Film Review – “Isn’t it Romantic”

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
Starring:  Rebel Wilson, Adam Divine and Liam Hemsworth
Directed by:  Todd Strauss-Shulson
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hr 26 mins
Warner Bros.

Natalie (Wilson) isn’t sure about a lot of things.  A skilled architect, she is treated more as a gopher by others in her office instead of a valuable asset.  One thing she is sure about?  She hates romantic comedies,which her assistant (Betty Gilpin) constantly watches at her desk.  One night, while battling a mugger, Natalie is knocked unconscious.  When she comes to, she discovers that her life has changed. And she’s not happy.

A winning comedy built around the chemistry of its stars, “Isn’t it Romantic” is a fun time at the movies.  Much of the fun comes from trying to pick out all of the rom-com tropes that Natalie dislikes yet is now experiencing.  Handsome suitor?  Check. Overly-gay best buddy? Check.  Killer karaoke chops?  Yes, sir. The more she learns the more frustrated Natalie gets.  And when she learns that every time she tries to use the “F” word she is overridden by the sound of a honking horn, she is horrified that the world she is now living in is only rated PG 13.

With two of the “Pitch Perfect” films behind them, Wilson and Adam Divine have built an amazing rapport, and it shows on the screen. Hemsworth is quite charming and Bollywood star Priyamnka Chopra is both funny and beautiful!  The story moves quickly (the film is less than 90 minutes long) and makes a nice Valentines gift for that special someone.  Unless,of course, they hate romantic comedies!

Film Review – “Destroyer”

DESTROYER
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell and Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Karen Kusama
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 1 min
Annapurna Pictures

A body is discovered in a deserted area.  Next to it lies the murder weapon and some oddly discolored money.  On the back of the victim’s neck are two very distinctive tattoos.  Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) stumbles to the scene, mutters “I think I know who did it,” and stumbles away.  Thus begins “Destroyer.”

Riding strongly on the narrow shoulders of its lead actress, “Destroyer” is a film that, through a series of flashbacks, tells the story of how Erin Bell went from gung-ho law officer to the self-destructive drunk she is now. We slowly learn that she and her partner (both at work and in love) were deep undercover with a gang of bad guys (think Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah in “Point Break,” though I’m not sure how well Kidman can throw a football).  The more we learn the more we aren’t sure whether we should sympathize with Bell’s plight.  She’s still a tough cop – one who will go to any lengths to obtain information – but she’s also a horrible human being.  You feel sorry for her and her plight, but you also can’t help but think she brought it on herself.

Going the “no makeup” route here, Kidman is almost unrecognizable. In fact, in some scenes she more resembles former “Dr. Who” star Tom Baker rather than one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood.  With her hollow cheekbones and mousy hair, she could easily be mistaken for your neighborhood crack addict.  She is the emotional heart of the film and she does not disappoint.

Working from a script by “AEonFlux” screenwriters (Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi), director Kusama, who also helmed the film “Girlfight,” keeps the story moving, giving the viewer just enough information that, no matter how hard they try, they are always a step or two behind.  Well recommended. 

Film Review: “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part”

Starring the Voices of: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Will Arnett
Directed By: Mike Mitchell
Rated: PG
Running Time: 106 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

“The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” was never going to live up to the first. Well. I take that back. It could have. The first film’s core creators, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are no longer at the directorial helm, but have their names plastered throughout the credits as producers and writers. Personally, I don’t think the oddball duo have yet to fail when they’re behind the camera. But as writers and producers, their names are surprisingly all over the place in Hollywood, from movies like “Smallfoot” to “Brigsby Bear.” They generally hop on board projects with promise, and while the follow-up to “The LEGO Movie” had promise, it partially delivers.

The sequel, just like in real life, takes place five years after the first film. The first one ended on the ominous announcement that real world child, Finn (Jadon Sand), has a baby sister. That baby sister has intruded on Finn’s imagination, therein intruding on the imaginary LEGO world on-screen. Emmett (Pratt) and Lucy’s (Bank) brick world has gone from a thriving metropolis to a “Mad Max” hellscape where other worldly LEGO creations stop off in their world to abduct and torment Emmett and Lucy’s pals. It’s only later that the duo find out that Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), of the Systar System, is abducting their friends for a specific purpose and are now targeting them. Trying to explain this almost feels more confusing than it should be. So if you haven’t seen the first, just skip this one.

The manic whimsy of the first is still intact, as jokes sometimes come flying fast and furious with a kinetic energy that’s reminiscent of other Lord and Miller productions. Unfortunately the film takes a while to find out what new stories and themes it would like to tell the audience. The first handful of minutes are spent catching viewers up on events in the fictionalized worlds, as well as retelling jokes, beat by beat, down to the punchline. Older viewers might feel like they’re being duped, much like fans in the 80s felt when seeing “Airplane II: The Sequel.” Luckily that feeling dissipates after a while.

You may have forgotten, as you should, but there was a silly controversy back in 2014 when the first “LEGO Movie” came out. Some found that the movie was bad for kids because of its “anti-corporate” message. I can feel your eyes rolling as you read that. But for those who felt like that was a legitimate gripe, you’ll be pleased to know that this film feels a lot more like a cash grab and doesn’t have an anti-capitalist leaning. That being said, there are still a lot of moments of subversive brilliance possibly directed at the studio.

A good chunk of those clever jokes seem to be digs at Warner Bros., who may have demanded a sequel after money came rolling in. I won’t give the playful comedic jabs away since they’re in the film’s third act. In a handful of instances before that, the film appears to be taking part in other kid’s movie tropes, like musical numbers or sequel/world building, as a chance to not only make-fun of the constructs, but point out how they’re generously shoehorned in to most narratives in kid’s movies. If Lord and Miller merely served as producers, and not writers, I might actually feel like some of these creative choices were studio notes. It’s also possible I’m looking far too into it.

Even while scraping away some of the layered intellect this film has, this sequel is non-stop eye candy accompanied by rapid-fire jokes that’ll put smiles on the faces of kids and adults alike. While there’s no doubt that this’ll please the young ones, it might have some parents who watched the first one feeling fatigued. That’s because it doesn’t quite match the persistent irreverent wit of the first, or the revelations that reward viewers who watch the film a second time. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time comparing this one to the original, this sequel still manages to squeeze out some heart from its human and brick characters. “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” is beautifully animated, uproariously funny and mischievously inventive, but not as much as as its predecessor.

Exploring the Plotaverse with Sascha Scheider

I recently came across an article detailing a new way to present photographs in such a way that the still image came to life.  As I read the piece I was intrigued by the name of one of the co-founders of Team Plotaverse, Sascha Scheider.  Imagine my surprise, and genuine joy, to discover she is granddaughter of the late actor Roy Scheider.  Impressed with what I read I contacted Ms. Scheider, who at age 26, was recently named to the 2019 Forbes magazine Consumer Technology 30 under 30 list.

I contacted Ms. Scheider and she graciously agreed to this interview.  After a few minutes of both of us sharing stories about her grandfather, we got down to business.

Mike Smith:  What exactly IS the Plotaverse?

Sascha Scheider:  The Plotaverse is a digital sharing platform.  I started it with my partner, Christopher Plota, who is a professional fashion, advertising and celebrity photographer.  He’s been in the industry for 30 years and has always been on the cutting edge of technology.  I have a background in painting, business and the arts.  We got together and started talking about what we could do because in the industry a lot of photography is just going straight to video.  And when you become a photographer and are passionate about that, you don’t want to just shoot video.  You want to shoot photos.  They are really two completely different things.  So when we started talking I told him that I was seeing the same thing in the fine-art world.  Artists are trying to stay relevant but aren’t sure how because everyone is moving towards moving images.  How do we help them?  He has been animating still images since the early 2000’s.  He told me about his process and we started talking about it.  When we met we became inseparable.  He’s my partner, he’s my boyfriend.  (laughs)  We’re partners in every way.  So we started developing and creating things.  We started off with Plotagraph, which is our image animation technology.  We started out on desktop and now it’s on mobile – featured in the app store, it’s number one in photo/video.  We had no idea it was going to take off this big. 

While we were creating Plotagraph we also discussed creating a community.  At the time we were living in Florence, Italy, where I studied art for almost four years.  I had an apartment there so we were in Florence taking about creating a community.  So last year, on Valentine’s Day, we launched Plotaverse, which is our mutual sharing platform where you can post high quality digital art.  Plotaverse is the whole community for the entire motion-art movement.  It’s not just Plotagraph.  It’s Cinemagraph, time-lapses, motion graphics…really anything you can think of.  We’ve added Plotaeffects and Plotamorph.  This is a hub which is one big creative tool.  

MS:  What has been the response from people that have used the site?

SS:  It’s been amazing.  They see what can be done with just one photo and they realize they can do the same thing with all of their photos.  Historic photos.  New photos.  You have your photo and you can “move” any part of the image you want to.  Say you had a photo from Jaws and you want the water to move while the shark stays still.  You can do that!  And it’s almost like being on a loop…it never ends.  And it’s very easy today to take photos.  Cameras are everywhere, even in phones.  And the process is eye-catching.  We are seeing that, when used on social media, topics are getting 10 times more engagement using an app from the Plotaverse.  Paris Hilton started using it last July on Instagram and since then she’s gained  5.7 million followers.  And we see it working well with advertising.  They say a picture tells a thousand words.  It already has a story.  It has a dialogue.  It’s just not moving.  When you add some of our technology you’re still telling the same story but you’re getting your message across a lot easier.  

People today have an attention span of about six seconds.  The days of the 30-second spot are going away.  But how can you make a whole video in six seconds?  How are you going to get that message across?  That’s were the Plotaverse really comes in and saves the day.  You already have the story within the image but now it’s moving and looping those six seconds.  

MS:  Last year you held a very successful contest in conjunction with Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.  Are you planning anything for this year?

SS:  Right now we have nothing planned but I’ll definitely keep you posted. 

MS:  What’s next for the Plotaverse?  Do you have more surprises in the works?

SS:  Absolutely.  We recently launched PlotaTV, which will be a series of interviews covering the world of motion arts.  They will be educating and helping the community understand what motion art is and how they can use it to help monetize their work.  The whole idea is giving these artist a way to bring their art to the next level.  We also have plans for more apps down the line.  

TO DISCOVER THE PLOTAVERSE, CLICK HERE

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Film Review – “In Like Flynn”

IN LIKE FLYNN
Starring:  Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen and Corey Large
Directed by:  Russell Mulcahy
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
Blue Fox Entertainment

Fletcher Christian.  Peter Blood.  Robin Hood.  "Gentleman" Jim Corbett.   All of
these men had great adventures on the big screen.  But none of them were as 
exciting as the early adventures of the actor who portrayed them, Errol Flynn.  Some
of those adventures are on display in the new film, "In Like Flynn."

The film begins in New Guinea in 1930.  There we find Flynn (Cocquerel) 
leading a film producer (Daniel Fogler), his cameraman and some helpers 
through the jungle, looking for images to be used in an upcoming film.  Their
presence upsets the local tribesmen and soon the group is fleeing for its life,
with Flynn repeatedly saving their hides.  When they are successfully back
at their camp, the producer tells Flynn he needs to come to Hollywood.  But
Flynn has other plans.

I've always been fascinated by the back-stories of people.  What incidents from 
their past led them to their present.  If "In Like Flynn," which is based in part
from some of Flynn's writings,is to be believed, the roles he would later play
were boring compared to his life experiences.  Sailing the oceans.  Hunting 
for gold.  And, in true Flynn fashion, a big hit with the ladies, the film portrays him
as a real life Indiana Jones.  He lived for adventure.

The cast is first rate.  As Flynn, Cocquerel has the good looks that made
the Tazmanian Devil a star.  More importantly, he captures the spirit with
which Flynn approached every day of his life.  No matter the circumstances,
you can always see the gleam of mischief in his eyes.  As his best friend and
fellow adventurer, Rex, Corey Large (who also produced and co-wrote the film) is
equally good.  The two actors make a great team and their chemistry keeps the
film moving.  Also keeping the film moving is the fluid direction of Russell Mulcahy.
Mulcahy, who turned a brilliant career making music videos (his video for "Video
Killed the Radio Star" was the first ever shown on MTV) into Hollywood 
features, among them "Highlander" and "Ricochet."  Even after four decades 
behind the camera it's clear that he hasn't lost his talent for taking viewers
on a visual adventure.    And it's one I highly recommend you take.                

Film Review – “Cold War”

COLD WAR
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 HR 29 mins
Amazon Studios 


Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography), “Cold War” is an engaging yet tragic period drama that is much deserving of all its accolades.
Shot entirely in black-and-white with English subtitles,
writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”) deftly captures the
brutal essence of communist-controlled Eastern Europe while putting us
on a complicated, 15-year odyssey of obsession.
 
The story begins in 1949 Poland where the scars of a world war
are still fresh. A soft-spoken music director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, “Gods”)
is tapped to co-helm a school that’s intended to create a group of
talented young people to stage traditional, Polish folk dances. It is during
auditions at the bullet-ridden school that a crafty blonde singer named
Zula (Joanna Kulig, “Pitbull: Tough Women”) catches his eye.  Despite a warning about her troubled past, Wiktor and Zula develop a
secret, passionate love affair.
 
Two years later they have an opportunity to escape their communist
oppressors by crossing into West Berlin, but Zula chickens out while
the brooding Wiktor leaves her behind anyway to go carve out a life as
a jazz pianist in Paris. Even though lovers come and go as the years
pass by, Wiktor still regards Zula as the love of his life. His devotion to
her is so strong that he even risks being sent to a Polish prison when he
travels to Yugoslavia to watch Zula perform.
 
They only reunite when Zula marries an Italian man so she can get out
from behind the Iron Curtain to be with Wiktor. A successful singing
career begins to take shape with Wiktor accompanying her on piano.
However, her jealousy towards other women and her desire to be the
center of attention, especially Wiktor’s, leads Zula to run back to
communist Poland. Wiktor is desperate to follow her but he knows he
will be arrested if he does. It proves to be a fateful test of his devotion to
her.
 
Pawlikowski’s endeavor has all the feel of a film straight out of 1957 as
he channels the bleak repression the peoples of Eastern Europe faced
under Soviet dominance. There is a paranoid sense that there are eyes
everywhere, and in some instances its true. It’s this omnipresent fear he
generates with his script that gives Zula and Wiktor’s relationship a
palpable edginess. Their romance is so much like a careening roller
coaster that it makes it difficult to accurately predict its outcome.
 
Kulig is brilliant as she infuses a sense of instability into Zula. In a
way, you want to yell out in vain to Wiktor to stay away from her,
but his devotion runs so deep that he is beyond help. This obsession is
played with expert subtlety by Kot and skillful direction by Pawlikowski
who keeps the pacing brisk with a short running time. Never mind the
critical darling that is “Roma.” Instead, go see “Cold War.” Trust me,
there’s nothing cold about it.

Film Review – “Stan & Ollie”

STAN & OLLIE
Starring:  Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly and Danny Huston
Directed by:  Jon S. Baird
Rated: PG
Running time:  1 hr 38 mins
Sony Classics

They were one of the greatest comedy teams of all time.  The thin, quiet Englishman 
and the almost larger than life "Babe" from Georgia.  There job was to make us laugh and
this they did.  But when the laughter stopped, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy found themselves
on the outside of Hollywood looking in.

Featuring two award-worthy performances by Coogan (Laurel) and Reilly (Hardy), "Stan & Ollie" tells
the story of the duo as they mount what they hope is a comeback with a vaudeville tour of Great Britain.
Interspliced among the trip are scenes from the duo's past.  We join them on the set of 1937's "Way out West."
While working on the film they discuss their upcoming contract renewal and the hopes of more money
from studio head Hal Roach (Huston).  Laurel is released from his contract and Hardy is left to do a film with
Harry Langdon ("Zenobia"), which is heretofore referred to as "the Elephant movie."  Though the two have
reunited for the tour, there appears to be no love lost between them.  When Laurel states that he loves "Babe" (Hardy's
nickname), Hardy replies, "You loved "Laurel and Hardy," but you never loved me.

If I'm going to throw out kudos to this film, and I already have with the actors, I would be remiss if I didn't 
mention the amazing make-up work presented.  Like Hardy, Reilly has (and I mean this in a nice way) beady
eyes and you can see into Hardy's soul through Reilly's.  Coogan is equally brilliant as Laurel, who spends a majority
of the film writing scenes for  a comeback film he knows will never be made.  Thankfully this one was.

If you're not familiar with the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, I urge you to seek it out, either through home video
or YouTube.  If you are, and are a fan, I urge you to seek out "Stan & Ollie."

“The Favourite” and “Roma” lead the nominations for 91st Annual Academy Awards

“Roma,” director Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white reminiscence of his childhood, and the period film “The Favourite” led the way when the nominations for the 91st Annual Academy Awards were announced today. Each film earned a total of ten nominations, including Best Picture.  Cuaron himself received five nominations (Picture, Foreign Film, Director, Original /Screenplay and Cinematography}.  The film also received nods for Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira), Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Production Design.

Besides Best Picture, “The Favourite” scored nods for Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Best Actress (Olivia Colman), Supporting Actress (both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Costume Design, Production Design and Cinematography.

Another multiple nominee was Bradley Cooper, who was recognized for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for “A Star Is Born,” which also earned two nods for Lady Gaga (Best Actress and Best Original Song) and netted Sam Elliott his first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.  In total, the film earned eight nominations.

The other nominees for Best Picture are a worthy and diverse group.  “Black Panther” becomes the first comic book film to earn a Best Picture nod.  Joining it, “A Star is Born,” “The Favourite”and “Roma” are “BlacKkKlansman,” Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Green Book” and “Vice.”  A total of ten films can be nominated in this category, though only eight made it this year.

Other director nominations:  Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman), Paweł Pawlikowski (“Cold War”) and Adam McKay (“VICE”)

In the Best Actor race,Cooper is joined by Christian Bale (“VICE”), Willem Dafoe (“At Eternity’s Gates), Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”).  Along with Misses Aparicio, Colman and Lady Gaga, the Best Actress race includes Glenn Close (“The Wife”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”).

Best Animated Feature nominations went to “Incredibles 2,” “Isle of Dogs,” “Mirai,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse.”

Below is a complete list of this year’s nominees.  The 91stAnnual Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 24th.

BEST PICTURE

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

A Star is Born

VICE

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Christian Bale- VICE

Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born

Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

Rami Malek – Bohemian RhapsodyBohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma

Glenn Close – The Wife

Olivia Colman – The Favourite

Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born

Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali – Green Book

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman

Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born

Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Rockwell – Vice

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Amy Adams – Vic

Marina de Tavira – Roma

Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

Emma Stone- The Favourite

Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War

The Favourite

Never Look Away

Roma

A Star Is Born

COSTUME DESIGN

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Black Panther

The Favourite

Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Queen of Scots

DIRECTING

Paweł Pawlikowski – Cold War

Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite

Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

Adam McKay – Vice

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Free Solo

Hale County This Morning This Evening

Minding the Gap

Of Fathers and Sons

RBG

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Black Sheep

End Game

Lifeboat

A Night at the Garden

Period. End of Sentence.

FILM EDITING

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Vice

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Capernaum

Cold War

Never Look Away

Roma

Shoplifters

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Border

Mary Queen of Scots

Vice

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

If Beale Street Could Talk

Isle of Dogs

Mary Poppins Returns

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“All the Stars” from “Black Panther”

“I’ll Fight” from “RBG”

“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns”

“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”

“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Black Panther

The Favourite

First Man

Mary Poppins Returns

Roma

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

Animal Behaviour

Bao

Late Afternoon

One Small Step

Weekends

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Detainment

Fauve

Marguerite

Mother

Skin

SOUND EDITING

Black Panther

Bohemian Rhapsody

First Man

A Quiet Place

Roma

SOUND MIXING

Black Panther

Bohemian Rhapsody

First Man

Roma

A Star Is Born

VISUAL EFFECTS

Avengers: Infinity War

Christopher Robin

First Man

Ready Player One

Solo: A Star Wars Story

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BlacKkKlansman

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Star Is Born

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

The Favourite

First Reformed

Green Book

Roma

Vice

Film Review – “Clyde Cooper”

CLYDE COOPER
Starring:  Jordi Vilasuso, Abigail Titmuss and Richard Neil
Directed by:  Peter Daskaloff
Not Rated
Running time:  1 hr 21 mins
Souvenir Films

While a man sits sadly on the edge of a bed, two beautiful women begin to experiment with each other.  Suddenly they are interrupted by the sound of a single gunshot.  Thus begins the noir-ish drama “Clyde Cooper.”

A slickly shot mystery, the plot finds the title private investigator (Vilasuso, a staple the past 15-years on various daytime soap operas) being asked to help a smitten gentleman find a woman who, despite only knowing her for a few days, has become, in his mind, THE one.  Cooper takes the case only to discover that there is a lot more going on then meets the eye.  People aren’t who the seem to be and, as the bodies begin to pile up, Cooper discovers a twist in the case that adds a new dimension to the film.

The script, by director Daskaloff, gives Cooper some nice throw-away lines and it’s a credit to Vilasuso’s talent that he comes off as a well intentioned wise ass instead of a boor.  Production credits are strong and whoever came up with the idea of a house with a piano key stairway – one that plays when you’re going up or down – deserves to never be without a job.  An entertaining musical score by Jonathan Price helps keep the action flowing.

Film Review: “Glass”

Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 129 minutes
Universal Pictures

What are some of the best non-DC/Marvel superhero films? That’s when folks would throw out movies like “The Crow” or “The Rocketeer.” But what about truly original superhero films, ones not based on comics? That’s when you really get down to the nitty gritty of films that hold their own against CGI-filled blockbusters. Before “Unbreakable,” there was “Darkman” and “The Toxic Avenger.” But unlike the latter, “Unbreakable” has spurred some worthy sequels.

It’s been discussed online for nearly two decades that director M. Night Shyamalan had always intended for “Unbreakable” to inevitably be a trilogy. The question remained even after the release of “Split,” a trilogy about what or who? So does “Glass” fulfill what fans were told, a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy? Or does it pull a Disney and create the possibility of more sequels? Luckily Samuel L. Jackson’s character doesn’t reveal himself to be Nick Fury all along.

Much to the surprise of fans, the throwdown between David Dunn (Willis) and Kevin Crumb as the Beast (McAvoy) happens fairly early on as Dunn is tracking down some kidnapped cheerleaders, the latest in a string other kidnappings and vicious murders in Philadelphia. Police are hot on both their trails though and arrest both before they can spar for too long. Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), is at the scene along with authorities because she wants to study the two for their delusions of grandeur, believing that comic book culture is behind their perceived abilities. Also in custody, and sitting down with Dunn and Crumb for some bizarre group therapy, is Mr. Glass (Jackson). Dr. Staple’s hope is to convince the trio that their super strength and super intelligence isn’t what it seems.

While sometimes clunky, everything that feels out of place or misguided eventually comes together in the third act. When everything is said and done, David Dunn (probably because of the salary Bruce Willis commands), seems to be more of a side character in this film. But it’s also not necessarily about the origins of Mr. Glass. We already got that in “Unbreakable.” The movie does have him play a key role, revealing why the film is inevitably named after him. But a good chunk of story outside the trio’s therapy sessions is Mr. Glass and Crumb’s multiple personalities scheming, talking and acting. It’s in these scenes that audiences are treated to every individual inhabiting David’s head. Acting wise, nothing’s quite as impressive or entertaining as McAvoy’s scenery chewing, but other side characters from the previous films provide some emotional weight as they make their way in throughout the film, building towards the climax.

It feels a little long, and is as the longest film in the trilogy, mainly because Shyamalan unfortunately falls back onto some poor storytelling mechanics that we’ve seen before with some of his weaker films. He tends to over explain plot points by showing and telling the audience what’s happening. It can feel a little condescending since the film is built around the idea that you’ve seen the previous two films and that you should be smarter than the average moviegoer. I would usually chalk it up to a talking head at the studio, but this is something Shyamalan has done in films like “The Happening” or “The Village.” Luckily he doesn’t do it ad nauseam.

“Glass” doesn’t subvert superhero tropes or makes any kind of new critiques of the genre, but it manages to manipulate viewer’s emotions and expectations enough to where everything genuinely feels original. The action is filmed in a way where our imagination, instead of computers, fills the void. Even the simplest things that Dunn or Crumb do, feel grand because of the lives they’re saving and taking. Because they’re not throwing each other into buildings like Superman and General Zod, but instead slowly bending steel or taking their time to punch down metal doors, the story feels more grounded in reality. It helps that every character is morally flawed. The good and evil on display blend together to elicit sympathy and disgust.

“Glass” ends up being the weakest of the three films, but it’s still an entertaining finale. Some might be turned off by how it all ends, but I applaud the bowtie. While most directors would have left the door open, just in case the box office receipts warranted a sequel, Shyamalan promptly wrote “Glass” as a final chapter to this superhero story. It feels complete, without the need to tell us anymore or asking us to sit through another chapter, something most superhero movies these days don’t know how to do.

Film Review – “On the Basis of Sex”



ON THE BASIS OF SEX
Starring:  Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hrs
Focus Features

In the era of the Me Too movement, the biographical drama “On the Basis of Sex” has the appearance of fitting in with the times as it highlights the early struggles against oppressive sexism by current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While it contains all the necessary components of a story that you know will be uplifting in the end, it often feels like it should come with shiny wrapping paper and big red bow. While the story makes it clear how difficult it was for Ginsburg to launch her legal career simply because of her gender, the film is too generic for its own good. Inspiring? Yes. Different from a myriad of other inspirational, biographical dramas? Not so much. 

It’s 1956 and director Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact,” “The Peacemaker”) does a great job with the first shot of the film by having a sidewalk crammed with emotionless male law students and professors walking to class clad in drab suits. In the middle of it all there is a singular woman in a blue dress standing out from the nameless crowd. The talented Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) generates a sense of wide-eyed excitement as Ruth, but she also manages to show us there is a determined confidence within the aspiring attorney. 

Ruth not only has to force reluctant Harvard professors to pay her any serious attention, embodied by a law dean (Sam Waterston) with a paternalistic attitude towards his few female students, but she also has to balance being newly married to aspiring tax attorney Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) and being a new mother. Further complications arise when Martin is given a grim diagnosis of testicular cancer with less than a 10% chance to survive. Ruth’s resolve is such that she attends Martin’s classes as well as her own as he battles his illness. 

Ultimately, Martin recovers and becomes a rising star at a law firm while Ruth is unable to get any jobs because of her gender. She relents her pursuit and by 1970 has established herself as a law professor at Rutgers University. Her life and career are forever changed, though, when Martin presents her a gender-based tax case involving a bachelor who was denied a tax deduction based upon the fact he never married. The Ginsburgs see it as an opportunity to start breaking down every law in the country that discriminates against gender, but first they must win their case, which proves to be more daunting than Ruth could have ever imagined. It all sets up a dramatic courtroom climax that we have seen in some variation or form many times before. 

“On the Basis of Sex” is an inspiring film with nice performances and a nice story. However, there isn’t a wow factor to it or anything that leaves a lasting impression afterwards, with a possible exception of Jones’ solid performance. Ginsburg’s impressive legal career is already well-documented, yet we don’t see enough of what her private life was like, much less what she was like while growing up. There is an emotional connection we are not able to quite establish with her because of this void, albeit there is one brief story Martin relates to their teen daughter about Ruth’s relationship with her mother. 

The story flows easily but it fails to get down and dirty considering the offensiveness of the situation women of the times faced then, and still face today. And to be fair, where is the inspirational movie about the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court – Sandra Day O’Connor? Shouldn’t her tale of sacrifice and ceilings shattered be told as well? “On the Basis of Sex” is a decent film that’s enjoyable but not impactful.

Film Review – “The Upside”

THE UPSIDE

Starring:  Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman

Directed by:  Neil Burger

Rated: PG 13

Running time:  2 hrs 5 mins

I’m going to start right out and say that, when he first burst upon the movie scene, I found Kevin Hart to be no more than an even louder Chris Tucker.  He could be funny but he could also be annoying.  In 2016 I began to come around, impressed as I was with his performance opposite Dwayne Johnson in “Central Intelligence.”  This week, with his new film, “The Upside,” he may have finally won me over.

“The Upside” is the story of two very different men who learn to rely on each other.  Hart is Dell, a recently released convict trying to right by his son but not wanting to put the effort into what it takes.  Cranston is Philip, a once very active billionaire who is now a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair.  Dell tells his parole officer that he’s looking for work, but to prove it he needs to have paperwork signed by three prospective employers or it’s back to the hoosegow for him.  He accidentally wanders into an interview session where Philip is speaking to prospective care-givers.  Intrigued by Dell’s “I don’t have time, just sign this” attitude, he offers him the job.  And a heartfelt and funny adventure begins.

For those who aren’t aware, “The Upside” is a true story and is based on the 2011 French film “The Intouchables.”  It is a story of how people can change, whether they want to or not.  Dell finds himself going from the projects to the penthouse (literally), while Philip, who has been slowly withdrawing since the death of his wife, begins to discover the joys of living again.  Both actors give solid, moving performances, with just enough laughter to keep the story moving.  As Philip’s business assistant, Kidman is no-nonsense in her dealings with Dell, likening his position to a baseball game – three strikes and he’s out.

Director Burger keeps the story flowing nicely, hitting all of the right emotional notes.  A fine way to enter the new year!

Our Critics Pick the Best (and Worst) of 2018

Once again, the time has come for your favorite film critics to choose the films they loved – and hated – from 2018.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know below.  Happy New Year!

THE BEST

Michael A. Smith‘s TOP TEN

1.VICE – Like his Oscar winning THE BIG SHORT, writer/director Adam McKay gives a humorous take on the life and times of our 46th Vice President. 

2. BOY ERASED – Stellar performances by Lucas Hedges and Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed) in a film dealing with “conversion” training.  Edgerton is beginning to look like he will be one of the best filmmakers of the next generation. 

3. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – The story of Freddie Mercury and his musical group QUEEN.  Some complained that Mercury’s X-rated lifestyle was tamed down too much but Rami Malek’s award worthy performance is the real story here.

4. A STAR IS BORN –  Damn you, Bradley Cooper!  Is there nothing you can’t do?  Cooper stars and directs in the fourth telling of the familiar tale, adding enough twists to make it seem new.  Extra points for casting the amazing Lady Gaga.

 5. BLACKKKLANSMAN –  Easily Spike Lee’s best film since DO THE RIGHT THING, the film’s 1970’s era message is just as important today.

“Risking life and limb for our entertainment”

6. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT – The best of the M:I films, with Tom Cruise once again risking life and limb for our entertainment.

7. CHAPPAQUIDDICK – An early film this year that looks into the fateful accident that derailed the Presidential dreams of Ted Kennedy.

8. BLACK PANTHER – Not a great Marvel Movie…just a GREAT MOVIE.  With FRUITVALE STATION and CREED already on his resumé, director Ryan Coogler has proven to be a voice to be listened to.

 9. HOSTILES – A January release, this is an outstanding period western starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and, sadly, Scott Wilson in one of his final roles.

 10. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? – Award worthy performances from stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant highlight this true story about an author who had to resolve to forgery to make any money.   

Lauren Damon’s TOP FIVE

1.BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE – I cannot speak highly enough of Drew Goddard’s follow up to one of my Halloween faves, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Once again Goddard holes up his small cast in a single location that is not quite what it seems and is a joy to explore. And what a cast! While bigger names like Jeff Bridges and Jon Hamm deliver reliably solid performances (the latter chewing all the scenery with a fabulous southern accent), the real revelations are from relative newcomers Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman. The Tony-winning Erivo is the film’s heart as a struggling singer who checks into the El Royale ahead of a nearby gig. When she gets wrapped up in a scheme with Bridges’ character, Goddard uses her powerhouse voice to deliver “You Can’t Hurry Love” in easily my favorite single sequence of the year. Meanwhile Pullman is just barely holding everything together as the hotel’s lone caretaker whose role entails much more than cleaning towels and whose past is bubbling beneath his boyish, twitchy surface. I really just wanted to hug him. Finally, as with CABIN, Goddard goes ahead and subverts Chris Hemsworth’s affable hero persona. This time by casting him as a vile Charles Manson type–this is the 60’s in California after all– whose limited screen time serves merely to concentrate the sinister vibes emanating off his gyrating abs. Everyone is supported by top notch production design, a rocking soundtrack and some gorgeous Seamus McGarvey cinematography. It just really sizzles.

“It’s a crime that Collette isn’t in the major film awards conversations (yet?)” 

2. HEREDITARY – This slow burning descent of one family after the death of their secretive matriarch may be an all time fave viewing experience in a packed theater. Where a lot of modern horror relies on jump scares, Ari Aster held us captive in many scenes by showing the terrors just slightly to the side in the gloom of the frame or holding on the silence after a traumatic event–all while my audience slowly lost its mind. Which was fitting, because we were watching Toni Collette’s character doing roughly the same. It’s a crime that Collette isn’t in the major film awards conversations (yet? C’mon Academy!) because she was so engrossing and almost painful to watch.

3. BLACK PANTHER – Ryan Coogler’s brilliant entry into Marvel was remarkable for so fully realizing a whole new world within a “Universe” we’ve already been living in for the past decade. And unlike some chapters of the MCU, he did it right here on Earth. Wakanda was beautiful and populated by such a well drawn cast of characters, it was nearly impossible to pick a favorite (but it’s Shuri, come on). Meanwhile, unlike some big purple menaces, Erik Kilmonger’s (Michael B Jordan) ‘villainous’ motives were some of the most complex that the franchise has dealt with. So much so that Chadwick Boseman’s T’challa had to face a real crisis of conscience that not many Marvel heroes do!

4. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU – I feel like the less I say about this film, the better new viewers’ experiences will be. Boots Riley’s take on the desolate modern economic landscape just throws a LOT at you with a notable hard turn in the second half that will likely decide where you land on this one. As someone who is rarely surprised at movies today, I was fully on board.

5. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – I knew going in that every outlet in the Disney-Marvel Marketing Machine kept saying “It’s Thanos’s movie, it’s really going to belong to Thanos” but boy, I was not prepared for…Thanos’s movie! Not only did the Russo brothers bring to life a presence worthy of scaring the bejeezus out of ten years of assembled super heroes, but that they let him Do That was a true shocker. It’s hard for me to judge INFINITY WAR fully until I see what goes down in ENDGAME because, to quote THE PRESTIGE, “making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.” But for now, I sit stunned.

Michael D. Smith’s TOP TEN

1. BLACK PANTHER – The best movie of the year, BLACK PANTHER proves to be one of the two or three best titles in the 10-year Avengers odyssey. Directed by the brilliantly talented young filmmaker Ryan Coogler (CREED, FRUITVALE STATION), this supremely entertaining, comic book epic has a superb cast and an engaging, intelligent story. Its story of a young king who thinks he knows what it takes to be a ruler but is faced with a day of reckoning that turns his views upside down is a potent one. The climax is tragic to the point that it’s Shakespearean and it’s all assisted by one of the most consistently good performances by an entire cast that you will see, especially in an action movie. Michael B. Jordan, who was cheated out of an Oscar nomination for his role in CREED, is a powerful presence in the film as its lead antagonist. BLACK PANTHER has everything you could ever want in not only a superhero movie but in a movie period. 

2. A QUIET PLACE – In terms of creativity and originality, A QUIET PLACE is only rivaled in recent times by last year’s masterpiece “Get Out.” A brief, yet sophisticated sci-fi horror tale brimming with mystery, A QUIET PLACE stars the husband/wife team of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt as a couple struggling to keep their family alive in a world taken over by aliens who react to sound. You must pay attention to the little details in this one to spot clues to the backstory, which itself is horrifying. The story has a bit of a Stephen King-like vibe to it as the suspense builds around the impending birth of a new baby. A must-see.

3. FIRST REFORMED –  Ethan Hawke shines in what is arguably writer/director Paul Schrader’s greatest cinematic endeavor. It is a work of art in every sense of the word as Hawke plays the minister of a tiny congregation in an old church in upstate New York. His character is haunted by a past that riddles him with guilt and leads him to drink. When we meet him, he has begun to keep a diary of his tormented thoughts as he tries to mentor those that are just as much pain as he is. Hawke is mesmerizing in the most brilliant performance of his career with strong supporting help from Amanda Seyfried and a nice dramatic turn by Cedric the Entertainer. The ending is haunting to say the least and will leave you and anyone you watch it with debating what it all means. 

“Olivia Colman delivers the best performance by an actress in 2018 and it’s not even close”

4. THE FAVOURITE – With some of the best costume designs you will see in any film, THE FAVOURITE is a wonderful historical drama containing the most splendid, witty dialogue of the year. Set against the backdrop of early 18th century England, two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) vie to be the favorite of the increasingly sickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). The political intrigue is delightful as Weisz and Stone’s characters will go to any lengths to be the apple of Queen Anne’s eye, thereby having access to tremendous power. Colman delivers the best performance by an actress in 2018 and it’s not even close. She is brilliant in every sense of the word as portrays a woman teetering on insanity after having had 18 pregnancies but no living children. There are ultimately no winners in all of it. Just tragic losers. 

5. LEAVE NO TRACE – While watching the powerful performance delivered by New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the drama LEAVE NO TRACE, it is impossible to not think about what director/writer Debra Granik once pulled out of a relatively unknown young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. It is perhaps an unfair comparison considering that Lawrence received the first of her four Oscar nominations for her role as a tough, teenage Ozarks girl in 2010’s WINTER’S BONE. However, as Tom, McKenzie provides something that is special to watch on the silver screen. Through her eyes alone she projects her character’s tough, determined nature which she also reveals is just a façade masking a 13-year-old girl’s desperation to please a father (Ben Foster) traumatized by war. Foster once again demonstrates how skillful he has become in recent years. Pain leaks out of every pour in Foster’s skin as his character is so consumed by PTSD from combat that he puts Tom in danger every day they are on the run without thinking about what he is doing. Based upon the 2009 book My Abandonment by American novelist Peter Rock, LEAVE NO TRACE, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, is a moving work of genuine sadness that will pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has a heart.

 6. BLACKKKLANSMAN – In what is Spike Lee’s best effort in years, BLACKKKLANSMAN is an engrossing crime drama loosely based upon real events. It tells the tale of new African American, Colorado police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrates a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s via the phone. To represent himself in person, he convinces a Jewish detective (Adam Driver) to be his face. While it’s an entertaining piece of work that takes a lot of dramatic license, Lee’s effort tackles racism head-on and reveals its ugliness likes few films do. As such, it’s not without controversy but because of that it accomplishes the goal of making people talk and think about racism in America. 

7. GREEN BOOK – Inspired by a true story, this period drama is a surprisingly complex, emotional work considering its director, Peter Farrelly, is best known for comedic fare like SHALLOW HAL and DUMB AND DUMBER. With GREEN BOOK, Farrelly captures the stark racial divide of 1962 America with an exploration of the relationship between white bar bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as they travel across the Midwest and Deep South. Mortensen dazzles with his knack to bring to life every subtle nuance of the characters he plays. This role is no exception as he helps make Tony Lip someone we can truly care about even though in the beginning it’s a little tough to do. Ali, a 2017 Oscar winner for MOONLIGHT, gives Don a vulnerable sophistication while also breathing out a certain degree of naïveté without seeming to break a sweat. It all adds up to GREEN BOOK being the type of rare movie where everyone can feel a little bit happier about the world when the lights go back on. 

8. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – Like many other people, I grew up on Mr. Rogers so perhaps I’m a little biased, but this documentary feels like a warm and cozy sweater vest. It dispels a lot of myths about the man who wanted nothing more than to work with children. We learn a lot about this kind, gentle soul from those closest to him and it’s refreshing in this age of cynicism and character assassination to discover he was pretty much exactly like he was on the TV.

9. HEREDITARY –  Simply put, this is one of the most messed up movies you will ever see. HEREDITARY is tale of a family being turned upside down when the family matriarch’s death starts a sequence of horrifying events that lead to a supernatural, head-scratching, unsettling climax. Toni Collette is fantastic as the mother of two who becomes increasingly unraveled thanks to a plan set into motion by her recently deceased mother. It goes without saying that a film is automatically creepy when it silently begins with a nondescript obituary on the silver screen. Don’t stay up too late to watch this. Otherwise you will feel the need to keep all the lights on and the covers over your head.

“Rami Malek absolutely commands the screen”

10. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – Some of have criticized this film for not devoting more time to the exploration of the late Freddie Mercury’s private life. However, this rock biography is not titled “The Freddie Mercury Story.” Instead it focuses on the rise of a band with a singer who had a rock voice like none other before or since. While the story is admittedly a little glossy, the core strength of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is the incredible performance by lead Rami Malek who absolutely commands the screen. He masters every movement, every voice inflection, every insecurity, every bit of bravado of the real Mercury. It is a legendary accomplishment and is worth every penny to see.

Jeremy Werner‘s TOP TEN:

“It’s good for the souls of the young and old.”

1. EIGHTH GRADE -Back in August I wrote, “Cringy. Heartfelt. Anxiety inducing. Unflinching. Heartbreaking. Hopeful…Bo Burnham’s debut film seemingly has it all, and it does.” That still rings true after a few rewatches. Four months later, along with dozens and dozens of screeners, EIGHTH GRADE, is still my favorite film of the year because of how raw and emotional it is. It’s good for the souls of the young and old.

2. BLACKKKLANSMAN -Last year, GET OUT made me feel what it’s like to be a black man in a predominantly white situation or setting. This year, BLACKKKLANSMAN made me feel my own white guilt. Both movies are timely and timeless. BLACKKKLANSMAN is a church sermon that needs to be heard by everyone within an earshot. This is easily Spike Lee’s best film since DO THE RIGHT THING if not his magnum opus.

3. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE – Phil Lord and Chris Miller should just have their own animation studio. They were robbed of an Oscar for 2014’s LEGO MOVIE and it’ll be another crime if SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE doesn’t win best animated picture this year. It’s a trippy journey that blurs the line between comic book and cinema. Not only is it the best animated film of the year, it may be the best superhero movie of the year. Sorry Disney.

4. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU -What begins as a satire, quickly becomes a hyper absurd sci-fi that blends commentary on racism and classism, along with jabs at America’s path towards corporatocracy. Boots Riley brings a fresh voice and unique criticism that’s familiar, yet distinct. It’s the kind of film with no middle ground. You’ll either love or hate it.


5. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? -In today’s climate, the world might need another Mr. Rogers, if that’s possible. Without mentioning any names or incidents, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? feels like a pertinent documentary about the impact kindness and compassion has. Even the iciest of hearts will have a tear in their eye by the end credits.

6. VICE -Comedy doesn’t quite the praise it deserves. Ask any actor or creator how hard it is to craft something funny. Now add in a dose of reality and seriousness. Just like in THE BIG SHORT, Adam McKay tackles a difficult subject and makes it palatable for general audiences. VICE is a dark riot, making us laugh and realize the expanding power of the Executive Branch.

7. BOY ERASED -Not only is this a powerful story about sexual identity, but it’s a somber reminder about how one of the America’s most heinous acts, conversion therapy, remains legal. The film does a nuanced job of highlighting the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical cruelty that conversion therapy puts it’s victims through. It’s simply tragic.

8. MANDY– What if heavy metal music became a movie? You’d have MANDY, an 80’s acid nightmare come to life, with the help of a gonzo, smiling Nicolas Cage, covered in blood. This is a midnight film that will surely develop a cult following, or at the very least, a legion of Cheddar Goblin fans.

9. WIDOWS – This is Steve McQueen’s most mainstream film, yet it’s still visually intellectual like his previous films. McQueen is a master behind the camera and weaves a caper that’s not only rich with heavy material and social themes, but engaging from beginning to end.

10. THE FAVOURITE – THE FAVOURITE  is devilishly funny and cynical. It’s the kind of movie that could delight those who loathe period piece dramas, like myself. The humor and dialogue crackle for two hours as the film’s three leading ladies find new, humorous ways to stab each other in the back.

HONORABLE MENTIONS : SUSPIRIA, ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE, FIRST REFORMED, ISLE OF DOGS, ROMA, BLOCKERS, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, LOVE,SIMON, CRAZY RICH ASIANS, MOM AND DAD

AND…THE WORST

Jeremy Werner: 

1. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM -The bigger the budget, the more it should be looked down upon. This movie cost nearly $200 million and it stunk like one big pile of dino crap. Just think how many good, small budget films could have been made instead, but that wouldn’t have raked in over a billion dollars, now would it?

“Like one big pile of dino crap”

2. BOOK CLUB -Not only do they still make crap like this, but they release in theaters and trick good actors and actresses to star in it. This is pure drivel. Keep this crap off the silver screen and keep it on the Lifetime Network.

3. WELCOME TO MARWEN -The more I think about it, the more this film makes me mad. It’s a steaming crap that’s beneath the actors in it, it soils Zemeckis’ good name and unfortunately mishandles a true story. Unlike most train wrecks, you can look away from this one.

4. SUPER TROOPERS 2 -Careful what you wish for. Fans of the original should have looked towards other fanbases who asked for a sequel, like GHOSTBUSTERS, THE HANGOVER, etc. and got a big pile of crap instead. This movie is an unfunny dumpster fire that should offer a refund to it’s IndieGoGo supporters.

5. TERMINAL – Didn’t hear about this one? Good. To reiterate my favorite word in this list, it’s crap. This is the kind of film I could easily placed at the top, but it’s not as deserving as my scorn as the other films noted above because it quietly came and went without ruffling too many feathers. Still though. This one is crap. Don’t even bother looking it up out of curiosity.

Michael A. Smith:

1.LIFE ITSELF – As I say on our Podcast, I’ve never been so happy to see someone hit by a bus.  THIS IS US plots work in small doses, but on the big screen, they suck!

2. THE MEG – If my 230 pound body can’t swim by people without attracting notice, then a 50 foot shark sure as hell shouldn’t be able to.

 3. OCEANS 8 – Boooooooooooorrrrrrrrrring!

4. LOVE, SIMON – What could have been a film that delivered a great message takes the easy way out by making everything peachy too easily.

5. GRINGO – I had so many high hopes for this film.  Sadly, Nash Edgerton did not get any of the film making skills his brother Joel inherited.  

Film Review- “If Beale Street Could Talk”

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Starring:  KiKi Layne, Stephan James and Regina King
Directed by:  Barry Jenkins
Rated: R
Running time:  1 hr 59 mins
Annapurna Pictures

2018 may go down as the year when everything old became new again. Especially in films.  Messages(and misdeeds) from the past were brought to cinemas in new, fresh styles but the messages were not lost.  Films like “Black Panther” and “Blackkksman” made audiences, both black and white, take a look atthe world around them and demand that it change.  2019 continues that path with the latest film from “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Tish (Layne) and Vonny (James) are young and in love.  Vonny isan artist with dreams of opening his own gallery.  Sadly, they live in a time when society, and even members of their own families, are not as supportive as they should be.  They find their love challenged when Vonny is arrested and charged with committing a brutal rape.  We know he’s innocent but, thanks to a racist cop (the creepy Ed Skrein) and a victim (Emily Rios in a very strong performance) who has fled the country, the deck is already stacked against him.

As someone that has always enjoyed reading, I was well aware of the late James Baldwin.  He was an author who was not afraid to write about the world as he saw it, no matter the view.  Director Jenkins, who shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for “Moonlight” – and will surely be nominated again for his work here – has kept the novel’s 1970s setting intact, but the tale told could easily have been placed in today’s world, a place where institutionalized racism is still an ongoing problem.

Jenkins has assembled a skilled cast of actors, both new and old, to shoulder the emotional impact of the story.  In her first feature film, Ms. Layne is the heart and voice of the film (Tish narrates the story as it progresses).  Her bright eyes and constant smile tell the audience that she is in love and will always be, no matter the consequences.  Mr. James, who has portrayed such historically important characters as John Lewis and Jesse Owens, is also strong.  He is a strong black man in an era when some parts of society confused “strong” with “trouble.”  As Tish’s mother, Sharon, Regina King delivers one of the best performances in ANY film released this year.   In their review of “Beale Street,”Entertainment Weekly plainly asked “Will someone please give Regina King an Oscar already?”  I wholeheartedly agree!

A film that makes you think, like the perfect diamond, is rare.  “IfBeale Street Could Talk” is flawless.

Film Review: “Vice”

VICE
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Adam McKay
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 12 mins
Annapura Films

Our Score: 5 stars

On the animated program “Lil’ Bush,” which was a comical look at the administration of President George W. Bush, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, was portrayed as possibly the son of Darth Vader. If Adam McKay’s latest film is to believe, Cheney may in fact actually have been Emperor Palpatine!

Dick Cheney (Bale) is a man who came from a troubled youth – lots of drinking and carousing – and rose to be within a heartbeat of
holding the highest office in the world. And, if the film “Vice” is to be believed, he did it in the most ruthless way possible. You have to love a movie that informs the viewer at the beginning that it is a “true story,” than clarifies itself by explaining it’s as true as it can get considering nobody really knows anything about Dick Cheney.

After being kicked out of school and forced to live with his wife, Lynne (Adams), in her parents house, Cheney is given the ultimatum from the missus to either make something of himself or hit the road. He is chosen to be part of a group of young men whose job is to assist members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. and is chosen by the straight-shooting Congressman from the state of Illinois, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). Sensing a kindred soul – or lack of one – Rumsfeld takes Cheney with him as he progresses through the ranks of government. And, like Michael Corleone, he teaches Cheney to keep his friends close and his
enemies closer.

I have always marveled at the talents of Christian Bale. From first seeing him at age 12 in “Empire of the Sun” through “American Psycho,” the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and his Oscar winning turn in “The Fighter,” he has always impressed me. So when I say that here he gives the best performance of his career, give me credit that I know what I’m talking
about. In fact, if you didn’t know Bale was in this film I would dare you to tell me you know it’s he portraying Cheney, so immersed in the character is he. He is joined note for note by Adams, the strong woman-behind-the-the man, who adds another award-worthy performance to her repertoire! Throw in Carell, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Tyler Perry as Colin
Powell, and you have a true actors workshop on display.

The other half of this film is the script from director Adam McKay. Long known as Will Ferrell’s partner in crime on such films as “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” McKay hit the big time by winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Award for his film “The Big Short.” “Vice” is told in a similar way, with narration and flashbacks that make you chuckle while still lamenting the fact that this guy was basically helping to run our government. With no apologies. In fact, when the incident where Cheney, on a hunting trip, accidentally shot a fellow hunter in the face, we are shown the news clip where the VICTIM actually apologizes for causing any inconvenience to the Cheney family!

Dick Cheney has been with us for over four decades. Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, he may never go away. But if there is one positive to his story, it’s that it gave us what, in my opinion, is the best film of 2018!

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