Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Rarely do films have the capacity to tackle social issues with such intelligence and insight as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Set in a small, quaint country town, a local woman (Frances McDormand) rents out three decaying billboards along a deserted road. With these billboards, she creates a controversial message directed at the revered police chief of Ebbing, Missouri, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). What follows is a moving drama about both hate and forgiveness, all while balancing a dark sense of humor.

Led by the incredible talents of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, the acting felt as human as a film could get. With a script as powerful, down-to-earth, and moving as the performers, Three Billboards manages to impress on both a practical and emotional level.

Three Billboards hits all the right beats at precisely the right moments, with plenty of dramatic and heart wrenching moments to keep the audience engrossed in the story. Any lesser film would’ve created a black and white scenario for itself, with the police portrayed solely as incompetent racists and our female protagonist as a virtuous everyman.

And while at first glance that seems to be the case, Three Billboards instead prefers to operate in various shades of grey. Each and every character has their ups and downs, moments when they act irrationally and selfish, racist and sexist, but also sensible and just, compassionate and forgiving. As the story evolves, we the viewer are given insight into each character, and come to understand them all a little more deeply.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of my favorite kind of films to see.  It leaves the viewer to contemplate the morals and meanings, as well as fill in the blanks, but not in a way that makes you feel gypped or cheated. I believe there’s a lot to be learned from films like Three Billboards. And given the opportunity, I’d watch it again in a heartbeat.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

A Clockwork Orange Review

Today I’ve decided to pick apart and review the 1971 Stanley Kubrick masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. Based on the dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess, the film depicts recurring disturbing images to comment on society and our many differing views of human nature.

We are first introduced to the young, unhinged character of Alex DeLarge, excellently played by Malcolm McDowell. Alex, with the help of his trusty “Droogs”, commits acts of rape and ultra-violence for the thrill of it. One day, after allowing his ego and his brutal acts to escalate too far, Alex is caught and imprisoned for his crimes. There, he is selected to participate in an accelerated program that cures prisoners of their incorrect behaviors via aversion therapy. What ensues is a film that shocks, unsettles, and perplexes the viewer until the fatalistic conclusion.

The presentation of society, people, and fashion is all designed with an avant-garde perfectionism seen in the vast majority of Stanley Kubrick films. Every scene, prop, and line of dialogue was meticulously placed by an idealistic filmmaker on the threshold of insanity. You can take any scene in the film, break it down into every nitty-gritty detail, and know with certainty that everything was placed where it was with a purpose. Seemingly simple scenes, like one where Alex is spat on by a another, took over thirty takes to get correct. Another famous scene, where the Droogs rape a woman as Alex dances to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain”, took around five days to shoot.

This disturbing, ultra-violent content woven into the story highlights the frequent themes of the nature of evil. With these powerful visuals, Kubrick successfully leaves the audience feeling completely vulnerable and defenseless to its imagery. Even after repeated viewings, I still succumb to feelings of horror every time I watch it.

The blatant, stony-hearted depiction of rape and violence is shockingly exploitative, yet somehow satirical and entrancing. This is mostly attributable to the remarkable directing style and the orchestral soundtrack, which fit the tone of A Clockwork Orange like bread and butter.

From the eerie, synthetic vibrato soundtrack that begins the film, to the sex indulgent fantasy that closes it, most viewers will either be left disgusted by the resolve or left pondering the deeper meaning of it all. Analysis after analysis after breakdown have attempted to comprehend the true nature of A Clockwork Orange, which further demonstrates the artistic significance of the film.

The philosophy of A Clockwork Orange remains one of my favorite films to discuss, and I consider it to be one of the greatest films ever directed. It’s a sadistic satire that serves as the ultimate antithesis to the behaviorism branch of psychology. It clashes with the idea of conditioning an individual to the rules of society, robbing them of the freedom of choice that makes a human a human. You can try to make something natural (like a human, or perhaps an orange) work like clockwork, but ultimately some (like Alex) are just evil by nature.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Wonder Woman Review

Gal Gadot wholeheartedly rose to the challenge put forth by DC Films, delivering a strong performance in their first film to be coherently structured. With a strong story, good characters, and a surprisingly well crafted message, Wonder Woman has the marks of a well-made, quality film.

The film starts out with the back story to our main protagonist, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot). Before going by the name of Wonder Woman, she was known as Diana, princess of the Amazons. The Amazons being a race made up of only women who live on a remote island. As princess of the Amazons, Diana lives a rather peaceful and sheltered life, well-trained in combat but free of any conflict. Everything changes when an American pilot named Steve (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island, who tells Diana about the escalating war going on in the outside world. Very concerned with the well-being of others, Diana then decides to leave her home for the first time. And with the help of her new friend, Diana thrusts herself into the heart of World War I, determined that she can help end the fighting.

The character of Wonder Woman isn’t how she appeared in Batman v. Superman, where she came off as unnecessary, weak, and relatively boring. In this picture, everything is actually reversed. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman gives young girls the opportunity to have a good film role model, someone with robust morals and the will to always do good. Wonder Woman also knows how to fight, and takes part in some fast-paced and engaging action sequences.

The action, taking place mostly in a WWI trench warfare setting, remained as gritty as a PG-13 rating could allow. We see some of the real life repercussions of war, including amputee soldiers and homeless civilians. This was a neat addition that I didn’t expect to see, one that works fittingly with the message Wonder Woman has to offer.

Wonder Woman isn’t without its flaws, just like all superhero films. Now and then I’d come across a character with little to no point, other than to serve as some unneeded comic relief or to supply some obvious plot information. These few characters felt unnecessary to the overall story, and were more of a hindrance or distraction than anything.

One little touch that I really enjoyed about this film is that it has very little to do with the rest of the DC Universe, and makes no attempt to connect with future installments. In doing this, Wonder Woman stands much better on its own as an independent piece to the series. This is an area that, unfortunately, Marvel Studios often lacks in with its films.

Wonder Woman isn’t a masterpiece of cinema, as some people would have you believe. And few superhero films are! What Wonder Woman really is, is a step in the right direction for future DC projects. It’s a fun, well-shot, and structurally sound movie, with a truly admirable protagonist.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Review

It’s become a recent trend for online critics to go back to beloved films like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and label them as overrated or lackluster. Perhaps in some feeble attempt at sounding more intelligent than the rest of us blokes. I am not, for the most part, that critic.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains, after almost fifty years, a funny and entertaining film. One that I can continue to re-watch with the same level of enjoyment every time.

The film centers on a young boy named Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), whose impoverished English family lives near a world famous chocolate factory. This factory, owned by the reclusive Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), sends out five golden tickets hidden inside its chocolate bars. These golden tickets give five lucky people the chance to see the inside of the factory. Charlie’s life changes forever when he obtains one of these coveted tickets, winning him and his grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) a tour of one of the strangest places in the world.

All the characters in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory are performed very well. I particularly liked how the main protagonist of Charlie was written and played like a normal boy. However, Gene Wilder really steals the show, as his terrific portrayal of Willy Wonka is by far the best aspect of the film.

Over time, I’ve come to highly respect the acting talent of Gene Wilder (from such films as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein), as I feel he brings a lot to every character he plays.  He’s overall a very mysterious character, as you really never understand his motives. Even in his introduction to the film, Wonka deceives the audience into thinking he is handicapped. Wonka is rude, but also polite. He likes to give the impression that he’s careless about the well-being of others, but ends up showing a much softer side to his personality.

The interior of the chocolate factory is truly a place of pure imagination. Everything about this place is fascinating, and in need of more exploration. From the wacky, nonsensical inventions, to the strange chocolate river flowing through the middle of the factory, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a visual wonder.

Since the first time I saw Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a teen, it has increasingly grown on me with each viewing. It’s pure family-fun entertainment that I’m sure just about anyone could enjoy. Gene Wilder’s sarcastic (yet lovable) performance as Willy Wonka remains one of my favorite film characters to date. Despite a few dated aspects (most notably, the music), this is a film I’m sure I will continue to revisit time and time again.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Signs Review

In all honesty, I don’t really understand the appeal for Signs. The film is riddled with so many plot holes that, fundamentally, it just doesn’t work.  Yet, for some reason, fans of Signs are willing to overlook the many flaws and still somehow declare it as a great movie.

Signs stars Mel Gibson as Graham Hess, a former preacher who lost his faith after his wife was killed in a car accident. He lives with his brother (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and kids on a small farm in Pennsylvania, where crop circles started appearing almost overnight. Along with these crop circles, other strange events start taking place all around the world. Marking what might be the start of an alien invasion that could end human civilization on Earth forever.

I’ll go ahead and start with what I like about Signs, that being the mood and atmosphere. The film does an effective job at creating this eerie mood that is, truly creepy. The sparse use of a soundtrack also added to how eerie Signs generally was.

Sadly, all the acting in the film resembled typical Shyamalan-style dullness. Just about everyone speaks in this low pitched whisper with a blank, expressionless stare. I can’t tell if Shyamalan was going for artsy, dramatic performances or if the poor acting was unintentional. Either way, the performances in Signs were incredibly boring and drab.

The camerawork was unfortunately not much of an improvement from the acting. There were so many shots of uncomfortable close ups that the film became very obnoxious to watch. There were also these long sequences where the camera would continue to pan 180 degrees between two characters talking. This was also quite annoying, and came off as really pretentious. It was as if Shyamalan was trying too hard to make the camerawork interesting, while in the process drawing attention to how bad it was.

The alien in the film is the exact same generic alien audiences have seen a million times over. There is so much buildup throughout the film for these supposedly frightening aliens that when you finally see them, it’s extremely disappointing. I don’t know why this design was chosen, but it sucked.

Now, I’ve saved my biggest issue with the film for last, an issue that I feel prohibits Signs from being considered anywhere near a good film. That being, how the aliens can’t open doors, and are easily killed by water. Why is it that an advanced alien race with technology far beyond our own, would invade a planet made up of seventy percent water, if their weakness is water? Also, how can the aliens not understand the concept of opening a door, seriously? These are obviously concepts that were neglected during the writing process.

The plot issues with Signs go far past just the few aspects I mentioned, which is why I am confused that so many people like it? Critics and audiences went nuts when Signs originally came out, people even said the film resembled a work of Hitchcock. I know I’m the minority opinion on this one, so maybe I’ll never understand its appeal.

I think the eerie mood that Signs builds with its slow pace and reserved use of sound makes for a premise with a lot of potential. Where Signs is unsuccessful, is in its execution. There were just way too many plot holes, lazy writing, and ideas that weren’t thought all the way through for this film to be good.

I want to like more of Shyamalan’s work beyond The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, because he clearly has talent. However, somehow I get the feeling he’d prefer to just turn out films with pretentious camera work and major plot holes, like Signs.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

The Belko Experiment Review

The Belko Experiment is an ugly, ugly film. An ugly film that may or may not be aware of how morally pessimistic it is. An ugly film that tries to hide its excess of violence behind the plot of an evil social experiment, but we the audience know better.

Suddenly an average day at the office becomes a fight to the death, as a strange voice over the intercom starts telling the employees of the Belko Corporation to kill one another. The 80 employees, many of whom are friends, must now turn against one another for survival. Many will die, and only the strong will live.

One thing that this film manages to do well is hold your attention. From just the first few minutes of the film, the viewer is already sucked into the unusual premise. Since the film is only 88 minutes long, everything goes by at a relatively fast pace. The Belko Experiment wastes no time whatsoever, and dives head first into the madness.

I found the acting to be pretty solid in The Belko Experiment. I enjoyed John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the protagonist, as I felt he represented a sane point of view towards the violence. At least, till towards the end of the film. I also really liked all the main antagonists as well, including Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley. They were both pretty absurd and crazy, playing the parts they were given well. I never knew what move they would make next, which I guess is another plus.

The lighting work of The Belko Experiment is also worth mentioning, as I feel it helps to make the film more stylish. At one point the building our cast is stuck in goes pitch black, and all there is for them to see is a glowing red light reflecting off their faces. This was a good visual effect, and there are plenty of other good effects like it throughout the film.

Unfortunately, what gets me is that The Belko Experiment maintains a morally ambiguous message in the worst kind of way possible. The audience sees the violent murders of many middle-class workers for, ultimately, no reason whatsoever. Even our main protagonist, someone who believes that life is sacred and that murder for self-preservation is unethical, regresses into a murderous spree. This shows the audience that even the good guy who tries to do the right thing can turn into a homicidal killer. This completely disregards any possibility of the film ending on a positive, morally uplifting note. What a depressing, overly violent, and downright pessimistic message.

This level of pessimism and violence doesn’t mix well with the ironic humor The Belko Experiment tries to pull. A lot of the attempts at humor got no response at all from the theater audience. Most likely because there was nothing funny for the characters to joke about, given the situation. Other than a few funny line deliveries by the stoner character, the humor just comes off as tasteless.

I’ve been trying to understand what this film was originally trying to go for, but I’m not exactly sure. At first I thought the film might go for a social conformity message, about the lengths some people will go to obey authority. It makes sense, and it would be the obvious choice, but I feel the ending of the film throws this out the window too. I won’t give too much away, but the final resolve is pretty cliched and doesn’t end with a satisfying conclusion.

There will be plenty of people who really enjoy watching The Belko Experiment. Some may even defend it and call it a satire of some sorts, which is complete and utter hogwash. I give the film some credit, as there are some very fine aspects built into the story. I think the lighting was consistently stylish and unique, the characters interesting (especially John C. McGinely’s role), and for what it’s worth it was engaging. However, what I am not okay with is the morally pessimistic message that the film semi-consciously delivers the audience. It begs the question of, “What the hell was the point?” What was The Belko Experiment ultimately trying to get across?

This isn’t Jason Voorhees murdering teenagers in a campy slasher flick. This is middle-class people that are friends with one another, brutally murdering each other on screen for self-preservation. Some may not see the difference. To me however, there is a huge contrast.

If you’re at all interested in seeing a thriller with some solid performances and an unusual premise, maybe The Belko Experiment is a film for you. I for one couldn’t stand this flick, and will remain far away from this and any pointless sequels.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Good Burger Review

Over time, Good Burger seems to have grown a strange cult following of fans who grew up with the flick. This goofball film is often treated like the Citizen Kane of the fast-food industry. Hell, when Netflix attempted to remove Good Burger from their streaming service, they were met with severe backlash. Am I missing something? I mean, is it really anything more than a cheap Nickelodeon movie?

The almighty Good Burger stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, who previously appeared in their own Nickelodeon show together called Kenan & Kel. Kenan plays Dexter Reed, a high school student who hits his teacher’s car at the beginning of summer break, forcing him to get a job in fast-food. He takes a job working at Good Burger, a restaurant slowly going out of business due to its new competitor Mondo Burger. Here, Dexter meets a dimwitted cashier named Ed (played by Kel), who seems to live, breathe, and sleep fast-food. What follows is a very random series of events that I feel appropriate to only label as ‘hi-jinks’.

The writing of Good Burger is just so shockingly bizarre that I’m not really sure what to make of it. I’m mostly speaking about the films sense of humor, since every other word uttered by Kel Mitchell in the film is a ridiculously lazy pun. At times, I laughed at Good Burger’s weird jokes, however on most occasions I was trying to understand why anyone else would laugh at Good Burger. Some puns in this flick are clever, and others are just written so peculiarly that they got confused chuckles out of me.

Unfortunately, most of Kel’s puns come from him taking every statement someone makes literal, which gets very annoying very fast. In one scene of Good Burger, a customer orders a burger with nothing on it. Kel then gives the customer just given two buns with no meat. That was the joke. He got just two buns, get it! It’s just so downright stupid I’m not sure why I’m even wasting my time discussing why it’s not funny.

One thing Good Burger does surprisingly get right, is that it acts as a perfect snapshot of the time period it came out of. It reminds me of all the original Nickelodeon and Disney films that were released in the nineties. Good Burger also just has this inherent nineties feel to all of its cheesiness. These features both date the film, and give it a sense of timelessness.

The plot and characters of Good Burger are entertaining enough that kids will easily have a fun time watching it. The protagonists actually have some okay development throughout the story, and the plot does have exciting moments. This is probably the reason most people love Good Burger, because they saw it much more objectively as a child. When parents see the talking hamburgers with eyes, a strange ex-Black Panther played by Sinbad (seriously movie?), and a surprising amount of race and sexual humor for a kid movie, they will probably just be confused.

When all is said and done, I guess I can’t really hate Good Burger. I can respect why so many people love it, as Good Burger gives fans a nostalgic and sentimental feeling they  value greatly. However, the writing is unfortunately absurd and atrocious, and the humor is beyond cringeworthy. Yet, I somehow found a subtle hint of charm to the madness onscreen.

If you’ve never seen Good Burger before, then maybe that’s for the best. If you do plan on viewing it at some point, going in with low comedic expectations is highly recommended.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint