The Silver Bullet ~ Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Synopsis: With all of the wonder, adventure and thrills synonymous with one of the most popular and successful franchises in cinema history, this all-new motion-picture event sees the return of favorite characters and dinosaurs—along with new breeds more awe-inspiring and terrifying than ever before.

Release Date: June 22, 2018

Thoughts: Before Jurassic World opened a short clip was released that put a damper on the fun that was being generated.  Remember? It was a hokey rom-com scene between Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Pete’s Dragon) and it was pretty awful.  Then the movie came out, the nostalgia was infectious, and it went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters ever.  So when I tell you that this first look at Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom left me a little cold, you can see why I’m not too worried in the long haul.  Sure, this spoiler-heavy preview seems to let not only the cat out of the bag but the T-Rex, Raptor, and a host of other dinos out too but I’ve a sneaking suspicion we’re also being kept in the dark at other plot details yet to be unveiled.  Or…this will be to Jurassic World what The Lost World was to Jurassic Park.

Movie Review ~ The BFG

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: There’s something about a Steven Spielberg film that makes it instantly recognizable. I feel I could watch a film of his with or without a blindfold and know right away that the director of Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the captain of the cinematic ship. Lately, Spielberg has dug into more dramatic territory with the historical epics of War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies with many of the muscles he used for his early flights of fancy going unstretched.

Long interested in bringing Roald Dahl’s 1982 book The BFG to the screen, Spielberg finally gathered the pieces together and I think that’s owed in no small part to the director finding a new leading man muse. After teaming with stage actor Mark Rylance on Bridge of Spies (which brought Rylance an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, surprisingly beating out odds-on favorite Sly Stallone in Creed), Spielberg has caught Rylance fever, casting the actor in The BFG and (as of now) his next two pictures.

In the not too distant past, a lonely orphan girl goes on the adventure of a lifetime one night when she’s plucked out of her bed by The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) and brought to his home in Giant Country. Not really a prisoner but not quite allowed to leave, the headstrong Sophie clashes at first with her towering friend. As she comes to know him better she recognizes the loneliness of this outsider as reminiscent of her own life and sets about to help him out from under the thumb of nearby giant bullies. Pretty soon there’s a trip to Buckingham Palace and a finale involving the Royal National Guard, with Sophie and The BFG bonding over dreams, sadness, and wishes for the future.

All of this is right up Spielberg’s alley and reteaming with the late Melissa Mathison on her final script, Dahl’s world is recreated from the ground up in a faithful adaptation. While other Dahl works like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches have had memorable their trips to the big screen, The BFG feels the most like it sprung from Dahl’s brain fully-formed. And that’s where there’s some trouble.

Dahl’s books are lovingly bonkers escapades with numerous tangential diversions along the way, almost feeling like curated episodes than one streamlined work. The BFG has several of these that don’t quite land the way I think Spielberg or Mathison (or Dahl for that matter) intended. Each moment of the film is beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski (The Judge), gorgeously scored by John Williams (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) and skillfully designed by Rick Carter (Jurassic Park)  but the middle of the film seriously drags and it winds up a solid 20 minutes too long. Though the trip to meet the Queen (Penelope Wilton, The French Lieutenant’s Woman) is a nice lark, it goes on for an eternity as Sophie and The BFG have a spot of tea with Her Royal Highness before an extended sequence of fart jokes.

The whole thing is perhaps too sophisticated for its target audience and likely should be marketed more to adults than young children who will tire quickly of the talky nature of the piece. When Spielberg does give us something substantive, such as a knockout sequence where Sophie and The BFG catch firefly-like dreams, it can feel too heavy-handed and repetitive.

I’m not sure if any other actors were considered for the titular role but it’s hard to imagine anyone playing it quite like Rylance has. While the performance may be motion-captured, Rylance brings a special magic to the part, uniting the actor with technology to fairly stunning results. Many have felt that motion-capture performances should be recognized by the Oscars and you can be sure Rylance’s work here will be cited as an example of why.

Newcomer Ruby Barnhill is a real find, believably navigating a range of emotions that suggests a promising career as she matures. Wilton is a hoot as the Queen while Jemaine Clement (Men in Black 3) voices The BFG’s tormentor with a nice mixture of weirdness and humor. I’m not quite sure what Rebecca Hall (Closed Circuit) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) are doing here, with their characters feeling exceedingly extraneous to the proceedings. Hall and Spall (hey, that rhymes) are pleasant actors but they seem to know they’re little more than human-sized props.

Any chance for Spielberg to make us feel like a kid again is a worthy experience in my book. While not on par with the best of the director’s works from the past, The BFG is a reminder of how good a storyteller he is when working with material that’s personal for him. I just wish he hadn’t been quite so precious with Dahl’s source material, I think even Dahl would say there’s opportunity to trim it down without losing any heart.

Movie Review ~ The Big Short

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.

Stars: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Brad Pitt, Rafe Spall, Tracy Letts, John Magaro, Jeremy Strong, Byron Mann, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater

Director: Adam McKay

Rated: R

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Want to do something nice for your stockbroker this holiday weekend?  Ask them to accompany you to a screening of The Big Short, pay their way in, and then when it’s over ask them to explain the film to you.  Yes, this true story of the bursting of the housing market bubble is a dense watch and would benefit from studying a textbook beforehand…but at the same times it’s a riotously funny and routinely ribald comedy more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Though I’m not normally a fan of director Adam McKay (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), he’s turned in his most timely and mature work to date, juggling multiple storylines and characters over several years without ever losing the thread of what a tremendous disaster this downfall was to the economy.  Adapted by McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph from the book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short is big on market-savvy terms, facts, and figures but short on overall time to explain everything along the way.

Following four distinct sets of characters of various stature that overlap throughout the years, it’s a movie you have to buckle up and into from the beginning.  I was worried early on that I was going to wind up emerging as a true dumb dumb, never truly grasping the enormity of the situation or how things got as bad as it did.  Thankfully, McKay’s script had the foresight to predict this and employs a clever means to explain things in terms that the average Joe (me!) can understand.  I won’t spoil some of this surprisingly adept tactics for you, but I will say that it involves celebrities playing themselves breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to us.

McKay was lucky to gather the high-caliber cast he did.  It’s mostly a boys club here with the likes of Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines), Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace), and Brad Pitt (World War Z) taking on roles of those involved to varying degrees of seeing a problem on the horizon and then deliberately setting up the market to fail so they can profit.  Moral quandaries are few with only Carell standing up for the littler guy, gaining a conscience that stands him apart from his cut-throat colleagues.

In the supporting department, Marisa Tomei (Love the Coopers) is appreciated as always as Carell’s wife and even the usually campy Melissa Leo (Olympus Has Fallen) channels her natural tendency to overplay things into a dandy of a cameo as a Wall Street player conducting a meeting from behind some Mr. Magoo-ish optometrist shades.  Strong turns from Rafe Spall (Prometheus), Hamish Linklater (Magic in the Moonlight), and Finn Wittrock (Unbroken) round out a uniformly strong ensemble.

Though it deals with events that led to the ruin of many (mostly middle to lower class households), the film is surprisingly engaging and entertaining.  It feels like the movie that The Wolf of Wall Street thought it was behind all of the showboating performances and excessive running time.  The Big Short is still too long at 130 minutes but unlike Wolf, it gives the audience someone (anyone) to relate to.

The market is slowly building itself up again but if the final moments of the film are any indication, this is a problem that isn’t totally vanquished…making the movie ultimately a cautionary tale of unfettered greed and unregulated ambition.

The Silver Bullet ~ The BFG

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Synopsis: The imaginative story of a young girl and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.

Release Date:  July 1, 2016

Thoughts: The works of Roald Dahl have found their way to the screen over the years, from a 70s take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and Tim Burton’s unwise remake thirty years later) to a splendid retelling of The Witches. Dahl even wrote the screenplay to You Only Live Twice, one of James Bond flicks that took major flights of fancy.  Now comes The BFG, Dahl’s celebrated tale of an orphan girl and the Giant she befriends.  The Disney production reunites E.T.’s director (Steven Spielberg, JAWS) and writer (the late Melissa Mathison) so you know it will have its heart in the right place. This nice teaser trailer creates some interest…but I’ll be interested to see the blending of live-action and CGI that will bring Dahl’s novel to life.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Big Short

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Synopsis: When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything.

Release Date: December 11, 2015

Thoughts: It’s an interesting move that Paramount Pictures decided to release this heavy hitter smack dab in the midst of a busy holiday movie season. That means they think they have a winner on their hands in this true-life tale, a bit of counterprogramming to the more obvious Oscar bait flicks that are being readied for the end of the year. If I’m being honest (and I always am), I’m a bit exhausted with these corporate level endeavors about the failure of big business. Like the wearying The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short isn’t lacking in star-power thanks to producer and star Brad Pitt (World War Z) looping in the likes of Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), and Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace). Still, I desperately hope it has a snap, purpose, and isn’t just another showcase for big stars saying big things about big problems.

 

 

Movie Review ~ What If

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Wallace, burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis, Oona Chaplin

Director: Michael Dowse

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though I am appreciative that Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black) continues to push himself out of his Harry Potter comfort zone, I’m less inclined to think of him as a romantic leading man…especially after seeing his awkward effort in the daffy rom-com What If. Points for trying, though.

Radcliffe’s off the mark performance isn’t the only thing wrong with What If, an adaptation of the play Toothpaste and Cigars, but it is the most troublesome in comparison. Romantic comedies live and die by their casting and if you don’t believe in one or both of the leads, the film has an uphill battle to climb. Reminding me more than a little of the breezy charm of (500) Days of Summer, What If tries to capture that same tone but only half makes it…succeeding (like Summer) mostly on the strength of its female players.

As is standard, Radcliffe’s Wallace meets cute with artist Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks) at a party thrown by his friend/her cousin Allan (Adam Driver, Lincoln, with his Salvador Dali face). He’s heartbroken and single, she’s sorta happy and dating (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) yet a friendship blossoms. With a dash of trying to buck the When Harry Met Sally… stereotype that men and women can’t be just friends, Wallace and Chantry somehow make it work…until both are honest with themselves to see that there may be something there.

There’s a good nugget of a film here and I honestly think if Radcliffe and Driver had switched roles the film would have been better for it. Not that I’m a fan of Driver at all, he’s essentially playing the same obnoxious character from Girls, but at least he’d have been able to make Elan Mastai’s script hum along better than Radcliffe’s forced conversational approach.

As it is, Radcliffe is lucky that he’s paired with Kazan. Though I haven’t seen her in much, I was struck by how perfectly cast she was for the role. Showing that flawed and vulnerable doesn’t equate to weak, Kazan makes the character charming and offbeat enough in that twee sort of way that isn’t aggravating but earnestly winsome. She saves the film every chance she gets.

As Chantry’s sister, Megan Park is a nice dose of comedic relief and Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment) actually convinces us that Driver is appealing as the yin to his yucky yang. Spall gets the raw end of the deal playing the boyfriend with an arc that reads like a laundry list of bad boyfriend clichés (jealous, manipulative, etc)…it’s so much more interesting if the girl isn’t choosing between a louse and a Lancelot, right?

Another thing to note is that though the film has a playful edge as evidenced in a nice opening and closing animated sequence, it’s obsessed with toilet humor in a way that becomes unnerving. With its multiple references to excrement in various forms and textures, I half wondered if the original title wasn’t Everyone Poops.

Best, ahem, digested with an at-home viewing, What If is a pleasant flick to be sure but is unfortunately hampered by a miscast lead, an obnoxious supporting character, and fecal humor more suited for an Adam Sandler film. Will leave you asking “What if this was a better movie?”

The Silver Bullet ~ I Give It a Year

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Synopsis: A look at the trials and tribulations of a pair of newlyweds during their first year as a married couple.

Release Date:  TBA 2013

Thoughts: I’ll never say no to a genial British rom-com and I Give it a Year looks like a pleasing entry into the genre that includes Love Actually, Notting Hill, and the Bridget Jones films.  Another interesting tidbit is that this is directed by Dan Mazar, a producer of many Sacha Baron Cohen films including last May’s The DictatorAssembling an eclectic and appealing cast of up and comers, Mazar may have a sleeper hit on his hands.  I think we’ve been starved for a solid romantic comedy but that may change once 2013 gets here.  I Give it a Year is arriving a week after the entertaining Warm Bodies, so February is looking like a nice month for love at the movies.

Movie Review ~ The Life of Pi

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor … a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irffan Khan, Gerard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall

Director: Ang Lee

Rated: PG

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  When I first heard about the film I couldn’t get my head around how a movie would be fashioned around the scenario of a boy and a tiger stranded on the same lifeboat.  Could a movie that has large passages of time without dialogue and that is heavily dependent on visual effects really be a satisfying experience at the end of the day?  The answer, I was to learn, was an unqualified “yes”.

It’s been a few weeks now since I saw The Life of Pi yet it’s a film that has lingered long in my mind even after the credits ended.  What we have here is surely one of the most visually stunning films released in the last several years yet one that could have easily segued into monotony with its heavy, tricky plot devices.  Instead, director Lee has held the reins comfortably slack enough to allow the story to spring forth off the screen to create a dazzling display of technology, stirring imagery, and an overall moving experience.

In adapting the popular but divisive book by Yann Martel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Magee has done right by the characters Martel put to page and expounded on the impact the life-threatening situation that faces young Pi Patel as he and his family travel from India to the US.  After a frightening to watch sea disaster (think Titanic meets Flight), Pi is left to fend for himself as he battles the elements and a Bengal tiger that he shares his small lifeboat with. 

Over hundreds of days, we see an understanding develop between headstrong Pi and the tiger known as Richard Parker.  Through truly astonishing CGI work, the large cat is created from the ground up with very few shots actually containing a flesh and blood beast.  The tiger effect is outstanding and rarely gives off the vibe of computer assistance, don’t be surprised if you forget that newcomer Sharma was acting opposite thin air. 

Really a memory piece, the story is told from the perspective of the adult Pi (Khan in a deeply felt performance) as he relates his amazing adventure to a journalist (Spall from Prometheus – interesting to note that Spall took over the role from Tobey Maguire who was cast, filmed his scenes, but was replaced by Lee so to not distract from the action in the past).  This set-up gives you information on the outcome of the story so some of the suspense is lost…until the ending that could be as troublesome for viewers as it was for the readers.

Without giving any sort of spoilers away, the final ten/fifteen minutes of the film may change your opinion of the movie up until that point.  I, for one, found myself coming down off my high I had for the previous two hours and feeling a bit despondent on the direction I thought things were going.  Rest assured that the movie counters nicely and lets you make up your own mind about certain ideas and possibilities these late in the game questions raise.

If you’re one of the weary people that refuses to shell out the extra dough to see a movie in 3D, pay attention to what I’m going to say: this is the one movie you’ll be glad you paid extra for.  Like Avatar and Hugo, the 3D technology is not used to throw stuff out at the audience but to give a greater depth to the scenery, drawing you further into the story.  It’s one of the most immersive uses of 3D ever in film from the hypnotic sights of India to the gorgeous and lonely nighttime vistas Pi sees during his time at sea. 

One of the more interesting and non-genre specific directors working today, Lee has created another film that looks deep within itself to present an inner truth that speaks to all of us.  The movie is about faith – faith in a higher power, faith in one’s self, faith that destiny and survival are what you make of it.  I was greatly moved by the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker and appropriately rallied for them along the way.  Do yourself a favor and make this the next film you see in theaters, it’s not to be missed and not to be forgotten.