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100 WORD FILM REVIEW / Bad Times at the El Royale

After giving us the genre-bending Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard takes a stab at the neo-noir with Bad Times at the El Royale. Although elaborate in its narrative setup, the film falters from time to time. While acting is mostly solid across the board—especially by Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo—pacing drags considerably and emotional moments do not always click in this story about strangers who convenes upon a rundown hotel for different nefarious motives. Despite these detractors, the film is freshly original, full of tension and dark humor. It is an enjoyable reprieve from mainstream dribble that constitutes studiofare.

100 WORD FILM REVIEW / The Old Man & the Gun

The Old Man & the Gun is a good ol’ yarn, the type your grandfather would tell. This laidback, romantic affair about an aging bank robber possesses a myth-like quality. While the narrative’s pacing may be slow for some people, the cast’s charms make up for it. Magic especially shines between veterans Redford and Spacek. By not taking the material too seriously, director David Lowery explores topics such as aging and love with a dose of fun. When a film keeps a smile on your face the whole running time, it’s bound to stay with you long after the credits roll.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
Searching

There are no shortage of films addressing the way we gather information in the age of social media, but what makes Searching more than just a gimmick (the film is told entirely through computer and phone screens) is the fine editing work and the multi-layered performance of John Cho as the missing girl’s father. Cho never goes big, and because we believe him we go along with some fairly hoary plot devices (the moment where we switch devices to follow along a car on Google Maps is unintentionally hilarious) to deliver a shockingly resonant narrative and emotional payoff. 

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
Gotti

Gotti isn’t a good movie, but I urge people to see it. It's rare to see something this incompetent in theaters, starring an actor as well-known as John Travolta. Travolta's credit inexplicably appears over footage of the real Gotti, forcing the audience to think "Well, they don't really look alike", before they've had a chance to get invested. The rest of the film offers scenes that have no connection to those before or after them. Worse, you'd have to be an expert on the infamous mob boss to understand half of what is going on. Travolta tries his best, though.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Don’t watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I mean it. There’s nothing snarky or bitter about this advice. Don’t see the movie. Because if you see the movie, they will make more movies just like it. Movies in which not only are characters and plot jettisoned in favor of spectacle but the spectacle itself is flat, meaningless. Hollow. And you, yes YOU reading this review, have the power to stop all of that. Just don’t see it. That’s all. Make tomorrow a better day by making it a day in which you do not watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
Won't You Be My Neighbor?

100 words can’t contain my own love for Fred Rogers, nor can ninety minutes sum up the most extraordinary, and unlikely, of American lives. Morgan Neville’s documentary is at its best when focusing on footage of Rogers himself, from his stirring address to Congress in 1969 to his post-9/11 PSAs. The film stops just shy of hagiography, and moves too neatly past Rogers’ reticence to address gay rights, but leaves the audience with a grace note that gently confronts each of us with blessings we’d forgotten we’d received—blessings like the life and work of Fred Rogers himself.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

If you’re interested in understanding Pope Francis the man you’ll be better served by any of the surprising number of biographical documentaries available on Amazon Prime. Wenders isn’t making a personal history, though he does go to great lengths to link the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to his namesake, Francis of Assisi. The film, really, is a platform for the genial pontiff to call for mercy combined with action, though its scattershot approach leaves little time for nuance, which seems to be what the Pope is suggesting our chaotic times need most.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
First Reformed

Paul Schrader presents us with a rare gift: a film that is equally serious about its material and its storytelling craft. Grappling with his faith, Rev. Toller’s (Ethan Hawke) existence becomes unhinged when the husband of a parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) commits suicide. Buoyed by strong performances—including Cedric the Entertainer as the head of an evangelical megachurch—First Reformed is Schrader’s strongest treatise on faith in film. Alternately introspective, shocking, and frank, it still retains a glimmer of hope. The film reminds us that doubt plays a certain role in faith and that even in the midst of despair, grace reveals itself.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
Beast

Can someone love a serial killer? On a sequestered island community, a young woman (Jessie Buckley) with a dark past and a domineering mother (Geraldine James) falls for a mysterious man (Johnny Flynn) suspected of committing a series of child murders. While Beast is cleverly written and directed with gorgeous cinematography, its intricacies weigh it down. But with actors so committed to their craft, you nearly forget these things as the narrative unveils its multitude of lurid surprises. When the film ends, you’ll feel like your body was exhumed from damp earth and is in need of a cold shower.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach represents my early pick for Best Picture.

Adapting his own novella, Ian McEwan presents a heartbreakingly honest portrait of a newlywed couple and the qualities that tear them apart. Beautifully conceived by director Dominic Cooke and lensed by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, its narrative layers naturally coalesce in this meditation on love, cultural mores, and personal sacrifice.

The chemistry between rising star Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan—who has matured into the finest actress of her generation since she appeared in Joe Wright’s adaptation of McEwan’s Atonement—is palpable. They carry emotional weight capable of moving audiences to tears.

100 WORD FILM REVIEWS
The Seagull

Anton Chekhov's play receives a serviceable, if slight, adaptation from Michael Mayer (A Home at the End of the World). He directs his ensemble cast with poise, allowing his camera to roam about the confined lakeside setting as if it were a fly on the wall. Although the film plays it safe, how the cast embody their roles is particularly captivating. Annette Bening is alternately vivacious and cruel; Saoirse Ronan is radiant; and Corey Stoll gives his best performance since his portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris. The rest of the cast add charm to this comedy’s delights.