Movie Review ~ The Red Turtle

theredturtlebigblueposterimage5991

The Facts:

Synopsis: The dialogue-less film follows the major life stages of a castaway on a deserted tropical island populated by turtles, crabs and birds.

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Rated: PG

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: Nestled into a small theater on chilly Friday nursing a cup of coffee, I knew what I was in for with The Red Turtle. No dialogue, Oscar nominee, first film from Studio Ghibli that wasn’t Japanese, crafted by a small crew. Leading up to the Oscar nominations every shortlist for possible contenders mentioned this one and now having seen it myself it’s not hard at all to understand why. It’s a beautifully told piece that’s part fairy-tale, part parable, and unexpectedly moving.

Shipwrecked and waking up on a deserted island, a man struggles to acclimate himself to his new environment. We don’t know who he is, where he’s come from, or what kind of person he was before we meet him but we’re instantly rooting for him. Exploring the tropical islet, he winds up in a scene as harrowing as any live-action sequence I saw in the past year. When was the last time you felt an animated character was in physical danger…and not in a fantasy sort of way? In this brief bit of peril, writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit quickly shows what the stakes are if anything should happen to the man and how no one is there to help him.

Using bamboo and leaves, he fashions quite an impressive raft to take him back to civilization, only to have his raft capsized by an unseen force before he gets too far. Numerous attempts seem destined for success only to be dashed again and again by this great presence. Desperate, starving, and losing some will the man tries one last time and that’s when he comes face to face with the titular character. How the man winds up connecting with the turtle is best left for you to discover on your own as the tone changes from despair and uncertainty to survival and understanding.

As with most Studio Ghibli films, the animation is broad and flat which makes it look like a series of postcard images instead of one with great dimension but it’s an intensely rich film on nearly every level. There’s also a fair bit of humor to be had as well, with a family of crabs providing bits of comic relief to break up passages of time.

For a film with no dialogue, it really speaks to the heart and I can’t imagine how any words would have enhanced the thoughts and ideas brought to life by Ghibli. A beautiful score by Laurent Perez Del Mar is really all that’s needed to provoke the imagination and stir emotions. Every year the Oscars seem to locate one true animated gem that isn’t a mile a minute caper comedy or franchise blockbuster to give some variety to the category and obviously The Red Turtle is this year’s treasure.

The Red Turtle isn’t going to break any kind of box office but it’s a film I think parents will discover as time goes on and will enjoy sharing with not only their children but their friends.

Movie Review ~ The Space Between Us

space_between_us
The Facts
:

Synopsis: The first human born on Mars travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.

Stars: Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery

Director: Peter Chelsom

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: There’s going to be an easy litmus test as to how well you’ll enjoy The Space Between Us. If you can make it through the first five minutes without groaning and/or rolling your eyes than maybe, just maybe, this sci-fi adventure/teen romance will be worth your time. For everyone else, do yourself a solid and have a back-up movie prepared because as the film begins to lose all control of logic, tension, and interest the groans will just get louder and the eye rolls more strenuous.

In the vision of 2018 suggested by the movie, colonization of Mars is a reality and the first settlers are ready to blast off. Dubbed East Texas, the endeavor is the brainchild of Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and serves as a chance to not only explore life on another planet but a chance for Shepherd to live out a childhood fantasy. Unable to physically make the journey due to an illness never fully defined, Shepherd voyeuristically watches the crew blast off and tracks their movements while big wigs from NASA (including an authoritative, if bored looking, B.D. Wong, Jurassic Park) keep an eye on the progress.

Early into the trip, mission leader Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) discovers she’s pregnant but they’ve gone too far to turn back and she winds up having the baby shortly after arriving on the red planet, dying in childbirth. While the identity of the father isn’t immediately known, plenty of talking heads dub Sarah’s ‘behavior’ as inappropriate…making me wonder if the movie takes place in 2018 or 1968.

Flash forward 16 years and the baby has grown into angsty teen Gardner (Asa Butterfield, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). Aside from a ramshackle robot (a stock character right down to his Brit accent and uppity demeanor), Gardner’s only real friend is Kendra (Carla Gugino, San Andreas) an astronaut that seems to have other responsibilities but is shown only as a well-educated babysitter. In between shifts in the colony greenhouse (leading me a first to be confused if Gardner was his name or his profession), Gardner chats up a lonely foster child (Britt Robertson, The Longest Ride) who doesn’t know her internet pen pal is literally from another planet.

Finding a clip from his mother’s personal items of a man that could be his father and driven in no small part by his developing libido, with Kendra’s help Gardner is eventually brought down to Earth. However, whatever freedom he thought he would have isn’t in the cards and he becomes a science experiment kept in quarantine. In short order, Gardner stages a daring escape and tracks down Tulsa who isn’t so happy her pal ditched her for 7 months while returning home through the stars. A cross-country chase ensues with Gardner and Tulsa hilariously pursued by Kendra and Nathaniel with all the conviction of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Along the way, secrets are revealed, love blooms, and every scene is written and performed like the cliffhanger final moments of a season finale.

On the performance spectrum, the range is anywhere from passively engaged to Gary Oldman. As a teen finding his Earth legs, Butterfield gets the gangly piece down…but unfortunately, Allan Loeb’s (Collateral Beauty) script sets him up first to be an introverted orphan in search of answers before switching it up to make him a romanticized dweeb that loses key brain cells in his new environment. On Mars, he’s marveling at the deeper context of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire but on Earth he recoils in horror when he spots a horse trotting down the street. Gugino is typically dependable for a dose of grounded reality but paired with Oldman’s awkwardly earnest portrayal of a smarty-pants wunderkind, there’s no balance for either to find good footing. Also, Oldman can never decide if he’s from London or the Midwest. One moment his accent strains on the consonants and the next he’s practically demanding tea time. Robertson’s fairly one-note as a tough on the outside soft on the inside tomboy. It’s hinted she may have a talent for music but after plunking out a song on a keyboard at Sam’s Club, it’s never mentioned again.

Director Peter Chelsom doesn’t do much with the material either, moving actors and set pieces through a variety of hackneyed action sequences with little fanfare. He also isn’t able to inspire many sparks between Butterfield and Robertson, as both seem uncomfortably ill matched and kept together for the sake of the plot. Taking place in 2034, Chelsom’s spin on future living is delivered with little bells or whistles. Aside from some upgrades to personal computers and communication devices, teens still dress like hobos and no one is traveling around in flying cars.

Worth keeping your distance from, The Space Between Us was originally set for release in August and then pushed back again to December. Ostensibly, it was moved to the less busy pre-Valentine’s Day weekend with the hopes to attract some of the date night business for those unable to go for Fifty Shades Darker. Too light to stay Earthbound and too lackluster to be fueled by a mission to Mars, this misfire has no atmosphere to speak of.

Movie Review ~ Split

split_ver4
The Facts
:

Synopsis: After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.

Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I hate to say it, but M. Night Shyamalan brought it all on himself.  With a succession of movies, the writer/director (producer, cameo, etc.) introduced sophisticated ideas wrapped in a mystery to less and less fanfare.  Known more for his twist endings than the sum total of his accomplishments, the director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs began to lose himself in the inner-workings of his storytelling. Sacrificing plot, good dialogue, and characterization for that one moment, “the twist”, that would entice an audience into sticking with the film despite the absurdity of it all, it wasn’t long before Shyamalan’s name stopped being the selling point and instead became an Achilles Heel.

Laying low for a few years and producing the occasional movie or TV show, Shyamalan emerged from the shadows with 2015’s The Visit, a tight little scare fest made for a small fee which wound up doing surprisingly good business.  Showing he wasn’t entirely beholden to his twist endings (though that film did have one), good will led Shyamalan back into the conversation and it felt as if his second act in Hollywood had begun.

The first thing I’ll tell you about Shyamalan’s Split, and to keep spoilers squashed I won’t tell you much, is to do your best to go in without thinking of this as the horror film its being falsely marketed as.  True, the film boasts a few nerve jangling moments and an overall sense of dread usually reserved for films with a high body count, but I made the mistake of expecting a thrill ride when in reality Split is more like an uncomfortable Sunday drive.

A trio of girls celebrating a birthday at a local mall are abducted in the parking lot and held captive in an underground compound by a man (James McAvoy, Trance) with dissociative identity disorder (DID).  While two of the girls (Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson, both largely forgettable) plot a way of escape, the third (Anya Taylor Joy, Morgan & The Witch) takes a different approach, recognizing their captor could be manipulated depending on which of his 23 personalities they are talking to.  Time is running out, though, for several of the identities talk of a 24th personality, The Beast, that’s “on the move.”  Meanwhile, the man’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley, Carrie), disturbed by a concerning change in demeanor for her patient, attempts to lure out the new personality that’s been causing trouble.

To me there are two short films going on here with overlapping ideas that Shyamalan couldn’t quite stretch to feature length.  The first is the kidnapping plot with its increasingly desperate attempts at escape from the teenagers and the second is a film centered on the psychiatrist exploring the inner workings of DID.  Both have some value and are staged nicely by Shyamalan with tight close-ups that give the film a claustrophobic feeling but to really take on discussions of mental illness Split needed to choose which story to tell and it never can decide.

Taylor Joy’s saucer-eyes look great in a Shyamalan close-up and the actress keeps a sense of mystery along the way that’s as interesting as it is slightly creepy.  Through flashbacks we see her as a child spending time with her father and uncle; there’s something off about these memories and as the film progresses, we begin to see why.  Shyamalan throws a lot of unspoken feelings at Taylor Joy and asks her to fill in the blanks which she winds up conveying quite convincingly.

Surprisingly, it’s Buckley that nearly steals the show…though considering her storied history on stage and screen it’s not that surprising at all.  Her therapy sessions with McAvoy’s character(s) give the film it’s most crackling edge and I kept wondering if these intimately crafted scenes hadn’t originally been written for the stage.  Buckley doesn’t appear on screen as often as she should but her performance here makes you wish she would.

At the end of the day, though, this is McAvoy’s picture and he walks away with the whole kit and caboodle.  There’s such a very fine line between honest and camp when it comes to playing a character with multiple personalities but McAvoy approaches each with a level of dignity and respect.  True, there are some moments McAvoy got too actor-y for my taste but overall it’s a dynamic, full-bodied performance that goes far beyond simply changing his voice or how he holds himself.  With each new personality introduced, McAvoy seems to change appearance entirely which makes the impending arrival of the feared 24th identity even  more ominous.

Audiences familiar with Shyamalan have been well trained to prepare for a twist but my advice would be not to look too hard.  There are a few late-breaking turns that won’t come as a total surprise and one big shocker at the end you’re either going to love or hate (the audience at mine was an audible mixture of both) but Split is less concerned with fooling its audience and more interested in bringing them into the mind of trauma victims coping with their past in the present.  It’s not an entirely successful film (and at nearly two hours, a too long one at that) but it’s stuck with me just like Shyamalan’s earlier work did.

Movie Review ~ Patriots Day

1

patriots_day_ver2
The Facts
:

Synopsis: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Khandi Alexander, Melissa Benoist, Themo Melikidze

Director: Peter Berg

Rated: R

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I can still vividly remember watching the manhunt unfold back in 2013 for the two men suspected of orchestrating the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Glued to the late night breaking news, I watched as police and FBI surrounded a boat suspected to be the hiding place of the last living suspect and held my breath along with the rest of the country.  By now we know how things turned out but even going into Patriots Day with these facts, audiences are bound to be caught up once again in the true life tale of that fateful day in April and the men, women, and children whose lives were forever changed in an instant.

Based on several different sources and news accounts, Patriots Day is the second film released in 2016 surrounding a real-life event directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg.  It was only back in late September the director and star teamed up for the underseen Deepwater Horizon which was a strong collaboration after first finding success in 2013’s excellent Lone Survivor.  Berg (Battleship) and Wahlberg (The Gambler) have scored their highest marks yet with Patriots Day, an effective and authentic examination of the investigation surrounding the hours/days after the bombing.

Patriots’ Day, Boston’s state holiday to celebrate the first battles of the Revolutionary War, also marks the annual Boston Marathon and April 2013 started like any other day.  People took their time to get out of bed, kiss their loved ones, and become a spectator or participant in the race, all the while never suspecting they will become targets for two radicalized brothers striking back at perceived injustices in Afghanistan and Iraq at the hands of U.S. officials.

Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Mr. Holmes) jump around the city for the first part of the day, getting time with Wahlberg and his wife (Michelle Monaghan, Pixels), watching the Tsarnaev brothers (Alex Wolff, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Themo Melikidze) prepare for their crime, and finding moments to capture with other civilians and law enforcement officials who will become major players once the bombing occurs.  The lead-up to the devastation is taut but not fraught with clock watching tension and by the time it happens we’re a bit distracted and are caught off-guard much like everyone else was on that otherwise ordinary day.  After that, the movie takes off like a rocket as Wahlberg and his men secure the site and watch as the FBI comes in and makes their own rules.

Though populated with many real characters, Wahlberg’s Sgt. Tommy Saunders is an amalgamation of several different Boston police officers that were involved.  Wahlberg may be listed as the star but it’s not a “Mark Wahlberg Movie”, per se.  Rather, it’s an ensemble drama that seemed to go out of fashion with the disaster pictures of the ‘70s that introduces us to no less than a dozen players we’ll eventually cross paths with as the movie unfolds.

For nearly an hour, Wahlberg hovers on the periphery of the action while the likes of Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th), John Goodman (Love the Coopers), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia) are activated and enter the story.  I had forgotten many of the developments that happened during those desperate hours and learned a lot more about what happened behind the scenes as the bomb site was recreated to piece together the clues that led authorities to the brothers on that final fateful night.  For all you small bladder people out there, be sure to visit the restroom before the final act or plan on holding it for the duration because the final hour of Patriots Day is a breathless cat and mouse game between the brothers on the run and the officers sniffing out their trail.  There’s a well-staged shoot-out that rivals anything the OK Corral could throw at you and a real sense of the dangerously high stakes permeates every frame.

Wahlberg continues to carve out a better than decent track record with his performances and the Boston-bred actor invests himself totally in this role that obviously hits close to home.   The rest of the supporting players are strong but special mention should be made to those involved in two of the most successful scenes in Patriots Day.  As a student carjacked by the brothers, Jimmy O. Yang (The Internship) underplays his fear and visibly musters up the courage to break free from certain death.  Then there’s an interrogation scene between the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Melissa Benoist, The Longest Ride) and a FBI Agent (Khandi Alexander) that’s alone worth the price of admission. I don’t think I blinked during this brief but highly effective sequence.

Ending with a somber but gracious visit with the real people featured in the movie, Berg and company hit all the right notes with Patriots Day.  Like the previous two pictures they’ve made together, Berg and Wahlberg have shown a vested interest in bringing important tales of bravery/heroism to the screen with a reverential but not overly sentimental voice.

Movie Review ~ Monster Trucks

monster_trucks_ver4
The Facts
:

Synopsis: Looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into, Tripp builds a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange subterranean creature,Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend.

Stars: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Amy Ryan, Holt McCallany, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper

Director: Chris Wedge

Rated: PG

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  It’s not always the case, but when a completed movie sits on the shelf watching numerous planned release dates come and go it’s a sign something isn’t quite right.  Filmed nearly three years ago and waiting for a release date ever since, the early notices for Monster Trucks weren’t great and this silly (okay, stupid) family fare became the scapegoat for its studio (Paramount) to lay some of their money problems on.  I’m not sure how that all came about but there’s little in doubt the movie isn’t anything someone would be proud to feature on their tax returns, resume, or digital library.

Creaky from frame one, Monster Trucks shows its battle scars of reedits and reshoots loud and proud with familiar faces being introduced and then vanishing (Oscar nominee Amy Ryan pops up at the beginning and then is MIA until the epilogue, same goes for a wheelchair bound Danny Glover) or actors sporting different hairstyles and/or obvious wigs from one scene to the next.  That leaves the movie with ideas that are hard to string together, let alone follow with any kind of interest.

Teen Tripp (blank faced Lucas Till, Kristy) wants to get out of his small town and into…well, I dunno and obviously neither does the movie because Tripp is painted as someone that doesn’t know what he wants, but it sure isn’t what’s standing right in front of him.  Pined after by a sweet classmate (Jane Levy, Don’t Breathe), he’s a loner grease monkey more at home in the junkyard where he works than in school or at home.  His mom has married the local sheriff (Barry Pepper, The Lone Ranger, sporting lips so purple as to suggest a serious lack of oxygen) and his loser dad (Frank Whaley, Ironweed) is out of the picture working for a local oil company.

It’s at the drill site for the oil company where three creatures escape when the evil CEO (Rob Lowe, Sex Tape, oilier than the crude his company peddles) ignores environmental warnings of digging too deep.  Two “monsters” are captured but the third finds his way into Tripp’s life and fixer-upper roadster.  Going over what happens next isn’t worth my time or yours, but know that Tripp’s new friend Creech somehow becomes part of the car and improves the life (and gas mileage) for its young owner.

Directed by Chris Wedge, Monster Trucks is a very lame attempt at catering to a specific audience who are already wise enough to know there are better options out there.  Whether it be from its long gestation or problematic production process, no one seems to be invested in the film and that goes double for the special effects team.  I’ve seen better effects in a Hot Wheels commercial and at least those are around 30 seconds.  At 100 minutes, Monster Trucks is the kind of roadkill material audiences of all ages are wise to avoid.

Movie Review ~ Live by Night

live_by_night_ver2
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the completion and the Klu Klux Klan.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Anthony Michael Hall

Director: Ben Affleck

Rated: R

Running Length: 128 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not going to go into the strange vitriol directed at March’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice but will say that had Live by Night received a larger release in 2016, it would have been the second most mis-understood Ben Affleck film of the year.

There’s going to be a lot of people that don’t like this movie and maybe for good reason.  It’s an uneven throwback picture that feels comfortable in its gangster era trappings and broadly drawn characters several tiny degrees removed from Dick Tracy-esque caricatures.  It has about twelve endings with only the first three being the least bit satisfying and its director/star traipses around in an array of unintentionally humorous XXL zoot suits and wide brimmed fedoras locking lips with two very different broads.  Pushing the limits of two hours, it’s slow (but steady) and a far cry from the slow burn films Affleck has directed previously.

So why the moderately high score, you may ask?  Gosh…I just liked it…flaws and all.  I’m a big believer in just going with your gut and not letting films like these stew too long in the brain.  My advice would be to catch Live by Night when you’re in a forgiving mood and aren’t looking to have your socks totally knocked off.  Had Affleck (Gone Girl) not directed as well as starred in this and had it arrived three or four years ago this might have gone down a bit better because the expectations wouldn’t be quite so high.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (an author Affleck has adapted before in Gone Baby Gone), it’s a relatively straight-forward tale of a Depression era small-time crook lured by love into a war between an Irish gangster and an Italian Mafioso.  Overseeing a rum-running business during Prohibition, Affleck balances making his boss a mountain of cash while plotting revenge on his enemy for a betrayal years earlier.  Oh…and there’s a minor subplot involving the KKK that feels judiciously lifted from another Lehane tome.

With its big budget and handsome production, there’s little question the movie should have been better but what’s there isn’t anything to cry over, either.  Affleck doesn’t quite have the emotional well the role calls for but he gives it, as usual, his best effort.  It’s Chris Messina (Cake), with fuzzy eyebrows and gnarled up teeth as Affleck’s short fused sidekick, that kept me wondering how the movie would have been had Messina been given the chance to star.  Alas, from all accounts this was Affleck’s passion project and we’re too far along into the picture when we realize the casting snafu.

The supporting cast fares better than our leading man, though.  Brendan Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) finds several nice moments as Affleck’s law enforcing father and as Affleck’s love interest, Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furance) feels like an equal match to her partner.  Chris Cooper (The Company You Keep) and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) are father and daughter, and while both eventually find some focus they struggle mightily with the tone of the picture for most of the film.  Surprisingly, it’s Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) that leaves the most lasting impact…but I’m not totally convinced it wasn’t her robust Irish brogue or her unnerving porcelain doll make-up in her final scene that caused her to remain so prominent in my memory.

Bound to come and go with so many other films for grown-ups building on the strong word of mouth this one isn’t destined to gather, Live by Night may be a minor infraction on Affleck’s so far so good resume but it’s not a totally wasted effort.

2016 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

962749453_b577b6e9cbbc8fa9


Well hello there!  

So here we are about to start the SIXTH year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2016.  In all honesty, by the time it came to make this list things became a bit of a jumble and I decided to choose the movies that I had the strongest reaction to when I saw them.  I don’t revisit movies often but anything in the Top 5 are films that I’d add to my collection.  

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month/year and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)


coollogo_com-1993827

5. Zootopia – no one, least of all me, was thinking Zootopia was going to be any kind of blockbuster at the box office but this intelligent and riotously funny entry from Disney animation hit a perfect bullseye.  Equally entertaining for adults as it is for children, it has your typical Disney moral but it’s disguised cleverly in a plot that encourages parents to have a deeper discussion with their children on the ride home. From a DMV run by sloths and a running joke parodying The Godfather, I don’t think I laughed harder (or longer) in any movie this year.

4. Sing Street – as he’s shown in his previous films Once and Begin Again, director John Carney knows how to seamlessly weave music and story together to form a not-quite musical but not-quite non-musical feature. For me, this is his best effort yet.  Focusing on a merry ragamuffin band of teens in Dublin during the 1980s, Sing Street wore its heart on its sleeve and won me over nearly from the start.  The songs are wonderful (much better than the ones in Moana or La La Land, in my opinion) and the performances warmly winning. This got completely ignored during its theatrical run but I have a good feeling it will have a long life once people find it on streaming/on-demand services.

3. Pete’s Dragon – oh boy was I NOT looking forward to this remake.  The original was a nostalgic personal favorite of mine but, let’s be honest, was no classic.  Still, I just couldn’t fathom why or how Disney would redo Pete’s Dragon when there are new movies to be made.  Turns out this is one reimagining that managed to respect the past while making its own path…and what a wonderfully moving path it was.  Buoyed by director David Lowery’s sensitive script and across the board excellent performances, all these months later I still remember the unmitigated joy this one brought me.

2. Manchester By the Sea/Moonlight – I’m cheating, I know but I just couldn’t decide between the two.  Though both movies couldn’t be more different (culturally, at the very least) they shared an uncanny understanding of human nature and emotion few films can grasp.  Manchester’s tale of a troubled man called back to his hometown to take care of his nearly orphaned-nephew forced to face his demons is chock full of superlatives: performances, script, direction, ambiance.  Moonlight’s triptic of the life of a black man coming to terms with his sexuality and rising above the pain of his past is representative of the bold, staggering filmmaking all films should aspire to. There’s good reason both movies are going toe-to-toe in end of the year awards talk as each film leaves a lasting impression resonating in your heart and mind.

1. The Nice Guys – I don’t remember the last time a movie ended and I wanted a sequel immediately. Though I’m sure The Nice Guys wasn’t imagined as a franchise starter and its meager box office might not inspire its studio to fund another entry, I’m praying for another two hours to spend with these characters.  A mystery set in 1970s California, the movie starts with a bang and rarely takes a breath as it piles on dead bodies, twists, and turns.  Chemistry in movies is so important and no one nailed it better in 2016 than Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe who seemed like they’d been working together forever.  Writer/director Shane Black created the Lethal Weapon series…maybe The Nice Guys could follow suit?  Pretty please?

Honorable Mentions: A Monster Calls, Jackie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eye in the Sky, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Invitation, The Meddler, The Shallows, Kubo and the Two Strings, Green Room

coollogo_com-203301273

5. The Divergent Series: Allegiant – unwisely split into two movies, this third entry in the Divergent series was so bad and performed so poorly, the second half is now likely to skip theaters and go straight to video.  If I had my druthers, they’d just stop now and let this agonizingly awful series fade from memory. With terrible effects and even worse performances, this series has always been a rip-off of The Hunger Games but with this chapter it comes off like a parody of itself…and no one is laughing. Titanically terrible.

4. Suicide Squad – in all honesty, I was more than half-hoping Suicide Squad would be the movie that helped DC Comics get their footing back after the critical drubbing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice took earlier in the year (for the record, BvS:DoJ wasn’t a bad movie at all…so there).  Sadly, Suicide Squad isn’t just more of the same…it manages to somehow be even worse.  All sound and fury that yields literally nothing, it’s got a strong cast and talented director whose vision was clearly neutered by the studio. An extended edition of this was released on video but I’m not sure how anyone could have fixed what was never whole to begin with.  A waste of time, resources, talent, and air.

3. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – funny that in 2012 Jack Reacher was on my list of favorite films and this turd of a sequel nearly made it to the top of my worst of the year report.  This seven-car pile-up of an action film broke the box office winning streak of Tom Cruise and with good reason. There’s literally nothing commendable or recommendable about Cruise’s second go ‘round as the titular character.  I have carpet squares more talented than Cruise’s co-star, Cobie Smulders, and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t any better. Painfully trite and exceedingly dull, I was looking for the exit before the opening credits were complete.

2. Mother’s Day – Director Garry Marshall died shortly after this movie was released.  That should tell you something.

1. The Bronze – supposedly this film was a huge hit at various film festivals, inspiring a bidding war between independent studios but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The most singularly repulsive film I saw in 2016 earns that honor by having zero redeeming qualities or likable characters, least of all Melissa Rauch’s one-joke (told badly) lead performance.  Rauch co-wrote the film with her husband and both should be fined somehow, someway for this crime against black comedies.  I don’t walk out of films ever but if someone were to have granted me a free pass to leave any film this past year, I would have grabbed my golden ticket less than fifteen minutes into The Bronze.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: London Has Fallen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Inferno, Rules Don’t Apply, Anomalisa

coollogo_com-251051185

Most Misunderstood: The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Despite it’s big stars, this remake of The Magnificent Seven failed to catch on with audiences or critics and I’m still scratching my head as to why.  A respectable Western that takes its time to carve out some otherwise stock characters should be celebrated instead of dinged for being too slow.  I actually enjoyed the pace of director Antoine Fuqua’s ensemble guns and guys gathering and if nothing else it’s a worthwhile experience just to see the normally stoic Denzel Washington loosen up a bit and have some fun.  It’s not as criminally misunderstood as previous choices but I was bummed out this one didn’t go further.
Honorable Mention: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2015: The Choice – I’ve been burned and bored by many Nicholas Sparks films over the years so I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get a look-see at The Choice.  Not featuring any big names and arriving with little fanfare, this turned out to be surprisingly strong and maybe the best adaptation since The Notebook.  True, it follows the Sparks pattern without deviation but I was taken with the characters and soaked up the beautiful location filming.  I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll revisit this one and feel differently than I do now, but for the time being I’ll give the film its due and say that I went in thinking I’d hate it but came out more than decently pleased with what I saw.
Honorable Mention: The Boss

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should

Captain Fantastic

Circle

Holding the Man

Housebound

I Smile Back

Imperium

Jenny’s Wedding

Kristy

Short Term 12

Tallulah

The Invitation (2015)

The Wave (Bølgen)

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2016
Total Movies Seen in the Theater96
Total Movies Seen at Home212
Grand Total for 2016 (not counting films seen multiple times)305
Where I Saw the Most Movies – Showplace Icon (48!)

Movie Review ~ Swiss Army Man

swiss_army_man_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: A hopeless man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Bound to be remembered as “that movie where Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse” than for all its inherent creativity, I’ve actually been suggesting Swiss Army Man to people with that same flatulent logline.  This is the type of movie that doesn’t have much of an impact when released in theaters but is bound to find its audience through streaming and home rentals.  Starring Paul Dano (Prisoners) and Radcliffe (What If), the flight of fancy with a morbid streak is a never predictable tiny gem that shines nicely once you get past some hard edges.

Dano stars as a man who opens the film literally at the end of his rope.  An island castaway with no hope for survival, he’s about to take proactive action on his fate before nature does when he sees the body of a young man (Radcliffe) wash ashore.  Using the gaseous corpse as a jet-ski (stay with me here), Dano hitches a ride on the body thus beginning his quest to find a way home.  This leads to an adventure through the wild and showcases the relationship between the living and the dead, finally arriving at a poignant conclusion that feels well-earned.  Co-starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a fantasy girl from Dano’s past, Swiss Army Man is an elaborately designed film that shows how far directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (aka The Daniels) can go with a small budget.  Worth letting ‘er rip and taking a chance on.

Movie Review ~ Assassin’s Creed

assassins_creed_ver3
The Facts
:

Synopsis: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane Labed

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Let’s get this out of the way at the outset.  I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed nor did I have the faintest clue what the big screen adaptation was about when I cozied myself up in a warm theater for the 10am screening.  Maybe it was the early showtime or maybe not having any pre-conceived notions helped because I quite enjoyed this futuristic historical adventure with a hard edge.

Used to be when an A-List actor took a role in a video game adaptation, it signaled a career that had run its course but Assassin’s Creed proves to be a rare unicorn.  Featuring a host of Oscar winners and nominees, I was worried the film would reek of actors slumming for a paycheck but turns out they all bring a much needed gravitas to the proceedings.  Basically, they classed up the joint.  Re-teaming with his Macbeth stars, director Justin Kurzel makes good use of Michael Fassbender’s (Prometheus) dark side and nicely exploits Marion Cotillard’s (Two Days, One Night) air of mystery to keep you off balance surrounding the motivations of the central characters.

Fassbender is a death-row convict whose execution is faked by Cotillard in order to bring him to her next-generation laboratory in Spain.  There’s some mumbo-jumbo about the Knights Templar and a fabled Apple of Eden that holds the key to the nature of evil but it’s all a way to get Fassbender into Cotillard’s machine that takes his DNA and pulls up the memories of his ancestors and allows him to relive the past.  As part of the memories of his Assassins society days, Fassbender is plunged into a conspiracy where his life hangs in the balance in both the past and the present while mankind’s future is up for grabs if he achieves his goal.

The ideas in Michael Leslie, Bill Cooper, and Adam Cooper’s screenplay are loftier than one might imagine considering the source material.  Jeremy Irons (Beautiful Creatures) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) are Templar elders anxiously awaiting Fassbender’s find and both have fun (but not too much) with some nicely droll line readings.  The cast is rounded out by reliable character actors and an international cast of foes and friends working to either help or hinder Fassbender’s efforts.  Aside from the seemingly never-ending supply of bad guys to kill (in appropriately PG-13 non-bloody fashion), this doesn’t have the typical video game look that has weighed down similar movies.  For that, I am most grateful.

Unfortunately bound to get lost in a holiday season with bigger fish to fry (why didn’t this get a late January or February release?), Assassin’s Creed is better than it should be and more entertaining that I felt it would be.  Kurzel has now shown in two movies that he can get real dark real fast and the finale of Assassin’s Creed is a bold stroke of confidence that I hope pays off.

Movie Review ~ Jackie

1

jackie-poster
The Facts
:

Synopsis: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudup, Max Casella

Director: Pablo Larraín

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I’ve found that the mention of the Kennedy clan is, at this point in American culture, met with either exhaustion or adulation.  Countless documentaries have been made over the years and it seems like a new and noteworthy book finds its way to shelves every other month.  That doesn’t even count the movies.  So, suffice it to say, the woes of the Kennedy’s are known and easily accessible to anyone that cares to investigate further.

So why Jackie and why now?  We’ve seen the first lady portrayed on screens big and small (and even on stage in a one-woman show) but we’ve never seen it quite like this before.  Taking a page from recent biopics that focus on one small window of time in the life of a historical figure, Jackie is an exceedingly engaging film that welcomes us to stare and gawk at the tragedy that changed the direction of our nation.

Jumping back and forth and around and through the events leading up to Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas and its aftermath, Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay pulls the attention away from the president to focus on Jackie herself and how her grief revealed a woman bolder and stronger than even her closest allies realized.  Chilean director Pablo Larraín may be an out of the box choice for this American as apple pie film but perhaps being un-enamored with the legendary Kennedy family was needed to tell this tale with such uprightness.

As Jackie, Natalie Portman (Thor: The Dark World) gives the performance of her career and gets my vote for Best Actress of 2016 for the way she buries herself in the role.  The funny thing is, you always know it’s Portman but you see and hear Jackie through and through.  I was worried that her pronounced Kennedy accent would be a distraction and, honestly, it is but mostly because no one else in the cast rises to the same level of technicality in their work.  Even so, the performance is bravely honest when it shows Jackie at her most brusquely direct and emotionally powerful when she lets her guard down and her sorrow bleeds through. Here is a woman that knew the power of media (visual and print) and made a point to stay in the public eye in the days after the assassination so no one would forget the price she and her children paid.  Though Portman is featured in gorgeous costumes and is always pristine (even when covered in blood), the performance lacks any kind of vanity.  Truly exceptional work is on display here.

With a leading role sketched with such skill, the supporting characters need to be on point too and for the most part Jackie’s support staff get the job done.  Greta Gerwig (Mistress America) is nicely understated as a White House staffer/confidant, Billy Crudup (Spotlight) plays a fictionalized reporter Oppenheim uses as a framing device and serves as the voice of the people, and John Hurt (Only Lovers Left Alive) turns up late in the film as a priest attending to Jackie’s questions of faith.  The only major disappointment is Peter Sarsgaard (The Magnificent Seven) sonorously taking on Bobby Kennedy with neither the accent, looks, or charm that is profoundly needed.  Sarsgaard sticks out like a sore, unconvincing thumb…especially in scenes featuring him with Jackie and JFK.

Along with Madeline Fontaine’s glorious costumes and Jean Rabasse’s beautifully articulate production design, Mica Levi (Under the Skin) has composed a most unusual and original score that you’re either going to love or hate.  Nearly always conveying a mood that is opposite to what is happening on screen, it gives another layer of depth to feature film about a family possessing public vs private personas that often are in competition with each other.

Audiences going to see another recreation of JFK’s assassination or conspiracy surrounding it are advised to steer clear as Jackie is about the woman behind the president and the storm she weathered behind closed White House doors while she remained strong in public for a nation in mourning