The Revenant, Mustang, Hateful 8

The Revenant

revenantSet in the 1820s in the wild frontier of the Pacific Northwest, this is a gritty story of survival, betrayal, and vengeance.  There are many times this film is difficult to watch and may even make you squirm in your seat or take an extra tight grip on your arm rest.

The acting is exceptional, especially Leonardo DiCaprio along with Tom Hardy as a really good bad guy.  DiCaprio won the well deserved Best Actor title in yesterday’s Golden Globe Awards.

The cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki) is incredible.  Nine months of filming in extreme winter conditions create the backdrop for both breathtaking and bleak scenery.

The enigmatic Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu delivers a film that is a powerful, unique production that will certainly garner audience approval and industry accolades.  It will be a classic.

Rating: 4 Globes

Mustang

mustangThis is the story of five sisters in a rural Turkish village and their coming of age experiences.  They are orphaned, raised by their Grandmother and overseen by their Uncle who demands strict adherence to conservative cultural behavior.

Incrementally, their home becomes a repressive island and one by one the sisters are targeted for arranged marriages.  There is still joy and laughter amongst themselves despite their situation.  There is tragedy and ultimately hope.

This may garner an Oscar nomination.  It is sweet, innocent, thought provoking, funny, frustrating, and bewildering.  This is a French production, with Turkish language and English subtitles.  In any case, it is absolutely worth seeking out either in the theaters or Pay-per-view.

Rating: 4 Globes

The Hateful Eight

hatefulThis is Quentin Tarentino’s eighth major motion picture.  I’m unclear if there is a connection to the title but there can be no doubt this is a Tarentino film.  This one is a Western, with outrageous characters, lots of twists and turns, lots of irreverent dialog, and oh, of course it wouldn’t be a Tarentino film without a healthy dose of blood, lots and lots of blood.

It has an impressive cast of characters.  Most notably, Kurt Russell doing his best John Wayne as bounty hunter; Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel L. Jackson as bounty hunter and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the ultra bad outlaw.

More notable bad guy portrayals are expertly delivered by Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, and Walton Goggins.  At three hours, you might come away exhausted.  But isn’t that what ‘pulp fiction’ stories are all about.  Oh, 70mm cinematography is off the charts good.

Rating: 3 Globes

This weeks movies.

Star Wars, The Force Awakens

We saw this again last week in Milwaukee with the little ones, 8 and 10.  We loved it as much and more the second time around.  And so did the kids!  It seems they have inherited a passion for the cinema.  Yippee!  Years of fun to look forward to. The Force looks like they will be with us for a while.  What fun!

Rating (repeated): 4 Globes

Joy

joyJennifer Lawerence and Bradley Cooper just have great chemistry together.  Add Robert DeNero and the true to life QVC success story and you have the frame work for a very good story.  That said, the telling of the story is fundamental to the film actually connecting with the audience.  This one works.

There is a fair amount of drama and trauma throughout this film that can cause some angst.  Divorce, in fighting, greed, betrayal, deceit, cheating and perhaps too few moments of joy.

Nominated for two Golden Gobes, it could muster interest from the Academy.  I liked it, a lot, but couldn’t love it.

As a side bar, Melissa Rivers delivered a hauntingly impressive depiction of her Mother.  Kudos Melissa!

Rating: 2 Globes.

The Lady in the Van

ladyA virtual who’s who of British actors qued up for a cameo or two along with the star performances from Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings.  Ms. Smith plays the perpetually down and out homeless character clinging to a ramshackled van between herself and the street.

Alex Jennings plays his character as a kind hearted, yet an unnerving dual personality type that somehow works for this comedic yet befuddling story.  There are moments of laughter and moments of painful reality.

Maggie Smith is one of my favorite actors.  I liked the movie a lot but felt continuously uncomfortable about the real world connection of the subject matter.  Perhaps that was the point after all.

Rating: 2 Globes.

December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII) Star wars awakening

Updated special effects, CHECK.  New scary Darth Vader, CHECK.  Great sound track that sounds both familiar and new at the same time, CHECK.  New cast of characters melds well with original characters, CHECK.

This Episode has certainly set the stage for a new series of Star Wars movies with new storylines, characters, and upgraded special effects for both old and new audiences.

New to the franchise, Director JJ Abrams retains the Star Wars roots but with a fresh next century twist.  It is a very forward focused storyline and I won’t give away any of it.  You’ll have to see it for yourself.  The energy in the theaters was absolutely electric and tangible.  It is 135 minutes long but you will hardly notice.  We saw it in 2D, reports are the 3D and IMAX version is worth the extra cost.

Rating: 4 Globes.

Youth

youthLet’s start with the Actors, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Madalina Ghenea (all of her) and Jane Fonda round out the tremendous cast of characters and equally impressive performances.

Filmed in Switzerland, the settings and backdrop were key to the look and feel of the part spa, part old folks home, part seniors center/hotel/rehab center.  The storyline follows the friendship between an aging Maestro and a equally aged Movie Director and their entourages.  It is filled with twists, turns and surprises.

It can be a bit confusing and I wasn’t always sure what was going on but it still was a visual feast.  Jane Fonda’s performance alone was worth the price of admission.  The ending is quite spectacular.

Rating:  2 Globes.

Beast of No Nationbeast of no nation

Set in West Africa, this is a haunting study of the manipulation and manufactured loyalty during the turbulent years of political and social unrest when boys and young men were brainwashed into hardened soldiers committing unthinkable atrocities under the control of warlords.

It was painfully difficult to watch in spite of the exceptional cinematography and the skillful portrayals from these young actors.  Idris Elba plays the charismatic Commander who transforms innocence into killing machines.

While it takes place in an “unnamed country” it is a grim reminder of events in West Africa not too many years ago.  It is a story that needed to be told.  Nominated for a Golden Globe, Supporting Actor.

Rating: 3 Globes.

December 14, 2015

You can tell the year end holidays are approaching.  The film industry is releasing as many movies as possible, good and, well, not so good too.  With Christmas and New Years just around the corner, Oscar season is not too far behind.

It will be a challenge to cram in all the likely candidates.  We will scramble to digest all the chatter by pundits and critics and draft that ever popular Oscar predictions ballot many of you look forward to each year.

The good news this week, all four movie reviews below may be Oscar worthy!

In the Heart of the SeaHeart of the Sea

The unusual story of a young Herman Melville interviewing one of the few surviving crew years after the shipwrecked Essex, is the basis for the book Moby Dick.

It’s a visually stunning movie, artfully directed by Ron Howard.  There is an admirable performance by leading man Chris Hemsworth as the First Mate and the conflict with the ship’s Captain, Benjamin Walker, is tangible.   The special effects are believable if not completely plausible.  But (you knew that was coming didn’t you), the movie suddenly starts to drag on and on.  I won’t tell you why because the surprise is an important part of the movie you won’t see in the trailer.

There could be some technical Oscar nominations nonetheless.  Worth a watch.

Rating: 2 Globes.

The Big ShortBig Short

The Big Short is the explanation of the events leading up to the 2008 economic crisis that ultimately cost the country $5 trillion, huge unemployment, countless loses and foreclosures.

It is a very complicated story and often difficult to follow. So much so the production occasionally cuts to an effective casino themed example that dummies down the topic at hand.

The acting is excellent.  Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carrel and Brad Pitt deliver convincing portrayals as financial industry movers and shakers.

I came away a bit disgruntled but enlightened.  Hollywood will love this film and it would not surprise me if there were a few Oscar nominations in the wings.

Rating: 4 Globes.

CarolCarol

Set in the early 1950s New York, this film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is flawless, a visual masterpiece.  Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have perfect stage chemistry together.  Ultimately it is a story about attraction, conflict, and heartbreak.

It was a visual feast, an emotional roller coaster, it powerfully depicts what was then a scandalously unconventional love.

There will be Oscar nominations from this one.  Probably Actress, Supporting Actress, Screenplay, Art Direction, and Director.

Rating: 4 Globes.

The Danish Girldanish girl

Based on true events, this film is about a transgender journey almost a hundred years ago.  Husband and wife artists enjoy a comfortable living in Copenhagen, Denmark.  They are intelligent and passionately in love.

Eddie Redmayne plays husband Einer who slowly grows to accept his inner being as Lili with the full love and support of his wife played by Alicia Vikander.  The story unfolds to expose the vulnerable inner beauty and the mental evolution for the audience to consider.

Beautifully filmed and produced by a UK/German/US production team.  Directed by Tom Hooper.  Too early to determine Oscar buzz but it would not be a surprise.

Rating: 4 Globes.

December 7, 2015

Macbeth  Macbeth

I must admit I was genuinely looking forward to the latest movie production of Macbeth staring the amazing Michael Fassbender and the alluring Marion Gotillard.  The previews set the expectations high especially for such a classic play.  On the upside, the script was updated and streamlined which resulted in a nice smooth flow.  The momentum was crisp, the cinematography stunning.

On the down side, the musical score droned on and on, on top of the heavy Scottish accented Elizabethan dialog for the entire production making it quite difficult to hear or understand what was being said.

The battle scenes were incredible and haunting but brutally difficult to watch.  I could not tell who was who in the misty fog, but it was obvious battles of the era were unbelievably horrific.  It was painful to watch and I came away from the viewing depressed and disappointed.

Note:  I seem to be in the minority on my perspective as most of the critics are heaping enormous praise on this movie.  I regard myself as a big Shakespeare fan and have been since my 20s.  This one just didn’t work for me.  I’ll be very interested in your point of view if you decide to see this movie.

Rating 2 GlobesCreed

Creed

Up front, I have not been a fan of the “Rocky” franchise or Mr. Stallone and I waffled about seeing this film.  Just not my cup of tea.  But I heard good things about this boxing movie and decided to see it.  I’m glad we did.

Director Ryan Coogler put together a great production and excellent actors, most notably Sylvester Stallone from the Rocky franchise and Michael B Jordan from the excellent Fruitvale movie.

The story follows Jordan from a troubled young  man, jumping to his frustration as a young business professional, to his struggle to find fulfillment as a professional boxer when he discovers his real father was the famous boxer Apollo Creed (Rocky Balboa’s nemesis).  Stallone eventually becomes the coach and a major boxing event the climax of the movie.

Why this works is Stallone delivers one of the best performance of his career.  He is joined by the incredibly talented Michael B Jordan and a great script that blend in just the right amount of passion and conflict.  Bonus points for Phylicia Rashad’s cameo.

Rating 3 GlobesThe Wonders

The Wonders

This was an interesting movie.  It is set in a poor isolated area of Tuscany on a ramshackle farm where the production of honey is the only source of income.  The father is tough as nails with pangs of tenderness.  The wife, frustrated, resilient and tender.  Four unruly daughters, Gelsomina, the eldest 12 year old is charged with saving the family farm.  A young boy, a foster child, appears as extra help and income from the state.

Despite the challenges, there are spontaneous moments of joy and laughter from simple activities like a family outing to a swimming spot.  There is suddenly hope when a theatrical group hosting a competition for the best artisan products and the chance to win some money comes to town.

Everything changes when the foster child runs away, there is an accident with one of the children and the honey processing floods the barn…

I wanted to find something ‘wonder’ful here but instead it was awkward, uncomfortable, bordering on annoying.  The critics loved it.  I just cannot agree.

Italian and German with English Subtitles

Rating: 1 GlobeThe Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur

Pixar/Disney delivers a stunning animated film with delightful twists and turns with extraordinary attention to detail and just the right balance humor and action.  Prehistoric dinosaurs as farmers, humans as canines,  T-rex as cattlemen. Sounds goofy, and it was.  I laughed, I cried, I loved every moment.  Apparently so did the audience, age 3 to 83.

It is not as sophisticated as “UP” or “Inside Out” but it is every bit as rewarding.  There are ups and downs, and joy and sorrow, brilliantly woven together to a heartwarming finale.

Rating: 4 globes.

November 30, 2015

Hunger Games Mockingjay part 2  Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2

The long awaited fourth film from the three book series starring Jennifer Lawrence, Julianna Moore, Donald Sutherland and Josh Hutcherson gets off to a great start with a new energy and focus on the series roots, absolute power corrupts and the character Katniss is the underdog symbol of hope.

Ultimately, the story defaults to a sputtering series of misfires including mutants, fire bombs, and intelligent boiling oil. The character development is equally flawed to the point where the viewers may come away from the theater with a yawn and a shrug as did our party of eight spanning ages 20+ to 83.

Perhaps expectations by the audience were just too high. Overall, as a body of work, the series will probably fall into the classics category. Collectively it should. Hunger Games 1 and 2 were groundbreaking. Three was a so so setup for the finale that turned out to be a big balloon that ran out of air, not unlike the love interests that seems to all but evaporate in this final episode.

Note: I was impressed how the late Philip Seymour Hoffman character as gamemaster survived the editing process with the clever use of a letter. Kudos to the Writers, Director and Producers.

Rating: 2 GlobesPeggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

This documentary film tries to explain the complex life, personality and passion for Peggy Guggenheim’s thirst and appreciation for the emerging Modern Art movement of the 20th Century. Now recognized globally as a priceless collection reflective of dozens of “then emerging” artists, this film zeros in on the life and times of Ms. Guggenheim herself; her childhood and life history unfold, her strengths and flaws all there for critical examination.

Having seen the collection in New York and Venice first hand, I sat mesmerized by her monumental achievement, how she accomplished her vision, and equally important, how she lived her life, her way, critics notwithstanding. I am so pleased she chose to share her life’s work with the world.

If you like modern art, if you like strong individuals with vision, if you respect out-of-the-box thinking, I cannot imagine not liking this story.

Rating: 4 GlobesLegend

Legend

First and foremost, Tom Hardy pulls off the almost impossible task of portraying both of the true to life leading character twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the notorious and ruthless crime bosses of East End, London of the 1960s. Add the exceptional cinematography and set production and I wondered why this film just didn’t work for me.

One, it took a while to differentiate one twin from the other. Two, these are not nice people and yet there is a huge effort for the audience to like them. Three, the violence is excessive and brutal then sandwiched with an attempt to legitimize their behaviors and actions.

On the bright side, Emily Browning’s role as Reggie’s love interest and wife gives a believable performance albeit a roller coaster ride. The sets are stunning. You feel like you are in the period. That’s great work but I still cannot recommend it, maybe pay per view…just make sure you are in the mood.

Rating: 1 Globe

November 24, 2015

 Secret Secret in Their Eyes

This was an interesting film about the homicide of the daughter of a policewomen played by Julia Roberts. Nicole Kidman gives a noteworthy performance as a District Attorney along with Chiwetel Ejiofor as an investigator. Interesting until it becomes confusing as it toggles back and forth in time to the point the viewer is lost as to what is happening or the context. I came away disappointed and frustrated.
Rating: 1 Globe
_______________Spotlight

Spotlight

An exceptional journalism drama about the 2001 Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of systemic sexual abuse. Liev Shreiber, as editor-in-chief will likely garner Oscar chatter for his portrayal. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachael McAdams all deliver powerful performances as investigative reporters. Stanley Tucci is also a standout as an attorney.

True stories about real events can be an enormously difficult undertaking, especially for difficult subject matter and powerful institutions. This movie gets it right.
Rating: 4 Globes
__________________By the Sea

By The Sea

I was intrigued by the trailer for this movie. It was interesting in style and tone. Was it a romance, tragedy, mystery?

When we finally saw the movie this last weekend, the Mediterranean scenery and cinematography were an appealing hook. They had me in the opening scene with the iconic ’70s French convertible rambling along a barren stark coast. But that was the highlight.

Angelina Jolie’s moody brooding character was intriguing but annoying. Brad Pitt’s character was a stalled writer seeking inspiration for his next book. Of course he would be, he was pickled most of the time. But it was the extensive peep show they shared together of the young sexually active neighbors that was just plain creepy. By the time we learned why, I didn’t really care.
Rating: 1 Globe

November 17, 2015

 Specter  Spectre 007

The latest James Bond 007 spectacle does not disappoint. It is big, brawny, clever and relentless. Let’s start with the opening credits highlighted by the opening song sung by the incredible Sam Smith. Where do some of those notes come from? Look for an Oscar nomination for Best Song. But I digress.

The story line is dynamic. The cinematography is unbelievable, like you are on the set for the entire ride. More Oscar fodder here too. Plenty of bad guys, some really good bad guys. Christoph Waltz is at his best. And let’s not forget the requisite Bond girls, this time two and they are really good. All modes of transportation, virtually non-stop action with more twists and turns than the Hollywood freeway. Daniel Craig has never been better.

Rating: 4 GlobesTrumbo

Trumbo

Depending on your age, you may or may not recall the Hollywood Blacklist of suspected Communists from 1946 until 1960. In this film, Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter, and then the most highly compensated writer in the industry, is called before the “House Un-American Activities Committee” to testify before Congress as to his political beliefs and the beliefs of others in the entertainment industry. He refused, was held in contempt and was imprisoned for 11 months.

After his release, he was unable to find employment and was shunned by most everyone in the industry. He, and his associates, began writing scripts for low budget movie producers and finally authored a couple of Oscar winning scripts. Eventually, times changed and Mr. Trumbo was finally recognized for his tenacity and perseverance.
Bryan Cranston plays the lead character with zeal. Director Jay Roach carefully recreates the period and the political climate of the day. Helen Mirren’s portrayal as Hedda Harper alone is worth seeing this movie.

Rating: 4 GlobesBrooklyn

Brooklyn

This is a classic immigrant story set in 1951 about a young Irish girl who journeys to America for a new life leaving her Mom and sister behind. The poor thing is at first naive and unhappy, lives in a boarding house with other Irish women and struggles as a salesclerk in a department store.

She meets a young Italian man at a dance, they fall in love… She gets a call one day and feels compelled to go back to Ireland. You can probably fill in the blanks so I won’t tell you anymore, but there is a reason it is called “Brooklyn”.

All that said, it is a beautifully crafted film. Just the right amount of everything. It is well acted,visually satisfying, just the right mix of angst and humor even though it logs in just over two hours.

Rating: 3 Globessuffragette

Suffragette

Set in England of the late 1930s, this is based on true events about the movement to win the women’s right to vote. What came as a surprise was how violent and oppressive the culture was in that period. While the movement spanned all socio-economic classes, this story has a focus toward the lower labor class and the huge challenges as a result.
Directed by Sarah Gavron, starring Helena Bottom Carter and an extraordinary Carey Mulligan. Meryl Steep has a brief appearance as Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement forced underground.

Overall, it was an interesting glimpse at history and a reminder of a very different time less than a hundred years ago. Tidbit Fact: woman in Switzerland didn’t get to vote until 1971!

Rating: 2 Globes

Steve Jobs

First, I must confess. I was not interested in seeing this movie. I saw the documentary shortly after Job’s death and chose not to see the rendition staring Ashton Kutcher because it just didn’t sound realistic. That said, after hearing good things about the current film and seeking a second movie on a double feature day thanks to rain, I acquiesced and I am so glad I did.

This was more like a play than a movie. Michael Fassbender is exceptional as Jobs. And a big surprise, Kate Winslet is almost as extraordinary as Job’s Marketing Director. It is the combination of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and the delivery by Fassbender and the rest of the cast that makes this movie great.

I will also admit, I did not like Mr. Jobs or the way he conducted himself. There can be no denying his deficiencies or his genius. There just might be another Oscar or two when the season comes around.

Rating: 4 Globes

November 1, 2015

     sicario Sicario

Sicario is a film about the war on drugs, specifically focused on Mexico and its biggest drug kingpin. What makes this story exciting is Benicio Del Toro as the Mexico “insider done wrong, hell bent on revenge” working with off-the-grid US undercover agencies? The pace of this film is intense and relentless thanks to Director Denis Villeneuve’s portrayal of drug war’s operating landscape. Great acting, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin are perfectly cast. Superb storytelling, but not always easy to watch (and not recommended for young children).
English and some Spanish with English subtitles.

Rating: 4 Globes
________________________________martian

The Martian

If, like me, you thought you could figure out the whole movie from the previews, guess again. This was an amazing film, suspense filled story, another home run for Matt Damon, and another spectacle for Director Ridley Scott. As you probably know by now, the Matt Damon character is left behind and presumed dead by his fellow astronauts during a freak storm forced an emergency takeoff in order to avoid disaster. But it is the rest of what happens on Earth, space, and Mars that makes this story interesting. It gets a little weak at the end, granted. But overall, great fun movie to watch.

Rating: 4 Globes
________________________________bridge of spies

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks is once again at the top of his game. This movie was created as a throw back to so many great suspense espionage movies of the cold war era. There are more twists and turns than a pretzel. Secret Agents galore, US, German, Russian. Lots of angst and tension to make you squirm a bit but nothing over the top. Another good solid Oscar likely movie from Spielberg and team. Must see if you are a Hanks or spy movie fan.
Minimal German and Russian with English subtitles.
Rating: 4 Globes
_______________________________Truth

Truth

This was are-enactment of the CBS 60 Minutes, Dan Rather story about President George W. Bush and his military service. The critics hated this film. Robert Redford stars as Rather along with Cate Blanchet as Mary Mapes as the news producer. I thought both performances were very good. I was also intrigued by the premise of the legions of conservative operatives running defense for the then President. “Me think you protest too much!”

Rating: 2 Globes
_______________________________labyrinthoflies

Labyrinth of Lies

This was a fascinating film about German society in the post WW2 1960s, less than 20 years since the war ended. A young prosecutor discovers a social pattern ignoring or overlooking the presence of former Nazi wartime criminals wholly integrated in German society. Against the then social tide, the young official was finally granted approval to investigate and ultimately prosecute 22 Germans in the 1963-65 Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. This is a true story, intelligently crafted and ultimately powerful and compelling. It is an incredible peek behind the curtain of history.

German with English Subtitles

Rating: 3 Globes
_______________________________room

Room

Never heard of this film? Well, it is not to be missed! It starts very confusing, then it takes on a quirky inquisitive quality. Ah, finally making a little sense, this is a different kind of reality for this mother and child. Then more and more information is revealed until you realize what the story is really all about. I won’t tell you here because it would ruin the disturbing discovery and possibly the rest of the movie. This is truly groundbreaking movie making and it will be interesting to see Hollywood’s reaction. Excellent performances especially from the 5 year old boy. Where did that depth come from? Seek this one out and see for yourself. I found myself thinking about this one long after the movie ended.

Rating: 4 Globes
_______________________________coming home

Coming Home

Here is another great film we almost missed. It has limited distribution and until very recently little visibility. It is a Sony Classics release and will probably only last a week or two depending on your local film market. Do seek it out. You will be rewarded with a peek into the China of the Mao era, and maybe something to think about.

It is a heart wrenching story about a young couple torn away from each, the husband to a labor camp, the wife, injured in an accident loses some of her memory. The husband is released toward the end of China’s Cultural Revolution only to discover his wife does not recognize him.
Mandarin with English Subtitles

Rating: 4 Globes