Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Fate of the Furious - Movie Review

Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kristofer Hivju, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans and Helen Mirren.
Written by Chris Morgan.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.

★★

These movies are now so loud, so huge, so spectacular, so stunt-reliant, the plot matters less and less each time. Maybe the plot never mattered. They're dangerously close to venturing into Tranformers territory. Would it surprise anyone if this franchise wound up going to space?

This centers around Dom (Vin Diesel) who's been a criminal since the first movie, but he keeps getting pardoned for weird reasons, or just on the lam with no official desire to bring him in. The latest giant international incident that's worthy of a Mission Impossible movie has the world's most dangerous cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) blackmailing Dom into helping steal the God's Eye device (the high-tech thingy from the last movie that allows the user to see what's going on at any location on Earth), and once she has that, she's going to use to steal nuclear codes.

It's a late reveal what leverage Cipher has on Dom, but you know, not only do people die over the course of events, but he's giving her the power to start World War III. What possible leverage would make Dom do that?

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) enlists Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom's crew to stop Cipher, and he even gets Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the main villain from the last movie, to help them out. Now this franchise likes to say it's about family. Han was part of the family for a few movies, and in Furious 7, Deckard killed Han. Killed him. And no one brings it up. Han's name is never said. By the end of the movie, Deckerd is embraced as a full member of the crew.

He killed Han!

I'll give you Dom not once but twice driving a car that's engulfed in flames and not getting a single burn, or Dom outdriving a heat-seeking missile, but you can't just have everyone forget that Deckard killed one of their members.

I suppose in the next movie, Cipher will return and help the crew fight a different villain. And Han will come back from the dead because *shrug emoji*.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fate of the Furious is #1


For the weekend of April 14-16, 2017, The Fate of the Furious was the easy winner. It was the second best opener for the franchise, although well short of Furious 7's $147 million opener. It's already earned over $530 million worldwide and should get to the $1 billion mark. Fast & Furious 9 & 10 are already scheduled to open in April 2019 and April 2021.

No other wide releases this weekend. Everyone wanted to stay away from the Diesel. Next week will feature a bunch of lower budget fare. In fact, I expect F8 of the Furious to stay #1 until Guardians of the Galaxy 2 opens in May.


Opens April 21
UNFORGETTABLE with Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl and Cheryl Ladd.
FREE FIRE with Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley.
THE PROMISE with Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte le Bon.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN with Florence Hartigan and Jeanine Jackson.
BORN IN CHINA directed by Chuan Lu.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Ghost in the Shell - Movie Review

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han and Danusia Samal.
Written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger.
Directed by Rupert Sanders.

★★

I remember liking the original, but it's been 20 years, so I didn't have that necessarily bouncing around in my mind the whole time. I couldn't recall much about the story beyond what the trailers already told us.

Scarlett Johansson is Major, a cyborg where her entire body is synthetic except for her brain. (This concept feels more close to being a reality than in it did just a couple decades ago.) Major is now used as a super-soldier to stop criminals and cyber-terrorists. But it winds up turning into a quest for her to discove her real identity.

For those going in fresh, this may bring Blade Runner quickly to mind. Although some of the characters' races have been changed, the setting is still downtown Tokyo. In fact, Takeshi Kitano plays the chief Aramaki, and he says all of his lines in Japanese while everyone else says their lines in English, and everyone acts like they understand each other.

I liked the explanation for Major being a person that looks like ScarJo - her shell may be Caucasian, but her brain is Japanese. My main problem with the movie is how instantly forgettable it is. It's all visuals with no soul.

Boss Baby still #1, Smurfs #3


For the weekend of April 7-9, 2017, The Boss Baby won again. I wonder if its success can be credited to appealing to adults who wouldn't begrudge taking their kids to it (how many kids will get a Glengarry Glen Ross reference?), as opposed to Smurfs: The Lost Village, which looks more like kids-only fare.

It managed to hang on to #1 over Beauty & the Beast thanks to adding a handful of screens while Beauty lost a handful.

Going in Style performed about as expected, just a pleasant cliched movie to appeal to seniors.

The Case for Christ scaled back its screen count, but this allowed its per-screen average to look good. It's also one of the few PureFlix titles to score at least 70% at RottenTomatoes.

Your Name made over $300 million overseas but it's getting its US release now.



Opens April 14
FATE OF THE FURIOUS with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron and Kurt Russell.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Life - Movie Review

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya.
Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa.

★★★

Yes, Life borrows from many movies that have come before. Gravity, Alien, The Thing, and a dozen other titles. But it's good at what it's doing.

Six people aboard the space station have received some samples from Mars, and within them, they find a dormant organism. It is the first proof of life beyond Earth. Nicknamed "Calvin", the organism grows from microscopic to about the size of a flower until it goes dormant. During this time, we get the wonder of discovery and get to know the people on board.

Once Calvin starts killing people, the movie kicks into high gear. Calvin only gets scarier as he gets bigger, and he feels like a very smart animal determined to kill off anything that would threaten him. It. This sinister plantlike octopus spider thing floating in zero G with everyone else.

It's not as majestic as Gravity or as scary as Alien or as thoughtful as Arrival BUT!... for what it is, it delivers on the thrills and the special effects. I wish it had been more successful at the box office. I would have watched a sequel.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Boss Baby Bests Beauty at Box Office


For the weekend of March 31-April 2, 2017, The Boss Baby was the big winner. It had been tracking to be close with Ghost in the Shell two weeks ago, but it overachieved. Big-studio animation continues to be a cash cow.

Ghost in the Shell might have suffered some last-minute backlash due to the "whitewash" controversy. Taking a popular manga and 1995 animated movie and changing the races of some of the characters from Japanese to Caucasian might have turned some people off. On the other hand, I don't think this movie gets greenlit with this budget unless they had a big name to headline it. Catch 22.

The Zookeeper's Wife went with a smaller opening and managed to best Ghost in the Shell in the per-screen average category.

Beauty & the Beast should cross $400 million domestic tomorrow, and I'd say passing the $1 billion mark worldwide is guaranteed.

Power Rangers had the biggest drop in the top ten. Those who wanted to see it, saw it, and it should plummet quickly in weeks 3, 4 and so on.



Opens April 7
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE with the voices of Mandy Patinkin and Demi Lovato.
GOING IN STYLE with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Matt Dillon.
THE CASE FOR CHRIST with Mike Vogel, Faye Dunaway and Robert Forster.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Belko Experiment - Movie Review

Starring John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Michael Rooker, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton and Josh Brener.
Written by James Gunn.
Directed by Greg McLean.

★★½

This lean, mean movie functions as corporate satire while engaging in Hunger Games shenanigans in a high-rise office building. It is kinda like Office Space meets Battle Royale.

Belko is a US corporation based in Colombia. The workers have tracker chips injected in them in case of kidnapping. The building they work in is a fortress. The movie all takes place over one day, where the 80 workers trapped inside are told by an intercom voice that there are three stages to their day. Stage 1: Kill two people in the next half-hour or four people will die. Spoiler: they don't comply and then four random people have their heads explode. Stage 2: Kill 30 people in the next two hours or 60 of them will die.

You have the normal guy Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) who seems to figure out quicker than everyone else what's going on; you have the business-friendly COO (Tony Goldwyn) who turns things into Lord of the Flies faster than what most of his co-workers prefer, while the movie has 80 people, the movie does a good job of making you feel like you can keep track of where most of them are throughout.

My problem is how predictable the final act was. I'm fine with the contrived setup and the journey, but it's too easy to figure out who the final handful of people are going to be.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Beauty & the Beast still #1, Power Rangers #2


For the weekend of March 24-26, 2017, Beauty & the Beast held strong. It's very rare a movie can open that huge and then have less than 50% dropoff in its second week. It looks guaranteed to pass $400 million domestic and getting to $1 billion worldwide is very doable. This movie is about as big as Rogue One. Disney is having an amazing run right now.

Of the new releases, Power Rangers did the best. Strong opening, justifies a sequel.

Life couldn't overcome it looking like an Alien ripoff, despite some star power. It baffles me why the final TV ads for the movie shows one of the movie stars getting killed.

CHiPS bombed. Maybe there's a limit on making R-rated romps out of harmless 1970's TV fare. I don't think we can expect an R-rated Little House on the Prairie anytime soon.



Opens March 31
GHOST IN THE SHELL with Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano.
THE BOSS BABY with the voices of Alec Baldwin, Lisa Kudrow and Steve Buscemi.
THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE with Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl and Johan Heldenbergh.

Monday, March 20, 2017

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


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

★★★

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty & the Beast sets March box-office record


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

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

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

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



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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kong: Skull Island - Movie Review

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

★★★

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

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

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

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

Bring on Kong v. Godzilla!

Kong: Skull Island gets $61 million


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

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



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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Logan gets $88 million


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

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

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

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



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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Logan - Movie Review

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

★★★½

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Cure for Wellness - Movie Review

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

★★½

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get Out - Movie Review

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

★★★½

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

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

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

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

Get Out is #1 at box office


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



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

Monday, February 27, 2017

Complete List of 89th Academy Award Winners


BEST PICTURE - Moonlight
BEST DIRECTOR - Damien Chazelle, La La Land
BEST ACTOR - Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
BEST ACTRESS - Emma Stone, La La Land
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Viola Davis, Fences
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Manchester by the Sea
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Moonlight
BEST ANIMATED FILM - Zootopia
BEST DOCUMENTARY - O.J.: Made in America
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM - The Salesman
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - La La Land
BEST FILM EDITING - Hacksaw Ridge
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - The Jungle Book
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - La La Land
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING - Suicide Squad
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - La La Land
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - “City of Stars,” La La Land
BEST SOUND EDITING - Arrival
BEST SOUND MIXING - Hacksaw Ridge
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT - The White Helmets
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT - Sing
BEST ANIMATED SHORT - Piper

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My Preliminary Oscar Guesses


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

BEST PICTURE
La La Land
Moonlight

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

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington, Fences

BEST ACTRESS
Emma Stone, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Dev Patel, Lion

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Moonlight
Arrival

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
La La Land
Arrival

BEST FILM EDITING
La La Land
Moonlight

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
La La Land
Hail, Caesar!

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Jackie
La La Land

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Star Trek Beyond
A Man Called Ove

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
La La Land
Jackie

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

BEST SOUND EDITING
Hacksaw Ridge
Sully

BEST SOUND MIXING
Hacksaw Ridge
Arrival

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Zootopia
Moana

BEST DOCUMENTARY
O.J.: Made in America
13th

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Salesman
A Man Called Ove

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
The White Helmets
Joe's Violin

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Piper
Pearl

The Great Wall - Movie Review

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

★★½

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

LEGO Batman still #1, Great Wall #3


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

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

Fist Fight had an expected meh opening.

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

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



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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

John Wick 2 - Movie Review

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

★★★

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

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

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

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

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

----

I also recently saw...

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie - Movie Review

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

★★★

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

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

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

LEGO Batman is #1 at box office


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

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

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

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



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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Founder - Movie Review

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

★★★

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

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

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

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

----

Other 2016 Movies I Saw


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Split is #1 for third week, Rings #2


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

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

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

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

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

Where the current nine best picture nominees stand:

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


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

Friday, February 3, 2017

My Top Ten Films of 2016

Of the 104 movies I saw in 2016, these were the best.

Honorable Mentions: Deadpool, Don't Breathe, Fences, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hail Caesar!, I Am Not A Serial Killer, The Jungle Book, Life Animated, The Lobster, Loving, Midnight Special, Sully, 10 Cloverfield Lane, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, The Witch.

My Top 11-20 (in alphabetical order):

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR - DC Comics may not have figured out the movie business post-Nolan, but Marvel's humming along. Civil War brought together some old favorites and new and featured one of my favorite fight-scenes ever in a comic book movie.

DEEPWATER HORIZON - Director Peter Berg's tribute to blue-collar consequences to white-collar greed may be the most respectful disaster movie ever.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN - Hailee Steinfeld has arrived.

GREEN ROOM - This claustrophobic thriller stars Anton Yelchin as a band member where he and his mates barricade themselves in a green room at a Nazi club after they witness a murder. Patrick Stewart is the skinhead leader who just wants these rockers disposed of. The sense of dread builds at the right pace and there's a realistic feel to how everything goes down.

THE INVITATION - Low-budget indie drama that starts like a thriller and keeps audiences guessing where it's going.

THE NICE GUYS - Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling made for 2016's most surprisingly funny comedy duo.

ROGUE ONE - This Star Wars stand-alone answers one of the big questions from the original trilogy and just adds depth to the franchise in general.

SING STREET - John Carney once again writes and directs a movie about people writing music, but by setting this in high school in the 1980's, there's the extra pleasure of nostalgia.

WEINER - Fascinating documentary about one of the most self-destructive politicians of the decade.

ZOOTOPIA - Disney had great success with an all-animal cast for Robin Hood, so they do it again with Chinatown.

And now....

..... My Top Ten:

10. HIDDEN FIGURES - Inspirational true story about the African-American women who helped put John Glenn into space.

9. LOVE & FRIENDSHIP - Kate Beckinsale blazes through this Jane Austen adaptation from her old pal Whit Stillman. She says so many cruel things but with such a smile on her face that no one around her knows how to handle it.

8. MOONLIGHT - A very distinct, unique character study of a boy who doesn't say much, but we can still get what he's going through. Writer/director Barry Jenkins is going to be someone to follow.

7. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA - Heartbreaking drama about a messed-up guy who's named guardian of his nephew after his brother dies. Career-best work from Casey Affleck.

6. HACKSAW RIDGE - Director Mel Gibson is back, giving us a story of a conscientious objector to WWII who still found a way to serve in the military without firing a shot.

5. LA LA LAND - This throwback to old musicals is delightful, but especially when you consider it's from the guy who made the verrrry different Whiplash.

4. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS - Tom Ford knows exactly what story he wants to tell here and I was on board. On its surface it's just a story-within-a-story about a woman reading a new novel by her ex-husband, but the way that story weaves in with flashbacks of their relationship is superbly done.

3. LION - Moving true story of a little boy lost in India, and how as an adult he tries to find his mother.

2. ARRIVAL - This contemplative movie makes an alien arrival almost a subplot, to the more focussed story of how a linguist (Amy Adams) deals with the complications of trying to decipher an alien language.

1. HELL OR HIGH WATER - This modern-day Western is perfectly paced, with a pair of young bankrobbers and a pair of old cops trying to stay ahead of the other. it was my favorite movie of the year.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

SAG Award Winners


Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
“Hidden Figures”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis, “Fences”


Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
“Stranger Things”

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
“Orange is the New Black”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries
Bryan Cranston, “All the Way”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries
Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
John Lithgow, “The Crown”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Claire Foy, “The Crown”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Split stays #1, A Dog's Purpose #2


For the weekend of January 27-29, 2017, M. Night Shyamalan's Split held on to the top spot, with a very good 34.2% drop. Any time your second week is less than 40%, you know you have a word-of-mouth hit. By comparison, xXx 3 had a 59% drop.

Of the new releases, the Oscar-qualifying Gold fell on its face. Viewers weren't ready to watch a balding-capped Matthew McConaughey in a pale version of Wolf of Wall Street. The Founder found itself in a similar boat, but only dropping 21% without adding a single screen is a very good sign of people seeking it out.

The winner of the new releases was A Dog's Purpose, a family film opening right when December's releases are ready to dwindle and leave.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter ends the franchise with a whimper instead of a bang.

Hidden Figures, meanwhile, in its fourth week of wide release, only dropped 11%.


Opens February 3
RINGS with Aimee Teegarden, Alex Roe, Vincent D'Onofrio and Johnny Galecki.
THE SPACE BETWEEN US with Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Full List of Oscar Nominations

BEST PICTURE
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

BEST DIRECTOR
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

BEST ACTRESS
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

BEST FILM EDITING
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls
“City of Stars,” La La Land
“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

BEST SOUND EDITING
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

BEST SOUND MIXING
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
13th

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Ennemis Entreniers
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Monday, January 23, 2017

Split - Movie Review

Starring James McAvoy, Ana Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Sebastian Arcelus and Brad William Henke.
Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

★★★

I don't really want to say M. Night Shyamalan is back, since that what The Visit said. I'd say Split confirms that he's back, that the twist-happy director of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable is making good movies again.

This film centers on Kevin (James McAvoy), a DID patient who has that extra movie-trope level of multiple personalities. (Just go with it.) We learn that Kevin has 23 distinct personalities. We don't meet all of them, but we meet enough to watch McAvoy have a grand old time.

The 3 personalities we deal with most are Dennis, who kidnaps three girls; Patricia, who is in charge; and Hedwig, a 9-year-old who's amused by everything.

The main one of the three girls we deal with is Casey, played by Ana Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Morgan). She has her own issues, dealt with in flashbacks, that help her manipulate Kevin more easily than the other two.

It doesn't have a lot of jump-scares, but imminent danger is omnipresent. And I liked the twist ending, although I'd really classify it more as a stinger that adds a dimension to the movie.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Split Wins Box-Office Weekend


For the weekend of January 20-22, 2017, M. Night Shyamalan's Split overachieved over its tracking and solidifies between this and The Visit that Shyamalan in back.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage didn't do quite as well. It was projected to win the weekend a couple weeks ago. Vin Diesel is a name, and even though it doesn't look good to open at $20 when you have an $85 million budget, but it's already made $50 million overseas and looks like it will ultimately break even if not be a little profitable.

Other new releases/expanses that have Oscar hopes (The Founder, 20th Century Women) couldn't really make a dent.

For the other titles, Hidden Figures is now on course to cross the $100 million mark domestically. It has yet to be released overseas, so anything it makes out of the US will be gravy.



Opens January 27
RESIDENT EVIL 6 with Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Iain Glen and Mike Epps.
A DOG'S PURPOSE with Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, John Ortiz and Josh Gad.
GOLD with Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Silence - Movie Review

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

★★½

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moonlight - Movie Review

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

★★★½

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

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

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

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

Lion - Movie Review

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

★★★★

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

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

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

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