Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Greatest Showman - Review

The Greatest Showman

Hugh Jackman uses his full array of virtuoso talents as an actor, singer and dancer in the inspired true story of legendary showman B.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman”. A blended film of music, dance, theater, Cirque du Soleil and melodrama revolving mostly around the story of BT Barnum, his wife and children, his collection of perceived societal misfits and his passion to being a financial success.
REVIEW: I could go into the backdrop of what inspired Barnum to his success but that would take away a significant portion of the films first 30 minutes in its 1:40 minute running time. What is worth mentioning is that while Rotten Tomato has the film at about 50% I believe it is better than that score. And while the film is not great it certainly is a dazzling piece of work with its beautiful set design and costumes and dance choreography.
But the best thing about “TGS” is the music which simply is phenomenal throughout the entire film. Inspiring and moving, the songs here are by the same people who wrote the music to 2016 Oscar Nominated Film “La La Land”, only I think their work here is far more memorable. I have little doubt that “TGS” will certainly garner an Oscar Nomination in the Musical Score category and will probably be the front runner to win as well.
“TGS” is not meant to be a serious film as it clearly glosses’ and skips over some of the more controversial aspects to Barnum’s success. Instead it tends to feel more like a cheer leading homage solely to Barnum’s benevolent qualities and nothing else. But in the overall arc of the films plot there is a strong meaningful social aspect to the films story in the way Barnum recruited his odd assortment of entertainers to be in his “circus”.
Coming in all sizes, shapes, races, looks and ethnicity, “TGS” makes a very tender point of the importance of acceptance of people. And while Barnum’s motifs may have been to make a lot of money he openly embraced to his own peril a lot of people who were shunned by society for their odd looks. His circus idea helped bring them out of the shadows and into the light of humanity. And by doing so he helped give a lot of good people the feeling of self-worth and self-respect as equals in the arena of humanity.
“TGS” is a satisfying and luminous film in a tight entertaining package.
3.25 Stars

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

We pick up the never ending saga of “intergalactic good versus evil” in Episode 8, “Star Wars – The Last Jedi”, with a reprisal of one of the main characters from the original 1977 effort named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
In this 2018 installment, we find Jedi Master Luke Skywalker living on his own alone. He has intentionally retreated to a life in total exile on an obscure planet on an obscure island for the purpose of achieving (in his mind) peaceful harmony through complete solitary existence; away from the galactic mayhem from his youth. But his plans to never to return to the ways of his Jedi teachings - skills are upended when he encounters Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young woman who shows strong signs of the Force he is so familiar with. Her desire to learn the ways of the Jedi forces Luke to make a hard decision that changes their lives forever.
Meanwhile back in deep space we see the battle between the Resistance and the Evil Empire (now known as the “First Order”) continuing with Kylo Ren aka as Hans Solo and Princess Leia’s son (Adam Driver) and a dried up looking lizard with his head half caved in named General Hux combining their evil talents to lead the First Order regime in an all-out assault against (now) General Leia and her fighters for the survival and supremacy of the galaxy.
REVIEW: Hey, nothing I say here is ever going to sway anyone’s opinion about whether they will see this film or not. If you are a fan, as I am, you will be compelled to see it as much on impulse as well as a matter of it simply being a part of your youth. So to that point, with a running time of 2:30 minutes, “Star Wars – The Last Jedi” overall was pleasant, beautiful to look at and generally entertaining. It is much truer to the first 3 original installments (1977 – 1983) than the later 3 installments (1999 – 2005).  So for all of the “SW” fanatics out there who like to dress up each year at the premieres of these films as Storm Troopers or Jedi or Lord Vader none of you will be disappointed at all in “The Last Jedi”.
HOWEVER, my problem with the film, especially as an older man, is I realized now this film franchise has clearly moved towards the direction of youth and youth only, seemingly catering only to millennials per-se in the way they need instant gratification from their I-Phones every second of the day. While easy enough to follow, I still found the overall story very unimaginative as part of the continuing saga of Star Wars, with equally underwhelming subplots that seemed even more mired in murkiness. And while Director Rian Johnson did a solid job in this 8th effort, structurally speaking he seemed way too preoccupied with moving his story along with pace from scene to scene as his first priority rather than to occasionally taking his foot off the camera accelerator for some emotional balance. To his credit he valiantly tried to accomplish this in key moments where deep personal reflection and introspection were required between important principles in the film,  still what came across still felt way too rushed and falling a bit flat to hear and see..
In all fairness to Director Rian Johnson he has made a fun movie to watch. But substantively speaking it is the plot's execution that seemed to being only coherent for those devoted fans who now suffer from ADHA (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Filled with repetitive dialog that never takes you anywhere new and certainly never offering anything in the way of magical or stirring crescendo moments to hold on to or to remember. Instead the film is just basic and solid with just a good enough beginning, just a good enough middle and just enough of an OK ending to connect viewers to the next installment probably 3 years from now.
“Star Wars – The Last Jedi” has all of the visual swashbuckling swagger of its predecessors just not the emotional purity.
3.00 Stars

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Darkest Hour - Review

Darkest Hour

One of my personal favorites, British Actor Gary Oldman (JFK, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and The Professional & Batman - The Dark Knight) takes on the role of a life time as one of the world’s most iconic real life leaders in the form of his fellow countryman Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II with the rising Fascist German Army and Adolph Hitler.

An inspiring true story of the four weeks of May in 1940, we soon discover all of Europe is on the precipice of falling under the control and dominance of Nazi Germany with the fall of France very imminent. It is compounded by the fact that Britain faces its “darkest hour” as well with the threat of their “Island nation” being invaded from the German military juggernaut. 

As the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces advance, the newly formed British government of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who hardly anyone in Parliament likes) is dealing with the early crisis of 300K plus of his countryman's British army and military allies collectively trapped and cornered on the French beaches of Dunkirk. Churchill realizes the fate of not only his country but all of Western Europe hangs on the balance of his leadership. But his leadership is a daily struggle as he dominated and surrounded by men who collectively in the Parliament and cabinet find him disagreeable, petulant and ill prepared to be their leader. They relentlessly pressure him day after day to agree to a peace treaty offering from Adolph Hitler to avoid the disaster of Britain being destroyed in a war they believe they cannot win. 

But it is the singular spotlight of his sole leadership to fight at all cost against a rising evil in the world and to prevent the totally incomprehensible thought of his country ever losing their national identity as a sovereign nation “under the banner of a swastika flying over Buckingham Palace”.

Refusing to cave under to his bitter professional rivals demands of negotiating with Hitler to save the British people from a terrible cost of life, Churchill chooses instead the very long extraordinary odds of confronting Germany. First by implementing a rescue strategy called "Operation Dynamo" that virtually rescued the entire British army from the shores of Dunkirk with a civilian naval armada and then shortly there after rallying his nation in his speech before the Parliament on what his policy would be going forward........... “You all ask, what is our nation’s policy? I will say it is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy”.

REVIEW: Initially we see the film in the form of an intimate examination of the ordinary man named Churchill filled with a combination of his smart British wit, compassion and charm along with a unique perspective of what he was like as a dutiful husband. But soon after this framing of his personality has passed we see minute by minute both the film “Darkest Hour” and the actor Gary Oldman grow into a perfectly executed mutual crescendo as one of the best films for 2017.

Running about 2 hours, “Darkest Hour” essentially is a microscopic portrait of what leadership likes when seemingly dire events require someone, just one someone, to take the reigns of people's hearts, minds and human will to lead them. That one special someone by being their most morally courageous to lead them. And it is Oldman's performance we see these qualities in his Churchill; that special someone in both intricate and broad strokes with flawless acting from beginning to end.

While Oldman is in almost 95% of the film scenes and has about 80% of the lines utter in the film, the film still works as a very well-rounded balance story of other historical characters all the while showcasing one of the finest acting performances in the way of Oldman interpretation you will see this year or any other year. Gary Oldman is just phenomenal and keeps the whole historical story from ever collapsing under the weight of already familiar documented account of events during those perilous month of May in 1940. Even with knowing how things turned out this story and film always felt fresh, compelling. very consequential every step of the way.

Look I could say a lot more in the way of details about the film being superbly directed by Joe Wright along with a musical score that was both appropriate and timely in its underscoring of key moments in the film, but should you see it you will find all of this out for yourself.

Ultimately, Darkest Hour’ is one of the 10 best films you will see all year. If you are a history buff I highly recommend renting this years “Dunkirk” and the former Best Picture winner (one of my favorites of all time) “The Kings Speech” before or after "Darkest Hour". Both previously released films are situationally linked to the same historical time frame in UK World War 2 history, with both films working very well as companion and supportive pieces to the more intricate strategic events that occurred in “Darkest Hour”.

So, now the Academy of Arts and Science in Los Angeles will have to go through the perfunctory formality of nominating Gary Oldman in late January 2018 for Best Actor and then the additional perfunctory formality of making him travel all the way across the Atlantic all dressed up in his black tuxedo and tie just to accept his golden statue Oscar on live TV. He will then in turn take the time to thank all those who helped him in this great performance as well as those who were instrumental in his successful long career. Instead I would like to suggest the following idea to the Academy........., “Hey Academy why don't you just Federal Express Gary Oldman’s his Oscar today to some London store………….Save him the damn time and money on flying and air fare just to pick his well deserved trophy here in the states" (just kidding - he will win though  - a 100% lock).

Please take the time to see “Darkest Hour”, I highly recommend this excellent film, but more for Gary Oldman's work who is “Brando-esque” as Prime Minister Winston Churchill (my highest form of praise for a male actor’s work). And also I would like to recommend one other final suggestion to Gary Oldman as well,……….. “Hey Gary, you might want to keep that Tux pressed and handy anyway, knighthood from the Queen is on its way………..and you have to show up for that”.

4.00 Stars 

The Shape of Water - Review

The Shape of Water

From acclaimed story teller, Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth), comes the love story - fantasy tale “The Shape of Water”. An other worldly story set against the backdrop of the Cold War era of America verses the USSR circa 1962.

From the top we find a hidden high-security government laboratory, filled with army security, scientist and an abundance of day laborers, one of which is a slight, submissive and quiet laborer named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins). She works at the top secretive facility as a janitor (oddly enough in high heels and dress) then clocks out at the end of her day to go home alone to a small apartment. Eliza has no friends outside of her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her landlord Giles (Richard Jenkins) because she is a mute and societally shunned; trapped in a life of daily isolation from her disability. And while her lost voice is an inexplicable mystery from scars on her neck she still is quite capable of hearing and able to respond to others very elegantly via sign language all too conveniently interpreted by her coworker and best friend Zelda and Giles.

One day at work Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment in the form of an amphibious half human – half iguana lizard looking creature that is brought into facility from the jungles of Brazil.

Captured to be examined and researched by scientist there, the creature is shackled and chained under high security protocols in a basement laboratory with an indoor pool filled with slimy green water to accommodate the natural habitat where he was found. Elisa and Zelda are charged daily with cleaning up the laboratory from their series of test and experiments conducted on the creature, as well as from the blood from the brutal treatment inflicted by the head of security by a man named “Strickland” (Michael Shannon). He is throughout the film is sadistically frustrated by the creature’s inability to communicate in a discernable language.

Elisa witnesses the brutality by Strickland one day and immedaitely feels empathy for the creature, probably relating to his dilemma of being ostracized by not communicating. Feeling that connection to the creature and using some ingenuity on her part, she finds a way daily to sneak into the lab to visit the creature on her lunch break to share her hard boiled eggs and love of music with him. What ensues is a love story aka “beauty and the beast” through their forged deep emotional connection, not from words but rather through the silent expressions of respect, of touching and the simple act of compassion.

REVIEW: “The Shape of Water” is on everyones short list as an almost a lock to be nominated for a Best Picture nomination, with Best Actress for Sally Hawkins and other Academy Award nominations for technical considerations as well. There is just one problem, it won’t be because I had a vote. While I found it very beautiful to look at and filled with some top Hollywood talent, the overall plot was slightly above average on the interesting meter that never really connected with me as something plausible or reasonable, even in the back drop of it being a pure fantasy.

It wants to be too many things. It wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic love story with its subtle homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers films and yet I found the relationship very one dimensional, lacking any depth as to why they were drawn to each other than Eliza having a powerful libido. I found their interplay with one another almost laughable to even contemplate. And it also wants to be some cold war era spy thriller with the full measure of a subplot of the evil empire (USSR) and espionage. In both instances theses competing plots tried to make the case of “falling in love by conquering all obstacles’ as some remarkable tale of romance. But for me it wasn’t. Rather I felt less incline to be naturally drawn to this as a genuine fantasy and more forcibly compelled to surrender to it as a tale of bestiality romance. YUCK.

While “The Shape of Water” does try earnestly to being something very lovely to contemplate with its colorful sets design, movie musical tones and overt long silent love gazes meant to suggest real romantic tension between the two principle “love lizards”.   It never generated any real dramatic tension as far as I can see. Especially with an ending which from my perspective I could see coming a mile away.

Still I give Director Del Toro credit in trying to make a prodigious piece of work with glamour and appropriate atmospherics to sell this as a “by gone era old fashion love story”. And FYI, I am always a bit of a forgiving film fan of creative people taking risk into making something completely original given Hollywood’s yearly propensity to recycle the previously recycled  year after year. So for that I applaud Del Toro efforts for having and using some imagination with the best intensions. 

But in the end, “The Shape of Water” doesn’t transcend the art of romance in any artful new way, it just demands you accept this “slimy watery love tale” without ever questioning any aspect of it which made it for me a “hard water” story to buy.

So, see it but definitely rent it on those whimsical sleepy wintery days when you want to stay in doors and nothing else worth wild is on the TV.

3.00 Stars

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Disaster Artist - Review

The Disaster Artist

Actor James Franco, acts, writes and directs, along with his real life brother Dave Franco and his best buddy Seth Rogan in the offbeat satirical and very funny film called “The Disaster Artist”. A true story about a mysterious man with unusually long black hair and an indiscernible accent named Tommy Wiseau who in 2003 made one of the worst reviewed movies ever grossing only $1,800 dollars, only to  eventually have it evolve into one the greatest cult classic’s about “how not to make a movie” called “THE ROOM”. For 14 straight years “THE ROOM” has been currently playing in theaters in most major cities at least one night a week as a testament to its unintended fame. 
PLOT: At the start of the film we see principally only two characters, Tommy (James Franco) and his best friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), a 19 year old who is aspiring to be a full time actor. Both Tommy and Greg are studying together in a San Francisco based acting class when one day the Director admonishes Greg in class as being simply not good enough to be a serious working actor in Hollywood.
Frustrated by the criticism Greg reaches out to Tommy as someone he sees in his class through his improvisational but very strange performances as genuinely fearless and passionate about his work. Agreeing to help Greg, on a whim Tommy offers Greg to simply move in with him as his roommate so as (maybe) together they can inspire each other to getting the kind of real acting work they both dream of achieving. 
But after several months of endless rejections, Greg during a flippant and dismissive moment at humor suggests to Tommy that he should make his own movie. Tommy sees this as a real epiphany moment to making his dreams come true to being like his iconic film hero James Dean. So he goes off not only to writing a screenplay, but also financing his entire film at the cost of $6M with a bunch of no named actors in his story “THE ROOM”. A plot that centers  a banker named Johnny, a man who has it all; great friends, a good job, and a gorgeous fiancée named Lisa , but who also has a scheme on her part of  manipulating and tearing Johnny apart for her own selfish needs while at the same time allowing herself to being seduced by Johnny’ best friend Mark.
REVIEW: Besides being completely off beat and hysterical funny at the same time, ‘The Disaster Artist” ultimately is a sweet homage to all of the countless actors who went to Hollywood with huge dreams that quickly failed; giving up, never to be heard of again. But not Tommy.  Franco’s film is essentially about Tommy Wiseau as a sweet tribute to both him as a person as well as to the idea of personal perseverance, along with what constitutes a real friendship and overall being truly passionate about something you genuinely believe it, no matter how many people make fun or criticize you.
While there are moments in the film that most casual film viewers will find as either weird, emotionally uncomfortable, even bizarre to contemplate, it wasn’t for me.  “The Disaster Artist” worked for all of its 1:45 minutes running time as it apparently did for the viewing audience who laughed out loud, seemingly enjoying this effort throughout as I did. But not so much as a film to make light of Tommy’s naivety, but more at the brilliance of James Franco superb acting talent playing skillfully about a man with no talent for acting while trying to act in the film with horrible acting (get it). Franco makes the full arc of Tommy’s story a fabulous tale that is sincere and honest even in the midst of watching Tommy’s direct his film rooted almost daily in some form of chaos and endless production disasters.
There is a great visual scene in “The Disaster Artist” film where Franco’s Tommy is seen shooting a scene in his making of “The Room” film that was supposed to be about Tommy having sex with his girlfriend in the movie. Tommy is so completely bad at acting that he is even horrible simulating having sex, as it looked more like some naked rhythm-less uncoordinated man humping a concrete building. Brought me to tears.
James Franco will almost certainly be nominated for Best Actor and deservedly so as his “The Disaster Artist” makes Tommy someone you totally root for. And if you should see this and you conclude that Tommy is a bit of a head case, as well as you deem his acting as unbearable to watch or you conclude that at times he seems more like a child stuck in a man’s body, it nevertheless is truly one of the more imaginative original pieces of film making you will see with genuine hilarity and genuine heart about a successful and yet unknown actor named Tommy Wiseau's who’s eccentricity and bad acting was an illuminating joy to watch.
3.50 Stars

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Films Rebooted - For TV / New Movie

Films Rebooted - For TV  / New Movie

A Star Is Born
An American Werewolf In London
Blue Thunder
Car Wash
Creature From The Black Lagoon
The Crow
Das Boot
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Escape From New York
Every Which Way But Loose
Five Fingers Of Death
Friday The 13th
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Jacob's Ladder
Little Shop Of Horrors
Little Women
Logan's Run
Men In Black
Miami Vice
Nightmare On Elm Street
Oceans Eight
Police Academy
Private Benjamin

Red Sonja
Road House
Shaft (comedy)
Short Circuit
Sister Act
Starship Troopers
Super Fly
Terms of Endearment
The Birds
The Fly
The Fugitive
The Green Hornet
The Legend Of Conan
The Lion King
The Little Mermaid
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Matrix
The Naked Gun
The Seven Samurai
The Ten Commandments
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Warriors
The Wild Bunch
The Wolfman
Tomb Raider
War Games
Weird Science
White Men Can't Jump

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a drama with some appropriate comic undertones from Academy Award winning Director Martin McDonagh who wrote and directed the 2007 low budget hit "In Bruges" starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason.

In his latest effort we leave the cinematic cultural vibrant landscape of Europe for the more rural and laid back American Midwest in the small sleepy town of Ebbing Missouri. The story begins about several months after teenager Angela Hayes was murdered with no culprit(s) or a single clue offered to solving her case.

Mildred Hayes (Angela Hayes's mother) played by Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) who is highly frustrated by the lack of progress to solving her daughter murder, decides to making a bold move by painting three billboard signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed squarely at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town's revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature redneck mother’s boy with a penchant for violence gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing's law enforcement is only exacerbated with more antagonism and personal threats that seem to put the case of Angela’s murder on the back burner of concern. Nevertheless, Mildred is determined one way of another to solving her daughter's death even if it kills her or kills anyone who gets in her way.

REVIEW: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" at its core is about the extraordinary trauma a parent goes through when grieving the loss of a child, especially through needless violence.

I believe in most cases people in the very depths of despair and grief will often recoil to the privacy of their homes and their personal families, barely living; completely withdrawn from their friends, food and work - just sitting and waiting in an emotional fog for others to come to them with some news of resolution to a family member’s tragic murder. BUT NOT MIIDLRED HAYES, she is fully engaged. Totally motivated with a quiet almost masculine locked jaw resolve to do anything by looking pass anyone standing in her way of accomplishing the goal of solving her daughter’s murder. It’s the brilliance of Director Martin McDonagh to draw on both the normal tragic aspects of grieving and mourning with Mildred’s approach within his screenplay that also offers up a smart, sometimes profane and vulgar, definitely hilarious, violent and sometime karmic look at this kind of relentlessness. With some clever plot point twists intertwined we see with a realistic examination of how rage, under very rare circumstances, can be a productive cathartic mechanism in making some people just better human beings.  

Frances McDormand is both phenomenal and brilliant as Mildred and is an absolute 100% lock to get a Best Actress Nomination as will is Sam Rockwell as the alcoholic, excessively violent redneck momma’s boy Deputy Jason Dixon. Also, Oscar nominations will definitely be coming in the way for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director as well. But the real  greatness of this film, with a running time of 1:15 is that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of those films that keeps getting better and better, more unpredictable and more compelling as it went along. It’s truly one of those rarest of rare films that is more profound and more grounded in reality each and every frame with a subliminal message of inspiration hidden inside its story without ever being overly manipulative, gimmicky or predictable.

A must see film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with definitely be in my high top ten films for 2017 as one of the more satisfying movies I have seen with its funny and palatable dramatic story about small town life through the tragic prism of loss and redemption.

4 Stars

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Roman J. Israel, ESQ - Review

Roman J. Israel, ESQ

Director Dan Gilroy who wrote and directed the intriguing and compelling 2014 “Nightcrawler” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, works with another A list Actor in the way of two time Academy Award Winner Denzel Washington in the legal drama “Roman J. Israel, ESQ”.

Taking place in Los Angeles, the story surrounds just three characters in the way of Denzel Washington as a lawyer named Roman Israel, along with Colin Farrell as his boss George Pierce and Carmen Ejogo a civil Rights activist as Romans’ female friend aka love interest named Maya. Roman is legally brilliant; a savant of sorts when it come to the law uniquely able to recite details of old cases by simply hearing the case number under which it was filed. His problem is he is a bit socially awkward and to a degree emotionally dysfunctional when interacting with other people. But he has a good heart with even better intentions of always wanting to help the indigent, the working class poor and overall to use his legal training to make the law be a mechanism for good in the way of social justice for those less fortunate.
Early in the film Roman discovers his small legal firm that he has been employed with for many years is closing doors for financial reasons and that he is being laid off. Emotionally lost and financially desperate to find work he reluctantly takes a job with a huge law firm run by George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a slick lawyer who was friends with Roman’s old boss who died suddenly now offering Roman better pay at his big time glitzy firm downtown.

The transition doesn’t go well as Roman  antiquated manner and ideas of doing things have left him stuck in a time warp of sorts when it comes to interacting with new high profile clients as he did at his old firm leading to real tension with his new legal colleagues as well exposing his new firm to potential laws suits. But in the process of getting a second chance with his boss George blessings, Roman gets his act together but on a rare impulse which is contrary to his nature Roman makes another decision that leads to a series of turbulent events that will put his new client as well as his new firm in a dangerous perilously situation.

REVIEW: As far as acting goes this is one Denzel’s best performances ever. You find yourself hanging on every uttered word as we watch and listen to his imaginative interpretation of this odd duck of aka Professor Cornel West looking man named Roman, who is part brilliant lawyer, part savant Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man”) part Forest Gump and part Karl Childers (Sling Blade). He creates real intrigue and dramatic weight to his Roman that while at times (and there were many) you found Roman’s conversations and actions totally perplexing, you still found yourself fixated on just how commanding Denzel owns the screen in every frame. 

Another positive is how the interplay chemistry between Roman and George is totally electric in the scenes they are together. But with all of Denzel’s acting prowess and Colin Farrell’s equally fine performance, the film gets totally loss and bogged down in the 2:09 minute running time from its endless choppy direction with an equally choppy, puzzling and meandering plot that seems never to elevate any aspect of the film into something meaningful or consequential to justify spending your time watching this overly wordy film.
By the time the movie comes to an odd dramatic ending, you really don’t care at all about Roman's fate;  …………and you should have and you won't - not even a little.
2.25 Stars

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Last Flag Flying - Review

Last Flag Flying 

Self-taught writer/director Richard Linklater who is among the first and most successful talents to emerge during the American independent film renaissance of the 1990s offering such films as “Dazed and Confused”, “Before Sunrise” and the 2014 Best Picture nominated film “Boyhood”, takes on another realistic and natural humanist film story titled “Last Flag Flying”.

In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with Former Marine, now bar owner Sal (Bryan Cranston) and fellow former Marine now minister Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). His visit to them is a surprise as they have not seen or spoken to each other for decades. But “Doc’s” arrival is a solemn one as he is on different type of mission to his old friends. He came to ask them to help him bury his only son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc has decided to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and with the help of his old buddies, they take the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.

REVIEW: “Last Flag Flying” structurally speaking is a conventional film in the purest sense. Meaning, it’s never flashy in any frame during in its 2:04 minute running time, spending most of the film's story portraying very realistically meaningful “in the moment dialogue”. Specifically the kind of dialogue that helps the viewing audience get acquainted with these Marine buddies who are now years later getting reacquainted with one another. 

But in the first 30 minutes into their personal story, this viewer came to realize that while Rotten Tomato has "Last Flag Flying" scored at a modest 76, from my perspective something special was starting to take place up on the big screen. Something special as I was witnessing three stirring performances about how men, in only ways our DNA X chromosomes will generally ever allow, how men uniquely show their warmth, share their humanity, share their respect and yes share their love for and with one another. Not with tears, not with melancholy and not with bravado. But rather by drawing on their comradery that has been fortified into a deeper hidden strength from a single shared experience. In their case it was their experience as brave soldiers in Vietnam War.

While the overall arc and premise of the story is somewhat gloomy, as it is always ever present in your mind while its narrative unfolds, this is a story at its core about a funeral procession for a brave dead solider who is being laid to rest by his father and his two best friends. And while there are a few rare moments where the three men do engage in other matters like belief in God, sex and sentiments about being anti-war verse being pro-soldier loving Americans, the film is always buttressed by the wonderful interplay between Cranston’s, Carell’s and Fishburne’s characters as they create acting magic with one another, using both sometimes dramatic restraint and sometimes down right hilarious chemistry that will touch anyone’s heart at the deepest of levels.

The overall strength of "Last Flag Flying" is it is always sincerely honest with itself and therefore is always sincerely honest with its audience each step without relying on simplistic sentimental gimmicks to fill in space or take up time. No its a moving story from beginning to end that is even more elevated by some memorable and unforgettable scenes that will have you thinking about the movie days later after you see it. 

The first such scene is when we watch Doc sees his son's casket at Dover military base. The second is with all three men riding in the cargo section of the train carrying the Marines remains home. The third is when they buy and use flip phones on an impulse (remember this take place in 2003 - no I phones yet). The fourth is when the three men take a side trip to a friend's mother home who died with them while in Vietnam. And finally the scene on the day of the funeral ranging from Doc’s home to the cemetery. I guarantee you these moments in the movie will make you laugh, reflect, smile and be emotionally touched by the beautiful seamless transition of experiencing these three men support for one another during one of the deepest human tragedies anyone can experience……………..A parent putting their child to their final rest.

But the real magic in this film is Bryan Cranston. He is the lead engine on this train, metaphorical speaking, as he galvanizes the appropriate amount of inner wisdom, emotional strength, humor and personal reflection that the film needed to prevent it from being dragged down as some simple sad tale of death. His performance is nothing short of brilliant and reinforces what I have been saying for 5 years now he is the finest male actor working in Hollywood today.

Please to all who read this, I implore you to see “Last Flag Flying’ in the theater if you can. If you cannot, please do not miss it when it is convenient for you to do so. It’s a profoundly thoughtful and powerful meditative story about war and how surviving its aftermath can affect people in lasting ways negatively, but also in ways that are wonderful, humorous and nurturing.

One of the best films for 2017, “Last Flag Flying” is not just an excellent story that is well written with terrific executed performances and direction, it’s just a superbly magnificent emotional experience that should not be missed. 

4 Stars

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wonder - Review


Based on the New York Times bestseller, “WONDER” tells the inspiring and heartwarming story of a young boy named August Pullman. In the film we find the central character who prefers to be called “Auggie” is born with a facial abnormality ("mandibulofacial dysostosis", aka “Treacher Collins syndrome”) that up until now has prevented him from going to a mainstream school with other children. But his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) who has taught him at home from birth realizes his reluctance to blend and interact with other kids his own age can‘t go on forever. So with love and support from Isabel, from Auggie’s father Nate (Owen Wilson) and his sister Via they all agree that it is time for him to attend the organize school Breecher Middle School.

As to be expected Auggie’s transition into the real world with other kids is marked with some cruelty, some kindness and some moments that will define his character into adulthood. It’s this transit in the film that is the core to its plot where we get to observe how the love and strength of his family, the growing acceptance and respect of his new classmates and the overall compassion of the larger community takes us the viewer on a moral message  journey. A moral tender heartfelt message journey where all those who are touched by Auggie’s life gain some new found measure of courage and kindness in their own life.

REVIEW: Actor Jacob Tremblay, who rose to fame in the Academy Award nominated film “Room”, plays Auggie splendidly. You never see someone acting under some fake prosthetic, rather during its 1:13 minute running time you discover just the opposite. A tiny  blossoming life that is decent, smart, affable and endearing in the form of Auggie Pullman, who struggles balancing the enduring support and love of his family and teachers while persevering bravely well beyond his physical years against the cruelties perpetuated towards him daily.

While Wonder" has some rare moments of just plain old corniness, it is not some Hallmark card overly sentimental schmaltzy tale. It stays effectively in the lane of reality of what parents and children go through when dealing with difficult emotional issues. The result is a sweeping arc of a story in “Wonder” that delivers a charming, sweet and infectious story of people making hurtful mistakes but who also show a capacity to figuring things out to eventually being kind and respectful towards one another.

“Wonder” delivers a wondrous cinematic lesson on the power of human compassion, self-acceptance, the acceptance of differences and the expression of human kindness. Without trying to drag tears out of the viewing audience, it still will tug on your heart with the warm compelling message for all to look at others beyond their physical surface or mask. And when someone is able to grow emotionally enough to do that without ever thinking about it,............ well as it was stated in the film,............. "When given a choice between being right (to others) and being kind (to others)……………choose kind.".

3.25 Stars  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express - Review

Murder on the Orient Express

Director – Actor Kenneth Branagh revisits probably Agatha Christie’s most famous and successful novel in the who done it crime story “Murder on the Orient Express”. Along with Kenneth Branagh in the leading role of Detective Hercule Poirot, the cast includes Oscar winners Penélope Cruz and Judi Dench, as well Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad.

PLOT: After catching the Taurus Express from Aleppo in Syria and traveling to Istanbul, private detective Hercule Poirot arrives at the Tokatlian Hotel. Once there, Poirot receives a telegram prompting him to return to London. He instructs the concierge to book a first-class compartment on the Simplon-Orient Express leaving that night. However, the train is fully booked and Poirot only gets a second-class berth after the intervention of a fellow Belgian who is a director of the train line.

After boarding, Poirot is approached by Mr. Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), a malevolent American who believes his life is being threatened and attempts to hire Poirot to protect him, but Poirot refuses.

On the second night of the journey, the train is stopped by a snowdrift and it is also at that time Poirot's hears a disturbance in the train compartment near him. The next morning Detective Poirot is informed that Mr. Ratchett has been murdered. Poirot is asked by the owner of the train line to investigate his death.

REVIEW: “Murder on the Orient Express” was originally released in 1974 to very high praise by critics across the board. So, in a film that is so tightly structured around the meticulous procedure of essentially investigating everyone on the train, it’s a very tall order and a dramatically daunting directing task to say the least to making a film where you (and myself) probably already know its conclusion.

Overall, what the film has going for it is an old fashion pacing story telling in the same way our mothers’ use to tell us stories when we were children before going off to sleep each night. Meaning? Well it’s appealing and reasonably comforting to watch, especially with a gorgeous cinematographic back drop that pushes the viewer gracefully back to a by gone nostalgic era of elegance, style and grace. And with a flashy opening that eerily reminded me of DiCaprio’s “Titanic” and a theatric ending that eerily reminded me of the Christian image of Christ’s “The Last Supper”, this “Murder on the Orient Express” is just clever enough and fundamentally enjoyable enough to keep you fully engaged for its 1:45 minute running time.

A solid snowy day rental.

3:00 Stars

Lady Bird - Review

Lady Bird

In “Lady Bird”, Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter.

Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird's father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, Lady Bird is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.

REVIEW: Initially, I thought this film was going to be slog fest to watch as it immersed itself  deep in the endless, sometimes confusing teenage banter that seems only meaningful for the very adolescents who are speaking to one another at the time. But after the first 30 minutes of the film’s 93 minute running time, “Lady Bird” pleasantly evolved into a witty, mature story of a female high school senior who is ending one important aspect of her life (figuratively and literally) by transitioning into an another.

Everything about “Lady Bird” is uniquely original, fresh and wonderful. It’s enchanted with itself and rightfully so with a good blend of real hilarity and weighty dramatic angst. It’s also a film that was not not afraid to cry, hug itself or poke itself in the eye with some well executed family dynamic scenes by making the well-rounded story board point that the experiences of human emotional pain, personal mistakes and unintentional cruelty can be a part of living and in the end be one of earliest positive pathways to maturity.

Director Gerwig gives a rare sweet, intimate and personal portrayal of female adolescence and their uniqueness for a change by closely examining the bonds of female teenage friendships and relationships.  “Lady Bird” is a smart grounded look of female youths who are in charge and have their appropriate number of casual flings with boys and then make them wait to see if the phone rings the next day. And while this is a modest and humble looking film on the surface it still offers in a large way a snappy and spirited look of the difficulties and hidden unforeseen pleasures of leaving a childhood behind to becoming a woman.

3.50 Stars

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Florida Project - Review

The Florida Project

Director Sean Baker, who’s 2016 film “Tangerine” won high appraise at the 2016 Sundance Film festival delves once again into the world of people we subconsciously pass by everyday day in “The Florida Project”. A warm, vivacious, glorious, deeply moving and equally unforgettably look at adolescent childhood.

Taking place mostly at art deco lavender colored hotel called the “The Magic Castle” on a stretch of highway just outside the Disney World, the film largely follows the adventurous of a free spirted vivacious six-year-old little girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince)  and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinai) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week – sometimes day to day at a low budget hotel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe.

Despite the sometime harshness of Moonee’s surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a true celebration of life with day after day endless afternoon excursion in and around her hotel complex with her two other playmates named Jancey and Scooty. Together they fearlessly explore the utterly unique world their parents have thrown them in. A sometimes monstrously unfit world in fact where their mothers and fathers who do love them dearly are terribly short on the necessary emotional and maturity skills to raise them properly.

REVIEW: To be honest, I had to take 24 hours to really think about how to describe my thoughts on “The Florida Project”. It’s hard to put into words. Some of you will not like it and others of you will be affected as I was, totally unable to stop thinking about these wonderful  characters. 

I guess I was captivated by them because in some measure they reminded me  of my childhood, relying less on TV and technologies and more on the many inanimate objects around the home and in my community as gateway adventures to my magical fantasies. A dairy farm with cows as a safari. An old abandon home as a castle of kings and queens. Going inside unlocked doors that say “do not enter” just to see what was inside you were not suppose to touch.  Even sitting with a friend high in a tree branch just to be able see farther away. “The Florida Project” captures these experiences and many more as one of the most effective cinematic portrayals of American adolescent childhood you will ever see. An amazingly authentic tale of children living happily with no real stability in their lives while completely immersed in abject poverty. A touching film from beginning to end as a microcosm of the many people in rural America we see each day, especially on those long family trips while passing many old hotels - motels along the way. Minimalist looking buildings filled with essentially good people who are locked into the daily equation of living each waken moment like gypsies perpetually on the run and yet always trying to make do from one minute to minute of turning bad situations into something better.

This film is not some romantic sugarcoated story. It’s a strip down in your face humanist tale of people facing long odds on having any kind of meaningful successful life. And yet in spite of their meager existence they’re happy, always taking the necessary steps forward they hope will offer the promise of a new glimmer of hope for the next day.

As for the casting, I have to start with six year Brooklynn Prince who plays the central character “Moonee” is absolutely brilliant. She doesn’t recite lines, she inhabits them. I could only imagine she’s what British Actress Dame Judy Dench must of been like as child – born talented to be an actress. I really don’t know if the Academy has the courage to nominate a small child of the age of six for the Best Actress category, but she damn sure deserves it. She gives an unflinchingly funny, equally moving and heartfelt performance. Hands down Miss Prince is the acting discovery for 2017.

Willem Dafoe, the only real veteran actor in the film, gives an astonishing performance as the manager Bobby. He gives the film the mature grounded core that is needed of a man whose stern exterior gruffness hides a more deep seeded soul of fatherly kindness and compassion. He’s probably seen more than his share of good people he has to evict from his hotel and probably knows with a wrong turn or two in his life “there but for the grace of God go I". Dafoe is almost a certain lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Finally, first time actress Bria Vinaite who plays Moonee’s mom Halley is also noteworthy as well. She does a delicate balance of being a loving mom and equally someone you despise. She is lazy, trashy, quick to anger, vulgar and impulsively despicable, so much so that at times you actually wish you could leap out of your theater chair to strangle her on the screen. She tries to give her daughter Moonee a world of endless enchantment and yet exposes her to the harshness of reality by turning tricks with her “Johns” while Moonee is locked in the bathroom. Over time (and In the end) you find yourself judging less Halley’s many bad choices and wondering more just how many Halley’s are there in America resorting to these choices just to survive.

The Florida Project is a totally innovative original piece of work that feel less like a movie and more like documentary. But if you can get past its oddly nuisance dialogue and seemingly oddly disjointed mixture of children acting like the adults and the adults behaving like children, I promise you by the second half of the films’ 1:55 minute running time you will find yourself totally absorbed by these children’s sense of daily discovery, sadness, heartbreak and hopefulness……a sense of childlike hope to be sure of the unbreakable possibility of a better tomorrow.

Sometimes funny. Sometimes hilarious. Sometimes brutal to contemplate. Sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes poverty. Sometime paradise. Sometimes the truth for millions of Americans we pass by on the highway, The Florida Project tells their real story as one of the Best Films of 2017.

4 Stars