Sunday, December 25, 2016

Fences - Review


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


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


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

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
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