Down From the Shelf ~ Jumpin’ Jack Flash

The Facts:

Synopsis: A bank employee gets a coded message from an unknown source and becomes embroiled in an espionage ring.

Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Collins, John Wood, Carol Kane, Annie Potts, Roscoe Lee Browne. Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Michael McKean, Tracey Ullman

Director: Penny Marshall

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Here’s an example of a movie I always remember being better than it is. Over the years I’ve returned often to this strange mix of comedy and intrigue with fond memories of fun only to wind up 106 minutes later wondering why I thought it was so great.  Don’t get me wrong, as a showcase for rising star Whoopi Goldberg, Jumpin’ Jack Flash is aces but considering the actress was coming off her Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance in The Color Purple and was several years away from winning her Oscar for Ghost one can’t help but see this as a minor blip on her way to the A-list.

You aren’t wrong in thinking the role of a lonely bank employee that gets roped into a real-life spy adventure is a strange fit for Goldberg.  Just like Sister Act was conceived as a vehicle for Bette Midler, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was intended for Shelley Long who opted for The Money Pit and Outrageous Fortune instead.  Aside from a few instances that were surely the result of Goldberg’s improvisation, the dialogue and overall plot seems generally unchanged from when it was Long’s…and that’s problematic.  With no discernible personality, Goldberg’s character (and the actress herself) struggles at the confines of a screenplay that often works against her more than it does her any real favors.

After original director Howard Zeiff was fired after a few weeks of filming, actress and first-time director Penny Marshall was brought in and that also doesn’t exactly help things.  While Marshall would go on to have several notable efforts like Big, A League of Their Own, and Awakenings, the rookie mistakes are evident.  Though it has comedy in fits and starts, the tone of the movie is all over the place.  One moment it’s an office comedy, then it’s an international thriller before getting Keystone Kop-y after Goldberg finds herself locked in a telephone booth tethered to the back of a tow truck.

With all these items in the minus column of my critical spreadsheet, why do I keep returning to this one?  Clearly, it’s Goldberg and it’s thanks to her the movie remains a rainy day option.  Managing to sell most of the malarkey dialogue she’s tasked with, Goldberg’s NYC vibe creeps in at opportune times.  I still get a kick out of her conning her way into a royal gala at the British embassy dressed as Diana Ross and lip-synching to one of the singer’s tunes.  While the telephone booth scene is quite screwball, listening to Goldberg riff on her situation provides some nice chuckles.  Let’s also give a hand for a fine supporting cast of familiar faces and a great big roll of the eyes at the ancient computer technology that at one time was cutting edge.

A hit at the box office, even if Jumpin’ Jack Flash is an interesting step in Goldberg’s ladder to stardom and hasn’t aged well at all it’s still better than Burglar, Fatal Beauty, and the string of other head-scratchers she appeared in the years after The Color Purple was released.

The Silver Bullet ~ Justice League

Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Thoughts: With Wonder Woman becoming the top-earning movie at the summer box office, the producers behind the DC Comics franchise are riding a wave of positivity right now.  Let’s hope they can keep that goodwill going strong as the November release of Justice League draws near.  I didn’t mind Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice nearly as much as my colleagues did but the unrelenting darkness of this franchise has kept it from truly taking off. Wonder Woman was a nice reminder of what these films could be while director Zac Snyder deals with a family tragedy, Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee postproduction so I’m hoping Whedon can bring a little Marvel spark to the DC Universe.  This extended look at Justice League gives a few more clues for audiences to decipher and one cliffhanger that already has the internet abuzz.

The Silver Bullet ~ Leatherface

Synopsis: in Texas, years before the events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in the early days of the infamous Sawyer family, the youngest child is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the sheriff’s daughter dead.

Release Date:  October 20, 2017

Thoughts: At this point, I don’t know where the hell we are in the vast landscape of the sequels, prequels, sequels to prequels, and reboots of sequels and their prequels as they relate to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Last time Leatherface was seen on screen was back in 2013 with Texas Chainsaw 3D and while that was an enjoyable watch it didn’t seem to make a dent in the box office.  It’s rumored that Leatherface will swing by a few theaters before going to DirectTV On Demand but with interesting character actors like Lili Taylor (The Conjuring) and Stephen Dorff (The Iceman) taking roles in this I have to say I’m a bit intrigued.  Couple that with direction from Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo who delivered the stomach churning but impressive Inside and my intrigue turns into full blown curiosity.    

The Silver Bullet ~ Jigsaw

Synopsis: Bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome demise. As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one man: John Kramer. But how can this be? The man known as Jigsaw has been dead for over a decade.

Release Date: October 27, 2017

Thoughts: We’ve been lied to!  After seven films, the Saw series was said to be over and done with back in 2010.  Well, it’s not the first time we’ve been told that a franchise was ending only to have greedy studio execs drum up another sequel…but why do I get the nagging feeling that Jigsaw might represent a neat little surprise for all the naysayers?  It’s probably my willingness to give any horror sequel a shot in the hopes it won’t be another cheaply made retread of previous entries.  I’m hopeful already seeing that Jigsaw is being directed by The Spierig Brothers who haven’t helmed any blockbusters but have made some vastly underrated pics.  If you don’t believe me, do yourself a solid and seek out Predestination.   

Movie Review ~ Girls Trip


The Facts
:

Synopsis: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.

Stars: Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Rated: R

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: The latest in a long line of Women Can Be Raunchy Too comedies (like Bad Moms and Rough Night), Girls Trip is better than you or I thought it would be.  Maybe it was wrong to doubt it in the first place, though, because it stars four actresses who could each easily headline their own film and is the kind of free-for-all extravaganza of ribald humor rarely seen anywhere in film lately.  Better still, it winds up touting a message of acceptance of oneself from within instead of opting for an easier and more expected takeaway.

The members of the Flossy Possy are four friends that grew up together, went to college together, lived together, but then forged their own paths in varied directions.  Sasha (Queen Latifah, Joyful Noise) is a gossip blogger nearly bankrupt, divorced mom Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mix XXL) hasn’t had a fun night out in years, man-loving Dina (Tiffany Haddish) just got fired from another job, while Ryan (Regina Hall, Vacation) is reaching the pinnacle of her career as an Oprah-esque self-help guru that seems to have it all.

When Ryan is asked to be the keynote speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, she decides to make it a (ta-da!) Girls Trip and invites her three best friends that she hasn’t seen in years.  Over the next several days the women party, play, fight, dance, take absinthe, and a whole host of other NSFW activities that can only be appreciated when experienced with friends.

The four women elevate the material to something better than it ever was intended to be.  I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Latifah was originally approached to play Hall’s part and vice-versa.  Both actresses have done those types of characters before and it’s nice to see them take on something different, especially Latifah who’s taken some pretty bland roles lately.  Pinkett Smith seems at home in the mother hen role but let’s loose when she’s good and ready.

Truly, though, the star of the show is Haddish as a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed broad that owns her sexuality and honesty like a badge of honor.  Impossible to embarrass, Dina will say anything and do anything to get a reaction out of her friends and Haddish goes to the same lengths to set herself apart from her costars who all have more experience on the big screen.  What Haddish does with a banana and a grapefruit at one point should earn her some sort of special medal for bravery.

Sure, the movie feels cheaply made with an abundance of “group” shots that look like they were filmed at different times and badly photoshopped at that.  Then there’s the supporting cast that seemed to be comprised of actors that would work for scale just to keep their health insurance going.  I’m not saying that Kate Walsh (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is in it just for the money but she does subject herself to some pretty embarrassing “I’m so WHITE!” dialogue and one whopper of a sight gag when she drunkenly grabs the wrong cocktail glass.

This is one that would be best to see with a large audience and if they are anything like the people I screened this with, it will only add to the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ feeling.  There’s a bit of graphic nudity early on in the film that elicited screams of laughter from the audience, screams that remained going strong for a solid minute.  Then there was the projectile urination scene…but I’ll let you see for yourself what that’s all about.  While it frustratingly bottoms out several times, it sticks its ending with a fresh message of be your best self that feels genuine in its delivery.

The script from Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver and direction from Malcolm D. Lee are, to be honest, nothing special.  Most of the jokes are telegraphed in advance and even some of the tackier vulgarity feels also-ran.  The movie heads in exactly the direction you think it will and rarely strays off course.  Allowing his movie to go on too long by a good 15 minutes, Lee seems beholden to give each actress the exact same amount of screen time, whether we like it or not.  This creates a Girls Trip that overstays its welcome at times but ends with a bang.

Movie Review ~ A Ghost Story

The Facts:

Synopsis: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.

Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, McColm Sephas Jr., Kenneisha Thompson, Grover Coulson, Liz Cardenas Franke, Barlow Jacobs

Director: David Lowery

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  I guess the synopsis should have tipped me off that A Ghost Story was going to be a tough one.  Billed as a “singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence” sure sets a high bar for movie filmed with no fanfare in a tiny Texas town.  I’m sure art-house audiences will gobble this one up as their latest existential exercise for bragging rights to their friends that chose to see Spider-Man: Homecoming instead.  Still, with its maudlin musings and one endless shot of pie consumption A Ghost Story might have something to say but it takes literally forever to do it.

The first half of A Ghost Story centers on C (Casey Affleck, The Finest Hours) and M (Rooney Mara, Side Effects), a young couple that doesn’t have much or say much.  Still, when C dies in a car accident just outside their house, Affleck and Mara have given us more than a general idea of the depth of their connection.  M arrives at the hospital to identify the remains and after the sheet is lifted stares in shock at the body of her husband. Shortly after she pulls the sheet over C’s face and leaves the body rises and hops off the gurney, with the sheet cleverly falling into place thus creating the ghostly figure seen in the poster and trailers.

Strangely tied to the house once called home, the ghost remains through the years long after M has moved on with her life.  A host of different people live in the house over time. A single mother.  A flock of hipsters.  When the house is destroyed there’s a brief passage of interest where the ghost travels forward and then back in time, folding back on itself to see previous scenes from a different perspective.

It would be easy to say I was in a funk the day I screened this or even easier to just claim general stupidity but it just wouldn’t be true.  This is a hard movie to sit through, much less love or even like.  There’s literally a scene where the ghost watches paint dry, not to mention the never-ending take of Mara eating the majority of a pie someone brought over to comfort her.  The moment you feel like the scene can’t possibly continue, it goes on for another six minutes.  The significance of Mara having the house to herself and gorging herself on food until she’s sick isn’t lost on me…but why keep audiences at bay long after the message has been received?

Director David Lowery used the money he made from the remake of Pete’s Dragon to fund this long gestating project and I wish he would have just bought his mom a house like other directors who hit the big time have done.  I loved what Lowery did with Pete’s Dragon and the charming characters that sprang forward fully formed but A Ghost Story feels like a deliberate step back, suggesting a director desperately trying to remind us of his indie roots.

Movie Review ~ Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer, Elizabeth Debicki

Director: Luc Besson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Plenty of people (aka snobby critics) are going to tell you how terrible Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets is before you’ll get a chance to see the movie and judge for yourself.  That’s too bad because while Valerian admittedly has its hefty share of major problems, every now and then something kinda brilliant happens.  Popping into theaters showing movies that reek of summer sameness, Valerian at least has some imagination up its over-the-top and messy sleeves.

I’m not familiar with the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, that inspired director/screenwriter Luc Besson (The Family).  From what I hear it remained tremendously popular since it was originally published in 1967 all the way through to its final issue in 2010 so its no wonder that studios interested in selling their film globally would invest in what Besson had in mind.  Even if it tanks at the US box office (which, sadly, it will) it most surely will turn a profit in the international market.

The screening I attended had some major 3D projection issues during the five-minute montage that opens the film, showing the progression of space habitation as the years tick away. Passing by in a blur (literally) the universe evolves to welcome all forms of alien life from around the galaxy.  The generally well-rendered CGI beings that Besson introduces us to first are Avatar-ish chrome domes living in a pastel colored planet that get major feels from pearls pooped out of a cute creature.  I’ll let that last sentence sink in a moment.  Have you recovered?  Let’s move forward.

Just when the planet and its inhabitants are threatened by objects crash landing from sky the film cuts quickly to Valerian (Dane DeHaan, Lawless) who has just awoke in a cold sweat.  Was it all in his head or is he in possession of historical knowledge hidden deep within?  Before we get to that answer Besson makes a costly error out of the gate by awkwardly introducing us to Major Valerian and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne, Suicide Squad) with a battle of the sexes sparring that would have seemed trivial on Moonlighting. DeHaan and Delevingne have zero chemistry, radiating genial brother-sister admiration much more than any carnal craves.

Valerian and Laureline are mid-mission in a race to obtain a precious element (no, not The Fifth Element) that winds up playing a big part in explaining Valerian’s other-planetary visions.  There’s not enough megabites in this blog to go into details on where Besson takes our plucky hero and heroine but I can tell you that it involves singer Rihanna (Battleship) as a shape shifting blue alien that has Ethan Hawke (Sinister) for a pimp, a race through an underwater world of sea monsters, Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) strangely voicing a male alien royal, and Herbie Hancock as Valerian and Laureline’s exhausted boss.  To all you Rutger Hauer fans, don’t blink or you’ll miss his barely there cameo.

This film is without a doubt totally cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs but it’s sheer brazen wackiness is what winds up keeping it afloat when Besson’s script falters and its stars stall out.  There’s barely a moment when things are at a standstill and yet the action onscreen is delivered with such fervent fury throughout I was never not entertained in one way or another.  How much you get out of the film is entirely dependent on how much you’re willing to just go with the flow and know that everyone else in the audience thinks its as bizarre as you do.

I was wanting an immersive experience for Valerian so I opted for a seat close to the screen, only to move the back row 20 minutes in when I was started getting seasick.  Besson’s never been a filmmaker that knows what subtle means (I mean did you SEE Lucy?) and in many ways, that’s what helps this one wind up in the Good Bad Movie category.  Laughably overlong at 137 minutes, you’ll have to be in the right frame of mind to like it but if you’re up for a nutso ride into Besson’s candy-colored brain then this is the movie for you.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Shape of Water

Synopsis: An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963.

Release Date:  December 8, 2017

Thoughts: This just shows you how much I’ve been paying attention.  I mean, I had no idea that The Shape of Water was even a thing much less that Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim) was behind the whole affair.  That being said, now that I’m aware of it I’m looking forward to it.  As usual, del Toro’s stories feel like dark fairy tales that push back at pre-conceived notions of darkness and light.  So as fans of the auteur we know it will be different and we know it will look great…but will audiences take a chance on a hard-to-pin-down flick like this?  I know I will, but del Toro’s track record has been spotty with attracting a crowd…which is too bad because he’s one of the very best filmmakers working today.  Starring Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), Michael Shannon (Midnight Special), and Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange), The Shape of Water surfaces just in time for the holidays.

Movie Review ~ Dunkirk


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Coming off of the enormous success of The Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan stumbled a bit with his next film, Interstellar.  Though far from a complete miss, the movie was a little too smart for its own good and is one of the rare Nolan films to get less interesting with subsequent viewings.  Three years later, Nolan is back in a big way with the release of Dunkirk, a superbly structured World War II adventure that almost assures a long overdue Best Director nomination is headed his way.

Instead of giving you the same old review, I’ve compiled a list of Dunkirk Do’s and Don’ts.

Do bring earplugs.  Nolan has continued his use of IMAX technology to film select scenes and with that comes a sound design that’s positively ear splitting.  Looking around the audience in several key moments I saw numerous movie-goers with their fingers in their ears yet still enraptured with the film.  Bullets whiz by with sharp zings and fighter planes streak across the sky with a sonic boom.  Your teeth will be rattling by the time the credits roll.

Don’t be late.  I’ve had some bad luck with technical problems plaguing screenings lately and the showing of Dunkirk I attended was delayed by almost a half hour due to sound issues.  When we were told that it would be another five or ten minutes before the screening would resume, many audience members (including my guests) headed for the bathroom only to have the movie start up the moment they were out the door.  That left their movie mates to quickly explain to them in loud whispers what was happening when they returned because Nolan’s script doesn’t repeat itself or explain the setting other than short title cards as the movie opens.

Do pay attention. Dunkirk is typically Nolan-esque with multiple overlapping storylines that take place at different times.  There’s three ‘pieces’ to Nolan’s puzzle, each capturing a specific stretch of time during the evacuation of British and French soldiers from a beach in Northern France.  The Mole covers a week stretch, following several young soldiers as they desperately try to escape the sand in any way possible.  The action in The Sea unspools over a day while merely an hour is the length of time The Air covers.  All three start and end at different places/times and if you aren’t fully paying attention you’ll miss the point at which they all convene.

Don’t look for star turns.  While Nolan has cast dependable actors like Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express), Mark Rylance (The BFG), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), and Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), the real stars are the young unknowns that make up the soldiers and civilians that played a part in the withdrawal of the armies from Dunkirk.  Even singer Harry Styles turns up as a tightly wound army man and acquits himself nicely as no mere bit of stunt casting.  Only Hardy could be considered a leading player as his ace airman eventually takes center stage in his storyline.  It’s unfortunate that Nolan didn’t learn from his critics in The Dark Knight Rises that bemoaned not being able to understand Hardy behind Bane’s mask.  Once again, much of Hardy’s performance in covered by an air mask, obstructing his words from coming through clearly.  The good news is that Nolan’s script is fat-free, never too speechy or preachy. So even though you can’t always understand Hardy, you aren’t missing  ton of exposition.

Do bring some kind of stress ball and clip your nails judiciously before the movie starts.  This was one of the tensest movies I’ve seen in some time…and it begins almost as soon as the first images appear onscreen.  With Hans Zimmer’s score switching back and forth between graceful and pulse-racing, the music is almost another character.  Even when nothing of note is happening, the score is always present to remind you that no one is truly safe.

Don’t miss this one on the biggest screen possible.  Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her) has lensed a staggeringly beautiful film with its overwhelming wide aerial shots of fighter pilots in action and smaller moments between soldiers hoping for a miracle trapped in the hull of a grounded boat.  Another name to mention is editor Lee Smith (The Dark Knight) who has cut Nolan’s film into a lean example of cinematic efficiency.  At 106 minutes, it’s Nolan’s shortest film to date and were it any longer it would lose valuable steam.

Do read up on the real-life story that inspired Nolan’s fictionalized screenplay.  While not a huge WWII buff, even I know that the events that happened on Dunkirk aren’t always mentioned in the same breath as other acts of heroism.  Nolan affords time to take on the perils of war but tops it all off with a message of sincerity and hope that feels justly earned by the characters and audience, considering all we’ve been through together.

In summary…Do go, Don’t delay.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Snowman

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Release Date:  October 20, 2017

Thoughts: With the popularity of Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s series of novels following Detective Harry Hole (yikes, a most unfortunate name), it was merely a matter of time before the hardened investigator appeared onscreen.  I’m intrigued to see Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) signed on to what could be yet another lucrative franchise, lately he’s seemed to be making a lot of interesting indie choices.  What could have attracted him to such commercial fare?  Probably it’s the money but maybe there’s promise in this mystery which also stars Rebecca Ferguson (Life), J.K. Simmons (The Accountant), and Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace).  A big screen adaptation of Nesbø’s novel Headhunters made for fun fare a few years back and with these procedural serial killer flick on the decline, let’s hope The Snowman doesn’t melt at the box office.