Review: This ‘Ghost Story’ is Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen Before

A24’s latest will haunt you long after you leave the theater.

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A24’s latest will haunt you long after you leave the theater.

RATING: ★★★1/2 (out of four stars)

Casey Affleck silently walks around for 80 minutes underneath a bed sheet? Rooney Mara takes almost 10 minutes to eat an entire pie? Yes, what’ve you seen and read about A Ghost Story dating back to this year’s Sundance Film Festival is true. On paper, the title of the movie seems self-explanatory. But what you see play out over the course of the movie’s 87-minute runtime is much more than just someone in the afterlife roaming around.

When I first saw A Ghost Story, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of director David Lowery’s (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) latest feature. With so many questions in my head, I almost entirely dismissed this movie, other than to note that it was slow and serene. But the time between me seeing the movie and writing this review has given me enough distance to digest everything I witnessed on screen (minus the vegan chocolate pie eaten). In retrospect, I realize that this movie still haunts me (but not in the terrifying way), even though I saw it at a press screening here in Nashville two weeks ago.

In A Ghost Story, Affleck’s character C (this and Mara’s characters’ names are never spoken in the movie; the credits refer to Affleck’s character as C and Mara’s character M) is killed in a car wreck and spiritually returns to the home where he and his wife, M, lived. In his return, C is covered in a bed sheet – the last thing he will ever wear. As C watches M grieve over the loss of her husband and eventually move on with her life, C is stuck in the house and watches over time as various people inhabit the house he and his wife shared. As time passes, C makes a choice that enables him to experience time as an infinite loop, which changes the course of things for him spiritually.

For various reasons, a movie like A Ghost Story may frustrate viewers. The movie has little exposition and dialogue, shots last minutes on end, and it goes in stretches of being remotely silent. And let’s not forget about the ghosts themselves, which have a unique way of communicating while wearing what seemingly look like cheap Halloween costumes. The point of all these elements, which feel wholly original for an indie feature, is that they each play a role in the presentation of the movie’s themes. Each of the movie’s themes, which include love, grief, time, and the fragility of life itself, are all deeply affecting.

Although Casey Affleck gives an unconventional performance, it’s one that allows you to openly interpret every movement he makes underneath the bed sheet. With every outward reach or blank stare at another character through his two eye sockets, you can’t help but wonder if his character feels anger, emptiness, loneliness, or something else entirely. All of these movements–and the entire movie, for that matter–are shown through an aesthetically-shot, square format that feels intimately personal. (1:33:1 aspect ratio, though many millennials will probably say, “This looks like it was shot on an Instagram filter!”)

My only complaint with A Ghost Story is that some of the scenes in the movie (particularly the aforementioned pie scene in the first act) linger a little too long on a subject. But if you’re patient, you’ll appreciate this surreal, yet raw story with supernatural twist sprinkled on top. The movie really drives it home in its third act. Not only is it remarkable, but it features one of the best endings in a movie you’ll see all year. Beautifully minimalistic and poignant, A Ghost Story is a soul-stirring journey that is sure to leave you thinking about it long after you leave the theater.

A Ghost Story begins playing here in Nashville at the Belcourt Theatre this Friday, July 28. You can purchase your tickets here.

Five Things We Learned from Comic-Con 2017

Sean takes a look back at the five things that stood out the most from this year’s Comic-Con.

Sean takes a look back at the five things that stood out the most from this year’s Comic-Con.

One day, I’ll make it out to San Diego to experience Comic-Con International: San Diego. One day, that is. But until then, I’ll continue to follow new developments, photos, and trailers that come out of one of the biggest annual conventions in the world on Twitter on my phone or on my computer in an air-conditioned room.

This year’s convention seemed to be less exciting than previous years, but that still doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot happening at most of the panels. After watching stories from Comic-Con develop over the weekend, here are the five biggest things I took from this year’s four-day pop culture extravaganza.


 

1. Fox was the Biggest Loser at Comic-Con

20th Century Fox showed footage of the highly-anticipated Kingsman sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but what was notably absent from the studio? Their three X-Men properties scheduled to come out in 2018, including X-Men: New Mutants, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Deadpool 2. No cast videos from the set, clips/sizzle reels, or artwork from any of these three upcoming comic book movies? Fox must still be spooked by the 2015 convention when footage from Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse leaked online.


 

2. Nobody has a Bigger Presence at Comic-Con than Peak TV

“Peak TV” continues to draw in more viewers, dominate the social media landscape, and take a small bite out of box office numbers, thanks to shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Westworld, Twin Peaks, and Preacher, all of which had big panels at this year’s convention. (I could mention many more, but that would require an article solely dedicated to Peak TV at Comic-Con.) Not only that, but a few of them had big presences outside the panels. HBO’s Westworld had an impressive Experience Center, which allowed guests to see the infamous point of entry, the place where guests select their weapons and outfits before entering the amusement park.


 

3. Warner Brothers Still has No Idea What They’re Doing with their DC Comics Properties

WB teased numerous projects in development via a sizzle reel, including Shazam!, Suicide Squad 2, The Batman, Justice League Dark, Batgirl, Green Lantern Corps, The Flash: Flashpoint, and Wonder Woman II. But where was the Harley Quinn-centered Gotham City Sirens, the Chris McKay-directed Nightwing, or the Dwayne Johnson-starring Black Adam in this sizzle reel?

And after WB showed off early footage of next year’s Aquaman and a great four-minute trailer for Justice League, what else? Nothing.

It’s puzzling, to be quite honest, that WB didn’t announce any casting or anything related to these teased projects considering the momentum the studio had coming into this panel. Wonder Woman had just surpassed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at the box office (domestically) to become the biggest movie of the summer, yet we couldn’t get an announcement that the woman behind it, Patty Jenkins, was coming back to direct the teased sequel?

While Wonder Woman is a big win for WB and their DC properties, we still have no idea where they’re going with their cinematic universe. I guess we’ll know in November after the release of Justice League, the studio’s riskiest movie yet.


 

4. Marvel Studios is Still the King of Con

Marvel Studios came in swinging, like always, and came away as the victors at Comic-Con, thanks to presentations for their upcoming movies Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War.

A new trailer for Thor: Ragnarok was unveiled and it looked like something out of left field compared to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet, on the flipside it looks so fresh and entertaining and is the first Thor movie people are actually getting excited about (myself included). While footage from the Black Panther panel won’t be appearing online anytime soon, it brought people to their feet and was arguably the best presentation out of any movie shown at this year’s Comic-Con. And finally, Marvel Studios showed an early look at Avengers: Infinity War – the movie, which this 10-year cinematic universe has been building up to. Like Black Panther, the rest of the world won’t get to see this footage until sometime this fall.

And on top of that, Marvel Studios dished out details and artwork from the Brie Larson-led Captain Marvel, which will take place in the 90s, feature a Nick Fury with two eyes, and have some of the most famous Marvel villains–the Skrulls.


 

5. Netflix is Coming

If there is one disruptor in all of Hollywood that is the equivalent of the White Walkers in HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s Netflix. And this year, they made sure everyone at Comic-Con knew that.

Netflix is beginning to churn out its own original movies and they showed off two at this year’s Comic-Con, including Death Note (arriving on the streaming service next month) and Bright, the Will Smith-led sci-fi fantasy cop movie that Netflix paid $100M for and will release around Christmas time.

On the TV side of things, Netflix showed convention attendees Friday night the first episode of Marvel’s The Defenders, which brings together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist from their own Netflix shows. Saturday, though, was the biggest day for the streaming giant, as thousands descended on Hall H and were treated to the first showing of the fantastic, thrilling trailer for the upcoming new season of Stranger Things, the streaming service’s crown jewel.

With big budget movies like Bright and original shows with so much buzz like The Defenders and Stranger Things, to go along with recruiting A-list talent like Will Smith, Brad Pitt earlier this year for War Machine, and Sandra Bullock for an upcoming big budget movie, Netflix is slowly taking over everything. The signs have been there that Netflix was coming and it won’t be long until they’re here for everything you want to watch.

Review: ‘Girls Trip’ is the Most Outrageous Comedy of the Summer

When it’s all said and done, this summer’s biggest surprise might be this raunchy, hilarious comedy that’s sure to be a hit with audiences.

When it’s all said and done, this summer’s biggest surprise might be this raunchy, hilarious comedy that’s sure to be a hit with audiences.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

You ever watch a trailer for an upcoming comedy and think to yourself, “Well, you can tell they took every good joke in the movie and put them in the trailer?” That’s what I initially thought when I first saw the trailer for Girls Trip; heck, I was initially not even going to attend the press screening but the I figured “Why not?” at the last minute after a colleague convinced me.

And, boy, am I glad he did.

Girls Trip tells the story about a sisterhood reunion during the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans. When four lifelong friends get back together in the Big Easy for this reunion, drinking, dancing, and wild sides that bring out even a brawl or two are rediscovered. The results? Big laughs. And not just occasional ones, big laughs throughout the entire movie.

Headlined by Regina Hall (Think Like a Man), Queen Latifah (Taxi), Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral), Tiffany Haddish (Keanu), Girls Trip works, thanks to the chemistry among these four lovely ladies. Ensemble comedies are made or broken by their cast and these women, who throw so many one-liners and insults at each other, make it look so easy. Crude and boisterous, Girls Trip offers up some of the funniest moments I’ve seen in a movie so far this year. One scene in particular at a sketchy hotel just about had me in tears.

The highlight of Girls Trip is the character Dina, played by Haddish, who draws the movie’s biggest laughs early and often. Last year, we saw Haddish in a small but memorable role as High-C in the hilarious movie Keanu, but that’s a distant memory in comparison this role. I anticipate her career skyrocketing after the release of this movie and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sure, Girls Trip has a familiar story, but I stayed invested in where it was going thanks to the good-heartedness and charm of its lead actresses. And even in the moments when it gets serious, I never felt like looking down at my phone to check the time. And almost immediately after every serious moment, we’re greeted with another uproarious moment that will cause you to miss the dialogue that immediately follows it.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the comedy offerings at this summer’s box office have been largely underwhelming, particularly Baywatch and The House. Starring A-list actors Dwayne Johnson and Will Ferrell respectively, both of these comedies were inconsistently funny and mostly uneven. And given what we’re used to from both of those talents, it only added to the large void from the comedy genre this summer.
Luckily, though, the comedy genre isn’t completely lost this summer thanks to The Big Sick (which you should absolutely see) and now Girls Trip, a fun, wild ride that I almost entirely dismissed.

And as of now, Girls Trip is this summer’s biggest surprise and one that you should put on your radar.

Ranking Christopher Nolan’s Movies (Including Dunkirk)

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, Dunkirk, this weekend, let’s take a look at his entire filmography, and rank ’em from top to bottom.

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, Dunkirk, this weekend, let’s take a look at his entire filmography, and rank ’em from top to bottom.

Christopher Nolan is one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood right now. Nolan has released a slew of movies that already have been heralded by many as modern classics. Nolan’s credits include stimulating movies with twists that are still talked about to this day and even a small movie that forever changed the modern day comic book movie. With the release of Dunkirk this Friday, let’s rank the filmography of every IMDb user’s favorite director.


 

10. Insomnia

With Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, you would think this was a slam-dunk remake, right? Well, not exactly. 10 minutes longer than the original, Insomnia is not only Nolan’s weakest movie, but is also his dullest movie. Still, Pacino and Williams make it watchable.


 

9. Following

Nolan’s directorial debut is a fine effort. And even though the noir-driven story never reaches its full potential, it still shows us that the British director had a bright future ahead of him.


 

8. The Dark Knight Rises

Look, we all know the finale in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is filled with plot holes and a cringe-worthy character name reveal (you know the one I’m talking about), but there wasn’t much more to do with this franchise after The Dark Knight. Because of the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger, who was initially set to return as the Clown Prince of Crime in some capacity, parts of the story for The Dark Knight Rises had to be changed. But thanks to Tom Hardy’s performance as the superhuman character, Bane, and a proper send-off for the Caped Crusader at the very end, The Dark Knight Rises is not a loss by any means.


 

7. Interstellar

Without a doubt Nolan’s most ambitious movie, Interstellar is filled with big ideas, but suffers under the weight of its complex look at time. The movie doesn’t explain much in its nearly three-hour runtime, which keeps it from being a sci-fi classic. Despite its flaws, Interstellar is still a good movie, filled with great performances all around, impeccable technical achievements via its usage of IMAX cameras, and also features another memorable score from legendary composer, Hans Zimmer.


 

6. Batman Begins

We could say that Memento put Nolan on the map, but let’s be honest: Batman Begins is what put the director on everybody’s radar. Nolan’s reboot of the man dressed as a bat makes the argument for best comic book origin story ever told on screen. Why? Because every aspect of showing of the creation of the most iconic comic book character ever is done incredibly well.


 

5. Memento

So clever, so strange, and so mysterious, Memento is Nolan’s most narratively stimulating movie to date. Featuring a career-best performance from Guy Pearce, this revenge mystery thriller, told like a broken vase trying to be pieced back together, is richly rewarding once you’re able to process everything. That being said, it may take a couple of viewings to understand its brilliance.


 

4. Inception

While most people remember this movie because of its epic music score, *cue Zimmer’s ground-shaking, horn theme from Inception*, let’s not forget what else made this intellectual popcorn movie so enticing. The set pieces are staggering, the story is deep (literally), and the ending? One of the best (and most clever) you’ll ever see.


 

3. The Dark Knight    

Truth be told: Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins is my favorite movie ever. I’ve probably seen this movie a hundred times and I love every bit of it. The story and cost of being a vigilante, the action sequences (the opening bank robbery scene in particular), and Ledger’s unforgettable performance as the Joker make for what I think will always be the best comic book movie ever. It isn’t merely hyperbole to say that this trailblazing movie from Nolan forever changed the modern day comic book movie.


 

2. Dunkirk

I’ve already talked enough about Nolan’s latest movie in the review I published yesterday, but with repeat viewing, it arguably could eventually be recognized as his best movie to date. We’ll see, but no matter what, you should go see this nail-biting tour de force WWII epic this weekend.


 

1. The Prestige

“The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”

Nolan’s most overlooked and underrated movie yet, The Prestige, is also his masterpiece. What makes Nolan such a great filmmaker is the way he presents the stories he’s trying to tell, which, for the most part, feature twists and turns that are talked about long after people see his movies. And what better way to see those expertly-crafted elements we’re accustomed to from Nolan than a movie about misdirection itself? Eleven years later, The Prestige holds up more so than any of his other movies. After you see Dunkirk this weekend, go back and watch The Prestige. There’s a good chance you may have forgotten just how good this cinematic trick is.

Review: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ is a Nail-Biting Tour de Force

Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic is the first true Oscar contender of the year.

Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic is the first true Oscar contender of the year.

RATING: ★★★★ (out of four stars)

If your movie theater is giving out stress relief balls at Dunkirk showings, then lucky you. But if you’re like me, when I saw Dunkirk at a press screening last night, you’ll be sitting through Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic on the edge of your seat biting your nails.

Recounting Britain’s darkest hour, Dunkirk tells the story of Allied soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk waiting to be evacuated as they’re surrounded by the German army on land, air, and sea.

Dunkirk might be the most unconventional WWII movie you ever see. The narrative structure is uncommon. The movie is light on dialogue. No blood is shown on screen. The enemy lurks around from all sides, but never shows it face. Not one protagonist leads the evacuation; in fact, almost all of the characters we encounter in the movie are nameless. You might be asking yourself after reading the previous six sentences, “How do you make an epic war movie without these seemingly keen essential elements we’re so accustomed to seeing in war movies?” Leave it to acclaimed director Nolan to immerse viewers in the middle of the evacuation, where the movie’s technical aspects are masterfully crafted and are what ultimately authenticates this survival story. The results are striking and will have your heart racing until the credits roll.  

Never letting up during its entire 107 minute runtime, Dunkirk is relentless and intense; and yes, you will see that word “intense” in just about every review of Dunkirk. Whenever the movie feels like the evacuating soldiers are about to cross the finish line, Nolan throws in a twist or turn that stretches the line out even further. Nolan, who always brings an element of surprise to his movies, never once makes the viewers feel as if they’re safe in Dunkirk. Sure, viewers never come face-to-face with the enemy, but it’s always lurking somewhere close by, like an underwater shark where you only see the occasional fin protruding above the surface.

The uncertainty of the enemy’s location, combined with knowing they could pop up at any time, forces the movie’s mostly nameless heroes to come out of sheer common desperation. Like I said, there’s not one lead protagonist in Dunkirk. Instead, Nolan goes back and forth between a number of different characters in different places fighting their own battles, all of whom share one common goal – survival. Sure, there are movie stars in Dunkirk, such as Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders), James D’Arcy (Agent Carter), newcomer Fionn Whitehead, and popstar Harry Styles, among others. And while all of these actors do a great job, Nolan never shines a brighter spotlight on any one of their characters than the others, demonstrating that this is a collaborative effort like a puzzle where each character is a crucial piece needed for completion.

Helping keep the tension at 11 throughout Dunkirk are the movie’s technical aspects, which are sure to sweep at next year’s Oscars for just about every award you can name. The movie allows the technical aspects to tell the story rather than the dialogue. The sound mixing and editing stand out the most, where explosions and gunfire feel like you’re experiencing it live. With every precise, swift-moving cut that takes viewers to another viewpoint of the movie’s setting, Nolan keeps the audience on the edge of its seat with an enemy ready to strike at any instance from any given angle. Shot entirely in IMAX, Dunkirk begs to be seen in this larger-than-life format. If you live near one of these special screens, spend a few extra dollars and see why these theaters exist. Another astounding technical aspect in Dunkirk is film composer Hans Zimmer’s haunting score. Mostly reminiscent of a ticking clock that sporadically speeds up and slows down, Zimmer’s memorable score surely will be played on repeat by film score-listening aficionados much like Inception, another of his signature musical creations.  

Nolan’s last two movies, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, were both fine movies, but each of them was flawed and ultimately disappointing given the filmmaker’s remarkable track record. But Dunkirk is more than just a return to form for everyone’s favorite director on IMDb; Dunkirk is arguably his best movie to date and it is sure to be studied for years to come.

Tight and bare boned, Dunkirk is not only the best movie of the year so far, it also might be the best movie of 2017 when it’s all said and done. Dunkirk’s simple tale of heroism is a must-see experience, but be prepared and don’t pass out from lack of oxygen while you’re watching it. You likely will be holding your breath throughout this nail-biting tour de force.

Honorary Oscar? Andy Serkis’s Performance in the Apes Finale is Oscar-Worthy on its Own.

Motion capture or not, Andy Serkis deserves consideration for the world’s most coveted golden statue.

Motion capture or not, Andy Serkis deserves consideration for the world’s most coveted golden statue.

Over the weekend I saw War for the Planet of the Apes in theaters and I’ve got to tell you it certainly lived up to the hype. If you’re reading this and haven’t yet seen War for the Planet of the Apes, do yourself a favor and close this page and drive to the nearest movie theater and see this movie. You’ll thank me later. Not only is it one the year’s best summer blockbusters, but it also makes the case for capping off what is possibly the best movie trilogy in recent memory (looking at you Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight trilogies).

But what makes the Apes trilogy so great is its lead actor Andy Serkis, who plays the infamous ape Caesar. While Serkis’s performances as Caesar have been motion captured, the visual effects wizards over at Weta Digital (who were also behind Avatar) have made Serkis’s portrayals of Caesar look so life-like, that you forget how technology played a role in bringing him, and all of his fellow the onscreen primates, to life.

Serkis’s portrayal of Caesar has evolved with every passing movie in this outstanding trilogy. And with War for the Planet of the Apes, one could make the argument that Serkis gives the best performance in a blockbuster movie since Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight; yes, it’s that good and that memorable. Part slow-burner, part war movie–and almost entirely from the viewpoint of the primates–War for the Planet of the Apes is so good thanks to Serkis’s portrayal of Caesar, who must grapple with saving his race while coping with a darkness growing within him. Countless times, the emotion Serkis emits as Caesar in War is so compelling that you will find yourself continually rooting against your own species right through the movie’s end.

That being said (along with the same universal buzz from critics everywhere), the question once again is this: Is it time to finally give Andy Serkis an Oscar?

Much of the discussion I’ve seen from Film Twitter is, “Give Serkis an honorary Oscar!” But why not just give him an Oscar for Best Actor instead? He certainly has earned one based on his performance in War for the Planet of the Apes alone. And motion capture or not, it’s as believable a performance as you’ll see in any other movie you watch this year–or have see in any other year, for that matter.

Fox made a strong Oscar campaign push for Serkis in the last Apes movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And given how Fox’s only other Oscar contenders on paper right now seem to be Murder on the Orient Express and The Greatest Showman (both of which come out later this year), I hope the studio makes an even stronger campaign push for Serkis this time around.

As of now, Serkis easily leads the Best Actor field. Sure, we will get some serious contenders for Best Actor as we get closer to awards season, but the Academy (and other awards groups) should not overlook Serkis’s performance when the time comes to vote.

And as Comingsoon.net’s Associate Editor, Spencer Perry, tweeted yesterday, “The Academy should just give Serkis his Oscar now and not look like fools when they do it in 15 years.”

How many times has the Academy looked like fools, minus this year’s La La Land/Moonlight fiasco? I’ve lost count, but I haven’t lost hope that they will do the right thing–if for just this one time.