5 Stars= It's Simply the Best
4 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Totally Sucks
Welcome to the 20th century ****
Mike Mills’ "20th Century Women" couldn’t have come out at a better time. This film is a celebration of females everywhere, demonstrating that a woman can do virtually anything that a man can do. At the same time, it’s also full of warmth, humor, and beautiful performances.
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Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” would make a superb double feature with Jeff Nichols’s “Midnight Special,” which hit theaters earlier this year. Both movies have phenomenal buildup, calling to mind Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “Arrival” in particular is perhaps the closest any contemporary film has come to capturing the wonder of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode. Like Rod Serling’s best works, “Arrival” is a poignant and clever piece of science fiction with provocative themes that parallel our own society. Above all else, this is a challenging mystery that keeps you guessing until the final act, which fortunately doesn’t disappoint.
Amy Adams, who’s still overdue for an Oscar, gives one of her finest performances as Dr. Louise Banks. This linguist becomes the government’s go-to girl when several UFOs arrive on earth. Upon making first contact, the military quickly finds that the aliens are unfamiliar with the human language. These extraterrestrials primarily communicate through visuals that kind of look like inkblots. Banks is tasked with not only interpreting their language, but also teaching the aliens how to converse with humans.
“Arrival” features great supporting performances from Forest Whitaker as a US military colonel and Jeremy Renner as a hunky mathematician. However, the film belongs to Adams, who creates a strong, smart, and driven protagonist at the center of the biggest event in human history. Banks is already coping with the loss of her daughter, who died for a terminal illness. Yet, this doesn’t stop her from pushing forward with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Adams brings a genuine sense of awe to her role and keeps us invested every step of the way.
The aliens are also unique creations with some of the most distinctive designs since “District 9.” Their spaceships in particular are highly inventive, looking like eclipsed moons on the outside. On this inside, though, they’re reminiscent of the Star Gate from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” With a budget of only $50 million, Villeneuve accomplishes so much on a visual level than Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, or Zach Snyder could with $200 million. While the effects here are extraordinary, they really aren’t the focus here. This is a movie about communication, which is especially significant in an era where so many cultures seem divided and disconnected. If we could all learn to speak a universal language, though, we might just move towards a brighter future.
There’s an unwavering sense of uncertainty throughout much of “Arrival,” as Banks attempts to uncover why these aliens are here. Have they come to enrich humankind or cause our downfall? Eric Heisserer’s screenplay brings everything full circle in the end with a twist that surprisingly doesn’t feel forced. Villeneuve, who previously gave us “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” continues to prove that he’s among our most impressive up-and-coming directors. One can only hope he’ll bring the same passion and intelligence to the upcoming “Blade Runner 2049.” Until then, “Arrival” is a modern sci-fi classic that’ll make audiences think while also influencing them to keep watching the stars.
“The Birth of a Nation” has been one of the talked about movies of the past several months. The film was a huge hit at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and got purchased by Fox Searchlight Pictures for an unprecedented $17.5 million. Of course not all the buzz surrounding “The Birth of a Nation” is positive. Director/Writer/Producer/Star Nate Parker has attracted a fair deal of controversy due to his 1999 rape charges, not to mention his more recent accusations of homophobia. Then there’s the fact that the film ironically bears the same title as D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent picture, which depicted the KKK as heroes.
As for the film itself, though, “The Birth of a Nation” is a nothing short of a great American drama. The film is reminiscent of other modern classics about prejudice, such as “12 Years a Slave,” “Selma,” and even “Django Unchained.” Yet, this true story still stands out as a unique experience through its fascinating depiction of slavery and faith. At the center of everything is Nate Parker, who might be a controversial figure. Like Roman Polanski, however, his dedication, passion, and talent cannot be denied. Sometimes you need to separate the artist from the art.
Parker plays Nat Turner, an African American slave who learns how to read at a young age. His owners only allow him to study the Bible, though. Turning grows up to be a preacher, becoming a leader in the eyes of his fellow slaves. While Turner’s circumstances are by no means ideal, he at least has an education, a beautiful wife (Aja Naomi King), and a position that grants him special privileges. Thus, most slaves would kill to be in his shoes.
To maintain this lifestyle, Turner is content with his keeping his head down and obeying his masters. This changes when he’s forced to go on the road and preach to other slaves throughout the south. While on tour, Turner comes to understand just how savage and inhuman slavery is. Unable to stand idly by anymore, he’s inspired to spark a slave rebellion. Of course this means risking the life he’s worked so hard to build for himself.
Parker delivers a raw, commanding performance as Turner, carrying much of the film. Yet, Parker also has a strong supporting cast to work with. Armie Hammer in particular gives a multi-layered performance as Turner’s master, Samuel. Far from the most sadistic character in the film, Samuel actually treats his slaves with a certain degree of human decency. He even goes out of his way to help Turner on occasion. At the same time, however, Samuel still talks down to his slaves and treats them like property. If they show any sign of disobedience, he won’t think twice about cracking the whip.
Needless to say, “The Birth of a Nation” is not an easy film to watch. The movie is full shocking imagery, much of which involves Jackie Earle Haley as a cruel slave catcher. For every brutal scene, though, there’s an uplifting moment that captures the power of the human spirit. It’s all lovingly crafted by Parker, who packs his film with breathtaking cinematography, a haunting score, and unwavering honesty. Sometimes the Christ symbolism can be a little too on the nose, but it doesn’t distract from the film’s underlying message: preaching to people is one thing, but following through is quite another.
"The Blair Witch Project" admittedly isn’t a movie that holds up phenomenally. If you were to show the film to a contemporary audience, they’d probably view it as a relic from a forgotten time. Nevertheless, it does have its place in cinematic history, launching the found footage genre into the mainstream and demonstrating how the Internet can help build hype for a movie. For the time it was released, "The Blair Witch Project" did have a unique style, chilling atmosphere, and strong tension that kept building.
Just one year after the film’s release, we got "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2." It was stupid, half-assed, and had virtually no connection to its predecessor, but at least that made it memorable. Another decade and a half down the line, we get "Blair Witch," a direct sequel to the cultural phenomenon that started it all. From a filmmaking and storytelling standpoint, "Blair Witch" is technically a better follow-up than "Book of Shadows." However, it’s also arguably the most forgettable entry in this franchise, taking no chances and basically copying the original.
James Allen McCune stars as James Donahue, Heather Donahue’s sister. Many years after his sibling went missing in Black Hills Forest, James goes looking for the illusive Blair Witch. A documentary filmmaker named Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a couple fellow college students (Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid), and two locals (Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry) come along as well. Of course wandering into the woods turns out to be the biggest mistake of their lives, as the gang is tormented by the mysterious forces that go bump in the night.
Ironically, the best aspect of "Blair Witch" is its production values. Since this is the 21st century, our protagonists are no longer required to just carry around a video camera. They’re able to use headsets, webcams, and drones to capture sights from different angles. At the same time, "Blair Witch" still maintains an armature filmmaking style that’s in the spirit of the 1999 film. It’s interesting to see how modern technology functions in this universe, although cell phones and GPS will always be useless in horror movies.
Aside from this, though, "Blair Witch" mainly just feels like a waste of time. Virtually every scare, set piece, and idea feels recycled. Every time it seems like the film is going to try something different, it just reverts back to the same old clichés. At the center of everything are a group of incredibly stupid characters that just make one stupid decision after another. It also doesn’t help that we’ve gotten countless other recovered footage movies since "The Blair Witch Project," from "REC," to "Cloverfield," to "Paranormal Activity"
What makes "Blair Witch" especially disappointing is that it was directed by Adam Wingard, who made the wickedly entertaining "You're Next" and "The Guest." One would expect a filmmaker as inventive as Wingard to take this franchise to a whole new level of horror. Yet, the most interesting part of "Blair Witch" is how the studio managed to keep it under wraps for so long. Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett add nothing to the Blair Witch mythology and resolve no loose ends. Granted, you could argue that the less you know about the Blair Witch, the better. If that’s the case, though, why bother making a sequel at all?
The beginning of beautiful friendship ***1/2
It might sound like an odd combination, but Hart and Johnson are an extremely endearing duo. While not on par with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in "The Nice Guys," they do save "Central Intelligence" from being just another buddy movie.
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A one man Suicide Squad ****
Just as superheroes live by a code, so do their film adaptations. Movie studios never allow costumed vigilantes to use four-letter words excessively, senselessly take lives, or do anything that might result in an R-rating. Since Deadpool doesn’t consider himself a superhero, however, his solo film doesn’t play by any of the rules. As a matter of fact, he practically extends a middle finger to those rules. In his feature film directorial debut, Tim Miler not only gives us the Deadpool movie fans have been waiting for, but also the anti-superhero movie we’ve been waiting for.
Ryan Reynolds reprises the role of Deadpool/Wade Wilson, who was last seen in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Anybody who was disappointed by Deadpool’s appearance in that travesty can rest assured that this reboot more than compensates. Much like "X-Men: Days of Future Past," its essentially one big apology. In addition to poking fun at the previous depiction of Deadpool, this film takes shots at everything from Reynold’s portrayal of the Green Lantern to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine. Even the opening credits take jabs at numerous superhero tropes and celebrity egos, perfectly setting the tone.
As for the story, Wade Wilson is a wisecracking mercenary with nothing to live for. His life is given purpose upon falling for Morena Baccarin's Vanessa, the only person on the planet who’s arguably had an even more messed up upbringing. Just as Wade finally finds true happiness, he gets diagnosed with Cancer. With nowhere else to turn, Wade signs up for a program that’ll cure his fatal disease and give him mutant powers in the process. There turns out to be a catch, as the experiment leaves Wade horribly disfigured. What’s more, the big bad in charge plans to use Wade’s newfound healing powers as a weapon. Since Wade doesn’t respond well to authority, he breaks free and sets out to cure himself, leaving a trail of bloodshed behind.
On paper, "Deadpool" might sound like a pretty straightforward comic book flick. The plot admittedly isn’t anything special, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for the hilarious one-liners and over-the-top violence. "Deadpool" more than delivers on the laughs, most notably giving us the greatest Stan Lee cameo ever and the greatest Marvel post-credits scene ever. Meanwhile, the gleefully gory action sequences put the PG-13 "Total Recall," "RoboCop," and "Terminator: Genisys" to shame. The final result is like a cross between "The Mask," "Kick-Ass," and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," rarely having a dull moment.
Reynolds lives and breaths Deadpool, especially now that he’s been given a witty script to work with. This film is far from a one-man show, however. Baccarin is enormously charming as the beautiful love interest while T. J. Miller is well suited to play the nerdy best friend archetype. Even Karan Soni makes the most out of an extended cameo as a taxi driver. We also get some great work from Stefan Kapičić as Colossus and Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, the only two X-Men 20th Century Fox could afford.
The one character who’s sadly a stick in the mud is Ed Skrein’s Francis, the mutant who ruins Wade’s life and thus becomes his prime target. He’s a serviceable bad guy and Skrein does a fine job. Given how much fun the rest of the cast is, though, it’s kind of a shame that the villain is duller than everyone else by comparison. Let’s just say that Loki he ain’t.
Fortunately, what the film does get right above all else is Deadpool himself. If you’re officially sick of superheroes that are constantly brooding, making important speeches, and putting themselves on a moral pedestal, Deadpool is the answer to your prayers. Aside from a few serious moments that expose his inner turmoil, Deadpool’s basically a trigger-happy cartoon who does whatever he wants and says whatever he wants, but also fights for a worthy cause in the end. Along the way, he takes no prisoners and pulls no punches, especially when it comes to breaking the fourth wall.
When Elvis met Dick ***1/2
The meeting that occurred between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon in 1970 was a fairly insignificant event in US history. Since Presley and Nixon were such fascinating individuals, though, even the most minor aspects of their lives are still pretty interesting to hear about. That’s probably the best way to describe "Elvis & Nixon."
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A unique perspective ***1/2
"Hardcore Henry" is one of the better video game movies out there. Granted, the film isn’t based on a video game or about video games, but there’s no denying that director Ilya Naishuller was inspired by first-person shooters.
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Although “The Girl on the Train” is a perfectly solid psychological thriller, it has the misfortune of coming out a couple years after “Gone Girl.” Watching director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Erin Cressida Wilson’s hit novel, you can’t help but think of David Fincher’s harrowing style and Gillian Flynn’s intricate storytelling. That’s not to say the film is a cheap knockoff. It’s a well-made, well-plotted mystery that leaves you on pins and needles. When stacking both movies up against each other, though, “The Girl on the Train” can almost feel like a Lifetime movie.
Emily Blunt turns in a heartrending performance as Rachel, who’s the definition of a train wreck. She drinks because she’s unhappy and she’s unhappy because she drinks. Although Rachel doesn’t remember everything about her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux), she knows that it ended badly. Tom is now married to Rebecca Ferguson’s Anna and has a beautiful daughter with her. Rachel constantly stalks her ex’s new family, but for some reason they never file a restraining order.
To cope with her crippling loneliness and sorrow, Rachel rides the train on a daily basis. Along the way, she passes by a house owned by Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans). Although they seem like a happy couple, Rachel eventually discovers that Megan is having an affair. The plot thickens when Megan goes missing and is presumed dead. Rachel has her suspicions about who’s responsible. Given her alcoholic nature, though, she’s not entirely sure what to believe.
This is what makes “The Girl on the Train” such a compelling mystery. The audience is forced to place their faith in a person who isn’t at all reliable. Sometimes Rachel remembers things one way and sometimes she remembers them another. Much like Elliot in “Mr. Robot” or the Narrator in “Fight Club,” her mind is all over the place. That makes putting the puzzle together all the more fun. Along the way, Blunt creates a genuinely sympathetic character we come to root for.
While “The Girl on the Train” is an entertaining whodunit, the final destination is a bit of a letdown. The ending is by no means bad, but the explanation probably won’t catch anybody off guard. Again, this is simply why the superior film is “Gone Girl,” which managed to be unpredictable while also ingeniously tying everything together. Even if “The Girl on the Train” isn’t as smart as it thinks it is, it’s still hard not admire the performances and craft. It’s certainly a ride worth taking, despite having to live in “Gone Girl’s” shadow.
No Country For Old Men... but less disturbing ****
"Hell or High Water" is one of the most absorbing games of cat and mouse you’ll ever see on the silver screen. This is largely because the cats and mice in question are all empathetic characters. There really aren’t any good guys or bad guys here.
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Breaking pretty good ***1/2
"The Infiltrator" is kind of like "Breaking Bad" meets "Narcos," with elements of "The Americans" and "Homeland" too.
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Enter the panda ***1/2
"Kung Fu Panda 3" doesn’t quite exceed its predecessors, but it does keep the ball rolling and bring our hero’s journey full circle.
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The movie musical has made a major comeback over the past decade and a half. On the whole, though, every film has either been a Broadway adaptation like “Chicago” or a jukebox musical like “Moulin Rogue.” The only original movie musicals have been animated features, such as “Frozen” and “Moana.” Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” is a true treasure: a modern movie musical with unique songs, distinctive characters, and an inspired love story. Although the film is set in contemporary Los Angeles, it has the look and feel of a musical from cinema’s Golden Age. What we’re left with is a miraculous film that has one foot in the past and one foot in the present, finding a pitch perfect balance.
From the opening number, “La La Land” is an enchanting experience that never lets up. As the music builds, a seemingly mundane California freeway is suddenly transformed into a blissful celebration with over 100 dancers. Chazelle’s film is full of scenes like this, draping everyday settings with eye-popping colors and kinetic energy. He gives LA an otherworldly presence, turning the City of Flowers and Sunshine into the City of Dreams. At the heart of this spectacular backdrop are two fools with the audacity to dream big.
Emma Stone deserves to take home this year’s Best Actress Oscar for her stunning performance as Mia. Reminiscent of Stone’s own life story, Mia is an enormously gifted actress who rolled the dice and moved to LA. In a city full of aspiring artists, however, it’s almost impossible to get noticed. She pours her heart and soul into every audition, but the casting directors never give their undivided attention. In addition to being an exquisite singer and dancer, Stone captures all the heartache and struggle of being a performer while also maintaining the passion that drives people to keep going. She most notably nails it in a captivating musical number entitled “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” which is sure to be a frontrunner for Best Original Song.
Starring opposite Stone is Ryan Gosling as Sebastian. He’s a serious musician who wants nothing more to open his own jazz club. Alas, he finds himself playing Christmas carols for a demanding restaurant owner, played by J. K. Simmons. The jazz pianist eventually sets his pride aside and takes a steady gig with John Legend’s Keith. While the money is good, Seb fears that he’ll never get to play the kind of music he cherishes so much. This begs the age-old question, can an artist be happy with their work and be a success as well?
Stone and Gosling previously appeared side by side in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Gangster Squad.” In “La La Land,” they solidify their place as one of cinema’s greatest onscreen pairings. Every time these two are together, they unleash a wave of chemistry that practically drowns the audience in the sentiment of romance. They share a particularly wonderful dance sequence against the LA night sky, calling Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to mind. Another number literally defies gravity, elevating our lovers above the stars so they can dance on air.
With flamboyant production design, lively lighting, and an infectious musical score from composer Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land” appropriately feels like a daydream. At the same time, though, it doesn’t shy away from harsh reality. The film acknowledges all the hardships and sacrifices that come with pursuing your dream. Even if your dream does come true, it might not play out exactly how you envisioned. No matter what road you take, however, you’re always going to look back and wonder what might have been.
This leads to the film’s superb finale, which I won’t dare spoil here. Let’s just say it encompasses everything that makes movies magical. Chazelle’s last picture, “Whiplash,” was a remarkable feat, especially for such a young filmmaker. His follow-up outing is somehow even better, standing out as the best film of his career, the best film of the year, and maybe even the best film of the decade.
God among ape ***
film pretty much delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Tarzan movie,
but kind of leaves you wanting more. It’s not the greatest depiction of
the character, but it’s not the worst either.
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Lion 3: Straight to Video ****1/2
“Lion” is kind of like “Slumdog Millionaire” meets “Finding Dory.” That might sound an odd combination, but it’s the perfect way to describe Garth Davis’ powerful movie. With such a rich, remarkable story, “Lion” has the essence of a modern fable or an animated feature. You could especially see a director like Don Bluth tackling this material, although the human characters would probably be substituted with mice, dinosaurs, or well… lions. Believe it or not, this film is based on a non-fiction novel from Saroo Brierley. Of course even if “Lion” were a pure work of fantasy, it would still be a gripping, moving, and inspiring experience about never giving up.
This fantastic tale begins with young Sunny Pawar as Saroo, a five-year-old Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother at a train station. Falling asleep on a train, he wakes up in another country miles away from his family. Saroo attempts to navigate his way back home, but isn’t entirely sure where he’s from. After a series of misadventures, Saroo is eventually taken in by an adoption agency. He finds a loving home with two Australian parents, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham in wonderful supporting performances. He also gets an adopted brother (Divian Ladwa), who goes on to become black sheep of the family.
Another twenty-five years down the line, Saroo is an educated college student with a caring girlfriend (Rooney Mara). He additionally maintains a meaningful relationship with his adopted parents, always acting as their rock. Although everything seems to be working out for Saroo, part of him feels empty inside nonetheless. He becomes determined to find his birth parents in hopes of getting closure. Even with Google Earth at his disposal, however, the chances of a reunion appear slim.
Dev Patel continues to mature nicely as an actor, taking on the role of adult Saroo. He molds him into a likable, charming young man with great sorrow underneath the surface. As Saroo searches for his roots, he begins to dig himself into a pit of disappear. As all hope dwindles away, he begins to alienate his loved ones. Even when Saroo is at his worst, though, the audience identifies with his pain every step of the way. Kidman is particularly strong as Saroo’s adopted mother, who unconditionally loves her children and wants nothing more than to see them happy. Without an ounce of jealousy or cynicism, she completely supports Saroo’s endeavor to find his long-lost family.
This is a key example of why “Lion” is so uplifting. It’s a sincere film that doesn’t try to shove inspiration down your throat like “Collateral Beauty.” While there are certainly romanticized moments, the film truly earns those scenes through fleshed out writing, effective imagery, and characters that overflow with humanity. Director Garth Davis has primarily work in television, notably the “Top of the Lake” miniseries. “Lion” marks his first feature film and it’s a damn impressive directorial debut. He fully delivers in the emotional department with a film that understands the bonds of family. It may be familiar territory, but “Lion” reminds us why the universal theme of family seems to be at the center of every movie.
Will Affleck's career live another night? **1/2
Although Ben is back on top of the world right now, "Live by Night" is something of a step backwards for the A-lister.
"Loving" is a dramatization of arguably the most significant interracial marriage in American history. It’s actually surprising that Hollywood has taken almost fifty years to produce a major motion picture about the Loving v. Virginia case. Of course there was a 1996 made for television movie starring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon. Even in today’s supposedly progressive world, the themes depicted in "Loving" remain as relevant as ever. Sure, interracial marriage might not be prohibited in the US anymore, but audiences can still draw parallels to same-sex marriage, which only just became legal in all fifty states. Racial tensions also continue to run high in our country with many people taking sides. In that sense, "Loving" couldn’t have come at a better time, especially now that Donald Trump is president.
Joel Edgerton turns in some of his finest work as Richard Loving, a white man from Virginia. Richard is deeply in love with an African American woman named Mildred Jeter, beautifully played by Ruth Negga. When Mildred becomes pregnant, Richard doesn’t think twice about asking her to marry him. Since it’s 1958, though, interracial marriage is still outlawed in their home state. The couple tries to beat the system by getting hitched in Washington, D.C. After returning to Virginia, however, they’re both quickly incarcerated.
Richard and Mildred are given two options. They can either remain in jail or find a new home in Washington. The two naturally choose the latter, but the adjustment isn’t easy. As much as Mildred loves Richard, it pains her to be so far away from her family in Virginia. It appears that the couple might be able to finally get some justice when a politician named Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) catches wind of their situation. He believes that the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court, abolishing the interracial marriage ban for good.
Mildred is willing to get in front of the cameras and voice her opinion. Richard is much more reluctant to put himself out there, fearing that his family will be harassed and killed. He’s willing to take a risk, though, if it will make his wife happy and lead to a brighter future. This is largely what makes "Loving" such a great film. Even when Richard and Mildred aren’t speaking to each other, they’re always on the same page. Life might not always be simple for them, but the audience never doubts for a second that these two adore one another and will overcome any obstacle together. The bond they share is truly powerful and poignant, reminding us that love should be the only factor when it comes marriage.
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols is known for making very understated films that manage to say a lot with minimal dialog or action. His signature subtlety is present throughout the entirety of "Loving." Nichols is given numerous opportunities to take a more straightforward or obvious route, but he avoids melodrama around every corner. Instead, he gets the film’s messages across through low-key direction and multi-layered performances. The result is a gripping, thrilling, and inspiring experience audiences everywhere should take to heart.
The Magnificent Washington and Pratt... and Five Other Guys ***1/2
While the characters here are by no means magnificent, they are interesting enough to carry a film.
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“Moonlight” is a stunning cinematic achievement that has a fair deal
in common with Richard Linklater's “Boyhood.” Both films are
extraordinary coming-of-age stories. “Boyhood” was primarily about
capturing the experience of growing up, however, painting a picture that
could speak to anybody. “Moonlight,” meanwhile, is arguably a more
personal outing, depicting a young man’s search for an identity in a
ruthless environment. Barry Jenkins’ film is tragic, gritty, and
occasionally flat-out brutal. At the same time, though, it catches you
off guard with its moments of sheer hope.
The movie is broken into three acts, following an African American named Chiron throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Newcomer Alex R. Hibbert plays Chiron as a young boy. Bullied by the other kids his age, Chiron is branded with the nickname “Little.” Chiron’s home life isn’t much better, as his dad is absent and his mom is an abusive drug addict. In a Best Supporting Actress caliber performance, Naomie Harris dominates the screen as Chiron’s mother. Creating a cruel and unpredictable character, her portrayal is right up there with Mo'Nique’s Oscar-winning work in “Precious,” although Harris’ character arguably has more humanity.
Chiron finds two parental figures in a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe). While Juan seems like a threatening individual at first, he becomes the first person to show Chiron love and support. It quickly becomes clear that Juan puts up a tough front, having a heart of gold underneath. With that said, Juan is still forced to do things he’s not proud of in order to survive. Guess who sold those drugs to Chiron’s mother in the first place?
Ashton Sanders plays Chiron as a teenager, leading to the darkest act in “Moonlight.” Chiron is tormented at school, as thugs beat him relentlessly while shouting homophobic slurs. The closest thing Chiron has to a friend is Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The closer they get, Chiron and Kevin find that their feelings for each other might run deeper than friendship. Like Juan, though, Kevin also needs to preserve his image to get by. This ultimately influences Chiron to make a decision that will forever change the course of his life.
Two-thirds into “Moonlight,” some
audience members might wonder why they’re watching such a bleak,
difficult film. However, they’ll begin to understand why in the third
act where Trevante Rhodes plays an adult Chiron. Without giving too much
away, the film’s final destination is a lot different than what
audiences will likely expect. Let’s just saw that it brings Chiron’s
life full circle in a smart, poignant, and beautiful manner.
Barry Jenkins has delivered a truly profound film about labels, society, and the masks we wear. “Moonlight” also provides an insightful looks at the phenomenon of nature vs. nurture, demonstrating what it means to product of your environment. It accomplishes this with superb acting, a gripping score, and subtle direction. Most importantly, it encourages us to see other people in multiple lights, as the world isn’t always black and white.
“Office Christmas Party” has all the ingredients for a classic holiday comedy. The setup invites numerous potentially humorous scenarios and the cast is universally excellent. Alas, the movie never turns into a laugh riot, although there are big laughs spread throughout. For a film that had so many comedic possibilities practically giftwrapped, “Office Christmas Party” is somewhat disappointing. With that said, it’s hard to dismiss the film entirely when certain moments do hit bull’s-eyes. It also helps that “Bad Santa 2” set the bar so low just a couple weeks ago.
T. J. Miller plays Clay Vanstone, a rowdy screw-up who manages a branch of his late father’s business. Jennifer Aniston is delightfully pessimistic as Carol, Clay’s older sister and the company CEO. With the demeanor of Ebenezer Scrooge, Carol tells her brother that he needs to lay off 40% of his employees and cancel all Christmas bonuses. On top of that, the whole office is on the verge of being shut down. The only person who might be able to save the branch is a potential client named Walter Davis, played Courtney B. Vance of “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Along with Jason Bateman’s Josh and Olivia Munn’s Tracey, Clay sets out to put on an epic Christmas party to win Walter over. As you can imagine, things quickly escalate out of hand.
The biggest problem with “Office Christmas Party” is that it often treads on familiar territory. We’ve seen countless other raunchy holiday movies like this, such as “The Night Before,” “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” The filmmakers borrow one too many pages from those films without really adding anything very original. On top of that, the film also clearly drew inspiration from “The Hangover,” “Sisters,” and “The Office.” Then again, nobody is going to see this movie expecting anything revolutionary. The target audience is probably just looking for something wacky and festive. On that basis, “Office Christmas Party” is enjoyable enough.
While a lot of the punch lines are predictable, the acting ensemble adds a great deal to the equation. Miller, Aniston, Bateman, and Munn all have wonderful chemistry together. Of course the real scene-stealer is Kate McKinnon as Mary, a human resources representative who turns out to have a bit of a wild side. We also get some funny performances from Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, and Randall Park as the office co-workers. Jillian Bell particularly kills it as a pimp who can be nice one second and naughty the next. Unlike some other comedies with large ensembles, everyone is given an appropriate amount of screen time and nobody overstays their welcome.
“Office Christmas Party” is about a group of employees coming together to save a dying company. Likewise, the cast comes together here and salvages much of the movie. If you’re in search of something smarter and deeper, you can always check out “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea,” or any of the other award season favorites. If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted holiday comedy, though, “Office Christmas Party” fits the bill. Just keep in mind it’s kind of like a Christmas present you’ll play with for one day and then forget about by New Year’s.
Get it? The title is a double entendre! ****
The film may not change the way we look at sports movies or the concept of prejudice. Much like the Olympic torch, however, "Race" is guaranteed to inspire.
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They seriously made another one? *
As expected, this utterly pointless sequel is every bit as predictable as its predecessor. The only difference is that now the clichés are twice as painful to sit through.
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Hey kids, let's start a band! ****
John Carney’s films aren’t strictly musicals, music always plays an
essential role in his work. The Irish filmmaker is truly a master when
it comes to expressing a character’s emotions through song. Between Once
and Begin Again, he’s given us some of finest modern movies about
making music. "Sing Street" is no exception.
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Worst video game movie ever? *
"Warcraft" makes "Ratchet & Clank" and "The Angry Birds Movie" look like masterpieces by comparison. Is this the worst video game movie ever, though?
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Ben Stiller returns as Derek Zoolander, the really, really, ridiculously good looking male model of very little brain. As for what Derek’s been up to over the past decade and a half, that’s a long, pretty humorous story. Let’s just say that a series of events leaves our hero living a life in solitude. After Justin Bieber and several other beautiful celebrities are murdered, Derek comes out of retirement to help solve the mystery. Along the way, he teams up with Penélope Cruz’s Melanie Valentina, a sexy Interpol agent, and Owen Wilson’s Hansel, who’s struggling to remain loyal to only one orgy.
The cast also includes an unrecognizable Kristen Wiig, an even more unrecognizable Benedict Cumberbatch, and so many celebrity cameos that it’s hard to catch them all. One character who could’ve used more screen time is Will Ferrell’s villainous fashion designer Mugatu, who doesn’t even show up until the about a good third into the movie. Fortunately, there’s plenty of Derek and Hansel to go around. Once again, Stiller and Wilson share a wonderful chemistry with each other as two immensely funny characters. It’s just great to see these guys together again, even if "Zoolander 2" can feel like a compilation of the last film’s best moments.
As with many long-awaited follow-ups to popular comedies, the best bits here are all throwbacks. "Zoolander 2" doesn’t just repeat all the same gags without adding anything new, however. Stiller puts a particularly hilarious spin on his iconic Magnum look in a fun climax. The problem with this sequel is that it doesn’t build up a ton of classic jokes from the ground up. If you’ve never seen the original "Zoolander," chances are you won’t laugh at all.
adequateridiculouslyThen again, why would you even be in the theater if you weren’t a fan of the original? That’s obviously the target audience here. Stiller directs this outing with an abundance of kinetic energy, going much bigger than before. Granted, bigger doesn’t necessarily equal better and most fans will agree that "Zoolander 2" isn’t the laugh riot its predecessor was. Thanks to a few colorful set pieces, some noteworthy supporting roles, and of course our leading men, though, there are just enough idiotically hysterical bits to make the film worthwhile. Just don’t expect anything on par with the merman, gasoline fight accident, or center for ants.
Trump supporters, please see this movie! ****1/2
In addition to being one of the funniest films Disney has ever produced, "Zootopia" provides a thought-provoking moral regarding acceptance that parallels real world issues. It’s amazing just how wise, relevant, and even important this cute little movie truly is.
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