Thursday, January 4, 2018

7 Days of Movies - Reviews


Over the holidays I took some time off from work and went on a full movie binge, seeing 7 movies in 7 straight days.  It was wonderful (made possible by MoviePass of course).  Since I bought my year of MoviePass in advance for $89, I saw 12 movies in December.  At an average ticket price of $12 (let's say), that's $144 in ticket prices.  So it's safe to say based on December alone that MoviePass is well worth it.  I will be seeing movies for free (getting Regal rewards points, charging my car at the mall for free, etc) for the next 11 months.  I doubt MoviePass can sustain long-term, but I'm going to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

As for the movies of movie week, here are some mini reviews on the films I saw (in chronological order):

The Greatest Showman

A new movie musical staring supreme entertainer extraordinaire Hugh Jackman that chronicles the life of P.T. Barnum.  The story is a bit cheesy at times and quite Disney-afied (even though the movie is not Disney), but the acting is pretty strong (kudos to Zendaya who is GOING to be a HUGE star).  Big props to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land lyricists) who put together a fantastic group of original pop songs that accent the key moments of the film. Listening to the soundtrack over the holidays (and while writing this blog post), my rating went up from a 3.5 to 4 out of 5 JRs.

The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro's whimsical unique love story centers on Elisa (Sally Hawkins) a mute woman working as a cleaning lady in a top secret government facility in Baltimore who ends up befriending a strange mutant fish-man creature that was captured and tested on by American scientists.  Yes the premise seems insane but the movie is quite good thanks to a slew of stellar acting performances.  Richard Jenkins might just have delivered his very best performance as a funny, sweet old neighbor of Elisa's while Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon (who is GREAT in EVERYTHING) add quality supporting turns.  Overall the movie is great to look at with a lot of retro drab noir colors but it didn't completely blow me away.  It's definitely not Del Toro's best work (the Fish Love didn't really work for me) but it's worth watching for the acting alone.  Hawkins was great but she won't win Best Actress.  4 out of 5 JRs.

Downsizing

This is an example of a movie that has two distinct halves.  Alexander Payne delivers an amazingly original concept with the idea of shrinking humans down to the height of a quarter coin to allow them to consume less resources and extend their bank accounts.  The process (called Downsizing of course) is fascinating to watch as the audience gets to follow Matt Damon go through the motions of becoming small.  Right after the experiment we see him presented with a giant Saltine Crackers packet from his nurse as a joke.  It's these product placements and the realism of the small world that is fun and rewarding to watch.  However, midway through the film Payne decides to shove environmental activism down our throats as Damon and his friends (including the always excellent Christoph Waltz) travel to Norway to visit the creator of the Downsizing process and visit a hippie community that plans to live underground as the rest of the world destroys itself.  The positive side-effect of this plot turn is that we get to watch Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist shrunk against her will by her government.  Chau gives an authentic comedic (yet touching) performance as the love interest of Damon's character.  Nominated for a Golden Globe, I'm hoping she gets some Oscar love as well.  This movie could have been a lot better, but the first half alone is enough to garner a 3.5 out of 5 JR rating.

Molly's Game

Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut (sounds strange but it's true) is a rousing, intense tale of real-life ex-skier Molly Bloom who ran a successful underground poker game in Los Angeles and New York City for years before getting busted by the FBI.  Jessica Chastain is excellent in the lead role as Bloom.  Sexy, strong and determined, she portrays a driven woman who plays by the rules as long as she can.  The back-and-forth between her and her lawyer (played brilliantly by the great Idris Elba) is really fun to watch and Elba's speech to the opposing counsel at the end of the film is a truly triumphant moment.  Kevin Costner gives a solid supporting performance as Molly's father and Michael Cera adds to the realism of the poker games by playing "Player X" a combination of a bunch of celebrity poker players identified in Bloom's real-life book of the same name. This movie is extremely tense throughout and features Sorkin's patented firecracker dialogue.  Slightly rough at the edges but entirely interesting and rewarding to watch (especially if you are into poker like I am) Molly's Game is a must-see and earns 4.5 out of 5 JRs.  I feel like I need to go out and read Bloom's book now to get more inside info on these legendary poker games. 

I, Tonya

This is another film that's all about character performances.  The re-enactment of the events of 1992-1994 that follow the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan saga is portrayed on the big screen .  This is a film that doesn't need to be seen in a theater but SHOULD be seen by everyone.  The acting of Margot Robbie as Harding is superb.  She is obviously more attractive than the real life figure skater but really nails her white-trash demeanor. The REAL star of this film, however, is Allison Janney who gives THE BEST performance of her stellar career.  Playing Tonya's mother LaVona Fay Golden, Janney is brash, in your face, smoking 1000% of the time and totally OWNING every scene she's in.  In several scenes she has a bird on her shoulder picking at her gray mop-top of hair.  Halfway through the film, director Craig Gillespie cuts to an interview shot of Golden who exclaims “Well my storyline is disappearing, what the fuck?" and every member of the audience totally agrees with her.  You find yourself missing seeing Janney on-screen.  All along, you wonder if this is just an over-the-top caricature of Harding's mom, but at the end when the clips roll of the real-life individuals of this story, you can clearly see that Golden seems to really be as crazy as Janney makes her out to be.  At the Oscars the supporting actress race will come down to two people:  Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) and Janney.  I am totally Team Janney here as I thought she just gave a more powerful (hilarious) performance.  I didn't love Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly and the CGI work done on the stunt version of Tonya (Robbie's face looks so fake on her body) took me out of the movie a bit, but I, Tonya still earns a 4 out of 5 JR rating.

The Post

Steven Spielberg is all grown up now, making big-boy movies like this one, a re-telling of the publishing of the Pentagon Paper by The Washington Post and the New York Times.  Meryl Streep stars as Washington Post owner Katharine Graham and as an audience we are rewarded to see her paired with Tom Hanks (The Post's editor Ben Bradlee) for the first time.  The back and forth between Streep and Hanks is a true joy to watch and both give their usual all-star turns in the lead roles.  Bob Odenkirk ditches his Saul character to give a strong supporting performance as reporter Ben Bagdikian. While the story was a bit too political for my taste it is still a worthwhile drama that showcases the power of the press and why freedom is so important.  It's really cool to see Spielberg's serious side and the way he uses the camera so effectively to set up his scenes.  The deft direction combined with the excellent acting across the board is enough to push this movie up to a 4.5 out of 5 JR rating.  Not as good as Spotlight, but good enough to be one of Spielberg's better films.

Darkest Hour

As Allison Janney did in I, Tonya, Gary Oldman EASILY gives his BEST PERFORMANCE of his career as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in this slice-of-war film by Joe Wright (Atonement) which covers the late 30's / early 40's and the events surrounding World War II.  The movie is by-the-book and hints at the events of Dunkirk (a Darkest Hour / Dunkirk mashup would be fun to see).  It's entertaining (if a bit too long) but all else is unimportant as we watch the magic of Oldman's performance.  It simply is one of the very best acting performances I've seen in years.  In every scene he's in, you find yourself riveted by his presence.  His speeches throughout the film are powerful and lead to a poignant scene towards the end where Churchill walks onto a subway train for the first time in his life and sits and talks with the general public.  Their reaction to his presence is priceless and seems so genuine as by that time you totally forget that Gary Oldman is acting as Winston Churchill under all that makeup and extra pounds.  Oldman becomes Churchill long before that in the film.  The Academy should just give Oldman the Oscar right now.  Well deserved for a great career and stand-out performance as Britian's bombastic orator.  4 out of 5 JRs for this film.

All in all, I saw a lot of GOOD movies, a couple GREAT ones, no perfect films but thankfully no stinkers.  The quality of acting for that week was off the charts and I'm looking forward to the Golden Globes this Sunday evening.  All the above films are worth watching so go check some of them out at the theater.

Stay tuned, for more reviews and my Top Ten List of 2017 in a couple of weeks.