Thoroughbreds is a darkly comic satire that infuses its audience into the world of teen divas, embodied by their killer instincts.
This is more than your average cup of tea. Thoroughbreds is a well-blended breed of black comedy and indie-retro savvy. First time director, Cory Finley, gets his hands dirty in a film that juggles unpredictable outcomes. Thoroughbreds takes its time with our leading ladies, as we are introduced to both of them and their desires. Childhood friends Lily (a knockout Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (an electrifying Olivia Cooke) reconnect in suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart through their adolescence. Lily is a polished, upper-class teenager going through all the ropes before college; while Amanda is a social outcast with a dark sense of humor. The film's trailer suggests that "Amanda feels nothing, Lily feels everything."
Lily is giving Amanda tutoring sessions at the beginning of the film, when Amanda realizes that someone is haunting Lily. That someone is her oppressive stepfather, Mark (a cold Paul Sparks). Lily can’t take him anymore and so, Amanda causally says that she should just kill him… cue a juggernaut plot that will slowly set off a ripple effect for our two characters. This cinematic style pulsating throughout the film, gave me an American Psycho and a Heathers vibe. Plus, Finley’s extensive slow camera work panning throughout the scenes developed a sense of eeriness and patience. Along with the provocative sound design and score, you’re in for a roller coaster of emotions.
Finley perfectly draws the viewers’ attention off screen with his timely designed music, racking up the suspense and drama. Wrapping our emotions around every beat, Finley knows how to make us quench in shock and laugh-out-loud at the same time. It’s a delicious film that offers more than one viewing. Sadly, this was also Anton Yelchin’s final film after he tragically passed away in June 2016. Yelchin’s small role is one to admire and woefully appreciate after watching years of his hard-moviemaking-work on screen. He is an actor who will continue to live out many lifetimes on past film. So, does Lily and Amanda achieve their goal in killing Lily’s stepfather? I won’t tell. You’ll have to carefully unpackage this dark cinematic treat yourself.
Thoroughbreds is rated R (Restricted). For disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content.
Shot entirely on the back of an iPhone 7 Plus, Unsane unleashes director Steven Soderbergh's (Ocean’s trilogy and Logan Lucky) inner B-movie craving. Plus, an electrifying performance from actor Claire Foy (The Crown) and her ability to help continue fueling the ‘Me Too’ movement.
Taking a brief director’s hiatus between his 2013 film, Side Effects, and his 2017 film, Logan Lucky; I am happy to say that Soderbergh is continuing his expedition of cinema grandeur. Keeping his feet wet and in the game, Soderbergh explores the horror/thriller genre with a twist! He adds a blazing fire, keeping the ‘Me Too’ movement in the very forefront of our minds. Shot in just 10 days and running on a $1.2 million budget, Unsane follows young woman who involuntarily commits to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear. But, is this fear real or a product of her delusion?
Claire Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, who has suffered years of harassment and stalking from a man named David (a creepy Joshua Leonard). Turning the volume up to 11 on the anxiety meter, Soderbergh explores the worse possible fears of someone being harassed. Foy is dynamite in this role, as she continues to break new grounds in her promising career. You can also tell that Soderbergh has fun at exploring the B-movie style, craft and music; as he rushes his iPhone through the great halls of the hospital. What really resonates here, is the actor’s ability to amplify the narrative with plenty of shock and stark. Unsane may not be Soderbergh’s strongest film to-date, but it’s truly an admirable film experiment done right.
Through all of the twists and turns, we are emotionally strapped with Foy and her journey to freedom from her monstrous stalker. Unsane is a claustrophobic film full of dark tunnels waiting to be seen. With tints of blue and bleak arrays shining through the iPhone lens, we see a woman screaming for help and no one answering. This helps paint the very raw picture of what sadly happens in our society every-single-day. Unsane is a portrait of the hardships that women face through the amidst of sexual harassment. The film is also a timeless psychological thriller, that Foy willingly opens out her hand to help guide us through those eerie, white halls. So, will you take her hand?
Unsane is rated R (Restricted). For disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references.
This was my third year attending the BANFF Mountain Film Festival in St. Louis, MO and it was another exciting tour that continued to extended the arts through adventure. On this 2017/2018 World Tour, there are 37 films being displayed. Each tour shows a standard program between six and ten films. I was able to see eight on this tour at The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries. Below is a brief summary of my thoughts on each film I watched that night. Enjoy!
Annihilation is a sci-fi mind-bender that packs in a punch full of visuals and a thought-provoking story. Director Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) exploration of challenging themes should leave viewers scratching their heads well after the end credits roll.
An absorbing and hypnotic film, Annihilation combines elements of a sci-fi extravaganza and a creature feature. Helmed by a top-notch cast consisting of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac; Annihilation is one of the best films to come out in 2018. Based on Jeff VanderMeer's best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy, director Garland takes the well-written source of material and gives it life. The film follows five female scientists, who have signed up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don't apply. This mysterious zone is known as the "the Shimmer.” Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former US Army soldier. Portman is at the top of her game, giving us one of her most potent performances since 2016’s Jackie.
Leigh plays Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and the leader of the expedition. Ventress doesn’t give a damn who falls behind in the journey, her one and only goal is to make it to the beginning of “the Shimmer.” Next, we have Rodriguez who plays Anya, a paramedic. Anya’s rapid-fire tongue keeps the dialogue moving fast pace as we journey with her deeper into the unknown. As Anya’s paranoia rises, so does ours. Lastly, there’s Thompson and Novotny who play Josie and Sheppard, a physicist and linguistic anthropologist. Josie is the most clam of the group, while Sheppard is doing this journey in light of her daughter passing away to cancer. Sheppard has nothing to lose. Along the expedition the team encounters a mutated alligator, a mutated bear-like creature and a doppelgänger.
All bring out the real dangers and fears of this strange parallel world they’re in. Annihilation is beautifully directed and written. It proves, yet again, that Garland is a director who needs to be taken seriously. He has now created two masterful films (Ex Machina and Annihilation) that are both incredibly ambitious and thought-provoking. Sadly, Annihilation didn’t see the box office for very long. The film ran into a studio dispute with Paramount. After a poor test screening, David Ellison, a financier at Paramount, became concerned that the film was "too intellectual" and "too complicated," and demanded changes to make it appeal to a wider audience, including making Portman's character more sympathetic and changing the ending.
Luckily, Producer Scott Rudin sided with Garland in his desire to not alter the film. So, the version you are seeing is the purest form of Garland’s vision. However, due to this studio dispute Paramount and Garland had a fallout. Netflix stepped in and picked up distribution for the film internationally. That means, Annihilation was only released in theaters in the states and it was very limited. If you get the chance, I recommend trying to see this film in the theaters where it’s meant to be. Annihilation is an intelligent film, but don’t let that sway you away. This is the kind of art we need more in theaters. Its own ambitions are too impressive to set aside.
“We made the film for cinema. I've got no problem with the small screen at all. The best genre piece I've seen in a long time was The Handmaid's Tale, so I think there's incredible potential within that context, but if you're doing that – you make it for that [medium] and you think of it in those terms. Look... it is what it is. The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I'm really pleased about. One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don't have that strange opening weekend thing where you're wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don't, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So, it's got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it – [it was made] to be seen on a big screen.” – Alex Garland
Annihilation is rated R (Restricted). For violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.
With a brilliant cast and the surprise Super Bowl release drop, virtually everything else for The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t work. What a mess of a film.
This movie is a real headache. The Cloverfield Paradox overshadows its top-notch cast with a mixer of muddled genres and undeveloped narratives. Paradox is, by far, the weakest of the Cloverfield series. It's a sci-fi flick that’s more bent on extending the Cloververse, than fully constructing a proper narrative. The marketing for this film was incredibly smart, by dropping the surprise trailer during Super Bowl LII and releasing the film immediately on Netflix after the game, this provided a sense of excitement for sci-fi fanatics everywhere. Yet, after the credits rolled on the screen, I was left utterly disappointed with the final outcome.
It’s never a good sign when your film begins production as a typical sci-fi thriller and then suddenly changes the script to make a connection with the Cloverfield franchise. The film simply did not know what it wanted to be and, in the end, it fell flat. Actors Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl and Chris O'Dowd do their best to uphold the picture, but the film leaves them astray. At times, Paradox was mildly entertaining to say the least. But a messy storyline, writing and editing will leave the viewer with a sour taste in their mouth. In 2008, the original Cloverfield introduced the use of shaky-cam and mixed tension with horror.
Then in 2016, 10 Cloverfield Lane was the acclaimed sequel that came out of nowhere. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a slow burning film that enriched the storyline with drama and fleshed out characters. You were on the edge of you seat from the very first frame. The pulsating score along with excellent performances is also what helped make 10 Cloverfield Lane so riveting. Now, we introduce Paradox the film that failed to deliver on quality and, in the end, left more people scratching their heads, pity. Right now, probably the best thing going for this film is that it wasn’t released in theaters.
The Cloverfield Paradox is not rated (NR).
Believe the hype. Black Panther is more than just another Marvel romp, director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed) was able to maintain his creative spark throughout the film sending a grandeur of Afrofuturistic escapism.
This history-making masterpiece can now be helmed as one of the greatest superhero films to ever hit the theaters. I have not been that thrilled after seeing a superhero movie since 2008’s The Dark Knight. Coogler’s film has now grossed over a $1 billion worldwide since its initial February 16th release, making it the highest-grossing film of 2018, as well as the seventh highest-grossing film ever in the United States and 20th highest-grossing film of all time. Currently, may I add. Its theater run is far from over and I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end, it cracks $2 billion worldwide. We will see! Coogler also made history with his $242 million four-day opening weekend. This was the biggest debut ever for an African-American director.
What made Black Panther so great was its ability to elevate the superhero genre to exciting new heights. The film’s screenplay, direction, performances, costume design and soundtrack were all perfectly executed to the highest form of art. Full of pure pulp entertainment, Black Panther praises African culture and also raises awareness for black lives in America. A social commentary full of rich rewards and thought-provoking themes. Elevated by its predominantly black cast, Coogler’s film is a revolution for future films to look more like this. The story follows T'Challa AKA Black Panther (a brilliant Chadwick Boseman) who, after the events of Captain America: Civil War, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to take his place as King. However, when an old enemy reappears on the radar, T'Challa's mettle as King and Black Panther is tested when he is drawn into a conflict that puts his sovereignty to the challenge and raises the level of urgency with global consequences.
Boseman continues to shine in the title role of a lifetime, as he grows and shapes his character. Boseman’s versatility in his films (42, Get on Up and Marshall) is quite astonishing. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is one of the greatest antagonist to be put on the screen, regarding the superhero genre. Killmonger has been, by far, the best villain I’ve seen for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But I also hate calling him a villain because his character was so much more than that label. Jordan’s character was conflicted, at times I was rooting for him and in others I wasn’t. He made you believe in his message and he made some extremely valid points on what he was trying to accomplish. With every kill that Killmonger makes, he scars his body with notches to represent those deaths. This shows Erik’s tormented morality and humanity on an emotional scale.
Alongside T’Challa and Killmonger are key supporting actors that helped guide the rest of the film. Those actors consist of Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis. Nyong'o and Gurira both represent strong female supporting leads with their fierce acting chops and bravura character development. Coming off fresh the boat from his breakout role in last year’s critically acclaimed film, Get Out, Kaluuya’s hot streak continues to reign. With strong writing, acting and directing, Black Panther succeeds in virtually everything on screen. Coogler’s film paints a picture of what it means to be black in both America and Africa. It’s significance and cultural footprint will last for generations to come. Marvel’s masterpiece receives five out of five stars from me. Black Panther is a movie that matters because, right now, he is the best chance for people of every color to see a black hero represented on screen.
Black Panther is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
2017 blew away my expectations for the movie industry. Art, diversity, strong females leads and thought-provoking themes all prevailed. 2017 broke new ground in how we elevate the narrative and give powerful stories for people too rarely seen in the spotlight. It's a revolution for filmmaking and I cannot wait to see more films like these become a regular in the theaters. Here's my Top 25!
With the 90th Academy Awards right around the corner, let's take a look back at my favorite movies from the year 2013. This was the year I launched my film review site,