“Dark City” (1998) Throwback Thursday Film Review

The “thinking man’s Matrix.” That is how fellow critic and senior producer of One Movie Punch Joseph Dobzynski describes this underrated neo-noir science-fiction film that predates The Matrix. For the weekly film screening with my cinephile friend Leon in Germany, he selected Dark City. Truly visionary and incredibly rewatchable! I don’t know about you, but I had never even heard of it before. Perhaps that’s because I was so young when it came out. But I am glad that we watched it. It’s now among my favorite neo-noir films.  Never before have I seen a film take the stylistic techniques of film noir and extended them into the realm of fantasy, delivering a motion picture that is highly artistic and cerebral. Perhaps the film was ahead of its time, and that’s why it does not receive the fanfare that The Matrix gets. Between the two, objectively this one is more thought-provoking and artistic. Directed by Alex Proyas, this Fincher meets Scott neo-noir successfully fuses a classical film noir/detective mystery approach with futuristic fantastical allegory. One of the elements of early horror and film-noir that I feel gets lost today is the extension of the plot into the setting itself to the degree that the setting becomes a defacto character. Just as a human is more than the sum of his or her parts, so a setting can be more than the sum of its physical dimensions and time. I would have loved to have experienced watching this one on the big screen to get the full surrealist effect of being completely immersed in this volatile world. Hey Fathom Events, put this one on your list!

John Murdoch wakes up in a bathtub in an unfamiliar hotel just to find out that he is wanted for a bizarre string of murders in a cult or serial killer fashion. One problem, he has no memory of committing the murders, nor much of a memory of anything save a place called Shell Beach. Thinking that he may have completely lost his mind, Murdoch begins to connect the pieces together in order to solve the twisted riddle of his identity. After a bizarre run-in with someone claiming to be his wife and a persistent detective, Murdoch continues to unravel the mystery surrounding the entire unnamed city. Never could he have imagined that his investigation would lead him to uncovering the presence of ominous group of aliens that have taken over the city. The truth that he uncovers will blow your mind.

Next to horror, film-noir is my favorite genre. And yes, we could all too easily debate film-noir‘s status as a genre as it only existed for a moment in cinematic history; and anything more modern is considered neo-noir, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept film-noir as a genre. There is a beauty to this film that does not exist in The Matrix. And that beauty runs incredibly fluidly from page to screen as is made evident from the brilliantly crafted setting, characters and conflict. There is a Metropolis-like quality to the setting and characters in Dark City. Even before Inception blew our minds with its ability to completely immerse us in the world of reality manipulated by the boundless imagination, Dark City transformed the landscape of this city in perpetual darkness. Some of the cinematic characteristics of film noir are found in the lowkey lighting, architecture inspired from German expressionism, and often a character playing the role of a detective. Whereas detective/mystery is a separate genre, there are several films with overlap between noir and detective. If you pay close attention to the production design, you will notice that the buildings grow more elongated and twisted the closer Murdoch gets to solving the mystery; furthermore, the buildings grow more slanted as Murdoch reaches the edges of the city. On a meta level, the setting is an extension of the mind of Murdoch and reflects his memories or lack thereof, more precisely the unreliability of memories. Just as his [Murodoch’s] memory is unreliable, so is the cityscape in which he resides. Characters and settings change and display broken collective memories, even when remembering how to get to Shell Beach. The design of the setting demonstrates Proyas’ attention to the stylized visual components of building this hybrid noir/sci-fi.

Whereas the neo-noir characters and world, in which they live, are very much a product of a reimagination of the film-noir genre, the conflict and plot (after the very much noir first act) are a deconstruction of the noir genre through a science-fiction plot. One of the dangers the many science-fiction screenwriters encounter is that he or she spends way too much time on constructing the science-fiction world and technology and quickly writes characters for the world. The error: starting with the world instead of with the characters or plot. Proyas demonstrates a strong commitment to his characters and plot, followed by the world. He was able to masterfully craft both because he used the world from one and the plot from another. Think of this combination of noir and sci-fi elements as Walt Disney’s patented multi-plane camera (last used on The Black Cauldron). Instead of elements mixed together, they were layered on top of one another in order to increase the depth of story. The plot remains simple; but the conflict, characters and world built on top of it gives the illusion of a complex plot. The screenplay stays true to a simple plot and complex characters. Through this visionary approach of fusing a film-noir setting to a science-fiction plot, Proyas provides the characters (and by extension, audience) a thought-provoking means of exploring reality in a most cinematic fashion.

There are considerable similarities between Blade Runner and Dark City in terms of the setting, score, and cinematography. And this is to be expected from a director who has demonstrated an admiration of Ridley Scott’s brilliant film. In retrospect, there are prominent earmarks of Muholland Drive by David Lynch as well. The meta nature of this film can be observed in the city itself. As the plot unfolds, we learn that the city is glorified set–not so different from a film set which changes throughout production in order to capture each and every scene. Just as a mood ring supposedly visualizes the emotion of the wearer, the set serves as an extension of the paranoia of its inhabitants. Capturing the madness experienced by the characters, specifically Murdoch, in the setting and cinematography adds to the experience of watching this film by creating an immersive environment as much for us as it is the characters. As this film is a means to deconstruct a film-noir through a science-fiction plot, we have the trademark characters such as a love interest and private eye; but instead of a central character who is experiencing a type of psychosis, the central character of Murdoch is the only character who has complete control of his mind and thus sees the cracks in the world created for him by The Strangers. This inverse of the central character injects this story with innovative ingenuity.

I would be remiss to not analyze the characters of opposition led by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson), with a notable chief of his version of the KGB, Mr. Hand played by the legendary Richard O’Brien (the writer/director of Rocky Horror Picture Show). While Mr. Book is the leader of The Strangers, the alien species whom have kidnapped these citizens of earth to place them in this futuristic experiment to analyze what constitutes the human soul, we spend most of our time with Mr. Hand. To borrow from Game of Thrones, Mr. Hand is the hand of the king. While these aliens resemble humanoid lifeforms, they are in actuality a jellyfish like species that uses human bodies as hosts in order to interact with humans. For all the power that their telekinetic abilities give them, water and sun is their greatest enemy, hence why Shell Beach is nowhere to be found and the city is perpetually in darkness. Just like Murdoch is an inverted noir central character, The Strangers are inverted humans as they have a great fear of water and sunlight, whereas humans require water and sunlight to remain healthy. I cannot help but wonder that Star Trek TNG and Voyager’s The Borg was influential in the development of The Strangers, as they both share the hive-like mind and pale skin. Of course, a chief difference is The Strangers’ ability to adopt some unique traits to blend in with the humans.

In retrospect, this is a much stronger film than The Matrix. Both share a similar premise, but the original expression of the shared premise in Dark City is far more timeless than the more famous of the two. And I am not merely talking about the visual effects, of which they hold up better in Dark City than The Matrix; I am talking about the comprehensive execution of the two films. Had James Cameron’s Titanic not dwarfed Dark City, then it may have been seen as the superior film to The Matrix by wider audiences than the strong cult following it currently has. But why do I feel that Dark City is superior to The Matrix? Simply stated, it comes down to the writing and direction. There are so many more layers to the writing and direction that makes it a cerebral film. I would not characterize The Matrix as a thinking man’s film, but I would Dark City. You can liken the two to Star Wars vs Star Trek (TV series). Star Wars is action-driven whereas Star Trek is largely character-driven. One may even go so far as to call The Matrix high concept and Dark City low concept. On the topic of visual effects, virtually all the effects in The Matrix are CGI; conversely, Dark City contains a beautiful fusion of practical effects (including miniatures) supplemented with digital effects. Dark City feels so much more real, tangible. It’s that authenticity that makes it the stronger of the two and warrants far more rewatches.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald” review

Fantastic Beasts: the crimes of screenwriting. I am still not entirely sure what I watched last night. J.K. Rowling’s plot for the second film in the Fantastic Beasts is all over the place, goes in every direction except intentionally forward. When the Harry Potter spinoff franchise needed an Empire Strikes Back, it gets an Attack of the Clones. Referencing a hyperbolic statement from J.K. that made its way around Twitter, I am totally in belief that she did, in fact, write the screenplay in 25mins. From pacing issues to odd tonal shifts and a lack of focus, the screenplay suffers from a case of sequelitis. The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to rely on technical marvel and spectacle more so than a compelling narrative. The movie is full of new and familiar characters (plus some Harry Potter cameos), fantastical beasts, and explosive sequences of events, but ultimately loses air ad runs flat. Much in the same way that the first movie felt like the preface to a book, this one feels that it too has the goal to simply setup the next chapter. Moreover, the movie feels like too little plot stretched over too much runtime. Which is a shame, because there is clearly an attempt to provide an escapist allegory for primarily racism and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Subtext of heavy psycho-social and moralistic themes is nothing new to the Rowling-verse, but Grindelwald simply gets lost on its journey to deliver a powerful thought-provoking story paired with high-flying adventure. This sequel is certainly darker than its predecessor, but fails to provide a well-developed plot that will drive the remaining films forward.

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world (IMDb).

Many movies have A, B, and C stories. The A story is the central plot that focusses on the central and opposition character’s external goal; and the B and C stories are typically the subplots that focus on character development, internal needs, and/or supporting character stories. The problem with this movie is that it randomly switches focus, tone, and direction arbitrarily without any rhyme or reason. Each of the A, B, C, D….in short, there are too many stories (plots) in this movie…plots–individually–are interesting. And stacked in an effective manner, could provide quite a bit of meat in this sandwich. Unfortunately, the focus of the layers and ingredients is on the arrangement or presentation of the sandwich more so than allowing the famished to sink their teeth into the otherwise delicious sandwich. Or think of it as the shifting staircases in Hogwarts; you could ascend and descend the staircases for hours and still not make any real progress toward your destination. Structurally, the movie suffers from a shifty foundation. So convoluted is the plot, that it continually introduces new information and elements just for surprise, shock, or brief entertainment value rather than setting up the story in the first act, throwing the characters into crisis mode in the second act, then providing solid resolution or realization in the third. It’s like one really long first act and a rushed second and third acts. As I warn my screenwriting students about science-fiction or fantasy writing, often times, these screenwriters are so wrapped up in world-building that the plot and characters suffer. Perhaps the characters in Grindelwald are complex enough (but truly debatable) but the plot is far from simple. After two movies, it appears that J.K.’s talent for writing novels is not as evident in screenwriting. Hence why many parts of this movie feel better suited to a novel than movie.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and pacing problems, but I feel I’ve made my evaluation sufficiently enough. So, now I want to switch gears to discussing what IS interesting about the movie. There are elements and attempts at themes (and subtext) that almost worked. Had more attention been paid to the logistics of screenwriting, then these would have been thought-provoking or at least meaningful. Upon my initial watch (and full disclosure, I plan to watch it again b/c I’ve heard it’s better on the second screening), the themes of racism, ethics, and sexuality are clearly present. Instead of a classic approach that features two differing ethnic races, the two races are the magical and no-mag (or muggles), skin color or country of origin do not factor into the equation. Grindelwald seeks to elevate the magical above the no-mag because he feels that the magical race is superior to the no-mag and can prevent the world from plunging into war. Ironically, his views insight mass violence and death. Furthermore, he wants the no-mag to serve the magical because the no-mag are disposable. Clearly, there are parallels between the American Civil War and Wold War II. Moreover, Grindelwald’s determined for the magical to stop hiding from the rest of the world and should come out to show the regular humans that they are the superior race–the super race, if you will.

Speaking of “not hiding,” the film also touches on sexuality in the wizarding world. For the first time, a character’s sexuality is pivotal to the plot and thus affords J.K. and WarnerMedia to comment on that in the story. Not a spoiler since J.K. stated it in a tweet, Dumbledore was in a romantic relationship with Grindelwald when they were much younger. It was always rumored that Dumbledore was gay, but this film puts those rumors to rest by addressing his past. Unlike a film that would simply add this character trait to the plot for the sake of inclusivity, Grindelwald allows for this to be an important part to the plot because Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a pact when they were in love never to fight each other directly. This theme of being free to love whom you will is also witnessed in the relationship between Jacob and Queenie. According to the present laws, Jacob and Queenie are not permitted to marry because a magical individual cannot engage in a romantic relationship with a non-mag. Queenie could wind up in the Ministry of Magic’s prison. In the end, Queenie couldn’t live with the divide between her and Jacob that the Ministry created, so she chooses a new future for herself. Although only directly touched on in one scene, there is also some commentary on ethics. At one point, Dumbledore tells Scamander that he appreciates that Scamander always does what is right, not what will best suit him or support a particular side of a conflict. He is concerned with only engaging in decisions that are ethically sound regardless of the personal benefit.

Even more than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald works diligently to convince you that these movies belong in the same universe as the original Harry Potter movies. The return to Hogwarts and a few familiar character appearances work to connect this film to the rest of the Wizarding World, but at times feel incredibly forced. You will also learn more about Dumbledore’s long lost, secret brother, the origin of Voldemort’s pet snake, and the lineage of Bellatrix Lestrange. With three more movies to go, there is still time to turn this franchise around for the better, but that will largely hinge on the next movie.

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“Creed II” Full Film Review

A truly heavyweight champion of cinema! Adonis Creed will hit you right in the feels. This brilliant installment in the Rocky/Creed franchise is an exemplary example of the power of cinematic storytelling. Creed II is a knockout! Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan’s respective performances are outstanding and Steven Caple’s direction is superb. Like with the original Rocky, this is not a film about boxing, it’s not about winning, it’s about going the distance supported by the inner drive to settle old scores, redemption, grief, loneliness, and the relationship between fathers and sons. Furthermore, it calls into question the reasons why we do what we do–the real reasons. So often we try to convince ourselves that we are determined to execute a plan for reasons other than the real ones, because the real reasons are too painful. The Rocky movies could so easily be about the sport of boxing, training, and winning; but they consistently include impactful, relatable, gritty themes that resonate with the audience. Whether you are familiar with boxing or not, this film will hit you with its powerful subtext and messages of redemption that we can all identify with. Whereas the original Creed did not feel highly connected to the Rocky cinematic universe, Creed II reminds us of the connection at every punch, block, and jab. The film also offers social commentary on the fickleness of glory and just how temporary and fleeting it can be. Sylvester Stallone and Cheo Hordari Coker’s screenplay follows the Rocky Way of doing things, much in the same way that Marvel has the well-known manner that Marvel stories are told. Even if you have not seen the Rocky movies or Creed, you will be moved and entertained by this film. Suspenseful, tense, and even comedic at times, Creed II is one to look for when Best Picture nominees are announced.

Recently crowned the heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) does the thing that makes him more nervous than the most intense fights–proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Encouraged by his coach, the former world champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Adonis takes the leap and asks the love of his live to marry him. And upon a visit to his mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), Adonis and Bianca find out that they are pregnant. The family time and celebration are short-lived when the son of Ivan Drago challenges Adonis’ title to the fight of the century–the Creed/Drago rematch fight that the world is waiting for. Saddled with a new engagement and the pregnancy of his fiancee, Adonis must decide if he’s willing to risk his life to settle an old score because he knows what it’s like to grow up without a dad. Soon, this date with destiny becomes an obsession that invades Adonis’ every thought and action. Against the wishes of his mom, fiancee, and Rocky, Adonis accepts the challenge from Drago’s son who Rocky describes as a monster because he has nothing to lose, whereas Adonis has everything to lose.

For fans of the Rocky franchise, this is the sequel that you have been waiting for in the Rocky cinematic universe. I liken this sequel to the recent Halloween because it feels connected in every way to the original but provides us a new story within a familiar world told through gripping characters and conflict. Beneath the surface of this high-concept plot, beats the heart of a low-concept family drama that hooks you with its relatability and intense moments that consistently keeps you drawn into the story. Creed II has many heavy moments, and could have felt overwhelming if it wasn’t for the comedic relief provided by Sylvester Stallone’s legendary character of Rocky. There are certainly plenty of somber, heartwarming, and emotionally poignant moments, but Rocky injects a little lightheartedness when it is needed to keep the emotional roller coaster going. The themes of this film are dramatized and paralleled by the training and boxing matches. Heavyweight characters paralleling heavyweight themes. Adonis’ external goal is not to win; it’s to go the distance with Viktor Drago to prove that he is a champion in and outside of the rink and therefore worthy to be a father. But what drives Adonis and Ivan Drago’s son is their need to uphold a legacy–legacies of sons haunted by their fathers. Further subtext of the film suggests that both of fighters are seeking redemption in order to fill a hole in the heart left by varying degrees of loneliness and grief over loss of relationships. In addition to the goals of Adonis, Rocky is also on a journey that is driven by his involvement in the life and training of Adonis. Rocky’s goal is to reunite with his son whom he estranged. Lots of father and son relationship internal needs in this story.

The performances are incredibly authentic. All the way around. Michael B. Jordan is well-known to be a charismatic actor who has a wide range that makes him someone whom is fun to watch on screen. He can communicate so many emotions through his face. Talk about commitment to character. I was completely sold on his character of Adonis both in and out of the rink. Displaying genuine emotion, I cared deeply about his successes and failures. In many ways, I think of him as a superhero in the vein of Captain America. Perhaps he does not have “superpowers,” but he is a hero to his family and to his community. I cared about what happened to him. Interestingly, even Viktor Drago will tug at your heartstrings because of the circumstances from which he comes. He truly is the definition of underdog. While we are rooting for Adonis to win, we cannot help but empathize with Viktor due to his somewhat warped relationship with his father and being abandoned by his mother and the community after his father lost to Rocky. Despite his evil outward appearance and behavior, Viktor is ultimately trying to prove himself to his father, estranged mother, and the Russian people that he is a champion and worthy of their adoration and love. Rocky represents the loneliness and solitude of boxing. Beyond that, he is also the compelling moral compass of Adonis and the “wise old man” teaching our central character how to truly be a winner in both is professional and personal life. In one of the lighter, yet equally heartwarming scenes of the film, Rocky is sitting by Adrian’s grave, talking to her about how he feels like a “chunk of yesterday” who cannot reconnect with their son (and later we learn, grandson). Rocky, Adonis, and Viktor all have ghosts of their pasts that they are battling much like the fights in the rink.

The film is not without its strong female characters as well. In fact, we have two amazing women who provide so much substance to the story. Humanizing Adonis is his fiancee Bianca. Moreover, her role in this film can be likened to the one once filled by Rock’s Adrian. Her performance is excellent, and she steels a few of the scenes. Thompson delivers the same grit, gumption, and emotionally powerful performance that she gave in the original Creed. Thompson’s Bianca acts as the complement to Rocky’s moral compass. She and Rocky represent two different sides of Adonis that need coaching. Adding to the emotional baggage in Adonis and Bianca’s home, Bianca continues to lose her ability to hear and wonders if their new baby will suffer from the same physiological condition. She is a phenomenally strong character who refuses to let her encroaching hearing loss to affect her quality of life. The audience was extremely delighted–audibly so–when Phylicia Rashad appeared on the screen for the first time as Adonis’ mother. Her character never backs down to her son and the deathwish he has. Deathwish in that Ivan killed his father before he was born, leaving Mary Anne a widow and mother. So, death is a real possibility in this fight of the century. She is strong in principle and convictions, and stands up to what she feels is a poor decision. However, when Adonis makes the decision to fight Viktor, his mother is supportive as a mother is even when she disagrees or fears for her son’s life and now a negative outcome from the fight will effect his fiancee and newborn daughter. Her performance is exemplary; there are times that she steels the scene from Adonis. Mary Anne and Bianca deliver moments to the audience that remind us that this film is full of heart and there are moments worth audibly cheering for. Cheering is something that you will likely hear in the auditorium. The energy level was as high as it is likely at a real boxing match.

It’s not about a fight, the film is about what the fight represents in the lives of those affected by it. Beneath the fighting platform and behind the gloves are relatable conflicts and emotional burdens that serve as a foundation upon which the drama is build and plot is driven forward. On the surface, the plot may seem like something that has been done before, and to some extent, there is a lot of Rocky and Rocky IV in this film; but, this plot contains so much depth of character that truly allows the heroes journey to shine. Not all superheroes wear capes. If it was up to Edna Mode, none of them would. Triumphs, failures, and personal and interpersonal growth are experienced by Adonis and Rocky. While so many sequels fall victim to sequelitis, Creed II meets and exceeds expectations! It’s a compelling story that till have you hooked from bell to bell.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“A Star is Born” (2018) Full Film Review

This “ageless and evergreen” movie musical will move your very soul from “the shallow” to the deep. Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is the fourth version of this story, and the strongest of the group. Now, the Streisand version will always have special place in my heart because I’m a lifelong Streisand fan. But other than Streisand herself, the rest of the film is largely forgettable. However, Cooper’s A Star is Born is a mind-blowingly, unapologetic movie musical that delivers a genuine authenticity rarely seen in movie musicals. With all the hype that this film received out of the Venice Film Festival and others during September, there is often the question that IF the film lives up to the hype? The short answer is YES. Fixing some of the plot holes in the Streisand version and providing more comprehensive character development, the screenplay co-written by Cooper harnesses the power of a simple plot with complex characters dealing with the positive and negative affects of stardom on two different people caught in a “bad romance.” With two charismatic performers with outstanding vocals and music plus a gripping story that will have you hooked from the first bar to the last, A Star is Born is an etherial cinematic experience equivalent to that of a shooting star. A star that will shoot its way to the Oscars next year.

Loving the bottle as much as he loves the stage, alt-country rockstar Jackson Maine (Cooper) wonders into a drag bar where he arrives just in time to see the performance of Ally (Gaga). Blown away by her incredible vocals, Maine finds her in the dressing room to introduce himself. Maine is taken back by her street smarts and homespun humility, but sees an undiscovered star. Although Ally has all but given up on her dream, Maine is determined to coax her out onto the stage Determined to provide Ally with the stage she needs to showcase her uncanny ability to create magic with her voice, a magic that has profound, authentic meaning behind it, Maine invites her to join him at a gig. When she refuses the invitation, Maine sends his chauffeur to follow her until she gives in. And gives in, she does. Already smitten with Ally, Maine falls madly in love with her after their voices make incredible music together. Soon, Ally’s career takes off like a shooting star, while Maine deals with his inner demons. Just like careers have ups and downs, so does the relationship between Ally and Jackson Maine.

As a star rises, a comet falls. While the basic plot of this, and the other versions of A Star is Born are similar in nature, this one feels the most cinematic. Cooper’s screenplay takes what the previous versions did well, and then improves where the others did not perform as well. With three previous ones to analyze, Cooper certainly had plenty of source material to pour over. What I appreciate most about this version is the foreshadowing and poetry that provide a rich subtext. One of the most important parts of plot development in a screenplay is the strategic placement and execution of emotional beats. Much in the same way the original songs in the movie drive those emotional beats home, the screenplay follows in suit. Although I will argue that the first half of the movie is stronger than the second half, the story is a powerful one that shies not away from depicting real issues that celebrities, especially in the music industry, face. There is an unapologetic approach to both sides of the stage. The beginning scenes pack a powerful punch. And I was completely sold on Ally’s ability to delicately balance toughness against vulnerability. Jackson Maines character development is gritty and believable. Fortunately, after the 1976 (Streisand) version shifted the focus from Hollywood to the music industry, that shift provided the foundation upon which 2018’s A Star is Born is built. For all this story has going for it, paving the way to a likely Oscar nomination, Cooper is unable to sustain the energy from the first act all the way through the rest of the movie. While the first and third acts are strong (especially the first), the second act lacks the charm and energy of the first but does effectively lead us into the showdown and realization. Whereas the pacing looses footing a little in the middle, there is no mistaking that this is a phenomenal retelling of a classic plot for a new generation, complete with humiliation, redemption, heartbreak, and love.

The cinematography is incredibly strong. While not heavily stylized in a particular manner like other filmmakers, who’s direction is part of that filmmaker’s identity, the cinematography in this film incorporated a variety of approaches from wide shots of real concerts to intimate closeups that work seamlessly together in order to provide the film with an outstanding and comprehensive visual appeal. One of the elements of the cinematography that stood out to me the most was just how natural and relaxed the camera movement felt. There were plenty of moments that I forgot the camera was there because it felt that I was present–in those moments–witnessing the plot unfold. While some directors may have felt the need to approach most of this movie as a music video (instead of a musical), Cooper allows the camera to linger in a moment to drive the emotion of that moment home. During the musical performances, there is certainly a music video feel to it, but it never takes you out of the story, at large. From beginning to end, the cinematography flows naturally across the movie.

Cooper and Lady Gaga’s respective performances are incredible. They will certainly wow you from beginning to end. Not surprising after watching the movie last night, Cooper delivers a command performance that is sure to land him a Best Actor nomination. He looks and sounds like an alt-country rockstar. I had no idea that he could sing! At no point does it ever feel like he’s acting. Such power in subtlety. It’s the little things he does that serves as evidence of his commitment to character and never acting like a Jackson Maine type but legitimately becomes Maine with all his problems with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Because the subject of celebrity addictions leading to untimely deaths has been in the news a lot, this was a great opportunity for Cooper to comment on this issue by depicting how tragic it is, and the affects on others.

Whether you are a fan of Lady Gaga or not, there is no doubt that her acting and vocal performance will leave you speechless. Of course, being speechless never stopped me. Without breaking character or forcing her real-world persona and fandom into the diegesis of the film, there is a nod to her status as a queer icon. One of the early scenes in the film features her at a drag show. This scene fits into the story perfectly, and successfully sets up some of the subtext and commentary later on in the film regarding how the music industry (and Hollywood to an extent) package female performers. The character of Ally allows fans of Gaga to explore a different side to her through most of the film. During the second act, there are moments that remind us of what makes Gaga so popular–very similar to her real-world celebrity self–but these moments never detract from the more organic, intimate ones. Although Ally’s quest for stardom does play out a little cliche as it points us back to the real-world Lady Gaga, Ally’s character finds herself back to her true self at the end of the film. As a side note, I love the nods to the the 1976 one by way of Ally talking about how her nose was considered too big by talent scouts. A brilliant nod to Streisand’s trademark nose.

With a very strong start, mediocre middle, and relatively strong recovery, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is a don’t miss film! If you were worried that the film was not going to live up to the hype of the festivals, no need to worry any longer. From what I have gathered from other critics, members of #FilmTwitter and the #PodernFamily (podcasters), there appears to be an agreement (mostly anyway) that this film is an outstanding work that will be one to watch for this upcoming awards season. Perhaps it won’t be the next Silence of the Lambs and take the Big 5 Oscars, but it will likely still do very well.

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“The Meg” movie review

They finally got a bigger boat. But, it’s still no match for the Megalodon! Maybe The Meg lacks the cinematic genius of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and maybe it isn’t as thrilling as The Shallows and perhaps it doesn’t have the parody and satire of Sharknado, but good thing for you, it doesn’t pretend to be any of those. It proudly hits theatres everywhere this weekend as a thrilling larger than life creature feature horror film about a gigantic shark that wreaks havoc in the waters of southeast Asia until Jason Statham dives in to save the day. Another title for this shark movie of epic proportions could be Dive Hard (haha). With clear homages to JawsDeep Blue Sea, and Jurassic Park, this film plays out as an unconventional love letter of sorts to the aforementioned movies, and the man vs nature horror genre as a whole. Even though recent news suggests that Statham is unhappy with the theatrical we are getting (because it lacks much of the violence that was shot in order to keep a PG-13 rating), you are in for a fun time witnessing the aquatic carnage and high seas action. Movies like this one are designed for one purpose, to entertain you at the megaplex for a couple of hours during oppressively hot summer days of August. At the end of the day, The Meg is an exponentially more expensive SyFy Channel original movie with a fantastic lead actor who plays Jason Statham better than anyone else. But you know what, it’s a lot of fun to watch! Dive right on into the action this weekend.

After a deep sea submarine exploring the Mariana Trench is attacked and stranded by an unknown force, the chief researcher at a state-of-the-art underwater facility, bankrolled by an eccentric billionaire, contacts deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham). With time running out for the submarine crew, Jonas must overcome psychological obstacles from his past in order to lead the mission to rescue the team. Unbeknownst to the research team, they’ve encountered an unimaginable threat that makes its way from the deepest depths of the ocean to crowded beaches. The team must work together to stop the monstrous killing machine knows as the megalodon.

Filled with cliches and homages, director Jon Turteltaub clearly did not set out to direct a Jaws for 2018 nor did he set out to make a comedy like Sharknado, but he did create a fantastically fun shark horror movie that takes itself just seriously enough but still remains playful–as much as you can with a man-eating giant pre-historic shark. The scene with the helicopter flying through the islands to the research facility is taken right out of Jurassic Park. And it arrives at an underwater research facility that is taken directly from Deep Blue Sea, and then several shots and musical scores pay homage to Jaws throughout the remainder of the film. For all the tropes and cliches in the film, they are each executed strategically with wit and style. Statham is great as the hero, and I can think of few other actors who could have done such an excellent job with this film. Bruce Willis is honestly the only other name that comes to mind to have done the character justice. Comparing this creature feature horror film to the other big one this summer Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, I can honestly that I enjoyed The Meg more. And that is hard to admit since I am a card-carrying member of the Jurassic Park fan club.

If you enjoy fun horror films, do yourself a favor and swim to your local cinema to come face-to-face with Megalodon. You may notice that this review is a lot shorter than my typical ones, and that is because some movies are just meant to be enjoyed for what they are instead of analyzing the storytelling and experience.

Checkout my retrospective on JAWS!

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