Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ingrid Goes West - Review

Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is an unhinged social media stalker with a history of confusing "likes" for meaningful relationships. Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen who is also in “Wind River”) is an Instagram-famous "influencer" who’s perfectly curated, boho-chic lifestyle becomes Ingrid's latest obsession. When Ingrid moves to LA and manages to insinuate herself into the social media star's life, their relationship quickly goes from #BFF to #WTF. Built around a brilliantly disarming performance from Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West (winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance) is a savagely hilarious dark comedy that satirizes the modern world of social media and proves that being #perfect isn't all it's cracked up to be.

REVIEW:  “Ingrid Goes West” (a username in the film) is as sharp, smart, insightful, dark and funny, light and dramatic, sinister and haunting, warm and nurturing films I have seen this year.  Aubrey Plaza is both flawless and brilliant in her acting as the socially out of touch Ingrid who while watching the film you feel a range of emotions for her Ingrid that ranges from being someone who you genuinely want to get some professional counseling to someone who you find is funny, charming, sexy, clever, calculating and repulsive to eventually being someone who is downright Bat Shit Crazy as hell. But the real magic of this film is the writing in how it keeps you thoroughly engaged into the lead character Ingrid that you really kind of root for her even though she is so easy to dislike. Subconsciously, the film masterfully draws you in and keeps you there into really wanting Ingrid to be just happy in spite of some of the horribly desperate things she does to others and to herself.

“Ingrid Goes West” is a brilliant satirical look at the way some millennials today rely way too much on social media as their sole determinant into their own self-worth, rather than taking the plunge the old fashion way of randomly meeting people (bars, church, school and or parties) and engaging one another in ad hoc conversations; walking the tightrope of fate of being rejected face to face by someone rather than through an Instagram or a text.  

Filled with the same wit, vivid depictions, biting comedy, drama and attitude as HBO's "Girls", I found “Ingrid Goes West” to be one of the best films out this year about real people. I encourage everyone to see in either their local theater, NETFLIX, Amazon, Redbox and or On Demand venues.

3.75 Stars

Good Time - Review

Good Time

After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Constantine "Connie" Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city's underworld in an increasingly desperate and dangerous attempt to get his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of jail who has a mild form of mental dysfunction. Over the course of one 24 hour adrenalized filled night, Connie finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance.

REVIEW: “Good Time" started out with a blast as one of the more unconventional films I have seen all year. Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Sagas) exudes a lot on screen charisma and believability as this low life petty criminal sort of living off the land even if the land is New York City. He moves about with the primal instincts of a lion on the hunt for the next meal. But Pattinson acting prowess alone here is not enough to keep this helter skelter plot afloat for its 1:40 minutes running time. “Good Time” is essentially about a man spiraling downward running out of options to getting his brother out of jail. And just like the premise itself, the construct of the films writing, supporting characters and general flow of the film itself seems to rapidly spiral downward along with it.

Overall the film gets stale very quickly as the plot and lead characters get boiled down to being about absolutely nothing that really matters. And by the end of the film you either forgot what all of the craziness was for, how stupid the decisions that were made and how repulsive these people have become that you either simply don’t give a damn that this was all for the purpose of getting Nick out of jail, forgot Nick was in jail or you simply didn’t care anymore that Nick was in jail. Count me as I didn’t care anymore voting side.

Rotten Tomato has this film with a score off 88. That is completely nuts as “Good Time”, is too dark, cold and aloof with way too much over the top amateurish acting, not to mention a screenplay that is far more hollow than it was ever interesting or compelling.

Rent at your own peril.

1.75 Stars

Saturday, August 26, 2017

20th Anniversary of 1997 Films

20th Anniversary of 1997 Films

Absolute Power (1997) - A career thief witnesses a horrific crime involving the U.S. President.
Air Force One (1997) - Hijackers seize the plane carrying the President of the United States and his family, but he - an ex-soldier - works from hiding to defeat them.
Alien Resurrection (1997) – Two centuries after her death, Ellen Ripley is revived as a powerful human/alien hybrid clone who must continue her war against the aliens.
Amistad (1997) - In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.
An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) - An American man unwittingly gets involved with French werewolves who have developed a serum allowing them to transform at will.
Anaconda (1997) - A "National Geographic" film crew is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who takes them along on his quest to capture the world's largest - and deadliest - snake.
Anastasia (1997) - The last surviving child of the Russian Royal Family joins two con men to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, while the undead Rasputin seeks her death.
As Good as It Gets (1997) - A single mother/waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is assaulted in a robbery.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) - A 1960s hipster secret agent is brought out of cryofreeze to oppose his greatest enemy in the 1990s, where his social attitudes are glaringly out of place.
Batman & Robin (1997) - Batman and Robin try to keep their relationship together even as they must stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing Gotham City.
Boogie Nights (1997) - The story of a young man's adventures in the Californian pornography industry of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Breakdown (1997) - A man searches for his missing wife after his car breaks down in the middle of the desert.
Chasing Amy (1997) - Holden and Banky are comic book artists. Everything's going good for them until they meet Alyssa, also a comic book artist. Holden falls for her, but his hopes are crushed when he finds out she's a lesbian.
Con Air (1997) - Newly paroled ex-con and former U.S. Ranger Cameron Poe finds himself trapped in a prisoner transport plane when the passengers seize control.
Contact (1997) - Dr. Ellie Arroway, after years of searching, finds conclusive radio proof of extraterrestrial intelligence, sending plans for a mysterious machine.
Cop Land (1997) - The sheriff of a suburban New Jersey community populated by New York City police officers slowly discovers the town is a front for mob connections and corruption.
Cube (1997) - Six complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps.
Dante's Peak (1997) - A volcanologist arrives at a countryside town recently named the second most desirable place to live in America and discovers that the long dormant volcano, Dante's Peak, may wake up at any moment.
Donnie Brasco (1997) - An FBI undercover agent infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life, at the expense of his regular one.
Event Horizon (1997) - A rescue crew investigates a spaceship that disappeared into a black hole and has now returned...with someone or something new on-board.
Face/Off (1997) - In order to foil an extortion plot, an FBI agent undergoes a facial transplant surgery and assumes the identity and physical appearance of a terrorist, but the plan turns from bad to worse when the same terrorist impersonates the FBI agent.
Funny Games (1997)  - Two violent young men take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic "games" with one another for their own amusement.
G.I. Jane (1997) - A female Senator succeeds in enrolling a woman into Combined Reconnaissance Team training where everyone expects her to fail.
Gattaca (1997) - A genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.
George of the Jungle (1997) - A man raised in the jungle by apes falls in love with a wealthy American heiress.
Good Will Hunting (1997) - Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) - Martin Blank is a professional assassin. He is sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe, and, by coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time.
Hercules (1997) - The son of the Greek Gods Zeus and Hera is stripped of his immortality as an infant and must become a true hero in order to reclaim it.
Home Alone 3 (1997) - Alex Pruitt, a young boy of nine living in Chicago, fends off thieves who seek a top-secret chip in his toy car to support a North Korean terrorist organization's next deed.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) - After a nasty accident, four friends begin to drift apart. One year later Julie James gets an anonymous message and then a slicker wearing, hook wielding killer begins to rip apart her life.
Jackie Brown (1997) - A middle-aged woman finds herself in the middle of a huge conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her life.
L.A. Confidential (1997) - As corruption grows in 1950s LA, three policemen - one strait-laced, one brutal, and one sleazy - investigate a series of murders with their own brand of justice.
Liar Liar (1997) - A fast-track lawyer can't lie for 24 hours due to his son's birthday wish after he turns his son down for the last time.
Life Is Beautiful (1997) - When an open-minded Jewish librarian and his son become victims of the Holocaust, he uses a perfect mixture of will, humor and imagination to protect his son from the dangers around their camp.
Lolita (1997) - A man marries his landlady so he can take advantage of her daughter.
Lost Highway (1997) - After a bizarre encounter at a party, a jazz saxophonist is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to prison, where he inexplicably morphs into a young mechanic and begins leading a new life.
Men in Black (1997) - A police officer joins a secret organization that polices and monitors extraterrestrial interactions on Earth.
My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) - When a woman's long-time friend reveals he's engaged, she realizes she loves him herself and sets out to get him, with only days before the wedding.
Picture Perfect (1997) - A young advertising executive's life becomes increasingly complicated when, in order to impress her boss, she pretends to be engaged to a man she has just met.
Princess Mononoke (1997) - On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami's curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.
Private Parts (1997) - The autobiographical story of Howard Stern, the radio rebel who is now also a TV personality, an author and a movie star.
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997) - Two dim-witted, inseparable friends hit the road for their ten-year high school reunion and concoct an elaborate lie about their lives in order to impress their classmates.
Scream 2 (1997) - Two years after the first series of murders, a new psychopath dons the Ghostface costume and a new string of killings begins.
Selena (1997) - The true story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, a Texas-born Tejano singer who rose from cult status to performing at the Astrodome, as well as having chart topping albums on the Latin music charts.
Seven Years in Tibet (1997) - True story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet.
Soul Food (1997) - One person can keep a family together and, when that one person is gone, a family can be torn apart.
Spawn (1997) – An elite mercenary is killed, but comes back from Hell as a reluctant soldier of the Devil.
Starship Troopers (1997) - Humans in a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival.
The Borrowers (1997) - A secret family of four-inch people living inside the walls of a house must save
The Boxer (1997) - Young Danny Flynn is released from prison after 14 years after "taking the rap" for the IRA and tries to rebuild his life in his old Belfast neighborhood.
The Devil's Advocate (1997) - An exceptionally adept Florida lawyer is offered a job to work in New York City for a high-end law firm with a high-end boss - the biggest opportunity of his career to date.
The Fifth Element (1997) - In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr. Zorg at bay.
The Full Monty (1997) - Six unemployed steel workers form a male striptease act. The women cheer them on to go for "the full monty" - total nudity.
The Game (1997) - After a wealthy banker is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, his life is turned upside down when he becomes unable to distinguish between the game and reality.
The Jackal (1997) - An imprisoned IRA fighter is freed to help stop a brutal, seemingly "faceless" assassin from completing his next job.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) - A research team is sent to the Jurassic Park Site B Island to study the dinosaurs there while another team approaches with another agenda.
The Rainmaker (1997) - An underdog lawyer takes on a fraudulent Insurance company.
The Relic (1997) – A Homicide detective and an anthropologist try to destroy a South American lizard-like god, who's on a people eating rampage in a Chicago museum.
The Saint (1997) - Simon Templar (The Saint), is a thief for hire, whose latest job to steal the secret process for cold fusion puts him at odds with a traitor bent on toppling the Russian government, as well as the woman who holds its secret.
Titanic (1997) - A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - James Bond heads to stop a media mogul's plan to induce war between China and the UK in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage.
Volcano (1997) - A volcano erupts in downtown Los Angeles, threatening to destroy the city.
Wag the Dog (1997) - Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Logan Lucky - Review

Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh is an American film producer, director, screenwriter, cinematographer and editor. His first indie film was a drama called "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" (1989) which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and became a worldwide commercial success, making the then-26-year-old Soderbergh the youngest director to win the festival's top award.

However, he is best known for directing his critically acclaimed and more commercial Hollywood hit films including the crime comedy Out of Sight (1998), the biographical film Erin Brockovich (2000), the crime drama film Traffic (2000) (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director), the 2001 remake of the comedy heist film Ocean's 11 and its two sequels—known collectively as the Ocean's Trilogy, the medical thriller Contagion (2011) and the comedy-drama Magic Mike (2012).

He has also directed smaller, less conventional works, such as the sexy drama film The Girlfriend Experience (2009 and now a SHOWTIME TV program), which starred the then-active pornographic actress Sasha Grey; and the biopic about Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Che (2008). Soderbergh also directed, photographed and edited all episodes of the television drama The Knick. In addition, he has produced numerous film and television programs, and provided cinematography and editing on various projects.

I offer you all of this to let you know that he is truly a talented and smart director. So when he has a film coming out, I tend to go see his work whether good, average or bad reviews.

PLOT: In his latest effort, “Logan Lucky”, is a modern story about a West Virginia family man named Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) who teams up with his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to steal money from the NASCAR Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Jimmy also recruits demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig aka James Bond - 007) to help them break into the track's money underground funneling system. Complications arise when a mix-up forces the crew to pull off the heist during a popular NASCAR race while also trying to dodge a relentless FBI Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank).

REVIEW: “Lucky Logan” is a rebranded “Oceans 11”, only this adaptation where the assembled crew staying two steps ahead while out smarting the "Man” doesn’t have the same natural charismatic pop, charm and polish of the Clooney effort. What Soderbergh offers instead is a basic reliance on some known southern stereotypes, mixed with some personal charm of the characters he has cast to move this blue collar crime caper story along. But is it enough to recommend for you to getting off the couch to drive to your local theater to see?................... Aaaah, no.

I found “Lucky Logan” somewhat laborious to watch, patiently waiting for something to happen that would enthrall me, surprise me, tickle me, and even fro me to admire. And while there were some moments of amusement and well-timed humorous situations, they were far and definitely too few apart. Running almost 2 hours the last 25 minutes was very solid and smart, but it was way too late for this film to reconcile the mistake of having this viewer be dragged along of a casual slog of a screenplay that was predicated on the victims of the crime (NASCAR security) being as dimwitted if not more that the perpetrators of the crime itself.

Oddly enough “Lucky Logan” is not boring, it’s just not as entertaining as  the 93 score Rotten Tomato critic pool is suggesting. The entire film felt like I was watching a film about a Director having fun making a film about slightly dim witted criminals who on one hand had the sophisticated criminal IQs to qualify for admission to the Mensa Society and at the same time were equally unsophisticated and dimwitted in their personal interactions with one another on par with the 1960’s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies”. This set up did not work for me. 

This was an impressive assembled cast who put some heartfelt genuine effort into making this film work. Unfortunately it never reaches an entertaining takeoff as it seemed to be perpetually stuck in a series of patch work scenes that never really felt connected to the other.

Lucky Logan is a non-boring film that was a bit of a slog to watch.

2.75 Stars

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


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