Sunday, October 15, 2017

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women - Review

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall (aka for “The Town”) star in the film called “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”. An unconventional true life story of Dr. William Marston, a Harvard psychologist and inventor of the lie detector, his academic wife and their student assistant who all collectively became the inspiration for the iconic “Wonder Woman”.

Taking place around the early 1940’s the film itself isn’t just a story about creating a comic book character named “Wonder Woman”, it’s an up in your face sexually charged film that is both a honest and positive depiction of a polyamory relationship between the three people that contributed mightily to the comic book super heroine’s creation. In the film, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall), and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) slowly come to having a triangular relationship that includes working professionally together, becoming emotional and romantic bonded through steamy ménage à trois with one another to eventually moving in with one another for their entire life and having children with one another.

Director Angela Robinson does a solid job in bringing this film to an intellectual light without making it simply a super awkward story about people just having sex together. She effectively  recreates the political and social environment where their comic book and their personal relationship were considered both taboo and illegal for the 1940’s. But it is Robinson's direction ultimately that moves the story skillfully along as we see initially the well intention married couple's raison d etra (their reasons for being) in their legitimate academic pursuits become increasingly side track by their growing intimate passion for their female assistant. Its this romantic transition in their personal lives and their exploration of their unusual sexual relationship - their own experiences that help give rise to the conceptual idea of "Wonder Woman", the Amazonian female hero.

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" is not a feminist film, but a very sincere film about acts of personal bravery where (in their case) these three unique people did in fact find love with each other. A profound passionate deep seeded love bound by a genuine commitment to one another, that even after some initial episodes of anger and confusion, a realization that they could never ever live without the other.

3.00 Stars

Brawl in Cell Block 99 - Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Known for his comedic portrayals of characters, actor Vince Vaughn takes on a more serious dramatic challenge as a man named Bradley Thomas, a former boxer, now tow truck driver. Bradley sees himself as a respectful normal hard working blue collar stiff just trying to make ends meet providing for his home, his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter aka for Showtime’s “Dexter” Debra Morgan) and the child they are so desperate to have after several miscarriages.    

After getting laid off from his job, he head directly home to discover that not only is he at a crossroads financially apparently his personal life is unraveling as well with his wife sitting in her car in the driveway. She’s leaving him from feeling neglected and for the fact she is involved with another man. After promising to his wife he will do better, he goes back to an old friend for work. A job while more lucrative got him hooked on drugs 14 years ago which was being a drug courier for a local king pin.

When the money starts to come in, he also discovers the risks are increasing as well, including one night when he gets involved a gunfight between police officers and Mexican drug dealers he thought were allies. When the smoke clears, Bradley is badly hurt and thrown in to prison, where his enemies force him to commit an act of violence that turns the entire place into a savage battleground.

REVIEW: With a running time of 2:12 minutes “Brawl in Cell Block 99” initially is a quiet, somewhat stoic film about Bradley just trying to survive day to day. He’s not a bad man, actually he is quite the opposite as he seems to take great effort in always being very respectful to people he meets while simultaneously internally projecting a heighten sense of guarded suspicion to whomever is in the room with him. But as the film moves from his life on the outside of prison to a life inside of prison, Bradley becomes an entity of pure intellectual meanness and calculating violence for his survival and revenge.

 “Brawl in Cell Block 99” while a bit over the top at times still reminded me of a smart HBO styled drama filled with effective intimidating violence. A taught thriller filled with blood stained nasty and brutishness as Bradley goes slowly and deeper into sadistic prison hell. But it is Vince Vaughn masterful work here that makes his character sympathetic all the while he calmly, with a constant unsympathetic demeanor, crushes bones and bashes everyone who gets in his way. AND I MEAN EVERYONE.

Available now as a film that went straight to On-Demand.


3.25 Stars

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Marshall - Review

Marshall

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown, and James Cromwell, Director Reginald Hudlin's tells the 1941 story of a young man named Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) who crisscrossed the nation, North and South – East and West fighting for the legal justice of Negroes in America. The same young lawyer who eventually would try 32 cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown vs The Board of Education that ended segregation in America and who also would be appointed as the first African American Justice on the United States Supreme Court.

Principally based on an early 1941 trial in the career of Thurgood Marshall it follows the parallel track story line of his legal career as chief legal counselor for the NACCP as well as the specific legal drama itself of a black chauffeur limo driver named Joseph Spell (Sterling Brown) who is charged with raping a wealthy white socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) in very conservative Connecticut.

Specifically, Joseph Spell is charged with both sexual assault and attempted murder of his white socialite employer (Kate Hudson). Marshall realizing his client is going to be steamrolled he request that he be admit to represent his client in court by a residing Connecticut based lawyer. But he is quickly muzzled by the segregationist court Judge named Foster (James Cromwell) and is denied to be the lead counsel in the case. Instead Marshall develops another strategy by compelling local lawyer Jewish Sam Friedman to represent his client in court as the lead attorney while Marshal would provide the day to day strategy of the trial itself. But Friedman initial bucks at the idea of helping Marshall and Spell fearing his involvement in such a highly racially charged case would bring about Anti-Semitic actions towards him, his family and the local Jewish community as a whole. But after much artful persuasion by Marshall Attorney Friedman reluctantly agrees to try the case.

Together you see two the men Marshall and Friedman working as equal partners with both mounting a vigorous and compelling defense in the backdrop of an environment of northern racial and Anti-Semitic bigotry. It’s their partnership in this high profile case that eventually served as the template for Marshall's creation of the NAACP legal defense fund to help fight injustice and everywhere in the United States.

REVIEW: “Marshall is a solid piece of film making with plenty of surprises and excellent acting across the board. Overall, Director Reginald Hudlin show’s “Marshall” from many layered human perspectives. As a highly intelligent trial lawyer, then as a smart and intuitive judge of personalities and human temperament. As a standing tall fearless warrior for justice under constant threats to his life to a loving and nurturing husband. But what comes through above all else was that Thurgood Marshall was a personable principled man of great character and deportment and it is Actor Boseman who gives a top notch fine performance (again) in his interpretation of Marshall character without ever resorting to any moments of Hollywood clichés or superficiality. Boseman keeps his Thurgood Marshall very grounded throughout as a pillar of constant strength, intellect and personal fortitude, always keeping his actually interpretation of this historic man’s life seemingly fresh in every film frame. Humanely fresh where the larger principled idea that “right always beat might” was his guide. But Boseman also showed Marshall not to be anyone’s push over either. He was also a man completely unafraid even under extreme racial duress and pressures to use his mind and books to great effect as quickly as any cowboy would use his guns.

But it is actor Josh Gad as Jewish attorney Sam Friedman who is the surprising revelation in the film. Gad’s “Sam” goes from being a rather unassuming character to an earnest powerful personality in both his private – religious life as well as his work as the lead lawyer in the court room during his compelling questioning and cross examination. We watch Sam Friedman evolve from being a reluctant shy man, not wanting to make any local waves, to someone who comes to the realization of a much larger moral reality. Specifically putting the moral pieces together in his own mind that he too was a believer and fighter for justice of all.

I enjoyed every minute of this 1:58 minute running time film. And while at times the story did get a little over melodramatic and theatrical you will still see it as I did as a brilliant encapsulating brief moment in time. Ultimately the film showcases quite effectively how sometimes a small insignificant footnote in time can have a much broader historical impact on a nation as a whole.

The movie title may say “Marshall”, but the story masterful shows that actors Boseman and Gad are equally both very, very good. And because they were very, very good together, that makes the film “Marshall” very, very good as well.


3.50 Stars

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - Review


Blade Runner 2049

Director Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Prometheus”, “Black Hawk Down” & “The Martian”) who’s 1982 film called “Blade Runner” became a cult classic, now has his initial story of a dark and cold future revisited with the return of the highly anticipated sequel titled “Blade Runner 2049” with Director Denis Villeneuve formerly of “Sicario”, “Arrival” and “Incendies” (a great film if you have not seen it) taking over the directing duties.
BACKGROUND: “Blade Runner” of 1982 takes place in Los Angeles in November 2019, where we find ex-police officer named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who’s previously job was that of a  “Replicant Hunter” aka synthetic lifeforms’ who in fact look like real human beings. But when it is revealed from his former Boss that four “Replicants” have committed a bloody mutiny on the “Off World” colony Deckard is forcibly called out of retirement to track down those murderous android synthetics and eliminate them who have apparently returned to Earth to avoid being retired or to be direct euthanized.

Before starting the job, Deckard goes to a company called the Tyrell Corporation where he meets someone named Rachel (Sean Young) who is in fact a Replicant girl. She is an experimental ‘”Replicant” who believes herself to be human mostly because Rachael has been given false memories to provide an "emotional cushion" from being easily detected.
Events are then set into motion that pit Deckard's search for the “Replicants” against their search for the Tyrell Corporation to extend their lives. Compounding matters further we find Deckard becoming emotionally conflicted by what he is charged to do when he falls in love with Rachel. Confronted with his dilemma Deckard tries to find a path to going away with her with also an ending leaving open the possibility that Deckard also might not be human also.

Fast forward 30 years later to “Blade Runner 2049” where we find Officer K (Ryan Gosling) who is a bit of a mystery early on as to whether he is human or not. What we do know is he is called LAPD Officer KB36-3.7, aka K, officially a “Blade Runner” who tracks down and “retires,” aka kills, older model “Replicants” that have gone off the grid. But in his pursuit of “Replicants” Officer K unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into total chaos. A secret so altering that if revealed could change humanity’s place on earth forever. With this discovery Officer K (also referred to at times as “Joe”) goes off on a personal quest to find a former Blade Runner named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who's been missing or hiding for 30 years to get some answers.
REVIEW: DAZZLING, AN UNFLINCHING EVENT ON YOUR SENSES. “Blade Runner 2049” retains the full measure of the atmospherics of its original, but what jumps out at you from the first second of the film’s 2:44 minute running time is the complete suspension of big city reality as you know it or will ever imagine. This Los Angeles of 2049 is an endless vista wasteland conjured up out of the pure brilliance of Director Villeneuve as something completely original, imaginative and well beyond anything I have ever seen in a film. Every frame is a delicious experience of haunting aerial scenes of a cityscape below that is a modern hybrid of pure technology and flesh morphed into a dystopian paradox. A paradox of gleam and debris, grittiness and modern and decrepit and high-tech. At times it has a painfully old look about it and yet has moments of a wonderful nostalgia glow.

When closely examined from the ground “Blade Runner 2049” environment is a congested mingling of humans and artificiality all seamlessly conjoined together. Every facet of daily life looks and feels unpleasant with its overly narrow and overly broad streets, endless nonstop clusters of degrading concrete and steel as well as an omnipresent mist of gray and brown always lurking about as if clinging to every structure and people like some floating glue. This city is so tightly configured together it appears that its design had the idea of real humans living there more of an thought as to it ever making it someplace comfortably or habitable to live. LA is not a city, it’s a Rubix's cube of humanity tightly compressed by artificiality collectively trying to survive in an endless sea of minimalist and mega environmental strangeness.
As casting goes Ryan Gosling's as Agent K is impeccable cast as he creates the perfect balance of coldness and sympathy all the while keeping a poker face stare of being either human or not. Either way he is a soulless man with an occasional grin that showcases appropriately the required coolness and masculinity to survive in this futuristic dog eat dog world.

Jared Leto, known for his method acting style, plays a mysterious blind industrialist named Niander Wallace and while I consider Leto a fine actor I thought his “method” interpretation of his character was a little too cryptic and overall just being strange for strangeness sake leaving me at times confused about who he was and what his dialogue was trying to convey. I would have preferred Director Villeneuve’s originally casting choice in famed rocker David Bowie who unfortunately passed before film began. Bowie would have in my opinion brought a bit more diabolical soulfulness and diabolical warmth that Leto’s effort seem to severely lack. However from a technical perspective I was very impressed how Leto’s blind Wallace was given a totally imaginative way of letting him see who and what was in front of him; it just blew me away.

Harrison Ford to my surprise has very little screen time in the film. Still he manages to deliver some solid minutes as the recluse Rick Deckard tortured by decisions in his past that will have you questioning again is he human or not. But more importantly to this character and the film’s overall story plot, we are left to wonder why has he been hiding all these many years?

The musical score by Oscar Winner Hans Zimmer is brilliant as it is an exercise in raw pounding spine tingling sensation effectiveness. His score created memorable mood atmospherics of scenes from the air as well as on the ground evoking a real sense of ominous emotions and ominous dread. Zimmer in my opinion does Oscar worthy consideration work here that both massively improves on the original 1982 film’s score and at the same time pays respectful homage to the original musical work.
Overall while not every moment in the film is always coherent nor is every subplot offered (and there are many subplots) will make compete sense at every turn, “Blade Runner 2049” still works fabulously as a pure fictional story and is in my estimation is a marvel in movie making. It also asks a profound question that we can see without own eyes right now today with the ever advancements, enhancement and dependence upon self-thinking  and self-aware technology in our own time ……..”What is life?”

If you choose to see this, please, please, please don’t wait to rent this. The CGI is brilliant and will leave an indelible imprint in your mind. To rent this would be the equivalent of waiting to view and experience a one time joyful family event by way of video animation on a smartphone. And just as many of you who flocked to see the Best Picture Oscar nominated film "Gravity", this “Blade Runner 2049” also can only be experienced in the format of the theater where you can gain the full measure of the scale, the scope, the intricacy, the detail and the exquisite grandeur of a totally reimagining of desolation. Summarily a futuristic place completely consumed with unimaginable technology as well dust, pollution, oversized artifacts, hovering shades of brown-ish gray mist and piles of rust and decaying trash as far and wide as the city itself.
“Blade Runner 2049” is one of the better films you will see for 2017.
4 Stars

Sunday, October 1, 2017

(Updated) – Contenders for Oscar Best Picture Nominations

 (Updated) – Contenders for Oscar Best Picture Nominations
This year’s Oscar Best Picture contenders are harder to read than ever. But once again, I will take a monthly stab at listing those films that have the buzz as they stand today.

  Ø Blue are absolute locks.
  Ø Green are probable.
  Ø Red are strong sleepers.

1            Dunkirk
2            The Shape of Water
3            The Post
4            Call Me By Your Name
5            Get Out
6            The Florida Project
7            Last Flag Flying
8            Darkest Hour
9            Downsizing      
10        Phantom Thread     
11        Wonderstruck                                                   
12        Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
13        Mudbound                                                       
14        Blade Runner 2049
15        All The Money in the World
16        The Big Sick
17        Molly’s Game
18        The Greatest Showman
19        You Were Never Really Here
20        Wind River

Saturday, September 30, 2017

American Made - Review

American Made

Director Doug Liman, noted for such films as “The Bourne Identity”, “The Bourne Supremacy”, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Jason Bourne” continues to pad his already rather impressive resume with his latest true story effort titled “American Made” starring Tom Cruise.

“American Made” tells the amazing true story of commercial pilot, aka CIA operative, aka drug dealer, aka arms dealer, aka human trafficker Barry Seal (Cruise). Barry is a happily married man flying jets for TWA around 1978. Only problem is he is bored with his mundane career, seemingly flying from varying stops that are all becoming a singular blur to him ranging from Miami, Chicago and Washington DC to smaller markets like Pine Bluff, Charlotte to Tampa (so to speak). So with that as background we understand in the initial frame of the film when we see Barry who is so bored with what he does for a living that on one night time flight he deliberately takes his jet out of auto pilot to nose dive his plane just to watch the passengers’ reaction.

One day while flying into Miami, we see Barry smuggling some small amount of insignificant piece of Cuban contraband to a contact who works at an airport bar. The exchange is rather routine for Barry and up to that moment he has always gone unnoticed. Until on this one particular day he notices a red haired and bearded gentleman (Domhnall Gleeson) named Schafer making direct eye contact with him during the exchange. Schafer also then proceeds to introduce himself and coveys a litany of personal information about Barry that only some high level federal agency would have known. “Uh – Oh”, Barry has been made by the CIA. 

But rather than accusing Barry of some terrible criminal offense, Schafer offers Barry a rather interesting proposition in the way of coming to work for the government (in a manner of speaking) by strictly off the books fly very low aerial reconnaissance missions in a fast propeller plane in central America over specific countries that were immersed in burgeoning communist civil war conflicts.

From that one meeting we watch Barry Seal’s life be transformed overnight into an unbelievable story that would include him being involved in one of biggest covert CIA operations in United States history as well as help spawned the birth of the Medellin drug cartel and Pablo Escobar that almost brings down President Reagan in a constitutional scandal.

REVIEW: “American Made” is an almost 2 hour nonstop, energetic, flashy, smart, humorous and stylish romp of a film. In a story filled with layered intricacies, multiple moving parts and personalities and players all of whom have varying motives to grasp and comprehend, some of them big and others small in relevance and stature, overall the film is still very easy to comprehend as a highly pleasant and entertaining effort to watch. And while almost everything Barry does or happens to him is hard to believe much less imagine, Director Liman makes this film work from beginning to end with very few missteps.  

Without divulging any significant aspects to the film’s story, the film offers up Barry Seal not so much as some major harden criminal and more of the affable personable neighbor next door who still had a bit of Frat boy left in him. And when we see him in this dangerous new aspect of his life we also see the best and most clever of Barry’s personality ranging from moments of being a bit of a cagey West Texas Flying Cowboy to being the consummate smart street hustler, always thinking on his feet without a shred of panic in his DNA.

Yes, Barry is reckless, but he is also very calculating. Barry is crazier than hell, but far from being thought of as stupid. Barry is impulsive and does things by the seat of his pants, but he is never so far removed from reality that he doesn’t always have a plan to avoid pending disasters as we watch him skip death at every turn. And yet, we equally watch him manage to succeed in making more and more money as he gets further and further involved with more and more covert officials and more and more third world underground criminals. Barry is an old style western outlaw who rides a plane rather than horse who uses his pilot's license and his throttle as his gun.

Structurally “American Made” is at times both quite amusing and thrilling with some very unique and very memorable scenes. One involved Barry trying to take off for the first time in the jungles of Central America with a load of Pablo Escobar drugs. The second was a scene with Barry using money to explain to his wife exactly his new line of work. The third was the whole sequence of events of Barry’s redneck idiot brother laws arrival to his home in Mena, Arkansas. And finally a scene where Barry out maneuvers U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilots over the Gulf of Mexico.

But ultimately in the end the real reason to see “American Made” is Tom Cruise”. While the movie is very good, Cruise is great as he delivers his best performance in 10+ years. Not only is he exceptional in his performance, you can really see he is having a lot of fun. While technically we are watching a real life criminal at work in his Barry Seal, Cruise makes Seal more of a charming and personable “go with the flow” kind of guy, who seems more flawed than ever actually being some big time villain on anyone’s most wanted list.

More very light comedy than drama, "American Made has some parts that are mock documentary in style, other parts serious drama when the CIA, FBI, DEA, ATM and Secret Service get into the collective mix and other equal parts fast paced action film with crisp aerial scenes of planes flying to avoid detection. Director Liman's “American Made” delivers with all of the right stuff with Cruise at the helm and in control each step of the way. And while Cruise is actually 55 years old he manages to still portray Barry Seal with the right amount of youthful vigor that few if any Hollywood actors today could have done of a man living every aspect of his shorten life at break neck speed.

A final thought. As most film fans know by now Cruise is rebooting his iconic “Top Gun” sequel sometime in 2018 which I am sure will draw upon some of the components that make that 1986 film a global favorite as well as incorporating some new aspects of naval aviation life for the newer generation of fans to possible enjoy. With that aside I had an epiphany thought come to me..........a moment of what if  ..........“hmmmmmmmm”  after watching “American Made”. I wonder to myself if Cruise or anyone writing the screenplay to his "TOP gun 2”, would have the audacious courage of telling the new story of aviator Lt Pete “Maverick” Mitchell with some of the same character flaws of Barry Seal, just to take film fans on a pleasant and unexpected ride…………………….Eh probably not, - it was just the thought and as usual I digress.

In any event, please see “American Made” and watch the world's number one box office star Tom Cruise do what he has been doing for almost 40 plus year now with great consistency ………….”always delivering”.


3.75 Stars 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stronger - Review

Stronger

“STRONGER” is an inspirational true-life story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), the man whose iconic photo from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing captured the hearts of the world. Based on Bauman's New York Times bestselling book, co-authored with Bret Witter.

STORY:  Jeff Bauman’s story begins (literally) with him being seen working at the deli counter in Costco – he loves his job, just not as much as he loves the Boston Red Sox or Boston Bruins. It also reveals shortly in the film at a neighborhood bar that Jeff has had an on and off and on and off again relationship with Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). Missing her he makes overtures to patch things up with her at the bar by promising he will have “a big old sign” congratulating her for running the 2013 Boston Marathon, which she was doing largely to raise money for a charity.

Not taking him seriously as he had disappointed her too many times for her to count by not “simply not showing up” for other things in the past, we see Erin seemingly welcoming his attention but not holding out any real hope Jeff has changed from his sometimes "childish demeanor". But this time and true to his word, Jeff does show up at the finished line with his homemade sign in tow, waving it over his head just as we seen Erin turning the corner completing her run. It’s that pivotal moment we see Erin witness the first explosion and the large cloud of smoke that would change both of their lives forever.   
  
REVIEW: “Stronger” goes through the paces of watching Jeff regaining consciousness in the hospital with him using humor to deal with the sudden loss of both his legs, as well his ability to help law enforcement identify one of the suspects. But the overall arc of the film delves into Jeff’s emotional and physical battles with the unwavering support from his family in spite their over obsessions of celebrity status Jeff is receiving. We watch Jeff struggle with both his rehabilitation as well as his status of being told he was a hero and his day to day struggles in accepting it, sometime not understanding it and more so him sometime just hating it.

Gyllenhaal may have garnered a Best Oscar Actor nomination for his work here as well as for Tatiana Maslany in her supporting role as the supportive girlfriend. While Jeff was the one who lost his legs we watch for most of the film's 2 hours running time them dealing with the highs and lows of his legs gone by working as a couple striving together to survive this unexpected tragedy. 

Both actors as well as the large supporting cast do a really great job in capturing that working class Boston suburbs lingo - rhythm of talking and their close knit community character that made them take on the slogan of being “Boston Strong”. But ultimately its Jake Gyllenhaal's work here that is brilliant. He wears both the agony of Jeff's pain and his self deprecating hilarity with heart felt sincerity and authenticity. We see the intimacy on Gyllenhaals face - his eyes as to what he is feeling in that very moment. We also see the intimacy in the physical hard work to re-learning to actually walk again with new prosthetic legs. Neither the film nor Gyllenhaal performance sugarcoats this man's story from his near death to his eventual recovery. I believe if in anyone else was in this film as Jeff this story would not have been as interesting nor compelling. Jake Gyllenhaal makes all the difference in "Stronger".

In the end “Stronger” is about Jeff’s’ recovery through some painful and frightening struggles to recover to getting his life back to some degree of normalcy. But its the execution of the film's moment to moment struggles that give it the feeling of something real every single frame by utilizing the patience and attention to detail to Jeff's sudden change in life from this ordeal.

If you see this in the theater and I recommend you do, you will see as I did how Director shows some tough and hard resilient moments, including Jeff removing the bandages for the first time, his gay Costco manager showing up at the hospital,  Jeff getting a note from Erin and finally the meeting between Jeff and the man who save his life by tying a tourniquet on both his legs. All of these scenes are very powerful.

“Stronger” is not an Oscar caliber film, but it is a very good film about family, love and the rigors of rehabilitation. It is also about community pride and how it was the catalyst (in his case) into helping Jeff overcome his loss and thereby helping him accept his hero status from being a random victim without him dwelling (as best he could) on singularly not being just a victim.


3.75 Stars