Movie Reviews

2016 Oscar Nominated Film Round-up

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LA LA LAND  * outta *****

No shock here. Even some critics didn’t like this one very much. I honestly stopped watching it halfway through it was that bad. I wouldn’t usually review a movie I didn’t finish, but to do so would have been torture. It’s basically like watching a high school drama production shot on a stedi-cam. The staging, song quality, choreography, singing, and script were all amateur hour. Emma Stone has no Hollywood glamour and Ryan Gosling just seemed out of his element. I understand that he had to take piano lessons for months to play this role, well here’s a crazy idea… hire someone who can not only play the piano but also sing and dance! Was Justin Timberlake busy? Same with Emma Stone, she’s not a dancer or a singer, so why is she in this? I would barely even call her A-list. She hasn’t proven that she can headline anything more than a rom-com, unlike Amy Adams.

Speaking of…

ARRIVAL  *** outta *****

Arrival is a ridiculous premise and one of the stranger takes on first contact. That said, I was actively engaged in the movie the entire two hours which cannot be said for most films so I give it a 3. Now having said THAT, if you expect the movie to make any sense by the end, keep dreaming. There is an interesting twist that involves the magic of time travel but it is never explained. Amy Adams character makes a nonsensical and unethical choice at the end that really lowered my ranking of this movie. It was simply sloppy writing. Amy Adams carries the movie and I did like that it stays with her the entire time, but the whole thing hinges on this idea that the aliens would expect us barbaric humans to translate their language instead of them (with their obviously superior science) translating ours. IT MAKES ZERO SENSE.


MANCHESTER BY THE SEA  * outta *****

Here’s another well reviewed movie to avoid. I can’t understand how a critic could sit through this dull-as-paint-drying-mopefest and give it a 5 star rating. It is one of the worst movies of 2016. Casey Affleck plays the same guy he always plays: monotone kid-faced sociopathic Boston guy. This time he’s a psycho because he accidentally killed his entire family and burned his own house down. Later in the film he leaves burning food on the stove and takes a nap. So after he’s killed his three children he plays with fire again. And we are supposed to feel sympathetic for this moron? His brother, Kyle Chandler, shows that he’s just as dumb by putting Affleck in his will to manage his own family and business after he dies suddenly. Bad idea. Affleck’s character can’t even get himself a beer without ending up bloody and beaten. So in the end, it’s a terrible movie with no story to tell, it’s a “slice of life” thing that’s set in the ‘90s for no reason.

MOONLIGHT ** outta *****

At least it’s not as bad as La La Land. That’s about all I can say about this slice-of-life Richard Linklater/Boyhood-esque “movie.” I only realized by the third act that there was no story and therefore no convincing conclusion. It starts off strong with good acting, music, pacing, etc. But then when Chiron finally grows up none of the lessons he’s learned in the first two acts pay off. This is widely described as a gay movie, but Chiron never even becomes sexually active, he’s more like a celibate. He thinks he’s gay, but never acts on it. So what is the point of this movie? You sympathize with him as a confused shy little boy, but then he just becomes a thug in the end. You would think that the point would be overcoming adversity or something. But no, he’s just an asexual gangsta drug dealer. Ok. It’s not a one star star piece of crap like La La Land, but it’s no where near a Best Picture of the Year award. Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) is the best thing about it so naturally he disappears in act one, never to be seen again.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS ** outta *****

Similarly to Moonlight the best thing about Nocturnal Animals is it’s supporting star Michael Shannon. It would have been best if the whole movie was about his character. Unfortunately, not only is his character not the main character, he’s not even real in the movie. This is one of those travesties known as a “film-within-a-film.” Amy Adams (widely miscast) gets a manuscript from ex-husband Donnie Darko and the movie is her reading it and imaging it was a movie in her head. So yes, the entire plot shown in the trailer is all in her imagination. Really ’nuff said, this movie sucked.

At one point she walks past a giant painting that says REVENGE as if the point wasn’t clear enough that this crime novel is about their marriage. See, she said he would never be a successful writer and divorced him. Now he can write a bestseller about what a bitch she is and get the ultimate REVENGE!!! HAHAHA!

Based on this film and the director’s previous one A Single Man, it’s obvious that he hates women. Amy Adams is portrayed as a superficial cunt and his last film was about gay dudes who think that women are basically children who should be ignored. Also the main reason to totally not see this movie is the opening credits. Just to drive home how much Tom Ford hates ladies, it’s five agonizing minutes of the most obese and wrinkled examples of the female form he could find; jumping around with sparklers in front of American flags. Apparently this is supposed to be a political statement of some kind. Just horrible. If Shannon wasn’t in this thing it would easily be a one star film.

Blue Is The Warmest Color *

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Oops… I… did it… again.

After subjecting myself the torture of 12 Years A Slave I had supposedly sworn off all critically acclaimed films. But… while I was writing my review of Slave I wanted to see if any other critics agreed with me that it is a zero star piece of shit. The self-proclaimed “smartest film critic in the world” Cole Smithey also gave it zero stars and as he and I agree on other movies (Robocop for one) I checked out his top ten list. One of his top films is the documentary about Big Star – which I liked – however his #1 movie of 2013 is a three hour French film about lesbians. I trusted his opinion until then so I watched it. Predictably, I want my three hours back.

Blue Is The Warmest Color (title doesn’t mean anything as far as I can tell) won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival which is about as meaningful as a Best Picture Oscar (i.e. not meaningful). It has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes… I must be missing something because to me it was just a drawn out Skinemax flick. It only has an NC-17 rating because most of the sex is between women and the one graphic sex scene with a man shows an erection, but no actual penetration. Since they took it that far why just go full porno if they were only an inch away anyways? Strange that Smithey would recognize that 12 Years A Slave was nothing more than torture porn and yet not recognize that this film (that he gave five stars) is nothing more than lesbo porn. Also like Slave, there is no story. We follow 15 year old student Adèle as she fumbles her way through relationships, ruining them through her own selfish actions. She does nothing particually noteworthy or admirable. Why they told a story about this person, I don’t know. Scenes consist of either sex or pretentious discussions about dead artists. This is as French as it gets. As usual with Frog films the girls do not wear makeup, zits are not even covered, teeth are fucked up, etc. When an actress cries they don’t wipe off the snot and spit all over her face. Adèle apparently ages as the film goes on, as she goes from being a student to a teacher, but her hairdo does not. All I know is that she’s supposed to be a 15 year old in the beginning and showing her having sex is blatant exploitation.

The only thing somewhat compelling about the film came not out of an artistic plan but out of obsession. Lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos is in 95% percent of the shots, most of them being close ups of her beautiful face. By the end the viewer knows every pore of her body. She has said in interviews that she will never work with director Abdellatif Kechiche again. Apparently he became obsessed with his star, following her everywhere with his camera. It does create an intimacy with the character reminiscent of The Wrestler. Too bad he wasn’t following anyone interesting.

1 Scissoring Outta 5

The Wolf of Wall Street ***

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I actually liked Marty’s three hour long Leo-fest better than I thought I would. For being as long as it is, it doesn’t seem drag as much as some of this other films. But make no mistake, there is absolutely no good reason for this white collar crime story be any longer than two hours. Apparently he made a four hour director’s cut. C’mon Marty, who wants to sit in a theater for that long or even be exposed this asshole’s life for that long either?

Scorsese tries to recapture that Goodfella’s magic with another voice-over driven biography of a crook. But where we felt like we knew Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill due to seeing him go from a child admirer of gangsters to actually becoming one, all we feel for DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is contempt and maybe some envy. We see him knowingly rip people off in nearly every scene – and if he’s not scamming, he’s doing blow and banging impossibly hot women. Believe or not though this can be pretty entertaining. I was reading about Belfort’s life on Wikipedia and wondered why Scorsese left some interesting things out of his early life that would have made for a better character and story. Henry Hill was sympathetic even though he was a fuck up, not so with Belfort.

Fat ass Jonah Hill comes in as the Joe Pesci and needless to say he’s no Joe Pesci. His acting is ok, if a bit overboard (definitely not Oscar worthy), but the man is just unpleasant to look at and listen to. They also give him bright white caps on his teeth which makes him even more obnoxious. Apparently Hill worked for scale just to be near Scorsese. So Leo made a nice $10 mil off the flick and Hill made around $60k. Probably not a bad move for him though. I’m amazed he’s not on a sitcom by now.

Shooting on both film and video seems to have hurt the overall look. There is a very obvious and unnatural DI done to the footage, making it look like a grainy ’80s movie. Leo’s performance is also not even close to being Oscar worthy as Matthew McConaughey’s only scene made we wish he was the star. Leo seems fine when he’s playing “the kid,” but as a man, as a leader of men, I don’t buy it. He’s still got that weird kid face of a child star.

While it won’t knock you socks off, and it’s way too long, WoWS is worth a viewing.

3 Midget Tosses Outta 5

The Grandmaster **

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The Grandmaster is a bit of a strange film right from the start because it is essentially a remake of the excellent 2008 Hong Kong film Ip Man. SupposedlyThe Grandmaster (also about the life of Ip Man) was being developed at the same time but sat in development hell for over ten years. After Ip Man came out you have to wonder why they even continued with this version, which turned out to be quite the mess. Where Ip Man director Wilson Yip did everything right: hiring Sammo Hung to do the choreography, filling the movie with fights, even pacing, a simple kung fu plot, clean camera work, etc… The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai, does wrong. Wong breaks with traditional kung fu camera work, which usually lets the fight choreography play out in real time, by inter-cutting shots with a delayed shutter speed (Private Ryan style) and super-slow-mo. It doesn’t work at all. He destroys any kind of fluidity or even understanding of what’s going on. In an attempt to make a “more artistic” kung fu film, he ended up making an incomprehensible shit pile.

Like many films that raise themselves up out of development hell this one has several edits out there. There is the Hong Kong international cut and then the Weinstein U.S. cut. I checked out both and would probably recommend the Weinstein cut just for the fact that it’s a half hour shorter. There is no reason for a kung fu film to be over two hours long. The Weinsteins also attempted to make the time jumping incomprehensible plot a bit easier to understand with title cards and subtitles which tell you the who, when, and where because the dialogue sure doesn’t.

In case you don’t know Ip Man (also spelled Yip Man) he was Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher. As anyone who had anything to do with Bruce is famous it was just a matter of time before Ip Man became the subject of a film. I’m just surprised it took this long. After Ip Man came out in 2008 there have now been three more films about him as well as a Chinese TV series. Both Ip Man and The Grandmaster take great liberties with his story and I would say they’re both about 75% fictional. Much like the life of his most famous student, Ip Man is more legend than reality. I thought The Grandmaster was going to be a more realistic portrayal than the 2008 film but it was even more fanciful with the Crouching Tiger style wire work. They even hired Zhang Ziyi to play Ip’s rival and love interest. She was one of the only good things about the movie. Tony Leung gives a decent and understated performance as Ip but I still prefer Donnie Yen as he is a real martial artist.

Just check out Ip Man, if you haven’t yet for a good kung fu time, and skip all of the versions of The Grandmaster. But if you’re still curious the Weinstein cut is on Netflix Streaming. There are worse movies, but I was disappointed. The Grandmaster was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards.

2 Chopsticks Outta 5

Philomena ****

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This simple true story of a woman’s quest to find her son is the only true tearjerker I’ve seen this year. Told with simplicity and at some points humor, the film never loses focus and builds until a satisfying end.

It’s sad and probably not as funny as you would expect from writer and star Steve Coogan, but I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of movie you could watch with your extended family. Essentially it’s a Liftetime type of story, so no guns or action scenes or anything – it’s pure drama but a very well done one. The main moral of the story is that the Catholic Church’s obsession with sex (or rather that sex is a sin) has ruined many lives. Philomena (Judi Dench) was just a teenager when she “got in trouble” and her parents made the mistake of sending her to a convent in Ireland. The nuns there operated it as a baby selling business all the while shaming and enslaving the young mothers they were entrusted with. Even after what they did to her, Philomena remains a devoted Catholic. Her discussions with the atheist reporter played by Coogan are entertaining.

One other thing worth mentioning is the ever present and emotional score by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat. Music in movies means so much to me, it easily pushed this to a 4 instead of a 3. It’s in my head as I’m writing this.

4 Guinness Harps Outta 5

X-Men 6 ****

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Bryan Singer delivers what is undoubtedly the best sequel so far to his now fifteen year old X-Men. I pity the fool who has never heard of the X-Men and walks into this flick. It just assumes you know who these people are. After six movies, everyone really should. Exposition is kept to a minimum, except when it moves this particular story forward. What an incredible concept! It also creates a very satisfying bookend to the whole X-Men series. I know they will make more, but if it ended here, I would be fine with that.

Wolverine again takes center stage as the main character, and thank God for that. His presence was greatly missed in the X-prequel, First Class. Marvel is firing on all cylinders right now. First we get a 4-star Captain America movie and now a 4-star flick that has a hundred different characters. No small accomplishment. By keeping Wolverine as the constant between a huge cast of heroes and villains, as well as two different eras in time, we never get lost.

The plot mostly made me think of J.J. Abram’s time traveling Star Trek reboot, but this one is done better. The script minimizes paradoxes by sending only Wolvie’s consciousness back to his 1970’s body, not his entire physical self. The fact that neither of the two time periods takes place in our present was very cool. As detailed as the sets, costumes, lingo etc, from the ’70s was… the dystopia of the future was even cooler. As this is a sequel to First Class, we spend most of the film in the past.

Days of Future Past is worth seeing if only because this large of an all-star cast will never be put together again. I honestly don’t know how they afforded it this time. These are some of the best actors alive playing roles that in other hands would have become pure camp. To make such an out-there comic book story seem so realistic and so adult is another feat in itself. Just one scene with a character who is essentially a pure rip-off of DC Comics The Flash totally trumps everything WB has done with their character on screen. Now that I’ve seen this, I don’t even need to see a Flash movie. Some of the other characters will be known only to X-Men readers, but that’s fine. You don’t have to do the back story for everyone. Do you learn about the childhood of everyone in the Dirty Dozen or the Magnificent Seven? Of course not – it’s totally unnecessary. All you have to know is that humans understandably fear and hate mutants because of their power and want them all dead.

Whether or not Singer’s career is destroyed by his latest sex scandal is unknown, but the man remains a master of the ensemble. I only have a couple of minor complaints: Wolverine needed to kill more people and the music by John Ottman was as bland as ice water… as usual.

One final thing of note is that while this is technically a “Marvel” film with characters from Marvel Comics, Fox makes it clear that their X-Men and Disney’s Avengers do not live in the same universe. The Avengers: Age of Ultron will also feature Quicksilver, played by a different actor and with a different appearance and origin story.

4 Naked Shapeshifters Outta 5

Planet of the Apes 8

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Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield) delivers an exciting well made follow-up to 2011’s Apes reboot. James Franco and Caesar’s relationship was at the heart of the first film and made for a more realistic movie. This one is pretty hard science fiction of the dystopian variety.

Probably the closest relationship in this movie is between Caesar and his son, both CG creations. The human star is Jason Clarke who is serviceable, but about as charismatic as a soggy carrot. He also starred in the one star suckfest Zero Dark Thirty. The film wastes countless minutes giving him and even his eye candy wife character (Keri Russell) not only lines, but lines about her back story like it matters in the slightest. Her character is involved in one plot point to justify her whole existence. Gary Oldman is underutilized as the leader of the human survivors and is given a three second back story. Caesar (Andy Serkis) does really have screen presence. Every scene he’s in is better. He and a few apes are the only ties to the first film. Both apes and humans have their obvious “loose cannons” who appear in every single apocalypse movie. Because being in the end times isn’t bad enough, you also have to deal with assholes. See: The Walking Dead.

I remember the music being better in the first movie as well. Other than the complete rip-off (called a homage) of Jerry Goldsmith’s score from the original film the music by Michael Giacchino is forgettable and uninspired. It could have really helped elevate this flick.

I have done this before and I will give this a star just for the vfx. They truly are unbelievable. The bar for animals has now been set. Noah’s Ark by ILM doesn’t come close to the detail and time spent on screen of Weta’s most epic fx fest so far. Kong was good, but that was one ape – this is hundreds – and unlike Kong, they’re in the movie the entire time.

Any fan of the original movies will get a kick out of it. I think they did miss an opportunity to make some real commentary, but the original themes are still there. Getting a movie as bleak as the originals made in the ’60s and ’70s is not going to happen in a $150 million Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Best of all, there was no Ape Lincoln in sight.  Smiley

4 Apepocalypses Outta 5

Non-Stop ***

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Despite being in his early 60’s, Liam Neeson continues his rise as the most bankable action star on the planet after The Rock. Non-Stop is a PG-13 single location thriller in which Neeson portrays an alcoholic U.S. Marshall. Someone on an unlucky trans-Atlantic flight wants to blow up the plane, but whom… and why?

It’s a decent mystery that doesn’t get revealed until the very end. Unfortunately the motives of the villains are abso-ludcrious and it’s kind of amazing that the writers couldn’t think of something more realistic. Despite some shoddy writing, at around 100 minutes the movie “flies by” at a fast pace and Neeson is on screen the entire tire, which helps immensely. As usual some Hollywood sentimentality is thrown in, but thankfully they don’t knock you senseless with it. The supporting cast of quality actors (Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, and Corey Stoll) help to elevate what could have been a generic pot-boiler.

3 Flying Head Shots Outta 5

Homefront ***

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Jason Statham’s most recent movies are on Netflix and you really can’t go wrong, In The Name of the King an exception. Statham confirmed in an interview that the screenplay, written by Sly, was originally meant to star John Rambo. Knowing that while watching it, it was pretty obvoius why Statham’s ex-undercover DEA character is so impossible to kill. It doesn’t help that the villain is James Franco.

Yeaaahh, not so scary but that’s my only complaint as it’s a rated R action flick with Statham breaking windpipes non-stop. It seems like it was meant to be a bookend to the Rambo series as he returns home to the U.S and encounters the same small town crazy people he did in First Blood. What could have been. Ah well the flick was a modest success so Sly is planning a sequel. Maybe Rambo will get a bigger send off.

3 Trucker Caps to Hide the Baldness Outta 5

Captain America 2 ****

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Marvel delivers one of their best movies yet with Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. More like a superhero Bond film than a CG effects-fest, it’s so nice to watch a movie like this without a CG glowing orb MacGuffin that everyone is trying to possess for it’s “ultimate powa!” This was part of the plot of the first movie, which was unfortunate. This sequel is realistic enough where you think it just might be possible.

The first thing I liked about it and the thing I like about Cap generally is that he is a super soldier, not the perfect soldier. An idealist who loves freedom, does not a good soldier make. The opposite of Cap is his nemesis in this story, The Winter Soldier. The film makes the courageous, but necessary point that one must be brainwashed (sometimes literally) to be able to follow orders, whether they are ethical or not. Fighting the Germans was one thing, but when the government asks Cap to make war on his own people (the modern relevance is shiver inducing) he flat out says “no.” That doesn’t go over very well with the government. The gov is represented by Robert Redford’s character Alexander Pierce, head of the World Security Council, which has authority over S.H.I.E.L.D. For those who aren’t familiar, S.H.I.E.L.D. is like the military, C.I.A., and N.S.A. rolled into one powerful autonomous agency. Nick Fury is a big part of this movie and they make it clear that without him leading the organization it would easily be corrupted.

So enough about the plot. There’s plenty of it. I can say that I was not bored at all during the story, unlike Thor 2. It’s a political thriller mixed with lots of kung fu, super fu, and gun fu. Any movie that hires George St. Pierre to play a bad guy who can actually go toe-to-toe with Captain America gets my approval. The identity of the Winter Soldier is a mystery in the film, and if you haven’t read the comics I won’t go into here, but needless to say it works. The only character that seemed tacked on was Cap’s sidekick Falcon. I like the character but he was a distraction. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a starring role as well and makes herself much more useful than in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. I don’t buy her as an asskicker but I believe she can shoot someone.

Cap 2 was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, best known for directing episodes of Community before they landed this gig. They did a commendable job. I saw The King at this screening and he mentioned right off the bat the biggest problem was the lack of a good score or even any modern or classic radio music. They use a great Saving Private Ryan inspired piece for the beginning and then strangely never come back to it. One thing they got right was hiring an actual comic writer (Ed Brubaker) to do the first draft of the script.

So the future of the Captain America franchise looks bright if they can keep this momentum going. This is one of the few Marvel films that I didn’t want to be over. Speaking of that, make sure you stick around for the credits.

4 Shields Outta 5