Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Life with Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhal and Rebecca Ferguson

This movie is intense and the acting is great.  It transcends multiple genres: sci-fi, horror and drama. The visuals and special effects are excellent as we see the metamorphosis of a sinister alien being and one of the most elaborate and realistic space stations ever to be seen on film.

The staff of an international space station retrieve environmental samples from Mars. They then begin analyzing and experimenting. Then something goes terribly wrong. The underlying theme is that scientists are playing God with life from another planet. The movie poses the question, what are the consequences of extreme scientific curiosity?

There is an excellent cast with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhal giving authentic and realistic performances, some of their best work ever. They are not alone in the pool of talent: Hiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays an intense and by the book commander, all add to the overall well written story.

The only criticism of the casting and coinciding writing that I can offer is that with so many people giving good performances there is a lot of competition for screen time which led to less depth in character development. Hardly, a major issue with so many other good things running on all cylinders.

This is an all-around great movie.  Please go see it in the theater where it will be most appreciated. Fans of just about any genre will be very pleased. I give it a 9/10.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Batman LEGO Movie with Will Arnett, Rosario Dawson and Michael Cera

I was very disappointed with this movie. Please do not see it if you want  to see a good and fun Batman story. This is not a kids movie with simple themes as it is portrayed. Rather, this is the politically correct version of Batman taken straight out of the modern comic. It is almost as if it were developed for parents who want their kids to be passive snowflakes, emphasizing that self-reliance and independence are negative characteristics. All in all, the writers and Batman's supporting cast want him to be a wimp.

In the movie, Batman is portrayed as incompetent and an egomaniac, who because he prefers to work independently, cannot be a successful or admirable super hero. His incompetence is manifest from the beginning when his arrogant actions inadvertently give the Joker the upper hand. His loner personality leads to several other mistakes throughout the film. The solution is that Batman must overcome his unattractive independence, gather a gargantuan amount of teammates and learn how to share in order to save the day and stop being a screw up. Self reliance, an admirable trait and Batman' specialty for 78 years,  is secondary to relying on other people, the antithesis of Batman's origin and mythos. 

It is a shame that the writers work so hard to patronize kids in the audience. 
Incidentally, creators have been very successful in the past developing great kid-friendly animation where Batman is portrayed as he truly is. For instance, the cartoon of the mid-90's showcased this when Batman was portrayed primarily as strong without sacrificing his compassion or ability to work with others. In fact, this is exactly what is wrong with the Batman comic book today. 

Since his inception Batman has been a loner who, yes, at times teams up with other heroes  such as Commissioner Jim Gordon and Dick Grayson as Robin. But here just like the modern comic book the supporting cast is too large with superfluous characters taking the Batman out of this Batman movie. Today, the Batman comic has become a group exercise ad nauseam with 3 or 4 Robins at his side at all times. Similarly, so many of his so called friends, who pepper him with harsh criticism throughout the film, compete against him for screen time, relegating him to a supporting role.

Beware, while it is advertised falsely as appropriate for children its messages are pure indoctrination and many parents will not be appreciative especially those who were raised on the comic book and/or are teaching their kids to fend for themselves. Lastly, the thematic elements negate the fact that it is animated and supposed to be a fun time. I give it a 2/10.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island with Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly

This was such a fun movie. The visuals, colors and cinematography are amazing. The special effects are painstaking at times. The theme is not just indicative of Apocalypse Now, occurring during the Vietnam war, but some of the scenes are taken right out of it, particularly the helicopter incursion into a remote uncharted island where an explorer, Bill Randa, (John Goodman) has convinced the U. S. government and an army platoon to go under the pretext of beneficial discoveries like modern day medicine, never revealing that his real intention is to find large monsters like Kong and others.

Aboard the helicopters are James Conrad, a former SAS soldier now tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a self-professed "anti-war-photographer" Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Also, Samuel L. Jackson
plays Preston Packard, an obsessive colonel  who loves war and is not ready to take his unit home despite having permission to do so. And, yes, Jackson is in his typical, cinematic persona. This particular cast does a great job of keeping this movie worthwhile instead of a dud like so many other King Kong/Godzilla movies of the recent past.

When Kong first appears on the island there is an intense confrontation with the army unit as he attempts to protect his territory, and this scene of several minutes of great special effects is worth its weight in gold and one single reason you should see it.

Throughout the well written story Packard and the rest of the team disagree on how to proceed, whether to get off the island and leave Kong alone while cutting their losses, or treat the monster as a threat and confront it. As a result, intense dialogues take place between Packard, furious at the monster for attacking his men, and Conrad and Weaver who see themselves having wrongly invaded Kong's home.

The backdrop of Vietnam adds a lot of depth to the story and while there are certainly some latent anti-war themes throughout the movie, the writing stays away from the blatant and uncomfortable political statement.

All in all, it has a bit of everything: action, drama, intellectualism and a lot of comedy, most notably from John C. Reilly who surprises everyone on the island with his story as a former WW II pilot, Hank Marlow. Lastly, this is not your typical action and monster movie where your brain will not be stimulated throughout the entire length. Rather, the combination of the cast, writing and backdrop of Vietnam  may actually cause you to think about the consequences of war and compassion for your enemy. It is very interesting and you will certainly have fun watching it.  I give it 9 out of 10 quality points.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Table 19 with Anna Kendrick, Craig Johnson and Lisa Kudrow

Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow (Friends) and Craig Johnson (Pineapple Express, This is the End) play wedding invite rejects relegated to the obscure 19th table at a reception of Eloise's best friend Francie.  The two friends have an additional connection.

While not a laugh-out-loud comedy there are some redeeming qualities to it. Eloise (Kendrick) comes across as a very sweet girl who is still stricken with grief that her ex-boyfriend and the wedding's best man Teddy (Wyatt Russell) left her. Throughout the movie they butt heads in some very emotional confrontations.

At times it can be challenging to tell which direction the movie is going but being left guessing is one reason you should see it.  Will Eloise and Teddy reunite? Will she conveniently realize that she is meant for someone else who happens to come into the picture? The writing is skillful in that there is one surprise that transitions the entire storyline and leads to an endearing, romantic conclusion.

It does struggle slowly between an attempt at drama or serious comedy with the dramatic ultimately winning. But if you're looking for light, clean humor and romance instead of the typical over the top humor that so many successful comedies (Blades of Glory, Zoolander) and not so successful (Keeping up with The Joneses) gun for these days then check it out. I give 6 out of 10 points.

Collide with Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley, Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones

A former car booster and drug dealer's (Nicholas Hoult) girlfriend (Felicity Jones) becomes ill and needs a kidney transplant.  His current job won't foot the bill. So he goes back to his old boss (Ben Kingsley) and asks to work again for one last big job, a robbery that will pay for his girlfriend's operation in its entirety.  Unbeknownst to him, his former boss is using the robbery as a way to get back at his old criminal partner now rival (Anthony Hopkins).

The car chases are decent at times but don't be drawn in by the fact that Hopkins and Kingsley are in it.  Their performances are below par and B movie-like. In addition, the bad guy characters they play are not worth their talents. But all of that is to be expected with writing and directing this poor. If you want to see Ben Kingsley give an excellent performance as a villain then check out Iron Man 3 where he plays an aloof, mysterious figure known as the Mandarin. Hoult and Jones' performances do not mange to compensate for the poor writing either. A cast this popular and skilled simply can't pull off the impossible. It is a real shame, with a better script this could have been a worthwhile sleeper success.

As far as the story, we have seen it before in such films as The Transporter with Jason Statham and Getaway with Ethan Hawke and a host of others. That is, a damsel in distress with cars, villains, money and violence involved.  These movies can be fun and entertaining but this one does not match the formula.

However, if you are bored and want to fill your time with some decent car chases with cool vehicles then go see this.  Otherwise, save your money. I give it a 3 out of 10 points.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Recommendations and Reviews of Italian director, Stefano Sollima, Suburra and Gomorrah, Soldado

Recently I discovered the cinematic art of Stefano Sollima, an Italian movie and television director. His work will add depth to any fan's knowledge of foreign films.

His works include Suburra and the series Gomorrah, both of which focus on organized crime in Italy. Currently both are available on Netflix. He is prolific and his work will continue with the American film, Soldado, the sequel to the highly controversial film, Sicario with Josh Brolin, Catherine Keener and Benicio del Toro.

Suburra is dark, gritty, political, graphically violent and sexual as well as thought provoking. It showcases an ongoing confrontation between the older, organized gangs vs. the younger, up and coming gangs that are fighting for respect and a place in a town called Ostia. The interactions between the two emphasize street knowledge, economics, political and religious corruption, violence and loyalty.

The film centers on a real estate endeavor in Ostia,  the objective being to turn it into a Las Vegas type attraction. Rival family gangs all want a piece of the action and Sallima's film displays the violent and corrupt path toward achieving it.

In addition, the addition of the corruption in both the Church and the Italian Parliament evoke a nexus of competing themes that Sallima brings to a seamless conclusion.

Sollima is innovative in his directing.  There is one timely and dramatic scene in a grocery store that any crime or action movie fan should see.

Complex character development of figures such as Number 8, a young ambitious turf boss, the Samurai, an old school criminal and Fillipo Falgradi, a member of the Italian Parliament, round out Sollima's success with this film.

Stay tuned as I will write more on Stefano Sollima and his work, including the great Italian television series Gomorrah.

Pierfrancesco Favino as Filippo Malgradi, a corrupt member of the Italian Parliament i

Logan (Wolverine) with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart

The year is 2029 and a mutant hasn't been born in 15 years due to eradication by a mysterious scientist and security company.  There is great writing in this movie and graphic, necessary violence which matches that of the comic books.  Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) after all is a violent figure.

The aforementioned scientist and security company have engaged in genetic experimentation, creating new mutants.  One young girl is very similar to Wolverine but enhanced.  Upon meeting her, Logan is reluctant to take her in but Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) encourages him to embrace her presence.  The fight scenes and graphics associated with this character alone are worth every dollar of admission.

However, this is still a sad story where Wolverine struggles both with an illness that is inhibiting his healing power and the endless series of tragedies that have always defined his personal life.

While the writing is great though most of the movie, it takes an abrupt transition toward the end and rushes there.  I am not fond of the ending or the way Marvel decided to end the Wolverine series, this being the last official film.  However,  I highly recommend it and give it an 8 out of 10 point scale of quality.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Comedian with Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann

Robert De Niro gives a great performance as Jackie Burke, a washed up stand-up comic best known for his early days on a sit-com, one that he hates revisiting. De Niro is very funny and comes across realistically but still maintains the tough guy personality that only he knows how to do. I have wondered sometimes about De Niro's recent choices in scripts (see the Heist and Killing Season) and whether or not he still had the edge (see The Intern) but this role has an old flare to it, bolstered by the presence of Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito and Patti LuPone. It is very hard to go wrong with that cast.

Lelise Mann holds her own among them as Harmony, Burke's female interest, giving her funniest and most authentic performance since her stints in early Judd Apatow movies like the The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Her father Mac (Keitel) is eccentric, wealthy and dissatisfied with her involvement with Burke, setting up a conflict that fuels the humor throughout.  Watching the dialogues of Keitel and De Niro one can't help but think of Taxi Driver and the personalities these actors have established for so long.

Burke continuously pushes his calm as a cucumber agent, Miller (played by Edie Falco), to find him steady work as he subjects her to angry breakdowns in front of potential audiences for his comedy.  But he will not compromise, refusing to do any other type of comedy than what he is used to---that of being an asshole with a vulgar mouth.

An underlying and important theme of this movie is the unorthodox trajectory that an entertainer goes through in order to make it in Hollywood today. From sit-coms to celebrity conventions to performing at old-folks homes to a funny but VERY brief stint on a reality show, Jackie never fails to get laughs, be provocative and push the envelope, ultimately using the omnipresence of social media to his advantage in order to stay in the game.

Friday, January 13, 2017

La La Land

The vintage Hollywood look of this film is worth your money spent in and of itself.  The cinematography and colorful costuming give it a vibrant look making it come alive on the screen more so than other movies.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone give above average performances singing and dancing.  The story and characters are developed nicely between musical scenes. However, while the writing is brave and unconventional during most of the film, challenging monotonous Hollywood scripting, it takes a cowardly turn in the very end with a typical regurgitated conclusion, reminiscent of so many average movies. The writers refuse to take the film all the way and crash boundaries.

Nonetheless, La La Land is highly recommended and a requirement for anyone seeking pure enjoyment with an original film in the theater.

Assassin's Creed

Based on a video game the adaptation of this film includes unique performances by Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons and notably Marion Cotillard.  Filled with action, the best parts of the movie take place between those sequences with rich dialogues between Cotillard and Fassbender. As a result, a great story is developed making the action scenes almost unnecessary. In addition, it is not necessary to have played the video game to understand and take meaning from the film. Lastly, the violence is tame compared to that found in those games, making it suitable for older kids. Recommended for fun entertainment.

Fences with Viola Davis and Denzel Washington

While Viola Davis and Denzel Washington give powerful acting performances the story loses its meaning and depth the last hour of the movie. The theme is an African-American working class family in the 1950s. The film early on is excellent with elements of economic struggle, survival and challenges within the family, notably Denzel Washington's internal struggles. Later, however, the story transitions abruptly and wholly to those internal struggles and the deep themes of the movie fall by the wayside. However, as a whole, it is worth seeing in the theater. Enjoy.