Many articles online claim that Spanish horror film ‘Veronica’ is “one of the scariest movies of all time”. At first glance, that may be hard to believe, since there is always that one report with those eight words plastered on every horror movie cover. Many critics know that the genre is filled with the same old jump scares and bloody/gory imagery to project shock among viewers. ‘Veronica’ has its share of these tropes, but with amazing direction by Paco Plaza, it becomes an intense haunted powerhouse of scares.
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Despite the positive word of mouth ‘Game Night’ has received in recent reports, I found it to be many things; lacking in laugh-out-loud humor, twisted, and atmospherically dark. One half of it fails to muster up a hearty, enjoyable laugh, while the other plays with your expectations; making it a well-done mystery-thriller, but a failed comedy. I expected better from its original premise. Come to think of it, ‘Game Night’ is more or less, a messed-up, unpleasant re-adaptation of the ‘Clue’ board game. While it is not a murder mystery per se, ‘Game Night’ does involve a group of people finding clues in order to win a game. These people are idiotic at best, which is what is supposed to make the comedy work, yet they come off as annoying, while the jokes seem tired.
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Like 2015’s ‘Spotlight’, there is no denying that Steven Spielberg’s newest effort, ‘The Post’; a retelling of The Washington Post’s legal battle with Richard Nixon and the hidden accounts of the Vietnam War, was made for the sake of Oscar nominations. You have four Oscar-winners (Spielberg, writer Josh Singer of ‘Spotlight’, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep) collaborating on this project, a limited release in December which eventually opened wide in January, and a politically charged story all going for it. Though admittedly, I believe ‘The Post’ is Spielberg’s best Oscar movie since ‘Schindler’s List’.
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Thinking about Luca Guadagnino’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel ‘Call Me by Your Name’, I also reminisce about its beautiful set-pieces and Sufjan Stevens’ Oscar-nominated song ‘Mystery of Love’. I also think of the heartbreak that sneaks through in a place you least expect; haunting you long after the credits roll. ‘Call Me by Your Name’ has still stuck with me this week, and as I anticipate the Oscars coming this Sunday, I still think of its impact. I am not saying that this movie is the best ‘Best Picture’ nominee; there are certain moments that feel graphic in nature. To its credit, it is a sweet portrayal of love and friendship.
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Daniel Day-Lewis gives his allegedly final performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’ (which is also in fact, their second collaboration). Like his character, Reynolds Woodcock, Day-Lewis expects nothing short of perfection in everything he does; both have a method to their madness that can be hard for some to deal with, but undeniably something to admire as the final result becomes. ‘Phantom Thread’ is the perfect goodbye for him, because it feels like a metaphor for his tireless career. While it may be sad to see him retire, we know that Anderson will still be making more stories. I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of his work (except for ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ with Adam Sandler). It is hard to deny that Anderson slips something beautiful in each and every fragment, yet as a whole, his stories take time to digest.
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It is easy to see why Marvel’s newest outing ‘Black Panther’ is both a critical and financial success (and not just because it is the eighteenth installment in the still-going-strong Marvel Cinematic Universe). It is the perfect superhero movie for our troubled times; as timely as it is beautiful and thrilling. The inhabitants of the technologically advanced city of Wakanda are not just an ensemble of talented black actors, they are strong characters who hold their own and never back down from a challenge when the time calls for it, yet they are not portrayed as proud, they are as human as we all are, with regrets, challenges, and choices that lead them to where they are. These elements make up the heart of ‘Black Panther’.
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As we get closer to Oscar night (March 4 this year), the time for seeing the nine ‘Best Picture’ nominees is slowly, yet surely, reaching to a close. Whether certain films are still being screened a week or two after that fateful event is up to the studios distributing these films, and how comfortable they are booking more screenings after the winners are announced; which is why I am glad to have finally got a chance to see Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’. Nominated for thirteen Oscars including Best Picture, ‘The Shape of Water’ is a romantic fairy tale for adults that only the man who directed both ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ could come up with. I especially have heard that this has been a passion project of his for quite some time. It may just be another ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale, only this time, it is an homage to creature features from the fifties (‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’), and a love letter to the golden age of cinema while somehow being drenched in fifties nostalgia.
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It is no surprise that ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ – A.K.A. the third and final chapter of the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy – is terrible. In fact, it is kind of expected from a trilogy based on ‘Twilight’ fan fiction. We have no one to unfortunately thank than author E.L. James for making porn disguised as an erotic romance involving BDSM. Had 2015’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ not been successful, we probably would not have received two more sequels. You might be wondering, why would I see a movie that I know is going to be terrible in the first place? Let’s just say that it is a matter of unfinished business; as they say “It’s a dirty job and somebody’s gotta do it!”
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Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill in what would be the most thought-provoking movie of the year. Directed by Joe Wright (‘Pan’), ‘Darkest Hour’ is not just the portrayal of Churchill during his run as prime minister, but also a look at the controversy surrounding his election (and last-minute replacement for Neville Chamberlain). It takes place during the Nazi regime and even documents what sounds like real-life sound bytes of calls between Churchill and President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, and footage of Nazi marches. To its core, ‘Darkest Hour’ also feels like a connection to another Best Picture nominee; Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’, since it is also a retelling of the decision to bring home the 300,000 men trapped on the sandy beaches.
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‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ – written and directed by Martin McDonagh (‘In Bruges, ‘Seven Psychopaths’) is a darkly funny, albeit, serious look at the justice system and one woman’s fury against a case left unsolved. Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a woman who decides to rent the titular billboards with a message calling out chief of police Willoughby (Oscar-nominee Woody Harrelson) for not focusing more on her daughter’s unsolved murder. At first, these billboards attract the attention of officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, in a role he might win the Supporting Actor Oscar for), but eventually, the town gets all wrapped up in the controversy surrounding Hayes’ decision.
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