Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Best & Worst of TV 2016


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.


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.


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.


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:

David Bowie
Leonard Cohen
George Michael
Glenn Frey
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

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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”
“Hidden Figures”
“Manchester by the Sea”

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”

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

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”

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”
“Manchester By The Sea”

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
“20th Century Women”
“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”
“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”
“My Life As A Zucchini”

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”

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy:
“Mozart In The Jungle”

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.


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.


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.


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.