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]

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Pete's Dragon (2016) - 7 stars out of 10

Pete's Dragon (2016) - 7 stars out of 10

If you are looking for a remake of the 1977 Disney musical “Pete’s Dragon,” you are in the wrong place.  Disney’s 2016 film shares a title with the 1977 film and that’s about it.  This is not necessarily a criticism, as I rated the original with 5 stars and feel that this rendition offers a stronger story and a more timeless feel that will help it to age better.  I’m sure that fans of the classic are offended that this reboot is actually a complete rewrite from the time period (1900’s to 1980’s) and location (New England to Pacific Northwest) to the characters (Pete is now a non-verbal jungle boy) and a story that bears no resemblance to the original.  Even the mood is a complete departure with the story being told as a straightforward drama, supported by a breathtaking score by Daniel Hart that creates some highly emotional moments.  But I believe that Disney saved the character of Elliot the dragon from fading into obscurity by giving him a medium in which he can be appreciated by a new generation.  Disney has been an innovator in the film industry since Walt first started mixing live action footage with cartoons in the 1920’s, but we live in a time where the seamless incorporation of a cartoon dragon into a live-action story can’t get audiences excited.  Instead, Disney decided to incorporate an animated dragon into a live-action story (wait a second…)  While the concept is the same, an important part of innovation is adjusting to the times in which you live. Disney knew that modern audiences thirst for realism and this film thrills us by making us feel as if we’ve truly seen a dragon.  I love that Disney maintained the general appearance of this giant, lovable green dragon when they transformed him from intentionally cartoony to completely realistic.  It serves as a reminder that the most important part of each story is the bond between boy and dragon.  The story does not stray too far from your typical child-befriends-something-odd plot but I didn’t mind the predictability too much.  One of the main things that is missing is “Candle on the Water.”  I’m fine with them removing the musical numbers from the film but I believe that they could have found a clever way to incorporate the song into the story as a tribute to the original.  I really thought it was coming when one character referenced a song that they used to sing, which made it even more disappointing when it turned out to be another song.  The acting was probably the film’s biggest letdown.  After being blown away by recent performances from Jacob Tremblay in "Room" and Neel Sethi in "The Jungle Book," Oakes Fegley's turn as Pete seemed to lack the emotional depth that I have come to expect out of child actors.  Robert Redford is good, which is contrasted by Bryce Dallas Howard who is average and Karl Urban who comes off as an overactor.  A more sinister villain may have helped to enhance our emotions, though the capture scene was pretty brutal.  Kids will enjoy this complete reimagining of “Pete’s Dragon” more than adults, but I’m always thankful for a quality, clean film that all members of the family can enjoy together.


[Pictured: The best part of the film is clearly the impressive animation of the dragon]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Chicago (2002) - 10 stars out of 10

Chicago (2002) - 10 stars out of 10

"Chicago" is a visual masterpiece.  Say what you will about other Best Picture Oscar nominees being more deserving of the award, but there is no denying that this is a great film.  The racy Broadway musical comes to life through director Rob Marshall's out-of-the-box vision for the story.  His interpretation creates a seamless duality between the real world and the vaudeville sequences in Roxy's imagination.  It is something that initially made me hate the show (since none of the musical numbers actually happen) but now it has become the most endearing characteristic.  It allows the audience to see Roxy's disillusioned, warped perspective of her crime through her eyes.  To create these larger than life musical numbers, it was essential to have an all-star costuming and production crew.  These costumes include very little clothing for the first third of the film, which successfully brings the burlesque style to life (although it makes it a little awkward to watch with your parents or significant other).  It is no surprise that the film won the Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction (now known as Production Design), but it is equally surprising that the film was robbed of an Oscar for Best Cinematography.  Many would argue that this was the most deserved award out of all of its nominations.  The  film would be completely disjointed without the clear visual contrast that distinguishes the bleak real world from Roxy's vividly colored imagination.  Amongst the nominations and awards, the most memorable piece of the film is it's exciting 1920's ragtime musical score.  The "All That Jazz" and "Cellblock Tango" sequences have become iconic while the marionettes of "They Both Reached for the Gun" and the "Razzle Dazzle" circus assure that the film is constantly unpredictable.  But none of this would matter without the catchy tunes and impressive vocal performances by Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifa, and John C. Reilly, ALL of whom were nominated for Oscars!  Even Richard Gere, whose singing voice was slightly odd, had the perfect tone for his fast-talking character.  The movie could not have been cast better and these songs will be running through your head for weeks after it ends.  "Chicago" may be edgy but it is  a must-see for both its significance in cinema history for revitalizing the movie musical and for its stunning production design that achieves perfection in the catchy musical numbers.


[Pictured: You will never forget the Cell Block Tango once you've experienced it]

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pulp Fiction - 4 stars out of 10

Pulp Fiction - 4 stars out of 10

I am aware that I am in the minority when I say that “Pulp Fiction” is overrated.  This iconic film is considered by most to be Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece and one of the most important films ever conceived, but for me it is too difficult to watch.  First, the film is filled with extreme content for the sake of being extreme, hence the film's title.  I can tolerate a lot in films but this one has so many unnecessary f-words that they lose their meaning by the end.  Beyond the f-words, there is too much lewd dialogue and the Ving Rhames scenes is unwatchable.  I literally get nauseas through that entire sequence.  Films like this are risk vs. reward: when you risk turning people away with extreme content, you’d better be able to make them feel like it was worth it through a poignant or worthwhile ending (“12 Years A Slave” immediately comes to mind).  Unfortunately, the extreme content fails to yield a gripping story and the dialogue-driven script turns the majority of the film into a melodrama.  As far as Tarantino films are concerned, I much prefer "Django Unchained" and "The Hateful Eight."  These a little less extreme but deliver a significantly larger reward in the end.  The greatest asset of “Pulp Fiction” is its style.  It comes complete with Tarantino’s signature division of the story into chapters, a classic use of nonlinear storytelling, and a lot of it just feels “cool.”  Samuel L. Jackson’s recitation of scripture, John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s “Twist” sequence, and Harvey Keitel’s turn as “The Wolfe” is fun to watch.  The entire film is incredibly bold as it subscribes to the philosophy of go big or go home.  Every sequence pushes boundaries but gets bogged down by too much dialogue.  Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay but I would argue that the profanity and too much dialogue in general are what drag this film down.  Most critics and film fans consider “Pulp Fiction” to be a classic but I believe that it would be more appropriate to categorize this film as “infamous.”  The Bruce Willis/Ving Rhames scene alone forces me to tell people that it isn't worth watching.  It is fascinating to read articles that analyze everything from the film’s commentary about modern cinema and hypotheses about the contents of Marsellus’ briefcase to the significance of Vincent‘s trips to the bathroom as each trip seems to trigger a potentially fatal situation.  The issue is that you have to suffer through the content before any of the philosophizing makes sense.  For me, the risk is not worth the reward.


[Pictured: These are some of the coolest characters in film history but the extremity of the film's lewd content makes them difficult to enjoy]

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Legend of Bagger Vance - 4 stars out of 10

The Legend of Bagger Vance - 4 stars out of 10

"The Legend of Bagger Vance" is underwhelming.  With Matt Damon, Will Smith, and Charlize Theron in the lead roles, you would assume that this film will blow your mind; however, it is important to note that this film came out in 2000 before Smith and Theron had established themselves as amazing dramatic actors in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Monster" respectively.  Their inexperience shows, though it makes room for a nice performance by character actor Bruce McGill to shine through.  The saving grace from an acting standpoint is that this was Jack Lemmon's final role before his death.  His narration is a fitting epilogue to his successful career.  The main issue with the film is the story which is predictable and never really goes anywhere.  The ending signals that the main character has experienced an important transformation but he is almost the same as he was before.  On top of that, the love story is completely underdeveloped.  It's a shame that the simplistic story could not match the grandeur of the film's cinematography and score.  It is a visual marvel from the time lapse footage of clouds to the beautiful Savannah setting and the crowd fading away as Damon focuses on the hole.  Most importantly, the camerawork creates a visual storytelling that helps us to track the progress of the golf match.  Rachel Portman crafts a score that alternates between fun ragtime melodies and Thomas Newman-esque ethereal sounds.  It effectively captures the Depression-era setting in conjunction with the mystical aspects of the story.  The technical aspects almost make the film worth watching but there are many sports dramas that would be a better use of your time.  Although I generally like films directed by Robert Redford, "The a Legend of Bagger Vance" is a fluke and should step aside for a quality mystical sports drama like "Field of Dreams."


[Pictured: It's a shame that the acting and story fail to match the visual beauty of the film]

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Encino Man - 2 stars out of 10

Encino Man - 2 stars out of 10

“Encino Man” is sooooo 90’s.  It has everything that you would expect from a cheesy 90’s comedy including various montages of a cavemen’s antics in modern society (most stereotypically at an amusement park).  We also get to see the caveman placed into a high school setting where he inevitably becomes popular, a museum where he sees his ancestors, and he even hijacks a car that ends up driving sideways, balanced on two wheels.  And of course, no 90’s high school film is complete without a prom scene.  It subscribes to the dumb comedy formula established by “Wayne’s World” but lacks the creativity and originality of its predecessors.  Imagine the classic mall sequence from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” for 90-minutes with only one character.  The 33-day shooting schedule shows through hastily shot scenes and a lack of acting finesse.  If you think that Brendan Fraser is overly slapstick as George of the Jungle, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen him acting like a caveman that can barely speak a word.  One of the biggest issues that people have with the film is Pauly Shore.  I actually don’t mind him since the majority of the film matches his signature airheadedness.  It’s amazing that people see his films and just accept his personality as typical of the 90’s.  More than anything, it helps me to better appreciate Shore’s character in “A Goofy Movie.”  Sean Astin makes an okay protagonist but the real standout is Megan Ward as she makes “Robyn” into a genuinely likable character, something that is difficult to find in this story.  “Encino Man” serves as evidence that an entire generation just accepted films comprised of random sequential montages and dance sequences loosely tied together by a plot.  If you want to see an entertaining brainless comedy, stick to “Bill and Ted” or “Billy Madison.”


[Pictured: "Encino Man" hits every 90's stereotype you can imagine, including a montage at an amusement park and the casting of Pauly Shore]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things - 8 stars out of 10

Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things - 8 stars out of 10

"Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things" is a powerful dose of perspective.  The concept of cutting out the excess and focusing on what is most important is a cause that could actually help us to become a happier society.  The key to this film is Dan Harris and Joshua Becker, a pair who practices what they preach.  The film examines minimalism from several different perspectives including people who have given up high-paying jobs in favor of having time to do what they love, fitting everything that is important to you into a carry-on bag, and an interesting chapter on tiny houses.  I appreciated the poignant advice about parenting in a way that discourages materialism.  You will likely turn on "Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things" out of curiosity but in the end, you will find it impossible to watch this documentary without some serious self-reflection in the end.

[Pictured: Everyone will want a tiny house after watching this documentary!]

Friday, March 17, 2017

Burn After Reading - 2 stars out of 10

Burn After Reading - 2 stars out of 10

"Burn After Reading" is one of my least favorite Coen Brothers films.  The Coens have created some inspired work from "Fargo" to "No Country For Old Men," but this script relies on a constant stream of f-words to fill in the gaps left by its weak plot.  I loathe modern comedies that subscribe to the belief that if you use the f-word enough, it will become a running gag (Melissa McCarthy, I'm talking to you).  In fact, the main theme that connects the film together is its crude content.  Why is every relationship in the film predicated on infidelity?  And that machine that George Clooney builds - there is absolutely no purpose behind it, and yet it's there for the sake of being there.  I didn't like this film when it came out and tried to approach it with fresh eyes, believing that I would fall in love with it knowing what I know now about movies.  I was wrong and should have trusted my first experience with it.  I actually hated it significantly more than I did the first time!  You would think that a cast including John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton (detestable in this role), Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons, and Clooney would have to be amazing but the entire story is absurd.  It's almost as if they pigeonholed a bunch of great actors into a 90's Adam Sandler movie and called it sophisticated.  Black comedies often miss the mark because they don't find that balance between feeling sorry for characters and enjoying their misfortune.  This one is a prime example.  Pitt is the only reason to even consider watching this film a his character is so over the top that we love to see him be absurd.  Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are so static that he feels out of place.  There are a few decent moments in this film (serving the papers, Pitt's nosebleed) but nothing that will make it worth enduring.  If you love the Coen brothers, you might see something in "Burn After Reading" that I didn't.  After you're done, you can find me pouting in the corner, still annoyed with myself for wasting an hour and a half on this film AGAIN!


[Pictured: Pitt starts out as an annoying jock, becomes an unbearable jock, and turns out to be the most entertaining part of the film in the end]

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Elle (2016) - 7 stars out of 10

Elle (2016) - 7 stars out of 10

“Elle” is a French erotic thriller that digs deep into the psyche of a rape victim and goes in the complete opposite direction of what you might expect.  I anticipated a classic game of cat and mouse in which the victim hunts down the assailant; instead, this story unravels the layers of the victim’s life so that we can understand why she reacts to the crime in the way that she does.  The film is all about Isabelle Huppert’s Oscar-nominated performance.  She commands the screen by developing several different sides of herself, each of which is visible to a different person.  The end result is a multifaceted character that feels raw and real.  The story is equally complex and unexpected with a wide array of characters whose unique personalities bring out the different sides of Huppert.  While the acting is great, the film disappointed me in its slow plot development and lack of action.  The conclusion is satisfying but feels like a missed opportunity in an era of movies that are always accompanied by a strong political statement.  Personally, I find “Elle” to be overrated in comparison with great French films like “The Intouchables” and “The Chorus,” though I applaud it for thinking outside of the box.  It is worth giving this one a shot but brace yourself for strong content and dialogue.

[Pictured: I don’t know if Isabelle Huppert was worthy of an Oscar nomination but her performance is impressive]

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2010) - 2 stars out of 10

My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2010) - 2 stars out of 10

I’m frustrated.  I don’t understand how a film like “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” gets made.  I can understand how the vision of a film can get lost in the editing process, but how can a film be so misguided from the very start.  I can’t imagine the crew members on the set of this film thinking anything other than “these are the most emotionless characters that I have ever seen” as the cameras were rolling.  I have seen Lifetime Original Movies with better acting.  I’ve even seen mid-afternoon Nickelodeon comedies with every cast member under the age of 16 that has better acting.  Christopher Gorham’s soft-spoken tone of voice wreaks of a sensitive used car salesman and makes any attempt by Alyssa Milano to create chemistry feel awkward.  It doesn’t help that the script is completely mundane.  Not in a Richard Linklater real-life-unfolding-in-front-of-your-eyes sort of way, but in a why-am-I-watching-this-unemotional-dialogue sort of way.  The entire film feels painfully overacted and it is no surprise that it received a pay-per-view release instead of a theatrical one.  It latches onto the classic cliché of a girl trying to choose between a successful ad executive vs. a family-oriented struggling writer, though you will understand why in the end.  In an effort to incorporate some comedy into the film, they create a random tangent with a character appearing in a gum commercial but it has ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on the plot!  The experience of watching this film is painful… and then it throws in one of the most incredible twists that I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy.  This is one of the highest quality chick flick concepts that I have ever seen, but the dialogue and acting are so average that it will never be appreciated for its underlying genius.  I want to tell you to watch “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” to experience its inventive ending, or even just to laugh at how bad the acting is; unfortunately, any attempt to endure this film will result in an unending frustration with its relentless monotony.


[Pictured: This is pretty much how everybody feels about this movie.  Can we please steal this ending and put it at the end of a good film?]

Monday, March 13, 2017

3 Days To Kill - 4 stars out of 10

3 Days To Kill - 4 stars out of 10

“3 Days To Kill” is an average action comedy film that features Kevin Costner doing his best “gruff Harrison Ford” impression.  It intersperses several well-executed shootout sequences with a shallow family plot.  The Parisian setting and the intrigue behind Amber Heard’s character set the stage for a riveting story but what develops feels like a bunch of ideas that were borrowed from other films.  As I mentioned, Costner’s voice and disposition are reminiscent of most Harrison Ford action films, his crippling adrenaline-induced hallucinations seem to be inspired by “Crank,” and the plot device of a man trying to develop a relationship with his daughter amidst dangerous spy missions feels very cliché.  This led to a familiarity that had my wife and I debating whether we had seen the film before.  The predictability of the family story left little room for surprises.  We even developed an expectation that one particular character would reveal herself to be a bad guy… only to realize that we were remembering a different film and definitely had not seen this one before.  While the story lacks originality, much of the comedy hits the target.  The running gag of Costner’s “I Love It” ringtone going off at inappropriate moments never gets old and his reliance on his targets (Mitat and Guido) to help mend his relationship with Zooey creates some great moments.  If you are looking for a serious action film, “3 Days To Kill” will let you down but if you are looking for something predictable and light, it might be just what you are looking for. 


[Pictured: This film would've been much more interesting if Amber Heard was the main character]

Monday, March 6, 2017

2017 Oscar Nominees for Short Film (Live Action)

2017 Oscar Nominees for Short Film (Live Action)

1. “Sing (Mindenki)”
was my choice to win Best Live Action Short (and it did!)  This Hungarian short tells the story of a girl that moves to a new school and tries to fit in by joining their award-winning choir.  In the music classroom, she encounters a seemingly wonderful choir director but we quickly see the director’s true colors.  The story is punctuated by quality performances of two-part choral songs that will put a smile on your face.  The script is composed of simple dialogue but the impressive acting performances of Dorka Gáspárfalvi and Dorottya Hais help to develop several layers of emotions throughout the film’s short 25-minute runtime.  As a choir director, the final scene is my worst nightmare.  I’d recommend this short to anyone!

2. “Ennemis intérieurs (Enemies Within)” offers the best acting performance of this years’ shorts.  The small cast (mainly featuring two men in a series of interviews) use their dialogue to create an impressive intensity that carries the film from start to finish.  There is no action in this short.  It is pure acting and intrigue.  It also captures a unique snapshot of France’s conflicts with their colonies.

3. “Silent Nights” tackles the difficulties faced by the homeless in Denmark.  The story has several interesting themes including an illegal immigrant seeking work in a new country and a homeless shelter volunteer that falls in love with a resident.  The acting is excellent and the story is well-developed, though this is the only nominated short with inappropriate content.  Once you start watching this one, you’ll have to keep watching to find out what happens next!

4. “La femme et le TGV (The Railroad Lady)” may have been my favorite short of the year.  It is a testament to the quality of this year’s nominees (minus “Timecode”) since I enjoyed it so much but still have to rank it fourth in quality.  This short is based on the true story of a widow who lived beside the train tracks and waved a Swiss flag at the passing trains each day.  The story grows interesting when she is noticed by a daily passenger who begins a correspondence with her by throwing letters out of the train window to her.  The story is quirky and you can’t help but love the main character!

5. “Timecode (El corredor)” was my least favorite short.  There isn’t really a story as much as a series of vignettes of two random dancing characters thrown into a setting unrelated to dance.  The film is totally unique and I kind of get what they were going for but at the same time, why did they go for it?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Walt Disney Presents: An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom (1958) - 9 stars out of 10

Walt Disney Presents: An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom (1958) - 9 stars out of 10

“Walt Disney Presents: An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom” captures a timeless snapshot of Walt Disney’s original vision for his theme park.  With a dozen parks worldwide, it’s fascinating to see how their offerings have transformed from simple dark rides and walkthroughs to elaborate experiences that utilize some of the most advanced technologies available.  Though this 1958 tv special predates many of the park’s renovations (including the Monorail, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion), I was surprised to see how much there was to do at this park.  It would have been very easy to fill a day with adventures on Tom Sawyer Island, Autopia, the Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, and any of the park’s three trains.  I was also surprised to see the film’s depiction of foreign tourists and Frontierland before our society became politically correct. Like the part where they literally encourage a bunch of children to fire guns at invading “Indians.”  This tv special was the first look at Disney's park for many people around the country and I can imagine how badly someone would want to visit after getting this taste.  The POV shots of the rides capture the magic and every guest has a huge smile on their face.  The clothing, transportation, and societal expectations have changed but Walt’s dream has not.  Disney parks continue to provide a place where parents and children can play together and “An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom” preserves an archive of where it all started.


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

[Pictured: Tinker Bell is your tour guide through the "Magic Kingdom," but not the Floridian one that initially comes to mind]

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Present (2014) - 10 stars out of 10

The Present (2014) - 10 stars out of 10

“The Present” is an animated short created by Jacob Frey and Markus Kranzler.  The term “short” is an understatement as its runtime is only 4:20, a minute of which is taken up by the credits.  The phenomenal thing about the short is its ability to tell a layered story full of emotions in less than three and a half minutes.  The film is notable for bringing critical acclaim to the work of Frey and Kranzler which quickly led to their hiring by Disney and Pixar.  We’ve already seen Frey’s work included in “Zootopia” and “Moana,” and their careers will continue to build from here.  It’s hard to discuss the short without spoiling the story since it is so short, but I will say that if you love dogs you will love it.  The animation is such a high quality that I’m surprised at the lack of an Oscar nomination.  It is definitely worth three and a half minutes of your time to experience “The Present” at the Vimeo link below!

https://vimeo.com/152985022


[Pictured: This picture says everything about why you need to watch this short]

Monday, February 27, 2017

Suicide Squad (2016) - 3 stars out of 10

Suicide Squad (2016) - 3 stars out of 10

Disclaimer: I kind of enjoyed "Suicide Squad" but I don't really have anything positive to say about it.  “Suicide Squad” was exactly what I expected after hearing what everybody else had to say.  It is a generally disappointing attempt at duplicating the success of Marvel’s “The Avengers” that falls short of a great story and well-developed characters.  One of the main issues is that the film tries to do too much.  It spends the first 20 minutes giving a textbook explanation of each character (literally sitting around a meeting room table and telling each character’s backstory).  This feels very out of place in a genre whose standard is to produce an origin story for each character (it’s okay to introduce multiple characters in each film) and then put them together later.  This film attempts to kill two birds with one stone by condensing all of the origin stories into the film’s overture and then putting them together for the rest of the film, but the end result is that we don’t feel an attachment to any of the characters.  At least “The Avengers” films (which I consider to be superhero overkill) have developed the characters enough that we like them individually.  The next issue is the one that we have heard the most: Not enough Joker!  Jared Leto’s interpretation of The Joker is a complete letdown after Heath Ledger’s iconic magnum opus in “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Leto has been on the record that most of his best moments were left on the cutting room floor.  After hearing that Leto maintained his character for every moment on set of this production, expectations were extremely high but based on the footage that was selected for the final cut, it’s hard to imagine that it could have ever compared to Ledger.  The best thing to come out of this film is Margot Robbie’s rendition of Harley Quinn.  She has turned this sidekick into a heroine (well, villainess) full of spunk that wins over the audiences’ hearts.  Harley a character that they can build a franchise off of and every moment that she is onscreen is exhilarating.  I can't wait for her spinoff, though I question how it will fare considering that every one of her lines was a one-liner.  Each is well-delivered, but one-liners nonetheless.  The rest of the characters are unfamiliar to me because I have never been a DC Comics fan, but the performances in the film certainly didn’t win me over.  Will Smith is pretty cool as Deadshot and I appreciate that he is motivated by his family.  The rest of the characters left me wondering why they were even there and the villain is so farfetched that it was hard to believe that the characters were in danger.  The pop music soundtrack is an obvious imitation of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and was overdone.  Some of the songs fit well with the story but others seem random and misplaced, especially since most songs are snippets of 30 seconds or less.  Aside from Robbie, it would seem that the Oscar win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling is the film’s only redeeming quality, but even that couldn’t compare to its competitors in the category.  This film simply failed to live up to its cool concept.  “Suicide Squad” was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, an ensemble antihero film amidst a never ending chain of superhero films, but it is just another Hollywood blockbuster with cool action sequences and two-dimensional characters.

[Pictured: I would love to watch "Suicide Squad" again if I could edit out everything but Margot Robbie's scenes.  Probably why the Harley Quinn spin-off is the only chance at saving this franchise]

Sunday, February 26, 2017

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2017

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2017

Disclaimer: These are the films that I personally believe should win in each category, not my prediction of who I believe The Academy will choose.  Also, I did not see Ennemis Interieurs, La Femme et le TGV, 
My Life As A Cucumber, or 20th Century Women

Best Picture –
 1st Pick: La La Land, 2nd Pick: Arrival (but Moonlight will win)
Best Actor – 1st Pick: Viggo Mortensen, 2nd Pick: Andrew Garfield (but Casey Affleck will win)
Best Actress – 1st Pick: Emma Stone, 2nd Pick: Meryl Streep
Best Supporting Actor – 1st Pick: Dev Patel,
 2nd Pick: Mahershala Ali (will win)
Best Supporting Actress – 1st Pick: Viola Davis, 2nd Pick: Michelle Williams
Best Director – 1st Pick: Damien Chazelle (La La Land), 2nd Pick: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Cinematography – 1st Pick: La La Land, 2nd Pick: Arrival
Film Editing – 1st Pick: La La Land, 2nd Pick: Hacksaw Ridge
Original Screenplay – 1st Pick: La La Land, 2nd Pick: The Lobster (but Manchester by the Sea will win)
Adapted Screenplay – 1st Pick: Arrival, 2nd Pick: Hidden Figures (but Moonlight will win)
Best Animated Feature – 1st Pick: Zootopia, 2nd Pick: Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Documentary Feature – 1st Pick: Life, Animated, 2nd Pick: 13th (but O.J.: Made in America will win even though I didn’t see it)
Best Documentary Short Subject – 1st Pick: Extremis, 2nd Pick: The White Helmets
Best Short Film (Animated) – 1st Pick: Piper, 2nd Pick: Borrowed Time

Best Short Film (Live Action) – 1st Pick: Sing, 2nd Pick: Silent Nights
Production Design – 1st Pick: La La Land, 2nd Pick: Passengers
Costume Design – 1st Pick: Florence Foster Jenkins, 2nd Pick: Jackie
Makeup and Hairstyling – 1st Pick: A Man Called Ove, 2nd Pick: Star Trek Beyond
Visual Effects – 1st Pick: The Jungle Book, 2nd Pick: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Best Original Score – 1st Pick: Justin Hurwitz (La La Land), 2nd Pick: Dustin O'Halloran and Haschka (Lion)
Best Original Song – 1st Pick: How Far I'll Go (from Moana), 2nd Pick: City of Stars (from La La Land)
Sound Editing – 1st Pick: Arrival, 2nd Pick: Hacksaw Ridge
Sound Mixing – 1st Pick: La La Land, 2nd Pick: Hacksaw Ridge




Movie Reviews for 2017 Oscar Nominees

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them.html
Fences - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/01/fences-8-stars-out-of-10.html
Florence Foster Jenkins - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2016/09/florence-foster-jenkins-9-stars-out-of.html
Hacksaw Ridge - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/01/hacksaw-ridge-10-stars-out-of-10.html
Hail, Caesar! - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/01/hail-caesar-2016-8-stars-out-of-10.html
Hell or High Water - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/01/hell-or-high-water-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Hidden Figures - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/01/hidden-figures-9-stars-out-of-10.html
Jackie - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/01/jackie-2016-7-stars-out-of-10.html
The Jungle Book - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-jungle-book-2016-10-stars-out-of-10.html
Kubo and the Two Strings - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/kubo-and-two-strings-10-stars-out-of-10.html
La La Land - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/la-la-land-10-stars-out-of-10.html
Life, Animated - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/life-animated-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Lion - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/lion-2016-9-stars-out-of-10.html
The Lobster - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/the-lobster-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Loving - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/loving-7-stars-out-of-10.html
A Man Called Ove - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-man-called-ove-en-man-som-heter-ove.html
Manchester by the Sea - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/manchester-by-sea-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Moana - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/moana-2016-8-stars-out-of-10.html
Moonlight - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/moonlight-2016-8-stars-out-of-10.html
Nocturnal Animals - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/nocturnal-animals-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Passengers - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/passengers-2016-7-stars-out-of-10.html
The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge) - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/the-red-turtle-la-tortue-rouge-9-stars.html
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2016/12/rogue-one-star-wars-story-10-stars-out.html
Silence - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/silence-2016-5-stars-out-of-10.html
Star Trek Beyond - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2017/02/star-trek-beyond-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Suicide Squad -
Sully - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2016/11/sully-7-stars-out-of-10.html
Zootopia - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2016/03/zootopia-10-stars-out-of-10.html

2017 Oscar Nominees for Short Film (Animated)

2017 Oscar Nominees for Short Film (Animated)

1. “Piper” is my choice to win Best Animated Short.  From the moment that it begins, you will be questioning whether the water is computer animated or real.  The birds may be the most lifelike creatures ever animated with detailed feathers and facial expressions that feel like watching a nature documentary.  I always favor a family friendly film in this category and Pixar has managed to create a visual experience that can be enjoyed by all.  Dialogue is not necessary as the musical score takes care of the storytelling.  “Piper” will win if the voters are looking at the highest quality of animation amongst the nominees.  If they are going for storytelling, the award will likely go to #2 on my list. 




2. “Borrowed Time” is a Western Short Film (not to be confused with a short Western film, because those don't exist).  This is the most emotional of the nominees.  It tells a heartwrenching story through its great musical score, inexplicable twist, and very little dialogue.  This is my favorite Short of 2016, though the animation quality falls short of “Piper.”




3. “Blind Vaysha” gets all of the style points for this year’s group of nominees.  It’s theme of duality is brought to life through frequent use of split screen and the animation style has an ancient Mayan feel to it.  The story is a big downer but leaves us with the question of which we’d rather live in, the past or the future?




4. “Pearl” is an innovative Animated Short that makes use of trending virtual reality technology.  I was not able to view the short in this way, but it is easy to imagine how cool it would be to watch this story unfold with a 360-degree view from the passenger seat of the car.  The story is driven by a song sung by a father and his daughter as they chase their dreams.  The quality of the animation is very choppy but it is to be expected with the use of virtual reality.  In the end, this is a journey that is worth taking.




5. “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is my least favorite short of the year.  It is a cross between a graphic novel, an acid trip, and a film noir.  It tells the true story of Techno Stypes, a young man who lives life on the edge and gladly takes the consequences that come with the lifestyle.  This edgy character comes with edgy content.  When watching a package of the five nominees, the short even came with a warning about its adult content.  Its main redeeming quality is that it paints an undesirable picture of Techno's immoral lifestyle.  In the end, I just didn’t enjoy watching this graphic novel unfold with so much strong language.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove) - 10 stars out of 10

A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove) - 10 stars out of 10

I never imagined that “A Man Called Ove” would be one of my top four movies for 2016.  I resigned myself to seeing it due to its Oscar nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling but immediately became entranced by its perfect blend of comedy and drama.  Ove (pronounced “Oo-veh”) is one of the grumpiest men that you will ever meet and his story shows that it is never too late in life for a change of heart.  It is an incredible example of patient storytelling that discloses small details of a larger story to develop the characters until the big reveal toward the end of the film.  Rolf Lassgård commands the screen with his deep bass voice and old man posture.  He manages to be dislikable, intimidating, endearing, and humorous all at the same time.  He also shows an amazing transition as he forms an unlikely bond with his new neighbor, played by Bahar Pars.  Filip Berg is believable as a younger version of Ove and Ida Engvoll turns in a charming performance as Sonja.  All of the acting hits on the realism and humor that is needed for the film’s dichotomy.  The makeup/hairstyling team of Eva von Bahr and Love Larson deserve the Oscar for their work on this film.  Lassgård is a youthful-looking man with a full head of hair and their ability to physically transform him into an elderly bald man is remarkable.  This film was shot using a lot of close-ups and the make-up looks great from every angle.  You may wonder why they didn’t just cast an actual old man in this role but you will understand once you see the emotionally charged performance by Lassgård.  I don’t know if this film can win the Best Hairstyling and Makeup Oscar because it is difficult for foreign films to compete with American franchises like Star Trek, but I would love to see it acknowledged for their excellent work.  While I enjoy foreign films, it is rare for me to rank them higher than an American equivalent.  Ove is one of those films.  I hope that they never adapt this with English speakers because nothing can ever top the original Swedish version (sound familiar, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”?)  Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, even Best Picture – I would have nominated Ove for all them.  “A Man Called Ove” is a must-see for every movie fan.  You will laugh its dark humor, shed many more tears than you expect (at several times throughout the film), and be left with one of the most perfect endings of any film that you will ever see.

[Pictured: The combination of Lassgård's appearance and acting creates one of the most dynamic performances of 2016]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Elizabeth (1998) - 8 stars out of 10

Elizabeth (1998) - 8 stars out of 10

“Elizabeth” explores the rise to power of Queen Elizabeth I.  The history is a bit creative at times but it does an amazing job of bringing the character and demeanor of this monarch to life.  They certainly don't shy away from blood and violence, which helps to keep the film from becoming a boring textbook biopic as it somehow manages to blend political drama with a historic epic.  Cate Blanchett is perfect in this role (as indicated by her Oscar nomination) and likely could have won in a year that didn’t feature another period film (“Shakespeare in Love”) that cleaned up because the critics preferred it.  I’m still trying to figure out how Joseph Fiennes managed to get cast as the romantic male lead in both English Renaissance era films of 1998.  What are the chances?  The cast is rounded out by Geoffrey Rush and Richard Attenborough, but it really is all about Blanchett and the growing assertiveness of her character.  The dramatic choral score gives the entire film a dark, disturbing tone.  Some of its best moments are when it incorporates famous pieces of classical music into its key moments.  I loved the intense contrast created between the beauty of Elgar's "Nimrod" and a series of assassinations, as well as Mozart's "Requiem" being played as she takes control of the throne.  The film is notable for its visual aspects including Oscar nominations for Art Direction, Costume Design, Cinematography, and a win for Makeup.  But once again, it lost out to the other period film that the critics deemed to be better.  “Elizabeth” is often overlooked because of the other Renaissance film of 1998 but it is absolutely worth your time for an interesting look at the 17th century English monarchy and Queen Elizabeth I’s rise to power.

[Pictured; This film is all about the amazing performance by Cate Blanchett]

La La Land - 10 stars out of 10

La La Land - 10 stars out of 10

After months of anticipation, "La La Land" has proven itself to be everything that I had hoped!  About 2 minutes into the opening tracking shot, I was obsessed.  The stunning introduction perfectly sets the mood of the story and introduces us to the Los Angeles setting.  This scene is easily my second favorite tracking shot of all time (next to “Atonement”).  The film pays tribute to classic musicals of the 40’s with its lengthy single-take dance sequences like the six-minute tap scene as they search for Stone's Prius.  As the film progresses, each scene is more ambitious than the last and the execution is consistently perfect.  Dancing among the stars in the planetarium, moving in regular motion among bodies in slow motion, an entire scene fading to black as a spotlight illuminates one character in the center of it - you can't even measure the production value of this well-conceived tribute to the Hollywood musical.  Though a lot of stylized films miss the mark, this one hits the bullseye.  I often grow frustrated with modern movie musicals whose songs are forgotten before even walking out of the theater.  Days after seeing this film, I can clearly recall Justin Hurwitz’s simple musical themes that stick with you far beyond the closing credits.   "La La Land" is a true musical triumph, and the genre of choice is jazz.  Much like in 2014’s “Whiplash,” director Damien Chazelle has found a way to make jazz accessible to modern audiences.  Ryan Gosling's monologue about jazz pinpoints the experience of hearing it live and reflects the passion of true jazz fans; meanwhile the jazz-infused musical theater songs keep the thematic genre at the center of the film.  In a weak Oscar class, "La La Land" soars beyond the competition and is a shoe-in for Best Picture (unless the culturally relevant statements of "Moonlight" manage to steal it away).  While many of the technical aspects make the film shine, its heart lies in its believable characters.  Emma Stone delivers her most impassioned performance since "Birdman" with her phone audition and I believe that she has the Oscar in the bag.  Her singing has a soft, light quality that properly suits her character and her chemistry with Gosling drives the film from musical number to musical number.  I also appreciate that Gosling did all of his own piano playing for this film, which adds to the realism of his character.  The casting of John Legend was really clever in that it incorporated a pop culture icon who sings with excellent vocal technique.  I believe that the screenplay will win an Oscar, though I would have enjoyed a little more humor.  I can also see it winning Oscars for Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Score.  My main complaint about the film is its ending, which reflects Hollywood ideals over what we would expect to happen.  I’m still worked up about it, though this emotional response is a testament to its effectiveness.  “La La Land” is the complete package.  It is destined to win several of the technical Oscar categories and is the only film that will leave me shocked if it does not win Best Picture.  If you haven’t seen this one yet, you need to.  Now.


[Pictured: La La Land is full of cute romantic moments and classic Hollywood imagery]

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - 6 stars out of 10

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - 6 stars out of 10

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is an incredible true story of heroism by the soldiers located overseas in order to keep us safe at home.  The film dramatizes the events in Libya that resulted in six of our men being severely outnumbered and fighting for their lives, as well as the lives of the noncombatant workers trapped inside of the facility.  It remains surprisingly neutral from a political standpoint, though you can't help but think about the Congressional hearings as you watch.  I think that it’s an important film for both sides of the political fence as it humanizes the names that were debated at these hearings and helps to remind us that these were people with families.  And yet, this is also the film’s biggest failure as we don’t get to know the characters very well.  Over the course of two and a half hours, we learn some background information about the soldiers but their interactions amongst themselves are so limited that we barely even know their names.  The end credits give the standard "where are they now" summary and I spent most of the time trying to figure out which guy was which.  It also doesn’t help that the cast is made up of John Krasinski and a bunch of guys with beards that all look the same.  Speaking of Krasinski, he has an amazing emotional moment that shows that he is capable of more than the comedy that he perfected on “The Office.”  The film reads more like a documentary than as an action drama and that’s probably why I was left feeling undereducated about the men at the center of this conflict.  It does do a good job about helping us to understand the rationale behind their tactics like shutting off interior lights and preventing the enemy from flanking.  I'm glad that this film was acknowledged with an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing.  The extensive battle sequences are tied together by the realistic explosions and gunshots but we can still easily comprehend the dialogue.  The visuals get so chaotic at points that this truly is a story told through sound.  “13 Hours” isn’t the best war film that I’ve seen in the past few years but it properly pays tribute to the men that put their lives on the line every day and helps us to better understand what they endure in a hostile environment.

[Pictured: Krasinski taps into some powerful emotions in order to be the driving force of this film]