The Silver Bullet ~ Midsommar



Synopsis
: What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.

Release Date: July 3, 2019

Thoughts: Horror movies are always a bit divisive between elitist critics and populist cinephiles but 2018’s Hereditary managed to unite them almost universally.  It took me a second watch to truly appreciate what writer/director Ari Aster was going for and even then I still had issues with the finale.  That aside, I’m looking forward to Aster’s next summer screen scare, Midsommar and from the looks of this second trailer audiences are in for another squirmy ride through some very freaky goings-on.  I like that the film is set completely in the daylight, giving Aster and his actors little room to hide – I just hope this time the ending can live up to everything that has come before.

Movie Review ~ On the Basis of Sex


The Facts
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Synopsis: The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and what she had to overcome in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Stars: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Sam Waterston, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates, Jack Reynor

Director: Mimi Leder

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  It seems that the ‘80s and ‘90s were the great heyday of the inspirational biopic.  These films all followed a similar formula, charting the genesis of a famous figure from history through key points in their lives.  Rarely did they tell us things that couldn’t be found by picking up a book written on the subject but there was a certain gauzy quaintness to them that felt comforting.  Actors taking on these famous names often were showered with awards (it’s largely where the term Oscar-bait came from) but when the blueprint became passé, filmmakers had to find new angles in their storytelling. Aside from a few brief flashes (Get on Up, for example) the old-school biopic machine has been shut-down.

I’d love to be able to report that On the Basis of Sex, found an interesting way to bring Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story to the big screen but it’s stuck conforming to the mold of a straightforward retelling of specific moments in the history of a pioneering woman in the legal system.  Though it wisely narrows its focus to a dozen or so years in her early career, it still misses the mark in letting us see deeper into how the Brooklyn-born Ginsburg laid the early groundwork for a career that would see her elected to the Supreme Court and become an unlikely cultural icon.

Entering Harvard Law School in 1956 along with eight other women, Ruth (Felcity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) recognizes she has an uphill battle from the beginning when the Dean of students (Sam Waterston, Miss Sloane) asks her at a formal dinner why she feels she deserved a spot at the respected school that could have been taken by a man.  It’s the first of many misogynistic situations she’ll encounter throughout the ensuing decades as she attempts to join a law firm but barely can get in the door simply because she’s a woman.  Supported by her husband Martin (Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name) in every endeavor, Ruth accepts a position as a professor of law at Rutgers and it’s there in 1970 when she comes across a case that will change the course of her career.

Working with the ACLU to combat a sex discrimination case against a man in Denver, CO, Ruth sees this as an opportunity to address the larger issue of numerous laws that are set-up to discriminate against women.  If she can prove that the man was discriminated against, it would help to put into record a new precedent that could be used to rewrite other laws that do not support the equality of women.  Though dogged at every step by the defense attorneys (Stephen Root, Life of the Party and Jack Reynor, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and even at times by her own friend within the ACLU (Justin Theroux, Bumblebee), Ruth soldiers on with the knowledge that the goal of impartiality between the sexes is worthy of the struggle.  Kathy Bates (The Boss) cameos in two scenes as famed lawyer Dorothy Kenyon – I would have liked to see her one more time.

I’m sure it was a benefit to the validity of the facts of the film knowing that On the Basis of Sex was written by Ruth’s nephew Daniel Stiepleman (and that she approved of the finished product will likely make future family gatherings tension-free) but one wonders what someone with less close ties to Ginsburg could have done with the material.  Ruth certainly isn’t shown without flaws but there’s an emotional guardedness to the movie that was unexpected.  I never quite warmed to any of the characters, even when they were supposedly giving inspirational speeches that were meant to elicit cheers.  The most impactful moment of the movie is it’s final shot (which I won’t spoil) but there needed to be more of these moments sprinkled along the way.

Originally set to star Natalie Portman as RBG, when the project took too long to get off the ground she departed and Oscar-nominee Jones joined the cast.  I liked her portrayal of RBG for the most part though the performance ultimately suffers from that aforementioned walled-off emotion the script doesn’t seem to want to grant any of the characters.  Her accent is a bit half-baked and she doesn’t quite look like RBG but it’s close enough to do the trick.  After playing the supportive wife in The Theory of Everything, it was nice to see the roles flipped and for her to have someone in her corner while she charted her own course.  Hammer is always a tad on the milquetoast side but this is the rare time when that passive quietness works in his favor.

Director Mimi Leder has put forth a well-executed period film that is technically sound and hums along nicely for two hours.  The audience I saw this with broke out into huge applause at the end and I saw some wiping away tears as we left so clearly it’s landed emotionally the way everyone had intended.  If I’m being honest, it lost me in some of the legal jargon at times, especially in the third act and I wish more time was spent on Ruth’s life between graduating Harvard and taking up her landmark case.  However, it’s clear there was only so much story to tell and Stiepleman was attentive to what he felt were the important details.  Those looking for a bigger picture view of the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (myself included) will likely want to check out the documentary RBG that was also released this year.

Movie Review ~ Macbeth

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Everyone has their favorite Shakespeare play (or they should) and while I’ve always gravitated toward the comedies more than the tragedies, if I had to pick one of his darker works I’d go with Macbeth without much hesitation. There’s something so sinister about the plot, something so overtly wicked about it that it has kept me interested in whatever iteration is released.  I’ve seen it on film, and onstage as a play and an opera and it’s malicious deeds always give me the chills.

There have been several screen adaptation of Macbeth over the years (as well as some clever twists on it, see Scotland, PA for a fun one) and they’ve all made their own mark.  Justin Kurzel’s 2015 Macbeth is the shortest adaptation so far, truncating Shakespeare’s prose down to its barest core and taking some liberties with the action that may have purists sharpening their knives.

While watching the film, I was decadently disengaged.  I went in thinking I would instantly love it, especially considering the leads were cast with two of my favorite actors working today.  Yet throughout the two hours I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the proceedings like I expected to.  It usually takes me a few minutes to acclimate to Shakespeare’s dialogue but I struggled mightily, even knowing the play fairly well.  Artfully made and shrewdly performed, it didn’t grab me.

Then I had some time to think about the film and slowly but surely I realized just how effective the piece was.  It’s not your typical Macbeth adaptation and more’s the better for it.  Sure, it’s been slashed to smithereens but what Kurzel cuts he makes up for with imagery and imagination that fill in the gaps for us.

I’d always considered Macbeth more of a pawn to his wife’s ambition but Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) plays the Thane of Scotland as conflicted yet not contrite.  He may have needed the initial push from his significant other but once he gets going he finds that he can’t stop his mission to rise to power.  In typical Fassbender form, it’s an all-in approach that gives the character fearsome depth and calculated strength.

Equal to (and possible besting) her co-star, Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) takes on the famous role of Lady Macbeth and chooses to add anxiety into her ambitious ways.  Her urging her husband to commit heinous acts comes from a survival instinct…but she realizes too late the machine she’s helped start will bring about their downfall instead of their ascension.  Cotillard has a thrilling monologue late in the film that’s simply shot but complex in its delivery.

The rest of the cast has to take whatever remnants screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso have left of their roles, with Sean Harris (Prometheus, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) getting the most out of his turn as Macduff.  Good cracks from Paddy Considine (The World’s End), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a most minor appearance from Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) round out the supporting players.

Not everyone will love this Macbeth…I sure didn’t when it was happening in front of me.  However, taking the time to ponder it in the hours/days after I found that my appreciation for the work only grew.  It wasn’t what I expected and that wound up working in its favor.

The Silver Bullet ~ A Royal Night Out

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Synopsis: On V.E. Day in 1945, as peace extends across Europe, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are allowed out to join the celebrations. It is a night full of excitement, danger and the first flutters of romance.

Release Date: US Release TBA 2015

Thoughts: A little fun never hurt no one, right? Truth be told, A Royal Night Out looks like pure cheeky Brit froth but that doesn’t mean it should be totally written off. This period-set mix of historical drama and comedic revisionism feels like it could play as a nice palate cleanser after years of sitting through so many stodgy tales of the monarchy. Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold, Enemy) looks an awful lot like the future Queen of England (and a young Helen Mirren who’s played her too) and it’s always nice to see Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything) and Rupert Everett. I was recently impressed with Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and think her take on Princess Margaret looks like a daffy delight. I interviewed Jack Reynor when Transformers: Age of Extinction came out so I’ll be interested to see him in this as well.

Movie Review ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, T.J. Miller, Han Geng, Titus Welliver, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, Robert Foxworth, Reno Wilson

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 165 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Check out my interview with stars Jack Reynor & Nicola Peltz here

Review: In the days that have passed since taking in Transformers: Age of Extinction I’ve been slightly amused by all the critics flapping their gums about how big, dumb, loud, and long director Michael Bay’s fourth film in the Transformers franchise is. My response to that is: What else were you expecting? I mean, if the series had shifted to the hands of a new director as was originally rumored, I could see some validity in the outcry that the series truly was just fodder for deafening explosions and nonsensical action sequences.

This is Michael Bay we’re talking about here and he’s delivered exactly what he was hired to do. Now, I’m not saying that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the kind of movie you should get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars for because it only barely passes the litmus test of summer blockbuster. I’m just asking that you consider the franchise in question as well as considering the director behind the camera.

If I tell you that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the best of the series so far I’d imagine you’d take that with a grain of salt because the first three were so tremendously dumb that they’d make instructional videos on sealing an envelope look like NASA training material. Featuring the increasingly unlikable Shia LeBeouf and a parade of actors culled from the covers of GQ and Maxim magazines, the original trilogy were all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This fourth film seeks to reboot the franchise…or at least take it in a new direction. Major points are given off the bat for jettisoning LeBeouf and the walking mannequins in favor of, well, similar looking actors that always appear to be fresh from the gym and tanning beds. That they are all a notable improvement over any of the previous cast members should say something significant about the casting department over at Paramount.

Though you may scoff at Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor) playing a goofy Texas inventor that obviously spends an equal amount of time lifting weights as submitting patents, the actor acquits himself nicely by rising above Ehren Kruger’s willy-nilly script and applying the appropriate amount of muscle in tandem with a surprising pep in his step. This may be Wahlberg’s most big budget, high-profile film to date and even if he winds up being another chess piece in Michael Bay’s endgame, he comes out mostly unscathed.

Though they aren’t technically replacing anyone, Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) and Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) are obviously filling in for the archetypes vacated by LeBeouf and Megan Fox. It’s nice to report that both are engaging presences and that spunky Peltz is given way more to do than Reynor’s rally car driver whose character seems to only be good at shifting gears at the right moment. Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer) pops up with another character in his canon that’s more about the outer appearance than anything going on under the skin. Too much time is spent with Tucci, just another way the film manages to waste quite a lot of the early momentum it builds.

Pacing has never really been of much concern to Bay (nor is his ongoing rampant misogyny) but here he really needed to let go of at least 45 minutes of material. The film has so many endings culminating in one of the longest finales I’ve ever witnessed outside of when I still watched American Idol. Compounded with the deafening sound design and above average use of 3D effects audiences will most likely be seen exiting the theater nearly comatose from overstimulation.

While most critics are giving Bay crap about the film, I’d like to publicly state that I found his previous film (Pain & Gain) to be even more of a punishing experience…and that film didn’t even have Dinobots! Look, Transformers has always been and will always be a series made up of a lot of hollow parts. Transformers: Age of Extinction doesn’t add any meat to the bones of the franchise but it’s a helluva lot better than its predecessors and delivers true bang for your buck.

Just please…don’t ask it to be something it’s not.

Q & A: Nicola Peltz & Jack Reynor from Transformers: Age of Extinction

Anytime a new face pops up in a long running franchise there’s bound to be some raised eyebrows and a slightly standoffish nature between the audience and the newbie to see how well they’re going to fit in.  Though the Transformers series has historically not been all that concerned with the human actors onscreen, previous stars Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox undoubtedly earned Hollywood clout for their work in the series…though both had highly publicized fallouts with either their director (Fox) or studio heads (LeBeouf, who didn’t make nice with Dreamworks honcho Steven Spielberg) that put a damper on their future with the series. Fox was replaced after the second film and LeBeouf didn’t continue on after the last installment.

When the time came for the inevitable fourth entry (Transformers: Age of Extinction, out June 27) and not having an established series regular to move on with, director Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (the US remake of The Ring) chose a different direction.  They haven’t necessarily hit the reboot button or scrapped the established mythology of the previous three films but instead have shifted the focus forward in time, allowing a whole new cast of characters to be introduced.

The star of the film is Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor) but I recently had a chance to sit down with fresh faces Nicola Peltz (star of TV’s Bates Motel) and Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) for a Q & A to get their thoughts on coming into an established series, some favorite moments, and what they bring to the table.  With a friendly poise and down to earth air surrounding them, it appears that Peltz and Reynor won’t merely be LeBeouf and Fox 2.0.

Q: Transformers is a beloved series.  Did you feel any pressure to live up to what it has become as a franchise?
Nicola Peltz: Well we’re playing different characters and not replacing anyone.  So there’s no pressure to live up anyone that’s come before us.  Living in a house with brothers obsessed with Transformers, being a huge fan of the series myself, and also growing up a fan of Michael Bay just being able to audition was a big thing. Then getting on set and working with such talented people was so exciting for me.

Q: What’s at stake for your characters in this film?  What do your characters stand to lose if they fail?
NP:  Our lives!  (laughs)  These are normal, relatable people put into a crazy situation.  In the film I get separated from my dad and being a 17 year old girl that’s pretty scary.  To not be with her dad and in this situation is intimidating and she’s scared she could lose her life.  Also, she has to worry about the lives of her family and boyfriend.
Jack Reynor: My character is a young Irish guy who’s landed in Texas and has an incredible ability to race rally cars.  It gives him confidence in himself and gives him the ability to assume his position in that world.  Throughout the course of the film he’s just trying to find his place, prove who he is, and what he’s worth.  At the same time, his relationship with Nicola’s character helps her become more independent and grow in a very healthy way.

Q: Nicola, with a lot of strong female leads in entertainment and film today, does your character Tessa continue that trend? The Transformers series has been known to be more of a guy film so what do you think will bring the female audiences in to see this?
NP: Well, I grew up with six brothers so I was always into the guy movies and action films.  But Tessa is really relatable to a lot of girls: her dad is overprotective and is in a no-dating household so I get all of that.  She’s a tough girl and I think that a lot of girls will be really into it…I know I am.  Did I sell you? (laughs)
You’ll see at the beginning of the film that she lives a normal life before she’s thrust into an extraordinary situation.  She’s definitely a tough girl having been raised on a farm.  She does get her but kicked a lot…A LOT.  But she has her moments.
JR: I think she’s a bit more of a badass than any of the other franchises around at the moment. She’s less the sensitive wilting flower and more of a badass.  She’s going out with an Irish race car driver (Reynor’s character) so she better be…

Q: What scene did you enjoy shooting the most?
NP: Well, Jack and I have the same favorite scene.  If you’ve seen the trailer there’s a shot of Mark, Jack, and myself running through this huge explosion.  That was real and we found out about four minutes we got on set.  We had no idea.  We get on set and see all these explosives and twelve cameras and were like, ‘What is going on?”  Michael (Bay) does like to add random scenes so we were very confused.  He tells us ‘You’re going to have to run from here to here in 4.6 seconds, okay?  And don’t mess it up because we can only do it once.” We had a practice run and then we just did it…it was so exciting because your adrenaline is going crazy.

Q: Jack, coming off of independent films like What Richard Did and Macbeth, can you talk about the differences between doing small budget films and such a monumental blockbuster film like Transformers: Age of Extinction?
JR: Well, for me at least independent films and a film like Transformers are not all that different in terms of my approach to a character and a performance.  You still have to try your best to suspend your disbelief and draw on your imagination and emotions.  You invoke certain thoughts for yourself to invest in your character.  The real difference is with a movie of this budget and scale there’s so many more people around all the time. The effects are so heavy and the wait time between shots is substantially longer.  People ask the question all the time “What’s it like to star opposite a giant imaginary robot” and I think that it’s not so different from any other film you try to do…and it’s just an extension of that.  With Mark (Wahlberg), Michael (Bay), Stanley (Tucci) and others on set they’ve taught us how to relate to the industry and how the industry relates to us.  Which is an important thing to learn at this stage in our careers.

Q: Transformers: Age of Extinction is a much different animal than the work you’ve done in the past.  Have you found that your life has changed with the added exposure that comes from being in the fourth Transformers movie?
NP: No, my life not at all.  I still walk around and no one really cares.
JR: For both of us on a personal level, things haven’t changed an awful lot as of yet.  I’m from Ireland so everyone back home is excited that an Irish guy is part of a massive franchise like this.  We don’t have Irish characters in movies like this ever, it’s the first time we’ve seen an Irish guy as part of a large supporting role in a film like this.  That’s a really great thing.
In our professional lives, both of us have noticed that we’re in a position now that we can potentially finance projects we want to make ourselves and we have a lot more freedom/leeway in what we want to do.  It’s afforded us a lot of opportunities in the industry and we’re both trying to take full advantage of that.

Q: In an interview with IndieLondon magazine, Mark Wahlberg was quoted as saying that with the release of the film “Jack and Nicola’s lives are going to change quite a bit when it comes out. And that’s something that you’re either going to be able to deal with or it’s going to become a problem.”  We’ve heard you mention in interviews what a hard-working professional Wahlberg is but can you speak specifically as to his influences on you as a mentor/father figure as you enter huge celebrity?
JR: Mark really led from the front.  To be able to observe him in that environment was something very beneficial to us both.  It helped us develop a healthy work ethic in this industry.  At the end of the day, it’s about your own individual experience in the industry and the kind of person you are and what you want for yourself.  There are a lot of people our age in the industry that I perceive are in it for the wrong reasons…there in it for a profile, for fame, for the self-glorification of it all.  That’s certainly not why Nicola or I are in this business.  We’re both here to create characters and relate things that are important for society and to make fun movies.  Movies that help people transcend the issues in their lives…even for two hours.  When it comes to how we’ll relate to our rising profiles, we’re both very grounded people and we have great support groups in our friends and families.  I live in Dublin and I’m not going to leave.  I’ll carry on my life as normally as I can.  This is one part of my life but there’s a lot more in my life than this that I have to give just as much time to, if not more.
NP: The people you surround yourself with are really really important.  My mom is always telling if I ever get out of line, or I start getting upset when things don’t go my way, or if I lose the joy in it she’ll pull the plug on acting.  When you have a passion for acting like I do, you tend you ignore the external aspects.  Celebrities lose their privacy but there are worse things going on in the world than that.  We’re so lucky that we get to do what we love to do.
JR: I’m uncomfortable with the word and label celebrity…
NP: I’m saying that you see celebrities that lose their privacy and get upset.  I can understand that, for sure, but there are definitely other worse things going on in the world.
JR: At the end of the day, celebrity is not something Nicola or I are interested in chasing down.  It’s about being actors first and foremost.  That’s where our love is and our passion for the industry lies.  As long as that remains important to us we’ll be fine and I think we’ll be quite successful.   Once you lose sight of that and why you got into the industry in the first place that’s when the trouble starts.  Hopefully Nicola and I will be supported enough and grounded enough in ourselves that it won’t be an issue we have to face.

The Silver Bullet ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots and Decepticons – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Release Date:  June 27, 2014

Thoughts: Since the filmmakers behind the Transformers series seem to have hit the soft reset button, I figure I can do the same on wiping out the memory of the previous three films that have been box office hits but were  hollow as the cheap chocolate bunny I always get at Easter.  With a new star on board (Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor,  Contraband) and no sign of stinkers Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, I’m hoping that the fourth entry about those shape shifting alien robots will be more than just a big budget excuse for director Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) to level cities and showboat with his camera.  

MN FANS!

Nicola Peltz & Jack Reynor, stars of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, will be at Mall of America on Sunday, June 8th at 2pm!  Nicola & Jack will show clips from the film, sign autographs, & answer questions from fans!  Visit mallofamerica.com for more information.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved.  As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history…while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs.  With help from a new cast of humans (led by Mark Wahlberg), Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet.  In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world.  TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION in theaters June 27.

Website:  www.TransformersMovie.com