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Director Kim Snyder's documentary "Newtown" is a gripping film about the aftermath of the largest mass school shooting in U.S. history which took place at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conneticut on December 14, 2012. The documentary follows three Newtown families who lost their sons in the tragedy, and another family who had a son survive the tragedy but still left them with much grief. Snyder does an admirable job in highlighting the documentary around how life has immensely altered for these families, and she cerebrally avoids the the pitfalls of making it into a sensational, political agenda documentary; even though "gun control" policy has to be a requisite to be part of the feature. This is not for the weak hearted; as you can imagine, there are definitely moments of profound sorrow in featuring the families discussing how their sons were like. No one will ever forget the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and this documentary is just a subtle reminder, yet effective one, how this can never be put aside in our memory. **** Good
Hands of Stone (2016)
Don't need to be stoned to enjoy this one!
You have been warned. There will be plenty of pun jabs in this review, but please don't count me out yet. Roberto Duran, the legendary Panamanian boxer, is in the center ring in Writer-Director Jonathan Jakobuwicz' bio pic "Hands of Stone". Jakobuwicz features Duran Duran, and more of Duran; I just did that so I could include one of my favorite bands of all time in this review. Anyways, Edgar Ramirez stars as Duran in a bit over-the-top performance but still had a few uppercuts in his work. The film features Duran as a child living in the Panamanian slums, and then as a young man who loved the boxing game, next his eventual rise into the ring, and lastly his legendary battles with boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard. Jakobuwicz also presents Duran's personal life in his relationship with his girlfriend and then wife Felicidad. But this movie is very much also about Duran's seasoned trainer Ray Arcel, who is played with plenty of punch by the great Robert DeNiro. Arcel had a wealth of experience training champion boxers, but ran into a mob squad that physically & mentally forced him out of boxing. Years later, Arcel discovers Duran, and thought it was time to get back in. There is no doubt that Jakobuwicz does get a bit showy in several of the film's scenes; but you know what, I found them to be in the ropes of "guilty pleasure" watching. DeNiro, who needs no training in the thespian world, was brilliant as Arcel. I also enjoyed the first card supporting work from John Turturro as a mobster, Ruben Blades as Duran's manager, and Usher (yes, that Usher) as Sugar Ray Leonard. Sure, there lots of cheesy stuff in "Hands of Stone" that have a familiar ring to it, and yes I do think many will be sparring partners of mine by disagreeing with me on that it was an entertaining bio flick; but I don't see why you should not go head to head and eye to eye with "Hands of Stone". **** Good
Irrational Man (2015)
Solid Woody rational offering!
Woody! Woody! Woody! Not the most rational humanoid that ever existed, but one thing about legendary filmmaker Woody Allen you have to admit is that his ratio of movies per year is phenomenal- 1/1; yes, one movie per year. Allen's "Irrational Man" stars the not-so-rational actor himself Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas, an alcoholic Philosophy professor who joins up as an adjunct professor at a Connecticut university. Abe has lost lust for life and is very uninspired. At the university, he meets several key players including a Science professor colleague named Rita Richards who lusts for Abe even though she is married. Abe also befriends one of his students named Jill Pollard who admires Abe and this Pollard also wants to pollute Abe's college morals, or lack there of. Allen directs and scribes "Irrational Man" quite well with infamous Woodyisms such as insecurity, jealousy, anxiety, and delirium. And even though it is not one of his classic movies, "Irrational Man" rationalizes itself as a pleasant, quirky viewing. Phoenix shines as Abe. Emma Stone was very good as Pollard, and the very underrated Parker Posey stuck her pleasant thespian pose as Richards. So come one man, give that "Irrational Man" a try. **** Good
It Follows (2014)
Follow through this one!
"It Follows"! Yes, it does! My grandiose corny puns in my movie reviews, and this one is no different! OK, OK. Please don't leave and I beg you to continue to follow me in my review of the horror independent flick "It Follows". Writer-Director David Robert Mitchell has formulated a very inventive horror movie about an unknown supernatural force that follows some of those who have sexual encounters. Our protagonist here is the blonde beauty Jay Height. Jay reaches her own new heights when she starts dating the all-American sporto Hugh. But Hugh will not guess what happens with that encounter, because then if I spill the beans, it will be a Hugh disappointment, and spoilers will follow. Sorry, but I can't resist. Hugh ends up giving Jay the supernatural force that causes weary characters to slowly follow; hence "It Follows". It might sound like "It Follows" is not it, but it is actually a very engaging movie, that does not mimic most of the formulaic hum-drum horror movies of these days. And it does have its scary moments, including a breakthrough beginning. So I think we should start following the career of David Robert Mitchell because he was it in crafting this feature. I also liked the leading performance of Maika Monroe as Jay. The rest of the cast was moderate but nothing to follow through profusely. OK, that is pretty much it. Now follow "It Follows". **** Good
A for Anomalisa
Acclaimed Writer-Director Charlie Kaufman's films might not be for everyone, and they are an acquired taste; but one thing for sure is that Kaufman is an anomaly in so many filmmaking ways. Kaufman goes for the stop-motion animation in his movie "Anomalisa", which he co-directed with animation Director Duke Johnson. Anomalisa's protagonist is Michael Stone, a middle-aged motivational business speaker & author who travels to Cincinnati for a gig as a keynote speaker at a conference. Stone finds people and life in general very monotonous and with much sameness. But things go anomalistic when he meets Lisa, a depressed telemarketing representative who is attending the conference. Michael sees Lisa as a vibrant, standout woman and falls for her. His "hands of Stone" even get in Lisa's private parts. OK, that is enough. I will let you figure it out. But I do highly recommend to visit this eccentric, visionary film that had me quite engaged throughout its narrative. There is spectacular voice work from David Thewlis who voices Stone, Jennifer Jason-Leigh who voices Lisa, and Tom Noonan who voices everyone else. The animation was divine, and the score was right on. Kaufman's screenplay was a simplistic but original tour-de-force. And Johnson and him directed the hell out of "Anomalisa". Anomalisa! Anomalisa! Men have loved you!!! Hope women love it too, because it is in motion as a "must see" stop-motion animation treat. ***** Excellent
Saul fia (2015)
No Saul I mean Sell for me here!
The Oscar-winning Hungarian Holocaust movie "Son of Saul" has received a bountiful of critical and award love. I don't wanna sound like a sour grape, but this sour movie did not move me at all; you want more Saul on your entertainment taste, "Better Call Saul" instead. In all seriousness, "Son of Saul" stars Geza Rohrig as Saul, a 1944 Auschwitz Jewish prisoner who is forced to burn corpses of his own people. Saul is presented with a dilemma when he sees his son is in the group next in line to be incinerated. Saul then goes on a conquest for his son not to be one of them. He takes heavy risks, connives his allies, all the works really for his son not to be put in flames. Director Lazlo Nemes shoots the picture in close proximity with the lead character, which I found it to be very irritating instead of capturing. I was trying to be Finding Nemes in Nemes' chronological work, but it seems this was his first real picture; and it showed. I am sorry to say nothing struck me profoundly in "Son of Saul"; not the directing, the writing, nor the acting. And yes, I do think it's extremely overrated. But maybe, me who is the Son of Jose (dad's name) just did not see "Son of Saul" the way others did. ** Needs Improvement
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Director Tate Taylor went down a taylor-made cinematic arena and took an auteur ride with "The Girl on the Train". The movie stars a fantastic Emily Blunt as Rachel; a lonely, depressed, and alcoholic woman who rides a train everyday that passes by the house she used to reside with her ex-husband Tom. A few houses down, there is another house Rachel fixates with, it's one of a blonde woman named Megan who appears to be happily married to her husband. But Rachel is literally a trainwreck due to her lushing ways, and when she sees one day (obviously from the train) that Megan might be having an affair, Rachel goes more off her rockers but not off her Johnnie Walkers. What follows on "The Girl from The Train" I will leave for you to get on track with. Taylor does provide some twists & turns in this psychological thriller, but nothing that will shock you. The up-and-coming Haley Bennett does impressive work as Megan, and Rachel Ferguson was quite steady as Tom's new wife Anna. The rest of the supporting cast including Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, and Allison Janney needed more "train"ing for this one. But to put it bluntly, it was Emily Blunt's "on the right track" performance that made this movie watchable. So don't miss your stop for "The Girl on the Train", but if you do, it's not the end of the world. *** Average
Woman in Gold (2015)
I give it a Bronze!
The true-story based drama "Woman in Gold" did not deserve any gold medals, but was bronzely deserved as solid cinematic offering. Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann, an older woman who was a Jewish refugee in her homeland of Austria. Her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer sang the original version of Adele's "Hello"; not even Lionel Richie sang it better! Hello! Hello! Are you still there? Please don't say goodbye yet to my review of "Woman in Gold". In all seriousness, Adele Bloch- Bauer was the subject of an infamous painting during the 1940's. However, that painting and much artwork of Maria's family was seized by the Nazis in Germany-occupied Austria. During the late 1990's after a few occurrences including a deep letter from her deceased aunt Adele, Maria decides that it's time to get what is rightfully hers; most notably the startling "Woman in Gold" painting, in that time displayed in an Austrian museum. So Maria hires a nice young Jewish lawyer named Randy Schoenberg, and their fight for art-recovery justice is in full plight as they tackle many obstacles, most notably the Austrian government, to recover to Maria what is rightfully hers. Director Simon Curtis does hold par in his orchestration of the picture, even though Simon says way too many times what is obvious. Alexi Kaye Campbell's screenplay was moderate at best, but shined brightly within Maria's charismatic dialogue. Helen Mirren did shine with a golden performance as Maria, and Ryan Reynolds deserved a silver-thespian medal with his work as Randy Schoenberg. "Woman in Gold" does paint a pretty picture on art justice, and though not perfect, still deserves a look. *** Average
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
Beary good, but not great!
Novice Writer-Director Maya Forbes has made a touching film based on her family growing up; which features her bipolar-disorder diagnosed father. Forbes' "Infinitely Polar Bear" stars Mark Ruffalo as Cam Stuart, a bipolar man from Boston who has two young daughters and is currently semi-separated from his wife Maggie played by Zoe Saldana. When Maggie decides to flee to New York to pursue her Masters' Degree, Cam is left with the grandiose responsibility of taking care of his two daughters Amelia & Faith. Forbes hardly includes any huge dramatic scenes of the ill effects of bipolar disease in the picture. What she does include is the daily eccentricities of a man with a mental disease carrying task after task of caring for his daughters and all the challenges behind it. The only hiccup I have of this is that subtly Forbes does not incorporate much how horrific it is to live with a mental disease as bipolar disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. Nevertheless, this film is really the vehicle of Mark Ruffalo, as he once again shines infinitely in a character. Mark has made his mark as one of the best actors working today. Zoe Saldana was very solid as Maggie. And Imogene Wolodarksy and Ashley Aufderheide were outstanding as respectively Amelia and Faith. So get on the Polar Express, and go infinitely to "Infinitely Polar Bear". **** Good
Not loving it!
Writer-Director Jeff Nichols' film "Loving" is a lovely true story about Richard & Mildred Loving; an interracial married couple in Virginia in the late 50's who were ostracized and condemned by Virginia legislation for their interracial matrimony. A Virginia Judge judicially ordered them to leave the state for 25 years,if not they would be imprisoned for one year. Their case was presidential, because with the assistance of a couple of young civil rights lawyers, they were able to take the case to the Supreme Court; which ruled that all interracial marriages would be legalized nationwide. An important movie, but there was not just enough cinematic loving in "Loving" for me to love it. Nichols, who is usually brilliant, develops a lackadaisical and dreary approach in directing & scribing the film; which in turn, creates a very boring tone to an important subject. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard & Mildred; their performances were mediocre at best; I just did not believe they were in love with each other within their work; needed to see more loving in The Lovings. Michael Shannon does bring some life to the movie as a Life Magazine photojournalist; but his brief performance was too short lived. Nick Kroll was kruelly miscast as Bernie Cohen, one of the lawyers who assisted the Lovings to bring the case to the Supreme Court. Maybe, some of you will love "Loving"; unfortunately, it does not have my supreme support. ** Needs Improvement