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, 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