The Happening – Hilariocity Review

"What? No!" Take an interest in science and check out my Hilariocity Review of The Happening! More »

The Wicker Man – Hilariocity Review

One of the best worst movies ever made, starring Nicolas Cage! More »

The Worst Movies of 2013

Feel like dying? Watch these movies if you dare! More »

The Best Movies of 2013

The very best movies that were released in 2013. More »

 

Eighth Grade – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school.

Review Summary:

Eighth Grade comes from writer/director Bo Burnham, who until now was mostly known for his musical stand up comedy. This smart and refreshing film is a heartfelt reminder that sometimes it’s the simplest stories that carry the most weight and meaning. Elsie Fisher portrays Kayla, a highly introverted middle schooler dealing with almost constant embarrassment. Her performance is one of the best elements to Burnham’s tale, and feels authentic in every hilarious, occasionally nerve-racking scene.

For some, this film may be a painful reminder of the horrors of junior high. In my case, I found myself relating to many of Kayla’s struggles and identifying with them. Despite the R rating, this could be a very enlightening and fun experience for younger kids. In fact, A24 recently announced they’d be holding nationwide screenings for free that didn’t enforce the rating. This is rare and quite a stunning feat for such a small film.

The smart performances and writing keep the film entertaining even during scenes that feel a tad inconsequential. Despite a few slow moments, the film remains investing emotionally throughout. If Eighth Grade has expanded near you, go support a small movie with big aspirations.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: A-

Directed by: Bo Burnham

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual material

Run Time: 93 min

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Hanabi (Fireworks) – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

This film tells the story of a schoolgirl who finds a pretty transparent ball by the sea, on the day of a fireworks display of a religious festival in a seaside town in Japan. She plans to run away from home to escape from her unhappy home, as her mother is about to remarry for the third time. However, her escape fails until her male classmate finds out the supernatural power that the transparent ball has.

Review Summary:

Fireworks (oringal Japanese title Uchiage hanabi, shita kara miru ka? Yoko kara miru ka?) is a new Japanese animated film that originally debuted in Japan last August, and has made the rounds at animation festivals around the world ever since. It’s animated by the studio, SHAFT, which has done some impressive work in the past.

The producer of the multiple-award-winning animation, Your Name, worked on this film as well. Unfortunately, none of the visual wonder or impressive characterizations are present in Fireworks, which is being distributed in the States by GKIDS.

While the animation is at times quite gorgeous, sometimes it can appear surprisingly rushed. To make matters worse, character choices, logic, story flow and the like all go out the window in favor of a non-sensical romance that also includes time travel. These elements are underutilized at best.

Fireworks will not breakthough to the mainstream like some Japanese animations have. However, it might end up being one of those films that people feel the need to watch at parties just to be entertained.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: D+

Directed by: Akiyuki Shimbô

Starring: Suzu Hirose, Masaki Suda, Mamoru Miyano

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 90 min

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.

Review Summary:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is an emotionally touching documentary from the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville. This doc covers the life and times of Fred Rogers, famed host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I was concerned initially that this doc would fawn over Rogers’ history, coming off as a simple love letter and nothing more. I was pleased to learn that the film dives deep into his legacy, his mind, and his life. Rogers would often use his show as a way to help children cope with national tragedies, and to communicate important life lessons about acceptance among people of all races or backgrounds.

He was a tortured artist, constatly dealing with self doubt and concern over his art. He felt that he wasn’t reaching children the way he hoped he could. Even still, he never gave up. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was informative, entertaining, and powerful. It should be required viewing for hopeful documentary filmmakers, or fans of Fred Rogers.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: A

Directed by: Morgan Neville

Starring: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, McColm Cephas Jr.

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language

Run Time: 94 min

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First Reformed – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

Review Summary:

First Reformed is a slow, methodical drama starring Ethan Hawke as a priest dealing with a crisis of conscience. When he speaks with a troubled environmentalist, he unwittingly begins concerning himself with the dealings of a neighboring church and a local company.

Paul Schrader is no stranger to focusing on characters with something eating away at them. His screenplay for Taxi Driver proves that. But here, he takes the helm as well, crafting an intriguing drama with an outstanding performance from Hawke. It also uses the old-fashioned aspect ratio of 1.37:1, complete with opening credits in cursive font. This made the film feel more regal.

The film often moves so slowly, it becomes uncomfortable. This shouldn’t be perceived as a fault. On the contrary, a feeling of uneasiness crept in, one that remained as the abrupt ending credits began to roll.

While the film sometimes stretches credibility with its depiction of modern-day religion, never was its message nullified by this. And with a film this brave, that’s to be commended.

Grade: B+

Directed by: Paul Schrader

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

MPAA Rating: Rated R for some disturbing violent images

Run Time: 113 min

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Hereditary – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.

Review Summary:

Horror films have always been a staple of my film-loving life, but lately, mainstream horror has been mostly disappointing. Gems like Get Out have raised the bar, but indie horror is really where it’s at. Hereditary proves that.

It’s been ages since a horror film has genuinely scared me. This film was tense from the opening frame, and remained effective all the way up to the final haunting images.

Toni Collette is astonishing in this role, in a performance that should garner her an Oscar nomination. Her last nom was also a horror film, The Sixth Sense. Clearly, she’s right at home in this genre.

Hereditary is worth seeing for hardened genre fans as well as film buffs who want to examine the makings of a horror master in director Ari Aster. I’m thoroughly impressed.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: A

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, Alex Wolff

MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

Run Time: 127 min

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Revenge – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men.

Review Summary:

Revenge is a highly violent and sometimes extremely repulsive movie that shows that Coralie Fargeat has a bright future helming films. Her penchant for grindhouse-style thrills and over-the-top gore is admirable. Her and star Matilda Lutz do their damndest to present a film–albeit a very unrealistic one–that’s gritty, sophisticated and intense.

After an uncomfortable rape scene, three disgusting men leave a woman for dead. When she still has life left in her, she uses all her strength to almost transform into a completely different person and take revenge on her assaulters.

Despite how nuts the film gets, and how much suspension-of-disbelief it requires to enjoy the experience, Revenge is a film that surprised me. It’s gory seuquences will have audiences squirming, and it’s unique editing and startling action makes me ecstatic to see what else Fargeat does.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: A-

Directed by: Coralie Fargeat

Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe

MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody gruesome violence, a rape, sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language

Run Time: 108 min

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Unsane – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?

Review Summary:

Unsane is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Claire Foy as Sawyer, a young woman recovering from a traumatic experience, who finds herself admitted to a mental institution against her will. While trying to figure out how to escape, that past trauma creeps back into her life. No, this is not gratefully not a remake of Dario Argento’s film.

As you’ve likely heard from every review or article published about this film, Soderbergh shot the whole thing with an iPhone 7 plus, utilizing the Filmic Pro App and three Moment lenses: 18mm, 60mm, and a fisheye. Soderbergh has stated he thinks most audience members won’t notice, and that this is the future of movies.

Let’s stow that debate for a second and focus on the story. Claire Foy is stunning throughout the 97 minute runtime, bringing a sense of unease and paranoia in virtually every scene. As we unfold her past, and see the connections to her current predicament, Unsane gets considerably more captivating.

Also great is Joshua Leonard as an orderly at the institution with sinister motives. Of the three stars of The Blair Witch Project, he’s had the most success, however he’s been relegated to mostly horror B-movies, so it’s nice to see him given a meaty role.

Like most films about mental institutions—especially ones featuring unwilling patients—there’s a sense of frustration that develops as Sawyer is never heard, shut down constantly and ignored by everyone around her. Soderbergh tries to generate a sense of uncertainly surrounding her sanity, and the film’s marketing campaign even asks the question, “Is she or isn’t she?”

But at least for me, this mystery didn’t seem all that confusing, and what eventually unravels felt more like a natural progression than a fascinating turn of events. Sawyer’s mistreatment and the actions of those around her all point to one possible outcome, so the film rarely surprised me.

Her discussions with fellow patients almost always ended the same, in a slap or some violent action that only makes Sawyer look more insane, and after awhile, I became irritated with how she handled these situations. It was like watching someone try to climb out of a hole, while simultaneously digging themselves in deeper.

So back to the cinematography. When a filmmaker in Soderbergh’s position makes a choice like this, I look for logical reasons why. If you’re a no budget filmmaker, the decision to use an iPhone makes sense, but what about this film needed this?

The best this choice does is create a personal look to the film. Slightly documentary-esque. There’s an aura of schlocky cheapness to it that can sometimes make it more frightening.

But Soderbergh’s claim that no one will notice is ludicrous. The 1.56 aspect ratio, the overblown highlights in the color spectrum, and even the jittery dolly shots are noticeable to anyone who’s ever made a short film before. The images are mostly flat, with little depth, coming off more like high quality security camera footage than something cinematic.

Soderbergh is a phenomenal director, but when you’re at the place he is in his career, this choice seems more like a way to get him excited about directing again, and less of a technical option that actually benefits the story being told.

Still, there’s enough tension and dread present in Unsane and certainly in the brilliant work from Claire Foy to recommend it, and Soderbergh is always an engaging director, even when his films are a little unremarkable.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: B-

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references

Run Time: 98 min

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Isle of Dogs – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

Review Summary:

Isle of Dogs was directed by Wes Anderson and features the voice talents of Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and many others. It takes place in the fantasy city of Megasaki, Japan, where a viral outbreak of “snout fever” has caused the corrupt mayor, Mr. Kobayashi, to banish all dogs to trash island. When a boy named Atari ventures to the island searching for his long lost dog, Spots, a pack of mangy mutts joins him on an adventure to locate his missing dog.

Wes Anderson is no stranger to stop motion, having directed Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was charming and gorgeously rendered. But with Isle of Dogs, virtually everything about the technique has been improved. While 3D animation has reached stunning new heights, hand-drawn and stop motion will always hold a special place in my heart. There’s a rough-around-the-edges feel to almost every shot. It’s obvious that a painstaking amount of hard work has gone into each and every single frame.

Alexander Desplat’s score propels the film along with a steady pace, creating a surprising amount of suspense as well. It was surprinsing how riveting the film was at times, and much of that can be attributed to his wonderful music.

In typical Wes Anderson style, the actors are almost self-aware in their delivery. The line readings feel idiosyncratic of the stars themselves. Almost as if Anderson is knowingly allowing the actor’s public persona to seep through. For instance, every line from Bill Murray or Jeff Goldblum feels almost tailor made for them, for their style. This can sometimes be a distraction, but a minor one. Bryan Cranston’s performance as Chief—the stray dog who prefers eating trash over puppy snaps—is a real highlight.

The amount of visual wonder present in Isle of Dogs can be staggering. Looking beyond the work behind the stop motion technique, Anderson composes beautiful images, as usual. He loves symmetry, and that couldn’t be clearer with the perfectly balanced shots. One recurring image that has stayed in mind is the silhouette of an unknown dog in the distance, one that Chief says has no scent. While all of Anderson’s film’s are visual delights, Isle of Dogs is one of his most gorgeous.

Sometimes the story turns to excessive flashbacks that halt the progression of the film, damaging the pacing. This can cause some sequences to feel a little uneven. There’s also an odd choice to not provide English subtitles for the Japanese language scenes, and instead, these scenes are either narrated in English, or literally interpreted by another character voiced by Francis McDormand. This was a poor idea for a few reasons. For one, it made it difficult to connect with the Japanese characters, especially young Atari. Since we’re always experiencing their point of view through someone else, and sometimes their dialogue is actually drowned out entirely. If this film were rated G or even PG this choice might make more sense, like for instance, if Anderson was assuming that children didn’t want to read subtitles. But it’s rated PG-13, and is aimed at older audiences. So the use of English speaking interpreters feels unnecessary, because it adds nothing artistically to the film. There’s also a subplot with a foreign exchange student played by Greta Gerwig that feels useless, that did little for the story’s movement.

Besides these gripes, Isle of Dogs is a stunning animation achievement. Anderson’s distinctive style elevates an occasionally uneven story, and his brilliant cast of actors lend their considerable talents to some remarkable characters, that in the end, have unexpectedly moving backstories. I’m always happy to see animation aimed at adults. That’s something I’ve pushed for on this channel since the beginning. I hope that Hollywood continues to give us mature-themed stories like this in animation form.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: B+

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images

Run Time: 101 min

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Ghost Stories – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

Arch skeptic Professor Phillip Goodman embarks upon a terror-filled quest when he stumbles across a long-lost file containing details of three cases of inexplicable ‘hauntings’.

Review Summary:

Ghost Stories is an original indie horror gem, full of surprises and unique viewpoints on horror. The editing and unsettling use of sound heightens the tension and keeps things grounded. Each performer goes above expectations for the horror genre, adding emotional depth and weight to the film.

The ending was, however, a bit of a disappointment. To avoid spoilers, I’ll simply say that it’s a trope we’ve seen before many times and it’s a bit of a cop out.

With hidden themes and commentary and repressed guilt and sadness, Ghost Stories sets itself above the norm as a horror movie to watch!

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: A-

Directed by: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman

Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 98 min

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The Disaster Artist – Movie Review

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