Monthly Archives: January 2018

  • 0

Movie Review – The Polka King

Category : Movie Review

Director: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky

Starring: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman

Year: 2017

If you’ve seen Bernie, you’ll know what to expect from Jack Black’s newest larger-than-life true story, The Polka King, a tale of a little man with his sights set on big crime.  Black was made for this role, a silly musician with a dark secret, and it works just as well as when he played Bernie, the killer that everyone loved.  That movie was a surprise hit, but Black is actually a strong actor, he just has such a unique sense of humor that it’s hard to take him seriously.  But in this film, his character is a perfect combination of both the ludicrous and the lamentable with a good deal of singing thrown in, wonderfully fitting his exact talents and resulting in the best movie of the month-old year.

Jan Lewan, the Pennsylvania Polka king, the entertainer with a thousand huge ideas, all of them magical, none of them good.  He moved to the U.S. to perform his music, but also to follow the American dream, to become something much grander than should ever be truly possible.  Polka parties, festivals, telethons, local events; octogenarians far and near flock to see the great Lewan.  But it’s not just music, Jan branches out in many other areas; vodka, amber jewelry, Polish knickknacks, you name it he sells it.  And his newest scheme is his best (and most illegal) yet.  For a few thousand bucks you can turn your retirement money over to Jan, investing in his fame, with guaranteed* returns on their way as soon as he hits the big time.  Trouble is, that’s against the law, Jan is no businessman, and people will eventually catch on to this dimwitted Ponzi scheme.

Jack Black is in his element and The Polka King works because of it, easing along without a hiccup to become a Netflix Original success, if not exactly blowing any minds along the way.  Polka music is ultra-catchy, and Black sends it deep into our brains until we begin to convince ourselves that Jan Lewan was actually talented.  And then the crimes come along, but you kinda love the guy anyway, even though he’s a con man.  Black is just that awesome, and he really captures the essence, the absurdity, the wackiness of this real life story.  Someone should give an award to Jason Schwartzman though, who is hilarious as Jan’s BFF and band leader, with Jenny Slate and Jacki Weaver rounding out a solid cast.  Of course this movie worked, it’s worked before and it’ll work again, as long as Black keeps selecting these fascinating, funny, non-fictitious characters and Netflix keeps up the good work.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


  • 0

Movie Review – Una

Category : Movie Review

Director: Benedict Andrews

Starring: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn

Year: 2016

I had high hopes for Una, based mostly on its pair of lead actors.  Mara blew me away in Carol, with a performance that was near perfect, a character that she slid into seamlessly.  Mendelsohn has been a talent I’ve shouted about since I saw him in Black Sea and Adore, although every film in which he appears showcases his talent, perhaps none more so than Mississippi Grind.  Bringing these two amazing actors together was a remarkable idea, all that was left was for the source material to be as strong as its players.  Unfortunately, this play-turned-movie isn’t exactly as smooth a ride as you might expect, bumping over some pretty treacherous terrain on its way to an unsatisfying ending.

Fifteen years after she was sexually abused by a neighbor, a young woman named Una decides to confront Ray, who now goes by a different name and lives in a different town.  Her intentions are complicated; she wants to see him, wants to show him how angry she is, wants to know why he chose her to seduce, but also why he left her after telling her so many times that he loved her.  Ray was convicted for having sex with a thirteen-year-old, spending time in prison for his crime.  In the years since, he has tried to move on with his life, but Una’s appearance at his workplace brings all the memories flooding back and the shame crashing down.  What follows is a frighteningly upsetting retelling of events, as Una attempts to close the book on this chapter of her life, while knowing that she will never be able to forget it.

It was difficult even to write the summary; it’s not that I’m so sensitive that the subject matter was too much for me, it’s more that I’m not quite sure how to approach it, how to talk about it, how to condense it into something a review can handle.  You could tell that the film had the same problem, that it didn’t exactly know what to do with the weight of the story.  It was a play fist, and you can tell that every step of the way, which isn’t always a bad thing, but didn’t work perfectly for this plot in this situation.  It was hard to watch, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with trauma, I want to make sure to say that, not unless you know exactly what you’re about to watch and exactly how it could help you.  As far as simply judging it as a movie, Mara was a little off, forced to be British and asked to act too rigidly.  Mendelsohn was great, but he was allowed to be Australian and to show us a complicated character.  Some might actually not like how sympathetic he seems at times, but I think by the end you understand that this is Una’s story, and that Ray was its villain.  One last note; Riz Ahmed is literally perfect every time I seen him on screen, do not make the mistake of sleeping on this amazing up-and-coming actor.  You can probably pass on this movie though, especially if you think it might be too much; it is both powerful and shocking, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also far from perfect.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


  • 0

Movie Review – BPM

Category : Movie Review

Director: Robin Campillo

Starring: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Antoine Reinartz

Year: 2017

Considering the state of the presidency and the president’s personal vendetta against the American media, it’s no surprise that The Post is considered the most important film of the year, a story about coverups and takedowns that resonates in a very particular way with those of us on the side of governmental transparency and journalistic integrity.  But if I had a vote to cast for a 2017 film of vast importance, I would select BPM, a monumentally moving movie that has more to say in 140 minutes than most people are willing to hear in a lifetime.

The activist group ACT UP Paris has a simple mission; to raise awareness for AIDS and the groups most commonly affected by the disease.  But their platform is much more diverse; sexual education for high schoolers, fair treatment for prisoners, clean injections for addicts, and a general de-stigmatization for a preventable illness that pharmaceutical companies don’t seem in a hurry to cure.  We follow members of the group as they wage a non-violent, guerilla war on indifference; distributing flyers, barging into schools, leading parades, storming stages, forcing meetings, and spraying fake blood in an effort to wake up those whose help AIDS victims desperately need.

Although BPM is a fictional drama, its representation of the fight for a cause is so real that at times it feels like a documentary, as we sit in on the meetings, watch the votes on decisions, and then witness the members act in ways that might be uncomfortable to see, but are specifically designed to warrant a reaction.  When marginalized groups are ignored for too long they get angry, and that anger can take the form of protests that others might call over-the-line.  But stepping across the imagined social boundary is often the only way to get noticed, and that concept is on full display in this film.  Its other side, the fictional plot, is so perfectly weaved throughout the social issue as to be almost indistinguishable, melting into the fabric of the story seamlessly.  The characters are amazing, their lives are so realistic, and the awareness that they are attempting to raise among audiences is so fantastically important that you can’t turn away.  It’s a long film, its content is extremely heavy, it’s not an easy watch at all, but it may be the most moving and inspirational cinema you’ll see this year.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


  • 0

Sports – NFL Picks 2017, Divisional

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Divisional Picks

(2-2 for the postseason, 167-89 for the regular season)

Bye teams: none

 

Atl @ Phi

Ten @ NE

Jax @ Pit

NO @ Min

 


  • 0

DVD Review – The White King

Category : DVD Review

Director: Alex Helfrecht, Jorg Tittel

Starring: Lorenzo Allchurch, Agyness Deyn, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 2016

Just when I think I’ve seen the worst movie of the year, something unexpectedly awful jumps up to bite, reminding me that it exists and wants to be taken into consideration.  I mean, The White King is no Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, but then again the former seems to be trying to be an actual movie, while the latter knew all along that it was shit.  There’s something to be said for honesty, although that won’t raise Ian Ziering’s career life support mechanism from the bottom of the cesspool that is 2017’s most hideous.  But it does mean that The White King has an entirely unique strike against it, one that came when I realized that someone thought that this movie was good.  To think it is anything other than abysmal is insane; it’s almost as if everyone involved forgot they they making a film and simply started running around fields in costume entertaining the idea that they had just created the world’s worst dystopia.

The Movie

Thirty years ago, a glorious government was born out of the struggle against the overwhelming greed of the capitalist machine.  The workers rose up a la the communist revolution, agriculture and being one with the land rose to importance, war followed, one regime dominating the scene, and a sort of peace settled on the land.  But peace at a price, peace with an iron fist controlling every aspect of every day.  Food is doled out, schools are militarized, cameras watch everything you do, and a giant statue of the founder of the community dominates the skyline.  Life is without freedom, the hierarchy seem to have all the luxuries, but the citizens are constantly reminded that they are safe here, that they love their fearless comrades, that they couldn’t possibly want anything else.

Djata is a young boy who is just now learning the harsh truths of the world, and seeing how unfair this new experiment can be.  His father, Peter, who is apparently a dissenter, is taken by men in black to an undisclosed location for his negative political views, leaving behind a wife and son who long for his return.  This pushes Djata further from his community, and makes him question everything, especially the authority that is so overbearing.  He attempts to find his father, while also having to placate his veteran grandfather, and keep his mother safe in a town that is increasingly harsh and distant.  He journeys into a forbidden zone is search of a way out , knowing that every step takes him further from his former existence.

The White King is specifically awful, a film that not only should not have been made but in a way wasn’t.  It’s hard to describe; there is almost no movie here.  It lasts for 90 minutes and things are always happening, but also nothing happens, a hundred ideas are simply swirled around until we’re dizzy and perhaps convince ourselves that we saw something real.  We didn’t though, pieces don’t form themselves into a puzzle without help, and this movie had absolutely no help.  The first minute is the best part, when we watch graphics animate the backstory for us, and I enjoyed that we didn’t receive every detail, that we were expected to figure a few things out on our own.  But it was downhill from there, as no one picked up where the introduction left off, and nothing watchable occurred.

The dad was taken, they tried to find him, Djata had a mini-war with other boys, he discovered a wasteland that maybe had something hidden in it, we meet a few military people; it was like someone read Animal Farm and The Hunger Games, forgot most of it, and created a movie out of the bits that they could recall.  This film is based on a Romanian/Hungarian book by the same name, written by Gyorgy Dragoman, which gets mixed reviews, so I’m curious about the source material; is it captivating and did it, unfortunately, fuel this failed adaption.  The base plot is the only positive, while the actors are probably the strongest negative.  The kid is terrible, I’ve seen Deyn do so much better, Pryce is completely wasted, and everyone else seems like extras who were given lines for a psychotic reason only God knows.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 Widescreen, you might be fooled into imagining that the video quality of the disc is in any way good, but you’d be wrong.  The picture is about as solid as the film itself, only slightly clearer that the muddled story and without imagination of any kind.  The budget for this movie must have been very low, because they failed to give us anything we might like to see, except for a few cheap shots of helicopters and a CGI statue in the background.

Audio – The DVD is done in English 5.1 Surround, which an option of 2.0 Stereo.  That’s it, and there’s no memorable music to set the mood except for a bit at the beginning during the animation.  There is a creepy anthem sung a few times within the film, but that’s all she wrote.

Extras – The special features are few: a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a 4-minute interview section, and a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  If there was ever an idea gone wrong turned into a movie gone sour, The White King is it.  It has absolutely nothing to offer past its dystopian setting, and even that is sketchy at best.  Someone had the idea to make another of this specific genre, but the result was nothing like what we’ve seen before, even failing to match the quality of the YA sci-fi throwaways that we begrudgingly accept.  This film fails in every aspect, stumbles around every corner, and should be in serious consideration for worst of the year.  The video isn’t anything to write home about, the audio is also pitiful, and the extras are too few; nothing technical will come to save the day.  Consider me your lab rat; stay away from this poison.

☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


  • 0

Movie Review – Detroit

Category : Movie Review

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Algee Smith, Will Poulter, John Boyega

Year: 2017

Even Kathryn Bigelow’s best movies aren’t great movies, and the time is long past for us to stop heralding her as the preeminent female director.  We have been moving toward equality when it comes to women in Hollywood, especially those behind the camera, but it has been a slow process that has had to climb over countless chauvinists along the way.  Those of us who applaud this progress are sometimes too quick to support anyone who represents it, holding back our natural, critical opinions because we don’t want to be part of the problem.  But talent is talent, and if I’m judging Bigelow solely as a filmmaker, I don’t think she’s nearly as good as she’s given credit for.  Point Break, The Weight of Water, K-19, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty; the last two are considered excellent, but I have to say they clearly are not, and neither is she.

Detroit, Michigan, summer of 1967.  Race relations, especially between black citizens and white cops, are at an all-time high, finally boiling over in a series of riots that led to National Guardsmen, curfews implemented, and hundreds of arrests.  Black neighborhoods were literal war zones, with freelancing cops dealing out their own interpretation of justice.  At the Algiers Motel on July 25th, police responded to what they thought was a sniper shooting, but may have simply been a toy gun fired at friends.  In this escalated environment, police overreacted, charging into the motel and searching room to room.  Three police officers took it upon themselves to interrogate potential witnesses to the shooting, lining them up in a hallway and threatening their lives.  They began playing a “death game”, pretending to shoot the suspects one at a time behind closed doors, allowing their friends to think they were dead.  This twisted game led to multiple actual deaths and a court case that perfectly exemplified the injustice of a criminal system that allowed cops to get away with literal murder, simply because those who died were born black and therefore assumed guilty.

I simply don’t understand the love of Bigelow’s films; either her importance as a female director is being placed higher than her actual abilities or I’m on a completely different taste plane, because I don’t see it.  Her stories are long-winded, heavy-handed, over-dramatic, and laden with flaws, from the acting & the dialogue to the pacing & the flow.  Detroit is simply a prime example of her style, and it’s a style that I simply don’t like.  It’s as if it wasn’t edited, which is the main problem with her movies, as if no one was allowed to cut any material because it just seemed too important.  There’s no arguing that this story itself is important, that we need to see it no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, but I wish someone with deft ability had taken hold of it instead.  As it stands, Detroit is clunky and long, which is disappointing given the amazing time period that it captures and the relevance of its plot.  No single actor elevated the film either, which was too bad, but that’s another Bigelow fault, bad casting.  The hotel guests were amateur, the cops were awkward, and when Jim Halpert walked in I literally laughed out loud.  This true tale deserved something better, and the reality of what happened is the only reason that I appreciated watching this film.  Well, that and John Boyega, who I thought was a weak link in The Force Awakens but who shined here.  I can’t steer you away from this film; it’s important, shocking, and doesn’t hold back, I only wish it had been picked up by someone else.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


  • 0

Movie Review – Breathe (2017)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andy Serkis

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander

Year: 2017

It could not be more predictable and even understandable; amateur directors borrow heavily from other, successful films to ensure that their projects won’t fail and embarrass them.  That’s not even a dig, it’s just the truth, and I hardly blame them; when you don’t know exactly what you’re doing it’s smart to copy off someone who obviously does.  As long as you can eventually use your own voice when becoming a filmmaker, we’ll forgive a little early borrowing, it’s really not that big a deal.  Serkis doesn’t know exactly how to be a director, but he has this incredible true story to base Breathe off of, and so he uses The Theory of Everything as a guide, resulting in a film that is too much of a duplicate to enjoy solely on its own, but that can also be appreciated for what it does get right.

Tea merchant and natural adventurer Robin Cavendish set his sights on the lovely young Diana, won her hand, and proceeded to take her to Africa to be by his side as he saw things that most of us can only dream of.  He was a soldier, a pilot, a sportsman, a fast driver; Robin liked things to be exciting, and he sculpted his life to meet his expectations.  But while in Africa he was exposed to the polio virus, the disease hitting him so terribly that he was put on a ventilator and told that he had only months to live in his completely useless body.  After an initial period of shock and devastation, and with the help of his loving wife, not only did Robin outlive predictions, but he invented a way to live outside the hospital, to see the world in a newly designed chair, to experience life just as any other person would, to love and laugh and enjoy each moment that he was given, knowing that they would soon be gone.

The first thing Serkis did well was to draw from established, British, television talent to offset the use of a young, Hollywood icon; although, to be fair, Garfield is half English (half American) and was raised in the U.K. (but was born in L.A.)  Foy from The Crown, Hollander from Doctor Thorne, Ed Speelers & Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey; smart choices that led to an authentic feel to the characters.  The acting in this movie was great, I especially loved Hollander as twins, and Garfield was an impeccable emotional lead.  But what failed this film was the deja vu element, because it mirrored others far too much to be given credit for individual success.  The history, the disability, the marriage; we’ve seen it before, and it was heavy the first time, I don’t think we asked for it to be redone.  That’s the greatest problem with Breathe, that and a little bit of a slow pace, which keeps it from being great, but shouldn’t necessarily keep you from watching.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


  • 0

Movie Review – Tulip Fever

Category : Movie Review

Director: Justin Chadwick

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz

Year: 2017

Tulip Fever ought to have been an early Oscar favorite, a film that held on through the fall and winter to become something formidable.  Its cast alone is an asset, as is the period piece model of its story and the romance swirling around its main characters.  And yet, critics blasted it as the travesty of the year, while audiences who actually saw it gave it middling marks.  Honestly, that just made me more curious, not less, and I was confident that while I might not love the film, I would at least love breaking it apart.

Love in the time of Tulip Mania in 1600s Amsterdam is as raucous as the frenzied trade of these delicate flowers.  Precious in their beauty and in their fleeting vitality, tulips are a grand metaphor for irresistible affairs; prized but short.  Sophia, an orphan who grew up in a convent, was purchased by the wealthy widower Cornelis Sandvoort with the expressed purpose of bearing him a child to carry on his name, after his first wife and his children died some years ago.  But Sofia isn’t happy, doesn’t become pregnant, and fears being sent away.  During this tumultuous time, Cornelis hires a painter, a passionate young man who falls instantly in love with Sofia.  The two begin a wild romance, schemes swirling in their heads that will aid in their escape from their current, unlivable lives.

I would say that Tulip Fever isn’t half bad, except for that’s exactly what it is; half bad.  The first hour is intoxicating, with the tulips, the history, the orphan story, the loveless marriage, and ultimately the affair.  This film is sexy to the point of distraction, with Alicia Vikander, Holliday Grainger, and Cara Delevingne all bearing much, with handsome Dutchmen gallivanting all over the place and pleasing their women.  It’s pretty steamy, which is a nice juxtaposition to the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Sandvoort.  But after a while, something goes amiss.  It’s almost as if the director decided to copy Shakespeare in Love, but forget he actually had a good story going independently.  Things got goofy, plots swirled madly, and an entire sub-cast of actors were featured unnecessarily: Delevingne, Matthew Morrison, Zach Galifianakis, David Harewood.  Conversely, Waltz was incredible in his role, which is important because I was starting to give up on him, and Judy Dench had a solid cameo that was right up her alley.  Tulip Fever isn’t nearly as terrible as you might have heard, but it also isn’t close to the Oscar-hopeful we were imagining, instead rounding out as a clever period piece with great stars that looses its way when it should have taken us somewhere special.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


  • 0

Movie Review – Wonderstruck

Category : Movie Review

Director: Todd Haynes

Starring: Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore

Year: 2017

Todd Haynes holds the opposite opinion of Julianne Moore as I do, working often with the veteran actress without consulting me even once.  I’ve often said that she’s one of the worst professionals I have ever come across, and although she has redeemed herself in my eyes as her career has aged, she’ll never become one of my favorites.  Still Alice is something special, but other than that I just don’t like watching Moore any more than I have to, her style simply rubs me the wrong way.  Luckily, she’s only a small piece of Wonderstruck, but she’s important enough to be a distraction.  It’s funny though, because maybe she should get a prize, since what she was a distraction from was not only a bad movie but one of the worst of the entire year.

Ben’s father is a mystery, his mother recently died, he lives with his aunt, he has recurring nightmares about wolves, and to cap things off lighting strikes his house when he’s on the telephone, causing him to lose his hearing.  But just before that accident, Ben finds a clue to his father’s whereabouts, at least years ago, and he is determined to find him, this last hope of having some sort of a family.  In a parallel story fifty years earlier, a deaf girl lives a privileged but colorless life, devoid of anyone she can talk to.  Her mother is an actress who doesn’t have time for her, her father is a businessman with the same problem, and so she leaves home to travel to a local museum.  Ben also finds himself there, and their destinies intertwine as we learn more & more about why they are who they are.

Haynes directed Carol, one of my favorite films, so I can’t write him off completely, but his other features are disasters.  Far from Heaven and I’m Not There are awful movies, or perhaps I’m on a completely different taste level than this man, because I don’t see his vision in the slightest.  I know this film is based on a book, but I can’t imagine how that might read, since the story here was so desperately dull and mind-numbing in its lack of anything to offer.  We follow deaf kids around a city in two different time periods, and I don’t want that to sound insensitive, I want you to know that they can’t hear and so often the audience can’t either.  It’s not a fun way to spend two hours, artistic intention or not, and, what’s more, each time the story changes if fails to improve.  I blame the kids, who were terrible, from first-timer Simmonds to Fegly from Pete’s Dragon, who I detested there as well.  Michelle Williams making a one-second cameo was weird, the film held a very negative A Monster Calls vibe, and literally everything was cringe-worthy from the first moment to the final credits.  I can’t imagine how anyone could enjoy Wonderstruck, and I warn you to keep far away.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


  • 0

Sports – NFL Picks 2017, Wild Card

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Wild Card Picks

(11-5 last week, 167-89 for the season)

Bye teams: Eagles, Patriots, Steelers, Vikings

 

 Ten @ KC

Atl @ LAR

Buf @ Jax

Car @ NO