Illinois has had years of financial problems and many who live in the state have felt the pinch through higher taxes and reduced services, but a recent report says if the state embraced electric vehicles it could bring up to $43 billion in cumulative benefits by 2050.
The savings would come through reduced utility bills, reduced reliance on fuel, lower vehicle expenses and less carbon pollution, according to an analysis by MJ Bradley and Associates.
Noah Garcia, the transportation policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council says Illinois' economy and the power grid would benefit. He says the state had a lot of momentum when it comes to becoming more electric-vehicle friendly, but that's not the case lately.
"The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency offered fleet rebates for up to $4,000 dollars per vehicle," he says. "There was also $10 million set aside in funding to award charging stations and EV manufacturing grants and loans, but that initiative was also suspended in 2016."
The release of the report coincided with the kickoff of the state's "NextGrid," an 18-month consumer-focused study that's underway to address issues facing Illinois' electric utility industry in the coming decade.
Garcia says accelerating the use of electric vehicles in Illinois would reduce pollution, protecting the air, land and Great Lakes, and the cheaper price of electricity also would help homeowners. He says the utility companies can play a big role by putting rate designs into place.
"Essentially move electric vehicle charging around so that it happens at a time where the grid isn't stressed when all our other gadgets aren't turned on when we're coming home from work," he explains. "And that can actually provide some pretty impressive benefits to all Illinois utility customers."
The report was commission by Charge Up Midwest, a partnership of environmental and clean-energy organizations working to increase electric vehicle deployment throughout Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
It seems that I am not a big fan of the work of actor Pierce Brosnan. It’s not that I have an active dislike for the man, but rather, in looking at my cumulative opinion of his work over his 35-plus year career, I have only given Brosnan two positive reviews. Grant you, I have only been a critic for 20 years, but Brosnan was on TV for most of the time before I came into my profession. He had arguably his biggest successes in the James Bond franchise during my time as a critic. Then again, I don’t have a particularly high opinion of that franchise, either.
Click the poster for the full length written review of The Foreigner...
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women stars Luke Evans as Professor William Moulton Marston, the man who created the Wonder Woman comic book. Marston was an academic who studied and taught psychology before he somehow found himself creating a comic book as a way to sneak his psychological theories into mainstream thought. The character of Wonder Woman was created, according to the movie, as a composite of the two women in Marston’s life, his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and Olive (Bella Heathcote) their lover.
Click the poster for the full length written review.
Marshall stars rising superstar Chadwick Boseman in the role of legendary Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Set years before Marshall rose to be one of the most respected judges in the country, at a time when black people were still fighting for civil rights, Marshall is a terrific introduction to the man. Boseman, future star of Marvel’s Black Panther, demonstrates the supreme intelligence and charisma that Marshall no doubt possessed as he came up through the ranks of the NAACP to become a leader.
Happy Death Day is one of the best surprises of 2017. This seemingly throwaway teen slasher flick turns out to be a sneaky black comedy version of Groundhog Day if Bill Murray were being murdered every day. The film was directed by Christopher Lambert whose résumé is riddled with mediocre screenplays for the Paranormal Activity franchise and whose first feature was the idiotic Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, which leaves me to wonder where he’s been hiding this version of his work?
The Mountain Between Us is damn near comedy gold. This so bad it’s fun nonsense romance posits two attractive leads delivering silly dialogue and rote drama in the midst of hyper-circumstances. When Dr. Ben, played by Idris Elba, responds to his new friend Alex, played by Kate Winslet, saying that ‘the heart is just a muscle,’ try to control your gag reflex and for the sake of the few who might be able to process such schmaltz, stifle your giggles.
Click the poster for the full length written review.
Having seen the unique and oddly fascinating documentary Bronies a few years back, I have been trying to come to terms with the adult fans of My Little Pony. Is this simply large scale trolling or are these grown men for real in their pony based fandom? Oddly, I don’t feel like either of the Brony documentaries that have been released in the past couple of years have answered my question. I still don’t get what it is that grown men see in My Little Pony.
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“Sometimes, to love someone, you have to be a stranger.”
Out of context, the above line of dialogue from Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t seem so profound. But when it lands in the context of the story being told by director Denis Villeneuve, the line plays as remarkably poignant. I won’t spoil the context in this review. Indeed, I will venture to avoid any spoilers whatsoever. What I can tell you about Blade Runner 2049 is that it has all of the atmosphere of cool that the 1982, Ridley Scott-helmed original had but with even better characters and deeper meanings, and yes, genuinely poignant moments.
I’ve spent a few days wrestling with why I don’t love the new, true life drama Battle of the Sexes from two of my favorite directors, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. The directors of the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine and the sublime Ruby Sparks have delivered a solid effort in Battle of the Sexes, but there is just something lacking. It’s not the performances either, as both Emma Stone and Steve Carell deliver standout takes on real life counterparts Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. So just what’s wrong with Battle of the Sexes?
Click the poster for the full length written review.
When I first saw Logan, the latest spin-off of the X-Men franchise, I was not impressed. There was so much hype, so much discussion about how the R-Rating would finally allow Wolverine to be Wolverine. Then I saw the film and found it to be as conventional as any of the other X-Men movies with a little bit of gore tacked on for fan service. So what’s changed for me since March of this year? Why was watching Logan at home on a DVD screener from the studio so different from watching the film in theaters earlier this year?
American Made stars Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, a real life character who was at the center of the drug, guns, and South American contras controversies of the late 70s and 80s. Barry was just an airline pilot for TWA until the CIA caught wind of his trafficking in Cuban cigars. Sensing that Barry has just the kind of moral flexibility that the CIA needs, Agent Shaffer (Domnhall Gleeson) recruits him to run reconnaissance missions in South America, spying on supposed communist outposts.
Stronger stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a man who lost his legs to the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Before the marathon, Jeff was just an anonymous Costco employee who loved the Red Sox and wanted to reconcile with his girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) who dumped him because he rarely showed up when he was supposed to. On April 15, 2013, Jeff finally showed up at the Boston Marathon in the hope that his homemade sign cheering Erin on to the finish line might win her back.
Click the poster for the full length written review....
Lego Ninjago has not one single laugh. It has amusing moments but not a single instance of induced laughter. And I am not just speaking for myself here. The audience I watched Lego Ninjago with was really ready to laugh and you could hear some forced attempts at trying to laugh but as the movie went on even those that kept smiling and trying to find what was happening in Lego Ninjago funny weren’t laughing. It was strange; there was no outward disdain for Lego Ninjago but there weren’t any laughs.
Click the poster for the full length written review.
Friend Request is yet another failed attempt to combine social media and horror. It really shouldn’t be that hard to combine the two when you consider the daily horrors that social media enacts upon us when we simply pick up our phones, but filmmakers have thus far made the combination look impossible. Social media has numerous innate existential horrors that could be exploited by a smart filmmaker but the question seems to come back to how you can exploit that for a body count and so far no one has been able to pull that off.
Click the poster for the full length written review.
Kingsman: The Secret Service was a not particularly inventive rehash of Mark Millar’s previously adapted work, Kick-Ass. The derivative spy take on the same tropes of the super-hero send-up bored me endlessly with its nihilistic approach to James Bond minus the strange wit of Kick-Ass, which shared not just creator Millar but also director Matthew Vaughn, who couldn’t help but seem to rip off his own work in a lazy rehash.
The Princess Bride is one of the most rewatchable movies in history. This rich, robust, and homey comedy never ages and never falters. Rob Reiner’s direction, aside from a truly terrible film score, is unassailable in every comedy beat. Then there is the absolutely perfect casting. Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, and each of the supporting players, from Chris Sarandon as the evil Prince, Christopher Guest as the evil six-fingered henchman, and Billy Crystal’s cameo as Miracle Max, could not be better.
Click the picture below for the full length written review of The Princess Bride.
American Assassin stars Dylan O’Brien as Mitch Rapp, a normal college age kid who we meet while he is vacationing in Ibiza with his beautiful girlfriend. Just after she has accepted his marriage proposal, terrorists sweep over the beach, killing dozens of people in an all too plausible scenario that calls to mind the Paris nightclub attack. Among the dead is Mitch’s new fiancée while he is wounded in the leg and shoulder but narrowly survives.
I can’t decide if Mother(!) is Darren Aronofsky’s way of pleasuring himself on screen or if it is a legitimate work of art simply out of the grasp of my pea brain. The film has some seemingly obvious metaphors but they are metaphors that are so blatant that your brain fights the idea that they could be so simple to untangle. At least we can all agree that Mother(!) is a pretentious as all get out work of an egotist artist who’s either far too oblique for his own good or a complete troll.
Fatal Attraction stars Michael Douglas as a seemingly happy husband to Ann Archer and father to an adorable 6-year-old daughter. So why, if he’s so happy, does he decide to cheat on his wife? This questions comes to consume the mind of Alex (Glenn Close), the woman Douglas’ Dan decides to sleep with one night while his wife and daughter are away visiting family in the suburbs. Alex can’t understand why Dan would choose to sleep with her and then retreat back to his marriage.
Click the picture below for the full length review.
The Pick Up Artist is a bizarrely bad movie of the kind only James Toback seems capable of. This mess of a romantic comedy and a gangster movie attempts to be both conventional and unconventional. Toback’s thing has always been arthouse style talky existentialism with a healthy dose of New York. Watching him try to cram that unusual sensibility into a mainstream movie would be unwatchable were it not for Robert Downey Jr. and Molly Ringwald who, at the very least, remain likable even as they struggle against a director lost in his attempt to serve the commercial and the arty.
Click the poster for the full length written review.
The Wilde Wedding has the chance to be a pretty great movie but lacks the courage to pull it off. The film brings together the talents of Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Patrick Stewart for a wedding comedy and the charm factor would be off the charts except that writer-director Damian Harris can’t resist mucking up the works by having the younger cast too often crowd out the more interesting veterans. Click the picture for my full lenghth written review of The Wilde Wedding and watch for the movie on all streaming services this weekend if you're interested in seeing. It's also in some theaters nation wide.
Home Again is a vacuous and inane movie that is otherwise an inoffensive and forgettable romantic comedy about characters who have no problems. It’s the kind of vacuousness that you would think even Hollywood would be tired of by now and yet there still seems to be an appetite for it. I think it’s called lifestyle porn, wherein the poor watch movies like Home Again and fantasize about the architecture and accoutrements without a care for whether or not the characters’ lives are worth enduring. Click the poster below for the complete review of Home Again.
To say that the 2017 take on Stephen King’s Magnum Clown Opus IT is better than the 1990 mini-series is an understatement. The mini-series was a punishing nearly four-hour mix of a pretty good kids’ story and a nearly impossible to watch adult story. Jettisoning the adult story in favor of focusing on the far superior kids’ story from King’s novel, the 2017 IT crafts a tightly wound, creepy horror flick that plays on some serious issues about grief and abuse while delivering the kind of machine tooled jump scares that modern audiences go to the movies for.
Rememory wants desperately to be a deep meditation on memory, grief and loss, and a sci-fi mystery movie. It achieves some of that goal thanks to the performances from the stellar cast headed by Peter Dinklage and Julia Ormond. That said, the deep meditation part skims the surface and the sci-fi mystery movie is achieved only through the use of a magic memory machine.
I must be getting soft as I get older because movies like A Boy Called Po never used to get passed my ironic armor. As a younger critic, a movie like A Boy Called Po with a premise that reads like a Lifetime Movie and a cast lacking star power would have been one I would dismiss without a glance. Admittedly, I used to be kind of arrogant and quite snobbish. It could be I have become more evolved and mature or it could be that director John Asher’s inspired by true events movie is actually so good that I had no need for my emotional armor. Click below for the radio review and click the poster for the full length written review of A Boy Called Po.
Wind River is one of the most emotional experiences I have had at the movies in 2017. The modern western from writer-director Taylor Sheridan is a cold and harsh drama about a cold and harsh place where these characters don’t merely live, they survive. The film also shines a devastating light on the plight of Native Americans and the criminal lack of care we give to their living conditions and well-being. That it takes a white writer-director and two white movie stars to get this story told says nearly as much as the movie itself.
It’s bizarre to me at times the things we feel are alright simply because they are animated. Take for instance the new animated family movie Leap which, while it tells a lovely story of an aspiring ballerina, spends a portion of its third act following a crazy woman as she attempts to murder two orphan children. Now, I get it, they’re animated but the choice made here is so incredibly forced and horrible that it doesn’t feel like Elmer Fudd’s failed attempts to murder Bug Bunny but something far more grim, ugly and worst of all, unnecessary. Click the photo below for the complete review
Being a fan of the American history podcast The Dollop allows me to watch a movie like Logan Lucky and never for a moment find the story implausible. Take a listen to them tell the remarkable true story titled Jet-Pack Madness and you will find within it a story every bit as brilliant as a Coen Brothers comedy. Everything in Logan Lucky feels completely plausible when you compare it to such historic silliness as what transpired with the Jet-Pack or the L.A Freeway Shootout or The Human Taco. Click the poster for the full length review.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a very divisive film. Not because it has any challenging themes but rather because it is both a laugh riot and quite a bad movie. At once, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is very, quite intentionally, funny and quite poorly directed. I call the film divisive not because audiences will either love or loathe the film in equal measure but rather because I am divided personally by the fact that I repeatedly laughed quite loud during the film and by the fact that the film’s green screen effects, storytelling, and casting are so shoddy that at times I physically wretched.
To call out The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature for creative bankruptcy would be as futile as calling out Congress for its corruption. Sure, both of those assessments are of equal accuracy but they are also empty facts of life that aren’t going to change simply because we point them out. So, what then do we make of The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature? Now that we’ve accepted the creative bankruptcy what is left for us to ponder?
Click the picture of the cute mouse for the complete review...
When I was an up and coming young radio talk show host, I had the privilege of interviewing author Jeanette Walls about her remarkable memoir The Glass Castle. Normally, in prepping for an interview in talk radio, you don’t have time to read entire books, you’re forced to skim and pick and choose important portions to discuss in the brief time you have with your subject. In the case of The Glass Castle however, I was lucky enough to have a full weekend and in that weekend, I read the entire book because I simply could not stop myself.
I tried, I really did. I tried to give Annabelle: Creation the benefit of the doubt. I tried to go with the idiot premise that demons possess dolls and small children and are capable of massive amounts of destruction and horror but are constantly thwarted by locked, wooden doors. I gave this movie the chance to explain where the Annabelle doll that has been passed down from the equally silly The Conjuring movies came from and how it came to be a cursed item. I tried, but nothing in the movie convinced me why it was frightening, suspenseful or even mildly discomforting.
Recently I listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s incredible podcast Revisionist History and in the very first episode he discussed a fascinating sociological concept called Moral Licensing. Moral Licensing is in essence doing something that is right and then using that right action, essentially a good deed, to justify bad behavior. Gladwell’s example was a painter in 19th Century England, Elizabeth Thompson, whose painting, titled Roll Call, became the first by a female artist to take a respected placement in the Royal Academy of Art. Unfortunately, the good deed by the male dominated Royal Academy of featuring the remarkable painting gave them, in their minds, the bona fides to justify not electing Thompson to become a member of the Royal Academy. They’d done their good deed and had nothing, in their minds left to prove.
Halle Berry has been on an astonishing losing streak at the box office since she won the Academy Award for her starring role in Monster’s Ball. Ever since the night she won people’s hearts with her teary and historic Oscar acceptance speech, Berry has made one wrong turn after another whether making bad big budget comic book movies, all X-Men sequels or spinoffs, or bad low budget thrillers, Perfect Stranger, Gothika, The Call, or head-scratching, defiantly awful fare such as Movie 43, Cloud Atlas and Catwoman, Berry seemed bent on full career sabotage.
To whomever said that Stephen King’s epic novel The Dark Tower was un-adaptable to the big screen, we owe you a Coke. The supremely silly movie sequel to King’s dense Dark Tower book series is an embarrassment to all involved from King to director Nicolaj Arcel to Academy Award winning star Matthew McConaughey and Academy Award nominated producer Ron Howard, who for some reason passed on directing The Dark Tower himself; golly, I can’t imagine why?
The legendary John Waters once defined camp, on an episode of The Simpsons, as “The tragically ludicrous, the ludicrously tragic.” The 1987 movie Masters of the Universe pre-dates that definition of camp by more than a decade but nevertheless defines it perfectly. Masters of the Universe is a tragically ludicrous idea undermined by greed, hubris and the outright silly notion that just because something catches on with child audiences it can be translated to film in anything other than a pathetic attempt at pandering.
Click the poster for the complete review and unique history of Masters of the Universe.
We have a tendency in America to believe that our pop culture is the only culture to embrace our anti-heroes, those rugged criminals whose lives we romanticize into fantasy for reasons we can’t quite rationalize with what these men did. But rhapsodizing about the criminal as pseudo-hero is a truly worldwide phenomenon. The latest example of the worldwide nature of the celebration of anti-heroes comes from Australia with the story of criminal icon Ben Hall, the subject of the Bushranger epic The Legend of Ben Hall which is now available on DVD and On-Demand services in America.
Opening Night has the kind of scrappy charm that you want out of a musical. It’s shaggy and flawed but it’s also fun-loving and freewheeling. The story of a Broadway stage manager struggling with personal demons from his own seemingly failed Broadway career, the movie may not have the polish of a Hollywood production but it makes up for it with moxie and the can-do spirit of an underdog production with nothing to lose. Click the poster for the full review.
What is there to be said about The Emoji Movie? That’s what I have been asking myself for the more than an hour since I sat down to write this review. This empty, mostly competent, 90+ minute ad for smartphone apps doesn’t inspire much to be written about it. Sure, I could rail against the empty, soulless, mercenary nature of what amounts to app product placement the movie, but I have been shouting into that void since the trailer for the film hit and no one seemed to care then. So, let’s just start writing and see what happens.Click the poster for the full review....
Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine, the top spy in Britain's MI6. Her mission is to retrieve sensitive and dangerous information from East Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Helping and hindering her attempts are her officious boss, Toby Jones, the American CIA, headed by John Goodman, and her top Berlin contact David played by James McAvoy. Here's my review of Atomic Blonde....
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Somehow, despite having seen the movie La Bamba more than a dozen times in my life, watching the movie on its 30th Anniversary felt brand new. La Bamba was a film of my youth; I was 11 years old when the film hit theaters in 1987. I watched it repeatedly when it was on pay cable and free TV in the later 80’s and 90’s and then the film fell from my memory. You might be wondering how I could have allowed something I must’ve treasured to leave my memories. The answer is more complicated than I had imagined.
Click the photo for the full article on #LaBamba 30 years later....
I cannot decide which is the more difficult type of review: positive without fawning, negative without being mean-spirited or ambivalent. The last type of review is where I find myself with the new movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:; utter and complete ambivalence. There is much to admire about the latest from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, among others) but there is also plenty of empty, sci-fi spectacle. Get the full review by clicking the photo below.
Dunkirk comes from the mind and talent of director Christopher Nolan who is well-known for the blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy along with Interstellar and Memento. Here, Mr. Nolan is taking of the famed battle of Dunkirk a significant setback to British forces who find themselves forced off of the European continent, literally driven to the sea by the onslaught of the German army. Against this backdrop several different characters emerge to tell different aspects of this non-linear story including a pilot played by Tom Hardy, an emotionally damaged soldier played by Cillian Murphy, a non-military boat owner played by Academy Award winner Mark Rylance and several young soldiers trapped on the beach, one played by One Direction singer Harry Styles. Click the photo for my review of Dunkirk.
The Big Sick broke my heart into a million little pieces and slowly pieced it back together throughout its gentle, sweet and very, very funny 120 minutes. Featuring an unconventional but brilliant lead performer, a radiant love interest and two of the best possible supporting players anyone could ask for, The Big Sick is, thus far, the best movie of 2017. Click the poster to read the full review.
War for the Planet of the Apes picks up the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis), leader of the Apes as he defends his Apes against an encroaching human army led by a mad man Colonel played by Woody Harrelson. As the two battle get into a battle of wills the body count rises on both sides and tragedy looms for human and Ape alike. Here is my review of War for the Planet of the Apes.
Click the Poster for the review
Spider-Man Homecoming stars Tom Holland, picking up where he left off as the web-slinging superhero from Captain America: Civil War. Homecoming finds our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man getting restless stopping crime in and around Queens and eager to become a full-fledged Avenger. Spidey's spies an opportunity to impress his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) when he finds a group of criminals stealing and dealing alien technology retro-fitted for the modern street criminal. Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei co-star. Click the poster below for my review of Spider-Man Homecoming....
The Beguiled is the latest from "Lost in Translation" director Sophia Coppola. The film stars Colin Ferrell as a Union soldier who suffered a serious leg injury and is attempting to escape the war when he is discovered by a student at a Virginia girls school. After the soldier is taken in by the women at the school he is cared for allegedly so that he can be turned over to be imprisoned. The leader of the school is played by Nicole Kidman while Kirsten Dunst is the lead teacher and Elle Fanning is a provocative young student. Click the poster below for my review of The Beguiled...
Baby Driver stars Ansel Elgort, the dying heartthrob of The Fault in Our Stars, as Baby, a driver for a crime boss nicknamed Doc (Kevin Spacey). Doc's forte is bank robbery using a different set of criminals on each with only Baby as a regular member of his crew, always the driver. Among the criminals Doc utilizes are Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (Jon Hamm). Baby's life is changed forever when he meets and falls in love with Debora (Lily James from Cinderella) and attempts to leave his criminal days behind him. Here's my review of Baby Driver...
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Transformers The Last Knight picks up the story of Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yarger as he's attempting to defend the remaining Autobots from a worldwide Army charged with capturing or destroying all Transformers. Meanwhile Optimus Prime has gone home to what remains of Cybertron intent on confronting his creator, a move that leads to Prime going from ally to enemy of humanity.
Click the poster for my review of Transformers The Last Knight.
Cars 3 features the voice of Owen Wilson back in the role of Nascar racer Lightning McQueen. This time Lightning has become the older statesmen of racing that Paul Newman was as Doc Hudson in the original Cars. With younger Cars passing him up it looks like Lightning's career might be at an end. Then he meets Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonso) and the two go on a journey together that is the bulk of the story. Here's my review of Cars 3.
The Mummy stars Tom Cruise as Nick, an adventurer, soldier, archaeologist, thief and all around charming rogue. Nick finds trouble when he and his colleagues, including New Girl star Jake Johnson, uncover an ancient Mummy's tomb that bestows a deathly curse on Nick. Can Nick beat back the ancient evil of the Mummy known as Ahminek (Sophia Boutella)? That's the story of "The Mummy." Here's my review. Click Here
As metaphors go, Godzilla has seen his fair share of interpretations. While most often Godzilla is a stand in for nuclear age mismanagement, the big guy has also been used to further environmental messages, anti-war messages and in his latest and most unique incarnation, in the comic-drama “Colossal,” Godzilla stands in for the emotional trauma people can inflict on others. As unique as “Colossal” is in the interpretation of the legendary movie monster it does adhere with the idea that the humans are nearly as monstrous as the monster we created.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a mess. She has no direction, no job and few prospects. Oh, and Gloria has a serious problem with alcohol. Gloria’s issues finally come to head when her live-in boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her to the curb. With nowhere to go, Gloria returns to her childhood home, recently abandoned by her parents, and squats on mom and dad’s dime, eventually finding a job at a bar owned by her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).
I say that Oscar is Gloria’s friend but as the story of “Colossal” plays out the dynamic between Oscar and Gloria will evolve in some very unexpected ways. Unexpected is a hallmark of “Colossal” which comes to find that Gloria’s many, many issues have manifested through some sort of portal that links her thoughts and actions to a Godzilla like creature that wreaks havoc in South Korea each time Gloria goes a little too far in her self-centered partying.
This is no dream sequence in “Colossal.” The story here, crafted by veteran Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, manifests Godzilla as a real monster that does attack South Korea and mimics the actions of Gloria who decides to turn her life around so that she can avoid killing thousands of people each time she gets drunk and rowdy. Oscar has his own connection to this unique manifestation but that would be far too spoiler heavy to reveal here.
“Collossal” is not at all the movie it appears to be in advertisements and trailers. The marketing for “Colossal” plays up the comic aspects of this story despite the comedy being almost incidental to the psycho-drama that the film becomes as it goes along. There is a darkness and complexity to “Colossal” that producers have apparently been attempting to hide from audiences on the assumption that people aren’t interested in a unique premise, they just want to think they are going to laugh.
As insulting as the marketing of “Colossal” unquestionably is, the film itself is rare and authentic, a work of a wonderfully inventive filmmaker. I am, in all honesty, not familiar with the work of Nacho Vigalondo. That said, “Colossal” is a fantastic introduction to a filmmaker with a unique vision and approach to storytelling. This is just the kind of original and exciting filmmaking that I hope we can encourage more of in the future.
What did the world do to deserve a reboot of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” franchise? What was it about the mediocre previous entries in this franchise that inspired producers, a screenwriter and a director to believe this was something they should dedicate time and effort to? Well, time anyway, effort, as you will find from reading this review, is a questionable aspect of the making of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”
We are once again brought into the world of Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) an imaginative kid who continues to find himself in humiliating situations. Greg’s latest humiliation has gone viral after a trip to a family restaurant leads to Greg chasing his little brother Manny (played by twin kids Wyatt and Dylan Waters) into a ballpit where Greg ends up getting his hand stuck in a used diaper and leads to him being referred to in internet memes as ‘Diaper Hands.’
That opening alone could tell you how charmless “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is but the film somehow manages to find one new low after another. Greg’s family is taking a road trip to Mee-Maw’s house and along the way Greg wants to trick his parents, slumming former stars Tom Everett Scott and Alicia Silverstone, into taking him to videogame convention while Greg’s brother Rowley (Charlie Wright) acts dumb and adds little to nothing to the story.
The road trip is a mere set up for some of the most disgusting gross out jokes this side of a horror film. Poop, puke and body horror are employed throughout “The Long Haul” to the point where I nearly walked out, something I haven’t done since Samuel L. Jackson graphically fed laxatives to bad guys for an explosive diarrhea gag in the forgotten action movie “Formula 53.” This film is nearly as offensive as that R-Rated movie despite somehow carrying a PG Rating.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” also features a subplot about another family on a road trip who keep crossing paths with Greg. Jokes about Greg accidentally sleeping in the family’s bed, in his underwear, in a strange man’s bed, is just one of a series of highly questionable gags. The father of this competing family, referred to for some reason as Beardo and played by Chris Coppola is portrayed as wanting to murder Greg throughout the film. The character lapses in and out of a murderous rage each time he see’s Greg and again and again director David Bowers seems to find this notion hilarious.
In one epically bizarre homage Greg somehow winds up in Beardo’s shower and the scene devolves into a remake of the shower scene in “Psycho.” In what universe is a “Psycho” homage a good idea for a family road trip comedy? What kid in the audience is getting that reference? What parent in the audience feels that this homage is remotely appropriate for a family comedy? WHO THINKS THIS IS OK????
Please do not tell me that I am overreacting or that it’s “Just a kid’s movie.” If anything, we should hold children’s entertainment to a higher standard of quality than we do entertainment aimed at older audiences. Children’s tastes are just not evolving and growing. Exposing a child to entertainment that is beneath contempt as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” truly is, is irresponsible. This is a film so execrable that it could do permanent damage to a child’s taste; this is the kind of kid’s movie that creates Adam Sandler fans.
I am not being hyperbolic when I say that “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is the worst movie of 2017. Gross, unfunny, and genuinely unpleasant to sit through, I am truly shocked that major movie studios still allow such movies to reach mass audiences. This is a dispiriting experience. If ever you need proof that Hollywood does not care about what it puts into the world “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is that proof.
The Circle stars Emma Watson as Mae, the newest employee of a massive tech company with roots in every form of innovation from basic tech to the most advanced social media. Tom Hanks is the Steve Jobs-esque company founder wtih Patton Oswalt as his second in command. As Mae rises through the ranks she comes to find that there is more to the company and it's commitment to radical honesty than what appears on the surface. Here's my review of "The Circle."
Free Fire stars Academy Award winner Brie Larson as a woman caught in the middle of an arms deal gone wrong. Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy co-star as the fellow arms dealers who instead of making deal for guns end up firing guns at each other for well over an hour. Who makes it out alive? Who is firing at who? That's the oddball plot of Free Fire. Here's my review of Free Fire.
If your lead character is an unchallenged champion from the beginning to the end of your story there isn’t much of an arc for an audience to grab onto. I wish someone might have explained this concept to the makers of the movie “Tommy’s Honour” which stars Jack Lowden as Scottish golfing legend Tommy Morris Jr. In “Tommy’s Honour” Morris is portrayed as such an incredible champion and all around angelic hero that the stories of his many triumphs and tragedies are rendered dull and listless.
Tommy Morris Jr’s life was planned before he was born. By the strict societal codes of the time, the early 1800’s, Morris Jr was expected follow in the footsteps of his father (Peter Mullan) and become a caddy but Tommy wanted more. When fully grown, Tommy Jr. begins competing in the Caddy Open and then the Open Championship and before we’ve even come to know him as a character, we watch him triumph as champion, off screen, at the famed St. Andrew golf course three times.
Soon Tommy is challenging societal norms by demanding that he and a fellow golfer and friend be properly compensated by the clubhouse elite who profit off their play through gambling and exhibitions. For a moment, you begin to think this will bring conflict to the story but no, the elite, led by a snobbish Sam Neill, roll over immediately and pay Tommy fairly.
Then Tommy meets a lovely scullery maid named Meg with a dark past played by Ophelia Lovibond. With the Scottish class system, as it is, Meg’s past should provide conflict and indeed, Tommy’s mother objects to the relationship. However, in less than 15 minutes’ screen time, I was bored enough to keep count, Mom rolls over and another potential source of drama is dismissed with mom even leaving the church to stand up for her son and new daughter in-law, after one brief conversation with her husband and a single entreaty about how their son loves this woman despite what society says.
It isn’t until the final act that anything happens to Tommy. Tommy suffers a serious tragedy and his life falls to pieces but somehow “Tommy’s Honour” never communicates that tragedy, preferring the dull safety of the golf course where Tommy once again tops an opponent we never meet and thus have zero investment in. If the movie doesn’t care about these opponents, then why should we care? They are there to lose to Tommy, to further the legend building that is the film’s true aim. The final match should feel big and important but as portrayed, it’s a contest of egos that leads to an ending that feels more like stubborn inflexibility than the tragedy the true story was.
“Tommy’s Honour” is yet another in a long line of bad biopics. The film has no life, no courage. The aim of the filmmakers is to deify a Scottish legend and that might work for someone who is desperately invested in the story of Tommy Morris Jr. but as drama it fails completely. Drama needs tension, it needs stakes, it needs something for the audience to connect to, some relatable experience. If your story revolves around a character who is perfect and whose life constantly works out well for most of the story there is no drama. Sure, Tommy’s life ended tragically but even that tragedy is pushed aside in favor of showing what a golf legend he was and that renders an interesting life rather incredibly boring.
The Fate of the Furious stars Vin Diesel once again as Dominic Torretto, street racer turned thief turned secret agent kind of(?) who, along with his 'family,' including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese and the aptly named Ludicris, battle a cyber-terrorist played by Charlize Theron. The twist however, has Dom playing for the other team and his family have to battle him to get to the big bad. Here's my review of The Fate of the Furious.
Nothing against the wonderfully talented Neil Patrick Harris, but I was very happy not to see him in the latest iteration of The Smurfs franchise. For all his immense talent, Harris never belonged in a Smurfs movie, nor did anything else from real world New York for that matter. Taking The Smurfs out of Smurf Village to the non-animated New York City was a terribly unnecessary gimmick that drowned the first cinematic outings of our beloved blue heroes.
Back in the animated world of the forest and Smurfs Village, the new animated adventure “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is not all that much better than the previous two Smurfs outings but better enough to warrant taking note.
Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is struggling with her identity. For those not familiar with the background of the only female Smurf, Smurfette was created by Gargamel as a honeytrap intended to lead him to the Smurf Village where he hoped to capture Smurfs and steal their magic. Fortunately, the Smurfs won Smurfette over and instead of helping Gargamel, here voiced by Rain Wilson, she became a member of their family.
Still, despite the love and support of all of the Smurfs, the guidance from Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin), the friendship of Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and the acceptance of the rest of the Smurfs, Smurfette can’t shake the sense that there is something missing from her story. When she gets lost in the forest while playing with her friends she encounters for the first time a Smurf unlike her brothers and a new adventure is begun.
The Lost Village of the title is a village filled with female Smurfs including Smurf’s voiced by Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper and popstar Meghan Trainor. Naturally, there are around 100 of these female Smurfs because there are around 100 of the boy Smurfs and reinforcing gender norms is kind of part of the package for this film. I will leave it to you to decide if you want to take offense to that or not, I merely took note of it.
As I mentioned earlier, this version of The Smurfs is only a minor improvement over the first two live action/animated hybrids. I’m very happy they ditched the live action but I wish they could have added a few more laughs to the mix. Smurfs: The Lost Village is not very with laughs coming a distant second to the visual razzle dazzle and a couple of modestly rousing action set pieces, the best involving a magical river and a very small raft.
It’s just unfortunate that the film lacks laughter. I could count on one hand, not using all the fingers on that hand, the number of laugh out loud moments in Smurfs: The Lost Village. The film comes from director Kelly Asbury who garnered a great deal more laughter from his work on Shrek 2 and more action from his Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Here, Asbury never seems to find the right tone for The Smurfs, the action is fine but the Smurfs isn’t an adventure series, it’s a children’s comedy and this isn’t very funny.
And when I say Smurfs: The Lost Village isn’t funny; I am being very serious. The movie takes a turn in the 3rd act that I will say is quite bold and unexpected but may have the child core of the Smurfs audience very upset. Parents will want to be prepared, the dramatic turn of the third act of The Lost Village will be one that young children may be deeply affected by.
So, do I recommend Smurfs The Lost Village? I didn’t hate the movie but I don’t think it’s very good. It needs more laughs, the last act is borderline disturbing for young audiences but, for the most part the film is inoffensive and may be quite funny to a child, if rather tedious to an adult. The last act could be a little scary for the youngest moviegoers, but this is a Smurfs movie so you can trust that the scarring is minor and well healed by the ending.
Going in Style stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as old friends who, after their pensions get liquidated and their local bank gets in on helping move the movie, decide to rob the bank to get their pension back. Directed by Zach Braff (Garden State), Going in Style also stars Joey King, Christopher Lloyd and Ann Margaret. Here's my review of Going in Style.
Is “Ghost in the Shell” offensive? It’s certainly tone deaf and in poor taste but offensive? That depends on your perspective. I wasn’t offended by “Ghost in the Shell” per se, though I oppose the white washing of the casting, I am also practical and cynical enough to understand it from the perspective of a profit driven business. That the film is the subject of such controversy only shines harsher light on the film’s artistic failures, even if better art would not negate the controversy.
“Ghost in the Shell” stars Scarlett Johannsson as Major, a secret agent with a not so secret super power. Major is mostly robot but with a human brain. She is relatively invincible, impervious to most things but with human intellect and instincts. Major was the subject of an experimental surgery undertaken by a secretive organization for which Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) serves as the public face and the seemingly benevolent doctor who saved Major’s mind, if not her body.
Major is tasked with tracking down Kuze (Michael Pitt), a hacker/terrorist who is targeting the scientists and doctors who created the Major. Kuze claims to have a secret about Major that is being repressed in her mind through drugs the company claims she must take in order for her mind not to reject her cybernetic shell. It’s a secret that the filmmakers hope will cure them of white washing allegations, even as it only serves to make things worse in the eyes of many.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” director Rupert Sanders helmed “Ghost in the Shell” and he has certainly created a feast for the eyes. The futuristic Asian setting is rich with glittery, bright colors and tech similar to other sci-fi visions of the future such as “Minority Report,” minus that films’ visual wit. “Ghost in the Shell” is quite pretty with star Scarlett Johansson only adding to the visual delights.
That said, the spectacular visuals do serve to underline the emptiness at the core of the story. While the original anime “Ghost in the Shell” was about identity and what made someone human, the live action “Ghost in the Shell” has been sheered of the subtext in favor of more of a revenge movie in which the Major eventually begins to seek vengeance against those who kept secrets from her related to how she ended up a cyborg.
The change dumbs the movie down into a more mainstream action movie because hey, audiences don’t like to ponder existence when there are simple thrills to be had. This is not the fault of Johansson who seems to want something deeper in her performance but it’s just not there onscreen. This could also be the function of multiple screenwriters culling the deeper themes through series after series of rewrites, the film has three credited screenwriters including the subtext challenged Ehren Kruger.
I don’t hate “Ghost in the shell.” It’s not poorly acted and the visual splendor is undeniably fun. I must admit, I am knocking “Ghost in the Shell” for the most part, for not being the movie I wanted it to be and not for the movie that it is. The movie that “Ghost in the Shell” is is a shallow yet dazzling action movie that will satisfy the base action movie audience with their brains turned off.
I’m also reviewing the film’s politics which isn’t really fair either. From a business standpoint casting Scarlett Johnansson makes more sense than casting a more appropriate Asian actress with less name value. From that very base, cold, cynical perspective I can’t fault “Ghost in the Shell,” I can only ask why it had to be “Ghost in the Shell?” Why go for the full Asian aesthetic and then cast white people, the setting has no impact on the story and could be transported anywhere.
Why not rip off the concept, move it to New York and abandon the burden of white washing accusations in favor of the much easier to deflect cries of ‘rip off?’ The controversy only harmed the film which otherwise could have skated to success as a standard, simpleminded action movie instead of being pilloried on its way to underperforming.
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a goofy live action cartoon that was never intended to be taken seriously. Even as the franchise became a marketing powerhouse and made the leap to the big screen in the late 90's, it was still just a doofy kids show with silly costumes and plushy, over-sized villains. The new-fangled Power Rangers on the other hand are still silly but with an ever so slight edge.
The Power Rangers have been the protectors of Earth for thousands of years, having sacrificed themselves to stop the Earth from being destroyed. The part of the Power Rangers that lived on are in the form of colored power coins which, when discovered by a disparate band of teens, kick off a new age of the Power Rangers and set the stage for an all new battle to save the Earth.
Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is the leader of the group, a former Big Man on Campus turned teen criminal. Jason meets Billy (R.J Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) during detention at Angel Grove High School and the three wind up together at a local quarry where Billy is sure he going to discover an ancient artifact. Indeed, Billy does discover something quite remarkable when he accidentally blows up part of the mine, something that draws the immediate attention of Trini ( Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin) who happen to be nearby.
What the five discover are the legendary Power Coins and the coins give them superpowers, strength, speed, and intelligence. This also leads to the discovery of an underground spaceship, home to the last of the original Power Rangers, Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who is trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and his assistant, a robot named Alpha (Bill Hader).
With the guidance of Zordon the Power Rangers are fitted for battle against Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a former Power Ranger turned villain who has returned to life and seeks to raise a dire monster called Goldar by stealing gold anywhere she can find it. With the aid of Goldar, Rita will battle the Power Rangers with designs on destroying the world on her way to conquest of the Universe.
Yes, it's all very silly, especially Elizabeth Banks' wonderfully silly performance as Rita. The strength of this iteration of Power Rangers is that it has zero pretensions. The film owns it's goofball past and simply improves on it with a more modern style of both action and storytelling. The film retains the doofy spirit of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, especially it's goony villains but isn't imprisoned by the past.
Each of the young actors cast as Power Rangers is able to make a good enough impression here that we care about them in the big fight. My favorite is Billy, who's last name "Cranston" is an homage to his co-star Bryan Cranston who has a past connection to the Power Rangers having voiced characters on the original show. R.J Cyler plays Billy as Autistic and while there is danger of slipping over into uncomfortable stereotypes, the young actor softplays the character tics and delivers a lovable performance.
This movie was not made with critics in mind, in the end this is a film for very young children. What I admire about Power Rangers is that it never feels limited by being 'just a kids film.' The story has brave and bold elements to it, a very, very very slight edge to it. The film is silly and playful but has just enough weight to it that I kind of cheered at the end and I wasn't ashamed of it.
It seems impossible to believe it myself, but I actually recommend Power Rangers. It has a positive message, solid thrills and a story that is safe enough for kids without having to pander, a rather remarkable feat for a film based on a series that was almost entirely pandering in its heyday, as much marketing machine as it was a TV series.
Life stars Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal as astronauts aboard the International Space Station who are tasked with retrieving a probe from Mars that may contain proof of alien life. The probe indeed, does have an alien species and when it is unleashed, all hell breaks loose aboard the station as our heroes try to keep this new life away from Earth. Here's my review of Life.
Shirley MacLaine is a national treasure. Sure, I don’t like several her films but when she’s good, there are few better. Don’t believe me? Watch “The Apartment” and then try to tell me I am wrong. MacLaine is in the twilight of her career and with her new movie “The Last Word” she has determined to write the last chapter of her career in glorious fashion.
“The Last Word” stars Shirley MacLaine as Harriet Lauson, a lonely, bitter woman whose control freak tendencies have driven away most everyone in her life. After a failed suicide attempt, Harriet stumbles across the obituaries page of her local paper and wanting the chance to control even her death, she decides to go to the paper to start the process of writing her obituary, so she can make sure she gets the last word on what is said about her.
Ann (Amanda Seyfried) is the paper’s obituary writer, a lonely but quite talented writer who lacks the courage to strike out on her own. When Ann meets Harriet, they don’t exactly hit it off but it’s only a matter of time before Harriet’s unique life and domineering personality begin to inspire Ann. After hearing that most of the people in her life despise her, Harriet decides to change her life completely to change her story and what a story it turns out to be.
I will leave the rest of the plot for you to enjoy. Shirley MacLaine is a joy to behold as Harriet makes one oddball choice after another to give herself the obituary and indeed the life she truly wants. As I write this, the story does sound clichéd but trust me when I tell you that MacLaine is so delightful that it doesn’t matter if the story seems overly familiar.
Amanda Seyfried’s job in “The Last Word” is mostly reacting to the bizarre twists and turns of MacLaine’s Harriet but she does put a nice spin on that role. Seyfried seems at times in awe of MacLaine and it feeds well into the character who, though she may not be in awe of Harriet, she’s at least consistently surprised by her new friend’s sudden evolution from crotchety old hag to fun loving yet still domineering, hipster.
Director Mark Pellington makes the smart choice to just let MacLaine drive the train. There is nothing special about the direction of “The Last Word,” but just allowing MacLaine to take the lead fits the character and the movie quite well. MacLaine’s Harriet is the dominant force for everyone around her so it makes sense that MacLaine’s performance dominates the film.
“The Last Word” is funny and sweet, sad at times, yes but with a genuine heart and wit behind the sadness. It’s a film about age and the cruelty of time and about a woman who refused to be defined by that time. In many ways that reflects MacLaine who has approached aging in Hollywood with wit and aplomb. MacLaine’s wit is as strong as ever in “The Last Word” and I recommend you enjoy it while you can. “The Last Word” is opening in the Quad Cities on Friday at Rave 53rd and IMAX.
If you like mindless splatter and especially if you like exploding heads, “The Belko Experiment” is the movie for you, if not the movie for me. Though pretending toward a satire of life in mundane office turned upside down the most violent of downsizing, “The Belko Experiment” is far too shallow for satire and far too pointless for me to care.
John Gallagher Jr, last seen opposite crazy John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane” is Mike, the office nice guy at a seemingly typical American office. Except, this office isn’t in America. Despite being populated by an assortment of run of the mill office types, this office is in Bogota, Columbia, of all places and though non-descript, the setting creates unease right off the bat.
Why are a bunch of workaday office drones working in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, is a question that lends some early suspense to “The Belko Experiment.” It’s a clever bit of shorthand that, if you had not seen the trailer and weren’t aware of the premise of the film, you would make you take note of the setting.
Mike’s day is mostly ordinary; he flirts with his secret office romance, Leandra (Emerald City’s Adria Arjona), he confronts the office creep, Wendell (John C. McGinley) and shares an awkward moment with the bigwig COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn) who catches him in a moment with Leandra. Everything is mundane until a heretofore unheard of public address speaker screeches to life and informs everyone that this will not be just another day at the office.
The voice on the PA instructs that the office workers must kill their co-workers or the voice will do it for them in the form of a bomb in everyone’s neck. An indication that The Belko Corporation had this bloody endgame in mind all along is that they convinced their employees to get trackers in their necks to aid them in case they get kidnapped in Bogota. The implants are now revealed to be bombs and a gruesome end is ensured for just about everyone.
“The Belko Experiment” is a spiritual cousin to the “Saw” franchise. Both films center on God-like figures setting other people up to kill or be killed in a bizarre social experiment murder spree. The difference between the “Belko” and “Saw” however is the point and purpose, “Saw” has a point and purpose and “Belko” doesn’t.
As gruesome as “Saw” unquestionably is, Jigsaw is a strangely benevolent figure. Each of Jigsaw’s victims has the chance to survive if they put aside their self-centeredness and worked as a team with their fellow captives. The only reason Jigsaw victims die is because they are out for themselves and make selfish choices. There is no such equivalent in “The Belko Experiment.” The film is only an exploitation splatter flick with modest, mostly unrealized pretensions toward social satire.
Is “The Belko Experiment” a good exploitation-splatter flick? Yeah, if you like that sort of thing it’s fair to say this is on the higher end of that low-end genre. The film is clever at building and sustaining tension throughout and the gore is believably visceral but it’s far too pointless for my taste. None of the blood and guts matter. The characters are far too shallow for them to matter beyond how well their heads explode.
If well rendered exploding heads is enough for you, then by all means, enjoy “The Belko Experiment.”
Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as Belle, a peculiar young lady in a small French village, prone to reading while walking and daydreaming about life outside her quiet little town. When her father, played by Kevin Kline, is captured in a strange forgotten castle in the middle of a forbidding forest, Belle goes to rescue him and winds up taking his place as a captive of the Beast (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens). The Beast is a prisoner in his own right, cursed to be a Beast until he finds true love. Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, and Ewan McGregor co-star for Director Bill Condon. Here is my review of Beauty and the Beast....
The passing of actor Bill Paxton naturally led to a great deal of praise and reflection as the universally beloved actor was remembered across the media landscape. He may not have looked it but Paxton was 61 years old when he died of complications related to surgery. His youthfulness is something that many of his friends have talked about in tribute and his youthful energy was reflected by his work rate. At the time of his passing Paxton was working on the CBS television series “Training Day” and had one film in post-production, “The Circle,” and another that he was about to hit the promotional trail for and the reason for this writing, “Mean Dreams.”
In “Mean Dreams” Bill Paxton portrays a righteous bastard and invests him with the kind of menace that he doesn’t seem capable of from the remembrance of his friends. It’s high estimation of his talent that he was so incredible at making you afraid of him and yet he’s remembered for such incredible kindness and generosity in his everyday life.
“Mean Dreams” is the story of Jonas (Josh Wiggins) and Casey (Sophie Nelisse), teenagers who fall in love when Casey becomes Jonas’ neighbor, living just field of weeds away. The two meet in the forest and though Casey’s father Wayne (Paxton) isn’t very welcoming, the two begin spending time together and building the kind of short term romantic intensity only teenagers can create. The romantic montage is beautifully shot by cinematographer Steve Cosens and director Nathan Morlando. The montage does its job of establishing the relationship and moving us along to the thriller plot that is the film’s center.
Jonas and Casey’s budding romance is altered forever when Jonas witnesses Casey being beaten by her father and attempts to intervene. Later, Jonas once again tries to help Casey but finds himself trapped amid Wayne pulling off a drug deal and then a multiple murder. When he escapes this situation, Jonas decides to take the ill-gotten drug money from Wayne’s truck, gathers up Casey and her dog and goes on the run to escape from Wayne and his equally corrupt cop partner played by Colm Feore.
There is a very Terence Malick like vibe to “Mean Dreams” with “Badlands” unquestionably influential in the film. The very first scene of “Mean Dreams” shows Jonas seemingly wearing the uniform of Martin Sheen’s young bad boy from “Badlands” while crossing the dewy, overgrown Midwestern weeds that Malick made so beautiful. The look is the only similarity however, as the character of Jonas is certainly nothing like Sheen’s thoughtless murderer. Josh Wiggins gives Jonas toughness and vulnerability in equal measure with his determination and caring a bittersweet counterpoint to Bill Paxton's villainous Wayne.
Bill Paxton is terrifyingly real in “Mean Dreams.” Playing a drunken, corrupt, small town cop, Paxton is all seething menace underlined with a depth of sadness that only makes him more frighteningly unpredictable. The specter of Wayne hangs over the whole film, especially in scenes he is not in because his menace permeates the whole film and while he is frighteningly realistic it’s hard not to fear him popping up like a horror film villain. He’s portrayed as clever and resourceful on top of being a desperate bastard and Paxton infuses the character with chilling life.
In his second feature, following the 2011 Canadian crime flick “Citizen Gangster,” director Nathan Morlando acquits himself well. The look of the “Mean Dreams” is often quite lovely, with a touch of influence from “Badlands” and a little of the grayish grit of “The Road,” Morlando shows that he has a distinctive eye. If “Mean Dreams” is lacking in any way, it’s in the thin characterization of his female characters as either absent or present victims.
“Mean Dreams” is an intense sit with a quick pace and a good look. The film also ranks as one of the best performances in Bill Paxton’s long and varied career. I am not the one to offer Paxton a proper tribute as I have often taken issue with his performances, especially his most well-known turns for friend and director James Cameron. That said, I can say that his talent is well displayed in “Mean Dreams” where even as a supporting villain he carries the film with his menacing presence pushing the plot forward regardless of whether he’s onscreen or not.
This won’t go down as Paxton’s final performance but it is certainly a memorable one and one that is more than worthy of being part of a retrospective of the man’s career. Gone to soon at 61, you can celebrate Paxton’s work when “Mean Dreams” arrives on on-demand and download services on March 17th, 2017.
A seemingly undiscovered island is about to be invaded by soldiers and scientists on a mission of discovery. It's the cold war and America wants what is on Skull Island before the Russians get their first. So, a team of soldiers led by Samuel L. Jackson and a team of scientists, led by John Goodman, are given the chance to discover Skull Island and what they find is something man has never seen before, Kong. Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Corey Hawkins co-star. Here is my review of Kong Skull Island.
Logan stars Hugh Jackman as Daniel Howlett aka Logan aka Wolverine. In this iteration of the story, Logan, along with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), is among the last mutants alive.A company has wiped out mutant kind for the most part or so we are led to believe. Charles however, has begun telepathically communicating with a young female mutant on the run from the evil Transigen Corporation and their own private army known as Reavers. Can Logan protect the young girl and assure the future of mutant kind or will the Reavers bring an end to Mutants, including, once and for all? Here is my review of Logan.
Undoubtedly someone will relate to the idea of being invited to a wedding where they are not expected to attend. At least, that is what the producers of the new comedy “Table 19” would like to think. The premise here is that several people have been invited to a wedding where they were just expected to pick a gift off the registry and send that in with their regards. Instead, each of these oddballs decides to attend the wedding and wind up at the table of misfit guests.
Anna Kendrick stars in “Table 19” as Eloise, the former Maid of Honor turned pariah after she was dumped by the Best Man who is also the Bride’s brother, Teddy (Wyatt Russell). Eloise has backed out of the wedding several times since the breakup only to show up on the day of the wedding with everyone concerned she might make a scene. To mitigate her potential meltdown, Eloise is placed as far away as possible, at Table 19.
Joining Eloise are a random assemblage of guests including Jerry and Bina Kepp, (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow) business acquaintances of the Bride’s father, Jo (June Squibb), the Bride’s former Nanny, Renzo (Tony Revolori) an awkward teenager, and Walter (Stephen Merchant), a business associate of the Groom’s father. Walter is fresh out of prison and hoping no one knows about his prison stay or how he got there; why he came to the wedding or was invited is anyone’s guess.
“Table 19” has the appearance of a movie but not the story of a movie, at least not a good one. At times the film feels like each actor was given one idea for a character and then told to improvise some comic situation. Unfortunately, despite a very talented and game cast, no one, not even the lovely Anna Kendrick finds much beyond one note to play and that one note is rarely ever funny.
Stephen Merchant is a very funny and talented man but his Walter is an absolute comic dead zone. Walter’s one note is that he is just out of prison and hoping no one notices. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to lie properly so he keeps stumbling into awkward and contrived conversations that the makers of “Table 19” apparently believed were hilarious. They are not hilarious, tedious is the more apt description as Merchant plays the same awkward gag over and over until you wish his character would just leave the rest of the movie alone.
Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow have a slightly different problem, they are way more interesting than the one note characters they are given to play. As a married couple seemingly headed for a breakup, Robinson and Kudrow at times seem to border on a much better movie, a more European style character comedy where we might explore their marital problems with a wedding in the background. I kept dreaming of that far funnier movie while “Table 19” forced Kudrow to carry one joke through the movie, she has the same color jacket as the catering staff. Ha Ha.
And finally, there is Kendrick who should be the star here but is instead treated as a member of a wacky ensemble. Unfortunately, that ensemble isn’t funny or even all that interesting while Kendrick is her usual appealing self, her charisma and beauty calling for our full attention while the film forces us to endure her one-note table mates to ever more unfunny situations and dialogue.
I had high hopes for “Table 19.” Anna Kendrick, to me, is a genuine movie star and I wanted to see where she might lead this story. Sadly, the wacky, one note ensemble strands her in the role of straight-woman to a group of terribly unfunny side characters. There is a very funny Anna Kendrick wedding comedy trapped inside of “Table 19” trying to get out but is entirely thwarted by the filmmakers.
The Bride's parents were right, these wedding guests should have just stayed home.
“Collide,” starring Nicholas Hoult, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley has been sitting on a shelf for three years. Do I need to tell you much more about “Collide” than that fact? Okay, fine, movie reviews are required to be more than two lines so I will do my best to discuss the merits of “Collide” but again, if you understand the nature of the Hollywood release schedule, the fact that a movie has sat on a shelf for so long is very, very telling.
“Collide” stars Nicholas Hoult as Casey, an American living in Germany and making a living as a small-time drug dealer. Casey decides to give up drug dealing when he meets and falls in love with Juliette (Felicity Jones), a fellow American ex-pat turned bartender. Things are looking up for the young couple in love until it is revealed that Juliette has a severe movie disease and needs an expense plot point to save her life.
To get the money for Juliette’s transplant Casey takes a job from Geran (Ben Kingsley), his former drug dealing boss. The job pays just enough to pay for Juliette’s surgery (KISMET!) but is very dangerous. Casey and a partner must steal millions of dollars in cocaine from Germany’s biggest drug dealer, Hagen Kahl (Anthony Hopkins). The plan is silly and over-stuffed and naturally doesn’t go as planned. Kahl figures out who Casey is, takes Juliette hostage and the stage is set for a lot of shouting into cellphones and car chases only slightly noisier than the shouting.
Speaking of shouting, does Ben Kingsley remember a time when he wasn’t shouting? Once a well thought of character actor, Kingsley has receded well into parody. Many critics, myself included, used to joke about Kingsley simply nabbing paychecks by accepting every role he’s offered. It’s not funny anymore. Sir Ben has morphed from the actor we laughed along with as he hammed his way through “Bloodrayne” or “The Last Legion” to that actor we pity for having lost his touch.
Anthony Hopkins hasn’t quite sunk to Sir Ben’s depths but he is not far off. Hopkins gives Kingsley a run for his money in the not giving a single damn about his performance. Hopkins can still put a bit of sizzle into his hammy monologues but “Collide” contains far too many instances of Hopkins monologuing just to keep himself awake in a scene.
Poor Nicholas Hoult is caught in the crossfire of the senior hams and is rendered bland in comparison. In his desperate attempt to take seriously the silliness he’s given to deliver and endure; Hoult is amiable but wholly defeated. It is yeoman’s work to take serious the over-complicated silliness of “Collide” and it is hard to fault Hoult, an otherwise handsome and welcome presence, for being tired and overwhelmed.
Full disclosure, “Collide” was delayed because it’s original distributor, Relativity Media, went out business and not necessarily because it isn’t any good. Of course, if the film were good it likely would have been bought out and released sometime in the last three years. Why the film is in theaters nationwide now is a mystery likely linked to a contractual obligation of some s
There isn’t much to write about “Get Out,” the new horror-thriller from writer-director Jordan Peele. Not that “Get Out” isn’t brilliant, it is and I am happy to write that. No, I just don’t want to spoil the myriad pleasures of “Get Out” by telling you too much about it. The film’s trailer gives away too much already, a full-scale review would likely only take away from what should be a surprising, shocking, funny and edgy ride that Jordan Peele has concocted.
“Get Out” stars newcomer Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a TSA employee and budding photographer who is nervous about the upcoming weekend. Chris is headed to Connecticut to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. This would-be nerve wracking for anyone but Chris has the extra edge of being a young black man who is dating a young white woman, Rose (“Girls” star Allison Williams), who hasn’t told her parents who is coming to dinner.
While Rose assures Chris that her parents won’t care about his ethnicity, Chris’s best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery, stealing the whole movie) instructs his friend not to go. Putting aside Rod’s seemingly comical warning, Chris loves Rose and figures one weekend in Connecticut won’t kill him. Upon arriving the Armitage estate, Chris meets the parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), each extra awkward in their overly ingratiating, white liberal manner; Dean assures Chris he would have voted for Obama a third time.
Things quickly get weird however when Chris is introduced to the help, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson). While Chris assumes that fellow black people will make him feel more comfortable, Georgina and Walter are anything but welcoming. In fact, something is quite menacing in their manner. They act and speak like aliens inhabiting the bodies of black people with nothing familiar about them.
I will stop with the plot description there as to avoid any potential spoilers. I can say however that the portrayals of Georgina and Walter are some of the most biting and universal satire we’ve seen in some time. Walter and Georgina implicate all of us from Chris to each member of the audience in the way we expect people to be one way. We expect Georgina and Walter to have familiar, stereotypical traits. We may not know what those traits are specifically but each of us has a model for Georgina and Walter to live into and it is disturbing when they don’t live into it, for us and for Chris.
White liberal guilt is in for quite a workout in “Get Out” as the film takes a few sharps stabs at the way in which those who don’t consider themselves racist pat ourselves on the backs for the ways we aren’t racist. Newsflash, you are not supposed to be a racist. You don’t get a cookie simply for being better than those who would commit hate crimes. “Get Out” is a perfect jab right to the consciousness of the complacent masses who believe simply having elected a black President has made this a post-racial society.
Don’t be mistaken however, the politics are much subtler and implied in “Get Out” than in the outward example I am giving you here. “Get Out” is first and foremost a horror thriller that uses race as a catalyst. Jordan Peele has said in interviews that he simply wanted to make a movie he’d never seen before and he’s certainly created something original. “Get Out” has horror beats and even a touch of science fiction, often the best genres for subtle satire, but it’s also brilliantly funny, channeling the incredibly sharp wit of its creator.
Again, I don’t want to give anything away about “Get Out.” With that said, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Lil Rel Howery steals this whole movie. Howery, a stand-up comedian by trade, is put in place as comic relief but just wait, Peele fills out this character in ways that the Coen Brothers might appreciate. Watching Howery I was reminded, in a rather obscure way, of John Goodman’s Walter in “The Big Lebowski.” You will need to see the movie to understand why I say that and probably need to be a huge Coen Brothers fan as well, nevertheless, Howery deserves the praise of the comparison.
“Get Out” ranks next to “Split” as one of the best movies I have seen in the last 12 months. That each has arrived so early in 2017 is a wonder, we usually aren’t this well spoiled early in the year. Usually, the first two months of any year Hollywood clears the shelves of the dreck they are contractually obligated to release. Does this mean 2017 will be better than any other year? No, but at the very least we have two early masterworks to enjoy for the rest of the year.
To complain that “Rock Dog” is a low-quality bit of animated flotsam is something akin to complaining about the wind blowing, that’s simply it’s nature. “Rock Dog” is animated cash in from China that isn’t meant to be good but rather is intended as a product, and a cheap one at that. China may still be under the boot of Communism but the burgeoning capitalists working their way around the government have learned a thing or two from Hollywood charlatans who pump out product rather than art or even the modest bit of fluffy entertainment.
“Rock Dog” features the voice of Luke Wilson, a paragon of youthful enthusiasm at a mere 45 years old, as teenage mastiff singer Bodi. Bodi lives on Snow Mountain with his bruising mastiff daddy Khampa (J.K Simmons) who has seemingly planned Bodi’s life for him. Like his dad, Bodi is expected to become a guard dog, protecting the simple and sweet sheep of Snow Mountain from the dastardly and deadly wolves, led by Linnux (Lewis Black).
Bodi however, dreams of music and when a radio falls from the sky from a passing airplane Bodi finds his muse in a rock singer named Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). With dreams of having Angus teach him about music, Bodi leaves his family behind to travel to the city and join a band. Unfortunately, the wolves see Bodi leaving and see it as a chance to attack the village. Can Bodi achieve his dreams and still find a way to protect Snow Mountain? Will you care?
Don’t let this incredibly funny voice cast fool you, “Rock Dog” has only three laughs. Mostly “Rock Dog” seems to exist. The story is rudimentary, as my description indicates, when it isn’t filling time with nonsense about wrestling a murderous bear or padding things further with voiceover from Sam Elliott as, ugh,….. Fleetwood Yak. Somewhere several screenwriters high fived over that pun.
No, Fleetwood Yak is not one of the three laughs in the movie, though it did rank among the uncountable groans. No, Eddie Izzard’s rock star cat was responsible for the laughs “Rock Dog” inspires. One comes when he is forced into a bit of old school Warner Brothers slapstick, the second when he feels guilty for stealing a song from Bodi and is shamed by his robot butler and the last wasn’t memorable enough for me to recount but I can at least admit the laugh was there.
Does a negative review of “Rock Dog” matter in any way? Of course, not. Most parents don’t care what they throw in front of their small child’s consciousness. That said, for the few parents who do care, for the parents who are vigilant and give thought and care to what their children consume, this review is for you. This review says don’t waste your child’s developing brain cells on this. It’s not that “Rock Dog” is offensive or even bad for the children who do see it. Rather, that “Rock Dog” isn’t worth the 89 minutes your child could be reading or imagining or exploring a worthy work of pop entertainment. This review is for anyone who actually read all the way to the end of a review of “Rock Dog.”
It’s time for the Oscars and time for those of us supposed experts to weigh in with our picks. Let’s get this one thing straight, of course the Oscars are subjective and do not reflect, could not reflect, what everyone believes are the best movies or performances. If it was a fan vote Star Wars Rogue One or one of a myriad of Superhero adventures would likely win Best Picture.
Instead, a group of very knowledgeable people in the field of film have gathered to attempt to aggregate their opposing tastes into something that reflects what the industry believes is the best of the best. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a whole lot of fun to talk about and debate. This is my tiny contribution to that conversation.
My choice would be Arrival but that’s not gonna happen. I am of two minds on this one. On the one hand La La Land was near record setting in nominations. On the other hand, last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy is undoubtedly weighing on voters regardless of the call to simply choose the best of the best. Regardless of the controversy, there are great arguments in favor of either Moonlight or Hidden Figures but it would be naïve to assume that the controversy doesn’t increase each film’s chances this year. That said, I am still picking La La Land to win based on its popularity, artistry and the fact that it has the broadest appeal of all of the nominees.
Winner La La Land
Not much conversation here, Denzel wins for Fences.
Winner Denzel Washington for Fences
This race pretty much ended when Taraji P. Henson wasn’t nominated for Hidden Figures. Emma Stone will take home her first Oscar for her lovely performance in La La Land.
Winner Emma Stone La La Land
Best Supporting Actor
A month ago I would have said that Mahershala Ali was a shoe-in to take home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. But in the run up the ballots being cast Dev Patel has been getting an immense amount of attention. Putting aside the fact that Patel really is the lead actor in Lion, his performance is deeply emotional and personal and the film is a global smash. That’s not to say that Ali isn’t as good but his film has a far tougher subject matter and is much less seen than the wide appeal Lion.
Winner Dev Patel Lion
Best Supporting Actress
Yet another no contest category, Viola Davis will win for Fences
Milla Jovovich takes on the role of Alice for the 6th and supposedly final time in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. The film finds Alice needing to return to Raccoon City, site of the very first outbreak of the T-Virus from the first film in the franchise. Supposedly there is a cure for the zombie plague and only our super-power enhanced heroine can get to it and use to save what little is left of humanity. Here's my review of Resident Evil The Final Chapter.
A Dog's Purpose features the voice of Josh Gad (Frozen's snowman) as Bailey, the dog of Ethan. Bailey however will have many different lives and owners throughout the film as he passes from one life to the next via reincarnation going from Golden Retriever to German Shepard to Corgy among other breeds all while hoping to sniff his way back to Ethan. Here's my review of A Dog's Purpose.