CGB Review of Patriots Day (2017)

As I did in the Hidden Figures review, I would like to thank our law enforcement, first responders and the people of Boston for their services in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing.

This is my review of Patriots Day!

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This is the story of the officers, first responders and everyday civilians who came together to hunt down Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two men responsible for the Boston marathon bombing on April 15th, 2013.
I was at a Political Science club meeting when the Boston marathon bombing happened.  The professor who was moderating the meeting brought it to our attention, but it wasn’t until I got home and my parents had turned on the news when I learned what had taken place.

The Hits
Patriots Day seemingly blends its own camerawork with actual footage before and moments after the bombing.  This technique works so well that I honestly had a hard time telling which was footage and which was the film.  There are a few times where the difference becomes easy to spot, but for the most part, the footage and the recreation of said footage work well together.
This movie places great emphasis on the efforts of different people from all walks of life uniting for one cause: To catch the two men who orchestrated the bombing.  Because unity is the focus of the film, all of the characters act like real people in a very real situation.  There is no “big-bad-government-official-versus-rogue-cop-who-knows-it-all” or anything too cliché.  In this story, the citizens of Boston–police, civilian and all–are the heroes and the bombers are the enemies.  Any infighting that happens between the law enforcement characters and the government agents is short-lived when a new development in the case emerges or an even trickier situation comes up.  These moments cast aside all petty agendas and force the characters to look the big picture in the face.
I appreciate how the movie acknowledges the conflict with labeling the attack as “terrorism.”  Although the Boston marathon bombing was absolutely a terrorist attack on civilian life, the fact is once an attack is defined as terrorism, the media, the government and other powers that be jump headfirst into controversial waters and–yes–American Muslims who are trying to live peacefully with their families find themselves bracing for Islamophobic backlash.  The movie uses dialogue between government officials to tackle in a subtle way the realities of post-9/11 America, and I commend the film for doing so.
There is an intense, masterfully-done interrogation scene between an interrogator named Veronica (Khandi Alexander) and Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist, who you may known as Supergirl), the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and American convert to Islam.  It is entirely dialogue driven with faint background music, which allows the tension of the scene to simmer and settle.
Speaking of the bombers and Katherine Russell, the portrayal of these characters are as realistic as possible.  It is clear that Tamerlan calls the shots in his house and that Dzhokhar, though has his own agenda, is mostly a sheep following his brother’s sinister lead.  As for Katherine, she is shown as a witting bystander; neither verbally encouraging nor discouraging her husband’s plot.  The brothers work on making bombs while Katherine quietly feeds her child milk and cereal.

The Misses
If you are an anxiety-sufferer like myself, then the first act might have you on edge.  I knew that the bombs were coming, but because the film doesn’t show time cards during the Boston marathon itself, I didn’t know when to brace myself for impact.  I literally jumped in my seat and had to take deep breaths after the bombing happens. Granted, I’m sure the filmmakers do this intentionally, but I also want to keep moviegoers who may be sensitive to certain things in mind.

Overall Patriots Day is a harrowing, gut-wrenching, emotional film, which is exactly why you should see it.  Like Silence, it does what movies are supposed to do: It made me cry, it made me anxious, it made me mad; it is an engaging experience that makes you feel for the characters on their quest for justice.   Compelling performances, tactful screenwriting and a thoughtful portrayal of the event makes Patriots Day a powerful film that needs to be experienced by the masses.

Saint Botolph, patron saint of Boston, pray for us.

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May the victims of the Boston marathon bombing rest in peace.

CGB Review of La La Land (2016)

Another day of sun!…even though it is currently cold and cloudy here in Southern California.

This is my review of La La Land!

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Sebastian Wilder is an aspiring jazz pianist.  Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress.  Their appetite for aspiration and making it big is what brings them together and, after multiple chance encounters, Sebastian and Mia embark on a musical journey as their kinship blooms into romance and beyond.
So…well, this is what has happened: When I first saw La La Land, I loved it!  My inner musical-lover kicked in and I was on board the La La Land express!….AND then I stopped to really think about the movie.  The more I thought, the more the film’s problems came to mind.  After much soul-searching, I realized, “Oh, no, I know what’s wrong with this movie and it is a big problem.”
La La Land is a technical achievement with a toxic relationship at the center of it all.

The Hits
If anything, La La Land is an impressive–most impressive–in terms of its set pieces, costume design and overall look.  The choreography is amazing!   There’s a lot of dance numbers in this film that require some complex moves with multiple dancers, and everyone does a great job in capturing the spirit of the sequences.  The opening number is especially fun to watch and it helps set the tone for the film.
I do appreciate the film’s color palate and, in particular, it’s use of yellow.  Yellow can be a difficult color to work with due to the eye sensitivity of some moviegoers, but the film makes use of the color really well; yellow is used sparingly as an attention-grabber on whatever director Damien Chazelle wants you to look at during a particular moment.
Speaking of Chazelle, between this and Whiplash, I get it–he really likes jazz and Charlie Parker (there’s a Charlie Parker reference in this flick whereas in Whiplash, his name was everywhere).  I like that jazz is not a shoehorned interest of Chazelle’s, but rather it makes sense within the context of the story.  Sebastian could find some work as a pianist, but being a jazz pianist exclusively brings on even more challenges, given that the market for jazz is not very steady, so the audience can sympathize with his frustrations and it is much more satisfying when he does succeeds.  The character who struggles is the one you root for.

The Misses
While Emma Stone’s performance as Mia is very good, the character herself is a problem.  To put it simply, she’s actually quite insufferable.   There’s a scene where she goes home and finds that Sebastian has taken time off from his band and has cooked a nice dinner for her.  During what is supposed to be a sweet candlelight dinner, they discuss Sebastian’s band and Mia is shocked that being a band requires him to be away from home and on tour.  I turned to my friend who accompanied me and whispered, “Well, no duh!  What did you expect?  He’s in a band!”
Let me explain: In my twentysomething years of life, I have had friends who pursued careers in the music industry; most of them got their start by being in a band.  I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when they were on tour, but I was supportive and not shocked that they were gone a lot.  I guess my impatience with Mia’s shock about Sebastian being away came from my own experiences with people like him, but still, by that point in the film she had been with him for a significant period of time, so one would think that this reality would have crossed her mind at some point.
Throughout the film, it becomes clear that Mia is attracted to guys who seem to have nothing else going on in their own lives, which explains why she resents Sebastian actually moving forward with his own dreams.  Aside from being shocked that someone in a band doesn’t spend a lot of time at home, Mia (before officially dating Sebastian) ditches another guy who has been established to have his own life set and runs to Sebastian, who at that point in the film is down on his luck.  To avoid spoilers, I will say that Mia is seen becoming nervous when Sebastian’s aspirations take off.  She meets him when he is down and would prefer that he stay there.
Hey, Mia, JP2 called; he would like to hand you a copy of Love and Responsibility.

On one hand, La La Land acts as a love letter to old Hollywood with its camerawork, set design, color palate and approach to romance (there’s no steamy sex scene; it’s mostly implied).  As a musical, it does what it sets out to do and will delight fans of the genre.
On the other hand, the implications of Sebastian and Mia’s relationship make this a queasy watch.  The current dating scene has enough confusion and lack of responsibility already, and glorifying a one-sided relationship where one person’s own dreams outweigh the goals of the other is misleading.

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

CGB Review of Whiplash (2014)

Were you rushing or were you dragging?

This is my review of Whiplash!

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Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer determined to be the next Bernard “Buddy” Rich.  He gets his chance when he becomes a part of his school’s elite music conservatory, led by the volatile and sadistic Terrence Fletcher.  Driven by a grudging respect for Fletcher, Andrew pushes himself to the point of reckless passion as he wishes to earn his place as Fletcher’s drummer.
I just watched this movie an hour ago and I’m already eager to watch it again.  The simmering performances between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons drive the kinetic story from beginning to end.

The Hits
When I was in high school, I remember listening to my brother practice on his guitar for hours, perfecting his craft until he could play any song just right.  In that aspect, I found this movie to be very relatable, given that I am not a musician myself.  Even though the film focuses solely on music, anyone who is involved in the arts (writing, music, painting, cooking, dancing, etc.,) will connect with Andrew’s struggle.
The rivalry between Andrew and Fletcher is as mesmerizing as Luke and Darth Vader.  That’s right; I went there.  Like the lightsaber duels throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, the drumming sequences are an internalization of the conflict between the characters.  Every scene between Andrew and Fletcher demonstrate Andrew’s desire to win his teacher’s admiration and Fletcher’s need to find a new prodigy to guide and claim as his own.
There’s also a very interesting contrast between Andrew’s relationship with his own father and his dysfunctional rapport with Fletcher.  Jim Neyman is kind but ineffectual, while Fletcher is temperamental but commanding.  The fact that Andrew seeks the attention of a domineering instructor while ignoring the gentle support of his own father speaks volumes about the young man’s need for a stronger male figure in his life.
Miles Teller needs to abandon the Divergent trilogy (and any Fantastic Four movies) and play more characters like Andrew Neyman.  Ambitious, cocky, and riddled with anxiety, the raging determination in Andrew’s eyes as the intensity of Fletcher’s abuse weighs down on his shoulders is conveyed by Teller’s gritty performance.
Let’s be honest: The real star is J.K. Simmons.  Holy cow, why isn’t he playing villains more often?  Simmons earned that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  An electric and terrifying dictator of a man who is equipped with a tongue sharper than the sword used to cut off the head of Anne Boleyn, Terrence Fletcher is a formidable foe.  His deep voice is already intimidating and once he starts berating Andrew and other characters, he becomes all the more frightening.  I like how when he first talks to Andrew, he is approachable and seems genuinely interested in Andrew’s backstory.  Then he uses what he knows about Andrew (such as Mrs. Neyman walking out on the family) to tear the young man down.  That is absolutely malicious.  By the second act, I froze up every time Fletcher was on screen.  In real life, this character would have me cowering in a corner, bawling my eyes out.  On screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off this scary man.  It is that great of a performance.

The Misses
The ending is a bit of an overkill.  I get that Andrew is using his drumming solo to tell Fletcher where to go, but it lasts for fifteen minutes and could have been shortened.
If you have ever been verbally abused, primarily by a teacher or mentor, this movie may be hard to watch.  I never want to deter anyone from watching a great film, but I also want to be respectful of readers would may have had traumatic experiences.

I adore Whiplash.  Miles Teller’s Andrew is connectable and sympathetic while J.K. Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher is as great a villain as Darth Vader, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Professor Radisson (God’s Not Dead).  The animosity between the two characters is a thrilling intrigue that carries the film with sound and fury.

Saint Genesius of Rome, pray for us.