Monthly Archives: April 2018

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Movie Review – A Serious Man

Category : Movie Review

Director: The Coen Brothers

Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind

Year: 2009

The Coen Brothers’ films can be broken down into a collection of periods: Early, Peak, Mistake, Adult, Experiment.  Those are in chronological order, and to avoid going in too deep, take a look at their filmography, you’ll see for yourself how their career has ebbed & flowed.  A Serious Man lands in their Adult Period, from 2007 to 2009, when they recovered from their lunacy in the early 2000s and got back to creating real cinema.  It’s not their best work, but neither is it near their worse, sliding nicely into their upper echelon without making too big a splash.  It’s a return to Fargo roots, proving that anything that can go wrong will, but this time the violence is toned down and internal desperation takes the stage, forcing audiences to a dark place that we try not to ever visit.

Larry Gopnik’s life is falling apart.  He is up for tenure at the college, but a bribe from a student and some nasty anonymous letters might derail his chances.  His wife has asked for a ritual divorce so that she might marry Sy Ableman, news that hits Larry completely out of the blue.  His brother, Arthur, is unwell, both physically and mentally, so he’s staying with the family for a while, and hogging the bathroom.  Larry’s son smokes pot all day, his daughter hates being anywhere near the home, Columbia House won’t stop calling to collect a bill, the aerial won’t pick of F Troop; perhaps the rabbis can help, perhaps they can share some sage advice, or perhaps Larry Gopnik is simply cursed, destined to be unhappy every day for the rest of his miserable life.

Sounds depressing, but the Coen Brothers make sure to stagger the absolutely awful with the blisteringly funny, so have no fear.  They are masters in finding the humor in the worst situations, and that talent is definitely on display in A Serious Man.  The story is set in the 60s, it’s centered on Jewish tradition, the family lives in Minnesota; the film represents the period and the faith and the location so well that you’d swear you were transported through time and space while sitting on your couch.  No real surprise there; the Coen Brothers are the best in the business.  And you know who else is incredible; Michael Stuhlbarg.  This was his first big role, and it took some time for his career to get rolling, but once it did he never looked back.  Cut Bank, Pawn Sacrifice, Steve Jobs, Trumbo, Arrival, Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water, The Post; good god.  He’s an immaculate professional, brings something new to the screen every time, and should be on our radar as one of the best actors working.  Stuhlbarg is the perfect Gopnik, the film is hilarious and sad at the same time, it oozes Coen Bros. style, Richard Kind has maybe never been better; if it hadn’t been for a penchant for dream sequences, which I simply can’t stand, I would have rated A Serious Man even higher than I did, and I enjoyed every other piece of it so much that I might just watch it again immediately.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Isle of Dogs

Category : Movie Review

Director: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton

Year: 2018

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Wes Anderson is my favorite director.  That’s actually partially a quote from Ferris Bueller, which is one of my favorite films but isn’t directed by Wes Anderson, but whatever.  The point is, my website is called Archer Avenue for a reason and that reason is The Royal Tenenbaums and that movie is an Anderson masterpiece.  Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest; his filmography is a thing of pink, over-dramatic, ultra-stylized beauty, though not every single film can be called spectacular.  I like some more than others, but he’s top-level director regardless, a unique mind making original content in a way that deserves our respect.  Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s second attempt at animation, and I’m assuming it won’t be last, but unfortunately it also isn’t his best.

In Japan in the near future, a dog crisis will shake the island nation, causing the country to divide over the love of their faithful pets and the health of their very own families.  Dog Flu, Snout Fever, rampant reproduction; something must be done, and one man has the solution.  Mayor Kobayashi wants to ship every dog to Trash Island, a wasteland where nobody goes and where man’s ex-best friend can live in squalor.  Professor Watanabe is against this idea, knows that he can find a cure, but is buried beneath a wave of public fear and the overwhelming power of the Kobayashi family.  So, every dog is exiled, including the guard/friend of Kobayashi’s own ward/distant nephew, a loving boy named Atari.  He steals a plane, flies to Trash Island, crashes among the heaps, all to find his companion, a dog named Spots who stole he heart and who won’t be left to die alone.

Did I mention that I love Wes Anderson?  His flare for comedy, color, and complete originality knows no equal; the man is a genius.  I know his films aren’t for everyone, and that they can come across as overly artistic, but I dig his style, and he creates movies the way that they were meant to be created; with passion and with singular vision.  He isn’t an expert in animation, but he simply brings his lens to the medium and does things his way, the result being something you’ve never experienced before.  It’s all stop-motion, which is incredibly impressive, how each dog hair can move independently, the time it must have taken to get it all just right.  Anderson breathes wacky life into each character, making them pieces on his very own, nonsensical board game, moving them about as if they were players on a stage until the result matches whatever wild, dream-like image he currently has conjured up.

That’s just Anderson’s vibe, that’s what he does, and he brings is to Isle of Dogs as he would to any other movie.  He also brings his giant cast of impressive actors and actresses, until you wonder; are these people just here to have fun, are they all friends, is this something other than a typical job?  Cranston, Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johannson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber; wow.  The film has the pizzazz, the actors, the story, the heart; it’s surprisingly accessible to a large audience, given the specific oddity of its creator.  But all the same, I didn’t adore it, and I think I know why.

First, Fantastic Mr. Fox is better, more entertaining, less worked over.  Second, the details of the plot are insane, with flashbacks everywhere, tiny nuggets of info flying at you around every corner, barely enough time available before the credits for you to assimilate everything you’re supposed to know and feel.  And third, the movie simply felt like a showcase of what was possible, what was inside a brilliant man’s head, not necessarily a sharing of something that we needed to see.  I liked Isle of Dogs because I’m always up for kooky and for crafty, but I don’t feel like it was Anderson’s best work; he constantly walks the line between entertainment and self-indulgence, and I think perhaps, this time, a toe came down on the wrong side.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Book Review – The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection

Category : Book Review

Editor: Gardner Dozois

Year: 2017

For my 34th birthday last year, a friend gave me the new Annual Collection book, with stories gathered by Gardner Dozois, which happened to be in its 34th addition, cool coincidence.  Dozois brings together the best short sci-fi of the year into one large volume, this time with thirty-nine different tales.  Dozois is a fine author himself (When the Great Days Come) and knows his sci-fi front & back, even editing the Asimov Science Fiction magazine for twenty years.  I almost wish I had read more of his novellas instead of those he gleaned over the course of the year, because what he selected was rather inconsistent.

Thirty-nine different stories from almost as many authors, with names like Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds leading the group.  The tales range in plot, world, and time, but all come from a love of science fiction and a passion for writing with pure imagination.  The ocean levels have risen, leading to floating cities all over the world.  Humans live on distant planets, homesteading in space like their ancestors did so long ago on Earth.  Sentient squids under miles of ice create their own society, and dream of what the sky might look like.  These and many others will ignite your curiosity and take you far away.

I always enjoy reading sci-fi shorts, it’s a fascinating way to be introduced to an idea or a technology in a small amount of time, to get a taste of what another world might look like, before launching into a new adventure.  Sometimes these stories don’t really have a ton of character and plot behind them, so a small sample is all we need to really be entertained.  The problem is that some of these authors aren’t the best, won’t compare to Asimov or Heinlein or Clarke or Le Guin, and so might put avid sci-fi readers off with their lack of pure talent.  It seemed that every other tale was lackluster, that the entire volume was hit or miss, with no consistency in quality.  But I guess that’s something you sign up for when reading an anthology; not every chapter will be your favorite.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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DVD Review – Sweet Virginia

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jamie M. Dagg

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, Rosemarie DeWitt, Imogen Poots

Year: 2017

Sweet Virginia is a combination of Fargo and Out of the Furnace, a murky mix of morals with violence making up an even darker core.  Its characters are quietly imploding, with bursts of loud rage and action that affect everyone around them, until no one is left untouched.  Not an easy drama to watch or to weave, making the work by its amateur director all the more impressive.  Dagg created a thriller two years ago that when mostly unwatched, this film being his only other attempt at a feature.  But he succeeds where many other inexperienced filmmakers fail; pulling together pieces from other other projects, leaning on concepts we’ve come across before, but somehow still creating something haunting and original, a bloody and daring experience that we won’t soon shake off.

The Movie

In a small, quiet, northern town, a murderer kills three innocent men, and their deaths begin a series of unfortunate encounters that only lead to more violence.  Elwood walks into a bar after hours and proceeds to gun down the trio of friends he finds there, taking the money from the cash register and laying low at a local motel.  It seems, on the surface, to be a simple burglary, but there is more to his motive and a reason he was meant to kill those men.  The real crime has yet to be discovered, but given enough time the true story will emerge, and it will shake this rural community to its core.

At the same motel, ex-rodeo cowboy Sam Rossi works as the manager, attempting to live a quiet life after some personal tragedies, including a lingering health issue.  His connection to the murders is complicated by his relationship with Bernadette, the wife of one of the slain, and his general knowledge of the town dynamics, being somewhat of a small potatoes celebrity and a local business owner.  When Elwood rents one of his rooms, the two connect over a shared birthplace, and perhaps over the shared darkness that hovers like a shadow behind both men.  Their eventual and inevitable standoff will decide the paths of their lives, as well as the fate of their souls.

I’m always on board for an understated, melodramatic, neo-Western, neo-noir, whatever you want to call it, murderous thriller, and Sweet Virginia delivers in more categories than one.  Like an old genre flick, it sets up the villain, the hero, the angst, the town, the ladies, and the climax with a certain style that can’t be denied and which always draws me in.  But at the same time, the director adds in new elements, fresh characters, and unique perspectives, until the film we end up watching is a combination of the classic and the modern, done in such a finely-tuned way that they blend together seamlessly.  The plot arc is a slow burn, but one that happens quickly, with only a few key story-forwarding scenes, but with so many layers in between, with so much to say without making a sound.

Speaking of sound, which of course there was, the intensity of the background music was something to hear.  It created an edge, a fear, a sense of dread that you knew wouldn’t end well.  Perhaps the heavy bass trick has been played before, but that didn’t stop it from working again anyway, as Dagg borrowed elements from other films because he’s an amateur, but didn’t overuse them, because he is also quite talented.  Jon Bernthal also showed off some chops, the 41-year-old actor only catching our attention in the last few year (Fury, Sicario, Wind River, Baby Driver), but perhaps peaking at just the right time.  Abbott was strong, DeWitt has never wowed me, until now, and Poots is always a pro.  From the acting to the mood, the dialogue to the action, hardly anything goes wrong in Sweet Virginia, and the result is a film that flew so far under the radar that it didn’t even seem to be trying, but didn’t need to work hard to impress me.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080p HD Widescreen), the video quality of the Blu-ray is strong but subtle, not wowing audiences with a brilliant picture but maintaining a strong visual throughout, backed by some crisp clarity.  The film is dark, introspective, based on moments, not flashy, so perhaps the technology used isn’t showcased, but it’s definitely there to lend support whenever the director chooses to capitalize on it.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround, with an option of English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio.  Subtitles are available in English SDH and in Spanish.  The audio quality of the film is as strong as the video, and as underplayed.  The music doesn’t take a front seat, but it’s always there, a driving force behind the action that helps set the mood and set audiences on the edges of their seats.

Extras – The only special feature on the Blu-ray is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  Only a handful of people have heard of, let alone seen, Sweet Virginia, a fact that is so unfortunate it’s almost criminal.  I don’t know the strategy behind publicizing this film, but I can’t believe it was lack of quality that kept the movie from being distributed and/or talked about; I guess some features are destined to be hidden gems.  That term applies here, and if you’re lucky enough to come across this underperforming picture, let it overwhelm you.  The video is good enough to get noticed and the audio is surprisingly impactful; only the lack of bonus features keeps the technical aspects from being top notch.  I missed this movie when it came out; I wish I could go back and drum up some support for it, because this low-budget, high-drama thriller deserves recognition.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Review – Cruel Intentions 3

Category : Movie Review

Director: Scott Ziehl

Starring: Kerr Smith, Kristina Anapau, Nathan Wetherington

Year: 2004

A new director and a four-year sabbatical took the finale of the Cruel Intentions trilogy to unique territory, and resulted in one of the worst movies you will ever see.  The first was quite good, in an off-beat way, the second was much worse, saved only by its references, and the third found a way to make all the positives of the series go away, focusing only on what was god-awful.  It will come as no surprise to anyone that this Silk Stockings-esque, straight-to-video feature is one of the most terrible movies I have ever been unfortunate enough to sit down in front of.  There is almost no way to describe the crime of its existence; I would say you need to see it for yourself, but that would just be mean.

After the events of the original film, the Merteuil family is in a little trouble, cousin Cassy jetting off to sunny California to escape the aftermath of Kathryn’s misdeeds.  At school, she employs her powers of persuasion and seduction to accomplish her goals, whether that be winning bets, bedding studs, or destroying relationships; it all comes pretty easy to the natural devil.  Her friend Jason is up to similar tricks, along with his partner in crime Patrick.  The two boys ruin happy lives after breakfast and sleep with resistant hotties before bedtime; it’s really not even that hard.  But when they go up against Kathryn, heads will roll.

Please don’t watch this movie, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.  It’s nowhere near as good as the first, and the first isn’t even really that good.  I mean, I like it, but only because it’s a guilty pleasure and they didn’t seem afraid to push the envelop, all while capturing 90s teen cinema perfectly.  With the second, any intrigue went out the window, and now with the third, any talent did as well.  This “film” is a ludicrous attempt at making something that resembles a movie; it’s utterly embarrassing that people let themselves be caught on camera for this.  It’s insane, insulting, stupid, petty, gross, unprofessional; we really shouldn’t let anyone involved live this down.  I finished the trilogy, it didn’t kill me, but there’s no way I’d invest any time in the 2016 made-for-TV movie; I’m honestly afraid I might lose the will to live.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Cruel Intentions 2

Category : Movie Review

Director: Roger Kumble

Starring: Robin Dunne, Amy Adams, Sarah Thompson

Year: 2000

Because Cruel Intentions was a shocking (marginal) success, of course they had to make another one as soon as possible to make as much money as they could off of our 90s angst before all the drama faded away.  Phillippe, Geller, Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid; talk about a generation-defining film, or at least an era-capturing one, and the fact that the movie worked so well was perhaps a surprise to everyone, creating a scramble to pop out a sequel ASAP.  Actually, Cruel Intentions 2 is a prequel, the story of how our leading duo came to be so twisted.  It’s as evil, as melodramatic, but not nearly as good, crashing & burning every time it tries to take off and completely failing the mediocre legacy of the original.

Sebastian’s mother is in rehab, his school is ready to kick him out, he’s being sent to live with his father in a new city; things aren’t looking up for Mr. Valmont.  On the bright side, his father and stepmother are ridiculously wealthy, so he’ll be going to the finest private school New York has to offer.  The catch; he has to live with his manipulative stepsister Kathryn, the most popular girl at Manchester and someone who always gets her way.  She works tirelessly to weed out the dorky and different from high society, pulling the strings behind the curtain with wicked flair.  When Sebastian falls for Danielle, the Headmaster’s daughter, he’ll have to balance young love with outwitting his sister, a tightrope act that is guaranteed to result in a major misstep.

There are two positives within Cruel Intentions 2.  One is that there are actual boobs, where the original stays skin-free while maintaining a sexy taboo vibe.  The other is that audiences get to see Amy Adams in a young role, a comically awful one that we can look back on now for a good laugh.  It was among her very first movies, and although her talent isn’t really on display here, directors must have seen some spark because she would go on to get consistent work in TV and in film, before becoming the superstar we know today.  Robin Dunne, not so much, he and everything else about this movie are terrible.  The only redeeming quality is the way the story is set for the first film, how we are introduced to this “special” brother/sister dynamic, and perhaps how the same formula is followed, even with some of the same iconic lines.  If it hadn’t been referencing Cruel Intentions, this second installment would be complete trash, so remember that if you ever feel the urge to watch it.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Hearts Beat Loud

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Brett Haley

Starring: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons

Release: June 8th, 2018

This movie is trying to trick me, and it almost worked.


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Movie Trailer – Hot Summer Nights

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Elijah Bynum

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

Release: July 27th, 2018

I hope that this is the masterpiece that it looks like.


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Movie Review – Rampage

Category : Movie Review

Director: Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Year: 2018

When your only real and necessary goal is to be better than San Andreas, you’ve succeeded in placing the bar so low that almost anything you produce will be a stunning hit by comparison.  And I’m only knocking San Andreas slightly; it was an entertaining disaster flick, though not even close to a commendable disasterpiece.  Rampage only had to be marginally better, only needed a slightly better script, only had to cast slightly better actors to work alongside the natural charisma that is The Rock, in order for us to stand and applaud.  I’d say it got about halfway over the line it was aiming to cross before falling limply on its side and passing out, which is just another way to say that Brad fixed some problems from he and Dwayne’s other attempts, but not all, not by a long shot.  Rampage is still problem-ridden, and yet still a good time; this genre is frustrating if only because audiences are programmed to enjoy the destruction, I just wish the destroyers would do a better job.

Davis Okoye is a primatologist in San Diego working with gorillas, some of which he saved directly from the poachers traps.  Animals are his passion, and he finds that he has a difficult time relating to people; how they lie, how they ruin, how afraid they are, how quick to anger.  His best friend is an alpha male named George, who he rescued as a baby, and who he can talk with though a series of signs.  When a corporate experiment in space goes haywire and destroys its station, some of its pieces crash back down to Earth, one of them right in George’s enclosure.  Suddenly, this peaceful creature is now an aggressive monster, one that is growing in size every hour.  Davis and a disgraced scientist, Dr. Kate Caldwell, will have to figure out what changed George, how many other animals might be affected across the country, who is to blame for the technology, and how to stop them from destroying America’s cities in their ever-blossoming rage.

I played Rampage as a kid; it was one of my favorite NES games.  My sister and I would rent it from the local store, play for hours, and then we’d have to leave it on all night, because at that time there wasn’t a save function.  When we got back on the system in the morning, it would be red-hot and buzzing badly, but we’d finish the game, take over the U.S., and feel pretty accomplished.  She was always Lizzy, I was George, so this movie speaks to that kid in me, that nostalgic piece that will always remember the good times I had with this game.  The film version does a great job of recalling the destruction and the chaos surrounding the game play; climbing buildings, punching holes in them for no reason, stomping tanks, dodging airplanes, crashing down with the rubble.  I even spotted the arcade version in the office of the villain, so good on the filmmakers for letting me relive a sliver of my childhood.

Now for the movie, which is basically so bad it’s good.  San Andreas was cheesy and unbelievable; Rampage is more fake, which makes it more fun.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terribly simple and ridiculous plot filled with some of the worst dialogue you’ll ever hear, but it’s also full of goofy moments and pure mayhem that make the experience of watching worth the time.  Some of the worst lines were saved for Malin Akerman, who was the cunning head of the evil corporation.  She and all of her words were so bad you’d think George wrote them; I would swear that someone was sabotaging her career, but I’ve already seen her in enough to know that her talent level has done that itself.  The Rock was cool, as always, he was a good hero, he and George worked together as characters, and, again, the plot was so silly and easy and linear that it kinda worked.  Buildings fall, Chicago is attacked by a crocodile, people are eaten; not a bad way to spend an evening, especially if you are a fan of the original content and are ready to root for a little absurdity.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Future World

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: James Franco

Starring: James Franco, Suki Waterhouse, Milla Jovovich

Release: May 25th, 2018

James Franco has lost his mind.