Sunday, March 18, 2018

Love, Simon - Review

Love, Simon

Rising star actor Nick Robinson along with Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel lead a large ensemble cast of twenty something’s playing high school teenagers in the coming of age and the coming out story of a student named Simon Spier (Robinson) in the lightly romantic comedy - lightly dramatic film directed by Greg Berlanti called “Love, Simon”.

The story revolves around seventeen-year old Simon Spier who is attending high school in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. But his life has become increasingly complicated by the fact that he has come to realize he is gay, but has yet to tell his family or friends. But one day one of his friends Leah, who also doesn’t know about Simon being gay, tells him as a matter of gossip about an online confession of a closeted gay student in social media at their high school, known only as "Blue". Simon seeing this as opportunity to finally share his feelings with someone without divulging to everyone what he is going through proceeds to reach out to “Blue” anonymously under his own alias, "Jacques".

But Simon’s secret is discovered by a naïve school jerk named Martin who proceeds to blackmailing Simon into helping him hook up with a girl named Abby who Simon is good friends with. Martin wants to go out on a date with her in the hopes of Abby eventually being his girlfriend and threatens Simon if he doesn’t help him with Abby he will reveal his secret on line to everyone. But as one could expect, the more Simon tries to keep his secret by helping Martin the more of a mess he makes of his life with his friends, his family and “Blue”.   

REVIEW: “Love, Simon” is less of an imaginative film and more of a text book basic story of what has probably happened in real life to almost every teenager and their respective families; the awkwardness, the peril, the dread and the fear people feel when coming out gay. But where this film works well is in the area of highlighting the real emotional ups and downs both through humor and drama while never sacrificing one over the other in key moments when some real emotional depth is call upon.   

Ultimately “Love, Simon” under a cinematic microscope is a light hearted film that is reflective of a changing culture in its attitudes about homosexuality, especially from the perspective of a growing younger audience and population who are simply and naturally more comfortable with their friends being gay, as well as sharing aspects about their relationships in social media.

From a much broad cinematic perspective and as far as romantic film stories go “Love, Simon never gets too weighty in dealing with this subject. It also a few times lathered on the sentimental schmaltz a little too thick for my sake. But in the end both of these are only minor flaws to the story as I still found the film to be very charming to watch.

“Love, Simon’s” story stays in the lane of the important principle of being honest with one another and to yourself with winsomeness, charm, compassion and decency. And when you add to this story an excellent young ensemble cast, a quality script and a genuine mystery to tantalize the audience with, the film is very well-crafted as a refreshing cultural adolescent moment on the subject of acceptance regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation.  

3.50 Stars

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thoroughbreds - Review


Anya Taylor-Joy (formerly of “Split”) and Olivia Cooke (formerly of “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl”) play childhood friends Lily (Taylor) and Amanda (Cooke) who reconnect in suburban WASPY Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished, upper-class teenager, with a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume. Amanda is still in her middle working class neighborhood who has now developed a sharp wit with her own set of particular and peculiar attitudes as well becoming a social outcast in circles at school.

Though they initially seem completely different from the adolescent days, the pair begin to bond through Lily's contempt for her oppressive and oddly weird stepfather Mark. As the two young ladies get reacquainted and their friendship grows, they begin to bring out one another's most destructive tendencies. Together they start to share the same ambitions that lead them to hire a local hustler named “Tim” (the late Anton Yelchin formerly of Star Trek Reboot aka Chekov) to take matters into their own hands to set their lives straight.

REVIEW: An equal party psychological thriller and satirically wink – wink humorous look at the human nature of two modern millennials devising something that is both brilliantly devious and brilliantly absurd that you don’t know as the viewer if you should be laughing at the events on the screen or squirming. I did both.

With a screenplay that is nasty, sarcastic, witty and depraved the film at its core is about a pair of ice cold deceptive teenage sociopaths set in a dark noir setting that makes fun of itself while being just enough horrifying to keep you from ever guessing how this low budget film will end.

Stylistically, “Thoroughbreds” is not for everyone, but it has real value for the adventurous film goer like me who wants to be challenged with something fresh and imaginative even if the principle characters in the film come across as two highbrow psycho bat sh*t crazy babes.

3.25 Stars

The Death of Stalin - Review

The Death of Stalin

“The Death of Stalin” is a 2017 political satire comedy film directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci. It stars Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffrey Tambor.

Its plot is centrally true which takes place in 1953 Moscow when the murderous tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin suddenly drops dead. His parasitic propped up crony friends square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweeby Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the wily Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the sadistic secret police Chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). But as they bumble, brawl, and backstab their way to the top, just who is running the government? Combining palace intrigue with rapid-fire farce, this film is a bitingly odd and funny examination of bureaucratic dysfunction in a highly centralize government as the case then with the communist Soviet Union.

REVIEW:  “The Death of Stalin” for all of its effort to be humorous in the manner of a “Monty Python” film, I found it more of an insightful examination of the human nature to secure power through greed, deception, conceit and vindictiveness, even while the circumstance of it all were somewhat  hilarious and ridiculous to even contemplate.

It is less a film of real historical figures and more of an ensemble cast of odd ball characters in the purest sense of the word as we watch them seriously conspire and calculating plot their path to power all the while do it with a slapstick silliness against one another to be the new Secretary of the Soviet empire. You chuckle at their lunacy and yet you never forget that these men were the cause of deaths of untold innocent Soviet citizens.

If you like irony, satire and slapstick through the black comedy mocking prism of a bunch of historical middle age politburos power obsessed communist bureaucratic despots who cannot distinguish consequentially the difference of not having enough cream in their coffee to shooting someone in the head for some slight misstep then “The Death of Stalin” is your kind of film.

3.25 Stars

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Red Sparrow - Review

Red Sparrow

Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence, Australian actor, director and writer Joel Edgerton (“Warrior” and “Loving”) and Oscar winner Jeremy Irons star in Director Frank Lawrence’s contemporary spy thriller called “Red Sparrow”.

At the start we see Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) a rising star in her national dance troop who during a performance suffers an injury that ends her dancing career leaving her with a bleak and uncertain future. And it’s during the months after her recovery from surgery her uncle Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) who works for the state secret police informs her that she won’t have much longer to live in the state subsidized apartment nor receive the premium medical care her mother receives for her chronic illness. He does however offer her an opportunity to keeping her benefits a while longer if she does a favor for him regarding getting some information from a wealthy Russian oligarch the state is suspicious about. Knowing it will probably mean having sex with him she reluctantly agrees.

But something else dramatically happens leaving her unnerved and betrayed by her uncle. Still her uncle saw great potential in her helping him with the clandestine assignment and suggest to her to consider starting a new career working for the state secret police by going to the “Sparrow School”, a super-secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young men and people to use their minds and bodies as weapons.

Through trial and error Egorova starts to emerge as one of the more dangerous Sparrows after completing the sadistic training process. She is soon sent to the field to spy and gain critical information on an American CIA spy named Nathan Nash (Joel Edgerton) who escaped the clutches of the Russian police to Budapest who they suspected was working with a senior treasonous mole inside Russian intelligence.

REVIEW: Running 2:20 minutes the look and action of the first 40 minutes was brilliant, filled with real spy master intrigue, dramatic tension and atmospherics all draped in the red colored gorgeous exteriors some common to Russian decor and culture. But it is shortly after Lawrence character goes to Sparrow School that the film starts to get bogged down structurally with its skirting the boundaries between what is sex with endless scenes of sadistic, bloody, violent behavior including overt pornographic role playing to showcase how much one must be willing to endure as harden strip down trainees completely devoid of any human emotions to becoming the ultimate weapon of human sexuality.

After the story moves from the class room to spying for real in the field it gets laden with a lot of scenes of Lawrence’s “Dominika Egorova” spending a lot of time just walking about in streets and buildings, staring suspiciously at random people, looking up, around and underneath and simply moving from room to room making the story a bit hard to follow.  I guess structurally this was a visual method by the director of subconciously offering to the theater screen viewers the plausible question ......... “What is she up to?” Actually that is the core plot to the film “What is she up to”.  Is she a Russian agent or a possible double agent or a triple agent or a quadruple agent? The film works overly hard to be unpredictable at every turn, but in the end it’s not that unpredictable at all. You figure her and them all out way too soon.

Now there were some light moments in the story including some amusing dialogue uttered by Russian superior’s constant characterization of Americans which are very much topical and currently saturated in our daily news coverage. I also got a chuckle about actor Matthias Schoenaerts who played the uncle who conveniently but definitely by no coincidence looked an awful lot like a younger Vladimir Putin, including his Cheshire cat smile. (PLOT HINT).

Ultimately I still found “Red Sparrow” a reasonable entertaining experience with Lawrence's showing a lot of courage, smarts, grace and humanity in her character. She comes across genuinely both strong and yet vulnerable as someone you find is decent and kind. But the film’s plot while briskly executed, sensational and lavish to look at, with some moments of intense intrigue, was still way too easy an espionage thriller to figure out. You can see the conclusion coming a mile away. 

For me a movie, any movie, even a spy movie, even a spy movie when it’s about a real life global adversary is still supposed keep you legitimately guessing and also having something or someone be the heroic symbol as part of its finale, even if their persona is both murderous and dark ( i.e. Michael Corleone). But in “Red Sparrow” none of its characters came across as a fundamental hero per se. Instead they were overly tightly honed fictional characters who were in a perpetual state of suspiciousness. Suspicious of people, places and things, whether they were friends or foes. Suspicious villainous people who all collectively were very good at lying to one another all the while never having or displaying any moral redeeming qualities to ever grasp to root for.

Krasnyy Vorobey, bezuslovno stoit posmotret', no, veroyatno tol'ko togda kogda on dostupen dlya arendy. Proshchay.

3.00 Stars

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Game Night - Review

Game Night

Kyle Chandler, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star in the adult comedy “Game Night”. A story about 3 couples of very close friends who ritually get together each Friday night to play games which are highly competitive especially for husband and wife Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams).

At the start of the film we see Max and Annie getting ready midweek to have the food and beverages for the coming “Game night” which it typically held at their home. Only on this occasion it’s a more unique gathering in that Max has asked everyone to park down the street and come as quietly as possible to their house so as not to alert their neighbor they haven’t invited him. They don’t particularly care for his company socially largely because he is a poor game player, he is recently divorced and he is a cop who oddly never wants to take off his uniform. Also, Max super internationally successful wealthy brother is back in the country and is coming over for a visit.  While they both love each other, his older brother Brooks (Chandler) always reminds Max how more successful and wealthy he is to no annoying end.

When it’s time to go home Brooks insists that the next “game night” be at his lavish new home he bought nearby. Only this time his game night rules will be predicated on staging a fake home invasion of masked men who will kidnap Brooke while leaving some clues as to where he might be hidden in the city. The winner gets a priceless new car that everyone wants.

But when game night comes at Brooks home there is one major problem. Instead of the fake kidnappers arriving first some real international mercenary types take Brooks away leaving the 3 couples naively in the dark that it’s all part of the game night prank. Little do they know that Brooks and their own lives are in real danger and can only be spared if they comply when someone calls with a mysterious augmented voice who insists that if they all want to live they have to break into another man’s wealthy home to retrieve a priceless Faberge Egg. Let the game night adventure begin.

REVIEW: Running 1:33 minutes "Game Night" overall is both fun to watch with some decent hilariously funny moments inside it's viewing as well. It also has some dimwitted and loopy moments as well. But the real strength of this film is the steady pacing of the plot with some good twist and turns along the way, largely led by the natural chemistry and interplay between Bateman and McAdams as husband and wife Max and Annie. It’s their loving relationship as well as their somewhat neurotic exchanges that keep the film fast action and dialogue from ever getting boring.

There was also very imaginative moments that made me laugh out loud including a scene of a bullet being removed from an arm, an ongoing dispute between one of the couples who while they were dating had affairs before they got married, a dimwitted male actor gets by on his charm, the creepy police officer neighbor frustration in not being invited to game night anymore and a funny twist at the film’s end with actor Michael C. Hall formerly of Showtime’s “Dexter”.

The less I say the better as overall “Game Night” is funny, stylish, at times sexy, and at times a smart and very good looking film as well. In the end both the movie and its “Game Night” players were very good company to keep for me whether it was a game they were playing or not. I had fun watching them have fun.

3.25 Stars

Annihilation - Review


Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman and Oscar nominated actors Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh comprise a strong cast, along with up and coming Director Alexander Garland (28 Days Later and Ex-Machina) who brings author Jeff VanderMeer’s first story in his best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy titled “Annihilation”. A rare combination effort that is equal parts action - adventure, intimate drama, science fiction, fantasy and biological horror film.

In the beginning of the film we see a meteorite falling directly to earth that eventually explodes on impact at a beach directly through the base structure of an old lighthouse. But rather than simply leaving an enormous crater it creates something else referred to “The Shimmer”. A moving kaleidoscope of translucent, purple-tinted bubble mist of energy that oddly crackles like an approaching thunder storm. As time goes by it is obvious that this “shimmer” is starting to slowly swallow up day by day more stretches of the Florida coast line.

The federal government comes in to set up a research facility on the outer edge of the phenomenon called Area X. Unable to ascertain from simply observations what the shimmer actually is, teams of scientist and military soldiers are repeatedly sent in to conduct hands on analysis. The only problem is each time a team has been sent in none have ever returned, accept once when Capt. Kane returns.

Slightly disoriented Army Captain Kane (Oscar Isaac) comes back to his grieving wife Lena (Natalie Portman) who had assumed he was dead. But shortly after his joyous return home Kane starts to experience massive organ failure and is rushed to a military medical facility. It is while he and Lena are at this facility does she learns why her husband could not tell her before he left what his secret mission was about. She also learns that if they can’t find what actually happen to Kane inside the shimmer he will die.

Lena who is a seven-year Army vet herself and currently a top professor at Johns Hopkins in molecular biologist decides to join a new team of scientist (all women) going back in inside the shimmer on the path her husband took only this time lead by a top government researcher named Dr. Ventress, a spooky and aloof woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who seems oddly to have other motives for going inside the shimmer besides just research. But what will this highly accomplished team find? That is the films major question.

REVIEW: Weird and wild, gorgeous and occasionally disturbing “Annihilation” will bait your intrigue imagination DNA with a prevailing question “what if”. And while the overall arc of the actor’s performances are perfectly subdued and restrained, the plot of the film itself steadily moves along with what feels like a brainy, high-end science fiction film. And for the most part it is. And the other times it’s a total “mind expletive deleted”.

Still to Director Garland’s credit with his “Annihilation” he never allows the typical Hollywood directing norms and protocols compel him to deliver a single scene one could describe as cliché or predictable through it’s its 2:00 hour running time. No, it is a film that is consistently rich with daring plot creativity and intellectual ambitious all the while feeling like something that is oddly natural and unnatural to watch that will keep you glued to your seat wondering what is lurking around the next corner.

But it’s the ending or should I say the last 20 minutes of the film that had me scratching my head. Not out of any personal confusion on my part; oh I get the message in the film. Specifically, instead of watching such a promising smart cinematic journey come to an strong crescendo end, you end up with having just a weird finale that unfortunately seemed  disconnected from everything else that had happen up to the moment. AND YET is still manages to pose some seriously profound questions of our time about human DNA, life on our  planet as humans and the science behind evolution.

Some critics have hailed “Annihilation” as a masterpiece and a few call it a sputtering dud. I am in-between as I genuinely believed it gives its audience a lot to see and a lot to think about and for that I found the film entertaining. The overall story and its questions are definitely good enough to watch, but just remember going in that it’s the picturesque journey that will leave you entertained and not the pulling up to the driveway final destination.

3.00 Stars

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther - Review

Black Panther

Director Ryan Coogler whose previous works include “Fruitvale Station” and the impressive reboot of the Rocky Balboa franchise “Creed”, takes on the challenge of one of Marvel Comic’s many superhero character in the way of the highly anticipated “Black Panther”. Coogler cast includes versatile actor Chadwick Boseman, Oscar winners Forrest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Oscar nominated Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do With It”) and Michael B. Jordan.

The “Black Panther” story delves in two time periods. The first very briefly in 1992 Oakland, California with the rest of the bulk of the film’s 2:05 minute running time in the fictional nation of Wakanda in contemporary time. And it’s here in the current time frame we discover the mysterious Wakanda African country that we are introduced to its young new leader named  “T'Challa” (Boseman) who is ready to ascend to his rightful place as king after the death of his father which occurred in the previous 2016 Marvel Comic film titled “Captain America: Civil War”.

But shortly after “T'Challa” has taken the throne a powerful old enemy named “Klaw” suddenly reappears testing T'Challa's mettle as its king and as Black Panther. “Klaw” is a mercenary looking to get control of a rare, powerful and healing substance called Vibranium that fell to earth centuries ago and is only found in their native country. “T'Challa” also discovers a family secret that his father took to his grave that will also come to beset terror on his land with it potentially leading to global conflict with nations both friend and foe. With the fate of his beloved Wakanda at risk the new king uses his powers as Black Panther to rally his nation and allies to fight off treachery and personal conflicts to hopefully defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people.

REVIEW: “Black Panther” is marvelous, stunning, spectacular, magical, mystical and a lot, lot more. Figuratively speaking it’s less about brute strength and superhero capabilities and more of an original complex masterpiece of reimagining of the super hero character’s composition. A new super hero genre if you will with more recognizable, believable and appreciated qualities of human decency and human intellectual prowess that are adroitly interwoven into displays of physical strength and cutting edge special effects. Director Coogler has skillfully stripped away the typical format of showcasing the latest Marvel Super hero’s story line of endless destruction without any consequence.  No more one note one man wrecking crew of indomitable strength conquering enemies for some greater good. Instead Coogler has infuse his “Black Panther” character with real human virtues and real human depth with subplots dealing with morality, ethics, decency, integrity and goodness. All of it tightly crafted into a truly imaginative new cinematic universe where the look and feel of this film stands solely on it’s on as a game changing piece of work like no other. Think of a film that is at the intersection of previous films like Star Wars, Avatar and Braveheart all meet. It’s a complete new story line approach of telling the tale of good versus evil.

Yes, it’s a unique transcendent film who’s plot lies in the integrated crossroads of a futurist modern technological society and also where that same society maintains a respectful celebration of one’s ancient heritage, cultural traditions, tribal clothing and the transcendent lessons learned from parents who have moved on to the hereafter. A wonderful land of sweeping vistas of uninhabited open spaces, cascading waterfalls and high majestic mountains that share the same space of a city scape filled with electro magnet trains, hover crafts and modern technology.

As the performances go all of the actors have equal time on the screen to great effect. But one of the more surprising and enjoyable elements of “BP” was the development and realization of the women characters in the film. Collectively they are all smart, appropriately funny, endearing, fearless, intelligent and on par with their male counterparts in every way to the core of the film’s overall plot. Especially the characters “Shuri” played by Letitia Wright who was the chief science officer of Wakanda and “Okoye” played by Danaid Gurira who is also on the acclaimed “The Walking Dead” as the dreadlock sword wheeling “Michonne”. Both of them give genuinely fine performances as women of intelligence, some humor, physical strength and complete modern womanliness.

Going forward I cannot imagine you will see ten better films for all of 2018. And while the film is largely an ensemble effort cast, Director Coogler is truly deserving of some Best Director considerations in 2019, as well as Best Picture and a boat load of technical categories considerations in Special Effects, Production Design, Lighting, Editing, Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling.

On the subsurface Black Panther delves mildly into issues of modern colonialism, mercenary exploitation and institutional systems of corruption. But it’s much larger, broader and more redeemable themes are about the importance of preserving ways of life. A way of life that is more about the pursuit of peace and personal harmony while moving forward with the use of science and technology. A way of life that looks at the first option being quality over any concerns of quantity. A way of life where the importance of acquiring knowledge for the greater good and human healing take precedent over seductive pursuit of profits and material conquest. A way of life where the responsibilities of leadership should be filtered through a prism of modesty and humility verses personal ambition and greed.

While I am certain that Director Ryan Coogler will be a force in film making for decades to come it maybe a little too early to make any similar proclamation about his “Black Panther” and how it will eventually settle out with its obvious 2 sequels to come. But at a minimum something tells me from a cultural point of view this film may end up being remembered the day both the consciousness and the collective appetites of film fans and Hollywood producers changed for generations to come. Maybe, just maybe even in the same triumphant changing way Star Wars did 40 years ago with its array of actors we didn’t know much about with a story that was refreshingly new.

Yes, just maybe “Black Panther“ will have the same impact of Star Wars offering something refreshingly new for generations to come that is joyfully, groundbreaking, dazzling, cool, modern, thrilling, epic, formidable, beautiful and a lot, lot more.

"Don't freeze"............................SEE THIS.

4.00 Stars