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.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

La La Land - Movie Review


Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemary DeWitt and JK Simmons.
Written & Directed by Damien Chazelle.

★★★★

An original musical in this day and age? Yep, and under Chazelle's direction, it works. Nice to see Gosling let his charm show.

He plays Sebastian, a jazz musician who dreams of owning his own club. Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress. Both are struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, a city that the movie romanticizes and criticizes at the same time. Many people come to L.A. to have their dreams fulfilled, but it's very aware that most people don't make it.

The singing and dancing won't make you forget Gene Kelly, but that's part of the charm. Anyone with a dream can star in their own musical. And that bittersweet ending is perfect.

Ride Along 2 - DVD Review

RIDE ALONG 2 (PG-13) Starring Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Olivia Munn, Benjamin Bratt, Ken Jeong, Bruce McGill and Sherri Shepherd.
Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi.
Directed by Tim Story.

★½

Kevin Hart da real MVP. Even when the script is bad, the story is cliched, and the gags are lame, he will at least try his hardest to squeeze laughs out anyway. Sometimes his antics make you believe something funny is happening, but he couldn't do it here.

After the first movie, Ben (Hart) has joined the police force, and he and his soon-to-be brother-in-law James (Ice Cube) have a chance to investigate a case in Miami. It's pretty much the same plot as the first movie but in a new city. Worked for The Hangover 2, right? Heh.

This is a true example of paint-by-numbers, cover the plot-point bases sequel-making. Predictable plot, bloodless shoot-outs, and a cash-grab for everyone involved.

Regression - DVD Review

REGRESSION (R) Starring Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Dale Dickey, David Dencik, Devon Bostick, Lothaire Bluteau, Aaron Ashmore and Peter MacNeill.
Written & Directed by Alejandro Amenabar.



I had hopes for this psychological thriller from the man who made 2001's The Others. But since I was able to guess the ending in the first few minutes, it wound up being a suspenseless atmospheric slog.

Circa 1990, Ethan Hawke plays Bruce Kenner, a detective investigating a child molestation case. A father (David Dencik) is accused of molesting his 17-year-old daughter Angela (Emma Watson) as part of a satanic sex-abuse ring. Her psychiatrist (David Thewlis) engages in regression hypnosis, and it helps his patients remember more and more of what they're suppressed. Soon Kenner himself is having nightmares and visions about satanists infiltrating the police force.

The film has the gauzy sheen of a 1990 celluloid film, not to mention a score that'd be at home in Kiss the Girls or Taking Lives. Hawke knows how to make middle-grade thrillers semi-work (The Purge, Sinister), but he can't pull this off. I don't know if anyone could.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Angry Birds Movie - DVD Review

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (PG) Starring the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key, Sean Penn, Tony Hale and Jillian Bell.
Written by Jon Vitti.
Directed by Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly.

★★½

Well, this is probably the best possible movie you could make out of this material, right? It's about a community of birds, none of whom can fly. One bird named Red (Jason Sudeikis) doesn't quite fit in. He's sarcastic and has anger issues, and after an incident, he's forced to attend anger management classes.

But then the piggies arrive. The birds have never heard of the piggies, but they come with gifts and loud noises and colors and hey-look-over-there! Red suspects there's something shady about Head Pig Leonard (Bill Hader) and wants to investigate, but the townspeople think it's just Red being his usual antisocial self.

The movie doesn't have much story to stretch to 90 minutes, so it fills in the gaps with risque jokes and visual gags. The third act is when the movie really gets into the game-play, with the birds catapulting themselves into the pigs' flimsily-constructed city to go rescue their eggs. There's a lot of talented voices in here, so while it didn't make laugh, it did make me smile a few times.

One bizarre note: two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn voices one of the birds, but all he does is grumble.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rogue One still #1, Sing #2


For the weekend of December 23-25, 2016, Rogue One stayed #1 to the surprise of no one. The real suspense was in what order the other new releases would come in, and the unquestionable winner was the animated Sing.

When you consider budgets, the biggest disappointment has to be Assassin's Creed. It was not only the worst-reviewed new movie of the week, but the most expensive. Why Him? has to be happy they came ahead of them. Also disappointing, but to a lesser degree, was Passengers, starring two of Hollywood's hottest young stars in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

It's also important to remember with Fences' numbers, it expanded on Sunday. Had it expanded Friday, it could have finished as high as third.

In limited release, the new releases in order of per-screen average: Silence, Patriots Day, Hidden Figures, Julieta, Live By Night, A Monster Calls, Toni Erdmann.



No new releases next week, save for a couple Oscar-qualifying limited releases like 20th Century Women.

RIP Carrie Fisher


Carrie Fisher - whose credits include Shampoo, The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally - who wrote the best seller "Postcards from the Edge" - who is best known as Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise - has died at age 60 following a heart attack.

Just a reminder of many of the famous deaths of 2016:

MUSIC
David Bowie
Prince
Leonard Cohen
George Michael
Glenn Frey
Vanity
Merle Haggard
Bobby Vee
Sir George Martin - Beatles manager
Paul Kantner - Jefferson Airplane
Pete Burns - Dead or Alive
Frank Sinatra Jr.
Ricci Martin, son of Dean Martin

MOVIES/TV
Alan Rickman
Anton Yelchin
Florence Hendserson
Debbie Reynolds
Carrie Fisher - Leia
Kenny Baker - R2-D2
Gene Wilder
Garry Shandling
Patty Duke
William Schallert - The Patty Duke Show
Doris Roberts
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Alan Thicke
Abe Vigoda - Barney Miller, The Godfather
Ron Glass - Barney Miller, Firefly
Pat Harrington - One Day at a Time
Bob Elliott - Get a Life
George Gaynes - Police Academy, Punky Brewster
Tony Burton - The Rocky movies
Robert Vaughn - The Man from UNCLE
Jon Polito - Miller's Crossing
Andrew Sachs - Fawlty Towers
Angus Scrimm - Phantasm
Peter Vaughan - Game of Thrones
Bill Nunn - Do the Right Thing
Burt Kwouk - The Pink Panther
Jerry Doyle - Babylon 5
George Kennedy - The Naked Gun
Dan Haggerty - Grizzly Adams
David Huddleston - The Big Lebowski
James Noble - Benson
Bernard Fox - Bewitched
Kevin Meaney - Uncle Buck TV show
Alan Young - Mr. Ed, Scrooge McDuck
Steven Hill - Law & Order
Larry Drake - Dr. Giggles
Garry Marshall - Director of Pretty Woman
Michael Cimino - Director of The Deer Hunter

ALSO...
Muhammad Ali
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
Richard Adams, Watership Down
Nancy Reagan
Antonin Scalia
Morley Shafer
Gwen Ifill
Arnold Palmer
LaVell Edwards
John Glenn
Rob Ford
David Gest
Buddy Ryan
Pat Summit
Janet Reno
Shimon Peres
Craig Sager

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jackie - Movie Review

JACKIE (R) Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant and Max Casella.
Written by Noah Oppenheim.
Directed by Pablo Larrain.

★★★

This movie daringly focusses on the immediate after match of JFK's assassination, but it does so in a framework that jumps between that, and an interview she gave with Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) a week later. We simultaneously feel the shock of the moment and the week-after dread, which is how memories work. It's a good job from the makers, but the success of this movie is hands-down because of Natalie Portman.

This is no straightforward biopic. This breaks down some of the worshipping walls around the Kennedys to try to convey what it was like for Jackie to remain poised even while dealing with death and the sudden loss of power. Her main shoulder to cry on belongs to her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), who as attorney general also has to deal with the politics of the smooth transition of power.

This movie made me want to look up the 1961 White House tour footage again. I've seen clips, but Portman's so good here, I wonder how close her impression really is. In fact, I would have no problem with Portman winning her second Oscar for this.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Loving - Movie Review

LOVING (PG-13) Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Will Dalton, Bill Camp, Terri Abney, Alano Miller and Jon Bass.
Written & Directed by Jeff Nichols.

★★★½

In the hands of someone else, this could have been a boisterous, fire-and-brimstone epic courtroom  battle of a movie. And that could have been good. But Jeff Nichols keeps it quiet and intimate, and therefore probably more faithful to its main characters and what it felt like to them at the time they were going through their struggles.

It's the true story of Richard & Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga), two people in 1958 who just wanted to be married, but since he was white and she was black, they couldn't legally do so in the state of Virginia. They get married in DC, but at home, they have to hide it. What followed was a flurry of legal troubles.

There is no one better at intimate rural dramas than Arkansas native Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud). Richard and Mildred are quiet, humble country people, and Nichols stays true to them throughout. We don't get a cool Supreme Court scene because Richard and Mildred didn't attend.

Knight of Cups - DVD Review


KNIGHTS OF CUPS (R) Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Wes Bentley, Antonio Banderas, Brian Dennehy, Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer and Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Written & Directed by Terrence Malick.

★½

Malick's still determined to make stream-of-conscientious plot-free movies. He has a really beautiful eye, but his movies are like fuzzy memories as you watch them. Images, voice-over whispers, ocean waves drowning out dialogue, suggestions of a story without really telling one. They're dreams.

This one centers around Christian Bale's Hollywood player, who visits sets and attends parties but doesn't seem happy. Some familiar faces pop up and I don't know if they're a character or they're playing themselves. At one party we see Jason Clarke, Joe Mangianello and Nick Kroll, but that's it. I suppose you could say they're cameoing like many did in Robert Altman's The Player, or they could have had bigger parts that Malick just cut out.

After a while, I was like "Quit moping, rich man!"

I loved Badlands. I still hope someday Malick will tell a story again in one of his movies, but every new one has less plot than the one before. What can I say? If you thought To the Wonder had too much story, you'll love this.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Colonia - DVD Review

COLONIA (R) Starring Emma Watson, Daniel Bruhl, Michael Nyqvist and Vicky Krieps.
Written by Florian Gallenberger & Torsten Wenzel.
Directed by Florian Gallenberger.

★★

I had never heard of Chile's Colonia Dignidad, and about 30 minutes into the movie, I had to pause to see if this was based on a real thing. Sure enough, it was.

Lena (Emma Watson) and Daniel (Daniel Bruhl) are idealists in Chile during Pinochet's military coup of the government. Daniel is captured and taken away to the Colonia Dignidad, a religious-cult prison-camp run by ex-Nazis. Daniel is tortured and questioned and eventually tuned loose into the camp population.

Lena decides to volunteer to join the cult and enter the camp. It's run by Paul "Pius" Shafer (Michael Nyqvist), a cross between Jim Jones and Reinhard Heydrich. The camp's rules are so bizarre, it could only be based on truth. I can see what attracted Watson to the project, unpleasant though most of it is to sit through. I should also mention in reading up on Colonia Dignidad, there is so much more they could have done with it. The cast is willing but the script is weak.

Race - DVD Review

RACE (PG-13) Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Shanice Banton, Carice Van Houten, William Hurt, Eli Goree, Tony Curran, David Kross, Glynn Turman, Chantel Riley and Barnaby Metschurat.
Written by Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse.
Directed by Stephen Hopkins.

★★½

This shiny inspirational story of Jesse Owens feels too safe. This could have been a powerful epic, but casting Jason Sudeikis as his coach is a dead giveaway how low its aspirations are. He's fine, but you're not exactly shooting to be a masterpiece when you make a move like that.

The movie's strongpoint is Stephan James (who played John Lewis in Selma) as Owens. He guides us through the film's straightforward sentimentality, even if we don't really get to know him well. The movie spends a lot of time hopping around with other famous characters of the times. (Here's Joseph Goebbels! There's Leni Reifenstahl!) Even so, it's a great story. We follow Owens from being a star college athlete to him deciding against outside pressures to boycott the 1936 Olympics. Better to win in front of Hitler than forfeit.

The end title-cards reveal that more depth could have been added to the movie. For instance, why did FDR's White House never acknowledge his achievements?

As it is, it feels like a semi-sequel to 42.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Manchester by the Sea - Movie Review


MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (R) Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, CJ Wilson, Gretchen Mol, Tate Donovan, Kara Hayward and Matthew Broderick.
Written & Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

★★★½

People deal with grief differently. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) deals with his by not getting close to anyone. He works as a janitor for minimum wage, and he just takes the day one small job at a time. Fix the sink. Shovel the snow. Go to bar. Get in fight. Go home. Sleep.

Lee's miserable life gets interrupted when his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies, and he names Lee the guardian of his 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  Lee doesn't feel emotionally equipped to deal with this new responsibility. He loves his nephew, but he was content to be Uncle Lee and no more.

The movie plays a bit with timelines. We see Lee when he was married to Randi (Michelle Williams), and we know there will be a big reveal as to what grief Lee was dealing with before his brother died. The movie is sprinkled with gallows humor that only people who've been through grief will understand.

I would be fine with Casey Affleck winning Best Actor for this. He does a really job of playing a man who's trying to suppress all of his emotions, and yet we can still see that inner struggle.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies - DVD Review

PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES (PG-13) Starring Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcoate, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance and Ellie Bamber.
Written & Directed by Burt Speers.

★★

This is from the same author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but this book was written first, and it's a better story. The movie is better as well, in comparison. Take that for what it's worth.

This takes Jane Austen's classic story but puts it against a backdrop of a zombie uprising. These aren't typical walkers either. They have intelligence and can even disguise themselves to look still alive. Lily James (Cinderella) is the irrepressible Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley (Maleficent) is the morose Mr. Darcy, and everyone is ready to play their parts straight, aside from that zombie business. The movie's poorly lit and never overcomes its initial conceit, but it wasn't bad as I thought it might be. The gift of low expectations.

Due to its PG-13 rating, it's also less graphic than any random episode of The Walking Dead.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Rogue One is #1 at box office


For the weekend of December 16-18, 2016, Rogue One opened huge. The Star Wars stand-alone story is now the 12th highest opening weekend ever. It's the third-best opening weekend of 2016 (behind Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman).

The other new wide release was Collateral Beauty, and considering its star power (Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, etc.), it's a big disappointment. It also had deadly reviews (13% at RottenTomatoes).

This was the first weekend after Golden Globes and SAG Award nominations were announced, and a big beneficiary was La La Land, keeping a strong per-screen average as it slowly expands. Also keeping up were Jackie and Lion, and Fences had a strong debut in limited release as well.

On their way down: Moonlight and Nocturnl Animals. Catch them if they're still around you. (I haven't seen Moonlight yet.)



Opens December 23
SING with the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Taron Egerton.
PASSENGERS with Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen and Andy Garcia.
ASSASSIN'S CREED with Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons.
WHY HIM? with James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch and Megan Mullally.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gods of Egypt - DVD Review

GODS OF EGYPT (PG-13) Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Brendon Thwaites, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Geoffrey Rush, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell and Bryan Brown.
Written by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless.
Directed by Alex Proyas.

★★

The first and perhaps biggest problem with this is the casting. They're making a movie about Egypt, and 90% of the cast is white. Not even some ethnic-ish looking guys, but our main Aladdin-like hero is Brendon Thwaites. The main hero-god is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Freakin' RA THE SUN GOD is played by Geoffrey Rush.

Whitewashing aside, this movie aspires to be another Clash of the Titans, and it is. Trouble is, Clash wasn't very good. There's a lot of ham and cheese in this movie, and the best part was Chadwick Boseman as the vain god Thoth. But yeah, you were okay to skip this one.

Maggie's Plan - DVD Review

MAGGIE'S PLAN (R) Starring Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph and Travis Fimmel.
Written by Rebecca Miller & Karen Rinaldi.
Directed by Rebecca Miller.

★★½

This winsome film has a rom-com premise but it's done in a Woody Allen/Noah Baumbach indie style that makes it feel different. Gerwig plays Maggie, a woman who's decided to get artificial insemination. But right after she does, a co-worker (Ethan Hawke) professes he's madly in love with her, and he leaves his wife for her.

The movie lives or dies on how charismatic you find Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), and I thought she was fine, if familiar. I was most interested in Julianne Moore as the jilted ex-wife.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One - Movie Review

Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Jiang Wen, Jimmy Smits, Genevieve O'Reilly and James Earl Jones.
Written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy and John Knoll & Gary Whitta.
Directed by Gareth Edwards.

★★★½

This is exactly the type of side adventure I was hoping that Disney would do when they won the rights to the Star Wars franchise. We meet some new characters, we get some old ones (Bail Organa! Mon Mothma! Darth freakin' Vader!), and we have a movie that may fit into the timeline of the franchise, but there's something creatively freeing about knowing this is a stand-alone film.

The film centers around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a prisoner who's rescued by members of the Rebel Alliance. She is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an engineer forced against his will to help build the Death Star. With her help, they believe they can steal the plans and find a weakness in its design.

Her motley crew eventually contains Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who has his own side mission; Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a recently defected Imperial pilot; K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a sardonic, reprogrammed Imperial droid who doesn't hide his opinions; blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen); and man-at-arms Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). They all must elude the clutches of Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the Imperial leader overseeing the Death Star who hopes its success will catapult him to becoming the right-hand man of the Emperor.

One thing I really appreciated were some surprises that they kept hidden from marketing. Over the next few days, those will all come out, but I'm glad I saw it without knowing all of the turns. I also liked the dark urgency of it. This rebellion feels like war, with guerilla tactics, stormtroopers minding their own business suddenly getting blown up, citizens stuck in harm's way. It shows how stakes were raised for other people in the galaxy, beyond the Skywalker family. It's probably the best Star Wars script since The Empire Strikes Back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations


Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
“Captain Fantastic”
“Fences”
“Hidden Figures”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”


Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
“The Crown”
“Downton Abbey”
“Game of Thrones”
“Stranger Things”
“Westworld”

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Black-ish”
“Modern Family”
“Orange is the New Black”
“Veep”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Bryan Cranston, “All the Way”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”
Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Bryce Dallas Howard, “Black Mirror”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”
Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Kerry Washington, “Confirmation”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series
“Game of Thrones”
“Marvel’s Daredevil”
“Marvel’s Luke Cage”
“The Walking Dead”
“Westworld”

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Doctor Strange”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Jason Bourne”
“Nocturnal Animals”

Monday, December 12, 2016

Moana is #1 for third consecutive week


For the weekend of December 9-11, 2016, Moana remained on top, as its only new challenge was Office Christmas Party.

The afore-mentioned ensemble comedy had mixed reviews, but enough B-level star power (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston) to get some curious people in theaters. Everyone's treading water until Rogue One gets here.

When it comes to awards season, some expansions are doing better than others. Manchester By the Sea is doing best, while La La Land had a huge opening on only 5 screens.



Opens December 16
ROGUE ONE with Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker.
COLLATERAL BEAUTY with Will Smith, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet.

Golden Globe Nominations List

Best Motion Picture – Drama:
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell Or High Water”
“Lion”
“Manchester By The Sea”
“Moonlight”

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
“20th Century Women”
“Deadpool”
“La La Land”
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
“Sing Street”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama:
Casey Affleck – “Manchester By The Sea”
Joel Edgerton – “Loving”
Andrew Garfield – “Hacksaw Ridge”
Viggo Mortensen –  “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington – “Fences”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama:
Amy Adams – “Arrival”
Jessica Chastain – “Miss Sloane”
Isabelle Huppert – “Elle”
Ruth Negga – “Loving”
Natalie Portman – “Jackie”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
Colin Farrell – “The Lobster”
Ryan Gosling – “La La Land”
Hugh Grant – “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Jonah Hill – “War Dogs”
Ryan Reynolds – “Deadpool”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
Annette Bening – “20th Century Women”
Lily Collins – “Rules Don’t Apply”
Hailee Steinfeld – “The Edge of Seventeen”
Emma Stone – “La La Land”
Meryl Streep – “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:
Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges – “Hell or High Water”
Simon Helberg – “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Dev Patel – “Lion”
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – “Nocturnal Animals”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:
Viola Davis – “Fences”
Naomie Harris – “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman – “Lion”
Octavia Spencer – “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams – “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Director – Motion Picture:
Damien Chazelle – “La La Land”
Tom Ford – “Nocturnal Animals”
Mel Gibson – “Hacksaw Ridge”
Barry Jenkins – “Moonlight”
Kenneth Lonergan – “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Original Screenplay:
“La La Land”
“Nocturnal Animals”
“Moonlight”
“Manchester By The Sea”
“Hell Or High Water”

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language:
“Divines” – France
“Elle” – France
“Neruda” – Chile
“The Salesman” – Iran/France
“Toni Erdmann” – Germany

Best Motion Picture – Animated:
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Moana”
“My Life As A Zucchini”
“Sing”
“Zootopia”

Best Original Song – Motion Picture:
“Cant Stop The Feeling” – “Trolls”
“City Of Stars” – La La Land
“Faith” – Sing
“Gold” – Gold
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

Best Original Score – Motion Picture:
Nicholas Britell– “Moonlight”
Justin Hurwitz – “La La Land”
Johann Johannsson – “Arrival”
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka– “Lion
Hans Zimmer, Pharrel Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – “Hidden Figures”

Best Television Series – Drama:
“The Crown”
“Game Of Thrones”
“Stranger Things”
“This Is Us”
“Westworld”

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Mozart In The Jungle”
“Transparent”
“Veep”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama:
Rami Malek – “Mr. Robot”
Bob Odenkirk – “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys – “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber – “Ray Donovan”
Billy Bob Thornton – “Goliath”

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Drama:
Caitriona Balfe – “Outlander”
Claire Foy – “The Crown”
Keri Russell – “The Americans”
Winona Ryder – “Stranger Things”
Evan Rachel Wood – “Westworld”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
Anthony Anderson – “Black-ish”
Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal – “Mozart in the Jungle
Donald Glover – “Atlanta”
Nick Nolte – “Graves”
Jeffrey Tambor – “Transparent”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
Rachel Bloom – “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep”
Sarah Jessica Parker – “Divorce”
Issa Rae – “Insecure”
Gina Rodriguez – “Jane the Virgin”
Tracee Ellis-Ross – “Black-ish”

Best Limited Series:
“American Crime”
“The Dresser”
“The Night Manager”
“The Night Of”
“The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Riz Ahmed – “The Night Of”
Bryan Cranston – “All The Way”
Tom Hiddleston – “The Night Manager”
John Turturro – “The Night Of”
Courtney B Vance – “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Olivia Colman – “The Night Manager”
Lena Headey – “Game Of Thrones”
Chrissy Metz – “This Is Us”
Mandy Moore – “This Is Us”
Thandie Newton – “Westworld”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Felicity Huffman – “American Crime”
Riley Keough – “The Girlfriend Experience”
Sarah Paulson – “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
Charlotte Rampling – “London Spy”
Kerry Washington – “Confirmation”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Sterling K Brown – “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
Hugh Laurie – “The Night Manager”
John Lithgow – “The Crown”
Christian Slater – “Mr. Robot”
John Travolta – “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Friday, December 9, 2016

Nocturnal Animals - Movie Review

Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen and Jena Malone.
Written & Directed by Tom Ford.

★★★½

When we get the opening credits, these grotesquely obese women are dancing naked, in slow-motion, in front of a red curtain. After the actors were listed, I closed my eyes for most of the rest. Once the opening credits are over, the movie backs away, and the jarring opening does make sense in the overall story being told here.

Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner. She's wealthy but in a second marriage on its last legs. One day she receives in the mail a manuscript from his first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book is called "Nocturnal Animals" and he has dedicated it to her.

Susan reads the book, and we get the story-within-the-story about Tony (also Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher, who looks a lot like Adams), and their teenage daughter India. They get run off the road by some ne'er-do-wells led by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the dreadful suspense builds and builds.

As Susan gets more involved in the story, we see flashbacks of her own life. We see her and Edward when they first started dating, and when they were married, and what led to their split.

The impact of the story as a whole is one I keep thinking more and more about. This is the type of movie where you want to talk with other people about it. The acting's great. Adams and Gyllenhaal are solid. Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla), who isn't one I always enjoy, is seriously creepy here. And Michael Shannon, who shows up as a cop in the book, is just one of my favorite working actors. I'd watch him in anything.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Allied - Movie Review

Starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode and August Diehl.
Written by Steven Knight.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.

★★

Our two movie stars meet in Casablanca during World War II. Unfortunately they never swing by Rick's Casino, though director Robert Zemeckis has the technical know-how to make it happen if he wanted to. That might have been too on the nose.

Brad Pitt is Max, a Canadian serving in the UK's Royal Air Force, and a trained spy. He is to meet a French spy Marianne (Cotillard) in Casablanca and pose as her husband. They meet, they talk trade, they put on a good show for those around them, and their mission is to assassinate a German ambassador.

Though they pretend to be lovers, it is when the mission is over that Max decides he has fallen in love with Marianne and wants to marry her. It's a jarring scene when he proposes because up to that point, I'd had no hint Max was actually falling for her.

A wedding, a year, and a baby later, Max gets some bad news. Marianne is supected of being a German spy, and Max is to give her some false information to see if it gets transmitted out.

As both are playing spies, I was looking for hints of their layers. Where's the real person beneath the facade? I can say Cotillard gets there, but I never felt like Pitt did. The two just don't have chemistry together. It feels like it should be a sweeping wartime drama but it never takes off. It's actually all downhill after the assassination.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Moana remains #1 at box office


For the weekend of December 2-4, 2016, it was a week for movies to dog-paddle. The first weekend of December usually has a big drop, and new movie that opening here tend to flop, and this year was no different, as only the horror flick Incarnate was tossed in there.

Moana is continuing its box office success, and Fantastic Beasts and Doctor Strange have to be happy with the business they're doing. Oscar-bait movies like Moonlight and Loving could really use some award-nomination announcements soon to entice audiences. Manchester by the Sea is doing well in its expansion, and Jackie opened well in limited release.



Opens December 9
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY with Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn and Jennifer Aniston.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Neon Demon - DVD Review

Starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Karl Glusman and Christina Hendricks.
Written by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws & Polly Stenham.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

★★½

Wow. Nicholas Winding Refn is one pretentious, ambitious, vainglorious artiste (if it's not obvious from when he puts his initials NWR under the title). The guy knows how to set up beautiful and disturbing imagery. The more movies he makes, the more experimental he seems to get, which is fine if you can sweep your audience up in your vision.

This movie focusses on Jesse (Elle Fanning), a teenage model who's just arrived in Los Angeles and finds instant success, creating jealousy among the other models in her social circle. She's taken under the wing of Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist who may want her for herself. This movie has a lot to say about beauty, about artifice, and about obsession.

As for Refn's filmography, this isn't near as good as Drive, and it isn't near as bad as Only God Forgives. I couldn't really get lost in the story, as I was too aware of a director lurking over every frame, and it gets kinda porny, but I give him points for boldness.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Edge of Seventeen - Movie Review

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto and Alexander Calvert.
Written & Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.

★★★½

In a just world, this would be more successful at the box office, but I suppose it's more likely to gain its followers when it goes to iTunes, Netflix, and so on.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, an 17-year-old insecure frustrated teenage girl in the tradition of John Hughes heroines. She's constantly fighting with her widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick), her overconfident older brother (Blake Jenner), and 99% of people at school. When her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) falls for and starts dating her brother, Nadine has had it.

Nadine is a jerk to everyone around her, and yet we're sympathetic with her all the way. We can see she's just in a lot of pain and hasn't figured out how to get out of her own head. The one person who seems to be able to get through is her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who mostly acts annoyed anytime she interrupts him during lunch to let her know her latest angst.

This is a star-making tour-de-force by Steinfeld, who first made audiences take notice as the girl in the Coen Brothers' True Grit. She's had decent roles in films like Begin Again, Ender's Game, 3 Days to Kill, and Pitch Perfect 2. This is the film that announces she's arrived.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Moana is #1 at box office


For the weekend of November 25-27, 2016, Disney's Moana was able to overcome the Potterverse and claim the #1 spot for Thanksgiving weekend. Its five-day haul of $81 million means that $150 million domestic is guaranteed, and it'll rule over the next couple weeks, as the first weekend of December is usually one of the biggest box-office drop-offs of the year. It should ultimately be about as successful as Wreck-It-Ralph.

Fantastic Beasts is chugging along nicely. It has already crossed $470 million worldwide.

Of the other new releases, Brad Pitt's WWII movie Allied doesn't look like it'll do as well as previous Pitt WWII movies like Inglourious Basterds and Fury.

Bad Santa 2 is doing about as well as one could expect for a sequel no one wanted, and if they did, they wanted it ten years ago.

Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply is a big bomb, even for a movie made cheaply. It was Beatty's first directorial effort since 1998's Bulworth, and maybe audiences didn't really need to go back to Howard Hughes.



Opens December 2
INCARNATE with Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten and David Mazouz.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Arrival - Movie Review

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Written by Eric Heisserer.
Directed by Denis Villenueve.

★★★★

Denis Villenueve (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) is quickly becoming one of my must-see directors. Actually, he's already there. I'm excited for where he could go.

This film is about an alien invasion of Earth, but it's really about Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams). In the beginning we watch her with her daughter. We watch her daughter grow to be a teenager and then die from disease. The next time we see Louise, we see the sadness in her eyes, and we see the semi-lonely existence she's carved out for herself as a college linguistics professor. But as she goes to teach, most of her class is gone. Why? There's been an invasion.

Due to previous work she'd done for the government, Louise is at the top of the list for the military to seek as a linguistic expert. The aliens are making sounds, and they want her to determine if Earthlings can somehow communicate with them.

The movie takes a slow, reverant approach to the reveal of the aliens. (I'm really glad the previews never spoiled what they fully look like.) Once she sees them, she goes through the process of trying to figure out how they communicate.

The movie is about the process, about finding common trends or signals in order to establish communication. There are 12 alien ships hovering over different parts of the globe. Each country that has one is trying to determine the best course of action. Should we preemptively strike in case their intentions are malevolent?

This movie is the antidote to Independence Day: Resurgence's summer stupidity. It's smart sci-fi that you hear about from time to time.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

'Fantastic Beasts' Devours the Box Office


For the weekend of November 18-20, 2016, the Potterverse still has some juice. The semi-prequel Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them opened to $75 million here and is already above $200 million worldwide. Pretty good for the Rogue One of the wizarding world. (If you go by per-screen average, it opened about as well as Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix.)

The other wide new releases should have chosen a different weekend. The Edge of Seventeen is getting fantastic reviews, but it probably would have been better off waiting a couple weeks or until March. Bleed for This can join Hands of Stone in letting Hollywood know there's no real audience for true-story boxing movies right now.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk had a moving trailer, but brutal reviews sunk whatever it was aspiring to be.

In limited release, Manchester by the Sea did great while Nocturnal Animals did okay.



Opens November 23
MOANA with the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho and Alan Tudyk.
ALLIED with Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris and Matthew Goode.
BAD SANTA 2 with Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox.
RULES DON'T APPLY with Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Doctor Strange - Movie Review

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt.
Written by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill.
Directed by Scott Derrickson.

★★★

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is like the most expensive binge-worthy series. Iron Man was just the first two episodes. And in a way, it's like the reverse Orange Is the New Black. Instead of meeting everyone and then getting their backstory, every other episode is an origin story, and we know they'll mingle with other cast members later. Like after the credits.

This time around we meet Dr. Steven Strange, a brilliant, arrogant surgeon whose hands get screwed up in an auto accident. He seeks every possible method of surgical healing, but in a moment of desperation, he goes East to pursue more mystical methods. There he meets the Ancient One (a Tibetan monk in the comics, but to make the movie more palatable for China, he's been changed to a Celtic one). Tilda Swinton plays the Ancient One, and she elevates every scene she's in.

It's one of the funnier entries in the MCU, and it would have to be since it's full of magic and bending reality and interdimensional travel. The visuals are great. Very reminiscent of Inception, but it feels like it's its own thing.

I also enjoyed his sentient cape. Reminded me of the magic carpet from Aladdin.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge - Movie Review

Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths.
Written by Andrew Knight & Robert Schenkkan.
Directed by Mel Gibson.

★★★½

I wish Mel Gibson wasn't so messed up in his personal life, because he is one talented director.

This is the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a WWII medic who was also a conscientious objector and refused to carry a weapon during war. We see Doss join the army, wanting to serve, but he also faces resistance and abuse when he goes through basic training and will not pick up a rifle.

His drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn) wants him to quit. His captain (Sam Worthington) wants him to quit. But Doss endures everything they throw at him, even the threat of court-martial. He refuses to quit, and he refuses to touch a weapon.

The second half of the movie deals with the title. Hacksaw Ridge is the landing point for his company's participation in the Battle of Okinawa. The battle scenes are as intense and gory as anything from Saving Private Ryan or Fury. As men are torn to pieces by bullets and bombs, Doss hops from trench to trench, tending the wounded and saving lives.

This movie hits all of the feel-good notes, but I don't see how it could work if we didn't buy Doss, and Garfield does a wonderful job as a man with sincere beliefs and an aw-shucks goodness about him. It's a performance that never feels forced, never gets cloying. There's a lot of good support in here. I haven't enjoyed a Vince Vaughn role like this in years. Hugo Weaving probably has the most to work with, as Desmond's WWI-vet father who's become an alcoholic wracked with survivors remorse. Teresa Palmer brings an earthy sweetness to Dorothy, Desmond's bride-to-be.

(It's amusing to me that this American story is full of Australians in the cast. Of the major roles, only Garfield and Vaughn are American, and Garfield grew up in the UK.)

Feels nice in these troubled times to be able to celebrate someone's heroism.

Doctor Strange is #1 at box office


For the weekend of November 4-6, 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still going strong. Doctor Strange opened at about the same number as Thor: The Dark World. Sometimes it feels like the MCU is the world's most expensive binge-watch show. Just watch them in chronological order, with Iron Man, Incredible Hulk (pretend it's Ruffalo), Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and then Doctor Strange. (And then you know, coming soon will be Guardians 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3, Black Panther, Avengers 3, Ant-Man 2, Captain Marvel, Avengers 4...)

Despite this competition, the animated Trolls movie did well in its own right. This left Hacksaw Ridge to be the outside new release that suffered.

Moonlight is continuing to soar. Another Oscar-bait movie, Loving, did well.



Opens November 11
ARRIVAL with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.
BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK with Joe Alwyn and Kristen Stewart.
ALMOST CHRISTMAS with Gabrielle Union, Danny Glover and Mo'Nique.
SHUT IN with Naomi Watts, Jacob Tremblay, Charlie Heaton and Oliver Platt.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Madea remains #1 over Inferno


For the weekend of October 28-30, 2016, Inferno opened dramatically under expectations, allowing Boo! A Madea Halloween to be #1 for the second straight week.

Considering that the first two Tom Hanks/Ron Howard/Dan Brown movies opened to $77 million (2006's The Da Vinci Code) and $46 million (2009's Angels & Demons), and that it was the only major wide release this weekend, Inferno's $15 million is a massive disappointment.

In limited release, the Oscar-bait movie Moonlight continues to do well.

I expect all of these titles to be wiped out by next week's new releases.



Opens November 4
DR. STRANGE with Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams.
HACKSAW RIDGE with Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn.
TROLLS with the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and James Corden.

The Accountant - Movie Review

Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, JK Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor and Jean Smart.
Written by Bill Dubuque.
Directed by Gavin O'Connor.

★★★

My anticipation for this movie was dampened by its mixed reviews, and so I saw it under ideal circumstances. With low expectations, I wound up liking it.

Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a genius with Aspergers who uses his accounting skills to help some of the most dangerous people in the world. The movie takes its time establishing him and setting up the plot, all of which I was fine with. I enjoyed watching Affleck in this role and had no problem with the pace, until I realized the movie was almost 2 1/2 hours long. Okay, so they could have trimmed a couple minutes here and there.

Eventually we get to a point where Christian is on the run with some assassins on his trail, and Anna Kendrick plays Dana, the woman who "knows too much" and they're trying to kill her too.

Meanwhile the Feds (JK Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are trying to find him as well.

I like a movie that gives veteran actors some decent parts (not just Simmons, but Lithgow, Tambor and Smart all get something to do), and once it was all done, I realized I'd be on board for The Accountant 2. I will say a couple of the twists are telegraphed too early.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ouija: Origin of Evil - Movie Review

Starring Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso and Henry Thomas.
Written by Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard.
Directed by Mike Flanagan.

★★

I never saw the original. I watched the first fifteen minutes or so when it was on TV once and gathered I didn't want to waste my time finishing it. Since this is a prequel, I figured it wouldn't be a detriment to my viewing experience. And it wasn't.

I am guessing this movie did so well with critics because the first movie was terrible, and this was so much better by comparison. For me, this movie was competant, but not much more.

A widowed mother (Elizabeth Reaser) in the 1960's works as a medium, complete with gadgets and tricks to make the people think that spirits are visiting them. One day she buys a Ouija board to help with her repertoire, but it conjures a real spirit named Markus who possesses her younger daughter Doris. The spirit gives Doris powers, like telekinesis, and the older daughter Lina (Annalise Basso) seems to be the only one to notice there's something very wrong with Doris.

Lulu Wilson does a fantastic job as Doris. She can probably make her living in horror movies for the rest of her childhood (she'll appear in Annabelle 2 next year) and hopefully can transition to broader work. She reminds me of Mara Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda). (I don't think they're related).

It had a couple good scares, but it had a slow pace and it broke its own rules a couple times.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Boo! Madea Wins the Weekend Box Office


For the weekend of October 21-23, 2016, Tyler Perry is back on the map. Boo! A Madea Halloween is the biggest opening for Perry since 2010's Why Did I Get Married Too? and the fourth biggest opening of his sixteen films.

Tom Cruise went back to mid-budget range for Jack Reacher 2. It opened better than the first film, but only Cruise is returning from the first film.  Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo and Robert Duvall have been traded for Cobie Smulders (The Avengers), Holt McCallany (Sully), Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton's MC Ren) and Jason Douglas (The Walking Dead's Tobin).

Cruise's last two original movies - expensive sci-fi adventures Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow - both failed to make their money back. Could be a factor why he made this film after Mission Impossible 5.

Ouija: Origin of Evil did great for its low budget. Doing not so great was Keeping Up with the Joneses, a movie that looked less appealing the closer it got. Maybe Zack Galifianakis should not be top-billed.



Opens October 28
INFERNO with Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan and Omar Sy.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Likelihood of Who Negan Kills on The Walking Dead


The Walking Dead returns this Sunday, and the speculation for the past six months has been, so, who is it that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) beat to death at the end of the season finale?

My odds:

11. RICK (Andrew Lincoln) - No way they kill the lead. The show is still fairly faithful to the skeleton plotlines of the graphic novels, and the back-and-forths between Rick and Negan are too good to sabotage. I won't reveal anything more about the graphic novels though to avoid spoilers. I will say just because a certain character dies a certain way in the graphic novel doesn't mean the show will follow suit. Characters like Herschel and Tyreese died at different times in the comics than they did on the show, and some characters are still alive on the show that already died at this point in comics while some characters are still alive in the comics when they've been killed off on the show.

10. CARL (Chandler Riggs) - He's the main motivation for Rick to do everything he does. Yes, he'd still have Judith, but Carl is going to survive as long as Rick does.

9. AARON (Ross Marquand) - I don't think it's him because I don't think the creators really want to kill off another gay character so quickly, and of the eleven, he's the most recently introduced and therefore would have the least emotional impact, and I do believe the makers are going for impact.

8. SASHA (Sonequa Martin-Green) - The way she fits in with everyone else, I just can't see it being her.

7. ROSITA (Christian Serratos) - Hers would be sad, as she's still dealing with Abraham dumping her, and Eugene still pines for her, but she's one of the more underdeveloped ones and there's still a lot of potential with where they can go with her.

6. MAGGIE (Lauren Cohan) - Killing a pregnant woman would really establish Negan as evil, but Maggie's been the female lead of the show ever since Andrea died, so I can't see it being her. Then again, that would be soooooo evil.

5. MICHONNE (Danai Gurira) - I think this would be terrible, as she is arguably the most popular African-American female character on TV. But man, it would be emotionally gutting.

4. EUGENE (Josh McDermitt) - Eugene is the coward who most recently discovered his inner spine. But he's still a fairly vulnerable guy and to watch him get beaten to death would be so sad and pathetic.

I genuinely believe it's going to be one of these three.

ABRAHAM (Michael Cudlitz) - His recent relations have been thrown in flux. You'd have Sasha grieving over her boyfriend, Rosita grieving over her ex-boyfriend, and Eugene will have lost the friend he leans on most. He's the strongest man on the team, and therefore everyone else would feel that much more vulnerable with him gone.

DARYL (Norman Reedus) - Yes, he's the most popular character on the show. People would riot. It could very well be a shark-jumping death for this show. But it would be bold, and it would definitely have a huge impact on the season and make Negan far more hated than the Governor.

GLENN (Steven Yuen) - He's been there since season 1, episode 1. He and Maggie have the best love story on the show. Everyone would feel his loss. It would be devastating. That's why it's one of the most likely scenarios.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Birth of a Nation - Movie Review


Starring Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Aunjanue Ellis, Colman Domingo, Mark Boone Jr., Gabrielle Union and Roger Guenveur Smith.
Written by Nate Parker & Jean McGianni Celestin.
Directed by Nate Parker.

★★★

It's 12 Years A Slave meets Braveheart. Now I loved 12 Years a Slave, and I loved Braveheart, but I'm not so sure they should meet.

This is a biopic of Nat Turner, the leader of a slave rebellion in 1831 and resulted in the deaths of about about 65 whites and 200 blacks. We meet Nat as a young slave boy. The white matriarch takes a liking to him and teaches him to read from the Bible. When the patriarch dies, his wishes are that Nat return to the cotton fields.

But Nat gets really good with the Bible and preaches to the other slaves on Sunday. When his current master Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) gets into debt, he's given a profitable idea from the local preacher (Mark Boone Jr.). Other slave-owners would pay him to have Nat preach to their slaves. You know, preach from the verses that justify slavery.

The movie is full of brutality and cruelty. There's more than one rape and many of the expected whippings and torture of slaves. Nat sees that while his own situation is bad, the surrounding plantations are far worse. He starts reading the verses in the Bible that justify fighting injustice, slave revolts, and killing oppressors.

This is all from Nate Parker. He is the writer, director, and star. There are many close-ups putting his face squarely in the middle of the frame. It has a level of admirable messiness from an undisciplined auteur. We see the beauty of the cotton fields at dawn, juxtaposed with blood on the ground where a slave was beaten or killed.

The movie is about how the Bible was misused to justify slavery, or it's about how blind the institution made whites to the inhumanity of the arrangement, or it's about what Black Lives Matter looked like 180 years ago. Or it could be other things. There's a complex relationship between Nat and Sam, but in their final scene together, I wasn't sure what emotions they were experiencing. Just an example where the movie could have benefitted from more polish.

My comparison to Braveheart is if you stretched out the indignities the English inflicted on the Scottish, and then condensed the last two hours into 30 minutes. It also takes many liberties with what the actual historical record shows. (For example, Sam died in 1823, but he's alive during the 1831 rebellion here.)

Overall I liked it. It packs a punch. It has its flaws, but I'd rather a movie had too much to say than nothing to say.