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


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 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