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First Man (2018)
Continuously shaky camera work and up close camera positioning hindered this film
12 October 2018
Director/Writer Damien Chapelle successfully wore both hats in his 2016 "La La Land" and 2014 "Whiplash" endeavores. However, in "First Man," where he carries only the director title, his presentation is hindered and overburdened by continuous and unnecessary shaky camera work and countless close-ups. While the tumble and shaking within the capsule provides a first-hand up-close and personal space travel experience, the moving camera rarely stops, and its proximity to the actors/action makes watching the film difficult and/or hard to understand what is being presented on screen. Ryan Gosling ("La La Land") is young engineer/test pilot/astronaut Neil Armstrong (1961-1969), determined to do what it takes to be the best. At home, his wife Janet (Claire Foy "The Crown" TV) is holding their lives together, especially following a family tragedy. As we progress toward the first walk on the moon, Armstrong must weather several fellow astronaut deaths, distancing himself from himself and those around him. Claire Foy does a nice job with the little she is given, proving the women behind the astronaut is as much a part of the space travel experience as their husbands. The film has a terrific ensemble cast (Jason Clarke "Zero Dart Thirty," Kyle Chandler "Friday Night Lights," "Shea Whigham "Waco," Corey Stoll "House of Cards", Lukas Haas "Witness," to name a few). Yet, the on screen personas of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) that writers Josh Singer and James R. Hansen (whose book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" the film is based upon) present are very contradictory to the personas many may know, and ultimately hurt the production. The space race between the US and USSR is given its due here, and the first space docking and the various space tragedies experienced are well represented. I really enjoyed the footage of the Moon's surface, if in fact that was actual real footage. Now, if only proven Executive Producer Steven Spielberg would have taken a strong role in the films overall presentation, "First Man" could have been a more successful production.
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Beautiful Boy (2018)
9/10
"Beautiful Boy" is a powerful movie going experience
11 October 2018
Belgian Director Felix Van Groningen ("The Broken Circle" 2012 - Winner of multiple Film Festival Awards) brings the best selling pair of memories, "Beautiful Boy" by father David Sheff and "Tweak" by son Nic Sheff to the big screen with heart-wrenching perfection. Steve Carell steps into the role of David, a father willing and available to help his son through a period he can't understand. Timothy Chalamet ("Call Me by Your Name") is Nic, a young boy who appears to have it all, only to be dealing with a dark hole feed by drug addicition. The beauty of this film is that the story is told from both father and son perspectives. Nic writes about what was happening in his head and heart, while David writes what it was like to be a father looking in. Van Groningen's primary setting is a family cabin in the woods of San Francisco. Breathtaking in its appearance, surrounded by the forrest and a yard surely once filled with memorable family times, the interior is mysteriously gloomy and dark, warning the viewer something is wrong here. Cinematography (Ruben Impens), and the films eerie musical score, further cement the tense presented on screen, dropping the viewer into various SF locations that grab you and hold you down. Be for warned: The silence within this film is so powerful, that if you're eating popcorn, sipping on a beverage or your phone rings, you do any of these at your own risk. Yet, however strong this film is, something is missing here. The performance are above terrific and touching, the story is current and relevant, and the mothers (Maura Tierney "ER" and Amy Ryan "Birman") perspective is equally on point. Yet, I found myself unable to fully latch on to the characters in the manner that I'm sure the writers wanted. "Beautiful Boy" is a powerful movie going experience, and one that is hard to get out of your head.
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Blindspotting (2018)
10/10
One of the most appealing films of 2018, you probably won't see.
29 September 2018
One of the most appealing and and unique films you probably won't see this year comes from debut director Carlos Lopez Estrada ("High & Mighty" TV, PS International Film Festival Director to Watch - 2018), as he teams with writer/actor Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs ("Hamilton" Grammy and Tony Winner as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson). Casal is Miles, an anglo male donning a gold grill by night, as he tries to bring street creed to his short tempered bent up life in the rough and soon to be gentrified neighborhood of Oakland. At his side is Collins (Diggs), an african-american childhood friend now counting down the days remaining on his probation. While these guys have history, good and bad, they are a constant contradiction of each other and their environment. When Collins comes face to face with an incident, he begins to see his world through different lenses. Lopez Estrada uses creative camera angles, along with a terrific score, that provides the viewing audience a unique prospective on the films storyline and the surrounding neighborhood. The guys friendship is strong, powerful and playful as they constantly look for just the right rap dialogue to explain their endeavors, and Casal charms his way out of most situation with his legit street rap capabilities. Unfortunately, "Blindspotting" came and went from theatre distribution, however, it should be available via other outlets soon. If you can find this one, you won't be disappointed. Note: Wayne Knight ("Newman" from "Seinfeld") has a nice cameo, and it's great to see him working.
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5/10
Redford deserves a stronger on-camera send off than this
27 September 2018
Film Review: The Old Man & the Gun. If this is in fact Robert Redford's final film to act in (he is quoted as saying he's retiring, but has also denied the rumor), than this endeavor is the worst possible send off an actor of Redford status could hope for! Director/Writer David Lowery ("Pete's Dragon") is primarily a Shorts Director, and this excruciatingly slow paced "mostly true story," based on an article by The New Yorker writer David Grann about a senior bank robber Forrest Tucker (Redford) and his "over the hill gang" (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), is a waste of all the actors involved and the viewing audiences time. Sissy Spacek is pleasant as Tucker's love interest, but a lonely single ranch owner brings little energy to a film already in need of a life raft. Toss in Casey Affleck, as worn out Police Officer John Hunt, and the film is just full of lifeless folks telling a lifeless story. The films failure rides entirely on Lowery's inability as a director and writer to bring any kind of momentum to the presentation. Sure, initially it's fun to watch Tucker get away with robbery after robbery, but walking into and out of bank with smile and a brief case is only interesting the first few times. Luckily, I managed to be awake (I feel asleep twice) during Tom Wait's short but entertainment explanation as to why he hates Christmas. Redford deserves a stronger on-camera send off than this.
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Life Itself (2018)
8/10
Like "Life Itself," the journey is at least worthy.
20 September 2018
Director Dan Fogelman comes to this film riding the phenomenal creator coattails of TV's "This is Us". As the writer and director here, one expects a tug at the heartstrings and a smooth flowing experience to follow. However, getting there is a bit trying and over dramatic. Will (Oscar Isaac "Inside Llewyn Davis") and Abby (Olivia Wilde "The Lazarus Effect") are two NY love birds whose journey is the catalyst for many experiences that follow. Much like "This is Us," it's the dramatic encounters that move the films various stories lines along. Following very unnecessary jumpy camera work that chronicles Will's morning, the camera eventually steady's as Dr. Cait Morries (the always plausible Annette Bening) pushing the story into action. Over the next two hours, a cast of enjoyable and relatable characters are introduced, bring honest performances by Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart, Olivia Cooke "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," the calming Sergio Peris-Mencheta "Snowfall" - tv, the ever handsome Antonio Banderas, the shy Laia Costa "Maine", an appealing cameo by Samuel L. Jackson, and future actor to watch Alex Monner "The Red Band Society" TV. Fogelman enables the viewing audience to easy becomes vested in the various heart and grit characters and storylines, dropping the viewer into different environments and timelines. However, his pacing is so slow and drawn out at times, one is left wondering if and when the whole experience will finally wrap. "Life Itself" is getting a big push here, primarily because of Fogelman's association with "This is Us". It's up to you to decide if that's a good enough reason to see the film. Like "Life Itself," the journey is at least worthy.
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Venus (III) (2017)
10/10
A timely transgender blended family drama-comedy
1 September 2018
Venus. Coming to DVD and VOD (September 4, 2018), is a timely transgender blended family drama-comedy that is long overdue. Writer & Director Eisha Marmara ("Desperately Seeking Helen") presents a cross generational glimpse into the LGBTQ world, without stereotyping the story and/or it's actors. Sid (Debargo Sandal "Pottersville" 2017) is an independent guy on the verge of transitioning, when he is stalked by what he soon learns is his son Ralph (Jamie Mayers "Game On" TV) from a former girlfriend Kristen (Amber Goldfarb "Bellevue" TV). Ralph is unapologetic about wanting to know his real dad. When Sid's traditional Mamaji - Mom (Zena Darawalla) and easy going Papaji - Dad (Gordon Warnecke "My Beautiful Launderette" 1985) meet the cool little Ralph, the family must fight to blend, even as Sid's old flame Max (the sexy Peter Miller "Lewis and Clark" TV) reappears. Little Direct to Video indie films like this will easily got lost in the summer/end of the year film bombardment. However, do what can to find this one. Marmara's film is crisp and clear, and her directing and writing enable the actors to drive the story, without any need for a musical score. Sandal and Mayer's, far from equals in appearance, quickly take on each others persona's making them a team to watch and love. Sandal graciously melts into his trans character with pride, catch dry wit and a reserved sassy walk that is worthy of recognition, while Ralph's unreserved enthusiasm is contagious. If you're looking for something different and quietly entertaining, go to "Venus".
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The Wife (I) (2017)
10/10
Can you wait for the family dam to break?
25 August 2018
"The Wife". To date, the Best Film of the Year! Award Winning Swedish Director Bjorn Runge ("Om Jag Vander Mig Om" 2003 and "Mum Mot Mun" 2005) is about to become a household name, as he teams with Emmy Winning Writer Jane Anderson ("Olive Kitteridge" 2015) to bring Meg Wolitzer's book to the big screen. Joe (the terrific Johnathan Pryce) is about to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. At his side is his doting yet reserved wife Joan (welcome back to the Big Screen Glen Close) and their man child son David (the handsome, yet miss casted Max Irons "Condor" TV). From the moment this film begins, and if you look close, you can see in the eyes of the Castleman family there is an underlining something wrong. David has felt it his entire life, and he can't help but wear it on his sleeve. Joan has suppressed it her entire mirrage, and is determined to stick by her man. And, Joe, a self absorbed womanizer, is so involved in his own success he can't see what it's doing to himself and his family. Anderson's writing keeps all the family secrets close to the families chest, making the audience wondering painstakingly when and if the dam will burst. Director Range has complete control of the presentation, quietly letting the audience in to the inner workings of the family through flashbacks, until it's too much to withhold. Stockholm cinematography by Ulf Brantas sets the scene of the Noble Prize Award, providing just the right cold environment sure to melt down the families wall at any minute. Costumes/Wardrobe by Trisha Biggar ("Star Wars" trilogy) are subtle and beautiful, and could be recognized come Awards time. Close is once again at the top of her game, with those piercing eyes and cold shell that makes one study her every move. Pryce hits his acting stride here, as a man sinking in muddy waters. Unfortunately, while I'm a big fan of Max Irons, he's just a bit to old for this "wounded" son role. "The Wife" has officially began the Award Season race for Best Film of the Year. Don't miss it!
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8/10
The two young leads are youthful "Thelma & Louise"
15 August 2018
Film Review: Porcupine Lake. Director, Producer, Writer (here) and actress Ingrid Veninger proves she clearly has a pulse on the youth coming of age summer experience. Bea (Charlotte Salisbury - a young version of Helen Hunt) finds herself in Northern Ontario, as her mom Ally (Delphine Roussel "Almost Adults" 2016) reluctantly agrees to meet and work at her out of town dad Scotty's (Christopher Bolton "Rent-like-a-Golie" TV) roadside cafe. Enter local rambunctious and fast-talking fellow youth Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall "Neighborhoods" TV), who befriends Bea and quickly becomes her friend, confidant and summer attraction. Surrounded by preoccupied parents, and a slue of stereotypical small town folk (including the terrific facial expression given by gay boy Emile "Maxime Robin Tom Clancy's Jace Ryan" 2018), the girls find ice cream, candy, knick-knack selling and experimentation easy to come by. Veninger's quiet back woods Ontario setting provides the girls a carefree and safe setting to observe and do as they please. What works here is that while the setting is without confrontation, there is an underlining energy that all can feel, yet no one is willing and/or able to address. Salisbury and Armstrong Hall are like two little "Thelma & Louise," unafraid of what lies ahead, yet cautious as to what each day has to offer. Running at about 1 1/2 hours, the films pace will lose many. DVD/VOV release: August 14, 2018
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6/10
A Film Festival experience with too many storylines
11 August 2018
Breaking Glass Pictures presents awarding winning director Dominique Choosy (Mar del Plata Film Festival - Best Film "Confort Moderne" 2000) English Subtitled film, providing the viewer a glimpse into the world of the Film Festival. Young director Géraud (Johnny Rasse) is invited to Normandy to screen his film "My Life with James Dean". When his phone is stolen by a little kid, getting a ride to his hotel, meeting his host and finding the cinema are just a few of the obstacles he must encounter. Greeted by a preoccupied hotel employee (Juliette Damiens), a cinema projectionist (Mickael Pelissier) who comes to terms with his sexuality after viewing the film, and a Festival Facilitator (Nathalie Richard) who's full of her own issues, Géraud's festival experience becomes one interesting and at times entertaining challenge after another. However, Choosy, who is also the writer here, incorporates too many smaller story lines, thus leaving the audience with nothing really substantial to hold on to. Luckily, the Normandy seaside village (cinematographer by Laurent Coltellonie) provides a beautiful backdrop for the adventure, and some intriguing background songs (Music by Bertrand Belin) push the film along. Rasse is a handsome and interesting lead character (especially important in an LGBTQ film), who just goes with the flow without much hesitation. Young Pelissier is that innocent puppy everyone loves, but his secret and the repercussions are washed over. Damiens' and Richard are nice secondary characters who continually provide calm and angst in Géraud world. At 1 hour and 48 minutes, the film is long, and it's easy to get distracted. DVD/VOD release: August 28, 2018
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9/10
A reminder we haven't advanced very far
9 August 2018
Film Review: BlacKkKlansman. Director Spike Lee ("Malcolm X") returns to the big screen with a current look back at the 1970's emergence of the Ku Kluk Klan. Enter rookie black Colorado Springs cop Ron Stallworth (the charming and self driven John David Washington - son of Denzel Washington), who is brought on to the force because he can talk "normal" and "jive". When an opportunity to spy on visiting revolutionary Kwame Ture (the empowering Corey Hawkins "Straight out of Compton), Ron begins his infiltration into the both the black empowerment movement and the Ku Klux Klan, eventually meeting its leader David Duke (portrayed convincing enough by Topher Grace "That 70's Show"). Linking him to both groups are the strong-fast President of the Movement Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrie ""Spider-Man: Homecoming"), and Klan's men Walter (Ryan Eggold "New Amsterdam" TV), wild man Feliz (Jasper Paakkone "Vikings" TV), his bubbly wife Connie (the terrific Ashlie Atkinson "Crashing" TV), and goof-ball scene stiller Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser " I, Toyna"). Reluctantly at Ron's side are fellow officers Flip (one of the hardest working actors Adam Driver "Girls") and Jimmy ("Blended's" Michael Buscemi - brother of Steve Buscemi), both who learn a lot from their involvement. While Lee's presentation is a bit stagey throughout, especially the opening informercial by Dr. Beauregard (an out of place Alec Baldwin) and the various floating faces during Ture's speech, it does help to establish the time, place and feel of the 1970's community. As usual, Lee has a lot to say about "the day" and today, creatively interjecting current political climate catch phrases like "Make America Great Again" to establish his point that we haven't advanced very far as a society. Lee interjects this association at just the right time in the film, making the films final moments coincide with footage from the recent Charlottesville White Nationalist Rally that stuns the viewing audience into silence. If nothing else, the last few minutes of "BlacKkKlansman" says it all.
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9/10
Strong performances push this film to the top of the post.
5 August 2018
Actress, Writer, Director Desiree Akhavan ("Appropriate Behavior" 2014) is back in the seat again, this time adding Executive Producer to her list of accomplishments. Presenting a solid summer youth angst film about the 1990's "gay conversion therapy" phase, we are introduced to Cameron (Chloe Grace Moritz "Carrie" 2013) who is caught having relations with her BFF Coley (Quinn Shephard ""Blame" 2017), and sent to camp "Gods Promise" to change her lifestyle. Heading the "conversion therapy" is conflicted leader Reverend Rick (the terrific John Gallagher Jr. "The Newsroom" 2012) and the tightly wound Dr. Lydia Marsh (the amazing Jennifer Ehle ""Little Men" 2016). If these two robots aren't enough to scare you straight, nothing is. However, when you place a bunch of independent blooming young minded kids (Sasha Lane "American Honey" 2016, Emily Skeggs "When We Rise" TV, Forrest Goodluck "The Revenant" 2015, to name but a few of the terrific camp captives) in a place that's all about "don't do this, and don't do that", things don't always go as planned. Akhavan is terrific at slowing reveling each young adults fears and frustrations, while quietly enabling them to work through their issues privately and in bursts of revelation. Gallagher Jr. and Ehle are superb in their self-centered and standoffish roles as leaders. There's something erie behind their facades that keeps the audience wondering if and when their personal dam will burst. Fellow camp captive Mark (Owen Campbell "The Americans" TV) gets on opportunity to stretch his acting chops in a break out scene that is one of the films most powerful displays of personal growth forcibly held back by those charged with helping the young. I haven't really had Chloe Grace Moritz on my radar, but with her strong and appealing performance here, she is someone to watch. In fact, all the youth in this film are sure to see an up tick in their acting careers due to thier honest and heart-filled roles here. I just wish the film had a more resolute ending.
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10/10
Don't be a stranger to this amazing story
2 August 2018
Documentarian Tim Wardle ("One Killer Punch" 2016) brings to the public (via CNN Films) an amazing and eye-opening story about three adopted boys (Eddy Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran), who not only find each other, but reveal a secret surrounding their separation at birth. Through one-on-one interviews, home footage and TV appearances replays, Wardle stylistically introduces the boys to the audience, providing them the opportunity to tell their own story, as the audience relives their exciting reunion(s), their rise to sudden celebrity recognition. Warbler graciously stays out of the way of his subjects, as they recount their upbringings, enabling the audience to become fully invested in their families, their life and their story. And, just when he has the audience smiling and feeling good, he slowly reveals a striking human nature backstory that flips the joyous feeling on it's side. Will answers be found? What do the men learn about their past? Who approved the separations and why? All these questions and more are revealed here in this terrific and emotional documentary. Waddle could find himself recognized come Awards time.
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7/10
"Been there, done that"
31 July 2018
Director Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar Winner -Best Writing "The Usual Suspects") has written and directed two Tom Cruise MI films, in addition to Cruise's "Jack Reacher" action film. Could it be that McQuarrie/Cruise has run its course? Or, is this rather predictable misstep the blame of Producer J.J. Abrams ("Star Wars: The Last Jedi'), who hasn't really been on roll these days himself? Present is the "should you choose to accept it..." destructing instructions, the debonaire Cruise, the familiar MI theme music (by Lorne Balfe), attractive co-star (Henry Cavill "Superman"), the cold-hearted boss (Angela Bassett), goofy side kicks (Ving Rhams and Simon Pegg), car & motorcycle chases, daredevil leaps, bounds and flights (by Cruise), fight scenes that rarely cause a bruise, gun battles that always hit the bad dudes (but never the good guys), terrific London cinematography (Rob Hardy), good and bad love interests (Rebecca Ferguson "The Greatest Showman," Vanessa Kirby "The Crown" TV Series, and Michelle Monaghan "Pixels"), and a few fun/interesting secondary roles by Wes Bentley (hot off of "Yellowstone" TV), Alec Baldwin and CNN Newscaster Wolf Blitzer. And, if that's not enough to stimulate your senses, "the dossier" (not today's "dossier," but the word dossier) gets tossed into this action packed extravaganza. Personally, I found the whole thing "been there, done that" from the get go. Maybe it was McQuarrie and Bruce Geller's verbose writing that required the actors to continually overly explain what's happening, why it's happening and what might happen if something doesn't happen. Even the fun twists and turns that are usually associated with this series, are predictable and lack exciting impact. Hey, this is MI and we're told to love this film. So, check it out, and you decide if you have a "Fallout" with this series.
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Eighth Grade (2018)
9/10
Like...you're going to, like, aah, like this one
25 July 2018
Like get ready...like, you're going to aaah like this one! Director/Producer/Writer/Actor/Comedian, and one of the initial YouTube series sensations, Bo Turnham provides a realistic view into and around the life of eighth grader Karly (the adorable Elsie Fisher "Despicable Me and Me 2") and her single dad Mark (Josh Hamilton "Manchester by the Sea"). Through her own YouTube Channel, quiet, reserved and acned Karly shares her years of wisdom with her followers (follower tally TBD), while continually flipping through Instagram, Snap Chat, YouTube and any other "keep in touch" social media platform, all the while sharing very little with her caring dad. With headphones and phone an additional appendage stuck to her body, and those of her fellow classmates, we get a clear view that phones are taking up too much of our youths time and energy. Barely surviving all those youth oriented Middle School issues, Karly befriends High School "it" gal Olivia (the bubbly Emily Robinson "Behold My Heart"), only to realize jumping forward to quickly may not be the best move. Fisher and Hamilton have a terrific scared father - scared daughter relationship, that provides an honest look at both sides of being a child and bringing up a child. Director/Writer Turnham does himself, his film and his cast right by focusing on honest directing, realistic writing and a pounding sound track that moves the storyline along with entertaining vengeance. Proving "there are no small roles," Karly's pool party friend/turned suave companion Gabe (Jake Ryan "Isle of the Dogs") sneaks into the film quietly, later stealing the show with his perfect youthful little man awkwardness. As this is a youth oriented film, there are a slue of terrific teacher and fellow student characters to keep the viewer smiling and laughing. "Eighth Grade" isn't going to be everyone's cup of soda, but it will evoke more than a few youthful memories to remind you, you're glad to have survived your young years.
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Brotherly Love (II) (2017)
3/10
Hard to show any "Brotherly Love" here
24 July 2018
Like so many first-time Director/Writer/Actor's, Anthony J. Caruso got in the way of his own production by trying to wear to many hats in this his first big film endeavor. There is a story here, as future Brother Vito (Caruso) is caught between the call of God and the attractive summer handyman Gabe (Derek Babb). However, with Caruso's continually verbose writing, and a directing style that unnecessarily lingers too long on his characters, the just under two-hours feel like an eternity. As with most LGBTQ films, there is an array of secondary characters, many of who are either over the top like Vito's campy friend Tim (Chance McKee) and the exaggerated and stereotypical lesbian Blaze (Laurie Coker "A Dogwalker's Christmas Tale"), painfully slow paced like Joseph (David Blackwell "Brotherhood"), overly stiff like Brother Mike (Gerald Brodin), or corny like straight truck driver Eddie (Tim Mateer). And, don't get me started on the summer house gaggle of "Golden Girls" geese housemates. "Brotherly Love" is distributed by "Breaking Glass Pictures," and will have a theatrical release on August 3, 2018 and a DVD/DOV release on August 7, 2018. Already an Oklahoma LGBTQ Film Festival Best Picture Winner and Naveda International Film Festival Best Feature Film Winner, you to will soon have an opportunity to see if you find any reason to show any "Brotherly Love" here.
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6/10
Ugh! Here We Go Again!
23 July 2018
Here We Go Again - "You can say that again!" Writer ("The Best & The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") / Director ("Imagine Me and You"") Ol Parker steps in to direct a start studded sequel that in reality didn't need a second look. Sure, it's great to be whisked away to the remote Croatian island of Vis, especially when faced with today's never ending media/social media political bombardment of information. However, Parker is all over the place with his flash backs that are required to make sense of whose younger character belongs to whose older character, and to ensure those not familiar with the film get reacquainted with the productions original location. In addition, he can't seem to decide if his responsibility was to present a legitimate storyline, interject as many Abba songs as possibly, set a stage of various poorly lip-synced interludes and lazy choreography (the song/dance scene between Cher and Andy Garcia is just one of many examples), or provide an opportunity for costumer Michele Clapton ("Game of Thrones") to show off "Abba" wear, or cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") to wow us with the islands beautiful landscape. Yes, everyone in the original film is back, with Cher joining the group. However, Cher alone can not, and doesn't not, make a film a success. Luck for us all, the cast does a much improved attempt at singing, although the guys continue to be the weak link here, and everyone (including Cher) just can't seem to make lip-syncing believable - one only needs to look at "La La Land" and "Moulin Rouge!" to see lip-syncing presented right. All the above said, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again," may be just the escape we need during this very hot summer. However, for me, I could have done without the look back.
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10/10
Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill are at their all time best here
14 July 2018
Two- time Academy Award Nominee Director Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting," "Milk") once again hits is out of the park here, with this sure be nominated film about comic writer (and film producer here) John Callahan. Callahan (touchingly played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a partier, specializing in alcohol. When he meets his match in Dexter (Jack Black), their one night escaped leaves Callahan permanently in a wheel chair. Through his recovery, social worker/girlfriend Unna introduces him to an AA group, lead by Donnie (beautifully portrayed by Jonah Hill). Working with Donnie and his piglets (AA ensemble group: Beth Ditto, Mark Webber "13 Sins," Kim Gordon "The Perks of being a Wallflower, "Ronnie Adreain "Key and Peele" and Udo Kier "Downsizing"), and in his made for speed wheel chair, Callahan grows into the man he was supposed to be, while coming in touch with his past and establishing himself as a satirical cartoonist. Because the real John Callahan is a cartoonist with a wacky sense of humor, "Don't Worry..." manages to keep the tragedy of this real life story light-hearted and funny, while equally tragic. We know Phoenix's has the ability to give weight to these type of unique characters, but it is Hill who really steps outside of his usual comic comfort zone here, and it's beautiful to watch both these guys in action. It's rare that such honesty in film can be delivered with such humor. "Don't Worry..." will be nominated come award season, so now is your chance to be the first to see this film.
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10/10
American Animals gives you no time to breath
5 July 2018
Documentarian/Producer and Director/Writer here, British born Bart Layton ("Locked Up Abroad" TV) has gathered an outstanding ensemble of actors (Even Peters "POSE," Barry Keoghan " Dunkirk," Blake Jenner " Edge of Seventeen," Jared Abrahamsson "Travelers" TV, Ann Dowd "Hereditary") who decided to up their boring and disenfranchised lives by stealing historical and financially strong books from their local Lexington KY University. Together, they are a train wreck waiting to happen, and one you can't look away from. Layton does an amazing job intertwining the story leading up to and through the heist, with actual interviews with the four (now grown men) who lived the experience first hand. By presenting all versions of the expereince, the audience becomes vested in the presentation. Unfortunately, Librarian Betty Jean (BJ) Gooch must bare the burden of being in the boys way, yet the always excellent Ann Dowd is up for the interaction. Score by Anne Nikitin helps establish the sentiment of the film and the pending action. Cinematography by Ole Bratt Kirkland further establish the community environment and the trapped feel the boys are dealing with, and the films Editing team (Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, Julian Hart) brings it all together into one exciting package. To Layton and the Editing teams credit, you won't be able to breath during the heist scene. Make sure to stick around for the credits, as musician Sixto Rodriguez ("Searching for Sugar Man" 2012) performs the final credit score. Funny thing, his name is nowhere to be found in the credits. "American Animals" is an Indie film that could easily be recognized across the board come Awards time.
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Hereditary (2018)
6/10
Devilish secrets take to long here
16 June 2018
"Shorts" director Ari Aster steps up to the big boys chair, with this somewhat suspenseful thriller about a family plagued with death at every turn, ultimately revealing devilish secrets. Favorite Toni Collette ("United States of Tara") and staple Gabriel Byrne ("The Unsual Suspects") are parents to creepy little Milly Shapiro (watch out for this new raising performer) and conflicted young Alex Wolff ("In Treatment"). When grandma passes, and an accident occurs, a visit to grief counseling brings a mysterious friend Joannie (terrific character actress Ann Dowd "The Handmaid's Tale") into the family. Aster wears the hat of Writer here, and unfortunately gets in his own way with prolonged sequences between suspense, a haunting score that leads to little, and continued exterior shots of the house location that are supposed to invoke suspense but get old. Kudos, however, to him for the opening "miniature set" scene that starts the film, an effect not seen before on the big screen. Across the board, the leads do their best to deal with suspense and uncertainty. However, due to the weak writing, Collette's character is left begging for acceptance, Byrne has little to do, and while the camera loves Shapiro's presence and Wolff's uncertainty, the overall experience is too drawn out and falls flat at the end. Suspense films are at a low this time of year, which can only be the reason "Hereditary" is getting so much attention.
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Puzzle (II) (2018)
10/10
The first of films to come that garner early Awards recognition
11 June 2018
Director Marc Turtletaub knows that a good story (written here by Oren Overman "The Dinner" and original story by Natalie Smirnoff), featuring poignant and honest acting (by Kelly Macdonald "Agnes" and Irrfan Khan "Robert"), guided by a terrific sound track (Dustin O'Halloran) can cement a movie in one's memory. He's proved this with "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Loving," and does again here with "Puzzle". Agnes, a reserved housewife whom her family knows but doesn't recognize, passes her day doing puzzles. When she reluctantly answers a "Partner Wanted" ad posted by Robert, she begins a growth of unexpected self awareness. While this film will take you into the little know fast paced world of Puzzle competition, the film moves deliberately slowly giving the characters and the audience the opportunity to become invested in the storyline and the pending consequences. Macdonald ("Boardwalk Empire") is a pro at championing the beaten down character, and Khan continues to prove you don't have to go big to be powerful. When those two aren't eating up the screen, Agnes' husband (David Denman "Parenthood" TV), and their two sons (Austin Abrams "The American's" TV and Bubba Weiler "The Ranger") show that family, as well as the individual, equally hold the blame when things go askew. "Puzzle" may be the first of the films to come that garner early Awards recognition, so don't miss this one.
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RBG (2018)
A documentary you didn't know you need to see
8 June 2018
I love watching a film (especially a documentary) I didn't know I needed to see! Directors/documentarians Betsy West ("The Lavender Scare" 2017) and Julie Cohen ("American Veteran" 2017) have provided anyone remotely interested in the life and times of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a look into the world of this vibrant, yet quiet warrior who lead the fight for gender equality, and to this day continues to have an effect on the lives of many with her Supreme Court decisions and "notorious" dissenting opinions. Known to her followers as "Notorious RBG," (I've got to get one of these t-shirts!), this doc introduces us to her early years, where she was one of only a few women attending the all male Cornel University, and Harvard Law school, along with introducing us to Martin Ginsberg, an accomplished lawyer himself, who loved her for her brain, at time when women were not supposed to be outspoken, but only seen. Through one-on-one interviews and footage of her various speaking engagements, touching tributes by Martin and her children, interactions with her granddaughter and more, the audience is given a worthy, historical and entertaining glimpse into the world of this amazing women. At 84 years young, and an avid workout enthusiast, one can only hope we continue to see here effects on the US Supreme Court for years to come. You may not know you need to see this film, but you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do.
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A rewarding trip down the Palm Springs/Sinatra trail
4 June 2018
It's been well over 70 years since Mr. S first moved to the Coachella Valley, yet his spirit is still felt, remembered and talked about today. And, thanks to director Leo Zhan's effective first-hand Palm Springs trip down memory lane, Frank and Barbara's presence (Frank passed in 1998 and Barbara departed in 2017) will now be remembered for years to come. Through vintage Palm Village and old Hollywood film footage, Sinatra's rocky marriage to Ava Gardner, his notorious E. Stewart Williams Twin Palm Estate parties (a raised flag between the two palm trees informed his friends he was home and the bar was open), the purchase and build of his 18 room/23 bath Rancho Mirage "Compound," a look into his Villa Maggio home, footage of his favorite restaurants/hangouts (Melvyn's, Lord Flecthers, The Purple Room, The Rivera - to name but a few), interviews and personal stories by locals who knew him and/or served him, and one-on-one interviews with Barbara Sinatra effect lives on. It's hard to tell if Zhan purposely left out Frank's reported hot temper, choosing to highlight only his documented tossing of his pasta at a wall if made correctly, but those are facts/rumors that don't really have a place in a documentary that worships the man and the myth. If you like looking back, in order to understand the looking forward, "Sinatra in Palm Springs" will fill you with needed nostalgia and desert glamor that should not be missed.
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Hooked (II) (2017)
7/10
You won't be "hooked," but you also won't be disappointed
2 June 2018
In this his big screen directorial debut, Director/Writer Max Emerson (who is also an actor " Glee," " The Real O'Neals") unfortunately relishes in presenting exaggerated gay character stereotypes, fights ongoing sound issues, and can't reign in his main characters dialogue. This is too bad, because the story of hustler Jake (played nicely by attractive newcomer Conor Donnally) and his on-the-run boyfriend Tom (the shy Sean Ormond "50K" 2018) has the makings of an intriguing gay storyline. Set against a New York/South Beach backdrop, Jake hooks up with married closeted man Ken (the handsome Terrance Murphy "Burn Notice" TV), who whisks him off to Florida for the weekend, while his wife Jess (the terrific Katie McClellan "The Ultimate Legacy" 2015) sits at home with their baby. Seeing the excursion as a chance for him and Tom to leave their crowded NY hostel, Jake goes all in. When things don't turn out as planned, he picks up his craft in South Beach, coming face to face with psycho client Date-Rape-Dan (played superbly by Jay Alan Christianson "Black-ish" TV). Emerson has all the makings a plausible story, however, wearing too many hats, he was unable to see the excessive dialogue, nor help his actors who needed a little directorial assistance. You won't be "hooked" on "Hooked," but you also won't be disappointed.
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Discreet (2017)
4/10
"Discreet" will do little to gather additional Mathews fans
1 June 2018
Director/Writer Travis Mathews ("Interior. Leather Bar" 2013) carries with him into this messy gay themed film, his Masters in Counseling Psychology. Alex (Jonny Mars "A Ghost Story" 2017) is a young man reeling from a childhood demon that controls his life. When he learns from his estranged mom (Joy Cunningham) that his abuser (the erie Bob Swaffar "Meet Me There" 2014) is still alive, he embarks on a journey to confront the guy. Guiding him through his cross country travels is self-help bacon sizzling video guru Mandy (comedian Atsuko Okatsuka). With several stop offs at an adult bookstore, and a fascination with young Zack (Jordan Elsass "Long Road Home" 2017), the ending for all is not promising. Wearing both director and writer hats here, Mathews tries to accomplish to much and falls short across the board. Why the fascination with bacon sizzling, an unclear association with Zack, why the stop off at the same bookstore when he's supposed to be traveling cross country, are just a few of the the films inconsistencies. Cross country cinematography (Drew Xanthopoulos) manages to capture Alex's lonely travels and despair. However, the film score by Mark De Gli Antoni continually sets up tension that never arises. Mathews may have a following in the gay film community, but "Discreet" will do little to gather additional fans.
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The Rider (2017)
10/10
This Indie film is why I love this genre of filmmaking
30 May 2018
This rewarding Indie film is why I love this genre of filmmaking. Director/Writer Chloe Zhao ("Songs My Brother Taught Me" 2015) continues her fascination with the Indian culture, presenting an honest coming of age film set in the Dakota's (casting several actors from the reservation) that is filled with dashed dreams, self determination, family, friendship and growing up. Casting the actual Jandreau's family in several of the leading roles here, was a gamble that pays off in the film honesty. Newcomer Brady Jandreau eats up the screen as Brady Blackburn, a young cowboy permanently injured from a rodeo fall who must find his identity off the circuit. Surrounding him are fellow recovering injured riders Cat Clifford (playing himself), Victor Chasing Hawk (Derrick Janis) and Tanner Langdeau (playing himself). Their scene out on the evening prairie talking about their injuries is pure movie magic. As a backdrop, Brady is reminded what a serious injury looks and feel like, as he himself supports his pal Lane (played by ex-bull rider and real auto accident survivor Lane Scott). If that's not enough, home life is equally as trying, with a distant father (Tim Jandreau) and autistic sister Lilly (Lily Jandreau). Under Zhao's watchful eye and realistic writing, the actors give performances that cement the films authenticity. Cinematography by Joshua James Richards, beautifully captures the rodeo life and miles of wonderful prairie horizons. Score by Nathan Halpern enables the viewer to melt into everything that is presented on screen. And, if you're an equestrian enthusiast, this film is just for you! "The Rider" is capturing Awards at every turn. Step away from the summer blockbusters you're told to see, and enjoy this quiet gem.
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