Isn’t It Romantic

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson best known for the 2011 comedy A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Isn’t It Romantic is a very creative romantic comedy that satirizes the genre itself and is helped by a well-written script and a charismatic performance given by comedic actress Rebel Wilson. The story follows an Australian architect living in New York City named Natalie, played by Rebel Wilson who is best known for her role in the Pitch Perfect film series, who is disappointed in her life as a disrespected architect and tells her assistant Whitney, played by Betty Gilpin, how much she despises romantic comedies as unrealistic. However, she does not realize that her best male friend Josh, played by Adam DeVine who is often in movies with Rebel Wilson, actually likes her more than just a friend. Her life changes after she hits her head in the subway and wakes up to the realization that she is in a PG-13 romantic comedy in which life seems perfect. Horrified by the prospect of being stuck in such an fake world, Natalie believes the only way to escape this alternate reality is to fall in love just like in a romantic comedy. A very handsome and wealthy Australian man who was a mean client in the real world named Blake, played by Liam Hemsworth, begins to fall in love with Natalie and treats her like a princess stereotypical of a romantic comedy. There are several scenes which are highly effective in making fun of romantic comedies, especially a sequence in which you wakes up in the morning with Blake but never experiences the sex because it is a PG-13 romantic comedy world. Also bizarrely, her best friend Josh begins a whirlwind romance with a beautiful supermodel named Isabella, played by Priyanka Chopra. With their quick engagement, Natalie realizes that she may in fact be in love with Josh even in the real world and sees that he has affection for her too. The major theme that comes across eventually is that Natalie must love herself in order to live in an enjoyable life. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining light-hearted film that uses the innovative twist of poking fun at romantic comedies to craft a wholly unique comedy headlined by the perfectly comedic Rebel Wilson.

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Apollo 11

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller best known for the 2014 documentary Dinosaur 13, Apollo 11 is a stunning achievement of a documentary that provides an up-close look into the historic Apollo 11 NASA mission that led to the first humans landing on the moon. Unlike a traditional documentary, the film quite effectively shows the inner workings of the events surrounding July 1969 without the use of narration, voiceovers, or interviews. It presents the Apollo 11 mission in a linear fashion with never-before-seen footage lining up with the actual time that each incident took place. The archival footage that has not been public until now has been restored to astounding results that appear as if the footage was just filmed on modern cameras of today. Seeing the engrossing documentary in IMAX was particularly rewarding because some of the footage is in stunning 70 mm perfect for large movie theater screens. In addition to the extraordinary restoration, the film shows the importance of editing because it was edited in such a way to make for a truly compelling cinematic experience that made complete sense even without direction from a narrator. Yes, the story is universally known through history books and countless other documentaries and narrative films, but I have never seen a movie that has brought the Apollo 11 mission to such life as a result of presenting the actual footage from the various stages of such a technically challenging event. Overall, I found it to be one of the more exciting documentaries that I have ever seen and whose brilliant filmmakers and editors brought something new and very special to an already well-known event; it is a particularly important and timely documentary as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11.

Fighting with My Family

Written and directed by English comedian and actor Stephen Merchant in his directorial debut, Fighting with My Family is a surprisingly endearing comedy drama based on the true story of a young British woman growing up in a family obsessed with wrestling who successfully makes her way through the tryouts for the WWE. We first meet the protagonist Saraya who later goes by the stage name Paige, terrifically played by Florence Pugh, as a young girl who fights with her brother Zak, played by Jack Lowden, in their parents’ small-time wrestling circuit in Norwich, England. As a result of their wrestling obsession and punk appearance, the family is often made fun of outside of the wrestling world and is led by the unusual yet loving parents Patrick, played by the always funny Nick Frost, and Julia Bevis, played by Lena Headey best known for her role in Game of Thrones. Eventually, the siblings get to participate in the London tryouts for the WWE at the invitation of the WWE trainer Hutch Morgan, played by Vince Vaughn, but Paige is the only one picked to go to Orlando, Florida to train in the NXT development program for the WWE. She has very mixed emotions because her beloved brother who she has always worked with is overlooked by the WWE. In somewhat typical sports movie fashion, we see Paige struggling in a series of training montages, and, at one point, she threatens to quit before she is encouraged by her family to pursue her lifelong dream. For a while, Zak is deeply depressed about not having a chance like his sister in the most popular wrestling circuit and begins to drink even though he has a new wife and a young baby at home. Over the course of the movie, Dwayne Johnson who started his career in the WWE as The Rock appears randomly and gives Paige advice about how to succeed in the wrestling world. Overall, I found it to be a terrific uplifting film that effectively presents another side of the WWE in which it is like any other sport or form of entertainment that helps bring families together. It is much more than a wrestling movie; at its heart, it is a beautiful story of family and the pursuit of dreams even when it is extremely hard to accomplish.

Cold Pursuit

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland who directed the original 2014 Norwegian film that Cold Pursuit is a remake of, Cold Pursuit is a dark comedy action film that has a uniquely twisted and humorous script and is led by another entertaining action star performance given by Liam Neeson. The film follows a ski town snow plow driver named Nelson Coxman, played by Oscar nominee Liam Neeson, who seeks vengeance for the death of his son by going after competing drug gangs in in the remote fictional town of Kehoe, Colorado. His major target is a Denver drug lord nicknamed Viking, played by a psychotic Tom Bateman, who his son got mixed up with and Nelson goes on a killing spree viciously murdering several of Viking’s men. Eventually, a war between Viking and a Native American drug lord named White Bull, played by Tom Jackson, after Viking suspects White Bull of being responsible for the deaths of his men. Along the way, Nelson’s brother nicknamed Wingman, played by William Forsythe, who used to work for one of the drug cartels helps him find possible leads in the death of his son. In a similar fashion like Liam Neeson’s first action flick Taken but to a much more bloody degree, an absurdly high body count quickly rises, especially towards the climax when the drug cartels and Nelson engage in a all-out shootout. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining action movie with the right amount of dark humor to mark a departure from the tropes of the often over-bloated action genre, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart as a result of the over-the-top violence.

Arctic

Directed by first-time Brazilian feature filmmaker Joe Penna who rose to fame as a YouTube star, Arctic is a terrific survival movie that follows a rather simple yet extremely compelling script and is greatly enhanced by the brilliantly believable performance given by Mads Mikkelsen. We first meet the protagonist, played by the captivating Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, in the middle of his harrowing adventure to simply survive while he waits to be rescued somewhere in the frigid and inhospitable Arctic Circle. The audience gathers that he was involved in a plane crash in which he was the only person aboard flying cargo across the Arctic. The first half of the movie follows his daily arduous tasks of living in such a harsh environment with very little supplies. There is very little or no talking throughout as he does such simple routines as hand cranking a radio transponder for him to be located, setting up traps for fish, and creating a large SOS sign in the snow. Through the use of epic cinematography, his surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful with pure white snow and no evidence of humanity as far as the eye can see. It really captures the essence of the story as the struggle between man and nature. Eventually, during a helicopter rescue gone terribly wrong, he must take care of a gravely injured female rescue copilot who does not speak his language and is in and out of consciousness. With such an emotive face and piercing eyes, Mads Mikkelsen is one of the few actors capable of taking on such a role in which he expresses a wide range of emotions through non-verbal means. By taking on the responsibility of somebody else as he himself struggles to survive, he goes through a series of feelings of despair and whether to make the extremely difficult decision to leave his new dying companion behind so that he can trek a long distance to find help and stay alive in such a brutal place. Overall, I found it to be an extremely compelling film primarily as a result of the acting talents of Mads Mikkelsen and viscerally showing what it must be like to survive in such an unimaginable situation. The real thrill of the straightforward story is whether he will ever be rescued and what will happen to the young woman that he discovers.

Never Look Away

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck best known for 2007’s The Lives of Others which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Never Look Away is an outstanding Oscar-nominated German film that takes an epic look at the generational and personal struggles of a young artist living through Nazi Germany and later Socialist East Germany. The movie begins during World War II in the German city of Dresden where the young child Kurt Barnert is exposed to modern art, which is strictly banned by the Nazi regime, by his loving aunt Elisabeth. To his great horror, eventually Elisabeth is diagnosed with a mental disorder that can be grounds for extermination by the Nazis and is determined by a medical doctor, in this case, the SS-affiliated gynecologist Professor Carl Seeband, played by the terrific Sebastian Koch. After tragedy befalls Kurt’s family and the utter destruction of Dresden, the story jumps to several years after World War II as the older Kurt, played by Tom Schilling, lives in repressive East Germany figuring out a way to pursue his dream of becoming a painter. He ultimately enrolls in a Dresden art academy, but he is rather unhappy being forced to paint in the restrictive school of art known as Socialist Realism in which the working class is venerated and all other subjects are strictly forbidden. However, he does fall in love with a fellow art student named Elizabeth, played by Paula Beer, who, unbeknownst to Kurt, is the daughter of Professor Seeband who condemned his aunt. Without either of them knowing who each other really is, the Professor does not approve of Kurt’s relationship with his daughter and does some rather vicious things in order to prevent them from getting together and having a child. The movie again fast forwards to several years later in the 1960s when Kurt and Elizabeth decide to flee to West Germany where Kurt pursues his art career by entering a very avant-garde modern art academy in the liberal city of Dusseldorf. Vividly capturing the life of an artist, the talented filmmaker does an excellent job of taking the time to show the specific steps that Kurt uses in order to finally discover his own artistic style and medium. Overall, I found it to be a truly extraordinary cinematic experience that quite effectively weaves together a story of tragedy, past sins, forgiveness, love, creativity, and freedom against the backdrop of the very trying times of Germany and is very able to remain enthralling throughout despite its more than three hour runtime.

Alita: Battle Angel

Directed by Robert Rodriguez best known for 2005’s Sin City and produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau best known for 1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar, Alita: Battle Angel is a fairly underwhelming science fiction film that has visually stunning special effects and CGI but is bogged down by an uninspired and formulaic script. Set several hundred years in the future when Earth has been devastated from an alien attack, the film follows the powerful warrior cyborg Alita, played by Rose Salazar, who is discovered by the scientist Dr. Dyson Ido, played by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He adopts her like his daughter who died years ago and unintentionally allows her to be discovered by the malevolent leaders of the city of Zalem which hovers above Iron City and is forbidden for anyone from the Iron City to enter. As she is pursued by the powerful Iron City businessman Vector, played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, and his associate Dr. Chiren, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, Alita falls in love with a human named Hugo who introduces her to the extremely popular sport of Motorball. Against the wishes of Ido, she decides to become a legal bounty hunter known as a Hunter-Warrior and try out to become a competitor in Motorball. With increasing CGI violence in which Alita skillfully fights off cyborgs and robotically enhanced humans, the influences of Japanese manga, which the film is based upon, and Asian martial arts become readily apparent, contributing to the movie’s unique cinematic style and aesthetic. Overall, despite the advanced use of CGI, I found it to be less of a fully fleshed-out movie that rises above the rest of the sci-fi genre and more of a way to set up for commercial success that it will obviously try to take advantage of with sequels. Furthermore, I often felt myself distracted from the story as a result of the visuals bordering on the uncanny valley in which the attempt at realism does not necessarily work effectively; on a similar note, I found the extremely large eyes of Alita to be often absurd and unnecessary.