Number 4 – “Shin Godzilla” (2016)



I’m amazed at how divided Godzilla fans are about the newest entry in the series, 2016’s “Shin Godzilla.” It feels like fans are cut right down the middle, with half saying dubbing it “C-SPANzilla” and saying it is a bore, while the other half is absolutely in love with this film. Count me in the “love” portion, because I adore nearly every moment of this movie for one reason or another.

To me, “Shin Godzilla” is a smart, passionate monster movie that has one of the greatest senses of national identity I’ve ever seen. The film blends together a political drama about the bureaucracy of the Japanese government and a terrifying monster thriller that has more than enough twists to keep the film entertaining. This movie also acts as a nostalgic trip for Godzilla fans with its sound effects and music, but never focuses so much on it that the nostalgia is overbearing or forced.

That being said, I do understand where the negative criticism for “Shin Godzilla” is coming from. Fans come to these movies for Godzilla and, like the 2014 “Godzilla,” get little of the monster. On top of that, this new Godzilla is a much different take on the classic kaiju, in terms of design, effects, and abilities. I’ve heard some fans argue this new Godzilla is just as disrespectful as the 1998 American Godzilla’s design. The nickname “C-SPANzilla,” while a bit unfair is fitting in that it focuses a lot on the busy government work that comes with a giant monster attack.

All of these criticisms make sense to me and I see where fans are coming from. With that said, I respectfully disagree with them.

To fully appreciate “Shin Godzilla,” I think you have to look at it from the Japanese perspective and the state of their country at the time of the film’s release. The country had recently been battered by tsunamis that leveled towns and even caused a massive nuclear disaster in Fukushima, yet the government was slow to react, getting around all the red tape and legalities of the situation before anything could be done.

In Japan, there is a massive focus on national identity over personal identity. One of their common phrases is “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” meaning that anyone who tries to stand out or be different from others will be met with resistance and hardships until they join the rest of society. This phrase would never work in America, where individuality is often celebrated and praised. But Japan is a proud country that cherishes its society, not so much its people.

The film was a massive hit in Japan, but lukewarm in the United States and I think I understand why. “Shin Godzilla” focuses on strong Japanese values, including honor, infrastructure and the nation over the people. The Japanese hold onto those values like a tight blanket, while Americans do not necessarily hold the same values as highly.

The Japanese people came out of “Shin Godzilla” loving their country and society, while Americans went in expecting a giant monster movie and got a lot of government officials unable to do anything about a monster. Without the proper context, “Shin Godzilla” will have little to no impact on you.



I’ve already written up a detailed review of “Shin Godzilla” from last year and my initial thoughts on the film have changed little since I first saw the movie. I’ve rewatched the film a few times since it came out on Blu-Ray and I’m still in love with this well-crafted monster movie. So instead of another detailed review, I’ll go over the aspects of “Shin Godzilla” I loved the most.

For those unaware of the plot, it is a return to basics – Godzilla attacks Japan and the government does its best to deal with the monster.

But the first aspect I love about “Shin Godzilla” is how incompetent and unprepared the Japanese bureaucratic system is at dealing with Godzilla. Where other Godzilla movies would be quick to attack Godzilla and come up with solutions to stop him, this film is methodical, taking out all the urgency of the situation until they’ve fully analyzed everything to come up with the best course of action. The government is cold and sterile about this whole incident, stopping to ask scientists and marine biologists to tell them what type of creature it is, only for them to be completely pointless and waste the prime minister’s time.

This is helped visually by having many members of the government played by geriatrics and old men who have grown tired and see no reason to act quickly. It gives off the impression that these are old men comfortable in the position and power they have now, and don’t wish to jeopardize that by making a crucial mistake with this monster. So they play it safe and easy, not realizing that there personal interests and lack of concern is killing hundreds if not thousands of people.

Yet, at the same time, our main character Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is a young buck compared to the men around him and isn’t afraid to speak his mind on any given matter. He’s the first one to suspect that this could be a giant sea creature and not a new geological event. Of course, no one believes him and writes his claims off as insane ramblings until they are told otherwise. Yaguchi always seems to be three steps ahead of every other cabinet member, as he formulates plans to bring the greatest Japanese minds and people together to handle this, while the prime minister has a dozen voices surrounding him, trying to tell him what do, including foreign pressure from America.



If it weren’t for Yaguchi, the first half of the film would fall apart. Watching the Japanese government stumble over themselves while Godzilla destroys the city is fascinating while Yaguchi is doing is best to make a difference and cut through all the red tape. Without him, it would feel more like a farce as the entire cabinet and Japanese government feel pointless. Watching the competent Yaguchi struggle to get even the simplest thing done with bureaucratic democracy makes for a surprisingly entertaining political drama.

But the only reason these scenes are so captivating is because they are fighting for something bigger than themselves. If this was just any other day for the Japanese government or dealt with a minor scandal, I would be bored out of my mind. Because this is a system that cannot handle a crisis, and they have a giant monster thrust upon them, that makes their incompetence stand out even more.

This brings me to the next thing I love about this movie – Godzilla himself. I have no problem saying this particular Godzilla is my favorite incarnation of the creature since the original, because of how jarring, terrifying and different he is from another Godzilla. Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi take a lot of liberties with changing his Godzilla, some fans would argue too many liberties, but I feel all of the changes they made were for the better.

This version of Godzilla is an ever-evolving creature that can mutant and change itself to adapt to its current environment, or even create new defenses and weapons to better suit its needs. The first form we see him in is as a giant frilled shark that just learned to use its new legs. Its gills are red and continually spout blood as it learns to adapt to air instead of water. This is a creature that looks like it is in constant pain. His giant unblinking eyeballs and almost playful smile are jarring when you first see them.

Things get even creepier when he starts evolving in the middle of the city, nearly doubling in size and learning to stand up on two feet. Given his failed attempt to stand up in his first form, part of me believes this monster is trying to imitate the humans running away from him, like he’s watching us.



At the halfway point in the film, we see that Godzilla has evolved once again and is now nearly three times bigger than his last form and this is one of the most chilling monster designs I’ve ever seen. His flesh looks like its bubbling from the inside, glowing bright red like his skin is smoldering, his utterly tiny arms and hands are skeleton-like with little flesh on them, and his tail seems to have a mind of its own including a distorted and warped face.

But the truly frightening aspect of this version of Godzilla is his face, with his tiny eyes you can barely see as the rest of his face dwarfs his field of vision and his messed-up teeth that have no rhyme or reason to them. Anytime this version of Godzilla is on screen, I get goose bumps just from looking at this abomination of life. This is a creature that screams of pain and agony, something that shouldn’t exist, like a nightmare that found its way into our world.

And yet, I still see a traditional Godzilla in this design. Every aspect of Godzilla is there, from the massive tail, to the dorsal spines, this looks like an irradiated dinosaur turned monster. While it feels different from any other Godzilla, this version is different in all the best possible ways. Any changes made to the character of Godzilla is to add to the dread and mystery of this creature, to make him even more haunting than before.

This Godzilla isn’t different for the sake of being different, but to create a more effective and memorable monster.



As soon as this form of Godzilla comes into the film, the monster scenes take on a whole new life, as we get some brilliant cinematography to showcase how Godzilla is impacting Japan. From shots of Godzilla kicking up massive amounts of cargo containers and buildings to a single take that starts a fair distance away from Godzilla and continues until the camera is underneath him, there is no shortage of wonderful visuals in this movie.

But my favorite scene that emphasizes this Godzilla’s terror is when the Americans send in stealth bombers to blast Godzilla and he evolves to the point to use his atomic breath. The attack comes in three stages, first spreading a flammable gas over the city, then unleashing an unholy amount of flames that brings most of Tokyo down to a blazing inferno, and finally a concentrated beam of energy that he uses to destroy the bombers and slice through most of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. There’s a shot that shows an outline of downtown Tokyo’s landscape as Godzilla lifts his head high into the sky, and we see a purple beam of destruction extend up into the sky with no end in sight. There’s just something so hauntingly beautiful about something like that.

The final shot of Godzilla’s rampage is a background of nothing but massive flames, while Godzilla’s bestial form looms in the foreground, staring directly into the camera as he powers down from his first beam attack.

So not only do we get some fascinating political scenes about a government that is too caught up in the legality of the moment and the red tape, but we have this juxtaposed with a eerie monster that is constantly changing causing untold amounts of chaos and destruction.

This brings us to the third act where another element I love is on display – the pride and the strength of the Japanese people. In my initial review, I mention that “Shin Godzilla” doesn’t have on particular main character and instead makes the country of Japan its protagonist. We get a nationwide response to nearly everything that happens in the movie. Not just the government’s reactions, but also the businesses reacting to the ensuing stock market crash and Japan losing most of its money and funds, to the ordinary citizens protesting about scientists wanting to kill Godzilla instead of studying him. One of the biggest moments of this is when news is leaked that the Americans will be dropping a thermonuclear weapon on Godzilla while he’s recharging in the middle of Tokyo. We get a reaction from nearly every minor character, each of them being distraught and on the verge of tears, learning that their country is about to destroyed in the vain hope of stopping this monster.



This is something I hope I’ll never have to experience – witnessing my country get ripped apart by nuclear weapons once already, only for it to happen all over again. The film takes on a much more somber and defeated tone at this point, before the remaining members of the government announce that they will not allow their country to be torn apart by nuclear weapons yet again, even if that means going against the wishes and orders of other countries.

And while the scene with Godzilla’s first use of his atomic breath is a wonderfully haunting scene, my favorite moment in “Shin Godzilla” is the final battle against Godzilla, where Japan sends in everything they have to win back their nation. This scene is a little silly at times, but is unbelievably triumphant and so rewarding to witness. The Japanese people think everything out logically, using drones to drain Godzilla’s energy before sending their giant skyscrapers tumbling down on him. All the while, Akira Ifukube’s heart-pounding military march plays that always brings a smile to my face.

This final battle against one of the most powerful and intimidating versions of Godzilla is one of the most exhilarating scenes in the entire series and ends “Shin Godzilla” on the highest note possible.

While I understand the hate “Shin Godzilla” gets, I can’t help but love this movie. It is so different from any other Godzilla film, while still keeping the core elements of Godzilla. The monster is used to say something about the world we live in and told in a way that never feels boring or repetitive, while still being a terrifying monster in its own right. Every scene with Godzilla is visually stunning and the effects are top-notch. By making Japan its main character, “Shin Godzilla” becomes one of the most unique and intriguing monster movies I have ever seen.



Paul’s 2017 Academy Award Predictions



I love the Academy Awards. I know that the Oscars are becoming less and less relevant to film enthusiasts, especially since the awards are just seen as Hollywood patting themselves on the back, but that was never what the Oscars meant to me. I’ve always seen the awards as a celebration of everything film, both new and old. If it was just about the awards, we would not get the hosts talking about how cinema has effected them, or tributes to movies from the past or particular genres, or the Lifetime Achievement Award (which is going to Jackie Chan this year).

There is a love for movies from the Academy Awards. And while the winners of the evening often use their moments to make statements about the world (I can garauntee at least three winners will slam Trump in some way), I try to not let that overshadow the festivites and the passion for cinema.

It is because of this undying love for movies that I am pleased to go through my predictions and picks for this years’ Academy Awards. As always, I will list who I want to win the award regardless of how likely it is they will win, who should win as an unbiased point of view while looking at who truly deserves to win, and who actually will win that award. I will also not be looking at any of the documentary awards or shorts, since I know nothing about any of those categories (although I do expect “O.J.: Made in America” to win Best Documentary).

And for the record, I did see all nine films nominated for Best Picture, but not every movie nominated for an award. Strangely enough, I only saw one of the performances nominated for Best Actress, yet saw every performance nominated for Best Actor. With all that said, let’s start by looking at –


Best Cinematography –

Who I Want to Win: “La La Land”

Who Should Win: “Arrival”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”

The beginning of a trend you will notice this year – “La La Land” dominating in almost every category it is nominated for. The reason for this is because Hollywood has always loved their musicals, and they are legitimately difficult to pull off in terms of cinematography, choreography, acting, pacing, editing, lighting, production design and so many other aspects. The fact that we have not had a good musical in a while is going to help out “La La Land” significantly.


Best Costume Design –

Who I Want to Win: “Fantastic Beasts”

Who Should Win: “Fantastic Beasts”

Who Will Win: “Jackie”

I liked the costumes in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” so I’ll be rooting for it. But I doubt a fantasy film will walk away with this award.


Best Editing –

Who I Want to Win: “Arrival”

Who Should Win: “La La Land”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”

The editing in “Arrival” added to the films’ pacing and sense of mystery, so I applaud “Arrival” for that. But “La La Land” is going to clean house this year.


Best Makeup and Hairstyling –

Who I Want to Win: “Star Trek Beyond”

Who Should Win: “Star Trek Beyond”

Who Will Win: “Star Trek Beyond”

The aliens in “Star Trek: Beyond” were impressive, and most of them were not done digitally. That makes them even more impressive in this day and age.


Best Music –

Who I Want to Win: “Lion”

Who Should Win: “La La Land”

Who Will Win: “Lion”

I think the Academy is going to feel bad for giving “La La Land” so many awards that they’ll decide not to give them one of the smaller awards. This is one I see going to a different movie, and “Lion” has the best chance to get it.


Best Original Song –

Who I Want to Win: “Can’t Stop the Feeling”

Who Should Win: “How Far I’ll Go”

Who Will Win: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”

This one could be either “Audition” or “City of Stars” but I was more impressed by Emma Stone’s rendition about a town full of people who want more out of life. That being said, I wouldn’t mind if it went to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” or “How Far I’ll Go” either.


Best Production Design –

Who I Want to Win: “Arrival”

Who Should Win: “Fantastic Beasts”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”

Musicals have owned this category in the past, and I don’t think “La La Land” will be an exception.


Best Sound Editing –

Who I Want to Win: “Arrival”

Who Should Win: “Arrival”

Who Will Win: “Deepwater Horizon”

Like last year, I’ll point out the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing – Editing is the creation of the sound effects, Mixing is combining all those sound effects into one coherent piece.


Best Sound Mixing –

Who I Want to Win: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Who Should Win: “Hacksaw Ridge”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”


Best Visual Effects –

Who I Want to Win: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Who Should Win: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Who Will Win: “The Jungle Book”

Nothing would make me happier than to see an animated film win Best Visual Effects, especially one like “Kubo and the Two Strings” which was the most visually unique movie of 2016. But I don’t see the Academy giving it high marks due to being animated, so I’ll pick “Jungle Book” for basically creating a whole new world.


Best Animated Feature Film –

Who I Want to Win: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Who Should Win: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Who Will Win: “Zootopia”

Again, “Kubo and the Two Strings” getting some form of recognition would be amazing due to how creative and imaginative it was with the whole paper concept. But it’s not Disney, and the Academy rarely gives out this award if Disney is involved. What’s even worse is that “Kubo” is up against two Disney films this year, “Zootopia” and “Moana.”


Best Adapted Screenplay –

Who I Want to Win: “Lion”

Who Should Win: “Moonlight”

Who Will Win: “Moonlight”

Now we start getting to the bigger awards.

I feel bad for “Moonlight” because it is the most honest and respectful movie of 2016, but I don’t see it winning many awards this year. This is one that it probably will win though.


Best Original Screenplay –

Who I Want to Win: “Hell or High Water”

Who Should Win: “The Lobster”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”

A musical winning Best Screenplay? Yeah, with the great dialogue between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, I could certainly see that happening.


Best Directing –

Who I Want to Win: “Moonlight”

Who Should Win: “Moonlight”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”

The acting was the most consistent and moving in “Moonlight” but “La La Land” will get the edge for directing a cast of thousands to sing and dance.


Best Supporting Actress –

Who I Want to Win: Naomie Harris from “Moonlight”

Who Should Win: Naomie Harris from “Moonlight”

Who Will Win: Viola Davis from “Fences”

Now, onto the acting awards and while the supporting awards are wide open, Best Actor/Actress are pretty much sealed up at this point.

Naomie Harris had the most difficult performance to deliver out of the candidates this year, which is why I give her the edge. But Viola Davis will walk away with the award for having to compete with Denzel Washington’s hardened jerk of a husband and come across as fiesty and strong.


Best Supporting Actor –

Who I Want to Win: Jeff Bridges from “Hell or High Water”

Who Should Win: Dev Patel from “Lion”

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali from “Moonlight”

This is the one award I’m not entirely convinced on. On the one hand, Jeff Bridges gave one of my favorite performances of 2016, and Dev Patel stole the show in “Lion.” But Mahershala Ali came across as the most kind soul in a film full of twisted individuals. His character makes a lasting impression on you and Ali’s performance is the reason for that.

Best Actress –

Who I Want to Win: Emma Stone from “La La Land”

Who Should Win: Emma Stone from “La La Land”

Who Will Win: Emma Stone from “La La Land”

Part of the why I say Emma will win is because she’s the only one of the five nominees I’ve seen. But another is that she admitted to how difficult the song and dance numbers were for her. Sweating buckets after just a few minutes of physical workouts, turning beat-red quickly into a dance sequence, and yet making it all look so elequent.


Best Actor –

Who I Want to Win: Ryan Gosling from “La La Land”

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck from “Manchester by the Sea”

Who Will Win: Casey Affleck from “Manchester by the Sea”

The only reason I want Ryan Gosling to win is so “La La Land” can sweep the Academy Awards. For those unaware, a film “sweeping” the Oscars doesn’t mean it wins every category it is nominated, for but to win the five biggest awards of the night – Best Screenplay (Adapted or Original), Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Picture. It has only happened three times in the history of the Academy Awards (1934’s “It Happened One Night,” 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs”) and I want to see another film do that. “La La Land” might be our best chance to sweep, but that means Ryan Gosling will have to outshine Casey Affleck, the very clear favorite to win that award.


Best Picture –

Who I Want to Win: “Arrival”

Who Should Win: “Moonlight”

Who Will Win: “La La Land”

And so we come to the final award of the evening and one that isn’t nearly as open as the past few years. Last year was close between “Spotlight” and “The Revenant,” while 2015 had “Birdman” against “Boyhood.”

If it is a competition between two films this year, it would be “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” with a favorite leaning far more in the musicals’ favor.

“Arrival” was the most relevant movie of 2016, while also being a wonderfully entertaining science fiction film. But that sci-fi element is going to turn the voters away and ultimately “Arrival” is just happy to be nominated, along with “Lion,” “Hidden Figures,” “Fences” and “Hell or High Water.”

“Hacksaw Ridge” gets a slightly better chance than the others due to being a war movie, but not one that particularly stands out above the other films nominated this year. It adds diversity and could slip into win some minor awards, but certainly not Best Picture.

“Manchester by the Sea” is the underdog to Best Picture, but I think it’s too depressing to win the category over some of the other films nominated. Honestly, I would rather see “Lion” or “Hidden Figures” win Best Picture over “Manchester.”

“Moonlight” is the most artistic and honest film of the year and it deserves to win Best Picture. The performances all hit their marks, the cinematography was inventive for this subject matter, and it didn’t feel the need to explain how every character was feeling, letting the film show us a characters’ emotions rather than being told their feeings. “Moonlight” is the outside favorite to win.

But, with all that being said, “La La Land” pretty much has this award locked up. If there was a theme throughout most of the films nominated for Best Picture, it is one of sadness and depression, especially in films like “Manchester by the Sea,” “Fences” and to a lesser extent “Hell or High Water.” But “La La Land” is the counterpoint to all that, a colorful, vibrant, dream-like movie that celebrates classic musicals while also not being afraid of the real world. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the Academy loves it when a Best Picture nominee honors Hollywood in some way, as we saw with winners like “Argo,” “The Artist” and “Birdman.” I think “La La Land” will be joining that category.

And those are my picks for the 2017 Academy Awards. I know I am leaning far too much on “La La Land,” but I honestly see the Academy adoring the film like they did with “Mad Max: Fury Road” last year. Will “La La Land” sweep the Oscars or will they try to show a bit more diversity? Only time will tell and we will find out this Sunday.


Movie Review – “Fences” (2016)



And I thought “Manchester by the Sea” was sad. But “Fences” blows that depression captured on celluloid out of the water.

Here’s the thing about intentionally sad films – The best ones want to take that sadness and turn it into a positive emotion, one that makes you feel better about how you’ve lived your life and how far you’ve come. And the great ones will actually make you want to change your life. Films like “Schindler’s List” and “Grave of the Fireflies” are some of the most depressing movies I’ve ever seen, but they build up to that one moment where all the terrible things we witnessed for the last two hours is given meaning and we learn that the whole film was a journey of self-discovery during an awful time.

We gain strength through the tragedy of others.



But then you get movies like “Manchester by the Sea” where the main character refuses to learn anything or solve any of his problems because he does not want to talk about it. This leaves us with a series of pessimistic events that only makes you want to frown. A moment that turns every dismal scene into one of hope never comes, which is why I did not care for “Manchester by the Sea.”

“Fences” falls into the same category sadly, but has the pleasure of being even more bitter than “Manchester” as we watch a man try his best to lead a good life for the sake of his family, but his own rage and ego get in the way of everything, to the point where he feels the need to berate everyone who ever cares about him. We watch as his poor life choices wreck havoc on his loved ones, while he remains a stubborn ass.

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a waste collector in the city of Pittsburgh, and lives in a small rundown house with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is always upset with the little money he is given, mostly because he could have been a professional baseball player but he was already in his 40s before the MLB allowed African-Americans and never made it into the league. Cory is given a chance to be on a college football team, but Troy refuses to let him on leave his job at the auto repair shop, despite everyone else saying Cory should be given this opportunity.



With Casey Affleck’s character in “Manchester by the Sea,” at least you could excuse his anti-social behavior due to his tragic past, but Troy is a man who refuses to let anyone else have any fun or live a fulfilling life, but he’s allowed to do whatever we wants. He outright forbids his son from playing football, despite Troy being an athlete himself, and refuses to let his wife do anything other than her wifely duties. And he shuts down the lives of his loved ones all while claiming that this is the right thing to do.

Troy’s dialogue is full of grandiose speeches about how everyone else is wrong and the only right way to live life is by his words. The moment I despised Troy as a character is when Cory asks him why he does not like him, and then gives a diatribe about how its not his job to love or even like his own son, but that he is only here to provide for his son because that’s his job. He treats every conversation, every interaction and every decision like it was his job, and one that he does not want to do. His way is the only correct approach and every one else is foolish for thinking differently than him.

He is, without a doubt, the biggest scumbag of 2016.



Troy’s approach to life does eventually come back to bite him in the butt, especially when his care-free approach to his life, filled with heavy drinking, produces consequences. But even then, Troy thrusts those consequences on his family, especially his wife. And this is where the sadness comes from – A woman who was living her life to the best of her ability by being a good and understanding wife is punished for something she did not do, and its all thanks to her scumbag of a husband, while he refuses to change how he lives his life.

This man is ruining the lives of so many others, whether he is trying to or not. But all he can say is that is who is he is and that it’s too late for him to change.

Part of me hates “Fences,” but I cannot say it’s terrible because there are some great performances here, especially from Viola Davis and the intensity of Denzel Washington. Davis has several great scenes where she has to bawl her eyes out while trying to match the rage of Denzel and she delievers in every scene. Denzel is at his best when he talks about his encounters with death and the Grim Reaper, going into great detail about his boxing matches with each of them, yet his refusal to mention anything about heaven or God. When he feels threatened by death that’s when Denzel turns up the heat.

But overall, I did not enjoy “Fences.” There was so much sadness for the sake of sadness that I couldn’t latch onto anything relatable, especially with how stubborn and selfish Troy could be. It is clear by the amount of dialogue and mostly being set in one location that “Fences” was a stage play first and it shows, with lots of soliliques and diatribes. If you enjoy that, then you will get a kick out of “Fences.”

Final Grade: C-


Movie Review – “Lion” (2016)



It is interesting that I saw “Lion” only a week after having seen “Hidden Figures,” which are similar in many ways. Both are based on true events, they are ultimately uplifting stories but are both also quite manipulative in how they get you to feel for these characters.

With that said, “Lion”‘s execution is far more subtle and effective than “Hidden Figures” was. The latter was always in your face about its message and characters, as it should have been for the time period. But “Lion” creeps up on you, unsuspectingly, through calm and quiet performances from Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, and works its way into your heart without even trying.

Set in the India in the 1980s, young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) wants to help his older brother Guddu at his job and make money for their family. The two leave by train, but Saroo cannot stay awake and ends up falling asleep on a different train that he gets stuck on for two days. Saroo ends up on the other side of India where everyone speaks a different language, lost, and unable to find his way back home.

Saroo is eventually adopted by an Australian couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) and is raised in a loving and caring atmosphere. But twenty years later, when Saroo (Dev Patel) goes off to college he is told of this revolutionary new piece of technology that could help him find his home and family – Google Earth.



The first half of “Lion” follows a young Saroo throughout a shabby, filthy, and infested Calcutta and it paints quite a picture of India without saying much about it. There are hundreds of homeless children running in the streets and at night they are hunted down and carried off to a prison-like area where they can receive an “education” from adults who would rather be anywhere else. Food is scarce and kindness is a rarity.

All this plays into Dev Patel’s role as an older Saroo, who has spent the last twenty years living in comfort with anything he wanted at his fingertips, but realizes that his family is still stuck in that terrible place and have spent everyday wondering what happened to him. Patel says little throughout the film, but his grief and anger speak through his constant need to find his family.



Additionally, Nicole Kidman has some wonderful scenes as Saroo’s adopted mother. She admits to her son early on that she will always be there, listening to what he has to say without forcing it out of him. She seems to understand the emotional baggage that comes with adopting a lost child and wanted nothing more than show him that the world is not as bad as he thought it was.

Both Patel and Kidman give reversed and quiet performances, letting their pauses filled with concern say more than their words.



While “Lion” can be manipulative at times, these performances and the two vastly different worlds that are built make the whole journey worth the sometimes forced emotional moments. The film avoids the typical genre cliches of finding lost loved ones through its quiet anger. The pacing might seem slow to some but I felt it moved well in building up how terrible living in India can be. Overall, “Lion” just might be the best uplifting movie of the year.

Final Grade: A-


Movie Review – “Manchester by the Sea” (2016)

One thought was going through my head as I was leaving “Manchester by the Sea” – Boy, that sure was sad. And it would have been a lot happier if he actually talked about how he was feeling. The first thing my parents said to me as they were leaving the theater was, “When you have a wife, talk to her about your problems. Communication is key! You don’t want to end up like Casey Affleck.”

As I am writing this review, I have recently finished writing my thoughts on “Hidden Figures” and “The Pink Panther,” both of which left a positive impact on my in one way or another. But because “Manchester by the Sea” was such a sad-sack from start to finish, the film means almost nothing to me. It was certainly well put together and Casey Affleck gives one of the most captivating performance of the year, but there no hope to hold on to, no joy to be had. Even “Hacksaw Ridge” at least had a good moral about fighting for what you believe in despite what everyone else might tell you or force on you, and that was a gruesome war flick.

But “Manchester by the Sea” is sad for the sake of being sad, to the point where it is almost depressing. Its main character certainly goes through a difficult journey that I sympathize with, but he is given every opportunity to improve and he refuses to take it like a stubborn child who doesn’t want to eat his vegetables.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) works as a janitor and handy-man at a series of apartment complexes in Boston. Lee is unfriendly towards the tenants and obnoxious to everyone else, picking a fight with someone who might look at him the wrong way. When Lee finds out his brother (Kyle Chandler) has passed away, leaving his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) all alone in Manchester, Lee does his best help Patrick settle in, despite having to deal with harsh looks and whispers of Manchester about Lee’s past.



Casey Affleck is one of the more underrated actors, but I can see why. He usually gives performances that are quieter in his tone, more about the subtlety and facial expression than what he’s saying (which might explain why most of his performance goes over my head). But that quality is what makes him perfect for this role, as a man trying to mask his pain and cannot deal with world when he can hardly handle himself. Affleck is in every scene of this movie, and he plays Lee as a man sitting on anger, ready to burst at a moments’ notice and doesn’t seem to know anything but anger.

My biggest complaint with “Manchester by the Sea” is that Lee never moves beyond this point. Anger is his default emotion and despite what happens between him and Patrick, the journey these two go through, he seems to have learned nothing. Even though he’s clearly in a lot of pain, Lee refuses to talk about his feelings like a normal person would. This would be fine if Lee gave a reason outside of “I don’t want to talk about it,” but that’s the most we get.



I am left in this strange place where I sympathize with Lee due to his past and Afflecks’ performance, but I don’t relate to him because of his inability to communicate, even with his loved ones. There are so many scenes that are infuriating, because they offer Lee and Patrick plenty of opportunities to talk about their pasts and the future they could share, but is instead filled with awkward silence.

Overall, I appreciate what “Manchester by the Sea” was going for and enjoyed Afflecks’ performance, but this was slow, poorly-paced and frustrating to watch. If a scene wasn’t about Lee refusing to change, it was about awkward moments of Lee’s lack of social skills. The only reason to watch this one is for Casey Affleck’s acting, which does elevate the film above its sad story.

Final Grade: C

Movie Review – “Hidden Figures” (2016)



Boy, this was a film that tried to appeal to everyone – A film about launching the first astronauts into space, while also a civil rights movie at the same time. And it’s based on true events.

On the one hand, “Hidden Figures” is bare-bones and is about as predictable as you can get. Every emotional note is hit right when you’d expect it and it is filled to the brim with speeches about race, equality, perseverence, and getting into space. This makes the film hoaxy and cheesy in its execution.

And yet, the hoaxyness of “Hidden Figures” makes the film endearing, because of the intensity and tenacity behind its many great performances. I left the theatre with a smile on my face, just like any great feel-good movie should.

Set during the space-race between the Soviet Union and America shortly after the Soviets launch Sputnik, NASA has now become determined to put a man into space and orbit around the planet. To do this, they hire the best minds and engineers they can find, which include mathematician Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), engineer Mary Jackson (Janeele Monae) and mathematician/supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). All three not only face the problems of being the first people to launch someone out of our atmosphere in a flaming ball of hot metal, but also the constant struggles of racial discrimination and gender inequality in the heat of the civil rights movement, in an environment surrounded by white men.



This film would not have worked if it were not for its three lead actresses. In the hands of less capable or convincing talents, “Hidden Figures” would fly apart at the seams.

Henson is quiet and reversed, yet is so strong and determined to show her worth that her intensity cannot be ignored. There’s a fire in her eyes that made her performance so captivating, which I did not expect from the opening that showed her character as this hyper -intelligent child that did not like people, similar to Sherlock Holmes. Yet Henson plays Katherine as a woman desperately trying to earn her place in a world she knows that she belongs in.

Monae is fiesty and independent, which leads her to being the funniest of the three as she stands up to her husband and friends. While she gets the least amount of screentime of the three, Monae packs each scene with charm and a little bit of sass as she bucks the system. Her stand out scene comes when she confronts a county judge, as she lists off his accomplishments and how he has always supported change.



Spencer, as always, is a wonderful actress here – killing her enemies with kindness. She has the quiet quality of Henson and the sass of Monae when she needs it, but her tenacity and willingness to learn is what gets me. She has a motherly quality to her character, as someone who cares more about the well-being of others over herself, which makes Spencer perfect for this role.

Together these three ladies show different sides to handling racial discrimination, while also trying to contribute to the world. Their chemistry with each other comes off as three supportive sisters who realize the world is not going to change over night and they need to take care of each other. All three carry the difficult task of making these over-the-top lines carry the weight they need without overselling it.

While I can say I have seen stories like “Hidden Figures” a dozen times before, I cannot say I’ve seen performances quiet like the ones these three gave.



Overall, “Hidden Figures” accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do through its feel-good performances and story that reflects all the charms and curses of the 1960s. It made me laugh, cheer, and think, which is a great thing for any movie to do.

Final Grade: B


Movie Review – “Moonlight” (2016)



Cinema tends to exaggerate some aspects of reality, even in some of the better movies. We see this all the time in science fiction when asked what makes us human, or in romantic dramas related to the need for love and companionship. But then a film like “Moonlight” comes along that handles the weight and complexity of reality in just a way that doesn’t feel ham-fisted or over the top and makes for one of the closest experiences to reality I’ve seen in a long time.

“Moonlight” follows the life of Chiron, an African-American boy growing up in a poor drug-filled neighboorhood in Florida, as he deals with bullies, his addict mother (Naomie Harris), and a budding realtionship with his friend Kevin. The film is told through three different time periods, with Chiron as a little boy (Alex Hibbert), a young teenager (Ashton Sanders) and as an adult (Trevante Rhodes), while he finds out who he is and what he wants.

“Moonlight” reminds me of “Boyhood” in some ways, especially the on-going story of one persons’ life told throughout the years, but takes it in an entirely different path. Mason from “Boyhood” was a simple boy with familiar problems that most people have. Chiron, on the other hand, comes from a world that never really cared about him, outside of a drug dealer and his girlfriend who showed him kindness, and slowly learns to build his identity, as well as learning that he’s gay.



But Chiron never complains that he doesn’t know who he is or what he’s achieved in life, most of that goes unspoken. As a child and teenager, Chiron remains quiet and observant, taking in the world around him until others force him into action and his true feelings are revealed. As an adult, the only world he has known of violence and hatred has shaped him into a different man than he wanted to be, and his identity has been muddled.

When an adult Kevin asks Chiron who he is, Chiron responds with, “I’m me.” But even he doesn’t know “me” is. He just throught that would come naturally, when it most certainly does not.



This makes “Moonlight” the most personal film of the year. It is quiet on the outside, but speaks volumes about experiences and acceptance through its wise yet mellow performances. The great thing about “Moonlight” is it does exactly what films are supposed to do – open audiences to vastly different views and realities we so rarely see, and make us appreciate, understand, and empathize with them.

Final Grade: A-