The Old Man and the Gun

Directed by David Lowery best known for 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and 2016’s Pete’s Dragon, The Old Man and the Gun is a beautifully crafted film based on the true life story of an aging bank robber and is truly remarkable for its entertaining and heartfelt script and top-notch acting performances. The plot follows a gentlemanly bank robber named Forrest Tucker, played by Oscar winner Robert Redford in perhaps his last role, who is reaching the end of his criminal career spanning several decades and incarcerations. He is a rather unusual bank robber in that he is always extremely polite and an overall debonair character whose charisma sparkles even as he is holding up banks. Living in Dallas, Texas when he is not on a job, Forrest begins to fall in love with a local widow named Jewel, played by Oscar winner Sissy Spacek, who at first does not believe that Forrest is actually a bank robber. In his seventies, he is still involved in bank heists working either alone or with two of his long-time partners played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits who the media refers to as The Over-the-Hill Gang. Over the course of his latest spree during the 1980s when the movie is set, a hard-working Dallas Police detective named John Hunt, played by Oscar winner Casey Affleck, makes it his personal mission to track down and arrest the elusive Forrest who has already escaped from prison a total of sixteen times over the course of his career. He is most famous for his daring escape from the California prison San Quentin using a boat that he secretly constructed while serving time for a robbery. The filmmaker does an excellent job of creating a heist movie from a bygone era, very similar to the 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde, through the use of what looks like an older camera and relying on old-fashioned chemistry between such legends of screen as Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek. The story exudes so much charm and adventure that is sorely missing in many of today’s Blockbuster films. It does not rely on elaborate special effects or over-the-top action sequences but rather focuses on much more subtle acting performances and a simple well-written story about a compassionate criminal who is irresistible to watch. Overall, I found it to be one of the best movies in recent memory that harks back to the Golden Age of Hollywood in which the script and acting were central to the filmmaking process; if it is indeed Redford’s last work, it sure is a fitting capstone to one of the greatest acting careers of all time.

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Night School

night_school_xlgDirected by Malcolm D. Lee best known for the Tiffany Haddish breakout film Girls Trip released in 2017, Night School is a silly comedy that has a few laughs but ultimately fails to live up to the comedic potential of casting the often very funny Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart. The film follows high school dropout Teddy Walker, played by comedian Kevin Hart, who is living a happy life with his professionally successful girlfriend Lisa and has a stable job working as a barbecue grill salesman in Atlanta. However, before that, he was seen as a failure by his very strict father Gerald, played by Emmy Award winner Keith David, and has ever since tried to live up to his father by pretending to be more successful than he really is in life. Everything seems to fall apart after he loses his job and has to come to the realization that he has been living his supposedly financially successful paycheck to paycheck. In order to get a good job working in the financial sector for his friend Marvin, Teddy is told that he has to get his GED and enroll in night school. Teddy believes this will be relatively easy by simply asking the new principal of his former high school for a GED, but he quickly realizes that he will actually have to study and join night school after encountering the principal who turns out to be a former classmate of his that he bullied in high school named Stewart, played by Saturday Night Live alumnus Taran Killam. The night school teacher is the fairly untraditional yet passionate Carrie, played by the breakthrough comedian Tiffany Haddish, who pushes hard for her adult students to pay attention and pass the GED exam. Her class is comprised of adults who had to drop out of high school for various reasons and are now looking for a new lease on life and include such comedians as Rob Riggle, Al Madrigal, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. Much of the film shows the antics of the class led by the de facto leader and class clown Teddy, including a haphazard and ridiculous plot to steal the answers to one of the tests from the principal’s office. Eventually, the movie touches on several more serious issues regarding education: Teddy discovers that he has had trouble in school because of several learning disabilities, and all the students are shown as truly wanting to change their lives and persevere to get their GEDs. Towards the end, Teddy also tries to make amends with his now fiancĂ© Lisa who is upset with him after learning that he was not straightforward with the fact that he was a high school dropout and that he has been taking night school without telling her. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining film that was suitable for passing the time but, unfortunately, failed to adequately use the comedic skills of the usually hilarious talented comedians.

The Sisters Brothers

sisters_brothers_ver2_xlgDirected by critically acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard best known for 2010’s A Prophet and 2015’s Dheepan, The Sisters Brothers is a Western that is remarkable for its terrific acting performances and its unique and fascinating story that breaks the mold of a typical Western genre film. The plot revolves around two brothers Eli Sisters, played by Academy Award-nominated actor John C. Riley who is best known for his comedic roles alongside Will Ferrell, and Charlie Sisters, played by three-time Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix, who are both hired assassins who work for the powerful Commodore from Oregon City, Oregon. Set in the 1850s at the height of the Gold Rush in California and throughout the American Far West, the brothers are sent on a mission to track down a prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm, played by Emmy Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed who is best known for his role in the 2016’s HBO miniseries The Night Of, who has developed a scientific technique to discover gold. As the Sisters brothers embark on a perilous journey through the wild West of Oregon and California, another hired gunslinger named John Morris, played by Academy Award-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal, has tracked down and captured Warm after which they decide to become partners in gold prospecting. Eventually, Eli and Charlie catch up to both Warm and Morris, and all four men unexpectedly join forces but are hampered by rather unusual tragedies. Throughout the film, the protagonists meet a wide variety of true characters who either want to kill them or are killed by them, all set against dramatic Western landscapes and lawless frontier towns stereotypical of traditional Western cinema. However, the movie diverges from the genre by approaching the storyline as a slow burn drama that has moments of dark comedy and explores the complicated yet loving relationship between the two brothers. Yes, there are good old Western shootouts but a majority of the plot is a much more personal narrative than what most audience members will expect. Overall, I found it to be a well-polished film with elements of a Western that surprisingly evolves into something much more than just a violent picture set in the American West, primarily as a result of its truly excellent performances from the highly regarded lead actors and its unique vision from a well-respected foreign filmmaker.

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.

BlacKkKlansman

Directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee best known for the 1989 movie Do the Right Thing and 1992 biopic Malcolm X, BlacKkKlansman is a truly magnificent film elevated by Spike Lee’s unique voice that makes for a powerful and sometimes paradoxically entertaining cinematic experience. Based on a remarkably true story set in the late 1970s, the movie follows the newly-recruited police officer Ron Stallworth, played by the terrific John David Washington who is the son of Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, who was the first African American in the Colorado Springs Police Department and would embark on a unbelievable undercover investigation into the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth easily infiltrates the white supremacist organization by pretending to be a Caucasian racist interested in joining the KKK. Eventually, he enlists a white Jewish police officer named Flip Zimmerman, played by Emmy-nominated actor Adam Driver, to masquerade as Ron Stallworth in person meeting the local Ku Klux Klan leaders Walter and Felix along with their bumbling cohort Ivanhoe. While these rather unusual events take place, the real Stallworth begins to fall in love with a African American activist named Patrice who does not know that Stallworth is actually a police officer. Over time, Zimmerman increasingly becomes weary that he will be discovered as a cop by the rapidly radicalizing KKK. The organization hatches a plot to engage in violence against African Americans in order to start what they perceive as a holy race war to purify the United States. Within the film itself, Spike Lee cleverly makes political statements about the current state of American politics that clearly criticize President Trump. He is able to do this by juxtaposing the rhetoric of the KKK, especially David Duke, played by Topher Grace, who attempts to mainstream white supremacy, with the movie’s final sequence emotionally portraying the deadly Charlottesville, Virginia protests of August 2017 in which racism reared its ugly head and politicians appeared to look the other way. Lee also brilliantly incorporates a truly evocative cameo appearance of the musician and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte. Overall, I found it to be one of the most memorable films that incisively delves deep into the horrors of racism normalized by such hateful groups as the Ku Klux Klan, all the while providing a remarkably entertaining story that is so hard to believe.

Crazy Rich Asians

Based on the 2013 best-selling novel of the same name written by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a terrific romantic comedy that transcends the stereotypes of the genre as a result of its talented diverse all Asian cast and its spectacular setting and visuals. The plot follows the romance between a beautiful young NYU economics professor Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu best known for her role on the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, and a handsome man from Singapore named Nick Young, played by Malaysian British model and television host Henry Golding. He invites her to join him for a friend’s wedding in Singapore where she will also meet his extensive family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, she quickly discovers that her boyfriend comes from an extremely wealthy Singapore real estate development family. She experiences difficulties relating to the large family that can be quite demanding and snobbish, especially Nick’s intimidating mother Eleanor, played by critically acclaimed Malaysian Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh best known for her role in 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although Nick tries to relieve some of the stress, Rachel as the daughter of a working-class single mother in New York struggles with keeping up appearances and staying with Nick who is pressured to marry one of his own. Over the course of the film, she encounters an eccentric cast of characters, including her hilarious college friend played by comedian Awkwafina, her friend’s ostentatious father played by Ken Jeong best known for his breakout role in The Hangover franchise, Nick’s spoiled cousin played by The Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng, and a truly obnoxious family friend of Nick played by Jimmy O. Yang from HBO’s Silicon Valley. The highly entertaining and often funny as well as several occasionally highly dramatic scenes are set against the beautiful backdrop of the glamorous city of Singapore and the over-the-top wedding festivities that could only be put on by one of the world’s richest families. It is very much a fish out of water story about a whirlwind romance and the complicated family relationships involved with a couple of such different backgrounds. Overall, I found it to be one of the best romantic comedies in years that was filled to the brim with lighthearted and heartwarming moments of laughter and dramatics.

Christopher Robin

christopher_robin_ver3_xlgDirected by Marc Forster who is best known for 2001’s Monster’s Ball, 2004’s Finding Neverland, and 2006’s Stranger than Fiction, Christopher Robin is a sweet and heartwarming re-imagination of the classic Winnie the Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne and Disney animated films beginning in 1966 and is able to appeal to both children and adults. The plot follows Christopher Robin, played by Golden Globe-nominated actor Ewan McGregor, as an adult who left his furry friends from the Hundred Acre Wood many years ago and now has a stressful job that takes him away from his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe-nominated actress Hayley Atwell, and his young daughter Madeline. The film starts with a flashback to when Robin is given a farewell party as he is about to go off to boarding school by his magical friends Winnie the Pooh, voiced by Jim Cummings who has been the voice of Winnie the Pooh for over thirty years, Tigger, also voiced by Jim Cummings, Eeyore, voiced by Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Roo, and Kanga. After a difficult day at work and having to skip a family vacation, Robin is astonished to find Winnie the Pooh in London who himself is looking for the other living stuffed animal characters. Robin decides he must take Winnie the Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood, a secret world only accessed through a tree’s door, located near the Robin family’s cottage in Sussex. Throughout the adventure to reunite Winnie the Pooh with Tigger and the others, Robin continues to reassert that he is no longer a child and that Winnie the Pooh must stop his silly childish behavior. He is also extremely frantic about a deadline at his workplace Winslow Luggages where he works as an efficiency expert, and things spiral out of control after some of his paperwork is misplaced right before a very important meeting in London. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore along with Madeline try to track down Robin after taking a train ride from Sussex to London, and several funny and cute moments occur during their dangerous expedition in the human world. Eventually, with the help of his friends, especially Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin realizes that family is much more important than work and that it is okay to play like a child as an adult in order to better appreciate life. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable family-friendly movie that was terrific for nostalgic purposes but did not reach the level of the original Disney animated films or other similar movies released recently, including 2015’s Paddington and this year’s Paddington 2 that are also based on classic British stories revolving around a playful bear.