Searching

searching_ver3_xlgDirected by first-time feature filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, Searching is an excellent thriller with terrific acting performances and a suspenseful script, but its major asset is its innovative use of shooting the entire film from the point-of-view of such modern technological devices as smart phones and computers. The plot follows a devoted father living in San Jose, California named David Kim, played by John Cho best known for his role in the stoner comedy trilogy Harold and Kumar first released in 2004, who tries to always be there for his daughter Margot after his wife Pamela dies from cancer several years before the film takes place. One day, his life falls apart after his beloved sixteen-year-old daughter goes missing after a study group, and he comes to the realization hours later that he must report his daughter as missing to the local police. The case is assigned to Detective Rosemary Vick, played by Emmy winner Debra Messing best known for her role in the popular NBC sitcom Will and Grace, who first treats the disappearance as a runaway but encourages David to look further into Margot’s personal life, including contacting her friends that may know more about what happened. Through his extensive investigations of his daughter’s online presence on Facebook and a video blogging website, he is able to piece together important clues that he gives to the police and leads them to several vital pieces of evidence about where she was last seen and possible motivations behind her vanishing. Towards the movie’s conclusion, David unearths a much more complex set of circumstances surrounding the mystery that leads the audience on a thrilling journey of unexpected plot twists. The filmmaker makes the film extremely relevant to today’s society by telling all of the story through the digital tools that many of us rely on every day and without following the format of a traditional movie with its use of film cameras. Almost all of the visuals are comprised of David’s computer screen as he makes Facetime video calls and goes through social media as it would appear in real life on screen. At first, I thought this rather unusual filmmaking technique would be too much of a gimmick, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it only heightens the suspense and creates a very provocative and gripping experience understandable to the current digital generation. Overall, I found it to be one of the best thrillers that I have seen in the past few years and is cinematically important for developing a brand-new filmmaking style that is truly eye-opening for audiences.

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The Bookshop

Based on the novel of the same name written by acclaimed British author Penelope Fitzgerald in 1978, The Bookshop is a rather typical British period drama that is full of terrific acting performances and a beautiful backdrop but ultimately falters as a result of its surprisingly depressing material often dragging out too long. The plot revolves around a middle-aged widow named Florence Green, played by the great British actress Emily Mortimer, who wants to do something for herself following the death of her husband years prior so she embarks on opening a small bookshop in a small fictional English seaside village. However, she encounters extreme resistance from the downright cruel Violet Gamart, played by Oscar-nominated American actress Patricia Clarkson, who is the de facto pillar of the community. The unscrupulous and mean-spirited Violet for no apparent reason despises Florence for deciding to locate her bookshop at an abandoned historical landmark building known as the Old House. Due to her tenacity and perseverance, Florence is finally able to open her beloved bookshop and develops a relationship with an unlikely customer named Edmund Brundish, played by the always wonderful Golden Globe-winning British actor Bill Nighy, who lives a lonely existence as a single elderly gentleman hermit. The bookshop is doing rather well for some time with the help of a precocious young girl until Violet and her sycophant accomplices continue the effort to evict Florence from the Old House in order to supposedly turn it into a local art center. Towards the end of the film, obstacles and tragedy rapidly engulf Florence and her little bookshop that has been a lifelong dream of hers. Overall, I found it to be a much more dark and sad movie than the charming British film that I was expecting; although the acting is top-notch, the sometimes rather dull pacing hampers an otherwise good movie.

White Boy Rick

Based on an incredibly true story, White Boy Rick is a well-done crime drama that vividly explores the underbelly of 1980s Detroit through the eyes of the street hustler and drug dealer Rick Wershe Jr. who became the youngest FBI informant in history, as well as his very troubled father. Played by the mesmerizing Oscar winner Matthew McConaughay in yet another gritty performance, the older Wershe tries to be a supporting father to his son and drug-addicted daughter but constantly struggles to make ends meet in the economically depressed city of Detroit and resorts to selling illegal guns. In order to get his father out of legal trouble and financially help his dysfunctional family that also includes his rather profane grandfather played by Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, the fifteen-year-old Rick Jr., played by the terrific new coming actor Richie Merritt, decides to work with the FBI, including two undercover agents played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian Tyree Henry. To help further the FBI’s sting operation targeting the crack epidemic, he is recruited to become a smalltime drug dealer selling to his criminal friends and others in exchange for partial immunity for him and his father. However, Rick Jr. becomes enamored by the flashy lifestyle and decides to become more of a self-made drug kingpin selling much more crack cocaine beyond what the FBI approves. Towards the climax and end of the movie, things get increasingly precarious for the now sixteen-year-old hustler and drug dealer, and he even gets shot in a turf war between rival gangs. Furthermore, the protection that the FBI promised him begins to fall apart and Rick Jr. is faced with long imprisonment for selling narcotics over a certain threshold. At that point, the film evolves into something very different from what the audience was expecting as a simple crime drama; the story delves into the problems of the criminal justice system in such a crime-ridden city as Detroit and the rather unfair mandatory minimums for drug offenses. Overall, although there were several flaws that made the film a missed opportunity, I found it to stand out as a result of the terrific performances and its fascinating depiction of a rather unbelievable and mostly unheard-of true story.

The Wife

Based on the novel of the same name written by American novelist Meg Wolitzer in 2003, The Wife is a brilliant drama portraying the complicated relationship between a renowned author and a simply dutiful wife and is a truly special film as a result of the tour de force acting performances, especially Glenn Close at the pinnacle of her illustrious career. The plot revolves around the fictional critically-acclaimed and self-absorbed American author Joe Castleman, played by the terrific Tony winner Jonathan Pryce, receiving the coveted Nobel Prize in Literature. Much of the film takes place during the lavish festivities associated with the Nobel in Stockholm in which Joe clearly enjoys the spotlight and seems dismissive of his underappreciated wife Joan Castleman, played by Glenn Close who has been nominated multiple times for the Academy Award. At the beginning of the movie, it is obvious there is something secretive underlying their supposedly loving long-time marriage, and the audience becomes more aware of their issues through a series of flashbacks to when they first met and fell in love in the 1950s when Joan was a gifted writer and student and Joe, played by the charming British actor Harry Lloyd, was a beloved professor at Smith College. Glenn Close in a Oscar-worthy performance depicts her character as a patiently submissive partner to a lauded writer who is finally about to reach a breaking point as her husband receives perhaps undeserved accolades that only feed his already immense ego. Through Christian Slater’s character who desperately wants to write Castleman’s biography, we learn more about the couple’s complicated relationship and past and the real possibility that Joan is more than just the writer’s wife. Overall, I found it to be one of the best dramatic films that explores the sometimes complex nature of marriage, especially one involving a famous spouse, and the truly outstanding acting performances are worth every penny of admission and will definitely garner Oscar buzz.

Operation Finale

operation_finale_xlgDirected by Chris Weitz who is best known as the cowriter of 2002’s About a Boy and 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the director of 2007’s The Golden Compass and 2009’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Operation Finale is based on the true life story of the hunt for and capture of one of the most notorious Nazi officers Adolf Eichmann, played by the always terrific Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley. Although the film does not fully live up to its expectations and can be at times slow, its greatest appeal is its fascinatingly real life story that may not be widely known. The story takes place in 1960 and follows a group of agents and officers in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and security agency Shin Bet as they travel to Argentina after learning that Eichmann who is credited with being the architect of the Holocaust is living in a suburb of Buenos Aires undercover. At the behest of the upper echelon of the Israeli government, the Mossad agent Peter Malkin, played by Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac, is recruited to form a team that will track the whereabouts of Eichmann and come up with a plan to bring him back to Israel to stand trial for his crimes against the Jewish people during World War II. His team includes several secret operatives, including an anesthesiologist named Hanna, played by Mélanie Laurent best known for her role in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, and fellow agent Rossi, played by comedian Nick Kroll. The movie presents a sometimes gripping account of the operatives following Eichmann’s every move and eventually decide to capture him at nighttime very near his home that he shares with his wife and two sons. When several issues arise, Eichmann must remain captive in the Israeli safe house in Argentina until the occasion arises when they can safely transport him out of the country. Throughout his detainment, Eichmann begins to develop somewhat of a rapport with Peter, and they both discuss their personal lives and their experiences during World War II. Eventually, after a internationally televised trial in Israel, Eichmann is finally executed in June 1962 for his horrific crimes against humanity and participation in the killing of over 6 million Jews. Overall, I found it to be an intriguing film highlighting the lengths in which Mossad and other intelligence agencies went to in order to capture Nazis who had escaped to South America; however, I thought it was not tightly executed and the action could have been intensified.

Juliet, Naked

juliet_naked_xlgBased on the novel of the same name written by acclaimed British author Nick Hornby best known for the novels High Fidelity and About a Boy, which were both made into feature films in 2000 and 2009, respectively, Juliet, Naked is a charming and fairly typical romantic comedy that is elevated by the acting performances that make for genuine chemistry between the protagonists. The plot follows a museum director in a small English seaside town named Annie, played by the talented British actress Rose Byrne known for her role in 2012’s Bridesmaids and 2015’s Neighbors, and her longtime boyfriend Duncan, played by the ever-charming British comedic actor Chris O’Dowd also known for his role in 2012’s Bridesmaids, who is a professor of television at a small college. Clearly unhappy by their unchanging romantic relationship, Annie tires of Duncan’s eccentric behaviors and especially his obsession over a little-known American alternative rock musician from the 90s who has disappeared from the public named Tucker Crowe, played by twice Academy Award-nominated actor Ethan Hawke. As their relationship quickly fades, Annie upsets Duncan by her writing a negative review on the Tucker Crowe fansite run by Duncan about a demo that Duncan receives of Tucker’s only popular album Juliet from 25 years ago. Through happenstance, Annie begins a correspondence with the actual Tucker who is living a rather unglamorous life in the United States and has several estranged children from several different mothers. Like a stereotypical romantic comedy, the two begin to develop much more affectionate feelings towards other, especially after he visits London with his youngest son for the birth of his grandchild and ends up staying with Annie in her quaint seaside town after suffering a setback. Duncan is flabbergasted and angry at Annie for not telling him about her acquaintance with his idol who ends up not being the man that Duncan has been expecting for so many years. Overall, I found it to be a wonderfully charming romantic comedy full of heartfelt and charismatic performances from the three extremely talented lead actors; therefore, I would recommend it to even those who are not particularly keen of romantic comedies but are simply looking for a heartwarming movie.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

mission_impossible__fallout_ver3_xlgThe sixth installment in the Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible film series starting with its first movie in 1996 and, in turn, based on the TV series of the same name that ran from 1966 to 1973, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a terrific spy action thriller that is one of the best, if not the best, Mission: Impossible film as a result of its spectacular stunt work and well-written script filled with satisfying twists. The story takes place two years after the previous film and follows Ethan Hunt, played by action star Tom Cruise, who is a secret agent in the fictional American spy agency IMF, Impossible Missions Force. The mission that he chooses to accept is to recover three stolen plutonium cores that could be used for portable nuclear weapons and are in the hands of a new shadowy criminal organization known as “the Apostles” that is an offshoot of the terrorist group known as “the Syndicate” led by the now imprisoned terrorist and anarchist Solomon Lane, played by the devious Sean Harris. Ethan works with his usual team of the IMF technical field agent and comic relief Benji Dunn, played by comedic actor Simon Pegg, and the IMF agent and Ethan’s closest friend Luther Stickell, played by the muscular Ving Rhames. However, the new CIA director Erica Sloane, played by Angela Bassett, who replaced Alec Baldwin’s character Alan Hunley, now the new IMF Secretary, does not entirely trust the IMF so she sends a CIA agent and assassin named August Walker, played by Henry Cavill best known for his role as Superman, to ensure that Ethan’s team stays on mission. In order to intercept the plutonium, Ethan poses as the buyer John Lark who is told by the intermediary known as White Widow, played by Vanessa Kirby best known for her role in the Netflix series The Crown, that Ethan must help his one-time nemesis Solomon Lane break out of police custody. Ethan learns that he must rescue Lane from a heavily-guarded police motorcade in the streets of London so the audience is taken on a thrilling and intense action sequence with a car chase and gunfight. Over time, Ethan and the team discovered that not everything is as it seems and that they cannot trust certain people as working for the same side. The end of the film turns into a brilliantly executed race against time to prevent the detonation of the nuclear weapons, and Ethan finds himself on a terrifying and exciting helicopter race in order to stop a global catastrophe from happening. Overall, I found it to be one of the better action movies I have seen in a while, which can be credited to the awesome action scenes and believable acting performances, especially from Tom Cruise who is in his action superstar best.