their toes. The only major complaint is that Viktor Drago's character wasn't developed as well as he should have been. There was only really one important scene of dialogue with him and his father but for the most part it just seemed like the only reason he was in the film was to be used as vessel for his father to channel his grudge against Rocky in the boxing ring. Overall, this is a solid sequel and a worthy eighth film featuring the character of Rocky Balboa and it would certainly be interesting to see where the franchise goes from here.
I rate it 8.5/10
Leave No Trace (2018)
A touching father-daughter story about finding one's place in the world
Leave No Trace is a drama film starring Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie based on the novel "My Abandonment" by Peter Rock. Directed and co-written by Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), it is a touching father-daughter story about finding one's place in the world.
In a public forest on the outskirts of Portland, Oregan, Iraq War veteran Will (Ben Foster) lives with his young teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in a small isolated camp. One day, the two are discovered and are forced to move into a social services home. While Tom enjoys interacting with the local kids, Will, who suffers from PTSD, struggles to integrate with the other people and decides that it is best for the two of them to continue on looking for a more idyllic place to live.
Well acted and well shot, Leave No Trace successfully explores the theme of belonging and the importance of family in a clever and nuanced fashion. Both Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie were perfectly cast as Will and Tom, respectively. Each of their scenes felt like we were watching a real father and daughter trying to survive what life was throwing at them and the steps they each took to overcome it. Director Debra Granik uses creative cinematography to emphasise the parallels of the natural forest with the artificial suburban neighbourhood. In a way, these two settings almost become characters of their own. The film leaves an impression on the audience not with heavy dialogue or action scenes, but instead with a non-sensationalistic and respectable journey into the minds of two completely different people and the ways that they see life.
I rate it 8/10
The Meg (2018)
A satisfactory B-movie that never bores its audience
The Meg is an action thriller movie based on the book "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror" by Steve Alten. Starring Jason Statham and directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure), it is a satisfactory B-movie that never bores its audience.
Five years after surviving an attack from what he claimed to be a giant prehistoric shark, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is recruited by a group of scientists to help rescue some of their trapped members from a sunken submarine. Upon discovering them at the bottom of the ocean, Jonas realises his claims were correct, as a 75 foot Megalodon shark, previously thought to be extinct, was responsible for the unfortunate fate of the scientists in their submersible.
Fast paced and self aware, The Meg is fun popcorn entertainment that rarely wanes in its enjoyment factor. The plot is of course incredibly farfetched and silly but it does manage to elevate itself above the usual killer shark shlock like the Sharknado films and Deep Blue Sea. Thankfully, the film's main characters are given some decent development so that they are not simply chum for the shark to eat. Jason Statham once again plays himself - the tough British action hero, and naturally that's where most of the film's fun comes from. One noticeable gripe I had with this film was that it seems to have been tailored to meet the demands of Chinese audiences, likely to bring in a bigger box office draw. There were times where the film was emphasising Chinese settings that had little to no bearing on the plot. This became distracting at times and could have been edited out without changing too much of the film's narrative flow. Overall, The Meg is still a reasonable time passer if killer shark movies are one's guilty pleasure.
I rate it 6/10
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
A weird capitalist satire that is destined to become a cult classic in a matter of years
Sorry To Bother You is a surreal comedy film written and directed by rapper Boots Riley. Starring Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role, it is easily the most bizarre but entertaining film of 2018.
In Oakland, California, young African American man Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job as a telemarketer to help pay off some debts. While there, Cash learns from one of his co-workers that to be successful in his line of work, he needs to use a "White voice" when talking with customers over the phone. After adopting his own "White voice", Cash soon starts to reap the benefits and is swiftly promoted, and after doing so, strange things begin to occur.
Always revelling in its own quirkiness, Sorry To Bother You is a weird capitalist satire that is destined to become a cult classic in a matter of years. Its unique and fresh approach to its social commentary may be off-putting to some, but it is certainly worth watching thanks in part to the film's brisk pace and tongue-in-cheek humour. Lakeith Stanfield is the perfect straight man in the surreal world this film has created and his reactions to everything around him brilliantly encapsulate the surprises the plot throws at not only him, but the audience as well. Writer-director Boots Riley has proven himself as a competent filmmaker and definitely has me looking forward to any future projects he may be working on.
I rate it 7.5/10
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
A solid and well-told biography of the famous singer brought to life by a spectacular performance from Malek
Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic about the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Starring Mr. Robot's Rami Malek in the lead role, it is a solid and well-told biography of the famous singer brought to life by a spectacular performance from Malek.
In 1970, young Pakistani British Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara (Rami Malek) aspires to be a successful singer/songwriter. One day, Freddie approaches the band "Smile" after their lead singer quits and asks to replace him. Despite their reservations, the band recruits Freddie and begin to start performing with him across various pubs and colleges in London. One year later, the band has become world famous after Freddie decides to change the group's name to "Queen" and his own name to "Freddie Mercury".
Energetic and touching at times, Bohemian Rhapsody does a superb job of showcasing how one extremely talented yet imperfect man helped transform a small London band into one of the hugest and best-selling rock groups in history. Rami Malek's performance as Freddie is simply flawless, even more so than what Sacha Baron Cohen could have ever been. Malek perfectly embodies and emits just the right amount of swagger and flamboyance Freddie was best known for beyond simply physically resembling him. There were even times where he indistinguishable from the real man. The music, as to be expected, was amazing, and being a longtime fan of Queen, I had to resist the urge to sing out loud in a cinema full of people. The film's depiction of the band's 1985 LIVE AID performance at Wembley Stadium is so realistic one would swear they were actually in the audience. While some purists may complain that the film follows the typical biopic formula and does little to derive from it, I feel that this does not diminish the overall entertainment quality too much and I recommend filmgoers see it on their own terms and decide for themselves.
I rate it 8.5/10
A hypnotic fever dream of nightmarish proportions propelled by a reliably crazy performance from Nicolas Cage
Mandy is an action horror film co-written and directed by Panos Cosmatos. Starring Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough, it is a hypnotic fever dream of nightmarish proportions propelled by a reliably crazy performance from Cage.
In 1983, reclusive couple Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live in seclusion in the Shadow Mountains of California. One day, Mandy inadvertently encounters the Children of the New Dawn, a deranged cult of hippies who take a liking to Mandy and later arrange for her to be kidnapped, sending Red into an unrelenting and sadistic rage.
Brutal, shocking, and beautifully shot, Mandy unashamedly thrives on its unique premise from beginning to end. The film appears to have been heavily influenced by the work of David Lynch, with its surreal imagery and inventive cinematography, further emphasising the overall dream-like experience. Nicolas Cage is his usual over-the-top self and he demonstrates this several times during the film's second half. This is certainly not for everyone, but fans of surreal artsy films, graphic violence, and Nicolas Cage will find plenty to enjoy.
I rate it 7/10
A Star Is Born (2018)
Flawlessly showcases the immense talent of its two leads in both their acting and music
A Star Is Born is a romantic drama film based on the 1937 film of the same name. Starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, it flawlessly showcases the immense talent of its two leads in both their acting and music.
After another successful concert, famous country singer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) stops by a bar for a drink where he witnesses a performance from Ally (Lady Gaga), a young waitress who dreams of becoming a singer-songwriter. Impressed by her musical abilities, Jackson decides to take Ally under his wing to help her rise up in the music industry, despite battling his own problems with drugs and alcohol.
Anchored by its two captivating leads and its music, A Star Is Born may well go down as one of the greatest film remakes of all time. Every song is memorable and thanks to the brilliant sound design, the audience constantly feels like they are at a real concert whenever a track is played. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have perfect on-screen chemistry. It is sheer joy to watch them sing together and act off one another throughout the film. Despite her glamorous and artsy image, Lady Gaga's outstanding performance as Ally is raw, down-to-earth, and should be highly relatable to any up-and-coming musician who may be watching, which, in turn, perfectly shows her versatility as both a singer and an actress. Bradley Cooper (who directed, co-wrote, and produced the film as well) was also fantastic as Jackson and in addition to singing his own songs, he leaves just as much of an impression as Lady Gaga, but never so much that it feels as though he is overshadowing her. This is a remake for the ages and most certainly needs to be experienced on the big screen in surround sound.
I rate it a solid 9/10
First Man (2018)
A beautifully told and respectable portrait of the famous astronaut's life and the significance of his contribution to human history
First Man is a historical biographical drama film based on the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land). Starring Ryan Gosling in the lead role, it paints a beautifully told and respectable portrait of the famous astronaut's life and the significance of his contribution to human history.
In the 1960s, the space race between the USA and the USSR is at its peak, with the latter having a clear lead over the former. In attempt to outdo the Soviets, the United States plans a manned mission to the moon, with astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) being the first to set foot on the lunar surface. Despite the deep personal losses he has endured throughout his training and in his home life, Armstrong agrees to the mission, knowing full well that he may not come back alive.
Superbly directed and acted, the film is less a story about the space race itself and more about the struggles and perseverance of titular first man. Ryan Gosling gives what could very well be the performance of his career. His nuanced depiction of Neil Armstrong shows the audience how much the astronaut has to lose if he does not survive such a monumental journey. Claire Foy is also worth noting as Armstrong's first wife Janet. Her concern and worry for her husband's safe return from the moon were brilliantly represented during the film's more emotional scenes. Director Damien Chazelle demonstrates his talent for creative cinematography, showing the vastness of space and how small and insignificant Earth is in comparison. Films like this truly emphasise how much mankind has accomplished in the short amount of time we have existed and further highlight how much more is needed to be done.
I rate it a solid 9/10
A strange anomaly of a film that feels like it is from another generation altogether
Venom is a superhero film based on the Marvel Spider-Man villain of the same name. Starring Tom Hardy in the title role, it is a strange anomaly of a film that feels like it is from another generation altogether.
In San Francisco, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a former investigative journalist, comes into contact with an alien symbiote that transforms him into a monstrous beast and gives him superhuman abilities. The beast calls itself "Venom" and tells Eddie that in order to survive on Earth, it needs to use him as its host. After discovering he is being pursued by a dangerous corporation, Eddie decides to ally with Venom to fend off the attackers.
Tonally inept and quite bizarre, Venom revels in its campiness and its weird entertainment factor. Every terrible moment is often cancelled out by something so ridiculously fun that it is difficult not to be entertained by it, and in turn, for every great moment there is usually something stupid to undo it, effectively bringing some kind of warped balance to the entire viewing experience. Tom Hardy's performance in the lead role garners somewhat mixed reactions. As Eddie he plays it seriously but the moment he becomes Venom, he hams it up to absurd levels, especially with the voice he uses once he has transformed. The film does, however, nail Venom's personality traits and super abilities, in addition to showcasing some cheesy CGI effects on his character model. Overall, Venom could be seen from two different perspectives, the first being that it is a somewhat satirical take on some of the ridiculous superhero films of the mid 2000s (think Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four, Daredevil), and the second being that it is yet another modern comic-based misfire from Sony Pictures, further proving that they should just give back the character rights to Marvel. Which of the two is entirely up to the viewer.
I rate it 5.5/10
A fun character-driven alien invasion film with a unique Aussie twist
Occupation is an Australian sci-fi action film written and directed by Luke Sparke. Starring Temuera Morrison and Felix Williamson, it is a fun character-driven alien invasion film with a unique Aussie twist.
After a large group of alien spaceships attack a small Australian country town, an unlikely group of locals, led by Peter Bartlett (Temuera Morrison), band together to try and survive the onslaught. Over time, the group work hard to figure out the aliens' weaknesses and why they are invading Earth in the first place.
While not perfect by any means, Occupation delivers the right amount of enjoyment one would expect from a film involving a hostile alien invasion. It's so rare to see an Australian film with such high production values and practical special effects, although there is the occasional scene of cringeworthy CGI. The aliens are smart and don't make stupid decisions, which helps add a sense of danger when the humans are fighting back against them. Also, I was surprised at how much I ended up caring for some of the main human cast, likely due to the fact that each one is given a distinct personality and aren't just boring cannon fodder for the aliens to mow down. However, some of the acting was quite poor in some scenes, with line-delivery on par with that of Neighbours or Home and Away. For the most part, this film feels as though actual effort and care went into making it and isn't merely some throwaway project just to launch an up-and-coming director's career.
I rate it 6.5/10
Christopher Robin (2018)
A charming and loveable tale about reconnecting with one's inner child
Christopher Robin is a comedy drama film directed by Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, World War Z, Finding Neverland) based on the Winnie the Pooh characters by A. A. Milne. Starring Ewan McGregor in the title role, it is a charming and loveable tale about reconnecting with one's inner child.
Several years after leaving his childhood animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is now married, has a young daughter, and busily works at a major luggage company in London. One day, Christopher encounters his old stuffed bear Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), who has lost his other friends and desperately needs help in finding them. Despite mounting pressure from his job, Christopher reluctantly helps Pooh in relocating his friends and in doing so, rediscovers what it is like to be young again.
With its likeable cast and simple premise, Christopher Robin is a fine film that all ages should enjoy and a must-see for anyone who enjoyed A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories as a child. Ewan McGregor is simply marvellous as the grown up Christopher Robin, and he certainly seems to be enjoying reliving his childhood just as much as the character he is playing. However, the commendable performances from voice cast, in particular Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger), are worth noting as well. It takes talent to convey such realistic emotion by means of only their voice and I feel that they deserve just as much recognition as the live-action cast. The film's only real drawback was its predictability. There are several instances where the obvious outcome always ends up occurring but considering this is a film for all ages, it is not too bothersome in the end.
I rate it 7.5/10
The Predator (2018)
A mediocre entry in the series that has little that has not been seen before
The Predator is the fourth installment in the Predator franchise (sixth if one were to count the Alien Vs. Predator films). Directed and co-written by Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys), it is a mediocre entry in the series that has little that has not been seen before.
In a small American town, Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay), a young autistic boy, accidentally activates an otherworldly device which causes an advanced and dangerous alien race known as the Predators to return to Earth. In response to this, an elite team of former soldiers, led by Rory's father Quinn (Boyd Holbrook), are sent out to try and stop them before it's too late.
While it does have its fair share of fast-paced action and some solid practical effects, The Predator does not do enough to elevate itself above being merely average at best. Supporting characters are still seen doing illogical and questionable things which predictably makes them nothing more than cannon fodder for the Predators. Most of the comic relief falls flat and attempts to showcase the soldiers as overly tough and masculine seem forced and dated, much better suited for the 80s rather than in today's world. Overall, The Predator unfortunately proves that the franchise peaked far too early and there is not much more that it can offer movie-going audiences.
I rate it 5/10
A fun and solidly paced revenge story
Upgrade is a sci-fi action film written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious). Starring Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) in the lead role, it's a fun and solidly paced revenge story, despite featuring an obviously familiar and recycled premise.
In the not-too-distant future, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), a simple suburban mechanic, is involved in a self-driving car crash by a group of criminals who murder his wife and leave him for dead as a quadriplegic. At the request of a world famous technological inventor, Grey has a special computer chip called STEM implanted into his spine to grant him the ability to control his limbs once again. Intent on bringing the murdering criminals to justice, Grey becomes a vigilante and soon discovers that STEM can do a great deal more than merely help him to walk.
While it often treads clichéd storytelling territory, Upgrade benefits greatly from its occasional tongue-in-cheek humour and its John Wick-style action scenes and fight choreography. The film's social commentary on humanity's over-reliance on technology is cleverly woven throughout the plot and Grey's technophobic attitude reflects the viewpoint older generations must have when attempting to grow accustomed to inevitable changing ways. Much like writer/director Leigh Whannell's Saw films, Upgrade does have its fair share of strong blood and gore, which could prove off-putting to unsuspecting audiences. Essentially, the film is in the same vein as Robocop and The Six Million Dollar Man, due to the premise of rebuilding a mortally wounded person with cybernetic enhancements, although it appears to be more in line with the former due to the strong violence and satirical elements.
I rate it 7.5/10
Coup d'Etat (2017)
A mediocre farce about fitting in at school with little to recommend
Dear Dictator is a comedy film written and directed by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse. Starring Michael Caine and Odeya Rush, it is a mediocre farce about fitting in at school with little to recommend.
Tatiana Mills (Odeya Rush), a rebellious American girl, is given an assignment in her social studies class in high school to write a letter to a famous figure that she admires. Tatiana decides to write to Anton Vincent (Michael Caine), an infamous long-reigning island nation dictator, and the two soon become pen pals, much to the concern of her teacher Mr. Spines (Jason Biggs). After being deposed in a coup, Anton sneaks into America to hide out at Tatiana's suburban home, where the two form a grandfather-granddaughter relationship with one another.
Despite some nice familial chemistry between Odeya Rush and Michael Caine and the occasional clever comparison between a rebellion in high school and a rebellion in seizing political control, the humour in this film frequently falls flat. There are several instances where a scene could have been funny but instead the writers opt for something low brow and gross. The film's biggest problem, however, is how dated the overall concept feels. The idea of writing paper letters to pen pals in the late 2010s seems highly archaic in the digital age of the internet. I cannot help but think that this film would have fared better if it was released 15 to 20 years ago, before online communication became as commonplace it is today. This is all likely due to the fact that the film's script was apparently written all the way back in 2006, and even by that time the concept would have still felt outdated.
I rate it 5/10
Last Flag Flying (2017)
A solemn and occasionally humorous story of three reunited friends and their ways of dealing with the effects of PTSD
Last Flag Flying is a comedy-drama film directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood, School of Rock) and based on the novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan. Starring Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston, and Lawrence Fishburne in the lead roles, it is a solemn and occasionally humorous story of three reunited friends and their ways of dealing with the effects of PTSD.
In 2003, Doc (Steve Carrell), a Vietnam War veteren, meets up with his fellow soldiers Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Lawrence Fishburne). Doc reveals that his only son has been recently killed in the Iraq War and that would like the two of them to accompany him in bringing the body home for a proper burial. Sal accepts right away but Mueller is reluctant due to his new lifestyle as a clean-cut Reverend, but after some persuasion by his wife, the two join Doc in his lengthy journey back home.
Well-acted and carefully paced, Last Flag Flying is a respectable film about the effects of war on those who fought in it without the need to actually show the war itself. Each of the three lead actors did a fine job, in particular Bryan Cranston, who is responsible for some much needed comic relief during the film's more depressing moments. The film's simple plot allows for some engaging dialogue between the three friends to be real cause for holding the viewer's attention and, as a result, we are given an interesting look into the mindset of each of the three veterans and how they each cope with the post-war trauma, whether it's through light-hearted comedy or by following Christian principles laid out in the Bible.
I rate it 7/10
A confrontational and highly effective "Joint" by the veteran director
BlacKkKlansman is a biographical drama film co-written and directed by Spike Lee. Based on the non-fiction book "Black Klansman" by Ron Stallworth, it is a confrontational and highly effective "Joint" by the veteran director.
In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is hired as the first African-American detective at a Colorado Springs police department. Initially given menial tasks around the police station, John decides to branch out and requests to work as an undercover agent at a local Ku Klux Klan rally. Fully aware that the KKK would never accept a black man into their organisation, John suggests the idea of using his co-worker, white Jewish police officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to pretend to be him when meeting with other Klan members in person, while still maintaining verbal contact over the phone.
As ingenious as it is aggressive, BlacKkKlansman is easily one of Spike Lee's best films in years and a solid commentary on society's views on racism in America. As to be expected, Lee does not hold back in showcasing the racial epithets and slang used against African Americans. However, he also chooses to juxtapose this with an extreme depiction of black nationalism in certain scenes, and this brings something of a balance to the overall story and makes it seem less biased. The acting between the two leads John David Washington (Denzel Washington's son) and Adam Driver is fantastic and it helps to make what may have been considered a farfetched plot had it not been a true story seem so believable. If one can stomach some of the more extreme scenes of racism and injustice, then this "Joint" is certainly worth the time to watch and discuss afterwards.
I rate it 8.5/10
Si shi qing chun (2018)
A beautifully melancholic look into the lives of three distinct individuals.
Flavors of Youth is an anthology anime drama film. Produced by CoMix Wave Films (Your Name, 5 Centimeters Per Second), it is a beautifully melancholic look into the lives of three distinct individuals.
The film is told in three chapters, similar to that of 5 Centimeters Per Second. Chapter one, "The Rice Noodles," focuses on a young man with a nostalgic fondness for noodle soup in Beijing. Chapter two, "A Little Fashion Show", is about two sisters, one a fashion model and one a fashion designer, the former of whom's career gets in the way of their time together. Chapter three, "Love in Shanghai", concerns a young architect regretting not confessing his true feelings to a girl he knew in his childhood.
Showcasing gorgeous animation and artwork, Flavors of Youth is a carefully told and often touching collection of stories about living in the moment and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Each individual protagonist lends themselves to their story in their own unique way, but never so much that the overall tone of the film feels inconsistent. The English dub voice acting is solid as well, featuring great performances from the likes of Crispin Freeman, Erica Mendez, and even Hollywood actress Evan Rachel Wood. While not on par with better anime films in CoMix Wave's library like 2016's Your Name, Flavors of Youth is certainly worth a viewing on Netflix.
I rate it 8/10
The 15:17 to Paris (2018)
Does not translate on screen as well as it could have
The 15:17 to Paris is a drama thriller film directed by Clint Eastwood. Based on the real life Amsterdam to Paris train attack of 2015, it pays a nice amount of respect to the actual heroes involved but does not translate on screen as well as it could have.
After backpacking across Europe for an extended period of time, childhood friends Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos (all played by themselves) decide to finish their vacation by catching the 15:17 train from Amsterdam to Paris. While onboard the train, the three friends spot a terrorist attempting to attack the passengers with an assault rifle. Putting their military knowledge to the test, the three of them leap to the aid of the passengers in an attempt to subdue the gunman.
There's no denying the film's good intentions but unfortunately, most of them fall flat. The decision to cast the three real life heroic individuals as themselves was an interesting experiment that clearly did not work out and ended up working to the film's disadvantage. While none of the three were terrible by any means, neither of them have any acting charisma or screen presence to hold one's attention during the film's important expositional scenes. In addition to this, the actual event only took place in a matter of minutes, so there are often obvious scenes of padding to make the film longer. I feel that this story of heroism would have worked much better as a 45 minute made-for-TV docudrama rather than a feature length film.
I rate it 5/10
The Florida Project (2017)
Paints a raw and unrelenting look into a side of American culture many try to ignore but at the same time cannot look away from
The Florida Project is a drama film starring Willem Dafoe. Directed and co-written by Sean Baker (Tangerine), it a raw and unrelenting look into a side of American culture many try to ignore but at the same time cannot look away from.
In the city of Kissimmee, Florida, six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives with her anarchic young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a run-down motel. To pass the time during Summer break, Moonee spends her days with other motel resident kids, causing mischief, conning tourists out of money, and getting on the nerves of the motel's manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe).
The film makes no attempts at sugarcoating its depiction of lower-class civilian life in America. As unsympathetic as many of the characters are, they all seem like realistic people most will have encountered at some point and director Sean Baker chooses a more down-to-earth approach at showing their lifestyles rather than the usual Hollywood-manufactured sentiment. All of the young child actors were fantastic and gave convincing performances. However, it is Willem Dafoe who shines the most as the serious but well-intentioned motel manager Bobby as he tries to help his guests deal with any outbreak of chaos. This is not an easy film for a casual viewer to sit through, but if one can stomach some of the more extreme moments, then I suggest seeing it at least once.
I rate it 7/10
Batman Ninja (2018)
An interesting but uneven amalgamation of Eastern and Western pop culture
Batman Ninja is an anime superhero film based on Batman. Featuring character designs by Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai), it is an interesting but uneven amalgamation of Eastern and Western pop culture.
After a fight against Gorilla Grodd, Batman is sucked into a time portal and sent back to feudal Japan. While there, Batman discovers that all of Gotham City's main criminals, including The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, and Deathstroke, were all sent back in time with him, albeit two years earlier, and are now intent on changing the course of history. Batman must now find a way to stop them and look for a way to return home to the future.
While the film has an intriguing concept and great visuals, the overall pacing feels inconsistent and confusing at times. A great deal of anime tropes are shown, likely to remind the audience that this is what a Batman story would look like through Eastern eyes, which at first is enjoyable to see, but it unfortunately becomes stale by the end of the film. The voice acting is good, but the lip syncing was frequently off probably because it was animated for Japanese dialogue and was highly distracting throughout many scenes. This film may be worth seeing for the visuals alone but don't expect it to leave many lasting impressions.
I rate it 5.5/10
The Commuter (2018)
Don't expect too much and enjoy the film for the satisfying time passer it was made to be
The Commuter is an action thriller starring Liam Neeson. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, The Shallows), it is an absurd but mostly enjoyable action film of the usual Liam Neeson standards.
On his usual train commute home, former cop-turned-insurance salesman Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) meets and interacts with an unusual woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga). Joanna tells Michael of a hypothetical situation, which involves him finding one particular passenger on board the train and upon doing so, will result in him pocketing $100,000. Intrigued by this, Michael further investigates the train carriages for clues, only to discover that this situation is not hypothetical and has resulted in placing him and his family in great danger.
As farfetched as it is entertaining, The Commuter is a fun popcorn film with enough suspense and action to hold one's attention for the duration of its runtime. Liam Neeson is his usual action-star self, essentially playing the same character we have seen many times before, so one would know what to expect. The film is in the same vein as other Liam Neeson-helmed action thrillers, like Taken and Non-Stop, the latter of which was by the same director, and this does nothing to detract from the formula, but if it ain't broke. Don't expect too much and enjoy the film for the satisfying time passer it was made to be.
I rate it 6/10
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
A good source of comic relief following the severity of the ending of Avengers: Infinity War
Ant-Man and the Wasp is the sequel to 2015's Ant-Man and the twentieth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in the title roles, it is a fun, light-hearted entry in the MCU and a good source of comic relief following the severity of the ending of Avengers: Infinity War.
Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is placed under house arrest for his involvement in the fight with the Avengers in Germany. As he is approaching the end of his arrest, Scott is kidnapped by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) who task him with helping them in finding Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the long missing wife of Hank and the mother of Hope, who is lost deep in the quantum realm.
Delivering just the right amount of humour and action, Ant-Man and the Wasp is exactly what MCU audiences need after viewing the infamously dark ending of Avengers: Infinity War. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly have solid chemistry and each scene they were together was highly enjoyable. Michael Douglas was implemented well into the story as Dr Hank Pym, proving to be a great straight man for many of Scott's comedic foils. However, it is Michael Peña as Luis who once again steals the movie in every scene he is in, often with his funny exaggerated stories. The only major issue is that very little felt at stake in this film, but this is likely because Thanos is still meant to be seen as the biggest threat to the entire MCU and everything else simply pales in comparison. For those wondering why Ant-Man was absent in Avengers: Infinity War, the post-credits scene should shed some light on what was going on.
I rate it 8/10
Tomb Raider (2018)
Does little to lift the video game film adaptation curse, but it is certainly one of the better ones, which unfortunately is not saying much
Tomb Raider is an action-adventure film based on the video game series of the same name. Starring Alicia Vikander in the lead role, it's a mostly enjoyable, albeit generic action film serving to reboot the franchise for modern audiences.
In London, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), the independent and strong-willed daughter of a missing adventurous businessman, works as a bike courier to make ends meet. One day, Lara is set to inherit her father's mass fortune, and upon doing so, stumbles across a secret passage in his tomb with clues to his last known whereabouts on a mysterious island.
While it does offer some fun action and clever puzzle-solving as seen in the games, Tomb Raider's plot feels highly pedestrian and generic. Each time Croft seems to be in danger, there is always something convenient right nearby that will help her out of it, which spoils any real surprise in the story. Most of the characters are forgettable and underdeveloped, with the exceptions being Lara Croft herself and the villain Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Alicia Vikander is clearly giving it her all as Lara Croft and there was never a moment where I felt she was not right for the role. To compare her to Angelina Jolie's performance would be unfair, as they are two completely different takes on the character, with Jolie being the classic PlayStation One-era Croft and Vikander's being the modern rebooted games Croft. Overall, this film does little to lift the video game film adaptation curse, but it is certainly one of the better ones, which unfortunately is not saying much.
I rate it 6/10
Offers more of the same dinosaur action and destruction that one would expect from this popular series of films
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the sequel to 2015's Jurassic World and the fifth film overall in the "Jurassic" franchise. Directed by J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible), it offers more of the same dinosaur action and destruction that one would expect from this popular series of films.
Three years after the events of Jurassic World, the now abandoned Isla Nublar and the remaining dinosaur inhabitants are in danger of being destroyed in a massive volcanic eruption. Determined to save the last dinosaurs from another extinction, former employees Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) form a team to rescue the creatures from the impending disaster and ensure their safety.
Thankfully, the film does not completely rehash The Lost World: Jurassic Park but instead expands upon the story first established in its 2015 predecessor. Dinosaurs still roar loudly and at some point a T-Rex will eat somebody. The film's visual effects were more convincing this time around and most of the CGI was tolerable, which I took issue with in the 2015 film. As usual, most of the human characters, especially the villains, were flat and predictable with little personalities outside of wanting to exploit dinosaurs for money, with the main exceptions being Owen and Claire, who proved to be generally likeable protagonists. The film is self-aware that it does not expect us to take every plot point seriously and for the most part this adds to its fun factor, so I suggest sitting back and enjoying the dinosaur action for what it is.
I rate it 7/10