Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Monday, July 16, 2018


Yesterday I saw Big, the next selection in the TCM Big Screen Classics series, and it was a lot of fun.  I remember seeing this movie on the big screen during its first release and, since that was 30 years ago, it was incredibly nostalgic (and it made me feel old).  Thirteen year old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) asks a fortune telling arcade machine called Zoltar Speaks to make him big after being denied admission to a carnival ride in front of the girl he likes.  Overnight he is transformed into a 30 year old man (now played by Tom Hanks).  When his Mom (Mercedes Reuhl) doesn't believe him, he seeks out his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton).  They try to find the arcade machine but the information won't be available for six weeks.  In the meantime, Josh goes to New York, finds a job at a toy company, and gets a girlfriend (Elizabeth Perkins).  When he and Billy find the arcade machine, will he want to be a kid again?  Most people seeing this movie for the first time might find the story to be a bit improbable with lots of plot holes but it is just so charming and what makes it work is the delightful performance of Tom Hanks.  He exhibits a wide-eyed wonder at every new experience and he replicates Moscow's awkward mannerisms to perfection.  I especially enjoyed the interactions between Hanks and Rushton because they both seem like thirteen year old boys, especially in the scene with the silly string.  I also really enjoyed the interactions between Hanks and Perkins, especially when they have the sleepover in the bunk beds and whenever he gets that goofy grin on his face.  I was happily reminded of why Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors to this day!  This movie will be screened again on Wednesday (go here for tickets) and I highly recommend it for some nostalgic fun!

Note:  My favorite scene in the movie is when Josh and the CEO of the toy company he works for (Ben Loggia) play "Heart and Soul" and "Chopsticks" on a foot operated piano at FAO Schwartz.  I remember being so disappointed when I first visited the famous toy story on a trip to New York and discovered that the piano on display was much smaller than the one specially made for the movie!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sorry to Bother You

Last night I went to my second independent film in as many nights, the absolutely hysterical Sorry to Bother You.  It is full of scathing social commentary but, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, it is a wild and wacky ride that will keep you laughing from beginning to end as well as make you think.  In a dystopian future Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is a young man living in Oakland who longs to make something of himself.  He gets a job as a telemarketer and soon becomes one of the company's best callers just as his fellow co-workers begin a strike for better wages and benefits.  He decides to cross the picket lines to take a promotion but soon discovers that he is promoting a company called Worry Free which has questionable practices.  Because he likes his new lifestyle he continues despite the protests of his girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and co-workers (Steven Yeun and Jermaine Fowler) until he meets the eccentric CEO of Worry Free (a hilarious Armie Hammer).  This movie has a lot to say about identity, selling out, exploitation, and corporate greed but it never feels heavy-handed because it is a comedy of the absurd with a third act that will either work or not work for audiences.  It worked for me and most of the other members of the audience (another packed screening for an independent film!).  The visual style is surreal and I especially loved the scenes where Cassius is transported to the homes of the people he calls (these calls always seem to happen at an inconvenient time) and when his apartment is transformed in front of our eyes as he makes more and more money.  There is a really funny subplot involving a reality show called "I Got The S*@# Kicked Out Of Me" which has an interesting message about the pleasure we take in seeing the misfortunes of others and another one involving someone becoming famous after a video goes viral which is an interesting commentary on the nature of celebrity.  Stanfield is fantastic as is Thompson and the aforementioned Hammer.  This film is quite irreverent with a lot of profanity but it is one of the funniest and most original films I've seen in a long time!

Leave No Trace

Friday night I went to see Leave No Trace at a screening that was completely full!  I absolutely love it when an independent film gets a lot of buzz and this film certainly deserves the acclaim it is receiving.  It is a brilliant character study about a father and daughter relationship and I had such an emotional response to both main characters.  I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  Will (Ben Foster) is a combat veteran suffering from PTSD living off the land in Oregon with his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie).  Their existence isn't idyllic (the brutal honesty is what makes this film so compelling) but it is what Will needs and it is all that Tom has known (there is not a lot of exposition but the scenes of them quietly going about their daily routine do more to establish their bond than pages of dialogue would).  After they are discovered and come under the auspices of social services, they begin an often perilous journey of discovery that ultimately leads to redemption for both of them.  I understood the choices that both of them make at the end of the film.  Will has a need to live off the grid because he cannot abide the rules and conventions that other people impose upon him and that is often very appealing to me.  Tom loves her father but often questions his choices and his ability to keep her safe.  She longs for stability and connections with other people (her interactions with the people she meets are so poignant in their portrayal of human kindness) and it is heartbreaking when she realizes that his life does not have to be hers.  I can relate to the need to let people go for your own good.  The redemption at the end of the film is painful but it is there.  I had tears in my eyes as the lights came on in the theater because it felt so bleak but there is a scene at the end where Tom leaves food in the forest for another recluse and that felt like a metaphor for Will's well-being. Foster is brilliant as Will but I was so impressed with McKenzie who more than holds her own with him in a physically demanding role.  I highly recommend this this very moving film.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

I had the chance to see Ant-Man and the Wasp at a Thursday preview in an IMAX theater with a large and boisterous crowd and it was so much fun!  I absolutely loved Ant-Man (much more than I expected) so I have been looking forward to this for a long time.  In the aftermath of the events in Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Pail Rudd) is under house arrest until he is once again drawn into the activities of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) who  believe that Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is still alive.  Since Lang entered and returned from the quantum realm, where Janet has been lost for thirty years, Pym and Hope want his help to rescue her through a quantum bridge they have created.  However, a former colleague of Pym's, Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), wants this technology to help Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), the victim of a botched quantum experiment which has left her in an unstable state, and Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black market dealer, who wants the technology for its potential value.  Meanwhile, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), an FBI agent, is chasing Lang for violating house arrest and Pym and Hope for their role in breaking the Sokovia Accords.  Lang and Hope become Ant-Man and the Wasp and they recruit Luis (Michael Pena) in order to elude everyone pursing them and to rescue Janet.  This movie doubles down on everything that made me love the first one!  Rudd is incredibly engaging, once again full of witty one-liners, and his interactions with Lilly are hilarious.  The action sequences are fantastic with objects becoming larger and smaller as needed.  My favorite sequence involves a giant Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser!  Finally, Michael Pena, once again, steals the show, especially in a truth serum fueled monologue that had me and everyone else in the theater laughing out loud!  I loved this movie!  It is the perfect summer blockbuster and I highly recommend it for a good time (especially after the devastation wrought in Infinity War).

Note:  It goes without saying that you should stay through the credits!  There is a mid-credits scene that links directly to Infinity War and a fun post-credits scene.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mad Max: Fury Road (Black & Chrome Edition)

When I first saw Mad Max: Fury Road I was absolutely blown away by it!  The action is intense and unrelenting!  It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where overlords control the scarce resources.  One such overlord is Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who sends out a War Rig driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to search for gasoline.  When she veers off-course, Joe realizes that she has taken his five enslaved wives and so he leads his army of War Boys after her.  Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), captured by Joe because he is a universal donor, accompanies the army because he is supplying blood to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of the War Boys.  After an epic battle in a sand storm, Max eventually joins Furiosa as they try to escape to the green space Furiosa remembers from her childhood.  I love this movie because it is ultimately about redemption and I think that Furiosa is one of the best female characters in film.  The action sequences are epic, made all the more amazing by the fact that most of them employed practical stunts rather than CGI.  Director George Miller has always asserted that he wanted to shoot this movie in black and white and that the black and white version is the best edition of the movie.  Due to its huge commercial success he was able to release the so-called Black & Chrome Edition on DVD and it was screened in theaters very briefly.  This really intrigued me because the colors are so vivid in the theatrical release but I was unable to see the Black & Chrome Edition when it was shown in SLC.  Luckily the Salt Lake Film Society screened it Friday night as part of their Summer Late Nights series and I finally got to see it!  It is awesome!  The black and white images serve to heighten the sense of desolation and they make Immortan Joe and the War Boys really stand out with their pale white skin which makes them even more terrifying.  I also loved the wind storm in black and white because it seems so surreal.  It was quite the experience seeing this on the big screen with a really rowdy crowd (some were dressed as War Boys) and I highly recommend it!  There is one more chance to see it today at noon at the Tower Theatre.  Go here for more information about the Summer Late Nights Series.

Monday, June 25, 2018

West Side Story

The next feature in the TCM Big Screen Classics series was West Side Story.  I love this musical so much so it was an absolute thrill for me to see it on the big screen for the first time!  The story about a boy in a street gang who falls in love with a rival gang member's sister, an update of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is poignant but what makes this movie remarkable are the songs composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondhein, the truly brilliant choreography of Jerome Robbins, and the performances of Rita Moreno and George Chakiris.  I pretty much love all of the songs in this movie but my favorites are "Maria," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," and "Somewhere" because all four of them are so romantic.  I got chills seeing these numbers on the big screen.  Sigh!  The choreography is simply breathtaking and I think that the opening number is one of the best sequences in any musical that I've seen because it establishes the animosity between the Jets and the Sharks with just movement (and the snapping of fingers)!  I also love the choreography in "The Jet Song," "America," and "Cool."  Finally, I think Rita Moreno, who plays Anita, is amazing in this movie, especially in the scene at the drug store when the Jets attack her, and George Chakiris gives a very affecting performance as Bernardo (they both won Academy Awards for their performances).  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this movie on the big screen and I suggest that you see it when it is screened again on Wednesday (go here for information and tickets).

Note:  I love it when old-school movie musicals have overtures and intermissions!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Seagull

Even though I studied British literature in college, Russian literature is my passion.  I love the play The Seagull by Anton Chekhov so I have been anticipating this new movie adaptation for quite a while.  I was able to see it yesterday and I loved it!  A group of artists and aristocrats are seething with unrequited love, jealousy, and resentment while staying at a country estate for the summer in turn-of-the-century Russia!  Of course I loved it!  Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening), an aging actress, has come to stay at the estate of her ailing brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) with her lover Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a celebrated author.  Her son Konstantin (Billy Howle), who lives on the estate, is a young and idealistic playwright who scoffs at his mother's fame because it is not "art" and yet he is jealous of Trigorin's success.  He is also jealous because Nina (Saoirse Ronan), the neighbor girl with whom he is in love, has become infatuated with Trigorin.  There is also a strong ensemble cast including Elisabeth Moss, Jon Tenney, Mare Winningham, and Glen Fleshler who play members of the household who all have their own intrigues.  Chekhov's play is all about subtext so there is not a lot of action and the themes are incredibly bleak so not everyone is going to like this movie.  However, the performances are what makes this movie worth seeing (for people not enamored of Russian literature).  Of course, Bening and Ronan are brilliant but I was really surprised by Stoll's interpretation of Trigorin.  I have always thought of him as a rather feckless character but Stoll imbues him with a vulnerability that was unexpected.  Moss, also, is hilarious as Masha, a woman pining away for someone who will never love her.  It is sometimes hard to translate a play to the screen but I really liked how the filmmakers made use of the locations, particularly the lake.  The production design and costumes are incredibly sumptuous so this film is gorgeous to look at.  Chekhov isn't for everyone but I loved this film.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I have very vivid memories of spending afternoons at my Grandma Johnson's house when I was a little kid.  She had a large console television in the family room in the basement and I loved sitting right in front of it.  I would watch episodes of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and then I would watch the exact same episodes again dubbed in French on the French channel (I lived in Canada) because I loved them so much!  I especially loved Mr. Rogers because I felt like he was talking directly to me and he explained things in a way that I could understand.  I loved it when he would walk through his door with some sort of object because that meant that he would show us how that object worked!  I also really loved the Land of Make-Believe!  As soon as you heard the trolley you knew that you would be transported to a kingdom filled with wonderful characters who always had a lesson to teach you.  My favorite character was Lady Elaine Fairchilde because, while most people thought she was the villain, I thought she was just feisty and always stood up for herself!  Because I love Mr. Rogers so much, I had to see Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about his life, as soon as I possibly could.  Like the man himself, it is just wonderful!  It traces his early days in television, his ordination as a minister in the Presbyterian church, his advocacy for children, the creation of his groundbreaking show, and his lasting legacy.  There are archival interviews with Fred Rogers himself as well as contemporary interviews with his wife, two sons, the program director of WQED, cast and crew from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and close friends.  The overwhelming theme from these interviews is that Fred did not have a television persona.  He was exactly what you saw on the screen: a genuinely good person who truly cared about the welfare of children.  There is a moment when he says that everyone deserves love without having to do anything to earn it that moved me to tears!  I am so impressed by the fact that he wrote every script, composed all of the music, and voiced most of the puppets in the Land of Make-Believe!  He truly was a remarkable man and I think everyone should see this lovely tribute to his life!  Oh how I wish he were still here to bring a little kindness to a world sorely in need of it!

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

For me, and many people will disagree with me, the Jurassic Park franchise has always been about the dinosaurs.  I absolutely love the sense of wonder on the faces of the characters when they see the dinosaurs for the first time in Jurassic Park.  I even really liked Jurassic World, which has its fair share of issues, because the action sequences involving the dinosaurs are really intense and exciting. Last Thursday I went to a preview of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom thinking that, if nothing else, I would enjoy the dinosaurs.  I was a little bit disappointed.  Isla Nublar is now threatened by a volcano and debates arise about whether the dinosaurs who remain there should be protected as an endangered species.  Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who now heads a dinosaur rights activist group is hired by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the head of the Lockwood Corporation, to rescue the dinosaurs and take them to a new island sanctuary and she recruits Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).  It turns out that Mills just wants the dinosaurs for nefarious purposes and is using Claire to access the island tracking system and Owen for his skill with the velociraptors.  The dinosaurs are brought to the Lockwood estate for auction to the highest bidder and that goes about as well as you would expect.  I really enjoyed the sequences on the island as they try to round up the dinosaurs (except for one which actually made me tear up a little bit).  These were really thrilling, especially on an IMAX screen!  But as soon as they leave the island, I found the narrative to be tedious because it turns into an atmospheric conspiracy thriller.  For much of this, the dinosaurs are sedated and in cages as Claire and Owen try to figure out what is going on.  And there are a lot of things going on!  I think that some of the subplots are entirely superfluous, especially one involving Lockwood's granddaughter, and some of the characters are unnecessary, particularly Geraldine Chaplin's character.  There is a spectacular battle with one of the dinosaurs at the end of the film but I wanted more dinosaurs (I also wanted more of Dr. Malcolm!)!  I'm sure that many people will enjoy this movie but I found it to be disappointing.

Note:  For me, the best movie in the franchise is the original Jurassic Park.  It will be screened in concert with the Utah Symphony playing the iconic score at USANA Amphitheatre on September 8 (go here for tickets).  I already have my tickets and I am so excited!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hearts Beat Loud

Believe it or not, I actually saw a few films at the Sundance Film Festival this year that were not dark and gritty!  One such film was Hearts Beat Loud which is absolutely charming and I enjoyed it so much I decided to see it again now that it is in wide release.  It is a heartwarming story about Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), a single father who is facing many changes including having to close his record shop, a mother (Blythe Danner) with dementia, and a daughter (Kiersey Clemons) about to leave for college.  Frank and his daughter Sam write and record a song during one of their weekly jam sessions and, when Frank uploads it to Spotify, it goes viral.  Frank begins to fantasize about recording an album and going on tour with Sam but, ultimately, he realizes that he needs to let her go to pursue her own dream.  There is a tremendous amount of humor in this film, especially when Frank hears their song playing in a coffee shop for the first time and when he begins thinking about their potential costumes.  Both Frank and Sam are incredibly sympathetic characters and the father-daughter relationship is very affecting.  Offerman, more known for his comedic roles, give a heartfelt performance as a father afraid to lose his daughter and there are moments when he looks at Sam that are so poignant.  Even more impressive is the fact that both Offerman and Clemons perform several original songs.  Clemons has an amazing voice and I really loved the song "Hearts Beat Loud."  I highly recommend this feel good movie.  It will put a smile on your face!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hotel Artemis

Yesterday I saw the noir thriller Hotel Artemis and, despite negative reviews from the critics, I actually really enjoyed it.  In a dystopian future, a nurse (Jodie Foster) runs the Hotel Artemis, a members-only hospital for criminals, in an Art Deco building located in Los Angeles.  An orderly (Dave Bautista), who also serves as a bouncer when the need arises, assists her.  The nurse is an alcoholic agoraphobic who lost her licence to practice medicine when her son died.  The current residents include an arms dealer (Charlie Day) and an assassin (Sofia Boutella) but they are soon joined by a bank robber (Sterling K. Brown) whose brother (Brian Tyree Henry) was injured in a botched job and an underworld crime boss (Jeff Goldblum).  Everyone must follow the rules:  no guns, no cops, and no killing the other patients.  In the course of one night every one of the rules are broken because everyone in the Hotel Artemis has something to hide.  The narrative is a bit derivative and it does meander a bit with some characters and subplots that serve no purpose.  I also found some of the dialogue to be very clunky.  However, the action sequences are fantastic, especially when Boutella's character fights a group of bodyguards by herself, and I loved the aesthetic of the hotel itself.  In my opinion, what makes this film work is the character arc of the nurse (I love when a really flawed character is able to find some redemption) and Jodie Foster gives an incredible performance.  This film won't be for everyone but I do recommend it to fans of action thrillers.

American Animals

When I saw the trailer for American Animals last week I thought it looked highly amusing and immediately wanted to see it.  I took in a screening on Saturday afternoon and I really enjoyed it.  Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) is finding college life to be less exciting than he imagined and, as an aspiring artist, longs for a transformative experience to give his paintings more interest.  On a typical college tour of the library he notices that the special collections library has several volumes of Audubon's The Birds of America valued at over $12 million.  He fantasizes about stealing them and mentions this to his ne'er-do-well friend Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) who is on the verge of losing his athletic scholarship and longs for adventure. They spend all their time planning an elaborate heist and, when they realize that it could actually be done, they recruit Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner).  As the narrative plays out, the real Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk, and Chas Allen give documentary-style interviews about the goings-on and this is both incredibly successful and a bit detrimental in the final resolution.  Their commentary is often hilarious but their remorse at what they did feels a bit self-serving.  At the end of the movie the librarian of the special collection, Betty Jean Gooch (played in the narrative by Ann Dowd), condemns the boys as selfish thrill-seekers.  This feels a little bit out of place, as if this movie doesn't know if it is a light-hearted caper or a cautionary tale about the amorality of affluent young men.  However, I found it to be wildly entertaining despite the weighty conclusion and would recommend it.


I saw Hereditary at the Sundance Film Festival this year and I thought it was incredibly disturbing and one of the scariest films I had ever seen.  I screamed out loud at two different scenes and I was not alone.  I had decided that I would not see this again when it had a wider release but, given the divisive response to it, I wanted to see if I had the same reaction upon a second viewing.  I saw it late Friday night in a theater by myself and, needless to say, I was scared out of my mind.  I even screamed at one point and I knew what was coming.  A woman with a long history of mental illness and a penchant for dabbling in the occult dies which has a profound effect on her daughter Annie (Toni Collette).  Annie's distress, in turn, begins to have a devastating effect upon her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro).  As events become more and more bizarre, the audience is left to wonder if Annie is descending into madness and causing all of these events or if the family is truly being haunted.  When I watched the film the first time I found the final resolution to be deeply upsetting but I realize now that it is not the subject matter that makes this film so scary.  Rather, it is the sense of unease that is created through the sound design, lighting, and spellbinding performances (especially by Collette).  I was incredibly tense almost from the beginning of the film and that tension never lets up.  You want to know what is happening but you dread finding out.  This film is actually quite brilliant...but deeply disturbing so see it at your own risk (preferably not late at night in an empty theater).

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Incredibles Double Feature

Last night I had the chance to see a double feature of The Incredibles, a favorite of mine, and the new movie Incredibles 2 on an IMAX screen!  It was so much fun!  I love the first movie so much but, incredibly, I've never seen it on the big screen before so this was such a treat.  I think it holds up really well and I loved the character of Edna as much as ever!  The new movie is everything that I hoped it would be!  It picks up exactly where The Incredibles left off with our family of superheroes facing the Underminer (John Ratzenberger).  They ultimately defeat him but leave a swathe of damage in their wake which, because superheroes are illegal, land them in trouble.  Winston Deaver (Bob Odenkirk), the CEO of a telecommunications company, and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have a plan to reinstate the superheroes which involves Elastigirl (Holly Hunter).  She battles a new villain called Screenslaver (Bill Wise) while Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nielson) takes over at home.  Violet (Sarah Vowell) has boy troubles, Dash (Huck Milner) has math trouble, and Jack Jack (who steals the show) has trouble controlling his newfound powers (which prompts a hilarious visit to Edna for a new suit).  I really enjoyed this role reversal which provided a lot of comedic moments that made me laugh out loud.  I think this movie does a great job at developing the characters to their natural progression from the first movie and their arcs are interesting and compelling.  The family dynamic rings true and, in addition to providing lots of laughs, there are a few really poignant moments that give this movie a lot of heart.  The action is almost non-stop and it is so much fun!  The images are look so good on the screen and the animation is some of the best I've ever seen.  The story is a bit predictable with a plot twist that I saw coming early on but that did not in any way detract from my tremendous enjoyment of this movie.  I loved it and I highly recommend it for just about everyone!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mary Shelley

Since I teach the novel Frankenstein to my seniors every year I felt that Mary Shelley was required viewing.  Unfortunately, for being a biopic about such an interesting and unconventional woman, I found it to be rather boring and conventional.  Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) feels overshadowed by her famous parents, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died shortly after she was born and the philosopher William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), and struggles to find her own literary voice.  Soon she meets the dashing poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth) and, despite the fact that he has a wife and daughter, she decides to run away with him.  They live a tumultuous life together, plagued by creditors, Shelley's infidelity (possibly with her own step-sister Claire Claremont played by Bel Powley), and the death of her infant daughter.  She also feels overshadowed by Shelley's literary success.  Eventually the couple meets the poet Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) and are invited to his mansion on Lake Geneva.  Byron issues the fateful challenge for everyone to write a ghost story to pass the time during a stormy evening.  Mary channels her feelings of loneliness and despair into the creation of Frankenstein's monster.  Once the novel is finished, she struggles to get it published because she is a woman.  She settles for having it published anonymously with a foreword written by Shelley, causing everyone to think that he wrote it.  These events are blandly portrayed as if the filmmakers were simply ticking boxes to get all of the biographical information included without taking any risks.  It is more like a made-for-TV movie than a theatrical release (how could they not show her losing her virginity on her mother's grave?).  Furthermore, I found the narrative to be very disjointed.  Is she a feminist living an unconventional life or is she a victim of all the men around her?  Fanning gives an almost listless performance but even more maddening is the fact that there is very little chemistry between her and Booth.  In contrast, Sturridge and Powley are electrifying (pun intended) together and I was far more interested in them.  This was a little bit disappointing for me and I would recommend giving it a miss.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

First Reformed

Last night my friend Angela and I went to see First Reformed and I can honestly say that this film left me completely shattered.  It is a brutal portrayal of a man in torment with an incredible performance by Ethan Hawke.  Reverend Toller (Hawke) is the head of the First Reformed church, which is more of a tourist stop rather than a thriving religious community.  It is administered by a megachurch called Abundant Life and its leader, Pastor Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), is concerned that the 250th anniversary celebration of First Reformed go off without a hitch.  He has reason to be concerned.  Toller is struggling physically (from a stomach ailment), emotionally (his son was killed in Iraq), and spiritually (he no longer feels that God listens to his prayers).  A pregnant parishioner named Mary (Amanda Seyfried) requests that he speak with her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist, because he is distraught at the thought of bringing a child into a world facing the cataclysmic effects of climate change.  This encounter further challenges Toller's faith, especially when he discovers that a major contributor to Abundant Life owns a company known for environmental violations.  This film was deeply upsetting to me because it grapples with ideas of despair and hope (I really struggle with the darkness in the world right now and sometimes I lose hope) but the ambiguous ending can be interpreted as either damnation or salvation.  My friend and I had different reactions but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it and, for that reason, I believe it is one of the best films of the year.  It is not easy to watch but I recommend it.

Note:  Just give Ethan Hawke the Oscar right now.

On Chesil Beach

I am a huge fan of Ian McEwan in general and of his novella On Chesil Beach in particular so I have been impatiently waiting for the film adaptation of it to hit SLC theaters.  It has finally been released here so I saw it yesterday afternoon and I found it to be beautiful and incredibly moving.  Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle play Florence and Edward, a young couple recently married spending their honeymoon at a hotel by the sea.  They are both inexperienced and woefully uniformed about intimacy and as they awkwardly work up to doing the deed there are flashbacks of the two of them meeting and falling in love.  The tragedy is that they are incredibly passionate people and love each other deeply but in the build up to their wedding night he is embarrassed about his inexperience and she is terrified.  The repressive society in which they live (England in the early 1960s) does little to help their situation.  After a disastrous encounter Florence flees in horror and they have an epic confrontation on the beach which is fraught with emotion and causes Edward to make an impetuous decision.  It is only in retrospect, many years later, that Edward realizes that they could have been happy if they had only been able to talk about it without shame.  The final scene where Florence walks away from Edward as the camera pans out is so heartbreaking.  Ronan is absolutely luminous and gives yet another brilliant performance.  Howle, who plays the young Tony in The Sense of an Ending, is also outstanding (the two roles are very similar).  Usually flashbacks take the tension away from the narrative but here the juxtaposition of seeing Florence and Edward so happy and free with each other in the flashbacks and seeing them so tense and closed off on their wedding night is incredibly poignant.  This movie may not be for everyone because it is quite melancholy but I recommend it for the compelling story and strong lead performances.

Ocean's 8

Last week I saw a Thursday preview of Ocean's 8 and I really enjoyed this stylish and entertaining heist movie.  Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has just been released from prison after five long years during which she has planned the ultimate heist.  She meets up with her former partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and they begin forming a crew to steal a $150 million necklace which will be worn by actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala.  Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) is a down on her luck designer recruited to dress Daphne, Tammy (Sarah Paulson) is a suburban mom who comes out of retirement to fence the stolen diamonds, Anita (Mindy Kaling) is a jewelry maker who agrees to break down the necklace into smaller pieces, Nine Ball (Rihanna) is a hacker who can infiltrate the security system at the Met, and Constance (Awkwafina) is a street hustler needed to create a commotion at the gala.  All of these actresses are outstanding and they all have individual moments to shine in this movie.  I especially enjoyed Bonham Carter in the kind of eccentric role with which she excels and Anne Hathaway is clearly having a blast with her role as an insecure celebrity (the way they get her to choose Weil as her designer is hilarious). They look amazing with one fabulous costume after another, especially at the Met Gala which is so much fun (I loved the celebrity cameos).  However, these individual moments don't really add up to a great whole.  I found the heist to be rather bland because the stakes weren't that high.  They use high-tech gadgets for everything and actual problems (which are few and far between) are solved very conveniently.  Also, the references to Danny Ocean, from the original trilogy, seem shoehorned in and are not really necessary.  This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it because there is definitely a lot of fun to be had.  It provides exactly what you would expect from the franchise and I recommend it for the cast and the clothes!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Producers

Last night I went to a screening of The Producers (which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary) as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series.  I have seen the stage musical many times but not the movie so I was excited to see it on the big screen.  Zero Mostel plays Max Bialystock, a once great theatrical producer down on his luck, and Gene Wilder plays Leo Bloom, his neurotic accountant.  When Bloom mentions that Bialystock would make more money with a flop, they become partners and come up with the perfect plan: find the worst play ever written, Springtime for Hitler written by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), hire the worst director on Broadway, the flamboyant Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt), and hire the worst actor, a hippie named Lorenzo Saint DuBois (Dick Shawn).  Of course the show becomes the toast of Broadway so Bialystock and Bloom produce Prisoners of Love while serving their sentence at the state penitentiary.  This was so much fun because there is nothing better than an overwrought Gene Wilder!  He is particularly funny in this movie and the scene with his blue blankie had everyone in the theater laughing out loud!  Mars is also hilarious, especially when he watches Springtime for Hitler performed, and Andreas Voutsinas is an absolute hoot as Roger’s assistant Carmen Ghia.  While I really enjoyed seeing this on the big screen, I think I prefer the stage musical.  I can appreciate how groundbreaking this was for 1968 but, to me, the musical is much more irreverent!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Last night I went to see Upgrade, a movie that I wouldn't normally see but one I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would.  In a dystopian future where houses, cars, and even soldiers are automated, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are attacked by cyborgs.  Asha is killed and Grey is paralyzed in the attack but a reclusive CEO of a tech company (Harrison Gilbertson) offers to implant a computer chip in Grey's spine to give him back the use of his limbs.  This computer chip, called STEM, is sentient and has the ability to talk to Grey and take over his body when the need arises (this provides many comedic moments).  Grey uses his enhanced abilities to track down his wife's killers and unravels a conspiracy with a wild twist at the end.  The characterization is completely over the top and the acting is laughably bad but I really enjoyed this movie.  The premise is really interesting and, if you think about it, it gives a subtle message about the role of technology in our lives and how we become slaves to it rather than vice versa.  But, honestly, don't think about it too much!  What makes this movie so much fun is the action.  There are some great fight sequences and a fantastic car chase.  This movie has a kind of Blade Runner and Terminator vibe to it that I really dug.  My fifteen year old self would have loved sneaking into the basement to watch this movie on HBO at 2:00 am (I watched Blade Runner and Terminator countless times on HBO at 2:00 am) and I think it will eventually became a cult classic just like those movies!
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