Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get Out - Movie Review

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


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

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

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

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

Get Out is #1 at box office

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

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

Monday, February 27, 2017

Complete List of 89th Academy Award Winners

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My Preliminary Oscar Guesses

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

La La Land

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

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington, Fences

Emma Stone, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Dev Patel, Lion

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight

La La Land
Manchester by the Sea


La La Land

La La Land

The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

La La Land
Hail, Caesar!

La La Land

Star Trek Beyond
A Man Called Ove

La La Land

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

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge


O.J.: Made in America

The Salesman
A Man Called Ove

The White Helmets
Joe's Violin

La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights


The Great Wall - Movie Review

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

LEGO Batman still #1, Great Wall #3

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

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

Fist Fight had an expected meh opening.

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

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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

John Wick 2 - Movie Review

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


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

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

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

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

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


I also recently saw...

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie - Movie Review

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


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

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

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

LEGO Batman is #1 at box office

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Founder - Movie Review

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


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

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

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

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


Other 2016 Movies I Saw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Split is #1 for third week, Rings #2

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

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

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

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

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

Where the current nine best picture nominees stand:

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

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

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.