Film Review: “Tag”

Starring: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress
Directed By: Jeff Tomsic
Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

“Tag” shouldn’t be as fun as it is. Movies based on games (video or board) don’t necessarily have a great track record. Everything from “Super Mario Bros.” to “Battleship” are shining examples of how Hollywood has no problems picking the low hanging fruit in an effort to make a quick buck. There are only a few films that do an admirable or passable job, like “Clue” and “Rampage” (although my only caveat to “Rampage” is that I have to be in the mood for mindless garbage). So I’m a little shocked to say that “Tag” can join the handful of outliers.

Since nine-years-old, Hogan (Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Johnson), Kevin (Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) have been playing tag. About 30 years later, during the month of May, the five adults throw decorum out the window and play the game without respect for one’s personal space, job, or therapy session. However, after all these years, Jerry has managed to avoid ever being the one who is ‘it’. The elusive Jerry overanalyzes every situation he’s in to the point where he’s like a trained assassin when it comes to playing the game, spotting his friends out in public when they’re trying to tag him, mentally mapping out scenarios, or predicting what his friends will do several moves ahead of their plans to ensnare him.

So Hogan, Bob, Chilli and Kevin all agree to team up to finally tag Jerry, as he’s about to get married and quit playing the game altogether. Upon my own first glance at the plot, and a watch of the trailer, I would have easily dismissed this movie as a lazy attempt comedy. But there are several moments that are legitimately funny because of the maximum effort on screen by Helms, Johnson, Buress and Ham. Renner plays his character with an incredible seriousness, effectively being the straight guy of the film in an outlandish scenario. He mainly elicits laughs by calculating escape routes and situations like a computer program.

Buress, who should be in a lot more comedies, steals the scenes he’s in with irreverent observations, and what I imagine is off-script improv that feels fitting, but unstructured to the overall narrative of the film. His character’s persona could actually be fitting in any other comedy, regardless of the film’s circumstances. Ilsa Fisher, playing Anna, the wife of Helms’ character, is equally funny as an essential part of the troupe, taking the game more seriously than anyone else in the film, even Jerry.

“Tag” is one of those ideas that seems like it was destined for failure on its first pitch. A movie about this simplistic juvenile game that we all played as children, where we sometimes made up rules on the spot or ultimately yelled at each other over the inane rules we had just made up, sounds like terrible fodder for summer audiences. But there is a bit of credence to “Tag” because it’s based on a Wall Street Journal article about a group of actual friends who’ve spent one month, over the past couple of decades, playing a game of cross-country tag. “Tag” had the potential of falling short or living up to the calamity of its origin story, much like 2016’s “War Dogs,” but it instead exceeded my set expectations.

There’s a lot of manic energy in “Tag,” sometimes culminating into some funny chase sequences and absurd action pieces. Even moments of subdued silliness play well as our characters come to question the ethics of the game, like when they’re about to waterboard someone who isn’t a part of the game. Those moments of moral questioning also prevent our characters from being viewed as mean-spirited and soulless during their antics. “Tag” shouldn’t work, but it does, thanks to a sometimes witty, yet immature script, and a cast where everyone brings their own unique brand of comedy.

Film Review “Incredibles 2”

Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 118 minutes

Film Score: 3 out of 5 stars

When I saw the first “Incredibles” movie, I really wasn’t blown away. I know there are some extreme people that saw that it is one of Pixar’s best but I never and still don’t see it even after 14 years. It’s obvious a sequel is here but even though “Incredibles 2” is a smart movie that not only has a message but improves from the first film…yet I was left unsatisfied luckily my expectation were low. I will say that “Incredibles 2” is definitely an action packed movie. I just wish it was more fun. I wanted to laugh more for sure. I just didn’t feel like the cast was having fun. “Incredibles 2” runs nearly two hours, which is a lot for kids to stick with. My little one left the theater yawning (as did I). Second act definitely picks up some steam but too late I felt.

Official Premise: “In “Incredibles 2,” Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.”

I just don’t see the fascination with these characters. I don’t like them, especially not in this movie. Mr. Incredible is a major egomaniac. I really didn’t like him in this movie, I know he is trying to be funny having “a men” taking care of his children while mommy is out working. I get it, the roles are reversed for the time that this film is timed in. It doesn’t make it any better that he is jealous of his wife’s success and honestly gives me a real bad taste throughout most of his scenes. I am glad that Elastic Girl gets a chance to shine this movie, even if it has a social commentary within it and it ended up being my favorite part of the film. I felt like it added an extra level to the typical superhero male driven story.

Frozone was used a little more this time but at the same time even less it felt like. I didn’t enjoy looking at (the Acid reflux guy was disgusting) or listening to any of the new characters that were introduced outside of Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). These two nailed their roles for sure. I liked them but the other “supers” weren’t super at all. Jack-Jack definitely steals the show, no question. He is funny and super cute. Loved his powers for sure. There is a great bit with Edna and Jack-Jack that was a riot. So in closing, I am not a huge fan of “The Incredibles”, I enjoyed the sequel but it is not a favorite of mine. It is probably not something I can watch over and over again like we have with “Inside Out” or “Wreck-it Ralph”. But if you are a huge fan of the first movie, this will definitely leave you satisfied and wanting more.

Digital HD Review “Silicon Valley: Season 5”

Created by: Mike Judge, John Altschuler, Dave Krinsky
Starring: Thomas Middleditch, Josh Brener, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zack Woods
Episodes: 8
Release Date: June 11, 2018
Original network: HBO

Season: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Season 5 is all about changes for “Silicon Valley”, not only in the show but also behind-the-scenes. This is the first season that doesn’t have T.J. Miller in the cast but honestly the show still delivers with a shorter yet effective season. The returning series regulars Thomas Middleditch as Richard Hendricks, Zach Woods as Jared, Kumail Nanjiani as Dinesh, Martin Starr as Gilfoyle, Josh Brener as ‘Big Head’, Amanda Crew as Monica Hall, Matt Ross as Gavin Belson, Jimmy O. Yang as Jian Yang and Suzanne Cryer as Laurie Bream. Missing a lead, this season we got to explore a little more of the main cast but I would like to see some drastic changes in future season but I feel this current path might be wearing thin.

Season Official Premise: “The future is now. Pied Piper finally has enough funding for proper offices and new employees, and to bring its peer-to-peer internet to the world – but leveling up introduces a whole new class of obstacles. While Richard struggles to lead a larger team and play with the big dogs, the rest of the team adjusts to new staff, new digs and new anxieties. Meanwhile, Hooli rival Gavin Belson has returned to power, but finds the threat of Pied Piper, and its boldness, hard to shake.”

“Silicon Valley: Season 5” is available as of June 11th for Digital Download. The Emmy Award-winning show tightens things up a bit this season delivering eight 30-minute episodes. If you purchase on digital streaming services like Vudu, you get three extras including “Silicon Valley: Pied Pipers Highs and Lows”, which is short and runs 2 minutes. You can see where Richard and his Pied Piper pals are headed in Season 5 of the hit comedy series ‘Silicon Valley’ trailer included. Lastly you can take a peak back at Season 4 of ‘Silicon Valley’ in case you need a refresher or just wanted a quick recap of the season.

 

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Film Review: Hotel Artemis”

Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Rated: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Global Road Entertainment

Sometimes a movie feels and looks interesting, but it isn’t. That gorgeous outer shell, sometimes in the set design or on the face of its familiar and likable characters, inherently lacks a soul. “Hotel Artemis” is a movie that wants to be loved and adored by its viewing audience. It repeatedly tells and shows the audience that it’s grimy and noir, futuristic and relevant, funny and heartfelt, but it never really proves it’s any of those things.

Jodie Foster (who’s shockingly been absent from the silver screen for five years) plays Jean, a nurse running to and fro throughout the Hotel Artemis, a safe haven for criminals in 2028 Los Angeles. She’s assisted by the bulky and intimidating, yet soft on the inside, Everest (Dave Bautista). The two-person staff somehow operates the multi-room establishment, as they patch up wounds, remove bullets, and use 3D printers to create new organs for criminals from all walks of life.

“Hotel Artemis” shrivels up in the shadow of other, much better, films that it’s seemingly ripping off of. One can’t help but think of the Continental from “John Wick” throughout much of the film’s runtime. I was also reminded of several other grindhouse, dystopian future, and sci-fi films with more developed characters and fleshed out concepts. The film takes place in one night, with the backdrop being riots throughout the city over privatized water and a company hoarding what’s left. That actually sounds more interesting than Nurse Jean’s predicaments.

“Hotel Artemis” is so busy; it manages to glide over some of its storytelling faults, but not all of them. The film lags in certain moments, like ham-fisted exposition delivery in dialogue or lingering on its own visual aesthetics. It succeeds in banter between criminals within the hospital’s confines and slowly peeling back what makes Nurse Jean tick. Even as my mind drifted away from the premise, the movie had this knack for reeling me back in.

The acting talent brought in for this movie is impressive, but they feel like they’re playing down to the material or that they’re simply miscast. Charlie Day plays an all-talk arms dealer that should be replicating his naturally funny and manic strengths, while Sterling K. Brown, who’s shown his dramatic chops on TV, seems neutered in his range for this film. However, others, like Sofia Boutella, play well to their French femme fatale role and Bautista seems at home playing Drax-lite.

Director/writer Drew Pearce, who’s worked on “Iron Man 3” and a “Mission: Impossible” movie, seems a bit incapable of bringing it altogether. Instead of stirring all the film’s themes and ideas into a cohesive vision, he mainly paints everything in messy broad strokes that’s sometimes difficult to digest and unfortunately forgettable. There are a few things that work in “Hotel Artemis,” and in much better hands, it would have been an unforgettable film.

Film Review “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Directed by: Morgan Neville
Starring: Fred Rogers
Distributed by: Focus Features
Running time: 93 minutes

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor,  Would you be mine? , Could you be mine?” In the 1980’s these lyrics to the opening song in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, started my day as a kid! This is a show that I watched ALWAYS! I loved “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”. He was a very special person and there isn’t anyone else around like him today. I feel like the world would be a better place if people really cared about others. I mean really cared. We are way to skeptical people these days and times when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” first debuted people looked to him, like myself, as a role model. They listened to him and trusted what he said. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a fantastic trip back into the world of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Get your tissue box ready cause this one is guaranteed to hit those heart strings!

Director Morgan Leville, knows best for his His Oscar winning 2014 film, “20 Feet From Stardom”, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. He is back and this time focusing on a legend that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves. This film is also quite an eye-opener. It makes you think about the world and how it’s changed and what we can do to help the future for our children. This documentary will actually make you wish you lived in a time when things were simpler. Daily, Mister Rogers would make sure to tell everyone watching how special they are for just being them! Now what is wrong with that?!. With all the hate and disgust coming out of the media and the world today, I don’t know how Mister Rogers would have fit in today’s world…but I wish his influences were recognized more. The film showcases a big part in the history of PBS and Fred Rogers, when he testified before Congress in order to get funding. If he wouldn’t have stood up for what he believed in and left his heart on the table exclaiming how he help kids and how he feels like he is an important part of their lives things would be much different since ended up getting the funding and changed children’s TV forever.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a tight feature, running around 90 minutes. It goes fast and leaves you with happy tears leaving the theater. The documentary brings to light various issues that the show dealt with rather it be protesting or hiding sexuality of the co-cast and showcased some pranking on set during the production. I never knew that side since I was a young kid. The film has a slight edge to it, so I wouldn’t show this to kids. This is a documentary for adults, who were influenced in their life by Fred Rogers and the important work that he did. I really enjoyed getting to meet some of the cast from the show in the present and what they have been up to. There are tons of great archive footage as well with great interviews and behind-the-scenes content with Fred Rogers. One thing I take away from this movie is that I will be sure to try everything I can to keep his spirit alive with my own family and moving on! Good see this movie ASAP and remember to bring those tissues!

Film Review: “Oceans 8”

OCEAN’S 8

Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway

Directed by:  Gary Ross

Rated:  PG 13

Running time:  1 hour 50 mins

Warner Bros

We are introduced to Debbie Ocean (Bullock) as she is being released from prison, having done five years for a crime she claims she didn’t commit (she was set up).  Sadly, we soon learn that Debbie was NOT rehabilitated, as she cons her way into everything from cosmetics to a swanky hotel room.  She also takes the time to stop at her brother Danny’s grave, letting the audience know in the first 10 minutes not to look for that assumed George Clooney cameo.  As soon as she’s settled she begins putting into place a plan that she has been perfecting for three years.  And she only needs seven people to help her.

 

Slow and plodding at the beginning, with a mostly satisfying conclusion, “Ocean’s 8” boasts an amazing cast of women with their own amazing list of accomplishments,  Between the eight members of the “gang” are four Oscars, two Emmys, eight Grammys, six Golden Globes and five BAFTAs.  Sadly none of them brought them to work with them, as the plot progresses so slowly that seeing one of the ladies flash their trophies might have added some excitement to the proceedings.

 

In a nutshell, Debbie has decided to steal a $150 million necklace at the annual Met Gala.  She then rounds up a smorgasbord of like-minded associates…everyone from Rhianna’s surveillance expert to Mandy Kaling’s diamond expert.  The actresses are fine in their roles, but, despite attempts to give them some kind of personality, they’re all very similar in delivery and demeanor.  Which makes this film pale against Clooney’s “Ocean” trilogy.  Heck, even the great 60s version with Frank Sinatra was more fun.  The difference is that those films had set characters that did not act the same.  This film could have used the comedy duo of Casey Affleck and Scott Caan or the blustery antics of Bernie Mac.  Gary Ross is a fine director who knows how to keep the action moving, but here his script has conspired against him.

“Cargo” Creators Discuss Their Australian Zombie Drama

The Australian-based zombie drama Cargo was released on cinemas down under this month and is currently streaming internationally on Netflix. It follows Andy (Martin Freeman, read his interview here) a father facing down a viral plague outbreak and journeying across the Australian wild to get his baby somewhere safe. Along the way he encounters both natural and human foes and joins forces with Thoomi (Simone Landers), a young indigenous girl who saw her own father taken by the virus. The film was based on a short that debuted at Australia’s Tropfest in 2013. I sat down with directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke as well as producer Kristina Ceyton (The Babadook) to discuss expanding their unique zombie take to a feature.

Lauren Damon: What made you approach a zombie film from this father-daughter angle?

Yolanda Ramke: I guess, I mean for us that really was sort of the heart of the short film— was this relationship between the father and the child. And I think we felt like with the response that the short got that that was the theme, like the vibe that was really resonating with people. So we knew that that was something that we wanted to hold on to in sort of a longer form story. And then it was just a case of you know, fleshing that out. And how do you expand that from a seven minute thing to a hundred minute thing? And then also yeah, how do you bring something kind of that you feel might at least have some element of freshness to it within that genre. For us, it was going Aussie and thinking about our culture.

LD: With such a populated genre, you know, “The Walking Dead” would have already been on a couple seasons when you made the short—do you watch other content out there or try to avoid it?

Ramke: Well I think when the short kind of came out, it was maybe the “Walking Dead” was in season 2?

Ben Howling: End of season two.

Ramke: So it was still sort of like at its zenith and it was—but yeah, we were keeping tabs definitely. I think it’s good to know what other projects are doing and just to make sure that you’re conscious of that. And pushing away from it where you can.

LD: Do any of you have small children that influenced this story at all?

Ramke: We don’t, no.
Howling:No. We have fathers though!
Ramke: We have parents!

LD: Parents who would combat zombies for you?

Ramke: [laughing] Yeah, exactly. That’s it. I think they would.

Kristina Ceyton: ‘Dad, can you carry me on your back?’
Howling: We’ve actually both got fathers who are kind of like engineers, mechanic engineer types, so I guess that kind—the ingenuity of that, we’d be fine—
Ramke: Yeah, I think we both think they probably could do something like that.

Cargo Directors Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke and producer, Kristina Ceyton

LD: Kristina, you also produced The Bababook which had that heavy mother-son theme front and center, was this project like a funny coincidence to go to a father-daughter?

Ceyton: It is. It’s funny, like initially I didn’t make that connection at all on that level because I just gravitated to the story and you know, was really moved by it. I think it is a genre movie that is surprisingly emotional and has a lot of deep layers about exactly the, you know, parent to child dynamic…but yeah, I suppose there’s parallels, but it’s a very different beast in this instance. I think it’s a lot less psychological and this is about survival and about transcending death. And I think what you would do, you know, the length you would go to to sacrifice yourself for love and family and also community on a more broader level. Yeah. I think it’s those things that really resonated.

LD: When expanding from short to feature, what was the decision making process like on how much more to reveal about the nature of this virus? Because the short was obviously very sparse on details.

Ramke: I think we were really interested in the idea of just throwing the audience in the middle of it. And just personally because we love films that do that. And that make the audience work a little bit to kind of put things together. And I think we just also felt within this genres, we’ve seen a lot of stories that were about finding the cure or that sort of thing and we just thought, ‘well that’s been done really well by other films.’ It just didn’t interest us to go there. I think we just thought, how can we carefully deal out bread crumbs and details for people to put the world together and work out what’s going on. And then just let them go on this journey with this father and this baby and this indigenous girl.

LD: Yeah, that indigenous element is very unique to this film, did you outreach to people in those communities to get their perspective?

Howling: Yeah, in script development, we brought a script consultant on, Jon Bell—who is an indigenous writer from back home and he was able to kind of walk us through. We had some ideas which we’d researched but then we’d discuss with him—‘is this feasible? Is this practical?’ Indigenous culture is very sensitive back home because you could never make a blanket statement like ‘everyone would behave like this.’ There’s all these micro-communities that have these different cultures and values and practices. So he was able to help us navigate those waters in terms of what would be the appropriate response. And then on top of that, just with his own experience. Talking about ways that you can use indigenous hunting techniques and things like that.

Ramke: And then from there, once we knew where we were shooting, which was South Australia, it was a case of conversing with local elders in those communities as well. Just to make sure that we were sort of tailoring things to that region. And giving them the script and making sure that they were comfortable with what was happening. Seeking formal permission to use language in the film. And just trying to basically approach it as respectfully as possible.

LD: How did you go about casting Thoomi?

Ramke: She was a find. Our casting director Nikki Barrett had put a call out. So that had gone to a load of very regional communities across Australia and we had kids filming themselves on their phones, having their parents like read the lines off camera in these very monotone voices. It was just super cute. And yeah, we got down to four girls who we did sort of a workshop with and we just felt like Simone from day one was sort of the standout. And yeah, she really killed it.

LD: How did you get in touch for casting Martin Freeman? Had he seen the short?

Ceyton: No he didn’t so we approached his agent. It was just basically the traditional way of approaching his agent and the initial response was ‘I don’t think that Martin likes genre films’ [laughs] But luckily he read the script and really loved it and fell in love also with the story of this dual kind of father-daughter relationship and survival. And I think for him, it was never really a ‘genre film.’ So luckily he was available at that time and just all the pieces fell into place.

LD: Did his casting change anything within the film seeing as he is basically THE whole film?

Ramke: It would have been just very small things. I think at the point that he had come on we were in the process of doing another draft anyway. So just subconsciously as a writer once you know who the actor is going to be and you’re familiar with their work, you can kind of hear their voice a little bit. So when you’re writing dialogue, there’s an element of writing it with that person in mind. But I think also once we knew that we were going to be casting a British actor, which is something we had hoped to do from quite an early on—that also informs some of the more thematic threads of the story, in terms of Australia’s colonial history. And that just absolutely put more meat on the bones I guess.

LD: Can you talk more about Australia’s past in terms of this story?

Ramke: Absolutely. Just in terms of Australia obviously being, a long way back, colonized by the British and there were a lot of ramifications that kind of linger. In terms of social issues and Australia has some work to do, I think, in terms of acknowledging that past. And you know, it hasn’t been handled in a way that some other nations like, I believe, Canada and New Zealand, where there are treaties with their indigenous people. It’s all been quite overlooked. So I think there is still a lot of collective pain that exists in indigenous Australia. And we just didn’t want to ignore that, I suppose. But we also didn’t want to get too preachy about it either. So it was something we could just let sit in the story, just by nature of being English and coming into contact with this indigenous—

LD: And him requiring their assistance.

Ramke: That’s right. That’s sort of like the reversal of the sort of historical context, I guess in a way.

LD: How did you go about developing the other Australians in the film? The human villains, who weren’t present in the short.

Howling: I think in early drafts we just explored a variety of like different antagonists. And then we just kind of blended them together into one kind of more fleshed-out three dimensional kind of person…It was nice to have somebody as a bit of a contrast to the indigenous response which was to go back to the land and traditional ways. And this is somebody who is very attached to western living and can’t let go of it. So it was just in terms of creating that, that split between the two of them and learning his motivation and fleshing it out from there.

LD: When you make a zombie-apocalypse film like this, do you find yourself considering what you would do in this worst-case scenario?

Ramke: Ohhhh…have you ever thought about what you’d actually do?
[laughter]
Howling: That makes you cocky…
Ramke: No, but I think ultimately it would always come back to family though. It would always be about ‘Are my family safe? How do I re-connect with my family?’ and make sure that we’re together if this was to go down.
Howling: But what if they’re already infected??
Ramke: [Gasps] Oh! Well I just can’t even deal with that idea, that would be heartbreaking.

LD: Your zombies are unique in that they’ve got a different design, this orange slime rather than regular blood and gore, what was the thought behind that?

Ramke: Yeah, we didn’t want to do the gory bloody thing. And I think that that just came from this approach that we tried to take to the whole film which was to just to try and keep it as sort of grounded as we could. And as subtle as we could. And that idea of that design aesthetic coming out of the natural environment. The idea that this sort of toxicity in the environment and that it sort of literally affecting the land and that is spreading to the people. So the influence for that was like tree sap was like a visual reference. That more organic kind of reference.

LD: Are you excited that this film with be hitting the Netflix audience?

Ramke: Yeah we are!

LD: Are you guys the Netflix binge-watch types, do you have favorites?

Howling: Yeah, definitely.
Ramke: I loved “The OA”. “The OA”, “Stranger Things”, I feel like there’s some other really great shows that I’m completely neglecting!
Howling: There’s really not much that I don’t binge on.
Ramke: Yeah, you’re a really good binge-er.
Howling: “Dark”, “Requiem”.
Ramke: “Requiem’s” cool, yeah.
Howling: Just recently, actually just the other day I smashed out “Lost in Space.”

LD: Do you have personal favorite zombie or horror films?

Ramke: Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie film, actually. But I think in terms of reference points for this film, oh my goodness, we were looking at more sci-fi stuff. So like Children of Men, District 9 and I guess The Road as well is sort of comparable.

Howling: And also Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” season one was out. That’s what really kind of like ignited us back into the zombie thing…he only did season one. That was like a six-part, it’s very different to the rest.

You can watch Cargo now on Netflix.

 

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Film Review: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

 

SOLO:  A STAR WARS STORY
Starring:  Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson and Emelia Clarke
Directed by:  Ron Howard
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 15 mins
Walt Disney

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

For more than four decades, those words have promised great adventures and memorable characters.  And most of the time those promises were kept.  I crossed my fingers going into this one but I’m happy to report that the new film “Solo,” like Gary Busey in the 1990s, is indeed a promise keeper.

Brash and full of confidence, we meet a young Han (Ehrenreich) and his lady friend Qi’ra (Clarke) right after they’ve been double-crossed while doing a deal at the behest of the evil Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt).  The good Lady is not pleased but, before she can punish the duo, they make a run for it.  While Han makes his way to safety, Qi’ra is caught.  Knowing he must go away, Han joins the service, determined to become a pilot.  Wonder how that’s going to turn out for him?

Set, in my mind, about 10 years before the events we know as EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE or, simply STAR WARS, “Solo” is an origin story in the true sense of the word.  Taken under the wing of smuggler/thief/jack of all trades Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) we learn many things about Han.  Where he got his blaster.  How he met Chewbacca.  Heck, we even find out where he got his name.  Through the course of his adventures, he meets a young, kindred soul named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a card cheat who has an almost unhealthy amount of capes in his closet.  Together, the two adversaries begin a cautious friendship that, we now know, will continue for many years.

There is a lot more I could say, but I don’t want to be known as the guy who forgets to yell SPOILER ALERT!  What I will say is that director Howard has set the pace for a film that could easily stand alone.  All in all, “Solo” is a welcome piece in the continuing “Star Wars” saga!

 

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Film Review: “The Book Club”

BOOK CLUB
Starring:  Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen
Directed by:  Bill Holderman
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hrs 44 mins
Paramount

Our Score: 4 out of 5 (stars!)

Between them they have 13 Academy Award nominations and 4 Oscars.  THEY are Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen and together they form the members of Paramount’s latest comedy, “The Book Club.”

Keaton plays Diane, recently widowed.  Fonda is Vivian, a wealthy hotel owner who refuses to sleep with men, meaning she’ll have sex but she won’t stay the night.  Bergen is Sharon, a Federal Judge whose husband (Ed Begley, Jr) left her 18 years ago and continues to date much younger women.  Steenburgen is Carol, married to the recently retired Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) who seems to have lost all interest in everything but his old motorcycle.  Each month this quartet of ladies meets and discusses a book they have recently read, an appointment they started in the 70s with Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying.”  Feeling like the last few months entries have been lifeless, Vivian decides to spice up things by introducing the “50 Shades of Grey” series to their reading tables.  And spice things up it does.

There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing professionals at the top of their craft and “The Book Club” does not disappoint.

The film takes an honest, but humorous, look at love after 60.  It’s not all roses and champagne.  As the book begins to stir their desires, the three single women meet similar aged men who have refused to let age slow them down.  Diane meets a handsome airline pilot (Andy Garcia).  Vivian rekindles an old romance with Arthur (Don Johnson) while Sharon explores the world of on-line dating with both Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn.  The story has its great share of laughs but also some emotional times of reflection, all driven by a true all-star cast.

FYI, the four leading ladies also have between them 38 Golden Globe nominations (14 wins) and 12 Emmy nods (5 wins).  They should have called this film the Golden Girls.

Film Review: “Deadpool 2”

DEADPOOL 2
Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Morena Bacarin and Josh Brolin
Directed by:  David Leitch
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hrs 59 mins
20th Century Fox

Every once in a while a film comes along that not only bends the rules, but breaks them.  Such a film was “Deadpool.”  Is there any way the sequel can live up to that introduction?  Yes indeedy.

Ryan Reynolds continues his journey as the foul-mouthed, yet sensitive, Wade Wilson, better known to us moviegoers as Deadpool.  In this chapter he firmly puts tongue in cheek as he tries his best to learn the meaning of the word family.

Along the way he pokes fun at so many pop culture references that I literally lost count.  The Justice League.  “The Goonies.”  A still simmering anger with anything to do with Wolverine.  His sarcasm is razor fine and cuts just as easily.  A running gag where a line from the film “Frozen” sounds suspiciously like “Papa Can You Hear Me” from the film, “Yentl” is reigned in enough so it actually makes you laugh no matter how many times you hear it.  And the added humor that Josh Brolin is Barbra Streisands’s step-son only makes the gag even funnier.

Brolin, fresh off his gig in “The Avengers: Infiniti Wars,” plays Cable, a time-traveling mutant that’s as buff as his “Avengers” alter ego Thanos.  Brolin gives the role a sense of drama but isn’t above having a little fun himself.  If I’m sounding a little evasive here, it’s because the film company has asked reviewers not to give away too much of the film.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Like its predecessor, “Deadpool 2” is one of the best comic book films ever.

Cannes Film Festival Review: “Astro”

ASTRO

 

Starring: Gary Daniels, Courtney Akbar and Michael Pare’

Directed by: Asif Akbar

Rated: Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour 45 mins

Avail Films

 

A young woman (Courtney Akbar) sits alone in her room as Christmas approaches.   She wonders aloud if she will ever see her father again.  She is greeted by a flash and is approached by a creature that calls herself “Vivian” (Max Wasa).  She informs the daughter that she is there to “show her the way.”

We are not alone.

That is the message we quickly learn in director Asif Akbar’s latest film, “Astro.”

The film begins with radio broadcasts, as well as newspaper accounts, of the various incidents reported in the late 1940s in Roswell, New Mexico.  For years, Roswell has either been looked upon as either a tourist trap or the place where the government is hiding SOMETHING!  We are privy to an examination of a “creature,” under the guidance of billionaire space enthusiast Alexander Biggs (Marshal Hilton).  When a DNA test of the creature reveals the name of a long lost friend, Biggs realizes that his thoughts and hopes about extraterrestrials may finally be coming true.

An entertaining film, “Astro” benefits from a strong cast and firm direction.  I am a huge fan of Mr. Akbar’s 2012 documentary, “Top Priority:  The Terror Within,” a film in which he took on the government after learning of a major security breach along the border, and his approach to this story is almost the same.  His use of close-ups gives one the impression one is watching a documentary, which puts the viewer more into the story that is unfolding on screen.

The cast are also “all in” on the story, with nary a false note in sight.   Mr. Hilton is slickly smooth, channeling a cross between Jeremy Irons and Charles Dance.  Mr. Daniels and Ms. Akbar are a devoted father/daughter team, one whose bond seems genuine.  And, to be honest, I’ve always liked Michael Pare’, so it’s always a pleasure to see him on the big screen.

The script, by Mr. Akbar and Bernard Selling, adds enough humor to keep the story light and the musical score, by Erick Schroder, sets the tone for the entire film.  If there is a fault in the film, it is its budget.  The special effects, while passible, do have a homemade quality to them.  Nothing horrible, but when you release your film at the same time as the new “Avengers” or “Solo” is in theatres, you’d have to understand the criticism.

That being said, like “Close Encounters” before it, the questions need to be answered!”

 

Ancient Aliens: 10th Anniversary Edition Gift Set arrives on DVD 6/12

Fans of the acclaimed HISTORY® series can finally take the first ten seasons home in this incredible 36-disc collection when Ancient Aliens®: 10th Anniversary Edition Gift Set arrives on DVD June 12 from Lionsgate. Just in time for the show’s 10th anniversary comes this massive gift set featuring all 135 episodes and over 100 hours of Ancient Aliens® content. The Ancient Aliens®: 10th Anniversary Edition Gift Set will be available on DVD for the suggested retail price of $99.98, a savings of almost 50% over buying each season individually.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS

Since its premiere on HISTORY® a decade ago, Ancient Aliens® has enthralled millions of fans as it endeavors to seek out and evaluate evidence of extraterrestrial contact with humans. The epic series explores the ancient and unexplained — all in search of humankind’s origins and even the secrets of the universe. From the age of dinosaurs to the mysteries of ancient Egypt, from early cave drawings to present-day sightings and cover-ups, Ancient Aliens® takes viewers on a provocative, thought-provoking journey around the world and across the universe, beyond our wildest imagination. This comprehensive set includes all 135 episodes from the first 10 seasons of the landmark series.

Year of Production: 2010–2017
Title Copyright: Ancient Aliens © 2010–2017, Cover Art and Design © 2018 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Ancient Aliens, HISTORY, the “H” logo and A+E Networks are trademarks of A&E Television Networks, LLC. Distributed by LIONSGATE® under license from A+E Networks.
Type: TV-on-DVD
Rating: TV-PG
Genre: Sci-fi
Closed-Captioned: Yes (varies per season)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, English SDH (varies per season)
Feature Run Time: 120 Hrs., 6 Mins.
DVD Format: Full Screen & Widescreen Presentation
DVD Audio: English Dolby Digital Audio

Martin Freeman on Carrying Netflix’s CARGO

Martin Freeman was last seen on screen this year providing comic support to Wakandans in the blockbuster Marvel smash, Black Panther but this Friday on Netflix, he jumps to the forefront of a very different sci-fi landscape in Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo. This fantastic zombie plague story sees Freeman playing Andy, the father of adorable baby Rosie, who is unfortunately bitten by zombies and is racing against the clock to carry Rosie to safety across the Australian outback.

Cargo made its stateside premiere last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, after which I got to speak with Martin by phone about working in the horror genre, and of course what tech he’d like to lift from Shuri’s lab!

Lauren Damon: Before the Tribeca premiere had you seen the film?

Martin Freeman: I had, yeah. But only a long time ago on a laptop.

LD: I imagine it was more effective with other people around…

MF: [laughs] Yeah, it went down very well actually, yeah. It was very well received. It was late and people need not hang around for questions but they did. I think it seemed very positive, yeah.

LD: With the film going to Netflix next, are you excited? Are you a big Netflix user yourself?

MF: I am a frequent Netflix user, yes, very much so. I think when you make a film initially, you always envision it having a theatrical release. But maybe generations now don’t envision that. But my generation envisions a theatrical release and it’s gets that in Australia. The rest of [the world] is on Netfilx, that platform, and you think ‘ok, well fair enough.’ But then you actually think it’s more than fair enough because way more people are going to see it on Netflix eventually than would do in a theatrical setting. Just the accessibility of it, the ease with which you could see the amount of things you could see, yeah, I’m more than happy about it.

LD: With Cargo filming mainly being outdoors and with your character carrying the baby everywhere, what was the hardest part about shooting?

MF: Probably just getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. That was pretty challenging. Holding babies on my back was kind of alright. Sort of felt like free gym work, really.

LD: So you lost weight by shooting the film?

MF: I probably did. I probably did. I ate sort of reasonably healthily…but yeah I was constantly carrying a backpack.

LD: I assume there were multiple babies to rotate through?

MF: Yeah, two sets of twins. One pair of twins turned out, quite quickly, to be the more amenable pair. And the other pair was used more for in sort of wide shots.

LD: When you’re acting in an apocalyptic film or a zombie film, do you start thinking about the choices your character is making and whether you’d agree with Andy?

MF: Yeah, I think he did everything he could really. Part of what makes it relatable for me is that his actions seem very human.

LD: Do you think about if a zombie plague broke out what you—as Martin—would do?

MF: I haven’t thought about that a lot, no. No, not a lot. I don’t really fear zombies…but when the shit really hits the fan, whatever form that’s gonna come in…No, I guess like everybody else I’d panic [laughs]. Most people just hole up…

LD: Meanwhile, you’ve also just appeared in Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories. If you don’t fear zombies, what about ghosts and the supernatural?

MF: Not really. I mean I kind of…I’m open to belief in the supernatural if it can’t be empirically disproved or proved. But no, I haven’t ever seen a ghost. I’ve had, you know, the occasional spooky night. Once you hear something that goes bump or bang and you start making up your own narrative for it. And I’ve been rooted to the spot a few times on my stairs thinking ‘is that a ghost or is it a burglar?’ And fortunately it was neither.

LD: Do you have any favorite horror films or ghost stories?

MF: I don’t know if they count it as horror…The first one I saw as a young child was Psycho. So that was when I was about seven and that was—it really affected me a lot. That first experienced of being very very frightened.

LD: In some sequences of Ghost Stories you get to play sinister, which I’m not used to seeing you in that way, was it fun to go there?

MF: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I loved it. It’s just always nice to lean into another part of your personality and be able to perform in a different way. Because I think as the film goes on and what I’m doing goes on, it was allowed to get a little more heightened and theatrical. You don’t always, in front of the camera, get the license to be that theatrical and that slightly camp. Your job in front of the camera is usually to be very real and not do any acting at all. Or at least that’s the job I give myself. But to do something a little bit more arch—you know, he becomes a function of the story then, as opposed to a three dimensional character. He becomes the function of the story to do something to Professor Goodman he has to have an effect on [him]. And I really enjoyed, yeah, just having to fuck with Andy Nyman. That was really good fun, yeah.

LD: Between Ghost Stories and Cargo, you undergo some pretty heavy makeup prosthetics, is that fun to get more into it? Or something more challenging?

MF: It is a bit of both, really. It is fun, because I’ve not done loads of it so it’s still—it doesn’t feel too much like the day job for me. It isn’t boring yet to do prosthetics. But yeah, the challenges are just the time it takes and the relative discomfort of it. Just there is a layer between you and the outside world that you’re not used to. There’s a layer between you and the other actors that you’re not used to. I guess with Cargo it was meant to be uncomfortable. And as I say, where we were filming at that time was quite hot…

LD: Yeah and then I imagine being under a bunch of zombie makeup in the hot sun…

MF: Yeah, just getting eaten by mosquitoes and I didn’t get on very well with the contact lenses. I didn’t get on very well with those [laughs]

LD: It looked good!

MF: Good. Yeah, then it’s for a good cause.

LD: Between Cargo and Ghost Stories, which order did you shoot them in? Was it close together?

MF: They were quite close together actually. Yeah, I shot Cargo first and then about a month later I shot Ghost Stories. The month after I came back from Australia, I went up to northern England and shot Ghost Stories.

LD: So you were in like horror genre mode.

MF: Kind of yeah, it sort of worked out like that. And of course it, you know, as far as the actor’s concerned, that’s never The Plan. Because you very rarely have any plan at all other than, you know, be able to pay the rent. It’s just what comes to you that you respond to for whatever reason and I’ve got pretty poor taste in what I like—what I like as a viewer. And what I like doing as an artist….I guess there’s more genre around now than there was twenty years ago. There’s more genre around now. And I’m still from the old school of ‘hey it’s the story’. It has be as story that I like. That I would like to participate in totally regardless of genre. I never give a single second thought to genre.

LD: Speaking of being able to pay the rent—congratulations on being in Black Panther, only the highest US grossing movie ever right now, that’s pretty exciting!

MF: Yeah. Yeah, very exciting.

LD: I am just a giant Marvel nerd, so I’m also wondering, if you could have any of the tech from Shuri’s lab in real life, what would you pick?

MF: Hmmm. Well…anything involving the black sand so it could move around and make shit. If you can picture it, if you can envision it, then the black sand would make it to be like that, that would be very helpful.

LD: What would you use it for?

MF: I’m not sure. Probably just furniture. I like the idea of that. Furniture and shoes.

LD: Just have a nice chair to sit on when you need it…

MF: Yeah, exactly. [laughs] A very nice chair.

Cargo starts streaming on Netflix on Friday May 18th

Black Panther was just released on digital and blu-ray

S’ Wonderful News! Iconic Musical AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Comes to Movie Theaters September 2018

Tickets on sale across the U.S. from July 12, 2018

May 2018: Trafalgar Releasing has announced the North American theatrical release of the highly acclaimed musical, An American in Paris, coming to movie theaters across the USA on Thursday, September 20 and Sunday, September 23.This new rendition of An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway, where it became the most awarded musical of the 2015/16 season, including four Tony® Awards. While the U.S touring production continues to see great success with performances booking until July 2018, theater enthusiasts across North America can now experience the magic of the hit Broadway Musical performance from London’s West End in their local movie theater this fall.

With the gorgeous music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin (including the classic hits ‘S Wonderful and I Got Rhythm), book by Craig Lucas and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, this breathtakingly beautiful new musical is inspired by the Oscar® winning MGM film and tells the impassioned story of discovering love in the ‘City of Light’ in 1945.

Jerry Mulligan is an American GI striving to make it as a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love in the aftermath of war…

The film stars Tony Award nominees, New York City Ballet principle dancer Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan and British Royal Ballet dancer Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin, reprising their roles from the original Broadway production and a company of over 50 actors, dancers and musicians including Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, Zoë Rainey as Milo Davenport, David Seadon-Young as Adam Hochberg and Jane Asher as Madame Baurel.

The company also features Julian Forsyth and Ashley Andrews, Sophie Apollonia, Zoe Arshamian, Sarah Bakker, James Barton, Alicia Beck, Chrissy Brooke, James Butcher, Jonathan Caguioa, Jennifer Davison, Katie Deacon, Rebecca Fennelly, Sebastian Goffin, Alyn Hawke, Nicky Henshall, Genevieve Heron, Amy Hollins, Frankie Jenna, Justin-Lee Jones, Robin Kent, Kristen McGarrity, Julia J. Nagle, Daniela Norman, Aaron Smyth, Todd Talbot, Max Westwell, Jack Wilcox, Carrie Willis, Stuart Winter and Liam Wrate.

“An old-fashioned, big-hearted, spare-no-expense Broadway romance”
~ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
.
An American in Paris is directed and choreographed by the internationally renowned, British-born Christopher Wheeldon, recipient of the Tony® Award 2015: Best Choreographer for this production. An Artistic Associate of the Royal Ballet, Wheeldon received an OBE in the 2016 New Year’s Honours ‘for services to promoting the interests and reputation of British classical and theatrical dance worldwide’. The set and costumes are designed by the celebrated West End and Broadway designer Bob Crowley (The Audience; Mary Poppins) with projections by the prominent British designers 59 Productions (War Horse; London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony), lighting by Natasha Katz and sound by Jon Weston.The musical score is adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher with orchestrations by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott; dance arrangements by Sam Davis; musical supervision by Todd Ellison; and musical direction by John Rigby.

Tickets for An America in Paris will be on sale starting Thursday, July 12 and can be purchased at AnAmericanInParisCinema.com.

For information regarding the National Tour please visit AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com.

Interview with SUPERCON director Zak Knutson

 

Fans of Kevin Smith’s View Askew Universe may be quite familiar with Zak Knutson.  The co-writer and director of the new comedy “Supercon” worked for a decade for Smith, often producing and directing Smith’s independent video projects.  To honor his friend, he named Seth Rogen’s character “Zack” in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”  And his face will be familiar to anyone that saw “Clerks II.”  He was “the Sexy Stud,” the purveyor of “Inter-species Erotica” – better known as “the Donkey Show,” at the end of the film.

Promoting his first feature film as director, Zak took some time out to chat with me about being in charge and why Clancy Brown is actually a funny guy.

 

Mike Smith:  I’ve worked behind the scenes at enough conventions to know that you have too!  What was your inspiration to make “Supercon?”

Zak Knutson:  I worked for Kevin Smith for about 10 years so naturally I was exposed to the con culture.  And then I started going to them with my friend Dana Snyder, who does the voice of Master Shake on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,.”  I went with him down to Florida to the actual SUPERCON and I really got see all of the people and the different things going on.  I realized we hand’t seen a movie set in that place before.  In that kind of culture.

MS:  A brilliant stroke of genius in casting Clancy Brown as Adam King.  Most people wouldn’t think of him when doing a comedy.  How did you settle on him for the role?

ZK:  I have always been a huge fan of Clancy Brown, going all the way back to “Bad Boys.”

MS:  Viking!

ZK:  Exactly…Viking.  But if you notice, the one thing that Clancy does in almost every single one of his performances, even though they weren’t comedic, he was funny in them.   He would find that humility, that human side of the character, even if he was being the most evil of guys.  He could just have a delivery on a line that could be funny.  And I just thought, “this guy would be funny in a comedy.”  He knew when somebody else was being funny to sit back.    He just had everything.  I was so excited to be able to ask him.  And he said, ‘I’m not really a comedy guy,’ and I said, “but you are.  You are.”  And it worked out.  He is one of the best things in the movie.

 

Clancy Brown as Adam King in SUPERCON

MS:  The same with Malkovich?  How were you able to get him?

ZK:  Malkovich was a strange one.  He actually ended up getting a hold of a script.  I thought he was going to be Adam King, because he hadn’t been cast yet, or he was going to be Gil Bartell (the convention promoter, played in the film by Mike Epps).  But he had read Sid and he wanted to play Sid.  We got a call that said ‘John Malkovich wants to play a part.’  How do you say no?  So we went back and scaled the character down to his age, because it was originally written for a Stan Lee-95-year old kind of guy.  We scaled it down.  But the hair and the bow tie, those are all John.  He came ready to have a good time.

 

Zak Knutson, the “Sexy Stud” of CLERKS II

MS:  Any plans on showing the film at conventions?

ZK:  I think we’re going to take it to Florida in July, to the actual SUPERCON.  Clancy’s coming with me.  We’re all going down for a big SUPERCON to-do.

MS:  What do you have coming up next?

ZK:  Next up is a documentary that we’re getting ready to announce that is pretty awesome.  And I sold a script to a couple of people and it looks like later on this summer we’ll be able to shoot it.  Time is going to tell with the money on that one.  But next up is the doc.

MS:  On the script you sold, will you be attached as director?

ZK:  Yes, I am.  But again, it’s kind of all up in the air right now.

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