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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Silver Screen Classics: Cool Hand Luke

The next movie in the Silver Screen Classics series was Cool Hand Luke.  It has been a really long time since I first saw it and I was thrilled to see it again on the big screen.  It is awesome to revisit a film and see something new which is what happened to me last night.  I appreciate this film so much more upon a second viewing many years after the first.  Lucas Jackson (Paul Newman) is sentenced to a Georgia road gang after some petty vandalism and disorderly conduct.  He is a devil-may-care sort of guy with a ready smile and a penchant for talking back to the guards.  He wins the respect of his fellow prisoners by standing his ground in a fight, winning a round of poker by bluffing (which is how he gets the nickname "Cool Hand Luke"), eating 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour, and getting a road tarred two hours early.  He becomes a reluctant hero to the men by repeatedly trying to escape but after the third such escape the guards break him with beatings, solitary confinement, and other forms of torture.  When he begs for mercy, the men lose hope in him. After his final attempt to escape, he is shot by the guards but dies with his mischievous grin on his face, thereby giving some hope back to the men.  In my opinion, Luke is a Christ figure who willingly sacrifices himself for the men so they have the will to go on.  He has a dramatic scene in a church at the end of the film where he asks God why he has forsaken him and there is even a Judas figure who betrays him by bringing the police to him and arranging a deal for surrender.  I never really noticed any of that the first time I watched it.  Of course there is the now iconic line, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."  When I mentioned that I would be seeing this film to my Dad, he immediately quoted that line to me!  I loved Paul Newman in this role because he is so charismatic that it is easy to see why the gang comes to admire him so much.  That smile!  I also really enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces in the supporting cast, especially Harry Dean Stanton (who recently passed away), George Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, Ralph Waite, and Wayne Rogers (from TV's M.A.S.H).  It is a true classic and, as ever, I am so happy I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen as it was meant to be seen!

Monday, September 18, 2017

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

September has been Spielberg month for me!  Earlier in the month I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind for its 40th Anniversary, a few weeks ago I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark with the score played live by the Utah Symphony, and I got to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (celebrating its 35th Anniversary) yesterday thanks to the TCM Big Screen Classics series.  Seeing this wonderful movie on the big screen once again was such a delight and I loved every minute of it.  I remember two things very distinctly when I saw this movie for the first time.  The design of the alien was keep very secret until the movie was released and I was so excited to see what E.T. looked like.  I thought he was adorable!  I also remember that my sister threw up during the movie and we always reminded her of this every time we watched our VHS copy of it!  The story of the relationship between an alien accidentally left on Earth and a lonely boy dealing with his parents' separation is so lovely.  There are so many fun and iconic moments in the movie that made me cheer once again (there were many kids in the audience seeing it for the first time who squealed with delight at these same scenes): when Elliott uses Reese's Pieces to lure E.T. out of the woods, when Gertie dresses him up, when Elliott releases all of the frogs at school, when E.T. first says "E.T. phone home," when Elliott's bicycle is lifted in the air on the way to the mountain, and when E.T.'s heart lights up after it appears that he has died.  While E.T. needs Elliott to help him get back home I think Elliott needs E.T. just as much and their goodbye at the end of the movie made me tear up just a little bit!  Like Close Encounters, this movie was just as magical as it was the first time I saw it on the big screen and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do so again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


I debated with myself back and forth about whether I should see the film mother!  Darren Aronofsky is very hit or miss with me (I liked Black Swan and couldn't stop thinking about it for days but I thought Requiem for a Dream was one of the worst films I've ever seen) and the polarizing reviews did little to help me make up my mind.  Ultimately, I decided to see it Saturday afternoon and, now that I have, I honestly don't know what to make of it.  I appreciate the message about destroying Mother Earth that Aronofsky is practically hitting the audience over the head with and the Biblical allegories about creation are quite brilliant but many of the images on the screen upset me deeply.  The first two-thirds of the film are about a writer (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who live in a house, which they have rebuilt after a devastating fire, in a remote and isolated area.  A man (Ed Harris), thinking that their house is a bed and breakfast, arrives and is invited to stay by the writer despite his wife's objections.  Next, a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and completely takes over the house, even trying to see a room which is forbidden and breaking a priceless artifact.  Soon, their sons arrive (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) and, arguing over an inheritance, one kills the other.  More and more people come to the house and begin destroying it until the wife demands that the writer force everyone to leave.  The references to the Garden of Eden are obvious and, despite my extreme frustration at the wife's subservience and powerlessness, it worked for me as a taut and intense psychological thriller.  The close-up camera shots which track Lawrence's character from room to room as she becomes increasingly more desperate create a tension which just keeps building and building.  Pfeiffer gives one of her best performances to date, dominating each scenes she appears in.  In my opinion, the film should have ended there but it doesn't.  The third act descends into a visceral, disturbing, and surreal mess which, at times, made me sick to my stomach.  The Biblical allegories continue but I didn't like the portrayal of God as vain and selfish and His followers as fanatical and destructive (It should be noted that this is my interpretation and others may view it differently).  I don't consider myself to be a very religious person but this just seemed very offensive to me.  I was also disturbed by the portrayal of the destruction of Mother Earth because the way Lawrence's character is treated was too much for me to watch.  There is one particular scene where she is literally thrown to the ground and beaten that had me sobbing and don't get me started on the scenes with her baby, which are horrific  Again, I appreciate the message but the images are so repulsive.  I guess you could say that I really liked mother! until the main character became a mother!

Friday, September 15, 2017

American Assassin

Last night I went to a Thursday preview of American Assassin, based on the novel of the same name by Vince Flynn, and, as a huge fan of the spy genre, I thought it was very standard.  Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) is the victim of a terrorist attack which claims the life of his fiancee.  Consumed by thoughts of revenge, he tries to infiltrate a terrorist cell in Libya which attracts the attention of the CIA Deputy Director (Sanaa Lathan) who then proceeds to recruit him as a black ops agent.  He is sent to train with veteran agent Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) and the two of them are sent on a covert mission to various locations around the world with a mysterious Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to retrieve some plutonium stolen by a rogue mercenary (Taylor Kitsch).  The story has a few interesting twists along the way but it is fairly predictable and more than a little far-fetched.  There are some great action sequences including a fantastic virtual reality training simulation, a car chase through the streets of Rome, a fistfight on a speeding boat, and an epic explosion at sea.  The low lighting and hand-held camera work give it a certain grittiness but I never really felt an edge-of-my-seat tension.  The characters are pretty one-dimensional but O'Brien does a good job as the brooding loner turned operative (I suspect that he will appeal to a certain demographic) and Keaton is an absolute hoot to watch in an over-the-top performance, especially in a scene where he is tortured by a former protege.  This movie is entertaining and fans of the genre will probably like it but it is ultimately forgettable.  There is nothing that we haven't seen a million times before done much better in movies like the Bourne series.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Silver Screen Classics: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the first film in the Silver Screen Classics series, is one of two that I have never seen before, on the big screen or otherwise, so I have really been looking forward to it.  Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explores one pivotal night in the lives of a wealthy Mississippi family who have come together to celebrate the 65th birthday of the patriarch who happens to be dying of cancer.  Over the course of the evening, many different revelations bring the dysfunctional family closer together in some emotionally charged scenes.  Paul Newman plays the alcoholic younger son who wants to relive his glory days as a football star, Elizabeth Taylor plays his sexually frustrated wife, and Burl Ives plays the patriarch known as Big Daddy.  All three give stellar performances but, once again, I was so impressed with Elizabeth Taylor because her character's loneliness is palpable in every scene no matter what what she is saying.  I think she is a much better actress than people give her credit for.  This film is fraught with so much tension but there are also some highly comedic moments.  I laughed every time Madeleine Sherwood, who plays the wife of the older son (known as sisterwoman), was on the screen, especially when she has her bevy of children perform for Big Daddy to convince him to give her husband control of his fortune when he dies.  Her facial expressions are hilarious!  Even though there is not a lot of action, beyond throwing things in the heat of an argument, I was absolutely riveted.  I'm so glad I finally got to see this classic film, especially on the big screen.

Note:  Paul Newman was incredibly handsome in his prime!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Wrath of Khan

In honor of its 35th Anniversary (all of these anniversaries of films that I saw in the theater as a kid are making me feel old), I had the opportunity to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on the big screen last night and I absolutely loved it.  In my opinion it is the best of the original Star Trek movies.  When the starship Reliant surveys a barren planet for its suitability in the Genesis Project, the crew finds Khan (Ricardo Montalban), an old enemy who had been marooned there many years ago.  Seeking revenge against Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), Khan commandeers the Reliant to attack the Enterprise and tries to take Genesis for use as a weapon.  This forces an epic confrontation in which Spock (Leonard Nimoy) sacrifices his life to save the Enterprise (William Shatner, in the interview that preceded the movie, wondered if there was anyone who didn't know how the movie ends and if he was giving spoilers when he talked about Spock's death).  What I loved most about this movie, aside from the great story which continues a plot from the original series and Montalban as a fabulous villain, is the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  There are several great scenes between the three of them which really develop their characters on a deeper level.  Spock's death scene is one of the greatest scenes, ever.  I did find the special effects to be a bit dated but that hardly mattered because the story is so great.  It was so much fun watching this on the big screen with a fun and rowdy crowd, many of whom were in very elaborate costumes.  When Kirk shouted, "Khaaaaaaaaaan," the whole audience cheered!  If you are a fan of Star Trek, this is a must see on the big screen.  There is one more opportunity to see it on Wednesday (go here for more information) and I highly recommend it!

Sunday, September 10, 2017


I have read Stephen King's best-selling novel It multiple times but the last time I read it was quite a while ago.  As I watched the new movie adaptation, I knew enough about the story and the characters to be completely invested very quickly but I couldn't remember enough to make comparisons between the script and the novel.  That was just the right mix for me because I thought the movie was fantastic (unlike the other Stephen King adaptation this summer).  There is something evil lurking in the sewers of Derry and it reappears, most often in the guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard), to haunt the town's inhabitants every 27 years.  After Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) goes missing, his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his friends Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) try to figure out what is causing so many of Derry's children to disappear.  Bill and the rest of the "Loser's Club" are all misfits in one way or another and Pennywise appears to each of them as what they fear the most.  They must band together in an epic confrontation with Pennywise in order to save Beverly.  The narrative ends with all seven of the kids making a blood pact to come back and face Pennywise again if it comes back, setting the stage for the next movie.  What I liked most about this movie is that it is an emotionally satisfying coming-of-age story about a group of kids who have to face their greatest fears.  By the end of the movie I cared deeply about each one of them and that is due, in large part, to the nuanced performances of the young actors, especially Lillis whose story arc is the most disturbing.  All seven of them are wonderful and I loved their interactions with each other because they seemed so natural and real with quite a few really funny moments to balance out the terror.  I've heard some criticism that it isn't scary enough but don't listen to it.  In my opinion, it is plenty scary (so please don't take your young children to see it). I jumped about a mile in a particularly tense scene.  Skarsgard plays Pennywise in a way that is completely different from Tim Curry's portrayal in the 1990 miniseries but it is no less frightening.  I definitely recommend this movie!

Note:  Now I am very eager for the sequel and, I have to admit, I already started casting the adult roles in my head before the movie even ended!  Amy Adams as Beverly?  Yes! 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tulip Fever

I really love period dramas and, despite everything I had heard, I still thought I might like Tulip Fever so I went to see it last night.  It looked absolutely beautiful in the previews and it has a stellar cast so how bad could it be?  It is pretty bad.  Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is an orphan essentially sold to Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy merchant, because he is desperate for an heir.  She fails to produce said heir but he treats her kindly.  He hires Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), a struggling artist, to paint their portrait and of course he falls in love with Sophia and they begin an affair.  In an attempt to be with Sophia, Jan begins speculating in the tulip market, where fortunes can be won and lost in an instant, with the help of the Mother Abbess (Judi Dench) who raised Sophia.  Maria (Holliday Grainger), Sophia's maid, is in love with a fishmonger named Willem (Jack O'Connell) who also speculates in the tulip market but when his fortune is stolen by an unscrupulous prostitute (Cara Delivigne) he is conscripted into the navy.  Sophia and Maria's stories converge in a ridiculous plot twist and the ending is anything but satisfying.  This movie is beautiful with gorgeous period costumes and lighting straight out of a Vermeer painting.  However, there are so many things wrong.  The story is convoluted but, even worse, it is also totally implausible, especially one plot element that defies common sense.  I didn't understand any of the characters' motivations.  Christoph Waltz usually plays such a good villain but in this movie his character is almost benign so I didn't understand Sophia's desperation to escape from Cornelis.  Sophia and Jan barely speak five words to each other before they are in bed together so I didn't really buy their relationship.  I also didn't understand Sophia's choice at the end of the movie.  What a letdown after everything the characters have been through!  The tone of this movie is also quite strange.  It is supposed to be a tense and compelling drama but there are some odd comedic elements, especially regarding a "little soldier" in some of the strangest sex scenes I've ever seen.  I also found the scenes where the tulips are bought and sold, which should be fraught with tension because of the consequences for the characters, to be incredibly boring.  It was a bit disappointing and I recommend giving it a miss.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I will be honest and say that last week was really rough.  After a great first week things descended rapidly with lots of schedule changes, an incredibly disorganized picture schedule (which always involves the English teachers), and spotty internet connectivity throughout the whole district.  The only thing that got me through was knowing that I had a screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (it is being screened for a limited engagement in honor of its 40th Anniversary) to look forward to on Friday night!  I vividly remember watching this movie in the theater when I was a kid (in fact, I remember being fairly obsessed with it) so it was an absolute thrill to be able to see it again on the big screen.   I'm sure that nostalgia played a big part in my reaction but I loved this movie about a group of people who have an encounter with a UFO and the government's attempts to cover it up just as much as I did when I was an impressionable nine year old.  Most of the narrative involves a select group of people, including Roy (Richard Dreyfus) and Jillian (Melinda Dillon) among others, who are inexplicably drawn to Devil's Tower in Wyoming after their encounter.  It turns out that Devil's Tower is a coordinate broadcast by aliens to a group of scientists, including Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), after they communicate with them through musical tones (those five iconic notes).  The final encounter with the UFO at Devil's Tower is just as epic as I remember it and, in my opinion, the special effects hold up very well after 40 years.  Even after seeing so many other alien movies, I was still absolutely spellbound.  What I like best about this encounter is that almost everyone reacts with awe rather than fear.  It is just so magical!   Once again, I was fascinated by Truffaut's portrayal of Lacombe and I can't really explain why other than to say that this movie was my first introduction to him (my Dad had to tell me that he was a famous director) and I also absolutely loved Barry's (Cary Guffey) wide-eyed wonder when he looks at the UFOs.  It is an amazing movie and I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen!

Note:  I was so obsessed with this movie I actually requested that my parents take me on a road trip to Devil's Tower when I was in high school.  It is a seriously cool place!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Silver Screen Classics 2017

I am so excited that my local Megaplex Theatre is offering the Silver Screen Classics movie pass once again because I enjoyed it so much last year!  This series is a lot of fun because you get to see 10 different classic movies, one per week, for just $10.00.  This year the movies that will be included are: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, All the President's Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Citizen Kane, High Noon, and Forrest Gump.  I've only seen two of them on the big screen (and there are two that I've never seen before) so I'm really looking forward to all of them.  I was so excited that I bought my pass the day the series was announced (and so did my two best movie buddies).  Check back every week for a review of each movie or, better yet, go here to get a pass for yourself if you live in the SLC area.

Note:  They are screening each movie at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm each day at each participating theater so it is much more convenient than last year!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Studio Ghibli Fest: Castle in the Sky

Last night I met my friend to see Castle in the Sky, the next film in the Studio Ghibli Fest, and it is absolutely amazing.  It is very different from the other films I've seen in this series because it is an epic adventure filled with imagination and emotion and I will probably be thinking about it for a long time to come.  It involves a quest for a mysterious and powerful floating island called Laputa (there is also a flying island named Laputa in Gulliver's Travels) by pirates who seek it for treasure, by a Colonel and his army who want to use its power to control the world, and by a young girl who has a glowing pendant, passed down through the generations of her family, that seems to lead to Laputa.  She is aided by a young miner who rescues her and together they must decide the fate of Laputa.  The characters go from one adventure to the next and I was simply blown away by the imaginative world-building.  It is all so fantastical and I was captivated by the storytelling.  I loved the two main characters of Sheeta and Pazu because they are very determined and resourceful and their relationship with each other is so pure.  But more than that, the two of them are so brave, especially in a powerful and emotional scene where they make a decision about Laputa.  I was quite fascinated by the unusual technology, especially all of the flying machines and the machines used in the mine.  I'll say it again.  Hayao Miyazaki has an impressive imagination.  The music used in the film is fantastic, ranging from choral pieces, to beautiful and atmospheric melodies (I loved the harp), to pulse-pounding beats to heighten the tension.  Finally, I think my very favorite aspect of this film is the color palette.  I loved the use of blue, turquoise, green, and purple to represent the power of the pendant.  I cannot recommend this film enough!  I am starting to understand why people are such fans of anime.  I never knew that cartoons could be so powerful!

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Only Living Boy in New York

I was mildly intrigued by the trailer for The Only Living Boy in New York and, since I had already seen everything else on my list, I decided that it would be the cure for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is a young man at loose ends who aspires to be a writer.  His father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), with whom he has a distant relationship (there is a reason for this which is revealed later), is a hot-shot New York publisher who gives him little encouragement, calling his work "serviceable."  He is incredibly protective of his mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon), an emotional mess (there is a reason for this which is revealed later) who throws pretentious dinner parties as a way of dealing with her unhappiness.  He pines over Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), a girl with whom he has been in love forever but only wants to be friends with him.  One night while at a club with Mimi he sees his father out with another woman (Kate Beckinsale).  He begins following her with the intention of telling her to stop seeing his father but eventually begins an affair with her.  Thomas begins discussing all of the above with his new neighbor, the writer W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), who has aggressively wormed his way into Thomas's life (there is a reason for this which is revealed later).  W.F. eventually turns these conversations into a novel about Thomas titled The Only Living Boy in New York.  The problem with this movie is that it thinks it is an edgy treatise about New York City when it is really just an run-of-the-mill family drama.  There are tons of mind-numbing speeches about how New York has lost its soul, including one by a character who exists only to give a speech at a wedding, which do nothing to advance the plot.  I was so bored that I checked my phone multiple times (the only other person in the theater with me left mid-way through).  By the time the big plot twist, which explains everyone's motivations, is revealed I didn't really care because I just wasn't that interested in any of the characters.  Turner is very handsome and appealing to watch but I didn't really buy his alienation and I thought his response to the big plot twist was way too accepting.  Brosnan is just playing another version of the judgmental father he played in Remember Me.  Bridges speaks as if he has just had major dental work done.  Everyone else is fine but largely unmemorable.  I did like the music but after listening to moody songs from Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Procol Harum, it was a little jarring to hear a peppy song by The Head and the Heart in the final credits.  It is an entirely forgettable movie that should only be viewed on Netflix when you can't sleep.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West is another gem from Sundance that friends of mine have been talking about lately so I put it on my list.  Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is sad, lonely, and desperate for a connection with someone.  When she comes into some money after her mother's death, she decides to move to California in order to befriend Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a social media celebrity who seemingly has the perfect life.  In her pursuit of Taylor, she ironically sabotages the only real and authentic relationship she has with someone (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) who genuinely cares about her for the sake of a fake one.  As Ingrid gets close to Taylor, she ultimately realizes that Taylor's life is just as empty and meaningless as her own.  It is a fascinating commentary on social media and I have to admit that it hit a little bit too close to home (right before the movie I checked my phone and noticed that I had two new followers on Instagram).  It is really easy to compare yourself to the people you follow on Instagram or Facebook and judge your life to be lacking and it can take up all of your time and energy creating a fake persona to make your life as exciting as everyone else's seems.  It can be really easy to determine your self-worth by the number of followers you have or likes you get on a post.  I find it incredibly ironic that Ingrid finds the notoriety that she has been craving for so long after the only real and vulnerable moment she has on social media.  Even though this movie is a cautionary tale I found it to be quite funny (probably because I recognized myself in the characters), especially in a scene where Ingrid tries to decide whether to post "ha ha ha" or "he he he."  I really liked the production design.  I read that the filmmakers used popular Instagram feeds to inform how they decorated Taylor's house and her costumes!  Too funny!  Plaza does a good job at making Ingrid into a sympathetic character, even when she makes one bad decision after another, and Olsen's portrayal of a woman obsessed with her "brand" feels very spot-on.  If you have ever taken a picture of your avocado toast to post to Instagram before eating it, you will probably enjoy this movie (or squirm in your seat).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Good Time

I usually make the decision to see or not see a movie based on the trailer and the one for Good Time really intrigued me so I knew I had to see it.  Constantine "Connie" Nikas (Robert Pattinson) has anything but a good time when an ill-conceived robbery that he pulls with his developmentally challenged brother Nicholas (Ben Safdie) goes awry.  As the two of them attempt to flee, Nicholas is apprehended and sent to Rikers Island.  Connie then spends a frenzied night trying to get the bail money to get him out.  The hand held camera follows Connie's every move as he progresses from one dangerous situation to the next so you feel his ever increasing desperation as if you were right there with him.  It is intense, to say the least.  Connie does some pretty despicable things and I wasn't entirely sure if he was motivated by concern for his brother or guilt for getting his brother in the situation to begin with but I was captivated by his image on the screen.  That is due to the fact that Robert Pattinson gives one of the best performances of his career.  You cannot look away as he digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble.  He portrays so much nervous energy that I was on edge almost from his first scene and I carried that feeling of unease with me for quite a while after I left the theater.  The supporting cast is also excellent and I especially enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie's unstable girlfriend and Buddy Duress as a criminal that Connie inadvertently teams up with.   Good Time is visually stunning with lighting that alternates between dark shadows and psychedelic neon (I loved the scenes at an amusement park).  The pulse-pounding electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never is absolutely incredible, rivaling anything done by Tangerine Dream in the 1980s (this is high praise from me because I love Tangerine Dream; they have a thematic album called Phaedra), and it adds greatly to the overall feeling of tension.  This film is filled with violence, language, sex, and drug use so not everyone is going to enjoy it but I think it is brilliant!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Brigsby Bear

Quite a few of my friends really loved Brigsby Bear when it screened at Sundance this year so I thought I'd check it out now that it is in wide release.  James (Kyle Mooney) was abducted as a baby and has been raised his whole life in an underground bunker by Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams).  His only contact with the outside world is a TV show called Brigsby Bear Adventures which has hundreds of episodes about a life-size bear who triumphs over the evil Sun Catcher and teaches valuable life lessons.  James is obsessed with the show, accumulating memorabilia and participating in an online forum dedicated to it.  One day the police come to the bunker and James is reunited with his real parents Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins).  He has difficulty adjusting to the outside world (in some incredibly amusing scenes), especially when he discovers that his beloved TV show does not really exist and that it was created by Ted just for him.  It is his only frame of reference so, as a way of coping with his new circumstances, James decides to make a movie continuing the adventures of Brigsby.  I loved so many things about this charming and original film.  Mooney is incredibly endearing in this quirky role.  He makes James into an entirely believable character and you find yourself rooting for him.  I also really enjoyed Greg Kinnear's performance as the detective on the case and a scene where he performs in the Brigsby movie made me laugh out loud.  I loved the message that being a fan of something, even something that is ridiculed and not understood by others, can be meaningful.  I definitely recommend this delightful film.

Note:  Brigsby Bear was filmed in SLC and I had a lot of fun recognizing various venues.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Logan Lucky

I am happy to report that the first day of school went extremely well yesterday so as a reward I decided to see a movie.  Most of my friends really liked Logan Lucky so, despite the fact that I was a little bit lukewarm on the trailer, I decided to give it a chance.  It is absolutely hilarious!  Down-and-out brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan create an elaborate plan to rob the vault at the Charlotte Motor Speedway because Jimmy learns how the pneumatic system for moving money works after working there.  They recruit their younger sister Mellie (Riley Keough), an expert safecracker named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who is currently in-car-cer-at-ed, and Joe's brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid).  Due to circumstances beyond their control, they must move the date of the robbery to the biggest race of the year: the Coca-Cola 600.  While this is definitely a typical heist film it is just so much fun to watch the oddball characters execute the complicated plan and I really enjoyed the twist at the end.  The ensemble cast is excellent with an absolutely hilarious performance by Craig.  In addition to the principal cast there is Seth MacFarlane as an almost unrecognizable businessman, Sebastian Stan as a NASCAR driver, Katie Holmes as Jimmy's ex-wife, Katherine Waterston as a former classmate of Jimmy's, Hilary Swank as an FBI agent, and Dwight Yoakam as an incompetent prison warden.  In fact, these actors do such a good job that I would have liked to have seen even more character development.  The script is very clever and I laughed out loud during the prison riot scene when the inmates demand that George R. R. Martin release Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring!  So funny!  The action is as slick and stylized as in the Ocean's movies but just with a West Virginia accent and a soundtrack featuring John Denver.  This film is so entertaining and I highly recommend it!

Note:  Even though most of my friends really liked this film and recommended it, I have to admit that the main draw for me was Adam Driver.  I find him to be strangely appealing!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Wind River

Last night I went to a Thursday preview of Wind River, a psychological thriller with an ending that I am still thinking about.  Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner, in one of his best performances to date) is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer who is called out to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to track a mountain lion who is killing cattle.  He finds, instead, the body of a young woman.  The cause of death is exposure but, because it is clear that she has been assaulted and raped, the FBI sends rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, also excellent) to investigate.  She is laughably unprepared for the elements and doesn't understand the complex dynamic of the people on the reservation so she asks Lambert to help her.  The story is, on the surface, a typical murder mystery but dig a little deeper and it becomes a powerful commentary about life on a reservation in an environment where people live with silence and snow and little else and either survive or succumb.  It is also a story about grief with an incredibly poignant scene between two fathers who have lost daughters.  The scenery is starkly beautiful but always menacing, the dialogue is sparse, and the tension is almost unbearable.  The mystery unravels in a scene of shocking violence, which caught me by surprise, and the resolution is an interesting exploration of justice that I found to be strangely satisfying (the people at my screening cheered out loud) much like my reaction to another film by Taylor Sheridan.  All of the performances are compelling (I always enjoy Graham Greene) and the score, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is suitably atmospheric.  If you enjoy tense thrillers with something to say about people who live on the margins of society, go see this film!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Step Is Life

My friend saw the documentary Step at Sundance this year and she has been raving about it ever since.  It will hit select theaters nationwide this Friday but my friend invited me to a special screening last night at the Broadway and I'm so glad that she did.  Yesterday was my first day back to school to prepare for the upcoming academic year and I don't think I could have watched a more inspirational film to get me energized to help my students achieve success.  The film is set against the racially charged backdrop of inner-city Baltimore and follows a group of African-American girls selected by lottery in the sixth grade to attend the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women as they become the first graduating class.  The narrative emphasizes the struggles the girls face as they apply to college and find financial aid and the obstacles they overcome as the step team competes at a prestigious competition.  Blessin is the founder and captain of the step team but she struggles academically because of her attendance and lack of focus.  At the beginning of her senior year her GPA is too low for college acceptance but she vows to do whatever it takes to succeed despite her mother's depression and anger issues.  I have to admit that Blessin's story made me quite emotional because so many of my students get to their senior year having made many mistakes and struggle to overcome deficits.  Cori is a stellar student, set to become the valedictorian, who dreams of going to Johns Hopkins University so that she will never have the financial struggle that her blended family faces with six children.  While she has the grades and test scores to attend a prestigious university, she will need a full-ride scholarship to do so.  I also cried when she mentioned that the power was currently turned off at home and vowed that this would not be her life.  Tayla provides a bit of comic relief ("I'm a notch down from Beyonce because I still do mess up") with a helicopter mom who attends every practice and tells her to stay away from boys because they have cooties.  What I loved most about this film is that you cheer just as much as they achieve their academic goals as you do when they give the performance of their lives at the step competition (the audience in this screening literally cheered out loud and applauded at every milestone).  My favorite moment in the whole film is when the team gets new warm-ups and they swagger down the hall in their best Reservoir Dogs impersonation.  It made me laugh through my tears!  I cannot recommend this documentary enough!  Please go see this heart-warming celebration of hard work, dedication, and perseverance!

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Glass Castle

Last night I went to see The Glass Castle, the film adaptation of the best-selling memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls.  It is the story of Jeannette's childhood of extreme poverty with a brilliant but alcoholic father and a self-absorbed mother who cares more about her art than her children as they move from place to place, often just one step ahead of the bill collectors or law enforcement.  We meet Jeannette (Brie Larson) in 1989 sitting in a taxi as she sees her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) digging through a garbage dumpster which embarrasses her.  Then we go back and forth between flashbacks to Jeannette's (played at various ages by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson) childhood experiences and her attempts in 1989 to leave her childhood behind with her job as a gossip columnist and her relationship with a wealthy banker (Max Greenfield), both of which clearly do not bring her any happiness.  Jeannette must ultimately come to terms with her past and make peace with her parents before she can movie forward with her life.  Most of what happens to the children is very difficult to watch but I found the story to be very compelling and authentic, particularly the scenes with Anderson who is brilliant as the young Jeannette.  The performances of Larson, Watts, and, especially, Harrelson are also outstanding.  I was impressed with how Harrelson is able to portray Rex as both dangerous and captivating, someone who is both feared and fiercely loved.  Many alcoholics have incredibly charismatic personalities and know how to manipulate the people around them which makes it difficult to completely abandon them even though they do despicable things and Harrelson nails it.  Some people might have a problem with the content but I didn't because I really loved the themes of resilience and forgiveness.  Just because Jeannette ultimately forgives her father for the horrific things he does to her and her siblings doesn't mean that he is absolved and I don't think the film glorifies his behavior.  Forgiveness is less about the person being forgiven and more about the one doing the forgiving.  Jeannette must reconcile with her father for her own sake rather than his and she can only live an authentic life if she acknowledges her past and the impact that her parents have had, for good or ill, on the person she has become.  However, I had several problems with this adaptation.  It is overly sentimental, in stark contrast to the memoir, with a very manipulative score that tells the audience what it should be feeling and it sometimes feels like a Lifetime original movie as a consequence.  I also didn't like the conclusion because it is too easy and abrupt, almost as if Cretton (who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film) wanted to give us all a happy ending that is not earned.   I think the memoir is better at telling the story objectively but this film is ultimately worth seeing for the dynamic performances.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Last night I went to see Detroit, one of the most powerful films about brutality and injustice that I have ever seen.  It is set against the backdrop of the riots that happened in Detroit in 1967.  As the city burns out of control the local police, along with the state police and National Guard, are asked to do the impossible and keep the peace.  We meet a trigger-happy young white officer named Philip Krauss (Will Poulter) who has been reprimanded for shooting a looter in the back, an aspiring black singer named Larry Reed (Algee Smith), and a black security guard named Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega).  They all converge at the Algiers Motel, where Reed has taken refuge for the night when he can't get home, after a resident foolishly fires a starter pistol at the National Guard who mistake it for a sniper attack and fire back.  What follows is a long and protracted sequence where Krauss and two other white officers brutalize Reed and the other black residents in order to get them to confess, ultimately killing three of the young men, despite Dismukes' attempts to intervene.  These scenes affected me on a visceral level but I was even more upset when the young men seek justice.  In my opinion, they faced more discrimination in the courtroom than they did while being beaten in the motel.  I was very moved by Boyega's performance, especially in the scenes where he is interrogated unjustly as a suspect just because of his race.  Poulter also gives an incredible performance because I hated him and, frankly, I am going to have a hard time watching him in any other movie from now on because he is so menacing in this role.  This film was incredibly difficult for me to watch because in my mind I pictured my nephew in that motel and I cried through most of it (and for hours after it was over).  However, this is a film that I think everyone should watch because, as much as we would like to think that we as a society have moved on from 1967, I don't think we have.
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