Monthly Archives: May 2017

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Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Category : Movie Review

Director: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou

Year: 2017

Guy Ritchie’s take on the Arthurian legend wasn’t welcomed with open arms, and I think I understand why.  I can only speak for Americans, but I think we view Camelot with a sense of awe, this mythical place that’s better than here, these heroic men who are greater than we could ever hope to be.  Basically, we put this story on a pedestal, treating it with near-Shakespearean gloves, and we don’t like it to be told too flippantly.  We’re tough critics when it comes to Arthur, even if it’s difficult to explain, and we dare each director who tries their hand to make a mistake, lest we roast them.  Trailers for Ritchie’s version appeared over-the-top, a rock & roll take that immediately rubbed us the wrong way or even caused anger in the more intense among our group.  But it still deserves a chance, which is why I sat down to watch it with an open mind, which is then how I came to enjoy it for the attempt it was, not for the perfection it wasn’t.

In a time of Man versus Mage, King Uther leads humanity against the magic that wants to destroy it.  Mankind and magicians lived side by side until the power-hungry Mordred took more than his fair share, turning the dark side of existence against the bright light that was Camelot.  Uther defended his realm, but was betrayed by his evil brother Vortigern, who then attempted to kill the entire Pendragon line, cementing the throne in his name.  But young Arthur escaped to the city where he was raised by whores, where he was tested by the streets and found to be a natural leader of men.  Now returning as a hero of the people, Arthur must find the strength within himself to face his past, claim his father’s sword, and take the kingdom back from a man who is moving closer and closer to complete and horrible domination.

In order to appreciate this film, you must sit down without the weight of prejudgment, as best you can anyway, because if you listen to the echoes of bad press you will find enough flaws to validate that opinion.  After all, this movie is definitely and admittedly far from perfect.  The acting by most involved is pathetic, a range of caricatures both in method and in foundation.  Arthur’s party is assembly line at best; a black guy, an Asian guy, a funny guy, a kid, a woman, a stern sergeant type, all coming together to make the middle hour of the film feel forced beyond belief.  Really, the meat of the movie is as banal as you can imagine, nothing more or less than typical medieval fare in how the story progresses and how the team comes together to beat the bad guy.  The last big negative is the action, especially in the last two fight scenes, which are done in a blur of CGI that was literally hard to physically follow with the eye.  This is a movie with a lot of problems, feeling rushed into theatres before it was quite ready to be shown.

But, and here I’m going to defend Ritchie and his bravado a little, it wasn’t all bad.  In fact, there is enough that goes right that should allow audiences to enjoy themselves, as long as they’re willing to focus on the positive.  I’m not saying that’s what you ought to do, but it’s something you can do, because a few strengths emerge that I would call just enough to carry you over the chasm that is the middle of the film.  One is the music, which could not have been better.  From the opening to the credits, this is a killer soundtrack that has British guts splattered all over it.  It’s raw, it’s cool, it’s hard, and it fits with what Ritchie was trying to do, which was to make Arthur a London street thug who rises to become something greater.  There’s a song at the end that just slayed me, “The Devil & The Huntsman”, and you should at least find that on Spotify.  Moving on, Jude Law is another strength, to the point that he basically carried the film and could be considered the main character.  Eric Bana was good, there’s a surprise guest who was shockingly excellent in a small role, the movie starts with a bang, ends with some cool content, and overall should be considered a fine rental to watch on your giant TV with a ton of snacks on hand and some time to spend on something that may be trivial but is also enjoyable.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

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Movie Trailer – Borg/McEnroe

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Janus Metz Pedersen

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgard

Release: September 15th, 2017

What’s up with these dated tennis movies?  This one is like Rush but about a different sport.  Ok, fine, I like Shia, but what else is there?  What else can you offer me other than a retelling of a true story, especially one that we honestly don’t care that much about?


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Movie Trailer – The Glass Castle

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts

Release: August 11th, 2017

This could be award-winning material, don’t sell it short, it has the stuff.  A bit of a combination of Captain Fantastic & Room, but both those films were amazing and are worth repeating.  Brie is solid, Woody is peaking in his old(er) age, and I predict that all comes together at the right time for this movie to be talked about come Oscar season.


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Movie Review – The Founder

Category : Movie Review

Director: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

Year: 2016

Michael Keaton’s rise back into our line of vision began with Birdman, continued with Spotlight, and now takes the form of The Founder, a biopic of the man who kinda sorta starting McDonald’s.  Keaton isn’t a very good actor; can we just say that?  He made his mark in the 80s, returned with a vengeance only a few short years ago, and now seems here to stay, but his talent definitely explains his long hiatus.  You might like him, he might star in a few solid features, but the stand-alone, make-a-movie, put-it-on-my-shoulders talent just isn’t there, and then there’s the fact that he looks a little funny, which I recognize is a Me Problem.  Anyway, Keaton isn’t Hanks, but we watch him anyway, and this time it’s a good thing we did, because this film is actually very good.

Ray Kroc is a salesman and a hustler, a road warrior who leaps from one “amazing” product to the next, always looking for the new hot item that will actually produce some sales.  Currently he’s on the Multi-Mixer, which can make five milkshakes at once, something literally no one needs.  Except one strange burger joint out in California, they can’t keep up with demand, and Ray wants to know why.  He meets the McDonald brothers, Mac & Dick, who have stumbled upon something amazing; a walk up restaurant that serves only a handful of quality items, a far cry from the popular drive-up, hang-out spots that cater to any taste.  But the thing is, McDonald’s is making money, and they’re doing it by stream-lining their entire system, having food & drink ready in 30 seconds.  Ray sees the genius of this idea and wants to franchise, which will start a global company that changes the entire game.

It’s a fascinating film, one that has so many implications that it’s difficult to envision them all at once.  As unexciting as this movie was (it’s just a true story, biopic, how-the-company-came-to-be tale after all), I actually want to watch it again, which is saying something.  How this restaurant grew from a family-run local place to the giant it is today is pretty awesome, and it’s also frightening how it began as a store focused on good food and turned into something that serves who-knows-what.  Kroc took McDonald’s to another level, but left a lot behind in the process, which is so interesting to watch play out.  And on the technical side, there is some stellar direction on display here, key little moments that are extremely impressive, especially given their placement in this genre of film.  Keaton was OK, he’s just OK, I don’t know what else to say, but at least he pulled it off and let the story speak for itself.  Watch and then research; it’s quite shocking and also evenly entertaining at the same time, something not a ton of features can muster.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Handsome Devil

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: John Butler

Starring: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott

Release: June 2nd, 2017

I feel like I was supposed to take something away from that trailer (mainly, a reason to watch the movie) that I just completely failed to see.  It looks good, interesting, as if it has a message, but I still don’t want to sit down for it.  It’s someone’s job to tell the story, someone else’s job to make sure that story is seen, and someone is dropping the ball.


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Movie Trailer – Good Time

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Ben & Joshua Safdie

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Buddy Duress, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Release: August 11th, 2017

Holy shit, it’s like the indie love child of The Rover and Drive, and I want to meet it.


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DVD Review – Rock Dog

Category : DVD Review

Director: Ash Brannon

Starring: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Sam Elliott

Year: 2016

I’m not sure why every animation studio is producing a movie about a young guy with a magical guitar who has to save his village, but I dig it.  The Book of Life, Kubo and the Two Strings, soon to be Coco, and of course Rock Dog; it’s similar to how two film companies both produce an asteroid-hitting-the-Earth story at the exact same time and pretend not to notice each other.  I guess these things come in waves, trends happen, and there are many ideas out there that must be much worse than a cool kid with an axe, so maybe we should count our blessings.  Anyway, here’s another in the current stream, a unique production if not an original concept, and a film that’s actually, surprisingly, pleasantly good.

The Movie

On Snow Mountain, the sheep fear the wolves and the wolves fear the mastiffs.  Khampa, the big dog in town, protects the woolly citizens of the village with his magic fire powers, sending the wolves running when they come to make a meal out of the the sheep.  But he knows that they’ll be back, and so begins to plan.  He bans music from the town, since the sheep paid no attention to anything else.  He trains an army dressed up in dog costumes in order to trick the ever-watching wolves.  And he commits to making his only son, Bodi, the most vigilant watchdog ever to walk the mountain.  The only problem is, Bodi can’t harness the fire, doesn’t think the wolves are coming back, and just wants to follow his own dreams.

One day, when a passing plane loses some of its cargo, a radio falls near Bodi and he begins to listen to Angus Scattergood, the rock legend from the big city.  Bodi falls in love with rock, with the guitar, with expressing yourself through music, and he knows that this is what he was meant to do.  So, with his father’s temporary blessing, Bodi travels to the city in search of a band to join and a career to make.  Meanwhile, the wolves plan to kidnap the doggie unawares, making a ransom of him to the great Khampa, getting the sheep in return.  Bodi is oblivious, and just wants to meet the famous Mr. Scattergood, who is having troubles of his own, mainly coming up with more hit tunes, something that Bodi might just have a gift for.

It’s a predictable plot, and like I said, it’s been done a handful of times in recent years, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting from Rock Dog if you’ve seen any of the other films that basically follow the same path.  What’s different here is that the film was made to be released in China and the United States in staggered order, Chine first, then the U.S.  Signs in the movie are in Chines and in English, the setting is Tibet or a modern city, and you can imagine how easy it would have been to dub the film in either language.  In the States, a surprising number of stars and b-listers signed on; I doubt there was much of a time commitment involved.  Wilson, Izzard, Elliott, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon; not the worst compilation of recognizable voices for an animated kid’s flick.

And, you know, the visuals were pretty cool, the animation not Pixar level but much better than some of the cheap knock-offs you see thrown around by the smaller studios.  This movie was done by Reel FX, which did Free Birds and The Book of Life, so it’s legit, if not high level.  When I looked up images to add to this review, there were a plethora of attractive ones to choose from, reminding me that the artistic quality of the film was actually really strong, something I didn’t appreciate until I stepped away, probably because I’ve grown used to top-notch animation and am less impressed by it now than I used to be.  The story itself was pretty funny, fairly clever, and as straight forward as you could ask for; basic entertainment perhaps, but in a good way.  My kids came away loving it, my son claiming it as his favorite movie, so take that for what it’s worth, and add in my opinion that Rock Dog is actually worth your time.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16×9, 1080p HD), this Blu-ray disc is surprisingly sharp and the animation is shockingly good.  I didn’t expect much coming in from an off-brand animation company and a movie that wasn’t marketed to be a big hit, but I was pleasantly impressed.  The animation is great, the color is superb, and the Blu-ray quality is as good as you can expect from other, more expensive films.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with an option of Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Subtitles are available in Spanish and English SDH.  The audio quality, like the video quality, is better than you might imagine.  The music of the film is catchy and fun; not quite Disney soundtrack caliber, but not too far off and absolutely good enough to enjoy.

Extras – There are actually a ton of special features on the Blu-ray, if you’re thirsty for more.  Finding the Fire: The Making of Rock Dog – 6 mins, graphic novel adaptation and interviews.  Mic Check: Casting the Voices – 6 mins, introducing the American vocal cast.  A Rockin’ New World: Animating Rock Dog – 6 mins, the development from drawings to characters.  Rock Dog and Roll: Exploring the Music – 6 mins, a sit down with songwriter Adam Friedman.  ‘Glorious’ Music Video – 3 minute song with clips from the film.  Also from Lionsgate: Middle School, Leap!, Norm of the North, Shaun the Sheep Movie.  And lastly, Bookmarks.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedRock Dog is better than it appears.  I sat down to watch it with my kids, not expecting much at all, but I was entertained throughout and impressed by the attention to detail apparent from the very beginning.  In a way, it was like a Studio Ghibli film; an emphasis on positive story and cool animation with the knowledge that it is being made for both Asian and American audiences.  That opened the movie up a bit, allowed for some nice voice overs, and didn’t constrain it to the standard, Hollywood, goofy, juvenile, animated comedy.  Perhaps that’s sacrilege, and this definitely isn’t Ghibli, but I have to give credit to something that was made with much more heart than I had imagined it would be.  The video is solid, the audio very nice, and the extras plentiful, so you can enjoy the technical side of this project as well.  Get you family together, check out Rock Dog with an open mind, and enjoy.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 

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Movie Review – Before Midnight

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Year: 2013

Before Midnight marks the third and perhaps final film in Richard Linklater’s time-spanning series; a fourth would arrive in 2022 if the pattern holds, so you’ve got a few years to anticipate.  Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are both romantic gems in their own right, apart from being pieces in an incredibly intelligent trilogy, and should be considered quality cinema at its finest.  I enjoy what Linklater did with time here, I don’t mind the gimmick, and I’m a fan of the series as a whole, the second being my favorite.  But I have to say, I was slightly disappointed in the third, especially after its high marks from critics and after I loved the story as a whole so much.  I found #3 to be a bit too bitter, a touch too depressing.  Check back with me in ten years I suppose, when I’m in my 40s like these characters, but right now I want to believe that love is magic, not that love can turn sour or that romance can fade away.

Jesse & Celine have been together for nine years now, and we meet back up with them in Greece where they are on holiday.  Jesse is a writer, Celine is an environment advocate, and they have two beautiful daughters together.  Life is great, except when it’s not.  Jesse misses his teenage son and wants to spend more time with him.  Celine misses her career and wants more time away from the duties at home.  Both have grown accustomed to each other, which has dimmed the fire that once burned so brightly; an inevitable outcome perhaps.  We see this couple at a crossroads, where the rest of their lives hinge on the decisions that they make as a couple, on choices based on a love they once had but a love that might have become too strained to last.

Again, I understand that I loved the second film the most because I watched it while in my 30s and that’s exactly where the characters were too.  The first film was a little pretentious because they were 20, this one is a little sad because they’re 40, I get that, and I understand that I’ll need to sit down for a rewatch in ten years to see what inside myself has changed.  But, for now, I was put off by the bitterness of this couple’s relationship, one that I’ve been rooting for through two films now.  I’m not trying to give away the plot or the ending, I just felt the conflict between them, it was very real, and I was saddened by it.  Perhaps this was very personal for Linklater, very hard for him to create, and perhaps he deserves our respect for that.  I just didn’t enjoy this third film as much as the other two.  It had more other characters, it was much darker, and I’m not sure Delpy is the greatest actress, she may have just been perfect as the young, passionate French girl.  Still, you have to watch this movie if you watched the other two, and there are positives, I don’t mean to cast a shadow on a wonderful story arc.  I simply didn’t like it quite as much as the others, most of which is probably completely on me.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Before Sunset

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Year: 2004

Before Sunset is the follow-up film to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, the pair beginning the chronicle of a great love affair between an overly analytical American man and an overly dramatic French woman.  If that sounds cliche, well, perhaps it is, but Linklater is able to take a standard romantic plot and draw it out into something much deeper, a character study instead of a situational love comedy.  Before Sunrise has become a classic romance, a 90s time capsule, and a film to be applauded, as it stands the test of time and spawned this wonderful series of movies.  Before Sunset is even better; a continuation of the story but from a more grown-up perspective, a reminder that life is unpredictable but that love is never too far away.

Nine years after they met in Vienna, Jesse and Celine run into each other in Paris.  Actually, Jesse is a successful writer now, has written a novel about his encounter with Celine, and she comes to a book signing in her home town in order to see him.  The two reunite during a walk around the city before Jesse has to catch a plane; the story of the couple’s life, I suppose.  But will they be able to leave each other again, after so much time apart?  They had planned to meet up after that first, fateful meeting, but failed to do so, allowing their lives to move down different paths away from one another.  But love is still in the air, Jesse & Celine haven’t forgotten that feeling, and they may not be able to go back to their established lives ever again.

This second installment is my favorite, impressing me with melancholy and hope in turns, allowing that love is imperfect but that it’s also worth the wait.  Before Sunset is beyond romantic, the way these two feel when they are back together after so many years, the way they can jump back into the conversation like they never stopped.  As they walk about Paris, we learn what they’ve been doing over the last decade, what choices they have made, and how they regret some of the most impactful ones.  It’s so sad and yet so beautiful, this saga, and I’m not sure I’ve ever rooted for a couple more than I root for Jesse & Celine.  Perhaps it’s because I’m also in my 30s, but I related to this film most acutely, understood how the characters’ philosophies had changed from their 20s, saw life the way they were seeing it, felt the passion they had for each other at this point in their lives.  Before Sunset is a wonderful, simple, short, dialogue-driven film that makes a heavy impact and should make your list.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Before Sunrise

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Year: 1995

Richard Linklater’s magnum opus begins with Before Sunrise, the first of three films that chronicle the romance between two unlikely lost souls, Jesse & Celine.  As you probably know if you’re reading this review and have any previous knowledge of this film, Linklater would direct a trio of films all focused on the same pair, spacing them out with nine years in between, filling us in on what’s been going on in these characters’ lives in the meanwhile.  Linklater loves to play with time and to let real time lead his stories; the best example of that is Boyhood, a phenomenal film, but often critiqued as a one-trick pony.  I don’t think you can call Before Sunrise that, if anything it’s pure character-driven drama with little to no actual events, which isn’t to its discredit; that’s what makes it magical.

Jesse is on a train bound for Vienna after breaking up with his girlfriend in Madrid.  Celine is on the same train after visiting her grandmother in Budapest.  The two randomly sit next to each other and share a laugh, opening the door for one of the most romantic love affairs of the century.  After a chat and an obvious connection, Jesse proposes a wild idea; that Celine, who is French and is headed back to Paris, gets off the train with him in Vienna.  He has the night to waste before he catches a flight back to America in the morning and no money for a hotel room.  He wants to walk European streets one more time before he goes, and a beautiful woman at his side would be a wonderful bonus.  It might be insane, but Celine agrees to join him, and the two begin a memorable evening together, one of walking & talking & not much else, but one that they will never forget.

I don’t like to criticize directors for creating a gimmick that works.  You could look at it as Linklater manipulating the audience into thinking his films are better than they are by using a trick, or you could look at it as Linklater utilizing an original idea that results in an excellent film.  I choose the latter, and I enjoy his projects because of my viewpoint.  But, to cap this conversation off, it wouldn’t work without good dialogue, acting, and chemistry, all of which appear in abundance in this film.  Before Sunrise is romantic beyond description, and really makes use of every moment it is given to tell us a little more about love and life.  Sometimes the conversation gets a little pretentious, but hey it’s the 90s, these are 20-somethings trying to impress each other, they’re bound to get a little existential.  The hair, the clothes, the verbage; it’s so dated, but it a wonderful way, and Linklater catches the vibe perfectly, especially when you remember that he’ll do three look-ins, all from different decades.  The first in this series is more than a solid start, it’s a quality movie on its own, and should be seen by anyone who wants to imagine a world in which love does conquer all.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆