Sunday, December 31, 2017

Babel (2006) - 2 stars out of 10

Babel (2006) - 2 stars out of 10

I love films with several unrelated storylines that all converge on a single moment.  I love the use of nonlinear storytelling to create perspective-altering twists.  I love films by Alejandro González Iñárritu.  Based on my taste in movies, I should have loved “Babel.”  So why did I give it such a low rating?  Because it just wasn’t that good.  In spite of its long list of award nominations, it won very few of these awards.  The nominations are a reflection of the weaknesses of every other film in 2006 rather than a reflection of “Babel’s” quality.  I especially do not feel the film was worthy of its Oscar for Best Original Score, but this once again reflects the weakness of films in 2006.  The one worthy nomination from this film is Adriana Barraza for Best Supporting Actress.  This category generally seeks a moment where an actor’s emotional moment cuts through the screen and feels completely real, even if their character is only in the film for 7 minutes (i.e. Anne Hathaway in “Les Mis”).  Barraza’s desert sequence was the most emotionally engaging part of the film.  On the flip side, Rinko Kikuchi was completely undeserving of an Oscar nomination.  Successful portrayals of disabled characters deserve to be acknowledged (Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot,” Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,”), but Kikuchi’s character left so much room for emotion that went unfulfilled.  I question whether this nomination was an acknowledgement of her willingness to display grotesque nudity because the acting was not deserving.  Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett had some nice moments but not enough to create an emotional attachment.  One success of the film is its ability to transition between stories without feeling disjointed.  It has a nice flow that helps us to understand each individual story and how they work together as a whole.  I continue to struggle with the Japanese portion of the film which has the weakest relationship to the tie-in event, especially since the Kikuchi’s character is completely unrelated.  I see the merit in exploring her character but it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film.  “Babel” is an interesting story of how a single event can create ripples across the world.  Its thesis is strong but once you see it on screen, it just feels like watching a bunch of depressed characters trying to get through to the end of the film.

[Pictured: These boys are the best part of the film but their characters are barely explored.  If we could have seen more of their story and less of Kikuchi's, the film would be much better.]

Friday, December 29, 2017

Wild Wild West - 3 stars out of 10

Wild Wild West - 3 stars out of 10

I don’t know what I expected from a futuristic Will Smith Western, but I shouldn’t have expected a logical plot or a single serious moment.  “Wild Wild West” is a silly buddy film that embraces slapstick comedy and cheesy one-liners.  The steampunk style and experimentation with CGI gives the film an amazing visual appeal, especially with its gadgets and giant mechanical spider/Star Wars AT-AT rip-off.  It is difficult to judge the quality of the film since it is good for what it is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean quality acting or a quality script.  I enjoy watching Will Smith and Kevin Kline dress up like women as much as the next guy, but that gives you a general idea of what type of movie you are getting into.  The shining star of the film is Kenneth Branagh as the villain, Dr. Loveless.  He is a master at playing sophisticated Shakespearean roles and this turn as an unrecognizable slapstick villain emphasizes his acting versatility.  The film gets better as it progresses.  I found myself rolling my eyes a lot at the beginning but by the time we got to the swordfight scene, I was laughing out loud.  I’m amazed that Elmer Bernstein signed on to compose the score for this film.  It was the film’s saving grace for me, truly capturing the classic Western feel.  Your taste in movies will determine whether you love or hate “Wild Wild West,” but I think that we can all agree that the best thing to come out of this film is Will Smith’s titular rap song.

[Pictured: The giant steampunk spider machine is a total “Star Wars” rip-off, but it’s also totally cool]

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Romeo & Juliet (2013) - 3 stars out of 10

Romeo & Juliet (2013) - 3 stars out of 10

I had high hopes for this remake of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy.  With the creator of “Downton Abbey” at the helm, it seemed like this interpretation would help the centuries-old story reach a new generation much like Baz Luhrmann’s modernized version did in 1996.  Unfortunately, a few bad decisions in the pre-production process caused this ship to sink before it left port.  My key issue with this film is its script.  Any time that you take on a classic of this magnitude, you have to keep the building blocks in place.  In the instance of anything Shakespeare, those building blocks are the monologues and dialogue which he has already laid out in play form.  It is up to the director to place these words into a context that reaches beyond the capabilities of the Renaissance stage.  Whether they do this by filming in visually astounding scenic locations, capturing the essence of the setting through costuming, or even replacing the swords with guns to emphasize the timelessness of the themes, the key is to enhance Shakespeare’s words through the use of movie magic.  The production staff of this adaptation failed miserably in this respect.  Rather than preserving the source material, they selected excerpts of his original text to tell their version of the story.  The end result feels like a CliffsNotes summary of events without most of the emotions that we feel when experiencing the original.

My other issue with this film is the casting of Juliet: It was a horrible mistake.  I can’t blame the production crew for casting Hailee Steinfeld after her Oscar-nominated performance as Mattie Ross in “True Grit.”  Everybody walked away from that film completely blown away by her acting maturity and ability to command the screen.  I don’t know if it was poor direction or too much pressure for a 16-year-old to take on this iconic role, but her entire performance is underacted.  I found myself growing upset as she glossed over some of literature's greatest monologues.  How can anybody rush through the “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” and “Come, gentle night” soliloquies with so little emotion or thought?  Her underacting becomes more obvious as you realize how perfectly the remainder of the actors are cast.   Douglas Booth is incredible as Romeo, bringing passion to every single line that he delivers.  Paul Giamatti is consistently one of the best character actors of this generation and he lives up to his reputation as the Friar Lawrence.  Mercutio and Tybalt were cast with raw testosterone in mind while Lesley Manville shines as the Nurse.  Even Damian Lewis manages to create a breathtaking moment in the small role of Lord Capulet.  These wonderful performances should help us to see past Steinfeld and the altered script but more issues arrived with the editing process.  The editors seemed to lack an understanding of the pacing of a stage play, which creates definitive breaks between each scene.  Without these breaks, the story feels rushed and it becomes difficult to mentally transition from one set of events to the next.  Sure enough, this adaptation eliminated pushes one scene into the next without a moment to breathe.  This is worsened by a musical score that also treats the entire film like a single long scene.  The music seems to continually play on a loop in the background instead of developing themes that could create a buildup to the big moments in the story.  I especially noticed this in the wedding scene, which seemed to come and go without much thought or emphasis.  It seems like it would take a lot of effort to ruin such a classic story, but they managed to do so!  This adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet” falls so completely short of Shakespeare’s masterwork that it does not even deserve to bear the same name.

[Pictured: The film is full of great performances, but it doesn't matter when the script is built with the wrong building blocks]

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Boss Baby - 7 stars out of 10

The Boss Baby - 7 stars out of 10

The characteristic that separates Disney from other animation studios is their ability to reach audiences on multiple levels.  It can be painful to watch a film like "Hoodwinked" that panders to kids with slapstick humor and juvenile themes while completely neglecting the adults that must suffer alongside their children.  Compare this to a film like "Inside Out" that engages kids with fun imagery and lovable characters while striking a chord with the adults (who inevitably weep through the entire thing because of its deep thematic material).  Dreamworks may not have achieved Disney-level animation with "The Boss Baby" but I applaud them for creating this story that works well on multiple levels.  On one hand, kids can enjoy a fun story in which a business-class baby comes into a family in order to accomplish a secret mission.  On the other hand, adults experience the same story with the understanding that the real events are being filtered through the imagination of a child as he copes with the birth of his new baby brother.  It's very clever and further appeals to adults through well-executed allusions to Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings.  The comedic timing is great and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.  It is particularly funny if you are a parent.  Aside from the story, Alec Baldwin is the driving force behind this film.  His signature tone of voice is perfectly suited for the baby and it wouldn't be the same with anybody else.  Steve Buscemi is also a standout while the rest of the voice acting is average.  "The Baby Boss" seems like another cheesy kids cartoon but it offers more than you might expect.  It's style is more kid-focused than something like "Toy Story 3," but my mind was really blown by the totally different meanings of the story when viewed from the child and adult perspectives.  I wouldn't nominate it for an Oscar but I'd definitely recommend it as a film that children and their parents can enjoy together.

P.S. If you are a parent with one child, you will want them to have a playmate by the end of this film.

[Pictured: The animators were very clever in transforming the adult business world into the baby business world.]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Something's Gotta Give - 8 stars out of 10

Something's Gotta Give - 8 stars out of 10

I avoided “Something’s Gotta Give” for many years.  I’d always see it sitting in my Netflix queue or catch the opening credits on TBS and think “Who wants to watch a love story about old people?  Its DVD cover looks just like ‘As Good As It Gets,’ it’s probably exactly the same.”  Even with an Oscar nomination in Diane Keaton’s name, there always seemed to be something more youthful and energetic that I’d rather watch.  After dodging it for a decade, it inevitably turned out to be a great film that I wish I had seen a lot sooner.  “Something’s Gotta Give” is an intriguing romantic comedy that grabs your attention with the chemistry of its actors and then keeps you engaged with a story that moves in unexpected directions.  Most films create drama with a love triangle but this film has so many triangles that it is basically a lesson in geometry.  The initial love triangle is a little awkward but perfectly sets up the remainder of the story.  Jack Nicholson lights up the screen as an old-but-energetic music producer who loves to date women of a much younger age.  Keaton is a worthy adversary when it comes to putting him in his place and she hits a ton of different emotional notes throughout the film.  The montage of moments when she bursts into tears is magnificent.  Even though she gets overshadowed by the film’s lead veterans, I truly loved Amanda Peet in this film.  Keanu Reeves offers the quality of acting that we generally expect from him but gets to deliver one of the most underrated great comedic lines in all of film: [Holds up flowers] "These are for you to give me when you apologize."  The script is fantastic as it gives us an expectation and then spoils it.  You will be expecting the movie to resolve and end after an hour, and then the plot goes in a really great direction.  Especially once Nicholson sees the play.  “Something’s Gotta Give” will have you laughing out loud and loving every unexpected moment that appears from start to finish.

[Pictured: The script is great but the chemistry between every pairing of characters is what makes this film special]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) - 1 star out of 10

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) - 1 star out of 10

The “Jaws” series is perplexing.  The original is one of the most revered films of all time.  The original summer blockbuster.  The movie that made vacationers afraid to go in the water for years.  “Jaws 2” saw a decrease in quality as Steven Spielberg departed, knowing that it could not be done better.  After all, now that the audience had seen the shark, his Hitchcockian approach to suspense wouldn’t fly.  When that film failed and it became obvious that the series could never live up to the original, Universal decided to rely on a gimmick with “Jaws 3-D.”  The result was an abomination when compared to what preceded it.  It was so bad that they decided to completely ignore the events of “3-D,” recast the characters, and they wouldn’t even give the title a number.  Thus, “Jaws: The Revenge” was born.  It is impossible to decide whether “3-D” or “Revenge” was worse, solely because they are both so bad that they are impossible to analyze from a quality film standpoint.  Unlike the first three films in the series that were notorious for their challenging production issues and constant delays, this film was thrown together in 5 months.  The story opens in Amityville where a great white inexplicably happens to be lurking in the water, kills a policeman (who we pretend wasn’t a SeaWorld employee in the previous film), and forms a sort of psychic bond with Mrs. Brody.  She flees to the Bahamas to live with her son Mike, a graduate student studying marine biology (who we pretend wasn’t an engineer in the previous film) and to escape the shark… who manages to follow her there a day later.  This film has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Let that set in.  Michael Caine could not accept his Oscar because he was filming “The Revenge,” but even an Oscar-winner can’t bring any quality to the silly dialogue and unreasonably farfetched story.  The acting is simply horrendous and it was a sincere challenge to get to the end of the film.  The film needs the original’s slow buildup of suspense but instead, we are left with the 10% of the film where we see the shark and the other 90% where the cast is obviously biding time until the next action sequence.  I would love to see a “Jaws” reboot someday, solely so that this doesn’t have to be our final taste of the franchise.  Whatever you do, please watch the original and let that be the only “Jaws” story that you know.  Ignorance is bliss.

[Pictured: Once you’ve incorporated a shark attacking an airplane, you know that it’s probably time to stop making these movies]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

The latest big-screen adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” is much better than the critics would have you believe.  The ensemble cast does not disappoint, gathering together the talents of Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Lucy Boynton (the girl from “Sing Street”), and more!  The artistry of the film is visually beautiful while the screenplay helps to enhance and flesh out Agatha Christie’s classic mindbender.  I thought that the opening sequence was a clever way to introduce us to Poirot.  Some of the train sequences felt like they were straight out of “Snowpiercer,” but how can you have a modern Hollywood film without a disaster sequence?  Purists might dislike the rewriting of a few characters (making Cruz’s character Hispanic and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s character Cuban to match their ethnicities) but I welcomed the additional diversification of this group of strangers.  The more distinguishing characteristics between the train passengers, the better once the twist is revealed.  My main issue with the film is that, with so many great actors and interesting characters, there simply is not enough time to utilize them all.  Branagh has had great success as both an actor and a director (earning Oscars in both categories throughout his career), and he thrives in both roles throughout this production.  His multi-faceted interpretation of Poirot is Oscar-worthy and I hope that he will reprise this role in future films.  Pfeiffer has out of vogue for many years but grabs the spotlight back as Caroline Hubbard.  Had the film been better received, I believe that this performance could have revitalized her career.  My favorite performance comes from Dafoe, who never ceases to amaze me with the number of roles that he can play in a memorable way.

The main complaint of critics is the film’s slow pace, but I found the pacing necessary to build suspense and reveal each new turn of the mystery in the proper timing.  While the final 15 minutes give the impression of dragging on, it is actually a fault in the musical score that gives us this impression.  The emotion and impressive delivery of dialogue in this finale is a worthy interpretation of Agatha Christie’s ending, but the lack of thematic variety in the music creates a disjointed feel.  The theme plays throughout an important scene, then there is a brief transition in which the music pauses for a minute, then comes back in with the same material for the next scene.  This pattern continues on for several scenes and makes it seem as if the ending drags on when all that is needed to create fluidity is a varying of the music.  I don’t know if this is the fault of composer Patrick Doyle or editor Mick Audsley, but it seems like a reworking of the music toward the end could have easily created a better flow for the film.  I suspect that the critics approached this film with the attitude that the classic 1974 adaptation of the novel was good enough and that another take on it is unnecessary.  It is a shame because, with their approval, this film could’ve been an Oscar contender for its costuming, production design, and some of its actors.  If the critics would have taken the time to view “Murder on the Orient Express” as a standalone film without comparison, they probably would have loved it as much as I did.

[Pictured: It would have been impossible to choose a more exciting cast]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Jaws 3-D (1983) - 1 star out of 10

Jaws 3-D (1983) - 1 star out of 10

The only thing worse than watching "Jaws 3-D" is watching "Jaws 3-D" in 2-D.  It certainly isn't worth watching for its silly plot and without the gimmick of 3-D, you’d might as well just watch the first one a second (or third) time.  I consider "Jaws 2" to be a bad movie which forces me to categorize "Jaws 3" as utterly terrible.  Every aspect of the film is like a punch to the Jaw (see what I did there) when compared with the original.  Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” was riveting, masterfully acted, and groundbreaking in its technical execution.  I had hoped that “Jaws 2” was merely a fluke (see what I did there with the fish pun) due to its young cast, but “Jaws 3-D” manages to be significantly worse.  The acting is so bad that half of the movie seems like they left the cameras on between takes and accidentally recorded mundane, non-emotional conversations.  I’m sure that Dennis Quaid doesn’t even bother listing this film on his resume.  One of the most bothersome aspects is the shark footage, which is painfully obvious in its use of fast motion to create a sense of speed but it just makes it look incredibly fake.  Storywise, there's actually a pretty interesting twist.  If there were some sort of redemption amidst this mess, it would be that moment of realization that the film isn’t over.  Jaws invades SeaWorld – it could have been such a cool setting for a shark attack.  But the acting and technical execution of the script are so poor that it's hard to care once the twist rolls around.  “Jaws 3-D” is a total trainwreck but there is hope for the “Jaws” legacy: the next film series completely ignores the events of this film and recasts all of its horribly acts characters.  If “Jaws 3-D” never happened, the next film will redeem this sad tangent… right?

[Pictured: The film is bad enough, but watching the originally 3-D effects in 2-D makes it that much more painful]

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

Wonder Woman (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

"Wonder Woman" was a breath of fresh air amidst an over-saturated market of superhero movies.  Its interesting origin story pairs with a superb performance by Gal Gadot to keep us engaged from start to finish.  Her energy and charisma are reason enough to watch.  I've often complained about the Thor films because the concept of coming from another dimension and the cheesy sci-fi costumes that come along with it immediately take away the plausibility of the story.  Wonder Woman has a similar story that involves her being a god but is surprisingly more believable since their world exists within our world instead of requiring multi-dimensional travel.  I still don't love the moment when she's floating in the air for extended periods of time but I appreciate that her story feels believable.  The script has a good pace and calls on an action-packed moment at just the right moment every time.  Its twist is perfectly placed to bring closure at the moment that we would typically lose interest and then push the story in a fresh direction the engaged us until the end.  Throw in some menacing bad guys, the quality acting of Robin Wright, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, and well-executed special effects for a satisfying cinematic experience.  I especially loved the musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.  It offers the unique contrast of lushly orchestrated themes paired with the adrenaline-pumping electric guitar motive that drives many of the action sequences.  The range of emotions represented in this score is the icing on the cake of this complete package.  "Wonder Woman" has its cheesy moments and will never live up to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy; however, in an era where I've sworn off superhero movies, I would actually see this one twice.

[Pictured: Gal Gadot absolutely kicks butt in this role.]

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Jaws 2 (1978) - 3 stars out of 10

Jaws 2 (1978) - 3 stars out of 10

“Jaws” is a masterpiece.  I always wondered why the first film in the franchise focused on the three male leads and didn’t take time for us to get to know any of the other characters.  “Jaws 2” answers that question.  Hot off the heels of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster, Universal saw a huge money grab: create a sequel but forget the story, the shark is all that matters.  They couldn’t get Spielberg to do another film.  They couldn’t get Richard Dreyfuss to sign on.  Roy Scheider was only there due to a contractual obligation.  And the end result is a bunch of sailing sequences and annoying teenage interactions that buy time until the next shark attack.  By focusing the story on teenagers, the quality of acting is very low and you can tell that Scheider felt stifled by a film where everybody wants to see the shark instead of his lead character.  Everything success that the original film had in building suspense, showing character transformation, creating memorable moments, and engaging the audience is completely lost on this sequel.  Sadly, “Jaws 2” embodies the stereotype that we have built around this series.

[Pictured: "Jaws 2" is all about the shark and leaves every shred of quality behind]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Big Sick - 9 stars out of 10

The Big Sick - 9 stars out of 10

I adored "The Big Sick" for its concept, realism, and ability to infuse comedy into a dramatic situation without becoming an uncomfortable dark comedy.  But why did they need so many f-words?  Unfortunately, this is a prime example of the modern culture of comedy.  Dozens of f-words weren't necessary to create the realism of this plot nor did they make any moment funnier than it would have been without them.  And yet, Hollywood has dictated that a film cannot be considered “funny” without an explosion of profanity (see every Melissa McCarthy film ever created).  The true shame is that this film is full of important messages about love, race, forgiveness, and self-discovery, but its audiences will be limited solely based on this R-rating.  With an adjustment of unnecessary f-words and sacrifice of a few sexual jokes, this could be an incredible PG-13 dramatic comedy that parents could use to teach their children important lessons about the modern world.  But then it wouldn't receive any Oscar nominations, so Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani did what they had to do.  I don't blame them, but I wish that their incredible script could be experienced by a much wider audience.

Now that I've gotten that rant out of the way, I was completely mesmerized by this unique story and haven't been able to get it off of my mind since.  When you consider the pieces of this puzzle - a Pakistani stand-up comedian, an average American girl, the debate between love and arranged marriage, cultural tradition, goofball parents with their own baggage, and a medical tragedy - there is no way that these pieces should fit together.  And yet, this unbelievable/illogical story is based on true events so it has to work!  I believe that the key is the film’s tone.  The events of the story easily could have been romanticized into an overdramatic, far-fetched story.  They also could have focused on creating a sense of humorous irony around the unfortunate circumstances of the characters as we’d expect from a dark comedy.  Instead, Nanjiani and Gordon incorporate lighthearted dialogue throughout the story’s saddest moments in the same way that someone might make jokes at a funeral, allowing the moments to remain sad but maintaining a sense of happiness.  The end result feels organic and real with everything culminating in the perfect ending.  The ending's subtlety probably has RomCom fans upset that they don't get a super-emotional, tear-jerking ending, but it is necessary to preserve the realism of the story.  Nanjiani is the perfect lead character with his natural comedic timing and there is nobody better suited to tell this story than the man who lived it.  I love the casting of Zoe Kazan as she has an attractive-but-typical appearance, an endearing personality, and plays perfectly off of Nanjiani’s comedy.  She is the real reason that we want them to be together.  The depth of the cast comes from veteran actors Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff who use their acting chops to round out the otherwise young cast.  These supporting characters are well-developed with a clever contrast that helps to embody the conflict between the leads: one set of parents delivers comedy and a sense of adaptability while the other pair is more serious and deeply rooted in tradition.  Overall, I give the acting high marks as Hunter, Romano, and Nanjiani create impressive emotional moments.  I found “The Big Sick” to be topical toward many of today’s issues while maintaining a timelessness that will keep it relevant for many years to come.  I will probably never watch it again due to its extreme use of unnecessary profanity but I will always appreciate it for being a triumph of storytelling and character development.

[Pictured: You will fall in love with Nanjiani and Kazan from the very first Uber ride]

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Split (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

Split (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

“Split” is the latest mindbender from M. Night Shyamalan.  I disagree with the criticism that he has taken over the past decade (even if you hated “The Happening,” he still deserves respect for crafting “The Sixth Sense”) and I’m so happy that this film has put him back into the good graces of the critics.  The Hitchcockian approach to the film utilizes suspense to create tension from start to finish.  While the tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife, the film does drag on at a few points and I question how viewers looking for the latest horror thriller may have reacted.  Much of the film’s success lies on Shyamalan’s twisted plot and visual prowess, but we cannot discount the importance of James McAvoy’s performance.  It is essential that McAvoy establish himself as a villain (we can sympathize with his condition, but we still have to fear him); moreover, we have to be able to distinguish between his portrayal of several different personalities solely through his facial expressions and voice.  We even have to be able to tell when one personality is pretending to be another personality.  He has always been an underrated dramatic actor and proved himself to mainstream moviegoers with this masterful performance.  I won’t spoil anything, but I have to make reference that the film has an unconventional twist.  M. Night knows that we expect the unexpected at the end of his films, so he uses a twist that could never be anticipated based on the story that precedes it.  I won’t fully know how I feel about “Split” until I see it a second time.  It is a riveting thriller with fascinating characters, but I can’t help noting the similarities to “10 Cloverfield Lane” which surpasses this film in its pacing, character development, and intrigue.


[Pictured: McAvoy expertly brings several contrasting personalities to life but the real conundrum is "The Beast," a 24th personality that may or may not exist]

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Secret Life of Pets - 5 stars out of 10

The Secret Life of Pets - 5 stars out of 10

“The Secret Life of Pets” is exactly what I expected.  The trailer was a hilarious series of vignettes showing what pets do when their owners leave for the day.  Everybody wanted to see this film because it was going to be so funny!  But I had a sneaking suspicion that once we had been drawn into the theater by the clever trailer, we would find that the vignette introduction quickly gives way to a completely unrelated story.  And sure enough, five minutes into the film the slapstick ended and we were left with Illumination’s retelling of “Toy Story,” only with pets instead of toys.  The film is a nice family comedy that is full of laughs, puns, and cute characters.  I will even admit that I enjoyed it from start to finish, but the story is completely unoriginal and predictable.  The casting is interesting, filling the film with recognizable-but-not-quite-popular actors like Louis C.K., Albert Brooks, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, and Steve Coogan.  The best part of the film is probably Dana Carvey’s turn as an elderly, respy-voiced basset hound and Jenny Slate’s highly energetic voicing of Gidget.  Still, the film lacks that incredibly emotive actor whose voice helps us to connect to the film.  “The Secret Life of Pets” is a film that I will share with my children someday due to its family-friendly nature, but only after we’ve exhausted the catalog of better animated films and need a break.


[Pictured: The characters are cute, the situations are funny, the animation style is unique, but the story is unoriginal]

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Stanford Prison Experiment - 9 stars out of 10

The Stanford Prison Experiment - 9 stars out of 10

“The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a thought-provoking dramatization of the literally unbelievable experiment at Stanford University in 1971.  I have always been fascinated by this chapter in history and wish that the film had received a wider release so that everybody could experience this curiosity.  The premise of the story is that 15 college students are selected at random to take on the role of prison guard or inmate, and the situation quickly turns intense as the students struggle to separate their perception from reality.  I don’t want to dig into the plot too much because you really just need to see it to believe it.  The casting was very well done, making ever prisoner and guard seem completely ordinary and equal at the onset of the experiment.  Ezra Miller and Michael Angarano steal the show with their emotional performances, though all of the characterization is amazing as each student reacts to the experiment in a subtly different way.  The film’s only flaw is that the characters sometimes seem over-the-top.  But that’s what makes the film so amazing.  These seemingly over-the-top circumstances actually happened in this experiment!  The language is pretty strong at points, but it is necessary to create the realism of this story.  If you have never heard of this experiment or enjoy gripping thrillers, you will love “The Stanford Prison Experiment.”

[Pictured: You constantly want to reach through the screen to remind these characters that it is just an experiment, but they can't help progressively buy into their circumstances]

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Christine (2016) - 4 stars out of 10

Christine (2016) - 4 stars out of 10

“Christine” is in vogue but I wasn’t really buying it.  This exposé on depression just didn’t hit the right notes for me.  I believe for a film audience to understand the severity of depression, we must form a connection to the character so that we need them to succeed.  Unfortunately, this character is so emotionally removed from those around her that it was a struggle to form that connection.  The screenwriters tried to throw a little morbid humor into the story with self-help group, which only furthered the sense that her struggle wasn’t that serious (and maybe even comical?)  The odd occasional lighthearted tone in showing the character’s misfortunes interfered with my ability to empathize with the character and, despite what the critics have said, I think that the main issue with the film is Rebecca Hall’s interpretation of the character.  I have really enjoyed her acting in "The Awakening" and "Frost/Nixon", but there was just something lacking in her portrayal of the timid and depressed Christine Chubbuck.  The only reason that I’d recommend this film is so that you can experience the sudden climax of the story.  It is important that you do not research the character before seeing the film, lest you ruin its most surprising moment.  “Christine” deserves some credit for opening our eyes to an historical television event that you’ve probably never heard of.  However, as a social commentary on the serious nature of depression, it is a complete miss.


[Pictured: We should feel so much empathy for this character but the film's miscues in acting and screenwriting leave us watching a piece of history and immediately forgetting it ever happened]

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dunkirk (2017) - 10 stars out of 10

Dunkirk (2017) - 10 stars out of 10

Christopher Nolan is a director that has become known for his films that employ mind-bending concepts (like "Inception") and non-linear storytelling (like "Memento").  So why would he ever direct a war film?  How could his style possibly fit into a period piece of an historical event?  I carried these questions into the theater with me and walked out of the theater two hours later with my mind completely blown.  "Dunkirk" bends the rules of traditional storytelling to create a one-of-a-kind movie experience.  It's hard to say how it compares to other war films because it really needs to be in a category of its own.  First and foremost, this film will be remembered for its unique conceptual use of time.  The script intertwines three stories that occur during the evacuation of Dunkirk.  The story of the men on the land covers one week’s time, the story of the men on the sea covers one day’s time, and the story of the men in the air covers one hour’s time.  It is incredibly confusing at first as the film quickly jumps between timelines without transition, as if the events are occurring at the same time.  But once the puzzle pieces slowly come together as the three stories converge into the same time and place (seen from different perspectives), the result is unlike anything that you have ever experienced.  Beyond this creative approach, Nolan made sure that this story felt real.  He used an interesting combination of unknown actors in the main roles and a cast of all-stars in the supporting roles.  This emphasized the young age and inexperience of the ground troops while providing veteran actors to mentor their younger counterparts.  I’m sure that the presence of big names like Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance were also helpful in drawing in an audience.  To further emphasize the realism, Nolan insisted that the entire cast be British, though one of my biggest complaints is that much of the dialogue is difficult to understand due to the authentic accents.  The combination of quickly jumping between stories, thick accents, and similar style of costumes works against the film as it becomes difficult to distinguish one character from another.  Finally, Nolan’s best decision in making the film realistic was his use of practical effects and thousands of extras instead of a reliance on CGI to make the difficult scenes come to life.  I’ve grown tired of movies that look like a video game and everything in this film was real, from the sinking battleships to the airplanes dogfighting in the air.  When you combine these practical effects with the beautiful cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, it truly captures this moment in time.

Nolan’s cinematic genius is present in every strand of the film’s DNA, including his decision to place us amidst the soldiers instead of using random cutaways to warm rooms and strategists that would give us an omniscient overview.  As an audience, we are as helpless as these stranded soldiers who know very little of the escape plan.  This fits in with the theme of not knowing who these men are outside of Dunkirk.  The script includes a minimal amount of dialogue because we don’t need background information to create an emotional connection to these men.  The only thing that matters to us is whether they will escape.  Instead, the emotions are derived from Hans Zimmer’s masterwork of a score.   It is one of the greatest displays of music supporting and driving the events of a film with its relentless intensity.  Zimmer often incorporates the sound of a ticking clock into his film scores and it is incredibly appropriate within this time-centric film.  Every time that it cuts through the orchestra, it will fill you with anxiety and make you completely nervous.  He further heightens our anxious state through his use of the Shepard Tone (view a must-see YouTube explanation HERE!!).  I literally felt like I couldn't breathe for two hours because the music kept the action moving even when nothing was happening.  But the thing that nearly left me in tears was its inspired use of Elgar's "Nimrod."  Rather than simply incorporating a traditional recording of this orchestral piece as one might expect, Zimmer manipulates the piece into an incredibly slow motion with a slight echo that layers over itself.  It also adds low bass notes to shift the piece's tone from sentimental to dramatic.  The combination of this lush orchestration and the dramatic imagery onscreen may be the best movie moment of 2017.  I rarely discuss a film score in such detail but it is imperative to this film as the script includes a limited amount of dialogue so that the story can be told through the visuals and music.  You can count on seeing “Dunkirk” on the 2018 Oscar ballot in many categories including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, and Score.  It is unquestionably the best film of 2017 thus far and worth seeing twice.

[Pictured: Practical effects and thousands of extras make "Dunkirk" one of the most realistic war films ever created]

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]

Sunday, June 25, 2017

TiMER - 7 stars out of 10

TiMER - 7 stars out of 10

“TiMER” takes an absolutely amazing sci-fi concept and adapts it to be used in a romantic comedy.  And surprisingly, it fits!  The idea of having a timer that counts down to a significant life event is fascinating.  I have always felt that “In Time” took this amazing concept and completely blew it.  Lo and behold, “TiMER” already existed and perfectly executed the idea.  It will prompt self-reflection on whether you would want to know if you could, what happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t your soulmate, and whether there is a preordained plan for us to meet the right one at the right moment.  It has the style of a rom-com but the story operates on a much deeper level.  The characters are well-written to make us care about their fate, with the acting of Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, and John Patrick Amedori helping the characters feel relatable within the sci-fi context.  While I enjoyed the film, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.  It could be a perfect PG-13 comedy for parents and their teens, but then they throw a ton of unnecessary f-words into the script that limits its family appeal.  If you are tired of the romantic comedy equation, “TiMER” takes the genre to another level with its unique story.


[Pictured: Would you want to know? The story raises some really interesting questions]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trash (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

Trash (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

"Trash" is an unexpectedly interesting foreign film whose story is twofold: its unique crime storyline keeps us on edge while serving as an expose into the difficult lifestyle for the poverty stricken people of Brazil.  It is far fetched at times but never goes beyond a reasonable stretch of the imagination.  It may seem odd to have a Portuguese cast alongside Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara, but it makes sense within the context of the story.  These stars are actually outshined by their Brazilian costars, Selton Mello (the corrupt cop) and Rickson Tevez (Raphael).  These actors provide the emotional intensity the drives the entire film.  There is no weak spot amongst the deep cast of foreign actors.  The story is fairly predictable yet satisfying in that we encounter a few surprises but everything is resolved in a familiar way.  I appreciate the theme of doing what is right no matter what it takes.  Most of us would take the reward and avoid conflict but the moral compass of these characters is inspiring.  I didn't appreciate the portrayal of the missionary priest as a swearing alcoholic.  I understand that the character needs to be rough around the edges to make a difference in the slums but the character would have been much better if he was a saint at his core and chose to get his hands dirty when necessary.  Beyond the acting, the film is beautifully filmed as a travelogue of the varying socioeconomic areas of Rio de Jeneiro.  "Trash" isn't the greatest crime adventure that you will ever see but if you enjoy the genre, you will be very happy with the way that it plays out.


[Pictured: The inclusion of interview segments creates an interesting stylistic feel while fitting perfectly into the plot]

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 7 stars out of 10

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 7 stars out of 10

"The Blair Witch Project" unintentionally became one of the most important films of the 90’s.  It is an anomaly in that its importance to its genre supersedes its actual quality.  This film changed the found footage genre forever, establishing an unprecedented amount of realism within and surrounding the production of the film.  Let’s take a step back and explore the concept before we explore the actual film.  Three actors (playing the role of student filmmakers) travel deep into the Black Hills of Maryland to create a documentary about a legendary witch.  For the duration of the film, the actors were literally stranded and completely lost in the woods.  Behind the scenes, they would follow a GPS to hidden film canisters that would provide clues to their next location and individual instructions to help them to develop their characters.  Onscreen, a combination of improvised acting and pure terror creates an atmosphere that is absolutely surreal.  The terror came from the production crew who, unbeknownst to the actors, planted creepy props throughout the woods, scared them with noises throughout the night, and deprived them of food to elicit realistic, emotional responses.  The characters are never heard from again but their equipment and video footage is discovered in the woods a year later, which is what the audience is watching.  "Unsettling" is an understatement.  To further enhance the nonfictional narrative, one of the first internet viral marketing campaigns was employed to make potential audience members believe in the truth of this legend.  This included a website that listed faux police reports and evidence to portray the documentary as truth, flyers at film festivals with contact information for anybody who had information on the missing actors, listing the three actors as “Missing, presumed dead” on IMDB, and even a historical tv special on the Blair Witch legend that was aired on the SciFi Channel.

The film’s significance cannot be overstated but the film is far from perfect.  The concept leads to large portions of the film where nothing really happens, though it is all part of the buildup to the very end (which many argue is anticlimactic but I believe perfectly ties the story together).  My main issue is the extreme amount of profanity.  I understand that the actors are trying to portray the tension and terror of being lost in the woods, but most of it is unnecessary (134 f-words and 62 s-words in 81 minutes).  It is also frustrating that during the scary sequences, there is so much shaky cam that you can’t really see what is going on.  Again, this makes the story believable but causes the scene to lose its intensity.  So why do we love to watch 81 minutes of film where not much happens?  Because the concept is so unique and the emotions are so raw that the line between fiction and nonfiction is completely blurred.  This simple film had a budget of $60,000 and went on to make over $248 million at the box office.  “The Blair Witch Project” may not be most peoples’ cup of tea, but the influence of its found footage style and viral marketing campaign can still be seen in the popularity of films like “Paranormal Activity” today.


[Pictured: The iconic and most emotional moment where Heather Donahue apologizes to her family and friends amidst her terror]

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Oklahoma City (2017) - 9 stars out of 10

Oklahoma City (2017) - 9 stars out of 10

"Oklahoma City" is a comprehensive look at the events leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing as well as the aftermath of this tragedy.  More importantly, it explores the rationale of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh and his calculated preparation for the attack.  This documentary was almost surreal for me.  These events occurred during my childhood and yet, my innocence shielded me from the details.  I knew that a bomb went off and many people died but I never knew about Ruby Ridge, Waco, the white supremacist movement that inspired McVeigh, The Turner Diaries, the manhunt in Kansas, or any of the political aspects involved.  The film is well organized with different chapters to introduce each piece of this puzzle.  It contextualizes each event within the scope of the bombing by interspersing footage of the attack between each chapter.  “Oklahoma City” provides an interesting history lesson about domestic extremist groups in the early 90’s with a constant focus on the bombing.


[Pictured: The aftermath of the bombing is still shocking 20+ years later]

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Killer Inside Me (2010) - 5 stars out of 10

The Killer Inside Me (2010) - 5 stars out of 10

“The Killer Inside Me” is a film that you’ve never heard of even though it seems like you should have.  In spite of the popularity of its lead actors and gritty modern approach, critics and audience members found it difficult to watch due to its utterly disrespectful attitude toward women.  I understand that it is staying true to its source material; however, director Michael Winterbottom made sure to show every detail instead of including the occasional cutaway to spare us a bit of disgust.  Imagine “Pulp Fiction,” only the graphic scenes are fewer and far between but thrice the length.  It didn't take long to realize that I should fast forward the explicit sexual content and graphic violence, but I didn't expect that I would skip 1/3 of the movie as a result!  The entire story is predicated on an extreme level of violence toward women that is not socially accepted, and that is why this film is generally unknown.  The strange thing is that, amidst these gut-wrenching depictions, a gripping story develops.  Casey Affleck masterfully taps into a dark place to play the dual roles of nice guy and quiet psychopath.  The rest of the acting was average with the exception of the moments when Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson endure their realistic beatings.  These scenes are so believable that people had to wait in the lobby and come back in afterwards.  One of the most interesting decisions by the director is to succeed the violence with unsettlingly upbeat music, giving us a window into the irrational mind of Affleck.  In spite of its fascinating storyline and character study, I cannot recommend “The Killer Inside Me.”  You must either skip 1/3 of the film to avoid the objectionable content or feel like a horrible person as you watch a man treat these women like animals.  Either option will leave you sitting in silence as you contemplate the film’s realism.  The imagery is powerful but goes beyond what we ever needed to see.


[Pictured: Affleck's powerful performance is clouded by shock-value imagery]

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Founder - 9 stars out of 10

The Founder - 9 stars out of 10

Once you have seen "The Founder," you will never be able to look at McDonald's in the same way.  The devious business practices of Ray Kroc are infuriating, but Michael Keaton portrays them in a very interesting way.  Ever since "Birdman" rejuvenated his career, every performance by Keaton is layered and finessed.  In this instance, his character earns our sympathy and even becomes our hero for 75% of the movie.  It isn't until the very end that we realize that his business savvy is not admirable and see him for the total weasel that he is.  I still get steamed every time that I drive past the golden arches and realize that they were stolen.  The supporting cast adds to the backwards emotions that we feel.  Heroes like the McDonald brothers (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and Kroc's first wife (Laura Dern) come off as annoying and unreasonable until we realize that they were the only good people in the story.  I'm surprised that this film was completely snubbed by the Oscars.  The production staff vividly captured the 1950's drive-in restaurant culture and the writers managed to turn a series of business deals into an interesting, emotional story.  While the focus is on Kroc, it is really a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of the fast food industry.  I appreciate "The Founder" for its unique story and family-friendly content, but it just might ruin McDonald's for you forever.

[Pictured: I imagine that it is surreal for the older generation to see the McDonald's of their day brought back to life]

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 4 stars out of 10

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 4 stars out of 10

Wes Anderson's unique style causes his films to be hit or miss with the designation as "hit" or "miss" varying from person to person.  For me, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is a major miss.  My disappointment was actually a surprise as I have enjoyed most of Anderson’s work.  Films like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” offer an outside of the box look at the world but this film reads more like a parody.  And the parody doesn't really work.  The eccentric Anderson style is evident in the opening sequence and the unique dollhouse-like set, but the comedy lacks cleverness and his signature head-on shots.  There is a chance that I would have better understood the film is I was familiar with Jacques Cousteau.  I have never seen one of his oceanic documentaries so I have a difficult time assessing whether the homage properly captures his adventures.  Still, I find that the entire story leans too heavily toward the silly side of the fine line that defines Anderson’s style.  It makes sense to me that his other films have been on the Oscar ballot but this one didn’t catch the eye of the critics.  One of the hardest pieces of this film to judge is the acting.  The cast is populated by big names like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, and Michael Gambon.  These talented actors latch onto the script’s deadpan style, which causes the overall quality of the acting to seem mediocre.  Intentional as this may be, the end result is rather boring.  You never know what to expect next as this film progresses, like the Brazilian guitarist who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese.  Yes, I did say SongS.  “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is a mildly entertaining film but I wouldn’t judge all of Anderson’s work based on this one film.  Once you’ve seen a proper realization of his eccentric style, this film will sink to the bottom of your list as it has for most of us.

[Pictured: One of the only signature Anderson head-on shots finally appears toward the very end of the film]