More 2016 Old Reviews

 

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There was a time when anybody who thought this movie was going to be made was completely out of their minds.  After the character of Wade Wilson, Deadpool, the Merc with the Mouth, had his mouth sown shut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Deadpool’s big screen hopes were what were dead.

Ryan Reynolds was very disappointed because he loved the character of Deadpool and would tell anyone who would listen that this could be an awesome movie.  Then, there was some test footage films and “leaked” onto the internet, and the fans went crazy.  This, reportedly, convinced the higher ups at FOX to green light the project.  After committing to an R rating, FOX created what might be the greatest marketing campaign of all time to promote the film, all the while apparently staying out of the creative process.  No meddling in Deadpool like there was in Fant4stic.

But none of that would matter if the film was not good.  And the film was not good…

It was $%@#(+*^ awesome.

This is perhaps the perfect adaptation of the fan favorite character of Deadpool that you could possibly see, and maybe the greatest adaption of any comic character to the big screen.  The reason was that Ryan Reynolds loved Wade Wilson (Deadpool’s altar ego) and he brought the fan boy to the film.  He knew the character and it shows.

Deadpool is the origin story showing how mercenary Wade Wilson became the foul mouthed Deadpool, but this is not just any origin story.  It took the tropes of the super hero genre and turned them on their ears.

There is so much good with Deadpool that I am not sure where to start.  This film is definitely a “hard R” rated film.  There is violence, f-bombs all over the place, nudity, crass sexual situations and language, … they simply did not leave it short.  It all blends together to become something epic.

The love story between Wade Wilson and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) was the emotional core of the film.  This relationship was not the typical super hero love interest.  Far from it.  These two damaged and downright rotten characters bond together and, we as an audience, really connect to them.  Neither is a good person, but they are so damn likable together, and they are both played beautifully by Reynolds and Baccarin that their chemistry is amazing and you root for them to be together/

But Wade finds out that cancer is ravaging his body, and he undergoes an experimental process that may activate latent mutant genes in his body and save him by turning him into a super hero.  The problem?  Once in this secret organization’s clutches, Wade realizes that the organization, led by the villainous Ajax ( Ed Skrein), might have different plans for him.

Ajax was a great villain.  He was the perfect foil for Deadpool and his revenge plot that takes up a bunch of the story.

Speaking of the story, it is told in a non-linear manner, told in flashbacks between action scenes.  This is a very effective way to tell the story.  Had the origin story been told all in on part at the beginning of the movie, Deadpool would not have been as successful as it was.  There was surprising emotional depth here as well.

The film was brutally violent in an unapologetic manner.  The scenes of Wade Wilson being tortured to attempt to activate the mutant gene were, at times, tough to watch, but they really give you a feeling of what wade Wilson is going through. Plus, it gives you an insight into the character of Ajax.  The violent action scenes are creative, look great and never fail to entertain.

Deadpool is very crass.  There are plenty of jokes in this film that might push the boundaries of good taste.  And I loved them all.  I have said before that “funny” makes up for a lot.  Deadpool is hilarious.  You laugh throughout the entire film, starting with the opening credits.  You can forgive the tastelessness of the jokes if they are funny, and, boy howdy, these jokes are funny.  Movies that try to shock to get laughs should watch Deadpool to see how it is done.

X-Men member Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and his “trainee” Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are fantastic additions to the cast, successfully tying this world of Deadpool to the world of the X-Men film universe better than you could ever have hoped.  Colossus is fully CGI, though Kapicic does do some facial acting, but you would not notice.  The film, which did not have the huge budget of other super hero movies, got things done with less than most films.  That added to the feel of the movie.

Another challenging trick was the use of the “breaking of the Fourth Wall.”  This is where the actor, in this case Ryan Reynolds, speaks to the audience/camera a if he were a person who knew this was a movie.  Breaking the Fourth Wall has been around for decades as shows and films like Moonlighting, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, and many Mel Brooks movies used the technique effectively.  However, none of these examples come anywhere near as unbelievable this is in Deadpool.  Deadpool narrates the adventure for us, speaking for the audience as he does.  Throw in the meta jokes about the movie business, jokes about Ryan Reynolds and his career and jokes that included bashing X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the sown mouth.  Breaking the fourth wall fit brilliantly.

The music was a perfect fit.  From the beginning strains of Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning to the ending credits Shoop by Salt n Peppa, the music identified the film and played the jokes perfectly.

TJ Miller was great in his role as Wade Wilson’s friend Weasel.  We got the ultimate Stan Lee cameo.  Leslie Uggams played Wade Wilson’s roommate, Blind Al and provided some extremely funny (and probably inappropriate) jokes.  Uggams is amazing in this role.  The pacing was great.  The story was great.  Deadpool is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time.  Ryan Reynolds absolutely was able to bring the real character of Deadpool to the movie screen, and not the atrocity that we saw before, and he crushed it!  This film took that X-Men Origins character and made it irrelevant.  It became a joke that the film embraced.  Reynolds’ dialogue was fast and furious from the beginning to the end and it was sometimes hard to hear everything because we were all laughing so hard already that we missed the next joke.  That must mean I need to see Deadpool again!  Yay!

Deadpool took many of the same tropes that you see in the comic book movie genre and made them into something that feels original and trend setting.  Practically every joke works on some level and the relationship with Wade and Vanessa works so well that they are a leading candidate for couple of the year. Deadpool is highly entertaining and a load of nasty, dirty fun.

5 stars

 

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Zoolander 2 was horrid.

I had never seen the original Zoolander, but it seems like some of the key elements are represented in this sequel.  Most of the same characters are found here.  The problem was that Zoolander 2 was just not funny.

Several pop stars, including Justin Bieber, are being mysteriously killed, but just before they die, they give what appears to be a signature look used by the older model.  That leads Interpol into thinking that Derek Zoolander(Ben Stiller) might have some knowledge to share.  Meanwhile, Derek was lamenting the death of his wife and the removal of his son from years before, and, his old friend Hansel (Owen Wilson), was off with his “orgy” including Kiefer Sutherland.

Reunited, Derek and Hansel jump into the attempt to find young Derek Jr.  (Cyrus Arnold).  Everything is brought together with the return of the big villain Jacobim Mugatu (Will Farrell).

There are so many ridiculous situations and stupid moments that Zoolander 2 gets bogged down.  The real problem was that there are just no laughs involved.  Stupid situations and ridiculousness can be fine if there are laughs.  Laughs can solve many issues.  Zoolander 2 just did not have enough of them.  And when you open the same weekend as Deadpool, you are in trouble if you are hoping to be a alternative, because Deadpool is so much funnier than this film.

Without the laughs, the story falls apart very quickly.  The fact that Derek’s son Derek Jr. was fat and that it became a problem for Zoolander and the others in the film was quite offensive.  The main characters offend several different types of people (from transgender to little people) and none of it pays off with laughter.

There are a ton of celebrity cameos, most of which are basically wastes of time.  Most are done simply to have them in the movie.  Musician Sting is an interesting role in the film, but the payoff of that is completely ignored.  The Justin Bieber stuff could have been good, but his appearance was spoiled in trailers.  Plus, the actual scenes with Bieber were not stand out anyway.  Benedict Cumberbatch was here too so Derek and Hansel could make jokes about not knowing whether All (Benedict’s character) was a male or a female.

For all of the talent involved in the cast, this film felt very lazy.  A sequel to Zoolander probably should not have come out 15 years after the original.  Zoolander might have a bit of a cult following, but it does not have the type of power required to bring back the product.  Both Dumb and Dumber 2 and Anchorman 2 tried to have a sequel years after the originals and both fell desperately short.  Both were in the worst movies of the year list, and I cannot see a way that Zoolander 2 will not make that list as well.  The only reason this is not the worst movie of the year so far is because we had the travesty called Fifty Shades of Black.

There is a way to make stupid funny.  The original Dumb and Dumber did it. Zoolander 2 tried it, but failed miserably.  When you fail at making stupid funny, all you have left is stupid.  And that is what Zoolander 2 is.

1 star

 

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It’s Valentine’s Day and who doesn’t want a good rom-com for this invented holiday?  “Good” being a relative term here.

How to Be Single is about a group of female characters and the struggles they have living the single life.  The problem was most of these characters did not feel like real life people.  They were all stereotypes and cliches mixed together with party scenes at a bar.

We first meet Dakota Johnson’s character Alice, who is in a relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun), but she apparently was unhappy.  She wants to take a “break” from the relationship to see what else is out there.  Despite the fact that Josh seemd ready to commit a life with her, Alice kicks him to the curb.  I have to say, later in the film when she came back to Josh looking to hook back up with him, I was very happy that he had entered into another relationship.  I had no pity for Alice, who spent much of the movie lonely, because she clearly brought it on herself.

After the break up, Alice is introduced to Robin (Rebel Wilson), the party girl, who immediately took Alice out to find her an uncomplicated, one-night-stand.  This was with Tom, the bartender (Anders Holm), who apparently is as much of a slut as any of the females in the film.  Tom wants no relationship and is only interested in short term sex.

Tom also has conversation with Lucy (Allison Brie) and he begins to wonder about the strange feelings he has for her.

None of these stories were interesting, funny or compelling in even the slightest bit.  None of them felt realistic either and so I could not relate to any of them.  It seemed like nothing more than a really poor episode of “Sex in the City.”

However, I did enjoy the story line of Meg (Leslie Mann) and Ken (Jake Lacy).  Meg, a pediatrician, finally warmed to the idea of having a baby of her own, and she searches out a sperm donor.  After successfully getting pregnant, Meg meets the younger Ken at Alice’s office party and they hook up.  Ken is a fresh breath of air in this film, and I would have liked to have seen much more of him and this relationship.  Had this relationship been the main one in How to Be Single then the film would have been considerably better.

However, it is relegated to the background as unoriginal and uninteresting and unfunny scenes were pile on the film to created forced melodrama.

The writing is terrible.  Only a handful of the overload of characters go through any character development at all.  Only Meg, Tom (somewhat) and the side character of David (Damon Wayans Jr) showed any growth at all.  Alice is basically in the same spot as she was at the start, just with an acceptance of being alone, and Robin quite literally ends the film where we met her in the first place.

How to Be Single was not a terrible film, but there is not much reason to see it.  The joke wears thin and the characters are not worth the time.

2.2 stars

 

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As a child, I enjoyed the story of Jesse Owens, African-American Olympic athlete who attended the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany and who won four gold medals as Adolf Hitler looked on.  I remember being engaged by that story.  However, there were a lot of parts of the Jesse Owens story that I did not know, parts that I was introduced to by the new biopic Race.

Race tells the story of Jesse Owens (Stephan James) as he headed off to Ohio State University to run track for coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis).  Snyder was a former star track performer who had his career shortened by a plane crash, and he was having difficulty finding his footing as OSU track coach.  That changed when Jesse Owens arrived.

Snyder took the young runner under his wing and helped train him to achieve his ultimate goal of running at the Olympics.  Unfortunately, it was not going to be that easy.  For one, the United States was considering boycotting the Berlin Olympic Games because of the oppressiveness of the Nazi Party in Germany.  Some of the scenes of Race showing the Nazi soldier “relocating” Jews were very sad and effective.  These scenes really brought home to Race the horror that was just under the surface of the Third Reich.

The second challenge faced by Jesse Owens was the rampant racism against a black person at this time in America.  Race does not shy away from this either, showing how Jesse Owens had been treated by the football team, other coaches, and fans.

Much like the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, Owens is shown as a man who transcended the hatred and the bigotry and became a star in his sport.

Stephan James does an excellent job as Jesse Owens, showing the struggles he faced and the pressures heaped upon his shoulders.  James brings a lot of heart to the role of Jesse Owens.  Even more impressive was the job turned in by Jason Sudeikis because this was so outside his typical comfort zone.  Sudeikis took on this dramatic role as this washed up, alcohol drinking athlete who finds redemption through his coaching of Jesse Owens.

My favorite part was the involvement of a German athlete at the Olympic Games named Carl “Luz” Long (David Kross).  “Luz” showed a special level of sportsmanship during the long jump competition despite the potential dangers of aiding Owens.  The two athletes bonded over the moment and became friends.  I found everything about Luz fascinating and I would actually love to have seen the film from his POV.  I can’t imagine what Hitler was thinking as he watched those Games and saw his German star athlete raising the arm of Jesse Owens into the air in support of the black man.

There were a few things about Race that could have used improving.  The film was a little too long, as there were several scenes early in the film that was used to set up moments later.  I think some of them could have been either removed or tightened up.  Secondly, Race was really a by-the-numbers biopic with few changes to the story telling process.  Race was not going to break any new ground.

Yet, those were not major issues and, for the most part, I enjoyed Race.  I now know more about Jesse Owens than I did as a youth, and I can see how much of a hero he was.

3.85 stars

 

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There was a lot of buzz for The Witch, coming out of Sundance as a critical darling, and the trailer for the film was sincerely creepy, so I was looking forward to it.

Hm.

That was it?

I was pretty disappointed by The Witch, finding much of the film fairly boring, and thinking that the ending was a mess.

  1. New England.  A family is removed from a village for questions about their faith, they head out to live on their own.  Finding a life on the outskirts of a creepy forest, the family immediately faces horrors when the infant son is stolen from beneath their nose.  The questions and doubts continue to tear the family apart from within, especially after the oldest boy Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) disappears as well.

The story seemed to focus on the eldest girl in the family, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) who was with the baby when it was abducted, and was the last one to see Caleb before his disappearance.  The devout Christian family struggled to find reasons or excuses for the events that happened to them.

The performances of these actors were really strong.  Taylor-Joy and Scrimshaw in particular were exceptional in this film.  Both of these actors are fresh new faces that seem to have the world ahead of them.  Scrimshaw especially had to carry a vital scene and does so beautifully.

The father William (Ralph Ineson) and the mother Katherine (Kat Dickie) do extremely well also.  The actors are asked to speak their lines using the King’s James Bible type of language, making it all the more challenging, but they all pulled it off.  The “thous” and “thees” did not feel forced or out of place.

However, the story was not as engaging as I thought it would be.  It built toward the conclusion in a slow fashion, and the story was pretty confusing at times.  There was an opportunity to focus the story on the reality of someone in the 17th century of being accused of witchcraft, but instead, the film took the stereotypical manner of the story.  This led to the end of the film which really took a lot of the good will from the film and threw it away.  Without spoiling it, the ending of this movie really brought the film to a screeching halt.

I will give credit to The Witch for one thing.  The tension that it was creating was done without using jump scares.  The technique of having something jump out and frighten the viewers is a desperately overused trick in horror films these days and The Witch should be commended for not allowing that cheap trick to be used.

The soundtrack was also exceptionally used to help create a tone for the film that stayed consistent throughout.  Horror movies, when done right, can use music effectively to create the type of film that the filmmaker wants, and the makers of The Witch do this very well.

Robert Eggers is the director of The Witch and this is his first time directing a major motion picture.  The direction of the film was not the problem as much of the film looked wonderful and the shots set up well.  The story just did not interest me as much as I hoped it would have.

And then, there was a pair of child actors who played twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) and I thought they were just the opposite of the talented Scrimshaw.  I found them unbelievably annoying and weak.  I hated every time they were on screen and they had an important role in the proceedings.

There was also a horned goat named Black Phillip.  This was a strange addition and threatened to take the proceedings into parody territory.

Fortunately, it did not get to that level, but The Witch was not anywhere as strong of a film as I was expecting.  The performances were good, especially from the oldest two children, and there was some good shots.  But the ending and the weaknesses of the story hurt The Witch more.

2.9 stars

 

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Dame Maggie Smith is amazing in this new film, The Lady in the Van, and her performance is clearly the main reason to see this funny little film.

Smith plays Mary (or is it Margaret?) who has gone through something traumatic in her life that led her to take up living in her van.  She parks her van on the street of a neighborhood in England and winds up in the driveway of a fledgling writer Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings).  The relationship between the transient woman and the closeted gay writer becomes the focal point of the film, and, despite the fact that Alan acts as if he is annoyed by the constant presence of the the lady, you can see that he “doth protest too much.”

This is based on a true story (or as the film claims, a “mostly true story”).  In fact, the film, using an interesting technique of having Alan Bennett talking to himself (literally to a second him on the screen), is able to let you know parts of the story that had been added and dialogue that had not actually been said.  The image of two Alan Bennetts on screen was, at first a little confusing, but developed into a great, almost fourth wall breaking technique.

Alex Jennings does a fantastic job as the foil to Maggie Smith’s over-the-top lady.  Alan’s deadpan and dry reactions make this all the funnier and touches the emotion of the scenes.

The film has a very British sense of humor about it, which I liked.  It also spends an inordinate amount of time developing these two main characters.  We have a deep understanding of both Mary and Alex by the end of the film.

The film does struggle a bit showing the passage of time.  Fifteen years were to pass from when Mary first moved her van into Alan’s driveway and, when the film dropped that number, it felt jarring.

Mary had a ton of quirks and they were all brought to vibrant life by Maggie Smith.  Smith deserves all kind of credit for this transitional performance.  Smith could create such an emotion from just a glance that helped make this bizarre woman a real person.  There is a joy in the performance, even if there was little joy to be found.

The Lady in the Van is well constructed, entertaining film with a really good performance and a brilliant one.  The relationship was real and personal for both characters, which comes across loudly and clearly.

3.8 stars

 

 

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The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary had its share of intriguing stories, including the Jamaican bobsled team whose story was told in Cool Runnings.  And now, we get the story of the British ski jumping sensation, Eddie Edwards, who engaged the world with his amazing reaction to just being at the Olympics.

Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) had always wanted to be an Olympians despite the fact that he lacked any real athletic skills or talents.  Eddie tries many different sports, but it is not until he switches to Winter Olympics sports where he starts to have some success.  After failing to make the downhill skiing team, Eddie discovers that Great Britain does not have a ski jumping team, making it easier for him to qualify for the Olympics.

Of course, Eddie had never ski jumped before.  But that would not stop this underdog.  He went to Germany and started learning how to jump.  He met constantly drunk Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski jumper who was dubbed a “natural” but was too undisciplined to take advantage of his skills.  Bronson tried to discourage Eddie, telling him that ski jumpers needed to start when they are 5-6 years old (Eddie was 21).  But Eddie would not give up and eventually wins Bronson over to his side.

Then, the British Olympic Committee changed the qualifying requirements in an attempt to keep Eddie out, but instead only inspiring Eddie to continue on and struggle to try and complete his dream.

Eddie the Eagle is absolutely a by-the-numbers sports movie, detailing the underdog’s attempt to overcome the odds.  There are typical story aspects in this film that are in every movie of this kind:  the training montage, the bullies, the family issues, the alcoholic coach, the early failure, the dramatic ending etc.  You have 100% seen this film before.

That does not make it bad.

I enjoyed Eddie the Eagle way more than I thought I would.  I did not like the trailer to this film, because it felt like it showed me the entire film.  And that criticism is still valid. However, there were many things about Eddie the Eagle that I still liked.

In particular, Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman were very good in the film.  Egerton really became this character, and we see nothing of the actor who starred in last year’s surprise success, The Kingsmen.  Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, was pretty much Hugh Jackman.  Still, Hugh Jackman is an enjoyable actor and I think he did a nice job here.

And the story this film told was engaging.  Yes, it was paint by the numbers, but it was funny and enjoyable and made you root for Eddie in all the right places.  It helped that I was not aware of the story of Eddie the Eagle from the Calgary Olympics so I was unaware of how this was going to end up, though I had a pretty good idea.  The slight uncertainty helped build some tension in the story.  Add to that the ski jumping scenes were very well done and there is enough to come out of Eddie the Eagle feeling good.

People love the story of an underdog overcoming the odds, especially if that underdogs is as likable as the character of Eddie the Eagle.  It is a feel good film and would make an awesome double feature with Cool Runnings.

3.8 stars

 

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I usually do not go to these Christian faith movies.  There have been many over the years and, for the most part, I do not like them.  They never seem to be any good and try to hit you over the head with their message.  Worse yet, some of my least favorite films of all time fall into this genre (Left Behind anyone?)

However, The Masked Saint was a religious film centering around the world of pro wrestling, which I love.  It was based on a true story of a wrestler who left the ring to become a pastor of a church.  That intrigued a some.

But the real draw of the film, the one that caused me to go see The Masked Saint, was the presence of Rowdy Roddy Piper.  This was the last film in the career of the wrestling icon, who passed away in 2015.  Piper was an all-time favorite wrestler and starred in one of the greatest cult classics of all time in John Carpenter’s They Live.  I could not turn down the opportunity to see “Hot Rod” one more time.

Chris (Brett Granstaff) wrestled under the moniker of  The Saint for the wrestling organization WFW, run by shady promoter Nicky Stone (Roddy Piper).  However, Chris announced that he was going to retire from the ring, much to Nicky’s chagrin.  The massive new villainous heel, The Reaper (James Preston Rogers) was to be his last match, but the giant Reaper intentionally injuries Chris’s leg.

After his retirement, Chris heads to his new church in a run-down, crime riddled neighborhood and immediately struggled at finding the words to inspire his few parishioners.   Then, church member and extra special babysitter Ms. Edna (Diahann Carroll) discovered his past secret as a pro wrestler and tells him that God gave him skills for a reason.  This leads Chris back into the wrestling business and he begins moonlighting for the WFW to make money to help his family and the church.

This was not a very good movie, but it was awesome to see Roddy Piper on screen again.  His character was not much of a stretch, but Piper has so much charisma that he can make up for the weakness of the material.  And this material is weak.  The acting may be passable, but the script itself, in particular, the dialogue was terrible.  It was filled with the platitudes one would expect in this style of movie.  Add to that, there were several subplots that felt tossed in for no other reason than to spread the run time of the film out.  There is one particular subplot involving spousal abuse that is fixed by the church.  Hallelujah.  Chris also becomes a masked vigilante, using his actual wrestling mask, to beat up a local African-American pimp and save a diner full of people and draw the vigilante-hating police detective Harper (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), who suckers Pastor Chris and his daughter down to the police headquarters to trick him into a police line up in probably the most ridiculous use of cop power ever on screen.

There were many problems with this film, but the wrestling action was actually pretty well shot, The Saint looked pretty cool (including an awesome finishing move, the faithbreaker, where he winds up on his knees and preying after hitting it) and there was Rowdy Roddy Piper.  Still, the ending is ridiculous.  Many of the characters are boring.  And the preachy aspect of the film is way over done.  I don’t understand why these type of parable films feel the need to bash you over the head with their beliefs.  I think this could have been done in a less painfully obvious way and still have Pastor Chris do all the same things.

It is sad that Roddy couldn’t have had a better film for his last one.  But you could always go watch They Live again.

2.1 stars

 

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Opening in 2015 in limited release to secure Oscar consideration, director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio came out nationwide this weekend finally giving me a chance to see what everyone was talking about.

I can see why some people are claiming that this will be the film that finally earns DiCaprio that elusive Oscar.

The Revenant is based on a true story, where Hugh Glass, a frontiersman on an expedition for fur and pelts, is leading the group back home after an attack by Indians decimated their ranks.  The Indians were in search of the chief’s daughter who had been kidnapped.  John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) was oppose to basically every thing that Glass said, but Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) believed completely in Glass.  Glass also had a son named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a part Indian whose mother died years before.

The story takes a turn when Glass falls victim to a brutal bear attack and left near dead.  Debate raged about what to do, especially since the Indians were closing in on them.  It was decided that Fitzgerald, Hawk and Bridger (Will Poulter) would stay behind and tend to Glass until he died and then he would receive a proper, respectful burial while the rest of the group would continue back to their fort.  Fitzgerald winds up killing Hawk and burying Glass alive.

The rest of the film is Glass’s desperate attempt to survive so he could return and make Fitzgerald pay for his transgressions.

Leonardo DiCaprio was fantastic.  I have never been a huge Leo fan.  I have thought that his work has been mainly overrated, but there is simply no debating that he is magnificent as the battered and near dead Glass.  With very few lines of dialogue, this is the most brutal and grimy performance I have seen in years.  DiCaprio gives it his all, with every grunt and twitch a story is told.  The pain and anguish with every move is palpable while his dogged determination is inspiring.  Admittedly, there were a few times that I thought they may have gone too far with his survival, but DiCaprio completely embraces the brutality, spending more time dragging his battered body through the snow than walking.

And the film was astonishingly beautiful to look at.  The cinematography was perfect.  The environment was as much of a character as anyone else in this movie, and Iñárritu’s choice to use only natural light while filming (as …from the sun) created such a realistic and brilliant presentation.  You could feel the world around Glass and you struggled with it with him.  It is an experience.

I would say that there are a couple of the characters that could be developed more, and the whole subplot with the Indians seemed weird to me and I did not understand it for most of the film.  Plus, Tom Hardy, while overall amazing in the film, was hard to understand at times.

Now, there is the infamous bear scene.  There have been some comments about the bear scene that talked about the bear raping Leo.  Unfortunately, those comments did color my perception of the scene, as I could see why people might have said that.  When I got past that, the scene was unbelievably brutal and intense.

The Revenant was an amazing experience with breathtaking visuals and an out-of-this-world performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Having seen this now, I think I might believe that DiCaprio deserves the Oscar for this role.  Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter have great performances as well.  The film is really a story of survival against all odds, against nature and against forces that conspire against you.  It was an exceptional film.

4.6 stars

 

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I was not looking forward to this one.  I was never interested in the trailers for The Danish Girl, the loosely based true story on the life of Einar Wegener, a known painter who became one of the first men to undergo sex reassignment surgery in the 1930s.

Here, Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is a working artist, married to Gerda Wegener (Alicai Vikander) and the pair were trying to get pregnant, as well as sell some paintings.  They seemed to be a happy couple, but one night, after Gerda asked Einar to pose for her, he had long buried feeling begin to surface.  He becomes Lili, initially as a joke between the couple, but it is not long after that Gerda realized that something strange was happening.

Apparently, Lili was something that was inside Einar since childhood, and now that she was out, he could not put her away.  However, he was not crazy.  He just felt like a woman inside the body of a male.

As I said, I had no intention of liking this movie, but then I saw it and it was so lovely and touch and had such amazing performances that I just couldn’t help myself.  The Danish Girl was a fabulous film.

Eddie Redmayne is amazing as the title character.  Although the transformation last year into Stephen Hawkins was more astounding, the change into Lili is remarkable as well.  I must say though, there is just something about Eddie Redmayne that is weird.  I don’t know if it is his sharp cheekbones and features or his pale skin, but every time I watch him it looks as if I am watching something not real, almost CGIish.  It was distracting at times, but his performance was riveting.

However, Alicia Vikander was absolutely memorizing.  I have not seen a more beautiful, gorgeous creature in a long time and every time the film zoomed in on her, I found myself taken by her epic loveliness.  Plus, she brought the goods to the movie.  She was unbelievable as Gerda, the woman who was slowly losing her beloved husband to his true nature.  Alicia Vikander had a massive 2015 as she was also brilliant in Ex Machina, and starred in Man from UNCLE and Burnt.  Beauty and talent together.  She is a star in the making.

The story itself was pedestrian, as the film was really performance based.  Of course, you had two astonishing powerhouse performances to hold this film together.  The two performances were heartbreaking as these people struggled with the realization of who they were and how their love was not going to be enough.  There were times when I thought that Einar was being very selfish (perhaps that opinion came from my love of Alicia Vikander), but then I would think about how confusing and lost he must have felt all his life and it made me reconsider some of my opinions.

The film was very careful to then make sure it gave Einar a back story, so it did not make it look like this was a sudden change in point of view.  At first, the change from Einar to Lili felt a little out of left field, but with the addition of Einar’s childhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), a portrait was being constructed of a man who had these confusing thoughts for many years.

It was also fascinating seeing Einar and Gerda searching for help from the medical community, only to be labeled perverse or crazy.  It shows how far we have come as a society when it comes to these kind of situations.  Someone like Lili would no longer be called a deviant and cast out of society.  The scene in the Danish Girl where Einar climbs out of the window just before the doctor returned with a straightjacket and orderlies really emphasizes how much times have changed since the 1930s.

I did not expect to like this movie, but it was so emotional and powerful, with Oscar caliber performances by both Redmayne and Vikander that I found myself swept up into this film.  And Alicia Vikander is absolute perfection in The danish Girl in every way.

4 stars

 

 

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A Michael Bay directed film in January?  It can only be terrible, right?

Nope.  Actually pretty damn good.

13 Hours is the story of six men who were inside Libya at a secret CIA base who had to bunker down and hold off an all out assault on the American Embassy and their own compound from locals without any help from American forces.

This story was hugely controversial in 2012, as the talking heads of news television and politicians of both parties jumped on this story as a way to put down the other side.  The movie strays away from that, for the most part, deciding instead to play on the human drama from behind the compound walls.

And, of course, it is a Michael Bay movie, so things have to blow up.

However, this time, there were stakes and tension and people you cared about.  Who knew?

I will admit, in the beginning of the film, they started introducing characters at a break neck pace and I was confused about who was who.  However, Jack Silva (John Krasinski) stood out as a developed character.  The scenes with him and his wife and daughters helped to humanize this man who would be shown to be quite the warrior later in the film.

In fact, most of the characters got their chance to shine at more than just the war scenes, and, by the end of the picture, I had found myself caring for them, going as far as saying that I got emotional at the end.  This was unexpected and very welcome.  They were not just big, muscular guys with beards carrying heavy weapons.  They were real developed people.

I got my first inkling that this was not going to be just any old Michael Bay film early in the movie when there was a tense standoff with Jack and Rone (James Badge Dale) inside a jeep with locales outside it with guns pointing at them.  I found myself interested in this scene and engaged with the tension.

Now, that does not mean that 13 Hours was a perfect film.  Not by a long shot.  I would say that it was too long and, when the war battles began, it became difficult to tell what was going on at times.  The use of the shaky camera came into play here and there several times when I was not sure who was getting shot.  There were other good scenes of wartime action that made good use of the format.  I just wish there were more of that.  Also, the use of slow motion near the end felt out of place, almost cartoonish midst the graphic results of the violence that was shown.  There were too many times where the battle scenes felt like they came out of the newest Transformers movie.  Still, I would say that there were more war scenes that were tense and well done than were Transformer-like.

Michael Bay pays respect to this topic, a topic that was a true story and was very controversial.  It was everywhere on the news for months.  I was not anticipating liking this movie, but I liked it a lot.  The heroism of these characters that I learned to like as the film progressed was a welcome surprise.  There was good action and I really liked this film.  Who knew?

3.85 stars

 

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January is usually the month where so many terrible films are sent.  It is the wasteland of the movie year.  However, this year so far, we have had The Forest, which was not too bad, I saw the Revenant in January (though it was technically released in December) and 13 Hours was really pretty good.

And then there was Ride Along 2.

Returning January to its rightful rottenness, Ride Along 2 is a poor film that is not funny and has every cliched bit in these kind of dumb movies.  It is harmless, but it really has no purpose.  There is nothing new and there is maybe a chuckle or two.

Kevin Hart is once again playing Ben Barber, who is trying to impress his soon-to-be brother-in-law James (Ice Cube) and become a police detective.  They go together to Miami following up a lead and they discover Benjamin Bratt as a bad guy.  Kevin Hart does some dumb and annoying things and then does some good and heroic things and the film ends.

That was about it.

Kevin Hart is really in danger of falling into that hole of only playing characters that are Kevin Hart.  Melissa McCarthy has had that trouble as has Adam Sandler, but at least both of them have tried to do other roles.  Kevin Hart has yet to step outside of his comfort level and do something besides the same old shtick.  There is only so many times that you can fall back on the same role without it pulling you down and Kevin Hart is in danger of having that happen to him.  Add to that the fact that he is always screeching that he makes himself difficult to support.

Plus, Ice Cube’s character barely acknowledges any caring for Ben in this film.  He dismisses him at every step.  Why should I care about Ben if his soon to be brother-in-law not care?   Plus, why does he take him along to Miami?  Because his sister asked him to.  It was as contrived as it could possibly be.

Taking his note from the others, Ken Jeong plays his character from every movie (in particular The Hangover) except without the accent.  Oh, he’s a hacker.  He does not play a role, he plays a function of the plot.  I did not find him funny at all and even less likable.

I do not think you could get any more cliched than the final fight with Benjamin Bratt and his villainous crew than we got here.  Bratt shows up out of nowhere and his men are pretty worthless.

The story is just there as an excuse to have Kevin Hart yell and do some slapstick comedy and to have Ice Cube scowl at him and roll his eyes.  I actually found the fight between Kevin Hart and Sheri Shepherd, who played the obnoxious wedding planner, more interesting, and I wished that they had gone more in that vein for the movie.  Instead, this film was an unfunny and predictable affair that, while harmless, cannot be considered much of a comedy.  And since there were no “buddies” in this, Ride Along 2 cannot be a buddy cop picture either.

Welcome January back.

2 stars

 

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There are few stories that are as compelling as that of Jake “The Snake” Roberts, former WWE Superstar, and the documentary available now on iTunes, proves that point dramatically.

Jake Roberts was one of the biggest stars in the then WWF during the 1980s boom of professional wrestling.  While Hulk Hogan headlined the cards, Jake the Snake consistently gave the best promos and wrestled some of the most memorable feuds.  Roberts invented and named the DDT, an iconic wrestling maneuver that is now in nearly everyone’s arsenal.  All of those wrestlers were inspired by the character of Jake the Snake.

However, Jake Roberts faced more than just opponents in the ring.  He faced his own personal demons, and those demons almost got the best of him.  Drinking and drugs derailed a promising career and prevented Jake from contributing his brilliant mind for the business further.

In The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, they touch upon a very difficult and, downright, tragic childhood of the wrestling icon.  Son of former pro wrestler Grizzly Smith, Jake faced abuse from a step mother and apathy from his father.  The background of Jake is touch upon in the documentary but is not dwelled on.  It establishes reasons for the choices the man who seemed to have everything would make.

However, this movie is not about the problems of Jake the Snake.  Several years ago, there was a film called Beyond the Mat which included a section on Jake.  It portrayed Jake the Snake as a cocaine-addled, broken down, deadbeat father.  However, there was not much balance to the film, especially the Jake Roberts section.

This film did not want to focus on the negative, it focused on a man trying to recover.  It was made by people who spent time with Jake and who had a connection with him and, because of that, can show the truth, both good and bad.

One of the people behind the film was another former pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.  DDP, as he became known, put together a program called DDPYoga and reached out to Jake.  Jake was one of Page’s mentors as a wrestler and he wanted to give something back.  Jake’s struggles were well known, and DDP believed he could help him.  Some of the early shots of Jake Roberts really showed how far the man had sunk.  But with DDP’s help, Jake began a transformation physically that is astonishing to see.

We also see Page help another wrestler, Scott Hall, whose body had just about given out on him after years of substance abuse and the physical toil the ring takes upon you.  The transformation is truly unbelievable. The scene where Dallas Page and Jake Roberts call Scott Hall to invite him to come join them in Atlanta (where they lived) is one of the most amazing things caught on video.  You can hear a man go from being totally lost and at the end of his days to a man who suddenly had a hope for the future.  It is quite literal to say that Dallas Page saved these two men’s lives.

The film does not shy away from the falls as well.  We see Jake Roberts slip several times during the documentary.  The way that the alcohol changes Roberts was very obvious, as was the caring of the people around him.  Page, as well as the director Steve Yu, did not pull any punches when Jake would fall.  They expressed their expectations of accountability and emphasized how important Jake was to them.  And they were completely sincere.  The mixture of support and hard love really worked for the wrestling legend.

The level of support Roberts felt from Page was clear as there were a couple of slips that corresponded to times when DDP took trips away from the “Accountability Crib.”  It was like Jake needed that support or he would wind up losing himself and giving in to the cravings.  His descriptions of the cravings as a voice in his head telling him that one beer wouldn’t hurt was a frightening image and shows how precarious his hard fought sobriety truly was.  The pictures of Jake Roberts struggling with his demons, the tears filling his eyes at his own failures, are a haunting reminder at how nefarious an addiction can be.

But the film was not about the failures or the shortcomings of an individual.  It is a redemptive tale of a man who faced his demons and was able to come out the other side, with the knowledge that his fight would never be over, but that it was a fight that he would always be willing to face because he had people beside him to help him when he needed it.

Jake Roberts found how important he was to many people, the fans, his family and his friends and he was able to use that strength of love to help him fight to push off his personal demons.  The Resurrection of Jake the Snake ends with Jake’s surprise return to “Old School” RAW and his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.  Dallas Page inducted Jake Roberts into the Hall of Fame and his words were inspirational.  He said:

“Never underestimate the power you give someone by believing in them.  Never underestimate the power you give yourself by believing in you.” -Diamond Dallas Page

This is perfectly shown in this film.  The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is a story that wrestling fans will love, but it should not be limited to wrestling fans.  Anyone can be inspired by this story of redemption and rebirth through love and support.  This is a beautiful documentary and I am very happy that I had a chance to see it.

5 stars

 

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January is back in a big way.

I disliked most everything about Dirty Grandpa.  I did not find it funny.  I did not find it entertaining.  It was certainly predictable.  Dirty Grandpa was terrible.

Jason (Zac Efron) is weeks away from getting married when his grandmother died, leaving her decade long husband Dick (Robert DeNiro) alone and horny.  The grandfather talked Jason, who was uptight and anxious, into driving him to Florida so he could show him how to have fun.

As soon as you meet Jason’s wife-to-be Meredith (Julianne Hough), it was painfully obvious what was going to happen.  Story wise, I could have listed off every beat that happened in this movie.

I also have historically disliked drug movies and placing a character who is blatantly selling drugs to college students on spring break as one of your heroic characters (played by Jason Mantzoukas) really irritates me.  Plus, the message that the drugs taken by Zac Efron during the film making him a batter, happier person is a poor message to send.

Skipping the drug aspects of this film, it was also very crude.  I don’t mind crudeness in a comedy, but crude humor needs to be funny, and most of this was not.  There was also a blowjob/handjob joke involving a young child and Zac Efron that most likely went too far.  I am hard to offend, and that joke really made my skin crawl a bit, and it was just not funny.

There are so many parts in this film that made no sense or where you had to completely shut your brain off to believe that it could possibly happen that this makes the film ridiculous.  There are so many bad, almost sitcom-like set ups, that my eyes were rolling constantly.

Now, Robert De Niro was decent as the horny grandpa, but that was absolutely the only thing that I found even remotely interesting.  De Niro’s karaoke performance being one of the few good moments.  There were so many terrible things and terrible characters introduced here.  There was a cousin (Adam Pally) which was mysteriously stupid.  There were two Florida police officers that are complete caricatures  (Mo Collins and Henry Zebrowski) who laugh with the drug dealer and are simply crooked and unfunny.  The Meredith character is as stereotypical as you can get.

Ugh.  This was just a terrible movie.  I waited for it to get funny.  It never happened.  There were so many stereotypical characters around every corner.  I really disliked this movie.

1.2 stars

 

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The 5th Wave was the aliens invading.  The 6th Wave was boredom.

In the latest YA novel adapted to the big screen, The 5th Wave tells the story of an alien invasion by following the Sullivan family and their struggles during the different waves.  According to the story, the first wave was the pulse that took out the electronics, the second wave was tsunamis and earthquakes, the third wave was bird flu and the fourth wave the infiltration.  Thus, we were up to the 5th wave in this alien invasion story.

Chloë Grace Moretz played Cassie Sullivan, the pretty young female character that we are supposed to follow.  She is trying to find her brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) who has been taken away by the military and Liev Schreiber.  She comes across an epically beautiful man named Evan (Alex Roe) and they have a forced and unbelievable romance right out of Twilight.

The biggest issue with the 5th Wave is that there is nothing here that we haven’t seen before.  This sets no new ground in alien invasion stories and even less in the teen romance areas.

And it becomes very dull during much of the film.  We have a lot of walking.  Then, there are some attempts at plot twists that just are not well done.  There were some interesting moments with the young kids at the army camp, and sending them out on a mission were the one spot that might have been okay.  There just was not even of that.

The dialogue was atrocious.  I actually sat in the theater and thought to myself that the dialogue was terrible.  That is usually something that I think about after reflection.  Not this time.

I liked Chloë Grace Moretz.  She is likable enough.  She is a beautiful young actress.  Even after Chloë’s character was supposed to be injured and bedridden for a week, her hair still looked wonderful and her make up was perfect.  Not sure how she was able to do that.

Plus, I am sorry, but “The Others” are always going to be on the Island with Ben Linus leading them.  Calling these dopey aliens, who end up doing some really stupid things, The Others made me think of LOST every time they said it.  And there is just no comparison.

The 5th Wave had a couple of moments but it really becomes derivative, like all of the YA novels that are turned into big screen films.  Some are better than others, but very few reach a level of excellence as The Hunger Games does.  The 5th Wave comes much closer to The Host than it does to The Hunger Games.

2 stars

 

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I thought the premise of The Boy was ridiculous and stupid.  The trailers did not do it any favors.

The thing is… I kind of liked this.

I was definitely caught off guard with how much I actually didn’t hate this.  I really expected to hate The Boy.  It is a January horror film and the trailer was garbage.  Yet, with several exceptions, I was unexpectedly entertained.

Now, I am not saying that this is a great movie by any stretch, but it had enough tension and mood about it to make it feel creepy, and most of the main characters were reasonably developed, and there were real issues that this film dealt with.  It did feel that it could have been even better with some tightening here and there.

Greta Evans (the beautiful Lauren Cohan from The Walking Dead) arrived at an exquisite England manor after leaving the USA to escape something in her past.  Greta was being hired by the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), an old couple who want her to become their child’s new nanny, giving them an opportunity to get out on a trip.  The thing is… the child is not a real child after all, but a doll, named Brahms.  The Heelshires treat this doll as if it were a real, live boy, which included a list of rules for Greta to follow.

These two actors playing the Heelshires were one of the best parts of this film, as they were just the right amount of creepy.  You just couldn’t gather whether they were a totally grieving couple or whether they were completely insane.  Did they believe what they were doing?  Why did they take this to the level that they did?  These performances were vital to set up the film or else nothing else would work.

Lauren Cohan was good in this film too.  She is one of my favorites from the Walking Dead, and I think she could have a lot of success on the big screen.  She has a fresh feel to her and she carried her role effectively.  I wasn’t even thinking of her as Maggie the whole time either.  That alone is a success.

Rupert Evans played Malcolm, the guy who brought the groceries to the secluded house.  I liked him, but I had a thought in my head the whole movie about Malcolm that turned out incorrect that might have influenced my opinions on him.  I did like him with Greta, but they did seem to get forced together too quickly.

The film did seem to have something to say about the subject of domestic abuse, but that plot thread was not as well developed as it could have been and ended up feeling like it was forced.  This was one example where I think a good re-write could have made this a much stronger subplot.

Now…the ending.  Without spoiling anything, there is a twist at the end of this film that about which I am just not sure how I feel.  On one hand, I like that the film didn’t go with the path I expected it to go, but the conclusion made a lot of plot points not make sense.  Again, I think the ending could have really worked if they had done another couple of re-writes on the script.

The first hour of this film really did a good job of setting the tone of the film and creating a mood out of what could have been a ridiculous premise.  The acting was solid, especially from the older couple playing the Heelshires and Lauren Cohen.  Plus, the doll was surprisingly creepy.  I think that there was a reasonable answer to why Greta didn’t just throw the doll into the fireplace when it started looking as if it were alive (which is what I would have done immediately).  Some possibilities were discussed between characters, which was also interesting.

On the whole, I am surprised at The Boy.  What could have been a terrible time in the theater, turned out somewhat entertaining.  It was certainly better than some of the other films I saw today.

3 stars

 

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I have been anxiously awaiting this film coming to a theater near me so I could see it.

All I can say it….WOW

Room absolutely deserves all the Oscar buzz that it has been receiving lately as this was an incredibly emotional story of a mother and her son that left me in tears.  It struck a serious chord for me and I just found it to be life affirming.

Joy (Brie Larson) had been kidnapped as a late teenage girl by Old Nick (Sean Bridges) and kept captive in an old shack out behind a house.  After a few years of being his captive and, for lack of a better term, sex slave, she became pregnant and gave birth to her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay).  We meet these two in this little shack, that they call Room.  Jack, being born in captivity, does not understand the world outside the walls of Room, having never experienced it.  He never knew what a tree was, except that it was something made up on the television.  The only window was a skylight, which Jack believed led to space.

After his fifth birthday, Joy (called Ma during most of the film) began to think that Jack was old enough and smart enough to start telling him about the truth of what the world was like, and this really shook Jack to his emotional core.

First off, Jacob Tremblay is absolutely brilliant.  This young actor was breathtaking with the range of acting levels that he displayed.  It was most of Tremblay’s work that caused the tears to roll down my face.  His initial rejection of what his mother was telling him was just heartbreaking, as he screamed at her.  The scenes of wrapping Jake in a rug in an escape attempt and him yelling that he hated her for making him do it tore at my heart.  The entire sequence involving the escape plans were some of the best written, acted of any film and it delivered an emotional wallop.  Jacob Tremblay absolute was robbed by the Academy Awards this year when they failed to nominate him in a category.  There have been few adult actors that have given such a pitch perfect performance as this young man did.  This film would not have worked without him.  He was the main focus of the story.

However, there has been Oscar love for Brie Larson, who, as Joy, deserves every second of praise that she has received. Larson delivered a serious powerhouse performance and should be taking home that Oscar this year.  The guilt and anger and frustration and fear that she played in every scene can not be overstated.  It was a tour de force performance.  She played off Tremblay so well that they really felt like a mother-son.

The film was not afraid to show the damage done to these two characters by their incarceration.  However, Joy was shown to be having the harder time adjusting while Jack showed how resilient he was.  I believed that the resiliency shown by Jack was directly because of what a great job his mother did of protecting him in the room.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, he does a fantastic job of making this minuscule shed feel like a much larger space in the beginning of the film.   It could have even been a small apartment for all we knew at the very start of Room.  As we start to see what was happening here, the direction takes a claustrophobic turn and Abrahamson is able to take this horribly, heart-wrenching situation and show, despite the darkness that exists, how much hope there is in life.

I cannot stress enough how absolutely brilliant Jacob Tremblay was in this movie as young Jack.  With all due respect, his performance may have been my favorite one from all of 2015 (even though I saw this in 2016).  I gave Jacob the “I See Dead People” Child Actor Award in the EYG 2015 Year in Review even though I had not seen it.  I am so glad that I did because this is one of the best child performances ever.  This is an epic performance for any aged actor.  Room is amazing.

5 stars

 

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I cannot help but lament the days of Airplane or The Naked Gun or Young Frankenstein and any other numerous Mel Brooks movies.  These were the days when a spoof movie or a parody movie could also be smart and well-made and funny.  The days where there were more than just jokes centered around sex.  Where the movie has something original to say.  Did I mention that they were also once funny.

When was the last spoof movie that was actually funny?  Not just a couple of good laughs, but actually laugh out loud funny?  SpaceballsGalaxy QuestHot Shots?

I could not help but wish for the old days after seeing the abortion that is Fifty Shades of Black, a desperately unfunny, offensive and uncomfortable movie from Marlon Wayans.  Wayans has made such horrendous films as A Haunted House 1 & 2, and a series of Scary Movies.  This one may have reached a new level of crap.

In fact, I will go on the record in saying that this was the worst movie I have saw since I saw 2012’s worst movie of the year, Movie 43.

The film is clearly a take off on the terrible film from last year, 50 Shades of Grey, which is based on the equally horrible novel that was originally written as Twilight fan fiction.  The hatred I felt for 50 Shades of Grey made me interested in seeing how they might have skewered the film with this parody.

Oh, how sad.  I was actually more entertained by 50 Shades of Grey.  I think it was funnier as well.  I thought it was interesting that there were a couple positive reviews that I have seen for this crapfest because, basically, the reviewer hated the original “Grey” and claimed that this was a comedic take down of that movie.  I saw one reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes call it “cultural criticism” and that it “eviscerates nearly every scene in “Grey.”

What?

I do not believe for one minute that this movie intends to do anything more than make joke about the size of penises or awkward sexual situations.  There is not a higher purpose to anything in this film and claiming that there is one does not make it so.

Fifty Shades of Black is a hateful movie, full of stereotypes and bigotry.  The white mother of Christian Black (Wayans) makes her son his favorite meal (fried chicken and Kool Aid).  This is the type of stereotype that I would have thought might be topic in the 70s, not in 2016.  A few seconds before this, the same mother (played by Jane Seymour, by the way) had offended her adopted daughter by believing she was from China when she was actually Korean.  This type of offensive humor is not funny, and in fact, can be dangerous these days.

The humor in it is juvenile, jokes that might make a 12 year old laugh (and I say, might.  I’m not convinced of that.)  It is low brow at its worst and lacks anything of substance or value.  It is not trying to say anything specific about the genre, and, despite taking a few shots at the source material, it really only exists to make jokes about sex.  That could still be funny.  Fifty Shades of Black is not.  I did not laugh once.  I did not even chuckle.

This has to be the worst movie of the year.  I cannot imagine anything being worse than this.  I usually skip this type of film anymore, and I regretted not skipping this one about 10 minutes into it.  It was the longest hour and a half I have spent at the theater in a long time.

0.2 star

 

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This was the tale of two trailers.

The first trailer, which focused on the character Miriam (Holliday Grainger) trying to convince Eric Bana’s character to call her fiance Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) back from the rescue mission was one of the worst trailers I have seen.  It had nothing that made me think that The Finest Hours would be anything more than a melodramatic claptrap.  However, trailer #2 featured scenes from the rescue at sea, and was actually extremely exciting and dramatic.  The opposite spectrum covered by these two trailers really made it uncertain what type of movie this would be.

The Finest Hours is based on the true story of what the Coast Guard still refers to as the greatest small boat rescue at sea ever. 1952.  A terrible storm off the coast of Cape Cod causes a tanker to be torn in two.  As the ship is sinking, the seamen on the vessel desperately try to come up with an idea to buy themselves time for a rescue to arrive.  Since abandoning ship on lifeboats was not realistic because of this terrible storm, mechanic Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) comes up with a plan to keep the boat afloat.  Meanwhile, four men from the Coast Guard, led by Webber, set off on what was called a suicide mission to retrieve the survivors.

Much like the trailers, I found this movie to be schizophrenic.   The parts of the film that focused on the rescue at sea or the attempts of the crew of the tanker, The Pendleton, to survive despite each other felt dramatic and intense.  However, every time they went back to the mainland to pick up the story of Miriam, it felt like the film ground to a halt.

The early part of the film dealt with the burgeoning relationship between Miriam and Bernie.  They came together pretty quickly, and I never really bought the closeness of the pair.  Bernie felt as if he were holding back for some reason.  That was never really dealt with, though I liked how Miriam was shown as an atypical female of the time.  She felt like a stronger female, but her story arc just did not work.

However, the stuff at sea was not only exciting, but it looked great.  Sure it may not be anything new (we have seen much of this in The Perfect Storm, among others), but the actors do a great job of bringing the goods in these scenes.  I was invested in the rescue of these survivors of the tanker, and I was amazed at the decisions made by Bernie that was able to save them.  The fact that this is based on a true story only makes this all the more amazing.

I would have loved to have seen more about the tanker, and less about the “love” story.  That seemed to be out of place here, as the main aspect of the movie dealt with the rescue.

Both Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are excellent in this movie, setting the emotional moments immediately.

Yes, this is a Disney movie, but I did not get the idea that they “Disney-fied” the story.  This story is not necessarily for children, as some of the images might be too dramatic.

The true story itself is amazing and heroic, and the film does a service to the heroes here.  This could have been a much better movie than it is had it not felt the need to focus so much away from the sea.  Still, the scenes on the tanker and the rescue boat carry more weight for me than the forced romance.

3.4 stars

 

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January movies are usually pretty bad.

The Forest isn’t that bad.

In fact, there are some good things about it.  Now, it isn’t a good movie, but I didn’t hate it completely like I thought I might.

Sara (Natalie Dormer) discovered that her twin sister was in Japan and was seen heading into a forest that was known to be a place where people who want to commit suicide would go to do it.  She had that twin voodoo power and she knew that her sister Jess was not dead, but in trouble.  So Sara hopped a plane to Japan in hopes of finding her sister before it was too late.

However, what she hears from the locales is that the forest is a place where you do not want to be.  It is a place where ghosties come out, especially at night, and, if you don’t stay on the path, bad things will happen to you.  Sara cannot give up on her sister, so she recruits people to help her out and into the forest she goes.

That premise is pretty solid.  Apparently this forest is a real life location, beneath Mt. Fuji and it had a lot of promise for creepiness.  And I have always enjoyed the concept of twins and the connection or bond between them.  Plus, there were some definitely creepy moments prior to Sara entering the forest.

Part of the most interesting aspect of this film was the background story of the young twins as children.  Jess saw something traumatic as a youth that her sister did not see and that image forever haunted Jess.  The guilt of Sara at not seeing what her sister saw led to years of trying to rescue Jess from her own self-destructive behaviors.

That was all very interesting and would give the forest (kind of like The Island on LOST) ammunition to use against Sara when she invariably goes off the path.

Once we were in the forest, though, there were as many moments that just did not work as those moments that did.  The biggest trip off path involved the demonetization of Aiden (Taylor Kinney), a reporter who was in Japan doing a story on the forest and met Sara.  Aiden was engaged by her story and offered to help her find her sister, for the rights to the story.  I liked this connection as well, until it got changed midway through the movie.  I am still not sure if this was meant to be a twist or if the forest was just one big mind game, but the way the movie flip-flopped on Aiden was a big time missed opportunity for me.

And yes, there were several cliched horror movie tropes that you see all the time in the genre, which is a shame because this could have been something different and interesting.  It did not have to rely on jump scares or creepy faces that come out of nowhere.  There was an attempt at a psychological terror that could have worked throughout the whole film, instead of just in pockets here and there.

The ending was the worst as it really fell apart in the conclusion.

It felt like The Forest wanted to be smarter than it was, but it came up short. There are enjoyable aspects of the film, and I think there were certainly parts that worked for me.  I did not hate this movie, but I did not love it either.  On the whole, The Forest was an okay time with a flawed, but still somewhat engaging, horror film.

2.5 stars

 

 

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