Monday, July 25, 2016

Star Trek Beyond - Movie Review

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Deep Roy and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung.
Directed by Justin Lin.

★★★

After Star Trek into Darkness turned out to be a remake of The Wrath of Khan, they wanted to be a little more original this time around. And they were. This felt like a two-hour episode of the original series, so by being more faithful to the spirit of the series, it was able to break out and tell a new story.

The Enterprise is now more than halfway through its five-year mission, and the crew is starting to feel bored. But then an opportunity comes along to explore a nebula where no one knows what's inside it, and things sound interesting. Of course once they go inside, they're attacked, the Enterprise is destroyed, and they're stranded on an unknown planet.

The movie takes its time to give everyone character moments. We've gotten to know them; now it lets us enjoy their interactions. Spock and McCoy spend a good section of the film stranded together, and their interplay was the most enjoyable part of the movie. (Karl Urban's best work yet in the role.) It also benefits from guest work by Idris Elba as the main villain Krall, and from Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Jaylah, a different alien who's been stranded a long time herself.

The late, great Anton Yelchin is just part of the ensemble as Chekov, and I can't help but wish they'd given him more to do. But they had the luxury of thinking they could just do that in the next movie.

Star Trek is a likable series. It's never my #1 must-see of the year, but I'm always glad when the opportunity to see another one rolls around. Especially when it's good.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond is #1 at box office


For the weekend of July 22-24, 2016, Star Trek Beyond was the clear winner. It may not have opened as well as the first two, but Paramount has to be happy. With how this franchise does overseas, it'll be plenty profitable and justifies having a fourth movie with this cast, minus the late Anton Yelchin.

The other two wide releases were Lights Out and Ice Age 5, but it won't be until the actual numbers that come out that we'll know who took third, fourth and fifth place.

Of the holdovers, The Secret Life of Pets did really well, and it benefitted from Ice Age 5 getting terrible reviews. Now it can dominate the family animated landscape until Kubo & the Two Strings, which is four weeks away.

The horror movie Lights Out did great. Its low budget puts it on par with The Darkness, but that was univerally panned, whereas LO's reviews have been largely positive.



Opens July 29
JASON BOURNE with Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones and Julia Stiles.
BAD MOMS with Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate and Kathryn Hahn.
NERVE with Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis and Samira Wiley.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghostbusters - Movie Review


Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Neil Casey, Zach Woods and Ed Begley Jr.
Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig.
Directed by Paul Feig.

★★½

There's one big obstacle this movie faces. It tries to pay homage to the original every few minutes with references and cameos and following the same basic formula, but it is not a sequel. It is a reboot that pretends the other movies didn't happen. The movie would have been better off if it had made a decision. Either be a sequel, which wouldn't have been difficult to do, keeping the whole cast intact and have Dan Aykroyd mentor them for a few minutes. Or be your own thing. But in addition to Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts popping up as different characters, we also get the return of Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Why?

Now I love the original Ghostbusters. Felt let down by the sequel. But I was ready to enjoy this movie on its own merits. So what are its merits?

Paul Feig reunites his Bridesmaids actresses Wiig and McCarthy, and I like seeing those two play off each other as different characters. I liked the broad energy of Leslie Jones.

(I have to have another quibble with the marketing team. They ruined a lot of punchlines in the trailers. Almost every scene, my mind would go back to one of the previews. "Ah, this is the scene that will end with Jones slapping McCarthy once more than necessary and yelling 'The power of pain compels you!'")

Chris Hemsworth steals the show as Kevin, the spectacularly dumb receptionist for the Ghostbusters. Probably my favorite non-Thor role of his.

I liked the concept of the villain, although I wish they'd cast someone more interesting in the part. Not exactly as memorable as Gozer. The budget is huge, so why not get Jonah Hill? Patton Oswalt? Instead they cast Neil Casey, who was a writer at Saturday Night Live when Kristen Wiig was still there.

Kate McKinnon's character is so out-there I never bought her in the fabric of this universe. Maybe she was trying something risky a la Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Some people are finding it hilarious. I didn't think it worked.

The movie's fine. I think it might linger in pop culture just because it's four women kicking butt and zapping ghosts, and I don't diminish that. If anything it felt like the script and story decisions let the ladies down.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weekend Box Office - July 15-17, 2016


For the weekend of July 15-17, 2016, The Secret Life of Pets managed to hang on to the #1 spot, but it had strong competition from Ghostbusters. Illumination had found its diamond with the Despicable Me/Minions world, and now they've found a new franchise they can milk.

Ghostbusters opened a little under expectations but considering how many sequels/remakes have bombed so far this year, I think they have to be happy. It's the highest opening ever for Melissa McCarthy or director Paul Feig. It's also their biggest budget. China has said they won't allow the movie to play there, so that's an unfortunate chunk of foreign box office they'll miss out on.

The Legend of Tarzan has been resilient. I never would have guessed it would wind up doing better than Independence Day: Resurgence.

The other new wide release was The Infiltrator, which never really felt like a summer movie. I admire the counterprogramming effort, but maybe the public is a little Escobar'd out.

Woody Allen's latest, Cafe Society, did great in limited release. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell and Blake Lively.



Opens July 22
ICE AGE 5 with the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
STAR TREK BEYOND with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin.
LIGHTS OUT with Teresa Palmer, Emily Alyn Lind and Alicia Vela-Bailey.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016 Emmy Nominations


OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Game of Thrones
Mr. Robot
House of Cards
Downton Abbey
Better Call Saul
The Americans
Homeland

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

Veep
Transparent
Modern Family
black-ish
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Casual
Master of None

OUTSTANDING DRAMA ACTOR

Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
Kyle Chandler (Bloodline)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

OUTSTANDING DRAMA ACTRESS

Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
Keri Russell (The Americans)

OUTSTANDING COMEDY ACTOR

Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth)
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
William H. Macy (Shameless)

OUTSTANDING COMEDY ACTRESS

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer)
Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Laurie Metcalf (Getting On)
Tracee Ellis-Ross (black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)

OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES

The People v. O.J. Simpson
Fargo
American Crime
Roots
The Night Manager

OUTSTANDING REALITY COMPETITION

The Voice
The Amazing Race
Top Chef
Project Runway
Dancing with the Stars
American Ninja Warrior

OUTSTANDING TV MOVIE

All the Way
Confirmation
Luther
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
A Very Murray Christmas

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY

Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Matt Walsh (Veep)
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Keegen-Michael Key (Key & Peele)
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY

Niecy Nash (Getting On)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Gaby Hoffman (Transparent)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA

Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Kit Harington (Game of Thrones)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA

Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones)
Maura Tierney (The Affair)
Constance Zimmer (UnREAL)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Purge: Election Year - Movie Review

Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Raymond J. Barry and Ethan Phillips.
Written & Directed by James DeMonaco.

★★½

The Purge movies can't honestly be called "good," but they're a C-grade guilty pleasure for me. It's a low-budget franchise that lets Frank Grillo be the star of a world, like Robert Englund ruled Elm Street.

Each movie expands the scope of the world a little more, and this time around we see a political outsider, Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), running for president on a platform of ending the Purge. The NFFA which has run the USA for the past 25 years doesn't like that, and they plan to use this year's Purge as a cover for having her assassinated.

Sgt. Leo Barnes (Grillo), survivor of Purge: Anarchy, has worked his way over to be the head of Sen. Roan's security detail. After being betrayed, he and the senator have to go on the run on Purge Night, eventually hooking up with resistance leader Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the only person who's been in all three movies.

This time around, the metaphors are laid on in a more heavy-handed fashion. The mercenaries hired to kill Roan wear Nazi symbols and Confederate flags on their uniforms. In ranking the movies, I'd say this ranks just below Anarchy but better than the first one. I hope for the fourth installment they expand the idea more. Let's see a bank heist be the main goal.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Love & Friendship - Movie Review

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Justin Edwards and Stephen Fry.
Written & Directed by Whit Stillman.

★★★½

Writer/director Whit Stillman has always had a knack for dialogue, and he gets to really show his stuff by translating Jane Austen's novella "Lady Susan" to the big screen.

Kate Beckinsale plays Susan, a widow and mother looking out for her own survival by seeking a rich suitor. While staying with her brother-in-law and his wife, she sets her eyes on the wife's younger brother Reginald (Xavier Samuel). Meanwhile she is trying to marry her own daughter off to a rich idiot named James Martin (Tom Bennett), who reminded me a lot of a guileless version of Ricky Gervais' David Brent.

This comedy of manners shows how everyone being so polite means that they keep putting up with Susan and her scheming, even as they all know what she's doing. Susan, meanwhile, is a champion at finding justification for everything she does.

Chloe Sevigny reunites with her Last Days of Disco co-star as Susan's American friend. She's fine but she doesn't look comfortable playing out of her century.

Hopefully this movie does well enough we don't have to wait five years for Stillman's next one. Heck, if he wanted to tackle Northanger Abbey, I doubt anyone would complain.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Conjuring 2 - Movie Review



Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Benjamin Haigh and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Written by Carey & Chad Hayes.
Directed by James Wan.

★★★

It might not be quite as good as the first one, but it's still effective in its own right. Director James Wan is a master at playing with shadows and dark corners, drawing out the tension, releasing it, and then jolting the audience.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as Ed & Lorraine Warren, who investigate paranormal activity, usually debunking it, but sometimes they meet fierce opposition from evil spirits. The movie is able to claim it's based on a true story, and yes it is, but it takes a lot of liberties with the truth of the story for maximum scares. Which is fine. They can embellish another case for The Conjuring 3.

This time the Warrens are summoned to England, where a single mother and her four children are dealing with a possible haunting, especially daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). Furniture moves on its own, a disembodied voice whispers in the dark, that sort of thing. In what came to be known as the Enfield Poltergeist, the evil spirit reveals himself, and from there, the Warrens need to figure out why he's there and how to make him go away.

In some ways, Wan goes bigger here. The third act has more CGI than the original, and one creation actually pulled me out. Too fake-looking to be scary. On the other hand, there are some long-lasting scenes. I still think about the scene where Lorraine is alone in Ed's office and what visits her there.

So while the real-life cases might not have been as spectacular as their movies, it's still a fun journey, well-crafted. Always best to wait until after the movie to look up what really happened.

Weekend Box Office - Finding Dory still #1


For the weekend of July 1-3, 2016, Finding Dory managed to survive three newcomers to remain #1 at the box office for the third week in a row. It's a further win for Disney although it came at the expense of its release of The BFG.

The BFG is a disappointment for Disney and for Steven Spielberg, who hadn't directed a special-effects driven movie since Indiana Jones 5.

The Legend of Tarzan fared best of the new releases, but it's not going to make its money back domestically. Warner Bros. will be counting on overseas interest in order to turn a profit. That seems a tall order. It also seems like another property like the Lone Ranger, where the peak of its popularity was so long ago, maybe it shouldn't be rebooted.

The Purge: Election Year did great. I'm sure they're working on Purge 4 right now.

Of the holdovers, a big drop-off for Independence Day: Resurgence. Word is getting around it's not very good.



Opens July 8
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS with the voices of Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart.
MIKE & DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES with Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick and Adam Devine.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Shallows - Movie Review

Starring Blake Lively.
Written by Anthony Jaswinski.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

★★★

This movie is exactly what it claims to be. It contains lots of shots of Blake Lively stranded on a rock 200 yards from shore, but she can't escape because she's being stalked by a shark.

The movie's only 87 minutes long, which feels novel these days. We see her make her way to the beach, we get just enough family bakstory to make us care about her, and the movie toys with our expectations until the shark finally arrives.

There's some clever, economical direction here from director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night), but this movie will seek or swim on Lively, and she delivers. I never really thought about her that much as an actress. I've enjoyed her appearances here and there, in films like The Town or Savages. This is something she can parlay into being a star.

Independence Day: Resurgence - Movie Review


Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jesse T. Usher, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brent Spiner, Judd Hirsch, Sela Ward, Joey King, Travis Tope, Viveca A. Fox, Angelababy, Patrick St. Esprit, Deobia Oparei, and Robert Loggia.
Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt, Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich.
Directed by Roland Emmerich.

★★

The first Independence Day movie came at the right time. America was feeling pretty good about itself in 1996. There hadn't been an ensemble space-battle movie for a while. Will Smith wasn't a star yet. It wound up being a great summer movie.

In the past 20 years, we've seen a few more Roland Emmerich world-destruction movies, we've gone through 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, ISIS, a huge recession, and a sluggish recovery. This movie is able to tell a story of how awesome Earth would have been over the past 20 years had the first movie actually happened. If aliens want to visit Earth, either as friends or enemies, it would do wonders for the world economy.

Will Smith passed, and so we get Liam Hemsworth. Sure, he has Hunger Games cred, but when you look at titles like Paranoia and Cut Bank, Liam has shown he just doesn't have the charisma for this type of role.

I saw this in 3D on IMAX (Hooray for $5 Tuesday!) My son liked it. It has a blatant open-ending for a sequel, and since most of the characters survive, I'm sure they're all game for it. I just don't see this one burrowing its way into pop culture the way the first one did.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Central Intelligence - Movie Review

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul, Jason Bateman, Ryan Hansen and Thomas Ketschmann.
Written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen & Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.

★★½

This movie is a little schizophrenic. On one hand, the chemistry between the two leads is enjoyable, and the characters are full of potential. On the other hand, it's really dumb. Dumb funny wins the day.

Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the most popular kid from high school who, on the eve of his 20-year high school reunion, is feeling like a flop. He's an accountant at a large firm, and he keeps missing out on promotions. He receives a Facebook friend request from "Bob Stone" and accepts, and suddenly Bob shows up. He's actually Robby Weirdich (Dwayne Johnson), a bullied kid Calvin was nice to once, but now he looks like The Rock.

Calvin slowly finds out that Bob is a CIA agent, but he also might be a rogue agent, as Bob's old boss (Amy Ryan) is trying to catch him or kill him.

There isn't much thought put in the central mystery, as the emphasis is on pairing Johnson and Hart together and just seeing what happens. There's a ton of potential in their pairing, and I wish this had been a smarter movie. It's from the writer/director of Dodgeball (which I liked), so it's more on that level, but Thurber has no idea how to stage the fights and action scenes, so the movie is best when it's not dealing with any of that.

Overall I was entertained. I'd see the sequel if they made one. I just hope they don't squander their potential.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - Movie Review


Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Harry Lennix and Scoot McNairy.
Written by Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer.
Directed by Zack Snyder.

★★

How to explain the most controversial movie of the year? It's not that bad, but it's not that good either.

For my money, the best Zack Snyder movie is Watchmen. Watchmen was a dense graphic novel, and Snyder was as faithful to it as about anyone possibly could be. I liked his artistry with that, and the darkness of the characters lent itself to Snyder's style. I also liked Dawn of the Dead. I also liked 300. I thought his Owls of Ga'Hoole movie was challenging.

But when he had his chance to make something wholly original, he came up with Sucker Punch, which exposed every flaw that better material had managed to hide.

Now I thought Man of Steel was okay the first time I saw it. The second time around, I hated it. The moroseness, the resurrection of Zod rather than going somewhere new, the destructo-porn finale.

Snyder, in ways, is trying to make up for the sins of Man of Steel, but it's as though he learned the wrong lessons. He's trying to bend the beginning of the Justice League into another Watchmen.

BvS has a lot in common with Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie stuffed with characters and dense with Easter eggs alluding to futher movies, but by being so stuffed with franchise fillers, it forgets to be its own movie.

The movie picks up 18 months after the climactic events of Man of Steel, when thousands of people were killed in the final battle in Metropolis. Bruce Wayne blames Superman for what happened, as one of his buildings was destroyed in that battle, killing some of his employees. From afar, he's trying to find a way to defeat Superman and any other Kryptonians that will inevitably show up.

Superman (Henry Cavill) meanwhile, is trying to remain a good guy while his actions keep resulting in unintended consequences.

Throw into this mix Alexander "Lex" Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a chirpy Millennial tech genius who's moving some chess pieces to keep Bats and Supes at odds without their noticing.

Eisenberg's Luthor is a quirky, twitchy guy. It's a different take on the character, and his first scene is one where you have to decide if you're going to go with it or not. My expectations were low coming into this movie, and I chose to go with it. I knew what I was getting into. I actually liked his Luthor.

In fact, most of the cast is pretty good with what they're given. I liked Affleck's Wayne. I continue to be okay with Cavill's Superman. I thought Amy Adams was better this time around as Lois Lane. The jury's still out on Gal Gadot as Diana Prince (I had a hard time understanding some of her dialogue with whatever accent that was), but her arrival as Wonder Woman is the highlight of the movie. Jeremy Irons doesn't get to do anything as Alfred.

The movie feels like it has too boxes to check. The action grinds to a halt so one character can spend two minutes watching security footage of Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg. Sure, those characters look like they'll be interesting in future movies, but there's no justification for the scene other than to advertise future movies. Can we focus on the one we're watching now?

It may be too late to pull Snyder from the director's chair of Justice League Part 1, but I would think the reviews will underline to Warner Bros. that they're going in the wrong direction and they should get different eyes on JL2. They already have a great director in the cast in Ben Affleck. I would love him to be able to take over.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane - Movie Review

Starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.
Written by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stueken and Damien Chazelle.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.

★★★

First, I wish they'd called this movie something else. It doesn't really have anything to do with 2008's Cloverfield movie. But, I had a lot of fun watching this.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard) plays Michelle, a young woman who has decided to leave her fiance. She gets hit by a truck and wakes up in a brick room, chained to a pipe, and with an IV connected to her arm. Her abductor Howard (John Goodman) lets her know that there was a nuclear attack and they are now safe in his bomb shelter. But Howard is clearly not mentally stable, so how safe can she feel? Was there really an attack or is she just kidnapped?

She soon meets Emmett (Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr.) who confirms that he saw an attack and he had to fight just to be let in before everything went down. So the three of them form this little unit, with Howard the imbalanced one who carries a pistol on his hip at all times, and Michelle who keeps trying to find a way out, just to get confirmation something really happened outside.

It's a tightly wound survival thriller. I think it's only about 99 minutes long. Loved the intense climax too. I'm glad that JJ Abrams has the clout to make these original mid-range movies.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Guesses for the Oscars

BEST PICTURE - The Revenant
BEST ACTOR - Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
BEST ACTRESS - Brie Larson, Room
BEST SUPP. ACTOR - Sylvester Stallone, Creed
BEST SUPP. ACTRESS - Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
BEST DIRECTOR - George Miller, Mad Max Fury Road
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - The Big Short
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Spotlight
BEST ANIMATED FILM - Inside Out
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM - Amy
BEST FOREIGN FILM - Son of Saul
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - Sicario
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - "Til It Happens to You" The Hunting Ground
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - The Revenant
BEST FILM EDITING - Mad Max Fury Road
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - The Martian
BEST MAKEUP - Mad Max Fury Road
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Cinderella
BEST ANIMATED SHORT - World of Tomorrow
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
BEST SOUND EDITING - Mad Max Fury Road
BEST SOUND MIXING - Mad Max Fury Road
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT - A Girl in the River
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT - Day One

Saturday, January 23, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Movie Review

Starring John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile, Toby Stephens, Matt Letscher, Peyman Moaadi, Demetrius Grosse, David Guintoli and Christopher Dingli.
Written by Chuck Hogan.
Directed by Michael Bay.

★★★

When Black Hawk Down came out, it wasn't hyped as a movie that would harm Bill Clinton's legacy, nor should this movie be hyped as one that will harm Hillary Clinton's legacy, even though the events themselves do. This is a straightforward movie about heroes, soldiers who want to go in and save lives when there's no one else coming. It isn't really a political movie, even though certain politicians and critics want to make it as such (left and right).

The Office's John Krasinski plays Jack Silva (not the real man's name), one of the ground operatives stationed in Benghazi, Libya, after Gaddhafi's death. (How come we never settled on a spelling for that name? I've seen it spelled with a K and Q too. Anyway...) The U.S. embassy has been dowgraded to a "diplomatic station", even though U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens is still stationed there. Surveying the layout with his brothers-in-arms, it's clear that if an incident ever happened, the station was sorely lacking in security measures. (Insert politics here.)

On September 11, 2012, everyone at the base stayed indoors and hoped for a peaceful night, but an organized group of terrorists descend on the base. Outgunned and outmanned, the diplomatic station quickly collapses, and the six CIA soldiers a mile away are the only chance to keep those people alive until backup can come, and backup comes several hours too late.

This is one of Michael Bay's better movies. It's based on a true story, and he uses his action chops to bring excitement to an ultimate tragedy. I'm not saying it's as good as a movie as Black Hawk Down (Bay has a way of having the sun go up and down minute by minute so he can have a lot of cool sunrise/sunset shots), but it's a satisfying action thriller from beginning to end. We feel the loss of the comrades, and while Benghazi is remembered as the city where four Americans were killed, this movie shows it was a miracle that the death toll wasn't much, much higher.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Hateful Eight - Movie Review

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (R) Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, James Parks and Channing Tatum.
Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

★★★

This is boldly advertised as the 8th film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino. For that to work, we're considering the two volumes of Kill Bill as one movie so we can count the extended version of Death Proof. I only saw the Grindhouse cut of Death Proof so I don't feel like a QT completist. Someday I'll get there.

This movie is a polarizing experience. It features the worst and best tendencies he has. I have no problem with the long running time or the cartoonish violence. QT seems to be challenging the audience by not providing anyone likeable to side with.

While QT had extended to operatic heights with Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, he's shrunken his canvas here to be more like Reservoir Dogs: The Western. Filmed in 70mm, it's gorgeous to look at. We can enjoy the broad, snowy landscapes of Wyoming as a stagecoach tries to outrun an oncoming blizzard. We first meet Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Union soldier turned bounty hunter, who has put himself and three dead bounties in the path of the stagecoach. He first meets the driver O.B. (James Parks) and then the passengers - fellow bounty hunter and Union veteran John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, a murderer named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Both men want to get to Red Rock to collect their bounties, Ruth on his live one and Warren on his dead ones.

Further down the road, they come across the equally stranded Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Confederate vet who's on his way to Red Rock to be the new sheriff. The blizzard comes too quickly so they hole up at Minnie's Haberdashery, essentially a large cabin store being run by Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir) while Minnie's away. Also present are cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), employed at Red Rock. These hateful eight (plus nice guy O.B.) are trapped under one roof to wait out the storm, and as Ruth surveys the place, he quickly assumes that one of these men is lying about his identity, and that he's really in cahoots with Daisy to save her.

John Ruth might be the one we could root for, with his John Wayne inflection and clear-eyed sense of justice, except he beats on the helpless Daisy under the slightest provocations.

Major Warren could be the one, but when he spins a tale of what he did to a helpless prisoner of his own, it's easy for sympathies to fade.

Daisy? She copes by wearing her broken-toothed smile as a feral mask, but it might have helped if the movie ever explained exactly who she'd killed and why. I actually felt bad for her at the end, and I don't know if that was QT's intention.

Minnie's Haberdashery serves as a microcosm of American society then and now. Then, it's the 1870's, and you have north and south, black and white, male and female trying to figure out what next. I also really admired QT's directing job here. We're aware at (almost) all times where everyone is in the cabin, even as the story needs to hop from this conversation to that. The tension increases and mounts, and it starts to feel more like John Carpenter's The Thing than anything else before it explodes in its gory, nasty finale.

This is one where I think I might like it more on a second viewing, but I can't say it's in my top half of favorites from the director. I think deep down he knows it'll be this way for most people. There's no cheer-worthy scene like Nazis getting killed in Basterds, slavers getting killed in Django, Butch saving Marcellus in Pulp Fiction, or even Mr. Orange shooting Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. These are all brutish sorts, and I didn't feel like the ending had the payoff he might have been going for.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Movie Review


STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (PG-13) Starring Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg and Max von Sydow.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams & Michael Arndt.
Directed by JJ Abrams.

★★★½

Rewatching the first six movies reminded me of something - the cognative dissonance required to enjoy the prequels. I have to ignore the stilted dialogue, stiff performances, over-reliance on CGI to get to the parts I like. None of that is required here. This movie is a pleasure from beginning to end, reimursing us in the original Star Wars galaxy.

One of the joys of the movie was seeing everything I didn't know was going to happen. We've gathered certain scenes and characters in general - i.e. the Millenium Falcon will fly again!  This one dives right into the action from the opening scrawl. (And yes, there were cheers when the Star Wars logo hit the screen.) We may start with some of the new characters, but we know we'll eventually see all of our old friends.

Of the new characters, there is Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on Jakku, a junkyard planet that makes Tattooine look like a luxury resort. There is Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who grows a conscience. There is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a cocky but skilled pilot. And there's BB-8, a roller-droid that kids will love as much as they did R2-D2.

Every scene builds on the next. It hits a lot of familiar beats but it also managed to build a lot of suspense as to what direction it was going to ultimately go. I can't wait to watch it a second time to look for things I missed.

I hope this movie makes enough money that they'll decide to make Episode VIII.