Monday, January 4, 2016

Holiday Mega Movie Review (7 films)


The past few weeks have been very busy with the holiday rush but I have managed to sneak in a bunch of films over the past month.  What follows are a few quick-hit reviews in chronological viewing order detailing what I saw over my holiday break.  On Saturday I managed to attend three films on this list in one day with my wife and it was another memorable Oscar-cram-session.  Stay tuned for a few more to close out 2015 including the anticipated The Revenant.

Sisters

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play geographically displaced sisters (and best friends) who reconvene in Florida for one last mega party at their parents' home before it is sold.  Like Baby Mama before it, this is another solid pairing of the two actresses and friends and it was great to see Tina Fey go all crass and extremely R-rated.  Bonus kudos to the supporting cast of SNL players who made the raging house party at the center of the plot one that elicited quite a bit of LOL moments.  This film was waaayyyy funnier than Trainwreck and ends up being one of the funniest movies of 2015. 4 out of 5 JRs.

Peanuts

Charles Schultz's memorable band of hand-drawn misfits makes its way onto the big screen with some computer generated re-touches.  All of the humor from the newspaper comic and the holiday specials are in tact and it seems that the Peanuts gang hasn't skipped a beat.  The movie is nowhere near perfect and the plot is kinda straight forward and boring at times, but overall it's worth a viewing, especially if you're fond of the comic strip and cartoon specials.  3.5 out of 5 for a well-done conversion from hand drawn animation to a computer generated medium.

Concussion

Will Smith gives his most accomplished performance of his career in embodying the personality and drive of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist who discovers a new brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma that becomes a risk to professional football players.  The deep dive into the risks of being an NFL player is deftly helmed by director Peter Landesman who gets star turns by supporting actors Albert Brooks and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.  Along with Spotlight, this is another film that sheds a light the dark underbelly of a Sunday tradition (Church/Football).  Smith has never been better and should earn an Academy Award nomination for his vulnerable and determined performance.  He really has come a long way as an actor from his Bel-Air roots on television.  A solid 4.5 out of 5 JRs for this one.

The Danish Girl

Tom Hooper has gone back in time once again (King's Speech, Les Miserables, etc..) and has found some truly gripping subject matter with this film, a partially true re-telling of the first successful sex reassignment surgery performed in Europe in 1930.  Eddie Redmayne gives another amazing performance in a difficult role following up his Oscar win of last year as Einar Wegener, a Danish painter who discovers that dressing and acting as a woman feels natural for him as a person and explores his desires with the support of his wife Gerta (played by Ex Machina's Alicia Vikander). This film is gripping and tense throughout as you end up feeling the pain of Einar's transition to Lili and the effect it has on two people in a very loving marriage. This film is ultimately not about gender but unconditional love between two human beings.  Vikander gives the female acting performance of the year and Redmayne now has two all-star portrayals under his belt at the ripe young age of 33. 5 out of 5 JRs for an engrossing and tremendously acted film.

The Hateful Eight

The latest from Quentin Tarantino is a full-on robust Western that ends up feeling more like a stage play in the middle of the film. Set in the wintery Wyoming wilderness in the middle of a driving blizzard, this film tells the story of 8 strangers that meet in a remote habedashery with Kurt Russell carrying his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh in a wild and messy role) to hang in a nearby town as the main plot point.  The less I tell you about the plot, the more you'll enjoy the film and the real star here is Samuel L. Jackson in a lead role. Watching him deliver quick-witted Tarantino lines of dialogue once again is a dream come true. The movie feels a bit long at times and sure there could have been some tidying up from a director's perspective, but overall it's a fun 3 hours at the cinema.  QT keeps delivering every time he steps up to bat.  4.5 out of 5 JRs.

The Big Short

The collapse of the housing market in the late 2000's doesn't seem like the right source material for a witty quasi-comedy.  Directory Adam McKay steps outside the Anchorman/Step Brothers box and does a wonderful job of adapting Michael Lewis' best-selling book to the big screen with the help of a game all-star cast (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt).  In trying to cater to some of us that hate thinking about finances and math, McKay employs a brilliant way of explaining mortgage financing by getting celebrities such as Margot Robbie (naked in a bathtub), Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez (randomly at a blackjack table) to dumb things down for us.  It partially works but I still found myself tuning out at times.  McKay means well here and this really is a uniquely crafted comedy/drama that pops off the screen.  However, personally rating this film I have to give it 3 out of 5 JRs as I really was turned off by the subject matter.

Carol

This is Todd Haynes' latest period piece set in the 1950's that focuses on the secret relationship between Carol (Cate Blanchett), an affluent housewife and new divorcee and a introverted department store clerk named Therese (played quietly by Rooney Mara).  This film SLOWLY, and I mean S L O W L Y builds to a tryst encounter in a hotel room that cements the love the two characters have for each other.  The rest of the film is just slow and plodding and frankly VERY boring. Blanchett and Mara give good performances but so much of Carol is basic and uninteresting. The last quarter of the film puts things in perspective and wraps up the story nicely but it can't save the movie from earning just 2 out of 5 JRs.