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Waves (2019) Review

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Waves

Time: 135 Minutes
Cast:
Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Tyler Williams
Lucas Hedges as Luke
Taylor Russell as Emily Williams
Alexa Demie as Alexis Lopez
Renée Elise Goldsberry as Catherine Williams
Sterling K. Brown as Ronald Williams
Director: Trey Edward Shults

Set against the vibrant landscape of South Florida, and featuring an astonishing ensemble of award-winning actors and breakouts alike. Waves traces the epic emotional journey of a suburban African-American family – led by a well-intentioned but domineering father – as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a loss. From acclaimed director Trey Edward Shults, Waves is a heartrending story about the universal capacity for compassion and growth even in the darkest of times.

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I’ve been hearing a bunch of things about Waves for the past months. I recognised some of the actors like Sterling J. Brown and I recognise the director from his work on It Comes at Night, which I thought was pretty good. The reactions had been interesting, some have been highly praising it as one of the best of the year, others couldn’t stand it and downright hated it. I had no idea how I’d feel about it, but I was actually quite surprised by how much I loved Waves.

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Much of Waves is best seen not knowing too much going in, so I’ll refrain from spoilers as best as I can. Much of the talk surrounding this movie has been how it’s essentially split into two very different and distinct halves, and I’ve noticed a lot of people loving the first half and bored with the second, or hating the first half and starting to like the movie during the second. The first half has some of the most electric filmmaking I’ve seen in a while, and indeed the story in this part is pretty tense too, as things build up towards… something. The second half is a lot more quiet and calm in comparison. For me I personally loved both parts. While I was into the first half, the second half was essential for the movie sticking really the landing, and I never felt bored during that. I was locked into the story and characters throughout, and indeed it’s an emotionally powerful story, and is very affecting, with a number of heartbreaking scenes throughout. The only gripe I guess I might have is that the ending is a little abrupt, even just 30 seconds longer would’ve made it better.

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Waves has a great ensemble cast, and they all perform excellently, with the likes of Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Alexa Demie and Lucas Hedges. They all give some of the best performances of their careers, emotionally intense and powerful. Biggest surprise was from Taylor Russell, who really shines in the second half, and essentially carries that portion. Even if the rest of the movie won’t work for you, I think you’ll at least be impressed on an acting level.

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I was already impressed by Trey Edward Shults’s work on It Comes at Night, but I’m even more impressed with what he did with Waves. So much of this movie is sensory overload, mainly the first half, with the camera work, the music and sound, it’s can be really overwhelming. I get for some people it may be too much but I for one liked it for that. Waves is also a gorgeous looking movie from beginning to end, with a great colour palette that worked perfectly with the movie. There’s even some aspect ratio changes at points that oddly enough fitted the narrative. I don’t recognise really any of the songs used in the movie, and indeed I’m not part of the specific audience that the soundtrack is very much built towards, but there’s a great playlist here, and I thought it accompanied the plot appropriately. The score itself is also really good, I kept wondering why it sounded somewhat familiar and it turns out it was by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who of course composed music for The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and more. Their work on Waves is amongst their best scores, and that’s saying a lot.

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Waves is definitely not going to work for everyone, for me though, I kind of loved it, an emotionally powerful gut punch that I’m still thinking about. It was written directed excellently, and the ensemble performances were outstanding. It surprisingly ended up one of my favourite movies of 2019. While I know that some people will hate the movie, I still do recommend seeing it for yourself, because there’s a lot of great things here.

Honey Boy (2019) Review

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Honey Boy

Time: 93 Minutes
Cast:
Shia LaBeouf as James Lort
Lucas Hedges as Otis Lort (age 22)
Noah Jupe as Otis Lort (age 12)
FKA Twigs as Shy Girl
Director: Alma Har’el

When 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) begins to find success as a television star, his abusive, alcoholic father (Shia LaBeouf) returns and takes over as his guardian, and their contentious relationship is followed over a decade.

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For a while I heard about a movie where Shia LaBeouf was writing a movie about himself and that he’d be playing his own father. It seemed like such an odd idea, but I was actually rather curious to see what that’d be like. I managed to get to see it, and it was really great, and lived up to all the acclaim that it has been deservedly receiving.

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This movie takes place through two storylines, one in 2005 with adult Otis (Otis being the representative of Shia LaBeouf) in rehab, and the other with young Otis in 1995 and his relationship with his father. That storytelling worked quite well for the movie overall. Honey Boy somehow works even better knowing that this script was originally written by Shia LaBeouf as a form of therapy while in rehab, it’s an incredibly personal story and you really feel that throughout, even without knowing the context about the movie. There is such an immense level of vulnerability and tenderness in this writing, and LaBeouf really wrote something incredible here. The movie can be hard to watch at points, mainly some of the scenes between Otis and his father, some scenes particularly feel painfully real, and so much of it comes from the screenplay. However you are locked in from beginning to end, and the ending itself is excellent and cathartic. Honey Boy is about an hour and 30 minutes long, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing. While it gets its everything across and to the point, it really could’ve used at least 15 more minutes of screentime to flesh out certain parts of the story. The 2005 storyline particularly needed some more development, it felt noticeably weaker compared to the 1995 one. That’s really my only problem with the movie.

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One of the highlights of the movie is the great cast. Noah Jupe plays Otis at age 12, and Lucas Hedges plays him at age 22, and both of them are very good in their role. Jupe is particularly fantastic, and with this performance solidifies himself as one of the best young actors working today. There’s also FKA Twigs who’s pretty good in a supporting role. However much of the acclaim has been surrounding Shia LaBeouf’s performance, and for very good reason, he’s absolutely fantastic here. He’s given great performances before, but he’s somehow on a whole other level here. LaBeouf plays his own abusive father, who in this movie is called James, and his performance is truly transformative here. It’s even more impressive given that he’s playing the primary source of his pain and trauma in his childhood. Jupe and him share such painfully believable on screen chemistry.

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This is the feature film debut from director Alma Har’el, and her work here is fantastic, and this movie definitely shows that she’s a talented filmmaker to really pay attention to. Everything on a technical level is top notch, with the cinematography being particularly stunning. The tone of the movie goes between being wonderfully dreamlike and startlingly real, and that was all handled very well.

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Honey Boy is an emotionally raw, heartfelt and personal movie, so beautifully made. The script is honest, therapeutic and well written, Har’el’s direction is great, and the acting is fantastic, particularly from Noah Jupe and Shia LaBeouf. It really needed to be longer and have more time to flesh things out in its plot, and that would’ve taken the movie to a whole new level, but otherwise it’s a truly great film and one of the best from 2019. Definitely check it out whenever you can get the chance to see it.

Mid90s (2018) Review

Time: 84 Minutes
Cast:
Sunny Suljic as Stevie
Katherine Waterston as Dabney
Lucas Hedges as Ian
Gio Galicia as Ruben
Na-kel Smith as Ray
Olan Prenatt as Fuckshit
Ryder McLaughlin as Fourth Grade
Alexa Demie as Estee
Director: Jonah Hill

In 1990s Los Angeles, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) escapes his turbulent home life by hanging out with a new group of friends he meets at a local skate shop, plunging him into a world of fun, danger and excitement.

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All I knew about Mid90s going in was that it involved skaters and was Jonah Hill’s directorial debut. With that said, I heard some divided reactions to it so I didn’t know how I would feel about it. While I do like the movie a little bit, it wasn’t as great as I was hoping it would be. With that said, that’s not to say that there aren’t some very solid aspects to it.

I really wasn’t feeling Mid90s when it started, not that it didn’t have some good aspects in the first half though. For one, there is a certain amount of grittiness to it that you don’t really see in other coming of age stories. The dialogue (mainly between the kid characters) seems to be keeping with how people spoke in the 90s. Now I didn’t grow up in the 90s or in the skater area, so I’m not sure how accurate this movie is in portraying that. However, considering that it’s a personal movie for Jonah Hill, I’ll assume that it’s authentic. However the movie still had its issues. The characters aren’t really fleshed out all that much, and we don’t really get to learn about them, so we don’t really get to care about any of them outside of the lead character. The story can be rather rough, and seems more like a bunch of snapshots of life rather than a focussed and structured story. Not that this method of storytelling can’t work, its just that it tends to have some drawbacks when used and have the potential to feel very unfocussed and not really moving towards anything, and you can really feel it here. Then there’s a certain uncomfortable scene halfway into the movie involving the lead character (aged 13 years old by the way) and a much older girl which other people have also talked about. I’m not necessarily criticising the idea of the scene because I’m guessing it’s meant to be uncomfortable, but all I’ll say is that that this sequence played out for too long and having a minor actor being part of that scene was irresponsible to say the least, especially when they could’ve cut the scene 3/4ths in and get the same effect and thereby avoiding any problems. Ironically it’s after this scene where the movie considerably improves with the second half, as the movie gets a lot more serious and darker. We also get to learn just a little more about some of the characters and it seems to actually be moving towards something. However, we still don’t really get to learn enough about the characters, and that second half is basically 40 minutes long and when it ends its rather abrupt.

The acting all around was great and one of the best parts of the movie. Sunny Suljic is great in the lead role as Stevie, he’s only been in a few things (most notably The Killing of a Sacred Deer) but here he gives a really good performance (it definitely helps that his character gets the most depth and development out of any of the characters). The other skaters that Stevie befriended were also good but Na-kel Smith was particularly a standout. Stevie’s mother and brother played by Katherine Waterston and Lucas Hedges are also great. Really despite the lack of characterisation, the actors do really well in their roles.

Jonah Hill made his directorial debut here and he did a great job here. Immediately you’ll notice that this film is shot as 4:3, giving it a nostalgic look to it. It all seems very authentic and gritty and fully in the 90s. You can tell that it is a lower budget movie, and that actually added to the movie, making it seem more personal. The music was also really good and fitted the time period and the movie very well.

Mid90s doesn’t completely work but there’s things to admire that it does. It’s very rough and unfocussed but you can feel some genuine passion behind it, and it picks up much more in the second half. The direction and performances are also quite solid. If you’re the least bit curious about Mid90s, I’d say to check it out. It’s still a decent movie, just not as great as I wished that it was.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) Review

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains violence, rape themes, suicide & offensive language
Cast:
Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes
Woody Harrelson as Sheriff Bill Willoughby
Sam Rockwell as Officer Jason Dixon
John Hawkes as Charlie Hayes
Peter Dinklage as James
Lucas Hedges as Robbie Hayes
Abbie Cornish as Anne Willoughby
Samara Weaving as Penelope
Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby
Sandy Martin as Mrs. Dixon
Director: Martin McDonagh

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) — an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence — gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. On top of having a great cast with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, it was Martin McDonagh’s next film, and so that had my undivided attention. His previous movies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths were amazing and some of my favourite movies. So understand that it means a lot when I say that Three Billboards is a career best from Martin McDonagh.

Martin McDonagh’s writing is absolutely fantastic, no surprise there. A lot of elements of his style of his writing in his previous films here too. The dialogue is once again pheromonal, ranging from comedic, to shocking and sometimes even heartfelt. Three Billboards is hilarious at times, with comedy often appearing in surprising moments but at the same time the film is quite dark, bleak, and very emotional. Not many people can switch tones on a dime and make it work effectively but McDonagh is one of the few people who can do it. One of the best parts about Three Billboards is that you can’t predict what’s going to happen, which is why I recommend not looking into this movie too much before watching it, I only watched the trailers going in and I was surprised by a lot of things that happened, and I’m not easily surprised. This is a very original screenplay and nothing is in black and white, there are really no heroes or villains here. The characters are well realised and given more depth than you might initially think they have. One thing I know that will definitely divide people is the ending, it was quite abrupt and not quite what I expected, if I was going to compare it to another movie ending, it would be to No Country for Old Men. However, I think that there was a real reason for this decision and something about it made me okay with it, but I will need to think about it more.

Frances McDormand is fantastic here, she’s had many great performances but this is her best performance since Fargo, and it’s possibly better which is saying a lot. She’s likable, tough as nails and really is a force of nature on screen, while maintaining some vulnerability, Mildred Hayes one of the best characters that Martin McDonagh has written. She really was the perfect actress for the role, I can’t seen anyone else playing her. Woody Harrelson’s performance as the chief of police who McDormand’s Mildred is calling out shouldn’t be overlooked either. His performance here is very nuanced and emotional, this is some of the most emotional work that Harrelson has done and he really is great. Sam Rockwell is quite an underrated and great actor, so its no surprise that he gives an excellent performance here, but this might also be one of the best performances he’s ever given. He plays a racist, dim-witted, violent and unstable cop. On top of having to be both hilarious and vile, he’s also got to have this unexpected arc (which I won’t go too deep into) and all I’ll have to say is that Rockwell was remarkable and pulls it off. Other actors like John Hawkes, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones all do great jobs and each have their moments to shine.

Martin McDonagh’s direction of Three Billboards overall is good. The direction isn’t really the highlight or focus of the movie but McDonagh does the best he can to make it the best it can be. The cinematography was good, complimenting the performances and writing while never overshadowing them. Carter Burwell’s score also fits perfectly with the movie, it’s there when it needs to be there to and at the right moments. The only out of place thing in terms of the direction was at one point there was an obviously looking CGI deer, that took me out of the movie a bit but that’s just in one scene.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is absolutely fantastic. The performances were amazing, especially from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell and it’s Martin McDonagh’s phenomonal writing and direction that makes it all fit together to make a remarkable movie. Hilarious, shocking, dark and emotional, Three Billboards is one of my all times favourite movies of 2017.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) Review

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Time: 137 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence, offensive language and content that may disturb
Cast:
Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler
Michelle Williams as Randi
Kyle Chandler as Joseph “Joe” Chandler
Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler
Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s (Kyle Chandler) heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16 year old nephew (Lucas Hedges). As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy.

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Manchester by the Sea was a movie that got a lot of attention, particularly from it being an awards movie. Much of the attention was on the acting. I was curious about this movie but not sure how I’d feel about it. I have to say that Manchester by the Sea deserves all the praise and attention. The story, the direction and particularly the acting was so great, all of it combining to make such an emotionally affecting movie.

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At first it may be hard getting into the movie. Early on, Lee is a character hard to like. But over time as you find out what happened to him in the past, you begin to empathise and understand why he is how he is. The film is a bit unconventional, it doesn’t really have a 3 act structure like most movies do. The flashbacks used were effective, sometimes it takes a while to figure out that the scenes are even flashbacks. The dialogue between the characters seems so natural, it almost feels like we are listening in on real life conversations between real life people. That’s one of the main takeaways from this movie, it felt so real. There is also surprising amount of humour in this movie, to offset some of the darker moments of the film. Something to address is that this movie isn’t for everyone. It is a very depressing movie, with characters going through some issues (especially with Lee). But I feel like this was done very well, it didn’t feel overdone and it felt so real. I will say that I didn’t really like the way this movie ends. It’s not bad, I just don’t really know what to think of it. It just sort of ends unexpectedly. Also at times this movie does feel a little too long. Those are really the only problems with the movie.

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There is no doubt that the acting is the highlight of the movie. Everyone was excellent in this movie, they felt like real people. Casey Affleck played his role incredibly well. He’s so subtle in his performance, it’s never showy. He might not be saying anything but you can tell whatever he’s feeling based on his expressions and through his eyes. Michelle Williams is not in the movie a whole lot but she really is great when she’s on screen. There’s a scene she shares with Affleck later in the movie, and both of them were absolutely excellent in it. Lucas Hedges is also great as the teenager that Lee may end up looking after, definitely looking forward to seeing more of this newer talent in future movies. Other supporting actors such as Kyle Chandler were also great in their roles.

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The direction wasn’t flashy and wasn’t the highlight of the movie but it was good. The cinematography is beautiful and the colour pallet fitted the tone of the movie. The soundtrack was also very effective.

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I think Manchester by the Sea is definitely worth checking out. It’s an incredibly emotional experience, powered by its compelling story and its pitch perfect acting. You just need to know what you’re getting into though. It is depressing to sit through. However I do think that despite that fact, you really should see it.