THE GLASS CASTLE (quick) review

Not much of a story for how I know about this one. I’ve seen the trailer maybe once, and the movie’s cast alone has me hooked. It’s based on a book of the same name, a memoir to be precise. It looks like it’s about this young, upscale woman with a serious stick up her ass and reflects on her childhood living on the move with her family, but eventually leaves them behind and makes her own way and holds some sort of grudge against her father, specifically. I think I have this story pegged, but it could be good.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Brie Larson (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], ROOM [2015], 21 JUMP STREET [2012], and Marvel’s upcoming CAPTAIN MARVEL [2019]) and Woody Harrelson (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN [2016], NATURAL BORN KILLERS [1994], and the upcoming Star Wars Han Solo film [2018]). In support, we have Naomi Watts (THE BOOK OF HENRY [2017], DEMOLITION [2016], KING KONG [2005], and the upcoming straight-to-TV Divergent conclusion ASCENDANT, no release date announced) and Max Greenfield (ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE [2016], HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS [2016], and TV show NEW GIRL [2011 – ongoing]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Destin Daniel Cretton, known for a bunch of short films. Cretton’s partner-in-pen is Andrew Lanham, known for THE SHACK (2017). Composing the score is Joel P. West, known for GRANDMA (2015). Finally, the cinematographer is Brett Pawlak, known for MAX STEEL (2016), THE MEDDLER (2016), and TV show HALO 4: FORWARD UNTO DAWN (2012).

Overall, I’m pretty excited for this, but I’m pretty bias toward the cast.

This is my honest opinion of: THE GLASS CASTLE

(SUMMARY)

Based on true events, set in 1989. Jeanette (Brie Larson) is an accomplished and talented writer, happily about to get married to her fiancé David (Max Greenfield). However, her life wasn’t so glitzy and glamorous because as a child, she grew up with her siblings in a harsh environment. Though their father Rex (Woody Harrelson) was a loving and well-meaning dad and husband to his wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), he was also a drunk, had a great capacity for cruelty. As an adult, her relationship with her parents is complex and uncertain as she struggles with accepting her family into the life she’s built for herself.

(QUICK REVIEW)

I really liked this movie.

First and foremost, Larson brings her A-game, as per usual. She’s a woman trying to come to grips with her family and how different they are from her, and just how much she herself evolved from when she was a child. A kid growing up with imagination and an enthusiasm for the future, but also never staying in one place and always finding ways to take care of her drunken father. Even the younger versions of Jeanette, young Ella Anderson and younger Chandler Head do fantastic jobs at showing love toward and fear of their father over the years. Harrelson also once again proves his gravity on screen as we see a complicated man who loves his family, but seems to love making promises that he’ll never be able to keep. He’s always on the move, refusing to conform to society’s rules and wants to blaze his own trails. When he’s sober, he’s loving, playful, and full of bizarre-yet-sensible wisdom. When he’s drunk, he’s careless, destructive, abusive, even violent. Even when his children want him to stop drinking, he’ll put himself through the grind to better himself. But when he does, he isn’t sober long before something pushes him back over that ledge. Again, I’m nominating Harrelson as a national treasure.

The story does remind me a little bit of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016), in the respect of a father who tries to take care of his family without doing it by the rules of what is considered “normal,” so there is a lot of bias that I have toward this film for its bold statements. Beyond that, I do love how this film does explores the complexities of generational gaps of thinking and ways of life, the difference between imparting wisdom and intelligence and the consequences of not knowing the difference. It’s a very fascinating film full of emotion, subtle and not-so-subtle intensity. Sure, there’s a few moments that seem a little too far-fetched to be taken seriously, but this movie is very good and I highly recommend it.

My honest rating for THE GLASS CASTLE: a strong 4/5

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DETROIT review

Man, I really should have paid attention in history class. I assume it’s a racially charged film. No duh, 1967 white cops in a black neighborhood, that goes without saying. But I suppose what sets this film apart is the star-studded and fairly interesting cast. I’m mostly referring to Will Poulter, who seems like he’s playing a cop who is in charge, even though he looks like he’s in high school. No offense to the man of course, he’s twenty-four years old, but just the way his face is structured, I almost don’t buy him as someone giving orders. But it’s not like I’ve seen the film and for all I know, his performance overshadows his baby face. To be fair, he is a great actor, so I’m sure that’ll be the case.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring, we have John Boyega (THE CIRCLE [2017], STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015], ATTACK THE BLOCK [2011], and upcoming films STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING [2018]), Will Poulter (THE REVENANT [2015], THE MAZE RUNNER [2014], and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER [2010]), and Anthony Mackie (TRIPLE 9 [2016], CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER [2014], PAIN & GAIN [2013], and Marvel’s upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]). In support, we have Algee Smith (EARTH TO ECHO [2014]), Jacob Latimore (SLEIGHT [2017], COLLATERAL BEAUTY [2016], and THE MAZE RUNNER [2014]), Jack Reynor (FREE FIRE [2017], SING STREET [2016], TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION [2014], and the upcoming JUNGLE BOOK [2018]), John Krasinski (THE HOLLARS [2016], 13 HOURS [2016], TV show THE OFFICE, and upcoming TV show JACK RYAN), and Kaitlyn Dever (video game UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END [2016], and TV shows LAST MAN STANDING and JUSTIFIED).

Now for the crew. Directing is Kathryn Bigelow, known for ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012), THE HURT LOCKER (2008), and POINT BREAK (1991). Penning the screenplay is Mark Boal, known for ZERO DARK THIRTY, THE HURT LOCKER, and IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (2007). Composing the score is the always amazing James Newton Howard, known for FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016), THE HUNGER GAMES (2012), M. Night Shyamalan’s LADY IN THE WATER (2006), and the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Barry Ackroyd, known for JASON BOURNE (2016), THE HURT LOCKER (2008), and UNITED 93 (2006).

Overall, yeah, this looks like it’s going to be good. Some great talent in front of and behind the camera, so I’m thinking we can expect a quality film here. Let me at it.

This is my honest opinion of: DETROIT

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1967 Detroit, Michigan. Racial tension between the black community and law-enforcement is at an all-time high and the city has become a war-zone, with officers gunning down black people in the streets for little to no cause and covering their tracks with lies and false evidence. Within the local Algiers Motel, a black teenager, fed up with the police and the mistreatment of black, fires a few blank rounds at the police to scare them, but the result is the police thinking it’s a sniper attack and the motel is raided and so ensues a night of humiliation, beatings, and murder.

(REVIEW)

I feel a little conflicted. It’s good, but I’m not sure just how good I feel about it. Definitely, the one thing I will say is don’t see it if you’re expecting a story with a happy ending. It’s not sad, or anything, but my buddy whom I saw it with said it best, “It’s depressing.”

I can’t say how long this review will be, but let’s see how I do.

First and foremost, the acting is spectacular. On the villainous side, Poulter threw me to the ground, shoved a pole in my back, and wiped the floor with me because he was so despicable, so fucking monstrous that he quite possibly stole the show. Not that I have a mind to catch on to “themes” of movies all the time, but one of them was just how low and depraved these men could get in this time period and what they managed to get away with. They will even take an act like praying, a symbolic gesture of peace, clarity, and hope, and use it to traumatize and horrify, forcing them to recite a prayer at the threat of death. And their behavior and attitude isn’t just reserved for the people of color. No, they’ll mistreat the white women too. It’s incredibly hard to watch. But the act of threatening alone isn’t enough if the victims aren’t scared out of their minds and boy howdy did I believe they were. Man, I hope shooting on that set that things were chill between everyone because even though it’s acting, I can see things getting out of hand and someone decking each other simply out of reaction, but I highly doubt that ever happened. Stories like Shia Lebeouf knocking out Tom Hardy are pretty isolated incidents. Either way, everyone did amazing and you could cut the fear in their eyes with a chainsaw and not make a scratch. If you wanted a real horror film to watch that features no monsters, this is well worth that experience.

I suppose another aspect that I can appreciate is the restraint that this movie had to not have Julie (Hannah Murray) or Karen (Dever) raped by the cops. While I’m sure that didn’t happen in the incident anyway, I can definitely see some studio big-wig trying to throw that “creative liberty” in there all in the name of “added dramatic effect.” You can’t convince me it hasn’t happened before. It sure looked like it was going to go that route what with the constant close-ups of the two women’s backsides and the animalistic men ogling over them. Hell, I was ready to rip my hair out after Julie’s clothes were ripped off. I was calling it, that’s where it was going to happen. But nope, the humiliation and the implication in the men’s eyes was more than enough, and honestly, a lot more effective.

Other than there being a great deal intensity and visceral stress and fear that you feel alongside the victims, there’s not a whole lot of praise to be spoken. It’s just holding a magnifying glass on an incident which perfectly captured the tension between two sides of a conflict and what the law was clearly there to protect at the time, and it wasn’t always its citizens.

Although, having done no real research, and certainly not having the resources that the crew had while putting this movie together, one element did bother the crap out of me. Carl (Jason Mitchell) used a pistol with blanks when he wanted to scare the cops. When the cops raid the place looking for the gun, they keep shouting for it, but… why don’t they explain that it’s not real, or didn’t have real bullets? They spent hours getting questioned and it’s like they honest to God didn’t know anything about a real gun. Is a real gun so indistinguishable from a fake one, or a real one with no real ammo? I don’t know, I grew up with paintball, airsoft, and cap guns, as well as watching a whole ton of action movies. I think I could tell the difference. These people, scared or not, really didn’t say anything?! Maybe this is a weird detail overlooked by the movie, but… yeah, that seemed off to me.

Overall, this movie isn’t for the feint of heart and it certainly shouldn’t be seen if you’re looking for a crowd pleaser. But it’s the 1960’s in one of the most crime-ridden cities in America, even to this day. This movie’s setting alone was an indication that a happy ending was never going to be in the cards. But it’s worth watching. It’s a powerful piece that will stay with you. I think a detail or two can be questioned, but it’s a good film. It’s no “must see” of the year, but if you have even a passing interest, I do recommend it.

My honest rating for DETROIT: 4/5

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THE BIG SICK review

Not much to say about my initial impressions. Although the trailer does make this movie seem a bit predictable in its humor. Middle eastern actors in leading roles, cue obvious 9/11 jokes. Also, throw in a “colored man can’t date white girl” plot. I won’t pretend to have seen a lot of movies with this premise, but it just seems a little too obvious that jokes like this would be made. I admit that there does seem to be a strong dramatic possibility what with an arranged marriage to another Pakistani girl that breaks up his relationship with the white girl, but he’s still in love with her and manages to get to know her parents while she’s in her coma. So there’s a chance this could be alright. I guess I’ll find out.

Oh, and it’s based on a true story, specifically how Kumail and his real-world wife Emily V. Gordon met. Should be interesting. And… revealing what the ending is. Oh well, the details are now more important. Here’s to hoping for some good writing.

Let’s take a look at the cast. Starring, we have Kumail Nanjiani, known for FIST FIGHT (2017), video game MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA (2017), TV show SILICON VALLEY, and the upcoming animated THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017). In support, we have Zoe Kazan (IT’S COMPLICATED [2009], REVOLUTIONARY ROAD [2008], and FRACTURE [2007]), Holly Hunter (SONG TO SONG [2017], BATMAN V SUPERMAN [2016], TV show SAVING GRACE, and Pixar’s upcoming THE INCREDIBLES 2 [2018]), and Ray Romano (ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE [2016], and TV shows MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).

Now for the crew. Directing is Michael Showalter, known for HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (2016). Co-writing, we have Nanjiani and his real world wife Emily V. Gordon, known for TV shows with his name in them. Composing the score is Michael Andrews, known for NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY ROW (2016), DADDY’S HOME (2015), THE HEAT (2013), and the upcoming DADDY’S HOME 2 (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Brian Burgoyne, known for MY NAME IS DORIS and SEX ED (2014).

Overall, this could potentially be cute, but that trailer is not a good hand-shake, so to speak. But I’ll give it a fair shot.

This is my honest opinion of: THE BIG SICK

(SUMMARY)

Based on true events. Kumail (himself) is a stand-up comedian and meets a pretty young woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan). Though the relationship isn’t intended to get very serious at first, it eventually evolves. Unfortunately for Kumail, his family is strictly Muslim, and his mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) keeps trying to arrange marriages for him, despite his lack of interest that he knows he can’t voice. But at the height of their happiness together, Emily finds out that Kumail hasn’t told his family about her, and that he’s been lying about that they want to meet her and promptly break up. Not long after, Kumail gets a phone call that Emily has been hospitalized for a spreading infection that the doctors put her under a medically induced coma to treat. Through this experience, Kumail meets Emily’s parents Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter) as they bond through this trying time.

(REVIEW)

So I have this thing that I do. Big shock, I bring a small notepad to write down notes about the movies I see. Be it about a funny or good line worth remembering, or a something that confuses or infuriates me, it all goes in my little notepad. Makes sense, right? Well, this movie is so good that I couldn’t write down more than two notes. I think from the very first scene, I was completely hooked. I won’t say that it was beyond hilarious, or anything, but there was so much charm, likability, and heart to the film that I was enjoying it from the very beginning to the very end.

From the get-go, the relationship is played off like one of those, “I’m not interested in dating” kind of relationships. In a lesser movie, we’d know that they’d hook up at the end, but the movie speeds that cliché along and they do fall for each other early on, striking up a very likable romance.

Of course, the boiling conflict starts to bubble up. Kumail’s family, specifically his mother, keeps trying to hook him up with one Pakistani woman after another. A practice that he isn’t interested in, but doesn’t speak his mind because that would mean his family would disown him. Strong religious practices, you see. So he keeps the fact that his parents wouldn’t like Emily a secret from her, and he keeps the fact that he’s dating a white girl a secret from his family. He also, for whatever reason, keeps the head shots of all the women his mother makes him see in a little cigar box or whatever that was. All that drama comes to a head when Emily finds those pictures and realizes that Kumail has been lying about eventually meeting his parents, resulting in a fight, both being kind of cruel to each other, and eventually moving on for awhile.

Within this period of time, there is a really nice blend of comedy and drama. A true rom-com in every way. At it’s core, it’s a comedy. If it’s about a stand-up comedian, then it better be, right? But it’s not afraid to throw in some drama, either. The way Kumail and Emily bark and yell at each other during their fight gets pretty heavy and does feel like a legit shame that they couldn’t talk it through, despite understandable reasons. But it’s nice to know that despite that, Kumail does still have some love left for her when he gets that call from her friend that she’s in the hospital. In fact, when her condition worsens and the doctor needs written consent from her “husband” to move forward to perform surgery on her. But all in a span of probably just a minute, two at most, he’s conflicted because legally, what he did was probably no good. In fact, would a doctor really just look at any male in that room and assume he was the husband. I’m a little iffy on the details on this one. Anyway, on the other hand, she’s possibly dying and he made a choice that would obviously save her life in the end. Or maybe you could interpret the situation like the doctor didn’t give a shit and just wanted to help an ailing woman and would accept the consequences later. If this detail in Nanjiani’s life is true, then hallelujah, but I guess now we know why that hospital was number whatever-teen. Poor medical practices, but high morality, if that’s even the case. And maybe a wiser audience member wouldn’t take the events presented at face value, as I’m assuming that Nanjiani hasn’t been to medical school to accurately depict what exactly happened and just summed up what happened from his memory. Either way, the man knew how to write a tense scene.

Now we get into the meat of the story, when Kumail meets Emily’s parents Terry and Beth. Neither think much of Kumail at first, especially Beth, who almost downright hates him. Terry’s more lenient and in their next scene together, invites him to sit in the hospital cafeteria with them, eventually leading to Terry and Beth joining him for his comedy show. Kumail eventually gets heckled by a patron, a seriously racist ISIS remark against Kumail, and… I swear, I’m taking this scene to the grave with me as a movie moment for the ages, a five-foot nothing Holly Hunter lunging at a six foot jock. That was probably the hardest I’d ever laughed during this movie. They go home, have a few drinks, and eventually bond and everyone gets close. Here’s where I have another question mark, however.  The transition, particularly with Beth, from mistrusting him to liking him seemed incredibly fast without the best reasons why. Literally, she didn’t want to go to his comedy club, one racist remark later, and then they’re practically friends that very night, sharing teen photos and all. I don’t think the motivation for fondness was properly explained. Not that the scenes weren’t cute and sweet, but everything felt sped up.

Truth be told, I wanted to say that my first real complaint about the movie was basically the premise: being in a loving relationship and lying throughout. Explosive break-ups are inevitable. But the more I think about it, as much as I dislike relationships built on a foundation of secrets and lies, this does line up with what this whole movie is supposed to be about: making mistakes, owning up to it, and making the attempt to do better and be better for it and the movie does back all that up, creating a surprisingly raw and thought-provoking narrative. Okay, sure, it’s not exactly ground-breaking in its story, but it is refreshingly well-written in a genre that either has to rely more on drama to elevate itself, or resort to bare-bone overly-raunchy comedy that usually backfires, making it a bad movie. This film is funny, charming, real, doesn’t shy away from drama, and far exceeded my expectations. If you get a chance to see this flick, I highly recommend it.

My honest rating for THE BIG SICK: a strong 4/5

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Quick Reviews: CARS 3 / ALL EYEZ ON ME / ROUGH NIGHT / 47 METERS DOWN / MAUDIE

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Starring: Owen Wilson (MASTERMINDS [2016], MIDNIGHT IN PARIS [2011], MARLEY & ME [2008], and the upcoming SHANGHAI DAWN, due out… who knows when), Bonnie Hunt (ZOOTOPIA [2016], THE GREEN MILE [1999], JUMANJI [1995], and the upcoming TOY STORY 4 [2019]), and Larry the Cable Guy (A MADEA CHRISTMAS [2013], WITLESS PROTECTION [2008], and DELTA FARCE [2007]). In support: Nathan Fillion (PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS [2013], WONDER WOMAN [2009], TV show CASTLE, and the upcoming video game DESTINY 2 [2017]), Chris Cooper (LIVE BY NIGHT [2016], THE MUPPETS [2011], and THE BOURNE IDENTITY [2002]), Armie Hammer (FREE FIRE [2017], THE BIRTH OF A NATION [2016], and THE LONE RANGER [2013]), Kerry Washington (DJANGO UNCHAINED [2012], LAKEVIEW TERRACE [2008], and TV show SCANDAL), and Lea DeLaria (TV shows ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK and ONE LIFE TO LIVE)

Directing: Brian Fee, making his directorial debut. Writing: Kiel Murray (CARS [2006]), Bob Peterson (FINDING NEMO [2003]), and Mike Rich (SECRETARIAT [2010], RADIO [2003], and THE ROOKIE [2002]). Composing: Randy Newman (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY [2013], SEABISCUIT [2003], JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH [1996], and the upcoming TOY STORY 4 [2019]).

(SUMMARY)

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is still as popular as ever and still considered a champion after all these years. But then a harsh reality settles in when a rookie racer named Jackson Storm (Hammer) starts surpassing him in speed and starts winning the races. Sadly, he’s also a jerk to Lightning and eventually, Lightning’s inability to keep up causes him to spin out of control and he experiences a horrible crash. Though out of the game for a few months, Lightning is determined to decide for himself when he quits, not the voiced of those who think he should. After signing on to a new sponsor, headed by Sterling (Fillion), promising to train him to the point of being just as fast as Storm, with the help of the young and eager trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), whose training methods frustrate Lightning as a big race approaches that will determine his staying power in the sport of racing.

(REVIEW)

It’s surprisingly better than I thought, but… yeah, it’s still just okay. I admit that there is a certain level of poetry to see a career and proud racer learning to accept his age and growing increasingly aware that his time may be coming to an end, but wanting to end on his own terms, not because others are telling him too. It can be surprisingly brutal, so when McQueen is determined to prove his worth, it is pretty easy to get sucked in to his story. Sadly though, the movie is mired in predictability and a ton of lame and unfunny jokes. The moment a certain plot point crops up, you know exactly where the story is going to go. Even though it’s handled well, the rest of the movie getting to that point simply feels like filler. By no means bad, it’s still not consistently written well like Pixar’s previous work. While being the most memorable and poignant of the Cars films, it’s still not up there with Pixar’s greats.

My honest rating for CARS 3: 3/5

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Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr. In support, we have Kat Graham (ADDICTED [2014], DANCE FU [2011], and TV show THE VAMPIRE DIARIES), Lauren Cohan (THE BOY [2016], and TV shows THE WALKING DEAD and CHUCK), and Danai Gurira (TV show THE WALKING DEAD and upcoming films BLACK PANTHER [2018] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]).

Directing: Benny Boom (S.W.A.T.: FIREFIGHT [2011]). Writing: Jeremy Haft (STREET KINGS 2: MOTOR CITY [2011] and GRIZZLY MOUNTAIN [1997]), Eddie Gonzalez (STREET KINGS 2: MOTOR CITY), and Steven Bagatourian. Composing: John Paesano (ALMOST CHRISTMAS [2016], video game MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA [2017], animated film SUPERMAN/ BATMAN: APOCALYPSE [2010], and upcoming films MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE [2018] and PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING [2018]. Cinematographer: Peter Menzies Jr. (GODS OF EGYPT [2016], THE INCREDIBLE HULK [2008], LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER [2001], and the upcoming animated film PETER RABBIT [2018]).

(SUMMARY)

Tupac Shakur (Shipp Jr.) started off as a normal kid growing up with his lawyer mother Afeni (Gurira) and his younger sister. But when the kids are forced to live in California, Tupac quit school to earn money to take care of his sister. He started rapping and didn’t take long before he was signed on to his first studio. In just a couple years, he became one of the most controversial and popular rappers in the 90’s.

(REVIEW)

I wish I could say this movie got me into the life of one of the most popular rap artists of all time, but… it’s a movie I feel like I’ve seen a dozen times over, particularly in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015), or in better films like MOONLIGHT (2016). While that acting is good, particularly Graham as a young Jada Pinkett Smith is the spitting image of the younger version of the real-world woman, and Shipp Jr. does bring a ton of energy to the role he’s been given, it just doesn’t do anything particularly new. Give COMPTON a little credit, you can argue that it came out around the time when police brutality was getting a ton more media attention in recent years, and could be interpreted as a call-to-arms against that kind of bullshit. This movie is just a standard biopic. Plus, I’m going to be on Jada Pinkett Smith’s side and say that it’s tasteless for the film-makers to throw in a poem that she never knew existed until years after Tupac’s death all in the name of a forced, directionless, and unimpactful romance subplot. It’s not the worst, I suppose, but I couldn’t get into it.

My honest rating for ALL EYEZ ON ME: a weak 3/5

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Starring: Scarlett Johansson (GHOST IN THE SHELL [2017], THE JUNGLE BOOK [2016], HER [2013], and the upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Jillian Bell (FIST FIGHT [2017], OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY [2016], and 22 JUMP STREET [2014]), Zoë Kravitz (ALLEGIANT [2016], MAD MAX: FURY ROAD [2015], X-MEN: FIRST CLASS [2011], and the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 [2018]), Ilana Glazer (THE NIGHT BEFORE [2015] and TV show BROAD CITY), and Kate McKinnon (GHOSTBUSTERS [2016], TV shows SNL and THE VENTURE BROS, and upcoming animated film FERDINAND [2017] and animated TV series THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS RIDES AGAIN). In support: Demi Moore (WILD OATS [2016], CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE [2003], and G.I. JANE [1997]), Ty Burrell (FINDING DORY [2016], MUPPETS MOST WANTED [2014], and TV show MODERN FAMILY), Colton Haynes (SAN ANDREAS [2015], and TV shows ARROW and THE GATES), and Paul W. Downs (TV show BROAD CITY), who also co-wrote the script.

Directing and co-writing: Lucia Aniello. Composer: Dominic Lewis, known for FIST FIGHT, MONEY MONSTER (2016), and THE DUFF (2015). Cinematographer: Sean Porter, known for 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) and GREEN ROOM (2016).

(SUMMARY)

Jess (Scarlett Johannson) is a city counselor, and about to get married. Her best friend from college, Alice (Jillian Bell), has planned a fun weekend in Miami, Florida to celebrate, along with their other friends Blair (Zoë Kravitz), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon). After a wild night of drugs, drinking, and dancing, they return to their rented home and hire a stripper. Unfortunately, Alice accidentally kills the man and the ladies panic and try to figure out what to do next.

(REVIEW)

Yup, didn’t like it. Raunchy comedies and I rarely get along, and this is no real exception. Far too many jokes are sex or drug related and I just can’t laugh at this brand of shock humor when it’s been done countless times before with no real variation. Even if there is a joke done in a different way, that doesn’t automatically mean comedy. While I do admit that there are a couple legit surprises that I didn’t see coming, and some of the reaction shots can be humorous, making this arguably my favorite movie that McKinnon’s been in, none of this really prevents the movie from being bad. It’s by no means the worst – can’t be too mad at a movie that I knew wouldn’t be funny to me – but I don’t see myself seeing this movie again. Only see this if you do like raunchy meaningless comedy, but even then, I think there’s funnier and better comedies out there.

My honest rating for ROUGH NIGHT: a weak 3/5

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Starring: Mandy Moore (TANGLED [2010], A WALK TO REMEMBER [2002], and THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: THE ROYAL ENGAGEMENT [2001]), and Claire Holt (TV show THE ORIGINALS, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, and H20: JUST ADD WATER).

Directing and co-writing: Johannes Roberts (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR [2016]) Co-writing: Ernest Riera (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR). Composer: tomandandy (SINISTER 2 [2015]), RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION [2012], and THE HILLS HAVE EYES [2006]). Cinematographer: Mark Silk.

(SUMMARY)

Loving sisters Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Holt) are on vacation in Mexico, mostly because Lisa is getting over a bad break-up because she’s apparently too boring. In an effort to spice up her life and show her boyfriend up one, Kate drags Lisa in a cage dive to see sharks. However, not long after they get submerged and see three great white sharks, the cable to their cage snaps and the crane breaks off the boat and the three young women plummet to the ocean floor. With no communication to the surface, rapidly depleting oxygen, and bloody wounds attracting the sharks, it becomes a series of desperate gambles to stay alive.

(REVIEW)

I wanted to like this, I really did. But I do not. I honestly don’t know how this movie is feature-length. Leave the cage, get eaten by a shark. Stay in the cage, hang out, be safe, let search and rescue do its job. This movie shouldn’t be very long. But it’s one of those movies where you’d be justified in screaming at the screen, “Oh nah, girl, don’t do it!” “Bitch gonna get eaten!” This movie is so poorly written that I an curious if I could make a drinking game out of it: take a shot for every time Moore says, “Please be careful,” “I am so scared,” “No, please, don’t go.” Seriously, someone try this out for me when it comes out on Blu-Ray. There is great atmosphere, and some chilling visuals I give it that. But the story falls flat when it comes to characters that are annoying and an ending that feels like such a slap in the face of the viewers, I can’t recommend this movie to anyone. No, not the worst. I didn’t think I’d like it, but it’s not good.

My honest rating for 47 METERS DOWN: a weak 3/5

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Starring: Sally Hawkins (PADDINGTON [2014], BLUE JASMINE [2013], JANE EYRE [2011], and upcoming films PADDINGTON 2 [2017] and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]) and Ethan Hawke (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN [2016], BOYHOOD [2014], DEAD POETS SOCIETY [1989], and the upcoming VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS [2017]).

Directing: Aisling Walsh. Writer: Sherry White. Composer: Michael Timmins. Cinematographer: Guy Godfree

(SUMMARY)

Set during the 1930s in Marshaltown, Nova Scotia. Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) is an arthritic woman with a talent for simple paintings. Unable to take care of herself, she sets out to look for a job to provide for herself. As fate would have it, a local impoverished fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawk) is looking for a woman to take care of his small house while he’s out on his rounds trying sell fish and wood. She takes the job and though their relationship is beyond rocky, the two eventually strike up a complex relationship, leading to an imperfect but loving marriage, all the while the local townsfolk flock to their home to buy her increasingly popular paintings.

(REVIEW)

It kills me to do a quick review on this movie, but I’m paralyzed on what to say about it other than… it’s one of the best romance films of the year. Both Hawkins and Hawke are phenomenal and flawlessly bring to life a relationship that is so unconventional, so complex and complicated, yet so tender, meaningful, and beautiful that I can’t help but gush. With gorgeous landscapes, cute, but memorable artwork, and unforgettable performances, this is one of those few reminders that a movie doesn’t need to have the biggest drama or greatest of stakes to be compelling, or to overly dramatize to make interesting. All it needs is to give you a raw and passionate look into the life of a woman who may not have changed the world, but definitely changed and warmed the hearts around her. And wiping away the tears in my eyes, I happily say that this brilliant films warmed mine.

My honest rating for MAUDIE: 5/5

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MEGAN LEAVEY review

Full disclaimer: never heard of Megan Leavey before this movie.

Before seeing it, I thought it looked pretty solid. A war drama featuring a female protagonist. That’s pretty infrequent, and focused on an interesting topic: Marine canine handlers and the relationships forged in the service. Well, being a dog lover myself, I couldn’t help but get myself pretty excited for this movie. It looked good, it looked like it had some emotional weight to it and some great acting, yeah, I was ready.

Let’s take a gander at the on-screen talent. Starring, we have the under-appreciated, but uber talented Kate Mara (MORGAN [2016], THE MARTIAN [2015], and ZOOM [2006]). This poor girl. She’s barely ever been given a chance to properly shine, hasn’t she? In the movies where she’s kind of the focus, it’s not a good film (CAPTIVE [2015] and FANT4STIC [2015]), or if she’s in a good movie, she’s usually delegated to a supporting role (THE MARTIAN or 127 HOURS [2010]). This is always a shame because she can be legit great, so it made me pretty happy to see her showing off those acting chops. In support, we have Common (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 [2017], BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT [2016], AMERICAN GANGSTER [2007], and Pixar’s upcoming COCO [2017]), Tom Felton (A UNITED KINGDOM [2017], RISEN [2016], and TV show THE FLASH), Ramon Rodriguez (NEED FOR SPEED [2014], TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN [2009], and TV show IRON FIST), Edie Falco (THE COMEDIAN [2017], THE QUIET [2005], and TV show NURSE JACKIE), and Bradley Whitford (GET OUT [2017], SAVING MR. BANKS [2013], THE CABIN IN THE WOODS [2012], and the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Gabriela Cowperthwaite, known for the documentary BLACKFISH. Oh wow, three total writers: Pamela Gray (CONVICTION [2010] and A WALK ON THE MOON [1999]), Annie Mumolo (BRIDESMAIDS [2011]), and Tim Lovestedt, making his feature-film debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Mark Isham, known for THE ACCOUNTANT (2016), THE MIST (2007), and BLADE (1998). Finally, the cinematographer is Lorenzo Senatore, known for RISEN, THE FOURTH KIND (2009), and STARSHIP TROOPERS 3: MARAUDER (2008).

I was pretty interested in this film and went in with some fairly high expectations and was pretty excited.

(SUMMARY)

Based on true events between 2003 and 2012. Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) was a directionless young woman who made one bad choice after another. Deciding to try something that will get her far away from her current life, she joins the Marines. But old habits die hard as some drunken antics land her some unsavory responsibilities around her base, specifically cleaning the canine pens. While there, she gets inspired to work with the working military dogs and through hard work, gets paired with the most aggressive of their dogs, Rex, a German Shepard. Though the relationship is rocky, the two eventually bond, climbing the ranks, and served in two deployments in Iraq. The story follows their exploits in the service and Megan’s eventual struggle to adopt him.

(REVIEW)

Wow. I mean, wow. Yes, yes, and a thousand kinds of yes. This movie is fantastic.

Honestly, from the opening, I wouldn’t have guessed how great this movie is because it’s the fourth out of five films I saw (so far) this week that have started with an annoying opening narration that really didn’t need to be there. Not to mention, though I didn’t know this at the time, the movie is practically three movies shoved into one. Any cynic would say that, on paper, this shouldn’t work. And yet, it works beautifully.

Ugh, my mind is racing with things to talk about. I don’t know where to start.

The mood starts off perfectly and you get why this young woman with no drive would randomly join the Marine Corps. Even once Megan arrives at boot camp, the movie wisely strays from certain clichés that these movies are known for. You know, the drill sergeant singling her out for no reason, she being either the best or worst in her class, alienated by her fellow recruits, or somehow making waves during training. Don’t get me wrong, some films do this exceptionally well, like FULL METAL JACKET (1987) and HACKSAW RIDGE (2016), but it’s nice to see a movie where they don’t try to squeeze that into this part of the story where it’d just leave you comparing it to another movie. Megan struggles, but she’s not the worst or the best. She’s just another recruit and passes through hard work.

Naturally, she screws up again despite her achievements and this is where the movie really starts. Rex is the most aggressive military dog that the base has and not many handlers seem to be able to handle him well. Hell, the only person we see handling him ends up getting bit by Rex and his arm getting broken. First of all, I shouldn’t be surprised that a dog’s bite can be powerful enough to break a human bone, but usually in movies featuring dog attacks, they either leave a nasty bite mark, or its victims get mauled to death. I don’t often see movies do something in the middle by way of dog-related injuries, but that’s all beside the point. I found it interesting that Megan didn’t actually want to train with Rex at first. She only got saddled with him because he was the only available canine to train with. I especially enjoyed their bonding scene where she refuses to give him food until he obeys one command from her, to which he does eventually. I like how when they’re flying to Iraq for the first time that Rex barks a lot because he doesn’t like flying. The only way he calms down is when Megan sleeps with him in his cage. It’s these bonding moments that feel so authentic and really get you invested in their relationship.

But what about the actual war stuff? Well, don’t expect giant battles that shape the face of war, but anything taking place overseas is done extremely well. You get a few scenes with Megan and Rex doing their job of sniffing out bombs and such and they’re always suspenseful. They sniff out a civilian car driven by a man and his young son, who asks what Rex’s name is. Out of pity, Megan tells the kid, but she gets in trouble and learns the dangerous subtleties of what you can and can’t do as a soldier in Iraq.

There’s another scene where they’re in a man’s home who seems benign enough, but as Rex sniffs for any weapons, I’m sitting in my seat rather uneasy and wondering if Rex was about to find anything. As soon as that mutt sits down to indicate that he did, the characters open a wall and find a shit-load of firearms and have the man arrested. This scene is especially triumphant because when a character tells Megan, “You just saved hundreds of lives,” you can easily believe it. Look at all those rifles and all those bullets! Those were about to get into the hands of terrorists or insurgents who would seek to kill foreign soldiers or innocent lives. Typically, that line is reserved for someone who stopped the big bad head-honcho, but anyone could easily argue that if you got rid of one guy, he’d just be replaced by another ambitious asshole and who knows what kind of damage this new guy could inflict. This movie showcases the bad guys getting stopped from providing weaponry for their own little army. While the scene is only a one-off and doesn’t tie in much to the rest of the story, it’s still repurposing a line that lesser action movies overuse and makes it both practical and rewarding for the audience, but sheds light on just what kind of heroes we have overseas, both on two or four legs, and illustrates just how far Megan’s come since her lower than low lifestyle and attitude she had just a couple years prior.

So before anyone asks, yes, this is an emotional movie. Get tissues ready. But I think the hidden brilliance is in that it doesn’t feel exploitative. Their relationship is built up through the course of the movie and that choking-up feeling was well justified. So when Rex is relieved of his duties when he develops facial palsy and Megan learns that he’ll eventually be put down, her struggles to adopt him and succeeding feel all the more rewarding by the end. And yes, Rex dies, but it’s not something the audience sees. Rex didn’t die in combat and it doesn’t go all MARLEY & ME (2008) and you have watch the poor thing die. It’s mentioned before the credits in a post-movie real-footage text. I don’t consider this a spoiler because this was a real-world event that you can look up online before seeing the movie. The point of the movie is building up on this relationship, both their professionalism and love for each other, as well as providing an intriguing insight into a subject that isn’t often tackled in film, as well as the added bonus of it being a female-lead war film. That’s rare.

There may be a could issues that I have sprinkled around here and there. I mentioned an the opening narration, which was a legit eye-twitch for me. There’s also a weirdly stupid scene where Megan’s hooked up with another soldier and while she’s saying how she’s not going to reenlist, he is and leaving in just couple of days, to which she gets upset at him, despite a conversation about neither wanting the relationship to be too serious. That sure was out of left field. And maybe I’d like some more screen time with Felton, who seemed like he was playing a pretty pivotal character who had a lot of influence and inspiration toward Megan, but these are pretty small nitpicks that don’t take up much screen time and some of them aren’t even the focus of the movie, so I let them slide.

Overall, it’s a unique story that’s not often tackled, if ever. It’s rich with emotion and investment. Mara carries this movie like a champion, arguably making this her best role that will hopefully lead to equally great roles in the future. Despite having three writers and a director only known for documentaries, this is certainly an impressive first for everyone involved. If I had a shot of tequila, I’d drink to their future successes. This is definitely a must-see film and I thoroughly love it and can’t wait to own it on Blu-Ray. Don’t miss out.

My honest rating for MEGAN LEAVEY: 5/5

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Quick Review: CHURCHILL

I hate to do it this way, but I have a lot of reviews ahead of me and I haven’t gotten my initial impressions down for them, even for movies that came out last week, which I still have to see. Thanks a lot, INJUSTICE 2. You made me a procrastinator!

Before seeing it, I thought the movie looked great. Brian Cox, John Slattery, what wasn’t to like? I saw it and thoroughly enjoyed it. But then I saw the reviews and ratings for it. They were not favorable. Many of the problems from what I read were about certain events that didn’t take place during the time that the movie depicted, heavy dramatization of Winston Churchill’s problems with Operation Overlord, which is what this movie leans on, among other things. A great deal of scrutiny came down upon the writer of the movie, Alex von Tunzelmann, whom is a historian herself for getting facts wrong.

While I can’t deny that does seem like a strange choice to make, I still can’t bring myself to dislike the film. While I won’t likely get the truth from this film about the great historical figure, I enjoy this movie in the same way that I enjoyed MISS SLOANE (2016). Sure, the subject matter may be distorted, but the acting is what sold me on both films. Cox and Slattery are amazing. Any scene they share together is phenomenally enjoyable. Even Ella Purnell stole the show a couple times, playing Churchill’s secretary. I won’t pretend that this movie was an emotional powerhouse, but it’s still worth seeing if you’re a Cox or Slattery fan. The story itself, Churchill voicing his concerns against Overlord mere hours before its execution, requires more suspension of disbelief than I was willing to suspend, but the talent made this movie enjoyable. I will let the history buffs hate the film, as I can’t tell them they’re wrong, but I enjoyed the performances, if nothing else.

My honest rating for CHURCHILL: 4/5

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JOY (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.

Let’s face it, we were all thinking it. This is just SILVER LININGS 2.0. Don’t you lie. And more than a few of us were getting annoyed that, YET AGAIN, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper were in a movie together. I know I was. But similar to SILVER LININGS, I had an expectation that this movie would have the same popularity. Funny… it didn’t. In fact, upon release, this movie seemed to get panned by critics and word of mouth seemed like this was a clunker. I suppose my desires to see this movie stemmed from that alone, never mind the fact that I didn’t know what this movie was really about. But oh well, MOVIE TIME!!!

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (PASSENGERS [2016], AMERICAN HUSTLE [2013], and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK [2012]). In support: Robert De Niro (THE COMEDIAN [2017], HANDS OF STONE [2016], and KILLER ELITE [2011]), Bradley Cooper (WAR DOGS [2016], ALOHA [2015], THE A-TEAM [2010], and upcoming films GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Édgar Ramírez (GOLD [2017], THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN [2016], and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM [2007]), Virginia Madsen (RED RIDING HOOD [2011], WONDER WOMAN [2009], and DUNE [1984]) and Dascha Polanco (THE PERFECT MATCH [2016], GIMME SHELTER [2013], and TV show ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK).

Directed and written by: David O. Russell (AMERICAN HUSTLE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, and I HEART HUCKABEES [2004]). Co-composed by David Campbell (a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of) and West Dylan Thordson (SPLIT [2017]). Cinematography by: Linus Sandgren (LA LA LAND [2016], THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY [2014], and PROMISED LAND [2012]).

(SUMMARY)

Based on the life of Joy Mangano, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is living a fairly run-down life that may not lack for drama, isn’t the life she wants for herself. She takes care of her divorced parents Rudy (Robert De Niro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen), her supportive grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), and her beloved daughter Christie (twins: Aundrea and Gia Gadsby). Joy has always had an inventive mind and one day wants to invent a mop head that is incredibly absorbent, but even better, is reusable by simply throwing it in the wash-machine and it coming out like new. However, she can’t seem to catch a break by selling it on the streets. That is… until her ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez) sets her up with an interview with Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), a TV executive who specializes in TV shows that sell things. From here, excitement and drama takes hold and maybe Joy selling her Miracle Mop isn’t as easy, or leads to the hopes of a better life, as she would hope.

(REVIEW)

While I do think the critics are being a little harsh on the film, I can’t say that I was all that impressed with the movie either.

Let’s get my Lawrence-bashing out of the way. I don’t care for her performance here. I’ve seen this role when she was in AMERICAN HUSTLE, but at least that was a film that was calling for her character to be over-the-top and comedic. Here, it’s that same performance, but more dramatic and I just couldn’t take Lawrence that seriously. I mean, she’s fine, but I just don’t see her playing Joy Mangano, I see her TRYING to play Joy Mangano, if that makes any sense. I guess I just expect a woman who has to put up with so much in her life to be a little more worn down instead of just constantly looking annoyed and ready to punch her entire family in the face.

And Cooper and De Niro are in this movie for NO reason other than getting asses into the seats. They aren’t given compelling material to work with. Rudy could have been played by ANYBODY. Why waste a nothing role like this on such a big actor? Cooper’s no different. He just acts like every other fucking character he’s played. Seriously, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 can’t get here fast enough. If anyone thought I had problems with Lawrence, oh dear god I have problems with Cooper. He’s not a bad actor, but he never does anything new with himself. He’s like a talented Megan Fox: type-cast and loves it.

I think about the only real enjoyable thing about this movie is the chemistry between Lawrence and the in-movie family. All cramped in a house that’s way too small for so many people who barely get along, there’s a certain comedic charm to it. I mean, I didn’t laugh at anything in particular, but it was engaging. Better than boring, I suppose. And to see Lawrence act like she can’t act, I won’t lie, kinda made me giggle. There’s a scene where Joy insists on going on live television to sell her Miracle Mop herself, but as soon as the cameras start rolling, Joy freezes up. She’s all quiet and looking around not at the camera, she’s making a kind of fool of herself and it’s entertaining to see Lawrence act like that.

Rumor has it that Lawrence and Amy Schumer are working on a comedy together. Maybe I should be more excited for that movie because, honestly, with the exception of HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, her dramatic roles have always been underwhelming for me, but her comedy-ish roles, like in AMERICAN HUSTLE, she was funny. Maybe she should give that a whirl for awhile. Just a thought.

Anyway, this movie was definitely not for me. It’s not awful by any means, but… I saw this once. I’m good. If you’re a fan of the lead actress (like the rest of the world is), then you might find enjoyment, and maybe the subject matter to be interesting, but as for me, it’s okay.

A weak 3/5

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