With Dark Phoenix being released this weekend, let’s run down the “best” of the Fox superhero universe:
10. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
No, this movie is not great or close to it. There is a unjust hate towards this film, though. Some shots look as if they were pulled straight out of a comic book. Especially in 2006, this wasn’t terrible! Even if you despised every last moment of this movie… the chance at redemption is now!
09. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
There were holes galore, but made watchable by several fan service moments throughout the film. The titular villain was not fully utilized as he could have been, but there is something cool, nonetheless, about seeing Apocalypse on the big screen.
08. The Wolverine (2013)
After the major disappointment with his first solo out (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Hugh Jackman came back with a solid outing in 2013. The final act goes quite haywire and loses the polished edge the beginning of the movie had. Regardless, The Wolverine gave us our first true look at “Adamantium Rage”.
07. X-Men (2000)
The start of something truly special. Almost perfectly cast and brought my childhood to the silver screen. This film helped kick off the current climate of superhero/comic book movies. Respect is owed.
06. Deadpool 2 (2018)
Ranking the two Deadpool movies is a tough task. The sequel gives us Cable, which is a personal favorite character and Zazie Beetz is always wonderful to watch.
05. Deadpool (2016)
A raunchy, R-rated superhero movie? It took over 10 years to get made, but when it finally saw the light of day, it lived up to every last expectation. Ryan Reynolds solidified himself as a staple in the superhero genre, even after Green Lantern.
04. X-Men: First Class (2011)
A wonderful “soft reboot” of the franchise, by Matthew Vaughn. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy were almost as perfectly cast as Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were. This movie being so good is probably a huge reason why we ever got any more Fox produced X-Men movies.
03. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The First Class follow-up, this one threw the whole “reboot” nonsense out the window and tried to bring it all together. It wasn’t flawless, but easily my favorite new school X-Men team-up movie. The opening scene amazingly sets the pace and the movie never backs down.
02. X2 (2003)
The absolute high point of the team-up movies. There are a ton of cool face-offs and battles that go down. Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike was everything to me, as a kid.
01. Logan (2017)
How do you rank the Fox X-Men movies? Where does Dark Phoenix fall in the list? Drop a comment below and head over to our Facebook Community for much more discussion!
A Loving Send-Off;
To Characters And Setting;
Time Always Moves On.
When it was announced that Deadwood had been canceled before its third season aired, I had to check out before watching it. I had been so disappointed with Carnivale meeting a similar fate that I didn’t want to relive that again, so I figured it was best to just sit out the third season. I was elated to hear that this film was in production after so many years, and decided to watch one episode of the series every day leading up to its premiere. Even then, knowing that plot threads would arise that likely wouldn’t be tied off, it was great to revisit the series and finally take in its final season in preparation. When I sat down to watch this film for the first time, I was uneasy. My expectations were as high as everyone’s, but I also had a tinge of fear, worried that the it couldn’t possibly match the original magic. Or, perhaps, I was just anxious over the thought of finally putting these characters and this place to rest. But I’m happy to say that I had nothing to fear. After two emotional viewings, I’m extremely glad that this came to pass. The bow it ties on the Deadwood package may not be the neatest, but given these people and given this community, such perfection could hardly be expected or appreciated.
David Milch had a monumental task at hand. How do you go about wrapping up three seasons of television in the space of a single movie? Where do you start and which characters do you retain? Whose conflict should drive the plot and how should it resolve? Having such a great grasp of this world and a long time to think on it, Milch has plans for everything and lays the script out beautifully, bringing us back to Deadwood ten years after the events we last saw unfold. We rejoin the people we know, in situations both familiar and new. While Al Swearengen was always central to the plight of the camp, Bullock always represented the outsider, bringing a sense of lawfulness to this new land even when he wasn’t trying. He started as a hardware store owner, became Marshal, and now holds that title as well as being the co-owner of a hotel (along with Sol Star, of course). He and his wife have started a family of their own, after negotiating their initial difficulties. He is more entrenched than ever and has a sizable stake in the success of this place. George Hearst is back in town, but this time in the capacity of Junior Senator from California. Bullock and Hearst are certain to renew hostilities, while Al, acting as sort of a conduit for the audience, navigates in the shadows, steering the camp’s ship from troublesome waters, a sign of his growth.
Fan service is important in a project like this, but it must also stand on its own legs. Undoubtedly there will be folks watching who never saw the series, so important backstory is told through occasional, brief flashbacks that help guide us along. For new viewers, it explains vital points, and for the rest of us, they serve as somber reminders. There are homages to the original opening titles and even a nod to the original theme music, setting the stage beautifully for our reintroduction to the camp that has become a budding civilization. We recognize the landmarks and establishments, but Daniel Minahan finds new ways to shoot them, which helps to remind us that while we are familiar with this place, there is still much left unexplored, and will remain so after we fade to black.
Milch has written a truly wonderful script. The language we came to love is back in full force, equal measure flowery and unwashed. The dichotomy represented in the verbiage always spoke to the central idea of a place like Deadwood to begin with, struggling to push forward through the muck and grime and make of itself something better, something honorable. The frontier was built on the back of blood and this place is no different. But the path to the future is the thoroughfare that separates Deadwood’s past from its present. And its inhabitants will travel that road, willingly or otherwise.
I can’t say enough about the acting. The principals and side characters are all played wonderfully, capitalizing on their screen time, however short or long. Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Kim Dickens, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, Franklyn Ajaye, W. Earl Brown, Brad Dourif, Dayton Callie, Robin Weigert, John Hawkes, Gerald McRaney, Sean Bridgers and more all do amazing jobs embodying these characters once more, showing their changes and capturing all the necessary emotions to take us along for the ride into finality. Minahan, a TV vet whose list of shows and episodes is impressive to say the least, directs with precision, coaching this litany of great performances and capturing the feeling of the time and place that fans needed. He manages to make it feel both like an episode from fifteen years ago and something entirely new (thanks in part to technological advances), hitting an absolute home run. The film carries great emotional weight for those of us invested in the story, and effortlessly moved me to tears several times in its final act with things as simple as looks passed between characters or tender moments of dialogue.
The only complaint I could possibly level at this is a minor one, and it’s due no doubt to the constraints of telling the final chapter of the story in this type of fashion. There are a few characters we’d grown used to (Adams, Langrishe and Blazanov, to name a few) that are nowhere to be seen, and others (particularly Farnum and Merrick) whose screen time is unfortunately limited. But everyone can’t play the biggest part, and giving everyone a lot to do could potentially have expanded the story beyond what was needed to bring everything home. Perhaps the eventual home release will include a director’s cut, or at the least, deleted scenes.
Life operates in cycles, and a city can be viewed in the same light. We get a taste of all of that here. Friendships, lovers, enemies, fights. We see a birth, a death, a wedding and a funeral. We see human nature, good, bad and otherwise. People make choices and accept the outcomes. For as much as we may want things to stay the same, civilization moves forward.
Even, or perhaps especially, in Deadwood.
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And Civics Lessons.
Modern Satanists may be the single most miscast, misunderstood and mistaken subculture in the world. The “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and 90s has led to a stigma that “devil worshippers” are a cult group of violent maniacs devoted to human sacrifice, cannibalism and the like. In reality, modern Satanists believe in freedom of expression, bodily autonomy and scientific understanding. They are peaceful trolls who delight in using imagery and symbols to provoke and offend in an effort to drive conversation and preach inclusion and personal freedom. And people get so hung up on the images that scare them that they ignore the message and focus on what they assume Satanists engage in, projecting the horrors of their own religion’s past onto others who simply do not share such a disturbing, violent history.
The point here is simple: America is a secular nation, not bound to any single religion but espousing freedom for everyone to worship who and what they please. In the 1950s, fueled by the Red Scare, the US began to push Christianity on the masses by doing things like printing “In God We Trust” on our money and added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and mandating kids to repeat it in school every day. Forcing one religion on everyone is precisely the opposite of what America stands for and was built upon, but the national conversation reinforces it at every turn when they hear the term “Satanism.” Never mind the fact that Satanists may or may not even believe in Satan to begin with, they are scary and we must save our kids from them at all costs.
Penny Lane does a great job with this film, giving us an insightful portrayal of a group we may not know much about, and shining a light upon a massive example of hypocrisy in this country. How can we allow the Ten Commandments to be posted outside federal courthouses (which, by the way, are largely thanks to Paramount’s promotional efforts for the film of the same name starring Charlton Heston) and still pretend we are free to practice religious freedom? The Satanic Temple commissioning a Baphomet statue to rival this monument is the perfect example of the religious inclusion we are supposed to strive for, but can’t seem to because of people’s preconceived notions (that are based on misdirection and outright lies). Lane balances the film a bit (though surely not enough for Christian viewers) by spotlighting a rogue chapter of the Temple (based in Detroit), but even when faced with a hard example of the Temple going too far (even calling for domestic terrorism), the true face of the group is shown. They outright reject and ostracize those who would seek to use their platform of individual expression as one of violence.
Equality is supposed to be a central American value. So how has this group been denied such a basic right, especially when they do not in any way endorse what their detractors pretend that they do? Even the title of the film is a clue to where the discussion will lead, with the very important question mark at the end. Framing the movement (and film) as a religious discussion to mask the underlying theme of political activism is a tactic dripping with the sneaky intelligence that Christians can’t stand to think that Satanists are even capable of. This is a very smart, important film that is also extremely entertaining and engaging. Whether or not you agree with The Satanic Temple’s co-founder Lucien Greaves in his tactics, to assert that his message is false or that his heart is in the wrong place is as best willfully ignorant and at worst blatantly deceptive. If this is indeed the land of the free, it has to be such for everyone, not just those we agree with and pray next to on Sundays.
Hail Satan? is Directed By Penny Lane
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Rom Com Formula;
With Political Satire
And Very Good Leads.
This is a very aptly titled film for a lot of reasons. The phrase “long shot” can apply to th notion of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron even starring in a movie together to begin with, the idea that his character could get hers to fall for him, or her aspirations to climb to the very top rung of the political ladder (let alone with him at her side). They are all long shot concepts, but they work, and the result is just as enjoyable as it might be predictable.
It may fall into the romantic comedy formula after the halfway mark, but it starts off as a great piece of slightly subtle political satire. The president is a buffoonish ex-TV star with no experience, media conglomerates manipulate information by controlling the sources of output and putting cartoonish imbeciles on TV to spout their talking points, and people are ready for idealism to take charge over big business interests. There is no mistaking the message. The good thing about Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah’s script is that it gives us genuinely funny dialogue, real people and side characters that aren’t simple plot point directors. Everything feels like it has a purpose and it never insults your intelligence. It stays true to itself, just as the main characters strive to do.
There are people claiming this doesn’t work because you’d never believe that this guy could get this girl. But isn’t assuming what every woman wants out of a relationship pretty baseless and sexist? The point here is that it grows from a lifelong connection and intellectual respect, not simple physical attraction. The common bond of idealism between them is the driving force of not only the blossoming romance but, more importantly, Charlotte’s meteoric rise theough the political ranks. She doesn’t want to be someone who wins the game by playing it. She wants to be the one to change the rules. And yes, the relationship may seem shaky from a PR perspective, but again, it’s satire. And that idea is reinforced heavily and humorously in the final minutes with, no spoilers, the Todd McFarlane joke.
The humor in the script is great and provides a plethora of laugh out loud moments, especially given the wonderful (and unexpected?) chemistry of Rogen and Theron. They are a joy to watch together and director Jonathan Levine does a great job of letting Seth be himself, but reining it in just enough. For proof that he can nail working with his actors. Look no further than The Wackness and 50/50 (the latter also co-starred Rogen).
It’s not a new formula but it works. It has just enough raunch to stand out without being an identifying factor or feeling cheap. Long Shot has as much heart as it has humor, making for a great date night at the movies. I’m glad I was able to catch this with my wife (on the eve of the day we began dating, which started with a kiss right outside this very movie theater after I was done working a shift there) before the run ended.
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Sloppy Story Drags;
Mega Monster Mayhem Down;
To An Almost Halt.
‘Godzilla’ is in the title, so you know what you’re in for. On that level, this movie does not disappoint. We are given some of the finest monster movie moments known to man. On other levels, this movie is a complete and utter failure.
When the monsters, or titans, are on screen, everything seems to be working perfectly. The looks of the new additions are great. The sound is as spectacular as in the first of the series. Monumental moments were not slacked on during the battle scenes. The audience pumped their fists, cheering on the insides. The movie was built around these moments and were the absolute highlights.
Having the inclusion of a tightly knit story of human connection woven into the destruction and chaos of behemoths battling for ultimate supremacy would be a welcome. If the story you are telling is lackluster, if the dialogue is poor, if the acting is somewhat unbelievable…you are better off leaving it all on the cutting room floor and giving us what we all came to see.
Some of the dialogue was atrocious. While I can see someone coming up with the lines, how they got past the editing stage is beyond me. Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler couldn’t save the material they were given to work with. Millie Bobby Brown turns in a decent performance, but once again… with a horrid script, your actors can only take you so far.
While you could say that none of the extra stuff matters in a movie like this, I felt like it took away from the main attraction. Battle scenes were cut away from to see what was progressing with human characters that were barely cared about before they were distracting from what I and everyone else paid to see.
I want to write a paragraph listing all the amazingly cool stuff that happened in the movie, but I want readers who have not seen the film to be able to experience it on their own for the first time. The movie was littered with great scenes and marvelous shots. But you cannot get past that…monstrous script.
I could have used more Mothra.
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Bit Of A Hybrid;
Wears Its Heart Clear On Its Sleeve;
Music And Message.
Donald Glover has set quite the bar for himself over the last few years, especially with the critical success of FX’s Atlanta. He is a creative powerhouse and not afraid to distinguish his own vision and voice amongst his peers. When I saw he had a new film available on Amazon, I had to jump on it.
At only 55 minutes, it’s a tight, breezy watch, but could have used a bit more time to flesh itself out more. It certainly works for the ideas it presents, but it would have been fun to explore more of the island and condition of the workers giving every day to enrich Red Cargo. Glover plays Deni, a singer-songwriter on Guava Island, a place with rich a heavily desired blue silk that has enriched one man at the expense of everyone else. It’s bookended as a fairytale, with Deni’s journey to go from his radio station gig to organizing and performing at an all-night music festival to unite the people as its focal point.
The film makes very clear points about capitalism and the few vs the many that are impossible to miss. Its message is strong and clear despite the short runtime, and although heavy-handed, it is very watchable thanks to the leads (Glover and Rihanna), the location and the music video-minded approach. The film is as vibrant and alive as one would imagine a paradise would be, and it bursts free in ways its characters have only previously dreamt of doing.
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An Awesome Concept;
Not Matched In Execution;
Sometimes you have a great idea but, try as you might, you just can’t quite nail the execution. For me, that was the case here, and it turned a top notch idea into an average final product, but one that I still enjoyed watching.
Now I’m far from a horror expert, as I rarely see these kinds of movies, but this trailer grabbed me immediately and I had to check it out. The idea of a Superman story taken in such a dark direction has a lot of appeal to it, especially in the midst of the endless deluge of superhero fare. And David Yarovesky does a solid enough job directing his cast, pacing the film, showcasing some grisly kills and upping the creep out factor. But the script from Brian and Mark Gunn needed a bit more padding to enhance its build (and eventual payoff as a result). It had the chance to drive home some cool ideas but appeared a bit gunshy, opting for more of a simple story that followed horror conventions. Now, given the scene that plays out immediately over the credits, it’s entirely possible that this will turn out to be an origin story in a bigger universe, which has a lot of potential, but when judging on its own merits in the here and now, it falls short.
Elizabeth Banks does a good job as the adoptive mother in the story, refusing to believe the awful truth about her son until it’s past the point of deniability. She is vulnerable, her strength tested at every turn. Her husband (played by David Denman) catches on more quickly, but he’s fighting an uphill battle in his own home. Denman is solid in his role but not nearly as memorable as he is in Yellowstone (which returns soon!), but that seems more to do with his character than his ability. If he had as much time as Banks, he’d have been able to accomplish more. As the villain of the story, Jackson A Dunn is admirable, switching from the innocent and confused young man to the deranged, powerful killer in an instant, using the slightest looks or facial tweaks to convey imminent and grave danger. Of course, that creepy mask helps a lot.
If this expands into its own twisted universe, I will keep on tuning in because the concept is too intriguing, but I was certainly hoping for a bit more here.
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With Memorable Voice Work;
A Worthy Sequel.
The first movie in this franchise was a successful idea for the same reason everyone was intrigued by Toy Story. Kids delighted at the idea of their pets having adventures when they weren’t around. And adventure is, once again, front and center in not only New York City, but the surrounding countryside.
Patton Oswalt replaces the disgraced Louis C.K. as Max, the dog leading the pack of friends within the apartment building. He has become overly fearful and protective with the arrival of a baby (now a danger-seeking toddler), and needs help learning to let go and let his kid…be a kid. The script, as with its predecessor, does a great job of blending multiple stories and characters into one climactic scene that ties everything together in a way for the whole family to enjoy.
The voice cast does a wonderful job of really bringing, well…animation to their characters. Max is played so well you’ll only notice the voice change if you recently watched its parent film. Kevin Hart knocks Snowball out of the park and is a highlight of the whole show. Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Harrison Ford and Dana Carvey all do great work as well and everyone stands out from each other while contributing memorably.
Like most family-centric movies, there are lessons to be learned, hidden depth (in this case, a look at anxiety and overcoming its grasp) and a handful of jokes aimed at the adults in the seats. We all really enjoyed it as the first official summer family film.
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Coming Of Age Tale;
Finally Feels Fresh Again;
Thanks To A Great Script.
Color me surprised, but I had no idea Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut would end up being this good. I expected to laugh and be mildly entertained by the done-to-death genre of coming-of-age sex comedy, but I left the theater with a wide smile, fully appreciaing something fresh, affecting and funnier than I’d anticipated.
It all starts with the script. Coming from a team of writers, it packs in a ton of laughs, zany situations that don’t feel tacked-on or forced, and fully-realized characters that don’t betray themselves in order to serve shortsighted goals and plot points. The fact that the writing team and director are all female may lead some to assume it has some preachy tones, but such isn’t the case. It is a funny romp about a deep friendship that never belabors its point and accomplishes what it sets out for.
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are wonderful as best friends Amy and Molly, a pair of straight-A students who want to get in their first night of partying before graduation, and won’t let any of the obstacles that arise slow them down in their quest to finally cut loose, just this once. They have wonderful chemistry together, and really seem like lifelong friends. Their wit is quick as a whip and sharp as a razor, but it’s still easy to believe them in the roles of the unloved and unpopular. They each display emotional range when called upon to further character development and fully understand their roles with respect to each other and the larger story.
Wilde does a very admirable job in the director’s chair for a first timer, getting the performances she needs and overseeing all of the finer details. The pace is appropriately quick (sped along by the editing, often employing smash cuts to move things along and add to the humor), and she really nails the mood of each scene, often with characters as vibrant as their surroundings. The soundtrack is great, reminiscent of mid90s in terms of how well it matches to its time, place and overall mood. The way she handles the last party scene, especially Amy’s journey through the pool and subsequent interactions (including a fight with Molly that eventually sees its dialogue fade to mute while the music takes over) is superb and a standout of the film.
Booksmart doesn’t always go by the book, but it is indeed very smart. It doesn’t cut corners and the decisions the characters make aren’t always sensible, but are easy to understand. Amy, for example, attempts to hook up with a girl who normally picks on her, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap plot twist as much as an act of rebellion in a night full of such behavior.
Overall, this is a great little film that delivers across the board. I highly enjoyed its ode to teenage lashing out. Sometimes, the best way to figure out where you stand is to jump off a ledge.
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Adds Slight Bit Of Camp;
To Its Winning Formula;
And Keeps Hitting Hard.
When you go see a John Wick movie, you know exactly what you’re signing up for, and the team involved is more than willing to beat you over the head with what you came to see. Namely, Keanu Reeves killing a whole lot of people in brilliantly-choreographed scenes awash in bright lights and dark colors. And, of course, a cute dog.
Picking up right where Chapter 2 left off, there is no wasted time here, as the action comes fast and furious and rarely lets up over the next two hours. It’s revels gloriously in over-the-top violence and is at times borderline absurd, but in the best possible ways. It’s like watching Crank, except our hero needs no gimmick in order to exact such a costly toll of human life. He’s just the best assassin ever born and everyone in the room knows it.
The production design is awesome, continuing the tradition of giving us a fully-immersive look into the criminal underworld this franchise has created. It is a great combination of an old school look (particularly aspects of The Continental) with new school sensibilities, and really helps you lose yourself in the environment. Hundreds and hundreds of people are being shot, stabbed, slashed, hit by cars, etc. A high speed chase on a bridge under construction involves a gang of ninja bikers and a horse. No cops are anywhere to be found, but you don’t care because the world they present is so believable. Plus, it makes you think…if the NYPD can ignore something like a John Wick killing spree, how much worse must it be in other parts of the city?
The best thing the film does that isn’t related to endlessly creative bloodshed (seriously, the book? While IN the library?!) is add a great amount of camp and self-aware humor to the whole picture. It is quite funny at times and knows exactly how ridiculous it is, but walks the line admirably and never veers too hard into campy territory. Hell, when fellow assassins stop fighting to tell Wick they are huge fans, it may as well come with a fourth-wall breaking nod and a wink, but good sense prevails. With all the death going on, however, some levity is appreciated and it’s executed as well as Wick executes people who hurt his dog.
The larger cast of peripheral characters suggests that this franchise will continue to evolve and move forward and I’m all for it. With such good choreography, memorable fights/deaths, smooth editing that never jars you out of the action and a roaring sense of fun, John Wick, the Baba Yaga himself, is here to stay.
Have you seen John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum? What did you think? Drop a comment below and head over to our Facebook Community for much more discussion!
Relief In Belief;
But Venom Threatens The Herd;
Serpents And Eden.
Another year of Cinetopia has come and gone, and once again I saw some really great films. This one, a debut for Dan Madison Savage and Britt Poulton as co-writers and directors, is as well-acted as it is nerve wracking, and left me with an elevated heart rate and an admiration for the execution.
Walton Goggins plays Lemuel, Pentecostal preacher in Appalachia who demonstrate their faith in God by handling poisonous snakes. They are not well received, but nor are they shook by the outsiders that shun them. Lemuel’s daughter Mara (portrayed beautifully by Alice Englert) harbors a dangerous secret that could undermine her father and their community as a whole, including her best friend Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever). Olivia Colman and Jim Gaffigan play the parents of a young man named Augie, who has left his faith behind and represents Mara’s past as well as her potential future. The push and pull weighs on her soul and that struggle leaves a mark on the screen and carries implications more serous than she signed up for.
The script is certainly not weak, but it is the element that held it back from being a total home run for me. The film is at its most intriguing when dealing with the church itself, and there just aren’t enough of those scenes. Goggins is mesmerizing, using cadence, delivery and theatricality to cast a spell on his believers that is hard to break. The tension inherent in the story because of the daughter’s secret is always there, but shoots up several levels once it interacts with the church. The cast is powerful and did great with the material, but this is a case where an extra 20 minutes could have made a huge difference, especially if a lot of that time was devoted to the film’s biggest strengths.
From a technical standpoint, the film does a lot of things very well. The production design us spot on, giving you every bit the feeling of being dropped into rural Appalachia, every backroad leading down a dark path of ill intentions. Brett Juttkiewicz frames the shots beautifully, toying with bathing sunlight and pitch black shadows in a way that perfectly illustrates the conflict at play underneath the surface. One shot that I especially loved showed Mara observing a river from the bank, a few slight rock formations peaking over the top of the water to disrupt the otherwise calm flow. It’s easy to see what those rocks represent for Mara, her father, the church, or any of the characters in the story. It’s a very adaptable shot that works very well, particularly at the point in the film that it appears. Joshua Raymond Lee’s editing is especially highlighted during the incredibly intense climactic scene, cutting together two very crucial events effortlessly and seamlessly until they reach a fever pitch that had me squirming and looking for an exit, desperate for fresh air.
Faith can come at a cost, especially when it’s one of such an extreme nature. And in this town, that cost may be too high to bear.
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