Sunday, December 25, 2016

Fences - Review

Fences

Denzel Washington directs and stars in the adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences” which centers on a black garbage collector named Troy Maxson during the 1950s in Pittsburgh, PA. The story is mostly centralized around Troy’s life as a bitter husband and bitter father. His bitterness stems largely from when he was a younger man playing the game he loved baseball. Life didn’t give him a fair break back then because of his color and now that he is older and the baseball color barrier is broken by (in his estimation) inferior talent, he is constantly prone to filtering every conversation, every event, every relationship and every loved one through his own frustrations of not having a better life denied to him.

REVIEW: This is one of the finest acting performances I have seen this year. Washington and his co-star Viola Davis both won Broadway Tony awards for their performances in the 2010 revival of the play. In the film these two actors eat up the screen with genuine warmth, anger, affection and overall genuine energy like few actors I have ever see. They don’t just recite their lines, they are living inside them; inhabiting these fictional characters with so much vitality it is hard to imagine they never really existed.

As a whole all of the performances are stunning, but especially the two leads in Denzel and Viola who I am almost 100% certain will garner respective Oscar Nominations for Best Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actress. In addition other nomination will likely include Best Picture and Best Director for Denzel as well. He delivers in “Fences” not only one of this year's best performances, it is one of the best self-directed performances I have ever seen. In addition Mykelti Williamson who rounded out the supporting cast as Troy’s mental impaired younger brother Gabriel was extraordinary as well and richly deserves some Oscar nomination consideration as well. But in the end it is Miss Viola Davis who takes hold of the film with grace, power, femininity and heart. Dust off your mantle place Miss Davis to clear space for your Academy Award Oscar, its coming your way this year.  

For the film itself, “Fences” executes for the viewer like being randomly dropped into someone’s life completely unannounced for a visit. With 75% of the film’s vibrant exchanges taking place in the rear of the Maxson home in lawn chairs and on the rear steps, you feel immediately drawn into who these people are enjoying every second you spend with them. But when circumstances make moments overly harsh and contentious to watch you keep watching because the film is so good. And while the film has a running time of 2 hours 13 minute,  with the exception of the last 20 minutes having some scenes turning a bit stagey and preachy, the film overall never really feels like the theatric play upon which it is based.

Ultimately “Fences” is a cinematic journey of moments of sizzling anger and subtle tenderness. A film of powerful emotions that tap into an ordinary working family’s day to day vernacular, their day to day anxieties and their day to day offering of love to one another that for better or worse can also sometimes  collectively and spontaneously intersect into combustible feelings that are viscerally raw and gut wrenching. It’s not an ordinary movie with ordinary conversation, its working class poetry operating as day to day conversations that perfectly penetrates the ears, the mind, the heart and the soul delivered via perfect writing and perfect acting.

“Fences” is a profoundly powerful movie going experience............... “SO, WHAT DAT MEAN? (A line from the film)………. Well, it means “Fences” is one of the best must see films for 2016.


4 Stars

Friday, December 16, 2016

La La Land - Review


La La Land 

Damien Chazelle who wrote and directed the brilliant 2015 Oscar nominated film “Whiplash” and who also wrote the screenplay to this year’s smartly worded “10 Cloverfield Lane”, writes and directs one of  the 2016 front runners for the Oscar Best Picture in his highly imaginative and entertaining film “La La Land”. 

Set in contemporary time, the story of “La La land” revolves uniquely around two characters. Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) a dedicated jazz musician. Both are struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their passion and dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important; a once in a lifetime love or a once in a lifetime opportunity to be in the spotlight. 

REVIEW: With an airy lightness, cinematic warmth and mild grace in its execution “La La Land” is an abundant joy to watch with its story of love and romance wrapped in its own originality of music, dance and acting performances. Without a single word of vulgarity uttered, it is a sweet and genuinely modern take on the oldest conflict between people; to choose personal ambitions, desires and goals or choose someone you love above all else – above anything. Does your love life intersect or does it diverge”.  

I personally have a lot of 1940’s golden era of movies Don Quixote-ish affinity for romantic stories like this in me, so I know with my comments here some potential viewers will love it as much as I did and others of you will simply not. Why? Because while 70% of the film does remains rooted structurally to straight acting dialog and dramatic performances, the other approximate 30% of the film’s 2 hour 8 minute running time is rich and lush with impromptu romantic song and dance routines and other scenes of fantasy and magic through a backdrop of a dusk lite cityscape, moon lite clouds and couples in romantic embrace while floating among starry twinkling skies. There is even the occasional ensemble dance segments including one in the first 10 minutes of the film on an LA Expressway off ramp during rush hour.  

While it took a few minutes for me to gage the flow and tenor of the films message and pacing, over time “La La Land” slowly moved over me similar to the warmth of someone draping a blanket over me as I slept on the couch with the warmth coming first over my legs, then secondly to my waist and eventually to the blanket being tucked around my face; a smile  came naturally over me in the comfort and joy of what I was seeing.   

Now, not every musical note or dance step in this film is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers perfect (YOU SAY WHO? ………….BLASPHOMY…….. Go Google them up on YouTube you na├»ve youngster). But Gosling and Stone are not trying to be perfect, they are trying to capture romantic magic in that moment so you feel what they are feeling.  

Also, Director Damien Chazelle is becoming a great director as he makes this latest effort with a backwards look to an old time period in Hollywood without it really being backward-looking or unoriginal. He takes big risk in trying to tell this simple story, but it pays off big time with vitality and love of life. It’s a delightful celebration of simply being in love and romancing that person with long glances, embracing smiles, holding hands in the dark and soft gentle kisses. “La La Land” is an old school celebration of how people use to fall in love and meant it when someone special came in their life.  

You should see this film in the theater, each frame of it is entertaining, exquisite to look at cinematically, as well as unique looking with its lush lighting, set colorful design and crisp tailored wardrobe. But that is not the only reason to see it.  You should also see it for a particular scene that takes place just place about 5 minutes before the film’s actually ending. It’s about 7 minutes in length and for the sake of not giving anything away I will just call it “romantic reflections”.  In my estimation it is one of most emotionally moving visual passages (with music) I've ever seen either in a musical or any film I have ever seen all year. If you have ever been in love or in love now we all have done this before in those closely guarded private times we only share with our selves. 

I have no doubt “La La Land”  will garner double digit Oscar nominations, including the  Best Picture, Directing, Actress, Actor, Cinematography, Lighting (this film is truly exquisite looking each frame), Original Screenplay, Original Song, Musical Score, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Best Makeup and Wardrobe. 

Throughout the film there is a song with the lyrics…………….. “City of stars
Are you shining just for me? City of star, there's so much that I can't see who knows? I felt it from the first embrace I shared with you”. …………I guarantee if you see it you will be humming the melody as you leave the theater. 

“La La Land” is simply everything wonderful about adult love and everything wonderful about adult life. 

4 Stars

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Jackie - Elle - Miss Sloane: Intelligent Women Movie Weekend




Jackie

Natalie Portman does an uncanny portrayal of the 34 year old widowed First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Portman captures the feminine mystic and essence of Jackie Kennedy with her intimate whispering cadence way of speaking, way of walking and overall persona. No doubt she will garner an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress. Still, overall the film itself is flawed in that there is nothing else to the film but Portman's role; .she's virtually on the screen 99% of the time and I can't imagine any actor making anyone be so interesting enough to dominate the screen without any development of the supporting characters or relevant back story. And while the film does capture the look and feel of 1963 and those tragic few days in November 1963, there is very little else to the film, leaving me with the sense something was always missing to be told.

3-1/4 Stars
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Elle

A smart, deep, provocative, elegant and dementedly uncomfortable story of a heroine's unconventional approach of discovering who raped her that she did not report to the police. Both dramatically dark and at other times cleverly funny, "Elle" meticulously weaves a story that is complex, filled with many false assumptions and multiple ambiguities that still however manages to work very well during its 2:15 minute running time. 

After viewing I am now a bit smitten with the 63 year old lead actress Isabelle Huppert and if I had a vote I believe she deserves an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress (“Elle is in French – English Subtitles).

4 Stars
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Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Sam Waterston and Gugu Mbatha-Raw ( "Belle") are part of an assembled cast in the high-stakes world of political power-lobbying. Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the lead as the formidable juggernaut lobbyist in D.C who is known equally for her cunning and her track record of success, she has always done whatever is required to win.

Rotten Tomato has this movie @ 68. Trust me it is terribly undervalued and should be much higher. The screenplay with it highbrow exchanges is similar to Aaron Sorkin’s former HBO dramatic effort “The Newsroom” focusing its lenses mostly on Chastain and the two competing hyper aggressive lobbying firms as they collectively go at each other with an all cost ruthlessness to win a specific bill working its way through the US. Senate. 

The story tries with equal aplomb, confidence and poise to be politically fair to both sides of the argument. And while the film does fall prey to some conventional predictable moments and scenes, it still manages overall to be highly entertaining with its sophisticated subject matter. Actress Chastain is totally in her element the entire film executing every frame of her dialog like a Jedi Knight with her light saber. She is brillant here.

Now, in the first 20 minutes I saw what I thought would be the crescendo finale of the film. But whether you see it as well or not it will not detract from you enjoying this highly intelligent film about modern American politics and power brokering.

Please put this film on your holiday viewing schedule, you won’t be disappointed.
PS: I am also smitten with Jessica Chastain too. .. (It’s the smart woman thing for me).


3 - 3/4 Stars

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Big Sequels That Are Definitely Coming Out


Big Sequels That Are Definitely Coming Out

 
Alien: Covenant / Prometheus 2, 3 & 4
Alien 5
Avatar sequels 2, 3 & 4
Bad Boys 3 & 4
Bad Dads
Bad Moms 2
Beetlejuice 2
Beverly Hills Cop 4
Big Hero Six 2
Bill & Ted 3
Blade Runner 2
Cheech And Chong 2
Clerks 3
Deadpool 2 & 3
Die Hard 6 / Die Hard: Year One
District 10
Doctor Strange 2
Dodgeball 2
Edge Of Tomorrow 2
The Equalizer 2
Fantastic Beasts - Find Them 2 & 3
Fast 8
Fifty Shades Darker/Fifty Shades Freed
Flatliners 2
Frozen 2
Godzilla 2
Godzilla vs King Kong
Goonies 2
Gremlins 3
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 & Vol 3.
Halloween Returns
Hellboy 3
Indiana Jones 5
John Wick: Chapter Two & Chapter 3
The Jungle Book 2
Jurassic World 2 & 3
Kingsman: The Golden Circle 2
Kingsman: The Secret Service 3
 
 
 
 
Layer Cake 2
The Legend Of Conan 2
Lucy 2
MacGruber 2
Mad Max 5 – Waste Land
Mary Poppins 2
Men In Black 4
Mission: Impossible 6
The Passion Of The Christ 2 - The Resurrection
Pirates Of The Caribbean 5
Predator 4 / The Predator
Riddick 4
Rounders 2
Rush Hour 4
Salt 2
Saw: Legacy
The Secret Life Of Pets 2
Shanghai Noon 3
Sherlock Holmes 3
Shrek 5
Sicario 2 –Soldado
Spaceballs 2
Space Jam 2
Stargate 2 – 4
Star Trek 4
Star Wars: Episode VIII and IX
Terminator: Genisys 2 and 3
Thor 3
Top Gun 2
Toy Story 4
Trainspotting 2
Transformers  5, 6, 7 & 8
Twins 2 aka Triplets
TRON 3
World War Z 2
Zombieland 2
Zootopia 2

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manchester by the Sea - Review

Manchester by the Sea

Director Kenneth Lonergan who wrote and directed one of my all-time favorite films about siblings and their midlife relationship in the 2000 acclaimed “You Can Count on Me” (Laura Linney – Mark Ruffalo), once again takes up both his pen and director’s chair to delve back into an obvious comfort zone by telling his latest family oriented themed effort titled “Manchester By The Sea”.

In “Manchester by the Sea”, we find the story opening around a solitary Bostonian named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck).  Lee seems oddly content on the surface with simply being a low paid janitor and laborer at a large apartment complex dealing with an array of problems, complaints and unruly tenants on a daily basis.

Early on in the film Lee gets a phone call that transforms his life compelling him to return to his hometown Manchester immediately; Lee’s beloved older brother has suddenly died. And upon his arrival and in short order Lee is also shocked to learn his deceased brother Joe Chandler has made him the sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly decides to stay in Manchester to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old all the while forcing Lee to deal with a past that he absolutely doesn’t want to revisit that involved his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the entire Manchester community. But bonded by the love for his brother Lee struggles to adjust to his new world back in Manchester, a world he swore he would never visit again.

“Manchester by the Sea” while structurally solemn and tragically quiet is in fact a masterpiece in the simplicity of telling a compelling simple story.  The sequences of events leading up to the films conclusion seem less like a movie and more like a wonderful and richly layered cinematic experience of the unique and unusual bonds that shape and define families. It’s powerful without being loud or boisterous. It’s grand without a single moment of animated action. It’s larger than life without being over the top. But above all it’s a beautifully told story with a lot of genuine heart and pain that always feels real without any dramatic tricks or gimmicks. And while essentially the entire film (with a running time of 2:17) at its core is a serious melancholy drama there are also some delicately funny moments that make you feel warm.

This is phenomenal film making that authentically goes to places that are cruel, heartfelt and filled with absolute pain. But in the midst of human chaos during the loss of a loved one, “Manchester by the Sea” still offers up powerful and purposeful grace about how people in the end still manage to get through unexpected agonies.

“Manchester by the Sea” brilliantly makes the point that if any of us should live a long productive life, that in that long journey for the most part we are in control of its destination with various stages of connecting dots of personal choices that we made which collectively shape and define who we are. We choose a college, we choose a professional line of work, we choose a mate, we choose a house, the town to live in and we choose how many children to have.  And when we make these choices (upon spontaneous reflections) we look back on these decisions in that moment hopefully filled with happiness, filled with love and filled prosperity.

But sometimes an event can choose us. A profound event with profound unintended consequences that can be equally defining to a life’s connected dot journey which can be equally defining and shaping who we are.

No doubt “Manchester” will be nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Casey Affleck, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. So, with that in mind I implore you, I beseech you, I beg you all, please go see this wonderful film. Take the journey to visit these people who live near the sea in the town of Manchester. You won’t be disappointed.


4 Stars

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Updated Lester's Contenders for Best Picture Nominations

Updated Lester's Contenders for
Best Picture Nominations
 Date: November 23rd, 2016:


Hello All:

Well some movies previously listed have fallen out of the early contenders list and some have moved up. So once again based solely on what I have researched this is the SECOND update (not my personal preferences) of those films I believe now are early contenders to receive one of a possible 10 Oscar Nomination for Best Picture for 2016.

 The Red highlight means this is the early favorite to win.

 “Arrival” - A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating of aliens who have landed pnm earth and want to communicate with humans. Amy Adams is on everyone early lips as possibly winning her Oscar here for Best Actress. Don’t be surprised if Director Denis Villeneuve also gets a Best Director nomination, as well as Actor Jeremy Renner getting a Best Supporting nomination. Director Denis Villeneuve is the hot new Director in HW everyone wants to work with.

“Fences” - An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Denzel Washington Directs and Acts in this film and could garner him a double nomination along with co-star Viola Davis (Doubt, Antwone Fisher and The Help) for serious consideration for the Best Supporting Actress category.

“Hell or High Water” - A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas. Actors Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster as well screen writer Taylor Sheridan who also penned the words to “Sicario” are almost certain to receive serious Oscar nominations consideration for their respective categories. Also Director David Mackenzie could get some consideration as well.

“Jackie” - The film follows Jackie Kennedy in the days when she was First Lady in the White House and her life following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. It focuses on Theodore H. White's Life magazine interview with the widow at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

“La La Land” - In the heart of Los Angeles, aspiring actress Mia serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart. Actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. Some are already saying this film is “magical”. We will see.

“Lion” - A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. Stars Dev Patel (Sum Dog Millionaire) as well as Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

“Loving” - Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married who eventually take their case to the SCOTUS. Actors Ruth Negga (World War Z) and Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. We will see. Director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud and Take Shelter) is another hot new Director everyone now wants to work with.

“Manchester by the Sea” - An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.  Actor Casey Affleck is on everyone’s possible short list for a Best Actor Nomination. We will see.

"Moonlight” - A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. This film break new ground as a rare and touching story about growing up black and gay.

“Silence” - In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. Could this be Actor Liam Neeson’s time (Taken and Schindler‘s List) to win an Oscar for Best Actor. We will see. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese.

“Sully” – Clint Eastwood could hear one of his films nominated again in the true story of “Sully”. On Jan. 15, 2009, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) tries to make an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 strikes a flock of geese. Miraculously, all of the 155 passengers and crew survive the harrowing ordeal, and Sullenberger becomes a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media. Despite the accolades, the famed pilot now faces an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Arrival - Review


Arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve who has had a great run of success lately with films such as Incendies, Prisoner and Sicario, and who in August 2017 will also be releasing the sequel to the 1982 cult science fiction classic “Blade Runner” titled “Blade Runner 2049”, is now offering up one of my personal favorite film genres in the form of science fiction with the new dramatic story simply called “Arrival”.

Running 2 hours and set in current time the film “Arrival” starts out immediately with the sudden mysterious arrival of 12 spacecraft all touching down (more like hovering) across the globe. Headed by the elite expert linguist Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), she also is brought in to work together with renowned mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who collectively investigate why the “aliens” are here.

As time goes by without any overt threats from the 12 spacecraft mankind nonetheless anxiety levels are percolating hotter and hotter with the innate fear of the unknown about the beings and as a result humanity becomes more convinced with the passage of time that humans may actually be teetering on the verge of a global war. Professor Banks and the team race against time to find answers and above all to fully understand them with sometimes coming to risky assumptions which could be taking a dangerous chance with their own lives as well all of humanity too.

“Arrival” is less science fiction and more basic premortal human drama; that being to always first feel fear to what we don’t know and or don’t understand.  And with that as its core focus Director Villeneuve delivers for the first 1:30 minutes some real authentic tension as you observe meaningful intellectual dissection of a problem at work with the desire of trying to solve a huge problem which is “what is the purpose of the visitors to our planet”.  

What Arrival does brilliantly in my opinion is tell this basic story with the appropriate degree of “spookiness” which you would expect from an earth invasion film with an equal more prescient and perceptive challenge of telling that same story by talking about this mysterious alien invasion in a way that forces the viewer to always keep up without ever “dumbing it down”.

If you want to see what a smart and introspective sci-fi film would wonder about as in how a first human contact with an alien species might look like, this quiet but forceful film offers up a solid tale of what could be possible.

Amy Adams felt star quality real every moment on the screen as she made me and you as well feel the power of human intellect and human learning as the first basic tool of our essence, which inevitable leads to the next step in the evolution process which is to be able to communicate including on those occasions with a stranger with a different language. I hope she gets an Oscar nomination, but I always do with her.

“Arrival is not great, but it is damn solid and while the last 25 minutes of the film does levels off a bit by moving to a more conventional safe conclusion and message, I nevertheless was still highly impressed with this film being one of the smarter efforts of 2016. But what was buried in the overall purpose, direction and focus of this films plot was in fact not so much an attempt to reveal some evil intentions on the alien’s arrivals to earth as some mysterious outsiders. No, it was slightly more surreptitiously implied but evident nonetheless through the films “Q & A’ process which is when people ask smart questions and conclude smart answers that process itself is in fact an internal examination of our own minds and thoughts as well. Particularly so in all those many times we have asked from our own birth to adult hood both solemnly to ourselves and directly to others the basic simple question “why”? And by asking “why” and asking questions in general by doing so we get that much closer to a more intricate and more thorough exploration of our own human selves and our human purpose on this earth.  Don’t you agree?


4 Stars

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge - Review

Hacksaw Ridge

Academy Award winning Director Mel Gibson returns to stand behind the camera again with the World War 2 true story called “Hacksaw Ridge”. A story by any measure that is extraordinary about Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who grew up in Lynchburg VA, who enlisted in the war as an Consciences Objector and as Seven Day Adventist; meaning he did not carry a gun nor did he work or in this case fight on Saturdays.

After enduring a brutal training camp, Doss was shipped to the Pacific Theater to fight on the island of Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII. There he was credited with saving 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector to ever earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.

REVIEW: Overall, the film is entertaining, but far from being great mostly because of Gibson’s meandering direction. In the beginning the film felt like Bill Murrays “Stripes” with the second half feeling more like “Saving Private Ryan”. And with a running time of 2:20 minutes, the first 1:15 for me was rather ordinary in the same was some basic network TV mini-series movie of the week could be. Meaning? Well, I felt as if I was watching someone tell a story the exact same way some frustrated painter might try to paint a picture of the Mona Lisa using the numbered color codes etched into the canvass to use the right crayon color. Nothing magical ever happens.

Another issue that bothered me was as the movie proceeded early on with the introduction of the numerous supporting characters, who all collectively seemed to be both conventionally dull, with dialog that was almost at time amateurish to listen to.

Actor Andrew Garfield who dominates most of the film’s screen time does a decent job as Doss with his mannerisms mix of the loveable Mayberry town Sheriff Andy Taylor from the popular 1960’s situation comedy “The Andy Griffith Show" and TV evangelist Joel Osteen. With an overall solid effort on Garfield's part to capture the moral tone of the fiilm, there were a few occasions his acting seemed to be a little flat and less that authentic, even though we discover the real life Doss did in fact speak the same way towards the end of the film.

The movie does get much better when the fighting begins at the 1:15 mark as the depiction of the combat scenes of taking the Island was as brutal, gory and bloody as any film about war I have ever seen. If past is prolog (Passion of the Christ), Gibson has had no problem in letting the blood and carnage flow in truck loads to make a shocking unnerving point. But to his credit here it is to great and moving effect. War in deed is truly hell.

Finally, I do have to mention one little matter that caught my eye that lasted all about 10-20 seconds that I can honestly say I was not looking for. Gibson is persona non grata in some circles in Hollywood for an anti-Semitic tirade he had during a sobriety check point. He is also notoriously known for being a prankster. During a scene where Doss is walking with his military attorney for his court martial, the attorney ever so briefly cast an eerie likeness profile, including wind swept comb over hair hairstyle and forward pointed chin walking posture of Germany’s notorious Old Uncle Adolph. And while he did not have the square mustache he had a mustache nonetheless. Now I can’t say for sure it wasn't a coincidence or not or was it Gibson ever so very briefly thumbing his noses very subtly. If you see it, you tell me what you think. But I digress.

Overall, Hacksaw Ridge is just good enough for a trip to the mall theater to see. Mostly for the heroism and moral convictions of a brave American hero.


3-1/2 Stars

Saturday, October 29, 2016

'Moonlight" - Review

"Moonlight"

Taking place mostly in a rough drug infested neighborhood of South Florida near Miami, the film “Moonlight” revolves centrally around the emotionally heartbreaking story of one young man's personal story told across three defining chapters in his life. The first delving into his withdrawn shy adolescence, then from the perspective of total isolation as a teenager devoid of any close friends and then as a 20 something adult man who is extremely guarded in making new relationships of any kind. In each three phases of his life the film tracks his daily struggles to find the courage within himself to accept his sexuality which is culturally taboo.

“Moonlight” is a brilliantly crafted film from new comer Director Barry Jenkins.  It bathes itself in an authentic minute to minute reality that makes you feel you are occupying the same space. Mostly because the Director Jenkins had the courage for his cast to have long meaningful well-paced heart felt conversations with each other that at times were uplifting and other times would simply leave your soul crushed in half; you feel the pain and the torment.

The story’s structure overall is a very quiet and grounded film that takes no sharp turns from one scene to the next. There are no surprise endings or gimmicks to spring on you. No faux subplots to distract you. There is not one false move in the films story telling. There isn’t even an obvious sex scene which one would be surprised by given the core plot of the movie is the emotional matter of the young man trying to understand his own sexuality.   

From the look of the film it’s obviously clear that “Moonlight” is a low budged film. But because the characters seemed so real in the moment the entire film’s story make it feels much bigger and grander than itself. It moves with a magnificence for the viewer’s benefit to understand the emotional conundrum of the young’s man’s journey. You don’t judge him or his story – you observe.

MOONLIGHT IS NOT ABOUT SEX. But what Moonlight is, is something both uniquely special, uniquely raw and uniquely authentic. It is also something that is very delicate. Something that is emotionally soaring. Something that is magically executed. Something that is very well acted across the board.

“Moonlight” is perfect each step of the way. And superlatively speaking, “Moonlight” is one of the best films for 2016. It will be in my Top 10 and has a good chance to be Nominated For an Academy Award as Best Picture.

4 Stars  




Sunday, October 16, 2016

Serious Contenders for Best Picture Nominations 2016

Lester’s Serious Contenders for
Best Picture Nominations 2016
 Date: October 16th, 2016:
Hello All:

Based solely on what I have read - researched here is the first of future updates until the end of 2016 (not my preferences) those films that are serious contenders to receive one of a possible 10 coveted Oscar Nomination for Best Picture for 2016. Blue highlights mean they are almost currently a lock.

“20th Century Women” - The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s. Annette Bening who always gives an A+ turn performance, could she finally find her path to Oscar gold as Best Supporting Actress? We will see.

“Arrival” - A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating of aliens who have landed pnm earth and want to communicate with humans. Amy Adams is on everyone early lips as possibly winning her Oscar here for Best Actress. Don’t be surprised if Director Denis Villeneuve also gets a Best Director nomination, as well as Actor Jeremy Renner getting a Best Supporting nomination. Director Denis Villeneuve is the hot new Director in HW everyone wants to work with.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” - 19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad - contrasting the realities of war with America's perceptions. Directed by Ang Lee who won Best Director Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi, as well as got a nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for Best Picture which won eventually won Best Foreign Language Oscar. Director Lee always does brilliant top quality work.

“Fences” - An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Denzel Washington Directs and Acts in this film and could garner him a double nomination along with co-star Viola Davis (Doubt, Antwone Fisher and The Help) for serious consideration for the Best Supporting Actress category.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Directed by Mel Gibson, will his reputation in HW hurt the film’s chances here? Actor Andrew Garfield (Spider Man reboot and The Social Network) is consider a solid contender for a Best Actor Nomination.

“Hell or High Water” - A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas. Actors Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster as well screen writer Taylor Sheridan who also penned the words to “Sicario” are almost certain to receive serious Oscar nominations consideration for their respective categories. Also Director David Mackenzie could get some consideration as well.

“La La Land” - In the heart of Los Angeles, aspiring actress Mia serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart. Actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. Some are already saying this film is “magical”. We will see.

“Lion” - A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. Stars Dev Patel (Sum Dog Millionaire) as well as Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

“Loving” - Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married who eventually take their case to the SCOTUS. Actors Ruth Negga (World War Z) and Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. We will see. Director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud and Take Shelter) is another hot new Director everyone now wants to work with.

“Manchester by the Sea” - An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.  Actor Casey Affleck is on everyone’s possible short list for a Best Actor Nomination. We will see.

Moonlight” - A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. This film breaks new ground as a rare and touching story about growing up black and gay.

“Nocturnal Animals” - An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband's novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. Top A List cast with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer and Laurie Linney. If Amy Adams does well here she could knock herself out of Oscar consideration with two competing performances i.e. “Arrival” in the same year.

“Passengers” - A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. Big star appeal with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in this Noah’s Arc – Adam and Eve deep space love story.

“Rules Don’t Apply” - An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire (Howard Hughes) who they work for. Directed by Warren Beatty.

“Silence” - In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. Could this be Actor Liam Neeson’s time (Taken and Schindler‘s List) to win an Oscar for Best Actor. We will see. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese.

“Sully” - The story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight's passengers and crew. Not Director Clint Eastwood’s best work, but Tom Hanks Oscar quality performance could be enough to bring this film across the finish line for another BP nomination for C.E.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Birth of a Nation - Review

The Birth of a Nation

Set against the antebellum South (the time occurring before the Civil War),The Birth of a Nation” follows Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation. Nat is both rare in being a literate slave and preacher, as well favorably thought of (as far as being a being a slave goes) by his owner Samuel Turner.

With rumors of mass slave insurrection beginning to swirl in the air, a White cleric convinces financially strapped Samuel to start using Nat to sermonize to other local slaves, thereby hopefully quelling any notions of an uprising. Samuel seeing the good in the idea accepts various locals offer to use Nat's preaching prowess to subdue the slave unruliness. But Nat’s time away from his own plantation he begins to witness the countless atrocities directed both against himself as well as his fellow slaves. These acts of brutality help’s Nat sees the religious good in the idea of all out retribution and begins to surreptitiously orchestrate the un-thought for that time an all-out uprising against White slave owners and their families in the hopes of leading his people to freedom. So, on the historic date of Aug. 21, 1831, Nat Turner's rebellion took whole as Nat began his personal quest for justice and freedom which led to the historic violent rebellion in Southampton County Virginia.

“TBOAN” has its flaws. One, in the first hour is the pacing of the films editing which was a bit too “snapshot” quick from scene to scene. There could have been a tad more development of the back story of the white “escaped slave patrols”. Acting almost ghostly in their appearance in the film they come across merely as unauthentic and very underdeveloped characterizations of men who seemed more like primordially born barbaric savage soulless men who’s jobs were to roamed the earth to simply engage in perpetual violence who also just happened to be white. There was also early a slightly clunky story line involving Nat’s transition from a child and having an unusual gift “not to be wasted” because he knew his letters into a decent man of both great Christian faith and an abiding love for his family and his fellow slaves. Overall these are minor effects on the film and ultimately just hiccups along this film’s 2 hour journey.

What does endure from this film, especially in the second hour of Nat’s’ story is his slow and heartfelt evolution from being an enslaved man to a full man who not unlike any other human walking the earth at that time simply wanted to matter out of life of being more than a permanently shackled and brutalized people who could be instantly killed (and often were) "for no reason but being black".

Actor Nate Parker who plays Nat Turner, also produced, wrote and directed “TBOAN” delivers a fine and promising debut effort here. And while there are long stretches where certain scenes were very conventional and a bit uneven in its execution losing the film’s momentum of what we know is to come in the way of the rebellion, overall the story delivers exceptionally well some scenes of great emotional depth, humanity and punches to the gut. It also delivers moments of raw savagery that even I could not imagine, one in particular involving two slaves who refused to eat literally made me wince at the screen. This and other moments in his film depicting American slavery turned my stomach into an emotional and intellectual ball of anguish that I once again had to question how any living soul could ever feel morally justified by either man’s law and religious Christianity doctrine to do such unthinkable things to other humans.

In the end “TBOAN” tries to delivers two basic themes. One, is the historical depiction of Nat Turner’s rebellion of a man literally willing to be tortured and punished that eventually would cost him his life. And the other being the surreptitious power of religion as nothing more than propaganda tool for both the slave owner to be “master over other humans” and the other being a tool to morally propagandized the minds of slaves to be made to feel this was the “Lord’s will” to be sold into lifelong bondage. But in the end the larger and more powerful point revealed in this film was how the institution of slavery was more than stories of shackles, whips, beatings, cotton fields and lynching. It was singularly a system designed to perpetually dehumanize a group of men, women, children and their families from their birth to their graves in all things that matter with the except of the very breath they took.

In the end of the film there is a footnote that comes across the screen that states Nat was slowly hanged until he choked to death, then cut down and dismembered and had his body parts used for axle  grease….......Dehumanizing.   


3 – 3/4 Stars

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Deepwater Horizon - Review

Deepwater Horizon

On April 20th, 2010, one of the world’s largest man-made disasters occurred on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Directed by Peter Berg ("Lone Survivor"), this film’s story honors the brave men and women whose heroism would save many on board, and change everyone’s lives forever.

PROS: The chaos, explosions and reenactment of human activity, as well as displays of courage are impressive to view. Unless you have been on a floating oil rig before you have no clue or reference point of the size, the technical complexity and engineering intricacies that is involved to manage and operate these behemoths of steel, wire, pipes and wires just to pump oil to make gasoline to insure you keep your car running to gleefully visit your in laws weekly (smiles) or to make life saving medicines and products.

CONS: Where do I begin? First, the screenplay, especially for the first 30 minutes, was nothing short of BP Oil, engineering, techno-babble gibberish that had me scratching my head asking………………. “What the hell did he (they) say?” The dialog was so indecipherable at times to the overall plot I am still wondering what they were talking about to each other.

Second, for me Director Peter Berg falls into that category of director where he is always consistent. He either consistently hits all of his directorial marks as he did in the excellent “Lone Survivor” or he consistently misses all of his marks as he did in the clunker “Battleship”. This film “DWH” is somewhere in between. You the viewer have the advantage going into the theater already having a sense of the basic events leading up and post to the BP oil disaster; so in that respect Berg’s film is easy to follow. But if you didn’t know a single aspect about the events of that day, I would venture to say any reasonable person watching this film would be scratching their heads as I did asking ….”What the hell did they do wrong?”

Third, from a visual point of view Berg must have mounted his camera on the back of Humming Bird that was strung out on PCP. Meaning? Meaning, every frame he seems to jump back and forward so rapidly from the principles  speaking at the time (focusing on them for no more than 4-5 seconds) you see no advantage to this trick other than to make sure you see that person’s lips move during the verbal exchange. He also takes this same nervous energy to the big finale of when the explosion and chaos begins on the platform. The result for me was again you would be hard pressed again to know what was happening.  …What the hell they are they doing now?”........... “Where the hell are they now?” Ultimately this quick trigger camera action made it particularly hard for to know where the crew were at critical moments on the rig as they tried to escape from the fiery inferno. Believe me if this was a crime film you sat through for 1:45 minute running time, you be hard pressed to identify anyone in the cast to a police lineup if your life counted on it. Note to Berg, watch Titanic……….learn.

Inspite of all this you now ask me ………..”So, Lester is it entertaining?........... Yes it is. Hey Lester is it coherent?............ Eeeh somewhat – eeh no so much”. My problem with the film as a whole is that the aggregate effort takes too much liberty at each frame in showcasing the events and the entire story with a conventional simplicity in the execution of what happened that day. There is drama, but it doesn’t grab you by the throat. And while the film (at the very end) pointed out the cost of 11 men their lives, it does little to make it feel more than just a passing foot note. That’s not to mention not one offering of the magnitude of the ecological, economic and political fallout that occur that day as well.

Berg does a solid job of capturing what it looks like for a metal floating city looks like on fire; the intensity and ferocity of the explosion, flying projectiles, steel structures collapsing and basically how terrifying it must have been for all onboard was very, very impressive. But in the end I say that “DWH” is both a mix entertaining and a bit disappointing. And in the end, I was a bit more disappointed in the Direction and Writing than anything else.

3 - 1/4 Stars






Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven - Review

The Magnificent Seven

I love western movies; always have - always will. They epitomize the moral tales from an era when life was simple and the interacting conflicts between people were simple matters of either being someone who was good or someone who was evil  - being a person who was morally right with a gun or someone who was morally wrong with a gun. So when I heard they were doing a remake of the “The Magnificent Seven” from the 1960 original starring Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen, needless to say I was excited no matter who was directing or starring in the modern adaptation.

In the 2016 effort we find Director Antoine Fuqua bringing his modern vision to a this classic story beginning in the 1870 American western town of Rose Creek which is under the deadly control of an industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Desperate to rid themselves of this one man tyrannical murdering megalomaniac the good towns people employ protection from a territorial deputized man named Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). He subsequently begins to recruit outlaws; a mix of bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns starting with a slick lady’s man who has a way with a gun named Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt). They take off to solicit Josh’s old friend Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), and others including Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). They all eventually meet in Rose Creek to prepare the somewhat sheepish town people for the violent showdown that they know is coming.  But for these seven mercenaries they find themselves fighting for more than money and they hope to secure their personal rewards in the center of the town of Rose Creek in the form of a giant gun slinging finale.

PROS: The set locations and visuals for this film are breathtaking to look at. I want to live there.

CONS: “The Magnificent Seven” holds your attention in some instances and barely in others. But more specifically what makes its less than the original is it feels way too long. With a 2:15 minutes running time the film spent almost the entire first hour of these band of seven misfits simply talking and commiserating with each other about their respective pasts and how they will prepare to get ready for Mr. Bogue. And it’s this period and other moments (poor film editing – poor writing) that allows the overall film to lose some of its pacing and overall “authentic” western punch. In a few stances the only thing that was missing in some scenes was Dr. Phil entering in on horseback to mediate.

Visually and action wise the whole film itself is crafted very well, but the optics alone cannot make up for the spades of time that feel more like a lethargic “yarn” rather than what a western film should deliver in the form of real human peril and at least a few good moments of authentic “yee-haa”.

To Director Fugua’s credit he does have some good moments like infusing homages to other Western film classics including the first time we see Denzel as he rides into town almost identical to the visual scene of Clint Eastwood’s entrance in “High Plains Drifter”. In another instance you also see a quick draw shootout with Chris Pratt near a saloon that was very similar to Kevin Costner’s effort in “Silverado”.

In the end “The Magnificent Seven” 2016 is not bad to watch, so if you are bored this Saturday it’s good enough see. But if you want my advice, still see it at some point,  I just recommend you do it in the leisure of your home on your own giant “Magnificent Seven-ty” inch Ultra Digital flat screen TV.


3 Stars