LAST FLAG FLYING quick review

Well this is going to be rich. A man known for his comedy, a man known for his drama, and a man known for his red and blue pills sharing a movie. I can think of worst movies to see.

So… apparently, this movie is considered to be a spiritual sequel to the film, THE LAST DETAIL (1973), starring Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid. I have no idea what this movie is. I honestly don’t know what a “spiritual sequel” is, I know what it’s trying to mean, but if you want to make a sequel to something, make a sequel to it. Who cares anymore? Cate Blanchett did it with her two Elizabeth movies, and Judi Dench did it with her two Queen Victoria movies. Well, I guess Nicholson’s retired now, but it’s possible to get a sequel up in the air with different talent behind the wheel. It happens, doesn’t it?

Speaking of which, here’s the talent. Starring, we have Steve Carell (BATTLE OF THE SEXES [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], 8 episodes of THE DANA CARVEY SHOW [1996], and upcoming films THE WOMEN OF MARWEN [2018] and BACKSEAT [2018]), Bryan Cranston (POWER RANGERS [2017], LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE [2006], 5 episodes of SEINFELD [1989 – 1998], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and ISLE OF DOGS [2018]), and Laurence Fishburne (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 [2017], FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER [2007], EVENT HORIZON [1997], A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS [1987], and upcoming films WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE [2018] and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Richard Linklater, known for EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2016), A SCANNER DARKLY (2006), DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993), and the upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. Linklater’s partner-in-pen, who is also the writer of the book this movie is based on, is Darryl Ponicsan, and RANDOM HEARTS (1999). Composing the score is Graham Reynolds, known for BERNIE (2011), A SCANNER DARKLY, and the upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. Finally, the cinematographer is Shane F. Kelly, known for EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!, BOYHOOD (2014), A SCANNER DARKLY, and the upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE.

Overall, I think this could be pretty good. It’s probably going to be emotional with some solid comedy. We shall see.

This is my honest opinion of: LAST FLAG FLYING

(SUMMARY)

Set in 2003. Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), a former navy medic who served in the Vietnam War, recently lost his only son in the war in Iraq. In his grief, he’s set out to find his old army buddies, the eccentric and fun-loving Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the former gambler-now-preacher Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to join him in seeing his son buried in Arlington as they question military life then and now and what it means to each man.

(REVIEW)

I liked it. I really liked it, actually.

First and foremost, the trio of actors are fantastic. The scene stealers are Cranston and Fishburne. Some of the best scenes in the movie are these two characters duking it out. Sal is basically a dick. But he’s that dick who’s hilarious and kind of awesome. He loved being a Marine back in the day, but injuries kept him out of the service. And Richard was once a hardcore gambler, probably on the same crazy level as Sal, but has since become a man of God and has simmered his temperament. So when he, a devout Christian, starts butting heads with Sal, a die-hard Atheist, the result is incredibly enjoyable. The chemistry between all three actors is amazing to be sure, but Cranston and Fishburne are positively hilarious together. Ultimately, that’s what really carries this movie to the bittersweet end.

On a side note, I’ve mentioned that there is a religious undercurrent going on in the story, conflicting beliefs going on. While I can’t say that I’ve seen a great ton of religious films, a majority of the ones that I’ve seen don’t seem to understand their own ideologies. I find it hilarious that this movie, probably more of a military drama than anything else, has a better understanding of who Christians and Atheists are and how they would really interact with each other.

I think I have only one real complaint about the movie, and honestly, maybe there’s a Marine reading this review and can clarify something for me. In the movie, Doc visits the base where his son is in his closed casket. When he decides that the circumstances of his death weren’t noble, he insists that his son be taken back to his hometown and buried next to his mother in a normal cemetery. However, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilits (Yul Vazquez) seemed unnaturally against the idea. Okay, so it was decided that Doc’s son’s death overseas was reason enough to be honored with burying him in Arlington. Okay, I get it, that’s a big deal. But this LtCol guy seems to think that a Marine is disgraced if that person is buried anywhere other than Arlington. Is… that true. I mean, okay, there’s a lot of context that I didn’t put in here, so maybe it’s best to watch the scene in question, but I don’t think Marines would be this mean-spirited about it. Ultimately, I don’t think Marines get to choose where their men and women are buried if the parents have other ideas or plans. Maybe they can offer a reason why Arlington is such an honored place to be buried, but if minds are made up, they don’t get a voice anymore, morally or legally, no matter how much they agree. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is something the Marines can make a fuss over. I’d love to know. But I highly doubt it.

But more fundamentally, I don’t like how this movie kind of shoehorned a “bad guy” in. It’s not necessary. The three men discussing life in the military when they were in the service, and comparing and contrasting to that life today, their religious beliefs, and Doc’s grief over the tragic loss of his son, you’d think all of these things alone would be enough conflict. The clashing of opposing opinions and ideas of these strong-willed and stubborn men, and how they manage to get along with each other, it sort of seemed like it was handled well enough on its own. Why did they need an asshole Marine in the mix? Seemed pretty pointless to me.

In retrospect, these are small problems and aren’t lingered on for too long. They’re just momentary question marks for me in an otherwise very emotional film full of laughs and ideas to make you think. I think it’s worth checking out. I’m not sure if it’s still in theaters, so when it comes out on Blu-Ray, I highly recommend a rental. While I don’t know how actual military personnel would react to this movie, I think it’s effective enough for the common man. The last mission of these men is full of laughs and emotion that will stick with you.

My honest rating for LAST FLAG FLYING: 4/5

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WONDER review

I feel like I’ve been seeing a bit of a rotation between the same kid actors lately. I don’t know, does anyone else feel that way?

Eh, who cares? A good story is all that matters.

WONDER is based on a 2012 children’s novel of the same name, written by R.J. Palacio, that went on to become a New York Times best seller… like every other movie based from that list. The book is obviously well-received and went on to spawn a spin-off, 365 Days of Wonder, and a sequel, Auggie and Me. At least… I think that’s what they are. Information is a little inconsistent and I know I won’t make the time to find them in a bookstore to confirm. In any case, there’s your history. You bookworms can correct my information as you see fit.

Now, being the uncultured swine that I am, I’ve obviously never even heard of these books. But I go to the movies pretty frequently, hence I see a bunch of trailers, and I have a vague idea of what the movie is about. It looks like it’s about this young boy who has a physical deformity and gets made fun of at school. But at least one kid is kind enough and they strike up a friendship. Basically it looks like it’s a story about acceptance of those that are different and an exploration of the life and times of a kid with this kind of condition.

Here’s the cast. We have the incredibly talented up and coming young star, Jacob Tremblay (THE BOOK OF HENRY [2017], ROOM [2015], THE SMURFS 2 [2013], and the upcoming THE PREDATOR [2018]), Julia Roberts (SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE [2017], CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR [2007], and MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING [1997]), and Owen Wilson (CARS 3 [2017], NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM [2007], ANACONDA [1997], and upcoming films FATHER FIGURES [2017] and SHANGHAI DAWN, no release date announced). In support, we have Noah Jupe (SUBURBICON [2017], 1 episode of TV show PENNY DREADFUL [2014 – 2016], and upcoming films THE TITAN [2018] and HOLMES AND WATSON [2018]), Bryce Gheisar (A DOG’S PURPOSE [2017]), Izabela Vidovic (HOMEFRONT [2013], and TV show: 2 episodes of SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing] and 10 episodes of ABOUT A BOY [2014 – 2015]), Elle McKinnon (TV projects I’ve never heard of), and Daveed Diggs (3 episodes of UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT [2015 – ongoing], 9 episodes of TV show BLACK-ISH [2014 – ongoing], 10 episodes of THE GET DOWN [2016 – 2017], and upcoming films FERDINAND [2017] and BLINDSPOTTING [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing the script is Stephen Chbosky, known for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012), writing the screenplay for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), and creator of TV show JERICHO (2006 – 2008), and the upcoming PRINCE CHARMING, no release date announced. Chbosky’s partners-in-pen, making for a red flag total of three writers are Steve Conrad (UNFINISHED BUSINESS [2015], THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY [2013], and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS [2006]) and Jack Thorne (a bunch of unknown TV projects and the upcoming comic adaptation, THE SANDMAN, no release date announced). Composing the score, we have Marcelo Zarvos, known for FENCES (2016), THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006), and TV show THE BIG C (2010 – 2013). Finally, the cinematographer is Don Burgess, known for SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (2017), ENCHANTED (2007), CONTACT (1997), and the upcoming AQUAMAN (2018).

Overall, I think this movie can easily be good, but risks being just a little too obvious and probably won’t go as far as it can go, if what I read about the book is true. I’ll likely explain myself in the review. Mean time…

This is my honest opinion of: WONDER

(SUMMARY)

August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a genetic defect that required several surgeries to allow him to see, hear, and speak properly. Though he lives life as normally as possible, he is left with a disfigured face and scars. Still, he a nice kid and is transitioning from homeschooling with his mom Isabel (Julia Robberts) to his first day in middle school at a public school, much to the concerns of his loving father, Nate (Owen Wilson). Though his first day is rough, he does eventually start adjusting to life in school, and we learn about the lives around him as well.

(REVIEW)

I think this is one of the sweetest movies I’ve seen all year.

Say what you want about THE BOOK OF HENRY, I think Tremblay is a on a winning streak. This kid is such a good actor and he cranks it up ROOM levels here. Auggie is a sweet kid who struggles with his handicaps, looking down to avoid eye contact, is mostly quiet, but he’s funny, charming, weird and gross, you know, like every kid his age. But as much as he has his fun, he’s still hurt by the name calling and the things kids say behind his back. Kids have said that if anyone touches him, they get the plague. Another says he’d kill himself he looked like Auggie. Not to mention the bullying from Julian (Bryce Gheisar). As someone who was bullied in school as well (albeit a bit more mildly than Auggie), I get his mannerisms. An unwillingness to talk, about the specific problems or in general, looking down avoiding eye contact, which I still do as a twenty-eight year old adult, keep to myself, few friends, there’s a lot that I personally relate to and Auggie will definitely tear your hear out, and I mean that in the best possible way… if you couldn’t tell.

And the rest of the cast does really well too. You can argue that the characters may not be all that interesting, but I would argue that this isn’t meant to have the deepest characters, just good and likable. That’s exactly what we’re given. Roberts as Isabel and Wilson as Nate are both so likable as loving parents. I especially like the moment when Auggie comes out with Jack Will (Noah Jupe) at the end of school and Isabel is completely dumbfounded. When Auggie asks her if it’s okay if he comes over to their house, she’s all like, “Okay… I have got to be cool.” I don’t know, I love seeing that in parents, who are actively aware of how they present themselves to their kids’ friends. It tickles me.

I think if there’s any character outside of Auggie that really had some complexity was Via (Izabella Vidovic). While an incredibly loving sister to her younger brother, she’s still affected by a surprisingly honest sense of jealousy of her parents devoting so much of their attention to Auggie, rather than her. Thing is, I’m probably making it sound more mean-spirited than it is, but I like that about her. She knows why her parents show him more attention because he’s the one who has to live with his face and how many kids may make fun of him for it. She is incredibly understanding, but it sure does come at its own cost. She’s left out of simple conversations of just being asked how her day went at school, to bigger things like whether or not she should invite her parents to the school play that she auditioned for. But she never succumbs to being a rebel, changing her look to get attention, doesn’t act out beyond normal teen angst, she’s just a kind, sweet girl that wishes she could be afforded the same attention her brother gets. Also, her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) totally ignores her at school, which drives her into a tailspin. She also gets into a cute relationship with Justin (Nadji Jeter), the “theater nerd” that motivates her to audition for the school play, which Miranda is also in. In retrospect, Via might be the best character in the movie. She may get a great deal of screen time, but I almost wouldn’t mind a spin off movie with just her.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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There are even moments that I feel like I should be outraged with and call “foul and unrealistic,” but even that doesn’t seem to be too far off from reality. Specifically, after Julian is brought to the principal’s office for his mean photo toward to the end of the movie; the photo that photoshopped out Auggie in the class picture and then wrote “No freaks allowed” on it. His parents are called in, clearly rich and pompous people. The mom admits to doing the photoshop herself. First off, there’s no way on God’s green Earth that this woman has any idea how to use anything related to computers. She probably only knows how to check her email for the next business meeting that will raise money for rich people, or whatever. Second, she claims she did it because she wanted the people that visit their home to ask about their son, not Auggie. Um… is this a common thing for this family? Do guests look at the class photo, take one look at Auggie and spend the duration of their stay asking questions about that boy? I have a hard time believing that. Even if that were the case, then maybe they should take a hard long look at their lives and accept that maybe the reason why they’re asking about Auggie more than their own son is because their family isn’t very interesting and their son is an uninteresting suck-up.

 

I wanted to be so mad at how these parents treated the situation, fueling their son’s cruel habits, and even blaming Auggie for their son’s actions without holding him accountable for anything. But the more I thought about it… no, that’s exactly what parents to these types of kids do. They’re high off of believing that they’re the perfect family and that they have no problems to speak of. But when the first problem rears its ugly head, they deny it, or try to pass it off as someone else’s problem that got in the way of their perfection.

 

My only real issue with this scene is that we see Julian’s guilt over the photo. Thing is, we never see him act guilty over anything he does, so his humanity is pulled out of nowhere, which is pretty clunky. If we were occasionally shown moments of him feeling bad about his actions, this would make more sense. Heck, none of this even explains where the bullying comes from. Sure, one would think the more vicious bullying, like direct name calling, would be a result of borderline abusive parents who insult their own child. Not unlike physical abuse, the whole point is to feel empowered over someone smaller and weaker, which Julian is clearly doing. But his parents strike me more like the absentee types that never show him the love that most parents show their kid. So I would imagine his type of bullying would be more akin to subtly talking down to him and proclaiming how rich he is and how much better he is, rather than putting him down like he does in the movie. Something more subtle and snobbish, rather than verbal attacks. But hey, I’m no psychologist. Maybe bullying of any kind can come from any number of sources. I just didn’t buy the connections here.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Unfortunately, the most glaring problem, which honestly isn’t even all that big, that I have with the film is that there’s characters that are introduced, and get nice enough backstories, but we’re still not privy to who they actually are. Specifically, I mean Miranda. I like her backstory, that she was a close friend of Via’s when they were little and looks to the Pullman family as her second family, but when she went to camp over the summer, she wasn’t fitting in, or whatever the case was, and decided to pretend that she was Via. She claimed to the others around her that she had a disfigured brother and suddenly became really popular. But when she got back, she had made new friends, and was ridden with guilt upon meeting Via again, having spent months pretending to be her. Russell is certainly a charismatic enough actress to carry the role, but we never really see Miranda and Via make up as friends. It literally happens out of the blue. In a lot of ways, I wish we’d gotten more of her and her relationship with the protagonist family. It’s more of a case of being told her relationship to the Pullman family, rather than being shown the relationship.

In fact, that’s kind of a smaller issue with other characters as well. In the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to three other kids, Jack Will, Julian, and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon). At a glance, it’s like the movie is saying that these three kids, as well as Auggie, are going to be the most central to the story. While that’s true for Jack Will and Julian, I was a little bummed out that Charlotte wasn’t as central. Why? Because she was actually kind of funny. She’s this little girl who acted in commercials and is totally prideful about it, but not in a mean-spirited way. Just in an overly-proud kind of way. She’s not stuck-up, she just did something “famous-related” and is boasting, but she’s not an unlikable kid. In fact, throughout the film, she has a sort of admiration for Auggie and doesn’t like it when the other girls talk mean about him. It’s a shame she kind of gets thrown to the wayside for Summer (Millie Davis). Don’t get me wrong, Summer is a nice enough character and Davis is a good enough actress, but the character could have so easily been Charlotte that it’s a wonder why she wasn’t.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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Also, did the movie ever really explain why Jack Will said that mean thing about killing himself if he looked like Auggie? I mean, I didn’t read the book, but I read about it online and he said what he said because he was just trying to be friends with Julian and he wanted to fit in by saying what they say. But this movie completely sidesteps that. They just get on MINECRAFT and apologize and that’s it. Maybe that fight between Jack Will and Julian softened Auggie’s edges, but it was still a mean-spirited moment that barely has a resolution. But I guess that fight and the surprisingly effective guilt-ridden face on Jack Will’s face after learning that Auggie was in the Ghost Face costume when he said what he said was enough.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this was a cute film. Tremblay is still a wonderful talent, Vidovic knocks it out of the park as the sister, Roberts and Wilson are ridiculously enjoyable and heartfelt, and the support kids do a great job as well. Some likable characters don’t get enough screen time in my opinion, and some things are explained in a clunky kind of way, but the movie definitely lives up to the name, so I highly recommend it. I might even consider owning it on Blu-Ray when the time comes. This movie doesn’t blend in with other kids films because it was made to stand out.

My honest rating for WONDER: a strong 4/5

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CONCUSSION (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

Who doesn’t love Will Smith? Dude’s a jack of all trades and many of us grew up on his movies. He’s a 90’s icon and, oh let’s cut the bullshit, he’s an icon no matter what day and age we’re in. We don’t (kinda) care that you are into Scientology, Mr. Smith, we still love you. To boot, he’s often considered a really good guy. But enough about what we already love about him. This is about his latest doctor-sports movie. Although I was planning to see this movie anyway, did anyone else get the feeling that this was Oscar-bait too? I mean, Smith’s got an accent that he seems to be flaunting rather well and the trailer made it out to be pretty damn atmospheric. I guess it didn’t matter, I was sold on this movie and had pretty high expectations. Did it measure up?

Starring: Will Smith (COLLATERAL BEAUTY [2016], I AM LEGEND [2007], MEN IN BLACK [1997], and upcoming films BRIGHT [2017] and ALADDIN [2019]), Alec Baldwin (THE BOSS BABY [2017], SUBURBAN GIRL [2007], THE JUROR [1996], and upcoming film M:I 6 – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE [2018] and TV movie A FEW GOOD MEN [2018]), Albert Brooks (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS [2016], THE SIMPSONS MOVIE [2007], and TAXI DRIVER [1976]), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST [2017], BELLE [2013], LARRY CROWNE [2011], and upcoming films A WRINKLE IN TIME [2018] and an untitled Cloverfield movie [2018]), and David Morse (HORNS [2013], DISTURBIA [2007], CONTACT [1997], and the upcoming THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS [2017]).

Support: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (SUICIDE SQUAD [2016], CONGO [1996], and TV show LOST [2004 – 2010]), Richard T. Jones (A QUESTION OF FAITH [2017], WHY DID I GET MARRIED? [2007], and KISS THE GIRLS [1997]), Paul Reiser (I DO… UNTIL I DON’T [2017], FUNNY PEOPLE [2009], and ALIENS [1986]), Luke Wilson (BRAD’S STATUS [2017], 3:10 TO YUMA [2007], SCREAM 2 [1997], and upcoming films MEASURE OF A MAN [2018] and BERLIN, I LOVE YOU [2018]), and Stephen Moyer (PRIEST [2011], 88 MINUTES [2007], and TV show THE GIFTED [2017 – ongoing]).

Director: Peter Landesman (MARK FELT [2017] and the upcoming THE LAST BATTLE [2018]). Writer: Peter Landesman (MARK FELT, KILL THE MESSENGER [2014], and the upcoming THE LAST BATTLE). Composer: James Newton Howard (ROMAN J. ISRAEL. ESQ [2017], THE GREAT DEBATERS [2007], MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING [1997], and upcoming films RED SPARROW [2018] and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD [2018]). Cinematographer: Salvatore Totino (SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING [2017], PEOPLE LIKE US [2012], and THE DA VINCI CODE [2006]).

This is my honest opinion of: CONCUSSION

(SUMMARY)

Based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, Bennet (Will Smith) is a Nigerian doctor, eager to be an American citizen, and happens to be a talented pathologist, even though his methods are considered odd. Unbenownst to the good doctor, a series of horrible events are about to unfold. Famed football star Mike Webster (David Morse) has suffered through hard times, becoming a paranoid psychotic and eventually commits suicide, despite the valiant attempts of his doctor, Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin). When Webster’s body is brought to Bennet for examination, he soon discovers that football might have been the reason why the star became crazy, not because of drugs or alcohol, but because of the game itself causing severe brain trauma over the course of the man’s entire football career. While his findings are ignored or ridiculed, Julian believes that Bennet is right and as the NFL tries its hardest to discredit Bennet, more football players begin to suffer the same tragedies and the truth becomes harder to hide.

(REVIEW)

Fun fact: I actually kind of saw this movie twice. The first time I saw it was after I saw JOY (2015), but I was way too hammered and fell asleep a couple times, missing a healthy chunk of the movie. Deciding that sobriety was king, I saw this movie again… still kind of fell asleep (fatigue this time from working six days a week), but caught up on everything I missed.

You know what, this story had some serious potential, but then Peter Landesman (director and writer of the movie) got his hands on it and proved that maybe he should have stuck with just directing because the writing is… all over the damn place.

What do I mean by that? Well, Bennet’s opening scene. He’s in a court room doing… I don’t know what, but someone asks him what Bennet can add to their case. I shit you not, he goes on and on and @#$%ing on about where he went to school and all the different degrees he has. The dude literally spoke exposition. It was painful.

For those of you who remember the trailer, where at the end he is giving an off-screen character the business, saying, “tell the truth. Tell the truth.” Yeah, he says that four times in that entire scene. It’s kind of awkward.

There’s a random sub-plot of how Bennet wants to have a family with Prema, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the plot didn’t come out of nowhere. I understand that Prema must have been a huge factor in Bennet’s attempts to expose CTE to the NFL, but there’s no build-up to their desires for this family they want. Prema got pregnant, has a miscarriage… and then two scenes later, it’s three years later in the story and they have one child and a second on the way. If you want to tell the story of a husband and wife struggling to have a family after a miscarriage, then leave out the story of how the man is a doctor and wants to enlighten the nation about a horrible condition the players face. Or put a lot more emphasis on the desired-family instead of just hammering it in JUST to show what else Bennet had to go through. It was an unnecessary plot-point.

UPDATE: Granted, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen this movie, but I think it’s wrong of me to say Bennet’s personal life isn’t necessary, the loss that that he experienced. This is Bennet’s story and both his professional and personal life need to have equal exposure. Having said that, based on what I’m reading, my issues come from how poorly written his relationship with Prema is. It sounds like their relationship wasn’t built up properly. Furthermore, it also seems like the miscarriage wasn’t very impactful or necessary to the overall story presented here. Maybe a few more scenes of him and Prema struggling with the decision to try again, as I’m sure after one miscarriage, there’d be a ton of fear for a couple to try and make another baby.

Don’t even get me started on how pro-‘Murica this movie is. It’s giving such a patriotic handjob that even Michael Bay is looking away in embarrassment. I can’t count how many times Bennet mentions how great America is and how great the opportunities are despite the fact that the movie seems to portray Americans as ignorant and uncaring about Bennet’s research into the problems the players of the NFL are facing. The movie does a better job telling how America sucks rather than why it’s so great and how that has anything to do with the plot. We get it dude, you want to be an American citizen, bully for you, please keep your shit focused on what’s really important.

I know we Americans suffered a big tragedy when it came to the San Bernardino shooting and, similar to what happened in France, we need to feel united. We need reasons to keep our heads up and show our enemies that we are still standing in the face of their threats and maybe a movie like this could be great propoganda to ourselves by nearly comparing this country to Heaven, but… @#$%, there was less obnoxious ways of pulling that off. If this is the movie that gave you hope that America will survive in the face of death and destruction, then don’t let anyone take that away from you, but I think if we need to pep talk ourselves, we can do better than this.

Let me say something good about the movie. Yes, Smith delivers a damn fine performance. Unlike Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, whom I thought was trying to play the role, I believe that Smith is Bennet. I felt like he put in some great effort into bringing this man’s life to the big screen and it pays off. Baldwin does a fairly decent job. Mbatha-Raw’s character was dull, but I believe she can act. Prema just wasn’t very interesting to me.

The acting is fine, the story is interesting, but it goes about it in such a self-absorbed way that I just can’t find myself liking the movie as a whole. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it’s pretty hard to see myself watching this a third time.

My honest rating for CONCUSSIONa weak 3/5

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THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI review

This is one of those rare trailers where I’m going to be sad to never see it again. Yeah, no joke. In a way, it’s almost sad to see the movie actually come out because the trailer was so funny and enjoyable. Frances McDormand kicks a teenage boy in the balls and then kicks a teenage girl in the vagina right after! What’s not to enjoy?!

Anyway, the story looks like it’s about this older woman who is grieving the death of her teen daughter and the killer hasn’t been apprehended, blaming her town’s police chief, causing a particular ruckus when she puts up three billboards up that call him out by name for the lack of results. Boy… this doesn’t sound like a movie that’d be a comedy.

Anyway, here’s the cast. Starring, we have Frances McDormand (HAIL, CAESAR! [2016], ÆON FLUX [2005], FARGO [1996], and RAISING ARIZONA [1987]) and Woody Harrelson (THE GLASS CASTLE [2017], NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN [2007], TV show CHEERS [1985 – 1993], and the upcoming SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY [2018]). In support, we have Sam Rockwell (POLTERGEIST [2015], SNOW ANGELS [2007], BASQUIAT [1996], and the upcoming BACKSEAT [2018]), Peter Dinklage (ANGRY BIRDS [2016], ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT [2012], DEATH AT A FUNERAL [2007], and is rumored to be in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Abbie Cornish (GEOSTORM [2017], SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS [2012], ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE [2007], and the upcoming TV show Tom Clancy’s JACK RYAN [2017]), Lucas Hedges (LADY BIRD [2017], MOONRISE KINGDOM [2012], DAN IN REAL LIFE [2007], and upcoming films BEN IS BACK [2018] and BOY ERASED [2018]), and John Hawkes (EVEREST [2015], AMERICAN GANGSTER [2007], STEEL [1997], and the upcoming END OF SENTENCE [2018]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Martin McDonagh, known for SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS and IN BRUGES (2008). Composing the score is Carter Burwell, known for WONDERSTRUCK (2017), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE JACKAL (1997), RAISING ARIZONA, and the upcoming BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, no release date announced. Finally, the cinematographer is Ben Davis, known for DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012), STARDUST (2007), and the upcoming DUMBO (2019).

Overall, I think this is going to be great and I’m going to love it. That’s the hope, right?

This is my honest opinion of: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

(SUMMARY)

Mildred Haze (Frances McDormand) is an older woman, formerly a mother of two, now one after her teenager daughter, Angela (Kathryn Newton), was raped and murdered several months ago. In an effort to refocus the police department, whom she believes is slacking in trying find her daughter’s murderer, she purchases the use of three billboards that call out police Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) by name and how the town reacts to Mildred’s actions, some supportive, others against.

(REVIEW)

A quick story before I get into my review. So, I’ve been wanting to see this movie for some time. I was excited from the very first trailer, but I’ve been seeing other films with family and friends, which has kept me away. So yesterday, I decided to see the movie before my shift at work. I left at a reasonable time that could have been cutting it close, but guess what my stupid-ass did? I absent-mindedly didn’t get off the correct freeway exit. I missed my showtime. Fine, I looked up the showtime for anything that would come out after my shift, right? I get off at 9 PM, or around that time, and there’s a 10:45 showtime. Sweet, I’m good with that. Go home, get out of my work clothes, even be a weirdo and go in my pajamas so I wouldn’t have to change out of three sets of clothes in a day and go home and just flop on my bed. Sounded easy enough. Once again, I leave to go to the theater, but upon my arrival, guess what my seriously dumb-ass did? I left my phone at home. What does that matter? I have MoviePass (yes, it really works), and you NEED the app in order to see the movie without paying for it out of your own pocket. I never do that! I always leave home without my phone! Fucking Christ, I hate when life tells me “no” to seeing a movie. So seeing this the following morning feels a hell of a lot more victorious.

Anyway, on to the review.

While I’m still processing the film as a whole, I really like it.

What I definitely like and appreciate the most about this movie is that it starts off almost clearly defining who we root for and hate. Mildred is the frustrated grieving mother whose daughter was raped and murdered and the police are a bunch of apathetic racist assholes who don’t seem concerned with finding out who did it. In fact, it’s done so well that you’re 100 percent on board with who the good and bad guys are. But it doesn’t take long for the rug to be pulled up from under the audience and the lines are a little more blurred than originally thought. While the audience certainly understands why Mildred puts up the billboards, the movie doesn’t sugarcoat how it affects other people, both in support of and against her. Her son Robbie certainly has his feelings about it. Constantly looking up at the words, not enough knowing that she was raped, or murdered, but knowing that these were her final moments of life right there for him to know everyday, deepening his already deep depression.

Furthermore, we establish that Chief Willoughby is about the only decent cop among the bunch of badges who truly is sympathetic toward Mildred’s pain, and he’s got cancer. Something the entire town, including Mildred, knew. You can probably guess why much of the town would be in an uproar. The signs are in poor taste and not showing the same sympathy for Willoughby that he shows her. And she is wholly unapologetic for her actions. As a result, the movie by this point shows that there is no real good or bad guy (except maybe Dixon [Sam Rockwell]), it’s just people who have their own personal struggles and they’re dealing, or not dealing, with it in their own way. No one’s particularly right, no one’s particularly wrong – well, okay, plenty of wrong to go around, but you get a sense that this is just that kind of small town and its people are just that, people. It’s a complex community with complex people dealing with a complex situation.

I’m probably not painting a very comedic picture, as this movie is toted as a dark comedy. While the drama is certainly the centerfold, there is wickedly sinister comedy that I was rolling in the aisles for. So we know that Mildred was once married to a former cop and abusive drunken husband named Charlie (John Hawkes), who would eventually start dating a ditzy nineteen year old girl named Penelope (Samara Weaving). Soon after the billboards are put up, Charlie pays Mildred a visit with Robbie home and confronts her about it, resulting in things getting physical, Charlie holding Mildred by her throat against a wall. But then Robbie steps in and holds a knife to his own father’s throat, demanding that he let her go. Pretty intense, right? But then the intensity comes to a screeching halt when Penelope walks in and is all like, “Hi, is this a bad time? I really need to use the bathroom. I feel like I’m interrupting. You know what? I can hold it.” And then everyone’s all like, “Oh for God’s sake, just go!” “The bathroom is down the hall, to the left,” or whatever the line is. I swear my sides were splitting. I won’t give away every joke, but when the movie’s comedy needs to shine through, it shines through beautifully.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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What I also really love as well is the ending. The final twenty or so minutes is perfectly tense and chock-full of nail-biting, and it’s not even an action movie. This asshole stranger, making both Mildred and Dixon that he’s the one who may have raped and killed Angela. So when Dixon is gathering evidence to try and prove that he’s the one who did it, we’re all eagerly hoping for a happy ending. But Willoughby said it best. Sometimes, these things happen and there is no resolution. There’s just not enough to go off of if there’s no lead to trace. The movie doesn’t wrap this story up in a pretty pink bow. No justice is given for Angela. But there’s still something hopeful about the ending when we see Mildred and Dixon riding off to Idaho with the notion of killing this man anyway, as Dixon does firmly believe that he’s a rapist, and they’re going off to play vigilante, but aren’t sure if they really want to carry through with it.

 

Of course, I also love how Mildred admits to setting the police station on fire, accidentally setting Dixon on fire in the process. But his only response is, “Well who the hell else would it be?” He barely gives a fuck and it’s quite funny. Though… how he never noticed that fire obviously burning behind him when it was happening is anybody’s guess.

 

The only problem I have with the movie is Dixon. I get what the writers were trying to do with him. Make him an incredibly unlikable character, downright built up to be the villain of the flick, but give him such an arch that by the end of the movie you see him in a different light. Maybe he’s not forgiven, but you don’t hate him anymore. And for all intents and purposes, it was successful, but there’s a bit of a… I don’t know what to call it, a “disjointedness” about how he got to that place.

 

Okay, Dixon is a despicable person. He’s got a rumored reputation of beating and torturing black people, but as there was no evidence to prove it, it’s just speculation. What isn’t speculation is that he’s a violent weasel of an asshole who is incredibly racist. This is laid out plain and bare. Here’s the thing, his arch is supposed to be when he reads the letter Bill leaves him, urging him to be calm and nice, just to try it out for a change. And because they were so close and Bill’s suicide affected Dixon so profoundly, he decides to do just that, leading him to apologize to Red Welby and to take the initiative to see if this stranger from town who described events that seemed awfully similar to Angela’s rape and death, and at around the same time of her rape and death, he puts himself in that position to seek the truth, even if it wasn’t the outcome he was hoping for.

 

Here’s the thing, as much as I liked this idea, and its execution isn’t the worst, it’s still not… a perfect execution. First off, you can already tell that he’s got some change in his character when Abercrombie fires him. I mean, okay, you can’t exactly predict that he’ll go in the direction that he ultimately goes in, but his personality does go through a change of some kind and there’s something about the way he’s shot, the way he’s acted, it’s obvious that the audience is supposed to have sympathy toward him. But literally one or scene scenes ago, he threw Red out of a window, causing property damage, and sending that poor kid to the hospital for something that he had absolutely nothing to do with. First of all, I know this is a small town and everything, the law can get away with a sadly large amount of shit, but aren’t there people that the average citizen can report heinous acts like these cops to? Everyone in law enforcement answers to someone right? But more focused on the story and Dixon, I don’t care about him getting fired, so I didn’t really care about him.

 

Also, I don’t think the relationship between Dixon and Bill was properly explored to warrant the emotional letter. We never really see the humanity in Dixon, so I never agreed with Bill when he wrote that he has great potential deep down. We never really see the two characters interact outside of a professional setting, so we never see the two really connect. Why does Bill see potential in this racist prick? The audience is never made privy to it, so why are we supposed to care?

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I can’t say that I agree with the the mass ravings for the film, but I can honestly say that it is a pretty damn good movie and I do highly recommend it if you’re into dark comedies. The acting and direction is phenomenal. The writing is stupendous. The cinematography is outstanding. It’s a really good film that shouldn’t be missed. Three billboards aren’t enough to advertise just how good this really is.

My honest rating for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI: a strong 4/5

three_billboards_outside_ebbing_missouri_xlg

WONDERSTRUCK review

Hmm, so it’s based on a book, huh? Never read it, so I can’t decide if I’m excited or not. Hell, even after seeing the trailer a couple times now, I still can’t really decide. The story looks like it’s about this boy living with his single mom. He doesn’t know who his dad is, but happens upon some evidence that he might be an astronaut. His mom doesn’t give any information, but he acquires some more evidence that takes him on a journey through the city – New York? – he lives in, alone, happens upon a friend, and all the while, his journey is being mirrored by a flashback of, I think, his mother when she was a child and possibly all culminating in the boy learning the truth of his real father.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Oakes Fegley (PETE’S DRAGON [2016], 3 episodes of both PERSON OF INTEREST [2011 – 2016] and BOARDWALK EMPIRE [2010 – 2014]), introducing Millicent Simmonds (feature film debut; congrats, miss), Michelle Williams (CERTAIN WOMEN [2016], I’M NOT THERE. [2007], HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER [1998], and upcoming films THE GREATEST SHOWMAN [2017] and VENOM [2018]), and one of my biggest Hollywood crushes, Julianne Moore (SUBURBICON [2017], FREEDOMLAND [2006], and THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK [1997]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Todd Haynes, known for CAROL (2015) and I’M NOT THERE. Penning the screenplay, as well as being the original novel’s author, we have Brian Selznick, known for HUGO (2011), as well as the novel for that movie. Composing the score is Carter Burwell, known for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), A GOOFY MOVIE (1995), and RAISING ARIZONA (1987). Finally, the cinematographer is Edward Lachman, known for WIENER-DOG (2016), I’M NOT THERE., and SELENA (1997).

Overall, I think the trailer is a jumbled, incoherent mess, but I wager the movie itself is going to be alright. It’s got some good talent in the spotlight and behind the scenes, so I think it’ll be solid.

This is my honest opinion of: WONDERSTRUCK

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1977. The story follows young Ben (Oakes Fegley). His mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) recently passed away from a car crash and he’s been living with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. Happening upon some clues as to who is father might be, or rather where to find him. However, an accident happens, getting struck by lightning, and his hearing is destroyed. When he wakes up in the hospital, he sets out to New York from Minnesota to find his father. Simultaneously, we are shown a separate storyline set in 1927, following a young deaf girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) who sets off to look for Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), a silent-movie actress that she idolizes.

(REVIEW)

Correcting myself: Ben thinks his father was an astronomer, not an astronaut.

I’m a little conflicted. On the one hand, this movie is pretty boring and takes way too long to get to where it’s trying to go, but on the other it’s heart-warming, emotional, and even has a style to it that I got into.

Let’s talk about those negatives. If you read my summary, you noticed that this movie is basically two stories in one. Ben’s story in ’77, and Rose’s story in ’27. Here’s the thing, there is zero fluid transition into her story. The pop in so randomly that it’s almost painful to sit through. The moment something’s going on with Ben, the scene ends and then BAM!, we get more with Rose. There’s no rhyme or reason as why the movie cuts to her, it just chooses to and this is pretty consistent throughout the movie. Even when you get something of a breather from them, the story will immediately flash back to Rose and you’re reminded of your borderline frustrations. I can see someone getting legit upset with these choices.

Also, I can’t claim to know how deafness works, but I’m calling this movie out… if someone is holding a landline to their ear, and a lightning bolt strikes the telephone wire the landline is connected to, that person doesn’t get electrocuted and go deaf (at least, not in the way it’s portrayed here)! This movie isn’t some weird fantasy taking place in 1977, it’s a drama. No fantastical elements at all. And yet, this bizarre crap happens.

***SPOILERS***

 

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And let’s be honest here, Jamie (Jaden Michael) is a pointless character and serves only to pad out the runtime. Really think about it. Ben is on a journey to look for his father that he never met. Jamie can point him in the right direction. But because he’s a loser with no friends, he sabotages Ben’s plans so the two can hang out. In a way, it’s more creepy than anything and this takes up a good twenty or so minutes of the movie. So it’s really hard to feel for the Jamie when Ben explodes at him angrily. You’re 100 percent on Ben’s side and it’s kind of a wonder why they remain friends when they reunite later on.

On the flipside, just like Ben’s adventures in the museum being a pointless detour, Rose’s time in the museum isn’t any better. Eh, rather it feeds back into what I said about it taking its sweet time getting to where it wants to go. Like, she explores the museum, and for awhile, I thought this was going to end up being a tour of the museum and expand into New York as seen by a young deaf girl. But nope, this extended stay in the museum has one solitary purpose. The curator of the museum is, TWIST, her older brother Walter! That was, what, half an hour of build up that should have taken half that time at worse?

***

 

***

 

***END SPOILERS***

Having said all my complaints, which so hurt the film in the long run, there are some undeniably good things about this movie that I couldn’t help but get attached to.

Despite Fegley being a pretty solid actor for his age, it’s ironic that his story doesn’t pick up until after his adventures in the museum, and the majority of the film is held up by Rose’s story. Yeah, the character with the most random placement is actually the best part of the movie. Never mind that young Simmonds is a very good young actress who acts mostly through her expressions, but the style in which her story is told is the most compelling and clever, both visually and on a storytelling basis. It’s all in black and white, like an old-timey movie. More than anything, it’s a silent film. Zero dialog, just pure score and very minimal sound effects. You know how in old films, the dialog is through cutting to a quick single sentence quote? That’s cleverly done via the characters writing on notepads. While Ben has Jamie utilize it when they’re talking to each other, I feel like it stands out much better in Rose’s story, simply because of how infrequent they are. Not to mention, the her journey is chock-full of surprises, which I’ll tackle in the spoilers.

And as much as I think the scenes with Jamie are padding, it’s hard not to get sucked into their connection. I thought the scene with Jamie teaching Ben the alphabet in sign-language was a cute moment as he’s sharing half his sandwich with him.

***SPOILERS***

 

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***

Originally, you just think that Rose is living with her mean dad and that she wants to travel to New York to find the actress she really likes. Turns out, the actress is actually her mom, who quite possibly abandoned her to pursue a career in acting, as evidenced by her frustration in her being there at all without the least bit of love to show for her daughter. Hell, neither of her parents seem to care much about her, with the notable exception of her kind older brother, the curator, which, despite my complaints about the build-up to the surprise, was in fact, a good surprise.

Hell, circling back to the very first scene with her, you’re kind of lead to believe that the silent-film approach to Rose’s story is just a weird artistic direction the movie takes. But no, it’s not until the second-ish scene where you realize, “Oh! She’s deaf!” Even that was its own little twist.

And the best part of the film is definitely the climax when Ben meets older Rose, played by Moore in a dual performance. This got raw for me. After an hour and half of building up, we finally get why we’re seeing Rose’s story at all. She’s Ben’s grandmother! I mean, none of this ultimately becomes a huge surprise once they start piecing everything together, but when Ben learns that his dad died a long time ago, you feel every ounce of those emotions between Ben and Rose and their utterly sweet connection. Never mind that Moore is so incredible that I bought that she knew sign-language (maybe she actually does), but you see her thoughts racing across the screen through her eyes like subtitles, but not a single word is spoken from her and it truly incredible to watch these two actors work off of each other. To be honest, with the exception of Jamie popping in at the last minute, these series of moments are perfect. Perfect enough to choke me up, anyway.

***

 

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***END SPOILERS***

I might have to admit bias toward the movie, especially at the end, but despite its glaring flaws, I like this movie. If the transitions between Ben’s story and Rose’s story were more imaginative and sensible, this might have been a pretty unique and stylized movie. The visuals for the 20s and 70s are fine in of themselves, but it could have gone above and beyond. And there’s probably way too much of this movie that could have been cut down to flow more nicely and suit the narrative better. But I can’t ignore the emotions I felt and I simply adore the young actors, Simmonds highway robbing the show like a champ. By the end of the day, I’d say despite my liking for the movie, it’s probably not going to be for everyone. I can see the more boring aspects of the movie either putting you to sleep, or enticing you to watch something else. But I really think that if you give the movie a fair shot all the way through, the payoff is worth it. I still recommend it as a strong rental, or at a discount theater. I don’t see myself owning this movie, and probably not remembering it months later. Having said that, I was struck with wonder… eventually.

My honest rating for WONDERSTRUCK: 4/5

wonderstruckposter

LADY BIRD review

There’s not much to say about how I found this film. Saw a trailer, it looked charming, it’s starring Saoirse Ronan, and it’s got some major critical praise. What can a guy like me do, but be interested? I know, brief as hell, but it’s all I got.

The story looks like it’s about this young woman and her single mother, both have strong personalities and are moving to a new home in California, and the girl is just not having it. She’s basically just trying to prove that she’s smart and knows what she’s doing, but probably faces obstacles that prove that she’s got a ways to go.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Saoirse Ronan (LOVING VINCENT [2017], THE HOST [2013], THE LOVELY BONES [2009], and the upcoming MARY QUEEN OF THE SCOTS [2018]), Laurie Metcalf (TOY STORY 3 [2010], TREASURE PLANET [2002], TV show ROSANNE [1988 – 1997], and upcoming TV revival ROSANNE [2018] and film TOY STORY 4 [2019]), Tracy Letts (THE LOVERS [2017], INDIGNATION [2016], THE BIG SHORT [2015], and the upcoming THE POST [2018]), and Beanie Feldstein (NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY ROW [2016]). In support, we have Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA [2016], LABOR DAY [2013], MOONRISE KINGDOM [2012], and the upcoming THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI [2017]), Lois Smith (THE COMEDIAN [2017], MINORITY REPORT [2002], TWISTER [1996], and the upcoming THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS [2018]), Odeya Rush (GOOSEBUMPS [2015], THE GIVER [2014], and THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN [2012]), and Kathryn Newton (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 [2012], BAD TEACHER [2011], TV show LITTLE BIG LIES [2017], and the upcoming THREE BILLBOARDS).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing is actress Greta Gerwig, known for directing NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS (2008), but has been in films 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) and JACKIE (2016). Composing the score is Jon Brion, known for WILSON (2017), ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002). Finally, the cinematographer is Sam Levy, known for WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (2014) and a bunch of documentaries.

Overall, I’m sure I’ll like this movie fine. It looks good, interesting cast, I’m on board.

This is my honest opinion of: LADY BIRD

(SUMMARY)

Set in 2002. The story follows the young pretentious, yet well-meaning Christine, or as she prefers to be called, “Lady Bird” (Soarise Ronan). She and her family just moved to California, somewhere she doesn’t want to be. It follows her life of trying to live like a normal teenager, dating boys, going to school, as well as trying to be the person that she wants to be, mostly just not being anchored down by her loving, but strict mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf).

(REVIEW)

I’m actually not too sure how I feel about this movie. On the one hand, I don’t have any particular problems with it. In fact, it says a lot about a movie where I can’t take notes on it and just lose myself in the story. On the other hand, I don’t think this is a movie that I haven’t seen before.

Well, let’s take a look at the positives. First off, Ronan knocks it out of the park. Holy hell is she amazing. One of her finest performances of her career. She brings such power to her performance, from the softer, more vulnerable scenes, to the teen angst, she continues to prove that she’s a heavyweight of her generation. It’s also one of her more distinguished looks of her career, which is saying something as she does a great job being memorable in most of her projects. The winter-wear bad-ass assassin in HANNA (2011), the 1930’s style in BROOKLYN (2015), now we have the catholic schoolgirl with red hair who gave herself the name “Lady Bird.”

Metcalf is also incredible as the mother who feels unappreciated in her efforts to provide a decent life for her family. She works her ass off as a nurse, comes home to a rebellious teen daughter that she butts heads with, it’s almost a wonder why the movie doesn’t split the focus of its story with the two ladies. Though… maybe in a brilliant sort of way, even though this is Lady Bird’s story, they still work in just how integral she is to the story. I mean, no duh, it’s about a daughter and her mother, so of course the mother would be integral, but Marion feels a little more humanized here. She works her ass off, gets almost zero credit from her daughter, her husband goes behind her back to do Lady Bird favors, which betrays her trust, and all these other things that make her feel small and useless.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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Although I do have to ask the question, did I miss the part where it was a bad thing that Lady Bird got into a college and one of her more preferred ones at that? Maybe it’s because I was hopped up on two long island iced teas, but aren’t parents generally happy when their kids get into colleges, no matter how far away it’d be. And hell, I don’t even remember if distance was the issue with Marion. I think I remember the two arguing about other colleges she can get into, but you’d think Lady Bird’s happiness would be paramount in that department.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

The comedy also really shines through. There’s a bit where you see Lady Bird and Julie (Beanie Feldstein) snacking on Sacramental bread (they go to a Catholic school), which I found hilarious. There’s also the acting exercises for their school’s play and one of the games was “first to cry.” I won’t give away the punchline, but… I was howling. And even some other dramatic moments stand out. Like, Lady Bird was dating this cute boy Danny (Lucas Hedges), and they really had a nice relationship, but then finds him making out with another boy. Quite a shock in of itself, which naturally sent Lady Bird’s emotions through the proverbial woodchipper. But in a later scene, we see him trying to talk to her about the incident and he comes out to her, fully admitting it. That was really heartbreaking to watch, as you can imagine being a closet homosexual in a Catholic school has got to be a frightening thing to live with. But Lady Bird accepts it, they hug, and the emotions just speak for itself. That was a great scene that felt real.

Now it’s time to talk about why I felt a little underwhelmed by the movie.

While I’m not sure if this necessarily a fault in the movie, it feels a little too similar to other projects in the recent past, one of them Gerwig was actually a part of. Specifically, I mean 20TH CENTURY WOMEN and CERTAIN WOMEN (2016), both in writing style for the characters and even the aesthetic of the film itself. Each movie is overly realistic in its portrayal of mothers (referring to the Michelle Williams portion of CERTAIN WOMEN) and their troubled family relationships, specifically their children. I also feel like both films also utilize a soft focus, or soft lighter colors. The younger characters are somehow deeply philosophical beyond their years, the mothers are disconnected from their children, it just all feels a little too… repeated. To be fair, these are different movies. The Michelle Williams portion of CERTAIN WOMEN focused more on how undermined she was treated in her marriage and how much her daughter didn’t listen to her when she asked her to participate in the construction of their home. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN focused more on the mother and her growing understanding that the times are changing and her son’s personal life will always be a mystery to her, no matter how much she tries to be a part of it. Here, the focus is on the child and her trying to break free of her mother’s influence and guilt trips, but still wishing they had something in common to better connect with each other. Different films, but extremely similar in feel and themes. Undermined authority of the mother and disconnection between the mother and child. Perhaps I would like this movie as much as everyone else does if I hadn’t seen these previous films, which feel like they really influenced this.

Also, now that I’ve foolishly looked up this film online, it looks like Gerwig wanted this to be a female equivalent to BOYHOOD (2014), or similar films to that. Basically a film about growing up, but in the perspective of a female. Um… yeah, while I think the movie’s are on par with each other as far as quality in storytelling and characters, BOYHOOD is in a different class of its filmmaking, in the sense that it took eighteen some-odd years, off and on, to make. Gerwig’s been trying to get this off the ground for two years. Don’t get me wrong, making a film is not easy, and getting one financed by a production company and released to the public is probably even harder. But eighteen years? Same cast of adults and kids, and still keeping them interested? Literally watching the kids grow up? over the course of this three hour movie? That’s… something else and I don’t think LADY BIRD is quite like that. This isn’t a negative toward the movie, but it’s a comment that I needed to… well, comment on.

Again, to be fair, between the two aformentioned films, CERTAIN WOMEN and 20TH CENTURY WOMEN, and this film, LADY BIRD is the superior film. It’s funnier, it’s more interesting, it’s better written, and it’s got more memorable and powerful performances that I think will leave a bigger impact on me. Do I see this movie as great as everyone else? Not really, but I won’t argue those that do. It’s brilliant and for Gerwig, who’s not the most experienced director, this is impressively done and I hope to see her write and direct more in the near future. Whatever she chooses, I’ll be interested. High recommendation from me. It’s likely got a limited release, so it might take a little effort to find it at you local cinemas, but it’s well worth that effort, time, and money. This spunky bird’s flight home is quite the trip.

My honest rating for LADY BIRD: a strong 4/5

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MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) review

Please be good… That’s pretty much all I can say to this movie.

A little background on the film, as there’s a bit of history. In 1934, famed novelist Dame Agatha Christie wrote the novel, Murder on the Orient Express, known in America as Murder in the Calais Coach. It followed the exploits of Christie’s first published character and arguably her most famous, Detective Hercule Poirot, appearing in thirty-three novels and many more other forms. Specifically, Orient Express was Poirot’s eighth outing in Christie’s books. The book would eventually be adapted into the movie, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in 1974, which included a pretty star-studded cast, like Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Michael York, and Jacqueline Bisset, just to name a few. Hell, I might check this movie out in the future if I have the time. It would be adapted two more times in the future. In 2001, it was adapted into a TV movie movie starring Alfred Molina. Ha! Even Japan adapted it into a TV mini-series in 2015, which… I believe it still going. IMDb doesn’t credit it having an end-year. Hmm.

Fast-forward to 2017 and we have, yet another, remake. So what does this movie look like it’s about? It looks like it’s about this luxury train, holding a colorful cast of characters. Someone is murdered, but everyone is a suspect, and it’s up to the “world’s greatest detective” Hercule Poirot, to figure out who did it. Seems pretty standard, but neither this book, nor this character, would be so popular if it wasn’t better than “standard.”

Here’s the star-studded cast. Starring, we have Kenneth Branagh (DUNKIRK [2017], VALKYRIE [2008], and WILD WILD WEST [1999]), Daisy Ridley (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015] and upcoming films STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and PETER RABBIT [2018]), Lucy Boynton (REBEL IN THE RYE [2017], SING STREET [2016], MISS POTTER [2006], and the upcoming BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY [2018]), Josh Gad (MARSHALL [2017], LOVE & OTHER DRUGS [2010], 21 [2008], and the upcoming FROZEN 2 [2019]), and Michelle Pfeiffer (MOTHER! [2017], HAIRSPRAY [2007], SCARFACE [1983], and the upcoming ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018]). In addition, we also have Judi Dench (VICTORIA & ABDUL [2017], PRIDE & PREJUDICE [2005], and TOMORROW NEVER DIES [1997]), Penelope Cruz (THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY [2016], BANDIDAS [2006], and VANILLA SKY [2001]), Johnny Depp (PIRATES: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES [2017], SWEENEY TODD [2007], DONNIE BRASCO [1997], and upcoming films SHERLOCK GNOMES [2018] and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD [2018]), Derek Jacobi (CINDERELLA [2015], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], and THE SECRET OF NIMH [1982]), and Willem Dafoe (THE FLORIDA PROJECT [2017], MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY [2007], BASQUIAT [1996], and the upcoming AQUAMAN [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing is… *double take* seriously, dude?! Kenneth Branagh?! No complaints now. Anyway, he’s known for directing CINDERELLA (2015), SLEUTH (2007), HAMLET (1996), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL (2019). Penning the screenplay is Michael Green, known for BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), LOGAN (2017), and GREEN LANTERN (2011). Composing the score is Patrick Doyle, known for THE EMOJI MOVIE (2017), IGOR (2008), HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL. Finally, the cinematographer is Haris Zambarloukos, known for DENIAL (2016), THOR (2011), SLEUTH (2007), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL.

Overall, I’m pretty excited for this. Can’t wait.

This is my honest opinion of: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

(SUMMARY)

Famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has just wrapped up a case and is making an attempt to go home and rest, hoping aboard the luxury train a friend of his owns, where Hercule meets a colorful group of people, one of them being a shady fellow named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who mentions that he has enemies and they’re coming after him and wants to employ Hercule to protect him. Hercule refuses and as a result, Ratchett is murdered that night, repeatedly stabbed to death. Hercule, unable to turn away from these events, attempts to figure out who did it.

(REVIEW)

I liked it. It’s got some style, which Branagh always has up his sleeves, and some great performances and talent. It’s not perfect, in fact there are some awkward moments that are a little too obvious for me to ignore, but it’s still a fun time.

Actually, I’m going to get the awkward notes out of the way and they mostly revolve around Branagh’s performance. There’s these really odd sequences in his private time when he’s reading a book and laughing. Thing is, his laugh is, well, awkward. It’s the laugh of a cartoon character; really high-pitched and child-like. I know Hercule isn’t supposed to be Batman-serious when he’s working, but these lighter moments may be a little too light. But there’s a flipside to this coin. Early on, we learned that Hercule has no interest in seeking romance as there’s already someone special in his life, Katherine. We don’t know what happened to her, but Hercule makes a huge deal about it. How so, you may ask? He hold a small picture frame of her in both hands and constantly says, “My Katherine,” in Belgian. This happens at least three times during the movie and it always starts with that line. But more than that, he talks out loud to the picture. Not in a reminiscent tone, or a therapeutic conversation way, but in a crazy stalker kind of way. Yeah, it’s pretty weird and a little uncomfortable. To make things even stranger, this subplot of “his Katherine” amounts to nothing in the story. It doesn’t really play a part in any decisions he makes. I suppose someone could argue, “No! It’s the one time he shows vulnerability and it’s through Katherine that he learns to think with his heart, not his head.” Well that’s certainly a cop out and a little too convenient and vague. We don’t know Katherine, so we can’t intimately know the impact she had on his way of thinking.

Thankfully, the rest of the movie is pretty solid.

The first thing I noticed was how great the cinematography was, and if you know me, I only notice it when it’s the best of movies, and here is no exception. This film feels huge. Wide shots of cities that look gorgeous. That’s another thing about this movie, there’s not a single frame that isn’t stunning. With the exception of one bit with Poirot walking through the train with Caroline (Michelle Pfeiffer) where every second a window frame blocks the audience’s view of the actors and would induce a headache if it lasted any longer, this is a very pretty movie to look at. If nothing else, you could put it on and have it in the background on your TV and class up your living room.

***SPOILERS***

 

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The cast of characters is way too big for me to go through, and honestly, most don’t get much screen time, so I wouldn’t be able to comment anyway, but I’ll mention the standouts.

Pfeiffer is… well, what do you think? She shines radiantly in this flick and is probably the best character. Her granddaughter was killed, her daughter died not long after, and her son-in-law killed himself in grief, and she wants revenge. So she managed to recruit every single person that was related to her family and the failed case that didn’t bring in John Cassetti. She organized everything and made everyone play a part and everyone affected by Cassetti’s actions got a turn in stabbing him to death. That was some powerful shit. And she rips your heart out when she confesses. You really see that fire in her eyes, wanting to take responsibility and let these people live real lives and not let Cassetti ruin them, as justice failed.

Surprise second favorite goes to Gad as MacQueen. Usually, I associate this man with playing annoying and not-funny comedy roles. I can’t name more than two films where he played drama. But lo and behold, like most funny people, he does drama pretty well as the son of the disgraced lawyer who didn’t pin the crimes on Cassetti in time before the long-standing wrongfully-accused woman committed suicide. I believed that he was angry at his father’s fall from grace and it would have been a pretty easy sell to get him to play a part in Cassetti’s organization, right by his side no less.

Hell, even Depp wasn’t too bad. That’s pretty rare for the man, especially these days. The moment he comes on screen as Ratchett, you don’t like him. You know this man is a slimy dick-weed who needs that pretentious mustache slapped right off his face. But you also understand that subtle urgency in his tone that he knows his enemies are close by and knows that he has no extensive means of protecting himself outside of his single handgun. He’s clearly a weasel, but he is a man asking for help and afraid for his life. It’s not until later on when his true identity is revealed that we might actually be on the murderer’s side. Despite how brief Depp’s role is, it’s probably for the best as it’s a solid reminder that the man is a good actor when given something good to work with.

I also give some major props to the writing in that, despite most of the characters not getting much screen time, I find it bizarre that I can still identify most their connections to the child that was murdered prior to the story. Caroline was the mother, MacQueen was the son of the disgraced lawyer, Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) was the godmother, Hardman (Dafoe) was the lover of the accused woman who committed suicide, Pilar (Penelope Cruz) was the girl’s nanny, Elena (Boynton) was the older sister, and Doctoqr Arbuthnot (Odom Jr.) was a war friend of her father’s. The only characters whose connections I didn’t remember were Mary (Daisy Ridley), Edward (Derek Jacobi), Count Rudolf (Sergei Polunin), and Hildegarde (Olivia Colman). I know there were others, but I don’t even remember their character names, let alone much else. But I’m surprised I remembered that much about them. Usually, movies like these, the details go over my head faster than a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, so I was impressed enough.

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***END SPOILERS***

While this isn’t necessarily a complaint toward the movie, I do think you should go in with a certain mind-set. What I mean is, if you’re anything like me, and you like “whodunnit” stories and you actually like to sit with the detective and figure out who did it as they do, then you might be a tad disappointed. While the movie as a narrative flows swimmingly enough, if you wanted the movie to take a breather and let you try and figure out who did it with Poirot, then the movie is a little too fast-paced for that. When he finds a clue, he knows exactly what questions to ask and knows exactly where to find answers. In that sense, the fun is a little stale and you have to go in knowing that this movie is self-contained and won’t engage audiences that effectively.

Overall, I can’t say that I’d see this movie too many more times in future, or certainly not owning it on Blu-Ray, but I had a fun time with my one view, so I am going to recommend it as a matinee screening, or a very strong rental. It’s visually appealing to look at, the sets are gorgeous, the cinematography incredible, the performances solid, and the characters largely memorable. But because I couldn’t engage in the story and figure out the mystery with the Poirot, the fun is hampered, and being the reason why repeat viewings would be vastly limited. Still, I enjoyed myself and think it’s worth a watch.

My honest rating for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017): 4/5

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