Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

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I, Tonya (2017)

February 22, 2018

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Director: Craig Gillespie (Fright Night, Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours)

Bottom Line: Absolutely loved it. This is the story of American Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie), her brutal upbringing by her abusive and alcoholic mother (Janney), her struggle for acceptance (despite her enormous talent) in the ice skating world because of her trashy background, her tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Jeff Gillooly (Stan), and the controversy that arose from all of these things, including the infamous Nancy Kerrigan Incident. I love the way this movie is delivered via present day interviews and flashbacks and a knowing wink that everyone involved might be twisting the truth about what actually happened. The use of multiple unreliable narrators allows the story to unfold without presenting everything as 100% factual and adds an extra layer of humor to what is easily the funniest 2017 film I’ve seen to date. I, Tonya manages to tell Harding’s story without really taking anyone’s side. Tonya Harding might be at the center of this biopic, but she’s no hero and even though the film might want you to feel pity for Harding at times, I think it clearly understands that she was an incredibly flawed human being and though she was surrounded by horrible people, she wasn’t merely a victim of circumstance – she didn’t exactly shy away from controversy. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are brilliant in this movie, both delivering tour-de-force performances worthy of their Oscar nominations.

I, Tonya is definitely one of my favorite 2017 films. It’s hilarious and entertaining, ever-so-slightly heartbreaking, with some top notch acting from Robbie and Janney – a must see dark comedy about a troubled former celebrity that will make you laugh out loud and almost feel bad for her.

Replay Value: I would eagerly watch this again and I’m sure my wife will love it.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for three Oscars: Robbie for Best Actress, Janney for Best Supporting Actress, and Film Editing. I haven’t seen all the movies nominated for Best Costume Design or Best Makeup, but anyone that can make Margot Robbie look even slightly unattractive probably deserves some acclaim. Also, it seems like adding I, Tonya as a tenth nominee for Best Picture wouldn’t be asking too much.

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

February 15, 2018

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Bottom Line: I can see how Nocturnal Animals has divided audiences and I’m actually surprise the audience score is as high as it is on Rotten Tomatoes (72%). This is likely not a movie for the casual filmgoer or really anyone that doesn’t want to think too much while watching films. I loved it though. It’s beautifully shot, extremely well acted, and the multiple narratives seem complex but are actually pretty simple and intertwine extremely well.

Here’s the gist: Amy Adams plays a woman deep into her second marriage and things seem to be falling apart between them. While her husband is away in NYC (cheating on her) she receives a manuscript from her previous husband (Gyllenhaal) that she begins reading. The story is about a man (Gyllenhaal again), and his wife and daughter, driving along a deserted Texas highway and being forced off the road by some hooligans that torment the family and eventually take off with the two women. The man teams up with a local sheriff (Shannon) to locate the two women. While reading the manuscript, Adams’ character finds herself reflecting on her own life and wondering about the choices she’s made.

I tried to type that synopsis up with as few spoilers as possible. I highly recommend watching Nocturnal Animals knowing absolutely nothing about it… like I did.

Michael Shannon gives a terrific (and Oscar nominated) performance as the Texan sheriff and the rest of the cast is great as well. Jake Gyllenhaal always seems to be solid, if not quite amazing, in any role he takes on and this film isn’t any different for him. Amy Adams’ character is quite a bit more interesting. In flashbacks, she seems genuine, somewhat optimistic, and perhaps quite a bit naive and in the present she says very little but exudes sadness and a palpable coldness. It’s a nuanced performance that will probably be appreciated more over multiple viewings. Also, it’s a bit of casting genius to have Isla Fisher in the role of the wife in the manuscript as Fisher and Adams have long been linked as doppelgangers of one another.

Nocturnal Animals is a brilliant film. If you found yourself unsatisfied when the credits started rolling, work a little harder. Do some research and figure it out. If you don’t want to do that, then Nocturnal Animals definitely wasn’t for you. This movie fires on all cylinders, while combining Western thriller with psychological warfare and a classic revenge tale. I still haven’t seen some critically acclaimed films from 2016, but right now I feel comfortable ranking Nocturnal Animals as high as #3 on my list and I won’t be surprised if ten years from now I look back on 2016 and it’s the film I remember most. I highly recommend it, but be warned: you’re going to have to use your brain because it’s not all spelled out for you.

Replay Value: This is the kind of film that if you liked it, you’ll surely want to watch it again. Probably immediately.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Michael Shannon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and, in what I felt was a rather weak year for films, was probably robbed of multiple other nominations. Nocturnal Animals stuck with me way more than La La Land and Fences, for instance, and it seems criminal that the film received zero technical nods.

Grade: 8 (Must See)

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

February 1, 2018

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Director: Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash)

Bottom Line: Call Me By Your Name is naturally going to draw some comparisons to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and that might be all the information some of my followers need to decide to stay away. But 2018 is not 2005 and we live in a much more accepting (though still incredibly prejudiced) world nowadays and maybe some of you will appreciate this for what it is: a very solid coming-of-age love story set in Italy during the early 1980s… between a 17 year old boy and a 25 year old man. Yes, not everyone’s cup of tea – and the age difference borders on suspect – but I really enjoyed it. There are some cringe-worthy moments – as is the case with lots of foreign language films – but it’s funny, moving, and plenty memorable. It’s an emotional journey you are truly invested in and the Italian backdrop really engrosses you in the story. Timothee Chalamet gives the strongest 2017 performance from a lead actor that I’ve seen to date and Armie Hammer is also very good in a role I wouldn’t have really expected from him. I also really appreciated Elio’s (Chalamet) parents (Stuhlbarg and Casar). They were very progressive and supportive of what their son was up to, which would be cool enough in 2018, but is even more remarkable for a film set in the 80s.

Call Me By Your Name was a lot of fun and highly recommended. If you’re wary about a love story between two guys then it’s probably not for you, but I thought it was one of the better overall films of 2017. I think this could easily be a film I look back on in a few years and realize it’s better than I’m giving it credit for right now.

Replay Value: The more I think back on it, the more I’d like to watch it again.
Sequel Potential: Director Luca Guadagnino has already announced a sequel, which is rather surprising.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Song, and Timothee Chalamet for Best Actor.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Molly’s Game, The Shape of Water, A Ghost Story

January 9, 2018

I’m pretty far behind on posting my thoughts on entertainment content, so I’m just going to pump it all out right now.

Molly’s Game (2017) – This is a rare occurrence where a movie is significantly better than the book it was based on thanks in large part to Aaron Sorkin’s uncanny ability to translate stories to the big screen with his ability to write snappy and entertaining dialogue-heavy scenes. There’s a line in the movie where Idris Elba’s character says something about the best part of Molly’s story taking place after her book was published; he’s not wrong. In fact, his character didn’t even exist in the book. All the court drama is fresh material and it is quite great. Jessica Chastain and Elba are wonderful in their roles. Michael Cera’s character is actually the actor Tobey Maguire and while he’s painted pretty slimy in this movie, he plays a much bigger villain role in the book. For instance, Tobey insists on using his own personal Shuffle Master for the games and charges Molly to use it. I wasn’t moved by the book at all. I thought it was an interesting story, but I didn’t feel bad for Molly Bloom. This movie made me feel something. Kudos to Aaron Sorkin’s writing and directing and a great cast.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

The Shape of Water (2017) – This movie blew me away. Guillermo del Toro directs a wonderfully beautiful film with a fun (but kind of weird) love story about not judging a book by its cover. Sally Hawkins is ridiculously good in this movie, playing a mute that works in a secret government building as a cleaning lady and falls in love with a Sea Monster/Man they are holding captive. This is a film that is firing on all cylinders: visually, musically, and technically. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are great in supporting roles and Michael Shannon is terrific as the story’s main villain – goodness that guy can make you hate him. The Shape of Water might not wind up being my favorite movie of 2017, but it is almost certainly the best all around 2017 film I’ve seen so far. This movie is highly artistic and a little out there, so it might not be for everyone. My friend I saw it with had the audacity to call it “alright.”

8/10 (Must See)

A Ghost Story (2017) – This was an experience. I had no clue what I was getting into and was totally floored by the direction this movie takes. Casey Affleck plays husband to Rooney Mara, but passes away after a car accident early on in the movie only to return as the stereotypical-looking ghost in a white sheet. He returns to their home and watches her grieve – including an uncomfortably long four minute scene of Rooney Mara devouring a pie – and eventually move on. There is no interaction between ghost and grieving wife and even though the spirit was able travel from the morgue to their home, it remains behind after she moves out and other people begin to move in and out, and a serious amount of time passes. It’s a weird movie. There is very little dialogue after Casey Affleck’s character dies, as most of the film is music and a ghost observing. And yet, it was incredibly entrancing, moving, and quite thought-provoking. I really wanted my wife to watch it but I’m sure she’d hate it, so I didn’t even bother suggesting it. I’m hesitant to recommend this movie, but I loved it and I wanted to watch it again right after I saw it.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Raw (2017) – Technically, this movie was viewed at film festivals in 2016, but I don’t think it was released in theaters until 2017. This is a pretty bizarre French-language film about a young vegetarian girl forced to eat meat while getting hazed during orientation at a veterinarian school and develops an insatiable desire for meat and discovers that humans are quite tasty! There’s lots of weird stuff in this movie – it’s overly gross and sexual at times – and I would not recommend it to more conservative audiences. I thought it was pretty fun though and fans of horror movies from other countries shouldn’t be put off by it’s boundary pushing.

6/10 (Recommended)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) – Happened to watch this on Netflix and thought it was a pretty fun, but not great horror movie with a twist. Tucker and Dale are harmless “hillbillies” that a group of teens mistake for murderers and the teens accidentally kill themselves one-by-one while the survivors blame it all on Tucker and Dale. There’s a don’t judge a book by its cover theme here too, but it’s pretty superficial and this film is just a light horror comedy that’s worth a watch if you have some time.

5/10 (Watchable)

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January 2018 – Movie/TV Preview

January 6, 2018

My list of January movies I’m looking forward to doesn’t look much different than last month’s list, as a number of the films I want to see saw a limited release in December to qualify for the Oscars, but will receive wide releases this month. Some of these movies aren’t playing anywhere near me and don’t have an upcoming wide release listed, so chances are I won’t see many of them until they are on blu-ray.

1. Molly’s Game (January 5th, wide) – Jessica Chastain play Molly Bloom, host of private high stakes poker games in Hollywood and New York that featured some A-List celebrities. The book was enjoyable, but this film is getting raves and Aaron Sorkin is a master at turning books into screenplays.

2. Lady Bird (limited release now) – I don’t know much about this movie except that it’s a supposedly quirky coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan and written/directed by Greta Gerwig and that’s it’s one of the most highly rated films of 2017.

3. I, Tonya (???) – Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding, the former renowned figure skater that conspired to have Nancy Kerrigan assaulted and made a sex tape she sold to Penthouse.

4. The Disaster Artist (???) – This movie is about some guy that made a bad movie called The Room. I don’t know much about any of that, but James Franco is apparently spectacular in this and it has received critical praise.

5. The Post (January 12th, wide) – Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a political drama where the press squares off against the government.

6. All The Money In The World (in theaters) – Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, and Mark Wahlberg star in this thriller directed by Ridley Scott about a boy that is kidnapped and his mother’s desperate attempt to get his billionaire grandfather to pay the ransom. An amazing note about this film: Kevin Spacey originally starred as the rich grandfather but was replaced by Christopher Plummer when his scandal broke. This happened on November 8th. Plummer had two weeks to memorize all his lines and prepare for the role before reshoots over the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday and the film was released on December 22nd. Incredible!

7. Phantom Thread (January 19th, wide?) – Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis are all the information I need, but the plot outline doesn’t really grab me.

8. The Darkest Hour (limited now?) – Gary Oldman disappears into the role of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the threshold of World War II.

9. Hostiles (January 19th, wide) – Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike star in a this period piece set in the late 1800s about an Army captain escorting an Cheyenne chief through dangerous territory. From Scott Cooper, director of Crazy Heart, Black Mass, and Out of the Furnance – all notable films, but none of which I’ve seen.

10. The Commuter (January 12th) – Liam Neeson does Liam Neeson things. On a train. This is the only official 2018 release to crack this list and my interest in it is pretty mild.

Netflix Additions

Immediate Watch

Eventually Watch

Before I Wake (January 5th)
Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Season 10 (January 5th)
The End Of The F**king World, Season 1 (January 5th)
Katt Williams: Great America (January 16th)

Might Watch

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Adventure (January 10th)
The Force (January 29th)
A Futile and Stupid Gesture (January 26th)
Rotten, Season 1 (January 5th)

Other Notables – Certified Classics in bold

Apollo 13 (January 1st)
Batman (January 1st)
Batman Returns (January 1st)
Batman Begins (January 1st)
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (January 1st)
The Conjuring (January 8th)
Dallas Buyers Club (January 16th)
The Godfather (January 1st)
The Godfather: Part II (January 1st)
Into The Wild (January 1st)
Lethal Weapon (January 1st)
Lethal Weapon 2 (January 1st)
The Shawshank Redemption (January 1st)
Training Day (January 1st)
The Truman Show (January 1st)
Wedding Crashers (January 1st)

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

December 20, 2017

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern
Director: Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper)

Bottom Line: I feel like it’s important to note that I’m not a Star Wars fanatic. The series has always been overrated to me and while the original trilogy is definitely classic in the sense that they were groundbreaking films at the time and have had a tremendous affect on pop culture over the last 40 years, the movies themselves are merely enjoyable to me. I’m not wrapped up in all the mythology and I don’t watch all the movies again when a new one comes out. I haven’t seen a film in the prequel trilogy since Revenge of the Sith was in theaters. I did really enjoy The Force Awakens though and for the first time in my life I felt some of that Star Wars magic that everyone else is so enamored by.

The Last Jedi felt nothing like that. Right from the jump, we are hit with cringe-worthy dialogue and humor that doesn’t land. I chuckled one time during this movie and I was supposed to laugh a lot more than that. And then we are introduced to a Luke Skywalker that is nothing like your childhood hero. Even Mark Hammill hates this version.

I can’t get into all the minutiae of why this film is a poor follow up to The Force Awakens – I’ve seen fans nitpick all the relevant little details – but what I can say with confidence is that I was pretty bored while watching it and it was incredibly long for a movie that wasn’t highly entertaining. John Boyega’s Finn – one of the highlights of the previous film – has a much less interesting role this time around and goes on a side adventure that borders on prequel levels of terrible. I wasn’t a fan of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren in the last film and this movie doesn’t help with that. Can you imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader? He’s a huge reason why those movies are memorable. Just a great villain. Kylo Ren is more similar to Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker than to Lord Vader – and that’s not a good thing. Plus, he spends this entire movie with his mask off. Ugh.

The Last Jedi does have some cool moments, but I think they occur far less often than dull or laughable ones. The critics enjoyed this movie, but I personally can’t recommend it. I can’t even say Star Wars diehards will love it because it seems as though the fan base is pretty split, but there are enough people that hate it, that I feel it’s fair to warn people to temper their expectations.

Replay Value: I don’t have much interest in seeing this again. My friend that went with me was happy to see it a second time though.
Sequel Potential: Episode IX is due out in 2019.
Oscar Potential: Star Wars movies are always strong candidates of Visual and Sound nominations. This movie will not be a contender for Best Picture.

Grade: 5/10 (Watchable)

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Coco (2017), Gerald’s Game (2017)

December 13, 2017

Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Director: Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Toy Story 2)

Bottom Line: I loved it. What a feel good movie about family, passion, music, love, loss, memory, and, of course, death. Coco is a return to form for Pixar, combining absolutely beautiful CG animation with memorable characters and an enriching, funny story that pulls at the heart strings. Bring your Kleenex! This is Pixar’s best original film since Up in 2009.

Replay Value: Pretty close to a must own. I would definitely enjoy watching this multiple times.
Sequel Potential: Hit animated films always have sequel potential, but I think this would work best as a standalone film.
Oscar Potential: Best Animated Film nomination is a lock. There is potential for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Possibly Best Original Song for “Remember Me.”

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush)

Bottom Line: Gerald’s Game is a taut psychological thriller based on a short, overlooked Stephen King novel about a woman that goes on a remote cabin getaway with her husband in the hopes of rekindling their marriage. He cuffs her to the bed, she hates it, implores him to let her free, but… he has a heart attack and falls off the bed, wounding himself fatally. So she’s stuck there, handcuffed to the bed, with no food, and no company except a hungry, stray dog that wanders into the house and the figments of her deteriorating psychosis. Gerald’s Game is a surprisingly deep and emotional film considering the vast majority of it takes place on a bed with a woman that can barely move. Carla Gugino gives a phenomenal performance. This movie is streaming on Netflix and I definitely recommend it to anyone that enjoys psychological thrillers and doesn’t mind the claustrophobic circumstances.

Replay Value: Not a great candidate for multiple viewings, but it’s something you could revisit many years later.
Sequel Potential: Zero.
Oscar Potential: Carla Gugino is fantastic in this. Not sure how a Netflix movie plays into the Oscar races, but I’ll guess she doesn’t get much consideration.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)