Saturday, July 14, 2018

Leave No Trace - Review

Leave No Trace

Actor Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Hell or High Water & Hostiles) stars in the lead role of an apparent emotionally broken veteran named “Will”.  He is the father of a daughter named ‘Tom” (new comer Thomasin McKenzie) and together they have a perfect life of living off the land on a minimum subsistence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Ore., rarely ever making any contact with the outside world. But when a small mistake by “Tom” tips them off to local authorities about them squatting on public lands, they are brought back into a more conventional life to live in a home with running water and electricity. But only after a few days in their new life they become even more erratic and reluctant to living traditionally again by leaving on a more erratic dangerous journey for the search of a place to call their own perfect life in the perfect world of nature.  

REVIEW: “Leave No Trace” has the rare score of a 100 on Rotten Tomato, with one film reviewer commenting this film a “low key adult story”. But low key is not a bad thing if you can find ways to add some measure of substance either directly or subtly in explaining who these people are and how they got to be the way they. In this aspect of watching “Leave No Trace”  we never really get any answers to who these people are that made their journey a bit frustrating in this respect.

Now early on in the film there are some really veiled attempts to explaining who "Will" is. We see him having nightmares about the sounds of an approaching helicopter and we also see him walking to a local military VA hospital to secure medications that he eventually sells for money to other squatters living near the park. But we are only left to surmise that something terribly traumatic must of happen to him in combat that has broken him to abandoning the norms of a structured family existence to barely surviving from day to day in the woods in a single tent with his daughter. In addition to that point, there is only a single slight passing reference to the daughter’s mother.  It is never fully explained about why she is no longer a part of the family. Is she dead? Did she divorce “Will”? Did “Will” kill her?..............These significant gaps in the story bothered me somewhat as the father and daughter moved about through the woods for almost two hours running time with no real primary focus or day to day purpose than to finding someplace dry and warm to sleep and securing enough food to scavenge off the land. And as they go from eating one wild mushroom to creating ways to securing rain water to drink we go from scene after scene not really knowing anything about their earlier circumstances.

I also must admit I was a little creeped out by the nightly closely confines the father and daughter shared in their sleeping tent arrangements. While there was never anything untoward implied or remotely suggested about any sexually abusiveness about their story it still felt uncomfortable for me to watching a daughter and father share the same tight spaces in the same way a husband and wife would.

Ultimately “Leave No trace” is an acutely insular dramatic film about a father and daughter who genuinely love and care for each other with moments in their story that are moving and touching. Their relationship is also a contemplative, sensitive and honest portrayal about the American underclass. With that I found “Leave No Trace” easily watchable especially through the back drop of large beautifully trees, running streams of water, lush green forests and the sounds of birds chirping. It also is a one note story largely about Will” and his emotional problems as the reason for his inability to adapt to society again and the cost his choice to live off the grid puts on to his daughter's life. She is not emotionally broken as her father but nonetheless must still bare the day to day burdens of the impositions placed on her life by his hidden pain and torments. A younger life that is growing more and more by the day that is becoming more fully realized as a woman with her own needs, desires and choices about what she wants and need to survive in an ever changing world. 

I found it hard at times to really like what “Will" was imposing on his daughter; his life choices. Still the unusualness of their relationship and their heartfelt companionship through thick and thin was filled with a quiet and thoughtful redemption, candid honesty and sincere authenticity that does carry the film's story all the way to its sober dramatic finale.

3.25 Stars

Friday, June 29, 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado - Review

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Minus Actress Emily Blunt’s FBI character “Kate Macy” the remaining central characters from the 2015 hit “Sicario” all return in this 2018 follow-up sequel called “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (Day of the Soldier).

Once again front and center we find CIA agent Matt Graver calling on the mysterious Columbia operative Alejandro Gillick when Mexican drug cartels start to smuggle terrorists across the U.S. border for huge profits. When Gravier is summoned to the State Department to discuss a way to counteract this problem, Matt decides the best solution is to escalate an internal war between the drug smuggling – people smuggling operatives in Mexico on the idea they will turn on themselves. To make the war more likely Matt and Alejandro decide to kidnap a top kingpin's daughter to deliberately increase the tensions even further. But the best laid plans go awry when the young feisty girl is eventually seen as collateral damage to senior political higher ups in Washington leaving the two men who have fought many wars together left to decide her fate while also questioning everything they have been fighting for over the years.

REVIEW: I am a bit perplexed by the wide swings in reviews. I really enjoyed this film. And while some of the highly established film critics profess a love for it as well, I was surprised by some who professed almost a genuine disdain hatred for it. But one thing is for certain the 2015 effort was mesmerizing and as great as that film was I knew if there were to be a sequel it would be chasing a high standard as a crime thriller. I believe some fans - some critics went in thinking directly or subconsciously they wanted the same recycled story line of a good intention “Kate's” competing against a revengeful intention of the Sicario Alejandro”?. After all it was their innate competing wills for the pursuit of justice that made the 2015 film so riveting and smart to experience. 

But just like the 1979 film "Alien" film which was a noir nuance psychological thriller plot that raised its ante in the 1986 "Aliens" sequel by infusing it with more action packed commercial thrills, so is the case with this Sicario sequel. Some of the humanistic qualities have been pushed aside for a far more commercial plot effort to appeal to a wider summer audience. Its meaner, darker, angrier, more brutal, more violent and more singularly focused from beginning to end. A story that also uniquely wraps itself in the very timely and topical issues currently in the news involving the US Mexican border today. And while this 2018 effort is in deed more commercial in its tone and pacing with all of the darker qualities I mentioned above, it still manages to confidently be directed and executed with a realistic in your face with hard-boiled nightmarish intensity. And we see it every step on the character's faces and in the way they use their guns. "Matt  and Alejandro" are not just killers they are two smart tough as nail men teaming up to wage an all-out war on the nation's southern border with really bad men. But not a war fought on the winning concept of someone conquering oil or land, but rather a deadly waged war for the control of the flow of human trafficking as the commodity.

Now If you see this, please take your bath room runs up front because this 2018 Scairo is packed with so much action that even to look away from the screen for a minute may cause you to miss something central to the story. Each and every second, not each scene, every second is a tough, testosterone laden, high impact adrenaline injected story of real depictions of violence and the authentic emotions reacting to that violence as anything you will ever see in a movie. The violence is not casual but rather exudes a certain authority to shock you and keep shocking you to the point where you not only see how it impacts these characters lives but also how the same violent events impacts your emotional psyche as the viewer.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is not like its predecessor at all. "Sicario" was far more calculating in its execution with hidden mysteries slowly being revealed along the way. This film is an assault on your action thriller senses like a hammer to your head. Never relenting for one second in its 2:00 running time. Beautifully shot while coated with the same haunting musical score from the original this film navigates a deadly backdrop of where military, espionage and terrorism stories meet. An intersection where the Brolin and Benicio characters doing their best “killing thing”. And when these two men act together for the same causes they are less simply being two cold blooded assassins. They are in fact more like two brothers in arms doing the necessary dirty work of using violence by any means,  without fear in the ever increasing darken shadows of a world seemingly immersed in more and more violence.

Again if you see this hoping it’s going to be just exactly like the original, you will be disappointed as it is not as masterful as that one. But what it does do well is continue this unique story from an entirely new perspective; from a new angle with an ending that clearly indicates this saga will be continuing with a third film. And it does it through a unmistakable truth that both “Sicario” and “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” share riveting stories where the attitude and the look of these people feel very much real. Real in the way they move. Real in the way they take action. Real in the way they talk. Real where there are meaningful consequences to bare, not in just one or two or three scenes, but in every single second of your viewing time.

4 Stars

Monday, June 25, 2018

Major Films Franchises I Will Stop Seeing

Major Films Franchises I Will Stop Seeing

Arnold is 70 years old now, just please stop. “I WILL NOT BE BACK”. NEVER. Well, unless he fights "The Predator vs. The Terminator" on one. I might check that one out.

Or any facsimile of it – i.e. “MEG” which is coming out in summer 2018 with Jason Staham. Its about a behemoth size shark the size of the Space Shuttle causing havoc - NOPE, not me, not my money. Well, unless Stormy Daniels is starring in it than its another kind of predator film altogether.

“Pirates of the Caribbean”
Johnny Depp has got to move on to more substantive films – He’s a far better actor than this tired redundant bloated Disney ride turned feature film will ever be able to showcase.

We have drones that fly off carriers now. Why do you need a 71-year-old muscle up man to save the world from evil with a gray toupee while wearing a blood red sweaty greasy bandana. Oh, yeah, I want to see that compelling dramatic movie with multiple twisting subplots of intrigue. I wonder how it will end? Will Rambo survive? Will there be peace on earth? Will Rambo be pardoned?

You pick any number sequence I am not going. Well, unless Clooney is in it along with maybe Stormy Daniels again as his co-star where they play a married couple stuck in the wintry deep Atlantic "Ocean” on a fishing boat on one last fishing run during a once in life time devastating north eastern storm and they make love as the boat sinks. Oh, my bad. I am mixing up Clooney film plots i.e. “The Perfect Storm (y). Still not seeing any more “Ocean” movies though.

“Indiana Jones”
If you change Harrison Ford for Chris Pratt or someone younger - fresher then I will seriously reconsider. Not because of a lack of talent on Ford’s part. It’s just he’s too damn old now @ 75. Still a fan of H. Ford in anything else. If not it won't be long before we see "Coming Soon" ........."Indiana Jones and The Quest To Stay Off His Lawn", "Indiana Jones and the Quest for The Early Bird Senior Discount", "Indiana Jones and I Fallen and I Can't Get Up", Raiders of  The Last Viagra Pills" and  finally "Indiana Jones and Uh, Why Did I Come Into This Room?" 

“Die Hard”, Even Maybe Bruce Willis Altogether 
He’s seems now to always play either a cop, an old cop, a retired cop, an old retired pissed off cop, a tired old pissed off man who wanted to be a cop or a tired old pissed off retired veteran who wanted to be a cop. Feels like “I have seen him do that - done that” at least 20 times over the past 20 years. Think I am exaggerating. Check IMDB, they just announced for 2019 "Die Hard - Year One".

“Spider Man”
Does this need an explanation at all? – I will however see him in the collective Avengers super hero group films. But even that Avengers leash could be short as well with their story line in a couple of years.

We have drones now that fly off air craft carriers why do you need a muscle up man to save the world from evil. Also, Ben Affleck has directed and acted in some very good films, but Superman with a computer augment deep voice he is not. I think I just want someone else for this iconic story hero. Yeah maybe that’s is it. Or maybe he should develop a new super hero character altogether with much lower fan expectations say like doing “Space Ghost" and or "The Herculoids" .
Any more sequels to the first two iconic films would feel like a cinematic equivalent of a racketeering felony conviction punishable with life without the possibility of parole. Please refuse their "offer" to make any more of these. Its not personal, it just legacy. Other wise if they do make another .............."You will break my heart".

“Star Wars”
We have drones now that fly off air craft carriers. Why do you need light sabers and X-Wing fighters to save the universe from heavy breathing black helmet wearing evil and forgettable characters and their quirky names that I can neither pronounce or remember them in the film itself.

“Jason Bourne”
We have drones that fly off carriers now. Why do you need a man with bad memory to save the world from evil which happens to be his own country trying to always kill him. Besides Matt Damon was 32 when he starred in the original 2002 “The Bourne Identity”. Now he's age 48.and a little heavier.  Its just time for Jason to hang up his lethal no. 2 pencil. 

“Rocky now Creed films"
OK, I like the Rocky 2015 reboot titled "Creed". It was actually pretty good. But the latest coming out in 2018 called "Creed 2"  looks like it may becoming a formulaic franchised again with the introduction of the Ivan Drago character via the way of his son fighting Apollo Creed's son. WOW? Someone must have spent months thinking this plot up involving a menacing Russian subplot. Where in the world would they ever get an idea like that? This will be my last time I enter the cinematic ring with this boxing effort for sure. 

“Jurassic World" 
Read my review of  "Jurassic World; Fallen Kingdom" dated  Saturday - June 23rd, 2018. There is no more bite in this prehistoric story which has now turned into nothing more than "Jurassic World: Owen Grady, Dino Whisperer".

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Actors Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprise their 2015 hit in the science fiction adventure sequel “Jurassic World” with this latest 2018 adaptation of Michael Crichton successful franchised novel titled “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”.

As the story goes it’s been three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard) return to the island of Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from a volcano that's about to erupt. They soon encounter terrifying new breeds of gigantic dinosaurs, while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet.

REVIEW: For me the film did start off with an energetic bang and I must admit seeing dinosaurs sounding and behaving as if they are real in the moment never gets old for me. I have always been deeply impressed how this franchise has endured largely on the back of recreating to great effect something no human has ever witness for themselves and yet is a scientific fact these animals once dominantly roamed the earth some 66 + millions ago. But the art of imagination; or reimagining alone can only carry a story so far, especially if you run out of ideas how to make both the dinosaurs and the supporting actors more interesting than before. And since I am sure Velociraptors, as intelligent as researchers presume they were, won’t be seen reciting Shakespeare or doing scenes from Othello or fighting the “Alien” or “The Predator” monsters for supremacy of the earth in some future spin off, we are left to watch them once again to primordially chase, hunt, attack and make screeching sounds. And with that in nut shell you have all you need to know what “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is largely about.

If you recall in the previous Jurassic films even when the actors were in great danger and peril the directing and writing would always cleverly manage to inject some enduring charm and comedic playfulness along the story’s way just underneath the overall plot. This installment does not – not at all. In fact this story line is far more of a sinister tale all the way through that borrows heavily from the central plot points from the 1993 original “Jurassic Park” and 1997 “The Lost World Jurassic Park”.

From the 1993 film and this film we also see how a character is working behind the scenes to enrich themselves monetarily. That plot point intersects with the 1997 film where we see again an invasion of ruthless mercenaries on the island showing a blatant disregard for the animal’s wellbeing or their lives. Now mix in some King Kong with wealthy people behaving badly with their money and then you will understand why the dinosaurs want to kill humans to round out the film’s entire last hour. And if that wasn’t predictable enough we are left with a lightly constructed plot to supposedly hold the film together through an endless, at times seemingly almost redundant, series of “dino” chase sequences, male and female screaming and some scenes literally shot identically from previous Jurassic films.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” never bores; not at all. But while it is never really boring it will also not take you anywhere new or refreshing, especially if you have seen all of the other previous films. Sure, you will be frighten a bit here or there. You will probably be awed by some of the visuals effects here or there. And you will be impressed and moved emotionally a bit with some scenes here or there. In the end there is no real cohesive screenplay to connect this film all the way through as you literally feel the film running on fumes when the credits come up 2:09 minutes later.

In the end I believe “Jurassic World” has finally hit a wall. Maybe Universal Picture studio should finally let this franchise do what nature did some 66 + million years ago and let this impressive array of animals “go quietly into that good prehistoric extinct night” while it’s still standing reasonable strong on its two rear hind legs, overly short arms and menacing teeth.

3 Stars

Friday, June 15, 2018

Tag - Review


Actor Jon Hamm (aka Mad Men and The Town), Ed Helm (aka The Office and The Hangover) and Jeremy Renner (aka The Hurt Locker and Wind River) along with Isla Fisher (aka The Wedding Crashers and The Lookout) combine their electric talents to tell the true story of how five close friends from high school who started a juvenile game called “Tag” that created a strong lasting bonding between them that they mutually decided to keep carry on their childish antics into their adulthood some 20 + years later.

If you don’t know the game “Tag” it is essentially a playground game that involves several players chasing other players in an attempt to "tag" or touch them, usually with their hands. There are many variations; most forms have no teams, scores, or equipment. Usually when a person is tagged, the tagger says, "Tag, you're it" and then repeated again to the next person who is aligned to be touched next.

In this film adaptation we see the actor characters as all highly successful business people who have decided to continue their seemingly harmless game but only for 30 days in the month of May each year. But because of the highly competitive nature of theses supposedly mature friends they not only hit the ground running hard each year, it a full out no-holds-barred game literally risking their health, their jobs and their personal relationships to take one another down no matter where they live in the country.

In this particular month of May we see the players pursing one another during a specific time that just so happens to coincide with one of the players wedding named Jerry (Renner) leading up to and during his big event. Jerry also happens to be the only undefeated player who has never ever been touched in all the many years of playing the game. So in the minds of the others he is target number one with an all-out war approach and tactics to finally getting him “tagged” once and for all.

REVIEW: It’s not so much that “Tag” is a bad film, rather its just not anything I believe you will find memorably funny or hilarious on the comedic meter, though its listed specifically as being a comedy in its description. It has a single one note premise which is milked throughout the films’ entire execution time of 1:40 minutes. And while it has a few scant moments of it being slightly amusing and imaginative it mostly devolves into something where you watch people behaving totally and utterly insane……………..just to touch someone.

“Tag” is about boys never stop being boys and while I admire how their game did in fact nurtured a sense of lasting love and bonding affection for one another, in terms of the movie itself it also showed how mean spirited and viscous they acted and stooped (in friendship supposedly) to either touch or not be touched.

As far as the technical aspects of the film I was especially disappointed by both the infusion of slow motion back flip somersaults and Ninja acrobatics that I know damn well never happened with these men in their real-life stories. I also was a bit confused by the many previous movies references infused into the story, including Predator and actor Shane Black getting hit by a swinging log and the Predator itself being briefly snared in a net trap. There was also references to human torture aka waterboarding from Zero Dark Thirty and the film Alien (kind of, sort a) which involved a cast member using a miscarriage just to escape from being touched. And don’t get me started on how many Jackie Chan and Rambo movie references there were in this film. Bottom line none of this made me believe anyone would be so insane as to do any of these stunts just to play this silly little game.

“Tag” has a mix bag amusing – clumsy – tasteless - corny – cute feel to it. But ultimately, it’s a film that never reached its full potential that I thought it seem to offer from the early trailers I saw. It was a creative idea that was creatively spoiled and messy by being all over the place with no real singular connection from one scene to the next other than the principles repeatedly trying to tag someone slightly differently than they just did a few minutes ago.

In the end “Tag” while a heartwarming effort overall is nothing more than a cliched and unoriginal executed film that will keep you going in circles over and over and over and over and over again…………………until “you get it” it’s not really worth recommending to anyone to see in the theater.

2.00 Stars        

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Oh Lucy - Review

Oh Lucy

Japanese actress Shinobu Terajima and American actor Josh Harnett star in a cross cultural contemporary story involving three women from Japan and an American from Los Angeles called oddly “Oh Lucy”.

Early in the film we see a woman named Setsuko who is a public employee living an ordinary life in Tokyo. She is a single, emotionally unfulfilled woman, seemingly stuck with a drab, meaningless life. At least until on one random day when she is convinced by her beautiful niece Mika to enroll in an unorthodox English speaking class that requires her to wear a blonde wig each session and to take on an American alter ego named "Lucy." Reluctant to take the class Setsuko eventually agrees and when she arrives after work meets the handsome American who teaches the class. His offbeat warm approach to teaching “American English” gives Setsuko a new sense of an identity. It awakens something dormant in her that she feels is something in the way of developing romantic feelings for her American instructor, John (Josh Hartnett).

One day when arriving for her class she is informed the Instructor had left and the company would be looking for a new instructor leaving Setsuko very emotional distraught. But what she soon discovers later is that her niece and John were secretly dating and that they have moved together back to Los Angeles to be married.

Determined to find out why all of this happened Setsuko enlists the help of her sister, Ayako (Mika’s Mother) and the pair fly halfway across the world to the outskirts of Southern California in search of the runaway couple. In a brave new world of tattoo parlors, fast food burger places and seedy motels, family ties and past lives are immediately tested as Setsuko struggles to preserve the dream and promise of the feelings she got when John use to call her "Lucy."

REVIEW: Filmed in equal parts subtitles and English “Oh Lucy” is marketed as being a Drama – Comedy. What it was for me was something uniquely funny, sometimes sad, equal parts lovable, spontaneously sexy and other times just an offbeat crazy and quirky film that worked for me from beginning to it end. In fact I found this small slice of life movie one of the more enjoyable viewing experiences for 2018.

With a running time of 1:30 minutes “Oh Lucy” gradually and pleasantly moves over your attentive consciousness like someone slowly placing a warm blanket to cover you a few inches at a time. Filled with some genuine moments along the way that were both intense and surprisingly fun this film kept me guessing and off guard as to what would happen next. But the real strength of the story is the acting of Shinobu Terajima. You are able to feel her every emotion and mood to such great effect that you begin to empathize with how her miscommunication from learning a new language and her miscommunication of having a life devoid of real love - an emotional connection with someone, can both sometimes land you in an intimate rough spot of personal confusion and miscalculations.

A straight to On Demand movie and Executive Produced by Will Ferrell, “Oh Lucy” while a bit idiosyncratic with moments of melancholy is still a very moving story with lots of human charm.  An abundantly sweet and sentimental story that will remind you what it’s like simply to being human with someone you love and loves you back . And whether you are Japanese or American in both our human beginning and our human ending we all share a basic need to be bonded with someone or something.  "Oh Lucy" bonded with me very, very well.

3.50 Stars

Hereditary - Review


In 1998 Australian actress Toni Collette played an earnest loving mother in the most talked about horror film of that year called “The Sixth Sense”. Now fast forward 20 years later and one again she has delved into the mysteries of spiritual life and death with her latest effort called “Hereditary”. A physiological thriller about a family going through emotional crisis while dealing with the sudden death of a matriarchal relative that seems to have had a far more profound impact on their emotional well-being well beyond expected grieving. And as the story layers are peeled away we see the entire family beginning to unravel in a cryptic and terrifying way as the secrets of their ancestry is revealed to all. Going forward what they discover is the more they try to outrun their sinister fate the more they succumb to the evil  they seem to have inherited.

REVIEW: Rotten Tomato gave this film a 94 rating which by all accounts is universally very high. So with that in mind I was hoping largely from the trailers to find something imaginative and yet horrifying at the same time, even though I am not one who is easily manipulated with freight in horror films. They tend to make me laugh more than be frighten. But putting my personal quirk aside I found “Hereditary” less a horror flick or to put in simpler terms more a 2 hour film that tried earnestly to delve into upheaval impact of what mourning does to families already in turmoil. But leaving the theater I cannot even say it even did that very well as I found myself more baffled to what either the message or the plot were actually all about.

Basically I found the film a poorly directed and a poorly constructed story.  And while I am certain both the writer and director were heavily influenced by the previous films “The Wicker Man” and “The Shinning”, their "Hereditary" film managed only to confused me more each passing frame to its less than shocking finale.

To compound matters even more there were several scenes that seemed were intentionally crafted as directorial techniques that were only intrusively designed to shock audiences which from my perspective did not add anything substantive to the story itself. Instead (for me) they only managed to befuddle me as to what was the purpose of the scene in the first place. For example seeing people sitting on the ceiling for no reason or effective purpose. Someone floating without a head to a tree house glowing in the color red but not red once the camera moves inside. Someone spontaneously bursting into flames. Repetitive “clocking” sounds that had no reasonable explanation or understandable meaning. And finally the brief instruction of a  very strange and sinister looking adolescent little girl who apparently was inflicted with a birth defect but who only added more to the story’s overall confusion with her make up that for my money made me feel I was looking at a miniature version of NBA great Larry Bird with a bad natty wig. You can only imagine at this point I was mumbling a lot  ………….”WTF”.

“Hereditary”…………..I cannot say the film was boring. I also cannot say it didn’t have some entertainment value. But overall from my viewing experience it’s as if someone put me in a car blind folded and 2 hours later I take the scarf off to find me and the car on the deck of a freighter in the middle of some early ocean with God only knowing how I got there and where was I going next.
2.00 Stars