Movie Review ~ Loving Vincent


The Facts
:

Synopsis: In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist’s final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.

Stars: Helen McCrory, Saoirse Ronan, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Chris O’Dowd, Douglas Booth

Director: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. For months now, I’d been hearing critics sing the praises of Loving Vincent and proclaiming it to be a sure-fire nominee for Best Animated Feature Academy Award and a front-runner for taking home the big award on Oscar night. Yet I resisted seeing it for all this time, nearly getting cold feet again when it popped up at my local second-run movie theater. Could a film that is entirely hand-painted in the style of Vincent van Gogh keep me interested (and awake) for 94 minutes?

Oh yes. Oh boy, yes.

A true work of art, Loving Vincent is a Polish-British production and is the world’s first fully painted feature film. A vibrant mix of colors and ideas, it’s not a straight biopic of the Dutch-born painter who was posthumously proclaimed to be the father of modern Expressionism but a look back at his last few months as seen through the eyes of those that knew him. Van Gogh’s own portraits inspire many of the characters in directors Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman’s film and while the story may not hold up in court as entirely factual, the tale it tells is absorbing and enthralling.

A little over a year after van Gogh’s death by self-inflicted gunshot, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth, Noah), the son of a postmaster (Chris O’Dowd, The Sapphires) who was friendly with van Gogh, is tasked with delivering the painter’s final letter to his brother, Theo. This begins a journey that takes him to the small village of Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris where a mystery about van Gogh’s final days begins to unfold. Through recollections by various townsfolk that are relayed in stark black and white, Armand starts to piece together what led the painter who long struggled with depression to take his own life in a most unusual manner. Will the doctor (Jerome Flynn) who treated him and became his friend provide any insight? What about the doctor’s prim daughter (Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird) or their upright housekeeper (Helen McCrory, Skyfall)? Then there’s the boatman (Aidan Turner, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) and a proprietress (Eleanor Tomlinson, Jack the Giant Slayer) of a local hotel where van Gogh took his last breath. All provide valuable clues that propel Armand further into needing to know the truth.

Over 100 artists worked on this film and it’s really a spectacular sight to behold. Everything in the past seems to have been created with a charcoal hue while the present proceedings jump off the screen with van Gogh’s famed thick layers of oil and paint. Even when nothing is moving on screen the film still seems to have a life of its own as the colors and hues change to give more depth. It’s highly imaginative and not the least bit the tough on the eyes watch I feared it may be.

With all due respect to Pixar’s Coco (which is a landmark achievement of its own), Loving Vincent surely represents the best animation had to offer in 2017. The Oscar should go to the film that pushed the boundaries the most and gave audiences something they’ve never seen before. The craft on display here is unparalleled and worthy of taking home the prize when all is said and done. Loving Vincent is currently playing in select theaters but is also available to rent/buy on streaming services and in physical DVD/BluRay. Check it out – it will be money well spent.

Movie Review ~ Molly’s Game


The Facts
:

Synopsis: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Rachel Skarsten

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Rated: R

Running Length: 140 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: There’s some good fun to be had in Molly’s Game, a true story based on the bestselling novel that’s been adapted by award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin…but sadly the good time doesn’t last.  It’s not that Bloom’s life isn’t a fascinating character study because her rise and fall tale is so outrageous it’s hard to believe it’s all true.  There’s value in seeing a woman rightfully taking a piece of the pie in a traditionally male fronted field but under Sorkin’s sleepy eye as a first-time director he can’t find the same type of balance that’s propelled his previous screenplays into first-class features.

It’s easy to see what drew Sorkin and his star Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) to this project.  Bloom was a former skier on her way to the Olympics tragically sidelined by a freak accident just as she was coming into her own.  Having trained her whole life for this pinnacle, she’s untethered without much to fall back on.  Her father (Kevin Costner, Man of Steel) always pushed her but never truly supported her and by the time she winds up crashing on the couch of a friend in Los Angeles, Bloom isn’t sure where her life is headed.

Making ends meet by waitressing and running bottle service in a popular LA hotspot, she connects with a man that offers her an office job.  This day job turns into a lucrative gig hosting weekly poker tournaments for the very rich and very famous in the backroom of a unassuming bar.  Building relationships and getting on the job training with each passing hand, Bloom makes the leap to running her own ritzy poker game and that’s when she realizes how high stakes her cash flow business has become.  Running afoul of a famous actor (a nicely nasty Michael Cera, This is The End) looking to profit off of her hard work, she moves the game to NYC all the while keeping things on the up and up.

Forced into making an illegal choice in order to protect her bottom line, Bloom loses everything and then gets arrested by the FBI in their crackdown of a gambling ring she was involved with that, unbeknownst to her, had mafia ties.  Enlisting the aid of a defense attorney (Idris Elba, Prometheus) she doesn’t entirely trust, Bloom has to decide whether to tell the FBI all she knows and avoid jail or keep her secrets safe and pay further penalties for decisions that weren’t entirely hers to make.

Sorkin’s dialogue is, as expected, laser sharp and barbed with the best of intentions.  He knows his way around a tricky turn of phrase and his script is filled with his trademark quick wit.  If only it had also been populated with real characters.  Save for Bloom (aided by Chastain’s fierce performance), all of the supporting players feel like alien creations of people pretending to be human.  It’s fine when one character has a sharp comeback or humorous exposition but when each and every person is battling to be the smartest in the room it all starts to get muddy.

Elba is usually a slam dunk in movies but here Sorkin has cast him as a caustic man trying to play a father figure to Bloom as well as his own daughter that he regularly assigns reading material to.  Instead of being a lawyer passing judgement on his client, Sorkin has him upbraiding her for her actions like she’s being reprimanded like a child and that feels a bit icky.  Same goes for Costner as Bloom’s real father, a typically Costner-esque creation that’s cool to the touch and rather unlovable.  He shows up again late in the film for a sequence that was so strange in its composition I kept waiting for it to be revealed it’s all in Bloom’s imagination.

The good news is that Sorkin has finally done something he hasn’t been great at before…writing for a woman.  His male-heavy scrips for television and film have also felt like they were deliberately excluding the fairer sex so perhaps Molly’s Game was a chance for him to challenge himself.  Working with Chastain helps a great deal, even if the movie could have been tightened by a full 20 minutes if the aforementioned Costner scene had been trimmed and other flashbacks excised.

A decent hand of adult entertainment for those not ready to commit to the history lesson of Darkest Hour, the pitch-black comedy of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, or those that find their screening of The Post is sold out, Molly’s Game might be created by a one-eyed Jack but it’s ruled by a commanding queen.

Movie Review ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

miss_peregrines_home_for_peculiar_children_ver16

The Facts:

Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Kim Dickens, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd

Director: Tim Burton

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: For some time now, I’ve been looking for director Tim Burton. Not that he was lost in any back-of-the-milk-carton sort of way but the filmmaker that kicked off his career with supremely surreal oddities and favored practical (read: expensive) sets gradually morphed into a director that saw the world only in CGI possibilities. His movies became eyesores, with audiences not only straining to keep their eyes focused but their minds too.

Last represented in cinemas with 2014’s disappointingly stale Big Eyes, Burton has finally found a project that feels like a throwback to his early work with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs, when it was announced that Burton had signed on to direct I remember thinking what a perfect marriage this was. The novel was a curious eccentricity in and of itself, inspired by old-time pictures of unexplained human phenomena Riggs had collected through the years and then fashioned a story around. Looking at these pictures now, they seem like snaps Burton himself art-directed.

Though Jane Goldman (X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Woman in Black) made some alterations in her screenplay (namely swapping the ‘peculiarities’ of two children), it arrives on screen mostly the way Riggs originally laid it out. Young Jacob (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) travels to Wales to learn more about his grandfather (Terence Stamp) who died under mysterious circumstances. Looking for the orphanage featured prominently in his grandfather’s cautionary bedtime stories, Jacob finds himself traveling through time and meeting up with Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, reteaming with her Dark Shadows director) and her charges.

The headmistress and children all have special talents that attract the attention of other power hungry peculiars with a fondness for extracting and consuming the eyes of their prey. While Jacob is learning more about the life his grandfather never explained to him and becoming enamored with a girl that’s literally light as air (Ella Purnell, Maleficent), peril is in store as a predatory leader (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight) arrives with a hefty appetite. It all culminates in an effects heavy third act that disappointingly jumps through time and space with little regard for plot coherence.

Were it not for this dreary misstep, Miss Peregrine might be filed higher up in the Burton canon seeing that the rest of the film is chock full of unexpected flights of fancy. Green seems to be having a ball and not just because she’s decked out in some typically impressive Colleen Atwood (Into the Woods) costumes. Her body movements and line delivery are razor sharp without ever careening into camp territory. Butterfield makes for an impressive hero and the various children create personalities that go beyond their idiosyncrasies. I would have preferred someone other than Jackson as the main heavy as he doesn’t quite get the tone everyone else is going for and Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) is barely there as Jacob’s bird watching father. I get the impression Judi Dench (Skyfall) and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) signed up as a personal favor, neither have much to do or work with which is saying something for the two cracker-jack scene stealers.

Like the best of Burton’s oeuvre, it scores the most points by embracing the peculiar and like the worst it stumbles when it becomes less about the performances and more about the special effects. Still, aside from Burton’s feature length remake of his short film Frankenweenie, it’s an improvement over much of his output over the past decade.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

miss_peregrines_home_for_peculiar_children

Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Release Date:  September 30, 2016

Thoughts: Usually when you see a preview of an upcoming Tim Burton film you have to squint hard to see the calling cards of the director that gave us more than a few memorable movie moments.  Now favoring creating CGI worlds instead of practical sets (I get it, it’s less expensive…and less impressive), the director comes back from the disappointing drama of Big Eyes with this adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs.  Re-teaming with Eva Green, his Dark Shadows leading lady, Burton seems like the perfect fit for this piece and I was certainly enticed to see more after this long-ish tease.  Still six months from theaters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children could be a fine return to form for Burton if he resists going overboard on the CGI landscapes.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Program

program_ver2

Synopsis: An Irish sports journalist becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong’s performances during the Tour de France victories are fueled by banned substances. With this conviction, he starts hunting for evidence that will expose Armstrong.

Release Date:  TBD 2015

Thoughts: Boy, do people hate Lance Armstrong.  And with good reason.  The disgraced former champion cyclist famously used performance enhancing drugs during his career and employed various methods of deceiving the standardized tests to keep him racing.  The deception was tragically documented in the 2013 documentary The Armstrong Lie, putting to film Armstrong’s very public fall from grace.

Now director Stephen Frears (Philomena) is heading up John Hodge’s (Trance) dramatization of Armstrong’s career and the investigation that ultimately proved what so many suspected for years.  As Armstrong, Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) looks a heckuva lot like Armstrong and he’s joined by Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) as the journalist that made it his mission to uncover the truth.  With supporting work from Dustin Hoffman (Boychoir) and Lee Pace (Lincoln), I’m hoping The Program is more than just another (deserved) jab at Armstrong.

The Silver Bullet ~ St. Vincent

st_vincent

Synopsis: A young boy whose parents just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic, war veteran who lives next door.

Release Date: October 24, 2014

Thoughts: When are they going to stop trying to remake As Good as It Gets? Did they learn nothing from, oh, the title of that movie? Earlier this year we were subjected to the heinous And So It Goes and now comes St. Vincent which looks an awful lot like it’s going down the same road. Admittedly, the grumpy old man shtick of Bill Murray (The Monuments Men, Hyde Park on Hudson) has worn thin on me so I’m not maybe not the most unbiased at first glance…but if his performance is a good as I’ve heard it is I’m willing to let him get one more in before busting him on it forever more. I’m also pretty gun-shy where Melissa McCarthy is concerned after being burned by The Heat and set ablaze by the agony that was Tammy. First time director Theodore Melfi brings his own script to the screen and it must be pretty darn good for Murray to have taken part in it. Final verdict is always reserved for later…but my devil horns are already on for St. Vincent.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Calvary

calvary_ver2

Synopsis: After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.

Release Date:  August 1, 2014

Thoughts: Brendan Gleeson is an actor that hasn’t ever truly gotten his just-due in Hollywood.  Yes, he’s known as a dependable character actor with his gruff exterior and ability to play menacing or benign with a mere flick of his eye but often he’s on the sidelines, supporting the work of others.  In 2014 Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow, The Raven) gets his time to shine in Calvary and The Grand Seduction, and while I’ve seen the slight but pleasant Seduction I’m more interested in what sort of film Calvary will wind up being.  You’d never know the film is being released as a black comedy in the poster above after watching the the trailer below…and that’s OK with me because it makes the film more intriguing to seek out so I can make up my own mind.  With supporting characters Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires), Kelly Reilly (Flight), and Aiden Gillen (The Dark Knight Rises) joining Gleeson in the confessional, this is one I’m looking forward to.

The Silver Bullet ~ Cuban Fury

cuban_fury

Synopsis: A former salsa prodigy attempts a comeback years after his career was ruined.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts:  Reminding me of a movie I may have seen in the mid 90’s when Euro comedy imports were all the rage, Cuban Fury looks as harmless as all of those other films…and just as skippable.  Though stars Nick Frost (The World’s End) and Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) will probably make this a few notches better than the rest, overall I can’t see this picture becoming the kind of sleeper hit like Strictly Ballroom or The Full Monty were back in the day.  On the other hand, never underestimate the power of a feel good picture of the underdog getting its day…if the release is timed right Cuban Fury could be the very thing audiences will respond kindly to after a season of heavy Oscar material.

Movie Review ~ The Sapphires

sapphires_ver4

The Facts:

Synopsis: It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam.

Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell

Director: Wayne Blair

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Make no doubt about it; The Sapphires is a movie with a mission.  It’s a film that wants so badly to appease its audience and appeal to the masses that it sacrifices some chances to let a more honest story develop.  What the film does have is a healthy dose of charm that helps propel the movie to a viewing experience that’s nigh-joyful if not completely memorable as the days go by.

In 1968, three Aboriginal sisters from the Australian Outback team up with their cousin to form The Sapphires, a girl group managed by Dave Lovelace (O’Dowd, Bridesmaids).  Together, the five travel to Vietnam to perform for the troops, face old feuds, and discover themselves in a country torn apart by war.

A true life tale adapted from a stage play penned as a tribute to relatives of the author, The Sapphires transitions easily to the screen with the help of director Blair and screenwriter Tony Briggs.  Original cast member Mailman was a wise choice to bring along for the film version because she brings an earthy realness as the eldest sister that takes on a mother hen tough love role for the group.  There’s a barely there subplot about some family turmoil but the film excels when it’s focused on the rise of the group from singing in local bars to belting out R&B tunes of the day to soldiers on the front lines.

In addition to Mailman there’s fine work from Australian Idol finalist Mauboy as the youngest sister with the best voice and biggest attitude.  Tapsell is a hoot as the sister that never gets her way while Sebbens is less effective in an underwritten role.  That leaves O’Dowd who many critics credit with giving the film its best shot at mainstream appeal.  I don’t think O’Dowd is a noticeable enough star to pack ‘em in but his game performance is very appealing.  Like Bridesmaids, I think he benefits greatly from having a confident female in a leading role for him to play off of – I didn’t find much chemistry between O’Dowd and Mailman though the movie tries it damndest to create some sort of spark.

The musical numbers are staged well making the film not simply Dreamgirls Down Under and several moments create the kind of giddy excitement that doesn’t come around much in film these days.  Yet underneath it all is a manipulative presence suggesting the film is gung-ho about having its cake and eating it too.  It’s smaller budget make some of the Vietnam sequences look fairly fake and I liked the film most when it was exploring the origins of The Sapphires and utilizing some local color for a reality check.

The Sapphires swept the Australian version of the Oscars this year, winning 11 of its 12 nominations and becoming one of the biggest box office hits of the year.  While the film has struggled to find an audience outside of Australia, the Weinstein Company (who, as Miramax, had a nice run of Australian imports like Muriel’s Wedding in the mid 90’s) is throwing some cash behind it to see if it can catch fire here as well.  It’s an enjoyable film and one I wanted to root for but with its predictable contrivances it falls just shy of being the crowd-pleasing home run it so wants to be.  Going along with the baseball metaphor, let’s call this one a base hit…maybe a double if you factor in some strong performances.