Tuesday, February 7, 2017
It's that time of year! The Oscar nominations are out and I've completed my homework by seeing all nine Best Picture nominees. I know you are all anxiously waiting THE LIST, but first let me give some really quick reviews on movies I saw over the holidays:
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence didn't really seem to have great chemistry in this sci-fi snoozer. Michael Sheen as the robot bartender may have been the best part of this film.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are at the very top of their game in a tour-de-force of acting in an on-screen telling of August Wilson's famous play. This film is tense throughout and does a great job of portraying inner-city African American family life in the 1950's. As good as Casey Affleck was in Manchester by the Sea, I think Denzel deserves the Oscar more for this performance.
This is the Jackie Kennedy biopic that none of us were really clamoring for, but director Pablo Larrain does a good job of chronicling the events of the early 1960's through the eyes of the First Lady. Natalie Portman totally owns the titular role and her mannerisms and voice are spot-on in channeling Jackie O. Despite Portman's brave and effective performance there's not much substance here to make this film reach that next level of excellence.
M. Night Shyamalan continues his resurrection with this interesting slice of crazy that focuses on the many split personalities of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) who ends up kidnapping a trio of young women. There are some mild scares throughout and whole lot of emoting from the expressive eyes of Anya Taylor-Joy (the girl from The Witch). This is McAvoy's vehicle all the way though and he is super talented at playing a variety of characters. If any of you are fans of Night's work, please contact me after you see this. I REALLY want to discuss some big spoilers, but I can't address them here. This is a good but not great movie and a slight step down from The Visit, although I can tell you with 100% certainty, NIGHT IS BACK!
Barry Jenkins joins the short list of young, talented Hollywood directors that have burst onto the scene in the past few years. In his second feature film, he delivers a unique and powerful look at human self-discovery in a story of a young black man growing from childhood to adulthood in a tough neighborhood in Miami. The acting in this movie is outstanding throughout especially Naomi Harris and Mahershera Ali, both of whom are nominated for Oscar. Ali in particular completely nails his performance as Juan, a smooth drug dealer with an actual heart and passion for helping others. The film is shot beautifully by Jenkins with a classical score that accentuates the drama perfectly. The end of the film is not as strong as the first two thirds but that's a slight nitpick in an overall outstanding movie. This is a near perfect film in tone, visual theme, acting and music. I was thoroughly impressed with Jenkins are a director and I can't wait to see what he does next.
The true story of an Indian child who gets separated from his family and subsequently adopted by a wealthy Australian family. Twenty years later and with the advent and assistance of Google Maps, the boy locates his old village and attempts to reconnect with his lost family. This story is worth telling on the big screen and there is real emotion throughout. Oscar nominee Dev Patel stars as the older version of Saroo and gives an effective performance. Nicole Kidman is nominated as well and gives a quiet, subdued turn as Saroo's adopted Mother. This is a well made, well acted film that nearly missed my overall top ten for the year.
Another true story, retelling the lives of a trio of African American women who helped shape America's role in the space race. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, a mechanical expert who ends up programming one of the first IBM supercomputers. Janelle Monae (a real find as a singer-turned-actress) is Mary Jackson, a high-level engineer. Tajari P. Henson rounds out the three women as Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematical genius and human computer. Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst give supporting turns in a movie that brings the decade of the 1960's to life and showcases some unsung American heroes who had to live through the obstacles of segregation in the South. I really feel like Henson gave the best acting performance of the film but thanks to some crowded categories this year, she was left out of the Oscar hunt. Spencer did get nominated but I feel she gave a slightly weaker performance. Overall, this film was solid but I feel it came across as a mix of Ron Howard films in Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. Good but not great and I don't feel it's Best Picture worthy.
Now.... on to the list. Note that I did not see everything this year despite seeing 53 films in theaters. That's about 1 a week. Moviepass helped with that but I'm thinking of giving that up in 2017. Work is getting busier and I don't know if I can keep up this pace. In reverse order these are my Top Ten favorite films of 2016.
#10 - Eye in the Sky
This film came out very early in the year but still resonates with me, especially since the brilliant Alan Rickman passed away just over year ago. Rickman, Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul star in this cyber espionage thriller that focuses on a critical decision about whether to engage or not in the war on terror. Drone technology plays such a major role in the film and ethical questions lead to an extremely tense final act. This is one of the most intense films I saw all year.
#9 - Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson. Whether you reject him off-camera or not, you have to respect his innate ability to stage an epic war film. In a unique spin on the conventional war movie, Gibson centers on Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a pacifist who ends up enlisting and fighting in World War II, saving 75 soldiers in the process. Garfield is humble and determined in the lead role and deserving of his first Oscar nomination. I'm glad the Academy honored Gibson in his comeback directorial effort. This was easily the SECOND best war movie of the year (more to come on this topic).
#8 - Fences
As I mentioned earlier, Denzel and Viola are two titans of acting in this movie. With simply a good story and no action or visual effects, this film/play has to be carried on the shoulders of strong acting. Davis will deserve her Oscar (although she SHOULD be nominated for Best Actress and not in a supporting role) and I'm hoping that Denzel upsets Affleck. Kudos to the supporting cast of (Bubba Gump) Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo and Stephen Henderson for adding character to the story. Denzel's direction works and he cements himself as simply one of the very best actors in cinematic history.
#7 - The Conjuring 2
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star in James Wan's follow up to the 2013 original (which I did not enjoy). An offspring of The Exorcist, this movie explores paranormal possession in London, England. This film was terrifying and spooky throughout thanks to a trio of evil adversaries. The creepiest one being the Crooked Man, played by the tall skinny, strangely proportional actor Javier Botet. Madison Wolfe is a revelation as young Janet Hodgson, a character you find yourself caring about as she experiences a world of horror.
#6 - Manchester By the Sea
The winner of the most depressing movie of 2016 goes to Kenneth Lonnergan's small town New England tale of tragedy and family. Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a janitor who takes on new responsibilities as the guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the death of his brother. Michelle Williams earned another Oscar nomination for a couple-minute sequence in which she tries to reconcile with her ex-husband. Affleck is very good and Hedges may be even better in his turn as a regular teenager adapting to difficult situations.
#5 - 10 Cloverfield Lane
Released very early in the year, this movie is all about the acting and charisma of one John Goodman. If there's one actor that didn't get nominated for Oscar this year that deserved to, it's Goodman who gives his best performance of his career as a paranoid gun-toting psycho who goes toe to toe with Mary Elizabeth Winstead (and her expressive eyes) and John Gallagher Jr. in a bunker as the "end of the world" occurs outside. The movie is totally tense throughout and this film might actually be number one on my list if it wasn't for the ridiculous final 10 minutes. Bonus kudos to screenwriter Damien Chazelle (who I'll mention shortly) who helped pen this film.
I'd like to pause to state that numbers 1-4 on this list are soooo close together that I almost want to rank them 1 A,B,C,D. These four films were all very good and while I think the movie crop this year was not as solid overall as what we had in 2015, this top four sits at a next level compared to the rest of the list.
#4 - Moonlight
While some reviewers (*cough* Omar *cough-cough*) have claimed that "nothing happens" in this movie, I completely disagree. We see a young African American boy grow through life and watch as he tries to come to grips with his sexuality and place in the world. Wooden and stoic Remy Danton on House of Cards is so far from where Mahershera Ali's performance as Juan lies that it's a testament to the impressive range of the actor. Ali shows compassion and heart beneath a tough bravado of an exterior. While the narrative slightly trails off at the end, the entire film is a work of art. Any other year, Barry Jenkins would deserve the Best Director Oscar, but unfortunately for him this is the year of Chazelle.
#3 - Hell or High Water
A modern-day Western with some Breaking Bad DNA, this bank heist yarn is spun beautifully by director David Mackenzie. Jeff Bridges (in a well deserved Oscar-nominated role) plays the gruff and tired Sheriff Marcus Hamilton, an aging authority of the law that won't retire until he finishes the current case he's on. Ben Foster and Chris Pine excel as brothers / bank robbers as they move all over Texas and Oklahoma in an amateur spree of crime. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan follows up Sicario with this jewel of a story that showcases family bond and Texas justice. Mackenzie paints all of this on a brilliant rustic canvas of wide-open plains, small run-down towns and farmland.
#2 - La La Land
Play this while reading this next paragraph:
Originally I had given this movie 4.5 JRs but I found myself thinking about it for weeks after seeing it and I've listed to the catchy soundtrack many times. Therefore I've bumped it up to a 5 JR rating and it falls in this penultimate spot on the list. Damien Chazelle is talented beyond his years and this film is his career masterpiece to-date. Pulling off this large scale Hollywood musical is the best directing achievement of the year and he was fortunate enough to have Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling along for the ride. The chemistry between the two leads is effective and Stone in particular comes across as genuine and charming. Yes, this is another movie about Hollywood that the Academy is going to eat up later this month, but it simply is an extremely entertaining well made movie that plays against a lot of the cookie-cutter films we see churned out of Hollywood each year. Chazelle uses choreography and color as tools to help assist with his storytelling and he isn't afraid to give us an unconventional ending. Big props to Justin Hurwitz for crafting the movie score of the year, which is currently running through my head as I write this assessment. Bum-ba-bum-ba-buh-ba-da-DA-dah....
#1 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I never thought that the spin-off Star Wars film scheduled for release in 2016 would (A) be better than The Force Awakens and (B) come across as such an epic war film. Rogue One has some decent performances led by Ben Mendelsohn, Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, but this film is certainly not an acting showpiece. What powers Rogue One to the top of the list is sheer spectacle of Gareth Edwards' vision of battle in the Star Wars universe. The epic clash at Scarif that spans the final third of the film is simply the truest example of why we go to the movies. Seeing it for the first time on the big screen my mouth was wide open in amazement. This was the battle I had envisioned as a kid when I was playing with my Star Wars action figures. Edwards took the DNA of George Lucas and executed it perfectly on a grand scale. Yes, the movie is slow at times and some plot points needed more depth, but I was able to get past all of that and revel in the spectacle of a supremely entertaining Star Wars movie. What sets this apart from every other film I saw is the care taken with tying this film directly to the events at the beginning of Episode IV. The CGI insertion of the late Carrie Fisher was a nice finishing touch on a thrill ride of a movie. The force is very strong with Disney and I can't wait to see what Rian Johnson pulls off with Episode VIII at the end of this year.
There it is, that's the definitive list for 2016. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise:) Stay tuned for the FOURTH annual ARCademy Awards with Omar Latiri over at Arts Review and Commentary. Thanks for reading my blog over the past year and one of my New Year's Resolutions is to get back to more full reviews and less mini-reviews.
Monday, December 19, 2016
I feel that I can definitively declare that George Walton Lucas Jr. is the individual who has had both the most positive and negative influence on the Star Wars film franchise. Yes, he did give birth to all the characters, planets and concepts of the universe that has dominated science fiction for the past 40 years. BUT, he also single-handedly gave us the episodes 1-3 prequels that should have been WAY more entertaining and polished than what they turned out to be. Director Gareth Edwards throws a middle finger directly at Lucas with his epic Star Wars stand-alone masterpiece Rogue One. The story of the rebels' plight to retrieve secret Death Star plans is a rousingly entertaining and enjoyable experience that culminates in the best 45 minutes of CGI wizardry I've ever seen on screen. Disney has responsibly and effectively taken the reigns from George Lucas and it's undoubtedly the best thing that's happened in Hollywood in quite some time.
The general plot of the film is well known by Star Wars fans, but early-on in this movie, we meet the key players in the mission to retrieve the plans. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones - whom I feel is just a gorgeous and talented actress) is the daughter of a weapons expert who helped construct the Death Star under the guidance of Director Krennic (Bloodline's every-man Ben Mendelsohn). She ends up being stranded as a young girl and looked after by rebel activist Saw Guerrera (Forrest Whitaker). Meeting up with rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a band of misfit mercenaries including an aging blind ninja-style assassin and his hefty warrior friend, the team steals a rebel ship they codename "Rogue One" and attempt to retrieve the plans left by Erso's father. The movie starts a bit slow but picks up steam towards the end with the battle of Scarif. All throughout we get a bit of comedy with K-2SO, a new robot in the vain of C-3PO that has a deadpan delivery and a clever sense of self-worth. Like BB-8 with R2D2 in Episode VII, K-2SO is an improvement on it's original (and frankly out-dated) golden plated predecessor.
All of the acting is solid and Jones and Mendelsohn stand out in particular. However, the real spectacle of this film lies within the battle sequences, carefully crafted by Edwards. This is no Transformers/Matrix hodgepodge of CGI clashes in the darkness. Hell, even Edwards' Godzilla film featured mostly dark-lit combat sequences. The battle of Scarif at the end of the movie is filmed gorgeously during the light of day on a beach-laden planet. Stormtroopers and AT-ATs never looked better on screen. There's something so satisfying as a life long Star Wars fan in seeing such a grand-scale all out war in this universe. X-Wings and Tie Fighters darting around in a bright Earth-type atmosphere while giant rebels ships and star destroyers wage war against each other above in space. Edwards simply paints the canvas with all out chaotic battles by using the camera as his brush. It's truly amazing to witness on the big screen and if the Academy does not honor this technical achievement it will be a terrible omission.
What I experienced during the battle of Scarif was youthful joy pure and simple. As a kid watching the original trilogy unfold, I kept thinking that these characters and vehicles of this world could be used again to entertain and engage me in future stories. When the prequels were announced I got my hopes up that episodes 1-3 would be just that, bad-ass Star Wars films. Unfortunately, Lucas disappointed but hope sprung up in me again with The Force Awakens. Thankfully J.J. Abrams quenched my thirst with a very entertaining and well crafted follow-up last year. Edwards has taken that progress and pushed it to 11 with Rogue One. We FINALLY get a BAD ASS Star Wars film with rebels and imperial forces going all-out against each other. The battle of Scarif makes the awesome aerial action at the end of ROTJ seem like child's play. Huge Star Destroyers are crashing into each other. Imperial walkers are attacking and crashing all over sandy beaches. All of the epic mayhem is playing out on-screen with the same DNA of A New Hope (all of the ships and uniforms are spot-on in matching the design of the first Star Wars release in 1977 and the action looks "lived-in" like it really did occur right before Episode IV). Add in the much-satisfying scenes with Darth Vader (including an amazing smack-down at the end of the film) and you get a movie-going experience that speaks DIRECTLY to the pre-teen Jordan Rose who was so enthralled with this universe during the original trilogy. I especially enjoyed how the movie ends right where Episode IV begins. You could almost classify this film as Episode 3.5.
This movie is not perfect, but it's damn near close to perfect and the second best Star Wars movie of all time after The Empire Strikes Back. Yes, this is better than A New Hope and better than The Force Awakens. 5 out of 5 JRs for the most entertaining and satisfying motion picture of 2016. Edwards has a bright future ahead of him. He's only 18 days younger than me and he has probably earned the opportunity to be very choosy with his next project. All I know is Rian Johnson has his work cut out for him in topping this one with Episode VIII next Christmas. Thankfully, the future of Star Wars is so bright and definitely in the proper creative hands with The Mouse.
Damien Chazelle is Hollywood's new wunderkid Director. At age 31 he already has a critically acclaimed gem under his belt with 2014's Whiplash. With La La Land, he gives a throwback nod to the big budget Hollywood musical machine of the past and delivers a unique and enjoyable tale of love, jazz and life in modern-day Los Angeles.
This film is different right out of the gate with a carefully choreographed sequence in traffic on a Los Angeles highway where gridlocked motorists jump out of the cars and sing and dance with glee. Chazelle gives us nearly a single take as the camera whips through traffic while we hear one of his original songs in a showcase of musical talent. The choreography continues throughout the film as the plot centers on the relationship between two Hollywood dreamers in Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Both are struggling to live up to their childhood dreams in Tinseltown. Sebastian as a Jazz pianist (Chazelle once again focusing on this genre of music after Whiplash) and Mia as an actress. They meet, fall in love and are faced with challenges along the way as we go in and out of various musical numbers and settings. Chazelle is always innovating with his camera, adding in classic movie fades and dissolves while mixing in some technical wizardry (including an effective method of dimming all lights in certain scenes to focus on his two talented leads). The music is good, but not great, although it's supremely impressive that nearly ALL of what we see and hear is the brainchild of Chazelle himself (his friend and composer Justin Hurwitz composed the amazing score and songs **give him the Best Score Oscar right now**).
This movie doesn't work at all without Stone and Gosling in the leads. Their chemistry is so solid and they're both individually multi-talented in many aspects (singing, dancing, humor, looking good, etc..). Stone in particular carries a lot of weight throughout and the fact that she delivers such a quality performance in this type of a demanding role puts her in the driver's seat as the front-runner for Best Actress. The set design is top-notch and everything just looks bright and vibrant. LA is painted as a living, breathing character on its own and this film comes off as a love-letter to the city as a whole. It was helpful to me that I had just visited there a few months earlier and saw the majestic Hollywood hills views that Chazelle tried to convey on screen.
After this accomplishment, it's clear that Chazelle is the biggest prodigy in Hollywood right now. In fact he began 2016 with writing the screenplay for another top ten movie of the year in 10 Cloverfield Lane. His vision is unique and he's able to do amazing things with the camera. I just wish he would try to branch out a bit and helm a movie that has nothing to do with music (in fact, his third - and debut - directorial credit in 2009 is about a jazz trumpeter). I can only imagine what he'd do with a dark drama or science fiction film. Regardless of what he does next, he can hang his hat on La La Land, a welcome musical throwback that showcases two actors at the top of their game. 4.5 out of 5 JRs for one of the best movies of the year. I have a feeling this is going to win Best Picture, but I really wish that the Academy wouldn't gush so much over every really good movie about making movies in Hollywood (The Artist, Argo, Birdman, etc...). Chazelle for Best Director is something I can get behind though.
Mel Gibson makes a triumphant return to the director's chair with another epic battle film that falls in line behind Braveheart and The Patriot as a gripping authentic war movie. Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a Southern pacifist that enlists in the Army to help battle Japanese forces during WWII. The movie starts slow and progresses through Doss'efforts to make it through basic training without firing (or touching) a rifle. Doss meets and marries the beautiful Dorothy Schutte (the always easy-to-look-at Theresa Palmer) shortly before enlisting. Schutte sticks with her husband through his various legal issues with the Army and eventually Doss perseveres and is able to be deployed overseas in battle. This is where the film really picks up as Gibson is able to showcase the brutality of war and the total selflessness of Doss' actions. There are numerous scenes that feature Doss saving soldier after soldier, lowering each one down over the ridge. This all happens amidst a slew of violence that Gibson has so much experience with conveying on-screen. It's truly a remarkable look at a real American hero and one of the better war films I've seen. I really hope people can look past the fact that Mel Gibson is BAT-SHIT-CRAZY and perhaps the Academy can honor this directorial achievement with a nomination. Garfield is really good as a green-but-eager young soldier. His career seems to be taking off and I wouldn't be surprised if he has a handful of Oscar nominations in the next 5-10 years. This film may be out of theaters by now, but give it a watch on video when it comes out. I was thoroughly entertained and engrossed by Gibson's vision and I have to give this film a 4.5 out of 5 JR rating.
These last three movies that I've seen are all solidly in my Top Ten of the year so-far. I still have a handful of films I need to see before awards season kicks into high gear early next year. Moonlight, Jackie and Fences are at the top of the list and I want to give Passengers (J Law, C Pratt) a look-see as well. Stay tuned for more reviews over the holiday season!
Monday, December 5, 2016
Sorry everyone, I've been pretty busy lately and haven't focused as much on the site. I'm going to try to catch up quickly with a few rapid-fire short paragraph reviews of the last eight movies I've seen in the theater (in reverse order of viewing). Thankfully we're starting to ramp up into Oscar season and STILL the best film on my list is Hell or High Water (now available on On Demand!).
Mila Kunis and company decide to let loose a bit and fight against Christina Applegate and the perfect PTA Moms. This movie was hysterical. The funniest film of the year so far and the perfect showcase for the uber-talented Kathryn Hahn. 4.5 JRs
The Birth of a Nation
Nate Parker's tour-de-force performance as slave uprising leader Nat Turner carries this quality film. Not as deep or as moving as 12 Years a Slave, this film still resonates and is worth a viewing, even if you don't agree with Parker's questionable past. I still think Parker has given the best performance of 2016 so-far but his off-screen issues will hurt him come Oscar time. 4.5 JRs
The Girl on the Train
In the vain of Gone Girl, this is a relationship drama / whodunnit that runs off the rails near the end. Still, Emily Blunt is really good as usual in the lead role as an alcoholic. Solid supporting turns including the beautiful Haley Bennett help keep the plot together and the end result is still an entertaining experience. 3.5 JRs
Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as the sinister/creepy/smart Dr. Strange in Marvel's latest comic adaptation. I personally knew very little about the character when I went to see this but was quite entertained with a combination of good acting and great special effects. Marvel should probably give some credit to Dark City / Inception for some of the building-shifting effects. Rachel McAdams is kind of wasted here in a throw-away role but I can see myself getting into this franchise going forward. Bonus points for a hilarious stinger post-credits scene with Thor. 4 JRs
Director Dennis Villeneuve had hit it out of the park with his last two films in Prisoners and Sicario, so I was expecting another masterpiece with this sci-fi drama. Instead I found this tale of communication between humans and an alien race to be a bit disappointing. Amy Adams is strong in the role of a linguistics expert and mother dealing with a key loss in the family but her performance alone couldn't carry the slow plot and questionable ending. I wanted to love this film, but I merely liked it. It's still worth a viewing and parts of it are filmed beautifully. I still have faith in Villeneuve but this just wasn't his best effort. 3 JRs
Bad Santa 2
Billy Bob is back at it again playing the grumpy Santa role, spewing vile lines of dialogue and getting chummy with his evil Mom played gleefully by Kathy Bates.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne helms this JK Rowling addition to the Harry Potter cinematic universe. We get plenty of CGI wizardry through a slew of new characters and beasts including a magical briefcase that is home to a virtual zoo of creatures. This is a solid entry into what should be an entertaining (5 film!?!?) franchise. A bit cookie-cutter, but entertaining nonetheless. 3.5 JRs
Manchester by the Sea
I just saw this on Saturday and was very impressed with the ensemble acting in this movie. Kenneth Lonergan's tale of dealing with extreme grief in New England focuses on Casey Affleck and his relationship with key family members including his ex-wife Michelle Williams, brother Kyle Chandler and his teenage nephew Lucas Hedges. The bond between Affleck and Hedges is so believable and authentic that it powers the entire film. My biggest complaint is that the movie STILL feels way too short even at over 2 hours of run time. The movie ends abruptly and I felt that there was still more to be explored in the narrative. That being said, the performances across the board are so good. Affleck will be a contender for Best Actor in a reserved role that emotes withdrawl and isolation due to a key event in the middle of the film. Even with such a short on-screen performance, Williams will get a serious look at Supporting Actress simply because of one key scene (a win for Michelle would be similar to Anne Hathaway's win for Les Miserables). I REALLY hope that Hughes gets some real consideration for Supporting Actor as I thought he was so believable as a genuine teenager in today's world. Go see this film. I was going to give it 4 JRs initially (backlash for the ending) but I keep thinking about it after the fact and I feel I have to bump up my rating. 4.5 JRs
PS: I also saw Sausage Party on On Demand recently and I was a bit underwhelmed by it. It had some good laughs and was plenty raunchy but it seemed to be trying too hard and I just didn't find it all that funny overall. A rather forgettable 2.5 out of 5 JRs.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Tom Hanks as Captain Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger is the example of perfect Hollywood casting. A modern-day Jimmy Stewart and one of the most likable actors in the history of motion pictures, Hanks simply embodies all the qualities of the real-life captain that made a split decision to land US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15th, 2009. The events of that day and the subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board are revisited in Clint Eastwood's comprehensive and entertaining Sully.
It's not much a of a stretch for Hanks to take on the role of an unassuming, professional, selfless captain. In fact, he's played a captain many times in his career (Captain Phillips and Captain John Miller - Saving Private Ryan). Thankfully, Hanks is on top of his game once his hair is dyed white and he dons the trademark mustache. Hanks IS Sully and it happens in the first frame of the film. This movie covers all aspects of the crash into the Hudson, jumping back in forth in time and covering all angles of the incident. The real-time crash itself is brilliantly shot by Eastwood with an unfiltered look at the major players (pilots, stewardesses, air traffic controllers, NYC rescue workers) that banded together to prevent disaster. It's obvious that Eastwood is trying to make an authentic NYC film, highlighting the spirit and resolve of the men and women who work tirelessly to keep the citizens safe. Even more poignant was having the opportunity to view this on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Aaron Eckhart is very good as Sully's co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, who was able to be there to support his captain both during the crash and in the hot seat while the NTSB conducted their investigation. Laura Linney plays Sully's wife whom we only see communicating with him via phone. Still, Linney manages to give a solid performance as a concerned wife who tries to comfort her husband from afar. Hanks is the real star here though. This movie is nothing without him. I'm pretty sure Tom will end up getting his 6th!?!? Oscar nod next year. This is not his best-ever performance but it is one of his most effortless one. He eases into this role and is able to emote concern, regret, doubt and authority all at the same time. The audience is with Tom through this entire journey and we never doubt his intentions and authenticity along the way.
This movie is gripping at times and an interesting dissection of the role of the NTSB and the media in shaping the narrative of a real American hero. The biggest drawback I had with the movie is that the jumping around in the timeline seemed to be more distracting than anything. I would have enjoyed it more if Eastwood had played the events in sequence (as Paul Greengrass did in the excellent and superior United 93). In reality though, that's just a small blemish in an otherwise excellent movie. A strong 4 out of 5 JRs for Sully, one of Eastwood's better films and a reminder that the 60-year-old who starred in Bosom Buddies might be the most talented living actor we have.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan crafted one of the better film stories of 2015 with Sicario, a gripping thriller about he US/Mexican drug war. In 2016, another Sheridan screenplay hits the big screen under the careful crafty direction of David MacKenzie. Hell or High Water is a modern-day Western about bank-robbing brothers with an amazing cast and vast open visuals. It is simply the very best film I've seen in 2016 so-far.
Ben Foster and Chris Pine star as brothers in Texas who attempt a string of bank robberies in order to get enough money to save their late Mother's ranch from foreclosure. Foster plays Tanner Howard the hotheaded just-out-of-prison loose cannon. Often acting on impulse alone, it's not too hard to believe he's spent many a year behind bars. His younger brother Toby (Pine) is the brains behind the operation and is simply looking to earn a little extra cash to pay child support to his ex-wife for his two sons. The bulk of the movie centers on the robberies, escapes and the steps the brothers have to go through to launder the money and keep from getting caught.
In pursuit of the two brothers is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton played by Jeff Bridges. Nearing retirement, Hamilton is out to achieve justice for one last time before he retires to his front porch. Bridges is absolutely incredible in this role. Similar to his Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart, he delivers marble-mouthed old-time old-man dialogue that flows perfectly on the big screen. His mannerisms scream that he's nearing the end of his rope but there's this underlying resolve and determination that make you empathize with the character. Bridges simply gives one of the very best performance of his career in this film. Pine and Foster have great chemistry and this is probably Pine's best work of his career. He really has showed a great deal of range over the past few years in cinema.
MacKenzie lets the West speak for itself in this movie with long sequences of wide-open land shots and gritty small town slices of life. Rather than dress any set up, it seems that McKenzie simply rolled in with his film crew and started shooting immediately. The authentic gritty look of the film helps add a sense of realism and draws the audience in to the action on screen. The dialogue throughout seems so natural and unrehearsed. It's amazing to see such polish and craft from a totally unknown Scottish director.
This movie paces along perfectly and the tension it builds towards the final sequences is unbelievable. I dare you to try to take a calming breath during the police roadblock scene near the end of the film. MacKenzie and his uber-talented cast of A-plus actors help make this film one that simply can't be missed. This movie is still playing in most theaters. Do yourself a favor and go see Bridges, Foster and Pine at the top of their game in a supremely entertaining movie. 5 out of 5 JRs for Hell or High Water, a film that needs to be recognized come Oscar time.
Three other one paragraph reviews of films I've seen in the past few days:
Jason Bourne - 3 JRs - Another Paul Greengrass shaky-cam special. Damon is solid as usual in the lead role and the Vegas car chase is nearly worth the price of admission alone. The motives are not totally clear here and the tech is completely fabricated and laughable at times. Mr. Robot has set the standard for plausible IT in TV/Film and Bourne falls way short of that bar.
Kubo and the Two Strings - 3 JRs - A stop motion animation film set in Japan, this movie is beautiful to watch but the plot is a bit convoluted and tired at times. My kids really loved it but I was bored occasionally. Decent voice acting from a talented cast but this really isn't one of the better animated films I've seen this year.
Friday, July 29, 2016
I apologize, but things have been busy this Summer and I haven't had a chance to give the full review treatment for all the films I've seen lately. I'll try to make it up to you all with a few small mini reviews of the last 5 films I've seen in the theater over the past month. Some were really good and some were pretty bad, and here they are in chronological order of viewing.
The Nice Guys
Teaming up Russel Crowe with Ryan Gosling in a retro buddy-cop movie seems like a good idea on paper. The execution is mixed though and under the shaky direction of Shane Black (Iron Man 3), the final product is a little disappointing. Both leads are good but the movie is not as funny as it's trying to be and the plot is really convoluted and boring at times. This is a movie I really have no interest in seeing again. 2.5 / 5 JR Rating
Independence Day: Resurgence
Oh man is this movie a mess. The public wasn't really clamoring for a sequel to the classic 1996 ID4, but director Roland Emmerich made sure we got it anyways. Jeff Goldblum and a handful of returning characters are back 20 years later to help. This includes a grizzled old Bill Pullman as the ex-POTUS, Brent Spiner as that crazy annoying scientist and three totally throwaway appearances by Vivica Fox, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia in a brief appearance in what very well might be his LAST film (dude looks like he's about to keel over). Hirsch's character in particular is totally forced into a useless side-plot where he outruns a giant wave and spends half the movie driving a school bus filled with random kids cross-country. The big problem is that Will Smith is not one of those back for this go-around (WISE move on his part) and the movie's plot makes sure we KNOW about it with CONSTANT references to his character including having his son take on a lead role in the film. Add in easily the WORST performance of Liam Hemsworth's young career and you have a steaming pile of crap. The story stinks, the acting stinks and ONLY a solid special effects sequence in the final act saves this from getting ZERO JRs. To make matters worse, the ending features everyone getting together and saying they want to go find and kill the evil aliens in ANOTHER movie. You can count me out this time. Avoid this at all costs! 0.5 / 5 JR Rating
I wasn't wild about this concept when I heard about it and the trailers for the film did not entice me at all. I still decided to go see it (yay MoviePass!) and I have to say it was a LITTLE better than what the trailers make it out to be. That being said, this movie simply didn't need to exist. Not even close to the quality/humor of the first two, this film spends too much time on special effects and a forced plot that features an annoying little evil loner. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are the best part of the film and there are some good laughs here and there. Be prepared to see an awful lot of forced cameos from the original cast that simply bloats the movie. I was entertained at times but I don't need to see this again and I'm NOT excited for a sequel. 3 / 5 JR Rating
The Secret Life of Pets
Crafted by the same team that brought us Despicable Me and Minions, this story of what pets do when their owners are not around is a real joy to watch. To put it simple, this is a VERY funny animated film with a good story, great voice acting (including a scene-stealing turn by Kevin Hart as a bad-ass bunny) and some stellar animation. This is easily the funniest computer animated movie I've seen since Lego Movie and should get an Oscar nom for Best Animated Feature. For those of you who have seen it, the sausage-land scene is worth the price of admission alone. 4 / 5 JR Rating
Star Trek Beyond
When the trailer for this film first came out it looked like a total disaster. Directed by Justin Lin of Fast & Furious fame, it seemed like one big action film and looked nothing like a typical Star Trek film. Thankfully, the trailer was all off and while there is indeed a lot of great action, the plot, acting and pacing of this 3rd film in the reboot series is easily the BEST of the bunch. Having spent two films laying down the groundwork for having this cast gel together, we are able to see the entire cast react to a classic stand-alone Star Trek plot. There are several nods to the old television series including a fond farewell to Leonard Nimoy. Unfortunately, the ghost of the recently deceased Anton Yelchin is on screen a lot and while Anton's performance as Chekov is excellent as usual, you can't help but watch him like a hawk in his scenes knowing he is no longer with us. I do like the recent idea that came out in the news of not re-casting Checkov in future films as a credit to the young actor gone too soon. Chris Pine, Zach Quinto and (in his funniest performance yet) Karl Urban are spot-on reprising their iconic roles as Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The added shine that makes Beyond such a good film is the addition of two new characters. Sofia Boutella plays a new alien named Jaylah who ends up helping the Enterprise crew. Her makeup and costume design is awesome and Boutella's performance is a fresh and welcome addition to the Star Trek universe. I hope she stays on in future films. Idris Elba plays the role of Krall, the latest franchise villain and gives the character a fierce determined presence. Towards the end of the film when Elba is allowed to give a real unencumbered performance, he shines and proves he's one of the better actors working today. This is one of the most entertaining and well crafted films of the year and totally raises the street cred of Justin Lin. 4.5 / 5 JR Rating
Monday, June 20, 2016
Kevin Hart is a one trick pony these days. He consistently stars in buddy comedies as the short, manic African American alongside a funny, TALLER partner. Having performed on-screen shenanigans with Will Ferrell, Ice Cube, Josh Gad and other comedic talents, Hart is fortunately good at what he does and I find him to be very funny overall as a comedian. Thankfully his partner in Central Intelligence is the supremely talented Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) who gives a flawless comedic performance and balances Hart perfectly. The result is one of the funnier movies of the year and a reminder to all of us that The Rock is cemented as a legitimate actor in today's Hollywood landscape.
Hart plays Calvin Joyner, a former high-school star athlete and homecoming king who is stuck in a boring accounting job 20-year-later with a troubled marriage. The Rock stars as Bob Stone, a former fat kid who was picked on and bullied at the same high school but grew up to be and a is-he-or-isn't-he CIA agent. Joyner and Stone get mixed up in a national security snafu as they meet us for a 20-year high school reunion. Amy Ryan plays the CIA operative who tries to track down the whereabouts of Stone. Hart as always plays the scared fish-out-of-water character perfectly and the audience can totally relate to his Joyner character as he tries to make sense of all the craziness that occurs during the movie. The real star here though is Johnson who does a great job of playing a happy-go-lucky dimwitted big guy with a heart of gold. His awe-shucks demeanor is refreshing and you really see his range as an actor. Unlike Hart's one-note performances, The Rock bring unique characteristics to most of his roles.
The film is paced well and features a variety of quality cameos including Jason Bateman as the older version of the bully who picked on The Rock in high school, and Aaron Paul as a CIA agent. NOTE: There is a line towards the end of the film that gives a great shout out to Jessie Pinkman from Breaking Bad. Another note to mention is that the CGI early in the film that shows The Rock's face superimposed on an overweight actor is pretty awful. All of those sequences are critical to the film's plot but I couldn't help but find the visual effects to be distracting and definitely not well-executed.
This movie is worth a rental for sure (don't really need to see something like this in the theater) and it sets itself up for a sequel down the line. I laughed a lot throughout and give Hart's latest effort a 4 out of 5 JR rating. It's good to see The Rock balance comedy with action (Fast & Furious franchise) and I expect him to be a very busy man on-screen over the next decade. He currently has the charm and physical skill set to work on big budget films like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his prime.
Finding Dory is the latest offering from the Pixar machine and yet another sequel. (If you love Pixar sequels, get ready because Cars 3 and Toy Story 4 are two of the next three offerings from the Lamp Laboratory) Andrew Stanton is back in the director's chair and he submerges us once again in the underwater world of Nemo, Marlin, Dory and other sea creatures who return from the first film Finding Nemo. Voice actors Ellen DeGeneres (Dory) and Albert Brooks (Marlin) return along with a new cast of characters including Hank the Octopus (voiced by Ed O'Neill), Destiny the nearsighted Whale Shark (voiced by Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the Beluga (voiced by Ty Burrell although I was 100% sure when watching the film that it was Jim Gaffigan in that role).
Themes of disability, fear and family are all touched on throughout the movie and the addition of Hank and some other new characters are welcome additions but the overall synopsis is a little similar to the first film. Instead of tracking down Nemo, Dory and friends are tracking down Dory's lost parents. The journey brings Dory to the Marine Life Institute (an aquarium/research center on the coast of California in which Sigourney Weaver's voice narrates the action) which features a variety of exhibits that Dory gets mixed up in. The highlight of which is a children's touch area where little rugrats try to touch Dory and her friends in a humorous setup that makes children's fingers look like objects of war. Dory must overcome her disabilities, work with her friends and try to escape the Institute and find her parents in the process. The end sequence featuring a crazy truck-chase (yes, a land-based truck chase) is well executed and the final action scenes are shot beautifully along the California coastline. Hank is probably the best part of the film as his character gives the Pixar animators a lot to work with due to his tentacle-powered movements and ability to camouflage within any environment.
This movie is entertaining and I had fun seeing it with my kids on Father's Day, but I just found myself looking for more from Pixar. There isn't much revolutionary in this film and while everything looks great under the sea and in the Marine Life Institute, I wasn't really blown away by what I was watching. Inside Out was a far superior and more original film and I really can't give Finding Dory much more than a 3.5 out of 5 JR rating. It's kind of a shame that the now #1 animated movie opening weekend belongs to a so-so sequel instead of a more deserving entry. In fact I think I might have liked February's Zootopia a little bit more than this movie.
BONUS Netflix Review for the movie Creep that was recommended to me by one of my friends and co-workers. Mark Duplass (who can really do no wrong in my book) plays a man with terminal cancer who lives in a cabin in a remote area. Director Patrick Brice plays a videographer hired by Duplass' character to film his last few moments of life for his unborn son to see. The movie is essentially a found-footage mystery with a few jump scares and a dark plot. I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't seen it but Duplass does a great job of being "creepy" and demented and the movie churns along at a brisk pace (only 76 minutes long) leading to a satisfying/disturbing ending. This is small-budget gem and another reason to watch anything that Duplass is involved with (even if HBO TAKES IT AWAY FROM YOU!!!!). I don't give ratings for rental films of previous-run movies I see on Netflix, but this movie would probably get a solid 4 out of 5.