Review: Nick Robinson shines in the lovingly crafted 'Love, Simon'
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‘Love, Simon’ review: Nick Robinson shines in this heartwarming gay coming-of-age tale

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Love, Simon GLSEN
20TH CENTURY FOX

Though it might be riddled with all of the familiar high school movie clichés that you’ve come to know and expect, Greg Berlanti’s lovingly crafted gay coming-of-age tale Love, Simon is easily one of the best films of the year, and its message about love, family, and acceptance is bound to make your heart soar.

Based on Becky Albertalli’s best-selling 2012 novel Simon vs The Homo Sapien’s Agenda, Nick Robinson flawlessly plays seventeen-year-old and not openly gay high school senior Simon Spier, whose life is seemingly perfect in almost every way possible: he has a family that he actually likes, including his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and little sister (Talitha Bateman), lives in a nice Atlanta suburb, and enjoys the company of Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and Abby (Alexandra Shipp), who make up his tight-knit group of friends.

But when one of Simon’s classmates comes out via an anonymous letter posted to the Creekwood High School blog under the name Blue, things start to change for better and for worse. Shortly after reading the anonymous letter, Simon begins exchanging emails with Blue, while also hiding his identity by setting up a fake Gmail account. “I’m just like you,” Simon writes in his initial email to his new pen pal.

The secret email flirtation that ensues is adorably cute and helps Simon muster up the courage he may need to finally come out to his family and friends. Well, that is until the messages end up in the hands of Simon’s obnoxious, overly confident classmate Martin (Logan Miller), who screenshots the email exchange after Simon forgets to log out of his Gmail account on one of the computers in the school library. Why? Because Martin believes that with Simon’s help, he could get a date with Abby. If Simon doesn’t help, though, Martin promises to leak the emails to the entire school.

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While screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker veer away considerably from the source material, their script is so incredibly sharp and witty, despite the occasional cheesy line or two, and Berlanti, a gay man himself, handles the film with plenty of love, care, and affection, much like Simon’s parents when they finally learn his secret. “These last few years, it’s almost like I could feel you holding your breath,” Garner’s character says during a heartwrenching monologue that could rival that of Michael Stuhlbarg’s in Call Me by Your Name. “You get to exhale now, Simon.”

There’s a lot to be said about the rest of the supporting cast, too, including Tony Hale, who plays the lively vice-principal Mr. Worth, Natasha Rothwell, who plays the hilarious drama teacher Ms. Albright, and Clark Moore, who, while stealing nearly every single scene that he is in, plays Simon’s out-and-proud classmate Ethan.

Love, Simon may not break any new ground for queer cinema, especially in the age of Moonlight, BPM (Beats Per Minute), and Call Me by Your Name, but it sure is a treat to have production companies and major distributors like Fox 2000 and 20th Century Fox throw a reasonable amount of money behind a gay coming-of-age movie and make it easily accessible by releasing it in thousands of theaters around the world next month—especially one of such outstanding quality. The world could really use more films like Love, Simon.

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‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ review: Ron Howard delivers a solidly entertaining galactic heist movie

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Solo: A Star Wars Story
LUCASFILM LTD.

Despite the loss of original co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller due to so-called “creative differences,” rumors of Lucasfilm ushering in an emergency acting coach to help star Alden Ehrenreich “more convincingly channel [Harrison] Ford’s swashbuckling effect” in the original Star Wars trilogy, and numerous other reports of a big-budget Hollywood production gone-to-hell, Solo: A Star Wars Story turned out pretty well, for the most part.

Indeed, Solo begins just like any other installment in this long-running intergalactic franchise with a static blue text that reads, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” followed by an ellipsis with an extra dot on the end, of course. However, similarly to 2016’s stand-alone Star Wars hit Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the movie is not introduced by John Williams rousing, iconic theme song, nor are we given a traditional opening crawl.

When we first meet young Han (Ehrenreich), it’s on his home planet of Corellia, where he and his companion Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) are like a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, doing odd jobs for a notorious gang headed up by the reptilian-looking crime boss Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Little does Proxima and her gang know, though, that Han and Qi’Ra have hatched a plan to leave Coriella once and for all.

Oh, and little do Han and Qi’Ra know that their plan to escape Coriella would run amok, leading Han to a dangerous life of an Imperial mudtrooper and, Qi’Ra, well, we don’t really know how she ends up where she does. But Han’s decision to fight for the Empire ultimately pays off as it leads him not only to his two-centuries-old Wookiee pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), but also a little gang of career criminals comprised of Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) that will unexpectedly allow him to cross paths with Qi’Ra once again.

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While it would’ve been exciting to see what sort of fun, comedic flare Lord and Miller would’ve brought to the table with Solo, veteran director Ron Howard, who reportedly re-shot 70% of what the two previous directors had already done, works with Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan’s script just fine. Perhaps Howard plays things just a little too safe, not bringing anything particularly new or exciting to this stand-alone story, but he handles the material just fine.

Ehrenreich is genuinely outstanding as the title character, flawlessly bringing young Han to life in a way that is his own, and yet he somehow still manages to stay true to Ford’s iconic scoundrel we all know and love from the original trilogy. Harrelson’s Beckett is also wonderful, bringing a certain sense of charm, wit, humor, and excitement with him wherever he goes. Clarke is great too, and by the third act, you’ll constantly be questioning Qi’Ra’s true intentions.

But it’s Donald Glover’s smooth, charismatic Lando Calrissian that really stands out in Solo, and it’s a shame that he isn’t provided with more screen time than he gets. When Lando is on screen, though, it’s a real treat, especially when he’s with his co-pilot, L3-37 (voiced by Pheobe Waller-Bridge), a self-made droid assembled from astromech and protocol parts. Their chemistry is impeccable and always delightful to watch—maybe even more so than Han and Chewie’s.

There’s also a lot to admire about Solo from a visual perspective, whether it’s Bradford Young’s gorgeous lighting and cinematography, Neil Lamont’s outstanding production design, Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon’s stylish costumes, especially when it comes to Lando and his many colorful capes. Even if you can’t get invested in the story, there’s no denying that Solo is one hell of a dazzling, visual feast.

Fans will undoubtedly be divided when it comes to Solo: A Star Wars Story, much like they were when Disney released Rian Johnson’s sequel Star Wars: The Last Jedi last December, and it’s easy to see why. Solo just isn’t a movie for everyone, and that’s OK. But there’s certainly enough space-based heist shenanigans and fan service to please, at the very least, even the most casual of Star Wars fans.

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‘Annihilation’ review: Alex Garland’s latest effort is destined to be a new sci-fi classic

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Annihilation
PARAMOUNT PICTURES

It’s truly a shame that international audiences will not get the chance to experience Alex Garland’s moody, cerebral sci-fi thriller Annihilation on the big screen, the way it is meant to be seen. Then again, though, after reading about all of the drama that was happening behind the scenes of this movie, and then actually getting the chance to watch it, it’s easy to understand why Paramount decided to let Netflix handle the film’s distribution overseas.

Annihilation is loosely based on the first book in the acclaimed best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. If you’re expecting a faithful adaptation, you’re likely going to walk out of the film feeling rather disappointed, among other things, though there are many aspects of the book still intact in Garland’s script.

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor and former soldier who’s still grieving the presumed death of her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), who disappeared on a secret mission a year ago. Well, that it is until he returns home again, but something about him just isn’t right. He shows little emotion to his wife that he hasn’t seen in months, and the things he’s saying just aren’t very making very much sense. And then there’s a little blood. And then he says he isn’t feeling very well. And then there’s a lot of blood.

Soon enough, Lena and Kane find themselves somewhere along the Gulf Coast where a meteor strike has produced a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding rapidly, mutating both the landscape and creatures within it. They call it the Shimmer, and it’s a beautiful sight to behold. Lena is determined to find out what’s on the other side of the phenomenon, as is Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is planning to lead an expedition of female scientists (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) into the Shimmer after several other expeditions, primarily military men, failed to return, with the exception of Kane, of course.

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Much like Ex Machina, Annihilation is filled with plenty of disturbing imagery. From the blood spewing out of the mouth of Kane, to a man’s stomach slowly being cut open to reveal his intestines, Annihilation is not always a fun movie to watch. From the moment the film begins, there’s this certain sense of unease, a nightmarish feel that sticks with you, even long after the film has ended.

There’s one sequence in particular that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Not because it was grim or grotesque, but rather visually spectacular, and even mesmerizing to a certain degree, thanks in part to Rob Hardy’s gorgeous cinematography, Andrew Whitehurst’s visual effects, and, most of all, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s pounding, pulsing synthy score. It’s too bad we didn’t get to hear more of that weird little melody from the trailer throughout the film, but when it does show up, it’s a real spooky treat.

Annihilation leaves you with a lot to unpack once it’s over and it’s unfortunate that I have such little time to even write this review, as I’m still digesting much of the film and need a little more time to piece together a few, key aspects of it in mind. That’s a good thing, though. Garland isn’t a filmmaker that spoon-feeds you anything—his movies are meant to be thought-provoking. And, while it’s not nearly as polished and structured as much as his previous effort, there’s no denying that Garland has crafted an ambitious, new sci-fi classic with Annihilation.

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‘Golden Exits’ review: Alex Ross Perry delivers shrugging misogyny and asshole hypocrisy

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Golden Exits

“Nick’s been a bad boy.” This line, a form of self-evasive parody worthy of a bad comedy sketch, appears somewhere amidst the cacophony of Golden Exits, still sticking out as an egregiously distasteful line. Still, the phrase feels right at home in the filmography of Alex Ross Perry, New York’s newest canonically petulant, neurotic, virulent cinephile child. Lambasted at Sundance and reclaimed as divisive at Berlinale, Perry’s newest, Golden Exits, finally rumbles into theaters, over a year later. When I first walked out of the film at BAMCinemafest back in June of 2017, I found myself irked and puzzled. After seeing the film a second time (albeit at home), it soured even further. This is the year’s heretofore weakest film. 

Perry’s previous work has been some combination of derivative fan-fiction and willfully misguided and lame experimentation, but it has remained wickedly engaging and even smart (“Hang on while I put my head in this sweater.”) Golden Exits continues Perry’s fascination with facial expressions, the power of the close-up to distort reality. Here is where the film’s most prominent strengths lie. Robert Greene’s editing is, once again, a marvel, conjuring empathy between shots, appropriate for a film where absence breeds its strongest artistic current. Sean Price Williams‘ cinematography is an incredible feat, a world lived-in, aging millennial/Gen-X aesthetics. Yet these end up supportive measures, in service of a peculiar and horrid work.

Bypassing the more artificial structures of, say, Listen Up Phillip, Perry is not an adept enough writer to juggle so many characters. Beyond the frankly ludicrous dialogue is a more overarching slack in the narrative. The sisters are shrill and lonely, the men callous and silly – which improperly serves to excuse their ill behavior. It most neatly falls into narratives: An art world Western, where Emily Browning’s foreigner Nina saddles up as the cowboy, and a ruthlessly inane and inconsequential—even by the film’s own dramatic standards—tale of infidelity.

The film’s total lack of people of color, or New York citizens outside the very narrow artistic and socioeconomic status, is less an issue to this relentlessly closed-off world, but that the film lacks any philosophical perspective, further amplifies the pain of this gorgeous folly. This is a view of a New York dead zone, cut off from those outside the film’s orbit, even geographically. It’s a block that spans an entire world but remains crushingly claustrophobic. The screen feels insulated and privileged, a compendium of techniques without soul, tracing out a diagram of the actor’s faces and postures without ever offering psychological insight. There is an apathetic attitude to the actor’s experiences, a strained auteurist arrogance.

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The work is not a collaboration with its performers or even an exploitation of their craft. Rather, it’s totally disconnected from the dramatics at play, tethered to a weak script with a camera whose compositions sketch out a totally irrelevant vision. That same distortion of which Perry is so fond remains, but without the absurdism that gave it purpose. 

Lily Rabe, an actress with an immense amount of dexterity and range, is saddled with a ton of verbose and stupid dialogue and handles it masterfully, emerging unscathed and leaving the lackluster film in her wake; in a film designed as an intricate series of limp-dick domestic disputes, her words gain a sharpness and prickly balance so sorely missing elsewhere. Emily Browning is perhaps on the other end of the bell curve in this regard, which is a shame, as Perry re-contextualizes this uncertainty as a sexualized wistfulness. The film offers many instances of observing Browning wandering, yet the film never seeks anything beyond the cleavage below her lip-bite, partially obstructed by lengthy hair strands to give the illusion of depth.

That the film leaves its male characters to mere caricatures seems to function as an excuse for its deep-seeded grossness. The camera leers at the female characters, transforming the female bodies into crude aesthetics. Its women are catty and desperate and the film, abject and plain, nurtures a deep contempt for them. Perry’s relative restraint, after the puzzle-box density of Queen of Earth’s image, face pressed against the screen, can be admirable. Yet it reveals an insecurity with the classical, something Exits desperately need. Laid bare, the visual formalism is dull and ineffective.

Golden Exits believes itself to be Rohmerian, though perhaps it more closely resembles Ibsen (if we are being generous). Rohmer allows for the sort of cutting and heavily structured spaces of banality that a film as inexplicably plot-heavy as Golden Exits has no interest in, nor the capability to sustain. The film settles instead for a particularly distasteful kind of venom. Linklater, with the phenomenally bland Before trilogy, misread Rohmer’s talkiness and controversial politics from an easy romanticism; Perry, on the other hand, makes his hyper-articulation as evasive and anxious, a refusal to acknowledge beyond towards the more troubling and guarded traits of character. It resembles the worst of cinephilia’s tendencies, the shrugging misogyny and asshole hypocrisy, the window dressing philosophy that everyone is equally bad and flawed built to ignore and, by extension, indulge. It is a high melodrama without a hint of consideration, dismissing emotionality in favor of barbed-wire gladiator battles that say nothing. Golden Exits is a work that pro ports to be of sin, but ultimately offers the moral equivalent of a puddle.

Where the hell was Chloë Sevigny, anyway?

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