Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stronger - Review


“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

Battle of the Sexes - Review

Battle of the Sexes

“Battle of the Sexes” is a true drama – light comedic sports film directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Simon Beaufoy. The plot is loosely based on the lives of tennis great Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs respectively, with Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Sarah Silverman in supporting roles.

In 1973 a novice idea by former No. 1 tennis player Bobby Riggs of having a tennis match between Billie Jean King and himself became not only the most watched televised sports event of all time, it also was a pivotal moment in sports history for women in all endeavors of competitive sports to them achieving some measure of greater parity and respect in their chosen fields of endeavor.

REVIEW: “Battle of the Sexes” doesn’t offer anything in the way of being reviting or surprising that I didn’t already know and therefore the film largely stays in a safe predictable lane of focusing on King’s status as tennis No.1 player and Riggs antics as an affable and loveable father and husband.

But what the film gradually does quite effectively is intimately reveal some of the off-court turmoil as well as the deeply personal matters for both King and Riggs that had nothing to do with tennis. And while these personal issues were not always obvious to the public eye or media scrutiny it did have a profound impact on their respective individual personal lives as well eventually the tennis game they loved as well. Specifically we see the complexities of King’s marriage to a truly loving and supportive husband while at the same she begins to struggle mightily to come to terms with her own sexuality in the way of a hairdresser that she met one day. We also see Riggs comedic outlook on life was a bit of a mask to his own personal demon of having a gambling compulsion which not only affected him financially, it damaged his professional tennis legacy and his marriage to a wealthy socialite who was equally supportive and loving as well.

But the real reason to see “Battle of the Sexes” is for the across the board sensational acting, with Emma Stone and Steve Carell leading the way. They not only re-imagine the political and social climates of the early 1970’s they also with a solid screenplay help make the relevance of their tennis match seem profound again on the big screen.

If you were to read a book or an article of this epic 1973 tennis match you would not get the full measure of its national impact as this film does reenacting both the buildup and tennis match itself. And while the film largely focuses on King, it's still a compelling story, about her achievement beyond her physical ability to playing tennis with her unusual for its time aggressive style. King comes across as a decent woman whose only desire in life was to be the best the tennis player in the world and to help her fellow female tennis players being treated equally financially as their male tennis USTA counterparts.  King herself never seemed to understand  or ever wanted to in the moments some kind of iconic trailblazer for women's equality………………..But she was.

“Battle of the Sexes” is highly entertaining that is also very personal, funny, warm and informative.

3.50 Stars

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mother - Review


Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer star in Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) latest effort called Mother” a riveting psychological thriller about love, devotion and sacrifice.

THIS PLOT NEEDS SOME EXPLAINING: From the onset of the first frame, you get a sense that there is something slightly off about the film’s tone, its characters and even the way their large home sits in the middle of a field. They all seemingly (both the married couple and their home) feel unusually and overly isolated from having any neighbors living nearby, much less ever being remotely connected to a local community, town or city. The sense of their isolation is powerfully obvious from the get go.

Jennifer Lawrence who plays “Mother” (no one in the entire film have any given names) is a 20 something very sweet, meek and overly submissive wife to her older husband (Bardem) who can be a times a bit charming and yet be equally odd, impulsively dominant toward his “Mother” - wife; exhibiting erratic spontaneous moments of being brooding, narcissistic and a malcontent. You wonder from the beginning of the film what Lawrence’s and Bardem’s characters ever saw in each other to ever be married in the first place.

Mother has a daily routine which is getting up to making breakfast for her husband and obsessively working to personally rehabbing their lovely fixer upper country home from top to bottom, while her husband goes off to his upstairs (off limits) office to begin to write his new work. Apparently he has had some previous successful written works published that has given him some measure of national acclaim, but now he has writers block and can’t seem to find “my inspiration again”.

One late evening a “stranger” (Ed Harris) comes to their home apparently telling the married couple that he was under the impression from someone locally that they were running a bed and breakfast. Immediately the husband (Bardem) and the stranger hit it off oddly acting like they are lifelong friends which causes Mother some concern. Her apprehensions becomes more pronounced when she learns late that night Bardem’s character has offered to let the “stranger” stay overnight without consulting her (Mother).

The next morning while cooking breakfast and after hearing the stranger up most of the night coughing his lungs out, his wife oddly shows up (Michelle Pfeiffer) moving into their home (uninvited) with luggage in tow into the room her husband (the stranger) is staying in. Later on after some odd conversations between the stranger’s wife and “Mother” we discover the “stranger” lied about why he showed up last night. The fact is he was a huge fan of Bardem’s character previous written works and just wanted to meet him before he dies from a terminal illness (he likes to smoke a lot) . Meanwhile, Mother now has new house guest in her home as her husband implores her to be nice to them as he has invited them to stay as long as they want due to his new friend's health condition. 

Shortly after this revelation, the two strangers two adult son’s show up (also unannounced) to immediately begin arguing about how one found out the other is slated to get all of their father’s financial assets in his will, resulting in an all-out terribly brawl. It’s this key confrontation that leads to eventually an endless array of other strangers totaling in the hundreds showing up at their home (uninvited), literally taking unreasonable liberties with the couple’s hospitality and home by staying over night, eating their food, stealing their possessions and simply invading "Mother's" privacy for no apparently reason or rational. FULL STOP.

REVIEW: Director Aronofsky has clearly drawn his inspiration from Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic “Rosemary’s Baby”. Both “Mother” and “Rosemary Baby” share the same plot component about the incompleteness of one’s life by not having children. And while overall structurally “Mother” shares some of the same hypnotic sequences of “R’sB” where reality and dreams cannot be distinguished from one another. Its basic story is an endless meandering display of unexplained emotional dimension seemly timeless to the films principle characters respective lives. If you see this film you will learn its not solely a horror film, but more of a viewer’s exercise of trying to distinguish what is either moments of horror, of light, of superstitions and primortal human fears.

Mostly because “Mother” (Lawrence) seems to be the most normal person in the film we root for her as she is perpetually surrounded by hundreds of strange people who are unpleasant, always engaging in aggressive nihilistic behavior; who are ugly with unruly dispositions and who seemingly only want to inflict that anger on her – Mother”. And yet they project themselves in the film as being the normal ones by always questioning and demanding of “Mother’ to be nice to them as she grows appropriately more frustrated by this wholesale unexpected intrusion into her previous quiet life.

“Mother” is hard to turn your head away from pure boredom for any of its 2 hour running time as it is quite compelling to visually look at. And yet it is singularly the oddest movie going experience I have ever had - EVER. In a nut shell I don’t understand how in the hell this film was ever green lighted with these four A list  actors on board other than some producer gave the Director a pile of money to do whatever he wanted including adding an unexplained sequence of Lawrence’s “Mother” perpetually drinking some yellow bromide concoction whenever she became overly nervous or upset to calm herself down. This and many other odd ticks in this film are encased in a continuous frame after frame of endless chaos inside their home that at times mirrored scenes from “Mad Max: Fury Road” to “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Exorcist”…………….Yep that weird.

“Mother” is intriguing to watch, but is also terribly frustrating to watch with its bizarre and over the-top,………….I mean way, way, way over the top manner. If I had to guess I believe Director Darren Aronofsky was trying to tell some modern biblical allegory story about the creation of Adam and Eve and how their creation gave way to the eventual birth of Christ into a nihilist world of depraved sinners and hedonistic behavior. If that is the case then I need to start going back to Sunday school and start reading my bible on lunch break at work.

This was one hell of a mental trip of a movie to watch.  I can only suggest to you that if you do at some point see or rent "Mother" I promise you will muttering under your breath the whole time……………..WTF?.

2 Stars

Sunday, September 10, 2017

IT - Review


New Line Cinema's horror thriller "IT," directed by Andy Muschietti ("Mama"), is based on the hugely popular Stephen King novel of the same name, which has been terrifying readers for decades.

Taking place in the late 1980’s we find seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare -- an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town's children in the form of a Clown. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer, the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown commonly known as “Pennywise”.

REVIEW: Based on the 88% score on Rotten Tomato I am definitely in the minority who believed this film is a cut above. In fact I found it a cut below, filled with sequences after sequences of scenes that add up to essentially to nothing at all that was ever horrifying much less interesting or compelling to watch for its rather lengthy 2 hours 15 minutes.

Overall this modern adaptation of Kings “IT” felt very stale from beginning to the very end jumping around from each child’s individual personal story without a shred of coherence or clarity of what connects them uniquely to the overall story’s narrative of why so many of the towns children have gone missing over the many year. And if the directing wasn’t sloppy enough to make this film a complete mess, I found the acting of most of the adolescent actors in the film beyond annoying with their endless conversational bantering with each other that never seem to be connected to the very person standing directly in front of them.

Ultimately, “IT” is a story about adolescent fear. But the director desire to squeeze each child’s base fear into the film story made “IT” seem completely rudderless with its cluttered dialog. But more importantly the film lacked the core foundation of what makes most horror films great and that is by simply letting the natural rhythms of tension build up quietly and slowly. “IT” fails miserably in that regard with its lack of discipline and focus.

When the movie was over the audience I was with today actually applauded when the film was over. And while I know they were probably expressing the fact they actually like what they saw, for the sake of my opinion here I am going to assume that some of those people that were clapping felt just like me in that they were very happy the film was over.

1.75 Stars

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Leading Contenders for Oscar Nominations

Leading Contenders for Oscar 
Sunday - September – 3rd, 2017

“All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
“Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight)
“Blade Runner 2049” (Warner Bros./Columbia Pictures/Alcon Entertainment)
“Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“The Current War” (The Weinstein Company)
“Darkest Hour” (Universal Studios/Focus Features)
“Downsizing”(Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)
“Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.)
 “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
“ Mudbound” (Armory Films)
“Roman Israel” (Sony Films)
“The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
“Last Flag Flying” (Amazon Studios)
“The Post” (20th Century Fox)
“The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight Picture)
“Victoria and Abdul” (Focus Features)

Annette Bening, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game” (STX Entertainment)
Judi Dench, “Victoria and Abdul” (Focus Features)
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight)
Diane Kruger, “In the Fade” (Magnolia Pictures)
Emma Stone, “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight)
Meryl Streep, “The Post” (20th Century Fox)
Michelle Williams, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Michelle Williams, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
Kate Winslet, “Wonder Wheel” (Amazon Studios
Chadwick Boseman, “Marshall” (Open Road Films)
Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight)
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Current War” (The Weinstein Company)
Matt Damon, “Downsizing”(Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist” (Warner Bros.)
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Stronger” (Lionsgate)
Michael Keaton “The Founder” (Weinstein Company)
Andrew Garfield, “Breathe” (Bleecker Street/Participant Media)
Domnhall Gleeson, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Hugh Jackman, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
Liam Neeson, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” (Universal Studios/Focus Features)
Kevin Spacey, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Jacob Tremblay, “Wonder” (Lionsgate)

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound” (Netflix)
Hong Chau, “Downsizing” (Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)
Melissa Leo, “Novitiate” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread” (Annapurna Pictures/Focus Features)
Michelle Pfeiffer, “Mother!” (Paramount Pictures)
Margot Robbie, “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Kristin Scott Thomas, “Darkest Hour” (Universal Studios/Focus Features)
Keala Settle, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight Picture)
Michelle Williams, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project” (A24)
Idris Elba, “Molly’s Game” (STX Entertainment)
Colin Farrell, “Roman Israel, Esq.” (Columbia)
Armie Hammer, “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Ed Harris, “Mother!” (Paramount Pictures)
Ben Mendelsohn, “Darkest Hour” (Universal Studios/Focus Features)
Michael Shannon, “The Current War” (The Weinstein Company)
Kevin Spacey, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Mark Wahlberg, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Christoph Waltz, “Downsizing”(Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ingrid Goes West - Review

Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is an unhinged social media stalker with a history of confusing "likes" for meaningful relationships. Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen who is also in “Wind River”) is an Instagram-famous "influencer" who’s perfectly curated, boho-chic lifestyle becomes Ingrid's latest obsession. When Ingrid moves to LA and manages to insinuate herself into the social media star's life, their relationship quickly goes from #BFF to #WTF. Built around a brilliantly disarming performance from Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West (winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance) is a savagely hilarious dark comedy that satirizes the modern world of social media and proves that being #perfect isn't all it's cracked up to be.

REVIEW:  “Ingrid Goes West” (a username in the film) is as sharp, smart, insightful, dark and funny, light and dramatic, sinister and haunting, warm and nurturing films I have seen this year.  Aubrey Plaza is both flawless and brilliant in her acting as the socially out of touch Ingrid who while watching the film you feel a range of emotions for her Ingrid that ranges from being someone who you genuinely want to get some professional counseling to someone who you find is funny, charming, sexy, clever, calculating and repulsive to eventually being someone who is downright Bat Shit Crazy as hell. But the real magic of this film is the writing in how it keeps you thoroughly engaged into the lead character Ingrid that you really kind of root for her even though she is so easy to dislike. Subconsciously, the film masterfully draws you in and keeps you there into really wanting Ingrid to be just happy in spite of some of the horribly desperate things she does to others and to herself.

“Ingrid Goes West” is a brilliant satirical look at the way some millennials today rely way too much on social media as their sole determinant into their own self-worth, rather than taking the plunge the old fashion way of randomly meeting people (bars, church, school and or parties) and engaging one another in ad hoc conversations; walking the tightrope of fate of being rejected face to face by someone rather than through an Instagram or a text.  

Filled with the same wit, vivid depictions, biting comedy, drama and attitude as HBO's "Girls", I found “Ingrid Goes West” to be one of the best films out this year about real people. I encourage everyone to see in either their local theater, NETFLIX, Amazon, Redbox and or On Demand venues.

3.75 Stars

Good Time - Review

Good Time

After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Constantine "Connie" Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city's underworld in an increasingly desperate and dangerous attempt to get his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of jail who has a mild form of mental dysfunction. Over the course of one 24 hour adrenalized filled night, Connie finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance.

REVIEW: “Good Time" started out with a blast as one of the more unconventional films I have seen all year. Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Sagas) exudes a lot on screen charisma and believability as this low life petty criminal sort of living off the land even if the land is New York City. He moves about with the primal instincts of a lion on the hunt for the next meal. But Pattinson acting prowess alone here is not enough to keep this helter skelter plot afloat for its 1:40 minutes running time. “Good Time” is essentially about a man spiraling downward running out of options to getting his brother out of jail. And just like the premise itself, the construct of the films writing, supporting characters and general flow of the film itself seems to rapidly spiral downward along with it.

Overall the film gets stale very quickly as the plot and lead characters get boiled down to being about absolutely nothing that really matters. And by the end of the film you either forgot what all of the craziness was for, how stupid the decisions that were made and how repulsive these people have become that you either simply don’t give a damn that this was all for the purpose of getting Nick out of jail, forgot Nick was in jail or you simply didn’t care anymore that Nick was in jail. Count me as I didn’t care anymore voting side.

Rotten Tomato has this film with a score off 88. That is completely nuts as “Good Time”, is too dark, cold and aloof with way too much over the top amateurish acting, not to mention a screenplay that is far more hollow than it was ever interesting or compelling.

Rent at your own peril.

1.75 Stars