Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wind River - Review

Wind River

"Wind River" is a film based on true events written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan started his career in acting, appearing in small films and in recurring roles in TV shows such as Veronica Mars, Walker, Texas Ranger and most notably as Deputy David Hale in FX Network’s Sons of Anarchy. But in recent years Sheridan has taken his talents in a different direction in the way of a feature film screenwriter. In 2015 he coined the smart and edgy screenplay dialogue in the sleeper hit “Sicario” starring Emile Blunt and Bernicio Del Toro (of which he is writing the sequel called “Soldaldo”). His follow up effort to “Sicario” was the screenplay for the Oscar nominated film “Hell or High Water” which garnered him an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category. Now, Sheridan offers up not only his superb writing skills but also his debut as a film director in the film “Wind River” which won him the 2017 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Award. 
 
“Wind River” stars Jeremy Renner as a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent named Cory Lambert, both a simple man and a tortured soul from being divorced from his Native American wife. Still he goes out each day taking pride in his work ridding humanely the parks and reservations of the few predatory animals that kill farmers live stock in the winter rural areas and mountains of Wyoming.

PLOT: On a cold snowy morning while looking for “lions” (aka Mountain Lions) Cory discovers a body of a young Native American woman named Natalie on the rugged Wind River Indian Reservation. She was best friends with Cory’s daughter and family friend to Native American Martin (Gil Birmingham who was TX Ranger Alberto in “Hell or High Water”).

Cory immediately calls for local tribal police Chief “Ben” (Graham Greene aka as “Kicking Bird” in “Dances with Wolves”) to deliver the news, who believes she may have been the victim initially of a crime on Federal land. Chief Ben decides to send for the FBI to investigate in the way of a rookie FBI Agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) out of Nevada.  Agent Banner is smart and fearless and attempts earnestly to take charge of the investigation. But because she appears to be somewhat unprepared to dealing with the cultural differences on the Indian Reservation and the unusual harshness of the ever oppressive weather and isolation of Wyoming she employs Cory to be both her partner and tracker of the unusual question confronting them about Natalie’s murder. How does someone freeze to death barefoot with the nearest home 6 miles away and no signs of how she got there? Together Cory and Banner venture deep into a world ravaged by violence and the elements.

REVIEW: Wind River, is not as good as Sicario or Hell or High Water, but it is still one of the best films I have seen for 2017. Sheridan’s work here is pure modern film noir filled with darkness and yet very stylish in its visual effect. Sheridan’s delivers his third stellar screenplay in a row with his Wind River sounding more at times like poetic grace and yet still brilliantly and grittily aligned with telling a modern story revolving around his Native American subjects. He also manages to double down on his plot to not only solving Natalie’s murder but to surreptitiously examine with authentic feelings how his central characters (for various reasons) appear to be in a perpetually state of struggle about their lives, as well as astutely examining how good people deal with unexpected grief and personal loss. But the real strength of the film is Sheridan’s adroit patience not to rush his story. He slowly executes his “Wind River” in a way that keeps the viewing audience riveted and focused on the various characters without any flash or false surprise. And yet there are a few good moments that will come at you not only very fast and very furious, they come totally unexpected.

Overall “Wind River” is very low key and subdued in its execution and yet each frame felt fresh, dynamic and richly grounded in a quiet raw intensity as it methodically goes through the working paces of who killed Natalie. Sheridan asks his characters to “live in each scene” and not simply act in them. Jeremy Renner delivers his best performance since “The Town” delivering both the lonesome old cowboy persona and yet being very much a very modern working man who gets up each day to ride off to work on his snowmobile.

“Wind River” is a very solid murder mystery thriller. But the greatest revelation to this film is watching Taylor Sheridan go from being a decent actor to truly putting his stamp in Hollywood not only as a very gifted writer, creating some of the best dialogue in recent memory, but also quite masterful in directing his own words with equal aplomb.

If you see this, absorb the patience of the story telling, its a good thing. Meanwhile a Sheridan star is born.  


4 Stars

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Detroit - Review

Detroit

From the Academy Award winning Director Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, she comes states side to offer her latest effort simply “Detroit”. A gripping true story of one of the darkest moments during the civil unrest that rocked Detroit.

In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession. By the end of the night, three unarmed African American men are gunned down – shot in the back while several others are brutally beaten.

REVIEW: With a running time of 2:24, “Detroit” tries to make the large case throughout the entire film that there was a moral injustice done against the three victims as well as the entire African American community that summer, which in and of itself is not hard to reenact. The film clearly draws the lines where one side of the human equation has the guns and badges and the other side of the human equation are constantly fearing for their lives while being beaten, perpetually threaten with guns and frequently called derogatory names as casually as putting out a cigarette with the tip of one’s shoe. So, in that respect, Bigelow can claim mission accomplished, job well done in her “Detroit”.

But while her portrayal of that injustice at times were glaringly powerful and even comparatively speaking eerily similar - current to recent events we all have heard about in the news, Bigelow's attention to just the injustice stops the film from being emotionally probative to eventually feeling only like an exercise in just how numbing and exhausting she can make the audience feel by the Detroit police perpetually asking the same question of “where is the gun is" over and over and over and over again while simultaneously engaging in brutality and murder. The result is the films starts to flounder under the flawed weight of watching teenagers only just trying to survive the entire night by uniformed licensed invaders with the authority of their badges and guns with nonstop racial torture.

Don’t get me wrong “Detroit” has some maddening, harrowing and blistering moments where you skin will boil with anger, but what’s missing is the agility to provide much larger and more in depth emotional narratives of how all of these people were something other than human criminals verses helpless victims. We see plenty of suffering and evil, plenty of fear and lying, but nothing much beyond those attributes to bring the story to some full circle of understanding. 

Still, “Detroit’ is definitely worth seeing and I have a sense it could be in the running for a Best Picture Nomination (maybe). It is excruciatingly and dreadfully tense to watch, as well also very necessary for many people today to see, especially for those who are under the age of 50.

As a whole the film encapsulates a unique period of time in recent American history where certain groups of people, people of color to be specific, may have been born in the United States. They may have been educated and gotten a good job in the United States. They may have been married and had children in the United States. They may even have become very old and died in the United States. And yet even with a detailed description such as this of what sounds on paper like the atypical “good American life” with the constitutional guaranteed protected words,…………………..  “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”…………….I wonder, for those who lived through that hot 1967 summer night; that awful tortuous and murderous night, do they still wonder all these years later if they were ever truly, fully accepted as Americans in the United States.


3.75 Stars 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Atomic Blonde - Review

Atomic Blonde

Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is equal parts spy craft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on an impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to retrieve a priceless dossier from within the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through a deadly game of spies.

REVIEW: In the first five minutes there are four things I really liked about “Atomic Blonde”. First was watching a character get crushed very stylistically by a car. Second seeing Charlie Theron naked as she comes out of a cold ice bath. Third, watching her again get cleaned and dressed to do her “run way model sexy walk” to a meeting with her British superiors all the while to the background musical tune of Davie Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire (Gasoline). And finally getting the chance to see someone as the lead character in a film named after me “Lorraine”. Oh, you didn’t know my legal first name is Lorraine Lester Jones, Jr? Well, it’s my father’s name, but only for professional reasons I went by my middle name Lester all these years to lessen some office confusion, but I digress.

Overall Theron’s work here is very impressive as she is in some ways breaking new action movie ground with her interpretation of her character in a hybrid Jason Bondish, James Bournish and or John Wickish prism kind of way. My understanding from my research she did about 95% of the stunts that seemed not only credible and full of real energy without all of the quick editing camera angles, but actually exhausting to watch in her hand to hand effort to fight to the death. Trust me when she dispatches her nemesis in the film she is not only a total bloody mess she is tired as hell which made her many sequences of brawls (mostly with men) pretty exciting and exhilarating to watch. Besides I am going to be a total male pig here. What’s not to like about a protagonist woman gorgeously hot (Theron aka “Lorraine”) throwing manly impactful punches and kicking full throttle male ass while in her designer skinny tight pants and pricey stiletto heels and or boots. I was pleased.

Now while the framework of the entire film itself had an interesting back drop plot of the spy craft that was probably going on during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the screenplay was another matter altogether as it didn’t always seem to keep up with its very stylish look and combo kinetic - frenetic execution. In short, for all of the adrenaline rush of the many sequences action Director Leitch offers in its 1:55 minute running time, the action sequence and some of the ensuing conversations just didn’t always add up much to anything meaningful or as to any specific reasons why.

Now there will be a sequel and if Director David Leitch (who directed the first John Wick) is at the helm again for “Atomic Blonde Two”, then I hope he has the courage to not rely so much on his own previous line of work as a Hollywood stunt coordinator - stuntman and more on a really grounded smart screenplay. Both  “Lorraine” and Charlize Theron who is and has always been an impressive committed actor needs a better more coherent story to work with next time that is not so erratic between the many punches she may have to throw to defend herself.

There are moments of some good cold war spy intrigue, a lot of brisk and effectively appropriate 80’s music and some good back and forth of deceivers deceiving other deceivers, who then deceived other deceivers to deceive the first deceivers, giving “Atomic Blonde” enough of a solid entertaining landing to insure at least two more sequels I would imagine.

Ultimately “Atomic Blonde is basic delirious entertainment full of some goodwill intentions of having a genuinely strong, intelligent and assertive female lead (named “Lorraine”…me, my name) kicking, punching and stabbing the bad guys to glorious death even if her actions sometimes can be an exercise in nonsense.


3.00 Stars

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Girls Trip - Review

Girls Trip

Girls Trip is a contemporary American comedy film, directed by Malcolm D. starring actresses Regina Hall (“Ryan”), Queen Latifah (“Sasha”), Tiffany Haddish (“Dina”), Jada Pinkett Smith (“Lisa”) along with supporting actors Larenz Tate and Mike Colter in a story that revolves around four lifelong friends who travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival and rediscover their sisterhoods and wild sides. What happens when they are together again after many years since their college days is a rediscovery for their lasting friendship, as well as their shared heartaches through the renewed bonding experiences of endless dancing, non-stop drinking, girl fight brawling and women taking charge of romancing men that culminates with a collective relationship being even stronger than before.

REVIEW: I have seen at least two women bonding films this year. One was with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in the film called “Snatched” and the other starring Scarlett Johannsen and Zoe Kravitz in “Rough Night”. Both in my estimation were unmitigated disasters from beginning to the end mostly because those two films were not very well written much less having anything in the way of a plausible plot. So, with that in mind, where these two films went terribly wrong, “Girls Strip” is a much better effort largely because the cast involved.

The four principle women in front of the camera had a more honest and more natural bond with one another that felt dynamic, familiar and sincere. And while they all had turns executing numerous jokes and verbal high speed bantering between one another, it didn’t feel stale or false. In fact sometimes the jokes were just laugh out loud funny even when predictably over the top. And while there were some jokes about male “appendages” that felt flat and recycled, the cast kept soldiering on to keep their story of female bonding moving steady along.

Ultimately “Girls Trip” is just meant to be a fun film for viewers to watch. There is no great moment of intrigue or having some climatic finale. The film stays in its lane of delivering as advertised; just plain fun with scene after scene of emotions running the gamut from loving and tender, funny and hilarious to raunchy and disgusting to even just outright vulgar to hear, with Actress Tiffany Haddish being the primary source of the vulgar material.

Now don't get me wrong her jokes were largely funny, but to be honest they were also sometimes vulgar too (for some of you who don’t like that style of humor). This film was her coming out for national recognition for future projects as she was the one constant source of energy throughout the films 2 hour running time. In fact she may have broken new ground in vulgarity with a ferocity of dialogue involving male – female genitalia, sexuality and discussions of drugs that I think in the future the Motion Picture Association may very well have to add a whole new rating level called the “Haddish” simply to warn adults over the age 18 she is in the movie.

“Girls Trip” goes through the paces of some outright craziness that are never plausible, but to its credit the craziness was never ever boring, at least not for this viewer. And while it does jump around from one wild scene to the next it does settle down to the fact that these women may be different on the surface, they have a deep abiding love for each other predicated on the many trials and test of life they have endured as women and as modern African American woman. African American Women who are fully liberated in taking their own bite out of the apple of lifelong happiness, seeking no approval from anyone with a full throated energy, genuine vitally and as the French always say ……….“Joie de vivre”. “Girls Trip” was a pleasurable fun ride.

 3.25 Stars

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk - Review

DUNKIRK 

Director Christopher Nolan, an English-American film director, screenwriter and producer,  has left an indelible mark on modern film making with an eclectic range of efforts starting with his provocative “Memento” which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He also directed Al Pacino’s murder mystery thriller in Alaska called “Insomnia”, the mystery drama “The Prestige”, the highly popular critical successful efforts of “The Dark Knight Trilogy” (2005–2012); and  two mind altering concept efforts in  “Inception” and “Interstellar”.  Combined, his nine films have grossed over $4.2 billion worldwide and garnered a total of 26 Oscar nominations and seven wins. So for me, when ever I hear “CN” has a new film coming out, the resume alone beckons I should give his latest some serious consideration. 

PLOT: In his latest effort called “Dunkirk” Director Nolan takes a step back in time to tell one of the greatest hardly known true stories of World War 2. It’s May 1940 and the German army has advanced in overwhelming numbers into France, trapping European Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk, approximately 75 miles Southeast of the coast of Dover, England via the Strait of Dover. With only a sparsely small contingencie of British and French forces providing some air and ground support, eventually the thoroughly surrounded and trapped soldiers living in dire cold, wet and harsh weather conditions were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach with an ad hoc ragtag armada fleet of every serviceable seaworthy British naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.  

REVIEW: Without exaggeration, any, I believe “Dunkirk” is both the most unique and most unlikely war film I have ever seen. And while it does have as I had anticipated a well-structured and intense screenplay for audiences to absorb the displays of heroism and courage, what I did not anticipate was how brilliantly imaginative Director Nolan conceived this story with an ingenious intertwining and convergence of visual perspectives.  

Typically with any historical event, especially when detailing the facts of war, where there is noted examples of life and death struggles, bravery and courage are abound, the story’s central narrative usually remains tightly confined to one thematic perspective. In the case of “Saving Private Ryan” we saw a story of WW2 about an Army combat unit survivng the war primarily on land. “Das Boot” a fabulous story inside the dark damp confines of a WW2 German submarine U boat and again surviving under the ocean. “Tora, Tora, and Tora” a story of the beginning of war with the attack on Pearl Harbor fighting and surviving an assault from the air by Japanese A6M Zero fighter planes. And “Midway” the story of the American carrier USS Lexington and the Japanese carrier the Akagi historic naval conflict fighting and surviving on the Pacific. In "Dunkirk" Nolan brilliantly masters a convergence of life and death struggles; bravery and courage from all four perspectives of land, in the air and on and under the sea into an inspiring epic film. 

Nolan also manages with great confidence to direct this story without the use of a leading character or "A List" actor to singularly wrap the films overall arc around. Just as real soldiers are trained to work as a team, Nolan relies on the collaborative effort of his cast to drive this narrative of valiant courageous sacrifice forward through a continuous array of meaningful subplot of characters of what were probably many heroic stories on that beach in 1940.

To be sure there are still some fine performances in Dunkirk that will probably garner some well-deserved Oscar Nomination considerations. Such as Actors Jack Lowden as Royal Air Force pilot "Collins" and Tom Hardy as Royal Air Force pilot “Farrier” who together engaged in some amazing relentlessly fierce dogfights with the German pilots sweeping up and down, close to the water and back high in the sky with mind tingling suspense in their British Spitfires verses their enemy's German Messerschmidts. Actor Cillian Murphy who plays an unnamed British soldier who is emotionally fatigued ("shell-shocked") from all of the bombings, the cold winds and stormy seas crashing about him day after day on the beach. Actor Kenneth Branagh as “Commander Bolton” the  senior ranking officer on Dunkirk who had the impossible mission of evacuating the troops from the beach with what seemed like no avenues of escape.  Actor Mark Rylance who won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in the “Bridge of Spies” as the mild mannered bespectacled communist spy "Rudolf Abel", now playing in Dunkirk a civilian Mariner named "Dawson" who takes off on his own small boat to rescue soldiers and who also offers the memorable line to a frighten British soldier pleading with him to not go back to the beach…….”there is no hiding from this son”. And finally pop singer Harry Styles, formerly of the group "One Direction", has an impressive feature film debut as British Army Private "Alex".  

Overall as war films go there is little in the way of blood spilled or actually physical carnage here. Instead "Dunkirk's story relies on Nolan's ability to keep the viewer completely off balance with knots in your gut tension of simply not knowing what is going to happen next with brillant editing that ebbed back and forth from stories of brave people fighting just to survive one harrowing predicament to the next. My only slight criticism with the films 1 hour 47 minutes running time were the occasions when the British accents during exchanges with one another became muffled and washed out from the chaos of bombing, gun fire and explosions.
 
Finally, Hans Zimmer, a German film score composer who since the 1980s has successfully composed music for over 100 plus feature films including winning the 1995 Oscar for “The Lion King” as Best Original Score and who also has composed for the films “The Dark Knight”, “Gladiator”, “Inception” and “Interstellar”. In my estimation Zimmer too will get some Oscar nominations consideration for his invigorating musical scores that pumps a certain musical adrenaline into the film's many harrowing scenes from beginning to its climatic end.

In 1998 Director Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” closed out the 1990’s as the best war film of that decade. I believe “Dunkirk” will be proclaimed the same for this decade. A huge film, literally and figuratively, that is emotional, psychological, inspiring, heartbreaking, frightening, intimate, heartbreaking again, overwhelming, beautiful, sad and above all else very unforgettable. 

Unless something else comes along in the next five month that exceeds this films exceptional high marks, "Dunkirk" is clearly (by far) the front runner for the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017. See it, absolutely see it.

4.00 Stars





Saturday, July 15, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes - Review

War for the Planet of the Apes 

In the third and final installment (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), “War for the Planet of the Apes”, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape army are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless man simply called ‘The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson). He is an iron-fisted leader obsessed with wiping out both Caesar and his entire tribal army to preserve human’s role as the dominant species on the planet. But after the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his “ape” kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and The Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both species and the future of the planet.

REVIEW: “War for the Planet of the Apes” has as an impressive first 20 minutes as well as overall first hour of any film I have seen this year. I was actually overwhelmed by the meticulous commitment by Director Matt Reeves to creating something memorable right from the start in the way of its intense gut wrenching battle between the humans and apes. It is so infused with raw moment to moment life and death struggles, genuine emotions and moving intimacy, I actually felt my physical body decompress away from the back of my theater seat when the battle was finally over. To be sure nothing will ever exceed the energy, chaos, death and destruction of Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” Allied invasion on Omaha Beach, but “WFTPOTA” does a superb technical effort in creating something special in its own right.

While “WFTPOTA” is being marketed and promoted as a summer block buster action thriller film, its real strength is having a real soul of something that is more powerful aligned with the likes of something you would find viewing in the way of a small budget art house type film.  Its story line has not one frame that is sloppy, superfluous, unneeded, redundant or excessive. Rather the movie hits all of its grand and subtle marks with precision making “WFTPOTA” just something thrilling, beautiful and compelling to experience.

While I know the Academy of Arts and Science will never do it because he is an animated Ape, still Actor Serkis deserves serious consideration for an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his “Caesar”. He is so brilliant, memorable and sometimes absolutely believable as a talking Ape that you actually forget he is playing an Ape and nor do you even care. In fact in an odd way with an interesting psychological twist, his performance is so strong you find yourself rooting for his character to annihilate and obliterate the entire human race……….Now that is acting.

If you see this and I highly, highly recommend you should, the second half of the film touches on several previous films through the historical prism of stories involving humans debasing other humans. Such as in Director Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” you will see Woody Harrelson giving a very solid performance channeling his adapted version of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Walter E. Kurtz living in the jungle murdering with impunity. You will also see moments from Charlton Heston biblical Moses leading his people to freedom in “The Ten Commandments”. And you will see the brutality of humans to inflict pain on other humans in the more recent films “12 Years a Slave” (and The Civil War) and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ”.

On the lighter side there are other films that “WFTPOTA” drew inspiration from such efforts as the 1963 Steve McQueen’s “The Great Escape” and by actress Amiah Miller who plays a mute teenager named “Nova” offering her subtle nod to the famed silent screen movie star Faye Wray who was most noted for playing the female lead in the 1933 film “King Kong” (get it silent mute – silent screen star).

While I do feel that the films lost just a tad of its momentum ever so slightly when the focus was too long on the concentration camp for captured apes and the subplot for them being there, the overall arc of the story itself still never loses any of its humanity nor its compass on always being intelligent and clearly measured in its thinking about the importance of family, loyalty and freedom.

“WFTPOTA” is a very powerful emotional film that grabs you and never lets you free from its clutches. On the surface of things the film touches on the obvious plot points of betrayal, joy, love and bravery. In the more subjective and subtle areas the film effectively takes you through the range of emotions that are shocking, heartbreaking, uplifting and life reaffirming.

For a film that is in its thirds installment, “WFTPOTA” felt fresh and imaginative from the beginning to its very end that in my estimation sends this reimagined franchise off into a very satisfying sun setting finale.  

3.75 Stars

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ten 2018 Films To Consider

Ten 2018 Films To Consider 

January 26
“White Boy Rick” - A true story crime drama with Richie Merritt playing the title character as Richard Wersche, Jr. a drug dealer and professed government informant who was given life in prison as a teenager in the 1980s for dealing cocaine. Many consider his sentence unduly harsh as Matthew McConaughey plays the title character's father and Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a federal agent.

February 16
“Black Panther” – Marvel Comic’s “Black Panther”, directed by the talented Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed). The story picks up with King T'Challa, once again played by Chadwick Boseman, returning back to his African nation of Wakanda after the events of Captain America: Civil War. There he encounters new enemies that want to challenge his seat on the throne, and destroy Wakanda. The outstanding ensemble cast Coogler has assembled includes Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, Winston Duke, and Sterling K. Brown.

February 23
“Winchester” - A supernatural horror film starring Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester the heiress to the gun company in the 1880s. When her husband William and their child died suddenly, Sarah is adamant she is cursed and begins building a home in San Jose, California upon advisement from a medium. The massive mansion covering 24,000 sq ft, which by her death in 1922 had 160 rooms that Mrs. Winchester believed was haunted by all of the dead spirits of people who had died at the hands of her company’s guns.

March 2
“Red Sparrow” - An upcoming American spy thriller film based on a book starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Mary-Louise Parker and Charlotte Rampling with Lawrence in the lead as a Russian spy who falls in love with a CIA officer and considers becoming a double agent for the USA.

March 30
“Ready Player One” - Produced - directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, and T. J. Miller, with the story taking place in the dystopian future of 2044. The world is an ugly, nasty, overcrowded place where most people live in "stacks," which are literally mobile homes piled on top of one another to near skyscraper heights. In this dismal setting, much of the population escapes into an expansive virtual reality world called Oasis, where people do everything from go to school, work, and even just hang out with friends in virtual basements on virtual couches.

May 25
“Han Solo” (Star Wars) - With a cast of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Woody Harrelson, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, Thandie Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, the movie will explore the Solo and Chewie duo's adventures before the events of their encounters with a card-playing rogue from a galaxy far, far away named Lando Calrissian.

August 10
“Scarface” - An immigrant rises to the top of the criminal underworld in the United States. Diego Luna (Star Wars - Rogue One) will play the role of the infamous Tony Montana. The Coen brothers are rewriting the script.

October 12
“First Man” Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash and La La Land) and Actor Ryan Gosling take a look at the life of astronaut, Neil A. Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Based on the book, "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" – Also starring Kyle chandler (Manchester by the Sea) as Astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

November 21
“Widows” – Director of “12 Years A Slave” Steve MC Queen tells the story of set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities take fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms. FX s “Fargo 3” Carrie Coons stars along with Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Viola Davis.

December 25
“Bohemian Rhapsody” - A chronicle of the years leading up to the British Rock  band and lead singer Freddie Mercury and Queen's last appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985. “Mr. Robot’s” Rami Malek will play singer Freddie Mercury.



The Big Sick - Review

THE BIG SICK

The romantic comedic film “THE BIG SICK” tells the true story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail Nanjiani (also actor, writer, podcast host and for being a main cast member on HBO's Emmy Award-nominated series Silicon Valley) and his real-life courtship with his now wife Emily V. Gordon

Their highly personal and intimate story begins in Chicago where Kumail is working in a local comedy club for his nightly 5 minutes of doing standup material when on a totally chance connection he hears a woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan) from the audience let out a “whoop” sound to one of his jokes.

After his set is over Kumail goes into the audience to chat with Emily mostly out of curiosity to ask why she responded the way she did to his joke. What occurs that evening is an obvious flirting connection between the two that they both thought would be nothing more than them having just a one-night stand “hook up”. However, they both soon realize that there is more to their interest in each other than sex with the blossoming of a meaningful real romantic relationship, which complicates matters even further for Kumail’s life as it is expected by his very traditional Muslim parents for him to meet and marry only a Pakistani woman through an “arrange marriage”.

When Emily is suddenly beset with a mystery illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents he has never met, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his demanding Muslim family and his equally longing heart for what he believes is the woman he is really in love with.

REVIEW: “The Big Sick” is a very charming, appropriately funny and contemporarily smart modern film that effectively explores how this generation of millennial Americans seemly navigate better their personal, emotional and intimate needs than their parent’s generation. Meaning? On the surface of things in Kumail and Emily case they never seem to be bogged down initially with the long standing traditional calculations of what constitutes a ”good marriage” predicated on the filtered traditional concerns (needs) of one’s personal wealth, education, race, and religious ethnicity. From the intimate onset of their story Kumail and Emily simply loved each other and in that respect this was one of the more pleasing undertones to their story.

But what was rather strange for me as a viewer of their story overall was how I found the base interactions between Kuamail and Emily the least compelling and least interesting aspects to the movie itself. Their romance seemed more to be an exercise of how to “chug along” into falling in love than what one might normally associated or expect in a romantic tale. They seemed to be more of an auto pilot couple reading a script to saying “they loved each other” rather than showing grounded believable affections for one another.  

Truth be told if you see this film (and I encourage you to) you will root for this young couple to be together as I did. But as the films was directed and written, I actually found the chemistry and interact between Kumail and his Pakistani family and Kumail and Emily’s family the far more compelling, vibrant and colorful aspects to the story. In a way, the movie kind of dragged when Emily and  Kumail were talking with each other and more hilarious, hearth breaking and interesting when she was in a coma,  with Kumail left to dealing with the weighty complexities of his emotions all on his own with his family, his friends and his potential in laws.

Still, “The Big Sick” is a wonderful honest and graceful film that smoothly and patiently tells its earnest modern love story through the laden filter of the anxieties of a young man being in a hospital dealing with his girlfriend’s life threatening illness and the equally intense juxtaposition burden of him dealing with the competing cultural differences of the respective parents involved. With each passing 30 minutes of the films 2 hours running time, I grew fonder and more touched both by the film itself and especially for Kumail’s affections for Emily, as well as his desires to reconciling his own deep seeded needs to just following his own heart along the way.

“The Big Sick” is a small budget quiet little film that makes a bit by bit by bit trajectory touching impact without ever being formulaic with its use of humor, heartbreak, honesty, sophistication, romance and wit. And with a conclusion you already know going into the theater (yes, the get married - see first paragraph above), the question that will come to your mind is still one of the great mysteries of the universe. While having to enduring endless personal obstacles and deep emotional pain why do people still manage to simply fall in love with one another?

For one brief two hour moment in a theater “The Big Sick” I believe will help you answer that.


3.50 Stars

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Baby Driver - Review

Baby Driver

Get ready, set, and drive like a "Baby Bat" out of hell to your local theater to see British Director Edgar Wright’s (i.e. "Shaun of the Dead' ) campy, fun, smart, slick, awesome MTV-ish soundtrack, cops and robbers action thriller with the odd marquee title “Baby Driver”.

PLOT: Taking place in Atlanta, we find a talented, young getaway driver named “Baby” (Ansel Elgort i.e. The Fault in Our Stars) who relies on the upbeat tempo of his personal soundtracks that he constantly listens to, mostly as a mechanism to being the best in the game; which is driving his car in the most crazy and imaginative of ways from the clutches of pursuing police. However, one day while waiting in a diner for his next assignment, he meets the girl of his dreams named Debora, a young waitress working there (Lilly James). Baby realizes for the very first time there is a chance to ditch this criminal life and make a clean getaway. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the “music” (so to speak) when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

REVIEW: With a running time of 1:13, the thing that first jumps out about “Baby Driver” is FINALLY, someone has developed a completely inventive and original film for you to watch. Director Wright works his movie each step of the way like a classical conductor working his baton with an array of sweeping and gyrating motions that seem to command his eclectic cast to twist, jump, skip, hop and dance across the screen to his endless array of popular tunes.

Wright also to his credit starts out his "Baby" in the first half with a rather light whimsical touch that slowly and effectively evolves into a more consequentially story line that felt real in the moment and yet keeps one foot on the cinematic accelerator of always trying to be unpredictable, hilarious, witty, romantic and an energetically dangerous to the very end.

"Baby Driver" has a bit of wildness and an elegance working for itself; a bit cool and a sinister to move its story; a touch of classical and refine qualities to round out its plot. But the real strength of this film rest largely on the decision made to select the array of fine supporting cast members. Starting with 2 time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey who plays “Doc” who is the ever present menacing boss of the gang and who also has the best one liners in the film. Emmy Winner Jon Hamm (aka Don Draper from Mad Men) and his partner Eiza Gonzalez who play “Buddy and Darling” work effectively together bringing their sleazy levity cool to the screen. Jon Berntahl (formerly Shane Walsh from The Walking Dead) plays another "not so level headed" bank robber in Doc's crew. And finally Oscar winner Jamie Foxx who plays a street smart, hard-nosed as hell, take no prisoners BS from anyone career thief named “Bats”.

"Baby Driver" can claim its rightful place on the exalted mantel of being one of the most dynamic films you will ever see, as Wright meticulously crafts and executed each scene around an endless framework of music that uniquely syncs up with the cast and visual motion of the film itself. If there is one criticism is sometimes I think there was a bit too much music. BUT WHY SPOIL MY REVIEW WITH MORE DETAILS; I dare not say a single word more. Just go see “Baby Driver and go with the musical high speed flow of the story. 

Now, of course the whole plot is totally preposterous, sometimes a bit silly and on occasion millennially "short attention span" light for anyone to ever contemplate having any real seriousness about it. But the overall reason the whole film does works, in spite of its minor flaws, is it's just plain campy fun to watch every frame.

"Baby Driver" is thrilling entertainment. The FIRST MUST SEE FILM FOR 2017 that lives up to its hype. You will not see any film like this all year.

4.00 Stars

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Hero - Review

The Hero

Actor Sam Elliott, known for his supporting character roles in such films as “Mask”, “Tombstone”, “Road House”, “The Big Lebowski” and “We Were Soldiers” takes the rare turn as the lead actor in the contemporary story called “The Hero”.

The plot is essentially about a 71 year actor named Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) who back in the 1970’s was a Western icon with a recognizable golden voice. But he realizes his best performances are now decades behind him, so he spends most of his days doing voice over for TV product commercials and at night smoking way too much weed with his former co-star-turned-now drug dealer, Jeremy.

Early on Lee gets a surprise medical diagnosis that brings his priorities into much sharper focus. He also soon strikes up a totally unexpectant, exciting, but also sometimes contentious relationship with a stand-up comic named Charlotte who is very much younger that he is.

As Lee deals with his medical news he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Lucy, all the while searching for that one last final role to cement his legacy and take stock of his past mistakes back when his career always came first.

REVIEW: The Hero, while a small budge film, nonetheless exudes large authentic emotions that were spot on conversationally speaking, that felt like l was viewing Lee’s story in that very dramatic moment(s). You watch Lee deal with his life altering concerns of career and his health with the projection of genuine warmth, angst, humor, charm and fear. 

Elliott’s costars Nick Offerman (best friend – drug dealer) and Laura Prepon (Charlotte – girlfriend) do an equally great job in providing for the overall arc of the film two genuinely decent "real people" who are naturally willing to help their friend deal with his real problems. But it is Sam Elliott’s fearlessly effective performance that is the most compelling component to this story with his rich voice and warm glances that keep you immersed to his every uttered word. Sometimes with the use of dry laconic wit and other times with his expression of moving and heartfelt emotions.

The Hero, is a very much understated and intimate piece that will never give you a “wow” moment along the way. But while it can be a bit melancholy at times, the story of Lee’s life is still a very pleasurable journey to watch.


3.25 Stars  

Maudie - Review

Maudie

MAUDIE, is based on a true story taking place during the 1930’s in Nova Scotia focusing on the unlikely romance of an unrefined – illiterate reclusive named Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) and the slightly disabled Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) who by coincidence became a prominent painter of pictures.

Early on we see Maud (as she is called - correct spelling) is very upset at the prospect of living with her stern Aunt after her older brother sells the family home upon the passing of their mother.  Determined to have an independent life of her own she looks to find work in the local town when she has a chance encounter with a local fish peddler named Lewis who is “looking to hire a woman” to keep his 500 square foot home clean and cook his meals as he works his three odd jobs. Maud takes the job but realizes early on Lewis is a tyrannical man, but nevertheless forwards on to make the best of her decision to live in his dank small home. The result was over time Lewis and Maud begin falling in love with one another.

In her attempt to spruce of the home Maud picks up her childhood hobby of painting that her mother encourage to do. One day when a wealthy woman named Sandra who worked in New York, but lived in Nova Scotia comes by to hire Lewis to provide fish to her home on a regular basis, she see’s some of Maud’s art work through the door painted on the walls of Lewis’s home. Realizing the potential in her work, Sandra commissions Maud to do more art work that eventually leads to Maud achieving surprising national fame as a folk painter

REVIEW: While I am almost certain she will not be considered, for me actress Sally Hawkins gives a surprisingly Oscar nominating worthy performance as Maud.  She offers a vivid inspirational performance of a woman who was determined to have her own life with an abundance of personal optimism to keep her afloat. Hawkins keeps the story of this charming and talented woman singularly focused on her unassuming and gentle soul without ever soliciting narratively any notion of sympathy for her.

For the film "Maudie", offers up again the enduringly old adage that home is where the heart is and for Maud her heart – her happiness – her home was living in that smal town, off that dirt road, in that small house, with her clucking chickens, barking dogs, overly demaning husband and her paintings.  

I found Maudie to be one of the more endearing and touching films I have seen in quite a while.


3.50 Stars 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rough Night - Review


Rough Night
Actresses Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz, Ilana Glazer and SNL star Kate McKinnon bring their ensemble acting and comedic talents to a film called “Rough Night”.  A story about very 5 very close former college millennial-ish girlfriends who reunite after 10 years for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami. Their hard partying takes a hilariously dark turn when they accidentally kill a male stripper. Amid the craziness of trying to cover it up, they're ultimately brought closer together when it matters most.

Review: “Rough Night” is a reverse gender take on the 2009 male bachelor party – road trip hit film “The Hangover”. The creators of the female version go to great depths in their attempts to literally try in re-capturing the same magic of its predecessor by assembling similar casting personalities for the viewing audience’s “road trip gone badly” fodder. “The Hangover” however is the far superior effort largely because it was better written and better acted as a film overall as it artfully and adroitly moved between biting and contemporary humorous situations to the occasional lightly dramatic tension filled situations and then back to its comedy themes again.  “Rough Night” not only failed directorially to accomplish this balancing act, it failed in the worse imaginable ways.

Look I won’t bore you and get right to the bottom line. I have never felt so frustrated to having to endure such horribly writing, acting and directing of a film. NOT ONCE in the 1:45 minutes did I laugh or even smile at any of the scenes that bent way over backwards to try and make me laugh and smile. Each scene was stale, dumb and predictably stupid which was very hard for me to conceptualize given that this was framed about 5 accomplished college educated women who in the film all of a sudden could not reasonably navigate their way out of the basic plot of the film while remaining equally funny through the cascade of un-anticipated problems that would follow along their way. Instead I just watched a film filled with cliches that relied too often the lamest of brain dead solutions over and over again to the point of ad nauseam. Apparently some film executive thought when this film was greenlighted that simply watching bright women fall pray to panick attacks while making fools of themselves with one another in the process would be both funny and hilariously interesting. And I haven't even begin to mention how stupid the fiance's subplot role in this film was. His story situation (if you could imagine) was even more lame and lifeless.

I could go on in more detail, but I choose not to as I will end this now by going downstairs to my kitchen to take a couple shots of Wofford Bourbon and maybe even a Xanax to stand on my head for an hour in the hopes of “etch a sketching” this out of my archive of movie going experiences.

I was going to give this film a lower score than noted below and then I reminded myself how Scarlett Johannsson was (barely) the only one character that came across as viably entertaining and it didn’t hurt also she look radiantly gorgeous during my time in the theater.

1.00 Stars      

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mummy - Review


The Mummy
A list actors Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe team up in the 13th film version of “The Mummy”, with an added twist of a female actress playing the lead as the ancient mummified Egyptian named   “Princess Ahmanet” (Actress Sofia Boutella). Her version of "The Mummy" is historically and loosely based on an Egyptian goddess named Amunet.

In this adaptation Cruise plays a man named Nick Morton who is a soldier of fortune who plunders global ancient sites for their timeless artifacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet, a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years. With her powers constantly evolving, Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London.
REVIEW: In the simplest possible terms, “The Mummy” is a writing and directorial amalgamated mess. Running 2 hours even, the films starts out in the first half to being a mix of “Tom Cruise and The Raiders of the Lost Ark”, then it becomes “Tom Cruise Tomb Raiders” and then it becomes “Deputy Sheriff Tom Rick Grim Cruise and The Walking Dead”. And there’s more. There is an abundance of ego stroking references to past Tom Cruise films – characters  such “Jack Reacher”, Ethan Hunts “Mission Impossible and finally channeling the self-involved but slightly romantic personality of Jerry McGuire from the film of the same title.

And then there is Russell Crow’s character as Dr. Henry Jekyll. Notice the last name? If there was ever an advance hint as to what his story line was about you couldn’t send up any bigger flairs and not be more obvious. What I don’t get is even why his character was necessary at all? I swear if you put Crowe under Sodium Pentothal, he would probably swear he thought he had signed on for a part into a one dimensional Guy Ritchie film; he was that much out of place here.

The Mummy lacked structure, lacked coherency and most of all lacked a cinematic soul for you to embrace as we go on this mercenary adventure. Ultimately you don’t care about any of the cast because they don’t give us a reason to. You end up more as an observer to action and chaotic events than a meaningful heartfelt compelling story. To my larger point, if someone at Universal Studios would have asked me under Sodium Pentothal what I thought of their movie in some advanced screening, I would probably have said to the executives there………”So, this is the 2 hours that was cut out and left on the editing floor?” Yep, that messy.

Look, the movie did have a good look about it, but that’s not enough of a reason for you to venture into seeing it this opening weekend as a paying customer. Unless? Well, unless you just so happen to find yourself before a Court Room Judge who has just rendered down a sentence to you doing a 100 hours of community service for some minor public offense. I almost guarantee you if you tell the Judge you saw “The Mummy” he will almost certainly knock of 25 hours just for torturing yourself. 50 hours if you saw it in 3-D.

1.25 Stars

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wonder Woman - Review


Wonder Woman
Starting in 1975 and for four years on ABC TV actress Linda Carter became the first popular face of the character “Wonder Woman”. In comparative terms by today’s standards Carter’s earlier presentation of the female super human crime fighter while smart, beautiful and sexy, had a tad vulnerability especially while playing her disguised incognito persona of Army Officer Lt. Diana Prince against her mortal superior in the way of Captain Steve Trevor of the Office of Strategic Services United States Army Air Service Corps (actor Lyle Waggoner).

In retrospect Carter’s “Wonder Woman” offered up some rather modest displays of super hero ability such as being able to leap high, use her lasso for great effect, to ward off bullets with her arm bands and to occasionally toss objects farther than her male counterpart. But in the end carter’s version was always sanitized to what I could only surmise was an attempt to appeal to a broader wholesome family TV viewing audience. Well it’s 2017 and man oh man has Wonder Woman changed, this time out with actress Gal Gadot in the leading role as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman.
We find the film version beginning with the young woman’s earlier life as a 5000 year old Amazon immortal princess named Diana, daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus and the half-sister of  a God named Ares. From the onset as an Amazonian woman she is continuously and ruthlessly trained to be an unconquerable warrior on her sheltered island paradise. 

On a chance encounter one day young Diana meets an American pilot named Steve Trevor, a Captain from the United States Army Air Service. Steve tells Diana about a world she is totally unfamiliar with, particularly a world filed with massive conflict, filled with political and human strife raging worldwide. Translation, its World Ward 2.
Upon listening to Steve’s stories, Diana becomes convinced that she can stop the global threat, so she leave the confines of her safe home for the first time to fight alongside strange men in a war. Ultimately it is the war conflict that helps her discovers the full measures of her powers and her true destiny as an Immortal Amazonian.  

REVIEW: With an opening sequence that narrates the early origins of Diana Prince and the Amazonian Island women’s commitment to their way of life, “Wonder Woman” gets off to an exhilarating start by offering a concise back story of their origins from the God Zeus. It also showcases their relentless “muscular” fighting and training techniques, their bravery to fight ferociously and mercilessly in battle and to be collectively connected through emotional strength as a superior race of women without ever being simplistically or mythically only female driven. They are within their own right intense, strong, intelligent, passionate and gifted people, who just so happen to be women too. 
Actress Gail Gadot is perfectly cast as “Wonder Woman” as she delivers a powerfully fresh new face to add to the whole superhero franchise storyline. Gadot doesn’t just fly about in some sexy skimpy outfit with a glowing lasso, she creates a far more substantive character by embracing her natural given intelligence and confidence without ever being “the girl” or “the daughter” in the movie. Her Diana Prince exudes from start to the film’s finish an ability to convey an effective moral earnestness to command and to lead with charisma and personal fortitude. She receives respect for who she is without having to repeatedly ask for it.  Her words, her actions and her abilities speak for themselves which serve as the conduits to the respect she receives.

Now, there are some minor flaws to the film. One in particularly early in the film involved the sleeping arrangements on a boat that I am sure on paper was meant be funny with some typical male – female exchanges encased in some nervous unrequited sexual tension between Diana and Steve. For me their interaction here was awkward in its execution and really never offered up anything that was either funny or interesting between these two leads. I wish the Director had taken note to delving more deeply into the films major subplot about the moral decay of humans in the world. Examining more intimately their perspectives into their different lives and their different views of how two worlds coexisted one in a constant state of peace (Diana’s) and the other in a perpetual state war (Steve’s). To me this was a wasted moment for the films overall arc.

The other minor problem I had was the overall transitioning of Diana’s story as she leaves the island to come to the modern world of London in the 1910s. There were an array of new characters introduced here as we learn what the new mission will be for Diana that would hopefully save the world (as Diana saw it). Most of the dialogue here and some of the new characters introduced here seemed very one dimensional, lacking any real depth of why they or any part of their story was important to the mission going forward. You could make the case that they were forgettable and irrelevant to the films overall story.

Still, I found this adaptation of “Wonder Woman” to be more than empowering for women for women sake as a central heroic role model. For me it provided a unique new character that is both erudite and beautiful, erudite and witty and erudite and strong and at no time were these virtues ever in conflict with one another. Nor did the film to its credit take up any useless time offering up cliché scenes where a women lead would normally spent time verbally justifying her existence and place in the world before being fully accepted. This “Wonder Woman” moves very freely and confidently on the screen to be who she is without any equivocation or explanation. This is especially unique given the historically period of World War 1 when the film takes place where women generally back then were not so readily recognized first for their intellectual assets before their obvious beauty.

'Wonder Woman” has a running time of 2:21 that has a solid narrative story filled with genuine fireworks especially in the last 50 minutes. Gadot takes her lasso acting talent to deliver a cut above superhero filled with just the right powerful emotions, spectacular actions scenes, well timed – well placed comedic humor and above all a display of goodness and heart that felt real. These qualities will only get better as the story moves forward with many more sequels to come offering much, much more in the way of genuine excitement and thrills to come.


3.50 Stars