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

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Philadelphia Story

While I have seen a production of the play upon which the film is based, I had never seen The Philadelphia Story until it was screened yesterday as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series.  I'm not sure why I had never seen it before because Cary Grant is one of my very favorite actors and who doesn't love Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn?  I absolutely loved this lively drawing room comedy!  Socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is about to marry George Kitterage (John Howard), a respectable if boring self-made man.  On the eve of her wedding her ne'er-do-well ex-husband Dexter Haven (Grant) shows up with a reporter, Macauley "Mike" Connor (Stewart), and photographer, Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey), to disrupt the proceedings.  Tracy eventually finds herself torn between Dexter, Mike, and George but first she must figure out who she is before she can figure out who she should marry!  Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart are so well-suited for their roles and give wonderful and engaging performances but, in my opinion, Virginia Weidler steals the show as Tracy's teenage sister Dinah, especially during the scene when she is showing off for Mike and Liz.  The beautiful interiors and elegant costumes are perfect for a fun bit of escapism.  The script is incredibly intelligent, sophisticated, and witty, filled with one-liners delivered at lightening speed.  I'm not a huge fan of romantic comedies but there were many times when I laughed out loud, as did many people in my screening.  In my opinion this film is just about perfect and I am so glad that I was able to see it on the big screen!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther

Last night, after a very challenging week, I had the chance to see a Thursday preview of the latest entry in the MCU franchise, Black Panther, and it was so much fun!  There was not an empty seat in the giant IMAX theater and the crowd was boisterous, to say the least!  More importantly, this movie is absolutely awesome!  After the death of his father, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda, an advanced African nation due to plentiful supplies of an alien metal called vibranium, to become king.  He also gains superhuman abilities by ingesting an herb filled with the vibranium.  Soon after, there is a challenger to the throne who wants to use vibranium-enhanced weapons to fight oppression around the world.  In my opinion, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is the best Marvel villain to date because, while he is absolutely ruthless, he is not entirely unsympathetic.  After an epic battle with Black Panther there is a moment of incredible pathos between the two characters that is so refreshing to see in a superhero movie.  While it is most definitely an origin story, I found it to be very compelling with complex character development not just for T'Challa but for all of the characters.  I especially liked Shuri (Letitia Wright), T'Challa's younger sister who is almost like Q in the James Bond movies because she creates all of the amazing gadgets for him to use.  The world building in this movie is spectacular!  Wakanda is a futuristic country and the visual effects are absolutely dazzling!  The action sequences are a lot of fun and I particularly loved the car chase through the streets of Busan because one of the cars is driven by remote control and a battle involving armored rhinos!  Boseman is so charismatic in the lead role but everyone in the all-star cast (Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker) is outstanding. Andy Serkis gives an over the top performance as a South African arms dealer trying to sell weapons enhanced with vibranium and Martin Freeman has a fun role as a CIA agent.  I loved this movie and I highly recommend it!  In fact, it might just be my favorite superhero movie yet because it is as thought-provoking as it is fun to watch!  Marvel has certainly set the bar very high for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Death Cure

Yesterday I went to see Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the final installment of movies based on the popular YA novels by James Dashner.  Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Brenda (Rosa Salazar) must infiltrate W.C.K.D.'s headquarters in the heavily fortified "Last City" to save Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and the rest of the immune subjects from the torture they are undergoing to develop a cure for the Flare.  Thomas must reconcile his feelings for Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and her betrayal as he faces Janson (Aidan Gillen) one final time.  Honestly, I found this movie to be unbelievably repetitive because it was basically a two hour rescue mission with nothing new added to the narrative.  I think they could have added 20 minutes to The Scorch Trials and that would have been a satisfying conclusion to the story.  I didn't even find the action sequences to be all that compelling because we just see characters running through city streets and corridors with debris falling all around them and soldiers, with spectacularly bad aim, shooting at them.  There are also way too many convenient rescues with minor characters showing up from out of nowhere at just the right moment.  The two best sequences happen very early on when the Gladers hijack a train transporting immune children to W.C.K.D. headquarters and when the three main characters fight off a group of "Cranks" infected with the Flare in a tunnel and then it becomes really boring.  The bottom line is that this movie is only for those of you who, like me, are compulsive enough to want to finish out the trilogy.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Get Out

I have now seen all of the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture (click the title for my commentaries on Phantom Thread, The Post, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Dunkirk).  For some reason I missed seeing Get Out when it was initially released but, luckily, Megaplex Theatres are screening all of the Best Picture nominees and I had a chance to see it last night.  Get Out is one of the best psychological thrillers that I have seen in quite some time and, if you haven't had a chance to see it, don't miss it while it is in theaters now!  Rose (Allison Williams) invites her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to spend the weekend at her wealthy parents' secluded estate on a lake.  Her father Dean (Bradley Whitford), mother Missy (Catherine Keener), and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) all make awkward attempts to put him at ease.  He soon notices that the black cook and caretaker (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson, respectively) are acting very strangely which puts him on guard.  Missy, a psychotherapist, offers to hypnotize him to help him stop smoking but the hypnosis is unsettling to him.  When the family holds a party, all of the guests, most of whom are elderly or impaired in some way, admire him for his physique or abilities.  Feeling a sense of dread, he asks Rose to leave but he eventually learns the real reason he has been brought to the estate.  This movie is deeply unsettling, but in the best way possible!  The tension builds and builds to a final resolution that I was not expecting (I don't know how I was able to avoid the spoilers).  The script is absolutely brilliant, very effectively combining elements of social commentary with horror which makes for an edge-of-your-seat survival thriller!  Kaluuya gives an excellent performance, especially in a scene where he remembers his mother's death.  This movie is funny, scary, and thought-provoking and I highly recommend it!

Note:  This year I really liked, and gave positive reviews to, all of the nominees.  But if the Academy were to ask for my opinion I would give the Oscar to Call Me By Your Name for its beautiful portrayal of first love!

Friday, February 2, 2018


I've been anticipating the movie Hostiles since I saw the first trailer but, since it opened in SLC during Sundance, I had to wait until last night to see it!  Christian Bale plays Joseph Blocker, a hardened Captain in the U.S. Cavalry stationed at Ft. Berringer in New Mexico in 1892.  He is nearing retirement so he is given a final assignment to escort a dying Cheyenne chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family, who have been held prisoner at the fort, back to their tribal lands in Montana.  Blocker bitterly refuses because Yellow Hawk is responsible for the deaths of many of his fellow officers but, when threatened with court martial and the loss of his pension, he grudgingly concedes but takes every opportunity to humiliate the chief as they begin the journey.  Soon they encounter Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a woman living on the frontier whose entire family has been massacred by Comanche warriors (this sequence reminded me a great deal of The Searchers) and they convince her to join them.  Their journey is perilous (everything happens to them reminding me of The Revenant) and the only means of survival is through cooperation which eventually leads to acceptance and understanding.  A subplot involving a Cavalry officer (Ben Foster) being escorted to trial for murder is introduced midway through the film which serves to emphasize the atrocities committed by Blocker against Native American tribes and Bale does an outstanding job of portraying his inner torment.  The narrative is incredibly predictable but having a deeply flawed character ultimately find redemption is a theme that always works for me.  The cinematography is absolutely stunning with wide shots of beautiful scenery and, as I mentioned, Christian Bale gives an incredible performance as does Rosamund Pike.  I do have two criticisms:  the pacing is extremely slow and meditative and I would have liked to have had more character development for the Cheyenne in order to see their point of view.  However, I would definitely recommend this film.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Phantom Thread

The Academy Awards for Best Picture were announced last week and I've seen all but two of them (click on the title to read my commentaries for The Post, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Dunkirk).  Since I always like to see all of the nominees before the big ceremony I decided to cross the remaining two off my list this week.  I started with Phantom Thread (which opened in SLC during Sundance) last night.  In the glamorous fashion world of post-war London, the House of Woodcock is run by Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), a difficult, self-indulgent, meticulous, and fastidious designer, and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville).  Women come and go in the self-proclaimed confirmed bachelor's life and he has Cyril dismiss them whenever they interfere with his genius.  Then he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a free-spirited waitress who becomes his muse and, eventually, his lover.  She immediately upsets his well-ordered world and it seems that she, too, will be dismissed but Alma gives as good as she gets in a twist that I honestly did not see coming.  It is a film that, I suspect, will not appeal to everyone because it is more character driven than plot driven but I was absolutely enthralled by the constant volleying back and forth between the three characters for dominance.  There is a scene where Reynolds takes Alma's measurements which, in my mind, is absolutely brilliant because it reveals each of the character's motivations without a word.  Reynolds is consumed by his need to reinvent Alma, Cyril is coolly assessing her rival for Reynolds' attention, and Alma is hopeful that she will become more than just a model.  I love Daniel Day-Lewis and he gives a mesmerizing performance (rumored to be his last).  In one scene he is so incredibly debonair and charming that it is easy to see how a woman could be completely undone by just a smile but in the next he is a petulant child complaining about too much noise at breakfast and his steely gaze over the top of his glasses could reduce a woman to tears.  He is simply riveting in every scene and I am sure that I will have to own a copy just to watch him work his magic over and over again.  Krieps and Manville are also excellent, particularly in a scene where the two women have a battle of wills over a doctor's visit.  The film is gorgeous to look at and I loved the swelling piano and strings of the score.  Again, this film is not for everyone but it is right up my alley and I loved it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Post

Since yesterday was a day off from school I decided to see The Post and it is simply marvelous.  Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is the only female publisher of a newspaper after taking over the Washington Post from her deceased husband.  She feels inadequate and often defers to the powerful men around her, including her editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks).  A source gives the New York Times documents chronicling the clandestine policies of four administrations in Vietnam.  When the New York Times receives an injunction against publishing any more stories, a reporter from the Washington Post goes after the source and also receives the documents.  Katharine Graham must balance her friendship with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) along with her fears about the reaction of investors after taking the newspaper public not to mention the possibility of committing a felony against the freedom of the press.  In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, she overrules all of the powerful men around her and decides to publish.  This movie is slow and the Supreme Court case upholding the freedom of the press is almost an afterthought but there are a few things that make this film absolutely brilliant.  First, it taps into the zeitgeist of our current times.  Although set in 1971 this movie may as well be about the attempts of the press to hold our current administration accountable.  Second, I love that the film emphasizes the difficulties faced by a woman in a position of power.  Time and time again we see Graham enter a room filled entirely of men and there is a particular scene where Graham is relegated to the living room with all of the wives of powerful men while they stay in the dining room to discuss business that really angered me.  However, the powerful scene where Graham tells her Chairman of the Board that the paper belongs to her and a scene where she walks down the steps of the Supreme Court with women looking to her as a role model made me want to cheer out loud!  Finally, the performances of both Streep and Hanks are just superb as are those in the all-star ensemble cast including Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, and Bradley Whitford among others.  Steven Spielberg has done it again and I highly recommend this movie!

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the first time on the big screen in honor of its 70th Anniversary.  I love being able to see these classic movies as they were meant to be seen and this one about greed and betrayal is spectacular.  Frank Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtain (Tim Holt) are down and out in Tampico, Mexico in the 1920s when they meet an old prospector (Walter Huston) full of wild stories about the fortune to be made in the mountains.  Dobbs and Curtain decide to put in with him and they endure many hardships before finding the mother lode.  Even after acquiring enough gold for all three of them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives they still want more and soon begin to distrust each other.  When a stranger happens upon their mine they contemplate killing him rather than take him on as a partner.  After fighting off a group of bandits they decide to close down the mine but Dobbs turns against them in one of the most ironic endings I've ever seen.  This movie does move at a very slow pace but the point is not really the adventure but what the adventure does to the men and this theme is very compelling.  Bogart gives an incredible performance as a man slowly driven mad by his own greed and I also really enjoyed Huston as the grizzled old prospector, especially when he does his famous jig when they discover gold.  This movie also includes one of the most famous lines when a bandit says, "We don't need no badges.  I don't have to show you any stinking badges."  My Dad quotes this line to me all of the time but I never knew what it meant.  Now I do!  This is a fantastic movie and I recommend seeing it on the big screen.  You have another opportunity on Jan. 17 (go here for tickets).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Call Me By Your Name

Several of my friends saw Call Me By Your Name at Sundance last year and were blown away by it so I have been eagerly anticipating its wide release for what seems like such a long time!  I finally got to see it last night because Salt Lake Film Society brought it to SLC a week earlier than planned.  This film left me an emotional mess and I'm pretty sure that I will be seeing it several more times.  Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending the summer in Northern Italy with his family when Oliver (Armie Hammer), a doctoral student, comes to stay to assist his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is a professor of archaeology.  Elio develops feelings for Oliver and awkwardly tries to gauge his feelings, even beginning a relationship with a girl (Esther Garrel) to make him jealous.  The scenes between Elio and Oliver are long and drawn out but they are fraught with so much tension (Chalamet and Hammer have unbelievable chemistry) until they finally begin a physical relationship.  Eventually, Oliver must go home which leaves Elio brokenhearted but, in what is arguably the best scene in the film, his father tells him that it is better to feel sad than to feel nothing at all and that he should be grateful to have had such a special relationship because they are rare.  In my opinion this is one of the best coming of age films about first love ever made and, if you have ever loved someone that you can't be with, you definitely need to see it.  I started crying when Elio says goodbye to Oliver at the train station and I was a complete mess by the end credits. Timothee Chalamet is absolutely brilliant in this role and, as much as Gary Oldman impressed me as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, I think Chalamet is deserving of the Oscar for the final shot alone.  His quiet restraint as he cries after hearing some devastating news simply shattered me.  The cinematography is beautiful, almost making the lush countryside a character itself, and, while I loved the songs by Sufjan Stevens which are so evocative, the use of "Love My Way" by The Psychedelic Furs pretty much did me in (it is a favorite from my youth and many memories came rushing back to me of high school).  It is an amazing film and I highly recommend it!

Note:  If I had seen this before the end of the year, my Top Ten list would be different.  This film is definitely up there with A Ghost Story and Personal Shopper.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Room

After watching The Disaster Artist a few weeks ago, The Room became a must see!  Luckily I had the opportunity to see Tommy Wiseau's epic masterpiece on the big screen last night.  This movie is an absolute riot and I saw it with a loud and rowdy crowd which made watching it so much fun!  The story is essentially a love triangle between Johnny (Wiseau), his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), and his fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle) with a revolving door of characters who live in their same building.  The  plot is meandering, the dialogue is completely over the top (it was supposedly inspired by Rebel Without a Cause and the plays of Tennessee Williams), and the acting is stilted and tone deaf.  There are innumerable scenes of characters having awkward sex with strange moaning sounds and there are wide shots of San Francisco with melodramatic music in between every scene.  The lines "I don't want to talk about it" and "Don't worry about it" are repeated endlessly and the audience in my screening began yelling them out with the actors!  In fact, the audience laughed uproariously at just about everything that happened and applauded when Johnny spoke the immortal line, "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"   I don't know when I have had more fun watching a movie so, in a strange way, Tommy Wiseau really did create something epic.  I can honestly say that it is the best bad movie I have ever seen and I recommend it highly (for laughs).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I, Tonya

My first movie of 2018 was I, Tonya and, boy, did I pick a good one to start the year!  It is a dark comedy about the real life Olympic figure skater who rose to notoriety through the actions of the idiots surrounding her.  The narrative is told though present day interviews of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and her estranged mother LaVona (a brilliant Allison Janney) interspersed with flashbacks to events in Tonya's life, including the "incident."  The fact that all three of them are unreliable narrators makes this one wild ride and I loved it when the characters broke the fourth wall to make snarky comments to the audience about the goings-on.  This movie is very funny and over the top but I also found Harding to be an incredibly sympathetic character (which, remembering this incident vividly, I was not expecting).  Tonya went from one horribly abusive relationship with her mother to another one with her husband.  She was an incredibly gifted skater but, because she couldn't afford to maintain the image the U.S. Figure Skating Association wanted to project (she sewed her own costumes), she was often judged unfairly.  Her environment was so unstable that it really is a wonder that she was able to rise above it all to compete at the highest levels of her sport.  I was really struck by the scene of a young Tonya begging her father to take her with him when he leaves her mother and the scene where Tonya begs the judge to let her do jail time rather than ban her from competitive skating for life is very poignant.  However, the scene that resonated with me the most was just before her long program at the Lillehammer Olympics when the lace on her skate breaks and she is forced to begin or be disqualified.  Her panic and despair was difficult for me to watch because I remember thinking that she was such a prima donna when I watched this event live.  It is so easy to judge someone without knowing all of the circumstances.  Robbie gives an amazing performance (she even learned how to skate!) but Janney bats it out of the park by giving a monstrous character just a bit of humanity (the scene where she watches Tonya skate at the U.S. Championships on TV is brilliant).  I highly recommend this movie!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Disaster Artist

There are good movies and bad movies and then there are movies that are so bad they become good and gain a cult following.  For me that movie is Flash Gordon but for many people it is The Room, which still has midnight screenings around the country and audience participation that rivals The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  On New Year's Eve I saw The Disaster Artist which is about the making of The Room and it is absolutely hilarious.  Not only is it an homage to the relentless pursuit of your dream against all odds and despite what everyone tells you, but it is also an affecting story of a friendship.  Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class and they soon become friends after bonding over the movie Rebel Without a Cause.  Tommy is eccentric (to say the least) and of an indeterminate age with mysterious origins (he says he is from Louisiana) and a seemingly limitless source of income but he somehow convinces Greg to move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of acting.  After much rejection Tommy decides to make is own movie as a vehicle for Greg.   He writes the script, buys his own equipment rather than renting it, hires a production team, auditions actors, and begins filming in some highly amusing scenes.  The shoot is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is Tommy's inability to remember his lines (which he wrote), but somehow the movie is completed and given a premiere (paid for by Tommy).  The two friends are estranged at this point but Greg comes to the premiere.  When the movie isn't received as Tommy intended, there is a touching moment when Greg tells him that not many people get to live out a dream and to be proud of what he has created.  I laughed and laughed at this movie (as did everyone in my packed screening) but I also really enjoyed the message of pursuing your dreams.  I loved Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron is characters in The Room and Seth Rogen (hit or miss with me) as the exasperated script supervisor but James Franco does a brilliant job portraying such a bizarre character without turning him into a caricature.  It was a lot of fun to see side by side shots of scenes from The Room with the same scenes filmed for this movie during the credits.  Last New Year's Eve I saw the film Fences and I can definitely say that seeing The Disaster Artist was an infinitely more enjoyable experience!  I highly recommend it!

Note:  I haven't seen The Room but now that I've seen The Disaster Artist, I really want to.  Fathom Events is sponsoring a special screening tomorrow (go here for info) and I can't wait!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Molly's Game

The next film on my winter break movie list was Molly's Game, which tells the true story of the rise and fall of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain).  Most of my friends really liked this movie (and it's getting quite a bit of Oscar buzz) but, to be honest, I wasn't very keen on it.  After a devastating accident ends her amateur skiing career, Molly is at loose ends and decides to move to Los Angeles where she becomes the personal assistant of a wannabe Hollywood player.  Among her other duties, she is tasked with setting up and running his weekly poker game with a well-known actor and other notables who tip her extravagantly.  She decides to learn everything there is to know about poker and, when her boss treats her unfairly, she woos the actor (reportedly based on Tobey Maguire) to a game that she runs.  She makes a fortune until a few incidents lose her the game.  She decides to take what she has learned and start a new game in New York which eventually includes members from the Russian mob.  Her involvement with mob leads to an arrest by the FBI so she hires Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to represent her.  He becomes exasperated with her because she won't disclose information about the participants in order to clear herself.  This film reminded me a lot of The Big Short because there are some amusing montages and onscreen descriptions of poker but, for me, the stakes (pun intended) weren't high enough to make the story as compelling.  Jessica Chastain is receiving a lot of attention for this role but I found her performance (and endless voice-over narration) to be very monotone and devoid of emotion as she spits out the words as fast as she can (a criticism I also have with Jesse Eisenberg's performance in The Social Network).   I also have a problem with Sorkin's ultimate portrayal of Molly as a victim of the men in her life.  After the first two acts show Molly as an intelligent and resourceful entrepreneur, there is a scene with her estranged father (Kevin Costner) near the end of the film where he tells her that all of her behavior has been a reaction to him.  Ugh!  This scene invalidates the theme of the entire movie!  I didn't really like Molly's Game but I suspect that many people will.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Pitch Perfect 3

I loved Pitch Perfect and I liked Pitch Perfect 2.  I had so much fun watching both of them with my niece so I decided we should finish the trilogy together and see Pitch Perfect 3 despite the fact that the trailer looked terrible and the reviews were abysmal.  I love hanging out with my niece so it wasn't a wasted afternoon but, you guys, this movie is aca-awful!  The former Barden Bellas have not adjusted well to life in the real world and want another chance to sing together.  They get an opportunity to perform as part of a USO tour of Europe with other bands (not a cappella groups, by the way) who are each competing to be the opening act for DJ Khaled (playing himself).   What will happen to the group when DJ Khaled only wants to sign Becca (Anna Kendrick) without the other girls?  Do we even care?  All of the other girls (except for Fat Amy - more on her later) have been relegated to cameo roles so it hardly matters how they feel about this. Everything that was fun about the first movie feels so contrived in this one.  We have the inevitable riff-off with the other bands on tour, we have a few love interests (a soldier assigned to protect the girls played by Matt Lanter and DJ Khaled's producer played by Guy Burnet) which seem to go nowhere, and we even have John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) following them around making a documentary about the Bellas.  Add to this an inexplicable plot involving a reunion between Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and her absentee father (John Lithgow) who kidnaps the Bellas to gain control of her heretofore unknown million dollar trust fund.  Fat Amy becomes an action hero saving the girls from an exploding yacht.  No!  Just no!  Lithgow is absolutely horrible in this role and, as far as I am concerned, Australia should lodge a formal complaint over his accent.  DJ Khaled isn't much better.  In fact, at one point Tashena leaned over and said, "You can tell he isn't an actor!"  All of this might be forgivable if the songs are fun but most of them use instruments which kind of defeats the whole point of the movie.  Ugh!  You know the movie is bad when your niece tells you that she had fun any way!  Give this a miss!

Friday, January 5, 2018

All the Money in the World

After watching Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with the kiddos I saw All the Money in the World later that evening.  This is another movie that pleasantly surprised me because, honestly, I didn't have a lot of interest in seeing it until the controversy with Kevin Spacey resulted in re-shoots with Christopher Plummer in the role Spacey was to have played.  This piqued my curiosity!  I would actually like to see the film with Spacey's interpretation of the role because I think Plummer is absolutely brilliant!  In fact, it is his performance, along with that of Michelle Williams, that elevates a pretty standard narrative about a kidnapping into a tense and compelling movie.  Based on true events, J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped from Rome in 1973 and the kidnappers demand $17 million in ransom.  His mother Gail (Williams) does not have the money (after eschewing a large divorce settlement in return for sole custody of her children) but his grandfather J. Paul Getty (Plummer) is the richest man in the world and that amount is basically pocket change.  Gail pleads with Getty to pay the ransom but he refuses, sending his henchman, former CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), in to negotiate instead.  There are some interesting twists and turns along the way leading to a resolution that is a bit far-fetched but thrilling, nonetheless.  I loved the 1970s verisimilitude and all of the wide shots in opulent locations.  Michelle Williams is excellent and I especially enjoyed her transformation from a young woman awed by the Getty wealth into a mother who won't back down from a bully who is more powerful than she is.  Getty is an incredibly unsympathetic character and Plummer plays him with such menace.  There is a particular scene where Getty, after refusing to pay his grandson's ransom, spends twice that amount on a painting of a Madonna and child.  It is a chilling portrait of greed that gave me goosebumps.  I highly recommend this movie!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Last Wednesday I took Sean and Tashena to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and, to be honest, it was a pleasant surprise because I really enjoyed it.  Spencer (Alex Wolff), a bit of a nerd, gets detention for writing a research paper for a football player known as "Fridge" (Ser'Darius Blain), who also gets detention, Bethany (Madison Iseman), the selfie queen, gets detention for using her phone during a quiz, and Martha (Morgan Turner), a shy bookworm, gets detention for refusing to participate in PE.  While serving detention, they find an old video game called Jumanji and decide to play.  Spencer chooses Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a daring archaeologist, as his avatar while "Fridge" chooses Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short zoologist, Bethany chooses Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Osborn (Jack Black), an overweight cartographer, and Martha chooses Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a martial arts expert.  They are transported into the game and must return a precious stone stolen by Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), a big game hunter, to a giant statue of a jaguar.  It is an absolute hoot.  The action sequences are great but I found the story, which has a few twists, to be compelling.  What makes this movie so much fun is that the characters have the physical attributes of their avatars but they keep their own personalities.  This creates a lot of comedic moments, especially as the nerdy Sheldon adjusts to having muscles, the self-absorbed Bethany gets used to being a man (who has to pee), the jock Fridge realizes that he is intelligent, and Martha learns how to flirt (I laughed and laughed at that sequence).  Sean and Tashena loved it and laughed through the whole thing!  I laughed quite a bit, too, so this is a movie to take the kids to that you will also enjoy.  I highly recommend this for a really good time at the movies!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Greatest Showman

I actually saw The Greatest Showman twice over winter break.  I took my Mom and my nephew (who absolutely loves Zendaya) the day after Christmas and then, because my Mom asked to see it again, I went with her and my sister Marilyn a few days later.  I love this movie so much and, apparently, so do a lot of people.  During the first screening, the theater was totally full (we had to sit on the first row) and after the second screening, at 10:00 am mind you, the entire theater applauded at the end!  It is a big movie musical with actors who can actually sing and dance!  It tells a romanticized version of how P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) came to create the Greatest Show on Earth beginning with his impoverished childhood as the son of a tailor.  He meets Charity (Michelle Williams), the daughter of a wealthy client, and promises her he will give her the same life she gives up for him.  After losing his mundane job, he takes a gamble and recruits a group of misfits and unusual performers to create his circus.  After some financial success, he desires respectability and hires Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron), a playwright with a trust fund, to help with publicity.  Philip falls in love with a trapeze artist (Zendaya) to the chagrin of his wealthy parents.  Barnum eventually meets opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and decides to promote her on tour which causes him to neglect both the circus and his family.  After losing everything, both Philip and Barnum must learn what is really important.  Many critics have complained that this movie sanitizes the truth about P.T. Barnum's reputed cruelty to his performers but that didn't really matter to me because I enjoy feel good stories where everyone breaks out into song.  The songs are fantastic and I especially love "A Million Dreams" and "Come Alive."  The choreography is spectacular, particularly the aerial sequence in "Rewrite the Stars."  Jackman, Efron, and Zendaya are well-known performers but I was quite impressed by Michelle Williams and I loved her song, "Tightrope."  As I mentioned, the message of this movie is so positive, especially about people who are different, and the number "This Is Me" by the bearded lady (Keala Settle) is an anthem for misfits everywhere!  I cannot recommend this movie enough!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Darkest Hour

Winter break is now over and I am back at school but, like last year, I happily spent much of it in a darkened theater.  In the next few weeks I will review all of the movies that I saw and I will start with Darkest Hour.  As Western Europe is collapsing under the onslaught of German tanks, the narrative begins with Winston Churchill's (Gary Oldman) appointment as Prime Minister of Great Britain and follows his first pivotal months in office as he faces opposition in his own party from politicians who want a negotiated peace with Germany and a King who does not support him to the miraculous evacuation of Dunkirk.  I really liked the stirring speeches given to Parliament (the "We shall fight them on the beaches" speech is absolutely electrifying) and to the public on the radio juxtaposed with moments of private doubt with his fiery wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his long-suffering secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).  It is also interesting to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the decisions that impacted the world were made in underground bunkers and I absolutely loved the scenes where Churchill talks to the ordinary citizens in the underground.  Even though this film involves a lot of back room discussions, it was surprisingly tense and my attention never wavered.  Oldman gives an absolutely brilliant performance in the title role which is worthy of all of the accolades he has won and will, undoubtedly, win.  Many might find the pace to be slow and it does require some intellectual engagement but I highly recommend this film to history aficionados everywhere.

Note:  I find it interesting that the evacuation of Dunkirk was the subject of three films this year (this as well as Dunkirk and Their Finest).

Friday, December 29, 2017

Favorite Movies of 2017

I actually saw over one hundred new releases in the theater this year so I thought I would compile my top ten favorites of 2017 (click on the link to go to my original review of each movie). 

I loved this dark comedy because it allowed two incredibly compelling characters to not only express their rage over untenable situations but to also find some sort of forgiveness with each other.  It really struck a chord with me because I find narratives about tragically flawed people behaving badly but ultimately finding redemption to be incredibly cathartic (it is a theme in many of my all-time favorite movies).  Both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell give tour de force performances and I thought about this movie long after I left the theater.

What I loved most about this film is that, in an age of conformity, a group of misfits is able to triumph over a truly despicable authority figure and that, ultimately, love wins!  All of the characters mirror the otherness of the humanoid they are trying to protect and I think it is a beautiful exploration of what it means to be different and that the monsters are not who we think they are.  Sally Hawkins gives a remarkable physical performance that it is worthy of all of the accolades she is receiving.

This film is another that stayed with me long after I left the theater.  I loved the juxtaposition of people living on the margins of society right next to Disney World, the Happiest Place on Earth.  In a nation of great abundance, what do we do for the people who fall through the cracks?  A young girl chooses to turn the tragic circumstances of her life into a daily adventure and I found myself rooting for her young mother, who despite some major character flaws and some questionable behavior, tries her best to do what she can for her daughter with limited resources.  Brooklynn Prince gives a truly affecting performance as does Willem Dafoe.

This movie is a visual masterpiece that exceeded my expectations in every way (which is very rare).  I've always been a fan of the original Blade Runner and, in this latest installment, Denis Villeneuve continues Ridley Scott's world-building to its logical progression to tell a compelling story of what it means to be human.  There are some scenes that resonated very powerfully with me and I loved Ryan Gosling's performance.

6.  Dunkirk
This movie was a truly immersive experience for me that literally left me breathless with brilliant cinematography that put the audience in the middle of the action, whether in an aerial dogfight or on a sinking ship.  It is a powerful portrayal of one of the most defining moments in history and the subject is survival itself.  The action is unrelenting and the three different timelines kept me completely engaged with the story.  I loved the small acts of heroism with standout performances by Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh.

5.  Logan
I enjoyed this film much more than I anticipated.  I think it resonated so deeply with me because it is such a raw portrayal of a tortured man living with regrets who is ultimately redeemed by a young girl who faces the same demons.  The tone is much more somber than the other movies in the franchise, and much more violent, but the message is one of hope about people who are different and the final resolution left me with tears in my eyes.  Hugh Jackman gives a highly nuanced performance that, in my opinion, should generate some attention this awards season.

4.  Lady Bird
As a huge fan of Greta Gerwig's particular brand of humor I knew that I would really love this film.  It is a quirky coming of age story that perfectly captures the narcissism of youth as a teenager navigates her senior year and her combative relationship with her mother.  I had a deep emotional connection to the character of Lady Bird and Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in the role as is Laurie Metcalf as her mother.  It made me want to call my mother after I walked out of the theater.

In my opinion Wonder Woman is the best superhero movie, ever.  I loved everything about it!  Diana is such a dynamic character and Gal Gadot brilliantly captures both her strength and naivete.  World War I has always been of particular interest to me and setting the narrative during the war to end all wars worked very well because her struggle is against war itself and man's inclination to evil.  I loved that her relationship with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and his capacity for love is what redeems mankind in her eyes.  I may or may not have had a tear in my eye during the No Man's Land scene!

This film is a fascinating exploration of a young woman's search for identity.  The juxtaposition between the spiritual and the material is brilliantly portrayed as Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who is a medium and a personal shopper for a celebrity, is haunted by a ghost and a stalker.  I honestly don't know which scenes are more menacing: the ghost in an abandoned house or the stalker's texts to Maureen on the train!  Stewart gives one of the best performances of the year (I find her to be vastly underrated).  I saw this multiple times in the theater and I've watched my copy countless times because this is a film that makes me think!

This film was easily my favorite at Sundance this year and that status was solidified after viewing it again in wide release.  To be sure, there are long sustained shots without much action but I found them to be strangely compelling.  The cinematography is beautiful and the score is one of the most evocative in recent memory.  The ghost, even completely shrouded in a sheet with eye holes, is an incredibly sympathetic character and I was emotionally invested in his journey.  I loved the theme that attachment to people, places, and things is what holds us back because this is something I think about a lot.  It is a masterpiece and I loved it so much!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Shape of Water

Saturday night I took a break from my regularly scheduled viewings of The Last Jedi to see another film I have been anticipating for months.  The trailers for The Shape of Water were absolutely luminous and I couldn't wait to see it!   It is a fantasy set during the height of the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  A humanoid fish captured in the Amazon is brought to a government research lab in Baltimore by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) to be studied for application in space travel because it can breathe both air and water.  Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at the facility, sees the "asset" and befriends it with hard-boiled eggs and Jazz music.  Soon they become close and Elisa decides to help it escape after the government decides to dissect it for study, enlisting the help of her coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), and a scientist at the facility who has misgivings about the project (Michael Stuhlbarg).  It is a beautiful love story and what I loved about it is that the misfits triumph over conformity.  Strikland is the quintessential soldier in mainstream America with a wife and two children in the suburbs and a Cadillac but he is a despicable character and I loved the symbolism of his decaying fingers.  All of the other characters mirror the otherness of the humanoid.  Giles is a closeted gay man who is also an out of work commercial artist struggling with alcoholism.  Zelda is an African-American woman, downtrodden by an abusive husband, who is too lowly even to merit being questioned by Strickland.  Dr. Hoffstetler is a Soviet spy, disillusioned when ordered by his superiors to kill the humanoid to stop the Americans from getting information.  Elisa is, perhaps, my favorite character because her muteness makes her so isolated and I love that she lives above an old movie theater and watches old movies (the sequence where she and the humanoid reenact an old Busby Berkeley type musical made me smile) to escape her tedious routine.  Sally Hawkins is absolutely brilliant in an entirely physical role.  She conveys so much emotion in just a gaze.  I loved that the entire film seems to be suffused in shades of blue-green and the score is beautiful (Alexandre Desplat can do no wrong in my opinion).  This movie may not be for everyone (nudity, sex, and violence) but I loved it and I highly recommend it!
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