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.
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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.
Patriot's Day stars Mark Wahlberg as a Boston detective who was on security detail on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Wahlberg's detective, along with the entirety of the Boston Police Department joined with the FBI for one of the most elaborate manhunts in American history as they worked to capture the terrorists who bombed the Boston Marathon. John Goodman and Kevin Bacon co-star. Here's my review of Patriot's Day.
Sleepless stars Jamie Foxx as a corrupt cop who is in over his head after he and his partner steal drugs from one of Las Vegas's most dangerous drug dealers. When the dealers kidnap Foxx's son he must dodge both police and the dealers in order to get him back safe. Michelle Monaghan and rapper T.I Harris co-star. Here is my review of Sleepless.
Live by Night stars Ben Affleck as a small time criminal who becomes a big time crime kingpin when he aligns himself with the Italian mob and moves to Florida where he becomes the biggest and most successful bootlegger on the East Coast all while battling local authorities, headed up by Academy Award nominee Chris Cooper, and the KKK, a group outraged by his willingness to do business with the large Cuban and Dominican population but not with the corrupt Klansman. Here is my review of Live by Night.
Underworld Blood Wars stars Kate Beckinale, back in the role of Vampire Assassin Celine, battling both lycans (Werewolves) and Vampires, each trying to kill her over the blood of her missing hybrid daughter, blood that could be the key to unlimited power. Joined by a fellow vampire played by Theo James, Celine must battle both sides to protect her daughter and prevent full on war between Vampires and Lycans. Here's my review of Underworld Blood War....
A young boy dealing with the long, slow, painful death of his mother, retreats into a fantasy world where a monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, tells him frightening stories. There will be three stories told by the monster, each with an intention to awaken something in the boy. The last story will be told by the boy himself and that will be the story of his mother and coming to terms. Here is my review of "A Monster Calls"
Heading into its 12th season “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia should be slowing down and becoming predictable like most other shows that age. Thankfully that is not the fate of this always odd but never boring show. Yes, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is an acquired taste but for those who’ve come to love the show over its 11 seasons, season 12 starts with yet another strange but wonderful bang.
It’s hard to fathom until you see it but “The Gang Turns Black” is a literal title. After spending an evening watching “The Wiz” with a homeless man they’ve decided to rescue the gang is struck by lightning and wake up black. Though we see the gang as they always are, in mirrors and to the outside world they are a family black people. This leads the gang to try and figure out the rules of this situation by referencing body switch movies and the 80’s TV series “Quantum Leap.”
Then things get weird. While assessing the situation, and trying to figure out which Hollywood based cliché will get them back to their own bodies, Charlie and then Dennis begin to sing. Yes, fans, it’s a musical episode on top of the high concept Hollywood satire. Soon the whole gang is singing, only pausing for the requisite exposition dialogue dumps that are a hallmark of many Hollywood musicals that need to explain parts of the plot that cannot be made to rhyme.
Two theories emerge as to what is happening. Mac believes the gang has been transported to some version of The Wiz and must learn a valuable lesson before getting to go home. Dee believes the gang is in a Quantum Leap scenario though she also believes a good deed is what will break them free. The theories split the gang with Charlie and Dennis going with Mac and Frank splitting off with Dee to seek out their own Ziggy, ala Quantum Leap.
Both subplots are equally hilarious with Charlie’s performance being the standout. A perpetual arrested development, it’s perfect that Charlie’s black identity is that of a child. Forced to explain his situation to police, the deft writing leads to a classic series of misunderstandings that are rooted in the “Sunny” canon. That said, there is a glorious cameo in Dee and Frank’s plot that nearly steals the show, including the last gag of the episode that is a true howler.
Admittedly, I have dipped in and out of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia over the years but episodes like this one make me glad the show has hung on as long as it has. The plot is bizarre yet classically “Sunny.” The humor is accessible to new viewers and yet rooted in the long running history of these characters. It’s deft and inventive and that is not something that is often said about show that has been around as long as “Sunny.”
Season 12 of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" airs at 9 Pm Central on FXX.
Actor Boris Kodjoe never expected to be a full time cast member on the CBS medical drama Code Black. Kodjoe signed on for a four episode arc in season one of the series and he thought that might be it. However, producers loved his work so much they invited him to become a full time cast member for season two joining fellow cast newcomer Rob Lowe and series star and Academy Award nominee Marcia Gay Harden. Code Black is set in the busiest Emergency Room in the country and it's a show that moves at an incredible pace that keeps both the audience and the actors on the edge of their seats. But acting is only part of Boris Kodjoe's unique life story. Born in Vienna Austria, Boris was raised in Germany and did not learn English until he was 19 years and now speaks with little to no accent. On an even more personal level however, Boris's life today is dedicated to his family and to his daughter Sophie who was born with Spina Bifida. In my conversation with Boris we talk about the Sophie's Voice Foundation which is raising money not just to help treat Spina Bifida but also to provide support for families caring for people with Spina Bifida. Actor Boris Kodjoe with our Sean Patrick in this RegionalDailyNews.com interview....
I cannot win with this review. I can, in my mind, already hear the voices of those who say that because I don’t like videogames I cannot appreciate a videogame movie. Then there are those who will recall the number of times I have decried the videogame movie subgenre and will also claim I went into “Assassin’s Creed” with bias. My only response to these spectral voices is believe whatever you want, Assassin’s Creed is simply not a very good movie, videogame adaptation or otherwise.
Michael Fassbender stars in “Assassin’s Creed” as Callum Lynch, the son of a murdered mother and a murderer father who grows up to be a killer himself. We meet the adult Callum on the day he is to be executed for what we can only assume was some sort of murder spree. The execution however, does not take and Callum wakes up in Spain where he’s been kidnapped by the Knights Templar who plan to hook Callum to a machine that can access the memories of his ancestors (just go with it).
Callum’s ancestors were members of an ancient order of Assassins known as the Creed. The Creed were created to battle the Knights Templar and specifically keep the Knights from getting their hands on The Apple, literally the apple taken from the tree knowledge in the Garden of Eden. For the reasons of the plot the Apple has the power to remove free will from the world and grant the Knights Templar the power to enslave humanity.
Through his time in the machine, called the Animus, Callum will learn the story of the Creed and will polish his assassin skills. Will he use those skills to continue his family legacy? Yeah, probably, the Knights Templar are obviously the bad guys here. Nevertheless, I will leave some mystery for you to discover if you choose to subject yourself to “Assassin’s Creed,” though I do not recommend that you do that.
“Assassin’s Creed” is a forgettable bad movie, not one that will leave much of any lasting impression. Michael Fassbender and co-stars Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Michael K. Williams are all professionals who give life to the material even if it proves unworthy of the effort. Fassbender is a physical specimen whose glower certainly can petrify an enemy but he’s at a loss to overcome the CGI splattered all around him in messy edits that render every frame of “Assassin’s Creed” a minor eyesore.
“Assassin’s Creed” comes from Director Justin Kurzel whose adaptation of “MacBeth,” yes that “Macbeth,” also starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and was similarly an eyesore. At least his “MacBeth” has ambition, Kurzel’s “Assassin’s Creed,” on the other hand, feels like an attempt to appease a studio eager for a well-known product to churn into a formula franchise that creates new revenue streams and elevates stock prices.
Poor Michael Fassbender; he seems lost in a Hollywood that doesn’t understand his gifts. Despite that chin that could cut glass and eyes that could pierce steel, Fassbender isn’t a classic “movie star.” We, the popcorn chomping blockbuster masses, simply respect him as an actor too much to watch him act below his skill level. Sure, his version of the “X-Men” villain Magneto is well liked but we’d all hoped that was his “one for them” studio picture that would let him get back to being a real actor.
Instead he has stranded himself in “Assassin’s Creed” as another “one for them” movie and we are left to lament the kinds of performances he could be dedicating his time too. Quirky, wonderful indie flicks like “Frank” and “Fish Tank” gave us the Michael Fassbender we truly want while “X-Men” was supposed to be the insurance for the next “Frank” or “Fish Tank.” Now, with “Assassin’s Creed,” who knows where Fassbender may be headed, probably cruddier looking CGI claptrap. What a shame.
Themes of identity, race, time and family are raised in the new drama “Lion” starring Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar as two versions of the same character, a boy and a man named Saroo. Based on a true story and a bestselling novel, “Lion” warmly and intelligently tackles large themes in a satisfyingly dramatic fashion that is at times too conventional but with enough emotional weight to make it work.
“Lion” tells the story of Saroo, who, at 5 years old, was separated from his older brother Guddu at a train station, ends up on a train, falls asleep and wakes up hundreds of miles away from his village. Now in Bengal, Saroo does not know the name of his village or his mother’s real name and has no way to get home. After a series of near misses with some very scary people, and a couple of lovely moments with some generous souls, Saroo finds himself in an English run orphanage where he is soon to be adopted by a couple from Australia.
The couple, John and Sue Brierly, (David Wenham and Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman) adopt Saroo and take him back to their home in Tasmania where he will grow up and eventually seem to forget his time in India. Soon Saroo has an adopted brother, another Indian boy named Mantosh, for whom the transition from India to Tasmania is much, much more difficult. The brothers never really connect with each other and their boiling resentment provide yet another metaphor for Saroo’s relationship to his past.
Some 20 years after Saroo’s adoption he is college graduate and is beginning to pursue a career in Hotel management. It is here when Saroo meets Lucy (Rooney Mara) who will become his wife but not before a chance encounter with fellow Indian students convinces Saroo to try to find his family back in India. Using some amateur detective skills, research, and math, Saroo hopes to find the train station where he was first lost and use that information to find his family.
“Lion” is based on a true story so I am not sure if discussing the ending of the film would be considered a “spoiler.” I am choosing to leave the ending for you to discover but even for those who know the story it does contain quite an emotional wallop. Dev Patel plays the grownup Saroo and the final scenes of “Lion” are some of the best work of his relatively young career.
“Lion” was directed by Garth Davis who is best known in America for his work on the excellent mini-series “Top of the Lake.” Here Davis does a fine job of contrasting the grit and grime and danger of India with the crisp, clean, even sterile, setting of Tasmania and using this juxtaposition to underline the film’s themes of disconnection, longing, family and identity. Saroo feels resentment toward his family for maybe not looking hard enough for him but he also feels guilt about having enjoyed life in Tasmania while having left behind his family in poverty.
Saroo’s task in locating his family is incredibly daunting and the strain it puts on his relationship with his mother and his girlfriend is a strong driver of the second and third act of the film. I was very moved by Saroo’s scenes with his adoptive mother who attempts to hide her jealousy and hurt feelings over Saroo’s search but soon comes to terms with it out of love for her son. Lucy and Saroo meanwhile almost completely lose touch as his obsession with train speeds and stations grows and it is a strong testament to the performances of Patel and Mara that the strain feels real and threatening.
“Lion” is a tad too conventional but the performances and the emotional weight of the story make the simplicity of the plotting easier to accept. Dev Patel has never been better and it is great to see good work from Nicole Kidman again as it feels like ages since she was turning in Oscar caliber work. Director Garth Davis needs to work more before we can begin passing judgement on his style and where he fits in the directorial landscape but from his work here, he has me excited to see what he does next.
Why Him is an ungainly, awkward, mess of a movie. The film stars James Franco as one of the most off-putting characters ever brought to the screen, a tech billionaire named Laird who has no concept of how normal people interact. This could be a funny idea, the super-rich can tend to lose connection to the concerns and proprieties of the common man, but, Franco's performance isn’t merely that of a charmingly out of touch kook, but rather a genuinely out of sorts sociopath played as a comic creation.
Bryan Cranston co-stars with Franco in Why Him and is apparently trying to create a character just as annoying as his co-star. Cranston is Ned Fleming, the father of Stephanie (Zoey Deutsch) who has gone off to college in Silicon Valley and fallen madly in love with Laird. Stephanie has invited the whole family, including her mother, Barb (Megan Mullally), and brother Scottie (Griffin Gluck), to fly to California from their home in Michigan to spend the holidays with her and Laird who they will meet for the very first time.
Laird's shtick is that he says everything that comes into his head with no filter. He curses to a degree that would shame Melissa McCarthy and is so incredibly disconnected from everyday small talk that he has no problem discussing sex with his clearly offended future in-laws. Even as everyone around him is clearly offended and uncomfortable with Laird's behavior he is completely oblivious and somehow this is supposed to be funny. It's not, it's just hard to watch.
For his part, Cranston plays Ned as a joyless crank. He’s miserable from the moment he arrives in California from Michigan and remains miserable through the films forced and predictable finale. So, Ned is a miserable character with no sense of humor, no jokes to leaven his miserable premise and the most that Cranston can seem to do with the character is physical shtick that is more like watching someone amid a mental breakdown than someone attempting physical humor. Cranston gesticulates and tenses every muscle and spits every line of dialogue and never once does something funny.
The supporting players in Why Him come away far better off than the leads. Megan Mullally, a veteran of TV sitcoms, seems to know just where to pick her spots for her few jokes, while poor Zoey Deutsch spends most of her time trying to dodge the two leads whose gesticulations as they strain for every joke had to be rather dangerous for any co-star who wandered too closely. Keegan Michael Key, playing Franco's oddball, German accented, assistant Gustav, at the very least could fight back. His running gag is randomly attacking Laird as a way of developing his self-defense, a joke that falls flat, especially once Cranston begins trying to explain it.
Why Him is completely derailed by a pair of lead performances that could not possibly be less appealing. The fact that both Cranston and Franco are former Academy Award nominees only compounds the problem. We know these two actors are better than this awful material and watching them act down to this garbage idea is just depressing.
I blame Director John Hamburg for most of the problems with Why Him. Having allowed his actors to do a great deal of improvisation, at least I assume that was improv, otherwise there is an editor who needs to find a new profession, Hamburg created the sloppy, slapdash environment that lead to this mess. Even worse, Hamburg fills out the awfulness by relying on bathroom humor with toilets and urine playing significant roles in the film.
What is it with John Hamburg and bathrooms? Bathroom issues have figured prominently in his humor in most of his movies from the cat that could flush a toilet in Meet the Parents to Ben Stiller's irritable bowels in Along Comes Polly to the fart jokes of Hamburg's one good movie, I Love You Man, Hamburg seems either obsessed with bathrooms or he's merely childish and lazy. Toilets figure prominently throughout Why Him which ends with a post-credits scene all about toilets with pictures of people using the toilet. Ewww.
At the very least toilets are an apt metaphor for Why Him. This movie needs to be flushed.
I really wanted to like Passengers, the new sci-fi adventure starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I am a big fan of both Pratt and Lawrence, each of whom are veterans of the blockbuster genre having starred in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games respectively. Unfortunately, Passengers sticks Pratt and Lawrence with one majorly flawed story choice that even their charm cannot overcome.
Chris Pratt, dialing back on his usual Chris Pratt schtick to a welcome degree, plays Jim Spencer, a mechanic who has signed up to travel to a new space colony, a journey that is supposed to last 120 years. Jim is supposed to be in hibernation during the entire trip but a malfunction wakes him up after only 30 years. Alone, Jim at first tries to get his sleeping pod working again. When that fails he begins to get a tad stir crazy.
With a robot bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) as his only friend, Jim begins to think about doing something terrible, waking up another passenger. He even has his eye on one in particular, Aurora, played by Jennifer Lawrence. After reading her file in the ship's archives, Jim begins to fall for Aurora but he knows that waking her up is basically a death sentence.
I won't tell you whether it is Jim or some other circumstance that leads to it, but, indeed Aurora is awakened and after a short while of rehashing Jim's failed attempts at restarting the sleep pods, she resigns herself to Jim as her only companion and the two begin developing a relationship. Naturally, their idyll will have to be disrupted and when another pod fails we begin to find out just how much trouble our heroes are in for.
The major flaw of Passengers is one that could have easily been avoided. A simple rewrite of the script, one simple decision by the writer or director, and a major flaw could have been corrected. Unfortunately, Director Morton Tyldum apparently preferred the forced and predictable drama of this flawed choice over something more satisfying and less damaging to one of our main characters.
Sorry to have to dance around the problem so much but I don't feel it is my place to spoil this movie for people who still want to give it a chance. The film does still have two incredibly appealing leads and they are beautiful to look at, especially when they begin to fall for each other. There are other positives as well such as Michael Sheen's robot supporting player and the ship sets which have both a modern gleam and an old school Kubrickian-sci-fi majesty to them.
In the end, Passengers is not a bad movie, just one that is ruined by one silly, kinda creepy, poor storytelling decision that leads to a lot of false, unnecessary and predictable melodrama, all of which could have been easily avoided. This movie could have played out in much the same way that it does without this one stupid plot contrivance.
Rogue One A Star Wars Story stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Urso a petty criminal with a deep dark secret. Jyn's parents were kidnapped when she was a child and her father was forced to work for the Empire. When we meet grown up Jyn she is rescued from an Empire prison work camp by forces of the Rebellion and given a choice, help find the dangerous Jedi Warrior who raised her (Forrest Whitaker) or go back to jail. What she discovers could lead her back to her father while also helping the Rebellion gain an advantage over the Empire. Here is my review of Rogue One A Star Wars Story.
"Fences" tells the story of a family that is slowly falling apart. Based on the stage play by August Wilson, "Fences" was Directed by Denzel Washington who also stars as Troy Maxon. Troy is a gregarious man who seems like the life of the party. On closer examination however, the mask comes off and reveals a man whose gregariousness hides a deep well of pain and resentment. The older Troy gets, and the further he gets from his dreams, the more his pain and resentment comes out and is aimed at his family including his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo).
Troy is a former Negro Leagues baseball star who was deemed too old by the Major Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. With few options for employment in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, Troy took a job as a waste collector, a job he's held for years when we are introduced to him. It's a good job that has put food on the table but the meager $75 a week isn't what gave his family a home and is yet another story of pain and resentment for Troy related to his wounded army veteran brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson).
The various resentments and frustrations of Troy Maxon's life are presented by Denzel Washington as lengthy monologues, some filled with metaphoric rage and others where the bitterness rises to the top. The film was directed by Washington from the stage play by August Wilson and Washington's performance reflects the stagebound nature of the story.
That stagebound quality is the biggest problem with the otherwise compelling "Fences." The transition from stage to the screen is often quite awkward with Washington at times belting his stagy monologues to the back of the nonexistent theater. He's Denzel Washington so most of the time even the belting to the back of the room is compelling but there are still many awkward moments.
Viola Davis delivers a far less affected performance as Rose. Though Davis is no stranger to stage theatrics, she strikes a more measured and realistic tone for her performance. Davis isn't trying to reach the back of the theater, even her biggest emotional moments, she seems to better understand the intimacy of the film medium more than her director and co-star.
Washington directs "Fences" as if it were still on the stage. There are a limited number of sets in the film with the family backyard being the main stage and the dingy interior of their modest home the other most prominent space and it's not hard to imagine these sets constructed for the stage. This, much like the heavy monologuing, makes for more than a few awkward, ungainly scenes, especially at the end which nearly tips over into kitsch.
"Fences" is in many ways a fine film. For all of the awkwardness in the transition from stage to screen, it's hard not to be compelled by Washington and Davis and the themes of lost youth, resentment, and betrayal. It is nearly impossible not to feel something deep for Washington as he exposes Troy Maxon's vulnerability while maintaining his vitality and strength. Davis is even more outstanding as Rose whose righteousness drives the final act of the film.
Perhaps another director might have managed the translation from stage to screen better than Washington. As a huge fan of August Wilson and an actor who can't resist a good monologue, Washington likely fell in love with the stage version too much. A Director without that identification with the stage play likely could have rounded "Fences" into something more cinematic and less awkward. As it is, "Fences" is flawed but compelling.
Vertical Entertainment has released a new poster and stills for "The Crash" starring Dianna Agron, Minnie Driver, Frank Grillo and John Leguizamo. "The Crash" tells to story of a disgraced stock trader in the near future who is recruited by the government to help thwart a cyber-attack on the Stock Market. Take a look at the new trailer and let us know what you think.....
Writer-Director Tom Ford and the cast of "Nocturnal Animals" are reacting to the film receiving 3 Golden Globe nominations on Monday. "Nocturnal Animals" was nominated for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Aaron Taylor Johnson.
Writer Director Tom Ford:
"I am extremely honored to have received today's Golden Globe nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. I am incredibly proud of this film and to be in the company of such accomplished directors and screenwriters is humbling. I am also very happy that Aaron Taylor-Johnson's work was recognized with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I am very grateful as these nominations are also a testament to the brilliantly talented cast and crew who helped to bring NOCTURNAL ANIMALS to life.”
Co-star Aaron Taylor Johnson
"Waking up to this news in an early dawn light made going into the darkness to bring this character alive all the more worthwhile. I'm truly grateful to the HFPA for recognizing the transformation I went through to create this role with Tom Ford. This is all very overwhelming and exciting. It's such a tremendous honor."
The movie "Book of Henry" arrives in theaters June 16th, 2017 and Focus Features released the fiilm's first new poster for the film starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay from "Room," Sarah Silverman and Dean Norris from "Breaking Bad."
"Book of Henry" tells the story of a mother raising two sons, one of whom is a genius.
The nominations for the Golden Globe Awards were announced this morning in Los Angeles with La La Land coming away a bigger winner once again with multiple nominations along with Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight proclaiming themselves the top contenders for the Academy Awards. On the TV side Blackish and The People vs O.J Simpson came up big in the biggest categories. A partial list of nominees is below....
Best TV Series Comedy
Blackish Atlanta Transparent Veep
Best TV Series, Drama
The Crown Game of Thrones Stranger Things This Is Us Westworld
Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama
Matthew Rhys - The Americans
Rami Malek - Mr. Robot
Billy Bob Thornton - Goliath Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber - Ray Donovan
Best TV Movie or Limited-Series
American Crime The Dresser The Night Manager The Night Of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Best Actor in a Limited-Series or TV Movie
Courtney B. Vance
Best Actress in a Limited-Series or TV Movie
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited-Series or TV Movie
Sterling K. Brown - The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Hugh Laurie - The Night Manager
John Lithgow - The Crown
John Travolta - The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Christian Slater - Mr. Robot
Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited-Series or TV Movie
Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy
Rachel Bloom - Crazy Ex Girlfriend
Sarah Jessica Parker - Divorce Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Veep
Gina Rodriguez - Jane the Virgin
Issa Rae - Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross - Black-ish
Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
20th Century Women Deadpool Florence Foster Jenkins La La Land Sing Street
Best Motion Picture - Drama Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
As the rare film critic who has loved most of the Fast and Furious movies I was quite excited about this next chapter in the series. However, I am not loving this premise: Dom Torretto turns on his family. It's obvious that Vin Diesel's Dom is being blackmailed or hypnotized or some other silliness by Charlize Theron's villain. Then again, all of these movies are predictable so I can't be to annoyed. The Furious franchise isn't about plot, it's about the biggest, silliest stunts imaginable and this trailer definitely delivers on that front. On a different note, when I first saw the tite "Fate of the Furious," I thought it was a twitter joke. Nope, that is the actual title. Watch the trailer and let us know what you think.
Loving tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the real life couple who in 1958 traveled to Washington D.C to be married and then were arrested days later because Richard was white and Mildred was black. Nearly six years after their arrest and being forced to leave their home in Virginia, they would team with the ACLU to fight their conviction all the way to the Supreme Court in a case that changed the U.S Constitution.
Miss Sloane stars Jessica Chastain as the title character, a Washington D.C lobbyist, who takes on the NRA in a battle to pass gun control legislation. Is she against guns? Not really, rather she just likes a challenge and their are few bigger challenges in D.C than battling the richest and most influential lobby in the country, the gun lobby. Here is my review of Miss Sloane.
The Critics' Choice Awards are happening this Sunday, December 11th, at 7 Pm on A & E and hosted by the very funny T.J Miller. Voting for the awards among members of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association opened this morning and I have cast my ballot. In keeping with my policy of putting my name on my choices I am here choosing to post the votes I cast this morning. Be sure to watch the show on Sunday night to see if my choices match those of my fellow members of the BTJA and the BFCA. Cannot wait for Sunday night, it's going to be a great show, filled with stars and honoring the best there is this year in movies and television.
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Amy Adams –Arrival
Best Supporting Actor
Michael Shannon –Nocturnal Animals
Best Supporting Actress
Naomie Harris –Moonlight
Best Young Actor or Actress
Hailee Steinfeld –The Edge of Seventeen
Best Acting Ensemble
Hell or High Water
Best Original Screenplay
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Best Adapted Screenplay
Eric Heisserer –Arrival
Seamus McGarvey –Nocturnal Animals
Best Production Design
La La Land
Tom Cross-La La Land
Best Costume Design
Colleen Atwood –Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best Hair and Makeup
Star Trek Beyond
Best Visual Effects
Best Animated Feature
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie
Ryan Reynolds –Deadpool
Best Actress in an Action Movie
Gal Gadot Batman Vs Superman Dawn of Justice
The Nice Guys
Best Actor in a Comedy
Ryan Gosling The Nice Guys
Best Actress in a Comedy
Hailee Steinfeld –The Edge of Seventeen
Best Sci-Fi /Horror Movie
Best Foreign Film
Audition(The Fool’s That Dream) –La La Land
Justin Hurwitz –La La Land
Best Comedy Series
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Ellie Kemper –The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover –Atlanta
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jane Krakowski –The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Louie Anderson –Baskets
Best Guest Performer in a Comedy Series
Larry David –Saturday Night Live
Best Animated Series
Best Reality Competition Series
Best Structured Reality Series
Best Unstructured Reality Series
Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown
Best Talk Show
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Best Reality Show Host
Ru Paul –Ru Paul’s Drag Race
Best Drama Series
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Keri Russell –The Americans
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Rami Malek –Mr. Robot
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Constance Zimmer –Unreal
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Christian Slater –Mr. Robot
Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series
Mahershala Ali –House of Cards
Best Movie Made for Television or Limited Series
The People Vs O.J Simpson
Best Actress in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series
Sarah Paulsen –The People Vs. O.J Simpson
Best Actor in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series
Bryan Cranston –All the Way
Best Supporting Actress in Movie Made for Television or Limited Series
Regina King –American Crime
Best Supporting Actor in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series
“Nocturnal Animals” is a daring film of unique power and affect. Directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, the film stars Amy Adams as Susan, a desperately unhappy Los Angeles art dealer whose past comes back to haunt her in the form of a book written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Reading the book, alone in her enormous and empty home over a weekend where her husband (Armie Hammer) is out of town, Susan is struck by feelings for Edward she thought she’d lost years ago.
The book, called “Nocturnal Animals” and dedicated to Susan, is a revenge thriller about a family traveling through a West Texas desert when they are menaced by a group of criminals. We see the story play out in Susan’s imagination with Edward in the lead role of Tony, a good man but not one well suited for a confrontation with criminals. We watch as the confrontation between Tony’s family and the criminals grows from harassment to kidnapping and to something extraordinarily disturbing.
The film goes on to lay in the back story of how Susan and Edward met, fell in love and eventually fell apart. Susan devastated Tony and created a resentment that lasts nearly two decades. The book he’s written is in many ways a reflection of his hurt feelings but you will need to see the movie for yourself to follow that line of logic as I will not spoil anything here.
Michael Shannon plays a role in “Nocturnal Animals” that I am reluctant to go into in order to avoid spoilers. That said, Shannon is Oscar-level brilliant. Shannon acts with every inch of his gaunt frame and with his devastating glare. The character is not unlike a Quentin Tarentino character full of pith and anger in equal measure but slightly less morally ambivalent. It’s an exceptional performance, easily one of the best single performances of 2016.
“Nocturnal Animals” is the second feature film for Director Tom Ford following his artful debut, 2009’s “A Single Man” which won an Oscar for Colin Firth’s remarkable lead performance. Coming from the world of fashion, Ford has a phenomenal eye. Both “Nocturnal Animals” and “A Single Man” are gorgeous to look at even as they explore the uglier side of life. Even the grittiest moments of “Nocturnal Animals” have a beauty to them that most filmmakers would have foregone in trying to underline the grit. Ford smartly uses the crisp, clear cinematography to show that beauty exists even in the dark.
I must add a bit of a caveat to this review. Though I am recommending the movie highly, “Nocturnal Animals” is not for all audiences. The first moments of the film are taunting and provocative and will cause some people to walk out of the theater in protest. Full disclosure, I turned away from the screen on my first viewing and had to force myself to confront the images the second time I watched the film for this review. The opening has little to do with the rest of the movie but I appreciate how this credits sequence jolts us in the audience to wide attention.
Moviegoing is often a passive experience and the credits sequence of “Nocturnal Animals” breaks through that passivity in no uncertain terms. Could the film have done without the jolt? Probably. The story being told is quite good and the performances of Adams, Gyllenhaal, and especially Michael Shannon are strong enough to jolt audiences on their own. That said, I understand the inclusion of the opening and on reflection I appreciate the jolt even as it is quite forceful.
Nerdland features the voices of Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt as John and Elliott, loser roommates starving for fame. John is an aspiring actor and Elliott is a screenwriter though neither seems particularly interested in the work that goes into becoming famous, just the fame. There could be comedy to be wrung from a pair of fame whoring losers but Nerdland pretty much stops at making John and Elliott losers.
After John fails at a lame attempt to get Elliott’s screenplay into the hands of a dopey movie star during an interview junket the two begin brainstorming awful get famous quick schemes. Among the failed attempts at becoming stars is a youtube style video where they give a giant check to a homeless person in hope that their charity will go viral. Unfortunately, Elliott fails to record the attempt and the homeless man runs away with the oversized novelty check.
After fame manages to elude them in several other ways the guys take a shot at infamy, brainstorming a mass murder spree. John and Elliott visit their landlord with the intent of making her their first victim, should be easy, they reason, because she is very old. Naturally, they fail as killers as well and the film then spins off into a minor media parody after the guys witness a robbery and become the targets of both the police and dangerous mobsters.
Throughout the movie references are dropped in regarding a rebuilt Hollywood sign. The reveal of the sign is mentioned several times during the film and it comes up one last time during the film’s climactic scene. Spoiler alert: We never find out why the sign matters in any way. That actually may not be a spoiler as it plays absolutely no role at all in the outcome of the film or the fates of John and Elliott and yet it drags on throughout the entire run of the movie.
The sign bit is emblematic of how sloppy and shapeless Nerdland is but, that is not what makes the film so damn disappointing. It’s the talent that made this shapeless, sloppy, mess of a movie that is so disappointing. On top of Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd, a dynamic comic duo coympletely wasted, we have the talents of Riki Lindholme and Kate Micucci, AKA Garfunkel & Oates, Mike Judge, Paul Scheer, Laraine Newman, Hannibal Burress and “Seven” screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker.
Chris Prynoski is the director of Nerdland and I have to imagine he is responsible for the final product. Prynoski has a cult following from his similarly odd animated TV shows Metalocalypse, Superjail, and the recent live action and animated series Son of Zorn. Prynoski’s style is combatively unfocused, he seems to actively not care if the audience laughs. Prynoski engages in the kind of anti-comedy that attempts to mine laughs from the absurd lack of something funny. Sometimes this kind of comedy can be exciting as a taunt toward a passive audience. In Nerdland it just feels messy and shapeless, even if you feel like you get the anti-joke.
I cannot for the life of me tell you why the movie is called Nerdland. I guess that John and Elliott could be considered nerds but they aren’t really interesting enough to earn any label other than loser. The one character who could rise to a common stereotype of a nerd is played by Hannibal Burress but he is such a grotesque caricature that he defies any simplistic label. Burress’s character is fat and sloppy and runs a comic book store and has access to the darkest corners of nerd culture; something the movie seems to use for narrative convenience except that Prynoski loses interest in even playing out his narrative clichés.
Anti-comedy is tough to pull off. The intent is to drive away lazy audiences and potentially entertain a few of the like-minded souls willing to overlook the ugliness to find the bold and daring comedy below. Andy Kaufman eating ice cream on stage at The Comedy Store is anti-comedy at its finest, a daring taunt from a comic genius who knows that the absurd silent scene on stage is funnier than most of the written material of any other comic. Chris Prynoski is no Andy Kaufman. His brand of anti-comedy isn’t as well refined or daring, merely off-putting.
The joke of Nerdland seems to be its own existence. It plays as if Chris Prynoski hired an all-star team of comic talents with the intention of doing nothing remotely funny with them. It is most certainly a taunt and it does provoke the audience but it lacks wit. Only Chris Prynoski knows why Nerdland is intentionally unfunny and if that self-satisfaction is enough for him then I bow to him. I don’t recommend his movie but I respect what I assume is the self-satisfying result.
Incarnate stars Aaron Eckhart as Dr. Ember, a physician with a unique specialty. Dr. Ember is an 'Incarnate,' a person imbued with the ability to enter other people's subconcious minds. Dr. Ember uses this ability to enter the minds of people possessed by demons and evict the demon without the use of religious exorcism techniques. The latest victim in need of his help is a young boy who happens to be possessed by the same demon that murdered Dr. Ember's wife and child. Here is my review of Incarnate.
The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) has announced the film nominees for the 22ndAnnual Critics’ Choice Awards. The winners will be revealed live at the star-studded Critics’ Choice Awards gala, which will be broadcast from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica on A&E on Sunday, December 11at 8PM ET/ 5PM PT. The awards broadcast will immediately follow the“Critics’ Choice Red Carpet Live” on A&E. As previously announced, actor and comedian T.J. Miller will return as the show’s host.
“La La Land” leads all films this year with 12 nominations including Best Picture, Ryan Gosling for Best Actor, Emma Stone for Best Actress, Damien Chazelle for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, Linus Sandgren for Best Cinematography, David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco for Best Production Design, Tom Cross for Best Editing, Mary Zophres for Best Costume Design, Two Best Song Nominations for “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars,” and Justin Hurwitz for Best Score.
“Arrival” and “Moonlight” impressed with ten nominations each, both in the running for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, among others. “Manchester by the Sea” earned eight nominations, followed by “Hacksaw Ridge” with seven, and “Doctor Strange,” “Fences,” “Hell or High Water,” “Jackie,” and “Lion” all with six.
There are a number of double nominees this year including Denzel Washington for his work as an actor and as the director of the Best Picture nominee “Fences.” Andrew Garfield is up for two acting awards for his work in “Hacksaw Ridge,” as is Ryan Reynolds for “Deadpool,” Lucas Hedges for “Manchester by the Sea,” and Hailee Steinfeld for “The Edge of Seventeen.” Ryan Gosling is also nominated for two acting awards one for “La La Land” and another for “The Nice Guys.” Kenneth Lonergan could earn two awards for directing and writing the screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea,” the same two categories in which Barry Jenkins competes for his work on “Moonlight.”
“This year’s nominees showcase the best that Hollywood has to offer, spanning a wide array of genres, subject matters, time periods, and more,” said BFCA President Joey Berlin. “We hope that they will serve as a roadmap for viewers, offering guidance for movie lovers and ticket buyers as we launch this awards season. We are so thrilled to be able to recognize these incomparable artists and look forward to bringing them together for an unforgettable evening!”
The nominations were announced by Entertainment Weekly via EW.com and the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (People.com/PEN) as part of a multi-platform content and promotionalpartnership between EW and the “Critics’ Choice Awards.”
As previously announced, HBO leads the television honors with 22 nominations, followed by ABC and Netflix with 14 each, and FX with 12. Topping the list of nominated series is The People v. O.J. Simpson(FX) with six. Game of Thrones (HBO), The Night Manager (AMC), and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) follow closely behind with five each. All the Way (HBO), House of Cards (Netflix), Roots (History), and Veep (HBO) all earned four nominations. Other multi-nominated series include American Crime (ABC), Black-ish (ABC), Killing Reagan (National Geographic), Modern Family (ABC), Mr. Robot (USA Network), Ray Donovan (Showtime), Saturday Night Live (NBC), The Crown (Netflix), and Westworld (HBO) with three, and America’s Got Talent (NBC), Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN), Atlanta (FX), Better Call Saul (AMC), Chopped (Food Network), Confirmation (HBO), Fleabag (Amazon), Outlander (Starz), RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo), Silicon Valley (HBO), The Americans (FX), The Dresser (Starz), The Good Wife (CBS), The Voice (NBC), and Transparent (Amazon) each with two nominations.
“The Critics’ Choice Awards” are bestowed annually by the BFCA and BTJA to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. The BFCA is the largest film critics' organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 300 television, radio and online critics. BFCA members are the primary source of information for today's film-going public. BTJA is the collective voice of almost 100 journalists who regularly cover television for TV viewers, radio listeners and online audiences. Historically, the “Critics’ Choice Awards” are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations.
“The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards” will be produced by Bob Bain Productions and Berlin Entertainment. BFCA/BTJA are represented by WME and Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig.
Follow the 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.
FILM NOMINATIONS FOR THE 22ND ANNUAL CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully
Denzel Washington – Fences
Amy Adams – Arrival
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Janelle Monáe – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar - Lion
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Denzel Washington – Fences
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Jeff Nichols – Loving
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Luke Davies – Lion
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
Todd Komarnicki – Sully
Allison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
August Wilson – Fences
Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
James Laxton – Moonlight
Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
Bradford Young – Arrival
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Arrival – Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte/André Valade
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig/James Hambidge, Anna Pinnock
Jackie – Jean Rabasse, Véronique Melery
La La Land – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Live by Night – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
Tom Cross – La La Land
John Gilbert – Hacksaw Ridge
Blu Murray – Sully
Nat Sanders/Joi McMillon - Moonlight
Joe Walker – Arrival
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Colleen Atwood – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Moonlight tells the story of Chiron as he grows up poor in the Miami inner city. Chiron's mother, Naomie Harris, is addicted to crack and his only escape comes when he is taken in by his mother's dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). We watch Chiron through three phases of his life, played by three different actors as he grows up and begins to question his sexuality. Here is my review of Moonlight.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk stars Joe Allwyn as Billy Lynn, an Army Specialist who rockets to fame when a video of him attempting to save a fellow soldier goes viral. The fame leads to his company, Bravo Company being sent home and sent on a rock star-esque tour to talk about their experience in war. The tour culminates at a Thanksgiving Day Football game where Bravo Company is put on stage with Destiny's Child. All the while the film cuts back to what happened in Iraq, when Billy attempted to save his Sgt, played by Vin Diesel, and cuts to Billy's life at home with his anti-war sister played by Kristen Stewart.