Saturday, February 18, 2017

Star Trek Beyond - 7 stars out of 10

Star Trek Beyond - 7 stars out of 10

"Star Trek Beyond" is the latest installment in J.J. Abrams' reboot of the iconic franchise.  I was surprised at how little of this film took place in space, though that is the sort of departure that can bring new energy to a formulaic franchise.  Honestly, I enjoyed the first two but had no desire to see this one.  My "If you've seen one, you've seen them all" attitude has developed from the oversaturation of superhero films over the past 10 years and has made skeptical toward the latest flavor of the week.  This film manages to feel different than the others and nicely developed the main characters.  It is very deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Hairstyling and Makeup, especially on Jaylah and Kalara.  I can only imagine what it was like to walk around on set and see these aliens roaming about.  The special effects are incredibly realistic and the design of the Yorktown space station was very interesting.  The story itself is a bit of a step down from the previous films in that the villains aren't as scary as Klingons and the death of Leonard Nimoy resulted in the end of the creative parallel timeline that incorporated the elder Spock into the story.  The best part of the film may be the subtle tribute to Nimoy and the rest of the first generation Star Trek crew.  "Star Trek Beyond" is not my favorite film from the reboot series but its non-formulaic story has inspired me to give the next installment a chance.

[Pictured: Sofia Boutella's makeup is the highlight of the film]

Friday, February 17, 2017

Loving - 7 stars out of 10

Loving - 7 stars out of 10

“Loving” is a recreation of the events surrounding Loving v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court case that nullified any state law prohibiting interracial marriage.  I appreciate that a clean movie was able to sneak its way into Oscar contention.  The themes of racism are strong but they are delivered without graphic sexual content or strong profanity.  The writers didn’t even depend on an excessive use of the n-word to engage our emotions against racism, as has become a common trend in films of the past five years.  Granted, you couldn’t accurately make “12 Years A Slave” without that word, but it obviously wasn’t necessary to bring this story to life.  The overall pacing of the story is slow and depends on the actors to bring energy to the picture.  Ruth Negga received critical approval with an Oscar nomination and she portrays the character well, but I found her performance to be too passive to really wow me.  The real shining star in this film is Joel Edgerton with a completely transformation in how he carries of his body in order to portray Richard Loving.  His hunched over posture, clipped speaking, and constant state of exhaustion embodies a hardworking bricklayer and makes the Australian actor totally unrecognizable.  Marton Csokas’ unique interpretation of the sheriff takes the villainy out of him because he wasn’t being a racist – he just had the same beliefs about marriage as everyone else.  Nick Kroll looks like a cross between Jimmy Fallon and Jeff Goldblum, which made his performance as lawyer Bernie Cohen a little too goofy for the tone of the film.  I think that it was very appropriate for this movie about an interracial marriage to be filmed in the same county where the Lovings were once imprisoned for their marriage.  My viewing experience was a bit odd because I expected it to be more of a love story than a historical drama.  Still, “Loving” does a good job of telling this story in a way that will stick with us.  The romantic moments are few and far between but the message of love triumphing over all is strong and constant.  

[Pictured: The Life magazine sequence is one of the most memorable from the film]

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Captain Fantastic - 9 stars out of 10

Captain Fantastic - 9 stars out of 10

“Captain Fantastic” is the tale of a family that moves into the wilderness to avoid the societal woes created by politics, religion, and materialism.  It is one of my favorite films of 2016 and is completely underrepresented at the Oscars.  It strikes a good balance of comedy, drama, impressive acting, beautiful scenery, and a moral about the importance of family.  I found its tone to be reminiscent of "Little Miss Sunshine."  You may think that it’s because the story centers around a slightly dysfunctional family on a road trip, but it comes mostly from the themes of family sticking together through the tough times.  The family dynamic is deep and real.  The interactions amongst the kids as well as their interactions with their father feel so legitimate that you’ll forget that they are actors until you sit down to write a movie review (speaking from personal experience).  Viggo Mortensen gives the performance of his career with a broad array of emotions as well as strong chemistry with every character surrounding him.  The remainder of the cast is rounded out by talented child actors an ensemble of character actors including Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn, and Frank Langella.  All of the quirky characters are the brainchild of Writer/Director Matt Ross.  I would've loved to see his screenplay get an Oscar nomination if not for the neverending stream of unnecessary f-words.  These cheapen the heartwarming story of family and standing up for what you believe in.  Without the profanity (and more of Viggo than we ever needed to see), this would have made a great PG-13 film that parents and teens could enjoy together.  “Captain Fantastic” is a highly entertaining story filled with great acting and a strong moral as long as you can get past all of the f-words.  I wish that more of 2016’s Oscar films could have found this balance between drama and comic relief.

[Pictured: This picture says everything that you need to know about this unique family and their interactions with people who have been raised traditionally]

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron - 6 stars out of 10

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron - 6 stars out of 10

“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” is an entirely unique animated film from Dreamworks.  It is like a cross between “Black Beauty” and “Bambi.”  The story takes us through the displacement of the Native Americans during the westward expansion of the Transcontinental Railroad but they didn't try to compete with Disney by creating an inevitability inferior musical featuring anthropomorphic animals.  Instead, they went for realism by limiting the dialogue to human characters and incorporating real horse sound effects.  These horses display an incredible array of expression without dialogue and Matt Damon’s occasional narration of Spirit’s thoughts is just enough to make the plot clear.  The score is vital to defining the characters’ emotions and it becomes a story told through the music of Hans Zimmer.  They also tried to steal a page out of Disney's "Tarzan" by populating the film with pop songs by Bryan Adams overtop of the various montages (though only playing half of each song).  It isn’t quite as successful as “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear,” but that is probably because they didn’t have Phil Collins.  The main draw of this film is its visual beauty for which it received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.  Films like "Frozen" and "Zootopia" are visual masterpieces but there really is no comparison to the craft of traditional hand drawn animation.  This film combines digital and traditional animation to get the best of both worlds, but the traditional is what stands out to us.  “Spirit” doesn’t have the most complex or unpredictable story but it serves as a piece of visual artwork that can be enjoyed by all ages.

[Pictured; "Spirit" has a unique style that blends traditional animation with digital animation]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Moonlight (2016) - 8 stars out of 10

Moonlight (2016) - 8 stars out of 10

“Moonlight” is a coming of age story about a bullied boy with a bad home life and his struggle in coming to terms with who he is and who he wants to be.  This is a quality film but it is difficult to put my finger on what makes it so good.  Every individual aspect of the film is good but the whole seems to be greater than the sum of its parts.  Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris received Oscar nominations in the Supporting categories and, while both play their roles perfectly, their limited ranges of emotional expression prevent them from having that one moment where I know that they deserve to win.  They are the most interesting characters in the film and I really wanted to see more of them but they disappeared way too fast.  The best performance probably comes from the combination of all three actors that play Chiron.  The character is meant to be shy and emotionally detached so we don’t get to experience the full extent of their acting chops, but I was amazed by the consistency of mannerisms between the three actors.  It made it believable that we are seeing this one person throughout three phases of life (lots of credit to director Barry Jenkins for this).  So if the acting isn’t the standout part of the film, maybe it is the story.  It hits on two hot button issues (race and homosexuality), though I believe that the important theme of the film is about becoming a product of your environment more than either of those issues.  The subject matter was handled tastefully, with the exception of the one scene which would have been uncomfortable regardless of the genders of the characters.  That being said, it could have been much more graphic than it was and I appreciate them sparing these teenage actors from having to go beyond where they did.  If the story isn’t what elevates it above all other films, maybe it is the editing and cinematography.  I appreciated the Tarantino approach of dividing the film into three distinctive chapters to show Chiron’s progression through life.  Outside of that, the editing wasn’t anything too creative and the cinematography didn’t wow me.  Even Nicholas Britell’s score served its purpose with its ethereal theme at key moments in the film but it wasn’t at the level of most Oscar-winning scores.  It is difficult to specify any particular aspect of this film that has earned its critical acclaim, 8 Oscar nominations, and 50/50 shot of winning Best Picture in a showdown against “La La Land.”  Instead, the emotional content in “Moonlight” engages us in a way that the rest doesn’t matter.

[Pictured: This has become the iconic image from the film but I would have loved to see twice as much of the paternal relationship with Mahershala Ali]

Monday, February 13, 2017

Doctor Strange (2016) - 6 stars out of 10

Doctor Strange (2016) - 6 stars out of 10

It would seem that Disney is starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel since all of the most popular Marvel characters (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor) have already received a solo film and inclusion in the Avengers.  “Dr. Strange” isn’t the most well-known superhero and this origin film reveals his transformation from neurosurgeon to master of the mystic arts.  Unfortunately, it is too much magic and alternate dimensions for my taste.  I love superhero movies that I believe could be happening right now throughout the world but I have trouble buying into the cheesy costumes and fantasy elements of films like “Thor” and this one.  It is a personal preference but the glaring lack of realism makes it difficult to get into the story.  There is another small issue that just didn’t sit right: Benedict Cumberbatch pulls off the American accent well but it feels kind of wrong.  I’m sure that many “Sherlock” fans were hoping that this would be Holmes as a superhero but you will not find that in “Doctor Strange.”  It’s actually a compliment to Cumberbatch in that he can’t be accused of only being able to play one role.  The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was smart because she is great in every movie, and once Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams are added into the mix, we end up with a quartet of past Oscar nominees.  The acting isn’t at the level that you would expect from this combination of great actors but it helps to bring the story to life.  Likewise, Michael Giacchino’s score gets the job done but does not have a memorable superhero theme like most of the recent superhero installments from Marvel and beyond.  The positive thing that I can say about this film is that the Oscar nomination for Best Special Effects is well-earned in a highly competitive year for this category.  It is so cool to see cities literally turned on their sides and mechanized as well as the glowing weaponry that moves in an organic way.  This film isn’t bad but it is one more example of the oversaturation of Marvel film.  The origin story has become too formulaic and now it lacks the element of surprise that we experienced during the superhero renaissance 15 years ago.  Marvel fans are sure to enjoy “Dr. Strange” but I feel that it lacked the magic (figuratively, not literally) of the superhero movies from a decade ago.

[Pictured: I didn't love the story but the film certainly was not lacking in visual creativity]

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Lobster - 7 stars out of 10

The Lobster - 7 stars out of 10

"The Lobster" is one of the most bizarre movies that you will ever see, but that's what makes it so entertaining.  This film completely transports us to a believable dystopia where singles have 45 days to find a partner or be transformed into an animal of their choosing.  I typically hate black comedies.  I feel that the humor never reaches a level of irony that transforms it from sad to amusing but this film managed to make me laugh in the most unexpected places.  It's the combination of irony, complete absurdity, and a realistic dystopian future that delivered me to a place where I didn't feel guilty laughing at a dying lady moaning on the ground after jumping out of a window.  The Oscar-nominated screenplay is amazing as it creates dialogue that is more awkward than middle school.  Of course, it's all in the delivery but the script makes the most of awkward repetition and mundane small talk.  Scenes like the dance sequence are so weird but so funny.  A nonchalant use of the f-word and other strong language is almost necessary to painting this emotionless future but makes it difficult to endure at points.  The blatant expression of offensive language and strong content is relentless but properly sets the mood for this demented story.  The final result is a dichotomy of feeling that the subject matter is dull at points and fascinating at others.  The odd dialogue is enhanced by an appropriately atonal score.  I never expected that an atonal score could be so whimsical and fun but it adds to the air of “WTF” throughout the story.  It is hard to refer to the acting as “good” since the idea is for the actors to deliver the dialogue with as little emotion as possible.  Colin Farrell hides behind his mustache so effectively that you won't even realize that it's him.  Rachel Weisz creates the perfect amount of non-chemistry with him while John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw make great sidekicks.  This film is unlike anything that you’ve seen but as long as you can get past the strong content, it is a fun trip into the world of “poor acting.”  “The Lobster” intentionally fells like watching an elementary play with its mundane, unemotional dialogue the it makes for a highly entertaining experience.

[Pictured: This film is full of awkward sequences like these propaganda demonstrations of how you might avoid choking to death if you have a partner (above) and the most ridiculous rendition of "Something's Got a Hold of My Heart" (below)]

Nocturnal Animals - 7 stars out of 10

Nocturnal Animals - 7 stars out of 10

"Nocturnal Animals" is a depressing, disturbing, creepy, sad film that reveals the true nature of its characters through an allegorical novel.  It is one of those films that I didn't really enjoy but I couldn't stop watching because I had to know what happened next (in both the real world and the fictional story).  While the plot was compelling, I wish that I could unsee the bizarre homage to overweight, naked women jumping around in slow motion while wearing marching band helmets that opened the film.  The purpose?  To tell us that Amy Adams is an art gallery owner.  Couldn't they have just displayed the text "Amy Adams is an art gallery owner," or had her say in conversation "I own an art gallery?"  I don't understand why it was necessary to watch a graphic surrealist montage FOR THREE MINUTES in order to deliver this information.  The film's noir-style cinematography and music would have made a much more suitable opening.  Along with the endless stream of strong profanity (the majority of which is unnecessary to developing realism), it is a great example of how Hollywood fills movies with immorality without an actual purpose.  On another note, the film was well-acted.  Amy Adams' performance is good but seems less impressive because this year's "Arrival" offered her an opportunity to be so much more expressive.  I did appreciate her realistic portrayal of the remorse that many women feel after an abortion.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson deserved the Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor more then Jerry Shannon.  And Jake Gyllenhaal deserved it even more (though he was probably considered in the Lead category).  I'm glad that Taylor-Johnson was acknowledged with the Golden Globe win because he is the driving force behind the film's disturbing atmosphere.  The score by Abel Korzeniowski also contributes to the atmosphere with a few hints of "Vertigo" to help enhance the film noir-style.  Even though I found the story to be uncomfortable, I thought it deserving of a screenplay Oscar nomination for effectively managing this story that takes place in several different time periods and realities.  "Nocturnal Animals" is an interesting film because you may not enjoy it but you'll feel a sense of urgency to discover the answers to its mysteries in the end.

[Pictured: This odd interaction on a desolate West Texas highway leads to a very uncomfortable but compelling story in the film's fictional universe]