Film Review: “Downhill”

DOWNHILL
Starring:  Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss
Directed by:  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Rated: R
Searchlight Pictures       

WARNING:  Do not be fooled by the previews for the film “Downhill” which highlight a few humorous scenes from the film.  If it’s funny you’re looking for…this aint it!

Pete and Billie (Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfuss) have arrived in Austria for a skiing vacation with their children.  On the surface things seem fine and the first night in their hotel goes swimmingly.  The next morning Pete brings out his father’s old ski hat and we learn that he is still grieving the man’s passing several months before.  While lunching on the terrace of their chalet a “planned” avalanche heads towards the chalet and buries everyone on the terrace in a pile of snow.  Except for Pete.  At the moment of truth he has hopped off his chair, grabbed his cell phone and run off, leaving Billie to try to shield her sons from the white peril.  They are fine but Billie can not understand why Pete left them.  And here is where we learn the film’s title refers not to the skiing but to Pete and Billie’s relationship.  Are you laughing yet?

Based on a French film titled “Force Majeure” – a term which is defined as  “unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract” – “Downhill” is more a drama than a comedy.  Pete must deal with his feelings of loss regarding his father and the look of shame in his boy’s eyes for his cowardice.  Billie must deal with her perceived loss of trust in Pete to look out for and care for the family.  A “chance” meeting with one of Pete’s co-workers and his lady friend, both of whom seem carefree compared to Pete and Billie, only make things worse.  There are some funny parts but most of them are contributed by Miranda Otto who plays “Charlotte,” a lady at the chalet looking to enjoy her life and the adventures it holds.

Not to say that Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfuss aren’t fine in their roles.  They each handle the dramatics well.  I think it’s the fact that the film took me off guard concerning it’s theme that resulted in the rating I’ve given it.  I mean, I honestly think I laughed more at “Joker.”  Co-directors Faxon and Rash also did the same thing on a film I loved called “The Way Way Back.”  They also co-wrote it, as the did here along with Jessie Armstrong.  “The Way Way Back” was also a mix of drama and comedy but it had something that “Downhill” is clearly missing.  Heart.

Joker, 1917 and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Lead Winners for the 9th Annual Media Mikes Awards

Now that the Oscars dust has settled, it’s time to take a look at how we here at Media Mikes, readers and writers alike, voted for our top cinematic achievements of 2019 in our 9th Annual Media Mikes Awards

“Joker,” Todd Phillips’s dark look at the origins of Batman’s greatest enemy, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s fable about the summer of 1969 and Sam Mendes’s enthralling WWI drama, “1917”, topped our lists with two awards each.

“Hollywood” took home the big prize as the year’s Best Picture and also nabbed Best Supporting Actor award for Brad Pitt. “Joker” earned wins for Joaquin Phoenix as Best Actor as well as Best Original Score, written and composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir. “1917” earned the award for Best Director for Sam Mendes and was also recognized for its cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins.

Additional winners included Reneé Zellwegger as Best Actress for her portrayal of Judy Garland in “Judy” and Scarlett Johansson as Best Supporting Actress for her work in “JoJo Rabbit.”

“Toy Story 4” was chosen as the year’s Best Animated Feature.

This year saw more than 3,000 readers submit their choices in the seven top categories, check out the complete list of our winners below

Reader Voted Awards Went to…

Best Picture – “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
Best Director – Sam Mendes, “1917”
Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Best Actress – Renee Zellweger, “Judy”
Best Supporting Actress – Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Best Supporting Actor – “Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
Best Animated Feature – “Toy Story 4”

Awards chosen by our Media Mikes writers went to…

Best Original Screenplay – Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, “Parasite”
Best Adapted Screenplay – Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”
Best Documentary Feature – “David Crosby: Remember my Name”
Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins, “1917”
Best Original Score – Hildur Guðnadóttir, “Joker”

Composer John Williams, who recently earned his 52nd Academy Award nomination, was name the recipient of this years Media Mikes Lifetime Achievement Award.

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone who voted!

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Vice Guide to Bigfoot”

Starring: Brian Emond, Zach Lamplugh and Jeffrey Stephenson
Directed by: Zach Lamplugh
Rated: R
Running Time: 90 minutes

I used to work as a morning news producer in the Kansas City metropolitan area. One of the strangest things I ever came across during my time was during the closure of the Wentworth Military College in Lexington, Missouri. Cpt. Scott Nelson, an instructor at the former private university, believes to have tapped into the language of Bigfoot (or is it Bigfeet?). He believed in it so thoroughly, he served as a keynote speaker at several Sasquatch conventions. I guess what I’m trying to say is, not every Bigfoot believer is some backwoods simpleton. That’s one of the few charming takeaways you’ll get as well if you happen to catch “The Vice Guide to Bigfoot.”

Vice reporter Brian (Emond) loathes his job. He entered journalism in hopes of tracking down a juicy story or saving the world. Instead he’s chasing after clickbait stories and highlighting war torn Crimea’s craft beer scene. Brian’s constant in life, other than the terrible stories he reports on, are his cameraman and producer, Zach (Lamplugh). Brian reaches his breaking point when the two are tasked with going on a hunt for the infamous, Bigfoot, along with Youtube Sasquatch hunter Jeff (Stephenson).

“The Vice Guide to Bigfoot” is almost a mockumentary in the same vein of “What We Do in the Shadows,” but it’s more focused on mocking other things, like the current state of journalism and Vice’s attempts at it. It also has a lot of humor at the sake of online cryptozoologists, hillbillies and social media. While there is a lot of comedy, at a character’s expense, the film is never cruel. Everyone is given their own backstory that’s sympathetic, so that they can have their own form of redemption by the film’s end.

In a lot of ways, the movie is far from being about Bigfoot which works to its benefit. Especially since some found footage or mockumentaries prior, like “Willow Creek,” more or less tread familiar tropes despite a change of scenery. While it’s a pretty damn funny movie, it’s hard to see myself watching this again by myself. I may watch it again if I want someone else I know to watch it, since some jokes work better with a group. In some ways that’s a knock at the movie, but I feel that it’s sufficiently funny and entertaining enough, that it’s worth a watch.

Film Review: “Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

BIRDS OF PREY
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco
Directed By: Cathy Yan
Rated: R
Running Time: 109 mins.
Warner Brothers

After a major breakup, one Harley Quinn is down in the dumps. But dammit if she’s not going to lift herself out of it and take audiences along for the ride. And what a wild ride it is. Cathy Yan and producer/Harley herself, Margot Robbie deliver a creative, intense and above all, fun burst of action that really couldn’t be better placed on the calendar than right before Valentine’s Day. Grab your favorite colorful candy, your friends, your pet hyenas (just not any shitty exes) and go.

For those unfamiliar with Ms Quinn, director Yan opens with a helpful primer without  having to look at a single frame of Suicide Squad. HQ was a brilliant med student-turned-psychiatrist-turned-lover of the Joker, her former patient. It was a position that allowed her to get away with murder, possibly literally. No one was crossing the Clown Prince of Crime. Unfortunately for her, it was also a subjugated position. Her schemes weren’t appreciated when they succeeded, she was abused and taken for granted. Yan doesn’t go into the particulars of the breakup and blessedly doesn’t bring Jared Leto or any other iteration of “Mr. J” in here—because he’s besides the point—but Harley is a bit of a mess as a result. She’s already dealing with an identity crisis when a crime lord named Roman Sionis (McGregor) places a bounty on the young girl that Harley herself is meant to be delivering to him in 24 hours, on pain of death. 

If the above has you questioning where the “Birds of Prey” from the title come in, you would be right, but I’d also wonder if you watched a single trailer for this movie. This is very much the Harley show. Her teammates come in gradually—Black Canary (Smolett-Bell) first and most prominently, followed by police officer Renee Montoya (Perez) and Huntress (Winstead). They all have their own grievances with Roman. The good news is, Harley cheerfully gets you up to speed on their backstories as they join the party. Meanwhile the actresses truly make the most of their limited screen time. Winstead in particular sells an assassin who is as fierce in battle as she is socially awkward. I mean, if all you do is train for vengeance, yeah, you might not be great with new friends.

The person who gets the most time to balance out Harley’s zaniness with his own brand of ham is Ewan McGregor as Roman, aka The Black Mask. He and main enforcer, Mr. Zsasz (Chris Messina) are operating on their own levels of strange and flamboyant and I was into it. Again, he could have even gone for more over the top as far as I’m concerned, but his finale left me more than satisfied. Above all, if the worst I can say about this movie is I wanted more and not less in a time where bloated two and a half hour runtimes are the norm (sorry, Aquaman!) that’s not a bad thing.

Finally not to mix up my IPs or anything, but as this movie unfurled, I actually thought of Disney Imagineers. As it goes, they’re encouraged to “plus” their rides and attractions–a phrase they use when taking a solid idea and ramping it up with “what if?” possibilities. Every action sequence in Birds of Prey feels like it’s been plussed. It’s not enough that the stunt work be impeccable but what if everyone also dressed fantastic? Or what if a gunfight takes place among rainbow smoke bombs? Turn on some sprinklers while you’re at it! Have a climax in a carnival. The result is a film that feels like a comic book in the best of ways.

Going into the new year, I was majorly psyched for the trifecta of big name female-led superhero movies we have coming our way. Birds of Prey just blew the doors off 2020 and raised the shiny, glittery bar. Bring on Natasha and Diana.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Scare Package”

Starring: Jeremy King, Noah Segan and Toni Trucks
Directed by: Courtney and Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan and Baron Vaugh
Rated: R
Running Time: 103 minutes

For a moment if you could, look at two different subgenres; horror anthologies and horror parodies. There are some strong candidates in each category. For anthologies, you got “Creepshow” and “Trick R Treat.” For parodies, you got “Scary Movie” and “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” I know I’m leaving a few movies out of the categories, but there’s a reason I want you to think about these two. How difficult do you think it is to combine them? I know what some of you are thinking. “Cabin in the Woods.” But what if a horror anthology parody film even subverted that?

I know my opening salvo promises grand things, but for most horror aficionados, I promise that you’ll love “Scare Package.” Very rarely do I want to immediately rewatch an anthology film or parody after leaving the theater, so this is a rare occasion for me. The main reason is that anthologies stay out their welcome and parodies require an audience to soak up the hit or miss laughs. “Scare Package” is the kind of film that’s prime for an audience, but will certainly make most people sitting at home alone smirk at its mocking nature.

The one thing that makes “Scare Package” work, is Aaron B. Koontz, the man in charge of the wrap-around story, as well as the overall product. One caveat that Koontz revealed at Panic Fest, which this movie was screened at, was that he allowed creative freedom to all other directors and writers, while providing oversight. He wasn’t a guiding hand, but he certain was able to cherry pick the scripts that best fit his overall vision. It’s a delicate balancing act, which pays off in dividends. While some shorts in the anthology fit the ridiculing nature, other shorts don’t sneer as much, but still pay homage to an idea or manage to riff on a pop-culture idea.

I’d really like to dive into the individual shorts, but I’d feel it’s unfair and that I’d fall into the stereotype of reviewing anthology films; breaking each one down, outlining strengths and weaknesses while revealing which ones I favored. For a movie like “V/H/S,” I’d find that as a completely fair form of critique, but for “Scare Package,” it feels unfair. While a film like “V/H/S” is so scattershot, “Scare Package” is a, not to sound cliché, complete package. Everything is so fluid, you sometimes forget you’re watching an anthology.

The one thing “Scare Package” avoids is length. Sometimes these movies linger too long, even if the shorts and movie as a whole are good. A movie like “ABCs of Death” can work, but you find yourself fast forwarding on rewatches. With “Scare Package” you’ll undoubtedly find yourself finding some new nod or wink every time. The movie as a whole, and each individual short, serve as little bows to the ideas and genres that they parody. But like I said at the beginning, it also parodies “Cabin in the Woods,” which is becoming a genre on its own, where characters knowingly acknowledge or reference the tropes of the genre that are currently on display. It’s a difficult feat to pull off, but Koontz does it well, without disregarding the merits of the idea altogether.

“Scare Package” not only serves as a blueprint for future horror anthology parodies, but a blueprint for anthologies and parodies. It’ll make horror fans roar with laughter, and for those who aren’t into scary flicks, they’ll find fun in all the pokes and prods at the films they can’t stomach. I enjoy the fact that the horror community enjoys comedy, even when it’s directed at themselves. “Scare Package” is damn near a revelation, especially considering that one of the modern lovers of horror/shock films, Joe Bob Briggs himself, arrives on scene. “Scare Package” pulls out all the stops to make the audience laugh and grin. Koontz talked about the makings of a sequel, with a promise that it’ll parody sequels. I look forward to the promise, and the possibility of a franchise that’ll inevitably parody franchises, remakes, and nostalgia culture.

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Cleansing Hour”

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Ryan Guzman and Alix Angelis
Directed by: Damien LeVeck
Rated: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Shudder

Can found footage survive anymore? 2014’s “Unfriended” and 2018’s “Truth or Dare” played with the idea of realism by showing us that the paranormal can seep into social media and the Internet. Enter 2020’s “The Cleansing Hour,” a movie about an online stream that televises exorcisms to curious onlookers and morbid fans around the globe. Although the exorcisms, aren’t real.

Expanding on his 2016 short, Director Damien LeVeck squeezes out every drop of fun he can have in “The Cleansing Hour.” Reverend Max (Guzman) is far from being the man of God he portrays. Max and his friend Drew (Gallner) stage exorcisms, working with an online encyclopedia of demons so that every episode is fresh with a new other-worldly villain to fight. Afterwards, they generally drink and Max takes home a girl to record performing sexual acts. Their lifestyle is interrupted when things go awry during their latest broadcast though. The actor who was going to show up and be “possessed” never shows, so Drew’s fiancé Lane (Angelis) substitutes. But her acting is too good. Her voice changes, she digs her fingers into the chair she’s strapped into, shattering her nails, and her eyes have turned a stained yellow.

The movie doesn’t necessarily criticize or turn a mirror towards society, but it does take subtle digs at the social media culture permeating throughout the globe. While some people watch in horror, fully believing it’s real, others watch laughing. A livestream chat shows people who type trollish remarks as people on set begin to die, believing that it isn’t real. Or maybe they do and the Internet has made them soulless creatures. Although when the demon inhabiting Lane decides to poke fun at the digital age like one of the Evil Dead, the commentary and humor fall flat.

What helps “The Cleansing Hour,” as opposed to a film like “Truth or Dare,” is the small budget charm. The practical gore and blood effects explode, figuratively and literally. The actors, while not the best, may have a career after this film, especially Angelis who gnaws on the scenery like a demon hungry for human souls. It’s easy to forgive the cast and crew since they had a shoestring budget for a lot of the film’s flaws. Just don’t expect anything new to the exorcism genre other than the setting.

“The Cleansing Hour” is late-night fun that blends a couple of original concepts and tropes of the genre. Some might say the film has a twist, but for veterans of these movies, they’ll be able to spot the set-up. Even though I suspected the eventual outcome, I didn’t mind because of how brisk the pacing is. “The Cleaning Hour” is a surprise for those who come across it on Shudder, but don’t expect the 21st century equivalent of “The Exorcist.” 

Film Review: “Color Out of Space”

COLOR OUT OF SPACE
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Madeleine Arthur
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins
RJLE Films


     Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re going to plunge into a pool of psychedelically deranged lunacy you might as well jump in feet first. Richard Stanley has arrived with a holiday gift that’s a little late but greatly appreciated and it’s gift wrapped in Alpaca fur. Its contents is the offspring of the trifecta of mania that no one imagined they’d ever see but secretly wished for: Cult-favorite director, Richard Stanley adapting a nearly century old tale of cosmically horrifying oddity by H.P. Lovecraft, top-lined by Nicolas Cage, who is maybe strictly here to ooze an excess of eccentricity (which is okay because it’s working!)   

 “Color Out of Space” opens with an excerpt of Lovecraft’s story, guiding us through a tour of rolling vegetative forestry, swollen from mist and fog. Combined with the onset of composer Colin Stetson’s majestic score (a follow up to his unforgettable work on Ari Aster’s “Hereditary”), it is clear that if nothing else the audience should buckle in for a highly satisfying visual and aural experience.     

The Gardner family has moved into an  inherited remote farmhouse to recollect and cope with matriarch Theresa’s (Joely Richardson) cancer diagnosis. Her husband, Nathan, (Nicolas Cage) has been dealing with his newfound domestic isolation by raising alpacas. Their three children are settling in individually via decidedly caricatured teenage ways – son Benny (Brendan Meyer) has started smoking pot with a local squatter-weirdo named Ezra (Tommy Chong, naturally) while their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) has taken to theatrically carrying around a copy of Lovecraft’s omnipresent Necronomicon and practicing spells whilst cloaked on a white horse. Lavinia’s meeting of a local hydrologist turns the faucet on for a slow drip of Easter eggs that will please Lovecraftian fans everywhere, placing this story specifically just outside fictional Arkham, MA with references to H.P.’s Miskatonic University and other locations peppered in.   

 The Gardner family is barely settled in when a  luminous meteorite crashes in front of their house. Curiosity not to be ignored, the family investigate and while the children complain of high-pitched sounds, Nathan continuously and independently notes it is emanating a horrific unidentifiable odor…  right before remembering he has to tend to the alpacas.      

Things progress quickly from here. The hydrologist advises the Gardners that he suspects the area’s water table may be unsuitable to consume, the meteorite deteriorates and disappears into the Earth, their farm is suddenly billowing with exotic, colorful and alien plant and animal life. So, yes, now there’s exotic animal life AND alpacas. We learn that whatever the meteorite was… it’s in the water, it’s in the soil and it’s universe altering. It’s part of the farm and now it’s become a part of the Gardners and if you’re here for the Nicolas Cage variety hour, now is the time to prepare for some full-force scenery chewing.     

The family’s afflictions are all uniquely fashioned. Their youngest child is hearing voices coming from the family’s well, Nathan and Theresa become aggressively manic with their children and Lavinia can’t stop puking meteorite juice. Things are about to get a little… well, psychedelic.     

There’s no time for a why, how or what else after because this movie is ultimately singularly about the destruction of this one family and their space. Color Out of Space’s third act brings a full artillery of body horror, gore and disgusting imagery that’s stitched together with brain-melting and fur-sliming sequences of fantastical imagery and effects. Did I mention the alpacas?! Nathan tells his family they’re the animal of the future and they are most certainly the apex of this glorious fever dream.  At this juncture some viewers may feel that narrative has fallen casualty to special effect work, a sacrifice I’m happily willing to make if I must for a film like this, but ultimately the unknown is very much your co-pilot here.   

 There needs to be more Richard Stanley in Hollywood and certainly more Lovecraft.  Arguably there’s probably JUST enough Nic Cage but when he hits, it’s a home run of wild eyed lunacy that’s always welcome in my universe.      

The brilliance of Lovecraft’s story is that it’s terror is limited only by the confines of one’s imagination. Put to screen it will immediately never satisfy all fans and therefore this film is probably best utilized as an experience of your senses. This is a film to see in a theater if it all possible given its limited release. “Color Out of Space” will check all the boxes if you’re looking for satisfying cosmic horror, a colorful Lovecraftian journey or if you’re just scratching an itch for wanting to watch Cage’s mind unravel for awhile and it will do and or all of these things with the dial turned to eleven.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Extra Ordinary”

Starring: Meave Higgins, Barry Ward and Will Forte
Directed by: Mike Ahern and Enda Lougman
Rated: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Wildcard Distribution

Driving instructor Rose has a bit of a secret. Only a few people know about it, and every once and awhile, someone who is told about that secret will seek her services. That secret is her ability to communicate with the dead. But an even bigger secret, is the key to her psychic abilities which is her father, who is no longer with her. She saw the disastrous and absurd result of those abilities and refuses to use them, even if it’s for good. That is until a cute, recently widowed father, Martin (Ward), comes along because he’s been pestered by his recently deceased wife.

There’s more to the spiritual rom-com “Extra Ordinary” than just Rose and her pursuit of happiness. Causing an equal amount of commotion in the background is a one-hit wonder musician, Christian (Forte). He’s looking to rejuvenate his deceased rock career, but not with a catchy new song. He’s on the hunt for a virgin sacrifice that’ll be offered up to Satan during the blood Moon. He enters Rose’s realm when the virgin he has an eye on is Martin’s teenage daughter.

One of the biggest strengths about this film is its irreverent humor. It’s never too peculiar, it’s never too crass or mean towards it’s cast and it seems to hover like a specter in this gray area where it remains charming, no matter how outlandish it gets. Credit goes to the directors and writers, Mike Ahern and Enda Lougman, but an equal amount goes to Forte and Higgins. Higgins provides this warmth and sincerity to Rose that’ll charm your pants off, or hopefully Martin’s. Forte, a mainstay in the bizarre comedy scene of America, taps into his natural off-the-wall humor and makes every scene with Christian an absolute delight.

As much as I’d love to give this ghostly rom-com a higher grade, it still feels like the plot has been stretched a bit too thin. If it wasn’t for the consistent jokes, this movie could have easily outstayed its welcome, and nearly does. It easily could have benefited from having a five to 10 minute shave off the runtime. However, when things start to feel a little bit too long the final third of the film, “Extra Ordinary” goes straight for the comedic jugular in its final act. So without that ending, as well as the performances, this movie came precariously close to failing to live up to its title.

From the silly things ghosts inhabit to Rose’s attitude towards life, this film is a pleasant surprise. It may be a hard sell, especially since the movie begins like a “Tim and Eric” sketch and Forte’s gonzo slapstick can be a bit much for some. If you find “Extra Ordinary” on a streaming service late at night, I guarantee it’ll find a way to put a smile on your face.

Film Review: “The Gentlemen”

THE GENTLEMEN
Starring: Matthew McConaughey abd Charlie Hunnam
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Rated: Rated R
Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins
STX Entertainment 

There’s little that’s gentlemanly about the sordid cast of characters in director Guy Ritchie’s new action crime thriller “The Gentlemen.” However, there is plenty to enjoy in this wonderful caper that’s brimming with sharp dialogue, a delicious plot and a few laughs along the way. It is certainly Ritchie’s best effort since 2011’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and is only surpassed by 2000’s “Snatch” as his greatest overall work. With a talented, all-star ensemble cast, and a terrific hook at the start, Ritchie takes us on an exciting, twisting journey that’s certainly not for the kiddos. 

From an impoverished childhood in the United States, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) rose above his situation to earn a Rhodes Scholarship to England’s esteemed Oxford University. Instead of becoming a law-abiding scholar, Mickey saw the monetary potential in selling marijuana to his fellow students. Those humble beginnings led Mickey, often through violent means, to build a multi-million-dollar illegal empire. Despite the power, and prestige he commands, Mickey has grown tired of the game and wants out to spend time with his beloved, yet equally criminal wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”), for whom he will do anything. 

Much of this background information is told to us during an extended, elaborate conversation between an unsavory, thick-accented private investigator named Fletcher (scene stealer Hugh Grant), who’s been hired by a jilted tabloid editor snubbed in public by Mickey, and Mickey’s righthand enforcer, Ray (played with subdued rage by Charlie Hunnam, “Sons of Anarchy”). For his efforts, which he has typed up in a screenplay form, Fletcher wants 20 million British pounds to keep his scoop silent. 

Meanwhile, Mickey finds a potential buyer for his empire, but there is a concern that this will show competitors that he has become weak. Blood is spilled in the water when one of Mickey’s illegal sites is robbed by a group of young, social media savvy thugs led by a man known simply as Coach (Colin Farrell). The plot only thickens with the introduction of overly ambitious, young Chinese mobster Dry Eye (Henry Golding, “Crazy Rich Asians”) and the accidental death of a Russian mobster’s son. 

McConaughey is perfect for this role. Of course, he is quite adept at playing it cool, calm and collected, as demonstrated in a variety of his previous performances. What makes this more notable is the vengeful side he fleshes out while playing Mickey. It’s something we don’t normally see from him and he is brilliant at unleashing the lion in “The Gentlemen.” For their parts, Golding is a nice surprise as a villain and Farrell is marvelously entertaining, harkening back to Brad Pitt’s unintelligible performance in “Snatch.” 

Written by Ritchie, the plot is chock full of twists and surprises that keep one glue to the silver screen, waiting on edge as to what is going to happen next. There are some laughs amidst the violence, which is brutal enough, along with adult-oriented lingo, to make “The Gentlemen” non-kid friendly. Ritchie’s pacing is just as quick as the dialogue with nary a dull moment. In the end, “The Gentlemen” is a jolly good time and the best release of the new year thus far!  

Film Review: “Three Christs”

THREE CHRISTS
Starring: Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage
Directed by: John Avnet
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins
IFC Films 

When you think of great films with mental hospitals as the setting, indelible titles such as 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or 1990’s “Awakenings” probably come to mind. With a similar backdrop, the drama “Three Christs,” starring Richard Gere, boldly attempts to delve into the realm of paranoid schizophrenia by exploring a time when pre-fontal lobotomies, insulin-induced comas, and electroshock therapies were standard treatments. Directed by John Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”), “Three Christs” alas fails to achieve any level of greatness as it is saturated with terrible melodrama and an overall lack of emotional connectivity.

 An adaptation of the 1964 psychiatric case study “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by psychologist Milton Rokeach, “Three Christs” takes us back to December 1960 when a bruised Dr. Alan Stone (Gere) is recording a defense of himself against accusations leveled at him by a disciplinary board. It’s a nice hook as it gives off a sense of mystery. We are soon taken back to the beginning during the summer of 1959 when he arrives at the Ypsilanti State Hospital.

 Having left a prolific teaching and writing career to pursue a study of delusional patients, Dr. Stone, with the help of his new assistant Becky (Charlotte Hope, “The Theory of Everything”), finds three men who all claim to be Jesus Christ. Joseph (Peter Dinklage), Leon (Walton Goggins) and Clyde (Bradley Whitford) are tragic figures with sad pasts. Each has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics and left to essentially rot in near-barbaric conditions. 

With the encouragement of his wife (Julianna Marguiles), Dr. Stone challenges his peers and a reluctant hospital head by using more modern methods that don’t involve inflicting pain. The irony is that he is treating three men collectively who believe they are Christ while he himself does not believe in organized religion. Gradually he makes progress, but countless roadblocks make it a treacherous path. 

Despite having a solid cast, “Three Christs” falls flat on nearly every level imaginable. The story is without any unique qualities as it feels like any other run-of-the-mill medical drama. Its characters are nothing special and Gere seems to just rely upon every facial gesture he has ever used in his past films instead of pushing for something more. The pacing is sluggish, and the plot is predictable. Gere is also not believable as the father to two young, pre-teen daughters considering he was roughly 67 years old at the time of filming. Furthermore, we are supposed to believe Dr. Stone fought in WWII and Korea. Assuming his character matches his age, then Dr. Stone would have been 59 or 60 while fighting on the front lines against North Korea. Uh, no. Of course, to be fair I should mention the rest of the cast, which can be covered in one statement – every actor is so over-the-top with their performances you have to wonder how on earth the film ever got released, much less contemplate if Avnet should ever direct again. 

In the end, “Three Christs” is a strikeout.

Film Review: “Bad Boys for Life”

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE
Starring:  Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Joe Pantoliano
Directed by: Adil and Billal
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 3 mins
Sony Pictures

Riggs and Murtaugh.  Carter and Lee.  Tango and Cash. 

The law enforcement teams above are some of the most beloved in film history.  Another powerhouse was the team of Miami-based cops named Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett.  Starting with 1995’s “Bad Boys” and continuing with the 2003 sequel “Bad Boys 2,” the two blazed their way across the screen with flashy cars and blazing guns.  It’s been awhile, but Lowrexy (Smith) and Burnett (Lawrence) are back…and it’s a welcome return.

It’s an ordinary day at the women’s prison.  In the laundry, the inmates do their best to fold and stack.  However, one inmate (Kate del Castillo) is motionless, staring off as if she was in a trance.  When she’s approached she suddenly springs to life.  The carnage that follows is horrific.

Meanwhile, in Miami, Detectives Lowery and Burnett are speeding through the streets in Lowery’s Porsche.  Their destination:  the local hospital, where Burnett’s daughter is about to give birth.  The new grandchild causes Burnett to rethink his future and soon he informs Lowery and their captain (the always great Joe Pantoliano) that he is going to retire.  But when you’re a “bad boy” do you ever really retire?

Moving at an almost breakneck speed, “Bad Boys for Life” plays on screen like a live action version of “Grand Theft Auto.”  The pace is fast, yet the plot never feels rushed.  Smith and Lawrence have great chemistry together and their playful banter feels natural.  They are assisted by strong supporting turns from Paola Nunez and rapper DJ Khaled, who does well in a small role.  And for fans of the original, keep your eyes open for a cameo from “Bad Boys” director Michael Bay. If you wanted a movie poster or or canvas print American Sign Letters can do it for you.  

The production values are outstanding, with all of the light and color of Miami on display.  And I don’t know what cops in Miami make but Lowery seems quite comfortable in his penthouse pad and speedy Porsche.  All in all, a fine return to the screen for Lowrey and Burnett.  Now whatcha’ gonna do ‘til they come back for you?

Film Review: “Reality Queen!”

  • REALITY QUEEN!
  • Starring:  Julia Faye West, Denise Richards and Mike Tyson
  • Directed by: Steven Jay Bernheim
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 24 mins
  • High Octane Pictures

You can’t get away from “them.”  The Kardashians.  The various Housewives of various counties.  “The Bachelorette.”  For good or bad, reality television has grabbed a major part of the world’s attention and, like it or not, it’s here to stay.

London Logo (Ms.West) is a CELEBRITY.  I use all caps to emphasize her status.  Known for her frequent magazine appearances, annual “nip slip” awards and exiting cars sans underwear, London is a mix of Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson rolled up into one.  When things begin to go bad for London, who finds her fame declining with the appearance of the large-assed Kim sisters, she agrees to participate in a documentary about herself which will open the eyes of everyone involved.

As a critic, “Reality Queen!” is the kind of film you love to discover.  Cleverly written by a gaggle of writers, including director Bernheim, the film is an amazingly precedent look at the state of “fame” today.  Nothing is sacred as zinger after zinger is thrown out and the jokes hit much more often then they miss, a testament not only to the script but to the cast.

As London, Ms. West proves herself to be a fine comedienne.  Movies like this often rest on the shoulders of the actors who, if they don’t deliver the lines properly, bring the production down to the level of any recent National Lampoon film that didn’t begin with the words Van and Wilder.  She is also breathtakingly beautiful.  Denise Richards co-stars as London’s best friend, an actress named Angelina Streisand.  She also shows fine comic timing.  Other standouts include Loren Lister as London’s put-upon publicist, Cliff De Young and Jill Jacobson as London’s parents, the amazing Charles Fleischer as a Larry King-ish television host, Kate Orsini as the documentary reporter and the late John Witherspoon in one of his final film appearances.

Mr. Bernheim keeps the pace moving smoothly and I must give credit to he and production designer Ryan Henneman, whose production values are amazing for a film you normally wouldn’t consider “big budget.”  If you’re not in the mood for football this weekend, I highly recommend checking out “Reality Queen!”

Our Critics Share Their Choices for Best Films of 2019 (and their WORST!)

Between us I’d have to estimate that Mike G, Lauren, Jeremy, Michael D. Smith, Becki and myself see no less than 150 films a year here at Media Mikes. So when the year comes to an end, many of us like to share with you what films we felt were the Best. And, because they can’t all be winners, we like to tell you which ones we wished we had stayed away from. Ideally, if you haven’t seen any of these particular films you will either be intrigued enough to seek it out…or make the mental note to avoid at all costs! Enjoy!

MIKE SMITH

THE BEST

#1. 1917
Sam Mendes has created an epic film that thrives on its small cast and “continuous shot” presentation. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who shot many of the Coen Brothers’ films, will surely earn Academy Award nomination number fifteen for his work here. (He won previously for “Bladerunner 2049”)

#2. JUST MERCY
This film doesn’t open wide for another week but it has been playing in select cities since Christmas. An emotional look at the injustice heaped upon one man and the attorney who works tirelessly to find the truth. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx give award-worthy performances.
#3. MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
Edward Norton laid it all on the line as he not only starred in this film but wrote and directed it. His eye as a director is keen and changing the time setting of the story from the present to the 1950s was a masterstroke.
#4. JOKER
Todd Phillips’s look at an almost dystopian society and the people who inhabit it. In my mind, it’s between Joaquin Phoenix and “Marriage Story” star Adam Driver for the Best Actor Oscar.
#5. KNIVES OUT
When I was a teenager I loved the Neil Simon-penned comedy “Murder by Death” and, when I saw the trailer for this film I thought it would be similar. Wrong! Funny? Yes. But amazingly crafted. Extra credit for Daniel Craig pulling off a southern accent.
#6. YESTERDAY
What if you woke up tomorrow and found that the Beatles never existed? A true masterpiece that pays tribute to the universal joy brought to us by the four lads from Liverpool. Also contains the year’s most emotional moment. I won’t spoil it but, if you didn’t tear up, it’s quite possible that YOU’VE never heard of the Beatles.
#7. (tie) LINDA RONDSTADT – THE SOUND OF MY VOICE / DAVID CROSBY-REMEMBER MY NAME
Two amazing documentaries that give viewers an inside look at two of the most influential singers and musicians of their time.

#8. THE IRISHMAN
When people look back at the history of film making they will probably be flabbergasted to see that Martin Scorsese won his first directing Oscar for “The Departed.” The creator of arguably the greatest film of the 1980s (“Raging Bull”) as well as “Taxi Driver,” “The King of Comedy,” “Goodfellas” and “Gangs of New York” just may take home his second one for this 3 1/2 hour masterpiece.
#9. ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
I will admit that, while I enjoyed the film, I didn’t LOVE it when I reviewed it. But a second viewing put it on my list. Great performances and a beautifully recreated Los Angeles, circa 1969. And boy…that ending!
#10. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
The final film in a 23-film series, the likes of that Hollywood will never see again (unless Marvel does it). When Robert Downey, Jr declares, “I AM Iron Man” the emotional explosion in the theater is jaw-dropping.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: US, MARRIAGE STORY, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, STAN and OLLIE

THE WORST

When a web site includes your name you have the opportunity to stay away from most of the stink-burgers that come out. Luckily (and sadly) these two lured me in.
ANGEL HAS FALLEN:
There is a great “Mean Tweet” in which Gerard Butler reads, “Does Gerard Butler have a lot of student loans to pay off? He’s always doing shitty films?” To which Butler replies, “No, I don’t have any student loans. I just like doing shitty films.” Add this one to the list.
DUMBO:
Damn you, Tim Burton. My wife and I skipped the critic’s screening of this so we could take our granddaughter. She hasn’t talked to us since!

JEREMY WERNER

THE BEST

#1. PARASITE
Wild, entertaining, shocking, gripping and a movie you’ll be thinking about for days, if not weeks. This is Bong Joon-ho’s magnum opus. This isn’t just the best movie of 2019, this is easily one of the best movies of the 2010s.
#2. 1917
We’re treated to way more WWII movies than we are WWI. “1917” is not only a visual masterpiece, but the kind of movie that reminds us why WWI shouldn’t be forgotten and just how devastating it truly was for the brave soldiers in it.
#3. THE LIGHTHOUSE
If it wasn’t for “1917,” this would have been the most visually impressive film of the year. Marketed as a horror, I’d say it’s more a suspenseful comedy, with a pair of tour de force performances.


#4. TOY STORY 4
Not to be a narcissist, but to quote my own review earlier this, “I would have never guessed back in 1995…that these plastic toys come to life would make me cry twice later in my life.”
#5. JOJO RABBIT
Channeling Charlie Chaplin and Mel Brooks, Taika Waititi has given audiences one of the most heartwarming, tragic and uplifting films of 2019, and it’s about a boy and his Hitler.
#6. THE IRISHMAN
I wouldn’t say this is Scorsese’s best, but he certainly has book-ended a beloved genre and given several actors a much-deserved swan song.
#7. MIDSOMMAR
An unsettling nightmare in broad daylight. Besides the unforeseen horrors happening in the sun, there are plenty of laughs to go along with this outstanding horror film.
#8.US
Jordan Peele raved about “Midsommar.” So I’m sure he wouldn’t be upset to see his stellar sophomore outing below “Midsommar.” I can’t wait to see what he does next.
#9. BOOKSMART
I absolutely adored this film and its messages. But just as impressive as the script, were the performances by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, as well as the direction by Olivia Wilde.
#10. CLIMAX
If you’ve ever been on the fence about trying LSD or any other kind of hallucinogens, I wouldn’t recommend “Climax.” It’s a delirious technicolor nightmare that entrances viewers.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: HONEY BOY, LORDS OF CHAOS, ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, EL CAMINO, UNCUT GEMS, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD, SHAZAM, THE REPORT, MARRIAGE STORY

THE WORST

#1. AFTER
Everyone involved in this should be ashamed of themselves. What’s that you say? They’re making a sequel? This is further proof we’re living in the darkest timeline.
#2. SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2
Illumination knows exactly what it’s doing and they feel no shame. I wish people would stop giving them reasons to make awful sequels.
#3.A DOG’S JOURNEY
Sappy sentimentality tries to mask the flawed and unethical morality. I love dogs, but this is a crap story and film.
#4. MIDWAY
When Michael Bay said, “No one can top my crappy WWII movie,” Roland Emmerich said, “Hold my beer.”
#5. DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Knowing that some people loved this movie makes me hate this cliche, predictable, trite flick even more.

LAUREN DAMON

THE BEST

Here’s my Top 9, leaving open that 10 slot as the end of the year has so many films on offer that I’m sure one I’ve missed would be bound to swoop in!

#1. MIDSOMMAR
Oh “Midsommar,” how much did I love this film? Enough to come back for the 171 minute director’s cut at Lincoln Center this August for even more. Ari Aster’s follow up to “Hereditary” showcases yet another powerhouse female performance in Florence Pugh. The film is hard to call a “horror”, unless you’re in the middle of a fight with your romantic partner, but it definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. Aster packs this film with so much visual detail that return trips continue to prove satisfying. This film also has a pitch dark streak of savage humor that gave me one or two of the most morbid laughs of the year.
#2. JOJO RABBIT
I elaborated in my five star review of Taika Waititi’s WW2 satire, but this is for me the funniest film of the year while still tugging on a ton of heartstrings. For me, it is Scarlett Johansson’s best performance (and yes, I’ve seen “Marriage Story”)

#3. KNIVES OUT
Chris Evans and Daniel Craig played wildly against type in Rian Johnson’s murder mystery whose twisty turny finale was a delight, or maybe it was a donut…
#4. AVENGERS ENDGAME
I may not be fully on board with all of the character choices for Marvel’s epic Infinity Saga conclusion, but man, if this didn’t do justice to the 21(!) films whose job it was to wrap up. The “Portals” sequence playing to a sold out crowd on opening night was chills, cheers and tears inducing in a way I have never experienced at a movie theater.
#5. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLEM
In a year without a “Mission: Impossible,” John Wick came to the rescue in terms of just absolutely satisfying stunt sequences. That knife fight IN a knife store alone earned the whole movie’s placement on this list.
#6. FORD v FERRARI
I fortunately saw this one in IMAX where the roar of the impeccably edited racing sequences could be felt in my bones. James Mangold delivered a solid spectacle lead by the always-reliable Matt Damon and Christian Bale.
#7. ROCKETMAN
“Rocketman” was everything I wished last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” would have been. From star Taron Edgerton actually recording a slew of Elton John classics himself to the integration of said songs into lively and visually fun musical numbers. Bonus points for a lovely turn from Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin.
#8. LITTLE WOMEN
Greta Gerwig’s sterling adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic assembled one of the strongest acting ensembles of the year and showed the March sisters in a whole new light.
#9. THE LIGHTHOUSE
Robert Eggers’s follow up to 2015’s “The Witch” was just as steeped in atmosphere–this time of an isolated New England lighthouse in the 1890s where Robert Pattinson’s Thomas is taken under the lunatic wing of Willem Defoe who may or may not have a supernatural connection to the beacon they tend to. In stunning black and white, Eggers produced some of the most memorable imagery of the year.

THE WORST

In lieu of a Worst list–since I don’t see enough to pull a whole list confidently–I’m sorry to say MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL was the biggest disappointment. Taking Hemsworth and Thompson, who have a proven comedic chemistry and just throwing them into this lazy script was a huge wasted opportunity.

MICHAEL D. SMITH

THE BEST

#1. 1917
Selected by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle as the year’s Best Film, “1917” is simply a stroke of genius. Nominated for three Golden Globes, “1917” is not only a masterful example of the war film genre, but it is also a masterpiece of cinema in general. Directed by Oscar-winning British filmmaker Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “The Road to Perdition”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“Penny Dreadful”), “1917” is an accurate depiction of the Great War with an edge-of-your-seat plot that is essentially Great Britain’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

#2. KNIVES OUT
An impressive piece of creative writing, “Knives Out” deserves to be in the pantheon of great murder mystery flicks. With a terrific cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer and Michael Shannon, “Knives Out” is led by Daniel Craig in a wonderfully entertaining performance that makes you forget all about his more famous alter egoJames Bond. Whether you guess who done it within 15 minutes or not until the very end, “Knives Out” provides a great way to spend the night out at the movie theater.
#3. JOKER
Featuring by far the best male lead performance of the year, “Joker” is the most in-depth character study captured in cinema in 2019. Joaquin Phoenix goes to Herculean lengths to tap into the essence of a man so ostracized by society that when his last thread to sanity is cut, he becomes something that lies somewhere in the middle of being a villain and a hero. Dark, gritty and violent, “Joker” is not your typical comic book or even graphic novel movie. It eclipses both. Phoenix is supported by a memorable supporting performance from Robert De Niro.
#4. MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
Edward Norton’s effort is a triumph of cinematic art and deserves to be an Oscar contender in multiple categories. Adapted from the 1999, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel of the same name by American novelist Jonathan Lethem, “Motherless Brooklyn,” written and directed by Norton, is a brilliant, throwback detective story with an all-star cast that delivers the goods. It mirrors early 1950s Brooklyn in such a palpable way that it makes you feel like you are there. Despite its arguably long, two-hour plus running time, the puzzle-like central story is so engrossing with its twists and turns that you can end up losing yourself in it.
#5. US
Academy Award-winning writer Jordan Peele followed up his magnificent horror thriller “Get Out” with another stroke of genius thatwhich should not be watched immediately before bedtime. An inventive work that will give you goosebumps throughout as the Wilson family, led by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, tries to stay alive in the face of eerie doppelgangers who want them all dead. Nyong’o was recently selected by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle as 2019’s Best Actress for her memorable performance.
#6. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Love or hate him, there is no denying the talent of Quentin Tarantino. In this, his ninth and allegedly next-to-last film, Tarantino pays tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age by putting his own unique spin on the August 1969 Sharon Tate murders. With enthralling performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Tarantino dug deep into his imagination with an entertaining “what if?” story with a climax that will drop your jaw to the floor and imagery that will be stuck in your head for days afterwards.

#7. THE IRISHMAN
At three hours and 29 minutes, “The Irishman” is a Martin Scorsese film not to be tackled lightly. However, if you are a fan of not just mafia-related stories but also a trio of iconic actors – Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – then you will be greatly rewarded. It is the supposed story of mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran who worked closely with the mob for decades and claimed that he was the one who made labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa famously disappear. Of the three, it is Pesci who outshines everyone as a mob boss. It is nothing less than the greatest performance of Pesci’s long career.
#8. QUEEN & SLIM
Ideally, a great work of art, especially one that is controversial, will have a deeply emotional and/or intellectual impact on the viewer. It is no different with the genre of cinema. Erroneously labeled by some as a Bonnie and Clyde-type story, “Queen & Slim” explores the fear and outrage felt by many in America over numerous fatal shootings in recent years of black men, often young ones, by white law enforcement officers. While its climax is heavy-handed and the overall portrayal of the police is too generalized, “Queen & Slim” remains a terrific specimen of cinematic art.
#9. A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Last year, I had the fantastic documentary “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” in the eighth spot of my 2018 top ten list. This year, another Mister Rogers film makes my year-end highlights. Inspired by true events, Tom Hanks puts in a mesmerizing supporting performance as the late, beloved PBS show host as he tries to help a jaded newspaper reporter remember what is most important in life. It is a sweet, lovely story amidst harsh times.
#10. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
Ten years’ worth of Avenger-related movies, some better than others, culminated with “Endgame” and it was all worth it with a tremendously rewarding finale. What made it so spectacular was not that it had great special effects or a cast with enough stars to fill up the nighttime sky. Rather, it contained an emotional story that did not have a neat and tidy ending. It was a true struggle of good vs. evil with many of those on the side of good having to pay a terrible price for their collective success. It does leave one to wonder how the gang at Marvel Studios will do with the next phase of Avenger flicks.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: AD ASTRA, I AM MOTHER, PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

Film Review: “Just Mercy”

JUST MERCY
Starring:  Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 16 mins
Warner Bros

Recently here in Kansas City a gentleman was released from prison after serving 17-years for a crime he didn’t commit.  Naturally, your heart goes out to him and his family but, even in your worst dreams, there is really no way to understand what he went through.  I mention this because injustice is the theme from the new film “Just Mercy.”

Monroeville, Alabama.  Fans of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” will recognize the town as the birthplace of author Harpee Lee.  It was also the birthplace of Walter McMillan.  We meet Walter (Foxx, in a top notch performance) in the woods, cutting down a tree and enjoying the freedom of nature.  However, Walter’s life takes a dark detour when he is arrested for, and convicted of, the murder of a young white woman.  I mention the victim’s race because that is an important part of the story.  You see, Walter is black.  Found guilty (in an amazing precedent the jury sentenced Walter to life in prison and the trial judge overrode the decision and sentenced Walter to death) he’s sat on death row for the past six years, waiting for the horrible dream his life has become to end.  Enter Bryan Stevenson (Jordan, equally strong) a young, Harvard-educated lawyer who has received a grant to start an advocacy program for inmates on death row.  To say Bryan is welcomed with open arms would be a lie.  More like welcomed with clenched fist – and closed minds.

A powerful film that pulls at your emotions, “Just Mercy” is based on a true story, one of racial bias and unscrupulous people.  It’s almost fate that the story takes place in the birthplace of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” That bit of information is played up by the locals, who urge Bryan to visit the Mockingbird Museum and stand in the same courthouse as Atticus Finch.  But “Mockingbird” also deals with the trial of an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused and, even though there is mounds of evidence to prove his innocence, is found guilty.  Bryan, like Atticus Finch before him, believes in the system and can’t understand how that system has failed Walter.

As noted above, the performances from Mr. Jordan and Mr. Foxx are powerful.  Jordan continues to add great work to his resume’ and this is easily Mr. Foxx’s best performance in years.  As Bryan’s assistant Eva Ansley, Brie Larson delivers in a true supporting role and Tim Blake Nelson is well cast as a fellow convict whose testimony sent Walter to prison.  The film is well paced and Mr. Cretton’s direction is spot on, his camera capturing the little things that help make the story a powerful one.  He has definitely created one of the best films of 2019.

Film Review: “1917”

1917
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Rated: Rated R
Running Time: 118 minutes
Universal Pictures 

With three Golden Globe nominations, “1917” is not only a masterful example of the war film genre, but it is also a masterpiece of cinema in general. Directed by Oscar-winning British filmmaker Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “The Road to Perdition”), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“Penny Dreadful”), “1917” is a highly accurate depiction of the Great War with a plot that is essentially Great Britain’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

 The story takes place during Operation Alberich, a strategic German military withdrawal lasting from February 9 to March 20, 1917 in France. Its purpose was to shorten German lines along a section of the Western Front in order to consolidate forces along the Hindenburg Line. “1917” plays upon this event by thrusting two young men into what appears to be an impossible mission.

 British Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, “The King,” “Game of Thrones”) and Schofield (George MacKay, “Where Hands Touch,” “Captain Fantastic”) are suddenly pulled away from their unit on orders from their overall commander, General Erinmore (Colin Firth). The general needs a message dispatched deep into German territory to stop the advance of a Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), who believes he is pursuing a defeated enemy when in fact it is a trap that will cost the lives of 1,600 men including Lance Corporal Blake’s brother. 

Lance Corporal Schofield is the more seasoned veteran of the two and is wary of crossing No Man’s Land as he believes they are the ones who are walking into a trap. However, Lance Corporal Blake is doggedly determined go through with the mission, which must be completed by the next morning when the fateful offensive by Colonel MacKenzie is planned. In their way lies a myriad of obstacles including endless amounts of mud, deep craters, barbed wire, booby traps and German snipers. It is a heart-pounding, near-continuous sequence of events that will leave you riveted to the silver screen. 

Historically, “1917” delivers the goods with its accurate depiction of trench warfare ranging from the uniforms worn to the hellish conditions to the psychological effects on the soldiers. Painstaking care was clearly made to get every battlefield detail right as well as an accurate depiction of the Germans’ scorched earth policy as they pulled back to the Hindenburg Line. “1917” also delves into the toll the German occupation had on the French civilian population, best embodied by a young woman barely surviving in a burned-out city. 

Chapman and MacKay deliver solid performances throughout the film as they humanize their characters, thereby making it easy for us to become emotionally invested in their epic journey. The biggest praise, though, is reserved for Mendes direction. For example, the first half of the nearly two-hour film, which does not feel that long, is shot so seamlessly that it has all the appearance of being one, long continuous take. His orchestration of mass chaos with a multitude of extras and cameras, not to mention how his hand-held work puts us right in the trenches, is worthy of an Oscar for best cinematography. “1917” is nothing less than one of the ten best movies of 2019.

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