Film Review: “Atomic Blonde”

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy and John Goodman
Directed By: David Leitch
Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Focus Features

David Leitch’s first solo directed movie comes after the success of his work on the “John Wick” franchise. While a lot of the “Wick” DNA is on display in many of its action sequences, “Atomic Blonde” suffers from a choppy narrative and lack of character intrigue outside of its two leads.

MI6 agent Lorraine (Theron) is first seen, covered in bruises and burning the memories of a former ally. She walks into a soundproof room to give her recorded recollection of her undercover week leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. She recounts her tale of infiltrating East Berlin, in search of an allusive watch containing information on every agent deployed during the Cold War. Failing to retrieve that token, may result in another 40 years of nuclear arms muscle flex by the U.S. and Soviet Union.

The premise is alluring as Theron’s character radiates macho gusto and calm precision. She speaks in short, biting simplistic sentences and delivers angered quips under her breath. She’s matched by a Berlin ally, David (McAvoy), who’s underground smuggling and cocky smirk covers his secretive intentions. The two, while relatively friendly, aren’t about to become buddies as they spy and record each other. “Atomic Blonde” should be an interesting blend of spy-thriller and action-survival, but is bogged down by its jumbly plot.

There’s plenty of exposition to munch on, but nothing clear or meaningful. There are dozens of characters brought in and out of the woodwork to offer their allegiances and services, but none bring a unique personality or influence to the script. The exquisite opening for “Atomic Blonde” quickly sinks into uninvolving plot progression that feels like an assigned household chore before the film’s real goodies, the action sequences.

Hand-to-hand combat is filmed tightly, but fully in frame to put the viewer right in the middle of fists, kicks, groans and gunshots. They’re some of the film’s most inspired moments, but they’re shoehorned in towards the end and sparse. The sagging middle cuts between uninteresting character interactions and posturing that only pays off in the final 10 minutes of the movie. It makes the entire storyline a lot clearer; however the bad taste of wasted talent meandering aimlessly doesn’t leave your mouth.

This graphic novel adaptation displays an attractive visual flair along with an 80’s best-of soundtrack that keeps your eyes from wandering to far from the screen although there’s no substance beneath its neon portrait. Despite her best efforts, Theron (who also helped produce the movie) can only carry the film so far. Her mix of femme fatale and impenetrable action star is humbled by a late emotional reveal towards the end, that’s more impactful than it should be. Her recent run of action films, like “Mad Max” and “Fate of the Furious” are commendable. But “Atomic Blonde” is more bark than bite.

Film Review “Atomic Blonde”

Directed by: David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy
Distributed by: Focus Features
Running time: 115 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

When I first heard about “Atomic Blonde”, I read the quote describing it as “John Wick” with a girl! And I said, “Sure, kickass!” Charlize Theron is nothing short of amazing and extremely bad-ass, continuing from her roles in “The Fate of the Furious” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. She is just incredible. I did quite enjoy the 80’s music and the Germany setting during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately this film doesn’t succeed like “John Wick” and has some great moments of action, but never goes all-in.

Official Premise: Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on an impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to retrieve a priceless dossier from within the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through a deadly game of spies.

There was something about “John Wick” to me that just had that “their are no rules” feeling and this one felt much more by the book. I did read that Charlize Theron did most of the action herself and trained very hard for the role, so I really give her credit and I would love to be able to say that I liked it more.  There were some great standout scenes, one feeling like it was a one-shot room to room shootout. Very cool scene. Ending had some cool twists and turns, which is expected with a CIA/spy movie. Could this be a new franchise? It’s possible, I’m sure…I will hold out for a Atomic Blonde/John Wick crossover!

Film Review “Dunkirk”

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard and Mark Rylance
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hr 46 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Even though it was one of the most important events of World War II, the story has rarely been told. 400,000 soldiers trapped on a French beach in the early days of the war. That tale is now front and center in the latest film by Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk.”

June 1940. As the battle in France intensifies we happen upon a group of English soldiers. They walk quietly through the deserted streets, trying to avoid detection. Suddenly a shot rings out. Then many. They run for cover but to no avail. One manages to escape and joins others on the beach.

In England, the British Navy is requisitioning civilian watercraft to travel across the channel to help evacuate the troops. One of the boat owners, Mr. Dawson (Rylance) is readying his yacht with his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend, George (Barry Keoghan). However, rather than turn his boat over, Mr. Dawson decides to push off and make the journey himself.

High above the Channel, a pilot (Tom Hardy) gathers with his squadron mates to begin a sortie to give cover to the evacuation. It’s a high risk game of distance, altitude and available fuel. The slightest miscalculation of any or all three can spell certain death.

Told as three separate stories (Mole, Sea and Air) in three different time narratives (from a week out to a day to an hour before) “Dunkirk” is more of a thriller than a full out war film. Director Nolan, who also wrote the script, weaves the three stories together seamlessly, giving each story ample time to develop. He also has filled the cast with young actors who do a good job in projecting the fear and anticipation that war can bring. Besides misters Whitehead, Bonnard, Glynn-Carney and Keoghan, I must add pop star Harry Styles to the list. Though not a large or showy role, it is an important one, and if he ever decides to give up music he has found another profession in which he can succeed. If I have one complaint about the acting it’s that Nolan has attracted such talents as Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy but has put them in roles that don’t require a lot of acting. Both Rylance and Branagh have been recognized alongside a small group of actors as the best Britain has EVER produced and Hardy is always a treat to watch on screen. Would have loved to have seen them seriously chew some scenery.

The film is beautifully shot, and the musical score by Hans Zimmer accompanies the on-screen action perfectly. That being said, I expected a lot more action in what was being sold in the trailers as a “war film.” Why have 400,000 troops, a couple destroyers and a few squadrons of airplanes if you’re only going to use them sparingly? Anyone?

Comedian Margaret Cho Announces “Fresh Off The Bloat” Tour and New TNT Pilot “Highland”

Margaret Cho Set To Introduce Her Newest Stand-Up Comedy Material On Upcoming
“Fresh Off The Bloat Tour”

Tickets Go On Sale July 21 Via http://margaretcho.com/tour/

TNT Order New Comedic Drama “Highlands” Starring Margaret Cho To Pilot.

Five time Grammy & Emmy nominated comedian Margaret Cho has much to celebrate as she was recently named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time and is set to launch what is sure to be her sickest stand-up comedy show to date this fall. A pioneer amongst women in comedy, Margaret doesn’t take anything for granted as she continues to tackle difficult subjects with sensitivity and her razor sharp insight with her takes on addiction, abuse, activism and Asianness. It’s all about the politics of disgust and what is disgusting about politics. Aptly titled, “Fresh Off The Bloat,” Margaret says, ““Fresh Off The Bloat” is my sickest show to date. My grandmother said “You look like bloated as if you’ve been found dead in a lake after several days of searching.” Koreans are the most savage of all the Asians. My new show is all about being fresh off drugs and drinking and suicide and coming back to life – finally fished out of the river Styx. It’s meta. It’s magical. It’s me.”

The initial “Fresh Off The Bloat” tour dates go on sale Friday, July 21 here: http://margaretcho.com/tour/ – Please note that the December 6 show in Belgium will go on sale July 20. Additional dates to be announced in the coming weeks.

Margaret’s new TV project Highland has been picked up for pilot by TNT Network. Highland will chronicle what happens when two extended, dysfunctional Korean-American families who share the same patriarch must come together after tragedy strikes. As it turns out, the most reliable person in both families is the one who just got out of rehab.
“Executive producer Liz Sarnoff (Lost,Barry) and Margaret Cho’s brilliant script exposes Margaret’s warm heart and bracing humor, balancing powerful emotional truths with laugh-out-loud scenes and characters,” said Sarah Aubrey, executive vice president of original programming for TNT. “Highland continues TNT’s commitment to bringing diverse voices and worlds to television. We look forward to making a pilot with such a singular talent as Margaret Cho.”

“Fresh Off The Bloat” Tour Dates
9/23/2017 Chicago Theatre Chicago, IL
9/24/2017 Orpheum Theater – Stage Door Madison, WI
9/29/2017 Sands Bethlehem Events Center Bethlehem, PA
10/5/2017 The Wiltern Theater Los Angeles, CA, USA
10/12/2017 2 SHOWS, Gramercy Theatre New York, NY, USA
10/14/2017 Warner Theatre Washington, DC, USA
10/21/2017 2 SHOWS, Castro Theatre San Francisco, CA, USA
11/5/2017 The Fillmore Philadelphia, PA
11/25/2017 Queens Hall Edinburgh, UK
11/26/2017 Tivoli Theatre Dublin, Ireland
11/28/2017 St. George’s Hall Bristol, UK
11/29/2017 Glee Club Birmingham, UK
11/30/2017 The Lowry Manchester, UK
12/1/2017 Academy Sheffield, UK
12/2/2017 Brighton Concert Hall Brighton, UK
12/4/2017 De Meervaart Amsterdam, Netherlands (ON SALE 20 JULY)
12/6/2017 Zuiderpershuis Antwerp, Belgium
12/8/2017 Bremen Copenhagen, Denmark
12/10/2017 Shepherd’s Bush Empire London, UK
12/12/2017 Latter Oslo, Norway

Film Review: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson and Steve Zahn
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 20 mins
20th Century Fox

If you’re my age (let’s just say over 50) maybe you share one of my fondest movie memories, which was to get up early on a Saturday morning and head to the local movie theatre for the all-day APE-A-THON. That’s right. Large soda, large popcorn and the original five “Planet of the Apes” films, shown back to back. Ah to be 15-years-old again. I bring up this happy thought because I’m here to tell you about another film that made me very happy, “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

As the story begin, the Apes, led by Caesar (Serkis, who NEEDS to win an Oscar soon for his amazing motion-capture performances) and his group have retreated into the jungles. They are living peacefully when suddenly, without warning, they are attacked by a human army led by the ruthless Colonel (Harrelson), whose sole mission in life is to destroy the apes. His tribe decimated by the attack, Caesar comes to the realization that if you can’t join them, beat them. He readies the remainder of his group for the ultimate battle, one that will decide the fate of the world as we know it.

As you can tell by my opening paragraph, I’m a huge fan of all things “Ape.” One of my first celebrity interviews was with Linda Harrison, who played Nova opposite Charlton Heston’s Taylor in the original film. I liked the Tim Burton remake (though I’m still puzzled by the ending) and the previous films in this series have been consistently well made. And so is this one, purportedly the final film in the series. Like the others, it is the performances of the cast, both simian and human, that give the film its emotional power. Some people think that motion capture is just a person wearing electrodes and waving their arms. But here the actors also invest their souls, making their characters sympathetic and believable. Except for Harrelson, whose character is neither. Whether he’s shaving his head with a large knife or spouting some long lost mantra, his Colonel has many things in common with another Colonel named Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now!” In fact, as I’m sure an inside joke, inside the human compound is a patch of graffiti that reads “APE-pocalyps Now!” Steve Zahn is the latest addition to the simian cast, giving some much needed humor to the film. In 1991 I saw Zahn play Hugo in a touring production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” Nice to see he’s made something of himself.

The action, as in the previous films, is intense and the pacing is brisk, which isn’t usually the case for a film almost 2 ½ hours long. That being said, if this is the final film in the series it’s going out on top. Hail Caesar!

Grateful Dead “Meet-Up at the Movies” Returns With Unreleased 1989 Concert in Movie Theaters Nationwide on August 1 Only

Fathom Events and Rhino Entertainment Commemorate Jerry Garcia’s 75thBirthday With Seventh Annual One-Night Event to Showcase Unreleased 1989 RFK Stadium Concert

DENVER – June 29, 2017 – For the seventh year in a row, beloved American rock group Grateful Dead returns to the big screen for its highly-anticipated annual event, “Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2017.” The Meet Up features the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Brent Mydland, and Bob Weir) in concert, performing to a sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus fans in Washington D.C. The one-night-only event is scheduled for August 1, which would have been Garcia’s 75th birthday.

Presented by Fathom Events and Rhino Entertainment, “Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2017” will play in U.S. movie theaters on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. local time. This special one-night cinema event features the Dead’s previously unreleased July 12, 1989 concert from RFK Stadium.

Tickets for “Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2017” can be purchased online by visiting www.FathomEvents.com or at participating theater box offices. Fans throughout the U.S. will be able to enjoy the event in more than 450 select movie theaters through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network (DBN). For a complete list of theater locations, visit the Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).

The Meet-Up provides an annual occasion for Dead Heads to reconnect with fellow fans, as well as a chance for new devotees to experience the excitement of what it would have been like to see one of the Dead’s legendary shows live. This year’s concert features a rare first set that contains at least one song sung by each of the four lead singers and a terrific show-opening rendition of the band’s biggest hit “Touch Of Grey.” The show’s second set begins with a very uncommon second-set opener, “Sugaree,” two songs with Bruce Hornsby sitting in (“Sugaree,” and “Man Smart [Woman Smarter]”), plus one of the only video recorded versions of “Black Muddy River.”

July 12, 1989 -RFK Stadium- Set List:

Touch of Grey

New Minglewood Blues

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo

Tom Thumb’s Blues

Far From Me

Cassidy

Friend of the Devil

Promised Land

Sugaree

Man Smart [Woman Smarter]

Ship of Fools

Estimated Prophet

Eyes of the World

Drums

I Need a Miracle

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Black Peter

Turn on Your Love Light

Black Muddy River

“Earlier this spring, Dead Heads gathered in cinemas nationwide for ‘The Grateful Dead Movie 40th Anniversary,’” Fathom Events CEO John Rubey said. “We’re pleased to present them with another opportunity to ‘Meet-Up’ at the movie theater this year.”

Hart, Kreutzmann, Weir’s Dead & Company (also featuring John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti) is on tour now through July 1, 2017. For more information, visit www.DeadandCompany.com

About Fathom Events
Fathom Events is recognized as the leading domestic distributor of event cinema with participating affiliate theaters in all 100 of the top Designated Market Areas®, and ranks as one of the largest overall distributors of content to movie theaters. Owned by AMC Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: AMC), Cinemark Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CNK) and Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) (known collectively as AC JV, LLC), Fathom Events offers a variety of one-of-a-kind entertainment events such as live, high-definition performances of the Metropolitan Opera, dance and theatre productions like the Bolshoi Ballet and National Theatre Live, sporting events like “Canelo Álvarez vs. Julio César Chávez, Jr.,” concerts with artists like Michael Bublé, Rush and Mötley Crüe, the yearlong TCM Big Screen Classics film series, inspirational events such as To Joey With Love and Facing Darkness, and anime titles such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Fathom Events takes audiences behind the scenes and offers unique extras including audience Q&As, backstage footage and interviews with cast and crew, creating the ultimate VIP experience. Fathom Events’ live digital broadcast network (“DBN”) is the largest cinema broadcast network in North America, bringing live and pre-recorded events to 897 locations and 1,387 screens in 181 DMAs. For more information, visitwww.fathomevents.com.

About Rhino Entertainment
Rhino Entertainment is the catalogue development and marketing division of Warner Music Group. Founded in 1978, Rhino continues to set the standard for excellence in the reissue business it pioneered in both the physical and digital worlds with an emphasis on flawless sound quality, bonus tracks, informative liner notes, award-winning creative packaging, and a strong social conscience. Rhino has also expanded the definition of what a catalogue music company is, as evidenced by the label’s name and likeness representation deal with Frank Sinatra, its multi-faceted relationship with the Grateful Dead, and releasing new albums by heritage artists such as Jeff Beck and Cyndi Lauper. The vast catalogue of more than 5,000 releases includes material by Led Zeppelin, Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Aretha Franklin, The Doors, Chicago, Ray Charles, Black Sabbath, John Coltrane, Yes, Phil Collins, The Ramones, and The Monkees, among many others.

The Cast and Director of Netflix’s Okja

Have you met Okja? The titular “super pig” is at the heart of Director Bong Joon Ho’s newest feature which is currently streaming on Netflix. The imaginative film follows Okja, a creature genetically engineered by the shady Mirando Corporation (headed by a boundlessly enthusiastic Tilda Swinton) as a source of new consumable meat product. In a longterm PR move, this super pig is farm-raised by a young girl in Korea named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) until, unbeknownst to Mija, she is scheduled to make her big trip to NYC where Mirando aims to cash in on their investment. What follows is a wild journey to the city where Mija encounters a radical PETA-like eco-group, the ALF, as well as some harsh realities of this film’s version of the terrifying food industry.

Last month, cast members Tilda Swinton, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Lily Collins, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Giancarlo Esposito gathered in New York along with Director Bong to give their insight on making the film and its message.

Some minor spoilers

Seo-Hyun Ahn carries the film as Mija, an acting and physical feat, her and Director Bong spoke via translators about developing her performance:

Ahn: [I] was always thinking how Mija would perceive all of the things that are happening and [I] would say [I] was there as an intermediate state and Director Bong helped [me] constantly think about why would Mija do this? And what would Mija think? That sort of helped [me] in maximizing how Mija would think in the story.

Director Bong: Ahn is very experienced and she’s very energetic and focused. So She has enough energy to confront Tilda or Paul. And because of this high energy whenever we were shooting the scenic mountain scenes, [I] tried to distract Mija as best as [I] could. Whenever [Ahn] was focusing on the script, [I] would distract her by talking about catering and talking about snacks in the snack corner. [I] did [my] best to distract her as best as possible because if you try too hard then there are times that the performance doesn’t come out right. And because there are so many great actors and actresses around, she might have been pressured into giving a poor performance. [I] did [my] best to try to relax her as much as possible.

As Lucy Mirando, and later Nancy Mirando, Tilda Swinton enjoyed working with her Snowpiercer Director Bong:

Swinton: It’s a very simple and relaxed business when working with someone like Director Bong who invites a kind of playfulness and as he just described , a kind of relaxedness in all his company, not just the performers, but in all departments. What he knows…is he wants people to be relaxed and really bring something fresh and creative. And that’s an environment that I love. It’s like a kind of playpen, it’s like a sandbox to me, it’s like kindergarten. Especially working with him, he’s my playmate.

The Mirando sisters are reminiscent in their emphatic, almost cult-leader like energy of Swinton’s Snowpiercer character Mason, she discussed their similarities:

Swinton: Yes we worked on Snowpiercer together, Director Bong and I, and we kind of whipped up this insane burlesque, Mason, who is supposed to be beyond any reality but as it happens, it seems that we were behind the curve [laughs] With this one we wanted to come at the idea of a fool-clown-villain in a slightly different way. We wanted to find different ways—the different faces of high capitalism and exploitation. And so we decided in fact to split it in fact, either into a schizophrenic—I mean I sometimes wonder whether there are two people here, whether actually there isn’t one. You know because let’s face it when Lucy fades away, Nancy appears and vice-versa. So we wanted to look at two different ways of messing the world up. So we have Nancy, who is the—she doesn’t fall far from the tree of their toxic, horrendous father. And then Lucy, who is so determined to be different. She’s driving 180 degrees away from Nancy and trying to be all user-friendly and “woke” and squeaky clean. And lovable. So it was an opportunity to look at these two different faces. But I suppose you know, especially when you’re working together and your collaboration over projects, the conversation is kind of the same conversation that just evolves and goes into a whole new area. All sorts of conversations we had about Mason just sort of moved into conversations about the Mirandos. So yeah, they are cousins of a sort. And they ALL have teeth. [Laughs]

Director Bong is no stranger to centralizing creatures as metaphors in his stories, after his successful feature The Host, and he spoke about using them in that way:

Director Bong: [I’m] always drawn into creature films and creatures. However in The Host, the creature was a monster who attacked people and in Okja the creature is a very intimate friend of the protagonist Mija. They sleep together, they have a lot of interaction, they hug each other and because of this interaction, it required a lot of cutting edge visual effects work which was [my] first challenge. So it’s a pig and now in retrospect [I’m] wondering when [I contemplate why I] chose a pig as the animal. [I think] there’s no better animal than the pig that humans associate with food. Ham, sausage, jerky, etc etc. But in reality, pigs are very delicate, sophisticated and smart and obviously clean. [I think] that the way the two perspectives we have when we look at animals are all coalesced inside a pig. Through the one perspective, we look at animals as family and friends, as pets. And the other perspective is when we look at animals as food. And [I believe] these two perspectives co-exist inside a pig. In our every day lives, people try to separate these two universes apart. We play with our pets in the day and at night, we have a steak dinner. But in this film, we try to merge those two universes together and try to create this sense of discomfort…A creature film is a very effective tool to create special commentary and to get commentary in the world that we live in.

Lily Collins and Steven Yeun are both play part of the fictional eco-group led by Paul Dano and they talked about their views of such groups and animal rights activism in light of doing the film:

Collins: I’ve always been weirdly interested in food documentaries so during the prep of this movie, I watched more and Director Bong gave us all this ALF handbook. We saw lots of really difficult images of animals and treatment and the facilities…And I’m not a red-meat eater anyway, so it wasn’t that I changed my food habits or my eating habits but I definitely became more of a conscious consumer in many other types of products. I think the great thing about this film though is that it speaks to so many different types of themes—you know, nutrition and environment, politics, love, innocence lost. There’s just so many different things to be taken from this film that I think are dealt with in a way that never tutorialized [sic], but always just prompts conversations…I think what Director Bong is amazing at is taking so many different things and presenting them to you. Never telling you how to think, but if you leave the theater thinking something, we’ve done our job right.

Yeun: …I really enjoyed working with director Bong. Mostly because he likes to just tell it to you how it is, with all the gray. And so, when you get to dive into [something] like the ALF, I know that we were playing a characterization of people that are really doing stuff like this, but I feel like one thing it sheds a light on–at least for myself–was why does an individual sign up for something like this? And they’re all different. Especially in our little subgroup of the ALF. Every single character had a different reason for being there. Or had different ethics that were willing to go far or less than the other person next to them. And I think it an interesting study in that regard because sometimes you see the ALF, as they intend, to just be this giant glob organization, or anything in that way. But when you pick apart the specific individuals that take part in something like this it’s interesting to see that not all the interests necessarily align.

Animal rights groups in real life sometimes draw criticism for their tactics and in this film we see the ALF arguing for non-violence while taking part in it, Director Bong on that contradiction:

Director Bong: There’s definitely a level of contradiction within the group ALF. Even in the film, the ALF shout that they hate violence but you can see throughout the film that they constantly inflict it. They have a very noble cause and you can understand the cause. But the film also portrays them to at times [to] look foolish and portray them making very human mistakes. Simply put, [I think] they’re humans just like us. Even Lucy Mirando. She doesn’t feel like she’s a pure villain or villainess in the pure sense. She also has flaws and a fragility. There’s a moment in the dressing room scene where Lucy talks to Frank and she raises the super pig jerky and says ‘its a shame that we have to tell these little white lies’… That was an honest moment on her part. Whether that be the Mirando Corporation or the ALF members, [I want] to embrace them within the boundaries of humanity where they have flaws or they make mistakes. Actually every character in this movie is pathetic except Mija and Okja.

Dano: And how complicated it is to put a beautiful young girl in the middle of all that contradiction, you know? it’s really one of the special things about the story….I like that the film to me, even though it has many topical issues, I don’t think it’s overly preaching. It’s too complicated for that. Even Mija eats chicken stew, or catches the fish and throws the little fish back in. That’s such an important detail for this film to be true. And even though it has a fantasy animation-comic-book-graphic-novel sort of level to it, I like the truth in the contradictions.

Finally the cast gave their initial response to this project:

Collins:…You know, you sit down with Director Bong–my first meeting with director Bong was at 11am and he orders ice cream and starts talking about this pig, and I go ‘OK, I think I know what I’m signing on for!?’ [Laughs] And I fell in love with the idea that he could see me as this character and I don’t think a lot of people would have been able to see me as someone like this. But it’s so much. It’s a love story, it’s a drama, it’s a comedy, it’s an action movie, it’s a fantasy movie. It’s kind of everything you’ve ever wanted to see in one movie. And yeah…It was a moment of enlightenment really, when you read it.

Giancarlo Esposito: For me it was in many ways a return to innocence. Odd for me to say after having played [Mirando corporation lackey] Frank Dawson, but this story is so absolutely beautiful in its very connected relationship message. It doesn’t matter what that relationship is. It could be a child with their goldfish in the tank who is their best friend, or it could be Okja. But that warmth, that sensitivity and that understanding that’s developed in that relationship, for me, guided me back to thinking about my loss of innocence. When did I grow up? And how could I unlearn that growing up and see the world in a new light? Many times we are so smart, that we are ignorant and they say that education is learned ignorance. We, as performers who fantasize about telling our stories, that will make a comment on our–a social comment, a political comment, an artistic comment– through our creativity, are gifted with our ultimate gift to still remain somewhere in our heart and soul, that beautiful child that Mija is.

Swinton: I didn’t read the script for a long time because I was privileged to be a part of the cloud of the idea before it ever came to script stage. I remember very clearly Director Bong, when we went to Seoul for the premiere of Snowpiercer, he drove us to the airport the following day and leaned over the back of the seat of the car and showed me this drawing of the pig and the girl and that was it. That was three years before there was a script. But even before that moment, I have to say that one of the bonds we share is a great love of the master Hayao Miyazaki, in particular My Neighbor Totoro, and in fact we regularly sing the Totoro theme tune. It’s a thing we do. And so, the second I saw this drawing, I saw that. I this as an opportunity to fill to that homage. But also we talked about the twin sisters in Spirited Away, which I think was the seed of the Mirando sisters. Yeah, so I was, you know, I was in before it existed. Put it that way.

Conference has been edited for length and clarity. Okja is available to stream now on Netflix.

Film Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 13 mins
Sony Pictures

Stop the presses…they got it right!

Even though I’ve enjoyed the past film adventures of everybody’s favorite web-slinger (both the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions) there was always something missing. This week I discovered that the missing ingredient was one Mr. Tom Holland. Like Sean Connery is to James Bond, Mr. Holland is the BEST Spider-man EVER!

We begin with a brief prologue, showing the aftermath of the destruction of STARK Tower. Handling the demolition and scrapping of the material is Adrian Toomes (Keaton), who has liquidated his savings to handle the job. Things get bad quickly when a mysterious government official (always great to see Tyne Daly) takes over the project, leaving Toomes and his men out of work. As they leave, the workers help themselves to some sure to be top-secret materials. More on this later.

Jump ahead eight years and we find ourselves in the middle of a video diary being kept by one Peter Parker, who has spent the summer “interning” for Tony Stark (Downey,Jr.) And by interning I mean he has been training to join Stark’s force of Avengers. We see footage from the last film, “Captain America: Civil War”. Remember “Hey, Underoos?”

The summer ends and Peter is back living with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and dealing with high school bullies. Which is funny because Peter attends a school for gifted students. Yes, in a school of Nerds he is the nerdiest. And, best of all, he’s a KID!

Yes, the one thing that always detracted me from the other films is that Peter Parker was always too mature…even if he was supposed to be in his late teens. Here he is a fumbling 14-year-old dealing with changes…his own and with those around him. He’s got the wit, certainly a defense mechanism, and a cool suit, courtesy of Stark. And while Peter wants to branch out to big things, he is counseled to just play things slow…instead of tacking the big things just be “your friendly neighborhood Spider-man.”

The film rides on Holland’s slender shoulders and, to use an often-dropped cliché’, this is the role he was born to play. He gets help from Keaton, who shows up here as a different kind of Birdman. And Downey, Jr. is pure smirk as Tony Stark. And extra credit to young Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s seemingly only friend, Ned. When Ned learns Peter’s secret, he promises to keep it, in the hopes that one day he will be Peter’s “guy in the chair,” the person you always see in movies whispering into the hero’s earpiece.

A fine addition to the Marvel Movie Universe, “Spider-man: Homecoming” is one of the best in the series.

Film Review: “The Big Sick”

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan and Holly Hunter
Directed By: Michael Showalter
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Lionsgate

“X-Files” fans, like me, will have surely listened to Kumail Nanjiani’s podcast, “The X-Files Files” at some point (and if you haven’t go listen to it). While most of the time, it’s dissecting the series, episode-by-episode, there are very introspective moments, letting viewers take a glimpse into Kumail’s home life. A few of those moments spoiled “The Big Sick” for me, but despite that, the movie is a refreshing and unique relationship romantic comedy that never relies on the genre’s established tropes.

Kumail, playing himself, comes from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family. He hasn’t yet told his parents that he no longer is practicing, but he’s somewhat upfront about his dreams to be a stand-up comedian. The other thing he’s neglected to tell them, is that he’s not game for an arranged marriage. That’s because the last person in the family to ignore the arranged marriage tradition was exiled from the family. That doesn’t stop him from dating who he wants in secret.

After a night of stand-up, Kumail meets Emily (Kazan), an aspiring therapist that immediately takes to Kumail’s awkward advances, meeting them with charms, smiles and tongue-in-cheek humor. The two quickly connect and begin a relationship, that’s secret for Kumail, but open for Emily. While Emily’s parents know of and can’t wait to meet him, Kumail’s parents bring a carousel of wife prospects over for family dinners to make uncomfortable conversations in Kumail’s various passions and hobbies.

Kumail, who’s known for his recurring role on “Silicon Valley” and various deadpan cameos in comedy films, plays himself sincerely as a 30-something who’s unsure in life and allows for that uncertainty to deteriorate his relationship into an inevitable break-up. But he’s brought back into Emily’s life when she’s taken to the hospital, suffering from a mysterious disease, and induced into a coma. This is when “The Big Sick” has cultures collide.

Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, are like the parents Kumail might wish he had. He learns that they’ve accepted their daughter’s individual quirks, dreams and goals, while his parents continue to force a wife on him. But it’s through those interactions that Kumail learns to be sincere about whom he is, along with being honest. “The Big Sick” spends a lot of time with Kumail during Emily’s coma, with him soul searching. It doesn’t take away from the overall relationship between the two and the power of forgiveness.

The argument could be made that Emily’s character is sidelined, before we truly get to know her, however her parents shed some necessary light about her character. “The Big Sick” modernizes the rom-com genre while blending coming-of-age elements and cultural clashes. Despite knowing how it all plays out, “The Big Sick” kept my interest as it plays with its various themes, respectfully and wholeheartedly. It’s layered messages on love and life are good for the soul and good for the heart.

Film Review #2 “Despicable Me 3”

Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker
Distributed by Universal Pictures[2]
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 90 minutes

Mike G’s Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Illumination Entertainment really has a gold mine here with the “Despicable Me” franchise. It literally just prints its own money…but so far after three films and an even better spin-off, they are still great. Pixar’s movies cost near or above $200 million per film and don’t get me wrong they are good, at least they used to be, while Illumination knocks out films like this and “The Secret Lives of Pets” for just $80 million. These are quality films that are very entertaining, pack great voice casts and overall great movies. “Despicable Me 3” is a great addition to the series and is a step up from the second film.

Official Premise: The mischievous Minions hope that Gru will return to a life of crime after the new boss of the Anti-Villain League fires him. Instead, Gru decides to remain retired and travel to Freedonia to meet his long-lost twin brother for the first time. The reunited siblings soon find themselves in an uneasy alliance to take down the elusive Balthazar Bratt, a former 1980s child star who seeks revenge against the world.

Pharrell Williams steps up again and some great new songs for this film. I don’t think he replicated another “Happy” on this soundtrack but very fun music. In addition the film has a flood of 80’s theme of music that is very fun in this film ranging from a-ha to Madonna to Michael Jackson. Trey Parker, co-creator of “South Park” is a new addition to this cast and voices the role of villain Balthazar Bratt, a former child star who’s grown up to become obsessed with the character he played in the 80’s, Evil Bratt. Trey knocks it out of the park and steals the movie, no question. Also we get to meet Gru’s twin brother, Dru and he is another great addition to this sequel.

What I love most about this film is that it is has a nice balance. A nice balance of Gru, Lucy and the girls as well as the a fun backstory for Bratt and of course we get a good amount of those lovable Minions. If Illumination is reading, I am ready for a “Minions 2” BTW for sure next. Just love those guys (or whatever they are). I saw this with my five year old daughter and she simply had a blast. She was laughing throughout and even though some of the 80’s theme was obviously lost on her she enjoyed the balance of the characters and just had a great time watching this film. I really hope that Illumination continues down this trend and continues to deliver great animated films for the whole family!

Film Review: “Despicable Me 3”

Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig and Trey Parker
Directed by: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillion
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hr 30 mins
Universal

When we last saw our familiar cast of characters, Gru (Carell) had given up villainy, married Lucy (Wiig) and settled down to raise the bookish Margo, Tom-boyish Edith and adorable Agnes, surrounded, of course, by the Minions. When we meet them, everything is pretty much the same. Gru and Lucy are now agents for the Anti-Villain League and their current assignment is trying to stop a diamond heist being planned by the notorious Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a one-time child-star turned TMZ-style bad guy. When Gru fails at the assignment he is summarily fired by the new boss. Down on his luck, Gru learns that he has a twin brother, Dru (also Carell) who not only has a beautiful head of blonde hair but has longed to be a villain. He and Gru team up to steal the diamond from Bratt, with Dru thinking he is part of a villainous operation not knowing that Gru intends to return the diamond to its rightful owner and get his job back. Oh, and the Minions are back as well!

One of the most entertaining animated film series ever, “Despicable Me 3” continues the Illumination Entertainment tradition of turning out top-notch films that the whole family can enjoy. The new characters breathe life into the series and it’s always a pleasure to hear the vocal skills of “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker, who even goes a little bit “Cartman” here. The level of comedy for the adults is high while the Minions are plenty to keep the kids entertained. While the popular Kevin, Stuart and Bob are missing, presumably off on whatever adventures will make up “Minions 2,” “Despicable Me 3” introduces us to Mel, soon to be, I’m sure, the next big Minion star, an honor well deserved.

Film Review: “The Beguiled”

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Rated: R
Running Time: 93 minutes
Focus Features

“The Beguiled” should be a haunting historical drama that finds malice, that isn’t war or slavery, during the Civil War but it doesn’t. It feels too safe to be a retelling of a 1971 movie and too by-the-books to be a modernization of a 1966 Southern Gothic novel. As far as I’m aware of there isn’t anything drastically altered or changed that makes the 2017 version of “The Beguiled” stand out from its predecessor other than a new cast and new eye for detail.

During a trot through the rich Southern landscape, with the sounds of war in the background, Amy (Oona Laurence) comes across an injured Union soldier, Corporal McBurney (Farrell). Taking pity on the injured man, she helps him back to her home, a Virginia girl’s school. Miss Martha (Kidman) expresses concern about taking in the enemy, as well as some of the more impressionable young girls, but Edwina (Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) are more welcoming.

While not directly dividing the group, it’s the beginning of trouble for the young women and Miss Martha. There are plenty of moments of sexual frustration, passing giggles, and casual flirting through innuendo, which displays the feelings of each woman to McBurney. However, McBurney plays the field, finding ways to manipulate each of the women here and there to get one or two things he needs. The only one privy to his moves is Miss Martha, who struggles with her own temptations.

Despite the dry dialogue, watching McBurney creepily infect and use the women are some of the strongest moments in “The Beguiled,” but even at a brisk 93 minutes there’s a lot of monotony. The immense talent in front of the camera is left to retread plot points or gather together for group talk which devolves into allowing McBurney more freedom to wander the premises. It makes for a frustrating wait time before the exciting climax. But even the ending wastes it’s build-up of tension on predictability.

I’m usually one to defend the necessity of a remake, for bringing classic stories to modern audience, but “The Beguiled” isn’t one of them. I hate sounding like an old fogey, but I have to wonder what fresh take Coppola brought other than HD clarity and her knack for visual presenation. It’s framed wonderfully, explaining more in its establishing and framing shots than it does through any dialogue. While Coppola continues to demonstrate a unique vision behind the camera lense, her writing skills still need a little polishing.

4DX Theater Experience Review “Transformers: The Last Knight”

Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release date
Running time: 149 minutes

4DX Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Film Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Recently, I have been contacted to see if I wanted to review one of this Summer’s movies the brand new 4DX Theater Experience. This is not your typical movie going experience. Here is an example of the effects that you can expect going into a 4DX screening: water, air, bubbles, fog, scents, motion seats with vibration and ticklers as well as environmental effects like rain, storming, snow, wind and lightning. This seemed like the ONLY way to see a film like “Transformers”. Currently, I believe there are only a handful of these theaters across the United States, one of them luckily being in Orlando FL at the Regal Pointe Orlando Stadium. If you are in the area or are lucky enough to have one local to you, I would highly recommend checking out this experience at least once.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is the fifth installment in the Hasbro toy inspired franchise. Honestly, each film sort of blends together. The plots in the past films have been convoluted and confused and this film is no different. Is it entertaining…YES! Will I remember it and be able to distinguish between it and the previous four films….NOPE! Just pure popcorn Summer fun. If you dig explosions and robots, then it worth checking out then for a mindless two and half hours. But let me tell you one thing, seeing this film in 4DX definitely made it a better experience for sure and if you are thinking about seeing a 4DX film, “Transformers” is a great example to test it out with.

If you have ever visited Disney World parks and went on the attractions “Honey I Shrunk the Audience”, “Captain EO” or “Mickey’s PhilharMagic”, this 4DX Theater Experience reminded me of all of those combined together and more. I have to admit though, by the end of the two and a half hour movie of “Transformers”, I was exhausted. This is definitely not for those people that just want to kick their feet up and escape into a movie. This is a workout. You are almost constantly moving the whole time, some times subtle movement and sometimes huge motion jumps, twists and turns…I definitely saw a popcorn bag get tossed during my screening. Personally, I wouldn’t want to see every new film that comes out like this but I can definitely see it being an event to do every once in a while right the right film comes out. If you are curious though about this do not wait, definitely check it out because it is definitely an experience.

Film Review: “Yesterday Was Everything”

“Yesterday Was Everything”
Director: Mathew Mixon
Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 93 minutes

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Misery Signals got their start in 2002 and quickly gained notoriety after the release of 2004’s critically acclaimed record “Of Malice and the Magnum Heart”; an album which breathed fresh life into the metal-core genre and went on to be one of the most influential albums in that genre over the last decade. “Yesterday Was Everything” is a documentary film by Mathew Nixon which captures Misery Signals during the bands 2014 tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of the coveted album. From the band reuniting with their former vocalist for the first time since his unceremonious ousting to exploring the fatal tragedy that initially brought the band together “Yesterday Was Everything” follows the groups journey from Vancouver to Toronto as they face old ghosts and attempt to reconcile the past.

I can’t resist documentaries, especially documentaries about music and bands/artists. “Yesterday Was Everything” the debut film from director Mathew Nixon had just about everything I like to see in said genre. I wasn’t fully aware of the films subjects however after 93 minutes I was a fan. From the crushing soundtrack to the in-depth, candid dialogue, you are the fly on the wall as the band gives you direct behind the scene access during even its most stressful points in time.

Misery Signals might not be a band everyone has heard of however the film “Yesterday Was Everything” is film everyone should check out. Director Mathew Mixon gives viewers the inside track on not only the reformation of the band and the subsequent anniversary tour but it hits on an emotional level as well as the film documents not just the reformation of a band but the reformation of friendships and personal bonds that were bent and broken years before. You don’t have to be a fan of the band or the metal-core genre to appreciate this film as it touches viewers both sonically and emotionally.

Film Review: “Baby Driver”

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James and Kevin Spacey
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Rated: R
Running Time: 113 minutes
TriStar Pictures

Disney may be kicking themselves in the head over letting Edgar Wright leave “Ant Man” back in 2014. The English director has demonstrated a unique, original vision for all of his projects, from “Shaun of the Dead” to “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” His latest film, “Baby Driver” demonstrates that same unflinching ability to seamlessly blend various genres and styles into a cohesive marvel that dances, shoots and speeds to its own infectious beat.

Baby (Elgort) is the centerpiece of Doc’s (Spacey) bank heist team. While he never has the same crew work twice, Baby is always the getaway driver. With earbuds always in, and a different Ipod on play for different moods and days, Baby maps out an escape route while flawlessly bolting from fleets of cops, improving a multitude of techniques. While the getaways are short, they’re some of the best filmed car chases in recent memory. Baby is handcuffed to Doc because of an incident years prior. Baby was stealing Doc’s car, with plenty of valuables in the trunk, and as Doc puts it, “I didn’t stop him because I couldn’t believe the balls on the kid.” So while getting the tiniest of cuts from the haul, Baby is slowing paying Doc back for his crimes.

Other heist crew members are weary of the silent Baby, with one even asking if he’s slow. But as Doc points out, he gets the job done and is tapped into every heist that Doc plots out despite being tuned out and thumping his foot to music. But the reason Baby is always listening to music, is to drown out permanent tinnitus. He was back seat, at a young age, to a fatal wreck that took the life of his mom and her abusive spouse. It not only elicits sympathy from the audience, but gives viewers an excuse to bask in one of the best movie soundtracks of the year.

Clocking in at nearly two hours, “Baby Driver” is never dull and rarely lets its foot off the gas, bringing audiences along for a thrilling experience that combines Grindhouse car chases and a stylistic genre mish mash. The selective soundtrack orchestrates the action, the passion and the emotions throughout, almost like a wall of sound that matches its relentless visuals. The “Fast and Furious” franchise could only wish to attain such high-octane action bliss.

“Baby Driver” almost risks becoming more style than substance, if it isn’t for Baby’s relatability and his heartthrob, Debora (James), a diner waitress looking for the right person to take her down the road trip called life. Her introduction also creates some third act stakes that more or less work when a heist goes awry and the established morals of our title character take control of the wheel. Even amongst the smashing and shooting, “Baby Driver” finds fleeting moments of youthful wanderlust and succinct punch lines and jokes.

“Baby Driver” is a must-see summer movie with its iPod shuffle on NOS and metal crunching adrenaline. It’d be hard to find a person who doesn’t want to sit in the driver’s seat of this movie and enjoy its exceptionable ride. Here’s to hoping Wright has a few more ideas in that head of his that are just as memorable and rewatchable as “Baby Driver.” He’s certainly solidified himself in the mainstream as a visionary director. Sorry Disney, I don’t think you can have him back.