Movies of the Month

Kai Christiansen, A&E Editor

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  Paul Thomas Anderson, arguably one of the best filmmakers of our time, has delivered a thoughtful, expertly crafted piece of cinema. If you ask me, there is no other filmmaker who can turn out a product where practically nothing happens with as much engagement as this.
  Set in post-war London, a fashion designer (played by the always fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis) falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps), a woman who proves to be the polar opposite of his perfectionist, routine-reliant self, and sets in motion events that test their relationship in the most mundane and extreme of ways. As far as the “plot” goes, this is all you get.
  The film is highly engaging. Through powerhouse performances by both Krieps and Lewis, gorgeous cinematography with impeccable framing and movement, beautiful costume design, and a score by Jonny Greenwood that is just as powerful and emotional as any classical piece of music, Anderson shows both the pretty and the ugly sides of relationships.
  In a role that on the surface seems toned back from previous ones, Lewis delivers the same amount of commitment and understanding to a character so obsessed with his work that he alienates those around him. It’s even stated in the film by his character’s sister that he feels cursed and isn’t able to maintain long-lasting relationships, which is due to his short-tempered, stuck-up personality.
  It’s from these traits that the majority of the film’s humor is born. Full of wit and precise timing, P.T.A brings his dark and unique sense of humor that is present in all of his films, but shines the most in this endeavor. The comedy works best when it’s Krieps vs Lewis, particularly one scene in which Lewis is obviously distracted by the volume of Alma buttering her toast.
  But, as mentioned before, we see the darker side of their dynamic as well. Alma is constantly the victim of passive-aggression, sarcasm, insults, and a lack of appreciation for attempting to make the man she loves happy.
  After reading the nature of their relationship, you’re probably wondering why Alma would ever stay with a man like that for even a day after being subjected to that kind of treatment. But, I assure you, Alma has her reasons, and her secret to keeping them together is in fact quite twisted, making you question who is more crazy.
  To those not accustomed to Anderson’s films or their style, you may find this film boring or just flat-out weird. If not viewed in a theater or in an environment free of distractions, you may feel compelled to pull out your phone and check social media from time-to-time. But if you set aside two-hours of your day to sit and immerse yourself in this slow-burn of a film, you’ll experience one of the best character studies of the past decade.
  Phantom Thread, while in my opinion is not the best film by P.T.A, it’s still very high up as one of his best among the ranks of The Master, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood. He has perfected a film hypnotic in nature, and fills me with anticipation for what he does next.
4/4

  The Greatest Showman is the story of P.T. Barnum’s rise to fame in the 1830s, capitalizing off of the public’s morbid interest in the unusual and different. Hugh Jackman stars as the dedicated philanthropist Barnum, at first merely looking for a way to make a quick buck before finding success with his collection of extravagant circus acts. A big part of what makes Barnum a strangely compelling character is Jackman’s pure, natural charisma. The guy oozes likability that has the audience rooting for him consistently throughout.
  Opposite Jackman is an always fantastic Michelle Williams, who brings a similar subtlety to this role that she has in films such as Manchester By The Sea and Blue Valentine. Her performance keeps the film grounded when many of the other actors seem to be going by the mantra of “bigger is better.”
  Zac Efron and Zendaya deserve mention as well for their really wonderful work in the film. The scene of the two of them twirling and swinging around an empty circus ring while singing a duet about keeping their relationship hidden from the world is easily one of the greatest scenes in the film. There’s an undeniably exciting energy to the entire thing as the camera swoops around, over, and under them, often pulling back and allowing the choreography to speak for itself.
  If it weren’t for the stellar choreography and camera work during the more spectacular song and dance numbers, the film might fall completely flat on its face. Unfortunately, when it doesn’t have that spectacle to lean on, it often does.
  Narratively, the film feels completely uninspired. For all of its embellishment of Barnum’s story, it really could have used something more to keep the plot engaging past the halfway mark of the film. It seems to reach a certain point where the plot really has nowhere else to go, and the characters aren’t interesting enough to carry the film alone. It’s at that point where the boring melodrama seeps into the story and begins to lead the film into its dull, seen-it-a-million-times messages of the importance of friendship, family, and acceptance. In fact, I really can’t recall much of what happens later in the film aside from little moments here and there. I found myself really tuning out when the film left Barnum’s circus or suddenly stopped concerning itself with the relationship between Efron and Zendaya.
  The Frankenstein’s Monster mixture of pop, hip-hop, and, surprisingly, country that makes up the soundtrack works sometimes in odd contrast to the setting; other times standing out like a sore thumb (at least when it isn’t quickly becoming repetitive with all of its recurring motifs or upbeat self-empowerment anthems).
It’s not that the film isn’t entertaining, it certainly has its moments. But so often the narrative gets lost in the spectacle, a common problem with grand musicals, and eventually the film barely seems concerned with the narrative at all. Aside from some really great performances and a few particularly well choreographed and executed numbers, there’s sadly not much new that the film has to offer. I didn’t hate this movie, I also did not love this movie. I thought it was perfectly okay.
2/4

  Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) is a sequel to the original Jumanji (1995) starring Robin Williams. It stars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas and directed by Jake Kasdan. This action/comedy begins with the original board game being found in 1996, morphing itself overnight into a more current video game. A teenage gamer, Alex, hears the familiar drum beat and begins to play . We then fast forward to current day.
  In current day, four high school students are in detention and required to sort magazines in the school’s storage room. While there, they stumble across the old video system and decide to play the game. In the game, we find the teens have been transformed. Spencer, the easily startled nerd, is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone. Played by a very imposing and strong Dwayne Johnson. The high school jock and football player is now a smaller, less athletic version of himself, Mouse Finbar, played by Kevin Hart. The pretty and charming Bethany is transformed into Professor Shelly Oberon, a middle aged man played by Jack Black. Finally, the shy and introverted classmate, Martha, is now Ruby Roundhouse, a karate and dance fighting expert. They are now tasked with completing various levels of the video game, save Jumanji and then be freed from the game. While in the jungle, they meet Alex, who is now the character Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, played by Nick Jonas.
  The highlight of the movie, for me, was Jack Black’s performance as Professor Shelly Oberon, a self-absorbed teenage girl in a middle aged man’s body. It was a lot of fun watching him worry about his phone, crying about looking like a garden gnome and teaching Ruby Roundhouse how to flirt. All the while, he was not able to Instagram any of it! I also enjoyed the banter and character development of Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) and Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart). Overall, I felt the movie was well-directed and well paced. A small and appropriate shout out was given to the original movie’s Alan Parrish.
  However, I felt the villain was underdeveloped. It seemed like his henchmen received more screen time than he did. I realize they had a lot of characters to introduce and the storyline was full, but the villain did not really have a clear motive.
Overall, this is a fun and entertaining movie. You will want to watch it again!
3/4

  Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the 8th film in the series, and, like Rogue One, I feel very indifferent towards the final product. As a big Star Wars fan, I wanted to love this film, but alas, when I left the theater I just felt underwhelmed. There are many things going for this film; Rian Johnson’s direction, the cast, John Williams’ score, the visual effects, and expert cinematography. But what all of these lacked was strong characterization, story, and pacing.
  There were two major problems with those aspects; Poe Dameron’s arc and Finn and Rose’s side plot. Poe Dameron’s character really has no purpose in this film, other than to be lied to for the sake of the plot. Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo sends him spinning in circles, only for Dameron (and the audience) to find out she and Leia had an ulterior plan. With a run time of two and a half hours, this could have been easily cut out or cut down
  The second major issue I had with Last Jedi was Finn and the new character, Rose. In their story, we spend 7% of the story on the planet Canto Bright, where they attempt to get the Code Breaker, but end up with Benicio Do Toro. Instead of just getting him and leaving, they take majority of the time on this planet to release enslaved animals (and not helping the enslaved children). It felt out of place for there to be such on the nose political commentary about animal abuse, especially in a series were many animals get killed.
Where this film flies, however, it soars. The plot and characterization of Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. This arc is what the film is based on, and Johnson does an excellent job diving deep into the characters and expanding on the Star Wars mythos.
  Steve Yedlin, the cinematographer, delivers some of the most beautiful, and jaw-dropping pictures in the entirety of the Star Wars franchise. The contrast of colors and the framing adds so much to the film, making each frame leap off the screen. If nothing else, this film is a spectacle to watch.
In close, Last Jedi is a well-crafted film that has glaring pacing issues, detracting from the overall spectacle and experience.
2/4