The Silver Bullet ~ 20th Century Women

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Synopsis: The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

Release Date: December 25, 2016

Thoughts: If Annette Bening (Girl Most Likely) were to write an autobiography at this point in her career (which is far from it’s expiration date, btw) she might think about titling it “Always an Oscar Bridesmaid” because she’s been runner-up four times now.  Looking over who she’s lost to (Whoopi Goldberg, Hilary Swank {twice!}, Natalie Portman), I feel the right person always won…but it’s gotta be Bening’s time sometime…right?  Her latest bid arrives (with already good buzz for her nomination chances) with 20th Century Women, a 70s set drama about a trio of women and how they affect a young boy growing up in California.  Director Mike Mills guided Christopher Plummer to an Oscar win for Beginners — might he work the same magic for Bening?  Hope so.

The Silver Bullet ~ Fences

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Synopsis: An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life.

Release Date: December 25, 2016

Thoughts: Fences, August Wilson’s modern classic, comes to the big screen courtesy of director/star Denzel Washington with a screenplay by Wilson and boy, does it look like a whopper. Repeating their Tony award winning performances, Washington (The Magnificent Seven) and Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) stake their claim as front-runners for awards season glory in this first teaser trailer.  Davis, in particular, is long overdue to take home the prize and if you don’t get some kind of goosebumpy tingle from her final moments here, you need to take your Spidey senses in for a tune-up.  Adapting Wilson for the big screen can be a tricky task as his plays are so intimate and personal…but if anyone can make it work it’s going to be the players assembled here.

Movie Review ~ The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Billy Slaughter, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I have two things to admit right off the bat. I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven from 1960 or, worse yet, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the movie that inspired both films and countless other knockoff Westerns throughout the years. The second admission is that I’ve been wanting Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Flight) to lighten up a bit already…all of his movies are so serious, so steely, so tortured inside that it has me almost dreading every new film he’s headlining even though he’s one of our great working actors today. While Washington doesn’t quite achieve tranquility during the course of this remake, the actor does show some signs of a sense of humor in between the gunfire and exploding dynamite sticks.

The prologue sets the stage. It’s the 1870s and the town of Rose Creek has a problem whose name is Bartholomew Bogue (a typically ratty Peter Sarsgaard, Lovelace). Determined to buy up all the land in the area for 1/10 of what it’s worth, Bogue has staked his claim on Rose Creek and dares anyone to stand his way. Protected by a crooked town sheriff, Bogue and his army of gunslingers draws a line in the sand for the townsfolk; accept his low offer to purchase their plots of earth or suffer deadly consequences. Before the credits even begin, Bogue has struck down several strong-willed citizens (including an actor listed in the opening credits after he’s been killed) and prepares to return in three weeks to start rounding up and kicking out.

Rose Creek needs a savior, that’s why Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train) offers bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the town has to offer in exchange for his protection. Taking her up on her proposition partly because he empathizes with her and partly to exorcise his own personal demons, he recognizes he can’t go up against Bogue alone and recruits a sextet of men as he makes his way back to Rose Creek. First up is wise talking gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), as good with a gun as he is with a deck of cards. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) a longtime friend of Chisolm and former army sharpshooter now making a living off of managing the duels of the deadly Billy Rocks (Byung Hun Lee, I Saw the Devil). Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake), a Mexican criminal on Chisolm’s wanted list is given a reprieve if he pitches in while Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) makes nice with Chisolm by chowing down on the heart of a freshly killed animal. Finally, we have Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, Sinister) a soft spoken bear of a man that proves a dangerous person to underestimate.

Look, there’s a formula here and it’s shown to have worked for more than a century. Find someone that needs help, gather a rag-tag group of would-be heroes, and then let them loose in a fiery blaze of glory. It helps The Magnificent Seven that the heroes would likely be the bad guys of another movie but find themselves put to better use doing good. Working together they arm the town and stage some Home Alone-style booby traps that are a, ahem, blast.

At 132 minutes, it’s a long film but I found myself responding to it more than I thought I would. I love a good Western and while this won’t be remembered as any kind of classic I found it engaging and entertaining, two things we’ve had a serious lack of in 2016. It takes it’s time and maybe moseys when it should be sprinting but I didn’t seem to mind it and I think it’s largely due to the cast.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) teams up with Washington for the third time and clearly the two men have worked together enough to develop their own rhythm. Fuqua nudges Washington ever so slightly out of his run of stone-faced champion and gets the actor to feel his inner cowboy. Pratt’s role isn’t quite as challenging, largely being an extension of the good ole boy he’s played before. Hawke, too, turns in a performance that I wasn’t quite expecting. Robicheaux has some ticks and tricks that Hawke takes and runs with…much like D’Onofrio does with his odd, child-like lumberjack of a man. As the lone female, Bennett more than holds her own, stopping just short of going full on Linda Hamilton/Terminator 2 mode as the film reaches its pinnacle.

Pure popcorn entertainment with some great shots of canyons and dust bowls set to a purposeful score by the late James Horner, The Magnificent Seven doesn’t rise to the level of greatness its title implies. Still, there are far worse ways to spend your time at the movies and the cast makes it worth your while.

The Silver Bullet ~ Passengers

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Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

Release Date:  December 21, 2016

Thoughts: It’s okay if you watch this first trailer for Passengers and feel like you’ve been to this space rodeo before.  Peppered with hints of Gravity and The Martian with a little old (Sunday) school Adam and Eve business, our initial look at the late December release feels promising.  I mean, two hotter than Hades A-list stars with their choice of scripts wouldn’t sign up for this without it having some thrust, right?  I’m counting on blind faith that Chris Pratt (Jurassic World) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) have chosen wisely.  Under the direction of Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) from a Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) script that’s been orbiting Hollywood stars since 2007, Passengers could pure rocket fuel at the box office if these heavy hitters bring their A game.  As for me…it’s set in space so…I’m in.

The Silver Bullet ~ Live By Night

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Synopsis: Set in the roaring 1920s, when Prohibition hasn’t stopped the flow of booze in an underground network of gangster-run speakeasies, the opportunity to gain power and money is there for any man with enough ambition and nerve.

Release Date: January 13, 2017

Thoughts: Fall is here and the Oscar hopefuls are awakening from their summer slumber. Now that the big blockbusters of the year have beat their bombastic drums at the box office, the “prestige pictures” are gearing up for their glitzy season.  It’s still up in the air whether Ben Affleck’s fourth film will get a qualifying release to be considered for the 2016 Oscar race…but judging by the first trailer released for Live By Night Warner Brothers would be crazy not to put all their chips in on this one.  Affleck has proved three times already he knows how to deliver a strong film and his Oscar nomination snub for directing Argo in 2013 still stings. Adapted by Affleck (Gone Girl) from the novel by Dennis Lehane and co-starring Scott Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D), Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon), Sienna Miller (American Sniper), Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace), and Brendan Gleeson (Song of the Sea), this looks marvelous and right up Affleck’s alley.

Movie Review ~ Sully

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of Chelsey Sullengerger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan, Katie Couric

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: While I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to visit destinations near and far there’s one nagging thing that always hampers my trip…flying. I wouldn’t say I hate it, I just strongly dislike it and would prefer to road-trip my way across the U.S. and cruise my way over to European destinations. The irony is that I have a particular fondness for movies where airplanes are the central focus. So while I get a sheen of panicked sweat when the plane door closes and I’m locked in for the long haul, I get a nice little rush when I fire up a flick where the stewardess has to fly the plane or Wesley Snipes kicks terrorist butt.

I let you in on this little secret of mine because after seeing Sully, my biggest take-away is that I’d like to have a captain/crew just like the one from U.S. Airways Flight 155 on all my flights moving forward. Showing how captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, first officer Jeff Skiles, and the flight crew kept calm in the face of clear and present danger is one of the many things that director Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys, American Sniper) and company gets right…even if the overall film winds up being more economy than first class.

Adapted by screenwriter Todd Komarnicki from “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, Eastwood’s film is a straightforward by-the-numbers affair and that’s likely where it lost a little spark for me. Sure, it would have been easy to overdramatize things and that wouldn’t have been right either…but instead of a smooth ascent Eastwood reaches his cruising altitude and goes on auto-pilot. (I think that’s the end of my flight-related metaphors/puns…maybe)

In a trim 95 minutes, Komarnicki and Eastwood take us through the events of that day in January 2009 when shortly after take-off Flight 155 hit a patch of birds that caused both of its engines to fail, leaving the plane gliding without power. Drawing on forty years of service, Sully (Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks) navigates the plane to a miraculous water landing on the Hudson River, saving everyone on board. Over the course of the film this incident is replayed several times to heart-pounding effect and largely without a booming score to tell you how to feel.

It’s the investigation after the landing as the NTSB/ insurance companies search for someone to blame that disappoints, waffling between holding Sully and Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, London Has Fallen) accountable and vindicating them as the heroes they certainly were/are. Hearings with the NTSB, headed by Mike O’Malley (Concussion), Jamey Sheridan (Spotlight), and Anna Gunn feel like acting exercises to see which of the three can glare, grimace, and judge all at the same time. For the record, O’Malley wins but only because Gunn never bothers to raise her voice (or her pulse) past a stage whisper.

Komarnicki puts in some awkward encounters Sully has with a public that wants to thank him but doesn’t know quite how to put that into words. So we have uncomfortable scenes where he’s kissed on the cheek by a make-up artist, hugged by a hotel manager, and lauded at a pub by local NYC bar huggers. Katie Couric pops up as herself recreating her exclusive sit down with Sully and the flight crew appearance on Letterman is shown with less than seamless integration between archive footage of the host and the Hollywood actors.

On the acting side of things, Hanks scores with his understated delivery and inherent dignity. Admittedly, it isn’t a big stretch for Hanks but in his own Hanks-ian way, he gives a powerful performance that’s more than a little reminiscent of 2013’s Captain Phillips. Hanks has an easy rapport with Eckhart…even when Eckhart’s Swedish Chef moustache threatens to take over the scene. Perhaps stymied by her scenes being entirely comprised of phone conversations, Laura Linney (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows) is particularly bad as Sully’s wife. Holding down the homefront while Sully deals with the NTSB, Linney’s character could be excised all together and nothing would be lost. In fact, Komarnicki’s barely-there rough sketches of Linney and a handful of other minor players/passengers is so poor you begin to fault the acting when it’s actually the writing that’s a failure.

Though some of the performances and directorial choices kept the film grounded (yeesh…why is Eastwood still composing those dirge-like scores, ahem, themes for his movies?), it’s Hanks that will make you want to check your luggage and hop on board. The recreations of the events of that day gave me that thrill I was looking forward to, I just wish everything else was as tight as those sections.

The Silver Bullet ~ Collateral Beauty

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Synopsis: When a successful New York ad executive suffers a personal tragedy and retreats from life, his friends devise a drastic plan to reach him before he loses everything.

Release Date: December 16, 2016

Thoughts: The last time Will Smith appeared in a movie with fantasy elements it was Winter’s Tale…so Collateral Beauty can only be an improvement, right?  One would hope.  With its roster of A-list leading players, I can see this holiday release from director David Frankel (Hope Springs) going one of two ways: it’ll end up a mawkish tear grabber or find itself a sentimental favorite eliciting the “happy tears” that may just equal good box office returns.  The trailer straddles that fence already, revealing a twist of whimsy that’s either going to draw you into its web or make you run for the nearest theater playing an Oscar-bait period drama set in the Congo during the Renaissance. Along with Smith (Suicide Squad), we have Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold), Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method), Kate Winslet (Triple 9), Edward Norton (Sausage Party), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), and Michael Peña (End of Watch).

The Silver Bullet ~ Split

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Synopsis: Kevin, a man with at least 23 different personalities, is compelled to abduct three teenage girls. As they are held captive, a final personality – “The Beast” – begins to materialize.

Release Date: January 20, 2017

Thoughts: There was a time when the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a poster or movie trailer would elicit a little shiver down your spine. Then came a string of overstuffed, self-serving duds that found his name removed from all marketing materials in order to not tip off audiences he was involved. Then along came the surprisingly strong (and scary!) The Visit in 2015 and Shyamalan got some of that clout back…and I’m hoping that Split continues the Shyamalan-aissance. The latest thriller with a twist finds James McAvoy (Trance) with multiple personalities holding three girls hostage and there’s some nice potential here for some spooky scenery chewing. With January no longer that foreboding dumping ground for useless films that it once was, could Split ring in the New Year with a yelp?

Movie Review ~ Don’t Breathe

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re wrong.

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I’m getting old.  I mean, that’s really the only explanation because I think if I’d have seen Don’t Breathe a decade ago I would have given it practically a perfect score.  But…I’m older and, I think, wiser and my better judgement tells me that while this home invasion thriller hits many of the right notes (and, for a good stretch of time creates a near-symphony) there’s something overly slick about it that keeps it from being the true horror masterpiece the poster quotes would have you believe. Still, in a summer with box office duds that are horrors unto themselves (I’m looking at you, Suicide Squad), Don’t Breathe arrives in the last gasp of August with some refreshingly fresh air.

I simply hate movies that start out with a flash forward to the end of the film only to fold back on themselves and take you back to how it all began.  While I don’t often read other reviews in full before catching a screening, my #1 trusted reviewer Brian Orndof mentioned in his review that it would be a good idea to arrive a few minutes late so you miss what might be considered too much of a spoiler.  I’d go further and say you should arrive a full fifteen minutes after it starts because the opening stretch of Don’t Breathe is pretty terrible.  Bad acting, bad exposition, and bad dialogue had me wondering if we’d all been pranked into thinking this was horror on a higher level.

Three teens spend their aimless days breaking into houses in the Detroit area, committing petty burglary not so much for the monetary benefits but seeking some kind of thrill to break up their dead end lives.  Rocky (Jane Levy, Fun Size) and Money (Daniel Zovatto, It Follows) would likely think of themselves as a modern day Bonnie & Clyde…if I believed they had any clue who the doomed burglars were.  Tagging along is Alex (Dylan Minnette, Goosebumps) who not only holds an obvious torch for Rocky but the keys to the security systems his dad oversees.

When Money gets a tip on a score big enough to get them out of town, the trio decide to stage one last heist before retiring to a sunny life in L.A.  Located in an abandoned neighborhood, the house they set their sights on belongs to a blind veteran (Stephen Lang, The Nut Job) who, aside from owning a cranky Rottweiler, appears harmless.  Breaking into the house is easy…but getting out is another story.

It’s best to keep the details slim about what happens over the next 75 minutes but rest assured that right about the time you think you know what’s coming next, the tables get flipped and then flipped again and then broken apart and then the pieces thrown at you. Much like their Evil Dead remake in 2013, high points go to writers Fede Alvarez (who also directs and reteams with his Evil Dead star Levy) and Rodo Sayagues for keeping things unpredictable until the very end.  This isn’t nearly as gory or bloody as Evil Dead was, but it has head-spinning, armrest clenching, and eye-covering shocks all its own.

As original as the film is, it has a few flaws mostly involving pacing and performance.  Even at a trim 88 minutes it feels slightly slack in the opening half, saving the major adrenaline thrills for right around the mid-point before sputtering through multiple endings.  While Levy and Lang make for prime prey and predator, Minette is bland and Zovatto’s thug comes across like a parody done better on SNL.  Lang’s blind veteran eventually takes shape as an unstoppable force ala Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, and though I applaud Alvarez for letting the actors appear bruised and bloodied the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” trope feels worn out by the final credits (which, by the way, are impressive).

For horror aficionados, Don’t Breathe may be the summer movie they were most excited to see and for that, it doesn’t disappoint.  It may have some cracks and creaks to it but the house that Alvarez and company build mostly holds up to the storm.

The Silver Bullet ~ Hidden Figures

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Synopsis: A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Release Date: December 25, 2016

Thoughts: Who’s ready for a history lesson? I certainly am after catching the trailer for Hidden Figures, a period drama which looks equal parts comedy and drama and represents a strong showcase for its trio of appealing leads.  Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson (Top Five) stars as a NASA employee during the space race fighting to combat the inherent racism and sexism she and her colleagues (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Zootopia, and Grammy winner Janelle Monáe) face. Joined by Kevin Costner (Draft Day), Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!), and Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special), this one is sneaking it right at the end of the year before the Oscar deadline.  Could 20th Century Fox be counting on this becoming the sleeper hit it has the potential to be?