MOVIE REVIEWS FOR THE AVERAGE JOE

*Please note: scores rate from a 0-low 1 (the worst) to 5 (best possible score)

                      **AUG 2018: Movie Pics Now Link to the film's Movie Trailer*

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                                                              Click the picture for the Movie Trailer                                                                                    Review by LA Jamison

                                                             Click the picture for the Movie Trailer

                                                                                 Review by LA Jamison

SCORE: 4 Stars

Summary in Brief:

Audrey and Morgan played by Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are best friends who find themselves as reluctant heroines of the James Bond kind. When Audrey cannot seem to get over the boyfriend who dumps her, their antics get them involved in a spy ring. When the boyfriend disappears, it's an all out crackdown from CIA to KGB on the girls to disclose their involvement with Audrey's boyfriend--a spy. From here on out, the action and funny antics ramp up and give us a pleasant dance between international intrigue and humor. The crisp, romantic visuals of places like Paris, Prague and Italy are done in such a way that you really feel like you are there and seeing parts you wouldn't normally see. This is not something most straight out comedies bother with doing.  At least, not as much as this film does, but then again, this is really not a straight out comedy.  It is the funniest, action packed tryst of the summer so don't pay attention to the mediocre votes on critic reviews out there. The film is an exciting and suprising delight.  Gay guys will enjoy the hunks of Justin Theroux and Sam Heughan. There is also the surprise and less advertised appearances of Paul Reisner and Jane Curtain. If you like James Bond and Saturday Night Live, especially Kate McKinnon's humor, go see this movie!

Director: Susan Fogel

Writers: Susan Fogel,  David Iserson

Stars: Kate McKinnon, Mila Kunis, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Paul Reisner, Jane Curtain

Run Time: 1:57

 

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly on The Spy Who Dumped Me

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The Good:  Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis make a great comedic duo as Morgan and Audrey. They don't even end up with the typical best friend cat-fight that most films pull. This comedic romp is actually much more action than comedy. The quality of the action and twists are at the level of Mission Impossible films and I wasn't expecting that in a spy-romp-edy.  The cinematography in these locals (like Paris and Prague) are stunning, crisp and are not weighed down by clownish elements or hoaky comedic music. Instead, the comedic elements are perfectly balanced and reigned in (no typical SNL vomit that Melissa McCarthy resorts to, and I like her).  There are many others surprises and twists I wasn't expecting too. Two of the nice surprises I can talk about without spoiling the film for you is the appearances of Paul Reisner and Jane Curtain as Aurdrey's parents.  They actually appear more than once.

You really end up rooting for the two sisters in spy-dom.  Also, you are never really sure who the real bad guys are till well on in the film, which is another noteworthy feat.  Don't worry guys, this isn't just your average chick flick. Not by a long shot. You have the intense action most guys like, and you have another duo on this spy tryst of the male kind. Sam Heughan plays the hunky Sebastion and Hasan Minhaj as Duffer. They are CIA studs that are after the girls and come across like a modern day version Spy Vs. Spy.  The two compete to show who is the better agent to their superiors, which get's both comedical but also down to life and death sceanarios.  

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The Bad & The Ugly:  Only 2 small things.  I know there were times where I wanted more humor, but if I had to pick between this crisp, action filled movie with the humor at the level it is now verses a sacrafice in plot for more humor, I would pick keeping it as is.  There is a scene I had to look away and both my friend and I stared at each other instead. It involved cutting off one finger which actually is pretty funny but also for those who are squimish, it was pretty jarring so just be forewarned. I have no idea how much they showed cutting it off but it was enough at first that I looked away.  

 Review by LA Jamison   

Review by LA Jamison

 

Score: 3 1/2 stars (4 stars if you are ex-gay and understand the struggle)

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Good: All the acting is pretty much "on fleek". The characters are charming giving us this ex-gay Breakfast Club feel. While Dr. Marsh is our Diablo, Rev. Rick is our Igore. He is the Jesus, the first begotten of this exgay, psychological nightmare camp who helped start it all and if you aren't careful you might miss that he isn't just a disciple but a fellow mastermind of the camp. We first encounter Rev. Rick playing worship music to the young "Disciples" at the lodge which is fitting. He is a pied piper of sorts singing the praises of a God he feels rescued him from a gay hell. Rev Rick is passionate and even somewhat compassionate in his hoping to lure these kids in with his heartfelt delusion.  He's a great singer, guitar player and passionate. This is an element that can and did hook me into exgay ministry as well--heart stirring music that rose my consciousness to heavenly places. I know because I've been deep in it. Nothing wrong on the surface until those that usher and play these pipes start coloring in a God who can't tolerate a part of who you are and all you have known since early childhood.  For a work of fiction, this movie is pretty spot on, right down to the Iceburg theory that the kids are forced to participate in. The Iceburg theory is prevalent in ex-gay circles and was my own first exposure to some of the more foundational insights ex-gay ministry offers (but not the only). Though it does nothing for Cameron, there are more tools in the toolbox waiting for her. The owner of that toolbox is the relentless ice queen, Dr. Lydia Marsh and her strange co-hort Rev Rick (who have an unusual vested interest in each others success that I won't spoil for you).  These two play our two antagonists very well with one carrying a certain innocently dangerous charm (Rev Rick) and the other a pscyhologically abusive power (Dr. Marsh).

The story does a great job keeping us connected to Cameron's love interest in Coley played by Quinn Shephard.  If you are lesbian, you will enjoy their connection and the many sex scenes early on and through flashbacks.  Cameron's long distance love affair with Coley reminded me a little of The Color Purple right down to Cameron finding out Coley's letters had been kept from her.  It is clear why Cameron struggles with her affair with Coley because Quinn does a great job as a sexual powerhouse. Coley is an identity whirlwind that Cameron can't control.  When the affair is exposed, it all get's out of hand for her Jesus loving family and Cameron is sent to exgay camp.  The longing, guilt and confusion that play a ripple effect through Cameron are felt in the movie from beginning to end, and it is played authentically. The film does a descent job too of balancing out humor and using Cameron's defiance to keep us from being sucked into a void of despair.  The characters surrounding her are also a help--they are entertaining and emotionally appealing. You want more, not less.  The story is set in 1993 and I felt they did a good job of making this feel old school with the lighting, the hues, and simple things like the VHS recording of "Bless-ercise "and old school Vanity mirrors.  There are believable characters here you want to invest in, but the question is does the film leave you short on your investment? No and Yes. Read on....

The Bad:  While we are teased with characters who are overtly in denial, others ready to explode, and still others deeply faithful and often very funny, the film focuses more on how the characters live mundane, abusive lives. Some of it covers their modes of resisting but leaves a sad lacking element of teasing us;y et, not delivering to us a more in-depth exposure to these characters. This plays out in snippets of group sessions with characters that we don't see much of or get to know.  Some of the tragic highlights happen to characters who I ended up wanting to know more about than Cameron herself due to their emotional turmoil. This is chiefly because Cameron comes in resisting but many others are not as strong willed.  Eventually, even Cameron begins to doubt herself but not for long like the others have.  This is just nit picking some because her story is still appealing too, but I wanted more. Also, there is a lack of any kind of awareness around Cameron's now-family except that they are Jesus loving and threw her into this camp which is another missed connection. The framing of the movie throws us right into camp early and ends pretty much the moment she escapes so that leaves us with no real solid sense of Cameron's beginning or her end. It is just hinted at as are most things in this film. Jennifer Ehle's portrayal of Dr. Marsh is disturbing. You dislike her easily, but at times she is played too robotic and a bit less believable.., but in another way that too is on point. Having experienced many a leader in these ministries they are so cut off from themselves and compassion. They do indeed come off robotic and fake. Still at times, even her "fake" didn't land. 

The Ugly:  Just a personal preference, but I found the ending strange. Like taking 10 minutes to eat one Cheetoh. It was a weightless, meaningless ending that should have been powerful since it is the start of what we hope for some of the characters who have some sense about them. Yet, it comes off a bit unfinished, almost like the writer didn't know what to do next. 

  • Rating: NR

  • Directed By: Desiree Akhavan

  • Written By: Desiree, Cecilia Frugiuele based off the book by Emily Danforth

  • Runtime: 90 minutes

Summary in Detail

Cameron Post is a teenage girl coming to grips with her sexual attractions to other girls.  Set in the year 1993, Cameron is thrust into a faith-based camp to change her from gay to straight after she is caught having a teenage lover Coley. The film is an adaptation of the book with the same title written by Emily Danforth.  Although not a true account, it is based off the accounts of Zach Stark back from 2005 and his camp experience with a place called "Love in Action".  Set like a Swedish Inn or something out of the Shining, the cute and cozy looking campground is awfully deceptive to what is going on inside. How fitting since ex-gay and conversion therapy are seen as deceptions themselves.  Cameron doesn't take long to make friends with her fellow teenage campers/sufferers called "Disciples" and the film quickly moves into this feel of a Breakfast Club movie for ex-gays (but the stakes are much higher than teenage angst like in the real Breakfast Club film).  

The film interestingly enough is set in the 1990's with some interesting personal parallels for me. This is due to in large part because the 90's for me was own ex-gay experiences with Exodus International, Desert Stream, and their more agnostic cousin "reparative therapy" like The Brother's Road and NARTH--largely the same thing as ex-gay "ministry" minus the faith element.  As a matter of fact, the film references a character who tragically mutilates his genitals out of his inner torment and pours bleach over the wounds. I had actually met the boy who had done this in real life at my first Exodus International Conference.  It is a horror now to think after that self-mutilation that the young man was still hanging around Exodus conferences. I wonder if the writer heard this story and put it in the book.

You might be thinking is that what we will see here? CSI looking self-mutilations? No, but I will say the horror and sadness in the film wouldn't be that much different.  This is emotional mutilation. Nevertheless, the blow of these mutilations is dulled by the fact that Cameron and her closest friends aren't really buying into the whole ex-gay thing. The film also isn't without its fun moments either. Such as, Cameron's roommate Erin who regularly puts in the same VHS exercise video called "Bless-ercise" with a dorky facilitator drenched in Jesus sweat or the groups lame Karaoke nights.  Cameron joins up with fellow rebel characters Adam played by Forrest Goodluck and Jane played by Sasha Lane.  Cameron herself is played by Chole Grace Mortez who does a super job balancing her energy out between youthful charm and smoldering sexuality.  She brings much needed realism to the camp and to every scene just as Mary Poppins brings her spoonfuls of sugar to the desperately lonely children she finds waiting for her.  There is a sense in Chloe's shock and horrified entrance into this ex-gay world that we can relate to not having experienced this ourselves. This will make it relate-able for those who aren't comfortable with the topic or know much about it. Her acting is genuine, authentic and compelling. Forrest Goodluck's role as Adam as a native American "two spirit", who is constantly harassed about his long hair  also does a good job.  Anyone who knows anything about Native Americans knows their hair is part of their culture and spiritual life (like the white washing of old where Colonist forced Indians to look more like them), and Dr. March's displeasure with it is symbolic on so many levels. Yet, even Adam doesn't seem to care since he has been stripped of so much already. In a sense it is a relief because we can't take too much more weight on him.  Now, Two spirit is the term Native Americans use for transgender which is a highly regarded status in their culture-unlike in Christian circles which is what his father converted to and why Adam is in camp.  Erin, Cameron's roommate,  played by Emily Skeggs is another complex character who provides both comic relief in her quirky nature and also a sense of threat with her firm grip on the ex-gay playbook which she follows to the letter. Yet, even in the end, she is struggling too and begins to reveal her attraction to Cameron.  It is clear by the end of the movie even the adults struggle and aren't sure what they are doing anymore than the kids do.  And, I can't tell you well enough how that is the case with so many in these ministries that talk a good talk but are privately in torment themselves.

Our villains, so to speak, are those who run the camp. We first meet Rev Rick on guitar and later his co-hort who have a connection I won't spoil here. His co-hort is a Dr. Lydia Marsh who has a vested interest in Rick's transformation that we learn of, and she has taken out her crusade on every child she can spare from the devil's hand.  Though her portrayal at times was little less believable for me than the other characters, actress Jennifer Ehle does nothing short of creeping the toughest movie goer out.  I was no less chilled by her portrayal of Lydia Marsh than I was of Jack Nicholson in the Shining. 

The movie falls short in it's exploration of character. Even though we have some great acting in these kids and we come across some real explosive, scary moments with big emotional appeal, I found myself wanting to know so much more about these other characters than just watching them waste away at camp or the brief snippets of group counseling.  If I were to be honest, some of the biggest moments for me in the film didn't have much to do with Cameron and yet those characters were barely touched.  There isn't a clear connection Cameron has with her present family verses the parents she has lost except that they are Jesus loving.  This also is a missed connection.  Last, it is more of a film about "what happened at camp" than a deeper exploration of"who" happened to be there. Yet the temptation is too much. You want more. All these characters have so much potential with the actors that played them, but the film just doesn't dive deep enough and sticks to making sure we see how bad camps like this are--not a bad message though. The film could have been so much more (though I haven't read the book to know if there was more to be had).  

That aside, the actress Chloe playing Cameron shines like a woodland fairy in this film and brings light, authenticity and humor where ever she goes in this dead beat, holy roller camp. She is in herself holy. And so too are all the other young actors and actresses. I think for those who are gay and have looked at this issue or have been involved, you will find this movie probably the most brave one done yet. You will get more out of this than the average movie goer but I think everyone benefits from watching this. There is more to this film than you realize, that you need to realize. This stuff, these camps, are still going on. Exodus, which folded, is back under mutations such as Restored Hope Network with different off shoots.  So beyond everything else, this is a wake up call. Here is what is going on the woods and it needs to be stopped. The film does a raw, brave job of bringing that message home.

 

                                    Reviewed by LA Jamison

                                   Reviewed by LA Jamison

SCORE: 4 1/2 STARS

SUMMARY IN BRIEF

 

  • Director: Christopher McQuarrie
  • Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Bruce Geller
  • Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Peg
  • Run Time: 2 1/2 hrs


 

Mission Impossible Six. A lot of things are “falling” upon us this summer. From Jurassic Park’s Fallen Kingdom to Mission Impossible’s Fallout.  Good news in this case: The latter is way better than former. You can read my review of the Fallen Kingdom down below. Mission Impossible is one of those series that has somehow managed to not fall apart at the seams despite the many sequels--in much the same manner 007 James Bond films do. Aren’t we grateful? Mission Impossible films never seem to disappoint and neither does Fallout. The action, suspense and even some emotional elements are amped up here in Fallout. It is as if the series took a 5-hour energy binge (and you might feel like the movie was 5 hours long, but you won't mind--you'll be glad). My favorite Mission Impossible films are MI:1, MI:3, and Ghost Protocol. It is too early for me tell where this one fits in the running, but it still doesn’t beat those three for me. The first film of course is your first love, you cannot deny its charm and its first kiss. You had such great characters played by the likes of John Voigt, Vanessa Redgrave as Max and others. It was superb spy adventure bliss. Mission Impossible 3 was great because of the new additions and great use of the following elements; Simon Peg and Jeremy Renner, the face rendering technology and the amping of action. The humor, high tech and ramping up of action made those two films.

 

Fallout does not disappoint either. Far from it. There is an uptick with the action, suspense, and twist and turns that keep you wanting you more. I'm not exaggerating. Somehow they managed to do it even if at times they sacrafice believability.  It is on a level that is greater than other films in the series in this regard. When you think you have seen it all, you will find yourself admitting you were wrong. There are some real gasping, nail-biting and jaw dropping scenes too. Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie who directed Rogue Nation is back, and he brings in some elements we aren’t used to (references and characters from prior films, and even more encounters with Hunt’s estranged wife). These are very pleasant, if not heartwarming surprises that none of the other films have. There are scenes with helicopters and mountain ranges that are memorable in their own right. Who knew you could do all that with a helicopter but you will be wincing more than once.  Nevertheless, there is one small drawback here. All these elements with the increase in action and twists did not leave the film with much room for humor. The humor comes in the second half of the film and fell a bit flat for me. I will admit some others in the theater did laugh out loud but I didn’t. Our two adorable modern day Laurel and Hardy agents played by Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are largely absent in the early portion of the film until about the middle. When they are back, their humor is mediocre. Jeremy Renner isn’t present at all (he was on the Avenger’s Infinity War set). The absence of the three of them in the film is noticeable. We are used to them being there since the start of MI: 3 and as intense as the scenes are, we need their humor and partnership. There is too much high stakes running for the humor to have time to land and when Peg and Rhames do re-arrive, the humor dribbles in here and there. Another small drag on the film is some believability. We all get that this is fiction but the amount of physical running we are supposed to believe Hunt does in this film, with leaping over buildings like Spiderman all the way across town goes way beyond what any of the other films do. When there’s a lot of action, we are all too distracted to think about believability. It's easier to suspend belief because we are being “wow”’ed. When all we are doing is watching Tom Cruise run through gorgeously filmed landscapes, as cool as the backdrop is, there comes a point where we aren’t distracted enough to ignore that no one but a superhero could run that fast, that many miles at full speed and then leap over and through buildings. It edges itself a little over the believability radar when there is not much else happening to distract us.  Excuse the pun, but it appears and feels "impossible". However, these two elements are a small nuance.  It doesn't ruin the film nor make it 'impossible' to enjoy, but it doesn't make it the best either. Still, another great installment in a rather lack luster summer season. With dinos for sale at auction and mutant shark named Meg swimming about theater waters, this film is a much-needed thrill and delight. Go see it! 

The story starts us on a Mission that ultimately fails to retrieve the intended item because Hunt decides to save one of his crew instead, Luther play by the incomparable Ving Rhames. He is as much a staple to the film as Tom Cruise himself. When things amp up about the failure of Hunt at retrieving three plutonium orbs, Hunt takes things into his own hands once again while the CIA questions his loyalty and motives. Thus, soon Hunt is being hunted and watched by the CIA through Agent August Walker, played by the mouth watering Henry Cavill.  Despite saving his life, August clearly has other motives that aren't seen readily.  Meanwhile, Hunt is on a chase for an old enemy from Rogue Nation, Solomon Lane. August Walker and the CIA have their own interest in Lane as well. Lane is an ex-operative who became an anarchist, imprisoned and tossed around from government to government. Since the last film, Lane is somehow hoping and manipulating things to happen so that Hunt is forced to get his hands on him. Hunt hopes by capturing Lane that he can stop a new league of terrorists called The Apostles who Lane has spearheaded. However, Lane is blinded by an apocalyptic ending for himself and Hunt. The Apostles just merely want to end the world system through nuclear explosions. Pick your poison? Hunt has to deal with them both if he wants to save the world. It's a triad of dangers when you throw in the CIA which intersects Ethan Hunt everywhere he goes. Hunt and his team are on a race against time to prevent a global catastrophe, but they get far more than bargained for in this one. This mission once again tests them all to the limit. Yes, even further than we have seen before in the series so far.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About Mission Impossible: Fall Out

 

The Good: Plenty of amped up, over the top action, cool twists and turns that leave you hungry for more, a return of some old character and older movie references, and more interaction with Hunt’s estranged wife. Over the entire series, Hunt’s wife has been dangled over us like this carrot always just out of reach. She is the biggest emotional part to Hunt’s psyche. We get some real touching moments and heart pounding tense moments when she enters the climax of the movie. The landscapes in the movie are vast, from Berlin, to Paris, London and Pakistan. The camera angles and colors that we see on a whip around tour in high speed, high octane chases give us a feel for these cities like never before. Fallout's soundtrack in the movie is one of those soundtracks that becomes an intricate part of the movie’s makeup. It is composed by Balfe, and he creates a great balance of fast paced staccato movements to slower moody pieces to enhance emotions. There are some great new additions in this film as well. The ever studly Henry Cavill from The Tudors as August Walker. He is a CIA agent who brings us that somber, stoic feel Jeremy Renner brought in films past and also some murky motives that only clear up near the end. Vanessa Kirby does a great job as the Black Widow and there is some reference here to the first film in that she talks about her mother “Max”, ironically played by another Vanessa (Redgrave). She portrays the Black Widow as a sinister Lady Ga Ga-esc envoy who travels the gray area of good and bad to get what she wants. It truly is a bad romance between her and Hunt and she adds another dynamic tension.  She may be no Max, but she is close enough.  Rebecca Furgson is back from Rogue Nation, and she also does a great job in a pivotal role that develops over time. Some high profile actors that make several appearances are the likes of Alec Baldwin as Alan Hunley, CIA Director at the end of Rogue Nation. Also Angela Bassett who is Walker’s superior in the CIA. Sean Harris plays Solomon Lane, the mastermind of anarchy who everybody wants for their own purposes. He does a great job just as he did in Rogue Nation as a man who is now not only obsessed with apocalyptic dreams, but also his jailer, Ethan Hunt.

 

The Bad: The absence of Jeremy Renner, absence of Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames for a portion of the film. Some unbelievability in long distance running scenes that stretch far beyond your country mile over buildings, through buildings, up and down buildings with falls that no human could get up from and keep running etc. etc.  There is sometimes not enough to distract us from these moments ironically in a film that through most of the film is on hyper drive in a good way. 

 

The Ugly: Nothing

 

 

 

 

 Review by LA Jamison

Review by LA Jamison

 

 

SCORE: 2 1/2 STARS

SUMMARY IN BRIEF

The Jurassic World Empire is back for another round with Chris Pratt as Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire.  How does it fare against the first Jurassic World and the other prior Jurassic Parks before her?  Well, that depends on a few things. How die-hard a fan are you of the franchise? What is your age? And how good at you at suspending belief when there are ridiculous plot points?  What I mean here is, you either have to be a child who loves dinosaurs and nothing much else matters to you or you really want to make this film work for you.  At this point, Jurassic park is crumbling under the threat a volcano and all the dinosaurs we have learned to love to hate are threatened with a renewed extinction.  When the government refuses to fund efforts to save them from the island on self-destruct mode, Lockwood (one of the founders of Jurassic Park and played well by James Cromwell) rushes to Claire’s aide to save the dinosaurs.  However, Lockwood is near death himself so his son played by Rafe Spall is running wild with schemes to use the dinosaurs for his own purposes. It’s Lockwood’s grandchild Maise who ultimately attempts to save the day for the dinos at the end in a way that is a bit of an eye roller. 

Despite the reviews, there are some neat things that children will enjoy.  Plenty of scary dinosaurs and startling moments with homages to the older franchise. Sadly, there is also a twist in the plot to save the dinosaurs which is …well questionable.  To the adult, this plot point will appear absurd and it truly becomes absurd at points.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was watching a comedy or an action/adventure.  However, I think some of the younger kids will like the attempt to save the real cool dinosaurs.  Unlike adults who want a lot of destruction, kids generally like things “saved” especially when cool enemies aren’t “all that bad” and let's face it, dinosaurs are cool.  In a world of video games where players and their weapons are showcased in profiles to great detail, I believe the scene at the Lockwood estate where dinos are being displayed one by one at auction will resonate with this profile obsessed gaming generation. It gives them a closer look at the dinos more than any other film has done—even though for us adults, the set up of an auction seems outrageous.

There was something different about Chris Pratt in the way he carried himself in this film as well—more dead pan and a perpetual frown. You can almost tell he wasn’t enjoying this run at points.  But when the action hits at several moments, it is full steam ahead and some pretty nail biting moments.  The volcano erupting countdown that ultimately gives us a taste of all the dinos is pretty cool and exciting and so is when some of them get a run of the Lockwood estate.  The “bad” guys weren’t really that great but neither were the bad guys in any of the other films. Rafe Spall does a pretty good job though at being calculating and eventually off the hook.  Owen, Claire and the young grandchild Maise are good solid characters that help give this film life.  The volcano and the Lockwood Estate bring Jurassic park to this creepy Scooby Doo level. Daniella Pineda plays Zia as one of Claire’s team and she comes off with a big Velma from Scooby Doo vibe.  I would have liked to seen more of her and less of her co-hort Franklin who held about as much pizzazz as Franklin from Charlie Brown.   There’s many generally creepy moments much like in the original when the family is cornered in the welcome center. The ending of the film is equally as silly as the rest of the plot but overall there are some entertaining factors that kids in particular will enjoy.

If you don’t have nothing to do and there isn’t anything else to see, you as an adult might be slightly entertained, your kids possibly more entertained. However, if you anything else to see that has promise, then go see that. You aren’t missing much here.  

  • Rating: PG-13

  • Directed By: J.A. Bayona

  • Written By: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connoly

  • Runtime: 129 minutes

  • Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell

 

Summary in Detail

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Fallen Kingdom

The Good:

Surprise characters like the grand daughter Maise and Claire’s co-hort Zia kind of steal the show. Chris Pratt is just mildly duller but still edible enough and Claire has actually moved from beotchy to activist.  Totally unbelievable plot line but her snobbery did nothing for me in Jurassic World.  I didn’t even love to hate her in that film.  The visuals of the Volcano and Island antics are pretty cool visually though some will find parts laughable. I’m a sucker for good CGI. I just like to go for the ride and I know kids love it too. 

The Lockwood Estate is like a Scooby Doo mansion and Zia really gives off this cool Velma vibe--sadly there is not enough of her.  When you get past the ridiculous auction, the dinos getting control of the grounds makes for some real good frantic moments.  There is much more showcasing of the dinosaurs and a heart for the dinosaurs than in other films in a way that is rather absurb but I think kids will love.  There is a cool plot twist with Maise that I won’t spoil and hints to future film ideas that could go good or bad. If this film is an example, then don't hold out much hope.

The Bad: I didn’t want Claire as a bitch like in the last film but her as an activist really wasn’t believable. Still, I like her softer side better.  Chris Pratt at points looks depressed playing his role.  There is a dino blood transfusion at one point if that isn’t ridiculous enough for you. Some lines and plot points are so bad, I literally almost laughed.  Though I know kids are going to like a dino auction and dino showcase, it is really hard to swallow for us older fans. Franklin is poor at delivering the sense of humor he is supposed to bring and Ted Levine as Wheatly is hardly a threatening or even someone you love to hate. He is more a cardboard cutout from a box of sugar cereal and not even that interesting as one of those.  Toby Jones as Mr. Eversoll is just pretty okay as a creepy auctioneer.  The trailers show Jeff Goldblum but he gives one speech in the film which we don't even hear the entirety of. Goldblum's visage is a dud.

The Ugly: A plot full of holes that at points honestly makes one laugh and isn’t easy on the logical mind (which isn't fair to die hard fans of the franchise, and big disappointment for adults). The film is clearly aimed at kids who know no better to miss how crazy the plot is and yet has a number of scenes that might actually be too frightening for the same age group.  For the adult fan of the franchise, ironically, this film might be the extinction of the weak attempt in this new Jurassic World spin off.  Jurassic World went in with some slight unbelievability but this takes the cake.  The plot is crumbling apart as violently as the volcano in the film.  There is a scene where Owen is paralyzed and attempting to roll away from approaching lava and I couldn’t help but think how symbolic that was of what Chris Pratt maybe should have done when he read this script.

 

  SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY REVIEWED BY LA JAMISON

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY REVIEWED BY LA JAMISON

SCORE: 3 1/2 STARS

SUMMARY IN BRIEF

A very interesting, humorous, action pack story which only suffers from a lack of a Darth Vader figure and few plot thingys.  The movie surprises us with its amount of humor after a series of very dark, intense films in the series like Rouge One and The Last Jedi.  One of those surprises is the humor which comes to us via droids and the film pulls it off even without R2D2 and C3PO.  There is stellar acting and a refreshing new story line that diverts from the norm.  I always appreciate the change up just as I did with Rouge One.  This film is independent of the series and is set to take place in a time well before The New Hope.  It even leaves room at the end for another addition to the Hans story which Rouge One could not possibly do.  This film starts off as all Star Wars firsts do, with the main character as a child. Han is caught up in child slavery as an orphan.  We are informed in the opening credits that the entire galaxy is in a state of disorder, with criminal syndicates competing for valuable resources like the hyper fuel coaxium.  We are introduced to Han and his young girlfriend Qi'ra (played by Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones).  She is most excellent here with a quiet strength and appeal.   In their attempt to escape their doomed city, Han makes it through the border, but alas Qi'ra doesn't and is taken prisoner.  The scene is eerily reminiscent of a border crossing where children are separated from parents and made into pawns which is, of course, a hot topic in our country today.  It is a border crossing Imperial Army style. Solo vows to come back for Qi'ra and the beginning portion of the film is his attempt to take on jobs to get enough money to get back to her and get her out.  This mission leads him to join a crime syndicate headed by Tobia Beckett (Woody Harrelson who levels up his acting here) until he reunites with his lost love. But by then, it is too late. He and his companion Chewbacca are in too deep, and it's Lando Carrisson to the rescue...well if they can out smart him and convince the arrogant smuggler to work with them.   

The film will appeal to Star War fans because of the focus on Hans, Chewy and Lando.  You have to ask yourself how big a fan you are of these characters because the film is fully centered on them. The inclusion of the Millennium Falcon as just a babe in space is another great appeal for classic fans.  The film has great visuals, a number of great fight scenes both on ground and in space, and some clever plot twists with a surprising amount of humor that is refreshing.  The problem with the film is it lacks a kick ass bad guy and a plot line that doesn't take us far enough or the characters far in their development.  I was wanting to see the deal with Hans and Jabba the Hut play out than just another crime syndicate gig.  Unlike Rouge One, there isn't a mission big enough here for Star War fans to latch onto here.  Don't get me wrong, it is still interesting but more so in a Lost in Space kind of way of getting over space obstacles than an encounter that feels as strong as like with a Sith Lord.  There is no one even resembling a Darth Vader like power or even making a cameo except for Darth Maul at the very end. The film suffers some with an expansive if not expensive movie plot that at times focuses on a story that isn't over arching enough to be fully invested in. This is surprising and odd given that supposedly the budget for this film was the biggest ever.  If I could make any comparison, the plot is similar to those we see in the animated Disney show Star War Rebels which I like and watch, but I wanted a little more unless there was a promise of a sequel. Ron Howard says this will be totally up to the fans.  Even so, this film is a worthwhile film to see especially in 3D! It holds its own surprises and twists that is worth the price of the ticket but probably won't be memorable come the next film. Again, unless there is a sequel. Then it all would matter much more significantly.

Rated: PG-13

Directed by Ron Howard

Written by: Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover

Run time: 135 minutes 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Good: The acting, the visuals, the music, refreshing humor and some interesting plot twists were all stellar.  You will be glued to your seat during some parts and biting your nails at others. But other parts...well that comes later...we are still in the good. The relationship between Hans, Tobia, Chewy, Lando and in the latter half of the film Qi'ra are very satisfying. Your desire for laughter, strange creatures, and droid fetishes will be complete.  Millennium Falcon fans will be gitty with the play time.  It is nice to think there might be a sequel involving Jabba Hut in the future. 

After we learn Solo's background and the romantic reason behind his mission, we enter his story next with him having been expelled for insubordination from the Imperial Navy.  Emilia Clarke plays Qi'ra and does a great job.  She is a strong character in this film.  Hans is now trapped as an infantryman during battle. Here he encounters a small gang of criminals led by Tobia Beckett (played extremely well by Woody Harrelson and I'm not a big Woody fan outside of Cheers). This is the second stage in the plot. It is here, on the battleground of Mimban, where Hans enters a crime syndicate led by Tobia in a big way and it all starts with a Wookie named Chewbacca. Yeah you heard me right. Chewy is a main character here and it is a treat! I will leave that there. There is a real cool train scene of the mountain kind that is awesome too--okay I'm shutting up, I promise.  It is great to see Hans and Chewy in action and I loved the way they meet and become friends.  Fans will get what they are no doubt desiring here.  Hans played by Alden Ehrenreich-most known for his co-lead role Hail, Ceasar!-not only has the Solo look but the sly charm we desire of a young Hans Solo.  The only problem with Hans and a lot of these "bad guys turned good" and even the straight out "bad guys" is there just isn't enough of the rough edge to them to create that tension we need.  The film lacks "the force" for good or bad.  It is there but it is not quite strong enough. Hans is almost too good.  He's been Disney-fied. The biggest rebellious streak we see in Hans is his insubordination that leads him to the infantry position and the film rest it's laurels too much on being part of a crime syndicate because the crime feels more like fighting the bad guys than being bad guys. Other than that he is filled with humor, action and emotional appeal but just missing that edge.   Out of the real nasty bad guys, the biggest crime boss is Dryden Vos leading a crime group called the Crimson Dawn.  Played by Paul Bettany just coming off of Avenger's Infinity War, Dryden is certainly a menacing figure but we don't see him enough nor is his reach felt enough. We only get the threats Tobia makes about how dangerous he is except for 2 encounters with the crime boss himself. He does carry two small blades with a crimson laser field on the sharp edges. It somewhat has the flavor of Vader's red light saber but smaller. Much smaller and kind of representative of the smallness of the threat we get from him except near the end.

Lando Calrissian is the next encounter on this journey to find the non-activated coaxium. Dryden demands it as repayment for the screw ups Solo and Tobia made along the way to this point.  Lando is pretty much how we would want Lando to be.  We encounter him and Hans playing cards in an extended Cantina like scene. I laughed out loud at the creatures surrounding the table. Lando is charming and witty.  So too is his droid L3.  I can't say enough about L3. Again, I laughed aloud and was charmed.  Some real cool things go on with this droid and other droids that I don't want to spoil.  It is amazing this film pulled this off without any involvement of CP30 or R2D2. No other film really has. Your droid fetish will be surprising complete.  L3 eventually becomes one with the Falcon which is a cool aspect to the film and plot--The Millennium Falcon that is.  We know, of course, from prior films that Hans won the Falcon in a card game with Lando and so we get to see that play out.  Another group is also along for the ride called the Enfys. They are a band of space of pirates who continually upset the apple cart for Hans and his crew.  As the film progresses though, they are an interesting element for whom we question their motives and who they are working for.  Even still, their threat and mystery isn't enough despite their disruptions to the plot.  They do play a role that ties into other films making them important, indeed. Yet that reveal comes later so for much of the film they are a pesky set of bugs.

Millennium Falcon fans will also be very satisfied with this film. We get an up close and personal view with plenty of soaring, twisting, blasting moments.  From the classic hologram chess game which Lando teaches Chewy how to play to Solo getting his first "solo" flight, things always ramp up with this ship on the scene.  L3's connection to her and the way she is used as a pawn play between Lando and Solo is very rich and entertaining.  I loved how they soared through maelstroms and asteroid like fields with the classic dodging music score that is played in all Star War films. 

The Bad: The film lacks a kick ass bad guy as I said. Also, the plot does drag on with parts that are indeed refreshing in that they are new, and yet relatively unimportant because there is no real sense of a larger mission. The mission, once Solo is reunited with Qi'ra, really comes down to pleasing a crime boss who is pretty much absent in much of film beyond vague threats issued by Tobia. Hans and Lando lack a little on their bad boy side too.  Maybe they are too young yet and this will come in another installment. Don't get me wrong. Their portrayals of them are entertaining, clever and witty but just a little too white washed. 

When the leader of the Enfys eventually takes off the mask, I want to say put the mask back on.  It was like learning that Darth Vader was really Opie from the Andy Griffith Show in this reveal.  It didn't fly well. It totally took away any sense of their bad ass image.  The mission of the Enfys with an earlier reveal would have made the movie plot much more engaging. Again, not to say it isn't an engaging part at all.  It is just that the exciting missions we are used to (even in Rouge One with getting the plans for the Death Star's weakness) isn't really felt here until the end with a less than impactful feel to it.  So while you are greatly pleased with Solo and Lando and Chewy, the weak plot and weak villains sucks some of the excitement out of it.  This should have been center to the plot point rather than a "by the way" at the end. If it had been, we would have much more tension and a feeling of connecting to the larger Star Wars mission.  Instead, it is revealed after the last battle scene and it falls a bit flat.  

Ugly: Nothing Ugly. Go see the film! It is worth it!

                                                                                                      Avengers Infinity War Review by LA Jamison

                                                                                                     Avengers Infinity War Review by LA Jamison

score: 5 Stars (as per a super hero film, not a cinematic masterpiece)

Summary in Brief

Up till now, the evil Thanos and the infinity stones have been in the background of all the many Avenger movies and their sub stories for what seems to be like eons.  Now those two elements are front and center.  The huge list of Marvel Superheroes must somehow come together to defend against Thanos’ lust for the Infinity Stones in order to save the universe.  Thanos even with his ball sack like chin is probably the best villain us sci-fi and action/adventure freaks have had in a long time, maybe since Darth Vader. He is someone you love to hate and he even has a few surprises that blind side you on his journey toward universal domination.  See this film in 3D and amp up your experience.  However, if you have children, be forewarned.  Most of the Marvel films so far have been cotton candy and popcorn drama but this is more intense and more severe drama.  I’m not talking violence, sex or swearing but emotional drama.  A child well under the age of the 13 was next to me in this film crying, and I hear that across aboard.  This is a great super hero movie for those 13 and above because it is a darker one.  Think of the film "The Watchman". It is that kind of cool and that kind of dark.  All we are missing is a big blue man flinging a blue penis around like Dr. Manhattan did.  While there is a butt load of humor, great cinematic scenes of interplanetary scope, awesome characters and three hours of continuous action, there isn’t just a whole lot of shaking going on, there is a lot of sacrifice and emotional suffering going on as well.  Also, if you have not seen many of the films prior, you aren’t going to get much out of this. Investment in pre-established characters is highly recommended.  This, after all, is an Avenger’s class reunion. It is a thrill ride like something out of a Universal Studios theme park at points (especially in 3D).  It is a movie you won’t soon forget.  I don’t agree that there are too many characters in this film. Everyone is perfectly placed.  It is only a lot if you have no investment here.  The only slightly small draw back is the ending leaves us not only wanting more but it isn’t a very happy ending at all.    It is a severe ending that may be rectified in future installments of which we are promised.  Even so, the severity for adults will be somewhat of a welcome one in that this film ends in a way that most films coming out of Disney dare not to.  Despite three hours, you still want to see more in future films just because the ending alone. You've got it all here. Go see this film. 

Rating: PG 13

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffallo, Scarlette Johannson, Chris Evans

Run Time:

Summary in Detail: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly in Avengers Infinity War

The Good: Huge cinematic landscapes that are both vivid and alien as they are both realistic and just plain jaw dropping.  From the wrecked planet Titan to the Dwarf weapon factory of Nidavellir run by Eitri (and played by Peter Drinkage of Game of Thrones fame), the depth and scope of the backgrounds and planets are expansive.  You get it all here; Massive amount of superheros: check; Awesome special effects: check; Fight scenes and action sequences that are draw dropping: check;  Twist and unexpected turns: check, check;  Emotional appeal: check (mostly if you have seen at least some of the other films); off the wall humor: check, hook for a sequel: check.  It is all here! So what I will do instead, since the plot line is relatively basic, is reveal the characters who appear the most and offer the most appeal in the film at the same time. 

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I am pleasantly surprised to see Guardians of the Galaxy taking a good, prominent lead in this film because I love them!  They are my favorites so I confess my bias from the start.  They bring us their average joe hero sensibility and humor that the film needs. Since, as you know, Gamora is a daughter of Thanos expect her to play a prominent role here. 

 

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Thor is also another big character on the scene and right from the very beginning Thor and his brother Loki are being held hostage by Thanos who has invaded their realm. He is kick ass as ever.

 

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Another one of my favorites that is center stage is Dr. Strange.  Less on the emotional appeal side, he is cool as he always is and he is often changing the predictability of the film. I think he has the coolest of the infinity stones, that of time. He adds a lot to the battle scenes in all the ways he can manipulate dimensions and time!

 

The Hulk is also heavily prominent more so in the beginning and ending.  The whiny Banner portrayal by Mark Ruffallo has always been one of my pet annoyances.  A staple is of course Iron Man who weaves himself in out of pretty much every rag tag group and his sidekick Spiderman creates the web that holds them together even though Iron Man isn't thrilled by his initiative. Spidey along with the Guardians really adds some humor. I particularly enjoyed Spidertwink's references to the Alien movie franchise which get’s them out of an impossible situation. This duo leads the way to chasing Thanos’ ass down.  Actually, this is both Iron Man’s and Star Lord’s roles in the film more than any other character.  I'm glad to see this wasn't Captain America's role (yawn) which would have been the obvious choice.  Captain America does lead a team as does The Black Panther but more so one of defense and at a later stage in the film.  However, the two teams, one lead by Iron Man and one led by Star Lord, are all hot, hot on his trail the most and taking on two different fronts.  Vision also plays more a prominent role near the latter half that is important and a strong appeal for audiences in how it is played out.  Everyone has important roles to play! 

 

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Thanos is our cinematic Darth Vader and he even has a host of cool sidekicks that take the reigns once in a while just as Darth Vader had his own. There is Ebony Maw who comes to us much like a head Orc from Mordor in Lord of the Rings--in that creepy kind of way. There is Proxima Midnight who reminds me of a cross between the Wicked Queen in Sleeping Beauty and Ursa from Superman II, Zods second in command. Next to Ebony Maw, she pretty much is on the warring front.   There is also these giant sidekicks like Cull Obsidian and Corvis Glaive  Really nasty folks maybe even more so than Thanos since they have no emotion behind what they do but blind obedience.  Thanos is a villain we love to hate and even has emotional vulnerability tucked away as Darth Vader did. Instead of Luke and Laura in Star Wars, Avengers pose Gamora and Nebula as his weak spot. It is cool to see two females that are the center of attention for once.  Thanos is very clever in that his own denial and pride blinds him so thoroughly that it is hard for us at certain points to not doubt our hate for him even if just for a split second. He is just so darn cool, has a certain rationale to his madness and flashes of emotional appeal for his daughter Gamora that she can’t even believe until it is too late.  I think this will be an unexpected reveal for audiences to experience.

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy fans unite! I'm sorry to bring this back up but Guardian fans like me will like this film because the Guardians are not the only lead but they aren’t in the background either. I love my dear Guardians more than I love Downey Jr. as Iron Man who takes even more of a lead role (if I had to compare).  No super hero is left behind, but your heart will be. The end is severe and a needed assault to our live happily ever after endings.  In some regard, this is true but to the degree of severity, I still question a little. It truly was unexpected and my heart will remain on that theater floor till the next installment, which you are left a hint to if you stay till the end credits.

 

Bad:  The Hulk is always too whiny for me as Banner.  While I feel for Gamora's plight and how that effects Star Lord since he is her romantic interest, I find Nebula more interesting than Gamora. 

Ugly: Nothing

For some fun, here is "Mean Tweets" Avenger Infinity War edition

 

 

 Ready Player One Review by LA Jamison

Ready Player One Review by LA Jamison

score: 4 1/2 Stars

Summary in Brief

This is an adaptation of a novel written by Ernest Cline (I'm envious as he is a first time author!). The story largely centers around a teen named Wade Watts played by Tye Sheridan and Samantha Cook played by Olivia Cooke.  The two of them meet up in an all world virtual reality platform called the Oasis. They meet in the midst of race against time to find a secret prize called an "Easter Egg" hidden by it's deceased creator James Holiday.  Even though deceased, we see a lot of the two creators of the Oasis, James Holiday and OG Morrow. Wade Watts and his team have to do a lot of investigation into the creators past in order to find clues to three hidden keys which will unlock the location of the mysterious "Easter Egg", granting them millions of dollars and control of the Oasis.  The story is set in 2045 in a place called the stacks which are trailor home parks set up vertically rather than horizonatally in Oklahoma.  As we can imagine, people are consumed with virtual escapes in this dystopian society that has abandoned much progress and instead opted for an altered universe in virtual reality.  The film dances back and forth between this vitual world with altered identities and the real world striking a real good balance.  It starts off like a swirl down a toilet bowl of activity that makes you grip your chair and head, but it get's good when Watts aka Parzavial meets up with Cook aka Art3mis.  They set sail with Wade's High-5 club of unlikely heroes against the leaders of a company called IOI who seek the online treasures for evil means. It is an all out competition, race, war, battle (all of the above) to the finish line with a few surprises along the way.  There is some great 80's music and flashes of classic characters and vehicles from movies like Iron Giant, Back to the Future, Godzilla, King Kong, Jurassic Park and others.  We enter games like Dungeons and Dragons, Doom, Minecraft and many many others.  The only thing the film lacks is a band of heroes one will remember.  Though Parzavial and Art3mis will not soon be forgotten most of the rest of the crew are already fading from my memory.    

This is a must see film and if you have a problem with 3D then don't go see this in 3D because there is a lot of fast paced movement, spinning and flying about.  But however you see this film, it is one you don't want to miss. 

  • Rating: PG-13

  • Directed By: Steven Spielberg

  • Written By: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline

  • Runtime: 140 minutes

  • Cast:  Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, Hannah John-Kamen

Summary in Detail: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Ready Player One

The Good:  A truly ambitious film and for the most part Steven Speilberg pulls it off once again for another hit that makes you stumble out of the theater like you would a bar at 2am. The ride is dizzifying in a good way.  I loved the use of the song "Jump" by Van Halen from the get go as we swirl around in a virtual world right from the start.  Now, I must say, I wasn't too keen on the beginning. It was like going down a virtual toilet bowl. It was too fast and too much spinning for me personally.  Besides that, this movie really delivers on a number of fronts.  The music, the visuals, the ability to use creatures, people and game platforms that most people know in a combined atmosphere like the Oasis is truly something reminiscent of games like Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions but on the big screen.  Even the use of portals is similar those games so this is a genius use of something that was very popular on PS4 and XBox.

Tye Sheriden as Watts/Parzavail and Olivia Cooke as Samantha/Art3mis really deliver in this movie and making a lasting impact.  It is refreshing to see these two in such big roles rather than the standard flare.  They bring a refreshing spin as pretty much nobodies out to get their own in the virtual world into heroes.  The High-Five Group are great side kicks especially in the virtual world but not as memorable as these two. Ben Mendelsohn does a great job as our antagonist Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of IOI, a computer company that wants to take over the world.  

You know after awhile what the plot is going to be.  This is largely a kids film afterall with the usual nodds toward adults with 80's music and some adult games and sublte adult themes.  Even so, though you know the goal, the thrill is getting lost in how they reach every accomplishment.  It is sort of like a prolonged version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where everyone is on the hunt for the golden ticket.  You know both good and bad people are going to get keys, you know Charlie will for sure get keys if not the egg, and you know people will try to stop them all.  Still, you don't know exactly who or how..., and Speilberg does a great job taking us on that ride.  

Mark Raylance as James Holiday and Simon Pegg as his partner and close friend OG Morrow play the creators of the Oasis and they do a pretty good job.   It is cool how the film hosts a library of memories and history about them and how that plays out. Even the curator is a rather quirky little butler like fellow we would like to see more of.  Though Mark Raylance did a bit more drab performance than I would like, he did a decent job of pulling off this quirky, unassuming--almost like someone on the autistic spectrum perhaps--which is surprising at first but somewhat refreshing as a giant of the computer gaming industry.  I also loved his appearances as Gandalf the Gray in the Oasis--one of my favorite characters of all time.  

Not everything takes place in the virtual world.  As Watts becomes famous for winning the first key, IOI begins to seek out his real identity and knocking him off in the real world begins to look easier than in the virtual.  The film does a real good job of striking an exciting balance between the actions going on in both worlds and at times winks at us with tricks of making us believe we are in one world when we are not and vice versa.  

There are tons of movie and video game references. For example, at one point the whole crew is forced to enter the world of The Shining which is both creepy and hilarious at the same time.  There is something for everyone here.  This film rocks! Go see it. Steven Speilberg is the king of filling us with child like excitement and wonder and thrills. 

The Bad: The beginning was too hectic and too much spinning for me.  I felt the story line that society just gave up on progress and instead just tried to learn to live in other realities as a bit unbelievable and lame.  Also, it was hard to believe that in the future, that as far as we would have gotten--even for the poor--would have been verticle trailer parks.  But, I appreciate the creative use of them and how Watts traversed among it.  Still, we have whole apartment complexes for the poor on SSI so its hard to believe that we go down to trailers in the future.  I also found the High-Five Group lacking in a way that is memorable to me.  There are aspects to their virtual existence that were cool. Aech played by Helen Harris is Watt's best friend in the story and her larger than life avatar is probably the most memorable out of the side kicks.  But when I think of a team like say the Guardians of the Galaxy, all of the Guardians made an impression on me.  Though I appreciated all in the HIGH Five clan, and they had cool moments, they didn't make a huge impression on me that was eternally enduring like say the Guardians.  Nothing really memorable. 

The Ugly:  Nothing, just go and see it! It is awesome!

 

 

 

                                                                                                       Love, Simon Review By LA Jamison

                                                                                                     Love, Simon Review By LA Jamison

Score: 3

Summary in Brief

A movie primarily geared (and geared well) for teenagers. It is a story about friendship, betrayal, forgiveness and coming out.  Simon plays your more than average teen who is living a teenage life with friends he has known since elementary school but with one secret. He is gay. Although he feels he could come out and that it probably wouldn't be a big deal, the fact that he doesn't come out ends up tearing his world apart.  His only confident is an anonymous person online but even that is threatened when Simon is ultimately blackmailed with a threat to out him.  Will his friendships, family and his mysterious online romance survive the toxic lengths he goes to cover who he really is?

Director: Greg Berlanti

Writers: Elizabeht Berger, Issac  Aptaker

Stars: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Gardner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford

Run Time: 110 minutes

 

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly about Love, Simon

The Good:  There cannot be enough accolades for a film that attempts to address the life of a closeted teen in the way this film does.  It is a cross between St. Elmo's Fire meets The Breakfast club. Simon is a happy go-lucky teen be-bopping around with the crew he has known since elementary school save for one newcomer, Abby (Alexandra Shipp).  When we meet him, he is doing well keeping his secret and there are some humorous interactions between him and his father in the way he tries to keep his secret. His father played by the studly Josh Duhamel and mother played by Jennifer Gardner are a little less believable but a relief for us in the film with some humor and the support they share of their son.  The plot is pretty decent because although it centers around Simon being closeted, this film is also focused on friendship and trust.  

All the actors do a pretty stellar job in their roles especially Nick Robinson as Simon, Katherine Langford as Leah and Alexandra Shipp as Abby. These three are probably the most believable characters in the film and they shined brightest for me.  Login Miller as the antagonist (if you could say that) does a good job at being the annoying, weak minded pebble in Simon's shoe.  His mischeavious plots wrangle Simon in and he quickly becomes the character we love to semi-hate.  Despite the issues it tackles, the film keeps with some humour and though Simon's world eventually crashes all around him, hope weaves in and out to keep teens from seeing this film as too much a downer which really only makes sense if you are preppy teen who doesn't struggle much.  Nick Robinson, Keiynan Lonsdale (the TV Show "Flash") and Miles Heizer,  and Alexandra Shipp as Abby (From the X-Men Series) play that eye candy, highly stylized teens that teens often love.  While Clark Moore (playing the only other "out" teen on campus), Logan Miller as Martin, the character Leah, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (From Spiderman: Homecoming) as Nick make-up a more Breakfast Club cast for flavor. 

The online romance Simon develops is a good plot twist as we are left trying to figure out, along with Simon, who the anonymous closeted gay teen is from his school that he is emailing with.  This helps carry us in an otherwise shallow plot line (but again, still good for teens). The message and the film is in important one for teens in school environments that are often hostile toward LGBT teens. There were many teens in the movie both laughing and applauding in the film which was a heart warming experience for me. I was surprised to see so many younger teens and to see their responses.  The characters are enduring and you can't help but love them and that is a testimony to the film.  There is some sense of appreciation I have for the dreamy, light-hearted approach to the world which the kids live in--one that only Hollywood can dream up.  Yet, it leaves a great deal missing in the seriousness of the issues the kids face, that teens face every day.  For this reason, some teens may not get the message as deeply as one may desire, but I am reasonably certain they will walk away with something that is definitely worthwhile.  This is a great movie with a poignant message for teens who can't take issues too seriously for too long without humor or a dreamy feel to take their minds off of the dire situations.  It gives a memorable, trans-formative characters despite the fact that plot line is glossed over with a Krispy Kreame like glaze. 

The Bad:  The film addresses a serious issue but does not have responses via its characters that are very realistic.  There are a number of unrealistic elements in this film.  The parents are probably the most unrealistic and I'm not sure what was going on with Jennifer Gardner face here but she was almost creepy to look upon at certain points, and not very believable until the end. Still, there was a scene between her and Simon where she tells him how proud she is of him that is one of the most powerful scenes in the film.  For teens, I'm not sure Katherine Langford was a great choice for the character of Leah.  Katherine played the main character in 13 Reasons Why which came out with much fan fair.  The show was about suicide and being controversial as it was, many teens watched this series and this wasn't but late last year. My feeling was that casting her in this role was too much too soon. I had a hard time disassociating myself from her in the other role which was a powerful one.  Still, that could just be me. She did a fine job in her role here but it was much more a shallow, 2 dimensional role than in 13 Reasons Why. Charming but hardly powerful.

Besides the whole "coming out" point in the plot, there isn't much else we are exposed to that the kids struggle with that is beyond surface level "who is secretly attracted to who".  This makes the plot a bit boring.  You know that once Simon comes out, the film will be over and that is pretty much what happens. The only surprise are some betrayals and the online romance.  How the parents behave, how the relationships heal and how the whole school eventually comes around Simon is pretty unrealistic. Its all sort of a Leave It To Beaver like. It just doesn't go as deep as it could have.  It fights to stay shallow in the likes of Ferris Beuller's Day Off approach to school life and while that is funny, I'm not sure it helped the story or hurt it at certain points. This could be a good thing. The film makers are not necessarily wrong about taking a serious issue with a more light hearted feel to it with only sparse moments of despair.  Yet, at times, I heard teens laughing at inappropriate moments in the film because of the director's approach to these issues.  This is largely because the film rarely goes to the real depth of despair such teens face, but rather the movie dangles there briefly here and there for short periods. I think we can give teens more credit for handling serious issues by staying there longer and making consequences more real. However, the film often quickly returns from serious issues to a Nicholas Sparks night of fireflies, anonymous love letters, and a romantic romp around a Ferris Wheel while onlookers wait with baited breath for the gay boy to meet a long awaited love.  Dreamy, fun and totally unrealistic which takes away in some measure the serious issues it addresses albeit making those issues far more easier to digest for teens who may not ready for it. So, it depends what you are looking for here for your teen.  

Last, I don't think Clark Moore's character as the only "out" teen in the school was used to his fullest. I think the story could have used Simon struggling around that character more since he was "out", but Simon himself was afraid to be "out".  

The Ugly: Nothing

                                                      A Wrinkle Time Review by LA Jamison

                                                    A Wrinkle Time Review by LA Jamison

SCORE: 2 1/2 Stars

Brief Summary: After the disappearance of her father, a young girl (Meg played Storm Reid) and her brother (Charles Wallace played Deric McCabe) not only long for his return but both of them and their mother desire to solve the mystery of his science experiments that may have led to his disappearance.  In particular, this has left Meg full of self-doubt and the subject of bullying by teens who make fun of her father’s disappearance rather than being supportive. A very realistic, sad element in today’s culture.  We often see teens that make fun of people's personal tragedies, even suicides.  This has that flavor to it, which is surprising in a Disney film but some refreshing realism.  The father played by Chris Pine is a victim of his own genius and finds himself locked away in dimensions beyond at the hands of the evil IT who permeates the universe. Both the father’s longing and the longings of his children are answered by three divine beings who represent the universe itself. The trio is led by no other than Oprah Winfrey as Ms. Which.  She is teamed up with Reese Witherspoon as Ms. Whatsit and Mindy Kaling as Ms. Who.  Part Never-ending Story, part Avatar,  there are some spectacular visuals and very moving scenes in the film as they all traverse the universe along with Meg’s classmate Calvin at the speed of light. They use something Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) discovered called the tesseract which is part space travel/part mind control.  What's great about the film is that the key to unlocking her father, saving the universe and bringing them all back home lies not so much in their strengths but in their weaknesses.  This is a much needed message in this day and age where even in literature classes we focus on the characteristics of "super heroes". However, the problem is that although the movie has some of that Disney magic and innovation, even its message gets clouded by a dragging plot weighted down by exaggerated emotion and some unbelievable character portrayals that effect the film for adults (although children may not notice, so there's that).

 

Rating: PG

Directed By: Ava DuVernay

Written By: Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell

Cast: Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey Zach Galifaianakis, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kailing.

Run Time: 109 minutes

 

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of A Wrinkle In Time

 

The Good: Storm Reid does a superior job of playing the self-doubting wounded child born to two renowned scientists.  Believe it or not, she steals the show despite the other A-List actor and actresses in this film.  Though the movie takes us on a journey to other worlds, its actual charm is its realness more than its fantasy.  This is largely because the film fails to pull off much of its fantasy.  For example, it was quite powerful to see Meg being so bullied over her missing father. We know that today even suicide attempts can be tools for bullying.  We also know that kids her age are often plagued with self-doubt and that each teen handles it differently--another item tackled well in the film. What was also real cool about this film is that weakness was posed as a pathway toward strength by having to embrace it first and then moving on inspite of it. One of my favorite quotes that I live by is “Courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to do what is right in the face of it”.  A great quote in the film is along this same line: “To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness”.  Though our three huge line-ups playing universal beings by Oprah, Witherspoon, and Kailing fail us, Zach Galifinakas somewhat saves the day as playing the seer called the Happy Medium who helps them along the way.  There is also the usual Disney magic in these worlds well displayed with concepts of this classic tale such as flowers that are terrific “gossipers” who guide the children in the direction toward their father. There are various worlds and creatures and even Ms. Whatsit transforms into a large flying creature which is done very well.  Every kid will love these fantastic scenes.

Though Charles Wallace is somewhat presented to us with too much of a Mary Poppins meets Leave It To Beaver vibe, it is Charles who often leads the way and who is first in communication with our three queens of the universe.  He is the go-getter where Meg is a bit more reluctant and doubting. This makes some of the plot twists more impactful as the force of evil, called The IT, manipulates the journey the kids take to bring it to its own control.  Charles is the Will Robinson from Lost in Space in our Wrinkle in Time Universe and he does a pretty good job though at points not so much.  Make no mistake: although Meg is a point of emotional climax, Charles is often the point of action and adventure climaxes.  When they all end up on planet Camazots, the children are all on their own as our queens can’t travel that close to the darkness and this when the film really amps up and we are finally rid of three rather lame queens (more about why they are lame later).

Meg’s classmate Calvin (played by Levi Miller) is another supportive role that is played very well by the actor. He adds a bit of romance, encouragement and relief in the film that we need since the film traverses the darkness of both reality and fantasy.  We need this in a story that deals with dark matter pretty much all the way through. The IT is a formable foe and Disney does a good job with this antagonist. There are points where IT possesses avatars and people along the way in a similar manner we might see a character possessed in the film the Shining.  The Shining is pretty scary stuff and so are these people when possessed by the IT.  When the children end up in Its’ territory, there are a lot of twist and turns that definitely keep you glued to the screen and are pretty cool.

The Bad:  I don’t agree with a lot of reviewers that the film was too ambitious.  There is nothing in this movie that could not have been done better in the areas where it fails. Avatar was an ambitious film on a much higher level and was still successful as was Star Wars. This is no Avatar or Star Wars by any stretch of the means. It is nothing but what it is. If anything, the director didn't stretch enough. Here's why... 

The failings of the film are in the acting of the three queens right down to their dollar store, poorer-than-the-worst-drag-queen make-up.  Nearly every scene,  outside of their gathering with the Happy Medium,  is annoysballs.  They disrupt this film with an explostion of unreliability which ruined nearly every scene taking everything down several notches with them.  Don’t get me wrong, they have small moments, such as Mrs. Whatsit inability to understand Meg’s struggles traversing at the speed of light via the space travel element called the tesseract.  Oprah and Meg do have their moments too which at times feel somewhat genuine. Yet you have other parts such as Oprah enlarging to a universal giant queen? Fitting for what we know about Oprah and her ‘the universe is telling something’ but also pretty corny on the same hand.  I certainly didn't want to see her in that dollar store general flare that close.  For the most part, our three queens fail to really deliver on their acting as well, and it is pretty bad in the ways they fail right down to how they look on screen.  I rooted for them to do well but it was often drastically the opposite. There are other failings in this film but these three are pretty much the atom bomb that destroys what this film could have been.

The Happy Medium is a bit of comic relief turned Jedi that gives us a sense of intrigue, even the cool cave in which he lives. However, sadly he is pretty much only a stop on the way to where they are going.  And while Charles Wallace leads the way at the start of the film, his connection at the start with Who, Which and Whatsit seems very contrived, and not really explained well.  He definitely has some great moments especially near the climax of the film but often comes off with exaggerated sense of a Mary Poppins prim and proper appeal that disrupts his believability at times.  With the three queens not being very believable, it just makes his own sparse moments of unbelievability all that much more magnified. 

The message of the story is additionally clouded by often overly sensationalized scenes that might appear in a Disney ride and not a very good one. In addition, the film also suffers from a plot that drags on and is weighted by down with an emotional appeal of children feeling abandoned by their father. Of course, this would be important to any child in real life but somehow the film weighs in on this aspect, drags it out, and inflates the emotional appeal so much that I felt it lost it other important messages.  While Chris Pine as the missing doctor and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as his wife are believable and provide some additional emotion appeal in the film, it is too little and mostly at the end of the film, which is too late.  There is a lot of that in this film; too little and too late.  

The Ugly

The god awful make-up, especially Oprah’s sticks out like soar thumb!  The worst Drag Queen I've ever seen looked better than this.  Reese Witherspoon, and Kailing’s annoying acting and characters that weren’t pulled off well was yet another just plain yuck feel to the film.  All three single handily drove this film down several notches.  Some overly stylized sets that didn’t pull off as real didn't help. A poor attempt at a room with geometric invisible levels that showcased their measurements was a disappointing yawner to the IT's main realm.  

                                                                                            The Greatest Showman Review by LA Jamison

                                                                                          The Greatest Showman Review by LA Jamison

SCORE:  4 STARS

Summary In Brief

Make no mistake, this is a musical which seems to be something of a point people are shy to say.  Though the story is definitely a good one, the music really makes the movie soar.  It is the story of the rise of P.T. Barnum from an unmentionable, often depised entertainer and promoter of the weird and fantastical to the great circus legend we know today.  However, it is also a story of his family and even more so the freakish performers who were totally outcast by society for their unusual features.  There are several themes here and two big ones that the film capitalizes on--themes revelant to our time.  There is the theme of overcoming and refusing to let go of our dreams despite the conditions of society, and there is the theme of the challenges of acceptance of self and those different than us.  The songs which total about fourty minutes in length do not create a story but rather greatly enchance the story.  The most powerful part of this story is how someone in this time period like the PT Barnum, at least the one portrayed in this movie, took men and women who were rejecting their own freak side and helped them to embrace it.  His tolerance and acceptance in this film is something many long to see modeled in the world today that has exposed itself through divisive politicians as increasingly divided and unaccepting just within the last year.  In the end, these outcasts become so strong that they end up rewarding Barnum by rescuing him as well. The song "This Is Me" is so strong, so well written and so well performed by the group of outcasts that it hammers this emotional theme within our hearts with the force and surity of a crucifixion. However, it doesn't kill us, it sets us free much in the same way Christ's death is said to bring the surprise of his resurrection.  These scenes and these songs are something the entire world would be better off for hearing and allowing it to touch their heart.  For some, they will feel the song is about them.  For anyone who has felt some sense of rejection, there is a lot in this film that really inspires and encourages.  It doesn't matter what that pain is.  As well, PT Barnum in this film experiences a few ups and downs around difficult economic and social conflicts with his dream.  He also sees his dreams broken and he must remake himself.  This part is enhanced with such songs like A Million Dreams and Never Enough.  Now, I love love A Million Dreams but I have to say when Loren Allred sings Never Enough for the first time through the lips of Rebecca Furgson as Jenny Lind, I was totally blown away.  Both me and my mother just looked at each other and said "incredible".  The song is reprised later but this first rendition is something that just has to be seen within this movie.  I say this because Rebecca Furgeson does such a great job in the role that by the time she comes out to sing this song, it is shocking, and stunning.  The story line is pretty good though a little atypical of poor man becoming rich man, of entertainer losing his way in the limelight and finding his way back to a whole soul.  Even so, the actors of Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams and Zendaya are superb in pulling off what they had to work with--which is a highly stylized script with some deep emotional moments but not a lot of excitement or twists.  They and the songs carry this film to places that surprise and delight. Don't miss it!

  • Rating: PG 

  • Directed By: Michael Gracey

  • Written By: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon

  • Runtime: 105 minutes

  • Cast: Huge Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Phillip Carlyle, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Paul Sparks

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of The Greatest Showman

The Good:  The musical is excellent. There wasn't a song I didn't like. If I were to rank them, I would say "This Is Me" is my top favorite and the opener "The Greatest Show" would be my least favorite BUT I liked them all.  I worried from the first staging and first song that this was going to be a circusy musical with dancing elephants, clowns and a struggle over peanuts.  It is nothing of the sort.  If I may say, there isn't even your atypical clown (I know my sister and many people hate clowns).  This movie has relevant themes for our time about coming out of poverty, broken dreams, diversity, and self acceptance.  The script is a bit light on story but that is because the music is there to make it deeper and make it soar which it does.  Hugh Jackman is superb as PT Barnum and I think Zac Efron was as Phillip Caryle (a fictional, not true to life character) but I was too smitten with him to be objective.  All the actors and actresses did a great job!  The cinemotography was crisp and colorful and the costumes were very realistic and perfectly done to immitate the time period.  It is real cool how the impoverished PT Barnum defies the odds in not only his marriage selection to Charity played very well by Michelle Williams but also how he comes to this museum of mysteries and oddities.  It sort of reminded me of the old horror wax museum movies at first.  I love when his children finally tell him later on, when business is slacking, that he needs something that is alive and not stuffed.  A child shall lead them, as the saying goes.  There is some humour with this lot of outcasts too such as when Barnum brings his show before the Queen of the England and her response is laugh aloud funny.  The casts of misfits that develop eventually generate their own charm after we get over our own uncomfortability with their peculiar traits. We learn that these aren't "outcasts" even though society treats them that way.  They are us.  For that we do to the least of these, we do to ourselves.   We all have a role to play and the film-makers do a great job of giving them a life saving role for Barnum himself completing a cycle of acceptance.  This in itself is a safe forum, in this ficitional setting, in which we get a test on our own level acceptance.  I am reminded of a woman temporary employee at my work who wore a frazzled beard on her chin as part of her cultural norm.  How did I react? How would you react?  Would you be kind, maybe polite but not invite her out with your lunch crew? Would you speak to her at all?  PT Barnum, whether it be for show or more, embraces and teaches these people to love and show off their freak side.  It is debated whether the real PT Barnum was like this character which I will get to later.  Even so, most of us have experienced some kind of rejection. If not, than we know people who have whether because of their appearance, sexual orientation, race or gender or god knows what in this very cruel world.  The song "This Is Me" will be your anthem by the time film is over.  The Greatest Showman isn't just about that one theme though. It is about aspirations, inspiration and broken dreams.  A Million Dreams, Rewrite the Stars, and Not Enough are songs that emphasize PT Barnum's rise and fall and rise-again as well those around them (like the romance between Phillip and Anne Wheeler).  A lot of this just doesn't have to do with ego but with society and economic conditions which is something relevant to a lot of us.  Even though some of this is your a-typical rags to riches story (like Oliver Twist on speed), your feet will be tapping. The movie visuals and story are bright and spectacular that it will be over before you know it.  The difference from other movies is you won't want to forget it. You will leave elated and entertained. 

The Bad:  A lot of the story line isn't that exciting even if the music is. Even though it manages to reach some depth of emotion particularly due to the music that surrounds those themes, there isn't much plot wise that is different for us or much of surprise.  The surprise is the emotional depth and the music, not any particular plot twist (I don't believe there was one that surprised me except maybe the fire).  The circus is a hard sell on romance.  It's hard to wrap your mind around the lyrics in the song The Greatest Show that "this is all you ever wanted" around the idea of a circus.   Though I like a circus, a place with painted clown faces, animal smells, elephant poop and peanuts is not really "dreamy" for me and I would imagine that is case for the most people. Now, I'm not exactly sure where to put next point so I am just putting this here: a lot of this story isn't true, sad to say.  The movie has too powerful a message and such great performances for that to matter too much but I know when I found that out it was a little disappointing.  You can read what was fact or fiction HERE.   I don't recommend doing so before seeing movie. Just "go with it" because the fiction is much better than the reality.  

The Ugly:  The bearded lady's beard was just a bit too fake looking to me.  I think rather than having one that was short and at times looking like it was permed and covering the entire jaw line, it would have been more realistic if it was longer and bit more messy. 

                                     The Last Jedi Review by LA Jamison

                                    The Last Jedi Review by LA Jamison

Score: 4 1/2 stars

Summary in Brief

After the slightly lag luster The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi now takes the reigns and rewards viewers with less mistakes from their first attempt.  Both good films, however, the first was much more about paying homage to the past in the plot lines. Though many love that aspect of Force Awakens to this day, reviews show and I agree, that even the older fans want something new and rankings were higher for Rouge One than Force Awakens. Yet ironically, it is harder for me to find Rouge One fans than Force Awaken fans.  Go figure. You can't always trust reviews. I know I don't live and die by them.  The Last Jedi is about parallel mentor/men-tees (Rey and Luke/Kylo and Snoke) and their journey with both sides of the force, dark and light.  As well as the continued diving into roque, otherwise unlikely heroes that are star fighter pilots, ex-storm troopers, and engineers.  This is something I really appreciate about all three of the newer films; they all take on the average joe worker characters with different races and backgrounds rather than the stereotypical white male super-hero/heroine types.  This is just as meaty in the film as any Luke/Leia carbon copies the film generates.  The film picks up where Rey is encountering a recluse and tormented Luke Skywalker who wrestles with his role as the last known Jedi but also the part he plays with Kylo Ren, Hans Solo's son--a Darth Vader wanna-be.  On the flip side, Kylo Ren is being mentored by Snoke while struggling with his connection to Rey and the equally impossible ego of Snoke. It appears the dark side is winning on both fronts because Luke holds no interest--only in death--and Rey as well as Kylo are only growing angrier--an aspect of the dark side.  There are mysterious ways of the force being used and manipulated on all sides that we cannot see behind for some time which keeps us guessing. One of those are the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren that has always been there but really amps up into a soul/psychic connection here in this film.  We know Rey has something special going on but how special and to which side even?  Her intrigue on the island with the dark side had me guessing and has Luke saying "Bye Felicia".  This connection between the Rey and Ren does so on levels all older franchises could only make cheesy attempts at with Luke and Leia.  Here the connection is much more scarier and darker and real. Kudos to them for that! The full involvement of Carrie Fisher is a pleasant surprise though I wish there was a much bigger acknowledgement at the end credits, perhaps with some photos or old film clips. Not even the listing of cast members is she put first (so I put her first here). Chewbacca is back as are our ever loveable droids and even Yoda has a part to play that I won't ruin for you.  There is enough that is reminiscent of the old plot lines--the connection between Kylo and Rey is errily familiar to Luke and Leia but darker, the humorous aspects of mentorship shown in Rey and Luke's time albeit brief, another weapon with a death ray and very cool flight scenes with the Millenium Falcon.  However, there is plenty more for those desiring new plot lines, creatures and planets.  Even a new creature to love like the Porgos that inhabit Luke's hide-away.  There are also new ones to hate like Captain Phasma who sort of reminds me of Darth Vader if he was a female on the disco circuit or perhaps a gay Darth Vader? Hip and edgy and played by Gwendoline Christie, I happened like the increased role of Captain Phasma. This film is a great addition to the franchise now owned by Disney (which makes me cringe a little for some reason I can't explain--I keep expecting the seven dwarfs to appear or something).  They put my worries to rest with this one, however. The biggest complaint I hear from others is the ending but I liked the ending. I would discuss it here but that would ruin it. What I will say is that you don't see the ending(s) coming (especially the part that Luke plays and the way he plays it) and I thought it was new different and cool.  Overall, terrific addition!

  • Rated: PG-13 

  • Directed & Written By: Rian Johnson

  • Runtime:152 minutes

  • Cast: Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Benicio Del Toro

Summary in detail

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly On The Last Jedi

 

The Good--Some compare this film to the very exciting Empire Strikes Back that many movie goers say is their favorite in the first series of three that ever came out.  I would say it is better than that in this way: The Empire Strikes Back is all about battle for the most part and The Last Jedi has much more story but exciting action too. I would actually compare it more so to one of my other favorites, the Clone Wars. Just like in the Clone Wars, in the Last Jedi we start right off with an exciting space battle scene with a breath and scope that takes your breath away. Also, there is the newness and intrigue but more specifically there is a deep sense of personal struggle with inner demons much like Anaykin had in the Clone Wars--here it is Luke and Kylo Ren wrestling with their demons.  However, it is like Empire Strikes Back in that the new Empire, The First Order, hits back against the Resistance that has shown itself to be much more a threat than it originally imagined.  I love love love the way all 3 of the newer films now include not only different alien races in the films but also of our own races and socio-economic backgrounds. I also love that just as meaty in the story plot line are these rather unlikely heroes of starfighters (Poe), engineers (Rose Tico) and ex-storm troopers (Finn).  Poe and Finn stories we know from the prior film but Rose Tico's story is new.  She is a woman representing the "everyman", star struck by the Resistance and finding herself thrown in the mix when her hidden strengths of character are called on and come forth.  Not a prized destiny of a future Jedi, nonetheless, a shining character, a strong character that has just as much force as the main character Rey. And these are two woman heroines with two different ethnicities. We still don't get that much out of Hollywood these days.  Rose appears as a plain Jane who hasn't seen much action, and shown in her worship of Finn but her love for her sister and the mission of the Resistance quickly put her on equal footing and you quickly love this character.  It also adds another question to future films on which direction Finn will go, choosing Rey or Rose. 

The special effects here are awesome.  There is a chase scene with the Falcon in the salt minds are super cool.  Unlike the older Star Wars where the dark side was represented with black, the emphasis in the First Order and in the film as a whole is red.  The white terrain on the planet of Resistance reveals a red salty earth below, the red salt mines, the red throne room of Snoke and his generals is powerful and eerie and dare I say super cool. A new city is explored that is somewhat like the Las Vegas for the elite in the galaxy who are benefiting from the spoils of the First Order. The partying elite are oblivious to destruction they are causing and enforcing with their buying and selling of weapons fueling a deadly dangerous form of totalitarian rule.  This is a big statement reflected in the troubles we all now face with many of our own world governments today being bought and sold by big business and somehow reverting back to ideas of dictators and cold wars.  There is a cool new way the film makers gave us a Cantana scene like in the New Hope but this city is a level beyond and not poor. The city is filthy rich.  This makes it refreshingly different and beautifully sinister.  Plenty of new and old creatures (including droids) to love and adore from Bb8 to R2 and CP3 to Porqs who are little cute things to crystal foxes and of course Chewbacca who is traversing space without his compatriots.  A little sad to think about but he seems none worse for the ware and it is good to see him.  It reflects, if we dare to look at it, how things do not stay the same in our lives and though we may journey with people for a long time, they come and go as do our missions.  Sad but true and no doubt original aging Star War fans may be experiencing some of that. We see this even more so in how Luke and Leia Organa also carry themselves with a sense of being alone even among big crowds.  A certain weight and weariness as well as scenes where they seem drifting off into the past.  You might think Leia just may call it quits when she is blown out of the ship but she resurrects herself and comes back precisely because she has a mission. One can tell that both characters and the actors themselves miss their original crew and so do those who grew up with those films. It was history in the making. The first of it is kind with a such a strong story and universal theme that we are now on Film #8 and can still say "super job"!  Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa plays a bigger role in this film with a much bigger emotional appeal as she tries to steer the remaining Resistance out of total extinction from Emperor Snoke who is always one step ahead of them.  Snoke comes to a fitting end that I just about cheered aloud when it happened. 

Kylo Ren was always an issue for me in the Force Awakens. Not very believable or threatening and I found his obsession with Darth Vader eye rolling convenient.  I would rather he see Darth Vader as ultimately too weak, someone who ultimately gave in to the light and fight to be even bigger than him. Instead, he is potrayed with a sense of a sniveling child in a young adult body that annoyed me more than scared me. All that did was give me way too early visions of how his demise would come to be. I don't want to start off knowing the main villain's biggest weakness. I need to be terrified first and Force Awaken's never gave me that chance. However, in this one Kylo really steps up his game. The oppression of Snoke's leadership on him is much more apparent and he leaves the whining and weak child likeness behind and is strong and angrier.  There is enough other events and struggles going on that we don't have to encounter this character as much 24/7 but when we do it is much stronger and well paced.  The best part is Kylo Ren's mysterious connection with Rey and from there I see him as the threat he becomes. Plus there are other villians like Captain Phasma and Snoke is much more prevalent. General Hux goes without saying that he is a bad ass and does a great job via Gleeson in the role yet again.  He will no doubt be a threat to Kylo Ren in future films from the looks of things at the end.  There are enough reflections of the old and surprises to make me want to see this film again and again.  The sound effects and soundtrack are on point with everything else and at times above point.  The scope of the visuals is vast and very well done.  I'm not sure I've seen anything this year as good visually except Blade Runner 2 (which nothing beats visually) but there are a number of scenes that do compete with Blade Runner 2 as well.  There is gleefully much more R2D2 and CP3 0 in this version. R2 with the biggest, most significant role out of the two. Who would mind seeing more of them? Not me! I want more than less but Bb8 has grown on me too. 

The Bad--I love me some Laura Dern as an actress. Loved her especially in October Sky. I did not love her here as much. She wasn't strong enough for me or different enough than any other of her roles she has played, but I do like her big self sacrificial move at the end of the movie. Other than that, she was not very believable. Not terrible just unremarkable and almost too contemporary for Star Wars.  There is a slight sense of over doing some of the dramatic tensions between Rey and Luke. There is also a back and forth between scenes on ship and scenes on the island with Luke where it get's a little bland or perhaps limiting is the word.  Overall we visit only 3 areas of space. The original planet of the Resistance which is lost early on in the beginning, Luke's Island, and then the space between and the planet that will hold the Resistance at the end of film, and a planet that holds a Las Vegas type city on it.  You could say that is 4 but I don't count the first planet of the Resistance because that is left behind in the first 10 minutes of the film.  

Ugly-- Yoda...what do I say about Yoda. I love Yoda but something about the way they had him appear here...I'm not sure if they were intentionally wanting us to feel this was old school puppetry like in the first films or not.  I don't want to fully say it was ugly per say, it just seemed off to me at some angles.  He appeared just a tad too much like Kermit the Frog in mumpet texture.  It wasn't bad, maybe not even ugly but at points was an apparent attempt to "try" to appear old school with him.  Laura Dern's purple hair. The voice behind Captain Phasma was too contrived for me. 

Carrie, it was a rough and wild road but now you are on a higher one, a much better one. And could you talk to the Big Guy about Trump & this Death Star ADMINISTRATION...please and thank you! We need the force

 

 

 

blade.jpg

BLADE RUNNER 2049-SCORE--4 1/2 Stars out of 5

Brief Summary

A Blade Runner in the future collides with the past history of their society and skinners uncovering a secret that would upset the very foundations on which their society is built on. The past ultimately leads him into reluctant alliance with Richard Deckard who has been in hiding and holds the secret that could change everything for good or for bad, depending on who get's to him first. 

Rated: R

Run Time: 2hrs 44 mins.

Director:  Denis Villeneuve

Writers: Hampton Fanch, Michael Green, Phillip K. Dick

Stars:  Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford

 

Summary in Detail: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly About Blade Runner: 2049

The Good:  You know with the likes of Ridley Scott at the helm of such a classic film franchise that the cinematography of this film would be pretty grande right?  Now, multiply that x 10.  There are some visual masterpieces in my own time I will never forget (nevermind the story for a moment). These would be: Star Wars, Dances With Wolves, The Lord of the Rings series, Avatar,  Tron Legacy, John Carter and Valerian.  No matter what you might think of the stories of these films, taken from a visual/cinematography point of view the technique in which new and vast colossal landscapes were captured in those films was breath taking.  I'm sure if not all that at least one or two of those films you would agree on.  In addition to this, you add in the power of the soundtracks and sound effects withthe special effects and you drop down in cinema-gasm which is what brought me back to these films over and over again.  Blade Runner: 2049 is now added to my list in some sense. It takes the original Blade Runner and in an awe-inspiring away and burns the images on your retina. And trust me, you don't want to forget them.  They are huge, they are the definiton of colossal. The haunting music that reminds you of your own human emptiness, soul searching in a dark world seduces you into a sobering mood. You look for hope but the only hope seems to be the bright color lights of blade runner vehicle in a dark landscape or a naked hologram dancing on a side of the building.  You too are on a desperate search for hope and humanity in this cutting landscape.  I thought a lot about Tron Legacy in the vast futuristic, robotic, cold scope of the Tron world with the visuals, sound and manical mechanical take over also seen and felt in Blade Runner: 2049. In addition, I thought of Ridley Scott's Promethesus with the sense of darkness and broad scope and chilling soundtrack.  Of course, a lot of the sounds and soundtrack have to do with the older film.  However, this is all on a another level.  Definitely one for the record books. Ryan Gosling plays 'K' in probably some of the best acting I have seen from him. A brief personal note, I have a thing for Ryan Gosling but I've never really cared for any of the roles he has played in movies.  He more than makes up for it in his role as 'K', a "soul-less" blade runner but who is special in that he strongly seems to desire one.  Ana de Armas also does a pretty good job playing his holographic mistress whom he upgrades so that she can travel and even somewhat take on other bodies in their desire to be more fully together.  What a powerful statement on today and where people are headed.  We are a society more willing to accept computer generated realities than reality itself.  Can you see someone falling in love with manufactured person, an Avatar? I sure can.  Not being human himself, there really isn't much of a choice for 'K' but there is for us humans. Would we choose differently? I don't know but it is interesting 'K' doesn't even try.  He's embraced his life as an assassin... yet when he starts to unlock a past history that may even hint of something more for him, he can't let go of it.  Even when ordered to. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play very stealthy, sanitary villians.  They are like two twisted people running a spa but on Sweeny Todd like level as they attempt to secure their perfect order of superior beings.  Very creepy people you are willing to hate.  The story line is good though lacking in scope which I will get into in a moment.  But, it is descent and has a pretty good twist near the end.  There are many touching moments with "K" and Joi as they attempt to connect with a sense of humanity just out of reach for both of them.  When they hold their hands out in the rain and snow like a child might do, when they attempt a sexual relationship, and when Joi makes the ultimate sacrafice in order to be with "K" and has him take on the name of "Joe".  It goes without saying that "K" is a tragic figure with two great disappointments/losses in the film.  The loss of love and the humanity he had hoped to uncover in himself. In some sense, we can all relate.  When we fail to love or receive love like we imagined we would have, we connect with "K".  All of us have done and are capable of being very inhuman to each other so the authentic movie goer won't say they can't identify with the inhumanity but rather should identify on some level to their own inhumanity that we all experience.  It's easier to do since they all appear exactly human.  If a humanoid can get to some level of humanity, we can surely touch the ways we are ourselve inhuman.  It doesn't make sense but if we are honest, we all know the ways in which we don't reach the humanity we think we should.  As the Blader Runner ships with their colorful lights cut through the dark skies giving us a false sense of hope and an idea of rescue, we do not imagine that in such a nifty, colorful vessel is an assassin-- a cruel, soul less being. So too, in our own human vessels that travel this cold, night which emenates light and is colorful, we do not imagine cruelty and soulness can abide in it too but it does. We are just scared to admit it.  The hope is we will rise above this darkness, that such darkness is not all of who we are or what we will become.  Only time will tell and our own journeys will tell.  Blade Runner seems to suggest, especially at the end, the test seems to be an ultimate sacrafice in which we appear to lose but it is only in the losing that we actually we gain. We gain our souls. 

The Bad:  The problem with this film for me is the same reason why I am not a game player of such games like Tomb Raider or Uncharted. Trust me, I get that there are a lot of people who are huge fans of such video games that explore, and if you are, well then you will love this film even just for that reason.  There is a part of me that does too!  Nevertheless, this is nearly a three hour film and the plot line, while good, is too thin, and doesn't really fill up those 3 hours well enough.  With most movies carrying this kind of visual superiority and sensational sound, they often go by too quickly.  I came away, as did the person with me, feeling like I had been watching it for 4 or 5 hours by the end.  It is a treat for the eyes but there is not enough plot substance to carry this well through to the end.  I wanted to push the film along. I wanted more Gosling and Ford interaction.  It is the typical story of hunter becoming the hunted while trying to find out truth about himself and his past.  The problem is that this hunt goes on for a very long, long, long, long (and did say long?) time.  Some of this gives a good impact for certain types of movie goers. We get a longer exposure to these great visuals such as the scenes of the Blader Runner flying through great expanses of city-scapes, or for example like the deserted casino where he encounters Harrison Ford's character, and we encounter things like the giant naked hologram that reaches down and solicits him for sex (the same image of his beloved Joi) while he is wandering after a great traumatic incident in the film.  I wanted to see more of Harrison Ford's role as Rick Deckard and though I enjoyed the hunt and the exploration, 3 hours of it was a bit much. 

The Ugly:  A nearly 3 hour movie with a plot line that is too thin makes this film feel like 4 or 5 hours.

Valerian & War of the Planet of the Apes

Score for Valerian: High 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Score for Apes: High 4 out of 5 stars

 

The War of the Planet of the Apes

SCORE: High 4 out of 5 stars

Summary in Brief

Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images)

Directed By: Matt Reeves

Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval

Runtime: 140 minutes

They're baaaack, it's ape-call time in this third chapter on the back story in the Planet of the Ape franchise.  The ever hesitant to kill but perpetually enraged Ceasar and his band of apes are yet again victims of trying to give humans a chance at leaving them alone.  For fans of the older series from the 70's, there are some pretty neat references to those older stories as it is very apparent this particular movie franchise is reaching the end of the journey. A conflict with humans led by a man on rampage, the Colonel, forces the ape tribe in a battle and eventual imprisonment that is something like a holocaust. All three of the films are centered around Ceasar, of course, and each film somehow manages to dive into the many facets of this character that I never get bored with.  As Ceasar faces betrayal and incredible losses, you can't imagine that carved, seemingly permanent frown could ever be turned upside down but that does happen in some real tangible moments. Something the franchise wasn't able to reach in the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Their captivity and eventually an epic battle is the highlight of the film. Heres the film provides some twists, humor, excitement and complexity seen within Ceasar at the hands of a young girl that really brings this film home.  A great finish as they arrive to the desert home we all know they eventually reside in according to those great older flicks. 

 

Summary in Detail

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the War of the Planet of the Apes

The Good:  Putting some things aside for a moment, this film was a lot of what I had hoped it would be but not done in anyway that I expected. I mean who expects an ape war council to happen in the winter, up in an old ski lodge inhabited by an old ape called Bad Ape (played wonderfully by Steve Zahn) who brings all the well needed and deserved humor to this movie which is missing from the earlier two.  The second film and this one is so intense and dark that the humor comes as refreshing rays of sun after the rain.  I really enjoyed in the beginning how we get Ceasar's point of view for the first time walking through his soldiers after an opening battle has ended. We, through Ceasars eyes, experience the reverence and awe for him as we approach the remaining human captors.   It was amazing to feel and see.  I also did not expect to find out who Cornelius would be or most definitely see Nova as a young child (We see Nova in the earlier films as an adult).  The beginning of the film is a bit more of the same though I do find Ceasars new hide out under the falls pretty "bat-man" cool like.  However, the film really takes off after the Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson) makes his attack and the apes go after his crew bent on revenge.  I'm not a big fan of Woody Harrelson except in the TV show Cheers but I have to say I did enjoy him in this role (though definitely still not irreplaceable).  Along the way to seeking out the Colonel after he has slaughtered many of Ceasar's crew, they manage to pick up a stray young girl who later gets the nick name "Nova". She is played Amiah Miller and has the charm and look of young Dakota Fanning.  Often riding the back of a gorilla, she is the heart that Ceasar has lost in all his bitterness. The directors do a great job of not over playing her role in touching Ceasar's heart and reminding him not all humans are bad.  I don't know how the franchise does it but the journey of Ceasar's soul is taken from so many angels and I love that. This is one is definitely a darker side but when the light flickers here and there for Ceasar, it makes the light all the more dramatic.  Yes, there are some things about his story and the ape story that are over done but enough that is new to over look that if you want to. Things really amp up when the crew who have split up are force-ably reunited as the Colonel outsmarts them and imprisons them in his camp.  Of course, the few outside stragglers who manage not to get captured like Bad Ape and Nova are part of band that helps in an elaborate, fragile escape plan.  This is where we also learn that there is more of just a war between ape and man but actually the Colonel is fighting against other humans. The virus has mutated once again, even effecting the Colonel's own son, and humanity is in peril. Even so, they apparently fight over whether the humans experiencing the mutation should live or die.  So there is a lot going on here along with the fact that Colonel has a few screws loose.  Die-hard fans of the series will like foreshadowing that goes on alluding to the older films that really doesn't happen as much in the first two.  Note when they are sewers because those are also featured in the older movies as well at points. 

The Bad: In the beginning, as per usual it seems we are starting out the same; humans hunting in the woods. I mean it is a little different in that this is an army and they have a few gorillas on their side, but somehow it has that same feel.  A pretty big fault in the film is when Ceasar let's some of these human's go (as he always does in the series) to yet again send a message that they aren't "savage" and just want to be left alone. Really? The humans are out for revenge. Wasn't this lesson learned in the first and second films? I could excuse it in the second film but this time it was an eye roller.  Even beneath Ceasar's permanent frown, we know from this point on the writer's and directors are going to mis-use this manufactured element of his refusal to fully rampage on humankind.  I dare say, sometimes I just want him too.  Some withhold or restraint is good but it all comes down to 1005 restraint with humans all the time and that is a bit unbelievable because by this point the apes should all be the bad asses we know from the 70's flicks with few who are sympathizers.  The whole human attacks apes, ape ponders killing human captors but doesn't and ape pays in the end is really overdone by this point. Another bad point in the plot is at times the unbelievably of the Colonel character. I confess bias in that I don't care for Harrelson's portrayals of bad guys and in this case the fact that he doesn't really just kill Ceasar is a also little unbelievable to me.  Especially, after Ceasar leads a prison revolt? It is clear to me that if you are going to throw a leader in the large population of his own imprisoned people, that this is asking for trouble.  Put him in solitary confinement, separate him or kill him, otherwise your character is an idiot. There is argument for the idea that he uses Ceasar as a pawn for crowd control and I get that point but it is just not quite enough for me. He's too much of a liability and proves it when he leads the first revolt.  I can't speak too much about the ending without spoiling it but I will just say I love how the battle scene ends. I do. And I like where the apes end up because it sets the scene for the entire older franchise. However, I don't like the very, very end. If you see the film, you will know why. It will be apparent. It doesn't ruin the film, but it left me feeling like the it was unfinished (though after 2 1/2 hrs, I was ready for it to be) 

Ugly: Nothing

 

Valerian

Score: 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars

 

Summary in Brief

Rated: PG-13

Director: Luc Besson

Writers: Pierre Christin (based on a comic book series "Valerian and Laureline), Jean-Claude Mezieres

Stars: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevinge, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawk, Rihanna

Run-Time: 140 minutes

A feast for your eyes: take Star Wars, John Carter, Avatar and Tron Legacy and put them in a blender and you get something like this film. Lots of wow factor visually and the story is pretty darn good too! In this case, Valerian and Laureline are two stubborn headed and coy lovers who both work for the government as special agents.  In this particular case they stumble upon a top secret enemy that threatens Alpha, a rather large and organic floating space station that is home to species from a thousand planets. If you watch this film in 3D you are in for a treat as you meet their worlds and species often as they race through this station on a mission.  The mission is to uncover the enemy and secure Alpha from a very real and present danger that may effect the entire universe. Though Dehaan doesn't really pull off the Hans Solo-esc character he is supposed to be (I rolled my eyes when he called himself a "bad boy" type), he is still a charmer and Cara Delevinge more than makes up for where he lacks in her role as Laureline. Plenty of actor surprises with Clive Owen, Ethan Hawk and Rihanna too.  Rihanna is one of the most memorable characters in the film.  Visually stunning and sort of stunning in a retro kind of way too that the younger generation might not appreciate but I did.  This story line is fun and reminiscent of Star Wars a New Hope.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Valerian

The Good: There is something new here in the cinematography here.  The special effects are on crack, the pace of the film is on speed. In a good way.  There is definitely a more vivid feel to the visuals but also I enjoyed some use of retro like graphics. Now, I'm not sure that is the intent of the special effects team but that is how some of it came across to me. Especially when in the beginning the duo are going through a virtual reality like tour of another dimension called The Big Market. Their "cross-over" in this world looked to me like the old Tron graphics of the human characters when the "players" were in the games at point. There are so many weird and strange characters and worlds too! In so many ways I am reminded of Star Wars--The New Hope--but I doubt this will have that kind of impact or following. The main characters are indeed charming but not that memorable.  The strained romance between the two main characters did remind me a little of Hans Solo and Princess Leigh to the very shape of their space craft that looked like the Millineum Falcon and much more.  One of my favorite worlds and people are the Mui and the entire film really centers on them and their Mui converter creature. They have a look and feel very similar to Avatar's characters the Na'vi' with a cross over into a look of the characters in the Star Wars the Clone Wars. Think of the characters that manufactured the clones and you will know what I mean.  There Sea Shell oceanic planet is to die for.  It was so vivid, so beautiful, I want to go there.  But I'm also reminded of the John Carter movies with the elaborate characters and a number of scenes that are held in large desert landscapes.  Also the pacing and transitioning between worlds and battles between prince and princess and the like reminded me of the John Carter stories too.

Clive Owen is a rather annoying shady general and Ethan Hawk surprises us with his portrayal of a space pimp but Rihanna charms our socks off in her timely albeit brief roll as Bubble who transforms at will into anything she wants.  Do the any of the characters develop into a noteworthy character arc? In a film like this, you better not being going to see it for that kind of analysis. This is a fun, frantic space opera that is focused on plot and special effects from the same people that brought you The Firth Element.  Still Valerian and Laureline are going to charm you eventually. The actors work well together. I mean who doesn't like even just saying the words Laureline after you say the word Valerian?  Cara Delevinge is a charmer and funny as she plays the hard to get, side kick but quickly moves to the front of my line.  Drane Dehaan as Valerian is good too but it is a little bland at points and it is only Laureline who really makes both of their characters really stand out.  Even though the character development isn't grande, buckle your seat belts. You are in for a fun ride in 3D and pretty good story!

The Bad: I am not a big fan of Clive Owen's acting and he didn't bring anything new here. He wasn't believable as a villain here except that I hate whoever he is the moment he comes on screen. Blahh and fake.  As I already hinted at, I would have liked to seen more character development but that is me being selfish. It is not like there isn't any. Valerian does grow some and so does Laureline in their understanding and learning to work together and loving each other, even if they come across more like brother and sisters in their vibe on screen.  The graphics are stunning. Don't get me wrong, but some of it is so CGI that it feels like PS 2 video game and not even a PS 4. But those moments are minor and you can really tell the film makers are really trying to give us all they got so it's easily forgiveable and the wow factors make up for it. 

The Ugly:  Nothing--go see the movie! 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 & Alien Covenant

Scores for both films: 4 Stars out of 5

Summary in Brief

Rated PG-13

Guardians

Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Dan Abnett

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautist, Kurt Russell & Vin Diesel as "Baby Groot"

Run Time: 137 Minutes

The Guardians are back in a power packed sequel.  The crew get caught up this time in a tri-fold power struggle between Yondu, a planet of interplanetary, genetically perfected space snobs, and a man named Ego who created his own planet and holds the secrets to StarLord's (Chris Pratt) past.  There are a number of interesting plot twists in this non-stop triad square dance, some long winded and over emotional for a crew of ex-criminals, that culminate in a hair raising, visually stunning, action packed climax you won't want to miss.  Is it as good as the first? Maybe not, but it is a close enough second that it is almost unnoticeable in it's flaws.  And what about this Baby Groot character? Does he fly? He more than flies, he soars and is the show's scene stealer and delightfully so. No exaggeration!

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly for Guardians of the Galaxy 2

The Good--Where the first movie lacked in action, this sequel is chalk full of dynamic battles both on land and in space starting right from the opening scene. Actually the opening scene is one of my many favorites in the movie (notice I said many).  We are introduced into the charm of  baby Groot who has big shoes to fill with the passing of our beloved Groot from the first film. Baby Groot immediately dances his way into our hearts to the backdrop of a killer battle scene which he is oblivious of, and the music of "Blue Skies".  

One of the things I liked from the first film is this almost retro and crisp feel to some pretty fresh looking outer space backdrops, whether in deep space or some sunset on a foreign planet.  This film has all that style from the first film on steroids. We know from the end of the first film that there will be more between Yondo and StarLord and the film doesn't disappoint either. Yondo becomes a much more richer character too as we learn of his role in the StarLord's past.  The film is rarely predictable like most sequels which is another good quality.  Some surprises with Kurt Russell albeit Photoshoped younger version and cameos from Sylvester Stallone as Yondu's criminal tribe leader.  I totally didn't expect these two characters.  Kurt Russell plays Ego, a major new character in the film, who comes to the aid of the Guardian crew before they are wiped out by an army of interplanetary, genetically perfected snobs.  Ego holds the key to the Starlord's mysterious past, and he introduces the crew to those secrets on a planet he himself created.  The story lines all end up finding their way back to this mysterious, charming, heartwarming Ego character and his luscious planet.  And, of course, if things are too good to be true they often are. The guy isn't named "Ego" for nothing.  

The crew and the music is back, as funny and charming as ever. The music isn't always as helpful and enhancing as in the first film but in a few cases it does.  Though we don't see much of Thanos in this film and he is missed, Nebula still stands as his offspring bent on vengeance and stirring an already boiling pot until it is overflowing.  The expansion on her character is refreshing and moves beyond her and Zoe's character having sister fights.  Just as there is a rise in physical action and visual effects in this film, there is much more emotion in this film. The story line goes much deeper on the emotion front and that has it's pluses and minuses.  The plus side is it helps the character arc and a sense of transformation of character to a degree. The minus to this, I will talk about later in another section.  Now, Baby Groot. What do you say? The little guy is both charming, funny, adorable, and an all out scene stealer. He is worth the price of admission alone. If you are worried, like I was, that Baby Groot couldn't replace Groot himself, think again. Meanwhile, Yondu is sort of our "Uncle Buck" of the film franchise and not a character that is particularly enjoyable in the first film.  He isn't even "cool" to look at, though his weapon which responds to whistles is cool. Yondu is pretty much the ugly duckling of the space Smurfs, if there were space Smurfs.  However, the character development around him, especially after a mutiny by his crew and his partnering with Guardians, really amps up his likeablity. 

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The Bad--Sticking with the topic of emotion, although there is a lot of more emotional depth reached with StarLord's past and with Ego, the relationship between Starlord and Yondo, and the relationship between Nebula and Gamora, the relationship between Rocket and Drax...it becomes, well...a lot of relationship drama that at times is so heavy, the film and characters feel too weighted and sad. Poor Rocket the Racoon is a miserable mess for much of the film and not in the fun way like the first film often times.  It is a trail of tears for many of the characters.

Music was a big part of the first film. Every song did something in the first film and though there are some shining moments with about two songs or so, the selections are not as effectual as in the first.  There are some real neat space craft fighting scenes when the crew is going against an army of genetically perfected golden colored people that fly space crafts via virtual reality simulators.  This means when they are shot down, the people themselves aren't killed off, only the space crafts.  After the first battle scene, additional battle scenes lose their power quickly as it get's the feel of an arcade more than a real battle and thus becomes for us more and more less believable when you see them lose thousands upon thousands of ships only to come back with more.  Apparently, they will have a much bigger role in the next film as a civilization scorned by the Guardians and wanting revenge. But in truth, I hope Thane is back.

The Ugly--Nothing Ugly in this film

Summary in Brief

  • Rating: R (for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity)

  • Directed By: Ridley Scott

  • Written By: John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green

  • Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup

  • Runtime: 120 minutes

Ridley Scott brings us Alien Covenant as a second edition to the Prometheus story line of the Alien franchise. A crew of men and women on a colony ship called the Covenant are interrupted on their journey to the other end of the galaxy when all are awakened to a distress signal. It comes from what appears to be a fantasy island planet of possibilities that set the colonists on a dangerous detour. Of course, you and I know this will be hell on-a-new-planet-earth. The mystery begins on where we are on the Prometheus plot line (before or after the original) and that takes some figuring out since we meet two humanoids in the very beginning; David, from Promethus and Walter from Covenant (both played by Michael Fassbender, hubba hubba).  As per the norm in most Alien films (that most Alien fans are willing to ignore), the craft's arrival to the new planet ends up leaving them stranded due to mysterious, violent deaths, aliens and bad weather.  The Alien franchise tri-fecta. If you liked Promethus as much as I did (which was a lot), you will love this film, regardless. Michael Fassenbender as both David and Walter of course steal show with many allusions back to Promethus.  While David has always been a bit of a loose canon, Walter is his upgrade which at first doesn't seem like one since he is purely unemotional, and unable "to create" like David can. It is clear David sees himself as having an advantage but attempts to teach his "brother". Although David at first appears as the hero it is, in the end, Walter really who becomes our hero.  The action is rev'd up and the Aliens themselves, believe it or not, have taken on yet another level that I won't spoil for you. Katherine Waterston is a very strong Ripley Jr. in this film and she is both endearing and believable for a space chick as Daneils. I loved Danny McBride as the usual space cowboy in the film, hat and all. My favorite man crush Jussie Smollett from the T.V. show Empire is also on deck.  

We finally get a little more of the mystery behind these aliens that created this treacherous mutation/weapon as we soon discover that we are on their home planet.  The set sort of reminded me of an alien version of the Mummy with it's tombs and temples and big faced idols.  If you remember at the end of Promethus, David's disembodied torso and Captain Elizabeth Shaw are headed to this planet. Here we find their ship and what happened to them, but all we have is David's tale and can we trust David? Has he learned anything from the last film where his treachery literally tore him in half?

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly in Alien's Covenant

The Good--Its a field day of humanoid proportions. Though this film is definitely on the run from those terrorizing aliens, almost as frightening is what to make of our humanoid element who, if we have learned anything in the Alien movies, aren't to be trusted.  Yet, it is hard not to want to trust a face and charm like that which Michael Fassbender pulls off so well in both David and Walter.  The space scenes are much more fantastic than ever, even compared to Prometheus, with a more believable plot line of colonizing a planet.  Ripley's believe it or not (pun intended), the Aliens have mutated into an upgrade that is much more frightening. There isn't as much as violence but when that violence happens it is very graphic and intense. I looked away myself. The planet setting is stellar as no one can pull off like Ridley Scott. Part Jurassic part, part Egyptian Mummy feel, the setting and background scenes are cool. A level above Prometheus since we were stuck pretty much in that cave in the first film.  The place where the human like giants from Prometheus live is now littered with their burnt, petrified bodies that stream through the temple grounds like a river that cascades right up and onto a mammoth large gate.  It seems these superior beings aren't that much smarter then there enemy counterparts than the humans are themselves.The plot lines and twists were good. The characters were great in their own right and much more believable even in their stereotypical Alien roles than even some of the original Alien films. One of things I loved about Prometheus was the soundtrack and we get whiffs of that when we see David throughout this film as he thinks back to the "good ole' days".  In this film, David comes off as sort of like a Jedi that attempts to save the crew but we aren't sure he would qualify as a Obi Won Kenobi or Anakin Skywalker as the film progresses. David has always been a bit of a loose canon.  All the humanoids in the Alien franchise seem to go just over the line of sparing no human life when it comes to "experimentation" and new life forms.  But the hope is, with his grief and passion over the loss of Captain Shaw, that he has had enough of these Aliens and truly does want to help him.  There is the usual home ship dancing between danger with the turbulent weather and the stranded crew which is nothing new. What is new is this dualing humanoid dance, enhanced aliens and the crew's attempts to understand what happened on this planet and to Captain Shaw while also trying to get off what has turned to hell on a new earth.  This film is well worth seeing even with the few flaws. 

The Bad--I can't really say there is anything bad per say except maybe this: there is a strange sense of comfort in the familiar plot lines and stereotypical characters but also a dullness around that. However, to me I get excited about the Prometheus plot line and the newness around that makes up for it. Plus, the characters do such a great job in this film.  There are no real character arcs here and the ending, by the time you reach, feels somewhat predictable. Yet even with that, it leaves a cool idea around a future movie.

The Ugly--No surprise here. The violence and gore. It is infrequent but was intense enough that I looked away. 

 

 

 

 

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LOGAN

lOGAN--SCORE--4 1/2 stars

Summary in Brief

Rating: R

Director: James Mangold

Writers: James Mangold (story), Scott Frank (screenplay)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

Runtime: 2:17 minutes

A film subtly sprinkled with references to our political climate today, the movie Logan will no doubt stand out as one of the better X-Men movies for those looking for a non-traditional, more emotionally meaty superhero/anti-hero film.  Set in the future, a battered down older Logan works hard at hiding his own past and that of an ailing Professor X by keeping themselves prisoner in an abandoned farming plant near the Mexican border.  As he attempts to keep them and a worn out Caliban as his sidekick hidden, they become quickly upended when an persistent nurse presses Wolverine into a situation of taking care of a young mutant who is being pursued by a version of the dark forces that originally created the monster inside him.  The film plays out like a Johnny Cash song on speed (fitting since the credits roll to  Cash's 'The Man Comes Around").  Our anti-heros and miscarriages of justice are running on fumes, their last leg and this gives the film a deep sense of melancholy that is both refreshing and rightfully disturbing.  Splashes of humor and a great soundtrack give us some relief as does the gentle, wounded nature of Professor X.  They are on a journey fraught with questions but one thing is for sure: their future and the future of other mutants and the planet are once again at stake.  But, this isn't done at all in the traditional sense of super hero movies.  We are more focused on their lives in the moment and the chase. It is only more so near the end of the film does it begin to dawn on us that the life of other mutants and humanity are at stake. However, we are never hit over the head with such big picture views like in other super hero films.  There is much more character development (which to me is rare movie foreplay these days) with Logan and Professor X.  Even the young mutant they are trying to get to safety across the border to Canada develops in a very touching way (the race to Canada sound familiar in our recent political conundrums lately?).  The level of character development is very emotionally appealing and heart tugging.  However, don't let the emotions scare you off.  There is plenty of action. This film is a full head on, non-stop chase with lots of action and violence (my least favorite).  But, to those who aren't fans of violence, at the very least it is righteous violence.  The film leaves us both sad and hopeful. How like life!  Additionally this is the last movie for the Wolverine being played by Hugh Jackman. In an interview Jackman stated that he got the idea of quitting while he was ahead of the game, "on top", of the franchise from Jerry Seinfeld who also ended his own top TV series "Seinfeld" in the same manner. Seinfeld said he ended the TV show when he did because he didn't want to end it when things ran their course and fell apart as many other TV shows do.  Jackman took the advice.  Interesting to say the least!

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly--LOGAN

The Good--This film has the intrigue of finally combining the Wolverine and Professor X in a very substantial way even if it is at the end of their glory years and the end of the Wolverine franchise.   With only Logan, Professor X and Caliban remaining and on the down-low at an abandoned farm/mill in Mexico, we see three characters who are nothing but the worse for the wear.  Logan can barely hold his muster, Professor X is drugged up, senile and fights seizures that paralyze everything around him, and Caliban is a worn out Igor type role as their assistant. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart totally knock this ball out of the park with their character arcs and facing the demons that haunt them. The holder of the keys to their hell is Logan who refuses to let the Professor leave the silo he has imprisoned in, keeping him in a drug induced state to stay off the crippling seizures. Meanwhile Caliban in X Men Apocalypse was played by Tomas Lemarquis. In this film, he is played by Steve Merchant and he is gentler, kinder Caliban that is a bit unbelievable in this switch. I didn't knew who this character was at first. he was so completely different.  Regardless, Merchant did an excellent job for the role he was given.  

Boyd Holbrook as Pierce does an excellent job as the movie's top villain and bounty hunter so to speak.  He is a sort of second in command to Dr. Rice, the son of the Dr. who worked on Wolverine in the past.  We really don't see much of the Dr. in the film though when he do, it is clear what his brand of poison is.  However, he is not the muscle Pierce is.  Pierce is a part of league of maniacal men with mechanical arms that are on the hunt for a group of young mutants who escaped their facility when advancements proved they no longer needed them.  He is both charming in the beginning as tough guy with a know-it-all attitude that turns out to be relentlessly cruel and persistent.

This film is a dog-on-dog-tear-your-head-off-keep-pushing-the-limits kind of chase. It was the moments when the film stops and breaths that are made so much more poignant in its contrast. The director clearly knew this and treated these moments wisely.  One of my favorite resting points is at the home of the Munsons (the father of the home played by Eriq La Salle).  A grieved, and weary Professor cries to Logan after the end of their time at the Munson home as this being "the most perfect night I have had in a long time".  The emotions and what happens in these places of rest are at times as hard hitting as any of the action and definitely more creative.  You know that for every rest, the storm will ramp up harder.  Seems a lot like life lately.  

Near the middle of the film to the ending, we meet more new mutants along beside the young Laura. There is a Wolverine twin that is god awfully powerful and frightening. There are younger mutants that come together and encounter their first battle against dark forces and both win and lose.  In addition, there are several themes in this film. I call them the 3 R's. Regret, Relentlessness, and the Rebel.  Themes around regret have to do with Wolverine and the Professor and terrible happenings that occur which we aren't privy too right away. It has been some time for these characters since we last knew them and there's a lot we don't know but find out. There is the theme of relentlessness in the chase Pierce leads on after the mutant Laura and other younger mutants. As well as Laura's relentless pursuit of freedom and Wolverine's pursuit to at first die and then to live through Laura. He finds a cause to live and die for again in her. Laura played by Dfane Keen really brings the third theme to life in that of the spirit of the rebel. Our "good" characters are rebels, anti-heroes. They are often wincing in the emotional pain of the number of lives they have taken, unable to see their fight for survival and justice as anything of a balm for what they have done. In Laura though, she was born in lock-down and knows nothing but violence.  Her only grief soon becomes her emotional attachment to Wolverine and the Professor.  

The soundtrack is really good. I particularly enjoyed the Johnny Cash song at the end title credits.  And, although this is the final Wolverine movie, it clearly may not be the final for the X-Men since this movie is set in the future and X-Men is more in the past.  There are some loose ends in this movie that could be used down the road.  Such as the question of what the institute created which was said to be superior to the mutants, so much so that Dr. Rice felt the need to get rid of them.  There is also this band of younger mutants who are on the run that we know have a future.   

Last, I couldn't help but think of some references that could have been intentional to our political climate in the U.S.  A lot of this takes place on the Mexican Border, the treatment of "foreign" women and children at the institute and the use and murder of Mexican women, and corporate greed abusing the everyday man such as farmers like the Munsons.  It is a double tragedy what happens to them in this film.  Mexicans, Farmers, Greed, and Canada, Oh My!

The Bad--I feel Dr. Rice could have been brought in earlier and though surely menacing, he was a little less powerful than I would have liked. Also many of the fight scenes were cool, don't get me wrong.  There's a real cool scene when the Professor is having a seizure in Vegas which causes the entire casino to go into a deep paralysis. Wolverine pushes through it to essentially get to the good Professor and decapitate and deep throat his assaulters with his blades that is pretty cool. However, after a while, the fight scenes also become a bit of the same show repeated with a different background.  The movements are in several incidents very repetitive. For example, Laura digging into someone's chest and unleashing her rage got to be like "okay, we've seen this before".  Still, don't great me wrong. Laura is a great character all her own who is so twisted that we have to learn to like her and we do. We love her by the end.   And this is minor, but it is a little hard to believe Caliban has become so good to the X-Men and changed so dramatically for me. The acting gave an entirely different spin to this character that I liked but wasn't believable.  Still, it doesn't take away from the comic relief and refreshing side kick that Merchant provides for this role. By the way, Steve Merchant was also the sidekick on the Ricky Gervais comedy show. 

The Ugly--Westerns don't really try to be pretty about the grit and melancholy of violent murder. This film is somewhat in that same vain which is enjoyable. A sort of super hero western. However, I can't over emphasize this enough. The film is pretty graphic. It even bothers to zoom in real close to wounds that Wolverine is pushing bullets out of. Lots of decapitations, rolling heads, and full body and head piercings by blades. This didn't bother me as much because the story was so great.

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moonlight

Moonlight--SCORE: LOW 5

Summary in Brief

Rated R

Directed by Barry Jenkins

Written by: Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney

Cast:

Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Naomi Harris, Janelle Monae', (Ashton Sanders "little", Trevante Rhodes "black", Alex Hibbert as "Chiron")

Runtime: 1:51 minutes

 

Portrayed in three parts centered, this film portrays three different periods in a black man's life as he grows up in Miami while wrestling with his sexuality, identity, and a sense of being homeless and without love.  Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert do a superb job playing "Chiron" in his younger years.  We watch this young foundling, this quiet young man bare through circumstances that are entirely unfair and yet somehow we all know some child in the projects is going through this in real time--if not worse.  Ashton Sanders as "Little" Chrion is a powerhouse in his painfully numb silence. He pulls at our heart strings whenever one crack in his frightened exterior opens up before Juan. Juan is played by Mahershala Ali and his potrayal of Juan is a tour de force of not only acting but a manly man with a Teddy Bear heart. He is the film's fallen angel that comes to "Little"'s rescue. Juan is a reluctant drug dealer when it comes to being this child's substitute father at Juan's insistence (though he resists at first, note that he keeps coming back to Juan).  However, Juan's past catches up to him when "little" realizes that the very drugs that are eating his mother alive are being sold to her by the likes Juan.  This portrays the shame of drug addiction and the greater shame that men of superb quality of heart are driven to live in an environment that's heavy laden by drugs, guns and violence.  It is the motif of the tragic poor that our society has created.  Is it a mode of survival? Or are there more choices in such places? One can't truly say until you walked in those shoes.  Juan is apparently now well off as drug dealer financially but it is quite apparent that when it comes to a child like Chrion, he grieves over the terrible example he is setting.  Naomi Harris does a stellar job of a mother we love to hate. She is a burning bush of weed and all things drug and poor parenting.  We love to hate her because we surely can imagine that perhaps she wouldn't be such a mess if she wasn't taken by these drugs.  And, who needs a mother more than Chiron? We are invested in this little guy so it grieves us more than her love is wasted on drugs. 

All the actors playing Chiron are excellent. Alex Hibbert gives us the hope of the young adult Chiron who is still pushing through more bullying, his drug infested mother, and his newly arising sexual tension with his crush, Kevin, played by charming Jharrel Jerome.  There is a touching beach scene where Chrion has his first time with Kevin.  We know, of course, that this will all come crashing down around him and it does but in a way I wasn't expecting.  Complete devastation.  For, this is the theme of the war that has been unleashed upon this dear, innocent young man. It is probably the most intimate scene in the movie which is echoed by the adult Chiron when they re-unite later and he reveals to adult Kevin that he was and still is the only man who ever touched him.  Trevante Rhodes plays adult Chiron as "black".  "Little" and then name "black" are all nicknames Chrion has.  It is another powerful performance as Chiron now as "Black" has become the thing Juan modeled for him (his only male adult role model), a drug dealer.  It is something Chiron has digested and is so normal to him that, just like in Juan's case, it is presented in this film as sort of a "norm". A side bar, not really important to the other things going on inside the man's heart. And truly, I'm sure for many people just trying to survive, there's really not much space to get all judgmental about the morality of the issue. However, "Black" is forced to face his inner demons and deepest longings before his grieving mother in rehab and then finally when he makes that real long reach back to Kevin.

Believe it or not, as hard hitting as the topics and the themes are, this film is pretty gentle on us.  The three sections gives us time to breath. Also, there is this sense of focus and enclosure to particular characters and scenes that doesn't distract, horrify or overwhelm us with the other stories or atrocities no doubt going around him.  It is a film that is always angling for the heart and it has to because Chrion's own heart is so buried by shock, cruelty confusion and pain, each scene takes a lot of soul digging.  What is great about this film and about Chiron is that while this film explores a little about his sexuality and that is always there, it really is only a portion of who Chiron is and is becoming.  In the end, unlike most films on the topic, Chiron only wants to be held...and by the end, so do we.  

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly--about Moonlight

The Good--If I had to pick my favorite section of the film (these sections are broken up according to the name Chrion is being called), it would be the first one called "Little". Mahershala Ali as Juan is just beyond belief.  Though a drug dealer, this part of his life isn't really the focus just as "little" doesn't really see him as a drug dealer to begin with.  We see Juan only through the lens that Juan presents himself with just as Chrion does (even though in the background we "know", we don't want to).  And for a long period, Juan can lose himself in the role of substitute father to a boy who wonders around the street with a sense of homeless.  He doesn't have to face the reality of his crime when Chrion is around. He can connect with his human instinct of being a father.  We see the grief of the reality of it when both "little"'s mother and "Little" himself confront Juan about his role in creating the young man's terror.  It is a horrifying paradox that Juan is the key to "Little"'s mother's addiction and this hits them both hard.  How someone so young as Ashton Sanders did so well in playing this stunned, lost, questioning little boy is beyond me. Personally, even though I am a white man, I could relate to this boy.  Not only in the taunting of "who he was" as a gay boy on the rise into his identity but also the terror of bullying that numbed him.  I saw myself in him because I too became numb around adults that I wanted to connect with but couldn't, unable to talk, shaking. Especially, those in authority.  Now, of course, I have no clue what it is like growing up in the projects or with a drug addicted mother.  Still, drugs and tormenting, bullying males were on the loose around me and I was on the run.  As gay young men and women, I think we often fear these words like Little Chrion feared such as "fag" or "queer" because they are said in such derogatory ways.  We know being gay is hated and no one wants to become what everyone hates. You might then be able to imagine a little what it is like: something akin to riding a roller coaster that you can't get off of. You are being carried to this destiny whether you want to or not. Press the fake brakes, scream, it doesn't matter. You are gay.  It is who you are and self-hate can abound. It did for me. Even years upon years of denial. It makes some of us try to "change" and fall into the trap that we can find some way to "grow out of this".  Chrion chooses to observe himself from a distance, rarely engaging with himself or others because he has never known it to be safe to do so. Tragic.

When Chiron is a teen, I can identify with his sense of awkardness and especially hiding from bullies that threaten to beat you. If you don't know what this feels like, as a child, it feels like you might not come out of it alive.  That is the level of the fear. Chiron has the added rift at home which is horrifying.  Janelle Monae' comes into the rescue as a sort of substitute mother in this time of his life.  Aren't we all grateful for those angels of grace? Those who make terrible situations a little less terrible.  It is said that there is proof that while Matthew Shephard died on that fence by his homophobic murders, there was evidence of a deer that stayed the night with him.  Worse comes to worse, God will visit us through nature.  Janelle Monae' is teen Chiron's deer and she is gentle, loving relief. She does a great a job as this little angel to Chrion.  

The scenes in this film are contained and not on the expansive side but the director did a great job making these scenes pop with vivid colors that interplay with some of the depressing realism.  The editing is also very good. For example, with the demonic possessed mother tormenting her Chiron in the hallway was very foreboding. We see her about to go inside her room to perform sex for money. Purples and hot pink, and replaying her stepping in and out of the doorway, hollering at the child in such a way that neither he nor we hear her actual words as we much as we see her rage.  This is pretty much what any child experiences from raging adults or parents. In my own experience, as harsh as words are, what really makes the impact on a child is the rage. Eventually, Chrion as "Black" turns the rage onto himself so that he walks around still confused, silent and unsure of himself even behind the mask of brass teeth and gold chains.  

The Bad--I hesitate to put anything bad here but that is mostly because this film won an Oscar and that I feel the acting was so good. I won't say that this was "bad" but rather "different". You must decide for yourself whether you like this or not. For example, a lot of people like the movie "Momento" but I could not stand the constant flash forwards and flash backwards.  In this film, you don't have that. What you do have is three sections that break up the continuity of the story. Meaning, it jumps ahead. In the same sense a novella is different than a novel, the film is a focused look that pays attentions to particular characters at pivotal moments.  Now don't get me wrong here. There are some real artistic moments in these sections. Novellas too also have that advantage of focus over novels.  However, there is a sense of missing story and narrow focus that left me wanting more than the film gave.  This isn't entirely a bad thing. It is good to want to more, not less.  However, it did border on disappointment in some areas.  I think in some areas we could have used a broader expanse. I felt by the time we reach the section of adult Chrion as "Black", I was a bit more disconnected from this character than I would like to be.  It is a jolt going from the young teen to an adult more so than a young kid to a teen. It was a little fraction less believable. There was no real good, believable transition between the two and by the time I started to believe "Black" or connect with him through his tough exterior, the film was over--at a scene that is meant for us wanting more to begin with.  

The Ugly--Nothing ugly, it is great and go see it!

 

Blood Wars & Trolls

Underworld: Blood Wars--SCORE: TWO STARS

Summary In Brief

  • Rating: R (strong bloody violence, and some sexuality)

  • Directed By: Anna Foerster

  • Written By: Cory Goodman

  • Cast

    • Kate Beckinsale as Selene

    • Theo James as David

    • Tobias Menzies as Marius

    • Lara Pulver as Semira

    • Charles Dance as Thomas

  • Runtime: 91 minutes

The fifth installment of the franchise "Underworld" continues with Vampire and Death Dealer played by Selene (Kate Beckinsale) as she once again finds herself being played off the fangs of vampires and off the backs of the fury fiends of Lycans (Werewolves). Her own betrayal by her "family" of Vampires is complete as she is totally alone save for the daughter she swore never to hunt for.  In this 5th installment, she befriends fellow vamps David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance) who become the only allies she has left.  Once again, the Lycans seek to become the top of the food chain with a new leader this time, Marius played by Tobias Menzies.  Everything appears similar as all the other franchises in settings and even the interplay of personal passions and larger scale missions like stopping the war between Lycans and Vampires that threatens to wipe everyone out. There are a few things missing though; like appealing and believable characters, a deflated plot and the usual wear and tear from a 5th installment that attempts to keep up the same age old battle.  The settings are great visually, there is potential (albeit lost) on the mother/daughter development, good special effects, a few good twists and a new resurrection element that is played with. This is done in conjunction with a new group of Vampires we haven't seen before.  Some Vampire history is explained and some bridging to this new plot line are done but its almost like a Joy Behar "So What?" by the way it is done.   Theo James is blah as usual (attractive as I find him, I find him to be a boring actor) and the most promise with Charles Dance as his father falters. Not a complete nail in the coffin but pretty close. Marius played by Tobias Menzies is an antagonist that sort of grows on you.  There really is no investment in these characters and what is in Selene is pretty much what we know from her by past films. All in all, I would say, you really don't have to bother with this movie....unless, you are like me...I just couldn't resist because I like the franchise. 

 

 

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Trolls-SCORE:3 1/2 STARS

Summary in Brief

Rating: G

Directors:

Walt Dohrn, Mike Mitchell

Writers:

Jonathan Aibel, Glen Berger

 Cast:

Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani

DreamWorks Animation's TROLLS is a children's comedy and fairytale from the creators who gave us Shrek. The plot centers around two main characters; Anna Kendrick as Poppy (a Troll leader who waxes hope eternal) and the grumpy Branch, played by Justin Timberlake.  They must save set out on a mission to rescue their tribe from of group of giants called the Bergens who love Trolls...for dinner or dessert!  The above picture is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  The trolls are a bunch of perpetually happy, fart-sprinkling, singing, hand clapping, party folk which puts Branch at a great disadvantage as the camp doomsday person.  The perpetual glee of this clan lead by Poppy who is the Queen of glee blinds the party goers to how audacious and loud they are becoming. This predictably attracts the attention of the Bergens who have lost their whereabouts and are low on the Troll count.  Branch's skills come in handy and his doomsday preparations pay off when him and Poppy are all that escape the Bergen clutches.  Now, the two must work together as polar opposites to save the day.  The visuals in this film are wonderfully vivid and quirky.  The happiness is so insane it is funny with a troll Sparkles who farts sprinkles while others poop cupcakes.  The music and songs are catchy and a few of the songs are remakes of old classics.  This is the movie you want to see if you like the concept of The Smurfs but just can't happen to stand them, like myself.  The only problem with this film is that there are no songs that become classics of their own.  The songs that stand out are already well known.  Some of the plot line is pretty general and predictable but there is a great twist when the King of Bergens falls in love, unwittingly, with his housemaid who runs around in a disquise that the Trolls make up for her.  Its a new twist on the Cinderella scene and it works really well.  For awhile these two steal the show and the Trolls fall into the background a bit.  But their adorableness is never too far away.  For those of us who grew up on these little dolls somehow making their way into our bedrooms or basements, this movie makes it's way into our hearts taking some of the unusual nature of these dolls and playing on that in a charming way.  I'm not sure this movie will matter much to kids anymore than any other kid movie but it definitely hits a little of the "home" space in the hearts of those adults who remember little these figures. 

 

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ROUGE ONE

sCORE: Mid FIVE

  • Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

  • Directed By: Gareth Edwards (V)

  • Written By: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy

  • Based on a story written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta

  • Runtime: 133 minutes 

  • Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO

    Summary in Brief

    "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," starts as all the films in this franchise do with the line "In a galaxy far, far, away" but it is unique in that this new epic is the first stand-alone movie. Though the beginning of the movie is pretty choppy and confusing, once this band of rather unlikely heroes comes together, the film takes off and soars well past "The Force Awakened".  There is a lot to get excited about even though those who love the old cameos from traditional characters may be a little disappointed.  The characters you do get to see, nevertheless are Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, and brief moments with Princess Leia and the adorable team of R2D2 and CP30 and a few others too.  Nevertheless, this particular story is very cool, telling us the story of how the plans to steal the information around the one weakness of the Empire's weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star, came to be and getting those plans back to Rebels Alliance.  If you will remember from the film A New Hope, Princess Leia is on a mission of relaying the weakness of the Death Star's core reactor to the Rebel Alliance.  She secures them inside the robot R2D2 to deliver to Obi Wan Knobi.  This film is the back story on how that weakness came to be and what it took for these plans to get into her hands.  Felecity Jones as Jyn Esro and Deigo Luna as Captain Cassian may not hold the charm of Luke and Princess Leia but they have something far better for this day and age: believe-ability.  Their character arc as reluctant rebels with self motives that are pitted against each other do develop and transcend into a very moving ending.  Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe is just down right cool as a blind Jedi-wanna-be providing some real neat fight scenes and comic relief that matches Alan Tudyk's portrayal as the re-wired Empire droid K-2SO.  We all need a robot to charm us and root for in any Star Wars film and though it takes a little bit to warm up to this new character, K-2SO pretty much pulls out all stops and becomes another hero to love.  Now let's talk spacecrafts and landscapes.  Wow. There were several scenes where I nearly gasped at the scope with the realistic nature of the scenes.  In particular, the plot developments around the city of Jedha which was created as a sort of "holy city" of the Star Wars kind and Scariff which is not only where the plans to Death Star are held but also resembles something like Cocoa Beach Florida. The fight scenes on Scariff and Jedha are out of this world making for some real cool fight scenes on land and in the sky, not to mention the battles that ensue above the planet. 

  • Summary In Detail: The Good, the Bad, and the ugly of rouge one

         The Good:  Despite any misgivings you may have about Star Wars overload, the lack of traditional characters or A-typical plots lines, I         encourage you to give this film a chance.  Embrace the newness of it.  This is a cool stand-alone pre-quel revealing how it is that the  weakness of the Death Star was created, why and what it took for those plans to end up in Princess Leiah's hands.  The film starts off, and part of its bigger undercurrent is the torn relationship of Jyn Esro (Felecity Jones) and her father Galen Esro (Mads Mikkelsen).  Jyn is torn away from her parents early on as her father is forced to work for the Empire and their project of a planet destroyer.   Surprisingly, yet again, Mads Mikkelsen does a great job as her father. That's 2 films in a row I've liked his acting in, making up fo some of his weaker acting in other films.  And where Mads is, so seems Forest Whittaker (plays Saw Gerra) who also surprisingly shines well as a soldier who helps raise Jyn in absence of her father.  When Jyn is captured down the road, the Rebel Alliance wants to use her  to get access to her father for motives they are keeping in shadow.  In exchange, she can earn her freedom.  This requires her to team up with Captain Cassian and his Re-wired ex-Emperial Robot to seek out Saw Gerra so that they can get to her father whom she had long since thought was dead, along with her mother.  

         Along the way, she receives help from a splinter group leader and Jyn’s estranged father figure Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a                      defected  Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and this cool blind, warrior/guardian and Jedi wanna-be named Chirrut Imwe                 (Donnie Yen) and his reality check enforcer with an over sized blaster gun, Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).  Besides the usual thread of son  and father dynamics in Star Wars films (in this case daughter and father), I really appreciated the dynamic between Chirrut and Baze of mystic and realist. They at times struck chords of dissonance and balance, frustration and humor, faith and action, mysticism and  realism.  Also the character development and tense relationship between Jyn and Cassian is meaty.  Even the robot K-S20 eventually becomes heroic and raises above his own narrow view of humans by the end.

        The villains here are good as well. Darth Vader is back and realistic enough.  A CGI Tarkin was so realistic it was almost impossible              (not completely) to notice that he wasn't real.  They are both creepy as ever.  The main nemesis we see and encounter most of from the  get-go is Director Krennic played extraordinarily well by Ben Mendelhson.  Flying about wearing a white tarp and looking like he just  got back from a Galatic Palm Beach, you want to like him, you want to believe that even his "lighter" colored garments may make him  kinder.  This just makes his cruelty even more sinister.  He is a menacing, reluctant protector of his pet project the Death Star and his  apparent hope to raise above Tarkin status and please Darth Vader.  However, his ambitions create an added tension as Tarkin isn't at all keen on giving Krennic any kind of credit at all.  But, if you think that might make him rebel against the Empire, think again.  Like a  bad penny, wherever our heroic rebels turn up, so does he, hot on their tail.

      The special effects and visuals are goose pimply awesome.  We get some of the good ole sense of rebel ship fight scenes as "Gold Leader"         checks in along with "Blue Leader" and so on.  The rebel and Empire star fighters come out often in droves and amazing detail against           gorgeous back drops and in new settings. There are also lots of Imperial Walkers of many types tearing new scenes and villages and even the impact of the Death Star is far more widely felt as we are often treated to seeing it's effects in a on-planet level for the first time.  One of my favorite visuals is when the crew is escaping a city as the planet is being struck by the Death Star and also a scene of a massive  Imperial Destroyer that remains parked above the city Jedha.  The final battle is also a killer! With ground battles involving every weapon imaginable in the franchise in a tropical scene while above the younger crew involved in the New Hope series fighting in the space above them.

       Also, I must say that I felt The Force Awakens failed for me because I felt it over used old plot lines and cheapened them. Here, those           themes are more subtle and hinted at, so I felt they were more honored in this way rather than being used in a cheap way.

       You just don't get better than this! Go see it!

       The Bad:  The beginning of the film is very choppy and a bit confusing--too many scenes to a variety cities with characters we don't              know who to attach to.  The film is forced to use CGI characters since certain actors have aged or have passed and this is a prequel when the characters would be younger.  It is hardly noticeable but I still find CGI characters pretty creepy.  I am still left wondering if makingKrennic look like someone who just came back from a posh tropical vacation was the best choice.  In one sense, it left me having  different expectations about how he would behave and since he didn't, that offered a surprise element I enjoyed.  However, it also gave me a sense of him being a weaker villain.  In this sense, he reminded me of a Lando Calrissian character who at any moment may be swayed to good or bad but you always got the sense they were more soft than sinister warriors.  Krennic is a more reactionary villain  then having good plans which also plays into a sense of a weaker villain. I think what would have been cool was if Tarkin was in the Krennic role. I think that would have made for an even stronger film. 

       This s fact didn't bother me but I know it did bother the person I was with and I can imagine it may bother others: the throwback                characters are different than in The Force Awakens and may not be enough for some Star War fans.  Also, if you are a Star Wars fan, you         know as most people, that these plans do get to Princess Leia so it does require you to suspend your belief and what you know from other films but I encourage you to do just that and enjoy ride. It is well worth it!

       The Ugly: The only thing ugly is if you miss this film because you will miss out an epic ride!  I slipped and slid my way home from this       movie in the middle of a snow storm and I don't regret it.

 

       

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ARRIVAL

SCORE: LOW 4 (sTARS)

 

Rating:

PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Directed By:

Denis Villenuve

Written By:

Eric Heisserer

Runtime:

116 minutes

Cast:

Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

 

Summary in Brief:  This is a thinking man's sci-fi movie with some philosophical emotional implications that will get you thinking.  In it's own way, the film is the gray and dark version of The Martian starring Matt Damon but a little less dull in concept (a gardener on Mars) and little less pretty in the lighting (a bit more gloomy than I like all the way through).  Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks who is very skilled in linguistics, and the government wants to use her to help solve the language barrier between humans and the arrival of aliens.  Joining her is Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner and their ring leader is Colonel Weber played by Forest Whitaker. Whitaker probably does his acting here to date (there's not much I've seen him in where I got anything out of his acting to begin with).  The movie quickens the pace when world powers begin to panic about all the space crafts parked in their backyard and suddenly Louise and Ian are in a race against time before the entire world goes to war with the aliens.  Amy Adams does a superior job playing Louise who struggles with memories and her own inner demons as well as all the situations she is thrown into where she must face her fears. It all culminates in the ultimate sacrifice but how will the aliens and the world respond to her sacrifice?  There are a lot of themes touched on in this film such as the power of language, sacrifice, love and time.  There are several very epic looking visuals and landscapes that are awesome in the cinema.  Every scene is pretty much dark as if the film took place in the gloomy month of November here in Michigan. Even the "inside" scenes for me were a bit too dark with the lighting. The aliens and their spacecrafts are colossal and the sound effects/soundtrack with them really increase the scope even more dramatically much like in the film Prometheus.  There are subtle twists in the plot but nothing overbearing and the film does get you thinking more about the themes then the aliens themselves.  It is a somber film mostly because the questions it poses have no pie-in-the-sky answers, and we realize that though the ending is typically a happy ending..it isn't the same. There's a sadness for the main character especially since she (and we) know that she is left with tragedy to come. Despite that she now knows how and that the tragedy is worth going through, even her scenes of happiness at the end have a cloud of sadness hanging over them. Yet, isn't that life? We walk on the edge of a knife and sometimes knowing everything isn't "all that and a bag of chips". 

Summary in Detail

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker give real stellar performances. Jeremy Renner is good too but nothing out of his norm here. Adams and Whitaker really stretched themselves in their performances.  I was reminded of the sci-fi book The Sparrow which is also about an alien race and the main character is a linguistic professor.  She is the key the government wants to use to bridge gap between the aliens and humans.  While she is passionate to really get to know them, Whitaker wants her to tell the world whether they should prepare for war or not.  Louise is reluctant all the way but is plagued also by memories of her deceased daughter which seem to be prompting her to go forward.  Think of Close Encounters. Her strange behaviors are from her but don't originate from her.  There are subtle hints the aliens may be at play but how much? She struggles with a message from the memories she can't quite grasp until the end of film when everything comes together.  The emotional ups and downs that Adams brings to the screen are very authentic and powerful scenes.  I almost didn't even recognize Forest Whitaker at first, he did so well as the colonel.  There are several epic of visuals of the 12 hovering crafts around the earth and when we get up close to them...the visuals are colossal and very creepy.  It reminded me a lot of Prometheus and the spacecrafts in that film that the aliens used. Very similar in shape and mobility.  The aliens are a cross between giant versions of "Thing" in Addams Family (the hand in the box) and an octopus. They are intimidating (octopus) and odd ( "Thing").  This isn't your typical War of the Worlds paced movie or a lot of that kind of action. Its an exploration into foreign communications and philosophical ideas about sacrifice, our own paranoia as human beings, love and time.  It is very appropriate that this film shows us how jaded we've become in our lack of trust of one another.  The film skims over many themes and maybe too many, I'm not sure. However, it dives into the importance of taking the time to try to understand each other and multi-level explorations on the notion of sacrifice.  Paranoia and fear about the unknown is really what brings about the action in this film leading up to the climax where the world is about to head to war without ever being prompted.  There are also some cool notions and plot twists around the concept of time that I won't spoil here. Amazing how this was all interwoven with the concept of language. I feel this was refreshingly original!

The Bad:  There's really no bad acting here which is a good thing. However, the film's scenes were overly dark many times where it didn't need to be. Instead of using lighting for dramatic effect (they do this well at many points btw), it seems someone thought to not only keep the sun behind a cast of gray skies all the time, but to keep the lights off inside too.  The aspects where this works is inside the alien space craft and some scenes with the spacecraft outside as well, especially when characters are struggling. However, it was all a little unnecessary for the entirety of the film giving it more of a gloomy feeling than I personally wanted to walk away with.  Essentially, once the movie get's going, the only settings are either characters standing before the aliens, or inside the same places of the observation site.  This wasn't terrible but after awhile I found it a lacking creativity.  The soundtrack really helps drive this film, however, at points, it takes away from the film and never let's up on the gloomy backdrop the film itself is already saturated with.

The Ugly: Nothing really ugly.  

 

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Score: High 4 Stars (out of 5)

Rating: PG-13

Director:

David Yates

Writer:

J.K. Rowling

Run Time: 133 minutes (2 hours and a little less than a half)

Stars:

Eddie Redmayne, Dan Folger, Katherine Waterson, Alsion Sudo

 

Summary in Brief:

Harry Potter fans are taken on a pre-quel (all the rave theses days) to 70 years prior and on another continent.  The main characters aren't really kids this time around but the likes of Newt Scamander, author of the Hogwarts textbook yet to be written, played by Eddie Redmayne. He travels from England to the USA to supposedly add to the mating necessity of some magical creatures he carries along with him in a suitcase. Actually, there is a larger reason he has come but he keeps that a tightly held secret that I won't spoil here.  However, what he doesn't seem to be able to do is keep that suitcase locked very well which allows the creatures to escape from their portal and mayhem ensues.  Take all that you love about Potter films and set it in the 1920's USA and you conjure up a spell of an adventure that I think should satisfy Potter fans that may or may not appeal to non-devout Potter fans.  There are 2 plots that eventually converge; Scamander's plot to control and keep his magical creatures as well as his push to evangelize the wizardry public on their value (a magical creature Humane Society representative if you like); the American branch of witches and wizards, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and their attempts to thwart political tensions between magical beings and "non-magical" beings. Non-Magics are the USA versions of the word "mugols".  This divide between the two camps has been brought to an edge of a knife by a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald. He is played by Johnny Depp but don't get too excited because you don't really see Johnny till the end.  And also add in a secret society here of witch haters called the “Second Salemers.”  It quickly becomes apparent a civil war is being fostered in the background by someone with evil intents.  The pair of Newt (Redmayne)and Kowalski (played perfectly by Dan Folger) and the trio of Frenzy, Mary Lou and Propetina are all very well played characters that intersect and give us new characters to love.  There are only two children of importance in this plot so younger children might have little to identify with as they did so strongly in Potter films.  The iconic 20's with the wizardry mix of creatures, goblins and what not are great sights to behold on the big screen.  The detail to the settings add a charm and excitement all its own.  Don't miss it! 

Summary in Detail:

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good:  When the Harry Potter series ended, just like all other franchises, one hopes that somehow it could continue in a different way but that has never happened to my knowledge except for Star Wars and maybe Indiana Jones.  The film Fantastic Beasts accomplishes this in what will most like be satisfying for die-hard Potter fans.  It is thrilling to hear the music again and soar through the Warner Brother's cold gray brick symbol again.  The entire film holds a charm unique to its own with the new characters we can easily bond with and a setting that places witches, wizards, and magical creatures in the roaring 20's of America.  There is a wit and a charm here unique to itself that I really enjoyed and this kept things upbeat rather than playing entirely on the downbeat like in Potter films. However, sometimes this upbeat atmosphere, the humor and cute creatures, like the major one who looks like Platypus, made it harder for me to feel all that threatened by the vastness of creatures or the looming enemies about which we seem to only scratch the surface.  Eddie Redmayne, Dan Folger, Katherine Waterson, and Alsion Sudo all do really great jobs of keeping us entertained and in love with their characters.  At times Eddie is a little too wistful for me in this role but for the most part, he is charming and intriguing enough to have us wanting to take this adventure with him.  Probably one of my favorite scenes that wasn't nearly long enough was an underground bar scene that was reminiscent of Star Wars Cantina except in this case it was the dirty underbelly of the magical scene.  Even the door to get in is pretty cool! Newt and Kowlaski's characters together are like a Lou and Abbot Costello pairing and they hit it off well. I love the romantic interest that develops between Kowlaski and Fine Frenzy (played by Queenie Goldstein). A second scene I particularly enjoyed would be when we finally get the full exploration of Newts secret world inside his suitcase via the perspective of Kowlaski.  Of course, the special effects are well done and the settings are tremendous throughout the film.  The final battle scene is cool in its own way but you are also reminded that there haven't been many wizardly battles much in this movie up till then. There are some neat plot twists, though at times things get dull (despite the newness) as compared to the Potter series.  Probably the most threatening and intriguing thing in a scary way is the witch haters, the Second Salmers, and the hunt for a child with very dark powers who is killing people off.  It is Voldermort-esc.  Collin Farrell is very believable in his role as good cop/bad cop and keeping a sort of serious, bruiting mystery about him.  The Magical Congress of the United States is itself intriguing as well as its headquarters just because it is different and Americanized.  

The Bad:  I'm not sure I would qualify what I'm about to say as "bad" as it is a bit less exciting.  There is this vibe in the film of the roaring 20's which is really cool and the accident of setting loose of these magical creatures and encountering the witches, and goblins in this background is super cool too.  The chase for these creatures running wild from a rather haphazard Newt and a suitcase that refuses to remain shut results in a cat and mouse game that is pretty funny which hint at some looming dangers... but not potent enough.  It is not all that scary of a seek and find and it was hard for me to buy into the urgency or excitement of it after awhile.  I was taken up in everything at first because the chase and creatures are charming but there came a point in the film where I was thinking, "Okay, this can't be it?"  Part of the problem I think is that we really aren't connected to main nemesis that much at all, Gellert Grindelwald.  With the particular plot twist in this film, it may take a second viewing for me to really grasp the enormity of his threat and role. It is probably good that this particular film is more focused on adult characters because many of the Potter fans are grown up now. Yet, I couldn't help but miss charming child characters rather than only getting two very disturbed children that we really don't get into their stories well enough.  Apparently, there are going to be four more films which gives some excitement to who we will see in their younger years, like Dumbledore.  Stephanie Picquery is the president of the American branch of magic and is played by Carmen Ejogo. She does a good job but she lacks a little "oomph". Perhaps they dolled her too muchShe is firm but not all that powerful of a presence like the headmasters in Hogwarts.  For all it's newness on magical appeal, setting and characters, the film is somewhat swallowed up by this quest to control and re-capture these creatures which loses its luster mid-way through when you realize they will all be captured and they aren't all that threatening as they are adorable and interesting.  It seems to prevent the film from diving into other plots that may have been more exciting.

The Ugly

Nothing Ugly.

 

 

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Dr. Strange

 

score-mid 5 (nearly perfect)

Rating:

PG-13 

Directed By:

Scott Derrickson

Written By:

Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill

Runtime: 130 minutes

Stars:

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejoiofor, Rachel Adams

 

Summary in Brief

A talented, full of himself neurosurgeon is taken down a few pegs after a tragic accident hits him at a core wound.  Dr. Strange then is on a lust search for a physical healing but comes to learn what he really needs is a spiritual one bringing him into a hidden world of mysticism, magic and other dimensions.  He is forced to conqueror his own inner demons and being the pupil under the tutelage of high sorceress played by Tilda Swinton as "The Ancient One".  Things really ramp up when Dr. Strange played by Cumberbatch and his side kick/mentor played by Ejoiofor as Modor must face a much larger enemy in the Ancient One's former student, Kaecilius played by Madds Mikkelsen and a mybrid of universes open up including one particular dark one that has huge implications. Dr. Strange is ultimately forced to take things up even a higher level by having to decide if he will be an intermediary between good and evil in this world, something he didn't sign up for.  In a line up of super hero movies, there are some you just can't replicate. For example, the ones that stand out to me are the first and second Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, Batman Begins and possibly Thor.  The thing about all these movies is that they have real comic book appeal but in real life settings.  In these real life settings, they transcend them and thus carry us up into other realms that are amazing to see on the big screen.  Many others have tried and failed to do that. Dr. Strange can be added to the list of one of those films that succeeded.  The visuals are stunning, something out of the Matrix and an Inception feel to them. The humor is well placed. Not a lot of humor but I found myself laughing out loud when the well placed humor arose which I haven't done since the recent Ghostbusters movie remake. The character of Dr. Strange actually develops and is interesting enough, strange enough, to keep you wanting to see more. Cumberbatch knocks it out of the park once again.  Him and Chiwetel as a dynamic duo of sorts really steal the show.  Though I don't find Tilda Swinton and Mikkelesen very believable or even actors I want to see on screen, they actually were made an impression on me for the first time in this film. They rose above their poor role play in Tilda's Chronicle of Narnia role as the evil queen or Mikkelesen's James Bond sniveling nemesis.  I find them to be weak as powerful enemies, but here because they are handling powers that are beyond themselves, it works.  The physical manipulations of space, objects, and time are out of this world with a Tron Legacy component and Inception components to them.  We move from wanting to bitch slap the Dr. in the beginning to rooting for him, really rooting for him, when he is knocked down and begging to learn these mystic arts.  This is one of those movies you want to see on the big screen as entire landscapes are folded, split, turned in on themselves that are real cool.  I found the Soundtrack really good too and oddly enough some parts of it were similar to the score for Cumberbatch's last appearance as Kahn in Star Trek which was odd.  Stick around for the credits, there are 2 scenes after the movie is over. One is mid way through the credits and the other at the end.  These give hints to other movies in the works and by other previews, it looks like we have another X Men movie in our future, albeit a somber looking one. 

 

Summary in Detail:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:  Does Cumberbatch do any role poorly? I don't know. I haven't seen one where the performance was poor and this role fit him perfectly or vice versa.  I loved when the levitation cape joined the scene as well.  Dr. Strange and Modor where a powerful, cool force together along with The Ancient One. I don't care for Tilda Swinton's acting as usually strong, powerful roles that I don't see her pulling off well. But if she ever has, she did so here.  The great thing about this movie is the script get's us rooted early on into Dr. Strange's story and when the rising action really kicks in, Dr. Strange has been fighting his own inner demons.  We are then transported in and out of manipulations of space and other dimensions, the creation of weapons and astral projection.  There is a spiritual component too. A very strong one where it is clear that the parties involved are spiritual warriors.  Then, it is not long we are taken with Dr. Strange through a tour of "multi-verse", both light and dark and it is fantastic. The visuals are straight out of a comic book world and kind of feel to them like few movies can pull off.  There is much here to feast on for the eye, the mind, and the soundtrack isn't bad either.  There are not only twists in plot and levels upon levels there but also visually as we are treated to battles that involve manipulating city landscapes or fortress interiors that is like nothing I've seen and what Inception pulled off. Here it is even more so.  I also enjoyed the idea of the mirror world and an ending I could have never predicted.  This movie was a great surprise and deserves to be in a line up of those special super hero movies that really transport us on different levels and combine real life with comic book realities and worlds that isn't easy to do.

The Bad

At times, I was taken out of the greatness of this film but not by a great amount.  As I said earlier, I find Swinton and Mikkeson often put in power playing roles that don't suit their demeanor and even though they do pull off some of it here, I still would have much rather seen other actors in those roles.  Another element came in the soundtrack that at times was strangely too familiar with the same one Cumberbatch played as Kahn in Star Trek.  Its still a great soundtrack but at times I found that tie in distracting.

The Ugly

The make-up when Kaecilius and his crew tapped into the darker world was strangely cheapening stuff around their eyes.  That took me out of the film at times. But at least with any of the bad or ugly , it was "strange" and brief, keeping to the good Dr's name! LOL

 

 

 

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Star Trek Beyond

SCORE--HIGH 4

Director:

Justin  Lin

Producer

JJ Abrams

Writers:

Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Stars:

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Idris Elba

 

Summary in Brief: 

We catch the Captain of the USS Enterprise experiencing a mid-life or perhaps deep space crisis.  Unsure of himself and how he measures up to his father, Captain James T. Kirk willingly takes on a mission to help an alien captain in distress which ultimately takes the crew to the deepest depths of uncharted space.  While the major characters of the franchise run a little stale, the minor characters of the crew step up their game and become more predominant in some surprising twists and turns that separate everybody.  We are treated to a new, super cool space station that is more advanced than we have seen, but similar to anyone who has seen the movie Elysium.  Even so, it still comes across as super cool when, for example, star ships sail underneath the space city's waters.  From there on, hold onto your seat belts because this is probably the most action packed film in The Bad Robot franchise of Star Trek.  A number of twists and turns and nail biting scenes will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Idris Elba does an excellent job as the villain Krall in a season of movies with lack luster villains.  His enemy force is huge and act like menacing space termites to anything their crafts can sink their metal teeth into. Sofia Buetella does a superior job playing a new character Jaylah which the crew must depend on to have any hope of survival.  How has an alien race in previously unexplored territory have revengeful motives against the Federation? If the crew of the USS Enterprise don't come up with some answers, as well escape uncharted territory, the entire Federation and universe could be in great danger. 

Summary in Detail

 ...............For Star Trek Beyond

...............For Star Trek Beyond

 

The Good:

This film is one wild ride that not only includes my favorite attributes of great special effects/cinematography but also great plot twists.  There is some staleness, not a lot, to the major characters that I will get to later.  It *almost* is made up for by the new rise and much more space given to other characters like Chekov, Sulu and Dr. McCoy.  There is a period in the film where, for example, Captain Kirk and Chekov are by themselves on the planet fighting to survive in a number of hair raising scenes.  How fitting that the actor Anton should be featured more in this version which was also to be his last film.  The sheer awesomeness in how the Enterprise and other ships are used in this film becomes more exciting than you can know as the reader and more than I can tell without giving the way the plot.  The ship is taken to the brink to extents beyond imaginable.  The nebula, planet in question, enemy forces and Idris Elba's character Krall are fierce and intimidating.  I mean really, really intimidating and well done. "How can they ever survive this?" was a reoccurring question that came to my mind.  Sofia Buetella as Jaylah is a great edition as one of many survivalist on the enemy planet. Her gadgets are cool in a futuristic James Bond meets Space Ninja Warrior kind of way.  Her base made out of an old space craft and the booby traps she rigs up are cool and provide some humor when the crew get snagged by them.  The film is definitely not without it's humorous moments and jaw dropping visuals.  One of my favorites is the crew in their space craft approach a title wave of the enemy space crafts.  The film franchise, as always, is fresh out of the gate on being cutting edge as it provides some clues to Sulu's same sex partner and their child.  My friend (Suzanna) reminded me that the television show of Star Trek was the first TV show to have an interracial kiss which took place between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura so the history of being very topical and unapologetic about it carries on.  Talking about Uhura, she is kick-ass as always in this film.  A person who saves the day.  Of course, when you think the battle might be won but hope that there is more...there is more! You are a kid in the candy store and mom just said she will buy you more candy--that's how it feels for us who love these films.  There is a cool and even a funny way (dare I say) that some of the wave of enemy space crafts are destroyed.   This is a terrific edition to the franchise I will no doubt watch again. On a side note, if you liked the TV show Heroes, you will notice some familiar, secondary actors in this film from that TV show. 

The Bad:

I hate to put this under bad because it is not terrible but enough to bring it down just a smidgen. The writers start us off with Captain Kirk kind of lost and listless about extended time out in deep space and potentially becoming admiral.  Spock at the same time has received some news that will compel him to desire to make a change himself.  Here we have a start of drama and a new dynamic tension as both Kirk and Spock choose to keep this from each other. However, there is so much action in this film (which I wouldn't want less of) that these two plot lines are set on the back burner till the end.  They actually tell each other 'we will talk about this later'.  Their experience with the crew in this life saving venture converts them in the end from making what might be an emotionally upsetting choice.  Nothing needs to be said so they don't really discuss it but only rather hint at it, tongue in cheek.  This is all the tension there is in the film between these two characters.  Spock actually has much more growth as a character with Dr. McCoy after receiving a life threatening wound, but since we all know Spock isn't going to die, there really isn't much tension there as the writers may have wanted to create.  We kind of get who is going to live and die from a wound that isn't really dramatically huge.  Even though Spock's and Ahura's romantic tension gives us a brief wave and here, this too is brief and weakened (save the power of her amulet).  What replaces the potency of all these prior dynamic and potent tensions is the way the entire crew has to pull their weight to survive. The crew have do things they haven't done before for everyone to make it and the extent of this tension is something new and great in its own right.  But, I can't say I don't miss the tensions from prior films that were more character based.

Now, I do have to throw in that I have a bias here. I am spoiled. I love, love, love the Wrath of Khan and when JJ Abrams did Into Darkness with Benedict Cumberbatch as the young Kahn, I was hooked to that second film.  I loved the twist with the younger Kahn and Federation betrayal. I also loved in the first film the strong tension between Kirk and Scotty, Kirk and Spock, Spock and Ahura.  Those two first films will probably be my favorites because the relationships were rich and budding.  Here the film makers focus on other relationships largely through the action of coming up with ways to survive more so than character dynamics.  Truthfully though, action wise and excitement wise, this third film really has it all and more than both films combined!

Last, we do get a bad ass enemy which are shoes that are hard to fill after Cumberbatch as Kahn. Idris Elba provides and then some! However, there is something missing with the enemy at large from Krall to his space fighters.  That is, we are not afforded their back story to the very end of the film.  It makes for a powerful, jarring end but also means during the film that it is harder to despise their evil or invest in any sort of redemption of the enemy.  As intimidating and all encompassing the enemy is, we know nothing about them.  We can hate them for their violent actions but we know nothing of their motives or the sinister side of their backstory for quite a long time in the film.  Hating the Federation isn't enough. Nearly every enemy hates the Federation. There is a reason the writers do this.  They didn't want the plot twist to come to early. It adds to the climax.   However, I think they waited too late.  The writers had to make a choice and maybe it is a no-win situation like the Kobayashi Maru.  Either choice you sacrifice something. So in this case, the writers chose to make the entire back story to the enemy wait until the final throws of action.  Personally, I think the choice would have been better to not have waited so long to the end and give the backstory more meat and time to sink in for a more authentic investment by viewers into the enemies demise beyond "end of the world" and "I hate Federation" stuff. Even so, the enemy was indeed frightful enough for me to sigh relief when it was over and he faced justice.   

The Ugly:

None

 

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GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

SCORE: HIGH 5

Summary in Brief

Director:

Paul Feig

Producer

Dan Ankroyd

Writers:

Karie Dippold, Paul Feig

Stars:

Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth

Manhattan is experiencing a new invasion. Not just another round of paranormal disturbances but a league of women Ghostbusters and a ditzy male secretary played by Chris Hemsworth. Abby Yeates played by McCarthy and Jillian Holtzmann played by Kate McKinnon take along a reluctant Erin Gilbert played by Kristen Wigg and Patty Tolan play by Leslie Jones deeper into the realm of paranormal than they ever wanted to face. Erin has "matured" in the working world and left behind the world of the paranormal that Abby is still deeply invested into.  In this regard, Erin is much like the skeptical Bill Murray character in the first film.  Humor abounds in very tasteful amounts, and the film does a great job of performing a dance between humor, special effects, and excitement.  In this version there is a human villain played by Rowan North who is opening portals in hopes of creating another one of those huge vortexes that our ghosts love so much.  I was jumping out of my seat one moment and laughing the next.  The 3-D effects added another dimension that the original couldn't do.  Scattered throughout the film are homages to the old film done in very humorous ways. Be on the look out for them.  Many of the old cast make appearances that are clever and witty.  This film is a blast of entertainment. I haven't had this much fun with a film for a long time.  It got me humming the old song and going home to watch the original.  This is why I gave it a High Five because the film far succeeded in what they set out to do which isn't easily done with re-dos.  All the actors do a fine a job in being their hilarious selves but finally in a way that is not over done.  This is High Five for purely entertainment value, not great acting ability. Just go and enjoy!

 

Summary in Detail:

           ...  ON GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

          ...  ON GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

The Good:

As I said above, the writers and directors do a great job creating this dance between the well placed humor, special effects, scares and excitement. No one character dominates the other except for a slight lead on McCarthy and Wiig which seems appropriate.  There is a nice tension between Abby and Erin who wrote a book on paranormal topics years prior that Erin wants to disown so she can advance in career.  We are introduced to Abby and Jillian who are well under way in gadget making and appear like two nutty professors that Erin wants nothing to do with.  The first ghost appearance is in this creepy-fun like local historical museum is something out of Disney's Haunted Mansion. I knew from the beginning humor and the cool spooky-ness of this museum that I was in for a good ride and I wasn't disappointed!  The museum tour guide himself is a hoot.  Leslie Jones is just as funny as the rest of them as a Subway Customer agent who at first can't seem to get the girls under control on their first expedition near her subway line. However, upon witnessing her first apparition, she can't stop trying to apply to join them.  Chris Hemsworth and his sexy self does a great job as a ditsy secretary (something far different for him as a role and for the franchise since the last secretary was quite a grouch).  There are also not only homages made to the prior film but fun ones that almost make the film like clever mystery game Clue in that the people I went with and myself were comparing notes on what we recognized in the film. But additionally, a lot of the old cast members make clever reappearances too.  (Interesting side note: Rick Moranis did not appear in the film because he has been said to always have hated acting. When he finally made enough money off of the "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" franchise, he called it quits. He only appears in roles now if he needs the extra money.  At least the guy is honest! Harold Ramis the actor and writer has long since past but he is certainly felt in this film since he was one of the main writers of the original) It was all so well balanced, and with this film being done in 3-D, all of these elements taken together, I walked away feeling like I had just went on an amusement park ride.   The ghosts themselves are of  such a variety that is reminiscent of the first film when they all converged on the Manhattan, but this film really tops that as well. 

The Bad:

People don't seem to be making villains lately and this film is no exception. Of course the ghosts as villains are cool but I didn't particularly care for Rowan North as the one leading pack.  He wasn't awful. He had his moments like in the show down with the machine that would ultimately open the portal and when he controls Chris Hemsworth (but that is largely Chris Hemsworth acting).  So, not too bad, but not great either.

The Ugly: None

 

 

 

 

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The Secret Life of Pets

SCORE: High 5

Directed by 

Yarrow Cheney

Chris Renaud

Writing Credits

Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio & Brian Lynch

 

Brief Summary:  Max is a terrier whose doggy dog life get's turned on its tail when his owner adopts a stray dog called Duke. Max and Duke's attempts at usurping power over one another sends them both lost and on other side of New York where they end up dealing with large gangs of cats, pet catchers and ultimately a massive gang of human haters. This huge gang is under the leadership of Snowball, an adorable little white bunny voiced by Kevin Hart. It is all up to Max's other pet friends led by a little Pomeranian who has a crush on Max ,named Gidget, to rescue them and bring them home. 

Summary In Detail

                                                                             ...  ON THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

                                                                           ...ON THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

The Good:  Graphics are eye popping and at times stunning.  New York is a tall city but from a pet's point of view it is giant.  There is a great scene in central park during fall that is tremendous.  Every pet and creature has an unique, adorable personality that changes when humans aren't around (which is what we all imagine to begin with our own pets, no doubt). The film makers did a great job of tapping into our love for our pets and our secret fantasy about their lives when we aren't watching.  C.K. Louis plays Max and Eric Stonestreet as the adopted pet Duke.  Their dissonance in size, personality and even voice over is a little off putting at first but it plays out well pretty quick as little Max attempts to claim his territory.  Jenny Slate does an excellent job as the voice of the puff ball Gidget who has a crush on Max and eventually leads a rescue attempt. Dana Carvey (one of my favorite comedians for voice manipulation) as a mafia-like Godfather of the pets in the hood, called Pops, is the most hilarious thing on 2 wheels (for back legs).  Albert Brooks plays Tiberius and Lake Bell does a good job as Chloe, an over plump cat with just enough attitude that she is charming but not overbearing.  I'm not sure anyone steels show. Surely Max is great protagonist, adorable and charming but on par is Snowball voiced by Kevin Hart.  Who would ever imagine a dejected bunny from the world of magic leading disgruntled pets to alligators and snakes and even piranha (there is a great diatribe he gives in the sewers embracing a piranha that just wants to get out his clutches).  Yet, there is Gidget and her love warn self, a bouncy snowball all herself that ultimately get's everyone together for the rescue.  There is Mel bull dog played well by Albert Brooks and just a bundle of fun.  

The makers of this film hit a home run which didn't seem possible in all the animal movies we have been inundated with the last few years. I had my doubts but as soon as I saw Max's eyes, the dashound getting a massage under a blender, the poodle who likes head banger music when the boss is away and the bouncy Bridget and heard Kevin Hart's voice coming out a white puffy bunny, I knew I was hooked.  This movie was really well done and adults will enjoy it just as much as kids.   (*I honestly try not to review cartoon or children's flicks but this one is an exception because it is that cute).

The Bad  & Ugly: None

 

 

Captain America Civil War

VS.

X-Men Apocolypse

Are they equal? is one better than the other? Or are both flops? Find out below!

 

Captain America Civil War--Score: Low 4

The government and mad men are at it again in effort to make sense and control the Avengers.  This time the plot unfolds into a divisive split that is highly political with a subterfuge of personal vendettas.  New and old characters collide.

 

Directors:

Anthony and Joe Russo

Writers:

Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Mark Miller (comic book)

Stars:

Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. Scarlette Johannson Don Chedele, Jeremy Renner

Brief Summary: 

World governments are growing increasingly intolerant of the aftermath of battles involving the Avenger's and various villains. Apparently, no one is thinking that the cause of these "damages" are in large part due to the villains they are trying to overcome. A weakness in plot or a demand for perfection, I'm not sure which. Regardless, world leaders, and those involved in some secret subterfuge against the Avengers, want them to fight with more of a sense of the CAUSALITIES in mind and thus, the world creates a law and REGULATORY system which splits the avengers in two. Tony Stark sides with the Law and Captain america is way too concerned on the government's inability to control and regulate such a law effectively.  Captain America and his team can't abide by it and suddenly find themselves looked upon as VIGILANTES.  Especially with the rise of his old pal "The Winter Soldier", Captain America is determined to find out what and who is really behind all this. There are many twist and turns here, great fighting sequences, and I loved Elizabeth Olsen as the SCARLET Witch. her powers and characterization are just down right cool. An adorable young Spider man enters the series played by Tom holland who provides some comic relief while Daniel Bruhl playing the villain Zemo brings down the film as a rather annoying villain. He is whiny and weak rather than a villain you love to hate. He has a very clever, divisive plan and that is it. Period. 

Is it better than X-Men APOCALYPSE?

For this 'average Joe' reviewer, no it wasn't. There were so many new and old characters, I had a hard time keeping track who was who. i wanted more from certain characters but with such a large cast, it felt just a little lacking at times. It does have a better use of the newer characters and their addition to the team than X-Men at points.  Plot points were sometimes questionable and not all that believable to me. The villain Zemo more like a vindictive wimp rather than an someone you love to hate.  I didn't always buy those who were on the "law" side after all this team had been through together.  If you didn't see the Winter Soldier film, by the way, you will be lost since a good portion of the film revolves around him. It is a cool part of the movie, don't get me wrong, but not being a devote to the comics myself, I had a hard time figuring out who he was at first and then remembering what that movie from a year or so ago was all about.  The film is well worth seeing and the margin of difference of the good and bad elements are very small. Find out why in the review of the X-men.

 

X-Men: Apocolypse--Score: High 4

Director:

 Bryan Singer

Writers:

 Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer

Stars:

 James McEvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawerence, Rose Byrne, Oscar Isaac

 

Brief Summary: 

All the X-Men have went their respective ways since the last film. In this film, we catch up to them right before two major turning points;  the resurrection of the first and most powerful mutant, called Apocalypse and the discovery of Magneto's powers by various locals that causes a big ripple effect felt all the way back to Xavier.  The cool, younger version of the X-Men are back, not only their cool super mutant powers but a whole host of other new team members and villains.  Lots of great special effects and a good plot line answers a lot of questions, even down to how Charles Xavier got bald in some later years.  Sarcasm aside on the latter--though true-- the rising power of Apocalypse, his distribution of power to various co-horts (including a young Storm), and the ever fluctuating story line of Magneto and Xavier keep this movie pumping!  It is truly a storm worth watching! Sadly, though the villain starts off intriguing enough, the giant of a mutant eventually loses his luster to the point that I finally started to notice how fake his make-up looked which for me usually means I'm getting bored.  As the film goes on, Apocalypse becomes more of a polite kidnapper and looking like a poorly designed, steroid injected creature out of the film Prometheus.  The evil co-horts he helps create, over the course of the film, eventually become more interesting than him.  However, the interest his tag-team create sort of makes up for decreasing luster because they are so cool. He becomes too predictable but the film is exciting to almost over-shadow that.    Still it is an exciting ride and some of the twists are breath taking.

IS IT BETTER THAN CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR?

Both films have the weakness of villains that fall short of being powerful enough, but Apocalypse is a much more interesting a villain and is pretty exciting early on in the film.  There is still the thrilling tension between heroes that Civil War has, but it is more believable here in X-Men than in Civil War.  Both films have some cool new heroes and villains but more so in this film.  There is a more exciting plot for the characters to work with here and that probably in turn helps their characters exceed a bit more. The special effects are just down right cool and newer here and a new twist with the power of Cerebral--a familiar twist put in such a way that I found the most terrifying out of the films.  The two films both have good special effects but X-Men has a neat end-of-the-world kind of special effects. A certain powerful doom that reminded me of the Mummy series. Both films are worth seeing and are enjoyable. The edge goes to X-Men for this reviewer. 

Similar Theme Across both films Divisiveness cured by forgiveness, empathy leading to redemption and the removal of the divisive power

Civil War:

The evil Zemo, ego and past wounds fueled by control, legalism and fear separate the super heroes into 2 camps. This causes a dangerous, destructive feud that feeds into Zemo's ultimate plan to destroy them. Egos and fear must be set aside but who is damaged in it's wake and will the team survive, let alone their image? Some real heart wrenching moments ensue as they wrestle with this inner dynamic that brings up past wounds and pasty story lines.

X-Men Apocalypse:

The Mutant Apocalypse interposes himself from the ancient past onto the present world scene dismayed at humanity's weakness and futility. He rounds up new and old mutants, interjecting them with his super human insight into their deepest fears and wounds and ignites them with his super human powers. An addictive spell to build a super mutant team who will cleanse the earth of humanity leaving only the strongest of mutants to survive. Magneto becomes his second hand man causing much turmoil within his colleagues who want Magneto their side.  His friends, especially Charles Xavier, make the greatest of sacrifices to not only save the world but to try to save an enraged Magneto who just witnessed his family murder and has little to live for.  With all the twists and turns, it ultimately comes down to the question.... will friendship and sacrifice be enough to win Magneto back and bring down the unstoppable Apocalype? 

 

The Hateful Eight and The Heart of the Sea and The Room

 

 

ROOM--SCORE--5

A story about a kidnapped mother and her son who have been imprisoned in a shed by an abuser.  The mother wrestles with a life she once knew outside the room while the child struggles against her in leaving the only world he has known, the room...home.  The film explores the innocence and imagination of a child despite a toxic environment and the love of a mother, as with most moms, who has to walk a tight rope so that they both can survive and hopefully break free. 

Director:

Lenny Abrahamson

Writers:

Emma Donoghue (based on her novel as well)

Stars:

Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Seaan Bridgers

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in Room

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The Good--Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay do an amazingly believable performance in their roles as mother and son, especially young Jacob. Jacob plays a young boy who has taken this toxic environment that he was born into and has evolved into making one room his imaginative playground. If you are leery about seeing detailed abuse or a lot of abuse, this movie doesn't really focus on that. Point of fact, half of the movie is about how they cope on the outside of this room. It is amazing how the director of this film get's us so engaged in a setting that is only one room but he does with the help of these actors. It is a touching, heartbreaking story of just how our imaginations and ability to adapt is so key to our survival and how life saving a mother's love can be should she be one who is like this mom.

There really is no bad or ugly for this film though at times some of it is a bit unbelievable...yet who knows because living in such a situation is something we know little about.

 

In The Heart of the Sea--SCORE 5

The story is set in 1820 and is the re-telling of the encounters with a giant whale and New England whaling ships.  This is supposed to be a story that inspired Herman Meville to write the well known classic Moby Dick. It as a tale of courage, brotherhood, releasing bitterness and anger and what men will do when they pushed to the brink as well as how compassion for things you don't understand can go a long way. 

Director:

Ron Howard

Writers:

Charles Leavitt

Stars:

Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in The Heart of the Sea

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The Good--I enjoyed the old classic feel the cinematography had with this film. It felt real and cool at the same time.  The real steal of the movie is Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase and young Tom Holland as the younger version of Tom Nickerson.  The older Tom Nickerson played by Brendan Gleeson is the one narrating the story to Herman Melville played by Ben Whishaw but both he and Melville come off as minor characters which is a bit disappointing.  Even so, this film has everything for sea-faring folk.  Great special effects around this Orca-like whales, awesome sea storms, narrow escapes, and long lost at sea episodes.  The history of Herman Melville using this story as his inspiration for Moby Dick makes him intriguing as a character in this film and I enjoyed seeing him portrayed here in any form.  Chris Hemsworth does a great job of transforming from a prideful, know it all seaman carrying injustice in his back pocket into a man humbled and broken by the sea and her goddesses.  Tom Holland does a wonderful job as Chris's unwelcome apprentice who looks up to him as the father he never had.  The scope and historical nature of this film cannot be denied but in addition it is shot in a cool way.  The story itself is almost more exciting then Moby Dick itself.

Nothing really bad or ugly in this film

 

The Hateful Eight--SCORE--3  

It is a violent version of Clue set in the dead of winter amidst the era of the wild west.  Bounty hunters converge on a cabin hideaway taking shelter from a blizzard. One of them comes with a notorious criminal in toe but we soon learn even the hunters themselves are notorious for something and they all want something or someone and we aren't sure what or who. Almost Shakespearean in nature, Tarantino doesn't disappoint with interesting characters, ridiculous amounts of dialogue and gratuitous violence that turns heads away. 

Director & Writer

Quentin Tarantino

Stars:

Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Channing Tatum, Bruce Durn

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in The Hateful Eight

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The Good--Tarantino certainly has a set of interesting characters largely in the form of Kurt Russell, Samuel Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Durn and Channing Tatum.  He builds suspense much like the game of Clue as characters arrive through a door in the cabin that has to be nailed shut every time it is opened because of the wind.  The beginning is centered around Russel's character of a bounty hunter carrying a convict played by Leigh but many characters find themselves converging on this cabin to get out of the blizzard...or is it really just about the blizzard? Samuel Jackson plays Major Warren, an embittered black man who has used the war take out vengeance on "white crackers" to kill and torture them.  Having known the owners of this cabin, he unleashes the reality that all is not right and good as piece by piece he reveals and ultimately confronts the things that aren't right, to the point that some crime has been committed. This mystery and the characters are definitely intriguing enough to get you through the first 40 minutes.

The Bad--The rest of the movie.  The characters being trapped in this cabin and talking their and our ears off becomes boring. I fell asleep. Since everyone is so "hateful", there are no real characters to like. You can kind of like Kurt Russell's but he is soon killed off.

The Ugly--The violence, the detail and amount of it cannot be overstated.  It is beyond brutal and beyond gross.  This is a story that had great potential in the set up and the mystery keeps us guessing to the end, there ultimately isn't enough here. So what's left to do? Have characters ramble on, argue and take forever to disembowel each other. Throw huge amounts of violence in our face to ignore the fact that the writer abandoned creating a good story and limited himself to the four walls of the cabin.  As the characters are trapped in this cabin, so is the writer apparently because he doesn't succeed in rising above it or transcending outside of it and instead gives us these boring and ugly fillers. He could have learned a lot from the writer of "Room" who managed to capture our imagination and few flashbacks may have helped the story too. 

 

 

 

DeadPool

 

 

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DEADPOOL--SCORE--LOW 4

Summary in Brief

Ryan Reynolds plays a bad ass, vengeful former Special Forces by the name of Wade who in attempting to turn a death sentence into a miracle gets really screwed on the price tag for the healing powers he seeks. He is kept from the one girl he wants to be with and though that is a common theme in all super hero movies, this is not like any super hero movie you have seen, save maybe Hellboy.  The girl is played by Morena Baccarin (from Gotham and V) and her name is Vanessa.  There is a lot of cinematic detail, slow motion and fourth wall breaking among several other manipulations as the writers and directors are constantly injecting humor and violence as their drug of choice for the film.  If those two elements, along with the physical bond of action, are not your drug of choice, this isn't the film for you--be forewarned.  You go to super hero movies for the popcorn action of it, not for their eloquent recital of Shakespeare.  I love the Ryan Reynolds sarcastic humor in this film. It saved the movie for me in a lot of ways. My favorite scene is Wade sitting on the edge of a overhang, drawing pictures as if he were in a park while waiting for a villain to come underneath.

 It is your anti-hero kind of flick but I say that hesitantly.  Wade is someone who has had a lot of injustice served to him and we get to see it in all its gory details so we understand why he sees things like the league of X-Men as a bunch of pansy-ass do-gooders.  Good is not in Wade's vocabulary.  He was living the "good", seedy life for himself and selfishly wanted that good life back--this all he knew of "good".  However, even in any of the lowest of the low places on earth, you can find angry people or bad folk that still have true good in them (ex. Darth Vader).  We see this play out a lot in Wade's relationship with Vanessa and his bar-keep pal Weasel played by T. J. Miller.  This bar, where people bet on who is going to die next (thus the name deadpool) is sort of the reality show version of Star War's Cantina scene--replace the cute alien creatures with interesting bad ass crew and human hit men.  Despite the fact that Weasel is betting on Wade's death, when Wade's nemesis "A Jax" comes looking for him, Weasel warns him.  When Wade is at his wits end, his counselor is his friend Weasel.  We also know that what is a humorous, self centered attempt to get his body back to a condition it was once in appearance, the whole process leads him to not saving himself, but someone else--his friends and his girl.  It is here where Deadpool learns that love transcends just a bit farther than even he may have imagined.  

This film is also filled with fast chases, fighting and a cool metal side kick giant named Colossus.  There are some things referring back to the X-Men (a visit back to the house, the use of the ship) all of which come up dry but Reynolds even makes of fun of that.  The humor keeps this film alive and off sets it's CSI-TV-show gore on steroids.  There is also quite a bit of nudity and though there is one elongated set of montage of sex scenes, you really only see a boob shot and a brief shot of Ryan's buttocks with his shirt still on (I wanted no shirt and a bit longer but I'll take what I can get of any Ryan's body--something Ryan also plays up).  Its a rough ride for those of us who love the pure white bread wonder boys like Spiderman and Superman.  Its very ballsy and if you like Ryan Reynolds, who was involved in the making of this film, you will like this film because he is sprayed all over of this thing.  If you are tired of the hard, trash talking, sex crazed, guys getting a bad rap and not being seen for their sense of heroism, then this film is your champion.  

Director:

Tim Miller

Writers:

Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Stars:

Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrien, Morena Baccarin, T. J. Miller

 

Time now for the Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of DeadPool

 

The Good:  Classic Ryan Reynolds. For all his obsession with sex, one could say he ejaculated over every shot. Ryan is the center of attention here as he is also narrating.  I don't think there is a scene without him in it.  I happen to like Ryan a lot so I enjoyed him getting to take the reigns not just in acting but in helping produce the film.  His very adult humor (this is no Green Lantern by a long shot) abounds right through closing credits and even after with some final shots egging you on. Vanessa as Wade's girl friend, Weasel as his only real adult friend, Colossus as the metal giant and AJax as the villain are all strongly played characters.  There are a lot of thrilling chases and fight scenes too.  It is a different take on the hero/anti-hero element we haven't seen since Hellboy.  You really get inside Wade's torment and how twisted Ajax was to inflict it on him.  You understand more about the pure intention of Wade's motives for seeking a cure, even though he ends up fighting for a different cure later that is a bit more shallow and based on physical appearance. This makes for a great, believable set up to want to join Wade on his quest for vengeance and restitution.   The fact that nothing comes easy for him and at the end, even this self consumed individual sees the light a bit more and learns to accept himself "as is", makes all of it worth it.  There is a sense, even as dark and dinghy as the film got, that there are brighter days ahead for Deadpool.  Though his ego won't yet allow it, there is salvation in those hills--even if those hills happen to be the breasts of his girls Vanessa! She has taught him something and it is quite clear that in the end, she saves him in some sense we can at least hope for.  There are some great manipulations of camera speed and angles which give you perspectives that are pretty radical. I enjoyed most of these--sometimes for a cool effect, sometimes for humor. Stick around for some funny end credits and some continuation of the film's humor with Ryan even after the credits are over.

The Bad: I personally am not a big fan of very detailed violence. If you like that, its okay--there's a lot of it here.  I wish movies left more things to the imagination than spelling so much out, especially in terms of this subject.  When the film was over, I questioned why I subjected myself to this amount of it.  

The Ugly: (disclaimer: ugly doesn't mean not good in this case since this film is supposed to be hitting the bottom of the barrel). Lots of nudity on the female side, several sexual situations, lots of cursing and scenes of torture and torment.  I didn't enjoy seeing Stan Lee in a stripper bar.  Maybe if it was a topless bar, but this was full scale naked women and the glee on his face....I don't know...its not to say Stan shouldn't be a sexual creature..it was just a shock to the system to see the man who created my comics looking like something of a peep show employee.  Again, doesn't mean this is bad, I just didn't enjoy that feeling.  There is a certain of feel of crawling under the dark under belly with only glimpses of light and a lot of twisted humor.  Just part of the film and you have to decide if that is your thing or not.  

 

 

 

THE REVENANT

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the revenant--score: high 3

Summary in Brief 

If you look up the word "Revenant" in the dictionary, you will discover that it means a discontented ghost seeking revenge after a wrongful death.  After all the accolades this film has received before it was even released, you might want to become a revenant yourself on the film makers and reviewers.  It is not terrible by the least but it is not great by a long shot either.  The story is set in the 1820's and the famed Leonardo DiCaprio is a fur trading frontiersman who is performing the harsher tasks of a team. He is assisted by his adopted Indian son as a side-kick--the only family he has left.  There aren't a lot of good vibrations on this team of fur traders and after Leo's character, Hugh Glass, gets mauled by bear, he is basically fighting for life and eventually abandoned by his crew. 

It goes without saying that this landscape is as beautifully shot as the film The Martian is.  This could be called instead Bloody Pluto.  It is like being in a foreign land because most of us won't ever see such landscapes in real life and that is something to be treasured.  The film and landscape shots are reminiscent of western survival, revenge movies shot long ago. It is all snow and blood but nature too.  Lots of long, quiet shots with not much happening but views and attempts at survival and hunting after men or beast.  Leonardo DiCaprio probably does some of his best work in this role in that he finally transcends his own abilities as an actor.  The sheer ruggedness of this film demands it.  He has never had a role like this save maybe some of the more raw acting he did in the Aviator when Howard Hughes starts to go bonkers.   But this is nothing like the Aviator and probably more like The Gangs of New York with all the blood and cruelty.  Domnhall Gleason does an equally great job as Captain Andrew Henry, the moralist of the fur traders and leading the bunch.  Will Pouter as the young Bridger and Forrest Goodluck as Hugh's adopted son, Hawk, are two surprise younger acts that do an excellent job in their roles.  They are very believable, perpetually troubled young men that only want to do the right thing.  Yet, when it comes down to it, they will do what they have to survive just like their adult counterparts.  Unfortunately, a lot of potential power and intensity of this movie is lost in the lack of larger ensemble cast, and how the writers chose to make the revenge portion play out.  With all its grande landscape, intense loneliness and violence, it is all full of mis-steps, not an sliver of joy, and a long time to get no-where and little reward in the end. 

This is a pretty good film for those who are DiCaprio fans, nature fans, and have interest either in the 1800's or Native Americans. It does have the intrigue of being based off a true story and it might be why some parts fall really flat (because real life often does).

Director:

Alejandro Gonzalex Inarritu

 Writers:

Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Stars:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter

 

Summary in Detail: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of The Revenant

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The Good:

Breath taking cinematography.  If you really want one of those wilderness films where you feel like you are really in the thick of mother nature, this is the film for you.  There is a lot of empty space filled with roughing it scenes more than there is action or dialog. The main character, Hugh Glass played by DiCaprio hunts animals for fur and eventually he hunts his greedy executioner who leaves him and his son for dead.  Leonardo is a raw Grizzly Adams.  This isn't Frozen or Wilderness Camp For Dummies.  This is blood and guts and dirt survival.  You get so caught up in DiCaprio's acting, you truly forget that he was in Titanic and Catch Me If You Can.  Rumor is DiCaprio only takes films that he believes will be Oscar winners.  It all starts with a run in with a bear. How the film makers pulled this off, I don't know but it is very realistic and violent.  The story briefly exposes the moralities or lack of there of Hugh Glass's crew after they find him and debate whether his life is worth risking their own in light of a savage crew of Native Americans near by.  Their threat is all about as we witness and hear stories of what this particular crew does to head of those they capture--even fellow Natives.  There is a really cool plot between Hugh Glass and his son Hawk, an adopted Native.  Both are very protective of each other and Hugh is very controlling to make sure they can eek out a living and still survive.  There's a heart breaking back story but equally as heart breaking is how the two are seen for what is really a compassionate relationship. One ahead of its time for the 1800's.    There are some break out performances by the actor that plays Hawk, Forrest Goodluck and Will Pouter as Bridger.  Bridger is an appropriate name for his character as he stands as a bridge between a moral choice and immoral choice regarding Hugh Glass's life.  Domhall Gleason does a great job as the captain of the fur trading team, insisting on moral codes that the crew is reluctant to follow, especially when it comes down their profit.  There is a sort of quiet nature of this film that is important to the feel of the film I enjoy.  It is largely a survivalist kind of film, a high country version of The Martian with a revenge plot.  It has the added plus of being based off a true story and some real endearing Native American heroes and heroines.  

 

The Bad:  We bear through hours of watching Hugh Glass try to heal and traverse through the thick high country.  He is deep, deep in and get's near death many times.  This is all well and good but the actual climax of him finally coming to take revenge on his executioner John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, is pretty short and weak.  Tom does a pretty good job playing a guy who is fed up with the things he must do to eek out a living.  He becomes increasingly frustrated and insane as it seems that this particular trading trip may produce little profit for him.  It is clear from the get-go that he has it out for Hugh. This character left Hugh for dead and gave him anything less than a proper burial as his supervisor insisted, all for a buck.  Yet, in the end, after two hours, he runs off and the two characters play a sort of peek-a-boo in the woods until a final violent bout that feels hardly satisfying. In addition, the film is short on characters.  There's no one backing the villain. A team of some sort or even a duo would have made the revenge sweeter and maybe added more of an element of resistance.  However, even that aside, Hugh and John are always so far from each other that it hardly feels like Hugh is getting his revenge.  Then in the end, the chase is rather wimpy, predictable.  There is even twist involving another Native American that I won't spoil for you and somehow the lackadaisical nature of this final scene seems to make a "meh".  We want a better a chase where they are closer but not too close.  In any western, you know that once two opposing characters visibly see each other from only feet away, that the end is near and this happens almost immediately as Hugh enters the woods.  

 

The Ugly: There is some pretty intense violence, especially during the bear attack episode and the after wounds of that which are zoomed up on constantly, but that is not all.  Now, don't get me wrong. The film's violence serves a purpose--to show the real raw nature of roughing it in the high country. I get this but the level it reaches is questionable, such as digging into wounds or showing every organ Hugh cuts out of a horse.  Do we need a microscope on that?  If you like that sort of thing, then this won't be an ugly feature for you.  

 

 

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

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STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENs--SCORE: lOW 4

Summary in Brief

Set three decades into the future, this film sets out to show us a different ending then "and they lived happily ever after".  Reminants of the Galactic Empire, much like ISIS and Al Quida, don't die easily and have reformed into "The First Order".  Chase scenes and skirmishes ensue around a cherished map leading to the mythical figure of the prior films, Luke Skywalker. Of course, the map is held in secret inside, what else, but a droid.  A new band of heroes arise to get this treasured map to the resistance but not without the help of some members of the old Resistance, like Hans Solo and Chewbacca.  This is a collage of new meets old in the Star Wars franchise.  My personal favorite scenes were chase scenes that involved old relics from wars past.  Does the film live up to hype? Read the detailed summary to find but overall I would say sort of yes and though some over predictable plot points it surely is still worth seeing. 

Director:

J.J. Abrams

Writers:

Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams

Stars:

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

 

Summary in Detail (The Good, the bad and the ugly)

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The Good: 

This is Star Wars shot J.J. Abrams style with a mix of Lucas Film production stirred in.  I personally enjoy J.J. Abrams style.  He uses realistic lighting and flips the view of the lens in ways that stirs excitement and gives new perspectives.  He is also great at taking the old relics of past of Star Wars fighter ships and toying around with them in the film.  We get a front row seat soaring around and in and out of these giants.  It is also cool how the new villain has an attachment to the melted helmet of Darth Vader from the original series.  Rey and Finn do a great job as the new heroes (played by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega).  They strike the necessary balance of intensity, innocence, humor and mysterious past that holds different possibilities for the story.  Their individual journeys including the droid BB-8, are interesting, exciting and make for a wonderful collision as in days of old for this franchise now acquired by Disney.  Equally as charming is the new droid, BB-8, who is essentially a rolly-poly thing that you can't help but adore and laugh at.  Still, everyone cheers inside to see CP30 and R2D2 again.  To this end, there are a lot of references to the old series--from plot lines, resurgence of old characters, and relics.  This is both a good and point.  It weighs a little heavy to it almost ruining the film for me but let's focus on the good first. On the good side, who doesn't want to see some of the old characters again and there is an extra emotional appeal already in place when their lives are threatened or old wounds are healed.  The co-mingling of old and new at times dances well and the Millennium Falcon scenes are just shot and done in a way that is down right cool. Just like in the older versions, humor is sprinkled on top this space cake in just the right doses. My favorite is Finn flaunting his freedom and new authority over a capture storm trooper.  And, of course there is the classic little tid-bits coming from Han Solo and Chewy too.  There are many cool fight flight scenes involving the Millennium Falcon too.

The weapon system of the evil First Order is much more grand than the Death Star though the First Order itself is more a threat than in complete control.  The new enemy leaders are variations really on Darth Vader (Kylo Ren who wears a mask that alters his voice and the usual obsession with black) and the Emperor Palpatine (Supreme Leader Snoke who is pale disfigured fellow).  The weapon Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) holds is pretty cool as far as light sabers go.  There is an ensuing competition between General Hux and Kylo Ren on who can please Supreme Leader Snoke better which is a different twist on the old films.    In addition, there are plenty of new characters that are creative and classic to the Star Wars franchise, even a new Space Cantina scene that is just as charming and filled with mysterious characters. 

 

The Bad:

I never wanted there to be anything bad in this film with all the hype. Truth be told, the bad isn't enough to make me mark it down too much and what might seem bad to me might not to you. For example, I enjoyed The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith and most people did not. So there you go. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt.  I found several points in the plot way too much like the first Star Wars and very predictable.  We have the classic message hidden in a droid and the same type of 'blow up the death star' chase at the end.  Carrie Fisher wasn't as believable to me as Harrison Ford was in his role, and that isn't saying much.  "I'm just here and that's enough isn't it?" was written all over their acting.  You could argue that they are old but so are older actors in many films.  Still, the crowd roots for them and even with the bad acting you can't help but want them to succeed.  I'm just saying Harrison Ford succeed more than Carrie Fisher.  With all the old relics, and characters from the past, there is way too much homage in the plot line.  The film didn't need that.  It did better when the plot was new and exciting.  The chase scene of fighters targeting a pin-point on a planet turned death star and a son turned to the dark side is a bit of homage overkill.  I didn't want to come and see the same movie. If that was the case, just re-do Star Wars.  It is not just the overkill in the plot line but the real lack of build up to these plots to add tension.  After all, these films are another set of three so I'm not sure what the rush was to eliminate the tension that the classic original three built on so well and used to string us along (and we went very willingly). These plot points of old are put up to mound, hit and done way too early.  A small example is we don't really get a feel for this big over sized death star, a weaponized planet, and then its destruction comes way too easy.  Is this supposed to be because The First Order is a weakened force yet?  That could be but if you have turned a entire planet into weapon, I think the defenses for it would be ensured better first.

Sadly, since we are speaking of dark side things, the villains aren't very threatening.  Kylo Ren (Darth Vader Jr.) is shown early on to have developed a weakness for the light side. What? So, our villain starts off the film from a place of weakness.  And there are other things. For instance, Kylo's mask comes off per request--something no villain I know in any film does--to reveal a young man that looks like he should be in American Pie movie than a tough warrior.  For all his potential as far as backstory, Kylo Ren comes off a little less believable and at times rather weak.  To his defense, we find out at the end of the film that Kylo Ren's training hasn't been completed.  There is a climatic tragedy in the film with a wow sort of twist involving this character but this too is shot out a canon and over with as fast as it starts.  There's just not enough believable tension.  When Kylo Ren enters his dark side phases, it is powerful but those are rare throughout the film.  His outbursts are often like temper tantrums on objects rather than people which also made him less scary. Supreme Leader Snoke is another dark side character (played by Andy Serkis) who appears via hologram as an over grown nasty gnome but who additionally does not enact punishment on people for failure. Still he does seem menacing enough and holds potential as far his story.  His attack on the Senate is pretty disturbing so that helps. 

The ending of course is sure to let us know there is more to come.  This film is a pretty good start while I hope the others to come in this series are a little less predictable and stronger in plot.

Ugly:

Nothing Ugly


MOCKINGJAY 2

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MOCKINGJAY 2--SCORE: low 5

Summary in Brief

Katniss Everdeen, reluctant heroine, is at it again as the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol.  President Snow who is still drinking the blood of power grows increasingly intimidated by the rebellion like a walking pnuemonia that won't heal.  He is forced to face his nemesis.  However, the rest of cast are forced to face their inner demons as both Snow and other deceitful enemies that have risen right within the rebellion itself commit atrocities that bring Katniss and her unlikely band of co-horts to their knees.  Action pack and "Maze Runner" like, this film's intensity is only matched by the shere emotional intensity these young warriors must endure.  It is a fitting end to the much accoladed series.

 

Director:

Francis Lawrence

Writers:

Peter Craig and Danny Strong (screenplay)

Suzanne Collins (novel)

Stars:

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

 

 

Summary in Detail:

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The Good:  The film has a good balance of intense action with emotional drama around inner turmoil the characters face.  The characters in the cast, all of whom are well played and closely to the book, transform and actually change which isn't seen that much in actions movies.  Matter of fact, if you haven't read the books or forgot them, various deceits and changes in characters come as surprise twists.  My favorite scenes are the team running through the booby traps set in the Capital and the underground maze as they run from the Mutts.  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth (hubba hubba, just like his bro) do a real wonderful job at coming across believable for the most part.  

After Mockingjay pt. 1, Katniss is now submerged in the rebellion, hiding in an underground District long since thought extinct.  We enter the scene just as her and Peeta had a severe physical clash that doesn't end there but continues with emotional clashes throughout the film.  The Capitol has done it's job well on Peeta through physical torture to make him much like an abused pit-bull.  However, Katniss refuses to give up on him in the end just as she refuses to let Snow get away with his crimes.  However as the chase for Snow (and Snow's chase for Katniss) ensues, the snow melts and melts and reveals surprises no one could have foreseen and threatens not only Katniss's psyches but the very rebellion itself. No one is immune from being lost so buckle your seat belts if you are a reader because many surprises await.  

All the potentially cheesy shots of weaponized booby traps are so well shot, they are stunning and momentarily believable.  There are a lot of "how did they do that?", like the scene with oil flowing like a tsunami after the team.  The Mutts are creepy and realistic.  The way the director filmed the chase was not the usual hide and seek game as these zombie like creatures on Red Bull tear through the tunnels after them.

The Bad:  The emotions run high in this film and outweighs (by just a tad) the action.  It is a bit of a depressing, dark installment for a conclusion so it depends if you are up for that kind of thing.  It bordered on overkill only here and there.  And it is not the immature emotion of say a 'Twilight' film but are genuine emotions for younger adults... but a lot of them.  If you haven't seen or read the Hunger Games those "emotions" may mean little to you so don't go expecting just an exciting action adventure.  

The Ugly:  Children are not shown with after of shots as "dead" but they are killed in this film and may be disturbing thought for some viewers.

 


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SPECTRE

SPECTRE--SCORE LOW 5

Summary in Brief

The Daniel Craig led saga continues after Skyfall revealing a sinister strain that has gone untouched and unseen up to this point.  It is a tangled web that both Bond and the audience has so far let sit on the back burner and it has now revealed its ugly head as the leader of a crime organization called Spectre whom has had his hand in everything up to this point.  Bond must once again face his past, lost love, and layers upon layers of deceit in order to rise above the fray once again. Less gadgets and more like a buffed, violent Sherlock Holmes mystery, the film is different but the depth, action suspense and love interest make up for anything that might feel as a loss.

 

Director:

Sam Mendes

Writers:

John Logan, Neal Purvis

Stars:

Daniel Craig, Christopher Waltz, Lea Syedoux, Ralph Fiennes

 Summary in Detail

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The Good:  Is it pointless to say that the opening credits are probably one of the coolest out of this series? It is sexy, sleek, naughty, and high tech.  I would like to say the same for the entire movie but it was close in some regards.  The symbol itself of this octopus is cool and how it plays symbolically in the film.  There are rumblings that this particular Bond is not like others and therefore not as good.  I was told that there was  "not enough action".  I'm not sure what people are looking for but it was non-stop action pretty much all the way through as Bond once again violates protocol to unlock a big secret. This secret is one the last "M" (played by Judy Dench) left him in charge of before her passing.  All of the other Bond's with Daniel Craig have similar themes--Bond going off the grid to tackle something "M" can't quite see which is also tangled up in Bond's past, M and Bond at odds, and  a love interest under suspicion.  It is probably a more "underground" version of Bond than all the others and this makes it actually more cooler.  It is a travel buffet around Europe via a hip underground railroad kind of deal and the scenes in London, Rome and all the other countries are really well shot with plenty of action and suspense.  This plays out as probably more of a super sleuth than a spy movie as Bond weaves in a out of the many tentacles of Spectre to bring the organization to its knees.  While this is happening, there is another plot line of "M" not only trying to keep the spy organization afloat but unravel who is behind dismantling the organization--has it just run it's course in light of technology and progress or is there more to it?  Spoiler alert: in every Bond movie, there is always "more to it".  

What we learn in this film is that Spectre and its mysterious leader , Blofeld, played by Christopher Waltz has had a hand in Bond's doings with much more then Bond ever realized.  Trails lead to villains, and detours and by the end, you aren't sure who you can trust.  The love interest played by Lea Syedoux is probably one of the strongest since Casino Royale and one of the most satisfying. The new "M" and the young version of "Q" play larger roles which is refreshing and quenches a thirst we all have as Bond viewers. They do not disappoint.  

Christopher Waltz plays a good villain as Blofeld, the sinister head of Spectre and alter shadow to Bond's mysterious past.  He is the gift giver to the audience because it is in this film that really get to know more about Bond's past than any other. However, Blofeld enjoys torment and torture so we are on the wild chase with Bond to find out the answers as voyeurs and Blofeld does not disappoint in this regard.  I am not a fan of Christopher Waltz but I must say he was believable villain as most are in the Bond films.  However, it really is the writers who make so many twists and turns in this film and plenty of action though it might not be the high tech, gadgety kind.  Though Bond does "spy" on Spectre, for the most part this is more like a Sherlock Holmes meets buffed wrestler.  It is a puzzle, a mystery, but a good one.

 

The Bad:  This is Bond "Underground", off grid.  Other films have alluded to him being off grid but still getting his gadgets.  This one is no pretend. It is bare bones Bond. There are few gadgets but a watch that has to go through a lot of foreplay before it is used and a car that doesn't last and is humorously ill equipped.   It really fits the movie and is more true to the plot line of one being "off grid", yet there is that play that we always got the toys regardless. They are missed.  If you thought Daniel Craig lacked warmth, Ralph Fiennes makes him look like Mr. Rogers in his character here. I've always found this series with Daniel Craig a bit too stiff like an overly starched collar.  He loses his sexiness evidence by the lack of bedroom scenes throughout the Daniel Craig series of Bond. This may even fall into more the "ugly" category than bad but there you go.  

The Ugly: Nothing Ugly. Some have referred to some scenes feeling campy. There is a scene where one of the villains working for Spectre posts pictures of all Bond's past villains on the walls as he goes through tunnels. I suppose that could be seen as campy and my immediate reaction was indeed negative. However, if you take it in the context of the entire film, you have to realize how nutty this particular villain is. He is more like the "Riddler" from Batman so it is fitting even though it is not fitting for a Bond-type film.  It does come off ugly but it is not without some sense.   

  


Crimson Peak

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Crimson Peak--SCORE--3

Summary in Brief

An aspiring author with an identity crisis is swept away from a childhood love by a English man and his sister with a mysterious charm and hold over her. The woman, Edith Cushing, is a daughter of a wealthy tycoon and is haunted by a ghost that has returned from her childhood with a dire warning.  Competing for her affections is Thomas Sharpe (and his sister Lucille) man with a mysterious inheritance in England. The sister and brother who have mixed motives take her under their wing after a terribly family tragedy and ultimately home to their haunted English castle.  A castle that appears to be alive and filled with ghosts is only the beginning of the horrors she must face.  Set back in the 1800's, this story is like a haunting Victorian picture come to life. Will this film give you your Halloween fix? Not really.

Director:

Guillermo del Toro

Writers:

Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins

 Stars:

Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

 

Summary in Detail

 

Crimson Peak Review

The Good: Thomas Hiddleston (From the Thor movies) as Thomas Sharpe is our resident mystery, creepy guy and he doesn't disappoint.  I loved him in Thor and I also like him here.  Jessica Chastine does a great job being his brooding sister with no kind bone in her body. The costumes, colors, scenery are something straight out of some old Victorian painting and that can't be denied for what it is an genuine "old ghost story".  Think Satan's version of a Thomas Kincaide picture. The castle in which most of the film centers around has some real cool and intricate architecture that made think "wow" on the inside. There are some genuine frightening moments though not many and the supernatural beings that crop up are pretty well done and some initial scenes with them are startling too.  The climax has good tension and a good twist to it that most films don't dive into (somewhat akin to the relationship of the brother and sister in the film the Gladiator). The premise behind Crimson Peak and how that plays out surrounding red clay beneath the earth is pretty cool.  Bloody footprints, pools, and streaming down walls has some neat symbolism depending on which character or circumstance in which it crops it. 

The Bad: The film is not very scary by today's standards. The "bumps in the night" are not enough and not strong enough.  If anything this is more of a bland mystery than a terribly spooky movie.  The film's scariness factor only just barely rises above your mother's type of scary because of episodes of violence / grossness, but it is truly not that scary.  Supernatural beings become a bore after awhile because they are the same after awhile, no matter the color changes, and no matter the message.  They are messengers and not much more and as that becomes apparent, initial relief leads to boredom for the audience.  Their is a murkiness on where the plot will go but early on one get's a general idea by all the clues so that even if you don't guess the ending, you have enough of an idea of where it will lead by the end that the final twist is far more gentle than it needs to be.  For example, one big clue is that Lucille Sharpe is so entirely beotchy that you know the brother and sister are up to no good even if Thomas Sharpe seems to express a genuine infatuation with Edith.  So, for example, though Thomas Sharpe may have some genuine feelings, the mystery of who is behind any bad events is quite evident.  Also, the film makers chose to use the old style film transition model of a minimizing screen n down to an ever decreasing circle till the film goes black which has been reserved in most films of comedic nature because it is so archaic. This came off rather cheesy.  The film does tell a story that is reminiscent of the 1800's but in no way with all the vivid colors and special effects is this that kind of film where it helps make the story all that more believable.  It actually takes us out of the film's reality.    

The Ugly:  Some violence. One ridiculous scene of a skeleton rising out of a pit of liquid mud for no reason, comically over large and absolutely 0 scare factor. 

 

 

 

 

The Martian

The Martian, 3D--SCORE-HIGH FOUR

Summary in Brief

A team of explorers on Mars encounter a storm that send them taking a final stab back at Earth with barely the clothes on their backs.  However, one of their team members is left behind, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), deemed to have been killed.  Stranded on a hostile planet, Watney must use all his inner and outer resources to survive. Meanwhile, those who have left him behind are in for a rude awakening themselves that no one was ever expecting. 

Director:

Ridley Scott

Writers:

Drew Goddard (screenplay),  Andy Weir(book)

Stars:

Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wigg

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The Good--Matt Damon does a break out performance as Mark Watney and really digs deep bringing forth a real believable main character.  We feel his physical and emotional turmoil every step of the way as well as the joys and successes.  From wounds, to births, explosions, hopes and dashed hopes, we are the only ones on this Red Planet with Mark Watney.  Kristen Wigg was a powerful minor character and a surprise performance for me. I really wish her and Jessica Chastain could almost had switch roles just so I could see Kristen pull more out in her dramatic role.  However, Jessica does a good job becoming a reformed beotch by the time she climaxes with the film.  The film is surprising and refreshing and nothing like I thought it was going to be.  It is gentle on the senses yet beautifully dynamic in all the details that the cinematography capture.  I know this is going to sound cliche' but I have no real other way to say this: you really feel like you are on Mars.  I mean really, especially in 3D which is the only way I recommend seeing this film.  There what could appear to be on the surface the usual "survivor" story elements but stick with it and you'll soon notice this is "different".

The Bad--I have to admit that I was hoping someone would encounter a real martian or got "infected" with some alien substance.  Nothing could be farther from the truth but what the film does deliver sort of makes up for that.  In this sense, the film is an education for us fast action junkies and I enjoyed my education.  Still, as beautifully as is this done, it is yet another survivor film.  It is a cross between Gravity and 127 hours.  Even the landscape is similar to 127 hours Utah deserted cave regions.  We have the usual "selfie" video logs but I will say they aren't all necessary boring and when other forms of communication happen, it does add for new, dramatic dissonance.  There's also that plunge one must take when you suddenly realize that you are probably going to be watching one person try to grow and plants over months and years. Still, 127 hours doesn't have this kind of crisp, vast, super realistic cinematography like this film.  At times, the film borders on being boring but only because we are all so used to fast paced movies with tons of action and violence.  The film makers do a good job of doing artistic speed rounds of what could bore the movie goers (such as gardening and watching plants grow) so they are very kind to us. Nevertheless, the threat is there and with a title like "The Martian", you threaten to attract a movie goers who are expecting or at least hoping for aliens of some sort if they hadn't read the book.    

The Ugly--I didn't care for Jessica Chastain's acting in the first half.  She is of course to be a beotch of sorts, but it was such a bland, fake performance to me at the beginning of the film, I was sort of turned off. I didn't much care about her anger, hurt or fears and this created less realistic tension for me.  She does however redeem herself from the middle of the film to the end with a stellar rescue and redemption scene.  

 

 

 

 

 

ANY DAY NOW--SCORE--HIGH 5

Summary in Brief:

In the 1970s rollar coaster ride and period piece of "Any Day Now", we experience a film that is loosely based on a true story of a gay man who falls in love with both the man and child of his dreams.  He is forced to fight the legal system to adopt the abandoned mentally handicapped teenager that the couple eventually take on as their own child. It is a passionate of love between the couple and the courts.  This is an older film (2012) but definitely relevant for our times.  It is also not a "gay" film as the summary may suggest but a film about family, the horrors of discrimination, the power of love that holds no boundaries.

Director:

Travis Fine

Writers:

Travis Fine, George Arthur Bloom

Stars:

Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

The Good:  

What isn't good about this film?  I may be a little late to the party here but this film, despite being a bit sad, is terrific in every sense.  Alan Cumming does the best acting here I have ever seen him do and he also takes on some singing.  I never knew the actor could sing and though he might not have survived a Simon Cowell review, I was impressed and he gave me goose pimples, especially the end songs.  I've always been a quiet fan of Alan's while somehow a small part of me has been creep-ed out by some of the energy he can bring on screen.  Now, I'm a real big fan.  Alan plays the role of Rudy, a drag queen on the rocks of his existence.  That is until he notices this teenager in his apartment building that is suddenly abandoned, Marco.  Marco walks around like a stray puppy holding a doll who clearly represents his mother that is emotionally absent by her drug and prostitution.  Isaac Leyva, who plays Marco, is simply adorable and if you watch the special features on any DVD, you can see the kid has got talent to play such a physically present but verbally absent role.  It is really tough and have your cleanix ready watching him walk the streets with this doll as a substitute mother and the fight that ensues to keep him with his two new fathers.  He is so believable that by the time I came to the tear-jerker of an ending, I had to remind myself and the person I was watching this with that Issac really wasn't Marco but rather an actor playing Marco. At the same time Marco comes amazingly into Rudy's life so does a new boyfriend, a closeted DEA lawyer played most excellently by Garret Dillahunt.  He is super sexy as the more masculine side of this couple and often stands as the sure, trustworthy, and sexy noble of this rather odd couple.  The scenes between all three of these actors, as a sort 2012 Modern Family, really is believable despite the rather odd appearance of them on screen when all three of them are together.  All of them did wonderful but especially Alan Cumming whose romantic and sexual energy with his boyfriend is committed and touching.  Alan's connection with Marco is motherly, caring and very passionate.  There are scenes where Rudy in his gender non conformist stance is standing there with long hair, arms folded tenderly and in an outfit looking on her child sing with her man behind...and suddenly it is quite apparent Rudy has become mother too.  Though Garret Dillahunt doesn't really share in such a motherly role and the connection between him and Marco doesn't feel as real as Alan Cumming pulls off, he still does a great, believable, tear jerking job as a lawyer defending his spouse and pleading the case for their adoption of this child.  There are also some other great actors who joined in the making of this film; Francis Fisher (from Titanic fame), Gregg Henry as a nasty lawyer of the state, Chris Mulky and Don Franklin as their last-chance-lawyer.  Of course, this film touches on gay adoption, discrimination, civil rights but it is much more than that.  We come expecting that.  However, the film really surprises you by introducing you to rugged drag queen who suddenly becomes just like the heart of any mother or father or descent person out there.  It shows you that performers, even drag queens, strippers and the like, have stories but that they too can rise above the past when their heart is engaged just like anyone else.  Suddenly, you realize that when love is play just how more alike we all are than different and that's a state of mind I want to always be in, don't you?  We would have less divisions.  This really is the cry of the film: you hear them literally cry it out a lot--"This is a human being!" "What about the child!?!"  It is what we all cry about ourselves, our children and those we see torn up by wars and what not.  We want the violence to stop and for love to win and yet none of us seem really sure or completely willing to sacrifice everything to make that happen all the time.  This couple does and in our complacent modernized countries where the divorce rate between heterosexuals is over 50% and children don't value education like those starving in third world countries do...you have to cheer "Let's here for the boys!" as the song goes.  The fact is if you really want something, you'll sacrifice for it and many gay couples have taken up a similar fight while those who judge them only have the passion to deny them the chance a love.  The film is is also about how so opposites can attract and what doesn't seem to really fit together can under the bond of true love.  It really is a tale that you truly can make something out of nothing when love is in the mix.  

The Bad:  

There is only really one thing I didn't like about the movie and that was researching the movie and finding how loosely this was based off the real story which apparently isn't much like this one in a number of ways.  When I read "based off of true events" and the like, I guess I'm spoiled because I expect there to be more truth than that Rudy did exist and he took in a handicapped child as his own.  Even so, this film has too true a message to negate what the film maker gives us here.  It is a wonderful, refreshing story that reminds us that though the fight for justice is still ever present, love never fails to supersede it all.  

 

 

Just As Promised, They Are Back!

Terminator Genisys--Score--High 3

Summary in Brief: Time Machine meets I Robot with the 5th installment of Terminator.  Arnold is back with a vegence and a new nick name, "Pops" given to him by a younger installment of Sarah Connor who has now befriended the "older but not out of date" robot.  This time John Connor of the future sends a hunky Kyle Reese back in time to protect the young Sarah Connor and the world from certain destruction. However, when he time-jumps back to 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.  The battle of many versions of Terminators both old and new ensues to ensure an apocalyptic future.  Arnold kicks butt but Jason Clarke as John Connor is much more than meets the red eye (pun intended). Emilia Clarke also pulls through an 80's Tom-Boy chick ready to kick ass and take names in her own right.  Its a nice wild ride with some homages to the older versions.

 

Director:

Alan Taylor 

Stars:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, J.K. Simmons

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

The Good: (If you like the Terminator movies) Both the live Arnold and the CGI Arnold spots do much better than I thought while the film catches up in time with the Terminator's, not to mention the actor's, real age.  Arnold is looking old but damn...he is kicking butt in this flick.  There is a lot of knock-em, sock-em, grab out fights that are not too over done.  As the stoic, robotic "Pops", nick named affectionately by a younger Sarah Connor, Arnold delivers his clever humor and solid hero qualities again without being too cliche'.  I know many reviews complain about the time travel but I say get a grip.  If you can handle the film "Inception" and the horribly over exaggerated glorified film "Memento", this is nothing.  Give us Terminator fans some credit, we still use our brains.  To the contrary of reviewers, I see the time travel as really the only thing that keeps this film on its face paced feet and keeps us on our toes as to who we can trust. What franchise can survive a 5th edition? Not many but the writers really found a way.  I wasn't bored.  The way the film uses the time travel element of blurred moments in the midst of traveling is clever.  We know something happened in the future just before the person jumps to the past but we don't know what. We can guess (wet know it wasn't good), and this keeps us on the edge of our seat as to what will happen next.  The more futuristic T bots are bad ass and creepier than ever with their full set of human teeth as quite diabolical human mementos.  The classic shape shifter like T model from Terminator 2 makes a long bout in this film but somehow its frightful charm from Terminator 2 days is a little lack laster since there is no surprise for us on what it can do.  Even so, it still is good to see it back and part of the film because Terminator 2 was one of the franchises best.  I really liked the ending too. It fit nicely into a circular reasoning with the plot line, nicely done! Both the John Connor and Sarah Connor roles were done very well and I had no problem attaching to the characters or believing them.  Kyle Reese is played by a hunk Jai Courtney who real delivers on the hunky hero roll.  The film is exciting with enough twists and turns to surprise and delight. I recommend it for you action buffs.  

The Bad:  Like it or not, there are going to be scenes where there is no getting around feeling "oh, this again?".  I'm not sure why a Terminator being able to survive vehicle crashes and fire is still supposed to be such a big deal. Are the writers doing this for the sake of those who haven't seen the films or paying homage to the past?  Fortunately, there is enough "newness" to tolerate the old tricks.  J.K. Simmons makes an appearance as O'Brian, a man of apocalyptic dreams but he is only mildly believable. The character's only value is that he could potentially be in a small line up of characters who could be masked Terminators and a general saving grace quality.  Bayng-Hung Lee plays the T-1000 Terminator and he really brought his best but I'm not sure what went wrong for me.  He just wasn't as menacing as the characters who originally played this part. He was just "okay".  All the tilts of the head, the bladed arm, the reforming of the face and surviving fire are all on over-kill in most of the scenes.  Its too bad they couldn't have gotten more creative with what this bad ass could do but I supposed that they were limited to the past films.  

Ugly: Nothing

 

Magic Mike XXL--Score-- 3

Summary in Brief (or is it in thongs?)

It is time for the "Kings of Tampa" to take one last road trip to Myrtle Beach for Magic Mike's version of MTV's "One Shot".  This one just should be renamed "The Last Shot".  It is three years later and Mike, aka Poney Boy, has left stripping behind for some real man's work but he get's side tracked when his stripper crew hits town and they re-ignite the fuel in his thrusting pelvic joints.  Truthfully, I watched the first Magic Mike and this one for no other reason than the eye candy.  And as lame as the plot was for the first one (is that right for me to say since it is supposed to be based on Tatum's life?), this second installment is much better. Suprisingly better and full of all the eye candy we want and then some.  It also has some pretty killer dance scenes and stripper scenes that are far better than the first one.  

 

Director:

Gregory Jacobs

Writers:

Reid Carolin

Stars:

Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriquez, Gabriel Iglesias, Jada Pinket Smith, Kevin Nash

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:  Pardon me as I let my gay out for moment..., this sequel is to DIE for!  Hot bodies and more hot bodies, with great humor and great dancing and ample dongs in skimpy thongs, and dancing that is like a virtual training video for new sex positions --what more can you ask for bitches!  Okay, I'm done.  As the crew get's back together for this road trip, no matter what you feel about comedian Gabriel Iglesias, he did a great job as Tobias. He brings the film to life with his great humor. His portrayal of a drag queen on stage is just laugh out loud funny.  And for the most part, everyone steps to the humor plate and really hit some home-runs.  One of my favorites is the store scene where the group is trying to get one of the strippers his mojo back by turning on a disgruntled store clerk.  We have a sort of "Mike Mike meets Vacation" film with a series of comic mishaps that involve adult themes but still are clever and keep the plot lively.  The film really takes off when in a search for a new MC for their Little Rascal gang, they are lead to the door step of Rome's establishment, played by Jada Pinket Smith.  The sheer lusty pleasure and very talented dancing that goes on in Rome's place is really a treat to behold.  Its a stripper's home brothel without the sex (though surely that could be happening off camera in our minds).  Yes, While I hate to tell you ladies and man-ladies that you won't see any sex in this film, you do still see a great deal of sexuality and the male body that you won't even touch in most films that might give you a sex scene, even two or three! Beyond that, the dancers are really skilled in this film.  I mean really.  The routines by some will at times make you gasp.  There are many surprises too like "Twitch" from the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance" who does several routines. And on top of that you get to see the lump in his trunk flying around to get an idea of what his size may be.  I would suggest ample and not over bearing. Michael Strahan also dances his way into all our crotches with a real hot routine that will have you going "Wwwhaaat?".  Yes, folks, this isn't just your white boy strip movie, there are plenty men of color in this film that may convert even a white supremacist to some chocolate for a change (oh come on, lighten up!).  Alsion Faulk stars as White Shadow, this sort of lesbian tribute/love interest/hipster whom Mike encounters here and there on the road trip.  She does a good job of adding a small amount of sexual tension and an element of The Breakfast Club to the film which I'm not sure was needed. Certainly the film needed something by the middle, needed some kind of love interest without having to promise that they would go off into the sunset together like the first version hinted at but didn't follow through with.  

The Bad:  This is where I say, yes, the plot was much better but still not all that great. This road trip is no "holiday road" with Chevy Chase, but it had its moments. It is no Wild Hogs but it is still one heck of a ride.  The love interest with Alsion Faulk isn't really as promising as it starts off to be and the films focus on lust and dance shines through as the character flops around like a dying fish and used prop near the middle and end.  The plot loses its charm and steam ironically once the gang arrive at the actual destination--a stripper convention.  The actual performance Magic Mike and the gang do in the competition is pretty darn creative.  At points, the creativity lessons the sexuality which drains us of our shallow intents but you still can appreciate it.  This is where we finally get to see Channing and Twitch's ample buttocks in their thongs but the tension between Rome and the dancers is lost and the ending...well that just get's to next part..the ugly. 

The Ugly

The tension revs up again as the crew finally take the stage and Jada Smith turns into this Cat Woman like ring Master as they present series after series of dances...and we finally...finally...panting and waiting ...get to see Channing's ample buttocks and back side and full frontal thong...but then? Well they are all apparently pleased by their performance by the smiles they exchange but that's it. The show is literally over. We don't know if they won, we don't know where they go from here.  Like a stripper who got the dollar bill, these guys are gone and the credits are rolling.  But if you came for the eye candy, you sort of don't care? Well...I did care.  They got me interested in this plot because they didn't completely dumb it down so when it ended like that I literally said, "What!?!"  And in hine sight (pun intended), we don't really get to see much of Channing and the crew without their pants off till the end.  But we do with many others....and did I mention the eye candy, humor, stripper home brothel and Channings buttocks?  Yeah...you'll still be thanking the film makers if that is what you came for and it better be or you'll be gravely disappointed. 

 

 

 

 




July 1, 2015--The Overnighters

 

The Overnighters--Score: High 5  ++++

film maker Jesse Moss

Reviewer-LA Jamison

Summary in brief:  A pastor of a small town in North Dakota stands as a Biblical proportionate figure in the gap for the needy flocking into his small town looking for work in the oil fields.  This is largely a story about men who have given up everything to come and find a living wage, second chances and a home only to find a town that is over-run, suspicious and resentful of them.  It is also about a pastor and his family who suffer as the pastor refuses to say no and demands that he and his family be ever more God like by sacrificing more, not less.  The real truth comes out, however, when after a multiple twists and turns around failures and betrayals, the pastor and his wife who have made themselves out to be little Christ's are forced to face demons of their own that they weren't counting on facing.  It all climaxes and descends into an ending that will leave gasping and in awe.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:  Jesse Moss makes you forget you are watching a documentary.  You literally not only feel like a member of this town but you feel everything..from the vibrant colors to the inner workings of the souls presented.  The pastor and everyone in this film manage to somehow act as if the cameras are never there--save the lady with the rifle.  You'll have to watch to find out more about her.  The story is filled with twists and turns.  There are no boring parts unless the topic itself doesn't interest you.  The film has authentic emotional appeal and is relevant to the human experience for our times.

The Bad:  My only slight "heads up" is this is a film that is probably best not watched if you are emotional or sad over something else going on in your life.  Then, again, it could make you realize that you are really blessed to not be in the situations shown in the film.    

The Ugly:  There is nothing ugly here. 


Review in detail:  

*I know this is an extensive review but this film impacted me in a deep , profound way*  

I didn’t plan to sit down and watch this PBS Point of View special. Nor was I thinking of getting anywhere near having my heart torn out of my chest, thrown before my eyes and slammed against my patio door wall where each part of my soul and the soul of the people in this film were laid bare.  This film is raw, deep and real as it gets and it will bring you to a place of stark reality, much in the same way of riding a roller coaster and valuing your life while your cheeks are pressed back in the g-forces.  I am seriously not kidding.  This film is a ride that leaves no stone unturned. It is both fascinating and bloody in the sense of human dignity.

There is a cruelty to this world.  Everyone knows it.  You feel it when you first open your eyes in the morning or are about to close your eyes in the evening.  It can send you to prayer, to coffee, to music, to the hug of the love one; whatever will help you face another day in a world that takes no prisoners but rather spits you out if you aren’t tough enough.  This film is largely a wrestle, a struggle between the forces of compassion and cruelty that humans exhibit toward each other.  The film is about several thousands of people who are finding themselves spewed out from their hometowns and running to places like North Dakota to find a living wage. There is even one young man “Chris” from my hometown of Detroit.

Point of View on PBS is a series of films done by independent documentary film makers which you can watch previous episodes online.  And may I say, Jesse Moss did such a great job.  These are films far above a Michael Moore and I like his documentaries.  The vividness of this film, the realness of the shots and their impact makes you feel as though the camera isn’t really there.  Instead, you are there, just following along.  Yet, even so, with our best eye sight, we wouldn’t manage to pick up on the colors, shading and lighting Jesse Moss picks up on.  I think of the scene where the pastor is going down dark alleys and bars looking for one of the residents of The Overnighters.  His shadow appearing as a silhouette in orange light making him appear as some gangster for Jesus. The shadows and lighting really gave you this extraordinary image of a pastor who is really hitting the streets in a way you just don’t see everyday.

Bearing down on the small town of Willstown, North Dakota, very needy people from all over the world (not just the country) are shown to be flocking there because of the impossibility of getting jobs that provide a living wage—particularly for families.  While oil companies tear up what some of the residents of North Dakota see as precious farming landscape, other people from the outside the area flood these small towns and their streets looking for work with oil companies that offer six figure incomes.  The jobs are so plentiful that many employers don’t ask about criminal records on applications.  In the film, they suggest that it doesn’t matter who you are, anyone should be able to get a job in Willstown within your first 24 to 48 hours.  So, even those with a shady background come there for a second chance.  As one of these men with a long criminal background  proclaims, “This is America! This is the place for second chances.”

There is also a loss of myth and spirituality even with the religious background the film is set in—probably, even more so, because of that background.  Mythos and spirituality are replaced by flesh, sweat, oil and human fragility.  Though this Overnighter’s group is centered around a church and this pastor’s outreach of letting people sleep at his church, you are aware more of the cruelty of the world then even the grace this church is extending to so many people.  I suppose that is because so many of the church members aren’t even behind what this pastor is doing and you know this isn’t sustainable.  That is, those members that are still left.

It hasn’t been since the 1930’s Great Depression since our nation has seen so many men leave home and family behind in order to go where the jobs are.  I’m not totally knowledgeable about this subject but I know something like that has happened around the down size in the automobile factories and my field of education but I’ve not heard of much else. It was bone chilling to see these men who look like any men on the street, in the year 2014, living in their cars and other  poor living conditions.  I was reminded just today that since this film was made oil prices have plummeted and I hate to think what that has done to the jobs there.  We hear rumors that our economy has mostly benefited that 1% but for those of us who have found ways to survive either through the help of family or other means, this doesn’t hit home until you see a film like this.  You may think it has but I challenge you to watch this film and see if you don’t go “wow” by the end.  You walk away counting your blessings for the little you do have and you wipe away the tears from your eyes--not only due to the pull on your heart strings but from the horror you witness of such desperate lives hanging in the balance and on the shoulders of one man.

This one man, the only one with shoulders broad enough to show any kindness and compassion to these often homeless or dis-enfranchised men, is pastor Jay Reinke.  He stands as a sort of self-appointed Moses figure in a parted sea of people and that is no exaggeration. On one side of the sea are these migratory people from all walks of life—even criminals—who are looking for a second chance at life.  They come by hundreds and thousands.  On the other side are the residents already living here in Willston and the city officials who feel over-run and scared.  The towns people fight their fear and exhaustion by using city ordinances and regulations as a weapon to keep Jay Reinke and his missionary work not only in check but under constant threat of being shut down.  A sort of abiding by “the letter of the law” while violating “the spirit of the law” which causes the pastor to proclaim several times in the film “What about Community? Are we a community? I really don’t know.”

It is quite clear as the film progresses that Pastor Reinke is trying to be Christ in the flesh but in some ways a little too much.  I know that sounds like heresy.  How can you try to be like-Christ “a little too much”?  After you watch this man, duly impressed with all the outreach he is doing, you start see that nothing is enough for him.  Many in ministry assume you should serve at all expense of yourself, but in reality did even the Christ serve that way?  Wasn’t he also known for keeping crowds waiting while he went off by himself to recoup and pray?  This man gives himself nor his family any respite.  This is because Pastor Reinke is trying to please everyone.  From taking in people with extensive criminal records, to constantly beating himself up for not being a good enough father, husband, pastor and community leader, you know he is drowning under a noble cause.  No one could argue that. However, you also may feel he is running from something, and you will discover in part that you are right by the end of the film.  He is not only in a crash collision course with those in the town who are concerned about his motivations, but he is also in a crash collision course with his own demons and his overly extended wife. 

This call to sacrifice himself beyond healthy limits for such a long term crisis requires his wife to sacrifice the same and it is quite clear, now in high stride of this mission, that she, more than anyone else, is at her wits end.  Sadly, her pain goes largely ignored even in the film itself except for brief moments.  There are scenes where she breaks down but no follow up.  For example, they give no follow-up tale on her at the end of the film like they do the husband.  By the end of the film, you may wonder as I did if her untold side of the story may be even more tragic then her husband’s.  I think the film maker missed this very important angle.

The pastor himself is really no angel. He betrays two others whom put their confidence in him and this backfires in such a dire way, you cannot help but bleed for him even while you are aghast for the betrayed.  He clearly doesn’t let himself be human or confront his demons, but neither do all the needy people around him.  They expect him to meet their needs and seem to ignore that even in his rash reactions, he is a man trying to juggle too many balls, too many people in the midst of an on-going crisis. 

The lives and stories of the people that come to the town take center stage in most of the film except as the film reaches its climax and end.  The tales of these men are utterly heart wrenching.  Most of them are giving it all they have to a make a new life for themselves but most are doing it for their wives and family they have left behind.  One story among several that sticks out to me is that of a man who arrives with such a shattered soul, ashamed he cannot take care of his wife and children.  Missing them so much, he is often seen just staring at the small pictures he has of them.  When he eventually lands a job, it isn’t long before his wife stops communicating with him altogether.  We only know that he assumes she is angry because of his absence and is moving on without him—that is his guess. He says it well when with tearful eyes he recalls that he came to Willston to save his family and now he ended up losing them anyway, even with all the great sacrifice.  To sacrifice so much, to sacrifice all and it still not be enough is something most of us don’t witness and we need to.  These men are simple men.  They are here for jobs.  They sleep in unfamiliar places with no loved ones to give them the basic comforts but instead their very existence puts the weight of failure on these men of being unable to provide for them.  Everyone comes bearing dreams to a town that cannot hold all of them, dreams that are as fragile as the shacks they live in.

I was pretty taken as the pastor said on multiple occasions that ‘you have these intense, in depth relationships with these people that come into town looking for help and for this reason or that, they are suddenly gone and you never hear from them again.”  This speaks to the often usury nature of humanity that I resonate with.  How many of us have been a part of groups, churches, organizations and made deep investments in people but once you leave, it was as if none of it ever happened? Yet this pastor’s pain also echoes a man who is hurting and expects strong, lasting connections with people where everyone follows the rules.  Even strange ones like his cardinal rule of not spilling coffee on the church carpet lest he be found to housing people.  But it is quite clear that the town jig is up.  The town knows people are sleeping there and surely coffee stains are the least of anyone’s concerns by this point.

This film has more twist and turns then any murder mystery I’ve seen.  Pastor Jay betrays family, friends and eventually the community itself, all in the name of things like that one more person who needs “floor space” to sleep or to save his image.  Yet, he seems to want to save his image so as not to bring down The Overnighters group.  Of course, this is a very debatable motivation that is highly questionable but not without reason. Some people seem unfairly revengeful and bitter despite this pastor’s heart and what he has done here.  Even so, as the pastor and his wife proclaim hypocritically several times in the film, “we are dealing with sinners”, as if they are exempt from sin themselves, they reveal that they are sinners too. Their denial of this fact comes to blow up right in their face in quite a “shock and awe” way later in the film.  By keeping the people outside the church walls in this league of “sinners”, people no doubt subconsciously see them as gods with special dispension for their sacrifices.  How else can you see people who give up so much for others and call them “sinners”?  When the betrayal ensues, to them, it is as if their own gods had betrayed them and kicked them out of the Garden of Eden to fend for themselves.  In this sense, these people feel like they are in hell and hell truly hath no fury like an idol worshipper scorned.  The backlash by one man in particular was no joke when he swore “you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind”.  He wasn’t kidding and I wonder how he feels now seeing the devastation his revenge caused.     

The real sad thing is while war is being waged within and without in The Overnighters, the fate of this program will impact thousands of people who see it as beacon of hope.  This is who you don’t want to see to suffer should the walls come tumbling down by the end.  And I felt concerned for the pastor’s psyche and spirit should it fall.  Who has seen a pastor work so hard on the streets, all day long like this man was doing?  At one point, he is almost murdered by a woman carrying a rifle who wants him off his property.  When was the last time you faced a gun on your job--unless you are police officer.

But, just when you don’t think it can get worse, in the midst of all the turbulence and quite a messy ending, the pastor reveals an even bigger secret that will bring yet another looming tragedy to take place.  Knowing pastor’s Jay insistence on being god like, the punishment he exacts on himself is almost as tragic as the entire film itself.  I really felt compelled here to write to him and talk some sense into the man.  I mean, he deserves some help because whatever you think of this guy and his “mask”,  I don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire to do good, to help everyone he could. 

Yes, he can be cruel too.  It is quite telling to me that Jay decides to reveal this “news” to his poor wife that you can’t imagine could take on anymore, in some public place where they are having coffee.  Who does that?  This shows Jay’s decisions are not the wisest and sometimes cruel.  His decisions show his lack of empathy for her and the only feeling he really expresses toward her or about her is guilt.  Instead of taking a more sensible approach to helping some of these people rather than all of them, he drowned himself and his wife into a sea people and a mission that ultimately destroyed them.  On some secondary level, it was clear to me by the end of the film that part of substituting ministry for family was that he was hiding from this secret side of himself, until he once again fate stepped in and made him and all of us face it. Who knows—this is simply my own conjecture. What I do know for sure is that this tragic tale will leave you breathless, maybe even grieving, but all together thankful that you aren’t in any of the positions these people find themselves in.  


June 14, 2015--Spy & Jurassic World

*Since most of the movies that I've seen this month do not require deep analysis, I will keep my summaries of the films down to the shorter version of "the good, the bad, and the ugly".  

Spy--Score: Low Four

Summary in Brief:

CIA analyst Susan Cooper (played by Melissa McCarthy of TV "Mike & Molly" and film fame "Bridesmaids) has spent her career at a call center while playing in a virtual reality mouse-trap that helps spies get out of life and death situations.  Though trained to do the spy work herself, Susan Cooper is somewhat "okay"working hand-in-hand with a dashing agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) because she has a crush on him.  She is more than willing to be Bradley's eyes and ears and there is much funny banter back and forth between two.  When a tidal wave rocks Cooper's dream boat, she manages to work her way into action to solve the disappearance and murder of her crush Bradley.  Mayhem ensues as she goes undercover and befriends her enemy and powerhouse, Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (played by Rose Byrne, also from "Bridesmaide" and her nemesis there as well).

Release date: June 5, 2015 (USA)

  1. DirectorPaul Feig

  2. ScreenplayPaul Feig

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good--This is probably McCarthy's best performance since Bridesmaids in my book.  Miranda Hart plays her side kick Nancy Artingstall who gives this feel of a female version of Lerch from the Adam's Family but with a feminine twist and humor.  Jude Law also does well and is always as ever easy on the eyes with some great humor mixed in.  The film isn't just a parody of spy movies either, say like the movie Spy Hard which is funny also, but rather this film has some good plot twists, and touching moments too.

The Bad--Some comedians these days, especially those from SNL, seem to think that being over the top in their verbiage and talking in wild extremes makes them somehow...what? Unique? Funnier?  To me, it just comes across as desperate, a rape of the principle of "improv" and takes away from the performance rather than adds to it.  Sadly, McCarthy and others are on an ever increasing crescendo of using this tactic that reeks of desperation more so than talent. Rose Byrne does a good job playing Susan's nemesis, don't get me wrong, but it is weird seeing them pitted against each other again...it felt non-creative. 

The Ugly--Lots of unnecessary foul language, a-lot-of-it! All in the same vain of word vomiting.  It wasn't necessary.

 

Jurassic World--score: High 4

 

Summary in Brief

It is now twenty two years in the future from when Jurassic Park had opened and abruptly closed for reasons we know all too well.  Why in the world would this park re-open and become like a "Sea World" theme park?  I'll explore that in a moment.  Isla Nublar is being raped once again by fanatical geneticists, and now has become a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World. John Hammond's dream come true with a brand new set of new pioneers. We follow two innocent children visiting the park their aunt who helps run the park and right at time where pressures have been mounting since a decline in interest with investors.  Clamoring for something new and better and some military interest in the background, tensions rise but particularly in one, genetically altered and spliced dinosaur that reeks havoc on the park and its' players creating a chain reaction of disasters and trials. 

Director:

 Colin Trevorrow

Writers:

 Rick Jaffa (screenplay), Amanda Silver (screenplay) 

Colin Trevorrow...(screenplay) &

Derek Connolly...(screenplay)

Rick Jaffa...(story) &

Amanda Silver...(story)

Michael Crichton...(characters)

Actors: Chris PrattBryce Dallas HowardTy Simpkins, Nick Robinson, and Irrfran Kahn.

 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good--Go in with low expectations and then let yourself be surprised.  I was thinking from previews of Jaws III...you know Jaws meets Sea World...this would be Dino's meets Sea World...and though at moments it does have that feel, its actually a much better film than that.  If you can suspend your belief that slews of people would be that close to dinosaurs (like canoeing in a river with Brontosauruses and Triceratops frolicking in the same river), and that no one on this island has seemed to learn any lessons from the past, this movie is great summer fun. I saw it in IMAX 3D which was awesome.  The action and plot twists are exhilarating at points.  I found myself shouting at the screen and jumping in my seat. Probably some of the coolest moments for me was Chris Pratt as Owen riding as the alpha male with the raptors in the woods on his bike. Also, I really enjoyed Zach and Gray riding in this bubble car with a tutorial hosted by Jimmy Fallon.  Their eventual encounter with the Dino/Frankenstein is hair raising.  Chris Pratt is charming and studly as Owen. You can't help but respect what he has developed with the raptors. Will this "bite" him in the end or not?  I don't know but I wouldn't mind biting his end...you'll still have to see the film to get the answer to that question.  I really enjoyed Pratt's acting in both "Guardians of the Galaxy" and this film. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson do a surprisingly good job at being the focused children in the movie who are making dumb moves and narrow escapes.  They are cute and adorable. There is humor. many nail biting moments, and good special effects, eye candy moments... everything we would hope and want from the Jurassic Park franchise.  There were many elements that hinted back at Aliens with the creepy night cams while soldiers are on the hunt for this alien species of dino and hinting back to Jaws with a particular dino that is contained in a large lake who eats "Jaws" (great whites) for lunch.  But this only scratches the surface, trust me.  Just don't expect the shock value of the first Jurassic Park and the unique "virgin" quality of that film and you'll have a great time.

The Bad -- Okay, let's face it. After the first Jurassic Park, you really have to suspend belief (suspend your concept of reality) when there is any chance of this park ever opening again.  And it does re-exist for four movies.  Now, its even more of a stretch because it is a theme park.  But, get over yourself.  Ignore the short, unimpressive moments and remind yourself you are here for fun.  They are short moments and the rest of movie is exciting.  Everyone seems pretty dumb save Owen, Chris Pratt, with a plot line like this.  The only saving grace to the plot is that it appears there is interest by the military to use the genetically altered versions of the dinos for battle purposes in war (especially raptors it seems).  The plot strongly hints that this may be why the park has existed in the first place.  Otherwise, there are points where people are running around this park and riding monorails like any theme park and you just have to look past that.  Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire, does not do a good or believable role as the second in command of the park nor as the aunt of Zach and Gray.  Her hysterics in a helicopter scene with Irrfran Kahn flying it is on par with Carol Burnett's portrayal of Scarlet from "Gone With The Wind".  However, when it is time for Claire to get into her down and dirty role, which begins mid-movie to the end, she is believable and even humorous at times with her love interest, Owen.  I would have also liked to have seen a more high tech lab that looked a lot less like a pet shop for lizards and snakes, and more like the original film when the labs were cool.  

Ugly -- None, so what are you waiting for--go see this in 3D and have fun!