Downsizing Movie Poster

There are some directors who the critical world looks at as if they cannot do wrong.  Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson among others.  So when they make a bad movie, some critics like it juts because of who the filmmaker is.  That might not be a fair criticism, but it is just the way I see it.

This is one of those times.  Alexander Payne has had a great deal of successes over his career, but Downsizing is not one of them.  Still, I hear some critics claiming that there are “big ideas” or “concepts beyond.  I even saw one review that said that “Payne’s undiluted vision is admirable, and you almost owe it to him to try it out.”

I am afraid that I do not owe him anything.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that he owes me more than what he gave me in Downsizing.

Matt Damon stars in the film as Paul Safranek, a physical therapist who is barely making it.  He and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to join up with the newest attempt to “save the planet” by reducing their size down to five inches.  The downsizing process was discovered by a scientist in Norway named Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) and the world was going small.  Of course, most people were not downsizing for the sake of the planet.  Instead, because their consumption is so much less, people’s money goes so much farther.

Paul and Audrey make the decision to go small.  Paul went through with it, but Audrey bailed at the last minute.  And then, in their divorce settlement, Paul wound up about the same place that he was before.

There are several problems with the movie.  The biggest one is that there is not much of a story.  It feels more like a combination of scenes pushed together.  There is not much of a narrative.  Things happen.  Paul reacts. Then something else happens.  In the end, the film winds up in a very strange place that is not expected and feels as if there is too much preaching of a message going on.

Hong Cho plays a character named Ngoc Lan Tran, who is introduced about half way through as a character and then suddenly from out of nowhere, is a love interest.  There is little chemistry with these two actors and Hong Cho makes a strange choice with an accent that is borderline stereotypical.

Christoph Waltz is here as Paul’s upstairs neighbor Dusan who is one of the more fun aspects of the film.  Waltz seems to be having a blast playing this character who has no concerns or regrets.  Honestly, there is not much more to the character than that, but he was a breath of fresh air here.

In the end, this is a satire that has an agenda to push.  There is too much of a message and way too little of plot.

2.3 stars


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I have been working on my 2017 Year in Review section recently and I had started organizing the Top 10 list of Netflix original movies.  As I was adjusting the list, I thought to myself that I should watch Mudbound before completing the list.

Mudbound had some buzz about it, but I had not heard anything specific.  I knew it had been on my queue for a few weeks and I had found excuses as to why I hadn’t watched it.  I did not really know what this film was about, having heard very little.

So with the desire to make the Year in Review list as accurate as possible, I loaded up Netflix and turned on Mudbound.


This was a tremendous movie.  Powerful and poignant.  I am so glad that I did not just skip over it.

Mudbound tells the story of two families, one black, one white, in the 1940s in Mississippi. The McAllens came from Memphis into the Mississippi delta region to farm land that Henry (Jason Clarke) had purchased.  He brought his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), his two girls and his racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) with him.

Meanwhile, already on the land was the Jacksons.  Sharecroppers who had worked this land for generations, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) struggled to make a life for themselves and their family.

Each family had a member go off to fight in World War II.  The McAllens had Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) flying B-52s and dropping bombs from above and the Jacksons had their son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) who became a sergeant in the Army.  Their returns to their families really ratcheted the drama up.

There are many themes here investigated by director Dee Rees.  They look at not only the family dynamic within each family and the connection between different families, but also the racism of the time.  This was Mississippi in the 40s and the climate for racial relations was not particularly liberal.  Jamie McAllen seemed to be dealing with a case of PTSD as well from the scarring air battle that nearly cost him his life.  Jamie dealt with those demons with alcohol and the world at the time saw him as a drunk instead of someone trying to deal with the memories.

Nothing was spared in the filming of Mudbound either.  This felt like a grand epic that should have been seen on a big screen. I know this debuted at Sundance before being snatched up by Netflix, and I am sure that this played exceptionally well there.  We get those small scenes on the farm, but we also get those larger air battles in the war.

The performances of this ensemble are exceptional across the board.  There is not a weak performance anywhere.  Garrett Hedlund is magnificent as Jamie, and he has a wonderful pleasant connection/chemistry with Jason Mitchell.  This friendship is the main driving force of the second half of the film and it brings some of the most powerful scenes in the movie.

Carey Mulligan delivers an epic performance as well as the young wife who is dragged to this farm by her husband.  You can tell she does not want to go, and that she does not want this type of life, but she was very supportive and did what she had to do.  She had several quiet moments of emotions throughout the film and she is great.

Mary J. Blige is here as well.  I did not know it was Mary J. Blige until I saw the credits after the film as she does a remarkable job turning into her character of Florence.  Florence is such a strong woman who is willing to do whatever she can for her children and her husband Hap.

Jonathan Banks creates a character that you just hate, showing the ugly side of racism during the time, and yet, you understand where he is coming from.  He is not a totally evil man, but he has a definite backyard process of thought.  And the fate of his character is certainly satisfying.

There was a technique used with voice over where each character takes turns voicing thoughts about the circumstances.  I found this to be a wonderful way to inform us on these characters and to help understand what they would be thinking in each moment.  In a sense it is delivering exposition, but I found it to be a creative and original manner.

While the film has a slow pace, I never was bored as I found myself invested in all of these characters and the film bounced between them all in significant ways.  Then, when Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund come back, the film picks up the speed dramatically.

I am so happy that I decided to watch this movie.  It is a tremendous character study of two families and the pains and struggle of life during this period of time.  The performances are award caliber and there are a few scenes that will leave an indeliable impact on you.  Extremely powerful.

5 stars


All the Money in the World

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To start off, you cannot tell at all that this film replaced Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty with Christopher Plummer and reshot all of those scenes in 10 days.  To some films, that would be a death sentence.  All the Money in the World did it seamlessly.

You would have thought that most films would have postponed the release date and then done the re-shots, but director Ridley Scott decided to keep that release date and push on ahead with Plummer assuming the role from Spacey, who had been let go after the sexual misconduct accusations that have been leveled at him.

Christopher Plummer is magnificent here making the fact that he did it in 10 days all the more astounding.

The film tells the story of the abduction of J. Paul Getty’s grandson, Paul (Charlie Plummer), and his mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and her desperate attempt to get her ex-father-in-law J. Paul Getty to spring for the ransom.

Known as a shark of a negotiator, Getty was not used to giving away money in any form, and he refused to give any ransom for the return of his grandson, placing his former daughter-in-law, who had no money of her own, in a terrible position.

Getty did provide one of his heads of security and former CIA agent, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to investigate what was going on and to try and help bring back the grandson (without spending the money).

The film has several very solid acting performances.  Christopher Plummer was amazing under normal circumstances, but with the odd situation he found himself in here, he was utterly brilliant.  Michelle Williams was amazing as well. I would have loved to see more scenes between Williams and Plummer because when they were together, the screen crackled.Young Charlie Plummer was very good too as the kidnapped kid.

Now, the film was very heavily dialogue based.  That is not a bad thing, but it does make it feel a little too long.  Some of the early parts of the film dragged on and may have felt a little boring.

The greed and complete lack of empathy or caring made me really hate J. Paul Getty as I could not believe that there was someone this selfish in the world.  I found myself really rooting to have some kind of justice for his awfulness (and I believe Karma took care of that in the end).  There is absolutely a correlation one could draw between this story involving this real life billionaire and things that are happening in the world today.  It makes one wonder how J. Paul Getty became such a person.  The film does not go into great detail about the idiosyncrasies of this man.

There were scenes where I wanted more, specifics that would have helped me connect to these people and there were other scenes that felt superfluous to what the story was telling.

The film has some great performances, especially Plummer, and I wish there could have been more with him and Williams together.  There is a satisfactory ending that makes it worthwhile.  The film just got a little too long for my taste.

3.2 stars

Father Figures

Bastards Movie Poster

When you see Ed Helms and Owen Wilson, is the first thing that pops into your head that they look like twins?  I mean, even going as far as making them fraternal twins, is there anything in common?

The new film Father Figures is asking you to make that jump, as they play brothers who have just found out from their mother (Glenn Close of all people) that the man who she had told them was their father was in fact not their father.  She then told her sons that she did not know who the father really was as she was quite the sex pot during the seventies.  Peter (Ed Helms) and Kyle (Owen Wilson) take off on a cross country road trip in search of their true father.

I was not looking forward to this movie as it really looked stupid.  And, unfortunately, it was very much stupid.  The comedy was non-existent throughout the film and, when there was comedy, it was pretty low brow (for example, there was a scene of a little boy and Owen Wilson peeing on each other at a bathroom urinal).

But a funny thing happened as I was watching this… I found that there was a strange heart to the move.  In particular, the scenes between Ed Helms and Owen Wilson were surprisingly enjoyable and connected with me with the feels.

Don’t misunderstand me, most everything else about this movie was just stupid as could be, but the relationship between the brothers was pretty well done.  Both of these characters were developed and their connection was one that you could definitely see and fell.  I did not expect how much I would connect to these two characters.

Sadly, that was where the film’s positives ended.  A great cast (Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, June Squibb, Ving Rhames) was wasted.  Terry Bradshaw had a section of the film.  I am not sure if the director expected Bradshaw to bring acting chops with him, but he was about as stiff as you would expect.

The storyline was ridiculous.  Each new “father” that Peter and Kyle arrived to see got increasingly more and more absurd, and not in a good way.  There was nothing that was funny.  The best section of the film, with hitchhiker Katt Williams, was spoiled in the trailers.  The plot meandered around without any real coherent thought.  It was like “what can we throw these two into next?” was the concept and they executed that certainly.

Still, I came out of Father Figures with a decent feeling, especially when thinking back on the two main leads and their story together.  Not their ridiculous wild goose chase or their incomprehensible side tracks on their trip, but the actual relationship between two men who loved each other but had a difficult time liking one another.  If there was more about this in the script, then Father Figures would have been a considerably better movie.

As it is now, Father Figures is an unfunny and undisciplined film with a poor script, senseless story beats and a cast that is wasted, but that also had a few moments of real heart that were just too few and far between.

2.4 stars

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is a masterful actor.  He has been a consistent performer who can lose himself in a role.  He has a history of doing that over the years and now, he is going back in history for his next great role.

Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England during the darkest time the British was facing during the early days of World War II.  He was not the popular choice, but he was the choice that was believed to be able to cross over party lines and unite the country.

In this film, we see how close that came to not being the case.

With opposing forces within his own War Council, Churchill faced constant problems.  Former Prime Minister Nevelle Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and everybody’s real choice for PM Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) represented the other party in the council and wanted Churchill to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler.  Churchill wanted no part of tat, but felt as if his hand was being forced by events and by the situation.

This was all going on at the same time as 300,000 British troops were being trapped at Dunkirk, only adding to the pressure on Churchill.

Oldman brilliantly shows the progression of the curmudgeon Churchill from nervously awaiting an appointment to facing overwhelming odds.  One of the best scenes in the movie had Churchill on a train, discussing what he should do with the people.  This really showed the connection that Churchill had with the “normal” people of Britain and why he is such a beloved figure.

The dialogue is wonderfully written and that is vital since Churchill was known for his biting wit and sharp comments.  Even the King of England admitted to being “scared” of Churchill.  Oldman delivers these lines with a gusto that you expect from him.

While the acting is top notch, this would be another version of a film where the performance elevates the story.  The plot itself is not the strongest aspect of Darkest Hour, but with every word, Oldman makes everything better.  I would compare this to another World War II movie- The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch.  Cumberbatch brings so much to the role of Alan Turing that he makes the movie better by his presences.  Gary Oldman does the very same thing.  This could be considered the quintessential Winston Churchill performance ever put to film.

Much more accurate than the other movie today (Greatest Showman), Darkest Hour presents the tale of a singular time in the life of Winston Churchill and it does it with a career performance by a great actor in Gary Oldman.  The film may run a little too long, but that scene on the train had me getting goose bumps.  I would expect to see Gary Oldman’s name in future Oscar consideration.

3.6 stars


The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman Movie Poster

The latest big screen musical is the story of the life of P.T. Barnum, albeit leaving much, if not most, of his life.  This is less of a biopic than it is a piece of historical fiction.

Phineas T Barnum (Hugh Jackman) was a young boy from a lower class family who falls in love with a higher class young lady Charity (Michelle Williams), and he swears that he is going to give her a great life.  PT eventually lead to creating a “circus” including some talented “oddities” and striving for the stars.

I will say that when the young boy version of PT (Ellis Rubin) started to sing his song, it kind of threw me off.  I knew this was a musical, but the first song really caught me off guard.  It was a weird feeling.

I got past that feeling as the movie continued.  I will say that I found most, if not, all of the songs really enjoyable.  They were toe-tapping and the choreography was wonderful.  There was a song with Zendaya and Zac Efron where they were singing with the trapeze rope that was breath-taking.

I thought the acting here was very strong with the cast doing a great job.  However, I think most of the story was pretty surface level and the plot points did not go into any real depth.  The writing was average and did not create the characters into more than two dimensional.

Great singing and dancing, but average to below average story and characters, The Greatest Showman does have some redeeming qualities.  If you are a fan of musicals, you’ll probably enjoy this film, but there are some definite items lacking here.

3.1 stars

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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The “reboot/sequel/re-imagining” of the 1990s Jumanji really only has minimal connections to that film.  This is a new version and, to be honest, I liked it a lot more than I did the first one.

Although I loved Robin Williams (still do by the way), I was never a big fan of the first Jumanji movie.  I mean, it was okay, but I wanted more from it.  So I was not overly excited for a “reboot/sequel/re-imagining” of the franchise…even with the Rock in it.

Still, the trailers looked entertaining and word of mouth was good, so I went into Welcome to the Jungle with reasonable expectations.  And I was entertained.

Instead of Jumanji being a board game that frees dangerous rampaging creatures into our world, the game has adapted itself into a video game format and, instead, pulls the players into the world of Jumanji.

So when four high school students in detention find themselves with the option of playing this video game, they take up the controllers and wind up in the jungles of Jumanji.  Each student found themselves inside an avatar of the character that they chose to play.

The initial set up to this movie is a bit slow, but, as a teacher in middle school, I recognized these types of students.  Once they arrive in the jungle, and we have Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan appear on screen, the movie truly takes off.

Johnson played nerd/video game expert Spencer, a geeky boy who was scared of pretty much everything.  Hart played Fridge, a large football player struggling to get through school.  Gillian was the wallflower Martha, who was shy and withdrawn.  Finally, Jack Black played Bethany, a snotty, blonde Instagram using teen mean girl.  So each avatar is very much playing against the type of the character that had chose them, and this is where most of the comedy for the movie comes from.

And this is extremely funny.  I would say, especially with Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black.  These two actors really got into the contradictions of their characters.  Jack Black especially was just brilliant as the teenage girl who has lost her phone.   There are so many subtitles to Jack Black’s performance that it makes it all the better.  He is a total riot (including the discovery of the penis).

Kevin Hart is basically Kevin Hart.  He is using his same shtick that he uses in most of his films.  However, he does seem to be able to create something more here, perhaps because of his chemistry with The Rock and the others in the cast.  I would have liked Hart to have tried something more than just being Kevin Hart.

Karen Gillan has a lovely relationship with Dwayne Johnson’s character and these two are amazing playing two awkward kids trying to find their way to one another.  Just the thought of these two beautiful people having any insecurities at all really is a funny concept.  Funny and real.

The action in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good, especially with the helicopter scene.  I also loved how the film played with the idea that they were in a video game.  Characters had skills, talents, weaknesses that they could access, limited number of lives, and there was music cues when important things were going to happen.  There were NPC (non-player characters) who were there only to deliver scripted lines and they would repeat those even if a character asked them a specific question.  This was very clever.

Yes, the film also has Bobby Cannavale playing a character named Van Pelt, who is the villain of the movie and does have some creepiness involving insects, but has zero motives, zero personality or zero charm.  However, he does seem to be able to do more than just speak previously scripted dialogue like all the other members of Jumanji.  That fact is never dealt with and it could be seen as a plot hole.  Van Pelt is really no more than the “Big Bad” at the end of the video game and is the one that the heroes have to defeat.  His inclusion does seem to be a weakness of the movie and a waste of the skills of Cannavale.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels like a throwback to those films from the 1980s that are action/adventure with slight stories that were just fun.  This is not going to be a deep, thought provoking film dealing with issues.  Instead, it is a fun time with some great comedic performances and some good action tossed in.

I had a lot of fun with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

4.1 stars



Pitch Perfect 3

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Pitch Perfect 1 was a huge surprise for me.  I had not intended on seeing it, but the fates got me to go and I really enjoyed it.  Pitch Perfect 2 was considerably down from the first one.

And now there is Pitch Perfect 3.

This one is terrible.  I really disliked almost everything about the film.

The only thing I liked about Pitch Perfect 3 was the songs.  They were, once again, a toe-tapping good time.

The story?  Non-existent.  The comedy?  Unfunny. I think I may have laughed once or twice, tops.  Characters?  Either surface level or repeated from previous installments.

How do you waste an appearance from Jon Lithgow?  How are the scenes starring Jon Lithgow the worst in your movie?  Who though DJ Khaled was an actor?

I struggled to stay in my seat for this one as I contemplated leaving the theater.  I stayed ’til the bitter end, though.

Why does there need to be explosions in a Pitch Perfect movie?  Those scenes seemed to be the wrong tone when we saw them in the trailer and they are just as out of place in the film.

Any time this film was not singing, there was just too much stupidity going around to care about anything.  When they were singing and dancing with lovely choreography, the film is watchable.  I liked the addition of the bands with their instruments (though the film introduced them and then left them completely out of the rest of the film), but there was just too much time spent being stupid than singing.

1.5 stars (because of the music)



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There are some real sweetness about Pottersville.

Unfortunately, there are way more that is stupid about Pottersville.

Pottersville had that cheesy, sweet Christmas movie feel from the early 1980s, but there were so much that was dumb that it cannot be ignored.

Maynard (Michael Shannon) is a kind-hearted shopkeeper in the small and unsuccessful town of Pottersville.  When Maynard discovers that his wife is having an affair (SORT OF…), he gets drunk, puts on an ape outfit and runs through the night (It makes more sense in context…somewhat).  When the people of the town think that he is Bigfoot, the town suddenly is engulfed by news agencies, people coming to hopefully get a glimpse of the ‘squatch, and the arrival of reality star Brock Masterson (Thomas Lennon) preparing to shoot a new episode of Monster Finder in the town.

Of course, once Maynard realizes that the town is profiting and becoming successful from his accidental bigfoot romp, he continues to don the costume, only to make people happy.

There is so much stupidity in this plot that you have to really shut your brain down to enjoy the story at all.  There are some great actors here, Michael Shannon, Jusy Greer, Ron Perlman, Ian McShane, Michael Torpey, but none of them elevate the material beyond a stupid saccharine-sweet made for TV Christmas movie.

The dialogue is atrocious.  It does not sound like real people at all.  Thomas Lennon could have been a great villain out of the shades of Carl Hiaasen’s villain of his fantastic book Chomp, Derek Badger.  Thomas Lennon’s Brock Masterson just falls flat.

All the scenes of the group in the woods are extremely reminiscent of teh reality show Finding Bigfoot, right down to the tree knocks, the night vision camera and the squatch calls.  I feel like I have seen it before.

The whole story ends up with a Scooby-Doo reveal that was only missing the line” and I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.”  Of course, that is not the exact end because the movie should have a happy ending.

The film is meant to be filled with a big heart and a lot of humor.  The problem was none of the humor worked.  It was low brow and stupid.

I was actually looking forward to this, being a fan of bigfoot, but this was not worth the time.  Michael Shannon is always good, but there is only so much he can do.

1.8 stars



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Netflix has been huge in 2017 for their scripted television programs, but you know that they want more than that.  They have been releasing movies all year too, in a varying degree of success, looking to become a force in the world of cinema.

The next step in that attempted evolution of the streaming service was Bright, the new film by Will Smith and Joel Edgerton.  That is two big names in the world of movies (not Adam Sandler and his latest travesty) and there were high hopes that this might be the film that put Netflix into that next level.  Not only do you have Smith and Edgerton, but the film is written and produced by Max Landis, who just had a hugely entertaining series based on the Dirk Gently book.  Sounds as if the film was going all in.

Unfortunately, Bright was not the epic film that Netflix had hoped for.  It is not bad and it certainly has its share of positives, but the fact is that this is nowhere near the tent pole film that Netflix had hope it to be.

Will Smith played police officer Daryl Ward who, despite his own protests, had been assigned the world’s first Orc police officer, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton).  The fantasy world was filled with Orcs and fairies and elves.  It felt like the world of Dungeons and Dragons held in Los Angeles.

After recovering from being shot, Ward returned to work among whispers and hatred for Nick.  Ward would tell anyone who would listen that he did not want to have Nick as a partner and he tried everything to get rid of the Orc.  What Ward did not know was that a powerful magical artifact had turned up in the city and that mystical forces were arriving to try and reclaim it.  Ward and Nick got sucked into the search and found themselves at the center of the problem.

My biggest issue with Bright is that it tries to do too much, so most of the story felt crammed into the film.  It tried to set up too dense of a mythology for the two hour run time.  While I appreciate the attempt to include such fantasy creatures as it does, there was overkill with all of the different races.  This felt like it would have been more fleshed out as a Netflix original series.  If Bright had six-eight episodes, I feel that there would have been some really great storytelling happening here.

Will Smith was his typically great self, bringing the most he could to the role.  The connection between Ward and Nick was a tad forced and made it more difficult to accept this as the buddy cop movie that it was intended as.  I also thought that, though his performance was solid, Joel Edgerton’s character of Nick was all over the place and too inconsistent to be effective.  Edgerton was good for what he was given though.

The film looked great, with some solid effects and some exciting action scenes.  Admittedly, there are probably too many gun fights, and there were too many scenes that felt like the conclusion of the Suicide Squad.

David Ayer directed Bright and you could see his touches throughout the film.  I did very much enjoy the opening musical montage scene where the camera moves around the city seeing the graffiti on walls, telling you stories of the creatures in the world.  That worked very well.  And seeing Will Smith kill a fairy with a broom was a great scene.

Bright was an uneven film that had some solid work, but also had too much mythology for its time and some questionable choices.  Still, it isn’t the worst films you can watch on Netflix (Hi Adam Sandler).  It just is not the next huge hit.

2.8 stars


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I am having a hard time believing what I am typing right now, but I loved this movie.

I did not expect to love Ferdinand as the trailers for the film seemed like that typical animated fare that is unremarkable and just looking to fill the time between Pixar releases.  However, Ferdinand charmed the heck out of me.

The classic story is retold by director Carlos Saldanha, featuring a young calf whose father is taken away to face a famous bullfighter.  At first it seems like an honor, but when the bull does not return, it is obvious that something terrible has happened.

Young Ferdinand always had showed a desire to smell flowers rather than engage in fights, including avoiding confrontations with the other, more aggressive bulls.  After his father did not return, Ferdinand escaped the Casa del Toro and found his way to a peaceful, idyllic country home of a little girl named Nina (Lily Day).  Ferninand (John Cena) became a huge bull, but still had the heart full of peace.  When he wound up back at Case del Toro, Ferdinand had to face not only the past, but a dangerous future.

John Cena was great in this voice performance.  He delivered the kind-hearted Ferdinand’s dialogue to a tee.  You believed that this massive and powerful animal was a sweet caring creature.  Still, the best vocal performance of the film belonged to the scene stealing goat, Lupe, voiced by Kate McKinnon.  McKinnon was just fabulous as this goat and this was the break out character of the film.

I was so charmed by the message of friendship and decency from this film that I forgive some of the predictability that the plot gives us.  Sure the story follows a certain number of beats, but it is such a great time that it does not matter.  Even the car chase scene (which had me rolling my eyes) was one that ruin the warmth of this film.

But I was also impressed with the darkness that the film addressed.  The whole fact that the world of bullfighting is a cruel sport was not glossed over.  The matador (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) was shown as the villain of this story, proudly displaying the horns of the bulls that he had killed for nothing more than show.

But that was not the darkest part touched upon in Ferdinand as there was also the “chop shop” (aka slaughterhouse) where the bulls who failed to be chosen to fight were taken to be turned into meat.  I was truly shocked that they brought this concept into the film, and I found it to be extremely effective.

And there was an awesome dance off between the bulls and the bitchy show horses in the next pen that is just about a highlight of the entire film.

I cannot believe how much I enjoyed Ferdinand.  It was such a charming, sweet, amusing, gentle movie, but yet had some real dark undertones.  It was a total surprise.

4.1 stars

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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The Last Jedi is a fantastic Star Wars movie.

This film starts off where the Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) presenting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) with his light saber.  This was the cliffhanger at the end of Episode VII and everyone was dying to know what would happen.

Meanwhile, we start off with an exciting action scene with Poe (Oscar Isaacs) in a great space fight.

I want to try to avoid getting into too many specifics here when dealing with the plot, so I am going to try to write this review with only the basis plot beats.

Mark Hamill returned as Luke Skywalker and he was spectacular.  This is one of the best performances in Hamill’s acting career.  His interactions with Rey were some of the best parts of the movie.  Every scene involving Luke is just magnificent and makes you want more.  There is one scene in particular with Luke and another character that is just heart breaking.

I loved the entire Rey-Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) parts of this movie.  They had some of the best kick ass parts of the film as well.  The dynamic between these two characters really set the film series up as an effective way moving forward.

There were some wonderful action, especially in space fights, as is the case with Star Wars movies.  The CGI is mostly excellent in the film.  There is a sequence involving the Millennium Falcon that is just an amazing scene.

How about the Porgs?  I did not hate them.  They were cute and not annoying.  Since there have been many Star Wars characters over the years that have felt as if they were meant to be included so there would be toys, and most of them have been iffy at best, the Porgs are not that bad.

And what can we say about Carrie Fisher?  Our princess was great in The Last Jedi, in what will turn out to be her final role.  Carrie Fisher’s time on screen was very melancholic. I loved watching her, but it was sad as well.  This was a wonderful way for Leia to be remembered, almost a year from Fisher’s passing.

I enjoyed John Boyega as Finn in the film.  He is paired with a new character for much of the movie named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who I also liked.  She was fresh and engaging and I liked seeing her.  I will say. though, that I was not much of a fan of the way their story played out.  Their trip to another planet was easily my least favorite part of the film and I think it is the reason why the middle of the film felt like it dragged a bit.

As I said, the middle of the Last Jedi dragged, and some of the humor that was included felt like it was in the wrong movie.  I would say that around half of the jokes/laughs were forced and did not fit.  I was also not a huge fan of the roles played by Benicio del Toro or Laura Dern.  Neither one felt fully fleshed out.

There was a point in the second act that I started to question whether or not this film was going to be good.  However, it was not too long after that where The Last Jedi just took off. About midway through Act Two and into Act Three, the movie was unbelievably exciting, full of tension and positively awesome.  It has one of the best third acts of the year.  The film took all kinds of chances and it felt like a Star Wars movie that we had not seen before, while still maintaining enough of the Star Wars flavor to know that we were watching a Star Wars film.  It really walked that tightrope well and that ending sequence was mind blowing.

Rian Johnson brought a true gravitas to the eighth film in the franchise, and reinvigorated the series with his vision.  The film feels less like a trip down nostalgia road and much more like a new and exciting chapter in a world where we are comfortable.  You can certainly understand why the people in charge handed Johnson a new trilogy all of his own to create after this trilogy ends.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a marvelous film that has everything a Star Wars fan could want.  We have characters we love, exciting action and adventure, a brilliantly conflicted villain in Kylo Ren, a gaggle of heroic figures struggling against overwhelming odds, fantastic visuals and plenty of unexpected twists that you won’t see coming.  The Last Jedi is great despite a few flaws in the second act that drags the film down a tad.

4.5 stars


Just Getting Started

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Just collecting a paycheck.

This film stars Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Renee Russo.  They’ve starred in films such as Nightcrawler, The Fugitive, Men in Black, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight, Lincoln, Captain America: The First Avenger and No Country for Old Men.

And Just Getting Started.  One of these things doesn’t go with the other.

What a waste of time.

Morgan Freeman stars as Duke Diver, the manager of the luxury Palm Springs resort, the Villa Capri.  Duke is eccentric and living the lifestyle of the alpha male of Villa Capri.  That is, until Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) comes along to steal his thunder.  Plus, Rene Russo arrives to give Duke a job performance review for the owning company.  Oh, there is a mob story and you are supposed to think that Leo was there to try and kill Duke.

Ugh.  This was written by the same man who wrote Bull Durham.  What happened?

Plus, in a world where sexual misconduct is being rightfully called out across Hollywood, both Duke and Leo treat women with a remarkably old time style.  And Rene Russo’s character of Suzie is played with such a weakness that she actually has to swoon over Johnny Mathias.

Suzie is such a caricature in the story that you cannot take her seriously, even for a moment.  She portrays everything that is opposite of a strong woman that it is appalling.

There is little to no humor in the film.  When the big laughs are having Graham Beckel’s character sit on a bucket lid to keep a rattlesnake from escaping.

Ha Ha Ha… ugh.

There is no sense being made.  You have elder statesmen of actors acting like middle school students in maturity level.  You got characters changing traits every five minutes and other characters that are supposed to be intelligent and well versed doing the stupidest things immediately.   Russo is a complete damsel in distress by the end of the film and a total incompetent, except of course when she is not and the film wants you to believe that she is more than what she seems.  And I have no idea what has happened to Freeman and Jones.

By the way, things keep blowing up and it never seems to attract the police.  Same with some high speed car chases.  I guess the cops have more important things to do than check out a retirement village.

Just Getting Started was done in the first ten minutes and the rest of the time was an unfunny, boring and predictable mess that had three actors who have seen WAY better in their time.

1 star

The Disaster Artist

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I never knew that Tommy Wiseau was inspired by James Dean.

There was a lot shown to us in James Franco’s new movie, The Disaster Artist, based on the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made.  Franco, who directed and starred in this, did a very smart thing.  He did not spend the whole film making fun of Wiseau and The Room.  Instead, he showed us the humanity of the man and his dream.

Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) met each other in an acting class in San Francisco and Greg was immediately taken by Tommy’s passion and his ability to put himself out there.  It was something that he was struggling doing, so, despite the fact that Johnny clearly did not have any acting skill, Greg went to Tommy and asked to be his scene partner.

A friendship grew from that unlikely meeting, as Greg and Tommy moved to LA to pursue their dream of becoming actors.  However, as the pair found that it was not easy to break into show business, Tommy decided to skip the line and write, produce, fund, direct and star in his own movie.

What came forth was a movie that was downright terrible, but became a cult classic, including midnight showings that are consistently selling out.  The filming of the movie had plenty of troubles, but the result of this is hilarious.

Playing a real life character such as Tommy Wiseau is a challenge, but James Franco is sensational in the role.  James Franco morphed into Wiseau. His accent, his mannerisms, the way he is was just perfect.  Franco did not create a parody of the man.  He became him.

And Tommy Wiseau is an enigma.  The fact is that we do not know much of anything about him.  He has, what sounds like, a thick, perhaps, Eastern European accent, but he claims to have been born in New Orleans.  It is not known where Tommy gets his money and how he seems to have an endless supply of it.  He financed The Room, rumored to be over 6 million dollar, by himself.  Tommy refuses to reveal his age, as Tommy tries to pass himself off as a much young man than he appears to be.  The film does a really strong job of playing these odd mysteries off as more than just eccentric behavior.  We never do find out the answers as Tommy refuses to give any straight answers to these questions.

The movie was really funny, but there was way more depth to it besides just the humor.  The movie looked closely at the relationship between Tommy and Greg, and they were able to connect the audience to these people.  Honestly, there were several moments in this movie where I truly felt for Tommy, despite the fact that he was ridiculous and very unaware of his short-comings.  The scene where Tommy was at the premiere and the crowd was laughing, the film took several moments to focus on James Franco and his reactions were just crushing.  That would not mean near as much if this was simply a satire of Tommy Wiseau and this terrible movie.

Fact is, it is clear that James Franco and everyone involved in The Disaster Artist has a healthy respect for Tommy Wiseau and the movie that he made, even if it is the worst film ever made.  That respect comes through in the film.

Seth Rogan and Paul Scheer are in the film as part of the crew that questions the insanity that was everywhere.  They were wonderful, and it might have been my favorite Set Rogan performance ever.  They were the voice of the audience as we wondered exactly what was wrong with Tommy Wiseau.  Rogan’s delivery was pitch perfect.

The movie also showed the other side of Tommy Wiseau as well.  There were many times where Tommy was jealous or was vengeful.  He wanted things his way and if there was anything that he did not like, he did not respond well to it.  Petty things such as not allowing the crew to have water in the hot studio or verbally abusing the actors because Alfred Hitchcock did it too.

The Disaster Artist is a great movie.  I loved it.  There are so many great moments of heart and humanity, along with the humor and the oddity that made The room such a cult classic.  James and Dave Franco are great in the movie, anchoring a cast of huge acting stars, including a group of filmmakers (including Kevin Smith, JJ Abrams etc) opening the film with words about The room.

And the Disaster Artist is not only funny, but it is strangely inspirational.  Tommy Wiseau did not allow the problems circling him to stop him from reaching for his dream of making a movie.  Despite it being perceived in a manner that Tommy did not want, no one could take that fact away from him.

The Disaster Artist is a great film about the making of a terrible one.  I would recommend seeing The room before you go to the Disaster Artist because seeing The Room does help in certain moments.  The end of the film features several of the most infamous scenes from The Room side by side with recreations in The Disaster Artist and this shows the level of commitment by this cast of actors.

By the way, stay through the credits to the every end as there is a post credit scene.

The is one of the best movies of the year.  I was remarkably entertained.

5 stars

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Poster

This is truly a terrible title for a really great movie.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a fairly accurate description of the initial set up for the film, but seems to be too much of a mouthful to do this justice.

Despite the clunky title, the film is a tremendous film filled with dark comedic elements (I hesitate to call it a dark comedy), shocking moments of unpredictability and sensational performances by just about everyone in the ensemble cast.

After having her daughter raped and murdered seven years prior and seeing little advancement on the case from the local police, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decided to take matters into her own hands and attempt to give the police a push into activity.  Mildred rented three little used billboards on a stretch of roads rarely used anymore and put up signs asking the question about why her daughter’s killer had not bee caught yet.  She called out popular local sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on the billboards by name, starting a storm of trouble throughout the small town.

Much of the trouble is stirred up by police officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist, crooked cop who is known for reportedly torturing African-American suspects, but whom Willoughby keeps around because of his faith in the man inside of him.  Dixon is just about everything that you wish a police officer would not be.

Things happen in this film that you cannot believe as characters continue to escalate their behavior into ways that become worse and worse.  The film has many moments of humor, but, there are some times, when you will feel horrible for laughing.

There is no doubt that the three main actors here, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are absolutely brilliant in their portrayals of these complex and, and in many ways, disturbing characters.  You begin the movie expecting to be rooting for one character in particular, but not too long into it, your choice is uncertain.  All three of these actors have a really good chance of being nominated for an Academy Award for this work.

McDormand, in particular, is at her very best, arguably.  She brings such pain and unforgiving anger to her character of Mildred that, despite her doing some things that may weaken her support, you understand the lengths that she takes it.  She feels like a natural disaster, a tornado of some kind pointed in a certain direction.

Rockwell gives an impactful performance as Dixon.  This is a character that could easily become one of those one-note villains that is there simply to provide a counter balance to the justice warrior that is McDormand.  However, Rockwell creates a much more interesting character that is fully developed and one that you actually relate with, despite his own, deep seeded issues and his horrible acts of anger.

That is the truth behind this movie.  The movie is not about justice.  This movie is about grief and loss and how these emotions are capable of creating an anger that can fester and rot inside of you until it explodes, changing the person that you are and suddenly washed by a wave of hostility.

I was into much of this movie, but I must say that I did not truly like the way the film ended, leaving too much ambiguity for this film.  I am also unsure if what they were thinking about doing really fit with either character.  For such a strong film, the ending was not what I had wanted.

I was also not too impressed with the inclusion of Peter Dinklage.  His character felt like he was included because they had Peter Dinklage and they needed a role for him.  I mean, he does fine in the role, but, without this character, I am not sure how this film changes and that feels like a waste of talent.

There were other good performances in the film though.  Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea) is really good as Mildred’s son.  Zeljko Ivanek was here as another cop.  Caleb Landrey Jones has a vital role as Red, who rents the billboards to Mildred.  Red has one of the most human scene in the film, providing almost a redeeming nature for the film.  John Hawkes brings more to the role of Mildred’s abusive ex-husband than you would think possible and, Samara Weaving brings an innocent humor to the stupidity of his new, 19-year old flame.  Finally, Sandy Martin is a hoot as the trailer-park-like momma for Dixon.

This movie will certainly be discussed come award season and it will be well deserved.  With the exception of a misstep at the end, Three Billboards outside Ebbing County is a very strong film with dynamic performances.

4.2 stars