Category Archives: Movie Reviews

The Best Movies of 2018

2018 was a year with many ups and downs for film. The vast majority of films I greatly looked forward to unfortunately disappointed me, save for a few on this list. That being said, there were a considerable amount of films that surprised me this year, and there’s some greatness hidden amongst them.

Honorable Mentions: 

Creed II, Love Simon, Blackkklansman, Incredibles 2, A Quiet Place, Searching, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, The Night is Short Walk on Girl, If Beale Street Could Talk, Roma, Eighth Grade.

Top 10:

1. Hereditary

2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

3. Annihilation

4. Blindspotting

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

6. Green Book

7. Avengers: Infinity War

8. A Star Is Born

9. Paddington 2

10. Burning

(A more in-depth discussion of this list can be found in the above video)

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A Star Is Born – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

Review Summary:

Bradley Cooper’s remake of the much adaptated source material takes the story of a failing musician and an up-and-coming singer and roots it firmly in 2018. A Star Is Born beautifully explores the culture of popular music, how the business tries to manipulate talented artists into products, and how sometimes one person can really make all the difference.

Both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga give stunning performances filled with depth and incredible chemistry. The music, too, is a real highlight, as each and every song feels special and unique. This is a highly effective romance and one of the best remakes ever.

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

Grade: A-

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse

Run Time: 136 min

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Blindspotting – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

While on probation, a black man begins to re-evaluate his relationship with his volatile best friend.

Review Summary:

Blindspotting is the kind of indie surprise that keeps a smile on your face for the rest of the day. It’s a film about two friends dealing with the struggles of life in Oakland: shootings, beatings, jail, marriage, kids… and trying to sell low-grade hair care products to a salon. Yes, the film does indeed find the humor in the darkness.

Actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal excel in their roles as ex-con and should-be-con respectfully, shining amogst the crowded indie circuit this year. Impressively, these two talents wrote the screenplay as well, which is fierce in its exploration of such issues as gentrification and race relations.

Blindspotting has been well-received by those who’ve seen it, but the box office numbers are disappointing. It’s my hope that more people see the film before the end of the year. It’s certainly worth the time. Don’t let this one slip under your radar.

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

Grade: A

Directed by: Carlos López Estrada

Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use

Run Time: 95 min

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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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