Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Young Mr. Lincoln - 7 stars out of 10

Young Mr. Lincoln - 7 stars out of 10

“Young Mr. Lincoln” is a fictional dramatization of an 1858 murder case involving Abraham Lincoln’s defense of William Armstrong.  The film is amazing for its depiction of pre-presidential Lincoln, Henry Fonda’s uncanny likeness to Lincoln, and its dramatic storyline.  The main issue is that the storyline’s entertainment value is a result of its complete historical inaccuracy.  I’m not putting it on an “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” level but the only piece of the court case kept intact is Lincoln’s use of an almanac to argue whether the moon was shining on the night in question.  Outside of that, the writers turn one murder suspect into two, surround these suspects with loved ones that didn’t exist, and create the film’s emotional climax out of the questioning of the suspect’s mother on the stand (which never happened).  All of that aside, if we analyze the film as fiction, it is stunning.  Fonda captures the essence of Lincoln’s disposition to the point that we forget that he is an actor.  The performance by Pauline Moore in the role of Ann Rutledge was probably my favorite of the entire film.  It left a large impression considering that it only lasted for about 5 minutes.  Other great performances include Alice Brady as the mother and Donald Meek as the prosecutor, helping the film to operate at a very high level of acting.  The scenery, costuming, and cinematography are average for films made in this time period but the acting really sets it apart.  “Young Mr. Lincoln” probably isn’t the greatest drama that you will ever see but it brings an interesting story and historical figure to life through great acting and screenwriting.


[Pictured: Fonda captures the humble, country beginnings of Abraham Lincoln]

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The BFG (2016) - 9 stars out of 10

The BFG (2016) - 9 stars out of 10

“The BFG” surprised me.  It didn’t make a killing at the box office (which is rare for Disney), there wasn’t much hype surrounding its release, and it doesn’t seem to have much of a fan following.  I can't exactly blame audiences for not showing up.  Personally, I was put off by the creepy appearance of the giant in the theatrical poster and since I am not familiar with the children's book, I didn't have much desire to see what lies within.  However, after the film finally found its way to the top of my Netflix queue, I completely fell in love with the creative story, magnificent visual effects, and the endearing lead characters.  It is a perfect blending of the fantasy and real worlds.  Words cannot describe how grossly underrated this film is.  It is yet another reminder that we should always trust a Steven Spielberg/John Williams collaboration to tug at our hearts and leave us feeling fulfilled.  Mark Rylance gives an inspired motion capture performance.  Ruby Barnhill is even more impressive as she seamlessly interacts with her CGI counterpart and wins us over with her sweet disposition.  Not to mention that her execution of the role makes me want to name my daughter “Sophie.”  I think back to "The Fellowship of the Ring" and how it took me half of the movie to understand that the hobbits were supposed to be short and that the other characters were not just standing uphill/in the foreground.  Then I watch "The BFG" and the size difference are completely realistic.  It is impressive in Giant Country but it is downright stunning when they return to the real world.  The family-friendly comedic moments are tempered by dramatic themes of friendship and loyalty that easily resonate with adults.  I realize that “The BFG” looks creepy at first glance but I promise that if you give it a chance, you will laugh, cry, and fall in love with these characters.


[Pictured: Stunning visuals and endearing characters are the key to this film]

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dope (2015) - 3 stars out of 10

Dope (2015) - 3 stars out of 10

“Dope” just isn’t my type of film.  I guess that I should have realized that from the title.  I generally love coming-of-age stories but this odd combination of goofball comedy, serious portrayal of the drug trade, and 90’s throwback just didn’t do it for me.  This film suffers from an identity crisis and could have been good if it had just chosen a theme and stuck with it.  Like, why do they have to have a 90's band if it is only significant for about 3 minutes of the entire film?  Beyond its inconsistent mood, there is so much swearing.  And for what?  Again, this amount of profanity would be appropriate in a realistic drama like “Moonlight” or “The Shawshank Redemption,” but its excessive use in comedic moments reminds me of a bad shock-value Melissa McCarthy movie.  Also, I didn't find the characters to be very endearing.  The story took a few interesting turns but it isn’t enough to redeem the confusion of its conflicting moods and reliance on nostalgia in a non-period piece.  The film opens by defining “dope” as:
1. noun: a drug taken illegally for recreational purposes
2. noun: a stupid person
3. Slang: excellent. Used as a generalized term of approval
I suppose that I fell into the second category by thinking that I might enjoy this film.  My bad.

[Pictured: The costumers captured the 90's look, too bad the film takes place in modern times]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Hunter (2011) - 3 stars out of 10

The Hunter (2011) - 3 stars out of 10

Everything about “The Hunter” looks great on paper.  Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill in lead roles, a cat and mouse (well, hunter and Tasmanian tiger) plot, the “action and adventure” classification, and the exotic locale of Tasmania.  Unfortunately, the sum falls short of the potential that these parts promised.  Dafoe gives the performance that we hoped for and the cinematography is beautiful, but the script plods along at a snail’s pace, Neill doesn’t add much to the film, and there is a very limited amount of action.  It was a struggle to focus because it seemed like nothing was happening for the majority of the runtime.  I suppose that if this was labeled as a drama, I would have approached it with different expectations but with a title like “The Hunter,” how could you expect anything less than a Rambo-esque film?  The story was interesting and could have been enhanced by a duality of actions in the jungle scenes matched with the drama of the family.  The also could have created more intrigue by better incorporating more of the mysterious biotech company.  I certainly won’t be revisiting “The Hunter” at any point in my life but it could be worth watching if you love Australia and are looking for sweeping cinematography of the landscape.


[Pictured: Dafoe offers an interesting performance amidst a slow-moving script]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Touching the Void - 6 stars out of 10

Touching the Void - 6 stars out of 10

“Touching the Void” is a documentary that recalls the incomprehensible survival story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates.  The Academy did not consider this to be a documentary since so much of the film is comprised of reenactments but I cannot see this logic.  The interviews and narration by Simpson and Yates are the key to our accepting this journey as truth.  Without the documentary feel, we could easily mistake this for a far-fetched fiction.  The casting of Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron is so perfect that you will spend the entire film believing that the tragedy was either caught on camera or that the victims actually recreated their climb.  Even though this film does an amazing job of retelling the events, exercise caution because there are two sequences that contain explicit language (i.e. shouting the f-word about 20 times in a row).  “Touching the Void” establishes a unique blend of informative narration paired with reenactments that engage our emotions.  You won’t believe this story until you hear it straight from the mouths of the survivors.

[Pictured: This film will make you second guess why anybody would want to climb an icy mountain]

Monday, July 10, 2017

Blink (1994) - 2 stars out of 10

Blink (1994) - 2 stars out of 10

“Blink” was a pretty rough movie to get through.  To start, it is soooo 90's!  There are two types of 90’s films.  One type makes us feel nostalgic and long to relive the music and style of this time.  The other type feels dated, annoying, and overly corny.  This film is the latter.  There are moments that are so embarrassing by today's standards, like the final scene with the song lyrics.  It reminded me of every awkward date I ever had and I really question whether there ever was a time where an audience would enjoy that sort of cheesy dialogue.  And lest we not forget the weird I'm-stripping-in-front-of-a-violinist-but-she-can't-see-me-because-she's-blind sequence.  The story is your typical lovers'-quarrel-turns-into-dangerous-conflict plot without many surprises, and let's throw in a villain whistling Three Blind Mice for good measure.  On top of that, the f-word gets tossed around over and over for no particular reason.  I am not sure what “Blink” aspired to be but it lacks anything that would qualify it as a quality movie.  Skip this one and stick to the nostalgic 90’s films.

[Pictured: Even its inclusion of cultural music couldn't win me over.  It just made everything else seem even more odd]

Friday, July 7, 2017

Captain EO - 2 stars out of 10

Captain EO - 2 stars out of 10

What do Michael Jackson, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Mickey Mouse have in common?  The only possible answer is “Captain EO,” the 1986 3-D film that was featured in Disney parks around the world.  This over-the-top film harnessed the energy of the King of Pop in order to popularize the Disney parks with teenagers.  It also cost over $20 million for its 17-minute runtime.  The “Captain EO” experience went beyond your standard film.  It is credited with repopularizing the 3D genre and featured in-theater effects that were synchronized to the film, such as lasers and fog.  Jackson’s sidekicks include several creature puppets and his nemesis is played by a young Anjelica Huston.  Of course, the story culminates in an enormous dance sequence with two original songs written by Jackson.  The 4-D experience thrilled audiences when it was first released but the film itself is rather disappointing.  For its price tag, the special effects are lackluster, the creatures are a far cry from the Muppets, and the script is cheesy.  Jackson’s dancing is as stunning as ever but this is a reminder of why he never made it as an actor.  It was featured in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and EPCOT’s Future World, but it quickly became dated and served as a piece of nostalgia for the latter half of its showings.  While the controversial accusations against Jackson pressured Disney into replacing the show in the mid-90’s, EO’s demise was already overdue.  I’ve included a YouTube link of the film below and will leave it up to you to decide whether “Captain EO” was an innovative collaboration between the biggest names of the 1980’s or an overpriced short film that fell short of its potential.

Captain EO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4TZWZMjJ8k

[Pictured: Captain EO may be the most 80's thing ever created]