Brigsby Bear

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Last summer I was able to see two wonderful independent films, Sing Street and Swiss Army Man, that wound up in my top five films of the year.  I was thinking about both of those films while I was watching Brigsby Bear because I had very similar feeling with this movie.  It was tremendous.

I am not sure how to proceed with this review without spoiling the movie and I do believe the fact that I went into the theater with almost no knowledge of what the film was about and I think that really helped with my enjoyment of Brigsby Bear.

James (Kyle Mooney) is the biggest fan of the series Brigsby Bear Adventures, a show that he grew up watching and that helped to form his moral compass.  When his entire world changed and his show went away, he decided to finish the story of Brigsby Bear himself.

Kyle Mooney is amazing as James.  He was one of the most original characters in a movie this year.  His innocence was charming and engaging.  Mark Hammill is his normal awesomeness as James’s father, Ted.  There was also a fun appearance by Greg  Kinnear as Detective Vogel.

There is a twist in the plot that happens early in the movie that really shifts the perception of the movie.  You think you are going to be going in one direction with these characters in this setting and then the rug gets pulled out from underneath James and the audience.  It was unexpected and it became something even more.

It would have been easy for the film to take James in a certain, typical way but the movie avoids the cliches with him.  He is sweet and he develops throughout the story.

There was a feeling of magic in this story.  By the third act of Brigsby Bear, I was fully entwined in the movie and emotionally connected to the characters.  There is so much heart in the film and it made me happy.  There were some funny moments too with its clever script.

Just like Sing Street and Swiss Army Man, Brigsby Bear has not found a large nationwide release.  It is difficult to find it in the theaters, but Brigsby Bear is definitely worth the effort.  It is one of my favorite movies of the year and is perhaps the most charming one of the year.

5 stars

Batman and Harley Quinn

Batman and Harley Quinn

I was excited about this film.  The Bruce Timm style animation of the film similar to the classic Batman: The Animated Series and the return of the great Kevin Conroy made this animated special Fathom showing something that I especially wanted to see.

I turned out to be disappointed with this one.

The film started out with an opening credits scene that was really campy and I immediately paused.  I had not expected the tone that this movie was taking, but I was ready to give it a chance.  I like the humor and there are some very funny moments in the movie as well.  The juxtaposing of the wild and campy Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch) with the stoic and hard-nosed Batman really works at times.

You knew this was going to be a different movie when Harley Quinn and Nightwing have sex.  Yes, that is what I said.

Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and The Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) have a master plan to turn everyone in the world into a plant-like creature using the formula created by Dr. Alec Holland (who becomes the Swamp Thing in DC Comics).  Batman and Nightwing are trying to prevent this and recruit Ivy’s B.F.F. Harley Quinn, who has been released from Arkham and has gone straight.

Batman does not trust Harley, but goes along despite his better instincts.

I was into the tone for a good portion of the film.  It was very unexpected because the tone of the Batman: The Animated Series was usually very serious and, even when something humorous happened, the serious tone was maintained.  Still, I remembered the episode when Harley and Ivy initially got together and it was pretty funny.  I like the laughs and the campy feel worked for part of the movie.  There is a scene at a henchman nightclub that is a hoot.  We also see Harley Quinn singing. There is also a very strong scene after a building gets burned down.  You get to see the Harley Quinn humanity during this scene and it gives you a different look at the character.

And then the film goes off the rails hard.

The third act of this movie is just tremendously terrible.  It took what was going to be a surprising and unexpected tonal film that I liked into a film that just does not work.  Moment after moment in this final set pushed believability to the breaking point.  This film has the final confrontation between Harley and Ivy that is so disappointing and cheesy, the arrival of a deus ex machina that actually turns out to be a complete waste of time, and an anticlimactic resolution that is downright stupid.

Batman and Harley Quinn was working for me for the first part of the film, as the campy factor was not too out of line, there were some legit funny moments, Harley Quinn was fun and it felt like they were building to a more serious conclusion after the dramatic scene with Harley after the fire, but the film completely spiraled into ridiculousness and lost me in the third act.  As good as it was to hear Kevin Conroy back as the voice of Batman (and Melissa Rauch of the Big Bang Theory was a solid Harley Quinn), the entire package just was not worth the build.  I left the theater feeling that this would have been better had it been Batman ’66 and we could just make the whole movie a joke.

2.6 stars

The Little Hours

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A raunchy comedy with nuns.

As with most raunchy comedies, if it is funny, other issues can be forgiven.  The Little Hours is funny.

Massetto (Dave Franco), a young servant fleeing from his master (Nick Offerman) whose wife he had an affair with, comes across Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who is drunk and has lost his cart full of goods into a small river.  Massetto aids the drunken priest and Father Tommasso offers the boy a place to stay at his convent.

Problem though.  The nuns at this convent are not the regular version.  They are violent, attacking the previous handyman for talking to them.  So, to protect him, Father decided for Massetto to pretend to be a deaf mute.

The three main nuns, Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) and Sister Ginerva (Kate Micucci), meet Massetto and he sends their libidos into the atmosphere.

This film is a satire on the church and the manner of male-female sexual relationships.  It does not take the group long to be succumbing to their lust.  Because it is a satire, these characters are not remarkably deep, focusing mostly on the archetype more than anything else.

Once heading down the path of revelry, the nuns cannot be stopped.  There is a scene with witches that is extremely funny and downright shocking.

The actresses are funny in their naughty behavior and Dave Franco is imminently likable as the young Massetto who feels like he is being taken advantage of by all of the characters in the film.

John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon (who plays the head nun Sister Marea) are very good in the movie, and they have some very sweet scenes together.  Their relationship seems to come out nowhere, though.  Fred Armisen comes in later in the film as Bishop Bartolomeo and delivers some funny scenes.

The nuns though go way over the top.  I will tell you that the humor is not “rolling on the floor” laughter, but there are consistent laughs throughout.

There may be some who are offended by the use of the church setting to tell this raunchy satire, but it makes sense when you are dealing with isolated, horny individuals.  It was a decent film.

3.2 stars

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle Movie Poster

The Glass Castle is an uneven movie and I am not sure how I feel about it.  Based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle tells the story of Jeannette’s childhood with her family, squatting in abandoned houses, running from the law and dealing with an alcoholic father.

The film, told by switching between Jeannette’s childhood and adulthood in flashbacks, presents us with an uncertain message, mainly about the father, Rex (Woody Harrelson).

Rex is a remarkably complex character, played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, but the film has a mixed message about him.  They want you to both see how violent and abusive he could be while drinking, yet it shows you how quirky and imaginative he is at other times.  And while that is how you develop a very solid character, it seems like the film wants to excuse a lot of his behavior.  Honestly, I did not want to excuse any of it, considering how he acted.

Some of the best scenes of the movie came in the flashbacks between Harrelson and young Jeannette, played by Ella Anderson.  Anderson is the strongest child actor in a very solid group from this movie, and she has a lot of the heavy lifting involved in presenting this back story.  She has the heart of these scenes, including the strength she showed with her brother and two sisters.

Unfortunately, Brie Larson is not given the same amount of heart in the present day scenes, as she is written stoic and withdrawn.  She is engaged to David (Max Greenfield) who is given so little development that he comes off as a cliche of a rich investment banker.  There is also no real reason given for Jeannette to be this manner.  One would think it had to do with her childhood, but there is a scene of her with Harrelson when she was in college that seemed to change the dynamic between them, making the present day behavior all the more suspect.

Rex is both a terrible father and a wonderful father, and you see the background in which he was raised (with some horrible implications directed toward his mother) so you could almost accept the uncertainty with which the film pictures him, but Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), is a different animal.  Rose Mary is an artist who seems to care only about her art.  She is selfish, full of excuses and lacks emotional strength.  In fact, one could argue that she wants to be in this type of a relationship.  There is a pretty brutal and abusive scene between Rex and Rose Mary in a flashback that showed the type of co-dependent relationship these two characters had.

And none of that was a healthy situation for four kids.  Despite growing up in at worse an abusive home and at best a non-conformist home where they were not the most important part of their parents lives, the kids seem unaffected in the long run.  Yet, in the end, the kids seem to forget all the negative aspects of their childhood, only remembering the happy times.  Either they are extremely healthy mentally or in complete denial.

The movie is simply too long, and because of that, it gets dull at times and repetitive at others.  You needed to shave about 20 minutes off of the run time, and I think you could do that by limiting the present day scenes, which did not feel necessary for the narrative.

Woody Harrelson is great here, and the child actor’s are all really good as well.  Naomi Watts is wasted as this shadow of a character and Brie Larson is not given the sufficient material for her skill.  Still, there are parts of The Glass Castle that are good, and the real pictures and home videos that play in the credits really bring you back into the minds of these kids who lived through what had to be a dark childhood.  Too bad the film wanted too much to put a happy ribbon on it.

2.9 stars

 

 

To the Bone

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The third of the Netflix movies that I wanted to watch was called To the Bone, and it was a tough one.

Lily Collins played Ellen, a young artist who is struggling with an eating disorder after a life of complications.  Ellen finds her way to a doctor (Keanu Reeves) whose methods are somewhat unconventional.  He admits her to his treatment facility, where she meets a group of others struggling with food.

Right off the bat, there are some imagery in this movie that is difficult to see.  Lily Collins is a tremendously beautiful girl who looks horrible.  At one point, her mother says that she “looks like a ghost” and that simile is an apt description.  I certainly hope that Lily did not starve herself for the role and that the images of her thinness was some sort of special effect.

The film is as much a character study of a young girl struggling with the difficulties of life as it is a picture about a disease, which is why To the Bone is as effective as it is.  Ellen (or Eli as she comes to be known) is a fully fleshed out character and her interactions with the other characters make you care even more for her.  The film also slowly dishes out the facts of her life that has led her to such a troublesome point, on the verge of her body shutting down.

At the treatment center, Eli meets Luke (Alex Sharp).  Luke is one of the most original and likeable characters you are going to find.  Every moment he was on screen was like a light through the troubles.  Now, the relationship with Eli and Luke might have been a little too quick, but the connection was definitely felt.  Alex Sharp was great as the always positive Luke.

Keanu Reeves was solid as Dr. Beckham, but he was not the star of the show.

To the Bone was a tough film to watch, but it is an important one to help understand something that, as a heavy individual, I find hard to comprehend.  Refusing to eat is something I cannot relate to, but I can relate to these characters and their troubles and, because of that, I can understand why they took the steps that they took.  This movie may not be for everyone, but it was powerful.

3.8 stars

 

Message from the King

Message from the King Movie Poster

The second of the Netflix films that I wanted to get to was Message from the King, starring Chadwick Boseman.  I’m not sure what I was expecting from this one, but what I got was a film that started as a type of a mystery, but evolved quickly into a dark tale of revenge.

Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) arrived in Los Angeles from South Africa in search of his sister Bianca (Sibongile Mlambo), who had disappeared inside the city’s sleazy sections.  Jacob’s investigation quickly led him to discover that his sister had become deeply involved in the corrupt life of LA.

Jacob starts off as a seemingly innocent character.  Someone who has arrived in LA with eyes wide open, just hoping to find the loving sister that he remembered as a youth in South Africa.  However, we discover that Jacob is anything but the innocent naive man we thought he was.  In fact, he becomes as brutal as the world around him.  The film plays with the questions about Jacob and why he was as capable as he was right up until the final scene of the movie.

This film was all over the place for much of it.  It made you think it was going to be one way, but then pivoted away into another.  The inconsistencies messed with a plot that was fairly straightforward and typical.

What elevated this material was Chadwick Boseman.  The star of the upcoming Black Panther film showed that he was ready to lead a huge action flick with his efforts here.  Boseman carried the emotional weight of the story, and the impact of everything that happened is evident on his face.  The coldness is just a cover for a man struggling to do what he needed to do.  Boseman is one of the best young actors around today.

There is a solid cast around him as well.  Luke Evans is here, though his character is fairly one note and his inclusion is confusing.  Even though this, Evans was someone who you loved to hate.  We also had Alfred Molina, who takes a real chance with his performance in Message from the King.

There were some brutal moments in the movie, as it earned its R rating, but I don’t think the film ever really took it too far.  The action was solid, although pretty basic.

The performances were the strength of this film, while most of the rest of it was unremarkable.  This one is a borderline film for me.  If you like a straightforward revenge action flick, you could do worse than Message from the King.

3 stars

The Incredible Jessica James

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There are several NetFlix films now available that I am going to get to tonight or this weekend.  The first one was a film that was recommended by the Schmoes Know Show this past Wednesday in their Indie segment.  It is a film that debuted at Sundance starring former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams.

Williams plays Jessica James, a struggling playwright in New York City who has just had a break up with the man of her dreams.  In order to try to get on with her life, her friend Tasha (Noël Wells) sets her up with a divorcee, Boone (Chris O’Dowd) and the pair strike up a friendship, bonding over the losses they suffered in love and the connection of truth-telling.

This was a great film.  It was a romantic comedy that was smart, funny and full of heart.  Jessica Williams is the biggest reason behind this because she is just unbelievably charming here.  She absolutely lights up the screen, and she shows off a great range of ability as well. She not only handles the humor as you would expect, but there are some strong scenes with her mother and sister that inform on the character of Jessica James and the feeling of isolation and loneliness that she felt.

There is fantastic chemistry between Williams and Chris O’Dowd as well.  The dialogue between the two of them is just brilliantly written, sharp and witty.  They make you fall in love with them as a couple immediately and in a manner that you really believe.  Jim Strouse was the writer/director of The Incredible Jessica James and he does a wonderful job providing this pairing with amazing words.

The film starts with a really fun dance segment which brings the viewers into the mind of Jessica James immediately.  This intro does as much in the few minutes to let you know who Jessica James is as many movies do in hours of screen time.

The story itself is pretty simple and there is not much by way of plot.  Still, the film does a really good job of providing us with a look into the life of this charmingly fun woman and the rebound relationship that might just turn out to be more than she expected.

It is a short movie, coming in at only 83 minutes, but it was extremely fun and enjoyable and I am glad that it was on Netflix, giving me a chance to see it.  Jessica Williams is the next Daily Show correspondent to hit it big.  She is a star of the near future.

4.5 stars

Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation Movie Poster

A horror prequel of a horror prequel.

You don’t see that every day.  What is even rarer is a horror prequel of a really terrible horror prequel tat turns out to be good.

Yet that is what we have with Annabelle: Creation.

The Conjuring was a really enjoyable horror movie, featuring the scary doll Annabelle.  So, of course, sensing the dollars that it could bring, the studio brought us a prequel story of that doll in the film, Annabelle.  And it was terrible.  However, it did make some money and they wanted to continue the Conjuring Cinematic Universe (like everyone is trying to do these days) and so they did another Annabelle film.

This time, though, they gave us a director who had some vision for this film.  David F. Sandberg directed the highly entertaining Lights Out last year, and he brought something special to this film and turned Annabelle: Creation into a very good, scary and engaging time at the theater.

This is an origin story of Annabelle the doll, seeing how she was created and how she came to be possessed by the evil spirits that would cause such trouble.

A group of orphans taught by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) arrive by invitation of the Mullins.  The Mullins, Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto) who had lost their daughter in a tragic accident years before, opened up their homes to these orphans, giving them somewhere to be.  However, it is clear that there is more going on in this house than the children would expect.

Two of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), are extremely close, swearing that they would never leave one another and that they would only be adopted together.  Younger than the others, these two are naturally isolated from the group.  Janice begins hearing noises coming from the room that Samuel had told her never to go into, and that leads to trouble.

The relationship between Janice and Linda was at the heart of the movie, and really helped to anchor the audience to these characters.  Janice and Linda do receive some development, and this connection to one another is the strongest aspect of that.  Unfortunately, the rest of the girls are not very well developed.  I also would have liked more development from the Mullins as well.  The beginning of the film presents us with some, but I would have liked more from them.

The strength of the film is the look and the feel of the scares.  The imagery is very scary, and there are some very disturbing flashes in Annabelle: Creation.  I think credit should be given to Sanberg for much of the success of the film.  He builds tension extremely effectively throughout the film, and many of the scares are very original.

Now, I do think he relied too much on jump scares in the movie, and the music cues became irritating at times.  You could usually tell when something scary was going to happen, because, just like in your typical horror movie, the music would go silent, or the sound would begin to grow.  Having said that, there are several instances where the tension is dragged out more than what you expect, so you are building tension waiting for the scare to happen.  There are also a few times when the scare does not happen, keeping you off-balance.

Plotwise there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before.  In fact, you see a ton of the horror tropes scattered throughout.  There were so many of them, I wondered if Sandberg was specifically trying to go down a checklist of the tropes.  There was the car that wouldn’t start, the creepy kids, the priests and nuns, the ghosts in the house, the jump scares, the stupid choices the characters make, the axe, objects tossed around the room, the haunted house, and of course, the creepy doll.

However, despite the overabundance of horror tropes, the film does subvert several of them.  That axe does not lead to a murder.  The film avoids the last one standing trope.  And the film does not deal with the kids trying to convince the adults something weird is going on.

There was only one moment in the film that I really hated.  It was a laughable moment when the ghost of the Mullins girl turned to face Janice.  I won’t tell you what she says or what she looked like, but it almost pulled me from the film.  Fortunately, it came back strong.

It was fun watching Annabelle: Creation because I had a group of younger girls in the theater I was watching this in and they spent much of the film screeching at the scares.  They helped make these moments more effective.

The performances are very solid in the movie.  I wanted to specifically mention Lulu Wilson, who was also in the much better horror prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil.  She is excellent again as she was in that film.  Talitha Bateman was also very good as Janice.  These two worked very well together.  Stephanie Sigman does a great job as Sister Charlotte. She is a charming presence and gave the audience an adult to root for.

This was a very solid horror movie that, while it played with a lot of the tropes, did so in a different way.  The characters that had some focus were very likeable and you could really root for them.  The imagery was very scary and well done, and the film makes Annabelle scary once again after the doll had become more of a joke in the first prequel.  The film also does a great job of tying it back into the other films in the cinematic universe.

If you are a horror fan, you’ll find a lot to like in Annabelle: Creation.

3.6 stars

 

Detroit

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Powerful.  Painful.  Difficult to watch.  Impactful.

Kathryn Bigelow, the director of Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, has now completed her third true story to film, as she tells a story set during the Detroit race riots of 1967.  This is a period of time that I am unfamiliar with, so I entered Detroit without any preconceived expectations.

But here is the thing that I think the film has misrepresented about itself.  Honestly, I do not think that the movie is about the Detroit riots.  This film is centered about the events that happened at the Algiers Motel on one night during the Detroit riots.  Because the riots are in the background, there had to be attention paid to them, but the film’s main story beat certainly occurs during the second act when the Algiers Motel comes into play.

Historically, the Detroit Police responded to someone firing a gun from the Algiers Motel (according to the film, the gun was actually a starter’s pistol) and a small group of Detroit policemen took the motel’s residents and lined them up against the wall and basically attempted to torment and torture them into a confession.

Because there was such a group of individuals involved in this movie, the first act does play as jumbled, because each of these characters needed to be introduced and their reasons for arriving at the Algiers needed to be covered.  Add to this the necessary background information on the riots that was presented in the first act, it is no wonder why the first act feels clunky, especially when compared to the tension filled and kick in the stomach that is the second act.

The cast is amazing.  Each actor in this film brings perhaps their best work ever.  John Boyega, whom despite the trailers is not the main character, brings such a richness to the character of Dismukes.  He was a security guard who approached the National Guard and wound up following along after the “sniper” shooting.  You can see how Boyega has to walk a tight rope between what he sees happening and being able to justify in his head why it is being done.  He believes that the police are on the side of the law, but it is clear that he had issues with some of the tactics.

Another stellar cast member is Gotham’s Jerome, Will Poulter.  Poulter plays the main Detroit racist cop who does such tremendously violent and cruel things, despite believing what he was doing was the right thing.  Poulter was terrifying and was as frightening as any horror movie monster.  You have a visceral reaction to the man and you just wish someone would step up and stop him from doing the heinous things he was doing.  I think this was a potential Oscar worthy performance.

If I had to pick, Algee Smith would be the character that would be considered the main character as his story has the most consistent through line through all three acts.  Smith played Larry, an up and coming singer whose big break with Motown was ruined because of the riots.  This is a character that you see have the most development and the one to whom the story has the most effect.

There are plenty of other strong to great performances here including Jacob Latimore (from Sleight), Ben O’Toole, Jack Reynor, Anthony Mackie, LOST’s own Walt- Malcolm David Kelley, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever and Nathan David Jr.

That second act just busts you in the gut.  You feel uncomfortable and helpless.  Bigelow successfully places you as the audience in the place of the people being tortured by the cops, and you can’t help but feel not only empathy, but a weakness, a helplessness.  It is palatable.

One of the things that hit me personally was how there were so many other people involved in this situation, whether it was John Boyega’s character or National Guard officers who looked at the situation, realized that what was going on was excessive or downright wrong, but none of them did anything about it.  They had several scenes of these other members of law enforcement literally turning away and saying that this was “Detroit police’s case.”  They did not want to get involved.  They did not want to get their hands dirty and, because no one was willing to step up and say the process of what was happening was wrong, innocent people wound up dead.  It was very frustrating as a viewer who wanted the story to turn out okay.

Now, I do not think this is a perfect movie.  In fact, I would venture to say that the first and third acts of this movie were, at best, okay.  I think they both suffer in retrospect because the second act was so compelling and so suspenseful that the resolution just does not, or cannot, match it.  Yes, I know that there was only so much you could do at the end since this was a true story, but the presentation of that end was nowhere near as captivating as what had come before it.  There was also a strange animated beginning of the film that, seemed fine at the time, but now doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie.  Honestly, I do not remember much about the animation, so it did not do its job.

This is a powerful movie that made me question why people can be so cruel simply because of a surface difference like skin color.  The film clearly connects to the world that we live in today as well, as this is a big theme of the film.  However, it is not just a “blame the cops” piece.  One of my favorite moments of the late second act was when Larry had been released and he was running, injured and bleeding, through the streets of Detroit, he stumbled across another Detroit police officer who was shocked at what had happened to him and helped him to the hospital.  There was nothing about his skin color.  He was just an injured man who needed help and this officer helped him.  This small moment of humanity is Bigelow’s way of showing that not every police officer was a racist piece of crap.  It just happened that the three main Detroit cops in this story were horrible people, but that was not them all.  I really appreciated that scene.

This is most likely another film that I will not watch again, but I was glad that I saw.  It made me think and it hit me with powerful emotions like a sledgehammer.  You should definitely see Detroit because it challenges your thoughts and perceptions of the world.

4.5 stars

 

Kidnap

We have a new entry into the film genre of “so bad it is good.”

Kidnap is an extremely stupid, completely implausible, and frustratingly silly movie that is actually quite fun to watch.  It’s not a good movie, but it appeals to the crowds who like a bad “B” movie that you can laugh at and wonder why these lame characters make the choices that they make.

Halle Berry plays Karla Dyson, a recently separated wife who takes her son Frankie (Sage Correa) to the park for some mother-son fun time, only to have him taken by two lowlifes.  Karla sees this, and, like a woman possessed, pursues the kidnappers relentlessly through the streets of New Orleans, bystanders be damned.

Nothing will satisfy the onslaught of the maternal instinct overwhelming Halle Berry in Kidnap, except for the immediate return of her son.  Honestly, I think that if this woman was in hot pursuit of me, I would have tossed the kid out and left to fight another day.

Halle Berry says in the film, “You took the wrong kid!” and that is without debate.

The action scenes in this film are edited terribly.  In these scenes, there are so many rapid cuts that it is almost impossible to tell what is going on.  There is one scene, in particular, in a tunnel that appears to be moving in slow motion.

Things happen in this film that can not possible happen.  Halle Berry is a great driver and her minivan has to be the most kick ass minivan ever constructed, because that thing takes so much punishment and just keeps on running.  Plus, she would be able to pull over, but then almost immediately find the kidnappers once again.  She was amazing in her trailing abilities.

Of course, I kept on wondering why she didn’t do certain things.  I don’t know how many times she had a weapon in her hands only to put it down for no apparent reason and never return to it.  These kidnappers also seemingly gave her ample opportunities to stop them, but she never took advantage of it.

At one point, the kidnappers had indicated that they had a knife at the throat of Frankie, and then a few minutes later as the car drove directly beside the minivan, held that same knife out of the window, exposing his entire arm.  One swerve would have crushed his arm and caused him to lose that knife easily.  Instead, she does not take that action.

Later Halle is in the kidnappers’ home with a shotgun, lays it down to call 9-1-1, and leaves it on the counter.  Um… don’t leave it there.  It was the kidnappers’ gun, they might be able to use it on you later.

There is also a situation where an attack dog chases Halle into the water, but then just kind of disappears.  The dog literally is never seen again after this.

And anyone who happens to get in the kidnappers’ or Halle’s way are either dying or having their car crushed.  There are so many innocent bystanders that pay the price here that it is amazing that the police aren’t out in full riot gear trying to stop both of these forces of nature.

Halle Berry is probably the best thing here, but she overacts throughout and the dialogue is laughable.  The action is poorly shot and edited.  There are so many times that I found myself thing… “why doesn’t she just do this?” that it became annoying.  This is another film that could be a great RiffTrax Live film, because, even though it is a terrible movie, it was kind of fun.

2 stars

The Dark Tower

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YouTube personality John Campea tweeted out, about The Dark Tower, that the movie wasn’t as good as he had hoped, and was not as bad as he feared.  That is about the perfect description of the new Stephen King adaptation starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.

The Dark Tower is a series of novels written by King that has been rumored to be adapted into some form or another for years now.  Sony has finally settled on a feature length film, after considering several options.

In the film, young boy Jake (Tom Taylor) has dreams of another realm where the heroic gunslinger Roland (Elba) is protecting the life-sustaining tower from the evil Man in Black (McConaughey).  The Man in Black is trying to bring the tower down which would open up the world to monster from outside the universe.  These dreams lead Jake to be seen as a troubled, if not mentally unbalanced, young boy.

When Jake finds a portal to the other world, he realizes that his dreams were more realistic than he imagined and it placed Jake on the path to an attempt to prevent the apocalypse.

I really liked the first part of this film.  The set up with Jake and his escape from the Men in Black’s forces and having to try to figure out what to do was really enjoyable.  I liked the performance of Tom Taylor and I was buying into the story at that point.

Unfortunately, the film could not maintain that level of excitement from me as the film felt too rushed and crammed together.  You get that when you try to take material from an eight book series and include it into a movie of 95 minutes.  So much of the film felt flat and unsatisfying.  I am not someone who has read the book series, and I believe that those people who have read the books would really dislike what was given to the audience in this movie.

Both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are decent in their roles.  Elba as the Gunslinger has some background given to him, but not enough to really flesh him out.  Roland is on a revenge story to kill the Man in Black, and it is touched on, but I could have used more than what we got.  And the Man in Black really was basically just an evil villain, without any real motivation or desires.  That is okay, but I have always preferred a little more depth to my villains.  Still, the pair of them do a decent job in the film.

I disliked the ending sequence of the film.  I thought it was extremely anticlimactic and disappointing.  The final battle between Roland and the Man in Black was not the greatest film battle ever on the screen and it should have been considerably more.

One of the problems of the scene was how much it was based on the Gunslingers’ motto, which, to me, was difficult to understand.  It was as follows:

I do not aim with my hand. He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand. He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind. I do not kill with my gun. He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.

And I just don’t know what that means or why I should take it to heart.  Perhaps I needed more background knowledge of the Gunslingers to understand the meaning of this quote, but “I kill with my heart”?  And the whole “forgotten the face of his father” makes little sense outside of a nice piece of alliteration.  What does it mean to have forgotten the face of your father?  With that such a prevalent motto in the third act, I would have liked more context as to why this motto is so important.

The mythos of this film is touched upon, but there feels like much more has been omitted than included, and this is a problem.  If we had more information on the Gunslingers or the Man in Black or the tower or the monsters outside or any number of things, we would care more about what happens in the film.  Unfortunately, there is only so much that they can cover in 95 minutes.  The Dark Tower feels like something that should have been a multi-episode Netflix series to properly cover the mythology and develop the characters effectively.  Sadly, that is not what we got.

Having said all that, the film could be worse.  I liked the performances of the three main actors and the action was fine.  The story was simple and straightforward and the film moves briskly.  Too briskly?  Yes, but if you head into The Dark Tower with limited expectations, you can have some fun with it.  If you are hoping that this will be the next big Hollywood franchise and sustain film after film of  action, you may be disappointed.

3 stars

 

The Lovers

The Lovers

Infidelity is explored in the new film, The Lovers, directed by Azazel Jacobs and starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are a long married couple who are both involved in serious affairs.  Mary and Michael go through the motion of their marriage without any love or passion, making up excuses so they can see their individual lovers.  However, an unexpected spark between Mary and Michael ignites their passion within the marriage, leading to an unexpected “affair” of the spouses.

There is no doubt that The Lovers is charming.  Both Debra Winger and Tracy Letts bring their best in the film that depends completely on the chemistry between the leads.  It was sad to see them sleepwalking through their lives and when they find their way together, the film seemed to take off.

That is why I was not a fan of the end of the film.  Without spoiling it, the end of the film seemed to me to take away from the narrative of the film.  It made both Mary and Michael into hypocrites and people I did not like.

Neither of the other partners are likeable at all.  Lucy (Melora Walters) is downright kooky, whereas Robert (Aidan Gillen) was about as milquetoast as you can get.  I didn’t want either of these characters involved int he story at all.

It plays as a condemnation on the state of marriage in today’s world, but I don’t think that is truly the case.  I think it is more of a suggestion that neither Michael or Mary are very good people and the film examines what happens when these types of individuals become connected in marriage.

The performances are strong here, but I found the message to be muddled and I am not certain I took what the director wanted me to take from the film. The Lovers was a decent enough watch, but it was not as satisfying as I thought it might have been.

2.85 stars

Colossal

Image result for colossal movie poster

Colossal was another movie that I missed while it was in theaters this year.  I had a chance to see it because it was here for one week, but the schedule just did not play out.  Fortunately, it arrived on iTunes and I had a chance to rent it.  And I was so very happy that I did.

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has had her share of trouble, with her boyfriend who tossed her out to alcohol.  So she decided to move back to her hometown where she ran into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  Oscar owned his father’s old bar and he offered Gloria a job as a waitress, as well as providing her with some helpful items to live on.

Business starts to boom as the bar is filled with people wanting to watch the news coverage of the giant monster attacking Seoul, South Korea.  It is not too long after the first attack that Gloria comes to the realization that she was somehow, mysteriously connected to these monster attacks.

This film really took the giant monster genre and turned it on its ear.  It is very original and creative, and it embraces the weirdness of the story.  It makes me think a bit about similarities with the Marvel Comics title Monsters Unleashed.  Anne Hathaway is great in the role of Gloria, really bringing out the uncertainty of the situation as well as the understanding of the dangers that she is responsible for.  Gloria has a distinct character arc through the film, struggling with her own inner demons at first and having that guilt and responsibility lead her to make decisions that she had to make.

Jason Sudeikis was just as wonderful here.  Though there were comedic elements to the role of Oscar, the film takes a dark turn and Sudeikis handles the sinister twist with a deft touch.  You understand why he does what he does and how the life that he had to live forced him to make the decisions he makes.

This movie was unexpectedly deep.  Looking at the trailer and the advertising for the film, it seemed like a fun monster movie.  I did not expect to have as well developed and interesting character and situations that was shown here.

The film takes a definite turn to the dark side about midway through, which was went the idea of the film switched from a monster movie to a movie dealing with alcoholism and abusive relationships.  Gloria had been through plenty of trouble in her life, but this is the chance for her to redeem herself.

There are several genres blended into this film, and Colossal does that better than most.   Usually when there are a lot of genres and tones in the film, it is a mess, but this film manages them beautifully.  Nacho Vigalondo, the film’s director/writer, juggles those in just the right manner.  It never feels jarring when the film shifts gears, even when it does so drastically.

I found myself rooting hard for Gloria to get through the events of Colossal and a big part of that is because of the strong performance from Anne Hathaway.  Hathaway fit the part perfectly and she really brought a heroic note to a character that started off fairly unlikable.

Though I do not want to spoil anything, I will say that the conclusion to the movie was spot on.  I thought the ending was wonderful and really showed the advancement of Gloria’s character.

I really enjoyed Colossal, and I wish I had been able to see it while it was in the theaters.  Fortunately, I caught it on iTunes, but I imagine that the larger screen would have made an even greater difference in the film.   This one was a lot of fun.

4.4 stars

 

Wakefield

Wakefield

Have you ever felt trapped inside your own life?  In the film Wakefield, Bryan Cranston explores that very theme by taking a step outside and looking within.

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a successful businessman with a beautiful wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) and a perfect family home.  However, there are signs that not everything is right.  Howard is very jealous of any attention Diana receives from other men, but he plays it off as a game that the couple plays, ignoring the trouble within their marriage.  One evening, Howard returns home from work and finds himself in the attic of his carriage house garage, staring out a window at his house.  This view gives Howard a new insight into the life that he had.  He stays hidden in that attic for months, scavenging at night for food, as he grows more isolated by the day.

Bryan Cranston is very good in this role, carrying most of the movie with his performance and his internal monologue.  Howard Wakefield is not the most likeable character, but you can relate to him because of Cranton’s excellent work.  Cranston shows you the isolation, first the figurative isolation he felt while in the marriage- a feeling that was suffocating him- and then the literal isolation he imposed upon himself in the attic.  You see how his new life of “freedom” reinvigorated him while the glances at his old life through the window maintained an anchor in case he wanted to return.

This movie was adapted by writer-director Robin Swicord from a 2008 short story by E.L. Doctorow, and Swicord does a lot with a minimal approach, depending on the skills of Cranston to carry most of the film.  Swicord avoids many of the cliches that you might expect from this, especially at the end, which was both infuriating and perfect.

Wakefield is an intricate character study of a man in midlife crisis who takes drastic action.  The performance of Bryan Cranston is the main reason to see this movie.  Some might find the film dull, but the “Rear Window”-like quality allows the audience to watch along with Howard in deciding exactly what his life is like.  You feel the isolation and the feeling of being lost from him, despite seemingly having it all.

3.9 stars

Song to Song

Song to Song

Yawn.

I had this one rented on iTunes for a while now, but the length always was an excuse.  With the rental period coming close to being up, I had to make the decision on whether or not to watch it.  I watched it.  That was the wrong choice.

Song to Song is pretentious, boring, and lacks any real sort of narrative structure that would engage anyone other than perhaps the most hoity-toity film student.

The film has a great cast in Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman, and their performances were fine (despite the constant whispering of the cast), but I did not care much for any of the characters involved here.

The movie felt more like a series of voice-over shorts than any sort of complex tale.  It was dull and uninspired.

Terrence Malick continues to create sleepy and dream-like films that are visually interesting to look at, but of which I have not been impressed.  Song to Song is yet another in this line.  Perhaps this fits best in a small coffeehouse with an audience of beatniks and snooty film connoisseurs.  I did not like this much at all.

1.6 stars