Monday, March 20, 2017

I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore - Netflix Review

Starring Melanie Lynsky, Elijah Wood, Jane Levy, David Yow, Devon Graye, Gary Anthony Williams, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet, Derek Mears, Lee Eddy and Macon Blair.
Written & directed by Macon Blair.


This Sundance entry went straight to Netflix, but that's not a bad sign. Netflix is a good home for quirky fare that might be hard to market on big screens.

The film centers on Ruth (Melanie Lynsky), a normal woman who's getting just a little bit fed up with how people are jerks. Then when her house is broken into, she decides to take matters into her own hands to solve it. She enlists the help of her quirky neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood), and the two set out to find her stuff.

The movie does a good job of balancing humor with the darker and darker waters in which it treads. Ruth and Tony meet more and more dangerous people the more they look, but it's all handled in a believable way. And it builds to a genuinely tense third act.

Most indies, people don't see them until they get to DVD/Netflix/HBO, etc., so it's nice that Netflix is able to be a player in the market to pick up titles like this. Between this and I Am Not a Serial Killer and Hush, Netflix is showing it can be good for low-budget genre fare.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty & the Beast sets March box-office record

For the weekend of March 17-19, 2017, Beauty & the Beast had the largest March opening of all time and actually the seventh largest opening of any month ever. When final numbers come out it could slip behind the $169.18 million set by the final Harry Potter movies. (Emma Watson can now claim she is in two of the ten highest openers of all time.) It's the highest opening ever for a non-sequel. It's the highest opening ever for a PG movie.

The Belko Experiment was an after-thought on 1341 screens.

Logan and Kong: Skull Island had expected drops, when facing such a juggernaut.

La La Land dropped 70%, finally out of the top ten.

Opens March 24
POWER RANGERS with Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Elizabeth Banks and Bryan Cranston.
LIFE with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds and Hiroyuki Sanada.
CHIPS with Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Jessica McNamee and Vincent D'Onofrio.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kong: Skull Island - Movie Review

Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tian Jing, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Terry Notary and Richard Jenkins.
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek Connolly.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.


This is like a Jurassic World sequel in a good way. Assemble the crew, get them to the island, and then let the monster-movie hijinks ensue!

It's 1973. Vietnam is winding down. John Goodman gets things rolling as the man who's seen satellite photos of the mysterious Skull Island and wants to lead the expedition. He gets funding from a skeptical senator (Richard Jenkins). He finds some experts and a military escort to go with him. This movie actually borrows a lot from Vietnam movies in their looks, sound, and feel. Particularly Apocalypse Now. They have to helicopter through a severe storm just to get to the island.

They don't know what they'll find, but they're greeted by King Kong. Kong is the star of the show. He knocks their helicopters down and the survivors are forced to scramble and make their way to a rendezvous point on the other side of the island in three days. Along the way they meet a lot of other fantastical creatures. (I'm okay with a giant spider, but why was there only one giant spider?) They also meet a WWII pilot (John C. Reilly) who's been stranded there for 27 years.

Oscar-winner Brie Larson plays a photojournalist, Tom Hiddleston is top-billed as a survivalist/tracker, Samuel L. Jackson is the colonel who turns into Ahab after Kong kills so many of his men. It's a true ensemble effort. Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are here, as two very different characters.

Bring on Kong v. Godzilla!

Kong: Skull Island gets $61 million

For the weekend of March 10-12, 2017, Kong: Skull Island exceeded expectations. Final numbers have it over $61 million domestic.

Many of the holdovers did positive business. Logan's drop of 56.9% is pretty good for a movie that opened that high. Get Out only went down 26.5% in its third week and has now outperformed Fifty Shades Darker domestically.

Opens March 17
BEAUTY & THE BEAST with Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT with John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Logan gets $88 million

For the weekend of March 3-5, 2017, Logan opened huge. Deadpool and Logan have shown you can still have a blockbuster superhero movie if you're rated R. (If your production budget is half of what you'd spend on Spider-Man).

Also newsworthy is how Get Out only slid -15% in its second week. To have any movie do that in March is almost unheard of.

The Shack has to be happy, demonstrating modest Christian-themed movies can still find audiences. Before I Fall never really found its marketing hook.

Table 19 is another example of how Anna Kendrick isn't really much of a draw outside of Pitch Perfect movies.

Opens March 10
KONG: SKULL ISLAND with Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Logan - Movie Review

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal and Elizabeth Rodriguez.
Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green.
Directed by James Mangold.


This is Hugh Jackman's seventh and final time to play Logan, the Wolverine, (nine if you count his uncredited cameos) and I don't think the actor could have asked for a better swan song for the character that made him famous.

It's 2029. Almost all of the mutants are dead. Logan is working under his alias James Howlett as a limo driver, scrimping and saving for a boat that he and the 90-year-old Professor X (Patrick Stewart) can buy. It's rated R so these X-Men have fouler mouths than we've heard, and we see Wolvy's claws kill quite a few people.

It turns out there's a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has similar abilities to Logan, and mean men with guns want to find her. Logan would love nothing more than to send her away, but Professor X urges him to help her. They're just south of the border from El Paso but they need to get her to a safe haven in North Dakota.

The main hunter of Laura is named Pierce, played with evil drawling glee by Narcos's Boyd Holbrook. He has an army of Reavers to help him catch Laura, but after Laura or Logan killed the twentieth guy, I can't help but think if any of the Reavers questioned if they're in the right line of work.

There's a gritty sadness to this film. Logan's a tragic character. His quick healing and slow aging means he has outlived all of his friends. I honestly would support acting nominations for Jackman and Stewart for their work here. The script gives them a lot to tap into.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Cure for Wellness - Movie Review

Starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Ivo Nandi and Celia Imrie.
Written by Justin Haythe.
Directed by Gore Verbinski.


This isn't a smooth journey. It's a meandering journey with peaks and valleys, with some elements that work better than others. Nevertheless I was along for the gothic ride.

(Stefon voice): "This movie has everything! Corridors, swimming eels, catacombs lit by hundreds of candles!..."

It starts with Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), an actor who usually resembles a younger, skinnier meth-addicted Leonardo DiCaprio. He's an ambitious executive at a large soulless Wall Street firm. He is tasked with going to Switzerland and finding their CEO, who disappeared there three weeks ago to a spa retreat. He gets into an accident after arriving, thus making him a patient in need of recovery. Jason Isaacs play the suspicious doctor who runs the facility.

Parts of the movie reminded me of Shutter Island, with a central character whose grip on reality becomes questionable the longer he's at this remote location.

I was entertained throughout, even though I knew I was watching an imperfect vehicle for Gore Verbinski's gonzo imagination. Have I put enough caveats around this? I liked it, though I'm cautious about recommending it to too many other people.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get Out - Movie Review

Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel.
Written & Directed by Jordan Peele.


Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame has created a bizarre horror-comedy that plays with social commentary without sacrificing laughs or scares.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young African-American man who's about to go visit his girlfriend Rose's parents' house in the Hamptons. It's a Guess Who's Coming to Dinner scenario, even though Rose has assured him her parents are progressive as can be.

And they are, though those there's something off with these upper-class WASPs. They're trying a little too hard to relate. They have a black groundskeeper and maid who don't seem right. They have a locked basement. They have a party where all of their other rich old friends are gathering, and all engage in uncomfortable racially-lined banter.

By the way, this movie still would have worked if Chris was white, and this would have been more about the generational divide, but by adding that extra element, the movie has that much more to say.

Get Out is #1 at box office

For the weekend of February 24-26, 2017, Get Out was the big winner. This was the second film script from Jordan Peele (his first being last year's Keanu), and this was his big-screen directorial debut. The other new releases couldn't crack the top ten.

Opens March 3
LOGAN with Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook and Stephen Merchant.
THE SHACK with Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Radha Mitchell.
BEFORE I FALL with Zoey Deutch, Jennifer Beals and Elena Kampouris.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Complete List of 89th Academy Award Winners

BEST PICTURE - Moonlight
BEST DIRECTOR - Damien Chazelle, La La Land
BEST ACTOR - Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
BEST ACTRESS - Emma Stone, La La Land
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Manchester by the Sea
BEST DOCUMENTARY - O.J.: Made in America
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - “City of Stars,” La La Land

Jimmy Kimmel was overall okay as the host. I liked his opening monologue. I liked his running gag against Matt Damon. I thought the tour bus was a funny idea. I thought parachuting in snacks to the audience should have been a one-time thing. Tweeting Donald Trump wound up taking too long and didn't work.

This will be remembered for the Price-Waterhouse screw-up of handing Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope so Dunaway announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. The La La Land crew handled it with the most possible amount of grace one could in that circumstance, and it also led the Monnlight crew to go through the emotions of being told you lost but actually winning. I watched that entire scene twice, watching the rpducers scramble behind people while the LLL producers were giving their thank-you speeches.

Total wins by the Best Picture nominees:
La La Land - 6
Moonlight - 3
Hacksaw Ridge - 2
Manchester by the Sea - 2
Arrival - 1
Fences - 1
Hell or High Water - 0
Hidden Figures - 0
Lion - 0

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My Preliminary Oscar Guesses

I list whom I think will win, then who my second place guess is.

La La Land

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington, Fences

Emma Stone, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Dev Patel, Lion

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight

La La Land
Manchester by the Sea


La La Land

La La Land

The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

La La Land
Hail, Caesar!

La La Land

Star Trek Beyond
A Man Called Ove

La La Land

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land
“City of Stars,” La La Land

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge


O.J.: Made in America

The Salesman
A Man Called Ove

The White Helmets
Joe's Violin

La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights


The Great Wall - Movie Review

Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Hanyu Zhang and Lu Han.
Written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro & Tony Gilroy.
Directed by Zhang Yimou.


Yimou has made some beautiful movies (House of Flying Daggers, Hero) and here he takes that aesthetic to an action movie that winds up feeling like The Two Towers' Battle of Helm's Deep.

Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal are two "Westerners" around 1000 A.D. who've gone to China to search for the black powder, the weapon that will make any army powerful. They are captured and brought to the Great Wall, where they witness why the wall was built. It's protection against strange creatures who attack and feed.

The swarming CGI lessens the suspense. My mind kept wanting to compare them to the zombies in World War Z or the bugs in Starship Troopers. (Not surprised to learn that WWZ's Max Brooks helped develop the story.) The human stuff, what there is of it, is usually good. Damon doesn't ruin the movie, and Pascal seems to have found this niche as the sidekick (similar to his function on Narcos.) Tian Jing holds the screen as the young commander who convinces these two to fight for them, and I also dug seeing Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) in an advisor role.

The thing that stayed in my head many days after - those nunchuck war drummers.

I also can't help but wonder if the reason Damon and Pascal are here is because the screenplay was written by Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro (Narcos) and Tony Gilroy (Bourne Ultimatum).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

LEGO Batman still #1, Great Wall #3

For the weekend of February 17-19, 2017, the top two spots remained the same. The LEGO Batman Movie added to its haul and will cross the $100 million domestic mark tomorrow. Fifty Shades Darker had a steeper drop, but it was enough to beat back the newcomers.

The Great Wall had a giant budget and is one of those movies designed more for overseas than domestic consumption. Still, bad reviews and the general "what is Matt Damon doing in ancient China?" question couldn't get it above the teens.

Fist Fight had an expected meh opening.

A Cure for Wellness had a bigger budget and came from Academy-Award winner Gore Verbinski (Rango). This felt like a passion project where the studio gave him money they knew they'd lose in order to get him to direct one of theirs.

Kudos to Oscar nominees Hidden Figures, La La Land and Lion staying in the top 11.

Opens February 24
GET OUT with Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams and Catherine Keener.
ROCK DOG with the voices of Luke Wilson, JK Simmons and Lewis Black.
COLLIDE with Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

John Wick 2 - Movie Review

Starring Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Franco Nero, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini, Peter Stormare, Peter Serafinowicz and Thomas Sadowski.
Written by Derek Kolstad.
Directed by Chad Stahelski.


Maybe not as good as the first one, as it trades in an emotional hook (they killed his dog!) for non-stop action. But I still enjoyed it.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves), after getting revenge for the death of his dog, is ready to re-retire and enjoy a quiet life with his new dog. But his recent activities have caught the attention of an old acquaintence who holds his marker. In the world of underground assassins, they have a code of conduct, and one is that you must always honor a marker. A marker is a job you owe someone, and this acquiantence Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) wants to Wick to assassinate his sister, a powerful crime boss.

This movie takes us further in this world and expands it. A good deal of it takes place in Rome, and it turns out they have their own Continental Hotel, where assassins can rest and refuel.

What I liked most about this movie was Common, as an assassin named Cassian. Cassian and John Wick are equals, and their fight scenes are evenly matched. It's the most effective Common has ever been in a movie.

(Side-note: For what it's worth, my wife was bored and said it was like watching someone else play a shoot-em-up video game for two hours.)


I also recently saw...

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR (★★) Starring Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.

A Snow White sequel without Snow White turns out to be a bad idea. It feels like the same misguided thinking behind that James Franco in Oz movie. Why have three gorgeous actresses revolve around a less interesting male hero? It retains some of the elements that made the first movie enjoyable, but I really don't get why the producers thought this approach would work.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie - Movie Review

Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Jenny Slate, Susan "Siri" Bennett, Hector Elizondo, Channing Tatum, Billy Dee Williams and Zoe Kravitz.
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittingham.
Directed by Chris McKay.


This is a tail-eating meta-feast of pop-culture jokes and superhero cliches. It's like the Naked Gun for kids.

Will Arnett is back as (deep-voice) Batman. He kicks butt and can beat all of his arch-enemies at once. (We even get Calendar Man!) He life gets turned upside-down when he absentmindedly adopts Dick Grayson. Meanwhile, the Joker decides he needs better villains around him, since he and Riddler and Two-Face and Bane and Poison Ivy and... Condiments Man... are too easy to defeat.

Plot doesn't really matter (though it is fun). It's all about deconstructing what makes Lego Batman tick. There are a ton of cameos (everyone from King Kong to the Wonder Twins), and if anything I'd say the movie is too overstuffed. I was amused at quite a few of the gags, which is the main point and therefore the most important point.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

LEGO Batman is #1 at box office

For the weekend of February 10-12, 2017, John Wick Chapter 2 had a terrific opening at $30 million, doubling the amount the first movie opened. This now franchise started under modest means but was a massive hit in rentals. But it wasn't #1.

Fifty Shades Darker opened to half of what the first movie did, but with these mid-level budgets, who's counting? It will still be massively profitable and justifies greenlighting the third movie. Wisely, the producers will not be splitting the final book in the trilogy into two movies either. But this wasn't #1 either.

The LEGO Batman Movie was the spinoff to the massive popular LEGO Movie, and while it didn't open quite as well, it's still a big success.

The holdovers had to be happy, with modest declines for Split and A Dog's Purpose, as well as Oscar nominees like Hidden Figures, La La Land and Lion.

Opens February 17
FIST FIGHT with Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan and Christina Hendricks.
THE GREAT WALL with Matt Damon, Andy Lau, Tian Jing and Willem Dafoe.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS with Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Founder - Movie Review

Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, BJ Novak and Kate Kneeland.
Written by Robert Siegel.
Directed by John Lee Hancock.


This has the plucky appeal of a Frank Capra movie that ultimately turns subversive when our hero Ray Kroc winds up being the villain.

Keaton plays Kroc, a middle-aged hustling salesman of restaurant products who comes across McDonald's in 1954. It's run by two salt-of-the-earth brothers (Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch) who have tried and failed to franchise their brand. Kroc begs and pleads to expand them, and they finally give in.

Kroc sees himself as a man living the American dream, and he does, but he is so driven, he doesn't care who he crushes to accomplish his goals, and in the end, he screws over the very brothers whose business made Kroc a success.

I came out admiring it, but with a bad taste in my mouth. It's a clever twist on determination and hard work. I wish the director had been able to stick the landing better, but I can see why there was a lot of belief that Keaton would get another Oscar nomination for this role.


Other 2016 Movies I Saw

EQUALS (★★) Starring Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart and Guy Pearce.

Sterile, dystopian film that never really explores new ideas. It's a future where all emotions are suppressed and everyone wears white while they do "work" on giant iPads. Two individuals fall in love, which is forbidden, so they must hide their love. It never goes to the next level with the story.

FINDING DORY (★★★) Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks and Ed O'Neill.

It's bright and bubbly and contains several moments of Pixar magic, but it also violates the rules it had set up from the first movie. We accept anthromorphized fish, but they were kept within certain bounds. Remember how hard it was to escape the tank in the first movie? This movie the fish hop from tank to tank with no problem, and there's an octopus that apparently went through Navy SEAL training, because he can do anything. Why would an octopus be able to drive a truck? I liked it, but by Pixar standards, it's one of their weaker entries.

NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (★★) Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo and Woody Harrelson.

This movie takes what didn't work in the first movie and makes it worse. There's more CGI used in place of actual magic tricks, more contrivances to get characters from Point A to Point B, and an ending that falls even farther apart than the last one. In the first one, the fact that Mark Ruffalo's Dylan was revealed to be an ally didn't make sense. What they do with a character at the end here is even worse.

RISEN (★★★) Starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton and Cliff Curtis.

One of those Christian movies that doesn't feel like it's pandering. It centers on a Roman centurion (Fiennes) who is ordered to find the body of Jesus, which disappeared from the tomb three days after his crucifixion. It's a part of the Christ story rarely dramatized - the post-resurrection part - but done so to decent effect here.

STORKS (★★★) Starring the voices of Andy Samberg, Kelsey Grammer and Jennifer Aniston.

It's got a thin plot, but the gags come fast and furious. A lot of your enjoyment will depend on how much you like Samberg's style of humor. I happen to be a big fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine so I liked it.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (★★★) Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman.

This fact-based comedy-drama plops Tina Fey as a reporter in the middle of Afghanistan. These are the type of movies that are difficult to market, and while it's not great, it is good, and I'm glad movies like this can still get made.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Split is #1 for third week, Rings #2

For the weekend of February 3-5, 2017, M. Night Shyamalan's Split managed to stay #1 for the third week in a row. I hope he and James McAvoy had decent back-end percentage deals because they should make a lot of money from this movie, which had a modest $9 million production budget.

Of the new releases, Rings did best. For it to be yanked out of October and dumped here was the first signal it probably wasn't good. Its current 5% at RottenTomatoes would indicate it's going to disappear fast from theaters.

The Space Between Us was originally going to open in August, then December, and now finally here. Its 18% RottenTomatoes score tells me it'll disappear even faster than Rings.

Robert DeNiro's labor of love, The Comedian, opened on less than 900 screens and it still had a lower per-screen average than The Space Between Us.

Of the holdovers, Oscar darlings Hidden Figures and La La Land are still finding audiences. I'm rooting for Arrival to cross the $100 million domestic mark; it'll probably get there once it hits more discount theaters.

Where the current nine best picture nominees stand:

Hidden Figures - $119.4 million
La La Land - $118.3 million
Arrival - $98.64 million
Hacksaw Ridge - $66.36 million
Fences - $52.71 million
Manchester by the Sea - $43.91 million
Hell or High Water - $27.01 million
Lion - $24.71 million
Moonlight - $19.64 million

Opens February 10
LEGO BATMAN MOVIE with the voices of Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis and Jenny Slate.
FIFTY SHADES DARKER with Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan and Marcia Gay Harden.
JOHN WICK 2 with Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne.