Museo

Directed by critically acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios in his second feature, Museo is a very creative and exciting heist movie that works beautifully as a result of its unique storytelling and terrific acting performances. The Mexican film, with Spanish dialogue and English subtitles, tells the true story of the greatest art heist in Mexican history that took place on Christmas Eve in 1985 at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City by a pair of amateur thieves. The plot follows two best friends who are leading rather unremarkable lives outside Mexico City in the middle-class suburb Satellite City: the mastermind and the black sheep of his family Juan, played by Golden Globe winner and celebrated Mexican actor Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal, and the film’s narrator and mustached partner in crime Wilson, played by Leonardo Ortizgris. After working part-time at the Museum and witnessing the value of the prehistoric artifacts, Juan hatches a plan to break into the Museum late at night when the security guards are distracted and steal mostly Mayan archaeological pieces that they then hope to sell on the black market. The filmmaker makes a highly effective decision to present the actual heist scenes as a artful collection of montage sequences in which the duo are shown meticulously removing each artifact and the camera freezes on each stolen piece as the actors try to remain still. This dazzling filmmaking effect reflects the artworks that are being stolen from the architecturally contemporary museum so important to the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican heritage of Mexico. They are able to pull off the robbery rather easily as a result of it taking place at a time before the widespread use of security cameras and alarms, and they are even able to return to their families’ Christmas celebrations unnoticed. Things begin to unravel when the clearly unprepared young thieves quickly discover that they may not be able to sell any of the almost 150 artifacts because they are priceless and any art collector would not be stupid enough to purchase them as they would be easily detected. Towards the end of the movie, the story becomes more of a comic misadventure in which a pair of bumbling criminals desperately try to offload their illicit goods and eventually come to the conclusion that none of their crimes may have been worth anything. Overall, I found it to be a gripping film that artistically presents a truly fascinating story filled with excellent performances, especially from the always terrific Bernal, and, therefore, allows it to stand out among the countless number of heist movies.

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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.

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.

A Simple Favor

clickDirected by Paul Feig who is best known for comedies, including 2011’s Bridesmaids and 2016’s Ghostbusters, A Simple Favor is a terrifically entertaining film that perfectly blends elements of mystery and comedy and uses its many plot twists to effectively create a fun whodunit. The plot follows a chipper widowed housewife named Stephanie Smothers, played by Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, who makes a video blog giving tips to mothers and develops a chance friendship with the stylish and beautiful Emily Nelson, played by Blake Lively, who works as a PR director for a well-known fashion designer. They meet each other through their elementary-aged sons, and Stephanie is immediately enchanted by the glamorous yet mysterious Emily who invites her over for drinks during the day at her expensive house in a Connecticut town outside New York City. After Emily asks Stephanie the seemingly simple favor of picking up her son from school, Emily disappears without a trace. The middle part of the film involves Stephanie along with Emily’s husband and English professor Sean, played by Henry Golding best known for his role in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, trying to figure out what happened to Emily and if and by whom she was murdered. At the same time, Sean and Stephanie begin to have a romantic relationship as they work closely together. With Stephanie discussing Emily’s disappearance and appealing for help to the followers of her video blog, she begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding her friend and quickly learns that not everything is as it appears and that Emily has several dark secrets from her past that may reveal why she disappeared. All of Stephanie’s detective work leads to the final scenes of the movie that reveal plot twists on top of plot twists, quite effectively shocking and surprising the audience to a thrilling degree. Overall, I found it to be one of those rare movies that makes for a gripping and wonderfully twisty good time; the film very much reminds me of a less dark and more funny version of the brilliant 2014 thriller Gone Girl that was also full of mystery and a surprise ending.

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.

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.

American Animals

Written and directed by British filmmaker Bart Layton best known for the 2012 critically acclaimed documentary The Imposter, American Animals is a terrific heist movie that reenacts a truly extraordinary true story about a group of college students daring to commit one of the largest art thefts in American history. The filmmaker makes a truly unique and brilliant decision to mix the majority of the film’s dramatized narrative with interviews with the real life characters portrayed. We first meet Spencer Reinhard, played by the terrific Irish actor Barry Keoghan, as an art student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky who is looking for a way to escape his ordinary life. He teams up with his lazy childhood friend Warren Lipka, played by another terrific young actor Evan Peters, to steal several rare books, including an original book of paintings by the famous wildlife artist John James Audubon, worth millions from the special collections library at Transylvania University. As they plan what they believed was a relatively simple heist, they run into a series of problems and must enlist two other friends: Chas Allen who is played by Blake Jenner and Eric Borsuk who is played by Jared Abrahamson. As the day of the robbery in December of 2004 approaches, several of the guys, especially Spencer, are worried that the robbery will fail and ruin their lives if they are caught, but Warren who acts as the ringleader successfully encourages them to go through with the plan. The movie keeps a quick and exciting pace as soon as the robbery commences by relying on shaky camera work and acting performances that make their characters’ intense emotions palpable. The filmmaker also does a remarkable job of crafting a film about reality; in the real life interviews, almost all of the individuals tell a slightly different story about what happened, which makes the audience question what really happened and what was fictionalized. Overall, I found it to be a terrific film that brilliantly transcends the formulaic aspects of a heist film while raising fascinating and important issues about storytelling, reality, and the desire for the individual to become extraordinary through reckless actions.