Quick Review Spotlight

Dear readers, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As we dwell upon our respective 2018’s, I’ve decided to bestow upon you a gift: 9 film reviews in one article. Not only does this include both recent holiday blockbusters and smaller independent works, it’s also a chance for me to focus on even more anticipated releases as we get into the heat of awards season. Expect more reviews, awards analysis, and some “Best of 2018” lists throughout January and February. In the meantime, enjoy and argue about my opinions down below (I really hated Aquaman. You’ve been warned). *The order is not specific based on rating, title, etc., but in order of when I saw them.*

Here’s to an epic 2019!

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (Nov. 16)

Warner Bros. Pictures

When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates) received its theatrical release in 2009, some of its harshest critics said it had cliché elements of a soap opera, judging from the romantic entanglements between its three lead characters. I’d hate to see what they say about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. If telenovela plot twists and predictable love stories are all J.K. Rowling has left to offer for the Wizarding World franchise, maybe it’s time to surrender the wand. Nothing blindsides fans more than when completely made up characters are introduced to upend material that has been loved since 1997. While there are some saving graces like the visual effects, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp, they can’t save the film. Ridiculous plot twists and forced darkness are front and center in this messy film. 4.0/10

Regency Enterprises


WIDOWS (Nov. 16)
Oscar winner Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) crafts a magnificent film about female empowerment through the veil of a heist film. Reflecting on race relations and the rampant violence of Chicago, Widows is a brutal tale that has political corruption and public facades at its rich center, all while being visually stunning and comfortably conventional at the same time. Viola Davis and Daniel Kaluuya shine brightest from the ensemble cast. 8.5/10

BRON Studios

THE FRONT RUNNER (Nov. 21)

This is a quiet drama that tiptoes around its blatant political issues, and for the most part, it’s successful. While Gary Hart’s political demise due to infidelity in 1987 is center stage, The Front Runner provides grey areas and not-so-obvious battle lines between politicians and journalists, urging us to side with one or the other. We’re shown clips of journalists messing up on air and taking tabloid news too far, yet their plight to report on Hart’s honesty is more than admirable. The Front Runner is an (sometimes frustrating) ambiguous and timely film, but not the powerhouse you might expect. 7.0/10

GREEN BOOK (Nov. 21)

Dreamworks Pictures

THIS is the movie about race, opposition, and eventual harmony that America needs right now. Two characters, Tony (Viggo Mortensen) and Don (Mahershala Ali), represent two sides of the same coin. Tony is good-hearted and gets things done, but he lives in the past full of prejudice. Don is positively progressive but suffers internally, being told where he can and cannot fit in life. When the two take a road trip through the deep south in 1962, these themes come alive through a flawless script. Mortensen and Ali are both spectacular; Ali deserves the Best Supporting Actor win for this much more than 2016’s Moonlight. Complete with a musical score that complements the thematical material, Green Book is 2018’s “feel-good” movie with a profound message at its core. 9.5/10

AT ETERNITY’S GATE (Nov. 16)

CBS Films

Artistic movies ask a lot of their audiences, and At Eternity’s Gate is no different. This Vincent van Gogh biopic/character study is an eccentric blend of surreal cinematography, slow build-ups, and a dynamic lead performance from Willem Dafoe. But its “blended” status hurts it, because the most powerful themes about art and integrity often feel muddled; the result is an underwhelming movie. The camera does whatever it wants, sometimes following van Gogh, sometimes not, and distorting its vision occasionally to match van Gogh’s apparent manic depression. Ambient piano and string arrangements make for an “artsy” film score, drawing us in with each movement. At Eternity’s Gate is a narrative chore to watch, but a visual feast. 6.0/10

THE FAVOURITE (Nov. 23)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

One of 2018’s biggest award contenders walks a tightrope between parody period piece and melodramatic love triangle. The story is quite familiar: a poor, humble girl (Emma Stone) rises through the ranks to become an entirely different person – in this case, a royal force that threatens Rachel Weisz’s character (who has a prestigious position at the beginning). Both Weisz and Stone fight for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) affection, and the subversion of this classic tale lies within lesbian sex and complete focus on the female motives. Let the men go off and fight wars; there’s a much more interesting war going on at home. My problems with The Favourite are about Colman’s character, who deserved so much more screen time than she got. Queen Anne is the center of the story, yet we drift away from her too eagerly (yet still slowly if we’re judging artsy aesthetics) to focus on the Stone vs Weisz spat. Visually, this is a grand yet quirky film, which is plus for me because it keeps the audience engaged when the story begins to shake. Stone and Colman both deliver great work here. 7.0/10

THE MULE (Dec. 14)

Warner Bros. Pictures

After the dismal and disappointing The 15:17 to Paris from earlier this year, Clint Eastwood redeems himself with this meditative film on discrimination in the modern age. Though its plot focuses on the elderly Earl (Eastwood) delivering drugs across the U.S., The Mule has an underlying theme of how people view and perpetuate discrimination among all types of people. Earl still refers to African Americans as “negroes” and views himself as a hero at times, yet he too suffers from prejudice and mistreatment because of his age. He also looks down upon Millennials and Gen. Z for devoting too much time to technology, which has its ups and downs in the movie’s screenplay. The Mule therefore comes off as a light drama instead of an intense hard-hitter, which makes it a little tough to really like. It’s solid by Eastwood standards. 7.0/10

ROMA (Dec. 14)

Esperanto Filmoj & Netflix

Alfonso Cuaron’s most personal film may follow the trend of excruciatingly slow movies with artistic flourishes, but have patience. Once you reach the halfway mark, Roma becomes a riveting powerhouse of a film. Following the daily routines of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid to a middle class family in 1970s Mexico City, Roma tells us a very human story that helps us recognize the dignity and worth of every human person – and its methods are visceral. Cuaron has specialized in long, uncut takes throughout his career (see Gravity with Sandra Bullock), and this technique illustrates some truly breathtaking shots in Roma. Washing a concrete driveway has never looked so beautiful. A trip to the movie theater has never looked so gorgeous. A beach has never looked so good in black and white. A lot of the action therefore happens in real time, making some of the movie’s saddest moments even more painful. As modernity and political turmoil creep in, the movie becomes a slow-burner narrative with truly authentic characters at its center. Roma is easy to access as a Netflix film, but try and find a way to watch it on the biggest screen you own; it’s worth it. 9.0/10

AQUAMAN (Dec. 21)

DC Comics & DC Entertainment

We had hope with Wonder Woman. I didn’t even think Justice League was the trash heap that so many claimed it to be. But Aquaman takes the cake for me as the worst film of the new DC Comics cinematic universe. After at least 45 minutes of pure exposition, the movie finally gets rolling, only to become a pseudo-videogame adventure of mindless objectives, cringey dialogue and underwhelming themes. The movie tiptoes around its environmental messages without providing enough ambiguity, and when it focuses on Aquaman’s (Jason Momoa) origin story, it tries so hard to be Black Panther (a better movie by miles). Momoa’s talent is pretty much wasted on a terrible script, and Willem Dafoe’s inclusion was just sad to watch. The only saving graces are the visual effects, which are unfortunately underwritten when the movie is so poorly paced. The opening fight scene with Nicole Kidman is awesome, but it’s a mere tease because the movie hardly ever goes back to that style of cinematography or editing (when it does, it’s for a few seconds, not full scenes). I couldn’t be more disappointed by this overstuffed, predictable, and unneeded nonsense. 3.5/10

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