Film Review: “Overlord”

OVERLORD
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell
Directed by: Juluis Avery
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins
Paramount
 
Produced by J.J. Abrams, “Overlord” is not your father’s John Wayne-type World War II flick. Other than the title being derived from Operation Overlord, the codename for the June 6, 1944 Battle of Normandy, best known as D-Day, “Overlord” has little to do with the actual invasion. A mix of action, horror and science fiction, “Overlord” contains a predictable storyline with a degree of vagueness high enough to undermine the plot. However, watching crazy, evil Nazis getting blown apart by the good guys is always excellent fun to watch.
 
The first third of “Overlord” is the most intense of the film as planes full of American paratroopers are flying into Nazi-controlled France on the eve of D-Day. Their mission, as ridiculous as it sounds, is to knock out a singular German radio tower or else the Allied invasion will fail. It’s a chaotic, tense-filled scene as the American fleet tries to survive withering anti-aircraft fire from German positions. Director Julius Avery (“Son of a Gun”) does a wonderful job of making us feel like we are on the plane with lots of shaky camera work. We can almost smell the vomit and the fear.
 
From the moment we meet him we know that Pvt. Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo, “Fences”) is going to be the story’s hero even though he doesn’t have the respect of many of his fellow soldiers. He is especially harassed by Pvt. Tibbet (John Magaro, “Not Fade Away”), a sniper whose bad faux-accent is as annoying as nails on a chalkboard. Amidst the plane’s green soldiers is brooding explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell, “22 Jump Street”), the obvious grizzled veteran who doesn’t take any guff from anyone.
 
Eventually it comes down to just four GIs, including our three named American heroes, who must find a way to sneak into the heavily guarded radio tower, which sits on top of a French church. Pvt. Boyce stumbles his way inside, but once there he discovers horrific experiments are being conducted on French villagers, American soldiers, and even dead Germans. Think Captain America soldier serum meets “The Walking Dead.” Some sort of mysterious liquid underneath the church is being refined by a Nazi scientist to make invincible soldiers, which isn’t that the goal of every evil scientist in a war-related movie? Yawn.
 
Ultimately, our heroes, with the assistance of a local girl (Mathilde Ollivier, “The Misfortunes of Francois Jane”), must save the test subjects and destroy the tower while trying to evade a sadistic Nazi officer (Pilou Asbaek, “Game of Thrones”). Oh, and don’t forget they are to ensure that D-Day succeeds.
 
“Overlord” sometimes feels like a version of the Wolfenstein video game, only with slightly better acting. The intensity of the beginning is lost because of predictability and near-campiness of the story. The plot is paper thin with a climax that unfolds like a B-movie. Still, “Overlord” is a bit of a guilty pleasure so get plenty of popcorn.

Film Review: “Widows”

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki
Directed By: Steve McQueen
Rated: R
Running Time: 129 minutes
20th Century Fox

“Widows” begins with Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his partners in crime meeting a quick, fiery end, before we even really get to know any of them. But we quickly learn that the ripples from their deaths have major implications on a bitter election campaign in one of Chicago’s most blighted neighborhoods, along with millions in dirty money that needs to be repaid. Unfortunately caught up in all this, is three grieving widows. Veronica (Davis), Rawlings’ widow, decides to use a notebook left behind by her late husband, detailing his next planned heist, to prevent herself from being another victim.

“Widows” is the kind of movie we’ve seen before. Any number of political thrillers, revenge, or crime and heist movies come to mind. But what makes “Widows” unique is how much it subverts tropes or incorporates them into themes that touch upon racism, police brutality, class warfare, gender politics, and more. Sometimes the themes are heavy, layered on thick so that a general audience can understand. Other times they’re casually sprinkled in, only coming through the film’s visual aesthetics or the director’s incorporated camera techniques.

The blueprint for “Widows” could have easily been used to craft a well-made summertime popcorn flick that would have delighted the masses. “Widows” will still delight those masses, but it’s nourishing because of the sustenance it finds in the script and it’s performances. When the film could have easily told the audience what’s happening, it shows it. And when the actors could have easily read through plot points and pertinent topics, they etch everything we need to know on their faces and through their actions.

Davis, who should seriously be on everyone’s radar in Hollywood by now, channels a primal feminine rage about the destruction left behind by the men in her life, whether it be personal or circumstantial. Rodriguez and Debicki, playing the other two widows brought in for the all-female heist, feed off of Davis’ energy. Even in scenes where Davis’ is paired alongside any of her male cohorts, she seems to tower above them in terms of dramatic acting chops.

There is no small role in “Widows” as the likes of Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Matt Walsh, and others provide another layer for viewers to peel back. The nuances of every role in this film beef up the main players, but also supply much life to an already bleak backdrop. Steve McQueen has entered the mainstream with a stellar ensemble crime heist film that interjects weighty thematic material that’s easily digestible and relevant. “Widows” is one of the must-see films of the years, for general audiences and cinephiles.

Film Review: “The Old Man and the Gun”

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN
Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek
Directed by: David Lowery
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
Fox Searchlight
 
Jesse James. Cole Younger. Billy the Kid. Bonnie and Clyde. All were criminals who robbed and murdered their way into history thanks to being turned into distorted Robin Hoods by dime store novels, bleeding newspaper headlines, and eventually a variety of movies. The supposed glory days of stickup artists arguably ended by the time the 1940s rolled around, yet one man named Forrest Tucker (1920-2004), who had a flair for the dramatic, probably stole more than all the aforementioned bandits combined. His life of crime, which began at the age of 15, is detailed in the current drama “The Old Man and the Gun,” starring Robert Redford in the alleged last acting gig of his career. Redford goes out with a bang in a performance that is charming and engrossing.
 
Written and directed by David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), “The Old Man and the Gun” is based upon a January 27, 2003 article of the same name in “The New Yorker” by American journalist David Grann. Like the title implies, we meet Tucker in his older years when he should be enjoying retirement somewhere sunny or at the very least staying out of trouble with the law. However, we quickly discover that Tucker cannot give up the thing he loves the most no matter what his age is. With fellow thieves Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits) in tow as part of what the press dubs the Over the Hill Gang, Tucker continues a nationwide bank heist spree in 1981 that garners the attention of detective and family man John Hunt (Casey Affleck). Hunt and Tucker are complete opposites of each other, but there is a bit of mutual respect as a cat-and-mouse game evolves before Hunt’s case is taken over by the feds.
 
In the middle of it all, Tucker encounters Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a single woman with a small horse farm in the country. He beguiles her with his charm, which Redford fleshes out effortlessly in scenes not only with Spacek, but also in scenes when Tucker is holding up banks with smiles and courtesy. Their chemistry on the silver screen is tangible and watching these two acting masters at work is a special cinematic treat to be savored like a fine wine. Of course, their relationship becomes more complicated when she discovers his real line of work, which is growing increasingly perilous as he continues to take chances despite mounting press coverage of his crimes.
 
Lowery has crafted a wonderful little film that flows smoothly from beginning to end with great acting and solid dialogue. Waits is subtly fantastic as a hardened tough guy while Glover quietly plays a worrywart and Affleck is solid in a nice supporting role. Beneath the entertaining Hollywood veneer, though, is a man who was in and out of jail his entire life, which included 18 alleged successful escapes from various detention centers and prisons. The film glides by how many lives were adversely affected by Tucker’s criminal activities and it only gives a brief nod to what happened to his family. Much like the dime store novels of the 19th century, “The Old Man and The Gun” sentimentalizes Tucker by taking a lot of dramatic license with reality. So much so that Tucker achieves a certain level of sympathetic status that whitewashes the fact he was a habitual criminal.

Film Review: “Museo”

MUSEO
Starring: Gael García Bernal
Directed by: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 2 hrs 8 mins
Vitagraph
 
Every so often a work of cinema is created that is so fantastic and brilliant that it belongs in a museum where it can be forever enshrined. The new Mexican drama “Museo” is not one of those films. “Museo” is the tale of the 1985 robbery of Mexico’s Museum of Anthropology during which over 100 pre-Columbian artifacts were stolen. Never mind the recognition it received at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival, “Museo,” misfiring on nearly every cylinder, is two hours-worth of distorted history, obnoxious musicality, bad writing and directing.
 
The son of a successful doctor, Juan Nuñez (Gael García Bernal, “Y Tu Mamá Tambien,” “Mozart in the Jungle”) is dissatisfied with his upper middle-class lifestyle and family. He claims to be studying for a degree veterinary medicine, but it appears to be a lifelong pursuit because he lacks all motivation to finish. The same is true for his best friend, Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris). While Benjamin may not have quite as comfortable of an existence, he lacks any friends and has little in the way of desire.
 
To alleviate their boredom, Juan hatches a scheme to pull off the greatest heist in Mexico’s history. It seems impossible that could ever work, yet miracle of miracles the two half-wits succeed easily during the pre-dawn hours of Christmas Day. They are amazed by the subsequent coverage and how the news media portrays the thieves as part of an international conspiracy. However, their victory is a hollow one.
 
Benjamin proves to be more worried about his ailing father than Juan cares for while Juan himself begins having visions of a Mayan king that lead to having feelings of guilt. It all puts a great stress on their longtime friendship, especially after they meet an unscrupulous artifact dealer who points out to them that their stolen goods are both priceless and worthless at the same time. Despair falls upon them as the manhunt by Mexican authorities begins to breathe down their necks.
 
Extremely little accuracy is paid to the actual events besides that the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City was indeed robbed by two men. Director Ruizpalacios tries to create suspense by having the two imbecilic friends almost get caught by museum security. Never happened. Nor did they try to sell their artifacts right away or develop a guilty conscience as one of the two main culprits in real life was arrested in 1989 while participating in a drug trafficking ring. The dramatic license taken goes beyond absurdity.
 
The choice of musical score is a complete disaster as it is loud, brash, and fails to heighten the nonexistent suspense. It plays like a bad, offensive sample of a Hitchcock film. Making matters worse are a series of ill-suited, quasi still shots of the dynamic duo as they rob the museum. Combine that with some random shaky camera footage, add a rambling sense of storytelling without any tightness and you get a cinematic mess. Bernal is adequate for his role, but his acting is only pushed in one lone, actual memorable scene involving Juan and his stoic father. The only drama you will find in “Museo” is if you can sit through its entirety.

Film Review: “Wildlife”

WILDLIFE

Starring:  Ed Oxenbould, Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by:  Paul Dano
Rated: PG 13
Running time:  1 hr 45 mins
IFC

It’s amazing what a little pride will do to a family.  Take the Brinsons.  Things go to bad when man of the house Jerry (Gyllenhaal) is fired from his job.  They go to worse when he is offered his job back but, because of his pride, refuses to accept it.  With a family to support – wife Jeanette (Mulligan) and 14 year old son Joe (Oxenbould) – he leaves home to take a dangerous job as a firefighter.  He should have just gone back to work.

I don’t know what is happening in Hollywood, but so many young actors are taking the reins and writing and directing their own features.  This film was directed by Paul Dano (the co-star of such films as “Little Miss Sunshine” and “There Will Be Blood”) and written by Dano and fellow actress Zoe Kazan (“The Big Sick” and the granddaughter of the great director Elia Kazan) and while it starts off a little slow, as the story grows you begin to embrace it.

The performances are smartly delivered, with Gyllenhaal at his most hang-dogged at times and Mulligan her beautiful but unsure self.  The story is told through the eyes of Joe and Oxenbould is fine as the central story point.

Technically the film is beautifully presented, with long shots of mountains and sky as far as the eye can see.  Credit this to director Dano and cinematographer Diego Garcia, who give the film almost a “postcard” quality and Mr. Dano a very strong freshman effort from behind the camera.

Film Review: “Boy Erased”

BOY ERASED

Starring:  Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Joel Edgerton
Directed by:  Joel Edgerton
Rated: R
Running time:  1 hr 54 mins
Focus Features

 

ARKANSAS.  THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY.

So reads the license plate that is the first thing we see at the beginning of “Boy Erased.”  But opportunity for who?  It’s certainly been good to the Eamons family.  Father Marshall (Russell Crowe) is not only the town preacher, he also owns the big car dealership in town.  Wife Nancy (Kidman) is busy in the community.  And son Jared (Hedges) is a popular high school boy who dreams of being a writer.  But Jared has a secret, one that will pit him against those he loves because of those he loves.

Based on the experiences related in the book “Boy Erased” by Gerrard Conley and written by director and co-star Edgerton, the film follows Jared as he is outed to his parents and made to attend a program that will “cure” him of his supposed misdeeds.  He is taken to a campus run by Victor Sykes (Edgerton).  The rules are strict.  No cell phones allowed in classes.  They are actually confiscated each morning, with the staff informing the owners that they will be checking their contacts and calling random numbers to ensure there is no evil happening on the other end of the line.  No contact, except for the briefest of handshakes.  Heck, you have to take a counselor with you when you use the bathroom.  Most important…you do not discuss the therapy with anyone outside the campus.  Jared wants so much to please his parents but as his therapy continues he realizes that to deny his true feelings is to deny himself.

I was a huge fan of Edgerton’s previous writing/directing project, 2015’s “The Gift” and he continues to show with his work here that he is one of the most gifted filmmakers working today and one to be reckoned with for many years.  It can’t be easy pulling double duty both in front of and behind the camera, but he keeps the story moving while allowing the audience to absorb the happenings on screen.  He also pulls amazing performances out of both Hedges and Kidman, with both of them doing some of their best work in recent years.  Add to the acting kudo list Edgerton himself, as well as supporting work by Flea, Jesse LaTourette, Britton Sear, Theodore Pellerin and David Joseph Craig, whose smug face and attitude made me want to punch him every time he came on screen.

Awards season is coming and “Boy Erased” has easily put itself in the running for some end of the year gold.

Film Review: “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch”

Starring the Voice of: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones and Kenan Thompson
Directed By: Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney
Rated: PG
Running Time: 90 minutes
Universal Pictures

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is a moderately safe viewing experience for children. I say this because the past several films churned out by Illumination have been less than stellar with questionable ethics, and they were more about selling toys than they were about telling a genuine story. Illumination has managed to create a crowd pleaser for kids new to the story. But while its super sugary goodness may satisfy kids, it’ll certainly give their parents a toothache.

“The Grinch” is fairly similar to the book and the television special that followed, give or take a few creative liberties that are equally distracting or amusing. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the furry green creature that loathes Christmas, and honestly does a spectacular job. He’s likeable, yet cruel, as well as casually dorky, yet firm with his voice. The rest of the voice talent, Kenan Thompson, Rashida Jones, and others, feel like they were only given a few hours to rehearse and read their lines.

When taking into account, the films based on Dr. Seuss’ work, “The Grinch” stands firmly near at the top by default. It’s not gross and obnoxious like the live-action “Cat in the Hat” or a complete misfire like “The Lorax,” another Illumination film. It’s possible the studio learned from those mistakes, catering towards fans of the original work while making sure they didn’t make it to obnoxiously modern with pop-culture references.

The criticisms of commercialism aren’t lost on the 2018 update on Dr. Seuss’ classic tale. “The Grinch” spends several moments touching upon how the title character is transfixed on the buying, receiving and gluttony of the holidays. It’s the viewpoint of a curmudgeon who’s spent his life loathing a holiday that’s beloved by all. You probably know the story by now about how the cynic softens and how his heart grows multiple sizes by the tales end. It’s hard to take that message at face value when Illumination’s only reason for retelling this tale is for financial reasons.

There are several attempts by the creative team to inject some original, unique ideas into the timeless tale, but only one seems to actually stick. The idea that the Grinch is an orphan, whose deep-seated dislike for Christmas stems from his parentless childhood and the PTSD that follows helps bring everything around in a more complete circle. Other subplots brought in to help the movie don’t resonate at all, like a group of kids in town plan on capturing Santa or Cindy Lou Who’s mom who’s in desperate need of some R&R.

Just like Ron Howard’s film in 2000, this film doesn’t hold a candle to the 1966 television classic. But with television sliding to the wayside with the rising of streaming services, “The Grinch” actually has a legitimate shot at replacing that hand drawn classic. “The Grinch” is bright, flashy and silly; a perfect combination for young children who’ve had their parents read them the Dr. Seuss’ book throughout their young life during the holidays. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the kind of comment that could get a critic crucified in the domain of public opinion, but anytime Dr. Seuss’ works are adapted for TV or screen, it’s a cash grab regardless of how good and wholesome the final product is.

Film Review: “Mid90s”

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston
Directed By: Jonah Hill
Rated: R
Running Time: 84 minutes
A24

I’m not sure who this movie is for. Sometimes coming-of-age films ring true for everyone because it speaks specifically to those who lived the generation it represents and still manages to slip in some universal truths. “Mid90s” seems specifically niche: stoner skateboarders who grew up on “Ren and Stimpy” cartoons and played NES video games. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because the film manages to stretch outside those confines, painting a broad picture of children who’ve come from single parent homes or troubled living conditions. You just have to squint a little hard to see it.

The film focuses on 13-year-old Stevie (Suljic), who actually looks a lot more like he’s 10. He seems to take daily beatings from his older brother, Ian (Hedges), who’s just turned 18. Their single mother, Dabney (Waterston), loves them unconditionally, but seems to have taken a hands-off approach during their pubescent years. Ian and Dabney become background noise in Stevie’s life when he’s accepted into a group of rebellious young boys hanging out at a skateboard shop. This misanthropic brotherhood doesn’t seem to have much in common, but the glue that binds them is their status as outcasts at home, school and in life. The alpha dog of the group, Ray (Na-Kel Smith), also manages to keep them all in line, even when they’re at each other’s throats.

“Mid90s” is the kind of movie “Lords of Dogtown” wishes it was, even though the target audience might fight me on that unpopular opinion. “Mid90s” prevents itself from being overly dramatic and unrealistic thanks to Hill’s raw script which highlights the politically incorrect vernacular of the time while unflinching capturing troubled youth in Los Angeles. However, there are a lot of gaping flaws in how everything is presented. The comedy sprinkled throughout sometimes works, but also undercuts the seriousness of several situations. It also may not be funny for those uncomfortable with how carefree some slurs were used by teens in the 90s. There’s also one scene in particular that quickly goes from uncomfortable to borderline exploitive.

There are flashes of creativity with Hill’s directorial debut, but too often he limits his characters and the stories they have to tell. There’s an inventive subtleness to what Hill reveals about Stevie and his crew, but too often we’re left with more questions than answers. The scope is so narrow that the average moviegoer may find “Mid90s” to be too brash and at times, a bit derivative. But underneath its crass nature, are good-intentions and a unique perspective on growing up that we’ve rarely seen.

Film Review: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Starring:  Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton and Joseph Mazzello
Directed by:  Bryan Singer
Rated: PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 14 mins
20th Century Fox

 

I’m going to confess something here.  On my list of life regrets, one of the ones near the top has to do with the fact that I had a few opportunities in my lifetime to see the band QUEEN live in concert and never went, always telling myself, “I’ll see them the next time they come around.”  Sadly, on November 24, 1991 that statement became moot, as the world mourned the death of the bands flamboyant lead singer, Freddie Mercury (music trivia purists will also note that Eric Carr, the 2nd drummer for KISS, also passed away on that date).  Director Bryan Singer’s new film, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” containing an amazing star-making performance from Rami Malek, lets the world know that Freddie isn’t dead!

London, 1970.  When we meet Farrokh Bulsara (Malek) he is unloading luggage at Heathrow Airport.  He is not happy in his work, especially when his co-workers refer to him as “Paki.”  “I’m not Pakistani,” he constantly reminds them (he was actually Parsi, having been born on the island of Zanzibar before his family moved to England).  While his mother and sister dote on him, he knows his father is ashamed of him, scolding him for going out late at night and imploring him to follow his father’s words of “Good Thought.  Good Words.  Good Deed.”  Farrokh has the opportunity to meet a band who has just lost their lead singer and he soon gets the gig.  A few changes, including the name of the band (and its lead singer) and QUEEN, as well as Freddie Mercury, are on their way.

Full of the music you will fondly remember and featuring one of the most immersive performances by an actor EVER, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a musical masterpiece.  And while the film is definitely designed around the flamboyant Mercury, the other band members – Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardee) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) – are given ample screen time, allowing their characters to be as fleshed out as possible.  They enjoy the musical ups (concert tours and success) and downs (the head of the record company hate’s their music and concepts, critics hate the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”) together, as a family.

However, anyone familiar with the QUEEN story knows this may not be a family you or I would like to be a part of.  Besides the “getting better through science” fast track that Freddie s drug abuse puts him on, there is the same kind of in-fighting and arguments between the members of the group.  There is also the subject of Freddie’s sexuality.  He meets the “love of his life,” Mary (Boynton) but she understands that there will always be an unsaid “thing” between them that will keep them apart.

The film follows the band through their appearance at 1985’s LIVE AID.  It is here that they cemented themselves as one of the greatest bands of all time.  Four decades later, they still hold that distinction.

Confession number two:  I’m old enough to say that my first concert was Elvis Presley (Valentine’s Day – 1977) so when I say I’ve seen them all, I’ve seen them all.  And I’ve said for years that the greatest front man EVER was Freddie Mercury.  If you care to disagree, drop me an email and we’ll talk about it.

Film Review – “Halloween”

 

HALLOWEEN

Starring:  Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer and Will Patton
Directed by:  David Gordon Green
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
Universal

 

There are a handful of films that can be pointed to and described as “game changing” in Hollywood history.  “Citizen Kane” broke all the rules as to how a film is made.  “Jaws” gave us the summer blockbuster.  “Star Wars” ensured that sci-fi fans would always have a voice.  And where do you start when you talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe?  In 1978, another film arrived and changed the face of the horror genre’ forever.  That film was “Halloween.”

We “meet” Michael Myers as an adult, standing alone in a squared-in area of a state-run mental institution.  He is being visited by a film crew working on solving a mystery:  why did 6-year old Michael stab his sister to death on Halloween night, 1963 and why, after escaping from captivity, did he return to his hometown 15 years later and kill again?

One thing to note here for fans of the series, or just those that are interested.  Despite a plethora of “sequels” to the 1978 original, they are treated here as non-existent, making THIS film a continuation of the original.  And I’ll say here that the film, with some tongue in cheek references to other films, works well.  The scares are legit and the performances, led by the amazing Jamie Lee Curtis, are well delivered.

I was surprised to learn that this film was co-written by the always funny Danny McBride.  Good job.  The script is solid, with some nice set-ups inter-spliced with some emotional family moments between Curtis’ Laurie Strode and her estranged daughter and granddaughter.  But you go to these films to see the boogeyman get his comeuppance.  So, what are you waiting for?

Film Review: “Beautiful Boy”

BEAUTIFUL BOY
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney
Directed by: Felix Groeningen
Rated: R
Running Time:  2 Hours
Amazon Studios

Felix Van Groeningen spins a pair of true life father and son memoirs about the latter’s struggle with drug addiction into two really touching turns from both Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet in Beautiful Boy. The film opens in limited release today and despite some heavy-handed technical choices, succeeds on the authenticity of Carell and Chalamet’s performances.

Steve Carell is instantly sympathetic as David Sheff, who we meet in the midst of his son Nic being missing for a few days—a not unusual occurrence as it turns out. I was relieved when early on his wife (Maura Tierney, bringing a lot to a smaller role) gave him a hug because you can just read on his face such a high level of fragility. He’s worn down by Nic’s habits and tired but also terrified and barely holding it together, he needs that hug! Meanwhile Chalamet suppresses any temptation to overact Nic’s drug addled tics. Instead he keeps all the manic energy behind his eyes and in his slightly unbalanced physicality. Some of the strongest scenes come when Nic is desperately trying to deny that he’s relapsed to get money from an unbelieving David. The film’s greatest strength is resisting the temptation to come down hard on either side of this struggle. “Relapse is part of recovery” becomes David’s mantra when Nic disappoints but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong when he needs to refuse Nic for his own sake. At these moments Carell is almost painfully affecting (frankly, I wanted to hug him too) and I felt my heart racing at times when he, understandably, has to snap and really argue with Chalamet.

There are number of choices Van Groeningen makes however that jar you right out of the story in drastic ways. The music over the opening of the film when we’re introduced to Dave and young Nic’s relationship is so overwrought I felt as though we’d dove right into the climax instead of the titles. These heavy-handed musical interludes occur over and over either in instrumental or lyrical form but I only felt emotionally touched—because how can you not be?—by the titular John Lennon tune which Carrell sweetly sings to young Nic as he tucks him in.

And while I’m discussing Young Nic, besides Chalamet—who, at most is meant to play Nic in his twenties—not just one, but three other boys are deployed to play a younger Nic in flashbacks. It’s distracting not only for the quantity of actors but because the first young Nic is none other than It‘s Jack Dylan Glazer. Glazer himself is fast becoming as recognizable A Name as Chalamet, so when he also gets replaced by still younger models it starts not to feel like the same character. More like props for David. The film is a vital story for a time when America is seeing an epidemic of young people overdosing but in these odd choices, the film gets in the way of itself. When it backs off and let’s the actors take control, A Beautiful Boy shines.

Film Review: “Blaze”

BLAZE
Starring: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat
Directed by: Ethan Hawke
Rated: R
Running Time:  2 hrs 9 mins
IFC
 
Having grown up listening to the music of country artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, etc., I was surprised I had never heard of Blaze Foley (1949-89). After watching the biopic of the obscure yet influential Austin-based singer/songwriter, I felt saddened that he did not realize the full potential of his artistry. “Blaze” is a tragic tale that flows like a sad country song with little in the way of silver linings. Based upon the 2008 memoir “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze” by Foley’s ex-wife Sybil Rosen, “Blaze” features a powerful breakthrough performance by musician Ben Dickey in an emotionally complex role. Unfortunately, writer/director Ethan Hawke’s endeavor is so draggy at times that it makes a meandering creek look like a raging river.
 
Hawke bravely chose to tell his tale from three different time lines – sometime after the death of Foley within the confines of a radio booth interview; the night of Foley’s death; and the beginnings of his life as an artist when he meets Rosen (Alia Shawkat, “The To Do List”). The interview portion is entertaining as we watch Hawke, who never exposes his face, interview Foley’s friends – singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton), who had his own demons to deal with, and Zee (Josh Hamilton). Van Zandt embellishes to the point where you don’t know if he is telling the truth or creating the lyrics to another lonely country song.
 
The portions involving the night of Foley’s death are rather lackluster. Of course, some of the edge is taken off because we know what’s coming, but Hawke fails to make us feel like we are dancing along a razor. It plays more like a Hank Williams, Jr. tune that never made the final cut in the editing room. Dickey still manages to be a steady presence on the silver screen, but it’s the story of his innocent beginnings with Rosen that truly grab our attention and leave the most lasting impression.
 
Much of the story’s focus, and rightfully so since Hawke heavily used the real Rosen’s novel, is on the years when Foley and Rosen met, and lived for a time in a tree house. Dickey towers in these sentimental scenes like a seasoned veteran of the acting craft. While he sometimes forgets to maintain the limp Foley had, Dickey appears to capture the man’s essence with breathless ease. He hits every note with perfection as he portrays a man who fell hard from carefree joy and blossoming artistry into a dark haze of alcohol and drugs that cost him everything – love, career and life.
 
“Blaze” is a tragic story, yet if you subtract Dickey from the equation it feels stuck in neutral while cameos by a pair of stars, one a recent Oscar winner, feel contrived and over the top. Overall, it’s a story that could have used a lot tightening up and more cohesivity. Otherwise, Hawke’s effort falls short of his other tragic-musician tale in the form of 2015’s fantastic “Born to Be Blue.”
 
Having grown up listening to the music of country artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, etc., I was surprised I had never heard of Blaze Foley (1949-89). After watching the biopic of the obscure yet influential Austin-based singer/songwriter, I felt saddened that he did not realize the full potential of his artistry. “Blaze” is a tragic tale that flows like a sad country song with little in the way of silver linings. Based upon the 2008 memoir “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze” by Foley’s ex-wife Sybil Rosen, “Blaze” features a powerful breakthrough performance by musician Ben Dickey in an emotionally complex role. Unfortunately, writer/director Ethan Hawke’s endeavor is so draggy at times that it makes a meandering creek look like a raging river.
 
Hawke bravely chose to tell his tale from three different time lines – sometime after the death of Foley within the confines of a radio booth interview; the night of Foley’s death; and the beginnings of his life as an artist when he meets Rosen (Alia Shawkat, “The To Do List”). The interview portion is entertaining as we watch Hawke, who never exposes his face, interview Foley’s friends – singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton), who had his own demons to deal with, and Zee (Josh Hamilton). Van Zandt embellishes to the point where you don’t know if he is telling the truth or creating the lyrics to another lonely country song.
 
The portions involving the night of Foley’s death are rather lackluster. Of course, some of the edge is taken off because we know what’s coming, but Hawke fails to make us feel like we are dancing along a razor. It plays more like a Hank Williams, Jr. tune that never made the final cut in the editing room. Dickey still manages to be a steady presence on the silver screen, but it’s the story of his innocent beginnings with Rosen that truly grab our attention and leave the most lasting impression.
 
Much of the story’s focus, and rightfully so since Hawke heavily used the real Rosen’s novel, is on the years when Foley and Rosen met, and lived for a time in a tree house. Dickey towers in these sentimental scenes like a seasoned veteran of the acting craft. While he sometimes forgets to maintain the limp Foley had, Dickey appears to capture the man’s essence with breathless ease. He hits every note with perfection as he portrays a man who fell hard from carefree joy and blossoming artistry into a dark haze of alcohol and drugs that cost him everything – love, career and life.
 
“Blaze” is a tragic story, yet if you subtract Dickey from the equation it feels stuck in neutral while cameos by a pair of stars, one a recent Oscar winner, feel contrived and over the top. Overall, it’s a story that could have used a lot tightening up and more cohesivity. Otherwise, Hawke’s effort falls short of his other tragic-musician tale in the form of 2015’s fantastic “Born to Be Blue.”

Film Review: “A Star is Born”

A STAR IS BORN
Starring:  Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper and Andrew Dice Clay
Directed by:  Bradley Cooper
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 15 mins
Warner Bros.

To quote “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s a tale as old as time.  Big star on the way down meets rising star on the way up.  They fall in love.  One embarrasses the other and their love is tested.  The tale is so old that it’s already been told, very well, three times before.  But the fourth time may be the best!

Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a popular singer who has lived his life on the road.  Once enjoying his time on stage, now he gets by with alcohol and drugs, showing up, plugging in then hurrying off-stage to the seclusion of his limo.  One night, while looking for a place to stop, he ends up at a drag club, where he gets the chance to listen to a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga – I was just going to put “Gaga” but I’m not sure how the first name/last name thing works here.  I guess I could have put “Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta” but that would probably confuse you even more.  Ally does an old Edith Piaf song and soon Jackson is mesmerized by her voice.  He invites her out with him, where they buy some beer and talk about music.  When he drops her off at home she figures that’s the last time she will see him.  It isn’t.

A familiar story with enough new twists and turns to keep it fresh, “A Star Is Born” is a triumph.  Much of this praise must go to my rival Bradley Cooper.  (I know my wife loves me, but if Bradley Cooper came knocking I would be just a memory J).  As a first time director, especially in a film starring himself, there is an opportunity to make everything BIG and LOUD and, worse of all, put yourself front and center.  Cooper directs with a restraint that is almost unheard of with newbies.  He frames the story almost as if he’s shooting a documentary, and that close, inside look draws you into the story.  As an actor, Cooper is equally up to the task here.  His voice low and gruff (there’s a great line in the film where Sam Elliott, who plays his brother and who was also a musician, accuses Jackson of “stealing my voice”), he gives quite possibly the best performance of his career, which is saying a lot for a man who has already been nominated for the acting Oscars already in his career.

As Ally, Lady Gaga is outstanding.  We already know she can sing.  I haven’t heard a lot of her songs but I still include the night she showed up at the Academy Awards and sang “The Sound of Music” as one of my favorite all-time Oscar moments.  Not only is she in great voice, she has incredible acting chops.  Both the 1937 and 1954 versions of the film earned Oscar nominations for its stars.  The 1976 version swept the Musical Film Category and I’m predicting that both Lady Gaga and Cooper get nods for their work here.  Great supporting work from Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle make the film even more enjoyable.

Film Review “Malevolence 3: Killer”

Director: Stevan Mena
Starring: Katie Gibson, Scott Decker, Adrienne Barbeau, Kelsey Deanne, Lela Edgar
Release Date: October 12th
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Mena Films

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

I have known Stevan Mena for over 15 years, dating back to his first film “Malevolence”. I had a feeling then that this guy was going to be a director to watch out for. Fast forward to today Stevan has finally been completed his planned “Malevolence” trilogy , which also included the second film, “Bereavement”, which starred Michael Biehn (“Aliens”, “Terminator”) and gave Alexandra Daddario (“Baywatch”, “Texas Chainsaw 3D”) her first big break. “Malevolence 3: Killer” has not had an easy road to getting made, including the tragic death of a major cast member which caused a big road bump. With all that being said, I was a little nervous what to expect with the third film…but holy cow was I wrong. “Malevolence 3: Killer” is easily the best in the trilogy.

I don’t think Stevan Mena has received the full credit that he deserves for these films. You can tell that he wears a lot of hats on these productions. They have no budget yet show a much higher production value. I feel like he really gets the horror genre and knows how to setup a shot for a great scare. The scares in “Malevolence 3: Killer” are so effective. Honestly, I feel like a lot of horror films these days don’t get the scares right. I always feel like they are actually afraid to make you scared and these movies waste these opportunities. Mena doesn’t disappoint and has the timing down perfectly. I would have loved to seen “Malevolence 3: Killer” in a theater. Credit should also go to the film’s fantastic score as well for helping achieve that incredible suspense.

This trilogy takes it all back to the beginning following Martin Bristol, the boy who was kidnapped 10 years ago (in the first film), but he is not the same boy anymore. After being tortured and abused by his captor, Graham Sutter (in the second film), Martin is out on a rampage now and is not able to be stopped. Special Agent William Perkins and his team try and hunt down Martin as he heads back to his hometown to brings down a wave of terror down on it. Looking back on these three films, I do feel that this one ties it all together so well. I almost even feel like you can get by with watching this one and not having seen the previous films.

Like I mentioned above with, Alexandra Daddario in “Bereavement”, Stevan Mena really has an eye for talent. This film’s lead actress Katie Gibson is a another fine example. She is a very talented actress and I see her going places! Scott Decker, who died during production, played Agent Roland and was great as well. I am sure it wasn’t an easy task to complete this film with losing one of the leads but it came together well. Horror icon, Adrienne Barbeau, shows up for a little bit as well and her cameos is a great treat for us hardcore horror fans!

Now that this trilogy is completed, I would like to see what Stevan Mena has planned next. Given that “Malevolence 3: Killer” hasn’t had an easy road to release, i really feel like it ended up being a very effective horror film with some great scares, gory kills and solid acting. Horror fans need to see this film for sure! It is our job has fans to get the word out on this film and get people to see it because I don’t think that they are going to be disappointed.

Film Review: “Night School”

Starring: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Rob Riggle
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 111 minutes
Universal Pictures

It’s difficult to digest a new Kevin Hart movie without first re-evaluating where one currently stands on the stand-up comedian turned actor. My opinion on him was actually quite positive after last year. His trademark high-pitch scream and short stature served the “Jumanji” sequel/reboot well and my prior frustrations with him melted away in “Captain Underpants.” But Hart is back to his old uninteresting shenanigans in “Night School.”

Teddy (Hart) believes he needs one thing to keep his life on track, a GED. The recently engaged man has lost his BBQ grill sales job and is hard-pressed to get an ideal replacement gig because he never completed high school. His fiancée, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), is oblivious to the fact that Teddy is a high school drop out because he’s a decent liar. Despite their years of dating, he’s managed to convince her that he’s successful, and not drowning in debt or uneducated. However she did always know he sold grills for a living.

So to keep up this charade, he gets a minimum wage job, takes the bus daily after wrecking his car, and begins to attend night school. These are all things he doesn’t tell Lisa, despite their recent engagement and step forward in their relationship. Even when she does begin to suspect something is amiss; Teddy unflinchingly goes along with her suspicion that he’s getting cold feet about their marriage. If it seems like I’m focusing too much on Teddy, that’s because this movie focuses way too much on him and his night school cohorts.

It’s a really unfortunate fact, especially consider that the other star of this film is Tiffany Haddish, who plays Teddy’s night school teacher, Carrie. Haddish, who burst into the mainstream last year with “Girl’s Trip,” has some solid quips and one liners, but is relatively declawed in this film. Carrie also represents a strong female personality that fits well into the film’s mold about overcoming adversity, but there are a lot of scenes where Carrie’s persona and approach leaves a lot to be desired.

I actually wanted to like “Night School.” It began on a solid promise that Hart, Haddish, and the surrounding cast could unearth some unexpected comedy gold. There are chuckles to be had, but not enough, mainly due to the fact that “Night School” is stretched thin by its runtime and lack of comedic imagination. Even with two comedians that have more than proven to be a comedic force behind the mic and on-screen, “Night School” gets a failing grade.

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