Monthly Archives: December 2016

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Movie Review – Moana

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House

Year: 2016

I’m growing tired of explaining what Laika and Ghibli are to your casual movie-goer who thinks that the only high-quality animation being crafted today is by Disney and Pixar.  And while I like those mass-produced masterpiece movies as much as the next audience member or film critic, I also know that there is a step above Finding Dory and Zootopia, artistically speaking anyway, and that other, lesser-known studios are making wonderful pictures every year that more often than not deserve much more credit (and money) than they are receiving.  Take Kubo for example; that’s the animated movie of the year, not Moana, but stop-motion isn’t as popular as princess musicals, and so explanations are in order.  With that mini-tirade aside, I will still say that Moana is both fun & worth your time, another Disney hit, it just isn’t the cream of the crop.

An island people who never sail beyond the reef begin to experience a failing of their crops and fishing grounds, leading the impetuous and adventurous Moana on a journey outside her comfortable existence.  Many years ago, the demigod Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti, leading to the gradual decline of the Earth.  Moana must find Maui, convince him to return the heart, and put the world back in balance.  But Moana doesn’t know how to sail, the knowledge has been lost to her people, and she doesn’t know how she’ll impress the urgency of the situation on the pompously powerful Maui.  Still, it is her destiny to save the island, and not only that, but all the islands, all the world and all its natural connections.

The music for Moana was done is tandum with Lin Manual Miranda, and the songs have a definite Hamilton feel.  Understandable, it’s a huge hit, why fix what isn’t broken, but I did feel slightly disappointed that much of the soundtrack felt like a song I’d already heard, just set to an island beat.  Still, the music was catchy and well-made, so that’s only half a complaint.  The animation was beautiful, no complaints there, and there was the patented humor-blended-with-moral that we’ve come to expect from these films, so all was well on that front.  The Rock was OK, the girl was OK, but the side characters were all solid: Rachel House of Wilderpeople brilliance, Jemaine Clement stealing the show, Alan Tudyk the master of voices.  Moana is nothing short of another Disney hit, I just feel defensive of the others in the genre that get far less recognition and deserve far more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Fences

Category : Movie Review

Director: Denzel Washington

Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo

Year: 2016

Awards will surely come Fences way, but perhaps not as many as were expected at the beginning of a highly anticipated season.  This film was a front-runner from the very beginning, and deservedly so, with a star duo of such high caliber, a solid base to build a feature on, and a wonderful story to tell.  But if my reaction to the movie is in line with many other critics’, Fences might go the way of La La Land, impressing a great many but not ultimately making as large a splash as was originally anticipated.  Both build off Broadway, but aren’t quite as good as the best you can see on stage, falling just short of wonderful screen adaptations, becoming strong attempts instead.  Strong attempts with a few magical moments, that’s for sure, and I doubt many argue that this movie is weak in any way.  My point is that it isn’t the powerhouse you might expect.

In Pittsburgh in the 1950s, a father struggles to raise his son while also fighting the heavy-hitting world around him.  Troy Maxson is a garbage collector, working every day in the stink to make a living, to provide for his family.  A promising baseball player in his day, Troy has always felt like every good chance has passed him by, that he remained stuck in the mud of the daily grind while others got their shots.  Rose, his loyal wife, has been by his side for years, even though Troy isn’t always the easiest man to love.  Cory, their son, just wants to escape from under this father’s shadow, to play football, to go to college, to leave this dreary world behind.  Set against a backdrop of race relations, mental abuse, and all the hard knocks life can throw your way, this trio will strife to rise above and overcome, something easier said in speeches than done.

Fences is basically a filmed stage play, which isn’t exactly to its discredit, but does speak to the lack of skill Washington brought to the project as a director.  He was unable to move the movie past the theatrical, leaving it where he found it, which was slightly disappointing.  The first half of the film and the monologues that dominated it were mostly enough to push that imperfection into the background, but the second half let too many mistakes become exposed.  Act II was slow and felt a bit forced, failing to pack the punch of Act I.  Viola Davis was the one constant throughout, and, I predict, will be the one sure bet to win awards come Oscar-time.  She was incredible and will be a runaway favorite to win her category, her nomination basically being a given.  I just have a feeling that Fences as a whole will under-perform, and with reason, as it is definitely excellent, but just not quite at dominant as we might have hoped.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2016, Week 17

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 17 Picks

(9-7 last week, 146-92-2 for the season)

Bye teams: none

  1. Bal @ Cin
  2. Jax @ Ind
  3. NE @ Mia
  4. Chi @ Min
  5. Buf @ NYJ
  6. Dal @ Phi
  7. Cle @ Pit
  8. Car @ TB
  9. Hou @ Ten
  10. NO @ Atl
  11. Oak @ Den
  12. Ari @ LA
  13. KC @ SD
  14. Sea@ SF
  15. NYG @ Was
  16. GB @ Det

 


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Movie Trailer – Running Wild

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Alex Ranarivelo

Starring: Dorian Brown Pham, Sharon Stone, Tommy Flanagan

Release: February 10th, 2017

Oh god, what did I just watch.  That’s a silly question; the most terrible movie trailer for the most terrible movie ever made, that’s what.  God, that was awful.  Anyone who was a part of making this film should be prohibited from working on movies ever again.  They obviously don’t know what they’re doing, have no taste level, and are completely willing to slap cinema in the face.  For shame!


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DVD Review – A Man Called Ove

Category : DVD Review

Director: Hannes Holm

Starring: Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg

Year: 2015

With a website called Archer Avenue, it isn’t hard to guess that my favorite film is The Royal Tenenbaums.  Apart from some genius directing from Wes Anderson and the creation of a fantastic world that is like our own only much better, the film is a wonder of story and characters, a look at family and death from a viewpoint that’s both original and beautiful.  A Man Called Ove is, in a strange way, the Swedish equivalent of Tenenbaums, the revelation of the good inside a bitter old man and the painting of a world around him that may not be perfect, but is full of the love and companionship he’s been searching for his whole life.  No movie is going to reach the heights of my favorite of all time, but Ove at least makes a leaping attempt, and manages to touch rarefied air.

The Movie

Ove is a lonely man living on a quiet block, someone who abides by the rules and expects others to as well.  He has worked at the same rail yard for years, visits his wife’s grave every day, and spends his free time checking garage locks, rattling chains, and screaming at motorists who dare to use the bike-only paths.  Ove is unhappy, and his temper is only going to get worse after he is forced into retirement by the hated whiteshirts of his company, a group of young, snide, pencil-pushers who think they control the world.  At the end of his rope figuratively, Ove decides to make it literal and hang himself, hastening the end and allowing him to be with his beloved wife Sonja once again.  But sometimes even your own death doesn’t go as planned.

Blocked at every turn, and annoyed with life anew by a family of gregarious neighbors, Ove finds himself drawn back into the world he wishes to leave behind by task after task that needs completing before he can come to peace with things and finally let go.  As he begins a reluctant relationship with Persian emigrant Parvaneh and her family, Ove opens up like he never has before, revealing his past and those in it who made him who he is today.  We see the man as a boy, the father who he loved, the woman who he fell for, and the life that he had made for himself, before death met him at every turn.  Now death has come for Ove, or has it?  Has life come in its place, and will living have more promise than he could have imagined?

Why this movie works so well could be an entire cinema study course that becomes a requirement of incoming students.  I didn’t go to film school, I admittedly lack knowledge in many areas, but sometimes a movie just feels right, and attempting to figure out why Ove falls into that category could be a fun way to spend a semester.  The grumpy man, the new family next door, the sad past, the lessons learned, even the healing kitty; these elements standing alone seem cheesy beyond description, but somehow they come together to create magic, and how you pull this film out of your hat I don’t think I’ll ever fully comprehend.  What stands out to me though is the movie’s honesty, it’s quirky humor sure, but it’s believability about all, the way it can take standard themes and make it seem like we’re learning about life for the first time.

Rolf Lassgard as Ove was incredible, and Filip Berg as the younger Ove no less so, as the pair of them brought the character to life and gave him impressive depth in a way that not enough Hollywood features even attempt.  The side actors were all solid, the setting of Swedish suburbs was perfect, and then the flashbacks just brought everything to life.  I’m not always a fan of flashbacks, but here they were basically molded into a second film that overlapped the first, allowing audiences to go back and forth, enjoying each separately.  The way they melted together was where the magic happened, creating a multi-layered story that was both sorrowful and hopeful.  Like Tenenbaums in its presentation of a flawed hero and the toll that simply living has taken on him, Ove is a film that gets it, whatever “it” is, and furthermore knows how to share it with us without our even seeing clearly what we receive.  It’s feeling rather than material, and this movie strikes the right chords at the right times, becoming something great.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video quality of the film is quite strong, allowing every beautiful scene to come to life to its fullest extent.  The cinematography isn’t mind-blowing, but the picture quality is high enough and the movie is shot well enough that the visuals can be enjoyed, without their becoming a focal point.

Audio – The DVD was done in 5.1 Swedish Dolby Digital, with an option of 2.0 Swedish Dolby Digital.  Subtitles can be selected in either English or Swedish.  There is some solid background music to set the scene, but otherwise the audio takes a page out of the video’s book and gets out of the way so that the story can tell itself, unhindered by our attention veering to technical aspects.

Extras – There are a few special features on the disc, if you want to see even more.  The Ove In Us All is a 15-minute featurette including talks with Hannes Holm, Rolf Lassgard, and Bahar Pars.  Director and Cast Q&A at Scandinavian House NYC is a 21-minute question and answer panel with the team behind the film.  There are two galleries to choose from: makeup and time lapse.  And lastly, there is a theatrical trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

DVD Talk Collector Series.  Judging by my list, A Man Called Ove will battle The Handmaiden for the title of Best Foreign Film of 2016, and should even be considered for Best Picture, although I know that’s not how it works.  In my book though, Ove is one of the few amazing films of the year, something special that I did not see coming, something typical and original at the same time, something I’m glad I watched.  This Swedish gem can be enjoyed by so many audiences, it doesn’t necessitate someone who loves art house or who can sit through hours of subtitled dramatics.  It’s rather simpler than that; this is a good movie.  It has heart and heartbreak, but so does life, and I’ve rarely seen honest emotion brought to life like this.  The video and the audio fall to the background, there are a few extras to enjoy, but the technical parts of this film won’t impress.  What will is a the story, the feeling behind it, some clever filmmaking, and that special little something that’s as undefinable as it is hard to capture, reproduce, to bring into our lives; be thankful that Ove somehow managed the near-impossible.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 

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Movie Trailer – The Sense of an Ending

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Ritesh Batra

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Michelle Dockery

Release: March 10th, 2017

The cast list is more impressive that the film itself, as the actors jump off the screen but the story most definitely does not.  This plot looks cliche and done, not something that these actors need to have attached themselves to.  The movies mentioned in the trailer, The Lunchbox and Woman in Gold, are neither of them excellent, but rather something your mom or Oprah would watch & enjoy, which I think describes this film as well.  Broadbent I like (Moulin Rouge, Filth), Rampling is a treasure (Swimming Pool, 45 Years), and Dockery will always have a place in my heart (Downton Abbey).  But I just don’t trust the movie itself, and so I think I’ll have to pass.


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Movie Review – 20th Century Women

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mike Mills

Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning

Year: 2016

Three actresses had career moments in 20th Century Women, performances that can’t be overlooked.  Annette Bening is often the flustered fast-talker (The American President, American Beauty) but finally settles into a mature role here that’s her best to date.  Greta Gerwig is usually the indie oddball (Frances Ha, Maggie’s Plan) but takes on a level of depth here that we’ve never seen from her before.  And Elle Fanning is the less talented version of her sister (Young Ones, Low Down) but steps boldly out of the shadows.  These three unique actresses bring their A-game to this film, making it one of the years stronger dramas, and showing us that perhaps they’ve been under-producing until now, but are ready to make magic.

In 1979, the US is changing from the experimentation of the 70s to the disillusionment of the 80s, from rock to punk, from drugs to computers, from simpler times to the complete confusion of youth in a world gone wrong.  Three generations of women tell this story through their experiences, all often under the same roof, none related, but attempting to adapt together.  Dorothea is in her 50s, is a single mom, and is trying to walk the line between allowing her teenage son to find freedom and keeping him safe.  Abbie is an independent woman, a photography, a cancer patient, and a very lonely soul.  And Julie, a teen, a slut, a girl looking for love wherever she can find it, a wandering spirit in a world of sex, drugs, and chaos.  The three are bound together by young Jamie, Dorothea’s son, and their desire to mold him into a man who doesn’t resemble any they’ve encountered so far.

This trio of performances from Bening, Gerwig, & Fanning really are the best I’ve ever seen from them respectively, reaching new heights and finally producing completely believable characters.  They and the music of the soundtrack make the film, transporting audiences into the late 70s, giving us insight into the time, but in an original way, not like some period piece where everyone’s a hippie.  The story is told with Jamie as the axis, and the kid Lucas Jade Zumann does a great job as the glue holding the film together.  Also, Billy Crudup as a small but impactful character is amazing as usual, as he fits this era to a tee.  The film starts a bit slowly, and can’t really even be called a slow burn since it never ignites. But you’ll be rewarded for your patience by excellent performances, a killer mood, some great songs, a touch of sweet comedy, real emotion, and an overall solid film.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Alien: Covenant

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup

Release: May 19th, 2017

As one of the very few critics who really enjoyed Prometheus, I’m almost disappointed that Covenant is more an Alien redo and less a continuation of the backstory behind the whole franchise.  This literally looks like an exact copy of the film that started it all; the tunnels, the face-hugger, the robot, the heroine with the short hair.  I just hope there is enough series info, because that’s what I want, that’s what Prometheus is, with sci-fi horror thrown in for fun.  Covenant looks like horror with sci-fi tossed in, which I guess is what made the original so good, but if we assume that this will not be as good as Alien, just how good could it possibly be?  I don’t know, I’m slightly skeptical I guess, but I really, really want this film to be awesome, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.


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Movie Review – Neruda

Category : Movie Review

Director: Pablo Larrain

Starring: Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mercedes Moran

Year: 2016

What a year for Pablo Larrain.  First, he makes a film in his native Chile about Pablo Naruda, then he makes an American film about Jacqueline Kennedy.  The latter, Jackie, might be up for Best Picture and will assuredly gain Natalie Portman a nomination for Best Actress.  The former, Neruda, could enter into the Best Foreign Language Film category, where I doubt it wins, but hey, recognition is recognition.  2016 is shaping up to be a strong year for Larrain, and awards aside, both his films deserve their fair share of credit.  I may have liked Jackie more, but Neruda has its strong points as well, a true story with a bit of the poetic thrown in for flare, the result being an artistic biopic that’s at least atypical.

Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet and Communist agitator, the myth, the legend, the man.  Post-WWII Chile was in an uproar, its President rounding up political agitators, Reds gathering together in secret, the outspoken Neruda leading the charge.  He was the voice of the people, a man who represented the working class, although he was fat, fancy, and a frequenter of expensive brothels; not really in touch with the populace perhaps, but at least his heart was in the right place.  When his arrest was issued, Neruda would go underground, leading the police, including head inspector Oscar Pulechonneau, on a merry chase throughout Chile, and eventually over the Andes to wild, lawless lands.

Neruda is rather short, sweet, and simple, and that ends up saving the day, because the subject matter isn’t all that exciting.  It’s a piece of history, it’s an odd story, it’s one that, looking back, seems one-sided, but it isn’t extremely captivating, more semi-interesting than anything else.  His poetry is beautiful, the man himself was curiously strange, and watching the inept police chase this figure through history is at least mildly fun.  The film itself tends to be boring, with whispered narration and very few events.  If you’re looking for Larrain’s talent to be on display, watch Jackie instead, and keep an eye on how historical events are turned into horror scenes, that’s where the magic is, not here in a Chilean film that is good but doesn’t have the ceiling to be great.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – The Son of Joseph

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Eugene Green

Starring: Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione

Release: January 13th,2017

I haven’t seen Green’s other films, so I don’t have context, but this looks goof if a little boring.  It looks like a slightly more comedic version of some French films I’ve seen before, and I’d have to hear some great things coming out early to convince me to take the time to see this film.