Bad Genius (2017)

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  • Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya
  • Starring Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Eisaya Hosuwan, Chanon Santinatornkul
  • Written by Tanida Hantaweewatana, Vasudhorn Piyaromna
  • Comedy, Crime, Non-English
  • NR (I’d say PG-13)
  • 2 hr 10 min.
  • 3 May 2017

Synopsis

A genius attending school on a scholarship is convinced by her friends to help people at school cheat for money. Because the school still charges her father even though she was told she was on scholarship, she decides there are no losers in her doing as she says. However, when she gets caught up in a much bigger scam – mass-cheating on the international STIC exam – Lynn has far more weighing over her than just helping classmates get good grades.

How’s the Story?

Have you ever seen Perfect Score with Chris Evans and Scarlet Johansson before they were superheroes? The one where they steal the answers to the SAT? It’s kind of like that, only far more impressive, way more suspenseful, and way better written. Lynn is so likeable that even though you know what she and the others are doing is wrong, you WANT so badly for her to succeed. The relationship she has with her father is also something you really, really feel and want things to go well for them. It’s just a really good story with so many moving parts and human connections that make it very interesting.

How’s the Acting?

While I don’t know much about Thai film apart from one or two queer films over the last few years, I have to believe that this is a really good performance on any standard. At the very least, by American standards, this is a very well-acted film. The girl who plays Lynn and Bank in particular are really, really good at playing these two very unique ‘genius’ characters. There is no ‘stereotype’ here, they’re very unique characters and the actors portray those characters very well.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

Like I said before, this is one that has very interesting choices in how the story plays out. To not be cheesy, this is a smart movie about a smart girl. It’s funny without being silly, it’s heartfelt without being cheesy, and it’s SO. DAMN. SUSPENSEFUL! There are parts where I was like “OH GOD WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN?!?!” on the edge of my seat, it’s so well done. Suspense is something easy to get wrong and this really, really does NOT get it wrong.

How’s the Cinematography?

It’s pretty standard for the most part, but there are some choices especially in lighting that are really, really good. Also, there are a few sequences that are sort of ‘dream sequence’-like (where the characters have out of body experiences) that are very artsy and yet somehow really, really fit into the more standard way the film is shown. Overall, there’s nothing magical to write home about, but it’s good.

Is It Worth Watching?

Though the number of Non-English films I’ve seen this year is like… two or three (she admits with shame), this is easily the best one. I loved this movie. I’m not sure it’ll make the top 10 of 2017 list, but it’s on the shortlist, so that says a lot about it. It’s just a very well written, well-directed, well done movie that has a great ‘twist’ ending for one of the characters that I thought at first I didn’t like but decided in the end I really did like it.

It’s a movie about a girl finding her power in the world she’s been put into, getting a little power-hungry, and then discovering that her true strength comes from within. It’s a very good movie about a girl coming of age in a very unique way that’s extremely entertaining. Overall, I would say this is one of the more enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.

My Rating: 8/10

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Atomic Blond (2017)

(I failed spectacularly on the Christmas movie front this year, but here, have a review!)

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  • Directed by David Leitch
  • Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan
  • Written by Kurt Johnstad
  • Action
  • Rated R
  • 1hr 55min
  • 28 July 2017

Synopsis

A spy is sent into Berlin after a fellow spy is killed in search of a dossier that contains the information of every single undercover operative in the region. Tasked with recovering the file at any cost necessary, she has very little time to get her hands on the dossier before the tensions in the city reach their pinnacle.

How’s the Story?

Really the story itself is the only place this movie falls down a bit for me. The details of the entire plot are kind of vague and it relies on you just not questioning any of the little hints dropped (like her and the dead guy having been in some sort of relationship, her background and why she was chosen for this detail, little bits here and there that seem to be throwaway subplots that never get explored, ect) and going with it.

Overall, however, the basic idea is good enough: Spy has to recover information at any cost and she has no real allies in it all. It’s not the most complex story ever told but it’s enough for me to go on as an action movie fan.

How’s the Acting?

I really liked how this one is performed. Charlize Theron usually is pretty good in my experience (or perhaps I’ve just been lucky, but who cares) so I was pleased with her performance. James McAvoy is equally a pretty reliable performer, and I really like his job in this one. Really, though, I think the standout performance in this one has to go to Eddie Marsan, someone I believe to be a highly under-valued talent. He’s rarely the star of the show, but he’s always good in whatever I see him in. He’s amazing in this one. Also, it was great to see Sofia Bouttella again. I’ve only seen her in one other thing, but I like her a lot in both that and this. I’m eager to see more of her in the future.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

There are some parts of this movie that are absolutely brilliant. It’s all good, of course, but I really appreciate some scenes that are just so realistic and against the normal ‘badass spy chick’ style. I like that she’s not shown to be invulnerable. Lorraine has a full show of emotions in this movie and a lady spy that’s not cold is such a positive. When she is upset over people dying and even cries at one point, I was thinking “Yes, finally a realistic reaction without it making her too weak to be badass.” Another scene that is directed in such a way that lends to realism is one where she’s fighting someone and they’ve both reached the ‘barely strong enough to sit up’ point of exhaustion. In a lot of spy movies, the people fighting never seem tired, and yet they chose to show the physical exhaustion that comes from fighting for your life. It’s absolutely wonderful to see an action movie that’s got more believable moments than usual.

How’s the Cinematography?

Oh my God, the lights and the colors are just soooo good in this one. The use of lighting in dark, daylight, artificial light, and reflective light is just so, so good. I loved some of the really more artistic camera choices than you expect in a straightforward action movie, too. This is a very visually solid film and I’m very pleased with the outcome.

Is It Worth Watching?

Though this film had some very lukewarm responses when it was released, I highly enjoyed this one. I regret not seeing it in theaters when it came out greatly, because this must have looked incredible on a big screen. There’s just so much to love about this movie that some of the iffy story points don’t really matter that much. I was so caught up in the music and the costumes and the visuals that I didn’t care at all for the negatives because there were so many positives.

I genuinely enjoyed this movie and I’m definitely buying this one on bluray sometime soon.

My Rating: 8/10

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A Christmas Prince (2017)

HERE HAVE A CHRISTMAS MOVIE REVIEW SINCE I STILL HAVEN’T DONE ONE I’M SORRY I’VE BEEN BUSY!!!

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  • Directed by Alex Zamm
  • Starring Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Honor Kneafsey
  • Written by Nathan Atkins
  • Romance, Holiday
  • Rated PG
  • 1hr 32mins
  • 17 November 2017

Synopsis

A copy editor yearns to become a journalist, and when she is assigned to the press pool of a conference the reputed ‘playboy’ prince of the fictional country of … some country I forget …. is holding, she takes the opportunity given to her by his refusal to show himself and insinuates herself into the royal household under the guise of the disabled princess’s American tutor.

How’s the Story?

It’s alright. It’s nothing special but the “well-intentioned reporter who only wants to have a career until they discover it will hurt real people” trope is a fun one. Honestly, this movie is Hallmark Christmas Never Been Kissed basically, but it’s still a cute story. I particularly liked the choice of having the little princess be disabled.

How’s the Acting?

I mean…. it’s not abysmal? I’ve seen worse in serious movies, not Hallmark-level-but-not-really-Hallmark movies, so that’s something positive. Definitely not the worst acting in a movie I’ve ever seen, but far from the best.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

Honestly? Not that bad. I can’t think of anything that stands out as poorly written or badly directed. In general, the writing and the direction choices are pretty solid for what it is. It’s no Arrival but it’s got better writing than American Assassin. (Not that that’s too hard to do.)

How’s the Cinematography?

It’s decent. It’s not bad, but it’s clearly very low budget. It’s very straightforward filmmaking. I particularly like some of the outdoor scenes. It’s not easy to get a forest scene filmed well on a low budget, and they did a pretty decent job.

Is It Worth Watching?

It’s Christmas season, so of course it’s worth watching! Sappy ass, iffy quality Christmas love stories are perfect for this time of year, and this definitely fits the bill for that. There’s not much more to say about this movie, because it’s straightforward: Christmas Love Story. That’s just it.

It’s still better than Love Actually.

My Rating: 5/10

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Coco (2017)

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  • Directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrien Molina
  • Starring Anthony Gonzales, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
  • Written by Adrien Molina, Matthew Aldrich
  • Animated, Family, Comedy
  • Rated PG
  • 1hr 45mins
  • 21 November 2017

Synopsis

Miguel, a boy who loves music even though he lives in a family where music is forbidden, takes a trip to the land of the dead after a fateful accident on El Día de los Muertos. In order to get home, he must have his dead relatives make a deal and give him their blessing. However, when their blessing comes with a condition, he decides to search out someone from his family that will send him home and let him live his dream.

How’s the Story?

This story is just beautiful. My God, I didn’t know this movie was going to be so complex and well thought out. I mostly wanted to see it because I have a special place in my heart for Mexican culture since I spent a long time working for a Mexican family and they were so wonderful as to include me in their celebrations, an I wanted to see how Disney managed to tackle such a beautiful holiday as this one. In the end, I feel like they absolutely nailed the culture in the way this story is told. They even had the grandmother throwing her shoe at people, which I’ve witnessed firsthand since my former boss had three little girls, lol. This story just just so detailed and so well told.

How’s the (Voice) Acting?

I was actually surprised to learn who all were the voice actors in this one. I recognize several of these people, and yet I never placed the voices. I have to say, the boy that plays Miguel, Anthony Gonzales, did such a fantastic job with conveying the depth of emotions that Miguel goes through. It was just such a great job. And honestly, Benjamin Bratt was Ernesto de la Cruz?! I would’ve never guessed that listening! You know it’s a good performance if you can’t identify the actor in the role. This movie is just really well cast and well delivered with the voice acting.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

I could go on for days about how beautifully written this is movie is, and yet there are some things in it that are so amazing there are no words. I would say the most beautifully written part in this entire film is the progression from our perception of ‘some bum’ Héctor to Héctor the hero. The way he never really changes who he is and BECOMES a hero, but rather the shift is in the way we perceive him through the interactions he shares and the information that’s revealed to us, it’s just fantastic. It’s so cleverly written that I can’t think of much else that is comparable in character development to this.

The way that the reasoning behind calling the movie Coco after Miguel’s great grandmother unfolds from ‘why is it named after her if he’s the main character?’ to the entire audience being sobbing, blubbering messes is just masterful. It’s brilliant and I cannot give enough love to that entire thread of the story.

How’s the Cinematography Animation?

This is one of the most beautiful looking animated films I’ve ever seen. Full stop. The end. I could go into all the colors and the details and the skin textures and how they’re done so perfectly in this movie, but I think it’s succinct to say that this outdoes any movie I can think of that I’ve seen before in my whole life. It’s just absolutely breathtaking to look at.

Is It Worth Watching?

Coco is not only one of the best animated films I’ve seen this year, not only one of the best animated films I’ve seen in my lifetime, and not only one of the best films of this year; Coco is one of the most beautifully moving films I’ve ever seen. I love this movie. I love everything about this movie. The way that the story tackles family and the dichotomy of expectation versus love, the way it handles generational differences, and the way it handles tradition is just so carefully done and so absolutely beautiful. I cried so much watching this movie. There were about 4 times I was reduced to tears during this movie, and some of them were just from happiness.

It’s rare that a film comes along that is so transcendently beautiful in so many ways that I want to take everybody I know and show them this film, but Coco is one of those films. The only flaw in the entire movie is how predictable the biggest twist of them all is, and honestly? I don’t even really care that much about that. I was okay that I saw it coming. I was okay knowing what to expect. It was so enjoyable to watch the characters discover what I had figured out that I didn’t even care. I think if it weren’t for that very minor flaw, this would be my second 10/10 movie of the year. As it is, I wish I gave half-points, because it feels like a disservice to this movie to give it the rating I am giving it.

See this movie. I don’t care if it’s been out for several weeks now. I don’t care if you’ve already seen it. I don’t care if you didn’t think it would be your style. Just go see it or see it again. This is the type of film that touches people in a way that’s so special, and I love every bit of this movie. I’m sure you will/did, too.

My Rating: 9/10

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The Uninvited (1944)

Part 12 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Lewis Allen
  • Starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Gail Russell
  • Written by Dodie Smith, Frank Partos
  • Horror, Mystery
  • Not Rated
  • 1h 39mins.
  • 1 September 1944

Synopsis

A brother and sister on holiday find a house they adore and decide to buy it. However, when they move in, they discover the house has a dark secret. The man who sold them the house had a daughter who met her untimely death in that house, leaving behind his only grandchild, Stella, and an empty home that nobody wants to live in.

How’s the Story?

Dude, this story is really interesting. Also, without spoilers it’s hard to say much, but I’m very surprised at the subject matter and the sympathy for the people in the situation they were in being permitted in this time period. I’ve studied film history, and showing sympathy for the final revealed situation is very surprising. I like that this movie had a very human story along with the ghost story, and part of that human story involves the very amusing characters in it.

How’s the Acting?

It’s very time-period-specific. It’s no secret that this era of Hollywood involved wild over-acting, which is exactly what you get. It’s good for what it is, but it wouldn’t really hold up in today’s film industry. That said, I’m a fan of classic Hollywood cinema, so I appreciate the acting in this movie very much.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

Honestly, this one is pretty well written. I like the little humorous moments included in the seriousness. It breaks up the overbearing ‘things are life and death!’ vibe that gets heavier and heavier as the film goes.

Also, I’m not sure if it was written this way on purpose, but there’s a very queer-coded woman in this movie that I find very amusing in this situation.

How’s the Cinematography?

It’s nothing special, but it’s good. I like the special effects. They’re really good for this time period. The ghosts are very scary for the tech of the time.

Is It Worth Watching?

It’s definitely worth watching if you’re into old Hollywood. It’s a really, really interesting one. I didn’t figure out the twist until right before it was revealed, which for a movie of this age, is pretty impressive, because in this era, they really wanted to hammer stuff home. It’s one I would highly recommend for sure.

My Rating: 7/10

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Ghostbusters (1984)

Part 11 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween

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  • Directed by Ivan Reitman
  • Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver
  • Written by Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
  • Comedy
  • Rated PG
  • 1hr 45mins
  • 8 June 1984

Synopsis

Three friends who study the paranormal come together with plans to start a business around catching and removing ghosts for the residents of New York City. Along the way, they meet a woman whose building is built in such a way that it might resurrect a god and bring about the end of the world.

How’s the Story?

It’s a fun story that’s very amusing. This movie is a classic. A bunch of friends trying to catch ghosts for people, how much of a distance from the usual ghost story? It’s just fun.

How’s the Acting?

It’s pretty good. Typical acting for each of these lovely comedic actors. Sigourney Weaver is my favorite performance in this one. But then again, Sigourney Weaver is always my favorite in basically anything. She’s just really good.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

I love how clever the comedy of this movie is. It’s very loud and in your face sometimes and at other times subtle and quietly amusing. It’s the perfect mix of over the top comedy and an endearing measure of wit.

How’s the Cinematography?

It’s dated in this day and age, but I’m sure at the time, it was very impressive. I, for one, really love the gross dog monster things. So creepy and gross looking.

Is It Worth Watching?

C’mon, it’s Ghostbusters. How can anybody say it’s not worth watching? It’s a classic, and by classic I mean ‘everybody has seen this movie’. So honestly, why bother asking if it’s worth watching when everybody has already seen it?

My Rating: 8/10

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Crimson Peak (2015)

Part 10 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
  • Starring Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowski, Jessica Chastain
  • Written by Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins
  • Fantasy, Horror
  • Rated R
  • 1hr 59mins
  • 16 October 2015

Synopsis

A young woman has been haunted by ghosts her entire life. However, when a mysterious man and his sister enter her life, the ghosts seem to become more frequent than ever before. After the death of her father, Edith marries Thomas, her mysterious lover, and moves back to England with him and his sister, Lucille. What she finds there is even more sinister than what she left behind in America.

How’s the Story?

I’m biased, as I’ve said in several of these reviews now, but I love Gothic genre, and this movie is absolutely, without any comparison, the quintessential Gothic romance film. It is a lit-nerd’s dream. It has every element of that eerie yet romantic, creepy yet charming, scary yet sexy Gothic genre style going on and it’s all so good. I love this story, and I think that the reason so many people disliked it is that they were expecting a straight up horror movie and instead got a Gothic romance horror movie.

How’s the Acting?

Mia Wasikowski has never done a bad performance that I’ve seen, and this is just another good one from her. She as Edith is so believable and lovable and you want good things for her. Tom Hiddleston also can hardly ever do any wrong in my eyes. He brings such humanity into his characters, good and bad, so there is no straight up ‘good or bad’. Thomas isn’t a villain, he’s a dark anti-hero. We want him to pay for his wrongdoings but we also don’t blame him for them. Jessica Chastain, however, is the real star here. She is a scene-stealer in the best way. I love how subtly terrifying she plays Lucille. It’s just fascinating to watch and so, so good.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

This movie is very much a Guillermo Del Toro movie. The man knows how to write a love story within a greater picture. Everything about how this movie is written sucks you in. The small moments bring you so deep into the characters lives that you don’t realize it has happened at all. That’s good writing and directing right there.

Also, side note: Guillermo Del Toro knows how to write women. I haven’t seen all of his work, but in everything of his I have seen, women aren’t just shoved in the story, they are people. He makes them complex, very interesting characters and this is very much a movie about two women. Thomas is not relegated to a sexy lamp, but he is the ‘object’ in this one. There’s very little more satisfying than a movie where a woman makes her own choices, her own mistakes, and essentially is the maker of her own destiny a dozen times over. It’s just so refreshing to see a movie written and directed in such a way that the main character who is a woman feels like a real woman. I would honestly believe a woman wrote and directed this movie, that’s how realistic Edith and Lucille are.

How’s the Cinematography?

Again, it’s a Guillermo Del Toro movie. He’s all about working with cinematographers who are great at using vibrant colors and extravagant visuals and this movie is no exception. The use of shadow and light is so good here, not to mention the boldness in everything red. It only ups that ‘creep’ factor and is a nice departure from the normal dark and drab style used in so many horror films.

One scene in particular that just thrills me to death is the scene where Edith’s father dies. The water and the steam and the blood swirling around, it’s all just so reminiscent of something like Hannibal with its cinematographic quality of making the macabre beautiful. It’s just such a pretty film to look at.

Is It Worth Watching?

This is one of my favorite movies. Full stop. One of the best of 2015 by far. Honestly, I think this movie is a love-it-or-hate-it and I’m so far on the ‘love it’ side that I cannot comprehend not loving it. I know taste is subjective, but Jesus, this movie is just so, so good.

My Rating: 9/10

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