Black Panther

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There is a lot riding on the release of the newest Marvel Studio film, Black Panther.  Not only is this the last MCU film before the release of the massive 10-years-in-the-making Avengers: Infinity War, but the Black Panther has become a culturally significant tent pole film, kicking off the first MCU film with a black super hero as the lead.  That’s a lot of pressure, so Marvel apparently knew that they had to get this one right.

And they really got this one right.

Marvel loaded this cast with amazing African-American actors, starting with Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger.  Throw in an astounding supporting cast with such stars as Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.

Then, they gave the film to one of the hottest young filmmakers in Hollywood today.  Ryan Coogler has had two great films on his resume, Fruitville Station and Creed.  Black Panther would make his third great film.

Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, we see T’Challa preparing to take his rightful place as the monarch of Wakanda, a country hidden in Africa that the world believed to be a third world nation, but, in reality, is a thriving, industrious, technologically advanced country built upon a mound of vibranium, a metal that landed in Africa upon a meteor.

Wakanda has hidden its advanced technology from the world for years.  However, the chance to capture the renegade villain Ulysses Klaw sent the Black Panther out of Wakanda and toward the world as a whole.

Klaw was not alone, though.  He was stealing antiques made of vibranium from a museum with Erik Killmonger.  Killmonger had a desire to get to Wakanda as a way to gain revenge for past deeds against him.  I don’t want to go into much detail here to avoid any spoilers.

The story is extremely amazing.  It is so full of depth and layers that it feels rich and developed.  It keeps you off balance and never feels predictable. These characters are fully realized and developed and you understand their motives.  Each character has their chance to shine.  This is a true ensemble film and this ensemble does a tremendous job.

Fact of the matter is this… the film is not just about Black Panther.  This film is about Wakanda.  The country itself is as much of a character as anyone in the film.  Coogler amazingly weaves the culture and history of Wakanda into the film and you feel the life.  The country feels lived in.  Even though this is a setting unlike any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you never feel like an outsider.  The film takes some time to introduce you to the five tribes that make up the Wakandan country and these intros pay off big time.

The cinematography is gorgeous and exploring this world of Wakanda and the after life involved in breathtaking in its loveliness.  The score of the film, along with the soundtrack, are another strength of this film.

The film may have started just a little slow, but it picked up the pace and, after the beginning, I absolutely did not feel as if I were sitting there for 141 minutes.

Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe villains we have had because we can see why he is doing the evil things that he does and we understand it.  In fact, there are probably many people who can completely justify the anger Killmonger rocks in this film.

The women of Black Panther are completely kick ass.  Oyoke, the general of the Dora Milaje, Black Panther’s female royal guard, is one of the great characters of the film and shows off her ability with a staff throughout the film.  Young Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister Shuri, is a breath of fresh air and provides much of the film’s Marvel humor.  Shuri is a technological genius on the level of a Tony Stark, but she has not lost the wide eyed innocence of youth.  Lupita Nyong’o shines across the screen as the super spy Nakia, and a love interest for T’Challa.  These women really are as important to the film as Black Panther is and they step up their game fully.

I really do not have much in way of criticism for this movie outside of a couple of minor nitpicks.  The CGI in the third act had some moments where it did not look great.  It certainly did not live up to the rest of the film.  The other criticism I have would be a major SPOILER  SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. The fact that both Killmonger and Klaw die in the film makes me unhappy.  Yes, I believe that Killmonger’s death scene was one of the most lovely and powerful moments of the film, but I really did not want Killmonger to die.  Both Klaw and Killmonger were remarkably entertaining and tremendous and losing them both in the film brought it down just a little bit.  END OF SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

Black Panther is long overdue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It gives a section of the public a hero to look up to.  Someone who looks the same as they do.  This allows people of color a chance to see themselves in a super hero for the first time.  Sure, there was Blade, who is really the first African-American comic book movie, but Black Panther is first in the new age of comic book movies as a massive film genre.  There is an absolute audience built in as the box office will attest to (Black Panther made over 25 million on Thursday night alone).  It is one of the strongest introductions in the MCU and feels like something new and different for that decade spanning franchise.

4.85 stars

The 15:17 to Paris

This is an amazing, real-life story told the most boring and unappealing manner.  Director Clint Eastwood made several choices here that I just do not understand.

Of course, the biggest and most apparent choice made by the Oscar winning director was taking the real-life heroes from this major news event and have them play themselves. Childhood friends Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler star in this movie based on their heroism of one day on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.  On that train, the trio, along with a few train customers, stopped a terrorist from hijacking the train and most likely saved the lives of everyone on the train.

This portrayal of this heroic event took all of ten minutes to show and play out. These ten minutes at the end of the film were amazing and suspenseful.  Unfortunately, the previous 75 minutes of the film was filled with boredom, questionable narrative choices, truly awful writing and dialogue, and wooden delivery from the entire cast, not just the inexperienced men playing themselves.

The film starts by showing the three boys as children in school, which accomplishes nothing narratively, except, perhaps, to allow Eastwood to comment on his obvious dislike for the educational system.  We are shown that these three boys are constantly getting into trouble, although most of the time it is the teachers and the administrators who are to blame because of their unfair accusations toward the boys.  We are introduced to Anthony (young Anthony played by Paul-Mikél Williams) as a smart-mouthed troublemaker who appeal to the outcast boys Spencer(William Jennings) and Alek (Bryce Gheisar).  They become friends, do stuff together, until Anthony decides he is leaving the all-boy Christian school to get a girlfriend.  He does I guess.  Then, there is more trouble and Alek is sent to live with his father out of town.  This was apparently tough for Spencer,but we do not see it.  As soon as Alek is taken away, we flash forward to older Spencer, who is back with Anthony (sans girlfriend, oh well).

At this point, Spencer has made a decision to join the Air Force and texted Alek, who does not return that text, implying that there is some distance between them, though Spencer was confused by it.

None of the story with the children actors is ever dealt with or returned to, nor does it factor in to anything that the threesome decide to do in the second half of the film.  It is literally just a time filler.

We see Spencer fail in his attempt to earn the positions in the Air Force that he wanted, and to be asked to leave.  Again, though, none of that carried any stake for the remainder of the film.  It was just something that happened and is never mentioned again.

Just a few scenes after being tossed out from the Air Force, Spencer is convincing Anthony (who we know next to nothing about) to accompany him on a trip across Europe.  The pair engage on the “selfie-tour” across Europe, eventually meeting up with Alek in Germany because he wanted to spend time with a girl he had met (though, I believe he made her up since we never see her at all and he acts later as if he is completely free of a relationship).

During this whole trip, you cannot imagine how wooden and awkward the scenes with these three are.  There seemed to be very little acting skill on display, and even if they had great skills this dialogue was unlike that spoken by human beings.

There was only one scene in the entire movie, prior to the train sequence, that made me think it was important for later and that was when Spencer was learning some first aid in the Air Force.  Practically every other scene in the film could be tossed aside.

The train sequence was thrilling and very compelling.  I do not understand why the remainder of the film could not have been this interesting or could have built better to this ending scene.

I feel bad for Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler because they are true heroes who put their lives on the line to help save people without a second thought for their own safety.  A film of this incident should have highlighted this more than this film did.  I do not know what Clint Eastwood was thinking through most of this film, but it was surely a shame.

1.2 stars

Peter Rabbit

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This was another film that I did not want to see.  The trailer made this film look so crappy that I had zero anticipation for it and almost skipped it.  But the chance of having the ultimate double feature (Fifty Shades Freed and Peter Rabbit) got me into the theater.  Plus, the Paddington trailers looked terrible as well and both of those movies are gold, so could the same thing happen for Peter Rabbit?

Eh.. not so much.  It was okay.

I will say that if you are 10 years old or under, this is probably going to be a great time at the theater, and in that case, it reaches what is its target audience and that should make it a success.  I would even say that the parents can sit through this with their kids without wanting to tear out their eyes.

This film is based on the children’s series by Beatrix Potter.  Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and his family of rascally rabbits are trying to steal vegetables from the garden of Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), when the old man died of a heart attack.  A relative named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) takes over the garden and picks up in a rivalry with the clever creatures.  The neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne) loves the rabbits, tries unsuccessfully to paint, and falls for the new McGregor.  Peter became jealous of the attention Bea gives Thomas and swears that he must go.

So,yes, Peter Rabbit is a giant asshole.

The film is reasonably fun.  It has about three or four running jokes that they string together throughout the entire film that work, at least initially.  The CGI is extremely well done as these rabbit appear to be real creatures.

There is some good chemistry between Gleeson and Byrne and because of that, you want to root for Gleeson to turn away from his crazed ways and embrace the good side.  Of course, one could argue that Peter drove him to do everything that he does.

It did feel pretty long and the story was definitely paint by the numbers predictable, but that does not hurt when the target audience is in the single digits of age.  It moved from scene to scene quickly and had enough heart to be charming.

Yes, the running jokes were driven into the ground.  Yes, the main characters are both jerks.  Still there is enough for children here and it is not the worst time at the theater for an adult.  It certainly hit what it was intending to do. Paddington is still 100% better, but you could do way worse than Peter Rabbit.

3 stars

 

Fifty Shades Freed

I debated with myself about going to this movie.  Last year, a friend of mine posted to my review on Facebook asking why I go to the movie when I knew I was going to hate it.  That was Fifty Shades Darker, of course, which I abhorred.  I responded with some platitude like “taking a bullet for my readers” or “you never know.”  I think I referenced how I hated the first Ouija movie but loved Ouija: The Origin of Evil.  The real answer is that I see myself as a movie critic and I want to review the movie.

However, after how much vile I had for Darker, I truly considered skipping the “climax” (ha ha…yeah, real funny marketing there) of the trilogy.  I knew I was going to hate it.  Why put myself through it?  Of course, I thought to myself, how could I honestly compile a list of worst movies of the year without having experienced the final chapter (thank god, by the way).

I was still torn when we had a snow day from school today, but the roads were not too bad.  This opened the day up and I made the final decision.  I would attend the final film.

And you know what… I did not come out of the film with the same self-loathing for seeing Fifty Shades Freed as I did seeing Darker.  I did not want to put a hot poker through my head like I wanted last Valentine’s Day.

The movie is still shit, mind you, but it was less obscene as Darker, so there is that.  Just sayin’.

There is not much of a plot here.  The movie is a soft-Rated R-porno with a plot just a little more developed.  Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her hunky billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) get married at the very opening of the film.  Then, they have marital problems and there is a stalker (Eric Johnson).

That’s about it.

Of course, this relationship is meant  to be the heart of the film,but it is such a toxic relationship, it is really difficult to cheer them on.

The dialogue is atrocious.  The acting is below average.  I do think you can see the light in the eyes of Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as they know that their contracts are up and they do not have to be these characters any longer.  I think they are both, at the very least, competent actors, but the scripts that they are given are just so bad that it is bordering on funny.

I feel for these two.  How many years did it take for Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson to shake off the stink of Twilight, allowing people to see that they were solid actors?  Will Johnson and Dornan have the same time frame?

This was better than Fifty Shades Darker.  It had some decent moments of unintentional humor that helped entertain me.  It is a bad movie, but it is most likely not the worst movie of the year.

1.2 stars

The Cloverfield Paradox

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I was watching the Super Bowl Sunday night and enjoying the release of the new movie trailers coming during the commercials. Then, there was a trailer for a new Cloverfield film on Netflix. Cool.  I didn’t know that Netflix was going to have a new Cloverfield movie, The Cloverfield Paradox.  I was a fan of the first two films so I was excited to see the new film whenever it would come out.  Then the news broke.  It was debuting on Netflix that night, as soon as the Super Bowl was over.

Absolutely brilliant.

As a marketing ploy, this idea was pure genius.  Tease a popular film franchise’s next entry in the series in front of the biggest viewing audience of the year, and then roll it out immediately afterward.  Just brilliant.

So I, like I am sure many people, at the end of the Super Bowl, made my way to Netflix to watch the movie.

It was okay.

Again, I am sure that this stunt brought way more eyes on The Cloverfield Paradox than ever would have seen it in any other way.  Certainly, if this film had been released in the theaters, there would be a much greater chance that it was going to fail.  Here, Netflix introduced a brand new way to present their material.  It was a monumental way to maximize the release.

The film was an okay, fairly unoriginal science fiction story that featured pieces from other science fiction movies that we have seen before such as Life and Event Horizon.  Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, there is little connecting this movie to the original film until an image at the very end.  In fact, it could easily have been filmed as a completely different movie and made to fit the idea of Cloverfield after filming was over.

The crew of the Shepard i in orbit around earth in search of a new source of energy for a planet struggling to find energy and on the brink of war over it.  The crew has plenty of questions about each other, doubting the motives of crew members.  Lead by Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the crew ignited the controversial Shepard in an attempt to save the earth.  However, shockingly, when the space station stops, it seems as if the earth is gone.

The cast of this film is pretty strong.  Mbatha-Raw does a great job leading the cast as Hamilton.  We also get Daniel Brühl as Schmidt, David Oyelowo as Kiel, Chris O’Dowd as Mundy and John Ortiz as Monk.  Each of these actors bring a strength to the role that helps to elevate the material higher than it might have been with  lesser actors.

The story has some good elements to it.  I found myself compelled enough to stay up and watch it after the Super Bowl.  True, some of the science fiction elements are not explained much, but that did not bother me much.  In fact, much of the previous Cloverfield movies lacked some explanation so it did not bother me.  When a severed armed started writing on its own, I did not find it a problem.  I actually thought that was neat and had some of the funnier moments of the film.

I will admit that the film has a definite feel of a B movie, and not a film that you might see in the theaters.  It feels like it found an appropriate home on Netflix. I know that Netflix is wanting to move into more serious movies, and this one would be a step back from, say Mudbound.  However, if I found entertainment here, albeit, not a ton of depth.

In the end, as a fan of the previous Cloverfield movies, I have given this a pass.  Not only because I enjoyed watching it for the most part but also because the fact that Netflix may have changed the way business is done.

3 stars

Winchester

“Inspired by true events.”

What exactly do these words mean?  In this case, the words indicated that there is a real house, in San Jose, California, like the one in the movie that Sarah Winchester was continuously adding on to during her life.  It has a reputation of being haunted.

That would be it.

Not that there is anything wrong with taking that bit of true events and fictionalizing it into a horror movie.  Heck, I would even go as far as to say that the concept itself is very solid.  The Winchester mansion has all kinds of weird rooms, with stairs leading nowhere and creepy atmosphere.  The lay out of the house indicates the possibility of the madness of the owner.

None of that is covered effectively.  This house, which should have been the most important character in the movie, was really neglected for cheap jump scares and cliched horror movie tropes.

Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a drug-addicted yet famous psychologist, is hired by the Winchester company to travel to see Winchester heiress Sarah (Helen Mirren) and to perform a psychological test on her.  Price has his own share of problems that he brings along with him to the haunted house.  Immediately, there are things that he hears and sees that he has a difficult time coming to grips with.  Meanwhile, obsessively controlling Sarah will only speak to him under certain specific circumstances.

Eventually, we discover that Sarah believes that the house is being haunted by the angry spirits of those victims of the Winchester gun, and she has been building this house to help contain or allow the ghosts to move on.

There could have been some real psychological horror here.  They had set up this woman to be completely mad and behind much of her own pain, and they have some real potential in the character of Dr. price, whose own demons could be used in this situation.  Neither of these are effectively used.

Both Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke are okay in these roles, but I really expected to see the acting elevate the material, especially int he case of the great Dame Mirren.  That did not happen here.  They were fine.  That’s about it.

The story itself was non-existent more much of the film and it was downright boring for a good chunk of it.  There are so any things that are tossed out there without any sufficient follow up that it felt like a patchwork of a story.  And because of that, the film neglected the story that it should have focused on.

Worst part yet was the film was all jump scares.  Honestly, jump scares are so easy and this film chose to use them instead of going into any expansive story elements.  And these jump scares were so ridiculously obvious that they lost a lot of their effectiveness.  There is one scene where Dr. Price is moving a little mirror back and forth and you knew something was going to show up and try to scare us.  It moved a couple of times before finally settling on the “scary” creature that made Dr. Price jump.  There were also the typical loud bursts of music meant to jolt the audience.  I actually appreciated those jolts as they snapped me back awake a couple of times.

This movie took all of the fascinating parts that could have created a new and different horror movie, and tossed them away to have a simple and repetitive haunted house movie like all the others we have seen so many times before.  And even worse, the film wasted a strong cast including an Academy Award winner in Helen Mirren.

I did not even go into the magic bullet of love.

1.5 stars

The Shape of Water

I do believe this is the final of the movies released in limited release for Oscar consideration, and it is the best one as well.

I loved The Shape of Water, finally getting to see it.  It would have found its way into the top 5 of 2017 had I been able to see it before.

Guillermo del Toro brings his style to this beautiful story into something magical and legendary.  In the secret facility, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning woman but something unbelievable happens.  Government agent Richard Strickland (Michael Strickland) has brought something to the facility, some kind of Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) monster to be studied and researched.

Elisa found herself drawn to the Amphibian Man and she sneaks him eggs and plays him music.  Meanwhile, Strickland is getting anxious for answers and information and begins pushing for dissection.  That forces Elisa, along with a doctor at the facility (Michael Stuhlbarg), to try something desperate.

The Shape of Water is magic and you can feel the magic.  There have been few films that have this kind of tone/feel.  It is almost palpable.

Performances are top notch.  Not only from Sally Hawkins, who is remarkable, and Michael Shannon, who is scary intense, but also from Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins, who play secondary characters.  I would even go as far as to say that I loved the original and quirky Richard Jenkins as Giles, Elisa’s friend.

The design of the Amphibian Man is amazing and has so many little idiosyncrasies that you would probably notice different ones each time you see it.  Doug Jones does a great job as the monster, showing as much emotion as he could without the ability to speak.

This is, of course, a key connection between the two of them since neither of them can use words to speak.  The love story is the single most important aspect and it really does work.  I did not think it would, but it was wonderful.

The music of the film is as important as the cinematography and the acting.  The music plays a huge role in the connections between characters and the imagery of the film.  I will say, I am not convince that the “dance” song near the end worked or fit very well.  That might be my only criticism of the film.

The Shape of Water was well worth the wait.  This was an amazing and magical time at the movies.  It made you feel as if this was an old time story with the beautiful expertise of today’s world.  I loved it.

4.95 stars

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The third and expected final movie in the Maze Runner trilogy was released this weekend after a troubled and difficult path.  The dangerous, but thankfully not fatal, accident that befell movie star Dylan O’Brien caused the film to be delayed, but the young actor looked great back on the screen.

In the third installment, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is desperately trying to find a way to save his friends and the world from the deadly disease known as “The Flare.”  Meanwhile, the forces of WCKD are trying to do the same thing, but in extremely different ways.  WCKD head Janson (Aidan Gillen) is trying to capture every immune child in the world so they can use them as lab rats to solve the disease.  Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Thomas’s old love and betrayer, works in the lab hoping to find the cure.

So with Thomas’s close friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee) captured by WCKD, Thomas and the rebels look to save him from his future.

I kind of liked the first Maze Runner movie, but I really disliked the Scorch Trials film, so the third film could go in either direction.  Ironically, that is exactly what it did.

The first hour or so of The Death Cure was boring.  I was not engaged and I found myself wishing the film would get over.  I was not involved with the characters and the storyline felt flat and familiar.

Then, the last hour and a half or so, the film really picked up its pace, became exciting and engaging and really improved.

So the film was really split into two sections.  One good and one bad.  Once they got through the first section of the film, I did enjoy it much more.  The action was better and the characters became more important to me.   It was still predictable but it was considerably better than the first hour.

In the end, my decision with recommendation or not sticks with one major scene that stuck with me the remainder of the film.  And to talk about it, I need to mention that this section is SPOILERS

At one point, Thomas and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) undercover, escorting Teresa into WCKD in search of Minko.  They are in an elevator when Janson holds up the elevator and gets in and begins having a conversation with Teresa.  He had no idea who was standing directly behind him in the riot gear.  I immediately said to myself, “Shoot him in the head.”  Of course, Thomas does not do that, and not too longer after that Janson had figured it out. The opportunity was missed and I could not get past the fact that everything else wouldn’t have happened or could have been avoided with one easy pull of the trigger.  That plot hole made me question the rest of what happened.

I did like this better, much better, than the Scorch Trials, which was a serious misstep, but this did not reach the levels of number one.  The trilogy was reasonably finished , so let’s see if this is the end.

2.75 stars

Hostiles

I’ve been sick the last part of this week so I was not sure what I was going to be able to handle today.  However, I was feeling considerably better so I went off to see one of the wide releases of the weekend which was actually one of the movies released in December for Oscar consideration, Hostiles.

Since this was the new film from Scott Cooper, the director behind Crazy Heart, Black Mass, and Out of the Furnace, I could guess one thing.  The film was going to be dark, potentially depressing and slow moving.  Thing was, I really liked this movie and did not find these traits (which Hostiles definitely has) to be a drawback.

The year is 1892, and Captain Joe Blacker (Christian Bale) is a Union Calvary man nearing the end of his career.  He has been known as a brutally vicious soldier in battle, with a rep for killing Indians.  When ordered by Col. Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) to escort Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a Cheyenne who was also a brutal killer, and his family from New Mexico back to their homelands in Montana, Joe balks.

Joe had a past with Chief Yellow Hawk, who slit the throats and scalped three of Joe’s close friends.  Joe refuses the order, threatening to take whatever punishment dealt to him.  After some struggle, Col. Biggs convinced Joe, who knew the paths and had experience in the area and was the only one who would be able lead this troop, that he had no choice.

As the group were on the trail to Montana, they came across a burned down home of Rosalie Quaid, who was mourning the death of her family at the hands of a particularly vicious group of Comanche.  Rosalie seemed to be in shock and appeared to be “broken.”  Still, she allows them to bury her family and she accompanies them on the trip.

But the hazards of 1892 wilderness was just getting started as we see continual horrors show up from all areas of the world.

I really enjoyed this movie.  I did not think it felt slow a I have heard some criticize it.  I enjoyed the early parts where we saw character interactions between Joe and Rosalie, Joe and Chief, as well as the interactions with the Cheyenne tribe members.  There were some interesting secondary characters who got all too little time to shine as well.

Both Christian Bale and Rosalind Pike are tremendous in their roles, and I really enjoyed what they gave to Wes Studi as well.  These three characters had to be the strongest of the group since these were easily the ones that the film was centered around.  In fact, one of the film’s weaknesses was that they did not develop the other secondary characters enough. Heck, Timothee Chalamet was in this movie for a hot second.

The fact that we did not get to know these characters better hurt the film.  There was one scene where someone dies and I did not know who it was.  I kept looking through the cast after the scene, trying to figure out who was gone.  Never figured it out.

The other problem I had with the film was it seemed as if Joe and the Chief changed perspectives on each other really quickly.  I understand that the necessity to team up was there, but Joe had protested so much earlier that it did not feel right and that made the ending feel as if it was not earned.

However, that was the only criticisms I had for the film.  In fact, the rest of the relationship between Joe and the Chief was great.  The idea that these two characters are the same character, just from different worlds was fascinating to me.  It wasn’t the theme of the white man persecuted the Native Americans and treated them horribly like so many films use.  It is also not that the Native Americans were savages and needed to be killed.It was both.  It was a theme that any man, depending on POV, can commits acts of good or evil.  You had Joe and the Chief both clearly solid, heroic men who had done many atrocities in their lives and they had to deal with what those acts made them.

Rosalind Pike’s arc was exceptional as well as she went from mourning widow to woman determined to continue.  We see different variations of other characters along this same arc, which is why it would be nice to have had more with those other characters than what we got.

The film was beautifully shot and the exterior scenes brought the audience right into the world with the characters.  There was an extended rain scene that was something else.  I kept wondering if that rain was ever going to stop.

Again, this film is not as much about the anger between white man and the Indians as it is the internal struggle of humans to decide what they are willing to do and how they can live with that decision.  The film was long but it never felt like it.  As I said, I was sick this week and have not slept well so I worried about dozing off in the middle of this one.  It did not happen, even once.  The film captivated me from the beginning and, with the few exceptions about wanting more form the characters, I did not have much to complain about.

4.2 stars

 

 

Call Me By Your Name

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Call Me By Your Name is one of the films this year competing for award consideration that had not yet opened in a theater near me.  It is annoying when, after watching movies all year, the award shows are talking about films that have yet to come out in my area.

It has finally arrived and it is a very strong movie that centered around two very strong performances.  Timothée Chalamet played Elio, a 17-year old American-Italian boy who is finding himself.  He finds himself attracted to Oliver (Armie Hammer), a colleague of his father, and the two of them dance around each other while trying to determine what they should do.

The relationship between Elio and Oliver is very sweet and real.  Elio is confused by his feelings and not sure what Oliver thought.  Elio pursued other sexual relationships with girls his own age as he and Oliver continued their “courtship.”

This is a very European film.  The way the film approaches some of these ideas is just really progressive.  It is as if it is just as natural as anything.  It was really refreshing to see this.

I also loved the parents of Elio.  They were so wonderful and loving and understanding that I am not sure that we have seen such amazing parents in movies ever.  They were open and honest with Elio and never once lectured him about his choices.  They were there for him.  It would be awesome if more parents were this way.  Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg played these roles.

The film is beautifully shot and directed by Luca Guadagnino.  It is a coming-of-age story that is as subtle and caring of a young boy who found a relationship that he did not expect.  The film is definitely Timothee Chalamet’s film.  His performance is note perfect and covers the spectrum of the emotions.

Call Me By Your Name is a wonderful film that featured one tremendous performance and several really great ones.  Chalamet should be in consideration for an Oscar nomination this year.  And he will have deserved it.

4 stars

 

 

Phantom Thread

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The Oscar movies are finally starting to open in the areas where I can see them.  Many people had Phantom Thread in their top ten of the year that I decided to give the film a chance, despite not being high on my list of anticipation.

I was bored.

I did not like Phantom Thread much at all.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion artist/dress designer during the 1950s.  Reynolds is very persnickety in his mannerisms and the order his follows.  It made me wonder if this guy was meant to be on the Autism Spectrum.  When he meets waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), he brings her into his life as his newest muse.  However, Alma does not intend to be just the next disposable muse.  She is in it for the long haul.

Daniel Day-Lewis claims that this will be his final film, as he is retiring, and he does his normal great job creating this weird character.  Vicky Krieps also does a great job opposite the legendary star.  The performances of the film was not the problem.

Through the first hour or so of the movie, I was really bored.  I understand it was a slow burn, but I was squirming in my seat and dozing off and just wishing this would get over.  There is a moment in the story where the film takes a different turn.  Honestly, the film became more interesting at this point, but then I wasn’t sure if the characters were doing things that they should have been doing.  At times, it seemed as if they were out of character near the end of the film.

You always know that Daniel Day-Lewis is going to be amazing.  The film looked tremendous and extremely stylish.  I just don’t think much happened and, by the time some thing did happen, I was checked out.

2.2 stars

12 Strong

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Chris Hemsworth is showing the world that he is more than just Thor.

Hemsworth is the lead character in the new war film, 12 Strong, which tells the just recently declassified story of the Horse Soldiers, a group of 12 men who went to Afghanistan after September 11th to fight against the Taliban.

The members of the Dagger Squad was sent to Afghanistan to aid a local warlord in their attempts to retake the country from the Taliban and isolate them from Al Qaeda.  When the Dagger Squad arrived, they realized that they would be taking on the well-armed Taliban army by riding horses into battle.

I had never heard about this story before so I came into the film without any preconceived expectations.  I think that having no idea about this helped make the film stronger.  The battle scenes are extremely dramatic and felt truly real, and the fact that these soldier approached it on horseback with their automatic weapons fighting against tanks and missile launchers was truly amazing.

Now, honestly, a lot of the characters in this film are lacking.  If you are looking at it in a strictly movie stand point, only a few of them have anything more than just surface level development.  Yet, that is not a huge drawback for this film because of the way it is shot and the seriousness of the situation.

Joining Hemsworth, who plays Captain Mitch Nelson, in this film are Michael Shannon as Hal Spencer, the older veteran who believes in Mitch, and Michael Pena as Sam Diller, who starts with some distaste for Mitch.  The strongest relationship in the film may be between Hemsworth and Navid Negahban who plays General Dostum, one of the Afghan military warlords willing to aid the US.

The true story is amazing considering the odds that these soldiers faced in their attempt to bring to justice those men responsible for the 9-11 attacks.  There are some scenes here where you wonder exactly how it is possible that these men are able to escape death, let alone continue their mission.

Hemsworth is truly a star.  He has shown us the ability to be larger-than-life.  He has shown us that he has comedy chops.  Now, he has shown us that he can carry a dramatic role as well.  A role that forces him to get down and dirty and reach an area that he has yet to go.  He has a presence on the screen like few others (actually reminds me a bit of Dwayne Johnson.  I’d love to see those two together in a movie).

12 Strong might be a bit long, but it did not feel that way.  It is a realistic and powerful war movie that could have used a little more character development, but succeeds nonetheless.

3.5 stars

Forever My Girl

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I would venture to say that when the seven year old girl has a greater acting range than anyone else in the movie, you have some trouble brewing.

Little Abby Ryder Fortson (who plays Cassie Lang in the Ant Man film and its upcoming sequel) is easily the best, most entertaining part of this film.   She delivers her lines with enthusiasm and gusto, leaving the rest of the cast in her diminutive wake.

Josie (Jessica Rothe, who I thought was considerably better in Happy Death Day) prepared for her wedding to Liam Page (Alex Roe).  Problem was… Liam had just written and recorded a country song that was hitting it big and he decided to leave Josie at the altar.  Instead, he took off for the bright lights of music city.  He never looked back.

That is, until he hears that his high school best friend had been killed in an accident.  This brings Liam, full fledged country music star, back to his hometown where he discovered that Josie was the mother of a 7 year old girl, Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson).  By the way, Liam left her eight years ago. Surprise!  Liam is a daddy.

I swear, Alex Roe had one expression for every scene in the movie.  He was about as cardboard as you could possibly get.  Every moment felt like the same moment because he appeared unable to react to it like a natural human.  That might be harsh, but I just felt that there needed to be way more emoting going on from a lead character.

There was little to no chemistry between Roe and Rothe, despite the fact that they were meant to be this forever couple that would overcome anything to be together.  I never got that.  Honestly, I never got a reasonable answer to the question of why Liam left her at the altar to begin with.  I don’t know why I am supposed to cheer for this pairing to reunite when Liam only seems to be a giant douche.  Why would Josie accept this jerk back?  He basically left her because he was going to be successful in music and didn’t want to be tied down to her.  He then spends the next seven or eight years doing drugs, getting drunk and whoring around.  Who knows how many children he actually does have?

We are supposed to believe that he really loves Josie because he kept his old flip cell phone from high school and listened to a message she left on it every day.  Sounds more stalker-like than charming.

The only bit of charisma given to us from Liam is when he is with young Billy.  She does do a decent job of being entertaining with whomever she shares screen time with, which is an impressive feat for someone so small.  And her song at the movie’s end is charming.  Having said that, no parent in their right mind would allow her to do what she did at the end of the movie.

This is not a Nicholas Sparks movie, but it sure felt like one.  The nonsensical romantic film between two beautiful yet deeply shallow people with a story that you can see coming for miles and miles falls right into that genre of films.  Of course, that means that there would be an audience for this type of movie, but I am certainly not it.

2 stars

Den of Thieves

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It will be tough for me to discuss much about Den of Thieves without going into spoilers so I am going to get this out of the way right off the bat.  I really liked the ending of this movie.  What lead up to it, though, not so much.  So I will not mention that ending again but it did help salvage this movie for me.

Den of Thieves tells the story of a band of cops led by Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler) that work quite a bit outside the law attempting to stop another band of criminals led by Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) who are attempting to pull off the heist of the century.

I was really bored by the first hour of this movie.  There was nothing new or engaging for me as the time dragged on.  The film was 2 hours and 20 minutes long and the first half of it was just so slow.  I will admit that the film did pick up the pace once the heist began, but, by that time, I had checked out of the film.

I had a second major problem that I found as I was watching the film.  I wound up rooting for the criminals.  The thieves which included characters played by Evan Jones, 50 Cent, Cooper Andrews (Jerry from the Walking Dead) and O’Shea Jackson Jr. were just more compelling and seemed to be the more decent people than the cops.

I hated the character of Nick.  I thought he was a terrible person and he pulled so many illegal things that I am surprised that they would allow him to be the main protagonist of a film in today’s society.  I was legit cheering for him to be killed in the final shoot out because he was such an unlikable character.  This is nothing against Gerard Butler, because I think he did a very decent job playing the character, but I just saw almost zero redeeming qualities in him.

They also spent way too much time, in a film that is over long, showing Nick’s family troubles.  I understand that they are showing this to prove that Nick is not a complete asshat, but it only served to slow the film down even more.

There were a bunch of scenes here that could have easily been edited out and nothing of substance would have been lost.  Part of that falls at the feet of first time director Christian Gudegast.  Though much of the film is technically well done, the run time is an error in judgment.

As I said, I was really cheering for the bad guys to get away and win in the end of the film and I do not think that the filmmakers intended that to be that way.  I was bored with Den of Thieves for a good chunk of the movie, but the ending did improve the film for me.  It did not improve it enough for me to recommend this, but it could be a good cable watch some rainy lazy day.

2.3 stars

I, Tonya

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I remember watching this train wreck happen at the Olympics and like everyone else, I was amazed at the story.  Whether fair or not, Tonya Harding had become the villain, the heel of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

I, Tonya brings the story of Tonya Harding to the big screen and does something that, as a viewer of those chaotic days of Olympic-non-glory, I did not believe it could do.  It humanized Tonya Harding.

We may never know for sure exactly the level of involvement or knowledge Tonya Harding had in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, but this film painted a picture of a troubled girl from a broken background who struggled with her own feelings of inadequacy and bad decisions.

Part of the reason Tonya Harding comes off in I, Tonya in such a sympathetic light is a multilayered and emotional performance by Margot Robbie.  Robbie captures every moment as the redneck skater to perfection, showing her confusion, her anger, her angst and her violent past.  Every time Tonya was physically struck, whether it be by her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) or her husband/boyfriend Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), it makes you empathetic for the girl and the toxic environment that she lived in.  It became as much a story of abuse, abusive relationships and the victim’s inability to remove themselves from the situation as it was about the attacks.

However, the film has a really neat technique to keep you from completely championing Tonya Harding.  The film continued to come back to the “present” day featuring interviews with the main players in the story, and  the current day Tonya Harding is anything but relatable.  She gives off a distinct “white trash” vibe each time the film comes back to her.  She is a beacon of negativity and excuses.  It creates a nice counter side to the person we see throughout the film.

A second technique that I was a big fan of was the breaking of the fourth wall. Within the film, characters would look to the audience and speak directly to them, emphasizing important parts of the story .  I found this to really add to the presentation and my enjoyment of the film.

Allison Janney won a Golden Globe for this role and she deserved it.  She is the most despicable character I have seen on screen in quite some time and Janney clearly is reveling in the chance to dive headlong into the cruelty of this mother.  You almost have to laugh at her, thinking that she must be a caricature of the woman, but it seems as if the film nailed her.

Sebastian Stan should be mentioned as well.  He does a great job as Gillooly, showing more than just a one note villain.  Jeff was complex and even likable.  You could understand how his charm could entice someone back to a relationship despite consistently returning to an abusive status quo.

I would like to give a shout out to Mckenna Grace, who appeared as a young Tonya Harding.  She was not in the film for very long, but her performance was exceptional.  Grace was wonderful last year in Gifted with Chris Evans and she showed once again that she is a young actress to keep an eye on.  She had some seriously difficult scenes to act through, including the day her father left her alone with her mother.  Each time, Grace made us feel for her, wishing there was a way to get her out of the clutches of her horrible mother.

I laughed several times during I, Tonya and I gasped at a few of the brazen occurrences the film showed us.  The two “hitmen” from New Jersey who came and attacked Nancy Kerrigan are as incompetent as any bungling criminal in any movie anywhere.  The fact that this was real life was even more amazing.

I, Tonya brought a new focus on one of the most infamous sport moments of the last 25 years and it does it by showing how human the characters within this moment truly were.  The film does not zoom in on the “incident” (as they call it), but presents it as a part of the story.  Yes, it had a mighty impact on her life, but it was not the only aspect that led her to the place that she wound up.  This was a strong film that felt fresh and original despite covering material the world already knew.

4.15 stars