Synopsis: James Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading the former MI6 agent onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear
Review: So…here we are. After a long, very long, extremely long, wait…the new 007 film has arrived. It’s also the last time Daniel Craig will don the James Bond suits, drive the fancy cars, and play with the cool gadgets, so it’s understandable why the producers and studio behind No Time to Die kept firm with their decision to push back the release date over and over again so audiences could only experience this important chapter in theaters. This, after the movie was initially delayed on its way to the screen because of a departing director (Oscar-winner Danny Boyle left after disagreements on how the story should go), cast injuries, and damage to the filming studio. For a time, it looked like James Bond would NOT return, to riff on the famous last words at the end of each previous films’ closing credits. A release date was finally locked in but then…pandemic.
All that is behind us because the movie is arriving and now the question for the viewer will likely be two-fold. 1) was it worth the wait and 2) is it a fulfilling sequel? For me, as a life-long Bond fan and with a certain affinity for most of this last cycle of Bond movies with Craig as the star I will tell you what I responded when both the studio and my friend asked me what I thought. To me, when the 163-minute No Time to Die was over I felt like I had eaten a nine-course meal of my favorite dishes and then topped it off with an extra dessert. After something so huge, you need time to digest so I was happy to have over a week to think more about it. Craig’s tenure as Bond has had its highs (Skyfall, Casino Royale) and lows (Quantum of Solace, Spectre) and I would place No Time to Die smack dab in the center of them all, leaning strongly toward high praise for the elegant way it manages to close this part of what has already been a long adventure.
For the first time, a James Bond opening begins in the past and doesn’t even feature Bond at all. This intro becomes a key piece in action and location later in the movie and is but the beginning of the longest pre-credit sequence in any Bond film yet. By the time Daniel Kleinman’s haunting opening credit sequence pays over Billie Eilish’s spine-tingling title track (I originally found this song to be slow and boring but, in the context of the movie, the tone and purpose make it near perfect), retired 00-agent Bond and his love Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, The Grand Budapest Hotel) have faced down a vicious attack in Southern Italy and in the process revealed certain secrets from the past that have come back to snap at both of their hearts. Five years later, Bond is alone in Jamaica when he is visited by both his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, The Good Dinosaur) from the CIA and an MI6 agent (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel) who has been assigned his 007 number in the field. Both are interested in Bond getting involved with Project Heracles, a chemical weapon that has been stolen by a rogue villain. The CIA wants Bond’s help, 007 wants him to stay out of her way.
Bond can’t help but be curious and when he travels to Cuba to investigate, he’s teamed with new CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas, reuniting with her Knives Outco-star Craig) to infiltrate a secret SPECTRE party where they find an old friend has been keeping a watchful eye over them all. The deeper Bond seeks the truth, the more he finds that Project Heracles has ties not just to his old foe Ernst Blofeld but to a new enemy, Safin (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody), as well as Madeleine. And all three are about to re-enter his life in a big way…with a number of surprises yet to come.
As is usually the case, there are a stable of screenwriters credited for this 25th Bond film but it doesn’t feel slap-a-dash or story by committee. Aside from usual suspects Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) contributed to the final script, and it’s widely known that Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to punch up some of the dialogue and give the film some humor. Hold that wince if you are thinking there’s an extra dose of comedy that’s been shaken and stirred…yes there is more of a sense of humor to the proceedings, but they are small touches here and there which result in the characters feeling more fleshed out than anything.
It’s great to see the players back in action, from Ben Whishaw’s (Cloud Atlas) tech-guy Q to Naomie Harris’s (Rampage) Moneypenny. I’m glad the writers gave Ralph Fiennes (Dolittle) as M a bit more depth this time around because in Spectre there seemed to be a bit of stunted growth after being introduced so nicely in Skyfall. (Note, make sure to keep your eyes open for a scene where M is sitting in a portrait gallery and observe the paintings – it’s just one of several nice touches that callback not just to other Craig films, but all the way back to the beginning.) Waltz (Big Eyes) had his chance in the previous film to make an impression and he was sort of just…Waltz. There’s little more to elaborate on than that. Of the new crop, Lynch has the best success in a role that feels like a good step forward for the series but, like Halle Berry’s Jinx who played opposite Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, the character becomes a second thought once Bond decides to get back in on the action. Per usual, I’m not entirely sure what Malek is up to in performance or accent but it’s one of the weaker villains in the Bond franchise…yet he has one of the deadliest lairs. The appeal of Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods) is totally lost on me. So, there’s that.
Fans have been waiting eons for Bond to return and he’s come back with a high-wire epic that delivers maximum bang for your buck. It’s a hefty movie with a generous run time so be prepared to settle in and I’d advise skipping any/all bathroom breaks so you don’t miss any action. Things change on a dime in the life of a secret agent and despite the constant aural reminder of another title tune from an older Bond film, you do not have all the time in the world to take it in. When the stakes are this high, there’s no time to wait for No Time to Die.
Synopsis: Eddie Brock tries to reignite his career in journalism by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the alien symbiote spawn of Venom, named Carnage.
Stars: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Reid Scott, Peggy Lu
Director: Andy Serkis
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: If you’ve been a long-time reader (thank you!) you know that I like to include a small plot synopsis in The Facts section of my review to get some of the nitty gritty details out of the way. I hate just spending ¾ of the review rehashing the story and, to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, I give it a good scrub first to make sure nothing major is given away. Usually, it’s easy to find a summary either through an official studio press release or some other internet source and often I must trim it way down. Only rarely do I run into problems like I did with Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Try as I might, there was only the briefest description of the sequel to the 2018 film out there, basically saying “This is a sequel where the main character comes back.” I scrolled through several pages looking, and this was even after the movie had screened for critics. There was no place that had a sliver of a plot description available.
This should give you some idea of the problems inherent in the follow-up film to the surprisingly divisive original which found star Tom Hardy having quite the identity crisis as an investigative reporter infected with an alien from another planet. Hardy’s performance was the true revelation of Venom, softening an actor known for punishing roles into a more malleable bit of clay. Thankfully, that sense of fun carries over into this sequel (Hardy is credited as a producer and creating the story, along with Cruellascreenwriter Kelly Marcel) but not a lot of it makes much sense, eventually turning into a mishmash of goopy special effects and hammy performances from actors unsuccessfully trying supervillainy on for size.
With his career as a hard-news journalist dwindling, Eddie Brock (Hardy, This Means War) is called to death row by special request of convicted killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me). The police hope Kasady is ready to reveal the location of his victims, but Kasady just plans to toy with the media again, hoping a coded message finds its way to his girlfriend Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris, Skyfall) who has been locked away in a sound-proof chamber in the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane. Brock has Venom on his side, though, and he spots clues in Kasady’s cell which leads Brock to break the story wide open and solve the remainder of his crimes, allowing the state to proceed with executing the serial murderer. Before they can lethally inject him though, Kasady manages to become infected with his own symbiote after biting Brock in an altercation. As Kasady becomes Carnage, he quickly frees himself and Barris to begin a murderous rampage through the city and it’s up to Brock and Venom, two sides of the same coin locked in an ever-present battle of the wills, to stop them.
Taking over from previous director Ruben Fleischer, Andy Serkis (Breathe) knows a thing or two about actors conveying a performance through a computer-generated creation so it’s no surprise that the scenes where Brock is fully Venom (and even when the two are simply talking back and forth) land with a greater ease here. It’s not just a stronger familiarity with the character, there’s a different understanding Hardy seems to have with his relationship with Venom and while the theories of bromance or even real romance are endless, the two are absolutely the yin to each other’s yang. Harrelson doesn’t succeed as well but, then again, he doesn’t quite feel like he’s as committed to anything in the movie as much as Hardy is.
At 90 minutes, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is 22 minutes shorter than the original and the last fifteen minutes are chock full of action excitement, the kind you buy your popcorn for and get excited to witness. The rest of the time leading up to that is sort of bewildering and I’m halfway convinced the film lost a huge chunk in the editing process to keep things moving along. Why else would there be such little character development for the Barrison character apart from her having a profound scream? Harris wouldn’t bounce from being Oscar nominated to a Bond movie to this secondary, cut-rate character. No, something was definitely omitted, and her role suffered because of that. Audiences suffer too because Serkis is so concerned about getting to the action that anything that isn’t nailed down gets completely missed.
I also would be willing to put money down that we hit the accelerator to get to Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) that much faster. As it is, Williams fans might be nervously tapping their foot around the 40-minute mark when the previous leading lady hadn’t shown up yet. Even then, one wonders if she’s there for good or just fulfilling her sequel requirements. (Have no fear, she’s more than participatory later.) Aside from Williams absence at the front part of the movie, it’s hampered by some weird technical choices…like dubbing in Harrelson and Harris over the voices of younger actors playing them as teens. Are we supposed to think a 17-year sounds like 60-year-old Harrelson? Voices change over time…audiences will track who these characters are. It’s just another sign of lousy editing that this dubbing occurred. Someone along the way felt like the film moved too quickly to the adult actors and viewers wouldn’t get the connection and there was no footage that explained it well enough, so the older voices were used.
As sequels go, Venom: Let There Be Carnage will likely please the fans of the original that craved another round with the wise-cracking, gallows-humor of the titular alien and if you stay through the closing credits, you’ll see why Marvel Studios would want to keep this character going just a tad bit longer. I’m hoping if there is a third appearance by Hardy and company that it’s does the proverbial job of charming me because so far, it’s just passing muster when it should be slam dunking it. The star is invested…now get a booster shot and make the rest of the Venom world feel right.
Synopsis: Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
Release Date: April 8, 2020
Thoughts: Fans of James Bond have had to wait a little longer than usual for the 25th adventure of the international spy…but at this point we should be counting our blessings No Time to Die is arriving at all. Star Daniel Craig (Skyfall) famously had become a bit grumpy with playing the role and it took some convincing for him to return to finish off his contract and it’s now been confirmed this will be his last outing as Bond. When Craig finally signed on, the film went through several directors, which further pushed back its release date. Script problems, onset injuries, and other maladies surrounding the production continued to delay Bond’s return.
Thankfully, this first look at No Time to Die appears to find Bond back in fighting form with the five-year gap between Spectre and this film hopefully worth the wait. Plot details are thin but we know recent Oscar-winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) is the villain and Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out) have been added to the cast as strong females Bond has to contend with. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who was behind season 1 of HBO’s True Detective and with a script punched up by Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Solo: A Star Wars Story), my excitement for this one was already brewing but now the heat is definitely starting to rise.
Synopsis: A primatologist shares an unshakable bond with a silverback gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry mutates this gentle ape into a raging creature of enormous size.
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, P.J. Byrne, Marley Shelton, Breanne Hill, Jack Quaid, Matt Gerald, Jason Liles, Demetrius Grosse, Will Yun Lee
Director: Brad Peyton
Running Length: 107 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: We’re at an interesting point in 2018. After emerging from the stuffy cloud of more serious minded Oscar-y fare, we had a January and early February that stirred little interest. Then Black Panther hit and became the kind of audience-uniting game changer we often have to wait far into the year for. With studio hits like Ready Player One and A Quiet Placemaking bank as well good business being drummed up for indie films such as Isle of Dogs and Chappaquiddick, there was a little something to please everyone if you chose to buy a ticket.
Now along comes Rampage and it seems like we’re all going to have to pick a side again. You’re either going to go along for its silly but entertaining ride or you’ll spend an unusually brisk 107 minutes counting the seconds until your escape. I’m of the mind that you don’t necessarily need to lower your expectations to like what Rampage has to offer, you just have to go in with the right frame of mind. If you do, there’s a good popcorn movie waiting for you.
Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve played the popular video game that inspired this film that I had forgotten nearly everything about it. What I did remember is spending quite a few quarters to keep the game going, even when it was clearly a futile attempt by an average arcade gamer like myself. It doesn’t really matter how familiar you are with the game, though, because aside from a few key characters and several winking nods to its source material it’s largely a modernized take on the game. Still, fans of the classic monsters should get a kick out of how they are incorporated into the action.
Opening in space with an action sequence that could have been the finale of a previous film, a scientist (Marley Shelton, Decoding Annie Parker) is frantically trying to return to earth with an experimental gene-splicing gas while being hunted by a genetically modified lab rat exposed to the pathogen. Without giving too much away, three of the canisters fall to earth and infect a wolf in Wyoming, an alligator from the Everglades, and an albino gorilla named George living in a California wildlife sanctuary. Lucky for us that the gorilla’s handler is the buff and brainy Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and he’s pretty protective of his ape pal.
While Davis works with geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris, Skyfall) and twangy government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding), a brother and sister (Jake Lacy, Love the Coopers and Malin Ackerman, Rock of Ages) in charge of a Chicago-based bio-engineering initiative (known as Project Rampage) activate a beacon meant to lure the creatures to the heart of the city. A cross-country race ensues as Davis and his crew tries to beat the beasts to their destination while seeking a cure to restore the otherwise kind hearted George to his former self.
If you can’t tell already, the movie is incredibly bonkers but credit should be given to director Brad Peyton (reteaming with Johnson for a third time after San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) for getting the right team assembled for this Rampage. Working with four (!!) screenwriters, there’s a bit more meat to the plot bones and I was grateful that the eye-rolling dialogue is kept to a bare minimum. Sure, there are some big plot holes and your brain should be stowed under your seat for the duration of the flight but I found myself more than a little entertained at the various thrills on display.
Few actors today have the “It” factor that made so many stars in the heyday of Hollywood but with each new film released Johnson is proving himself to possess the power of “It”. His good-natured demeanor translates nicely into action superstar when needed and an early career tendency to oversell a line of dialogue has all but vanished. He’s a true A-Lister and I’ve a feeling most people will be lining up for Rampage based solely on his presence alone…and those people will definitely get their money’s worth.
Harris received an Oscar nomination last year for her understated work in Moonlight but she gleefully jumps feet first into this lighter material. While Morgan is the most cartoony of the bunch as a secret agent initially set-up as an antagonist to Johnson, he wisely stops chewing the scenery long enough to let the monsters take center stage. As a smug villainess, cool as ice Ackerman is part of a great visual comeuppance while Lacy is terribly miscast as a nervous sidekick to his more take-charge sister.
Unlike the dull sameness of the monsters in Pacific Rim: Uprising, Rampage has a smaller but more engaging stable of fiends to threaten our main characters. The main beasts are fantastically rendered, from the more realistic George to the zonked out wackiness of the wolf and alligator, both morphing into nightmarish creatures that plow through crowds and buildings in the final act.
There’s quite a few nice action sequences leading up to the battle royale that takes up the last ¼ of the film but I just wish the preview hadn’t revealed quite so much. I won’t get into specifics but there are several great scenes that don’t play as strongly if you’ve seen the trailer more than once. It’s not often a disaster film destroys a less internationally recognizable city like Chicago but having just visited several days before I saw Rampage, it was fun to see some familiar landmarks topple.
Movies adapted from video games often get bad raps, often with just cause (see the recent Tomb Raider for proof) but Rampage has more than a few secret weapons. With Johnson as committed as ever, a plucky ensemble cast of humans and digital monsters, above average CGI effects, and more jump scares and thrills than you might expect going in, you’re not likely to be in a rage when Rampage is over. Just go in with the right attitude, I beg of you.
Synopsis: When a successful New York ad executive suffers a personal tragedy and retreats from life, his friends devise a drastic plan to reach him before he loses everything.
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Thoughts: The last time Will Smith appeared in a movie with fantasy elements it was Winter’s Tale…so Collateral Beauty can only be an improvement, right? One would hope. With its roster of A-list leading players, I can see this holiday release from director David Frankel (Hope Springs) going one of two ways: it’ll end up a mawkish tear grabber or find itself a sentimental favorite eliciting the “happy tears” that may just equal good box office returns. The trailer straddles that fence already, revealing a twist of whimsy that’s either going to draw you into its web or make you run for the nearest theater playing an Oscar-bait period drama set in the Congo during the Renaissance. Along with Smith (Suicide Squad), we have Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold), Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method), Kate Winslet (Triple 9), Edward Norton (Sausage Party), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), and Michael Peña (End of Watch).
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Zolani Mkiva, Jamie Bartlett, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Deon Lotz, Terry Pheto
Director: Justin Chadwick
Running Length: 139 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: I suppose it’s worth it to admit that I wasn’t very well versed in the life story of Nelson Mandela before I saw this film at the 2013 Twin Cities Film Fest. Though I was aware peripherally of his imprisonment for 27 years and his rise to power as President of South Africa, I didn’t have the knowledge of his journey before he was jailed and what moved the man to become a voice of his people.
Though portions of Mandela’s life have been committed to film before (2009’s snoozer Invictus and 2011’s barely released and badly received Winnie, among others), no film had truly gone into detail on the man who led a nation out of apartheid. After taking in this biopic adapted by William Nicholson (Les Misérables) from Mandela’s own autobiography I’m not sure the full story has been told, or could be told, on the life of a great leader.
It could be that the life of Mandela (who died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95) was just too big to be confined to one film and perhaps two separate movies were warranted to really get to the heart of the man. Though director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) does a good job of keeping several large pieces in play the film does have the tendency to get away from all involved which can leave the audience coughing up dust as years fly by in rapid succession. More than a few times I lost track of the timeline, relying only on the impressive age make-up to help pinpoint where in Mandela’s life we were.
The entire film rests on the shoulders of British actor Idris Elba (Prometheus, Pacific Rim) and the actor disappears fully into the character even though he rarely, if ever, resembles Mandela. It says something about the strength of a performance if an actor can convince you they are playing a real life historical figure without bearing much resemblance to said person. (For the other end of the spectrum look at Tom Hanks’s off the mark performance as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks). Elba is aided by having Mandela’s speaking voice down pat and some very fine prosthetic make-up but he doesn’t rely on either, um, either. Elba continues to be one of the more underrated actors working in Hollywood today and I’m waiting for the actor to truly get his big break. The strength of his performance here is akin to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, that is to say he’s giving a great performance in what amounts to an average film.
Giving great support to Elba is Naomie Harris (Skyfall) as Winnie Mandela. The film is best when Elba and Harris are on screen together and we can watch how the two were initially attracted to each other and how their political beliefs eventually drove them apart. Thankfully, the film doesn’t get sidelined with any sort of love story angle but it succeeds in giving equal time to Winnie’s own struggles during the time that Mandela was imprisoned.
At 139 minutes, the movie doesn’t feel long but comes up short with content that fails to go any deeper than anything you could have read in a book or an online resource. It all felt very book report-ish rather than plumbing the depths of a true biopic of a man with many layers. Mandela’s early years are given short shrift in favor of a more politic heavy final three quarters and I found myself wanting to know more about his family and origins because these tend to be the parts of a life that are least reported on.
When all is said and done the film is worth a watch for the performances of Elba and Harris and the chance to learn more about Mandela himself during his later years…but viewers looking for an in-depth look at Mandela’s life as a whole will be left wanting more.
Review: The release of the 23rd Bond feature film inspired me to take a look back at the 22 films that have come before it. Starting with the 1962 of release of Dr. No and continuing on through the 2012’s Skyfall, audiences around the world have come to know, trust, and count on James Bond to show up on Her Majesty’s secret service to get the job done. Though the faces of Bond have changed over the years and the man himself has gone through some character development, one thing remains true…this is a gentleman who loves his country, his women, and his martini’s shaken not stirred.
Now, as the franchise celebrates its 50th Anniversary, a Bond adventure has been crafted that surpasses every expectation one could have and reaches levels I’m not sure anyone involved could have ever imagined or hoped to reach. It’s as close to a perfectly made action film as I’ve seen in my years of going to the movies, one that will hold appeal to those well acquainted with 007 and those that are just starting out. Skyfall is, in my opinion, the best James Bond movie ever produced.
Bold statement, right? Well…let me try to explain it the best way I can – and know that this review is going to be spoiler free so as not to ruin the experience for you. The less said about the scope of the picture the better because one of the key ingredients to its success is the not knowing what’s lurking around the corner for Bond, M, and his colleagues at MI6.
I can’t go further into this review without mentioning a few new faces behind the camera for Skyfall. New director Mendes draws on his theatrical background to help his cast dig deeper than ever before in service to the dynamite story/script provided by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and exceptional screenwriter John Logan. In his first true action film (let’s not mention 2005’s Jarhead), Mendes works like a master to create the most fully formed Bond experience one could hope for.
Mendes brings along Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, another artist not readily known for his work in the action genre. Deakins keeps the camera moving in such a way that though the action is fast, furious, and delirious, we never lose track of what we’re watching and where it’s going. Production designer Dennis Gassner returns to Bond after Quantum of Solace to create a bar-raising world of exotic locales, abandoned islands, and misty moors. It’s all set to Thomas Newman’s hat-tipping score that’s quite thrilling. When Monty Norman’s original Bond theme starts to play at a key point in the movie, I had chills from horn to hoof.
Now this all would make for a very pretty picture…but if you didn’t have the right people to stick in front of the camera you’d be up the creek. Thankfully, Mendes has populated his film with intriguing cast additions and welcome return visitors.
Craig should now be considered the fully formed embodiment of Bond. No disrespect to the the other actors that have come before him but Craig is as close to the James Bond found in the novels of Ian Fleming as anyone yet to suit up for the part. A reckless Bond in Casino Royaleand a vengeful Bond in Quantum of Solace, in Skyfall Bond has become someone that is genuinely afraid to feel anything that he can’t control. It’s a brilliant move for the film to give the actor (and us) the opportunity to see under the skin and it’s Craig’s best performance on screen in any film.
Is there anything bad one could say about Dame Dench at this point in her career? Her involvement with the Bond films since GoldenEye have been nothing short of excellent but it’s with Skyfall that M becomes a leading character along with Bond. She sits atop a plot that hinges on how much we really want to know about her…had M stayed on the sidelines during her tenure this film couldn’t have happened in the way it did. M has always been illustrative of a surrogate mother to Bond and that relationship comes into play several times.
In a series that is famous for its outlandish villains, you’d be hard pressed to find one as genuinely menacing as Silva. Bardem takes a huge risk with his character that could have crashed and burned but winds up making him even more terrifying. Even without the bleached hair and eyebrows, it’s the actor’s eyes that tell the biggest story with thinly veiled rage boiling deep down. His personal vendetta against M and MI6 takes the place of any kind of global domination, allowing the film to hit close to home. It’s a terrifying performance that doesn’t merely replicate his Oscar winning role in No Country for Old Men from the man my friend (let’s call him R for Bond-time sake) calls the Spanish Meryl Streep for the way he totally immerses himself in a role.
Supporting players are nothing to snuff at either. Fiennes has a nifty role as one of M’s colleagues and Whishaw is a wonderfully nebbish Q. Bond Girls are a dime a dozen but Mendes has found two shiny silver dollars in Harris and Marlohe. Harris is a spunky field agent that helps set into motion the action of the film in the breathless prologue and Marlohe may have one of the single best meet and greets with Bond in memory. Both actresses are splendid but aren’t featured as prominently as the ladies of the past. Still…Mendes and co. are smart enough to see that this story is ultimately about Bond and M.
Adele’s powerful theme song is a real winner as both a throwback to the Shirley Bassey Bond themes and a mysterious clue to what the film has in store for us. Playing over a gorgeously designed credits sequence by Daniel Kleinman, the haunting melody is nicely incorporated by Newman in several music cues along the way. And what of the mysterious Skyfall of the title? I’m not going to give that secret up but it acts as yet another way the film opens up to audiences the mystery that is Bond.
Everyone has their favorite Bond and reasons why they lean towards one or the other. Having reached the end of my Bond journey, Skyfall just happens to be the best of the bunch. It’s a fantastically entertaining, surprisingly emotional, and stupendously produced action film that once again redefines the spy genre. James Bond will return…this much we know from the closing credits. How he’ll top himself after Skyfall is the next big mystery to figure out.
Want more Bond? Check out my reviews of the previous 22 James Bond Films: