Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"American Honey" is a bittersweet odyssey through our nation's pride land.

American Honey Review
What constitutes for a great movie? Also, what makes a movie one of the best of the year? Does it have to be important? Does it have to be relevant to social or political issues? Does it have to have cutting edge special effects or made big money at the box office? I don't believe so, I never ever have. I truly believe I never will. The best movies out there are special because they tap into us emotionally, mentally, intellectually and physically. Some of my favorite movies of all time feel like a religious, almost astral experience for me. They don't have to do something special, how they play out, how they are acted and written, how they make me feel...that is what truly matters. I have never wanted nor tried to be some snobbish critic who has some other agenda besides film. I am just in love with the experience and circumstance of movie watching. That is why I am here.

Tonight, I watched one of the best movies of the year. It could very well be my favorite film of the year, we will just have to wait and see. (Still got some last-minute cramming to do before I make my final list). But I feel revolutionized, I feel revitalized, and I realized once more why I love this medium. That's what a great film can do, and that is what Andrea Arnold's "American Honey" did for me tonight.

What is "American Honey?" Its someone's chase for the pursuit of happiness. Its a heartbroken vision of the American Dream realized. Its a bittersweet, delirious, and deranged fable across the heartland of our great nation. Its a vision of our culture and society through drunken dancing, song lyrics and social media photos. We follow the life of Star (Sasha Lane), and in the beginning of the film, we see her digging through garbage trying to find food that is still fresh. She is accompanied by two small children, could they be her siblings? As they try to hitchhike home, Sasha locks eyes with Jake (Shia LaBeouf..yes THAT Shia LaBeouf). Star follows Jake into a K-Mart and its one of those young love-at-first-sight-moments. They talk, they flirt, but he's going soon. Leaving for Kansas City for a business opportunity and he wants Star to join. He doesn't know her, but he can already tell he likes. That chemical rush of affection and attraction is more he can bare, and I am blown away that we can feel it as an audience. We get a quick view of Star's home life. Her real mother is dead, her foster parents barely register as parents. The foster mom goes out with another man, the foster father gropes Star. Its a sorrowful life, and Star doesn't need it. She's young and she needs a fresh start so she can live the life she wants and truly needs. So takes up Jake's request, and leaves for Kansas with him.

Seems Jake is apart of a massive crew who drives cross-country across the United States, selling magazine door-to-door. Their boss is Krystal (Riley Keough) and its clear right away how seriously she takes her magazine selling business. Its hard to tell if its for real or if its a scam. It can easily be interpreted to go either way. The crew Jake and Krystal work with and who adopt Star as their own are a battered cast of millennial misfits. They drink too much alcohol. They smoke too many cigarettes. They know every line of every song, no matter if its country or rap. They break out into fights. They show each other their privates. Its a wild, adrenaline-fueled group, but Star couldn't feel more free. For once in her life, she's free. She's likes Jake and Jake likes her, but will that cause problems eventually with the Krystal's business?

What ensues is a hurricane of life experience for Star and what Andrea Arnold does best is making sure the audience feels every moment of it. At almost three hours, that running time may wither people away, but I assure you, the time flies. When a near three hour movie feels like an hour long movie, that's great craftsmanship on the director's part. Some people have complained that the film feels repetitive, and yes Star makes some mistakes, they all seem similar, but its all apart of it. We've all made mistakes, and sometimes it takes making that mistake more than once to finally learn from it. The film is magnificent in the way it feels like an experience, like we are there driving with the crew. Its amazing how the film highlights moments of ecstasy and moments of intensity in equal measure, making them feel like actual human moments. I think anybody can relate to how life moments can sometimes blend together, and there's something to the way Andrea Arnold portrays experience, time and memory in this movie. Its stiflingly piercing.

If Oscars were given to performances based on the power of the performance and not how much an actor and studio campaigns for said performance, then Sasha Lane and Shia LeBeouf would both be nominated for Lead Actor and Lead Actress this winter. Sasha Lane in particular is a discovery here, its so clear that you are looking at a person named Star and not some actor creating a character. She imprinted herself on this role, and I will forever think of this character when I see Lane in the future. And LeBeouf? Dear God, who woke him up? Its absolutely flabbergasting to me that the same guy in "American Honey" is the same guy who did "I, Robot," "Transformers" and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." LaBeouf disappears in this role and creates a new living organism entirely. This is a new career-high watermark for him and I beg you all to see this movie just to watch LaBeouf throw down here. Its the type of performance where every time he leaves a scene, you can't wait to see him again, which is the highest praise I can give any actor in any movie.

"American Honey" has left me speechless. I am drunk on an experience one can only get watching a movie. Even though there isn't much to this film story-wise, its made with such confidence, with such a burst of inspiration that it feels original. It feels like revolution moving at twenty-four frames a second. This is a piece of undeniable art. It's punched me right in the heart, and if you open yourself up to it, you'll be as heartbroken in the best way possible like me.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher

RIP Carrie Fisher
What is a woman's role in movies?

For far too long, it seems like every woman who wanted to work in Hollywood was immediately type-cast. For far too long, we saw roles in woman's movies as either the love interest, the damsel-in-distress, or something of the sort. We didn't see lots of independent women in the early days of film. We didn't see lots of women who could carry  their own in any sort of struggle, there was always some male role to fill a void in the female character. Even the female villains throughout the history of film seem to be a middle person for another threat, which was usually filled by a man. Even today, as progressive as our world has become, we still don't see enough leading independent female characters in movies. Worse yet, actresses are not being paid equal wages to portray leading roles compared to actors.

When I was young, I just kind of accepted in big, genre movies that the woman was always going to be saved, and a man was going to save the day. Then I saw "Star Wars" for the first time, and the entire norm of a woman's role in film seemed to change, especially since I started watching Indiana Jones around the same time. Princess Leia and Marion Ravenwood destroyed expectations. Sure, in "A New Hope," Leia gets captured, but we see her mouthing off to Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin. She's not weeping, she's not begging to be saved, she's mouthing off to the scariest presents in the entire movie, without shuddering. When she witnesses the destruction of her home planet, Leia is sad, but she keeps the hope alive, she doesn't give up. When Luke Skywalker goes to rescue her, she is already cracking jokes about his height. And she can handle herself with a blaster (all saga long, to be exact). What's also different is that Han Solo had to push his love on Leia, not the other way around. It was the princess who had the rough exterior and the man was smitten. All throughout the saga, we see Leia commanding troops, going behind enemy lines by herself, hatching plans, and quite frankly kicking ass. We never really saw this in genre films and it felt like something big was happening. Carrie Fisher brought this magnificent character to mesmerizing life and woman found a different kind of role model in movies.

You may think that because its me, the movie geek that I am, that my favorite Fisher moment is "Star Wars." While I absolutely adore "Star Wars" and Carrie Fisher in "Star Wars" and everything she accomplished with the character, my heart lies somewhere else. My favorite Carrie Fisher appearance is in from Woody Allen's "Hannah and her Sisters." She played April, one of the best friends of one of the sisters. She's played that friend, who isn't entirely a friend. Someone who doesn't have your best interests at heart, even if they say and act like they do. Its not what we'd expect from Fisher growing up worshiping Princess Leia, but Fisher was just as strong, just as confident and just as committed in this role. I know I may have bias to anything Woody Allen, especially older Woody Allen. I know Fisher didn't have a super huge presence in this film. But the point is that she made her presents felt, big time.

No matter how big or how small the role was, Fisher was always making her presents known, imprinting on every character she created. That is evident with her work in "When Harry Met Sally." That's evident in her brief stint with "Blues Brothers." Or playing Tom Hanks' wife in "The 'Burbs." Even the therapist in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." She did script work on films such has "Lethal Weapon 3," "Outbreak" and even "The Wedding Singer." She was once quoted by saying that she liked performances because she liked connecting to an audience and that showed through and through in her work. Not only that, but its clear that she was gifted in other aspects of show business and that worked out for her as well.

But not only was Fisher a powerful performer, she became an advocate for people. Its no secret that Carrie Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder, which sadly led to drug abuse. But she has always been honest and open about it, and she was always ready to advocate for mental illness and drug addiction. She wore her illness and her past-addiction on her sleeve, not being afraid of it yet not allowing it to define her life. You can't help but notice the grace in that. Being able to help people because you've been around something and know what to expect. She received a Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award for Cultural Humanism from Harvard University. She was brave to display outspokenness and activism for mental illness and addiction and she was able to use these experiences to generate creativity and empathy. A massive achievement indeed.

Whether it was creating a character or providing for someone, there is no doubt that Carrie Fisher left a hand on the hearts of many for decades. For many years of hard, graceful work in front of and behind the camera, Hollywood has a whole in its heart tonight. She will be missed badly. But no matter what, she will always be royalty to us all.





Monday, December 26, 2016

"Manchester By The Sea" is a destination worth traveling

Manchester By The Sea Review
We are human beings. Part of being human is not always being on top, sometimes we feel pain and sometimes we grieve. Sometimes that sorrow can drown out everything else, until you look in the mirror and you don't recognize the person you see in that mirror. Have any of you ever had a pain so great that it completely changed you as a person? Has the bad luck ever piled up so high that happiness has been completely shut out, unable to flinch and it feels like it will never come back? We have had several movies come out over the history of the medium that examines grief, but they always have the Hollywood ending. Something happens to the characters that makes them snap out of their funk, that it will all be okay. There is always a silver lining, the grass is greener on the other side, in time even this shall pass.

But sometimes, that's not always the case. Everybody is different. Not everybody is wired to jump right back up after they've been knocked down. Especially when they are continually knocked down, unable to fully get back to their feet. Sometimes its not easy to just flip a switch and everything is the same again. That's precisely what "Manchester By The Sea" is about. We meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) in Boston. He's a janitor and handyman for a set of apartment buildings. He lives in a room, and I say room because you can barely call what he has as an apartment. He seems completely oppressed to show any sort of emotion. Even when he works up enough anger to get into a fight at the bar, it almost feels like he's pulling his own teeth in order to get the emotions out. Something is apparently eating at him, changed whomever he used to be.

Then comes the phone call. His brother (Kyle Chandler) has died. He has been battling a rare heart condition. He was told he'd only live to be 50 or maybe 60 tops. It was a  horrible, horrible predicament to be in and it took his life. Lee races up to Manchester to see his brother's dead body. Lee prepares to help with the arrangements. He thinks he'll only be gone from work for a week tops. Then he reads his brother's will and finds out that his brother has named him the guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), his 16-year-old nephew. Lee begins to help take care of Patrick, and wants Patrick to move back with him to Boston. Patrick wants to stay in Manchester, his whole life is right there, and he believes Lee can get handyman work anywhere in Manchester. But that very thing that haunting Lee, that keeps eating away at him is here in Manchester and he doesn't know if can go back to the city he once called home.

One thing that "Manchester By The Sea" nails is the power of memory. There is nothing else on the planet like memory. Much of the film plays in flashbacks from the perspective of Lee. And much like my own memory, it seems like Lee's memory is something alive. It seems like the smallest detail can bring a memory back to livid, vivid life. Memories come back to Lee so powerfully that the audience is sunk by the weight of their power. I feel my memory works like this, something so small can bring something so massive and important, and sometimes it may not be something I really want to remember, but it doesn't matter. Memory doesn't care if you want to remember something or not, and its hard to tell what triggers things for us to remember. We are constantly reminded of that power throughout the movie.

To pick a great performance in the movie is quite the task. I can tell you that Casey Affleck is near-perfect here. We've never seen him so alive in a character before, which is sort of ironic since the character Lee is mainly invisible emotionally. The screenplay is written so well that Affleck is able to make a fully-functional human being out of it. Affleck gets every character beat just right, scene-after-scene. He is perfectly matched by Lucas Hedges, he follows Affleck through pretty much every scene in the movie and the pair pull off two incredible performances. Hedges is a discovery for me, and I can't wait to see what he does next. Kyle Chandler has small presents in this film, but he makes sure it hits hard, because it does. There are also very good performances by Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick. Then there is Michelle Williams, who brings everything in this film to another level entirely.

The reason these performances resonate so highly is not only because of the power of the performers, but the generosity in the script. Every character has the time and the room to breath, the actors have the time to really create a character. At almost two hours and twenty minutes, there is plenty of time to get to know the characters, have them shine and bring their emotions out. It is a very well written screenplay. 

"Manchester By The Sea" is not some movie that forces a happy ending. This is a light-switch movie where something turns on inside the characters and everything is okay again. "Manchester By The Sea" is proof that broken wings need to mend before the bird can fly again. Sometimes nursing a broken heart takes time, perhaps more time than our friends or loved ones would want or need, but we can't judge people on their pain. That's the hardest lesson "Manchester By The Sea" teaches us, and by the end I was devastated.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Wanna see "Why Him?" I say Why Not?

Why Him? Review
With a movie like "Why Him?" you already know the outcome whether you realize it or not. An unconventional choice for a father's daughter seeking the approval of said choice is a trope in Hollywood more common than we sometimes realize. We've seen "Meet The Parents." We've seen "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" We've seen everything in between."Why Him?" is a variation of this story. Bryan Cranston is a loving family man who takes his wife and son to visit their daughter out in California to meet her boyfriend. The boyfriend (James Franco) is a rambunctious man (to put it mildly) who doesn't seem to be a good fit for his daughter. But Franco plans to prove himself throughout the film.  I could spoil everything about the movie "Why Him?" and you wouldn't feel spoiled. Because this is how these movies work. "Why Him?" plays out exactly as you'd think it would play out.

So why see it?

Well, for movies that exist as mere reflection of a particular formula, you can only hope for something unexpected. Despite this formula, I went into "Why Him?" with an open mind. Hoping I'd see something that would make it worth seeing, make it worth recommending. I am happy to report that "Why Him?" has some content that was unexpected. It's a lot funnier than the previews for the film would make you believe. This is a comedy where all the funny moments aren't lost in the previews. There is a bag of tricks to play with if only you go looking. And no, the film isn't just unhinged, raunchy comedy. That is certainly a factor with this film, but its not the entire picture. There is offbeat humor here, there is quick humor here, and there is flat-out slapstick stuff in here too. There is a good gag or joke for any type of comedy lover. Its a little surprising how most of the film isn't really raunchy. And for a film where a family stays at a house where every wall features art of animals performing intercourse, that's kind of crazy.

The humor works well because everybody does good work here. I have always loved Bryan Cranston as a performer. Yes, he's a great drama man, he'll always be a good drama man. But let's not forget that he's got a fun side too. The first thing I remember seeing Cranston in was "Malcolm In The Middle," so knowing that Cranston can do anything was ingrained in my brain at a young age. He does good work as a father who just wants what's best for her daughter, even though that over-obsession ends hurting more than it helps. The best James Franco performances are those where he's a big, giant goofball. My favorite Franco performances is Saul from "Pineapple Express." Franco is kind of channeling Saul to a certain degree here. But not by much, this is a completely original character for Franco and he does good work here.

The rest of the cast is solid too. Megan Mullaly plays Cranston's wife and she particularly sticks out here. There is moment where her character has just inhaled marijuana and her moment with Cranston afterward is pretty close to perfect. You'll know it when you see it. Keegan-Michael Key shows up as Franco's characters assistant and he has several scenes in this film worth seeing. The cast really brings the film together.

Yes, there is a formula to "Why Him?" But any movie that tries to go above and beyond the call of duty, even within familiar territory, deserves some recognition. So many movies like to play things safe, keep things moving along just to make some easy money. But "Why Him?" doesn't feel like its completely cut from the same cloth as the other films in its corner, so for that reason, its worth checking out.

FINAL GRADE: B 

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Passengers" is a trip you don't need to take (SPOILER REVIEW)

Passengers Review

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

I like science fiction. That was one reason why I was excited to see "Passengers." I also just happen to be a big fan of both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, so getting to spend an entire movie with them seemed like a good idea. Plus, we just don't get too many genre films these days that aren't connected to some kind of brand. Its so refreshing to see a movie driven by plot and character. Many studios are so concerned with adapting the next big thing, creating the next big movie brand, that originality doesn't win anymore. The business doesn't work like it used to, so something like "Passengers" gives me hope.

Then you actually sit down to watch the movie and you realize that "Passengers" isn't a good movie. You think to yourself, maybe there is a stark reason why studios are opting to tentpoles and brands and distancing themselves from original ideas. Well, at least original ideas that are written and manufactured like this one. "Passengers" is a bit of a mess, and had it not been for one major character misstep that ruins the entire enterprises, there is a possibility there could be good movie hidden somewhere in this endeavor. I use the word possibility for a reason though, the dialogue is written so poorly that these great actors are left looking wooden.

So why was I not a fan of "Passengers?" Well, first, let's start with a positive. This is absolutely not the movie the marketing is selling. To dig further, I am going to have to write a spoiler review. I will not write a second piece on this movie, because, quite frankly, it doesn't deserve it. I can discuss this in one sitting. But like I said, this begins with the marketing. The film does take place in the future, where a spaceship is transporting several hundred humans from Earth to Homestead II, a new planet that can sustain human life. These people come from all aspects of life, but they are united in starting a new world, becoming pioneers of this new world, even though it consists of never seeing their families or friends again. They are put to sleep are being shuttled on a 120 year journey to a new planet.

The only problem is mechanical engineer Jim Preston'S (Chris Pratt) hibernation sleep machine opens too early, and the spaceship still has ninety years left in the voyage to Homestead II. He tries every possible avenue in order to fix his problem, but he can't help his situation, he can't figure it out. Something happened to his hibernation machine, he is the only one awake. Now, the marketing would make you believe that Aurora Lane's (Jennifer Lawrence) hibernation machine malfunctioned at the exact same time as Jim's and that they find out together why there's malfunctioned. Sadly, that's not the plot. Too bad, because that would have made for a better movie. After several scenes between Jim and the robotic bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), and a montage of Jim hanging out on the ship for a year, he walks along looking at everyone in the hibernation machines, and he sees Aurora. He falls in love with this sleeping beauty, and decides its a good idea to wake her up. Just so he isn't lonely anymore. Certainly, he doesn't tell her that though, he just turns off her machine, wakes her up and acts like hers malfunctioned too.

Now remember, these people are looking for new lives on this new planet. The ship is still on course for Homestead II. So basically, Jim is ruining this poor girls life because his pod malfunctioned. He is taking away her new life in order to satisfy his conundrum. Sure, he's lonely, sure, he contemplated suicide. But does that mean you take away somebody's chance at a new life simply because your life through a curveball at you? Life is unfair, that's something I learned at a very young age. What I was also taught at a young age is to make the most of a bad situation, and not bring others down with us. Yes, Jim's situation is horrible, but if the film turned into a "Castaway" of sorts and it was about Jim overcoming his bad situation, or finding some sort of peace...that could have made for a better movie. But we watch Jim wake Aurora up, we watch him as he gets her to fall in love with him, they begin to care for each other, and he was never going to tell her the truth, even though he told Arthur and the audience that he would.

And this is one of only two characters we are supposed to identify with, and he's one of the "heroes" of this movie. 

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have a problem having to identify with a character who is selfish and entitled like this. Sure, we eventually get around to something being wrong with the ship, we get a forgettable appearance by Lawrence Fishburne. The climax of the movie is summed up in a big bowl of plot convenience. Yes, there is something wrong with the ship, but since Jim's a engineer, the problem is taking care of fairly quick and pretty much pain-free. They try to milk the suspense, but it comes to no use. They try to redeem Jim's behavior at the end of the film, but our goodwill has been wounded so much that it feels like "too little, too late." The films seemingly main focus is Jim's need to bring someone down with him because he is in pain, so we watch him ruin this girl's life. Simply because he got a hard-on for her while she was asleep. So not only is Jim selfish and entitled, he's also a creep too. Not the usual hero we find in classic science fiction, which I had hoped this movie was aiming for. They could have easily called this film "Passenger" and been done with it. Don't be fooled by this film's marketing. Its not the movie you think it is. Its not some new-age science fiction mystery. Its not something optimistic or intelligent like most science fiction. This is a movie about an entitled, creepy man who can't overcome a bad situation, so he drags some innocent person along with him. They did nothing wrong to him, but that doesn't matter. He's in pain, so the only way out of that pain is to get someone to fall in love with him. All to a screenplay with bad dialogue and written like a horrid soap opera romance.

I hope when I say that Brock Turner would love this movie, that this is all you need to read in order to make up your mind about seeing this movie.

FINAL GRADE: D-

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

John Wick 2 trailer

One of the biggest surprises in movies for me within the last few years has been "John Wick." I have always found Keanu Reeves to be a funny actor to watch, simply because he comes off half-asleep in about every movie he's in. But here, somehow he came alive. I am also a sucker for revenge flicks, and if that revenge flick somehow revolves around a dog, well, I am extra invested.

Its not a movie I would have expected to branch into a series of any kind. But I think the movie hit a nerve people weren't expecting. I don't know why John Wick is assembling himself to kick people's asses in this sequel. I don't know if I have the stomach to sit through another brutal dog death, so I hope its in the service of something else. But whatever the case maybe, this looks to be another kick-ass ride. I sincerely hope I am not wrong. I'd love to see a resurgence in the career of Keanu Reeves. When he does work, he sets off fireworks. So I hope this is another winner for his sake.



"Assassin's Creed" is the first real video game adaptation...but is that a good thing?

Assassin's Creed Review
I saw "Assassin's Creed" in 3D today. If you want to see this movie, this is the best way to see it. I usually don't advocate for 3D films, based solely on personal preference and my desire of not liking 3D. However, in "Assassin's Creed" case, it actually elevates  the material to a degree. I joined the "Assassin's Creed" video game party a little late. The only games I have played have been for XBox One, and I have played "Black Flag" and a tiny bit of "Unity." That is as far as my "Assassin's Creed" knowledge goes, so I am by no means an expert on these games or these stories. I can say that from my knowledge, that this movie captures the very essence of the games, at least the games I have played. I feel the 3D takes that essence to a whole different level entirely. There are moments here where you feel like you're flying. There are moments here where you feel like you are with the characters. I feel like this is an experience you can't necessarily duplicate for home viewing, so I would label "Assassin's Creed" a movie you should see in theaters if you have any desire to see it at all. It makes for a hell of a 3D experience.

I am by no means a huge gamer, but I do like to play video games from time to time. I would say most stories within the video games are usually wacky and illogical, because of course they are. We are visiting worlds in video games we would never see even in most movies. I have noticed most story lines for games to be a little lacking and the characters a little stiff, but that's because that's not quite the experience. The experience is for you to numb your thumbs on your controller, kicking ass, driving cars or whatever you choose to do. I would say the video games that have had me playing the most are those that are rich in storytelling, which have never been the average video game's MO. Because again, its not the point. Which has always made adapting games into movies a difficult task. How many video games have been adapted into movies? Now, think of how many of those adaptations which are actually good? Not many, if any at all.

I would say that "Assassin's Creed" the movie is the best video game adaptation so far. We have never seen another video game adaptation with such a stellar cast; which includes Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael K. Freaking Williams. (any movie or show's worth skyrockets with the inclusion of Michael K. Williams) We have never seen another video game adaptation presented on the scale that "Assassin's Creed" is on. The cinematography by Adam Arkapaw is beautiful. There are moments here, all throughout the film that are going to make fans of this game squeal in delight. The set up for a sequel within the final moments of the film are going to be too much for any fan of this series to resist. (If we get to a sequel, of course. And after this week so far, that is not a for sure deal. Note to self: stay away from Star Wars weekends!)

But everything I have mentioned so far is extra, its the icing on the cake, its the steak sauce you have muddled on your plate as you begin to cut through that juicy piece of meat. But if the meat isn't cooked to your liking, then how can the meal taste good? The extras of "Assassin's Creed" are fantastic, its just that everything else comes up short. Despite great actors committed to this enterprise, the movie never really comes to life as it should. Jeremy Irons, Marion Cotillard and Brendan Gleeson all look bored as hell throughout the entire movie. They aren't really playing characters, but these are types. Just like with video games, these types of characters are required in order to keep the story moving. Whether the story is engaging or not, doesn't really matter. Its like the filmmakers didn't even bother giving these actors actual characters to play, so they just kind of float through the movie, never making it come to life.

Michael Fassbender tries to make this come to life, but again, he barely has a character to play. Fassbender's character isn't really that likable. He's a guy on death row for murder and once he is given his lethal injection, he appears in front of Cotillard's Sophie Rikkin, who is a scientist for the Abstergo Industries, which is apparently a company bent on finding a cure for violence. He is forced to participate in the Animus Project; which allows him to live in the memories of his ancestor from the Spanish Inquisition. (Because a red-headed, pasty-skinned English-German man looks Spanish) We learn that his ancestor was an Assassin who gave his word to protect the Apple of Eden, which can control the free will of all people. The Apple is being hunted by the Knight's Templar and Fassbender's character needs to find where the Apple is located so that Abstergo Industries can use it to stop violence in the world. Fassbender's character isn't really a hero, just a guy who got lucky, and Fassbender works overtime to make him a smarmy human being, so why root for him? Simply because the movie makes us?

The fight scenes are actually quite superb. But it feels like you are watching somebody play a game instead of getting lost in the battle scenes. I guess that is the ground that gets covered in video game adaptations. If you are not a fan of shaky cam, there are only a few fight scenes in that camp, which is a good thing. For the most part, the fight scenes are clear to see and they are actually quite badass. It's just that they run way too long, and begin to look cartoonish after awhile.

I may have said that "Assassin's Creed" was the best video game adaptation so far, but that doesn't necessarily mean the movie is good. I liked definitely liked some things about it, but the good doesn't add up, and the bad certainly overcomes the good here. "Assassin's Creed" very much feels like a video game; a muddled plot, stiff characters, going along with the story just for the sake of it. This would be cool if we were actually playing the game. But we're not. We are watching a movie, and in this case, we are watching somebody play a game featuring a story and characters we could care less about.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Rogue One" is a compelling and exhilarating Star Wars story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review
If and how much you love "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" depends heavily on what type of fan you are. If you have dabbled in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, if you have enjoyed the games or comics or cartoons, and have enjoyed the greater media outlet provided by "Star Wars," you may enjoy "Rogue One" a lot. If you understand the universe in which the Star Wars movies takes place is a vast array of worlds and people, and you know that there are countless stories that could be told, then you may also enjoy "Rogue One" quite a bit. If you only see "Star Wars" as a 6+ movie series and nothing else, you still may enjoy "Rogue One," though you'll be left to ponder what the point of making it in the first place was.

For me, this is something that needed to happen. We needed a slight depart from the Skywalker story-line. We needed to start seeing where the borders and boundaries of this storytelling franchise truly lies. Sure, "Rogue One" basically boils down to the untold mission of how Princess Leia ended up with the plans to destroy the Death Star. "Rogue One" essentially sets the stage for "A New Hope." If the "Star Wars" saga was a chapter book, "Rogue One" would be the epilogue for chapter four. Again, if this doesn't count for you, then you may not like this outting. "Rogue One" certainly doesn't feel like the other films in the franchise. There is no opening crawl, and the classic John Williams score is mostly replaced by bold music by Michael Giacchino. If you ask me, the John Williams music should stay with the saga films, and we should let  these anthology movies exist on their own. "Rogue One" will be the first of (at least) three anthology movies we will witness in between the new episodes of this saga. We know the next one in 2018 will be the origin of Han Solo. What will really be interesting is in the future, if we see Star Wars movies that don't lead into the other saga movies or are not origin stories for classic characters. Could Disney and Lucasfilm pull off a completely different direction entirely?

Telling from "Rogue One," I say yes. I say the possibilities are endless. If Disney can keep hiring wonderful directors like Gareth Evans and keep assembling these great, iconic casts like they did here, the sky is the limit on this series. 

"Rogue One" begins, as all of these Star Wars films begin, with a ship hovering over the stars. The ship lands on a distant planet on the farm of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Imperial scientist who has decided to leave the Empire due to their ugly stamp they are pushing on the galaxy. The Empire is displeased with this sentiment, and they send Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to retrieve Galen or else. His wife is killed and Galen is taken by the Empire. Only his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) escapes, and spends most of life on the run, believing her father abandoned her, and also a prisoner of the Empire. One day, she is freed by the Rebellion, because they have a special mission for her. This is when the Rebellion first hears about the planet-destroying space station known as the Death Star and the rebels find evidence that Jyn's father may have had a hand in designing the Death Star, the rebels want Jyn to track down and find her father so that they may learn more about the Death Star and how to destroy it.

If "Rogue One" is about anything, its about redemption. Jyn needs to come to terms with what happened to her growing up. So many of the rebels believe that Jyn's father is a monster, and she needs to find some sort of closure, find out who he really was, for her sake and his. Jyn was raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a freedom fighter who is more of an extremist, even in the eyes of the rebellion. You may recognize the name if you watch any of the "Star Wars" cartoons and yes, its the same character from "The Clone Wars" cartoon. Saw made several mistakes when raising Jyn and important for him to come to terms with that. The Rebellion we see in this film is vastly different from any form of the Rebellion we see in previous movies and I am astounded Disney allowed for a movie like this to be made. This is a cold-blooded rebellion, unafraid to make the big choices to get people killed. The rebels, particularly Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), know that they did some unethical shit in order to keep the Rebellion alive, and they are not proud of it. But they believe that if they assist Jyn in her mission, then the dark aspects of this war won't be taken for granted, and they press on. Its a remarkable message.

In fact, this is the roughest and edgiest "Star Wars" film I can name. Just because Disney bought Lucasfilm, don't expect a typical Disney-style ending like what has been happening with the Marvel films lately. To say everybody leaves this movie with scars would be a severe understatement. I won't be getting into spoilers here, but this is the first Star Wars movie that really gets into the devastation of war, the cost of war, and what it truly means to be a war hero. This is a gritty movie at moments, a rough-around-the-edges movie at other moments. But it never stops being a "Star Wars" movie, it always stays within the spirit of what came before, while also being something new on its own.

To name my favorite character would be a high endurance test that I am simply not ready for. You may love Jyn Erso who is perfectly brought to life by Felicity Jones. This isn't some girl-power Social Justice Warrior inclusion here, she really drives and defines the movie for the audience and I can't see this movie playing out any other way. You may also like Cassian, who is brought to life astoundingly by Luna. Cassian really isn't some Han Solo analogue. Luna makes Cassian his own, and he does it well. Alan Tudyk appears as K-2SO, an Imperial droid that was reprogrammed to serve the Rebellion. These movies have done an impeccable job in making their droid characters count, and "Rogue One" doesn't disappoint. Get ready to fall in love with a brand-new droid, whose riveting final scene in the film is just breathtaking. Then there is Donnie Yen's Chirruit Imwe, a Force-sensitive blind man whose weapon-of-choice is some kind of futuristic staff. Although he does have this bow-blaster type weapon that is all sorts of crazy cool. His scene where he beats down a pack of storm troopers, single-handedly, with no blaster is so much fun. Donnie Yen is clearly having the time of his life playing the character and he will go down in history of "Star Wars" lore, as will his best friend Baze (Jiang Wen) whose shotgun-style blaster is pretty damn cool too! There is also Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial pilot who defected from the Empire. Riz Ahmed was a recent discovery on HBO's "The Night Of" and he proves here that he can do anything with his acting career moving forward.

There are also plenty of old characters who make appearances. The small yet substantial scenes with Darth Vader are pure "Star Wars" magic. Jimmy Smitts returns as Bail Organa for a couple scenes. Mon Mothra, C-3PO and R2D2 make appearances. The film doesn't really stop for these footnotes, the movie keeps steadily flowing and the story is really about these new characters. My main gripe revolves around the handling of CGI to depict classic Star Wars characters. See, Moff Tarkin shows up in the film, and at first I couldn't believe it. Because I know that Peter Cushing has been dead for over twenty years. Yet, his likeness is digitally attached to an actor in order for the character to appear here. While its fitting for Tarkin to show up here, isn't a little offensive to just include the likeness of a dead actor here? Did the studio get permission from Cushing's family in order to do this? It just seemed in bad taste to me. There is another example of this right before the credits, and could make your eyes roll a bit. But hey, the movie does what its supposed to do, so in a way, that scene is essential. But its hard to deny that you can definitely notice the CGI here with those two characters.

When you read the history of wars, whether its American history or World history, you always learn a great deal about the big guns. The big names each and every war has who take all the glory, who get the most footnotes and who you hear about the most. Our history books rarely delve into the thousands upon thousands of faceless soldiers who gave their lives for their homes, no matter where those homes are. This faceless horde is the backbone to every war and obviously no wars would be won without them. That is why "Rogue One" stands out as a movie. Its not about the big names that will be canonized in history, its about the other guys. Its a movie that puts war in the title "Star Wars" and I have a feeling that, the more I watch this, the more I am going to love it. I have heard so many people already declare that this is the best "Star Wars" since the original trilogy. I honestly don't know if I can agree with that after merely one sitting. The original trilogy has lived with me all my life, I just saw "Rogue One." The point is that it has potential to be on that level for me, it may take time to figure out. But the idea that "Rogue One" COULD be on the same level as the original trilogy should say something about its power. 

The Force is strong with this one, indeed.

FINAL GRADE: A

Monday, December 19, 2016

Quick Thoughts

Its that time of year.

That few weeks before the new year. Those few weeks when I am frantically cramming in all the films I missed for one reason or another, sometimes I am moving so fast that I don't get a chance to sit down and write a review. Because of this, I opt to do Quick Thoughts. These are mini-reviews of several films I have been watching the passed few weeks. I will write some quick thoughts, and get down to the nitty-gritty of whether or not you should see them or not. You may see several of these, since I trying to wrap up 2016 in film as well as possible. I am watching everything I can possibly get my grubby mitts on right now, anything I missed in the theater that I thought would be significant. There are some major films that will get my regular, drawn-out review, like "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," which I will see and review tomorrow.

For right now, enjoy what's below.

Swiss Army Man
When I describe this movie to you, you won't believe your eyes. The opening of this film finds Paul Dano's Hank attempting suicide after he is trapped on an island with seemingly no escape. Just as he's about to die, a body washes up to the shore. He tries to resuscitate it, but the corpse bemuses him with its incessant flatulence. As the tide begins to wash the corpse away, Hank watches as its farts propel itself around on the water. I know what you're thinking, this can't be real. I rewatched the opening a couple of times, just be sure I could believe what I was seeing.  Hank discovers that the body (played by Daniel Radcliffe) can be manipulated like a Swiss Army knife. He is able to do all sorts of things with the body and a strange relationship develops between the two. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are all acting their asses off here. What ensues is a very strange, yet very confident and funny motion picture. It just goes to show that original filmmaking can still happen in 2016 and that no matter how weird an idea is, if your execution is purposeful, you can make a good (even great) movie.

FINAL GRADE: A

MR. CHURCH
One of the greatest mysteries in Hollywood to me is what happened to Eddie Murphy. Why does he not seem himself anymore? Why is he not making good movies like "Beverly Hills Cop" or "Coming to America" anymore? It seems the dream that was once Eddie Murphy has died and whatever it is that exists now is the shell of a man he used to be. Sadly, "Mr. Church" doesn't change that. Eddie Murphy plays a man named Henry Church. He is a personal chef who enters the life of Marie (Natascha McElone) and her daughter Charlie (Britt Robinson). Church was hired by Marie's ex-lover to watch over Marie as she has cancer and only has six months to live, she eventually lives another six years and Church becomes a unofficial member of the family. We are never shown this through the film, we are told. The narration goes overboard and ruins the narrative of the film. The rest of the film is a massive cliche, and a huge collection of nuanced conveniences instead of genuine storytelling. Murphy himself? He doesn't come off like he's even trying, which is just sad all around.
FINAL GRADE: D

Memoirs of an International Assassin
Imagine you wrote the next, big-deal, top-knotch spy book. Imagine you took it to publisher after publisher all reaching towards disappointment. Then, out of the blue, your book is published. With a twist, instead of being sold as fiction, your spy book is sold as non-fiction. That is the basis for this new Netflix original. Kevin James is an author who has written an awesome piece of spy fiction, a piece that sadly no one wants. Suddenly, an online publishing community picks up his book out of nowhere and things seem to finally be going his way. Except the book is being sold as a memoir, paintking James' average Joe Schmoe as an international killer! So of course, he gets roped into an international plot, as everyone thinks he's an assassin. It would be a fun premise for a comedy and Kevin James certainly comes to the table ready to play. Andy Garcia, Rob Riggle and Kim Coates do a good job co-starring. The film itself is oddly one-note. With the cast at play, barely any of the film is funny. It also gets a little out-of-hand with its double-crosses and the film begins to feel long. There are some strong performances and little energy. Some memorable moments but not much else.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Mascots
Did you ever see "Best In Show" or "A Mighty Wind?" Well this is another mockumentary comedy brought to you by the team behind those films. It stars a lot of the same actors and instead of focusing on a dog show or the return of a popular band, "Mascots" is about Mascots. We follow a group of mascots from different schools competing in a mascot dancing competition. What "Best In Show" and "A Mighty Wind" had in spades was energy throughout, by the time the third or fourth mascot person was introduced, I was bored. This is not as nearly as funny as "Best In Show" and "A Mighty Wind" were. Its a boring sludge of a movie, completely hard to get through and a hard one to remember after watching.

FINAL GRADE: D-

Blade Runner 2049 Announcement

I love "Blade Runner," its one of our few science fiction masterpieces. Something that really changed the genre and helped define it. Its one of the many great Harrison Ford films, a great portrait of his grand early days. I didn't know what to expect when Ridley Scott decided to return to "Blade Runner." But hey, the guy returned to "Alien." I know I am one of the people in the minority here, but I love "Prometheus." I absolutely love it, and I don't care who knows it. I am as curious as I can possibly be about "Alien: Covenant," and I sincerely hope I enjoy that film as well. But as I was saying, sometimes it can be a curse to return to something so many years later, but other times it can be a blessing. Ridley Scott doesn't have the strongest record and his work is often inconsistent, but I look forward to seeing what can come next with this. They are already off to a good start getting Ryan Gosling in this thing as a new character. I am also curious to see how Harrison Ford does returning to this franchise.


Trailer Talk: "Dunkirk," "War of the Planet of the Apes," "Fate of the Furious"

There are have been many exciting trailers the past few weeks, and I can barely keep up with all of them. Let's take a look at some of the coming attractions this week.

Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk"
Christopher Nolan has accomplished so much within the last decade and a half that he pretty much can do whatever he wants. He has become such an exciting, ambitious filmmaker that I get excited by his mere name, like Quentin Tarantino. This summer, he will unleash a World War I film entitled "Dunkirk," about the battle of Dunkirk. The teaser trailer pulled us in and now we get a better glimpse of what to expect this summer. Nolan regulars Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy will be in the film and it looks pretty good. Take a look...



Dom goes bad in the "Fate of the Furious" trailer!
Even after the tragic death of Paul Walker, the "Fast and Furious" franchise is not stopping, and continues to put the pedal to the floor. With the eighth film in the series on the horizon, Dom gets sketchy and turns on the team after the mysterious Charlize Theron appears, apparently having a past with Dom.  Regulars Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Kurt Russell, The Rock and Jason Statham all will be returning for the sequel. I will be interested to see how this one shakes out. I think the "Fast and Furious" franchise has greatly improved from what it used to be. Sure, its a shameless, silly summer blockbuster machine now, but the films are so confident and crazy that its hard not to flip for them. I hope they continue to raise the bar.



War of the Planet of the Apes
If you were to ask me back in 2011 that I'd both love a prequel to "Planet of the Apes," and be completely rabid for more afterward, I would have laughed in your face. But sometimes when you think you Hollywood all figured out, sometimes it comes and surprises you. I love and adore both "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," way more than I ever thought possible. Now, I have to see this play out. I am caught in the web. With the addition of Woody Harrelson, this is going to be one to remember


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Shin Godzilla" is the only disaster Resurgence you should be interested in.

Shin Godzilla Review
When I was growing up, some of my first, fond memories of movie watching were the old school "Godzilla" movies. I watched the movies where Godzilla was a "villain." I watched the movies where Godzilla battled other monsters. I have always had a fondness for the character for as long as I could remember. I was in third grade when the 1998 "Godzilla" movie came out. The one with Matthew Broderick, it took place in New York, it had a Roger Ebert parody, you know the movie. I may have liked it as a kid, but as I grew older, it just didn't hold up. Thankfully, I did enjoy the 2014 Gareth Evans film that came out a few years ago.

For fans of the old school Godzilla movies, "Shin Godzilla," (aka Godzilla Resurgence) is for you. A classic style Godzilla movie where the city of Tokyo, Japan is threatened by the popular kaiju. Yes, Godzilla looks very reminiscent of his past days, but with today's editing and some minor special effects work gives this film a updated look but still keeping in the spirit of the films that came before.

The story itself is simple. Something awakens a monster under the seas of Japan, it gets to the surface to wreak havoc. It evolves from form to form, becoming more powerful and larger as he evolves. The third form of Godzilla in particular, crawling and wide-eyed, is particularly haunting. The government of Japan and representatives from around the world get together to destroy the monster. That's essentially the plot. Sadly, there are not cool monster versus monster battles in this movie. Just a classic man versus nature tale.

What struck me is the movie is surprisingly scientific. This isn't a film whose climax is a simple matter of punching Godzilla hard enough until he dies. The team in charge of bringing the monster down gets into the nitty-gritty of the safest way to save the world. The attention to detail and character development is mesmerizing. The Japanese ensemble all do good work and I am glad that this monster put its script first, instead of being a mere eye-candy, joy ride.

Godzilla himself has a few modifications. He has his typical fire breathe. But he also can shoot purple energy beams out of the spikes on his back. Didn't remember that from any of the old movies.

If you are a fan of the classic Godzilla movies, "Shin Godzilla" will no doubt be for you. This is a fun update on a lost subgenres of movies. If you don't like subtitles, I would warn you off this too. This is an authentic film with no horrid dubbing over words. There are some parts with English, feeling kind of Quentin Tarantinian in style. Overall, I enjoyed this return to form.

FINAL GRADE: B+


Monday, December 12, 2016

"Loving" delivers lively performances, little love

Loving Review
The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is actually an incredible story. An interracial couple who fell in love and married in 1958. They lived in Virginia, which was a state that didn't allow interracial marriage, and the couple was jailed, more than once and banished from the state. The family relocated to Washington D.C. and fought to go back to their home-state to raise their family. They worked in the legal system and eventually their case was taken to the Surpreme Court where deeming interracial marriage illegal was unconstitutional and they eventually came back to Virginia.

That's an incredible story. I felt with Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga playing Richard and Mildred, the film was in good hands. When I saw that Jeff Nichols was directing the film, I figured it was in good hands. I mean, Jeff Nichols has directed "Take Shelter," my favorite film of 2011, he directed "Mud" one of my favorite films of 2013, and he also directed "Midnight Special" which came out earlier this year, and yes its one of my favorites of the year so far. Jeff Nichols is easily one of the most gifted directors working right now, and each film he makes certainly doesn't feel like his others, which is a good thing. I certainly wouldn't compare "Loving" to anything else in that list above. Creating a completely original filmography is definitely good for any artist.

But is that all "Loving" is good for? Of all the movies Jeff Nichols has made so far, "Loving" is the least alive out of the bunch. The entire movie feels like its moving in slow motion, never picking up slack or speed. There is usually a rough, edgy anesthetic to Nichol's films, and in the rough times of the racist South, I thought I'd be able to feel that anesthetic, but its completely missing here. I can't believe a movie about such a prolific case could be so boring. 

Ruth Negga has definitely emerged as a discovery over the last few years. She was someone of interest when she appeared on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and I really enjoyed her work on AMC's "Preacher." She does fantastic work here, and her chemistry with Joel Edgerton is quaint yet delightful. There is a quiet resilience that builds between the two of them, and while its subtle, it can be overwhelming at times. There is no doubt that both Negga and Edgerton came to work for this, its just that the script let's them down. Its a laundry list of cliches. A film like this should feel angry and urgent and while the lead performances are good, it never quite reaches that urgency.

Martin Csokas appears as the cliched racist cop who is mostly a thorn in the lead's side throughout the film. That's his only purpose, all though he does it well. Of course, this being a Jeff Nichols film, Michael Shannon shows up and he has a nice performance. Even if its brief. The biggest surprise is Nick Kroll, a usual funny-man who delivers a sweet performance of real dramatic purpose.

I wish I could say I tumbled on the floor as hard as everyone else did for this one. I should note that its absolutely worth seeing. Sensitivity in this movie is good, dignity in a movie like this good, but there was not enough emotionality needed to make this movie work completely. Which is rather surprising, since Nichols usually gets that done in his sleep. Its far from a bad movie, just lacks forward momentum.

FINAL GRADE: B

"Nocturnal Animals" is a wickedly delightful story!

Nocturnal Animals Review
What drives us to do the things we do? How do we react to things? Is how we are brought up? Is it due to the intensity of the moment? What is it about human beings that forces us to react to things, to make decisions, to cave into our surroundings? How strong are you? How weak are you? Do your strengths and weaknesses play a role in your relationships, or professions or ambitions?

These questions drive the narrative of "Nocturnal Animals," the new movie by Tom Ford, based on the novel by Austin Wright. This is a movie that will definitely have you thinking. During the movie, after the movie, days after the movie. Its been over a full twenty-four hours since I've seen it and I still have not been able to shake it. I guess that is what happened when a thriller gets so far under your skin, penetrating your soul. "Nocturnal Animals" is a movie that begs you to get lost in it. Actually, that's not true. It doesn't beg, absolutely fucking no begging. Instead, the movie grabs you by the hair, throws you in the car and takes you on this wild ride, making sure your disoriented throughout.

That's pretty evident in the opening sequence, which is without a doubt, the most iconic opening sequence you'll see in a movie all year. I am not going to describe it, I am not going to type one single sentence or word about it. It just is, and if you are still willing to follow the white rabbit down the hole of  this story after that opening sequence, then get ready for what's coming. The story follows Susan Marrow (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who lives in Los Angeles. The art she showcases has a rough edge, but its led her to have a lavish lifestyle. That lifestyle begins to feel threatened when her husband (Armie Hammer) is constantly on the road on business trips. She suspects he's cheating, after all she can sense the feeling. She did the same thing to her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she left after cheating on him. 

One day, Susan abruptly receives a book transcript from Edward, who was aspiring to be an author. Not only is it weird that Edward his ex-wife a transcript out of the blue, but he dedicated the book to her. She opens it up one long weekend when her husband is away, and she gets lost in it.

Susan begins to do what I feel like we all do when we are reading books. When I read a book, I imagine actors or regular people in the roles of the characters of the book. In Susan's case, we get a glimpse of what she pictures through the descriptions. Gyllenhaal also plays Tony Hastings, the main character in Edward's book, who takes his wife (Isla Fisher) and their daughter (Ellie Bamber) on a road trip in West Texas. They are toyed around with another car on the road, and eventually Tony's wife and daughter are kidnapped by three creeps, led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Tony is left stranded and he gets a hold of the police. Tony later finds out from officer Andes (Michael Shannon) that his wife and daughter were raped and murdered by Ray and his boys. So Tony and Andes go on the trail to find them.

As Susan is reading this deeply disturbing book, she begins to reminisce about her relationship with Edward. And as weird things begin happening around her, we get the sense that perhaps there is much more to the intentions of Edward and sending Susan a copy of his book. The best advice I can give when going into this movie is don't overthink it. However, don't try to tell me that the abrupt ending is meaningless, because its absolutely not meaningless. I want to revisit this one to go over its meanings, but something is definitely there. Clues to Edward's intentions are laced throughout the entire movie, and you have to be willing to piece them together in order to get it.

Amy Adams is spectacular here, she is having such a great end-year that I forgive her for "Batman vs. Superman." She wraps herself in the character of Susan and creates a bruised portrait of this deeply flawed woman. I have never seen her so alive onscreen in awhile. She takes in every scene, she shines in every moment, desperate to make the scenes hers. And I got to say she succeeds on nearly every level.

Then there's Jake Gyllenhaal and the characters of Tony and Edward are both similar to each other, but there is a reason for that, something I can't quite get into yet. Truth be told, I can't imagine playing two different characters in one movie, but Gyllenhaal makes it all look so easy. I know he's not the first actor in history to pull this off, but the effortless manner in which he does it is applaud-worthy. 

Oh, and I need to give a special mention to Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He's a guy you know whether you realize it or not. He's the main character in the "Kick-Ass" movies. He was Quicksilver in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," He was in "Savages," "Anna Karenina" and "Godzilla." I've enjoyed Taylor-Johnson's presents in all of his films so far, but his work here is his best work to date. Bar none. Ray Marcus is a slimeball of a character, a vile sonofabitch and Taylor-Johnson relishes every moment in the character's skin. He really is an iconic creep. Taylor-Johnson, Adams and Gyllenhaal are all guided with Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen and Michael Shannon all of whom also do great work here. 

Its amazing how "Nocturnal Animals" is bleakly funny at moments, but then disgustingly serious in other parts. Also be ready for a juicy jump scare that actually got my entire auditorium to react, deeming every horror film that came out this year jealous. You'll know it when you see it and it totally got me. But most importantly, soak up every detail, keep your eyes open, because the ending does mean something. If there is one thriller you see all year, make it "Nocturnal Animals."

FINAL GRADE: A+

Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Miss Sloane" presents an abhorrent political backdrop!

Miss Sloane Review
The year 2016 has been a strange year politically, and I think "Miss Sloane" is no doubt perfectly timed. While dealing in the world of political lobbying and not in the worlds of senators and presidents, but its still an effective piece about about the do's and don't's of politics and how its sometimes a competition and almost a game. 

We meet Miss Sloane (Jessica Chastain) in a meeting with her attorney as the film opens. They are prepping for a trial of some kind and it quickly becomes evident that Miss Sloane is in some kind of trouble with the law. She is presented before a group of senators including Senator Sterling (John Lithgow), and after every question thrown at her, she simply refers to the fifth amendment. Whatever kind of pickle she's in, its clearly serious and you are left wondering if she is truly guilty of something. Its an astounding way to begin a film and it definitely ropes you in.

We learn that Sloane is a no-nonsense, thriving, destructive lobbyist for the political right. She is very good at what she does, and has garnered a successful yet somewhat notorious reputation. If there was any time to brainstorm a crazy crossover with other popular culture, I would absolutely loose my mind if Miss Sloane ever met President Frank Underwood. But I get off topic. She is eventually introduced to Senator Bob Sanford (Chuck Shamata), who a gung-ho gun supporter trying to improve the female vote. He presents his ideas to her, and she completely laughs him off, which gets her in trouble with her superiors. She can't help it though, she may work for the political right, but she has an informed opinion about guns. Somehow this meeting with Bob Sanford creates an epiphany inside of her and she jumps ship to lobbying firm run by Rodolpho Schmitt (Mark Strong) who are pushing for a bill that will change how easily people can buy guns in this country.

You may be sensitive about the gun issue in this country, but the film isn't interested in shoving a political agenda down your throat. Instead, the movie is about her lobbying firm clashes with her old lobbying firm in order to get the new gun reform bill passed. Sloane uses any means necessary, whether they are ethical or not, to get this bill past. Why not? So is the other side. The thing is, Sloane is completely unpredictable, and there is no telling what she has rolled up her sleeve at any given moment. If "Miss Sloane" works for you, part of the reason why it will is because Jessica Chastain is so relentless in the lead role. She is definitely sending her to the front rows of the Academy Awards next year, no doubt. Will she win? Not sure, still got some other big leading lady performances to see, but as of right now she's got a hot ticket. She's never come off this alive before and she really keeps this ship moving. She is well helped by an incredible ensemble of supporting actors, including Strong, Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (whose performance should generate a very special recognition and could be an early contender for supporting actress), Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy and Sam Waterston. All of whom do great work.

Its a pretty smart and sophisticated script by Jonathon Perera except for maybe that ending. You are either going to flip for the ending or you are going to declare it a waste of time. I think Chastain handles the ending scene very well. But there is a little bit of phoniness to it. I feel as if there is a little too much convenience laced in the last five or so minutes, and that kind of took me out of the experience. I think its the moment that will divide audiences the most and how much you've been paying attention will determine how well it works for you. I find myself somewhere in the middle, I liked the ending, but its a little nonsensical.

Truth be told, we don't have too many smart political dramas and it was about high time we had one. I think the main reason to see the movie is to see Jessica Chastain throwdown. She does incredible work and it will be duly noted as the year comes to a close. The cast as a whole does a good job, just don't be surprised if the film falls apart slightly at the end.

FINAL GRADE: B

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Almost Christmas Review

Almost Christmas Review
What is it about the Christmas comedy that always leads to films about dysfunctional families?

I mean, yes its the time of year when we are getting together with family, whether we want to or not. My dad always said that you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family and over the course of my life, I have learned that both the easy way and the hard way. There is nothing that brings out the best and worst of a family than a holiday. Christmas in particular simply reeks of it. 

But when does the Christmas comedy slide into familiarity? At this rate, we have see so many variations of the same storyline that it feels like the Christmas comedy feels obsolete. I mean, even my favorite Christmas comedy, "Christmas Vacation," is simply the adventure and celebration of the Christmas holiday by a dysfunctional family. Year after year when these movies get made, they all feel the same. Family gets together. Slapstick events happen. Family learns something about the family. Family comes together and learns the meaning of Christmas. Done. Rinse. Repeat. Its getting to the point were its almost too generic.

"Almost Christmas" is that typical, carbon copy Christmas movie. For many years, Walter Meyer (Danny Glover) wife cooked and got everybody for Christmas. But recently, Walter's wife passed away. Now its  up to Walter to get his four children together for the Christmas celebration and its going to be hard getting everything planned. Rachel (Gabrielle Union) and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) are Walter's daughters who are constantly at odds with each other. His two sons, Christian (Romany Malco) and Evan (Jessie Usher) are so preoccupied by their occupations that they are missing the holiday. Of course, these various storylines are laced with comedy. But...ALSO, Walter is harboring a secret that will change the families lives, and he's patiently waiting on when to display that information.

The whole movie is telegraphed from the start. We know Rachel and Cheryl could love each other more, but we know they will come around by the end of the movie. We know Evan and Christian are too involved in their work, but we know they will learn the meaning of family through this particular holiday. It may seem like I have spoiled this movie, but I really haven't. We have seen so much of this formula that it doesn't stick. "Almost Christmas" doesn't bring anything innovative to the table, so it will go unmemorable.

Worse yet, the film just isn't funny.

There are a few good points. Danny Glover is a charming actor, and nothing can withstand the charm and wit of Glover. I think Union, Elise, Malco and Usher do what they can, but the script lets their characters and talents down in major ways. Its so painfully familiar that I wonder what the point of all it was.

FINAL GRADE: D+

Spiderman: Homecoming Trailer

I love that Jimmy Kimmel Live has become a Mecca of all things Marvel movie news. At least as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned. I mean, I get it. Disney owns ABC, Disney owns Marvel, put two and two together. I may have to stay up late, but I love getting a good glimpse of what's to come, and in the case of Spider-Man, oh man it was awesome.

I have posted two halves of the trailer for "Spiderman: Homecoming" on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages. Its the shittiest of shit quality, and I am sure you can find a better version on YouTube right now. But I don't care. I was so excited and I had to throw it out there. 

"Spiderman: Homecoming" looks great. It looks like Tom Holland is still the perfect Spiderman and Peter Parker. Yes, I still don't throw the P-word around too much, but there is not another actor that embodies everything these two characters represent. It looks like Spiderman's relationship with Tony Stark will be a big plot point in this movie, this is a very Stark-centric trailer. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. We get one good look at Michael Keaton, and only a couple good looks at Vulture. But I think Vulture looks pretty good. There looks to be a nice blend of humor and drama. It looks like there are going to be a couple shots of Parker in pain, so it may not all be sunshine and rainbows.

This is all shown through the musical charm of MGMT's "Time To Pretend" Nice touch!

Check it out for yourself, in good YouTube quality!