Blu-ray Review: The Lost City of Z

There are few times nowadays when movies immerse to the point where you feel like you’ve lived actually lived in a certain world or time. Sure that can be harder (or unnecessary) for films set in the modern day, but it’s very exciting when period films – like James Gray’s The Lost City of Z – makes you step back and realize you’re not really living in the early 1900s like you may have thought during its masterful 141 minutes.

The Lost City of Z tells the true story of explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who sets out to find a legendary city of gold located somewhere in the Amazon. He leaves his loving wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and son Jack in the hopes of not only redeeming his family’s discredited name, but satisfying his deep-rooted passion for discovering such a fabled piece of history. The journey takes place over multiple decades, all of which are captured beautifully by Gray.

The director, who most recently helmed the fantastic historical drama The Immigrant, captures the early 1900s just as effectively as he did in that film. The Lost City of Z is enveloped in a rustic, sepia color, giving many shots the look of a decades-old photograph or long-lost painting. Gray is, of course, helped much in-part by cinematographer Darius Khondji, who’s recent works like Midnight in Paris, Amour, and 2017’s Okja can speak for themselves. What’s also fortunate is that the film’s undeniable visual elegance is backed up by strong writing and performances – not to mention an always-present highlight of inspired storytelling.

960

Being that The Lost City of Z manages to be both a fascinating historical epic and an intimate character-driven film, it often thrives when one accentuates the other. But even with that said, a character can’t thrive without a good actor behind it. And this film is full of many rich performances. Hunnam, in particular, who is known best for blockbusters such as Pacific Rim (2013) and this year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, bring his absolute best in playing Percy. Even on paper the character is wonderfully confident and complex character, but Hunnam adds another level onto the role. He is also accompanied by other strong performers like Miller, Robert Pattinson (Twilight, The Rover), and Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland. Everyone here shows that they are more than just a pretty face for summertime fun – they deserve to be in this film.

Another aspect that I really loved – but seems to be divisive – about The Lost City of Z is its complete commitment to the deep period immersion. Much of this is due to Gray’s excellent direction, but his classical pacing and austere storytelling style could leave some wanting more. However, I found this decision to be very beneficial to the film in more ways than one. It takes its time (if not too much) to bring the viewer in, admire the exotic locations, and study the performances and characters. I think Gray’s auteur style is very refreshing in a day-and-age of frantic, overly-kinetic films. You may not – or at least it may be hard to adjust to at first – but I urge you to give films like this one a try.

lost_city.png

There are many more points I could bring up about The Lost City of Z, but hopefully this will be enough to persuade you. It did, as this review’s title shows, recently come out on home media, so I’m making it even easier on you. I hope the film will be considered come Oscar season, but it appears as though it’s been all but forgotten. Like its strong performers, it’s earned its right to be among the best of the year. And it should be treated as such.

Rating: 5/5

The Lost City of Z is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

P.S. Yes, we are changing to a 5-star rating system rather than the previous 4-star. So there.

Advertisements

Review: Okja

When a movie immediately makes you alter your lifestyle (as long as its a righteous change), then you have something very special on your hands. Now there will be plenty of people who will watch the exact same movie and not be equally affected, but that’s beside the point. I’ve been a meat-eater all of my life – but somehow Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja has genuinely made me become a vegetarian. And what makes my case better is that Okja is just an overall fantastic movie. So there.

We first meet the titular “super pig” – a delightful hippopotamus-like creature – as she plays with her lifelong friend Mija, a young girl who lives deep in the mountains with her grandfather. The two are inseparable, and before you know it you fall in love with sweet Okja, too.

Not only is the storytelling by Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho just as charming and smartly childlike as Okja, but even the animation of the creature is breathtaking. Joon-Ho makes a point to include small details like showing delicate parcels of light running alongside Okja’s gray hide, and even a wonderfully goofy scene of excretion (trust me, it’s funny). All is seemingly well in their quiet life – until someone feels the need to disrupt it.

The arrival of eccentric animal rights activist Dr. Johnny Wilcox – played hilariously by Jake Gyllenhaal — is where things go terribly awry. The beloved creature is taken away, and Mija is forced to travel out of her home to save Okja. She meets up with a decades-old activist group, the Animal Liberation Front, who are determined to rescue the factory-made animals from slaughter.

pasted-image-0-1.png

Early on, we get many worrying hints of widespread corruption and denial of unethical animal treatment by CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) – all of which are handled effortlessly by Joon-Ho. You laugh, cry, and are often disturbed by the film, but you can’t look away.

One of Okja‘s most surprising achievements is its ability to take a seemingly simple story about a girl and her animal friend, and turn it into something incredibly deep. It comments on corporations, ethics of food consumption, the bias of media coverage, and so much more. And – even more incredibly – it communicates those ideas with with the utmost charm and beauty. It felt like a perfect blend between Spielberg and Miyazaki.

landscape-1493392685-screen-shot-2017-04-28-at-161702

While the film also has a limited theatrical release, hopefully the heated controversy over its Netflix distribution will at least help it get more curious viewers in the long run. What I do hope, however, is that people do come to their senses and allow the wonderful Okja to be up for awards come Oscar season. Please, Academy. Please.

Rating: 4/4

Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

No matter what anyone tells you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a dumb summer blockbuster. Nothing at all. There is, however, something wrong with trying to defend movies that reach a new level of stupidity and laziness that I didn’t even know existed. And Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight easily falls into that category.

This film not only marks the fifth entry in the Hasbro franchise, but also Bay’s (supposedly) final time being its overseer. The fourth installment, Age of Extinction, seemed as though Bay would be done after that 165-minute abomination. Sadly, he and Paramount decided to continue on with the same exact formula. As with any franchise, I hoped that Bay would try to reinvent what audiences could expect from a Transformers movie. But instead, Bay made The Last Knight just as bloated, boring and mindless as every entry before it.

What initially intrigued me about The Last Knight – being a huge fan of history – was the Medieval settings teased in the trailers. I, like most, could definitely get into giant robots attacking mighty castles or battling it out on the fields of England. And for a few short minutes, that’s exactly what we get. It’s just that as soon as Bay’s terrible sense of humor, unbalanced tone, and carefree nature concerning anything but creating a “spectacle” kick in, it’s game over for the audience.

transformers-969x545

The Last Knight quickly transitions back to modern day (that’s not without adding a cringeworthy cameo by Stanley Tucci), and we meet back up with Mr. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). The aspiring inventor helps save a group of kids who are running from some type of poorly thought-out Homeland Security robot. He teams up with a few annoying, uninteresting characters as they try to (yet again) save the world. We travel across England, learning about the Transformers’ history — as told by Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins). All of it makes zero sense at face value, and even less when you try to think about it. Bay feels the need to throw a thousand ideas and plot points at once towards the audience, rather than letting a few specific ones sink in. So all that we’re left with is a mindbogglingly incoherent mess.

Considering Bay is five Transformers films in now, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s pretty much just treading water at this point. What does confuse me is that he seems to care deeply for the work he’s doing. He is an auteur director, for better or worse, and yet so many of his films still feel so empty. I would put The Last Knight at the top of that list — particularly since he assembled this 149-minute slog with such lazy, asinine direction. And his editing of story, character and theme (if any) are as equally weak. That dumbfounds me. Well, kind of. While Bay surely has some attachment to the iconic Hasbro franchise, he clearly enjoys getting to play with $200+ million much more.

http://static.srcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/transformers-last-knight-poster-optimus-prime.jpg

What’s most upsetting to me about this latest entry (and don’t worry, there will be at least one a year for the foreseeable future) is that I went in really wanting to like it. I knew most critics would bash it, but I didn’t want to be one of those people. There are moments in the third and fourth installments that showcase Bay’s unique sense of cinematic action and spectacle; I even think the first film is an overall enjoyable blockbuster. I just wonder if halfway through production on The Last Knight, Bay suddenly wished he could be someplace else, doing something completely different. I think it’s fair to say that since I was thinking the exact same thing.

Rating: 1/4