Friday, January 20, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

My ViewxXx: Return of Xander Cage  (2017)  PG-13  Just when you thought Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) was dead, he comes out of exile to help the CIA recover a powerful weapon known as “Pandora’s Box” before the evil villain Xiang (Donnie Yen) can acquire it.  This is the kind of movie that I call “stupid fun.” You know going in that it will be over-the-top, the plot will be there just to do more and more stunts, and Vin Diesel will do some things that even Superman couldn’t do. Have there been better action films? Sure, Fast and Furious 6 comes to mind, but I did enjoy this film where Vin Diesel skis down a mountain that doesn’t have any snow.  There are new additions to the xXx group and a couple of surprise guests that help move the film at a quick pace. The ending seems a little forced, but I had a good time watching all the action sequences.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee   xXx: Return of Xander Cage Website
My ViewSplit  (2016)  PG-13  After a birthday party, three girls (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Anya Taylor-Joy) are kidnapped. Their captor Kevin (James McAvoy) suffers from the rare dissociative identity disorder where he has 23 split personalities. The girls must now find one of those personalities to help them escape before the arrival of the 24th and final personality, the “beast.” This is a strange film to watch, mostly due to the 23 personalities that James McAvoy portrays. This is a solid piece of horror filmmaking plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing.  It’s a wild ride that makes an excellent thriller. The film’s backstory on Anya Taylor-Joy’s character is well thought out, and her performance is one of the best things in this film. And there is a very big reveal at the end of the film that is jaw dropping. This is certainly more in line with what we expected that M. Night Shyamalan would put out after his groundbreaking The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.   My Rating: Full Price   Split Website
My View:  The Founder  (2016)  PG-13  The story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who turned a small hamburger shop into Mc Donald’s, the biggest restaurant business in the world.  Ray Kroc wasn’t a nice guy, as he would do just about anything to get his way. Michael Keaton gives a scintillating performance of a ruthless, unlikeable man. The film is highly enjoyable in the first half of the film, but it loses its way when the most interesting characters in the movie, the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch), are forgotten during most of the second half of the movie. It’s a hard look at a man who hid behind the American flag and family values to steal a company from two honest to a fault brothers.  My Rating: Bargain Matinee   The Founder Website
Indiefest:   20th Century Women  (2016)   Set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979, a free spirit mother (Annette Benning) seeks help from her two housemates (Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning) with raising her son (Lucas Jade Zumann).  Benning has never been better in the role of a woman who seems to be stuck in the 1960s. Her character appears to be constantly trying to figure out each person whom she meets, and her performance is nuanced and never over-the-top. The rest of the cast is outstanding with Greta Gerwig putting in an excellent performance as a photographer who is a cancer survivor. The film is an enjoyable look at a teenage boy and the three women who are collectively raising him.   My Rating:  Full Price   20th Century Women Website
Forgotten FilmThe Dark Half (1993)  R  After writing under an assumed name, writer Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton), decides to write under his own name. Thad’s life is turned upside down when he is framed for a series of murders that he could not have committed. This is one of the better adaptations of a Stephen King work, and while flawed, George A. Romero knows how to open a horror film.  My Rating: Bargain Matinee   The Dark Half Info

Weird Credits:  From the credits of The Founder:  Choreographer

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You: The Lego Batman Movie  (2017) PG   Bruce Wayne as Batman must deal with the criminals of Gotham City, but he also has to deal with a young boy he has adopted. I can’t wait for this film to come out.  The teaser trailer was so much fun.  The Lego Batman Movie Website
Until Next Time!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Patriot's Day

My ViewPatriot’s Day  (2016)  R  The events leading up to and the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing are showcased in this film. A city cop (Mark Wahlberg) is determined to find the men responsible for hurting so many people and will stop at nothing to find them as a city is  stunned by the brutal act. This is a moving film that, at times, due to the violence committed, is tough to watch. The movie is bolstered by brilliant performances from John Goodman as the Boston Police Commissioner and J.K  Simmons as a small town police chief. The film does an outstanding job of using some of the real footage of the bombing, blending it in with the re-creation of the event. The film, while it does show the terrorists, focuses more on not just the attempt to find the men responsible, but how ordinary people responded to the event and its aftermath. The ending of the film is one of the best things about this movie, with its message that love is how we will overcome these attacks on our homes and lives.  My Rating: Full Price   Patriot's Day Website
Disclosure: I work for a CBS owned station and this film is distributed by CBS Films.
My ViewLive by Night  (2016)  R  Set in the prohibition era, Joe (Ben Affleck) is sent by the mob to the Tampa Bay area to run their rum-running organization. There he encounters Graciela (Zoe Saldana) who helps him take over the town, but Joe’s enemies of the past may just catch up with him. This film is beautifully shot, perfectly capturing the mood and look of the 1920’s, but the film feels almost empty, even though it is over two hours long.  The film moves slowly, and Affleck, who wrote and directed the film, doesn’t seem to be too interested in playing his part of the hoodlum with a heart of gold. The action sequences are confusing as it’s hard to tell who is who when the gunfire starts.  I have loved some of Ben Affleck’s previous films, especially The Town (2010) and Argo (2012), but this movie feels lifeless and predictable.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee   Live by Night Website
My ViewThe Bye Bye Man  (2017)  PG-13  Three friends (Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas) move into an old, off-campus house.They soon discover that their house is haunted by the Bye Bye Man, a mysterious figure who just might be the root cause of the evil behind man’s most unspeakable acts. I have seen better student films than this mess of a movie. The special effects look like they were created for a 1960’s TV show. The acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, with Cressida Bonas particularly standing out. Her scenes are just painful to watch.  It’s sad that Faye Dunaway, an Oscar-winning icon, has to stoop this low to be in this film. The plot is predictable, and the few scary moments only happen because something or someone jumps out of the dark. I wanted to say “Bye Bye Man” in the first fifteen minutes so that he would come and take me out of my misery.   My Rating: You Would Have to Pay See Me to See it Again   The Bye Bye Man Website
IndiefestElle  (2016)  R  Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is a businesswoman who, one day, is violently attacked and raped by a masked assailant. Michele makes it her mission to find out who the rapist is and get her revenge. Let me be upfront right from the start, you are not going to like Michele or the decisions that she makes. This is an audacious film that jumps back and forth between grim drama and almost lighthearted comedy. The reason to see this film is Huppert’s performance and the determined businesswoman who is driven to find the masked assailant. It’s an unnerving portrayal that only someone as skilled as Huppert could pull off.  Elle is a film that will keep you guessing until the end, and it will continually shock you as the story unfolds.   My Rating: Full Price   Elle Facebook Page
IndiefestPaterson  (2016)  R  Paterson (Adam Driver)is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. His days are very simple, driving a bus, writing poetry in a notebook and stopping at his local bar for a beer. His girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) has big plans that are ever-changing. Somehow, this couple makes it work as Paterson observes his city from the bus driver’s seat. Paterson is a sweet, delightful film that looks at life in small-town America through the eyes of a man who loves his life and poetry. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch brings a small sample of the blissful life that Paterson and his wife live, a couple happy to celebrate the little moments in their lives. Adam Driver gives a wonderfully understated performance as a man who is content in his life and his work. Driver and Golshifteh Farahani, as his wife, play off each other with outstanding chemistry, as he lets his character’s delight show as his wife tells him of her new art project or dinner invention. You will enjoy spending seven days with Paterson, so much so, that you will wish once the movie ends that you could extend your stay for another week.    My Review: Full Price   Paterson Facebook Page 
Forgotten FilmThe Mighty  (1998)  PG-13  Max and Kevin make an unlikely pair of friends.  Max (Elden Henson) is a big kid who gets constantly picked on by his classmates. Kevin (Kieran Culkin) has Morquio’s syndrome, where the bones stop growing but the organs continue to develop.  This is a delightful family friendly tale of friendship and healing. The cast is outstanding including a splendid performance by Sharon Stone as Kevin’s mother and Gena Rowlands as Max’s grandmother who is forced to raise him when Kevin’s father (James Gandolfini) is convicted of killing Kevin’s mom. The message of the film is perfect for kids to experience as Max and Kevin prove that our weaknesses can become our strength’s if we just work together.  My Rating: Full Price   The Mighty Info

Weird Credits:  From the credits of The Bye Bye Man:  Gloomsinger Animal Handlers

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You: The Founder (2016) PG-13   The story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who started a little hamburger business called McDonald's. I hear great things about Michael Keaton’s performance. The film was written by Robert Siegel, who wrote The Wrestler (2008) and directed by John Lee Hancock, who directed The Blind Side (2009).    The Founder Website  

Until Next Time!

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Monster Calls

My ViewA Monster Calls (2016)  PG-13  Conor (Lewis MacDougal) is dealing with the one thing that any child fears, the illness of his mother (Felicity Jones). One night, Conor meets a “monster” (Liam Neeson) who is in the shape of a giant tree. The monster promises to help Conor deal with the sadness of his life.  This is a visually stunning movie that is more for adults than kids. It’s a solemn film that deals with death, childhood bullying, and grief. The film is moving and brought tears to my eyes at several places as Conor deals with the dark realization that life sometimes really hurts. MacDougal is impressive as the kid who sees a tree come to life as a big monster. There are some beautiful animated sequences as the Monster tells Conor stories to teach him about love and life. This film is a tale that is rarely happy, but in the end, I had enjoyed my experience with the monster and Conor.  My Rating: Full Price   A Monster Calls Website

My ViewSilence  (2016)  R  In the seventeenth century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) travel to Japan to find their mentor (Liam Neeson). They soon find that they are not welcome in this foreign country so far from home and their lives are in danger. This is a beautifully shot film that I found to be just a little bit boring. Like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, this film also explores religion and faith. While the film is breathtaking in its visuals, I found the plot very repetitious, as we see at least five different ways the Japanese torture people to get the priests to revoke their vows. Andrew Garfield’s performance is a little too over-the-top for me. I got very tired of Garfield constantly breaking down, and he keeps falling for the same problems throughout the movie. I really felt the running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. I think if the film had been much shorter, it would have had more of an impact on me, but I must confess, this just isn’t my type of film. Other critics whom I saw the film with were moved by it and felt that it was a superior film, but I just can’t agree with them.  My Rating: Bargain Matinee   Silence Website

In Case You Missed It (A Film Just Released on DVD/Blu-ray)Denial  (2016)  PG-13  Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is in the legal battle of her life when Holocaust denier, David Irving (Timothy Spall), accuses her of libel in a British court. The film is based on a true story, and that’s what makes it so riveting.  Weisz masterfully plays the headstrong woman who makes a stand against a bigoted bully. Her performance is captivating, and, at times, you can almost see the steam coming off her head when her character gets intensely mad. Timothy Spall is perfect as the smug so-called “historian,” as he portrays the man as someone who isn’t as smart as he thinks. Tom Wilkinson gives one of his best performances as the wine drinking lawyer who represents Professor Lipstadt in her case. It’s a compelling and engaging courtroom drama that will have you on the edge of your seat until the end.   My Rating:  Full Price   Denial Website

In Memory of Ed Wood (A Movie I've Only Seen in Trailers But Just Looks Like a Bad Idea)Monster Trucks (2016)  PG  The film was inspired by a talk between the former president of Paramount Pictures and his four-year-old son. His idea:  Big trucks that have monsters in them.  Considering that this film has been sitting on the shelf since 2014, I think I will stay on the highway and not get off on the Monster Truck exit.   Monster Trucks Website

Forgotten FilmSeven Minutes in Heaven  (1985)  PG-13  Natalie (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenager whose mother is dead, and her father is always on the road with his job.  Her friend Jeffrey (Byron Thames) is having trouble with his stepfather, and Natalie lets him crash at her house.  Polly (Maddie Corman) is Natalie’s best friend and is always meddling in Natalie’s life. I like this film because it’s very different from most of the teen “coming-of-age” movies from the eighties. The characters in this movie have real life problems that they realistically must deal with. I love the ending of this film as it doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat conclusion, though you do figure that all three kids will end up being significant adults.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee  Seven Minutes in Heaven Info

Weird Credits:  From the credits of A Monster Calls:  Stand-in: The Monster

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You:  The Red Turtle  (2016) PG   This animated film about a castaway stuck on a deserted island populated by turtles, crabs, and birds, is making a lot of critics’ “Best of the Year” lists.    The Red Turtle Info 
Until Next Time!

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Top Twenty Films of 2016

My Top Twenty (One) Films of 2016

1).  La La Land  (2016)  PG-13  A musical about a determined jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) who falls in love with an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles. This is a magical film that tips its hat to the old Hollywood classic musicals of the past. Gosling and Stone have chemistry that makes their romance so believable. The singing and dancing by Stone and Gosling is so effortless and beautiful that it makes it a joy to watch. The opening number is one of the most amazing dance sequences that I have ever seen on the screen, and the final dance sequence of the film is just unbelievably gorgeous. I have watched this movie three times, and each time I had a smile on my face throughout. In fact, I felt as if I should have danced across the lobby after I saw the film. 
2).  Hell or High Water  (2016)  R  A divorced father (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) plan a series of bank robberies to save the family farm from foreclosure. A tough Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his partner (Gil Birmingham) are hot on the heels of the bank robbers. One of the best films of the year, mostly due to the outstanding, spot-on performances by the full cast. Writer Taylor Sheridan (who wrote the excellent “Sicario’) and director David Mackenzie have conceived a moving and exciting modern western set in the small towns of West Texas. The characters, even down to the smaller parts, like a grumpy old waitress, are rich and complex. The backbone of this film is the performances by the main cast. Foster and Evans play off each other so well; it makes the idea that they are brothers easy to believe and even easier to understand their relationship and motives. Jeff Bridges is scintillating to watch as he melds into the Texas Ranger who just might be hoping to go out in a flurry of bullets rather than fade away in retirement.  This is one film you will not want to miss.
3) Moonlight  (2016) R    Told in three acts, this timeless story of human connection and self-discovery follows the life of a young black man, Chiron, from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world.  A tender and breathtaking film about a young man who grows up before our eyes in a rough and tumble world. Right from the start, we sense that Chiron knows he is different from the rest of the children in his school. He becomes isolated, and a drug dealer is the only one who reaches out to take care of him, something even his own mother isn’t willing to do. This is a film about how the choices you make when you are growing up have far-reaching consequences. It’s a brilliant film filled with small moments that continue to build until the exquisite ending is reached. All three actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and  Trevante Rhode) who portray Chiron are dazzling in the film, but Rhode as the adult Chiron, especially stands out. Writer/director Barry Jenkins is a talent to watch if this movie foretells his future.
4).  The Nice Guys  (2016)  R  In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) must work with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to find a missing girl. Along the way, they just might run into a few problems like stumbling onto a conspiracy that could get them killed. Co-written and directed by Shane Black, The Nice Guys is a laughed-filled, action-packed, good old-fashioned film noir mystery where Crowe, and especially Gosling, shine. Crowe plays the straight man to Gosling’s goofy Holland. Jackson is a part that isn’t easy to do, but Crowe plays off Gosling brilliantly, giving his character a world-weary menace. Gosling shows a talent for slapstick, bringing to mind Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau. Some of the best scenes in the film involve Gosling just falling, and he does it a lot…off roofs, down hills, and even across rooms. Black’s script, co-written by Anthony Bagarozzi, takes us on a very complex and funny adventure into the seedy world of bars, pornography, and, wait for it, car manufacturing. The dialogue is quick and witty with some great cultural references of the 70’s mixed in. Like Black’s under-appreciated 2005 film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys perfectly captures the quirky pulp fiction style of filmmaking, combined with impressive action sequences, sidesplitting comedy and superb performances from Gosling and Crowe.
5).  Manchester by the Sea  (2016)  R  When his brother, Joe, dies, Lee (Casey Affleck) is forced to take care of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) in his hometown. The big problem with going back to your hometown is you have to see people you left to avoid. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan brings us a tale of heartbreak, grief and the attempt to heal wounds from the past. It's an achingly beautiful film that follows Lee and Patrick as they try to deal with all the big and small stuff that has to be handled after a death in the family. Full of pain and guilt, Affleck's performance is a wonder to watch. It's a complex performance worthy of what should be an Academy Award nomination. Manchester by the Sea is a film that perfectly explores the sense of loss when a death occurs, but it even better explores the human reaction to bad things when they happen to good people. Why did it happen and will the people left behind forgive themselves for surviving is what this film answers.
6).  Tower  (2016)  Fifty years ago a man rode the elevator to the 27th floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, killing 16 people and wounding 32 others. This film doesn’t tell his story but the story of the people on the ground, some of which risked their lives to help others. The film uses rotoscoping animation and actors to retell in a documentary format this harrowing day in American history. This engrossing film is as suspenseful as any big, edge of your seat Hollywood suspense film. The animation is distinctive and really helps the storytelling. This is one of the best films of the year and should not be missed.
7).  Hacksaw Ridge  (2016)  R  True story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who enlists in the Army but refuses to handle a rifle due to being a Seventh-day Adventist. He becomes the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I thoroughly enjoyed this moving and spiritual film. I will warn you that the battle sequences are real and very horrific, with body parts flying everywhere. Garfield is perfect as the man who refuses to bear arms but is willing to sacrifice his life to save others. There is great chemistry between Garfield and Teresa Palmer, who plays a nurse who falls in love with Desmond. I also enjoyed Vince Vaughn as the tough as nails Sargent who doesn’t want Desmond in his Army. The battle sequences, though tough to watch due to the blood and guts violence, are well choreographed and exciting. This is one inspirational story that you won’t want to miss.  The film is capped off during the credits with an interview with the real Desmond Doss that just might make you shed a tear.
8).  The Edge of Seventeen  (2016)  R  High school life for Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is already pretty bad, but it gets worse when her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her popular older brother (Blake Jenner).  Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig brings us the adolescent adventures of Nadine in the hilarious and smart “The Edge of Seventeen.” Many filmmakers have tried to document the hardship of the awkward teenage years of young women who just don’t quite fit in. Juno, Kings of Summer, Ghost World, Spectacular Now and of course, Sixteen Candles come to mind. This film is their equal with smart writing, quick dialogue, and excellent performances, especially from Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson. Steinfeld is dazzling in this movie, commanding the screen, even with scene-stealers such as Sedgwick and Harrelson. She embodies this role, and we fully believe that Nadine is as socially awkward and just a little “weird.” The Edge of Seventeen is a teen coming-of-age comedy that feels real. I had so much fun watching this film that I wouldn’t mind spending a day or two hanging out with these characters, even if meant going through the pain of attending high school again.
9).  Kubo and the Two Strings  (2016) PG  A young boy named Kubo, aided by a talking monkey and samurai beetle, must locate a magical suit of armor that was worn by his late father to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.  Unbelievably beautiful stop-motion animation combined with a brilliant storyline make this film one of the best movies of the summer. The plot is simple but nuanced with a great message about believing in yourself and your abilities. The animation is beautiful and some of the best I have ever seen. Kids will enjoy the fast moving storyline, and grownups will thoroughly drink in the gorgeous animation. Outstanding voice work by a cast that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, and Rooney Mara add flavor and texture. Go on an adventure with Kubo and his friends; you won’t be disappointed.
10).  Life, Animated  (2016)  PG  Owen Suskind was an average, fun-loving little boy until at age three he developed autism and fell in a shell. No matter what or how his loving parents interacted with him, he remained in a cocoon of silence. Owen’s father, Ron, started watching Walt Disney animated movies with him and suddenly, Owen was talking and interacting with his parents through his knowledge of the Disney movies. The film follows Owen as he moves out on his own, where he gets a job, an apartment and a girlfriend. This is a beautiful film that is heartfelt and will pull on your heartstrings. It’s an amazing story, made even more remarkable that Disney allowed the filmmaker to use clips and images from the Disney catalog. This film gives proof that movies do more than just entertain, they sometimes give hope and meaning to our lives.
11).   The Jungle Book  (2016) PG  Retelling of the classic tale of an orphan boy, Mowgli (Neel Sethi), raised in the jungle with the help of a pack of wolves, a bear, and a black panther.  This is not a film for younger children. The animals are too realistic and scary. I loved this film as it captured the magic of the first Disney film and made this classic story even better. There are still two memorable songs from the first film in this one: One sung by Bill Murray as Baloo and one sung by Christopher Walken as King Louie. Murray, as you would expect, steals the film as the lovable but slightly grumpy bear. Neel Sethi is captivating as the strong-willed Mowgli. The film follows the standard storyline but adds a few new things that make the film feel complete. The CGI is amazing, and the animals move fluidly, making the action sequences exciting and colorful. This is a breathtaking film that has humor and warmth and does not disappoint.
12).  Embers  (2016)  A man (Jason Ritter) wakes up in a dilapidated room, not knowing how he got there, who he is or whom the woman (Iva Gocheva) sleeping next to is. That’s the start of the best film I saw at any Film Festival this year. This small budget film (though it doesn’t look it) works because the script is creative with a concept of what the world would be like if every time you woke up, you forgot everything. The film is beautifully shot with a gray overcast that seems to be hanging from every nook and cranny. The plot moves at a quick pace, and the casting is brilliant with Jason Ritter playing the lead “everyman” who is willing to risk his life for people he doesn’t know. The direction is crisp, and each performer gives outstanding performances. Take a chance and explore a brave new world where everyone starts out the day not knowing what is ahead of them.
13).  The Handmaiden  (2016)  A woman (Tae-ri Kim) is hired to be the handmaiden of a lonely rich noblewoman (Min-hee Kim). The handmaiden is a thief that has been hired by a crooked man (Jung-woo Ha) to help him seduce the noblewoman and steal her money. This is a beautiful film that where each character has deeply hidden secrets. Secrets that if they come out could be the end of each of them. The film is in three parts and reveals a plot that takes a handful of twists, most of which you will not see coming. It’s a lurid look at betrayal, unrequited love and sometimes just pure evil. The sets and the cinematography contribute significantly to the film, giving it a dark but rich look that oozes with maliciousness. It’s a shadowy world that these characters live in, but it’s worth venturing into it just to see what happens.
14).  DeadPool  (2016)  R  Wade (Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative who is now a mercenary for hire. He finds out he is dying of cancer and decides to accept an offer to try a rogue experiment. While it does cure his cancer, the experiment leaves him badly scarred. Now he is using his accelerated healing powers and his finely tuned reflexes to find the man who is responsible for the experiment going wrong.  If you are easily offended, then, please don’t see this film. Don’t see the trailer or even go near a theatre showing this film. On the other hand, if you love hilarious, irreverent humor that makes fun of everything, including its own genre, then this is a movie for you. The film is funny and witty from the opening credits. The Deadpool character is someone who can find humor (sometimes in a dirty way) in almost any situation, even life or death. Fans of the comic book are going to be euphoric with this movie, as am I. I love this film and want to see more of his adventures. Make sure and stay through the credits for a bonus scene you will not want to miss. And a bit of a warning, this is a hard R rated film and unless you want Child Protective Services after you, watch the film after the kiddos are asleep.
15).  Don’t Think Twice  (2016)  R  A long time New York improv group loses their lease, and one of the members lands a TV show.  I loved writer/director Mike Birbiglia’s first picture “Sleep Walk With Me,” which was about the trials and tribulations of being a stand-up comic on the road. I am happy to say that Birbiglia has done it again with “Don’t Think Twice,” as this movie is as humorous and inventive as his first film. The joy of this movie is the improv scenes (some were scripted, and others were improvised) that will have you on the floor laughing. Even some of the scenes away from the club are fun to watch as the group makes fun of each other constantly, though, sometimes the kidding can go too far and touch a nerve or two. This is a heartfelt, funny film that deals with all the pain, sacrifice and lows that comedians face in their everyday life just so that they can get those few minutes in the spotlight. Don’t Think Twice is a film that shows us that as painful as those struggles are, if you can make someone laugh, it’s all worth it.
16).  Zootopia (2016)  PG   In a city populated by anthropomorphic animals, a con artist Fox (Jason Bateman) and a rookie bunny cop (Ginnifer Goodwin) must team up to uncover a conspiracy. “Zootopia” is a magical movie that combines the beautiful animation Disney is famous for with a hilarious script that has some serious undertones and messages. While never spelling it out, the film approaches the subjects of racism and profiling. The message never hits you over the head, and the reasons learned are never fully spelled out to the audience, but the message comes over loud and clear. Part buddy film, part mystery, “Zootopia” uses humor at every turn to keep the movie moving at a rather quick pace. There are funny lines and rapid asides that make fun of past Disney films (including one about a “frozen” girl), so many so that you may have to see the movie several times before getting all the jokes. “Zootopia” is a little long, and very young children may get a bit scared of a few scenes of animals acting ferocious, but this is one film everyone is going to enjoy. And, the DMV scene with the sloths that is teased in the trailer will have you rolling in the aisles with laughter.
17).  Captain America: Civil War  (2016)  PG-13  The government is concerned about the Avengers and their activities, asking the Avengers to agree to give up control of their team.  Could this cause a rift between Captain America and Iron Man?  Will the Avengers split up?  This is one of the best comic book films that I have seen. There are stunning and magnificent action sequences, one that had the audience standing and clapping. There are some new characters introduced to the Marvel world, including a certain web-slinger, whose appearance gave me hope for the franchise. Robert Downey Jr as Ironman and Chris Evans as Captain America are outstanding, but it’s Paul Rudd’s appearance as Ant-Man that steals the film. Do stay through all the credits as there are two bonus scenes, one after the first set of credits and the other after all the credits.
18).  Sing Street  (2015)  PG-13  A boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), growing up in Dublin in the 1980’s, starts a band to escape his broken family life, a school he doesn’t fit in with and to impress a girl (Lucy Boynton) he has a crush on. I loved this film, especially the performances of the two leads, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, and Lucy Boynton. Walsh-Peele is a duel threat in this film, displaying a fine singing voice with the charisma of a rock star. His character is boyish one minute and mature beyond his years in the next scene, a testament to his acting prowess. Boynton is perfect in the role of the world-weary girl who wants to escape Dublin with the slim hopes of being a model. For a fan of early eighties music (and videos), this film is so much fun to watch. The original songs that the band plays in the film are outstanding and catchy. In a week where I saw a lot of films that were light on character development and plot, it was a delight to watch a film so well written and produced. It reminded me of two excellent films about bands, The Commitments (1991) and more recently, the director of this film, John Carney's Begin Again (2013). If you love music, this is one film not to be missed.
19)Jackie  (2016)  R  Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) has to deal with the grief and trauma of the event while trying to regain her faith, console her children and fight for her husband’s historic legacy. This is Natalie Portman’s film, and she handles it with ease. It takes a few minutes to get used to her talking like Jackie, but once you get used to it, Portman disappears into the role. It’s a tough role to tackle because, after the assignation, Jackie was all emotionally over the place; at times defiant, other times subservient, always demanding that her husband is treated with respect and determined to show the world what horror had happened to him. It’s a scintillating performance as Portman turns Jackie’s emotions on and off at a moment’s notice, as one in shock/grieving does. Portman dominates the film and is on the screen in almost every scene. Overall, this film works as a study of a person who was larger than life by one of the few actresses who could handle that type of role. You may feel, after seeing this film, that Natalie Portman gave us everything she could give, just like the woman whom she portrayed did for this country.
20A)Moana  (2016)   PG  On a mystic island called Motunui Island in Polynesia, a 16-year-old girl named Moana (Auli’l Cravalho) teams up with the legendary demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) on a journey to save her people. I loved this film! First, Carvalho has a robust and beautiful singing voice. While Johnson doesn’t have a Broadway singing voice, he does have fun with his songs and plays well off of Carvalho in their duets. Hamilton star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda co-wrote the songs in the film, and you can hear his style, especially in “You’re Welcome” that Johnson sings. The animation is crisp and gorgeous taking advantage of the tropical look of the islands. I loved the message of this film for girls that you can do anything you put your heart and soul into. And, by the way, stay through all the credits, as there is an amusing bonus scene at the end of the film.
20B). 10 Cloverfield Lane  (2016)  PG-13   After surviving a car accident, a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in an underground cellar. She was rescued by a man, Howard (John Goodman) who claims that a worldwide chemical attack has left the Earth’s surface uninhabitable. I enjoyed this suspenseful film that slowly builds the tension as we learn, along with Michelle bits and pieces of information that may mean things aren’t what Howard told us had happened. There are plenty of twists and turns in the film that will keep you guessing until the very end. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is superb as the headstrong woman who keeps questioning what is going on in the outside world. John Goodman gives a smart and multilayered performance as the good Samaritan that may or may not be holding on to a secret. The film is brilliantly written, and I loved the ending to the movie. Think of this film as more of a Hitchcock type genre film then your more typical Sci-Fi movie.

Just missed the top 20: TickledThe Eagle Huntress, Florence Foster Jenkins, We Are X, Certain Women, Command and Control, FencesOperator, Dheepan, Weiner, Green Room, Midnight Special, Krisha, Everybody Wants Some!!, Loving, The Witch, Touched with Fire, Gleeson, I Am Not Your Negro, Arrival, Patterson.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Assassin's Creed

My ViewAssassin’s Creed  (2016) PG-13  Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a career criminal who is set for execution by Abstergo Industries, a front for the modern-day incarnation of the Templar Order.  He is forced by Abstergo to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, an assassin in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. What Abstergo Industries doesn’t realize is that by reliving these memories, Callum is gaining the knowledge that will allow him to defeat them. What a mess of a film! I had a friend who reviews video games and sat on one side of me and a 14 year-old-boy on the other, and neither could tell me exactly what the plot to this film was. Michael Fassbender (yes, that two-time Oscar nominated actor) has been trying to get this film made since 2012. I guess he promised a lot to get actors like Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, along with Brendan Gleeson and Oscar-nominated Charlotte Rampling to work on this movie. As you would expect, Gleeson and Rampling don’t have to do too much but Irons and Cotillard are in every non-action scene. The action sequences are well done; the stunts are exceptional looking, and Fassbender is a decent fighter (and in shape), but that doesn’t make up for a horrible plot and an even worse ending.  My Rating: Cable   Assassin's Creed Website
My View:  Passengers  (2016) PG-13   A spacecraft is traveling to a distant colony planet with thousands of people, all of whom are in a state of suspended animation.  There is a malfunction of the sleep chambers for two of its passengers (Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt) who have been awakened 90 years early.  I enjoyed the first 40 minutes of the film, which reminded me of an excellent 70s Sci-Fi film called Silent Running. The art direction is fantastic and the set design is brilliant, making this a film a wonder to watch. Unfortunately, the film goes downhill quickly, with a plot that takes forever to get going. I kept waiting for a twist to the plot, but it never came, and the ending of the film is so unbelievably simplistic that a 5th grader will be able to tell it wouldn’t ever work. I loved the chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt, with the courting sequence one of the most enjoyable parts of the film. The film is let down by the last third of the movie, leaving a rather bitter taste to end with.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee   Passengers Website

IndiefestLion  (2016)  PG-13  A five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo ends up a thousand miles from home. After living on the streets of Calcutta, a miracle occurs. Twenty-five years later Saroo  (Dev Patel) is hoping for another miracle - that he find his long lost family.  I loved this film about the need to find your home and family, even against unbelievable odds. Sunny Power, who plays the five-year-old Saroo, has to be one of the cutest kids ever to appear on-screen, and his portrayal will break your heart - it’s that good. Patel (grown up from his breakthrough appearance in Slum Dog Millionaire) has the hard act to follow, but he is up to the task, as he portrays Saroo with the same determined and headstrong will to make it home that his younger self showed. Nicole Kidman is scintillating in what should be an Oscar-nominated performance as Saroo’s fragile adopted Mom. There is a scene near the end between Kidman and Patel that will have you in tears. This inspirational film is not to be missed and will thaw the coldest heart. Go on a journey with Saroo.  You won’t be disappointed.  My Rating:  I Would Pay to See It Again   Lion Website
My View:  Why Him?  (2016)  Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is having a bad year.  His printing company may be going out of business, and his only daughter (Zoey Deutch), whom he thought was safely tucked away at college, is dating an older man, Laird (James Franco), who runs a video game company.  Now, Ned, his wife (Megan Mullally) and his young son (Griffin Gluck) are going to spend Christmas at Laird’s mansion.  Now that Adam Sandler is over making films for Netflix (which means I, thank goodness, don’t have to watch them), I think James Franco is bound and determined to fill the void. I love Bryan Cranston, but it pained me to see him have to deliver lines from this horrible script. The movie is unfunny, stupid and has a plot that could have been written by a cat. The only saving grace in this drivel of a film is the performance of Keegan-Michael Key, who breathes a little life into the movie playing Laird’s right-hand man. Please James Franco, quit making every movie they offer you and slow down enough pick some better scripts.  My Rating:  You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again   Why Him? Website
My ViewHidden Figures  (2016)  PG  The film tells the story of the African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who worked at the Langley Research Center.  Their work helped NASA catch up to the Soviet Union and launched John Glenn into space.  Hidden Figures is an inspiring movie that is all the more remarkable because it’s based on a true story of three women who won’t be held down by their gender or skin color in the turbulent 60s in a scientific community dominated by men. Of the three main cast members, Janelle Monae stands out as the feisty, outspoken woman who dreams of becoming an engineer, even though the system throws roadblocks at her throughout her journey. I also enjoyed the performance of Kevin Costner, who plays the department head determined to find the best person for the job, no matter who it is. The film has a few slow points but covers so much ground that it keeps the story moving forward. It's a remarkable story about three women who were determined to prove that they could not only do the job if given the chance but would exceed at it.  My Rating:  Full Price   Hidden Figures Website

My ViewFences  (2016)  PG-13  An African-American father, Troy (Denzel Washington) struggles to raise his family in the very segregated world of the 1950’s while coming to terms with the events of his life.  Based on the August Wilson Pulitzer Prize winning play, Denzel Washington directs and acts in this drama about a man who feels disrespected in life and wants his son to be a better man than he. Washington gives a mesmerizing performance as the hot-headed father, commanding the screen in every scene he is in. Viola Davis, as Troy’s wife, gives an equally multi-layered performance and is every bit Washington's equal up on the screen. The film is a bit stagy, but Washington does do a few camera tricks to keep it cinema-based. The supporting cast is exceptional, with Stephen Henderson playing Troy’s best friend with a heart of gold and Jovan Adepo as the driven son. It’s an experience to see acting this powerful, magnetic and moving on the screen.   My Rating:  Full Price   Fences Website
Forgotten FilmRed Rock West  (1993)  R  A drifter, Michael (Nicolas Cage), comes into a Wyoming town and is mistaken for a hit man by a husband (J.T. Walsh) who wants his wife killed. Michael agrees to shoot the woman (Lara Flynn Boyle), but upon meeting her, Michael decides to let her in on what he has been hired to do.  Things get complicated when the real hit-man (Dennis Hopper) arrives in town. This is a combo of a western and a thriller with a little film noir added in. The film has a ton of twists and turns, making it a little hard to understand at the beginning, but by the end of the movie, everything makes sense. J.T. Walsh makes an outstanding villain, and Hooper is perfect as the quirky hit-man. There is great chemistry between Boyle and Cage, which makes us want to root for the two of them. If you love the classic 40’s film noir movies, this one is for you.  My Rating: Full Price   Red Rock West Info   

Weird Credits: From the credits of Why Him?:  Trainer of Domestic Livestock

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near YouThe Salesman  (2016)  PG-13  The story of a couple whose relationship goes wrong while they are performing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The film comes from the Oscar-nominated director of About Elly and A Separation.   The Salesman Website
Until Next Time!