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]

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