Monday, January 16, 2017

Silence - Movie Review

Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciaran Hinds, Issei Ogata, Yosuke Kobuzuka, Yoshi Oida, Shin'ya Tsukamoto and Nana Komatsu.
Written by Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.

★★½

Silence is adapted from a 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo. Martin Scorsese has been trying to get this film made for over two decades. It's clear he respects his source material. It feels like he respected it too much. There's a sprawling quality to it where the movie suffers from repetitive narrative beats.

The first half is the strongest. In 1640, two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) request to go to Japan, where their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) is rumored to have left the faith. As Christianity is illegal in Japan, the priests must be hid by secret members. The Japanese Christians are grateful to finally have priests among them. The last few they had were killed or apostasized.

The second half is mostly filled with people getting tortured and/or killed, Garfield's Father Rodrigues speaking with the torturers, angst, rain, cruelty, and unanswered prayers.

I almost had this Apocalypse Now anticipation for when Ferreira might show up, but he shows up late, and it's pretty anti-climactic. In fact, I didn't like his character. And while I like Garfield - he was excellent in Hacksaw Ridge - he isn't quite up to the task of what he's supposed to be here.

There are many questions of faith wrestled with here. Does it really mean anything if you say you renounce God when you still believe in your heart? The movie does not make cartoon villains of the Japanese torturers either. My mind kept going back to how heretics were getting tortured and killed back home.

The last ten minutes felt like a lengthy denouement a novel would have, but the same beats could have been done in two minutes.

Moonlight - Movie Review

Starring Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome and Jaden Piner.
Written & Directed by Barry Jenkins.

★★★½

I went into this not knowing much about it, on purpose. I knew it was about three different points in this one boy's life, but there's so much more there. This is a very personal project from Barry Jenkins.

We meet the character of Chiron at age 9 (Alex Hibbert), age 16 (Ashton Sanders), and age 26 (Trevante Rhodes).  At age 9, Chiron goes by the nickname Little. We see he has no father, his mother's a drug addict, and Little finds a father figure in his mom's drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Despite his choice of careers, Juan is a decent man to Little, and his wife Theresa (Janelle Monae) becomes the positive mother figure in his life too. Little is a shy kid around his peers, not into athletics like the other boys.

I won't go into the other two stages, but all three actors playing Chiron are really good. They may not look like they could all be the same person, but each seems like he studied the performances of the other two so this could feel like the same person.

The acting nomination buzz has been around Ali, and deservedly so, but I'd also champion Naomie Harris (a British actress!) as Chiron's Miami-native mother. (She's nominated for a SAG award.) In fact, Best Supporting Actress is shaping up to be one competitive field with Viola Davis, Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman.

Lion - Movie Review

Starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate and Priyanka Bose.
Written by Luke Davies.
Directed by Garth Davis.

★★★★

There was a really good Australian mini-series from 2013 called Top of the Lake (which is getting a season 2 later this year). Garth Davis, who directed half of its episodes (the others by Jane Campion), is now making his big-screen directorial debut, and it's an impressive one.

This is the true story of Saroo, a 4-year-old boy (Sunny Pawar) who gets lost in India and can't communicate well enough with adults to get back home. Eventually he's put in an orphanage and later adopted by a Tasmanian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham).

As an adult (Dev Patel), Saroo has vague memories of his childhood home but has accepted his life. Then one day he's triggered by a memory, and he then feels the undeniable pull to find his mother and let them know he's still alive.

The first 40 minutes or so are carried by Pawar, and it's a terrific natural performance. Davis holds the camera at Pawar's level, and we see the great variety of India through his eyes. As the story shifts, Patel picks up the baton seemlessly. And maybe it's because we're adoptive parents but my wife cried for the last half-hour of this movie. Powerful stuff.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hidden Figures stays #1


For the weekend of January 13-15, 2017, the holdovers hung on despite a slew of new competition, and some of these titles would probably like the Academy Award nominations to be announced sooner than January 24th.

Hidden Figures easily held on to the #1 spot. Sometimes marketing is about timing, and by expanding a week earlier, Figures was poised to stay strong for the MLK weekend. La La Land added a few screens and won the #2 spot with the best per-screen average of the top 10.

Sing actually passed Moana in domestic gross. Never would have guessed that three months ago.

Rogue One is finally ready to drop, but it'll hit the $500 million domestic mark tomorrow, and it'll cross the $1 billion mark worldwide sometime this week.

So of the seven titles new or opening wide, the most successful one was the PG-13 thriller The Bye Bye Man. STX had delayed this from November and it looks like that was a good call. It opened a little bit better than The Forest did this time last year.

Monster Trucks had a $100 million production budget, so Paramount's known for six months they were going to lose a lot of money on it.

Sleepless is the lowest opener for a Jamie Foxx movie since 2004's Breakin' All the Rules. It's also his worst-reviewed movie since 2005's Stealth.

The Oscar-qualifying expanders all have to be disappointed. A few weeks ago, it looked like Patriots Day would be a $20 million opener, but the buzz around other movies drowned it out. Live By Night was supposed to be Ben Affleck's next award-worthy movie, but the director of Gone Baby Gone, Argo, and The Town has his first critical and commercial flop. (As a director, I said!)

Martin Scorsese's Silence is another movie that really needed award-buzz to help it out, and while it probably will get some peripheral nominations, it won't be enough to buoy it. Moonlight re-expanded to squeeze out another $1 million, but I see it leaving towns soon and then maybe doing one more burst after the Oscars.

Next week I see being a race between Split and the third xXx movie for #1.



Opens January 20
XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE with Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson and Donnie Yen.
SPLIT with James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Betty Buckley.
THE FOUNDER with Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch.
THE RESURRECTION OF GAVIN STONE with Brett Dalton and Shawn Michaels.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Criminal - DVD Review

Starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Jordi Molla, Scott Adkins and Amaury Nolasco.
Written by Douglas Cook & David Weisberg.
Directed by Ariel Vromen.

★★

A centrally interesting idea is at the center of this otherwise dumb movie.

Ryan Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA agent who gets killed in the line of duty. He has vital information so his boss (Gary Oldman) orders a doctor who's been experimenting on memory transfers in mice brains, to do his first human test. They need someone with poor frontal lobe development, so their subject is Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a sociopath doing a life sentence.

The memory transfer works, but Jericho escapes from CIA custody before divulging the memories that they want.

Costner's performance is really good. It's not quite the character we've seen from him before. He's a man who's never felt remorse or felt a sense of right and wrong, but a side effect of getting Bill's memories is getting his emotions. But Oldman's CIA director is so moronic through this whole movie that it felt like artificial antagonism. There's a gritty messiness to it I kinda enjoyed, but I can't really say it was good. More of a painless time-killer.

The Brothers Grimsby - DVD Review

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Gabourey Sidibe, Barkhad Abdi, Annabelle Wallis and Scott Adkins.
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston & Peter Baynham.
Directed by Louis Leterrier.

★½

I think this movie redefines the gross-out comedy. We've had vulgar comedies in the past, but this one's trying to out-crude them all.

Sacha Baron Cohen plays Nobby, a slobbish football fan living the trashiest of white-trash life. But he finds out his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) is alive, and so he seeks to find him. Trouble is, Sebastian's an MI6 secret agent, and right when he's about to stop an assassin, Nobby arrives and screws it all up.

The two go on the run, and they globetrot trying to avoid MI6 - who now believe Sebastian's a traitor - while stopping the actual assassin. They uncover a conspiracy to wipe out a large portion of the human race. The plot and villain could be easily altered to be a standard James Bond plot. But here, the plot's a side thing. It's really an excuse to string together a series of gags involving body parts, body fluids, and the most repulsive elephant sex scene ever filmed.

Have I sold you?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Passengers - Movie Review

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne.
Written by Jon Spaihts.
Directed by Morten Tyldum.

★★

I had the blessing of seeing this with low expectations. After the savage reviews came out, I thought I might just skip it altogether, but I'm a fan of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and it seemed like an okay gamble on $5 Tuesday.

Overall, I liked most of the movie. It all takes place aboard the spaceship Avalon, which is heading toward Homestead II, a colony planet. There are 5000 passengers on board and 230 crew members, but they're all put in hibernation for all but four months of a 120-year journey.

A system malfunction wakes up Jim (Pratt) 90 years too early. He does everything he can to figure out how to put himself back in hibernation or look up what to do in case of emergency but to no avail. For a year, he lives by himself, with only an android bartender (a terrific Michael Sheen) to talk to. The loneliness makes Jim suicidal.

He ultimately decides to wake up another passenger, Aurora (get it?) He claims it was a malfunction like his, and slowly, as the only two people on the ship, they fall in love. Until she learns the truth.

I liked the design of the ship. I liked the performers. I liked its leisurely pace. I liked how you could see both sides, where Jim's selfishness isn't necessarily excused, and Aurora reacts with the horror of someone who realizes their life has been stolen. All of that was fine.

But I hated the ending. Absolutely hated it.

And as a side note, maybe Andy Garcia had a bigger part in the first draft, but he gets fifth billing, and he has no lines, and about ten seconds of screen time.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hidden Figures - Movie Review

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge and Glen Powell.
Written by Allison Schroeder & Ted Melfi.
Directed by Ted Melfi.

★★★½

It's a credit to this movie that we're never bored spending this much screentime staring at vast mathematical equations on chalkboards.

This film covers the true story of three African-American women at NASA who had to overcome discrimination so they could help get a man into space. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is the genius at analytical geometry; Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is the programmer who figures out FORTRAN faster than anyone else on site; Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) is the engineer who should already be promoted.

Jim Crow laws are alive and well in Viriginia, 1961, and the movie deals with many of the issues these women had to face. When Katherine is moved to the main calculations room, she has to deal with the fact that the closest restroom for colored ladies is a half-mile away on campus. And on the second day of work, she finds a smaller coffee pot with the label "colored" has been placed next to the big main pot everyone else drinks out of.

I liked the light-hearted family-friendly approach to this material. Serves as a history lesson, but it's also just good entertainment. Strong support comes from Kevin Costner as the straightforward NASA boss, Jim Parsons as the office jerk, and Mahershala Ali as a colonel come courtin' for Katherine's affections.

Hidden Figures ousts Rogue One to be #1


For the weekend of January 6-8, 2017, Hidden Figures finally unseated Rogue One to be the new #1 movie in America. It had been doing well in limited release and timed its expansion just right.

The only new wide release was Underworld: Blood Wars. This franchise has been withering on the vine for a while, and the anemic opening might signal this will finally be the last installment.

La La Land doubled its screen-count and saw dividends. A Monster Calls expanded and flopped. It'll need Oscar nominations and buzz to not go the way of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.



Opens January 13
SLEEPLESS with Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan and Gabrielle Union.
MONSTER TRUCKS with Jane Levy, Lucas Till, Amy Ryan and Rob Lowe.
THE BYE BYE MAN with Douglas Smith, Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Anne Moss.
(wide) PATRIOTS DAY with Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon and John Goodman.
(wide) SILENCE with Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson.
(wide) LIVE BY NIGHT with Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning and Zoe Saldana.

Golden Globes Winners


Best Motion Picture – Drama:
“Moonlight”

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
“La La Land”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama:
Casey Affleck – “Manchester By The Sea”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama:
Isabelle Huppert – “Elle”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
Ryan Gosling – “La La Land”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
Emma Stone – “La La Land”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – “Nocturnal Animals”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:
Viola Davis – “Fences”

Best Director – Motion Picture:
Damien Chazelle – “La La Land”

Best Original Screenplay:
“La La Land”

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language:
“Elle” – France

Best Motion Picture – Animated:
“Zootopia”

Best Original Song – Motion Picture:
“City Of Stars” – La La Land

Best Original Score – Motion Picture:
Justin Hurwitz – “La La Land”

Best Television Series – Drama:
“The Crown”

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
“Atlanta”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama:
Billy Bob Thornton – “Goliath”

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Drama:
Claire Foy – “The Crown”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
Donald Glover – “Atlanta”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
Tracee Ellis-Ross – “Black-ish”

Best Limited Series:
“The Night Manager”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Tom Hiddleston – “The Night Manager”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Olivia Colman – “The Night Manager”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Hugh Laurie – “The Night Manager”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Sarah Paulson – “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Acheivement Award:
Meryl Streep

Reaction:

- Really enjoyed Jimmy Fallon's opening number.
- The Globes is known for surprises, but one thing you can guarantee. TV shows in their first season have an advantage when it comes to winning. See also: The Affair, Mr. Robot, Mozart in the Jungle.
- Guess I need to watch The Night Manager now.
- Best presenters were Steve Carell & Kristin Wiig, about seeing their first animated movies.
- La La Land now has the record for most Golden Globes wins for film.
- It was weird to have an In Memorium for Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds but not for anyone else.
- My favorite part of Meryl Streep's speech was actually the end when she paid tribute to her friend Princess Leia. Streep and Fisher became friends after Streep played her in Postcards from the Edge.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Worst Movies of 2016


There are some movies where the reviews are so bad, I'm not going to see them, and there are others I'm curious if they have a so-bad-it's-good quality that I just haven't gotten around to it. Movies I've heard bad things about that I haven't seen include Norm of the North, Dirty Grandpa, The Fifth Wave, Fifty Shades of Black, The Choice, The Bronze, God's Not Dead 2, The Boss, Mother's Day, The Darkness, Me Before You, Warcraft, Nine Lives, Ben-Hur, Mechanic: Resurrection, The Disappointments Room, The Wild Life, Keeping Up with the Joneses, I'm Not Ashamed, Inferno, Shut In, Bad Santa 2, Incarnate, Collateral Beauty and Assassin's Creed.

And to give you an idea of my tastes, here were my bottom five of the past few years:

2015 - Get Hard, Pixels, Mortdecai, The Gunman, Chappie
2014 - Annabelle, The Expendables 3, Winter's Tale, Transformers 4, Pompeii
2013 - Inappropriate Comedy, Movie 43, Only God Forgives, Die Hard 5, A Haunted House
2012 - Taken 2, Branded, Beneath the Darkness, Ghost Rider 2, Underworld Awakening
2011 - Hobo with a Shotgun, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1, Sucker Punch, Sleeping Beauty, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
2010 - Grown Ups, Cop Out, Sex & the City 2, Jonah Hex, Skyline
2009 - Transformers 2, Miss March, Bruno, Year One, Crank 2
2008 - Over Her Deady Body, Repo!: The Genetic Opera, Meet the Spartans, Strange Wilderness, Babylon A.D.
2007 - Epic Movie, September Dawn, Funny Money, Code Name: The Cleaner, Alien v. Predator 2
2006 - Date Movie, The Benchwarmers, Big Momma's House 2, The Libertine, BloodRayne

So let's get to 2016.

Dishonorable Mentions:

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE - Zack Snyder has murdered everything about what made Superman popular in the first place. Which is a real shame, because Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot give us hope that Justice League has a lot of promise... as long as Snyder doesn't direct it.

BLAIR WITCH - Super disappointed in this sequel, which just followed all the plot beats of the first one, only with six people instead of three.

THE FOREST - Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) gets lost in a Japanese forest, but anticipated scares never come.

GODS OF EGYPT - Ridiculous sword-and-sandals CGI adventure where most of the gods and people of Egypt are white.

RIDE ALONG 2 - Kevin Hart bugs his eyes and shouts maniacally to cover up that nothing inherently funny is happening.

ZOOLANDER 2 - Tons of fun cameos can't save a second movie that revolves around a central character this mind-numbingly stupid. It doesn't take long watching this movie to go "Maybe the first Zoolander wasn't that good either."

And now.....

..... My Bottom Ten

10. SUICIDE SQUAD - This could have been really cool, but they made SO many bad decisions in its execution. It sets up a bunch of fun characters, and then it sends them down this plodding, video-game-shooter of a plot to stop two lame villains and their swirly sky-portal machine. Whoever thought of adding the Joker only to make him such a minor character needs their head examined.

9. KNIGHT OF CUPS - Writer/director Terrence Malick self-indulges and squanders an all-star cast once again. But at least it's pretty to look at.


8. ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS - This sequel takes the worst excesses of Tim Burton's movie and expounds on them. There's very little of Lewis Carroll in here but a ton of CGI nonsense and time-travel and I do not want to see what life was like for the Mad Hatter as a kid! I hope Disney reboots this in a few years and tries to be a little more faithful. If they can't be faithful to Carroll, at least try to be closer to their 1951 version.

7. LONDON HAS FALLEN - Pretty darn hard to be a good movie when Gerard Butler gets top billing. This starts with a way-too-successful terrorist plot of killing all of the West's leaders as they attend the funeral of the UK's Prime Minister, but somehow the US president escapes and is on the run. It's just ridiculous.

6. MOJAVE - Micro-budget experiment with a man who's being pursued in the California desert by a serial killer. Lots of machismo going on, but not even Oscar Isaac can save it.

5. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE - Twenty years later... well, it turns out we didn't need this sequel. It retains a lot of the hokiness of the first movie, but there's a gaping hole with no Will Smith, and Liam Hemsworth can't fill it. I kinda wanted the aliens to win this time.

4. REGRESSION - Emma Watson doesn't do much more than furrow her brow in this lazy psychological drama from The Others' Alejandro Amenabar. Since it's obvious the whole time what the twist ending is, there's no point in slogging through the icky subject matter.

3. YOGA HOSERS - I had a great experience watching this at Sundance, with Kevin Smith talking to us before and after the movie. But this was sooooo stupid. A mad scientist is able to turn footlong sausages into Nazis who crawl up people's butts to kill them? Why?

2. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR - Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break, The Walking Dead) stars in this by-the-numbers rip-off of Pet Sematary but set in India. There's not a single scare in it. Not even a jump-scare.


1. THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT - A sequel so bad, the dramatic conclusion to the franchise was cancelled. This was a world that became less interesting the more it expanded. They never should have split the third book into two movies.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

High-Rise - DVD Review

HIGH-RISE (R) Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes and Sienna Guillory.
Written by Amy Jump.
Directed by Ben Wheatley.

★★½

This movie is based on a 1975 JG Ballard novel, and the director has wisely kept it in that time-period, even as it's looking forward into a dystopian future. Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) has designed a series of high-rise buildings, obnoxious blocky things that jut at the top like a concrete claw.

Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a resident on the 25th floor of this 40-story building, and it's through his eyes that we follow the happenings of the High-Rise. The High-Rise is its own character. The interiors are garish and psychadelic; the exteriors cold and dank. The movie establishes fairly early that it's a social satire against class warfare and capitalism run amok. The richer people of the higher floors don't take long before they start exploiting their "lessers" of the lower floors.

The movie really gets away from itself once order breaks down. The camera zooms around on rich, orgiastic parties, then taking time to observe the poor people living amongst the piling-up trash of the ground floor. I've never read the book, and my understanding is that it was deemed unfilmable. Well, they certainly put forth a solid effort here, but the second half just gets messier and messier while it relentlessly hammers home its "rich people are awful" point.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

I Am Not A Serial Killer - DVD Review

Starring Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary and James Gaulke.
Written by Billy O'Brien & Christopher Hyde.
Directed by Billy O'Brien.

★★★

This movie is based on a book by Dan Wells, and it is told in first person. The teenage protagonist John Wayne Cleaver is in his own head a lot. So how to translate that to the big-screen?

Rather than rely on voice-over narration, the movie relies on the expressive face of Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are), and it works.

John is a kid who's already been diagnosed with sociopathic tendencies, so he already has a strict code of conduct. He's like a teenage Dexter who's decided he never wants to actually kill anyone. But in his small town of Clayton, MN, someone is killing people, and he does his own amateur sleuthing to figure out who. John's suspicions eventually fall on his neighbor Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd), whom John believes isn't as old and frail as he appears.

This movie benefits from being shot on location. This looks like an actual small town as opposed to strategically shot L.A. suburbs, and therefore the lived-in aspect makes the sinister invasion of a killer in their town more felt.

Records and Lloyd play well off each other, and the subtle chills throughout the movie keep it engaging. The only time the low budget hurts it is the ending, but I don't want to give anything away as to specifically why.

Term Life - DVD Review

TERM LIFE (R) Starring Vince Vaughn, Hailee Steinfeld, Bill Paxton, Jonathan Banks, Terrence Howard, Shea Whigham, Mike Epps, Jon Favreau, Jordi Molla and Taraji P. Henson.
Written by AJ Lieberman.
Directed by Peter Billingsley.

★★

This movie has a lot of interesting ingredients, but I was never sure what it was actually trying to be.

Vince Vaughn plays a small-time hood, a specialist in setting up heists, then selling the plans to highest bidders. When he gets framed for murder, he's wanted by the mob, the police, and the crooked cops who framed him. The title comes from the term life insurance he takes out on himself. As long as he can survive three weeks, then he can leave his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) a ton of money.

It's not really a comedy, nor do the stakes ever feel high enough to be a gritty drama. His life's in danger, but he seems detached from everything. I was impressed by all the names that signed on to this project. Too bad their director didn't know what to do with them.

Zoolander 2 - DVD Review

ZOOLANDER 2 (PG-13) Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Kyle Mooney, Justin Theroux, Cyrus Arnold, Milla Jovovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nathan Lee Graham, Jon Daly, Sting, Billy Zane, Fred Armisen, Christine Taylor and Justin Beiber.
Written by Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Nick Stoller & John Hamburg.
Directed by Ben Stiller.

★½

Zoolander 2 is kinda like Dumb & Dumber To. It's a sequel that would have been better about ten years ago, but now the groans of their stupidity outweight the laughs.

In fact, the laughs that are found in here come from everyone else but Ben Stiller's central male-model idiot. There are dozens of cameos in here, to an overcompensating degree. The movie starts off by explaining how Zoolander's wife died, he lost parental rights to his son, and now he lives as a hermit crab in a remote cabin.

Derek Zoolander is called back into action by a new fashion show in Rome, but there also happens to be a series of beautiful musicians who are getting killed, and so Derek and Hansel are enlisted by a fashion interpol agent (Penelope Cruz) to help solve the mystery.

The movie picks up once Mugatu (Will Ferrell) shows up, but we're an hour into a 95-minute film at that point.

Hollywood may think we want sequels to movies over a decade old, but we really don't.

Side note: Product placement is increasingly obnoxious in Ben Stiller films. It damaged his otherwise fine Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and it's too obvious here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fences - Movie Review


Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson.
Written by August Wilson.
Directed by Denzel Washington.

★★★

August Wilson adapted his own 1983 play, and I can't help but think it might have been better if someone else had, to remove some of the stage-iness of it. Maybe that was on purpose.

This feels so much like a play, you'd think you were watching a Fathom Events instead of a movie. That's not necessarily a bad thing, when I think of how cool it would have been to watch Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform this play live. But if you're going to be a movie, be a movie!

If Arthur Miller had Death of a Salesman, this is Wilson's Death of a Garbageman. Denzel plays Troy Maxson, a garbageman in the 1950's who felt like he missed his chance for greatness when he was a star in the Negro Leagues but never went to the major leagues. He works hard, he has a great wife, he has a long-time best friend (Stanley Henderson) he can talk with at work and drink with afterwards. He has a troubled relationship with his two sons, and the reasons why become more obvious as the story unfolds.

Troy eventually reveals himself to be more self-centered than originally perceived, and his destructive attitudes threaten his home life. Troy is outspoken, audacious, pernicious, a true galaxy of a man, and not a sympathetic one by the time we get to the third act. And we feel most for his wife Rose (Viola), a woman who gave up on her dreams and sense of self to stay with Troy.

I thought Michelle Williams had a pretty good shot at Best Supporting Actress for Manchester by the Sea, but now I think Davis has this in the bag.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Rogue One #1 for Third Week


For the weekend of December 30, 2016 to January 1, 2017, Rogue One stayed #1 for the third week in a row. The holiday weekend saw some rising in interest of other films too.

Sing's huge second weekend means it'll be very difficult for Illumination to say no to "Sing 2."

The real news is how the limited-releases movies are doing and how effective their staggered-release strategy is.

La La Land added a few more screens and wound up with the best per-screen average in the top ten. Fences didn't wait long to open wide, and it held its own in a crowded field. Its low budget means profitability, and it's sure to win something at next week's Golden Globes to help its marketing push.

Lion is slipping and might have waited to long to open wider sooner.

20th Century Women and Paterson had strong openings on 4 screens each. Of the holdovers, Hidden Figures, Patriots Day, and Silence are all performing well. The two that look like they're suffering are Ben Affleck's Live By Night and A Monster Calls.



Opens January 6
UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS with Kate Beckinsale, Theo James and Tobias Menzies.
(wide) HIDDEN FIGURES with Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner.
(wide) A MONSTER CALLS with Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Best & Worst of TV 2016

Worst

5. THE SEASON PREMIERE OF THE WALKING DEAD (AMC) - Sorry, but 90 minutes of psychological torture is too much. Even torture-porn movies know when to hold back here and there. I hung in there, but ratings suggest about a million fans decided it was a bridge too far. The good news is the midseason finale has me excited for 2017.

4. CONFIRMATION (HBO) - HBO keeps doing these revisionist histories of recent political events, and like Recount, Game Change, and numerous others, it's written to make Republicans the villians and Democrats the heroes. This felt like it was written to not only turn Clarence Thomas into a mustache-twirler but to undercut Joe Biden in case he had decided to challenge Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

3. ANYTHING ON JON-BENET RAMSAY - Look, I know the 1990's are hot again, but can we not?

2. THE DO-OVER (Netflix) - Once upon a time, I liked Adam Sandler movies. Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and some of his stretching material like Punch-Drunk Love. Now he's the worst. Just the absolute worst. Just like The Ridiculous Six, I couldn't watch the whole thing.


1. THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA (Especially CNN) - They gave Trump a free ride, letting him call into shows instead of appearing live, carrying his rallies in their entirety, letting him be the first to talk to the channel's reporter after each debate to spin it how he wanted. So few of them tried to do actual reporting that no wonder everyone was surprised on Election Night.

But it wasn't just them. Sean Hannity had his most unwatchable year yet, as he's turned into Baghdad Bob for all things Trumpism. And he made $27 million doing it.

Advice for all TV news: You're in the news business, not the narrative business. Listening to party hacks and campaign spokesfolks spin and lie and filibuster is not informative and it's not good TV.

Best

Honorable Mentions: The Americans, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Crown, Daredevil, The Good Wife, Gotham, Jane the Virgin, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Luke Cage, The Man in the High Castle, Narcos, Survivor, Westworld.

10. TRANSPARENT (Amazon) - This show isn't a comedy; it's a 30-minute drama with occasional funny stuff. This season saw the deeply dysfunctional Pfeffermans taken to new emotional places when most of their relationships from last season wind up crumbling. The secret weapon is Kathryn Hahn's rabbi. It'll be tough competition between her and Judith Light for Emmy's Best Supporting Actress this summer.

9. COLIN QUINN: NEW YORK STORY (Netflix) - Check out this, and his Unconstitutional special, and his Long Story Short special. For my money, the two best stand-up comedians working right now are Louis CK and Colin Quinn.

8. LEAH REMINI: SCIENTOLOGY & THE AFTERMATH (A&E) - Perfect companion piece to the documentary Going Clear, Remini spends each episode interviewing new people and exposing more and more of the dangers and darkness of Scientology, and yet the most chilling aspect of the show so far to me is the legal disclaimer they put during every commercial break that Scientology disputes her claims. You know it's there because one of Scientology's main methods of fighting their enemies is by suing them into bankruptcy. Also, the way they keep hiring P.I.'s to spy on her is creepy.

7. THE GOOD PLACE (NBC) - Kristen Bell plays a fairly rotten person who winds up in heaven due to a clerical error, so she pretends to fit in so she can avoid going to the Bad Place. Ted Danson is the amiable architect who doesn't quite understand humans. It's nice to see the networks can still make shows like these.

6. BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC) - Who knew how much depth Bob Odenkirk would be able to find mining the backstory of his slippery attorney Saul Goodman? Turns out, quite a bit. The rivalry between him and his brother (Michael McKean) heated up, and rumor has it we may get Gus next season. Bring it on.

5. VEEP (HBO) - This series kept it fresh, getting into an election day scandal and scrambling for power in the aftermath. I don't know where next season can go, but I trust the makers know what they're doing. House of Cards got back on track, but this is the sharpest show about politics on TV.

4. STRANGER THINGS (Netflix) - Combines the best of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg to make a show that has sympathetic adult, teen, and child characters, with the supernatural interfering with their heretofore unremarkable lives. Glad to see Winona Ryder is back, and glad to see a star be born in Millie Brown as Eleven.


3. THE PEOPLE VS. OJ SIMPSON (FX) - I knew the story, but having it told this way made me go back and compare how much was accurate, and it made me that much more sympathetic for Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulsen) and Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), two public servants who were not prepared for the media spotlight. I also like the final shot of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s OJ staring at his statue. He knows that even though he won, he still lost. But the main who really owned it was Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran.

2. FARGO SEASON 2 (FX) - I loved season 1, and season 2 gives us a story just as rich, with plenty of interesting characters. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons were great as the young married couple in over their head, and Ted Danson was really good too, but my favorite was probably the assassin Mike Milligan, played by Bokeem Woodbine, an actor we've seen around for 20 years but he's never really had a chance to shine like this.


1. GAME OF THRONES (HBO) - The first season beyond the books was a good one. More and more characters who've never interacted are coming together, and the finale swept a few more chess pieces off the board. Jon and Sansa are a team in the North, Dany and Arya are back on the mainland, now Queen Cersei will have to see just how long her reign of terror can last. Not long, I'd venture to guess.