Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wind Review: Chilly Truths

Wind River : Chilly Truths

The moody, bleak cinematography along with the desperate tone in Wind River, definitely reminded me of Unforgiven (1992), one of the great westerns of all time. It’s a chilling solid mystery thriller with some good acting performances, and a stellar story set on a Native American Reservation for Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in the Central Western portion of Wyoming.
   The US Wildlife Fish and Game tracker, Cory Lambert (played by Jeremy Renner of Avengers, Mission Impossible and Arrival), stumbles across the body of Natalie Hanson, an eighteen year old resident of the area. The FBI suspects foul play and sends an inexperienced agent, Jane Banner (played by Elizabeth Olsen), to find out what’s going on. Hanson and Lambert team up and discover the truth.
Wind River is a film that succeeds mostly on the strength of its atmosphere. It’s a very bleak-looking film matching the film's story very well. As mentioned already, Wind River is not exactly a “happy film”. It’s a very slow-burner thriller, and as such, may not be for everyone, but I appreciate the film’s endless shots of winter. Setting the story in Wyoming, was a smart decision on, director and screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan’s part (screenwriter of Hell or High Water and Sicario), as there is a great sublime sequence, completely in silence, where Lambert follows random footprints in a just wonderful winter atmosphere before he discovers the body. The film also has a memorable sequence involving a mountain lion. Helping the film tremendously is Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s musical score. Like a lot of their other film scores (Hell or High Water, Assassination of Jesse James), it’s short, but anytime the music appears, it’s meant to convey either a tone of despair and melancholy, or it can sound warm-hearted during the more reflective scenes.
   It’s nice to see Jeremy Renner in a leading role, especially in a part that fits him: a serious, mostly humorless, US Fish and Wildlife Service tracker. There’s an especially good scene where his character reflects upon his past and features some terrific subtle acting. There is nothing over the top about his work, at all. Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War, Godzilla), may seem miscast as a FBI agent, and even, while in character, admits to being out of her element, is really good in her part. The rest of the supporting cast is filled with some familiar names, such as Native American actor, Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Dances With Wolves), whom is always a pleasure to see, plays a friend of Lambert’s named Ben, and Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Sicario) plays a small, but significant part, as Matt Rayburn.
   If there’s any issue I had with the film, it’s that it feels like it’s the work of an inexperienced director. While this isn’t Sheridan’s directing debut (he previously directed a horror film named Vile), it may as well be. He's had significant prior success as a screenwriter, but screenwriting is very different from directing. He didn't do a bad job, but if he decides to just stay a screenwriter full-time, and only occasionally directs, I wouldn’t be surprised. Wind River is a solid chilling thriller, with some effective atmosphere, and certainly a good and very watchable film.

Now playing at The Nugget Theater, Hanover: 4:20, 6:50, 9:15 and Claremont Cinema 6:  4:10, 7:00, 9:30.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dunkirk: Review

War movies are often violent and heroic, or either of those things. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, on the other hand, is a film that literally gives the audience the true feeling and experience of the actual war as it depicts the battle of Dunkirk (Dunkerque, France), during World War II. It’s not a traditional war film, and it certainly doesn’t follow a traditional story structure either. Dunkirk is an amazing film that deserves to be seen in the best IMAX theater possible.
The battle of Dunkirk was a military operation fought between the Allies and the Nazis. Nolan’s film takes an interesting route for a war film, as there is no protagonist, and none of the biggest characters in this film are played by well known actors. Nolan intentionally cast unknown actors, while most of the supporting players are portrayed by better known actors, like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, & Mark Rylance. Although Tommy (played by Fionn Whitehead), a soldier who  gets top billing and opens the film, Dunkirk’s storytelling is centered around three specific stories in a Memento-esque, out of order fashion, and are referred to as the Mole, the Sea, and the Air. One story begins on land and covers a week; another story begins on sea and covers a day; and the final story begins in the air and covers only one hour. The three stories involve the soldiers of Dunkirk fending off enemy attacks: a private ship that ends up in the middle of the battle and picks up a wounded soldier played by Cillian Murphy, and a pilot named Farrier (played by Tom Hardy), trying to take two other spitfire pilots across the English Channel.
If there was really a word I could use to describe Dunkirk as an overall film, it would be relentless. The film will literally have you on the edge of your seat. Dunkirk is as if you took the first act of Saving Private Ryan and stretched it out over a 100 minutes runtime. It’s that intense. It’s not super-bloody (rated PG-13), but it is more violent in how bombs, dog-fights, and guns are blasted. Helping the film is Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score, which, in his typical fashion, serves as both sound design (you can hear a recurring beeping tick tock noise in the background), and creating a sense of constant dread.
While most of the performances in Dunkirk are fine, including Kenneth Branagh as a Captain who spends most of the film waving his hat, Mark Rylance as a ship owner named Mr. Dawson, Hardy’s Farrier pilot (my favorite character), and even singer Harry Styles surprising me in a decent way as a young pilot, it’s really the experience that takes center-stage. Even though the story is simple, the scale of Dunkirk is huge, with real battleships, real planes, and real weapons, in typical Nolan fashion, the use of CGI (computer generated images) is limited. This makes the film’s intensity all the more successful.
Dunkirk is an intense, brutal war film, because it literally makes the audience feel like they’re actually in the battlefield with the use of sparse dialogue in certain scenes helping. Once I came out of the cinema after seeing Dunkirk, the first thing I said was “They weren't kidding, it is the real deal. I'm glad it was only an hour and forty-five minutes, because otherwise I may have felt pure dread just like those soldiers.” This film is not for the faint of the heart or those who don’t like their films loud. It is, however, a superb piece of filmmaking.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Marvel Makes Spider-Man Relevant Again
Spider-Man: Homecoming - A Film Review
Daniel Davis
July 11, 2017

            It’s been a rough ten years for Spider-Man. Aside from Sony’s refusal to sell the film rights back to Marvel, attempts at creating a cinematic universe like Marvel, and a bunch of somewhat poorly received films, everyone seemed to have given up on the poor web slinger, Spider-man, until now. After Sony made a deal with Marvel, and Spider-Man made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America: Civil War, played by up and coming British actor, Tom Holland, the first teenager to actually play Spider-man. Holland’s portrayal of Spider-man was so well-received, a spinoff was announced, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, starring everyone’s favorite, friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man is fun, fast-paced, and above all, heroic. Marvel works its magic again.

            Spider-Man: Homecoming, in essence, is probably the purest Spider-Man film I’ve ever seen, because it’s the one that gets the character the most. Not having to adhere to the typical origin movie standards, Holland’s Spider-Man is very witty, while also being very geeky at the same time, taking the best aspects of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s previous Spider-Man performances and combining them together.

Unusual for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Spider-Man: Homecoming features a fairly strong villain in the form of Adrian Toomes, aka The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton. (The former Batman is playing another Birdman this time.) What makes Vulture work as a villain is his presence is treated as a true menace and his motives are clear. The first scene even opens with him, as we (the audience), see Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) being fired from his job. This is done to set up his reasoning for becoming a villain. This is different from other Marvel villains, who are generally given little screen time and more pushed to the backburner of the film, so as to not outshine the hero. The film also cleverly alludes to other Spider-Man villains by having three of Vultures’ henchmen being Mac Gargan, aka The Scorpion, Phileas Mason, aka The Tinkerer, and Herman Schultz, aka The Shocker, potentially setting them up to return for a sequel.

In addition to Tom Holland’s outstanding lead role, the supporting cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming is fairly strong, as well. Marisa Tomei plays the youngest and hottest Aunt May yet, who is fairly understanding, but at the same time, worried about her nephew, Peter. Peter’s high school schoolmates, in New York City, are diverse and include: Jacob Batalon as Ned, his sidekick and someone he can talk to; Laura Harrier as Liz Allen, his love interest in this particular installment; Disney star Zendaya as Michelle, a geek girl; and Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, whose whiny, bullying, rich kid persona is one of my biggest gripes with the film, though, thankfully he’s not in the movie much. Robert Downey Jr. also shows up as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, but he does he take over the film, not making this “Iron Man 4” in spirit. In fact, Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Iron Man’s assistant, has more screen time and gets his biggest role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

The production in Spider-Man: Homecoming should also not be swatted at either. Marvel films are generally called out for their weak or dull cinematography (something that I don’t entirely agree with), but Salvatore Totino’s cinematography in Spider-Man: Homecoming is very bright and colorful, representing the character and the film’s tone quite well. The film’s production design is also superb, bringing New York City to life. While Michael Giacchino’s score suffers from the same problem that most Marvel scores and modern scores, in general, suffer from, that is, a lot of noise, it does feature two fine themes, and the film’s music becomes very appropriately heroic sounding during the right moments.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, fast-paced, superhero action film, and is one of the very best from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t know if this film is my favorite Spider-Man movie yet, but it’s certainly tied with Spider-Man 2 (2004) for the title. It gets just about everything right about the character and his mythos, and it’s loads of fun as well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Finding Dory: A Review
Dan Davis
June, 2016
          When creating a sequel to a classic, it's hard to make a follow-up that satisfies everyone. Finding Nemo was never one of my absolute favorite Pixar films (which is saying a lot considering how much I love Pixar films, but I digress), but it was still a charming and very good story about a father trying to find his son. So, when it was announced a sequel was going to be made, I remained hopeful, although a bit skeptical. Then, when I learned it would star Dory, Marlin's forgetful companion from the first film, I was especially worried since sequels and spinoffs starring comic relief characters don't tend to go over well, for example, Pixar's own Cars 2, a film I don't actually hate, but did not do well at the box office. Finding Dory proves to  be a satisfying follow-up.   
           What makes Finding Dory work as a follow-up to Finding Nemo is that it adds an extra layer of dimension to the title character of Dory. Although Dory's short term memory loss was a funny quirk in Finding Nemo, in Finding Dory it becomes a real story element, and adds a depth to the character. In Finding Dory, Dory suddenly starts having memories of her parents and what she was like as a child, and decides, along with Marlin and Nemo to embark on a journey to a SeaWorld like location, in order to find her parents. Along the way, much like in the Finding Nemo, they encounter a bunch of quirky characters, including an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O'Neill, who does an exceptional job), and a pair of amusing and crazy sea otters (voiced by Idris Elba, who seems to be on a Disney voice roll of late, and Dominic Cooper), among others. These quirky characters, along with other aspects, add to the film's overall charm, and enjoyment.    
        Much of the film's heart and interesting character development comes not only from the relationship between Dory and her parents, but also Dory and the somewhat crusty octopus, Hank. Hank is basically Dory's buddy in the film, much like how Dory was for Marlin in Finding Nemo, except Hank is an octopus with a lot of attitude. Hank originally only aids Dory because she will be able to let him get to his planned destination, but once the two start to get to know each other a bit, they become real friends. There are also a lot quieter moments in the film, particularly scenes where Dory is by herself, trying to recall her own memories of her past, that I really appreciated and liked. Caitlyn Olson who plays Dory's younger self does a very good job in this role.
          Despite some complaints about the film being too much like the first one, I found most of it was actually original. Aside from Crush, whose appearance is brief, and logical to the story itself, and the moonfish teacher (because every Pixar film needs to have John Ratzenberger somewhere in there), most of the supporting characters from Finding Nemo do not appear again. Much like the Toy Story sequels, most of the not so major characters do not up show again, in any particular major roles, instead opting to add in some new characters to the action. While some people may find it disappointing that characters like Bruce, are not in this sequel, I think this, along with the primarily out of sea location, makes the film stand-out on it's own, and makes it different enough to not feel like a complete retread.
        The last scene is very chaotic and terrific with a slow-mo scene near the end played to Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. Marlon and Nemo, while still central to the plot, do feel a bit like an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. They certainly could have had more scenes together, but I can't say I'm overall disappointed. After all, this is Dory's film and story, through and through.
        Thomas Newman's musical score is just as wonderful and great as the Finding Nemo's score, particularly during the more quiet moments, and unlike a lot of sequel scores, it doesn't recycle too many cues from the original, instead opting to do a lot more original music. Also, just a funny thing to recall, but weirdly enough, some of the music during the credits reminded me a bit of spy music.    
        In the end, Finding Dory is both a terrific follow-up to Finding Nemo, but also a very entertaining and enjoyable movie on it's own, with plenty of heart, and several themes and ideas you can get out of it. As far as Pixar's sequels centering around a comic-relief go, this is certainly better executed than Cars 2, and the animation in this film is lovely and as gorgeous as ever.
9/10 (same rating as the original)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Race: A Review
Dan Davis
June, 2016

          Stephen Hopkins’ Race, a French-German-Canadian co-production, is a somewhat standard biopic that tells the story of Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James), and his quest to become the world’s greatest track and field athlete. After being trained by Coach Larry Snyder (played by Jason Sudeikis), he finds himself on the world stage of the 1936 Olympics. In this context, Jesse is up against Adolph Hitler and his racist ideologies, which threaten to tear him apart. Due to this conflict, he has to decide whether or not he should actually go to the Olympics. While this is happening, we intersect with scenes of Avery Brundage, (played by Jeremy Irons) a well off American envoy, who is trying to negotiate a compromise with Hitler’s political party, the Third Reich, so as to avoid a boycott over Jesse Owen’s participation in the Olympics. Race may be a very simply told story, but its good performances and compelling story, make it even more enjoyable than expected.
Race’s title actually has two meanings. The first, obviously, refers to the Olympics and the running race Owens is involved in, and the second meaning, of course, has to do with Jesse Owens and the prejudice he receives on the field because of his race,and being an African American athlete. Stephan James’ plays Owens as a fiercely stubborn and persistent runner who wants to be the best. James’ performance is somewhat cautious, and while he seems to lack a huge amount of dramatic depth in the role, he is, nonetheless, very good. Comedian Jason Sudeikis, as Coach Larry Snyder, is a bit of the odd duck in the film. While he is basically very good in the role, it does feel like he’s trying too hard with a little too much brooding and seriousness, as if to remind the audience that he’s not playing his usual funny role with comic relief. When he delivers lines, like “no room on the team for us”, all I can think of to myself is here is a serious Sudeikis who wants to seen as a serious actor, playing a serious role, very seriously. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage, who spends most of his scenes talking a lot to Germans, and William Hurt, as a racist coach, being the standouts.
         The direction by Stephen Hopkins is fine. There are some slow-motion scenes, such as when Coach Snyder is telling Jessie if he hears voices from outside the stadium, and Coach Snyder’s voice slows down, then the scenes switch almost automatically back and forth. Another example of this, whenever Jessie is running, the scenes will literally go silent just before the races are about to begin. The running scenes, in general, are quite exhilarating, and are the highlights of the film, even if they don’t take up much of the film’s screen time, and don’t appear until about half-way through the film.
I especially liked the musical score by Rachel Portman. While a lot of the music is very inspirational-sounding, I quite liked the dark and sinister music for the Nazis, however the music that plays when Jessie Owens walks onto the Olympic running field is oddly somewhat dark sounding as well, and then it builds to an epic rushing piece, eventually.
        What’s unusually odd about Race, which I didn’t particularly care for, is just how weirdly edited it is, at least in the first half. Scenes sometimes cut from one to the other, and some of them feel oddly out of place. An example of this is when Jessie Owens and Coach Snyder are talking, and the film cuts to a shot of Avery Brundage standing before some Germans. While this sort of thing wouldn’t normally bother me, the editing is done so abruptly that I can’t help but notice it.
         Surprisingly, the film doesn’t explore the race angle as much as you would expect. Instead, it goes for more of a quasi-inspirational film, with some thriller elements thrown in. There are some race issues addressed in the film, but if this issue had been developed more, it might have made the movie a bit more interesting in the story department. That said, overall, Race is a solid biopic. It does tackles some major themes, and the direction, acting, musical score, and settings all make it worthwhile for at least one viewing experience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Blog!

Having recently graduated from college and no longer writing reviews for my Internship at Catamount Arts, I invite you to follow me here in our very own MovieHole.