Monthly Archives: December 2018

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Movie Review – Widows

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya

Year: 2018

Steve McQueen is focused.  Other than a variety of short films he has directed, he has created four feature films over the past ten years: Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave, and Widows.  That’s dedication to quality right there, no rush, no fluff, just quality, and I can’t applaud that enough.  He looks into the darkness for us and translates what he sees into something that can be put on screen, and I’ll permanently be ready to watch was he does next.  With Widows, he does something original with the gritty, criminal storyline that won’t go unnoticed; he makes it complicated and frenetic and unsound and dumb, because the underworld isn’t glamorous, it’s downright disgusting.  We’ve never seen a heist drama like this before, layered and confused, and I’m not sure we ever will again.

After a job gone wrong, four thieves are killed in a firefight with police on the south side of Chicago.  Along with their bodies, 2 million dollars in cash is burned in the aftermath, the loot they stole from the powerful Manning brothers.  Now the Manning’s want their money back, in the form of a payment from the widows the men left behind.  Veronica is a particular and wealthy woman, Linda is a working mother, Alice is a trophy wife with nowhere to go, and Amanda has been left with an infant; none of them are in a position to stand up to the likes of the criminals who are now breathing down their necks.  If they want the brothers gone, they’ll have pull off Veronica’s late husband Harry’s next score; a 5 million dollar job involving a safe room surrounded by security.  They don’t know the ropes, but they know the consequences of failure, and it’s simply a check they can’t cash.

The summary almost makes the movie seem typical, but I assure you it is far removed form the normal heisty, shoot-em-up dramas we’ve encountered so many times through the years.  Widows is a fresh take on the genre, a breath of clean air to push away the stench of past failures, and somehow also a homage to all those successes who have come before.  McQueen is a master of mood and despair, sowing bleak uncertainty through every moment until you want to turn away, but you simply can’t.  How he did that with this story is remarkable, and there are enough twists to make things even more interesting, while somehow never letting the plot turn into a gimmick.  The cast is incredible: Davis, Farrell, Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin J. O’Connor, Matt Walsh, Brian Tyree Henry.  And the action is intense in spurts, with flashbacks and side stories interspersed to keep things moving, which worked perfectly to keep the film fast-paced while also allowing it to wallow in the misery of the characters.  Widows is one of the most solid pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year, with a tantalizing aftertaste that makes me want to watch it again and again.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Crazy Rich Asians

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon M. Chu

Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

Year: 2018

Crazy Rich Asians is about as good as My Best Friend’s Wedding, and that’s not a compliment.  Wait, I take that back; at least My Best Friend’s Wedding was made in the 90s when we didn’t know any better, while Crazy Rich Asians was out in theatres this year, when we really ought to have learned.  Rom/coms of this sort are stupid by definition, and it takes real talent to elevate them out of the syrup onto something somewhat stable.  It’s hard, barely anyone can did it, and just because this film is a step in the right direction for the inclusion of other races in the Hollywood mainstream, that doesn’t mean that anyone on board was prepared to fix a broken genre.  In fact, this story is dumber than most that we’ve been subjected to over the last few decades, with less humor, worse acting, and almost no reason to watch.

Rachel and Nick have been dating for some time in New York City, both are children of Chinese parents, things are going really well, and they’re already thinking about next steps.  For Nick, that means introducing Rachel to his family at a big wedding coming up in Singapore.  That’s a lot of pressure, because he’s not just anyone, he’s Nick Young the heir to the Young Empire, and his family is richer than rich, super rich; crazy rich.  Rachel will have to impress Nick’s mother, who wants her boy to move home and take over the family business, something he has no interest in doing.  Cultures will clash and lessons will be learned, but not before our heroes’ hearts and nerves will by tested and perhaps found much too weak.

John Chu is a director of terrible movies, and he doesn’t change his MO this year: was anyone ever confident that he could?  What made anyone think that the guy behind some of the worst films of the last 10 years could make an original, watchable rom/com?  Seriously; have critics lost their minds?  This movie is a poorer version of too many we’ve seen too often, without an original bone in its body other than its racial vantage point.  This is a movie that was made proudly because it was made Asian, and for that it will be applauded and rightly so.  But that fact has nothing to do with the quality of its acting or of its story, which were both terrible.  The ending was simply awful, the middle was dreadfully boring, and the beginning was a set up we’ve watched a million times. Other than Awkwafina, who I thought was funny, and the attempt to show audiences that it’s OK to cast Asian leads, which is laudable, everything else about this film was abysmal and not worth a second of our time.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 14

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 14 Picks

(10-6 last week, 101-69-2 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

Jax @ Ten

NYJ @ Buf

NYG @ Was

NO @ TB

NE @ Mia

Bal @ KC

Ind @ Hou

Atl @ GB

Car @ Cle

Den @ SF

Cin @ LAC

Det @ Ari

Pit @ Oak

Phi @ Dal

LAR @ Chi

Min @ Sea

 


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DVD Review – The 12th Man

Category : DVD Review

Director: Harald Zwart

Starring: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Year: 2017

You wouldn’t expect a potential contender for a Best Foreign Film nomination at the Academy Awards to be directed by the guy who brought us One Night at McCool’s, Agent Cody Banks, Pink Panther 2, The Karate Kid, and Mortal Instruments, but here we are.  Harald Zwart returns to his Norwegian roots with a movie to leave all his other crappy attempts at cinema in the dust, a true story to make us forget the sins he committed in Hollywood and assuredly vows never to repeat as long as we all shall live, amen.  I joke, but it’s shocking the drastic change between this director’s previous style and this current offering, a film that has ‘Oscar’ written all over it.  It’s real, it’s raw, it’s war without a filter and on a very personal level, and it’s also simply great.

The Movie

In the spring of 1943, during the long years of WWII, Norwegian soldiers under British command were tasked with covertly crossing the seas to Norway and aiding the resistance movement in their home country.  Their mission was to make contact with patriots in Nazi-occupied Norway, recruit for the resistance movement, and destroy key German targets, creating havoc and disorder.  This guerilla warfare was all that was left to them, with their country overrun by the Nazis and the Allies stretched thin across Europe.  Without much chance at success and in constant danger of being discovered, twelve brave men boarded a ship headed to a homeland that was now enemy territory.

This is the true story of Jan Baalsrud, one of the twelve men, and the only one to escape immediate capture.  Reaching the wrong contact in Norway, the soldiers scrambled to escape the alerted attention of the Nazis, only to have their boat fired upon and their mission compromised.  They destroyed their own ship, leapt overboard, and swam to shore, only to be captured by German soldiers.  But Jan ran, killed a Nazi officer, and blended into the freezing night.  He would become the only man to survive the mission, spending months in the wilderness both on his own and aided by Norwegian patriots, morphing from a hunted animal into a symbol of hope for an entire nation.

What an unbelievable true story, and one that was captured extremely accurately on screen, preserving the importance and the history of this moment in time for all of us to respect and remember.  This man survived conditions that can’t even be imagined; gangrenous toes that he had to amputate himself, weeks in the mountains living under a rock in fear of German patrols.  All the while the legend was growing; this brave man who would not give up and this heroic group of local people who helped him along the way, though their involvement meant that their own lives were in danger too.  Norway needed hope, and this dozen tried to give it to them, their last man standing continuing the fight against all odds.  Truly an inspiring tale, one that I hadn’t known but will never forget.

Harald Zwart leaves his frivolities behind him and commits to an extremely impacting story, doing justice to this historic figure and the daring months he spent as a frigid fugitive.  Not only did Zwart deliver the goods, but he did it in a way that reflected his true talent as well, his touch felt all over this film.  And the acting was great, much better than I had expected, from Gullestad, who I don’t know, to Meyers, who I have never liked.  He put on a performance to put all his others to shame, as an unstable member of Hitler’s elite.  I don’t know how much that character was based on reality, but that and other dramatic elements are to be expected.  But the meat of the movie was real, honest, brutal, stark, and frightening, painting war not romantically, but somehow still honorably.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080p Widescreen), the video quality of the Blu-ray is exceptional, with stunning detail and clarity that surprises given the bleak outlook of the film.  Yes it’s cold and dark much of the time, but still attention is paid to the cinematography in a way that deserves our praise.  The scenery is beautiful, the land and the snow and the sea; you can feel the cold and will experience the fear.

Audio – The disc is done in English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio, Norwegian/German 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, and Norwegian/German 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio.  The English versions are dubbed, and I wouldn’t recommend watching in that fashion.  It messes with the authentic feel, watch with the English Subtitles instead, that makes the experience far greater.

Extras – The only special feature is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. The 12th Man is a high-quality true story, a tiny slice of war instead of an epic, but no less important because of scope.  It brings to life a story that needs to be told, a memory of courage in the face of evil that we all need to learn from.  The harsh environment, the survival, the camaraderie; war is hell, but heroes can emerge to show us the way through, and here is one of their stories.  The video is excellent, the audio and music solid, but there aren’t many bonus features, so the technical aspects might be a mixed bag but one that trends toward strength.  For American WWII buffs, this is a foreign film that captures the spirit we love to watch, and it warrants our time.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Review – Science Fair

Category : Movie Review

Director: Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster

Year: 2018

Making a case for a Best Documentary nomination at this year’s Academy Awards is Science Fair, an aptly named look at high schoolers competing to have the most impactful science fair project of the year at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, California.  Presented by National Geographic, this documentary follows the preparation and determination of a handful of students from around the world as they present their finding to many panels of judges, moving up the ranks toward the final competition.  It’s a peek into a world most of us know absolutely nothing about, and at a group of kids who are quite literally trying to change the world.

Starting in small state and local competitions, high school students from around the world begin the arduous journey of bringing their science fair projects to the attention of the scientific community, a task that’s much harder than you might imagine.  This specific year, 1700 kids from around the world, who have already won multiple competitions to get this far, will face off to see who has the best idea/innovation/research in a variety of categories, from health to robotics, from plants to energy.  A young man from Germany develops a one-winged airplane that boasts fuel-efficiency.  A boy from West Virginia teaches computers to think for themselves.  A girl from South Dakota has created a machine to read brain waves to study risky behavior.  These are the minds that are creating our technologies, and here they are at the beginning of their paths, on their way to bright futures.

Science Fair is a great and uplifting documentary, reminding adults that we’ve simply paved the way for a bright group of youth to travel down and improve.  The generations that follow us will decide the path the world walks down, there’s no way it can be otherwise because we’ll all be gone, and sometimes we can feel assured that the Earth is in good hands.  These geniuses and hard workers are crafting new ways to do old things, are curing cancer and solving problems in ways scientists haven’t even begun to imagine.  It’s this driving force that pushes the film as well, and allows audiences to get behind the story, one of dedication and determination that goes beyond simple excellence in schoolwork.  Science Fair might not quite rival Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but it’s still a documentary to be proud of, one that shows us what the best and brightest have to offer.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Support the Girls

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula

Year: 2018

Support the Girls is a prime example of message over material, since it definitely has something to say, but has absolutely no clue how to say it.  Bujalski’s only other non-indie feature, Results, has the same feel; as if he had a great idea, convinced some known actors to jump on board, and then couldn’t do anything to see his vision realized.  It’s possible that there’s some talent there, maybe he needs a directing partner, who knows, but it’s also possible that he’s only a writer, not a director, because so far he hasn’t been able to bring anything he’s thought up to life.  Support the Girls is even a step down from Results, a worse realization of an interesting plot, and it will perhaps soon be time to cross this filmmaker off our collective watch list.  His next project is the re-make of Lady and the Tramp, writing not directing, which may be the very last straw.

Lisa is the manager of a sports bar restaurant in Texas called Double Whammies, and she loves her job.  Well, she loves the young girls she works with anyway, helping them when she can, giving them advice when they want it, generally being a den mother to a whole tribe of ladies who need to waitress to make money but also need protected from the assholes who walk in the door.  Double Whammies is like Hooters; yeah they have beer and sports, but men come specifically for the Daisy Dukes and the belly shirts, which is how the place turns a profit, so I guess you get what you ask for.  Lisa isn’t interested in that though, she wants these girls to be provided for when they leave at the end of their shift, wants this weird family to help each other through whatever might come next.  Over the course of a very stressful day, that bond will be stretched to the limit, and Lisa’s positive outlook will begin to darken.

Again, idea over delivery, I can’t emphasize that enough, because the plot is a clever one, the moral is right there for us to see, and the film features strong women exhibiting that in a variety of ways, so hats off to all that success.  But the movie still needs to work as a movie, and that’s where the train jumps the tracks.  Support the Girls brings some of the worst acting you’ll ever see into our living rooms, and for that I’ll never quite forgive it.  Hall is awful, like a parent in their kid’s high school play, and every single one of the Whammy Girls is terrible, like people pulled off the street, with the exception of HLR, who I think has a natural spark.  But god the rest didn’t, the pace dragged, and there wasn’t enough music; scenes were done as static skits with no real mood other than drama club chic.  I can’t believe other critics are so high on this film; I found it boring, poorly-delivered, terribly-acted, and amateurish, leaving me wishing that it have never been attempted so I never would have been subjected to it.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Ralph Breaks the Internet

Category : Movie Review

Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore

Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman

Year: 2018

One of the most undervalued Disney movies is Wreck-It Ralph, and although it automatically sounds whiny to label something that way, it can also be perfectly true.  We can’t call it underrated, because it’s extremely well-rated, well-respected, and was even nominated for an Oscar.  But when discussing the best of Disney, we tend to either lean toward the standard princess musicals or the great Pixar classics, while Wreck-It Ralph gets lost somewhere in the middle.  It’s simply too original, with the only real comparison being Toy Story; games coming to life when humans close the doors.  But then along comes Ralph Breaks the Internet to remind us of this spectacular and exciting world, to show us that it can hold its own when compared to the animated universes that come more easily to mind, and to prove its quality even under the most powerful of microscopes.

Ralph and Vanellope have been having the best time together in the years since last we saw them.  They travel between games, hang out over root beers, watch the sun rise over Litwak’s arcade; things are pretty great.  Ralph loves the routine and never wants to leave Vanellope’s side, but she’s feeling a bit stuck in the same old scene, and might want to experience the exciting new, as much as she loves the comfortable old.  Ralph tries to help, but ends up wrecking, go figure, and Vanellope’s game is turned off when a part is broken.  The duo enter the newly acquired Internet to get the part themselves, but soon find themselves in over their heads in a place of endless possibilities.  A series of unfortunate events will cause trouble for the whole world wide web, and might spell the end of an amazing friendship if Ralph can’t learn to fix what he’s unintentionally broken.

I think this is where we all collectively remember how good Wreck-It Ralph was and its status becomes fixed, because Ralph Breaks the Internet is magic.  It’s even better than the original, a rare step forward instead of back, and a film that’s created with so much love its palpable from beginning to end.  It has the heart of Inside Out and the references of Ready Player One, a movie that can move you in any way it chooses, be it because you’re along for the ride emotionally or because you feel like you’re sitting right beside Vanellope as she races for her life.  The originality of the theme can’t be overstated; we’ve seen morals before, like be true to yourself or allow love to lead your way or things of that nature, but I’m not sure we’ve ever seen friendship shine in exactly this manner before.  Get ready to take a look at your own life and judge your own relationships, because it’s not just Ralph who will have to face his insecurities, it’s audiences as well, and that’s not an easy task.

But the movie makes us, we’re better for it, and that’s part of the magic; this story is more than just pictures on a board, it’s one of the most uniquely beautiful depictions of friendship we’re ever likely to see from animation.  And then there’s the Internet, which is imagined perfectly, down to ever last detail, reference, and brainstorm; eBay, Pinterest, YouTube, pop-up ads, avatars, Mad Max villains, Burger Time references.  This is how I’m going to imagine the Internet from now on, and the humor imbedded into the creation strikes just perfectly.  And then there are the amazing characters: Ralph who looks a little like Colin Farrell this time around, Vanellope with that signature Sarah Silverman voice, Alan Tudyk who may go down in history as the best voice-over actor of all time, Gal Gadot, Bill Hader, and all the Disney princesses.  Plus, the way they scripted Felix & Calhoun out of the main action was brilliant, because we didn’t need extra storylines about life back in the arcade, we had enough on our plates with the action in the Net.  I’m not sure what else I can say; Ralph Breaks the Internet is special, it’s very special, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆