Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - 10 stars out of 10

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - 10 stars out of 10

For 39 years, “Star Wars” fans have been curious about the events leading up to Episode IV.  We have become accustomed to the opening of “A New Hope” since most of us have seen it at least a dozen times, but it is actually rather perplexing.  Who would ever expect the most popular movie franchise of all time to begin with a written synopsis of an event from a non-existent movie, and then drop us into the middle of the event’s ensuing battle scene as if we missed the first half of it?  The abrasiveness has always made the opening feel incomplete to me but now the franchise has bridged the gap.  “Rogue One” actually completes Episode IV.  This is one of the smartest movie concepts that I have ever seen, particularly after so many years of wondering what happened in the Rebel spies’ mission to steal the Death Star plans.  I believe that the future of Star Wars lies in the expansion of its universe through this Anthology series.  It allows Lucasfilm (aka Disney) to continue the story for a new generation through Episodes VII, VIII, and IX while fleshing out the universe familiar to previous generations of Star Wars fans.  This strategy is the perfect combination of innovation and nostalgia.  Unlike the prequel trilogy, this film was done right.  There is an emphasis on quality acting, the special effects never feel like a video game, and the new characters have depth.  Honestly, the most important part of this film was the casting of Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones.  She puts this entire film on her shoulders and carries it from start to finish.  She delivers an emotional performance that is on par with any critically acclaimed drama while embodying the hope and heroism at the heart of the Star Wars franchise.  She is surrounded by quality actors including “Ip Man’s” Donnie Yen as the blind Chirrut Îmwe.  I consider him to be one of the best Star Wars characters in the galaxy with his unwavering faith in the force to protect him in battle.  Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as Galen Erso, Forest Whitaker provides a familiar face, and it was magic to hear James Earl Jones reprise his role as Darth Vader’s voice.  I had heard that this film was significantly darker than the rest of the series and lacked the humor that we love to see between Han and Chewie, but I thought that some of the best comedy that I’ve seen in the entire series occured between Cassian and K-2SO.  Alan Tudyk puts on an awesome motion-capture performance as this robot.  One of the larger controversies of this film was the CGI recreation of the late Peter Cushing but I am fine with it.  The Cushing estate gave permission, they were included in the process and consulted down to the tiniest details of his mannerisms, and I view it as a tribute to make him such an important part of this story.  Creativity abounds in this film through the costuming, new alien beings, inclusion of similar-but-different characters as a throwback to the originals (like General Akbar’s relative), and brilliant new destinations.  The entire sequence on Scariff is incredibly beautiful, especially with the giant AT-ACT’s walking around.  I appreciate the inclusion of the names of each planet and moon as they travel throughout the galaxy.  Die-hard Star Wars fans know the name of every planet and its significance to the Empire or the Rebellion, but for everyone else it is helpful to have that clarification as the movie progresses.  I had a tough time accepting Michael Giacchino’s new theme.  There are many parts of this score that I completely loved but I found an abrupt disappointment each time that I heard the Rogue One theme.  Throughout the film, Giacchino pays tribute to John Williams’ original thematic material including The Force Theme and The Imperial March.  The results are stunning, until we hear this new theme.  We have been conditioned to expect the Star Wars theme any time that we hear an ascending sol-do-sol pattern, regardless of the style or genre of the music.  The problem is that, as a tribute, Giacchino used this same pattern to begin the Rogue One theme.  Each time that we hear those ascending tones, we anticipate the original theme and are let down when it is different.  The shame is that the Rogue One theme is absolutely gorgeous with its inclusion of an ascending minor 6th and then a Lydian-sounding resolution on the IV chord (ti resolving to do), but it is overshadowed because it isn’t the original.  I know that this theme will grow on me as I get used to it but it was distracting the first time around.  If you couldn’t tell, I loved this film and the writers saved the greatest movie magic for the end.  I won’t spoil anything but the final five minutes of this film will transport you back to your first time seeing “Star Wars.”  The previews for “Rogue One” created high expectations and I am glad to see that the producers have found a way to transport us back to the Star Wars universe that we grew up with while maintaining the quality of Episodes IV-VII.  I can’t wait to see what they create next!

[Pictured: The writers did a great job of creating new characters that feel familiar and quickly win over our hearts]

Friday, December 30, 2016

Kingpin (1996) - 2 stars out of 10

Kingpin (1996) - 2 stars out of 10

“Kingpin” is a goofball comedy that isn’t very funny.  I know that it is a well-known fact that you can put Bill Murray into any comedy with a supporting role and his humor will immediately elevate the film, but even that couldn’t save this one.  As a last ditch effort, they featured Blues Traveler dressed in Amish garb during the closing credits song… These are the sorts of things that you can expect to find in “Kingpin.”  Rule number one of goofball comedies: if you make them too vulgar or too mean-spirited, their tone will be completely off.  This is the main issue with the “Hangover” series.  There comes a point where you feel so bad for the characters that you can’t laugh at their misfortune.  This film strikes that note in the first 15 minutes when the main character loses his bowling hand.  I realize that the story is contingent on this event, but they don’t have to smash windshields and aggressively thrust a man’s hand into a bowling ball return.  Woody Harrelson is okay (but definitely not close to his best), Randy Quaid is alright (but not as good as his typical character roles), and the rest of the cast don’t offer much either.  “Kingpin” was a waste of time and I’m going to stick with “Dumb & Dumber” the next time that I want to watch a brainless comedy by The Ferrelly Brothers.

[Pictured: Bill Murray running around with Woody Harrelson’s fake hand is one of the more normal things to happen in this odd film]

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Cinderella Man - 9 stars out of 10

Cinderella Man - 9 stars out of 10

“Cinderella Man” tells the redemptive story of depression-era boxer James J. Braddock.  This story works on two levels.  First, Braddock as a man who struggles to provide from his family when The Great Depression limits the number of jobs for working class men.  Second, Braddock as a symbol of hope for all Americans who are struggling to get by.  Director Ron Howard brings both of these levels together in this period drama.  There has been criticism that Max Baer is inaccurately depicted as vicious bully.  While he was known to be a gentleman outside of the ring, this depiction personifies the brute that he became inside of the ring; moreover, Baer is an important part of the film’s symbolism as the American people must “get into the ring” with their hardships if they want to reverse their desperate situations.  The period costumes and atmosphere are an important part of this film but the key to its success is Russell Crowe.  He provides the emotions, expression, and believable boxing abilities necessary to connect with the audience as both a father and as a boxer.  The other X-factor of this film is Paul Giamatti whose portrayal of manager Joe Gould was rightfully rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Giamatti is one of my favorite character actors and he brings an incredible amount of heart to this performance.  I was rather unimpressed with Renée Zellweger as Braddock’s wife.  She was an Oscar nominee three years in a row (including a win for “Cold Mountain”) so I always have high expectations, but I found that most of the emotion in her scenes were a result of Crowe’s acting and not her own.  Everything is tied together by a beautiful score by Thomas Newman that keeps us focused on the heart of the story.  This heart of the story is the hopes and dreams of America which seemingly all lay on the success of Braddock, though it also works as a great boxing film.  The scenes are cut in a fast-paced yet easy to follow manner, which probably accounts of the Best Editing Oscar nomination.  “Cinderella Man” is a solid picture that will please a diverse grouping of audience members.  This is a great choice whether you are feeling down and looking for inspiration or simply in the mood to experience some American history.

[Pictured: Giamatti and Crowe make a great pair in this inspirational sports drama]

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

16 Blocks - 5 stars out of 10

16 Blocks - 5 stars out of 10

“16 Blocks” is an adrenaline-pumping action film that is unique because of its plot and real time storytelling.  It becomes predictable after it reveals the big twist 30 minutes into the movie, but it still gives us everything that we want in a Bruce Willis film where he faces impossible odds so that justice can be served.  I have always loved the concept: Transport a criminal through New York City to the courthouse that is 16 blocks away while the enemy tries to take you down.  At points, it seems like the concept is better than the execution.  I appreciate that the writers try to go beyond your typical action flick by incorporating a down-on-his-luck-alcoholic-transforms-into-a-hero storyline; however, it comes off as overdramatic.  I don’t know if it is because of the acting, the sometimes cheesy musical score, or Willis’ creeper mustache, but it seemed out of place amongst the action.  Meanwhile, Mos Def steals the show as the likable criminal, Eddie.  His nasal manner of speaking helps us to view him as a victim instead of a criminal which creates the empathy that drives the story.  David Morse makes an excellent villain, especially because we can easily view him as a good guy and a bad guy at the same time.  “16 Blocks” contains plenty of farfetched moments but you’re probably watching this for the action sequences and not the realism of the story.

[Pictured: Mos Def is great, Willis' mustache is disconcerting]

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Beyond the Lights (2014) - 6 stars out of 10

Beyond the Lights (2014) - 6 stars out of 10

“Beyond the Lights” is a drama that examines a famous singer from two different angles.  On the surface, this is a love story between a singer and the police officer who saved her life.  Beneath the surface, we find a much darker tale of a girl who is forced to mask her true self in order to achieve fame and her struggle to take charge of her life again.  It sounds cheesy (and is a little bit) but this drama sends a strong message about being yourself and nobody else.  It features a diverse performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as she expresses several different facets of her character.  She successfully portrays vulnerability and a confident façade at the same time.  Her inner transformation is directly linked to the change of her physical appearance as she tried to find herself.  Mbatha-Raw’s impressive performance is offset by Nate Parker as he looks like he is in a constant state of confusion.  I wasn’t buying his character and feel that a different casting choice could have improved the film.   Minnie Driver pours her maximum effort into each scene.  She plays the role as well as it can be played and has a chance to show some intense emotions, but I don’t know if the part was written well enough to accomplish everything that she hoped.  It’s worth noting that Danny Glover is in this film, but probably as a favor to someone since the role doesn’t offer him much screen time.  The music in the film represents several different genres from rap and hip hop to blues.  I appreciate the importance of Nina Simone throughout the film as her outspokenness becomes symbolic of Noni’s struggle to find her own voice and use it.  “Beyond the Lights” isn’t going to blow your mind but the performance of Mbatha-Raw is a hidden gem and worth seeing just for her transformation.

[Pictured: The film strikes an interesting balance of Mbatha-Raw putting on an amazing performance while Parker looks confused.]

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Amityville Horror (2005) - 8 stars out of 10

The Amityville Horror (2005) - 8 stars out of 10

This is the film that made me love horror films.  “The Amityville Horror” hits all of the right notes for a supernatural horror film.  Terrifying imagery, jump scares, a mystery that keeps you on edge, the worst babysitter ever, creepy little kids, figures lurking around corners, and more!  It is the complete package and the best part may be its bold opening.  Many horror films ease into the terror or even try to lure us into a false sense of security.  This film opens with the graphic homicide of a family and little explanation.  What follows are 90 compelling minutes with frequent moments so tense that your stomach will be twisted in knots.  I have found that many “scary movies” are actually intense thrillers with a few scary images (“The Sixth Sense,” “The Uninvited”) but the scary moments in this film run from start to finish.  They keep us on edge so that we never know what may pop out next.  While there are plenty of jump scares, the unknown evil at the core of this story is what makes it truly scary.  Homeowners will wonder if their house may have a tragic history, parents will worry about who an imaginary friend could actually be, and we will all be filled with a sense of dread during moments like the dog scene.  The film was criticized for showing too much horror instead of implying what is happening but sometimes we need to see the scary sights instead of imagining them.  Ryan Reynolds does a great job of creating two separate personas but making them similar enough that we believe that he possesses both.  Melissa George drives the emotional aspects of the film and Chloë Grace Moretz successfully creeps us out as Chelsea.  The role of Father Callaway is downplayed from the original film but I actually think that it benefits the story by making it one piece of the puzzle instead of the main focus.  Philip Baker Hall is great in this role.  My largest complaint is the ending.  It seems like a cop out instead of a well thought out resolution but it certainly doesn’t ruin the film (like the jump scare at the end of “The Woman in Black”).  My love for “The Amityville Horror” is part nostalgia looking back on myself as a budding film buff at the impressionable age of 20 (who went to the theater twice in 3 days to engulf myself in this bloody bath of horror), but revisiting this film in my 30’s has let me see that there is a lot of quality in this take-your-breath-away chiller.

[Pictured: The scenes in the closet will completely freak you out]

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Uninvited (2009) - 7 stars out of 10

The Uninvited (2009) - 7 stars out of 10

“The Uninvited” is another Americanized import of a Japanese horror film.  Its release came with a high expectation as it was produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, the same team that created a horror renaissance with “The Ring;” however, this film is mainly a thriller with a few horrific images and an amazing twist.  There are a few jump scares but the expectation of being scared and shocked as if we were watching an amplified version of “The Ring” likely led to the film’s negative reception.  Its seaside setting in Maine is excellent with an inviting-yet-threatening house where the majority of the film takes place.  Emily Browning is perfectly cast in the lead role with an innocent look that comes off as creepy in the film’s circumstances.  Elizabeth Banks is also successful in the film as we struggle to figure out whether she is fake or sincere; in fact, you will find that just about every line that she delivers can be interpreted in multiple ways so that you never know how she actually feels.  While I would categorize these attributes as “above average,” the thing that makes this film a success is its well-crafted twist.  The twist works because the writers set it up from the beginning so that it feels completely organic once it occurs.  A great twist is only effective if it makes sense once you see the big picture and this film makes sure that the partial hints are dropped and then explained after the big reveal.  After this well-executed shocker, our revelation during the final image of the film is the icing on the cake.  Although it is less creative and creepy than "The Ring,” it is still a solid film.  You just may not think so until the twist assures us that it is not one long stereotype.  I believe that the film would have been better received under its original title, "A Tale of Two Sisters," since the double meaning of "The Uninvited" gets lost in the mix.  You won’t find “The Uninvited” on most peoples’ recommendation lists for horror films but as a spooky thriller, it is a must-see for its perfectly executed twist.


[Pictured: “The Uninvited” was marketed mainly as a horror film, so don’t be disappointed when you realize that it is a thriller.  It is still completely worth seeing!]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Radio - 6 stars out of 10

Radio - 6 stars out of 10

“Radio” is a crossover between critically-acclaimed dramas and cheesy family-friendly films.  The critics hated it but it is nice to see a drama with good acting that can be enjoyed by all ages.  This heartwarming story about helping others is not without its clichés, predictable plot developments, and cheesy sentimentality.  There aren’t any major twists to catch us off guard and most aspects of the story have been seen in other films; still, the simplicity of the story and PG-rated content make this a good introduction into “real” dramas for preteens.  Cuba Gooding Jr.’s performance is difficult to rate.  His youthful look works in his favor as the 35-year-old actor plays the 18ish-year-old titular character in the film.  His acting is a complete transformation from what we are used to seeing and there are times that you would believe that he is actually disabled, but there are also moments where it seems overacted.  This is definitely not his “Rain Man” or “I Am Sam” role.  Ed Harris is good but lacks the spark that we expect from such an established actor.  My favorite performance in the film comes from Alfre Woodard as the principal that must mediate between the community and what is best for Radio.  It delivers on the sports sequences that draw in male audiences but the film misses the potential of tying racism more strongly into the plot (maybe they were trying to avoid comparisons to “Remember the Titans” which came out 3 years earlier).  Although I enjoyed revisiting this movie, I was more impressed with “Radio” as a high school student than I was as an adult.  Perhaps that is the greatest testament to it being a good transitional film that parents can enjoy with their younger viewers.


[Pictured: Tough to believe that this is the same actor in "Jerry Maguire."]

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Creep (2015) - 7 stars out of 10

Creep (2015) - 7 stars out of 10

Found footage films fall into one of three categories.  When done right, they are some of the most fascinating and satisfying films out there.  When done wrong, the motion of the camera makes the audience nauseas and the plot relies on jump scares instead of storytelling.  “Creep” lands in the third category.  It develops an interesting story and catches us off guard with good twists but moves so slow that it is more fun to think about the film afterward than to actually watch it.  I found that the first half hour dragged on, which is an issue in a 77-minute film.  It is worth pushing through for the second half but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people give up on this film before it gets good.  The slow development is necessary to the tone of the film as it progresses from slightly odd to completely creepy, and then keeps progressing beyond where you think it will!  I appreciate that the film doesn’t end where we would expect and then elevates the story to a new level.  I also appreciate the clever use of “found footage-ception” (you’ll get the “Inception” reference once you watch the film) to help the found footage plot device to make sense in every piece of the story.  I know that I am being vague but I would hate to spoil the cleverness of Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass (the writers and stars of the film).  When writing the script, you know that these two brainstormed the most uncomfortable situations that they could imagine and then improvised each scene.  The characters are played well by both actors and Duplass taps into a very interesting psychological profile for Josef.  I also think that it is genius for the director of the film to play the character that is behind the camera in the story.  “Creep” isn’t the best found footage film that I have seen but between the tubby time, Peachfuzz, and the well-developed ending, it certainly delivers on the promise of its title.

[Pictured: This is one of the more unsettling films that you will watch]

Monday, December 19, 2016

Quiz Show - 6 stars out of 10

Quiz Show - 6 stars out of 10

“Quiz Show” provides interesting insight into the Twenty One quiz show scandal that occurred in the 1950’s.  Director Robert Redford’s recreation dramatizes these events and preserves the simplicity of this time period for the next generation.  We have seen a renaissance of game shows thanks to the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” phenomenon and the subsequent rise of reality-based programming, but “Quiz Show” captures the fascination with trivia and knowledge in pre-Google America.  It also transports us into a time of morality where the idea of a reality show being scripted or rigged was foreign to trusting audiences.   The film itself moves fairly slow but it builds enough curiosity about the story’s resolution that we anxiously anticipate the ending.  The best part of this film is John Turturro.  He often plays character roles which makes him perfect as Herb Stempel.  It would be easy to look like a bad actor in this purposely mundane role but Turturro’s unique voice and appearance make the character interesting while the delivery is appropriately boring.  Ironically, Ralph Fiennes plays a slightly more interesting character but his delivery comes off as boring.  Rob Morrow brings the necessary energy to the detective role to advance the film and Christopher McDonald has the right look to be a game show host.  The film earned several Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Paul Scofield, though the latter is more likely based on his reputation than his actual performance.  Overall, I don’t see “Quiz Show” as a film worthy to be represented at the Oscars but I appreciate the story and the preservation of this important television scandal.

[Pictured: The film is well-cast and well-acted but just lacks the spark that I expect from an Oscar nominee]

Sunday, December 18, 2016

We Need to Talk About Kevin - 8 stars out of 10

We Need to Talk About Kevin - 8 stars out of 10
1450th Review

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is one of the most disturbing, upsetting films that I have ever seen.  Had I known what lied within, I would have chosen not to watch.  Maybe it hit me so hard because I am a new father, but the concept and delivery of this parenting nightmare is scarier than any horror film.  This is the story of a mother whose inability to connect with her son progressively destroys her life.  The scariest part is that she doesn’t really do anything wrong – he just seems to be a bad seed.  The story is told through an extensive flashback that is frequently interrupted by images of Kevin’s mother in the present.  These interruptions are very brief but drive home the point that her life is in ruins because of Kevin, hinting at some sort of school tragedy but saving the full revelation for the very end.  The upsetting script is impressively interpreted by the actors, particularly Tilda Swinton.  She goes beyond the expressions of happy and sad as her character experiences many different degrees of sadness.  Her acting is so raw that you will feel your own world spiraling out of control alongside hers.  Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, and Rocky Duer portray Kevin from a toddler to a teenager.  They capture the inherent wickedness that lies within the character and make it clear that it is always present, even when he pretends to care about anyone.  The psychology behind Kevin is disturbing but entirely believable as he lives a mischievous life without remorse.  He shows a complete lack of sympathy, compassion, respect, and remorse despite the efforts of his mother.  You need to be warned that this film is relentless.  It does not have a moment of comic relief.  There is no sentimental moment or sense of hope.  It is a 2-hour downer whose tone is bleak from start to finish and I was mortified for most of the final 20 minutes.  This film reminds me of “Requiem for a Dream.”  On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it will be that bad but once you see what is inside, you will never be the same.  I’m not trying to talk you out of seeing “We Need to Talk About Kevin” because it is very well-written and has stunning performances by the entire cast; however, this film exists in a very dark place and you need to realize that it will take you there for two hours of your life.


[Pictured: The film is amazing from a technical standpoint but I never want to revisit this dark place]

Friday, December 16, 2016

I Am Your Father - 5 stars out of 10

I Am Your Father - 5 stars out of 10

Since everybody else is out seeing “Rogue One” and I am at home with the baby, I am getting my Star Wars fix by reviewing “I Am Your Father.”  At first, this documentary appears to be an homage to cinema’s greatest villain but it quickly reveals itself to be a tribute to David Prowse, the actor that played Darth Vader.  When Prowse signed on to play this role, he believed that he would be the body AND the voice of Vader.  This film is very one-sided but its perspective paints Prowse as a victim who had his voice replaced by James Earl Jones; moreover, during the filming of “Return of the Jedi,” the director secretly filmed the scene where Darth Vader’s helmet is removed with a different actor!  This divisive issue reminds me of a main plot point from “Singing in the Rain” only it happened in real life.  The documentary succeeds in building sympathy for Prowse as he is not invited to official Star Wars conventions and is basically ignored by Lucasfilm due to tension during the filming of the trilogy.  At the same time, I have to question how much of this story is exaggerated after 30 years of bitterness.  The documentary fails at properly representing the other side of the argument.  It also falls short of the excitement that you expect from anything involving Star Wars.  When I watch a film like “Man on Wire,” I could look up all of the information online but the story is so compelling that it necessitates seeing the documentary to gain a complete understanding of the subject matter.  Conversely, I feel that I could have learned everything about this story by reading a quick article online.  It is worth seeing for any Star Wars fan because it is Star Wars.  However, the film lacks that is generated by a documentary that unfolds like a mystery novel.  “I Am Your Father” is informative that will give you a greater appreciation for the actor behind the mask of Darth Vader but I definitely would have rather been watching “Rogue One” (or any film from the Star Wars catalog other than “Episode I”).

[Pictured: It is pretty cool to see David Prowse in the Darth Vader costume nearly 40 years after filming "A New Hope," but the documentary is dry and mainly opinionated]

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Heathers (1988) - 2 stars out of 10

Heathers (1988) - 2 stars out of 10

“Heathers” is a fascinating high school story spoiled by an endless stream of crude remarks and volatile language.  This 1980’s attempt at being edgy goes too far, even by modern standards.  The entire movie feels like an internal conflict as it fails to blend comedy with drama, realism with far-fetched circumstances, and humor with situations that should not be humorous.  It is a shame because the film contains some important themes about suicide, bullying, and guilt, but the misplaced levity of the script prevents it from being taken seriously while the serious subject matter does not align with the comedic tone.  The end result is an uncomfortable 100 minutes of trying to absorb the morals in spite of the script.  Though we are used to seeing the critics hate blockbusters that make a killing at the box office, this film did the opposite when it failed at the box office even though the critics loved it.  I blame its box office failure on its lack of a target audience as the synopsis does not have much appeal for your average adult but the R-rating would prevent most high schoolers from gaining admission (and thank goodness for the rating because this film is definitely not high school appropriate).  It did gain enough attention to develop a cult following  as well as thrusting Winona Ryder and Christian Slater into the limelight.  “Heathers” lacks everything that I love about a drama while also lacking everything that I look for in a comedy.  The amount of unnecessary crude language is offensive and should be saved for period dramas that require the language to bring the setting to life.  Meanwhile, it lacks the jokes and inherently comedic situations that make a comedy entertaining.  Don’t waste your time on this one.  I wish that I hadn’t.

[Pictured: Ryder and Slater develop great chemistry and a romantic comedy would have been lovely.  Unfortunately, that is not what you will find in "Heathers"]

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sing Street - 9 stars out of 10

Sing Street - 9 stars out of 10

Who can resist a story about writing music and pursuing your dreams?  Maybe I’m biased because of my profession but I feel like this is always a winning equation for a successful film.  “Once,” “Music & Lyrics,” “Begin Again,” they’re all great for one reason: we love to see the music in someone’s heart come to life, especially when the characters use music to express what they cannot say out loud.  “Sing Street” takes these concepts and transports them into 1980’s Dublin to create a magical coming-of-age story about a group of outcasts who are united by rock music.  The story is a good balance of comedy and drama (heavier on the drama) with catchy 80’s music at its core.  The soundtrack of classic 80’s songs by Duran Duran and Phil Collins is nostalgic but actually gets outshined by the original songs written by Gary Clark.  These songs infuse the sound of the 80’s with a modern feel that makes the characters’ reaction to the music seem relevant and authentic.  Each song is catchier than the last and you will find yourself buying them online before the end credits finish rolling.  Director John Carney deserves a lot of credit for his originality.  “Once” captured our hearts with its folk music and unique boy-meets-girl-and-she-inspires-his-music story.  It was so good that they turned it into an award-winning Broadway show.  It seemed like “Begin Again” was doomed to either feel like the same story with a new setting or lack the imagination of the original, but it was wonderful in completely new ways and felt so original that you would never believe that it came from the same director.  “Sing Street” seemed like it would face the same challenges but a different time period, style of music, and age range of its characters makes it feel fresh with few comparisons to Carney’s other films.  The film is beautifully shot through the eyes of both the band members and the music videos that they create.  Every great movie musical has some sort of “fantasy” scene and they nailed it with the first school dance sequence.  I personally adored the “Up” sequence when the camera pans around the room and the different characters appear with their instruments.  I can’t figure out how it was shot and I love that.  Of course, this film completely hinges on the casting of Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor.  I am so thankful that Carney casts his films with real musicians who possess real musical talent.  Ferdia began his career as a trained classical singer which allowed him “regress” his voice to a weaker singing tone at the beginning and give the illusion of a vocal maturation throughout the film.  Most actors-turned-singers can only show us their best phase of singing because they have limited time to learn proper vocal technique but the casting of a singer opens up the possibility to see this growth.  His transformation is both vocal and physical as his clothing and make-up seem to progress through several phases of 80’s rock.  Essentially, he becomes what every insecure teenage boy wishes he could be.  I also love the casting of Lucy Boynton as Raphina.  She has that “80’s dream girl” look and the chemistry between the leads is as good as you will find in any film with teen actors (especially considering that they are over 4 years apart in age)!  My main criticism is that this is a two-man show, much like Carney’s other films.  I wish that we could have gotten to know the other members of the band a bit better and I felt like I needed some closure with characters like Conor’s brother.  Perhaps the beauty of the ending is contained in the unresolved storylines as each character is left with hope, regardless of how high or how low they may be at the moment.  “Sing Street” is a dynamic story with relatable high school characters and catchy original 80’s music.  You won’t want to miss this one and now it’s time to start holding our breath for whatever project John Carney might tackle next!

[Pictured: "Sing Street" is a feel-good movie with an important dose of realism]

Monday, December 12, 2016

In the Valley of Elah - 5 stars out of 10

In the Valley of Elah - 5 stars out of 10

“In the Valley of Elah” is a crime-solving drama that focuses more on the drama than the action.  Part of my unimpressed reception of the film could be due to the number of fast-paced thrillers that I have been watching lately.  The investigative portions of the film are very interesting but the entire thing is so slow-paced that it seems like a lot of waiting for each little discovery.  I realize that the theme of the film is post-traumatic stress disorder and not the investigation itself, but the lack of action really makes it tough to wait for the next thing to happen.  The story is a complete downer with constant anti-war sentiments, so be ready for that when you start watching.  Even the score is two hours of sad violin music.  Tommy Lee Jones is okay in this purposely emotionless role but it doesn’t have the luster that we expect from an Oscar nominee.  Charlize Theron has a few moments, though many of them become too drawn out as we’re waiting for the next thing to happen.  Susan Sarandon, James Franco, and Josh Brolin are completely underutilized and I couldn’t really even figure out why they were in this film (unless they just wanted to be a part of the film’s political statement).  The casting directors would have done better to save money and cast unknowns for the two minutes of screentime that each of these characters received.   “In the Valley of Elah” is a decent drama with a few interesting crime twists, but the purposeful desensitized emotions of the characters cause it to plod along to its slow and dismal ending.

[Pictured: Neither Jones or Theron reach their potential, but you have to love the scenes where he does her job better than she does]

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made - 8 stars out of 10

Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made - 8 stars out of 10

“Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made” is a quirky documentary, but it is also kind of genius.  This story is 30+ years in the making and its origins are just as fascinating as its current predicament.  In 1982, a trio of 11-year-old friends began work on a shot-for-shot recreation of “Raiders of the Lost Arc.”  Not only did they decide to take on one of the greatest action films to date, but they had to do so before VCRs and home video was an option!  Their early storyboarding of the film is incredible on its own, but the actually filming is even more fantastic.  The documentary is full of stories that involve nearly burning down a house, almost being run over, dealing with the police, and the resourceful MacGyver-like techniques used to bring these special effects to life on a budget that consisted of… their allowances.  Unfortunately, there was one scene that was impossible to film with their lack of resources: the airplane explosion.  Their incomplete film became a cult favorite at film festivals but now, it is time to invest the money into completing this final scene.  One of the coolest parts of the film is seeing these boys grow up and watching the support that they now receive from their own children in pursuing their dreams.  But there is a greater theme to this film than following your dreams.  I feel that it really captures the imagination of a generation that didn’t need the newest phone, tablet, and video game system to have fun.  It is that group of “Sandlot” kids that would play baseball all summer, the group of “Goonies” kids who went on one final adventure.  But the people in this documentary are not characters – they are real kids who lived the dream of every nostalgic coming-of-age film.  “Raiders!” captures a piece of our childhood that has been lost in modern generations.  Get ready unrefined acting, improvisatory special effects, and a strong dose of nostalgia.

[Pictured: This seems like the least-likely crew to recreate "Raiders of the Lost Arc"]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Paycheck - 6 stars out of 10

Paycheck - 6 stars out of 10

“Paycheck” is an interesting sci-fi thriller whose clever story is the driving force of the film.  The main character, a reverse engineer, steals the inventions of competing companies and then undergoes a “memory wipe” in order to avoid implicating himself or his employers.  This creates a fresh new take on the amnesia or short-term memory loss plot device.  Things really get interesting when  the FBI is trying to track him down and he is able to evade capture through a series of everyday objects contained in a mysterious envelope.  I would go on about how clever the script is but I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises.  Director John Woo maximizes the potential for action sequences and intensity within this story.  The issue is that the script and direction are undermined by the acting.  Ben Affleck is one of my least-favorite actors.  With the exception of “Gone Girl,” I have never found his performances to be believable.  Something about the delivery of his lines always seems fake and this is a prime example.  When you pair him with Uma Thurman, another star that I don’t care for (with the exception of “Kill Bill”), this was a recipe for disaster based on my personal taste.  Conversely, Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite character actors and Aaron Eckhart is always entertaining.  They just were not in the film enough to draw attention away from the awkward chemistry between Affleck and Thurman.  Even though the acting leaves something to be desired, I will probably watch this film several more times in my lifetime.  “Paycheck” isn’t as good as a lot of other sci-fi thrillers but it delivers the satisfaction of seeing a series of unrelated puzzle pieces and slowly revealing how they fit together.  And you don’t even realize that there is one piece missing until the credits begin to roll!

[Pictured: "Paycheck" has plenty of action and intrigue, but this picture captures the awkwardness of the lead actors]

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Allied - 7 stars out of 10

Allied - 7 stars out of 10

“Allied” is an unexpectedly good romantic thriller from director Robert Zemeckis.  Though we all recognize him as the director of “Back to the Future,” it is easy to forget (or not even realize) that his credits include “Cast Away,” “The Polar Express,” “Contact,” “Forrest Gump,” and many others.  He is a diverse director with hits that span several different genres so it should be no surprise that this non-science-y film is so good.  The story is fascinating, the mystery keeps you guessing up until the very end and, even though there are so many wrong ways that this film could end, it has the perfect conclusion.  The previews emphasized the romanticism of the story but the final product reads as a WWII period piece with an emphasis on the challenges of serving in the military.  This disconnect is created by the pacing of the script which spends half of the film developing the characters before the actual love story even begins.  The end result is a feeling that we watched a war film and not a love story.  The setting is brought to life through impressive costume design and sweeping shots of the Moroccan desert that are reminiscent of “Lawrence of Arabia.”  I appreciated the moments of beautiful cinematography, especially the mirror shot in the club.  I also found the assassination scene to be visually arresting and the ending engages us so well (I shed a tear) because of the cinematography.  This visual beauty pairs well with the emotional, multi-faceted acting of Marion Cotillard.  Her performance definitely makes a strong argument for an Oscar nomination.  Her complex character is complimented by Brad Pitt whose French is surprisingly good (but as the plot of the film dictates, much more Quebec than Parisian).  I don’t think that this is his best performance but Cotillard makes him look so good that they both come out looking brilliant.  While the film has so much going for it, it is ruined by gratuitous sexual content that is simply not necessary.  I understand that half of this story is about a passionate relationship that clouds the characters’ judgment but a lot can be implied without showing so much skin and thrusting.  A prime example is the car scene.  The symbolism of the sandstorm is beautiful as it rapidly escalates from calm to tumultuous and reflects what is happening in the car.  There are so many perfect moments to cut away and let the weather tell the rest of the scene… but it doesn’t.  Instead of enjoying a beautifully crafted piece of cinema, we experience a growing apprehension of “are they really going to show more?”  These scenes should enhance the love story but they are so uncomfortable that they take us out of the moment.  It is a shame because those few scenes (combined with a slew of unnecessary f-words) undo much of the good that comes from the strong acting and beautiful camerawork.  “Allied” is an interesting story that brings the espionage aspect of WWII to life but I will stick to watching an edited version on tv in order to avoid several scenes that I do not care to see again.

[Pictured: The costumes and cinematography give the entire film a stunning visual appeal]

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hoot - 1 star out of 10

Hoot - 1 star out of 10

“Hoot” is a piece of work.  It is everything that is wrong with family films.  Every time that Disney releases a new film, families flock to the theater for an experience that will be entertaining and meaningful to all.  While the most important thing is for Disney to make families happy, they also make the critics happy.  If you look at their 2016 releases, Rotten Tomatoes rates them at 98% (Moana), 86% (Pete’s Dragon), 75% (The BFG), 94% (Finding Dory), 30% (Alice Through the Looking Glass), 94% (The Jungle Book), and 98% (Zootopia).  There is no excuse for a production company to release a film like “Hoot” that earned a whopping 26% when Disney can put out a consistent stream of quality, family-friendly films.  While this is a review for “Hoot,” I think it is important that we acknowledge that we all take Disney films for granted.

Now back to the movie at hand.  What makes it so bad?  Here is a short list: Poor acting, a bad script, an unnecessary Jimmy Buffet character, 17-year-old Brie Larson playing a middle school student, a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet singing a compilation of his own and other peoples’ music, a tired “Save the Earth” story, and an unnecessary closing credits song by Jimmy Buffet called “Good Guys Win (Every Once In A While).”  It contains nearly every stereotype of a poorly made family film, complete with a big bully that gets beat up by a little protagonist, a clumsy cop (played by none other than… Luke Wilson?) and a Tiananmen Square-style showdown with a bulldozer.  I’m sure that kids were entertained by this movie but there is literally nothing in it for adults, which I consider to be a failure on the part of the writers.  Disney has shown us that kids movies can appeal to the entire film (and movie critics!) but “Hoot” completely fails to cater to anyone other than preteens.

[Pictured: Bulldozers make great hiding places - important lessons learned from "Hoot"]

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Before I Go to Sleep - 7 stars out of 10

Before I Go to Sleep - 7 stars out of 10

“Before I Go to Sleep” is a psychological thriller that explores the concept of short term memory loss.  The critics cited it as a poorly executed copycat of Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.”  As a huge fan of Nolan’s film, I was a bit suspicious after reading the unanimously unfavorable reviews but was pleased with the final result.  The storyboarding of the film was completely different (linear with flashbacks vs. non-linear), the video journal was approached differently than “Memento’s” idea of tattooing important information on your body, and the overall tone was very different.  While none of these differences hurt the film, some other did.  This story is less believable as the main character’s brain conveniently resets itself each night and several characters don’t ask questions in moments where they should; still, it is a riveting story that keeps you guessing until the very end.  Nicole Kidman gives her best performance since “Rabbit Hole” and, with better reviews from the critics, probably could have completely relaunched her career.  The script affords her the opportunity to give intense portrayals of several different emotions within her ever-changing character.  Colin Firth may be even more impressive in his surprisingly dark and mysterious role.  With these performances, it is hard to believe that the critics didn’t have some mercy even if they found the story to be unoriginal.  No movie will ever match the creativity of “Memento” but this film is still really good if you look at it through its own lens.  “Before I Go to Sleep” brings a fresh approach to creative nature of films involving short term memory loss and its unexpected ending might even leave a tear in your eye.

[Pictured: The relationship between Kidman and Firth is incredibly uncomfortable and drives the entire story]

Friday, November 25, 2016

Arrival (2016) - 10 stars out of 10

Arrival (2016) - 10 stars out of 10

“Arrival” is a story of communication and language in an impossible circumstance.  Its unique science fiction setting might seem off-putting to a lot of viewers but this is truly a film that every moviegoer will enjoy.  I think that it is an easily relatable sci-fi movie because it does not take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  The events of this film could take place today in our own backyard.  Moreover, this film appeals to our sense of realism through a scientific approach to language.  The story is driven by the concept of linguistic relativity which hypothesizes that the structure of a language shapes the way that we perceive the world around us.  Much like the language of the heptapods, the entire film is circular and in the end, we see all of the pieces of the story as a whole.  It also helps that these otherworldly, animal-like aliens are different than the humanoids that we have come to expect from alien movies.  There is no question that this will be the Oscar-winning, mind-bending science fiction hit of 2016.  A Best Actress nomination for Amy Adams is inevitable.  She boldly carries the entire film on her shoulders with intensity, several different dynamics of raw emotion, and convincing interaction with the CGI.  I love that her character approaches linguistic communication with a teaching methodology.  This further enhances the realism when compared with a film like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in which a simple tonal language allows both sides to miraculously speak through music.  Jeremy Renner also turns in a nice performance through the chemistry that develops with Adams as the film progresses.  My main disappointment with the film is Forest Whitaker.  His presence in a film brings an expectation of great acting but his character is completely static and could have been played by any average actor, leaving me wondering why he signed on.  In spite of this small letdown, “Arrival” is a great film from top to bottom.  It answers all of the right questions to leave us satisfied but leaves enough questions unanswered to maintain the mystery.  Whether you are a fan of science fiction or not, “Arrival” is the movie that you need to see before Oscar Sunday.

[Pictured: The film's approach to deciphering linguistics is stunning]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Monkey Business (1952) - 4 stars out of 10

Monkey Business (1952) - 4 stars out of 10

“Monkey Business” (not the Marx Brothers version) is a silly film about a scientist who discovers a youth serum.  You need to approach this film realizing that there is 0% realism contained within and that it is just an excuse to put famous adult actors into juvenile situations.  If you are a fan of Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, you will get a kick out of watching them act like 8-year-olds.  Unfortunately, what would make for a fun 10-minute sequence turns into an entire film and loses its charm after a while.  The cheesiness of the film is apparent even before the end of the opening credits, with Grant interrupting them only to be told “Not yet, Cary.”  Even with the star power of Grant and Rogers, Marilyn Monroe is the most memorable actress (probably because she doesn’t act like a child so we take her more seriously).  “Monkey Business” (not the Marx Brothers version) isn’t exactly a classic like “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “Some Like It Hot” but it is amusing and worth watching for a few good laughs.


[Pictured: The juvenile sequences are really funny.  There are just far too many of them]

Monday, November 21, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane - 9 stars out of 10

10 Cloverfield Lane - 9 stars out of 10

Ever since I saw “Cloverfield” in theaters, I have been dreaming of its sequel.  And it is nothing like I expected.  Rumors of a parallel found footage film of the same events shot from another angle sounded incredible but the sequel that actually came to fruition aspired beyond a retelling of the original.  “10 Cloverfield Lane” is barely connected to its predecessor but delivers the thrills that we were promised.  The film sets its tone with a stunning opening sequence that creates a heightened sense of being trapped through its musical score and amplified sound fx.  Even though we are drawn in by the mystery of what may be happening to the world (if anything), the film is actually about being a victim.  This underlying theme takes many forms throughout the film and you won’t even realize it until the end credits begin to role.  Unlike the effects-driven story of “Cloverfield,” this story relies completely on the incredible performances by John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr.  The film would fall flat with anything less than virtuosic acting and all three thrive as the script peels away each layer of their personality.  The film creates a fascinating mystery outside of the bunker and yet, the true mystery lies within Goodman’s character.  I know that he won’t earn an Oscar nomination for this performance but he deserves to be there.  I love the normalcy throughout the set as the outside world seems to fall apart.  The inclusion of oldies is reminiscent of J.J. Abrams’ work on “Lost” and I can’t help but wonder about the significance of these songs in his films.  As the mystery descended deeper and deeper, my worry of an unsatisfying conclusion grew stronger.  The ending has definitely been the most controversial part of this movie and it took several days to properly form an opinion on it.  While it may seem disjointed from the rest of the story, I actually think that it is the only proper way to end the character’s journey.  There are plenty of articles out there to spoil the ending for you so I won’t dig in too deep, but I feel that anything predictable would leave an incomplete story arc.  Once you reflect on the film, you will realize that the character’s transformation happens much later than you initially thought, further necessitating the shocking finale.  I am still trying to figure out how this film is connected to the original but does it really matter?  “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a seminar in impressive acting, chilling dialogue, endless layers of mystery, and an empowering moral.  Maybe we will understand its relationship to a found-footage monster film someday but until then, it stands strong on its own.

[Pictured: This film is so tense that it will leave your stomach in knots.]

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler - 7 stars out of 10

Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler - 7 stars out of 10

“Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler” is riveting documentary about a man on a quest for redemption.  The title seems like it should refer to an adventurer like The Crocodile Hunter or Indiana Jones who must face off against a slithery foe; however, this is actually a film that chronicles a video gamer’s journey to reclaim his high score on Nibbler.  Nibbler is not your average video game.  It was notable as being the first game to include a score that went up to 999,999,999, meaning that it provided the ultimate challenge of scoring 1 billion points.  In order to ascertain this score, one would have to potentially play the game for 40 hours.  Through a series of interviews and clever animations (which are much more entertaining than the often lifeless reenactments that we see in documentaries), we learn the story of teenager Tim McVey’s 1984 Nibbler marathon in which he broke the billion point barrier.  Once McVey (not the terrorist) discovers that an Italian gamer claims to have beaten his record but cannot officially verify it, McVey sets off on a quest to settle the debate by achieving a higher score.  Throughout his journey, we learn about the marathon strategy of building up enough extra lives so that he can walk away for several minutes to eat, use the bathroom, or dunk his hands in ice while the game continues to play itself.  The story is full of interesting characters, unexpected twists, and an epic scandal.  You might not expect that a documentary about a simplistic arcade game could hold your attention for an hour and a half but “Man vs. Snake” creates so much suspense that you won’t be able to look away!

[Pictured: The animated segments are a great way to recreate scenes from McVey's climb to the top!]

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sully - 7 stars out of 10

Sully - 7 stars out of 10

“Sully” seems to have everything that you could hope for in an Oscar nominee: a strong performance by Tom Hanks, direction by Clint Eastwood, a topical event in American history, the emotions of a plane full of victims, and a fascinating disaster sequence.  Surprisingly, it hit well below the mark of expectation.  I can’t imagine that anybody would walk out of the theater disappointed, as it satisfies our curiosity about the events surrounding the Hudson River landing.  But it seems like such an obvious Oscar pick on the surface that it simply does not live up to that standard.  The script hits all of the right notes, focusing on the humble yet heroic Sullenberger, serving as an homage to New York’s first responders, and utilizing the vast array of emotions displayed by the passengers on the plan.  The script also hinders the story’s development.  It presents the events from several perspectives including the pilot, the passengers, the ferry boat operators, and air traffic control, but it becomes one too many reenactments of the crash sequence.  We walk into this film wanting to learn more about the events surrounding the Hudson River landing but by the time the last enactment rolls around, it is nearly a direct repetition of the previous one.  I was also disappointed to discover that the film’s portrayal of the NTSB is inaccurate, painting them as a group of prosecutors trying to force guilt upon the captain.  It makes for good drama as it emphasizes the humility of Sully in the face of his detractors, but it also strays from the true events of the hearing.  The film boasts good performances from Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, Laura Linney, and particularly Hanks.  He is convincing with gray hair and the role fits his likeable personality; however, when you rank this performance within his larger body of work, it comes out as average.  The largest disappointment was some of the airplane special effects that resembled a video game or simulation, while other moments would easily be confused with live footage of this catastrophic event.  If some of the special effects can be realistic, they all should be realistic.  "Sully" will not live up to your Oscar expectations but if you can view it outside of that lens, it successfully delivers a heroic story about a selfless man who saved a plane full of people.



[Pictured: Hanks rocks the gray hair, Eckhart's mustache is off the cuff, and then something happens involving an airplane]

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Monsters (2010) - 6 stars out of 10

Monsters (2010) - 6 stars out of 10

"Monsters" is an alien film that is more about people than it is about aliens.  The film is set against a backdrop of enormous alien beings that inhabit an "infected zone" on the border or Mexico and America, but the focus of the story is the developing relationship between two survivors as they journey to the American border.  There are a few moments of intense alien attacks but the majority of the film is conversational in nature.  The acting of Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able is decent but the unique setting is the real draw for this film.  There is something compelling about this abnormal-yet-not-quite-post-apocalyptic world in Mexico.  The imagery of gas masks, warheads, and giant squid-like aliens is contrasted by the typical lifestyle that the residents of Mexico live as they accept the threat as a part of their reality.  The unanswered questions regarding the aliens are definitely more compelling than the actual plot.  Also, the ending created some compelling questions to be answered by a sequel but Rotten Tomatoes tells me that the sequel missed its mark and is not worth wasting your time.  There are better alien movies and better dramas than “Monsters,” but this film is worth seeing for its creepy imagery and presentation of a world where humans attempt to live with inevitable alien attacks.

[Pictured: The giant alien monster carcasses laying on top of buildings are a bit unnerving]

Saturday, November 5, 2016

We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story - 2 stars out of 10

We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story - 2 stars out of 10

If I mention an animated Steven Spielberg film about dinosaurs, what is the first thing to come to your mind?  I doubt that it is “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story.”  This is just another cheap attempt to get a piece of Disney’s success during the Renaissance.  How did Spielberg get sucked into this one?  It has plenty of big names, a score by James Horner, and a song performed by Little Richard, but the entire thing is painfully cheesy and trite.  When you consider that this film hit theaters between Disney’s releases of “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” it emphasizes its lack of quality in an era of critically acclaimed animation.  Even better: this film was released the same year as “Jurassic Park”!  Was it meant to be a companion piece to Spielberg’s box-office shattering dinosaur thriller?  This is probably the first time that one studio managed to create a box-office smash AND a box-office bomb about dinosaurs in the same year.  The main issue is the film’s shallow story.  The sight gags, stereotypical 90’s children, and simplistic plot probably appeals to kids but leaves the adults feeling like they were conned into watching something that is (frankly) stupid.  The concept of running away to join the circus was popular in the early 20th century but seems awkward in a 90’s setting where kids enjoy technology and skateboarding.  Not to mention the inevitable disappointment when any young viewer expects to see living dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History.  They tried to make up for the plot with big names like John Goodman (good choice, good man), Martin Short (but as a dimwitted clown with strong convictions?), Jay Leno (an awkward choice for an animated film), Julia Child (also awkward), Kenneth Mars (King Trident, stolen from Disney), Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit, also stolen from Disney), and Walter Cronkite.  Even with a great plot, this random group of actors (and news journalists?!?!?) would have struggled to build chemistry.  The entire film feels disjointed, pointless, and lacks the heart of Disney’s animated output.  But it has a Ferris Bueller-proportioned parade, so there’s that.  “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” is able to hold the attention of young kids and make them terrified of the circus, but certainly not a film that will please the entire family.  If you are really craving an animated Steven Spielberg film about dinosaurs, stick with “The Land Before Time.”


[Pictured: Cute cartoon dinosaurs running around New York City: so much potential, so much disappointment]

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Core (2003) - 4 stars out of 10

The Core (2003) - 4 stars out of 10

“The Core” is an average science fiction movie.  Emphasis on the fiction.  I really enjoyed the concept and feel that it is strongly acted, but these positive attributes are offset by the far-fetched moments that create a constant challenge to maintain our suspension of disbelief.  Following the film’s release, many scientists weighed in on the complete lack of scientific accuracy from start to finish.  While the film brings about feelings of nostalgia toward sci-fi films of old, it completely goes against the movement to bring more real science into science fiction movie.  It is laughable when comparing “The Core” to films like “Interstellar” and “Primer.”  Even with its inaccuracies, this concept probably would have fared better in an era of more advanced CGI.  Every exterior shot of the Virgil tunneling through the earth looks cartoonish, and the lava is even worse!  The effects create disconnect with the realism of the drama inside of the ship.  Unfortunately, most people miss out on the interesting social themes of the film because they are watching for the action sequences.  It makes sense that quality actors like Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo signed on to bring this script to life.  They did their part but the effects added in postproduction did not.  In the name of science fact, most critics were quick to condemn any person who enjoyed this film; however, I will pass no judgment on any person who enjoys “The Core” for its acting and feelings of nostalgia.  Just don’t try to convince anybody that this could actually happen.

[Pictured: So many good actors inside of the ship, so many bad special effects outside of the ship, and so many scientific inaccuracies jading the entire film]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mascots - 6 stars out of 10

Mascots - 6 stars out of 10

"Mascots" is the latest mockumentary by Christopher Guest.  It shares many similarities with his film "Best In Show," particularly the format of interviewing various contestants in a competition, following them as they travel, and chronicling the inevitable disasters that develop during the actual competition.  The difference is that the dogs are swapped out in favor of absurd mascots from various countries and cultures.  Many of the usual suspects from Guest's films are back including Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, Ed Begley Jr., and Fred Willard.  A few of the characters (Mike Murray who is played by Zach Woods and Corky St. Claire who is played by Guest himself) were completely underutilized.  Any fan of "The Office" loved Woods in the role of Gabe and when his interview opens the film, it opens our imaginations to the endless possibilities of awkwardness that he could achieve as a mascot.  When he turns out to be a minor character in this ensemble cast, those possibilities became missed potential in my mind.  Conversely, I understand that Corky St. Claire (the beloved character that Guest played in "Waiting for Guffman") was intended to be a cameo appearance.  The issue is that this character is so hilarious that any inclusion smaller than a lead role was going to leave us wanting more.  The most absurd character in the film is Tommy "The Fist" Zucarello, a stereotypical Irish boozer whose hot-headed personality/womanizing is perfect for a hockey mascot that is a giant fist.  Chris O'Dowd brings the perfect attitude and grit to the role.  The show-stealer is Tom Bennett as the legacy hedgehog mascot for a British soccer team.  Amidst the chaos, he undergoes a coming-of-age experience that ties together this series of absurd vignettes.  The mascots and corresponding personalities of each character are creative but don't gel together as well as the characters in many of Guest's other stories.  I would definitely recommend "Mascots" for its entertainment value and unique story but, after fans of Christopher Guest mockumentaries have seen it once, they will likely leave it behind in favor of "Spinal Tap" and "Guffman" as their go-to dose of stupid humor.

[Pictured: Guest came up with a great variety of mascots, some believable but most absurd]

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Walt Disney Presents: Disneyland 1961 - 9 stars out of 10

Walt Disney Presents: Disneyland 1961 - 9 stars out of 10

“Disneyland 1961” delivers everything that I am always hoping for out of a park grand opening tv special.  This program provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the park, an explanation of expansion from Walt Disney, and then an extensive look at the rides and attractions throughout the park.  It truly feels like a visit to Disneyland is like experiencing your favorite Disney movies and tv shows.  It would have been impossible to watch this back in 1961 without getting an immediate and strong desire to pack up and go.  A modern viewing captures a classic perception of the world’s first theme park while still creating an intense desire to visit the park.  I was particularly taken with the detailed looks at the Matterhorn, train, and submarine voyage.  The special is filled with catchy songs about the rides and a fireworks finale!  I would love to have some Disney World specials like this one to share with my children before their first visit.  Whether you are looking for nostalgia or a historic look at the growth of Disneyland, “Walt Disney Presents: Disneyland 1961” is a must watch!

Watch the special here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgug68QQxls


[Pictured: We can all look up a POV of The Matterhorn on YouTube, but it’s just not the same as this tv special’s high-speed compilation]