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Reviews

Better Call Saul: Saul Gone
(2022)
Episode 13, Season 6

The most nuanced ending possible. A masterpiece
The only question that needed answered was whether he would turn out to be Saul or Jimmy in the end. To an extent, Chuck was right-he'll always be Slippin' Jimmy. Walt echoes that sentiment with a gut-punch line in his beautifully acted flashback. And the finale agrees with them, but like everything in this show, it's not that simple.

Jimmy knows he'll never be the straight-edged man his loved ones wanted him to be; he never wanted to be that himself. Jimmy wanted to be on top, wanted to be admired, wanted to win. When he was caught and was forced to make a decision about who he would be, he realized that the only person left who loved him would disown him if he committed to Saul. What would life after prison be without Kim? Petty crime? Back to jail? He experienced mundanity at Cinnabon, at Davis and Main-and he hated it. He escaped it by causing chaos. And the chaos has caught up to him.

So he chose to follow Kim's path of punishment, and he found that in some twisted way, he would still be on top. Even behind bars.

The finale redeemed him while staying true to his character. It gave him a semblance of a happy ending while maintaining Breaking Brad's karmic universe. Jimmy chose McGill over Goodman, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world will. But that's okay, because this show was always one thing first and foremost: a character study. Jimmy's character arc was never over until he finally made that one right decision he outran until this point, from stealing from his parents' cash drawer to building a meth empire: admitting he was wrong and accepting the consequences.

Slippin' Jimmy would never come to this conclusion on his own. His confession in court was not to do the right thing, to bring a criminal to justice. It was to redeem himself to Kim and to come to terms with the guilt he felt over Chuck's death. His biggest regrets, the ones he'd fix with a time machine, were not becoming Slippin' Jimmy or descending into Saul. It was dismissing his brother's olive branch and letting Kim roll around in the muck with him.

This ending gave him his time machine in the most nuanced, karmic, heartbreaking way possible.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
(2017)

One of the best book adaptations ever
Not only is the series worthy of belonging to the exclusive club of Non-Disappointing Book Adaptations, it is so faithful, rich, and artfully constructed that it transcends and even improves upon its beloved source material.

Neil Patrick Harris may appear too comical as Olaf to new viewers, but through the character's transformations by the end of the series, it will become evident that he is the perfect casting for the show's more dimensional interpretation of the villain. The three Baudelaires also shine in their roles, and coupled with the nuanced writing, they render the protagonists as characters who inspire sympathy far beyond the simple nature of their tragic circumstances.

More Wes Anderson than Tim Burton, the show's aesthetics are sublime and suit its more tautly paced and complex narrative. Each exotic locale is an adventure to live in as much as it is to watch the Baudelaires struggle to navigate. Despite its beauty, the show's substance somehow manages to exceed its style: every major plot thread from the novels is expanded upon and explained more carefully, and many new ones are added that support and enrich the plot and characters in ways that readers never could have imagined.

The show provides more obvious morals than the novels, and they become more abundant as the narrative's layers become more complicated. As a result the Baudelaires are not just children who survive a series of unfortunate events; they are forced to make decisions that harm themselves and others, which necessitate coming to terms with a world that attempts to balance good and evil but does not create a distinct barrier between them.

It is a shame that so many viewers give up on the show early on and claim that the tone is misguided. Even more disappointing is the relative lack of excitement and lukewarm viewership. If viewers stuck with the show to see it evolve, and if more readers let go of the notion that the books were Gothic horror rather than black comedy, then the show could be appreciated for what it is: a master class in book adaptation and instant-classic family entertainment that provokes profound themes while providing exuberant entertainment.

Bohemian Rhapsody
(2018)

A formulaic but tender, celebratory, and engaging spectacle
Bohemian Rhapsody begins as a scattered mess but continuously settles into its footing until it reaches a third act of transcendent beauty. The script falls victim to the many musician biopic cliches that the world assumed died with the Dewey Cox Story, but sure enough, the father-son dynamics and endless stream of greatest hits origin stories are on fully display here. Of course the film does not live up to the expectations of its long gestation period, nor is it as revolutionary as a film about one of the greatest bands and singers of all time should be. But it treats its subject with great care, and when the movie finally corrects its course, it becomes an unmissable musical and cinematic experience.

The cinematography, editing, and costumes are all absolutely incredible, and of course, Rami Malek deserves an Oscar for his pitch perfect transformation into the legendary Freddie Mercury. This is a classic example of a film that succeeds in every manner imaginable except for its script (and also Mike Meyers' character and performance... yikes). Overall, Queen fans will be ecstatic, and the average moviegoer won't want to miss it, but cinephiles will leave the theater imagining the masterpiece that the film could have been had Peter Morgan remained its screenwriter.

An important final note: the film does NOT gloss over Freddie's sexuality and wild lifestyle. It is NOT a PG-13 washed down disappointment as some have called it. I have been scratching my head at these critiques all day.

American Crime Story: The Run of His Life
(2016)
Episode 2, Season 1

Intense and deeply emotional
By focusing its entire hour on the infamous Bronco car chase, the show is able to not only exhilarate the audience with nail-biting suspense but also bouts of earned, nuanced emotional resonance from many of its characters. Although at some points he seems to be overacting a little, Gooding really shines in this episode, portraying both the disturbed and regretful aspects of Simpson's mind as he struggles endlessly whether or not to end his life. Schwimmer's performance has elevated his character to my favorite in the series, although that comes with one caveat: the Kardashian references are still painfully present. Instead of watching Robert read a suicide note from one of his closest friends in a press conference, the show focuses on his children watching him from home, their annoying voices drowning out any emotion that could have been brought through on screen by chanting "Kardashian! Kardashian!" This incessant focus on the Kardashian family has become the sole aspect of the show that I dislike, and if it wasn't for these scenes, I would have no problem hailing this show as a perfect retelling of real life events as well as a fantastic legal procedural and character study. This episode is an improvement over last week's in terms of sheer intensity and emotion, but its narrative is slightly weaker as it focuses more on what made the trial so captivating in the first place: car chases, guns, depression, celebrity, and racial tensions. The legal procedural is close to nonexistent as some of the law- based characters are sidelined to make way for the car chase; however, I cannot complain about this, as one of my critiques of last week's episode was that it relegated Simpson to almost a supporting character. This week he is front and center, and it makes for a much more compelling episode.

American Crime Story: From the Ashes of Tragedy
(2016)
Episode 1, Season 1

A very promising start, but with a few flaws
Having not been alive during the Simpson trial, I am being introduced to the facts and circumstances of the phenomenon through this show, and I must say that what I'm seeing so far is extremely fascinating. The show tells the story without seeming too much like an episode of Law and Order, and they do so by focusing on many characters and showing snippets of their personal lives as well as their role in the trial. This works wonders most of the time, from portraying Marcia Clark as an overworked but ambitious prosecutor to enlightening all aspects of Simpson's flaws. The only misstep in this is the obvious, money-grabbing, "tweet about me" move of referencing the Kardashians. It happens multiple times, with vital scenes taking place in Kim's bedroom, completely taking away from the importance of the scene as we are subjected to her dated posters and reminded constantly of her relation to Simpson's lawyer. I realize Robert Kardashian is a main character in the show and of great importance to the trial, but the references are obvious pandering and do not fit into the story at all. Another obvious flaw of the show is its camera work. Its huge, swooping mobility has no place in such a delicate narrative, and I sincerely hope that it will not stick around for the entire series (I'm not sure if every episode will have the same director, but I hope it won't for this very reason). The performances, as a whole, are fantastic. Gooding gives a knock- out performance as Simpson (however I feel the show should center around him more, as they are treating him like some pawn in the trial rather than its protagonist), and Paulson is the other standout as Clark. Schwimmer is also good, but I haven't quite decided how I feel about Travolta's performance. He looks distracting and hasn't had many showy scenes, but he could end up giving a great performance as the show goes on. The rest of the ensemble haven't had much time to prove themselves, but so far they've been superb. Overall, I look forward to continuing the show. Its writing is perfection, its performances are spot on, and it knows how to rack up drama while staying true to its characters and to reality.

The Revenant
(2015)

A brutal, emotional, fantastically unique, and ultimately rewarding experience
There are many people in the world, and there are many films in the world. So, it only makes sense that everyone's definition of a good film would vary, and that everyone would watch a film for different reasons. Most people watch movies for fun. To kill a Friday, to be entertained, to laugh a little. Fewer watch films to experience the craft of it all. To follow the Oscars, to admire cinematography and direction, and to take in all the things that make films great. Until I saw "The Revenant," I believed that those were the only two reasons worth discussing, as they were the two most prevalent in our society. But this film is not just for entertainment, nor is it something to watch just to feel smart. The Revenant is viscerally powerful and terrifyingly real, and something entirely new that I've rightfully heard called "visual poetry."

Maybe it's the breathtaking, masterful cinematography - ambitiously and successfully crafted using only natural light - that categorizes this film as such. Perhaps it's the direction, which causes everything about the film to appear so seamlessly realistic that the audience is forced into the world as if we are experiencing its horrors right along with the characters (most unique and effective is Iñárritu's purposeful emphasis on the camera: at three points, Hugh Glass fogs the claustrophobic lens with his breath, and during the perfectly envisioned ending, Glass stares right into the camera, all the pain and suffering he has felt represented in his eyes as they stare, haunted but finally peaceful, straight at the audience). And maybe its the performances, so unbelievably nuanced and emotionally devastating by DiCaprio (gunning for an extremely deserved first Oscar in perhaps a career-best performance), Hardy (in the conversation for a very worthy first nomination in a wonderfully villainous but 3-dimensional role) and Gleeson (proving once again to the world that he's the next DiCarpio by appearing in four Oscar-worthy films in one year). Whatever heavenly combination of sheer craft, storytelling capabilities, and divine intervention brought this revolutionary film to the screen, I am eternally grateful. It is not simple entertainment, although its narrative is riveting. It is not your usual Oscar bait, although any and all Oscar wins would be monumentally deserving. The Revenant is what happens when every aspect of film is brought together perfectly and seamlessly constructed to create one horrifyingly real but astronomically memorable experience.

Spectre
(2015)

An overblown, sloppy, and intermittently dull James Bond film
There's no other way to say this, and no use putting it off, so let me just lay it all on the table to begin with: SPECTRE is a disappointment. Could anyone really argue otherwise? To the degree that it is disappointing will differ from person to person, but no one is going to name this film as one of the best that the series has to offer. The stakes were high after the phenomenal Skyfall, and the hype surrounding SPECTRE was insane. It will undoubtedly rake in a ton of money, but it is not completely deserved; SPECTRE is a truly flawed film.

SPECTRE's biggest mistake was casting the two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and then hardly using him. There are times when you forget that he exists, and half of his screen time he's covered in shadows. This would make sense if his identity was some big reveal, but we've known of his casting in the film and his character for quite some time, and he was even in the trailer pretty extensively. I could get past this mistake if his evil plans weren't so ridiculous. He just blurts out his entire plan and background in a few seconds in maybe his fourth on-screen appearance, and when I heard it, I literally laughed out loud. It was THAT ridiculously bad. I get that it's from old James Bond films and novels, but here it's totally out of the blue and delivered completely cheesy and sloppy, with almost no warning or background.

The other glaring mistake in the film is its pretty awful dialogue. Some of it was fine and welcome old-school humor (although there is one specific joke delivered by Ralph Fiennes that is genuinely hilarious and then turns into something totally different and disappointing in its punchline), but almost every word spoken by Waltz's character was just bad. There's no other way to say it, it was just lazily written dialogue. You could tell that the writers were trying to recreate an old, classic Bond film but with modern special effects. If that was their intent, then they succeeded. But if they wanted to make a great, character-driven, worthy successor to Skyfall, then they failed.

Other problems with the film: 1) It's length. Could have easily been twenty-thirty minutes shorter. 2) Lack of character development, which was something its predecessor did so well. 3) The song. "Writing's On the Wall" worked in the opening sequence, but when heard at any other time outside of the film (including when I heard it first on Spotify a month ago), it is not very thematic or memorable. Also, Sam Smith takes to a ridiculously high falsetto three separate times in the song. Couldn't they have just hired a woman to sing in that range full-voiced? 4) The cinematography. Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful. Each scene is layered with a totally fitting color pallet and beautifully constructed. But due to a (totally uninteresting) subplot, the film changes from extremely dark, blue-tinted scenes with Bond to scorching yellow-tinted scenes with M. It's almost schizophrenic, and every time it happened the audience squinted and blocked their eyes for a second. 5) The aforementioned subplot with M. Totally uninteresting and useless, even though I'm a huge Ralph Fiennes fan.

Good things about the film: 1) A riveting score from Thomas Newman. 2) Intense and brutal action sequences. The entire opening "Day of the Dead" sequence was amazing, and lead into the credits beautifully. 3) The opening credits. Some of the best of the series. Maybe even THE best. 4) Typically great acting, though less range from Craig this time around. 5) A new, exciting Bond girl. Bond relies on her more than she to him, and although her character could have been more interesting and fleshed out, her role was a welcome addition to an otherwise pretty dull entry. 6) Wonderful direction from the great Sam Mendes. I'm a sucker for continuous shots, and SPECTRE opens with a superb one. Mendes remains one of the best to ever take the reins of the series.

Overall, SPECTRE works as an effects-driven, classy, action drama. But as far as actual filmmaking goes, it's extremely weak.

Steve Jobs
(2015)

Intense, impeccably crafted, and beautifully human - an innovation in film
This film kept me in constant awe. It proceeds in its beautifully unorthodox structure at an intense, roller-coaster-like speed, but still somehow manages an in-depth, delicate, revealing character study of its protagonist. You never once feel like you're watching "another Steve Jobs biopic," instead you feel like you are being shown an exclusive look inside his complicated mind. And what's great is that the film never pretends that it knows exactly what made the man tick, but rather presents the viewer with the flawed emotions of a refreshingly human character whose eccentricities cannot be defined in the confines of a two hour film.

The craftsmanship is astonishing. Sorkin's script is easily the best of the year, and very well could be one of the most daring screenplays of all time. Fassbender's acting will be remembered as one of the greatest performances of the decade. It doesn't matter that he doesn't bear a striking resemblance to his subject - he loses himself in the role impeccably, and accomplishes an astonishingly polished and emotional performance. The soundtrack is superb and utilized perfectly, and everything from the understated cinematography to the expert editing is done with the utmost precision and skill. It is a film that will stick with you long after it cuts to black. You will sit in silence and contemplate what you just witnessed, because you're sure that it was a historical innovation in film. I cannot describe exactly what made "Steve Jobs" so amazing. All I can tell you is that you must see this film, because it redefines what a film can be.

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