Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Movie Review – High Flying Bird

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Andre Holland, Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg

Year: 2019

Steven Soderbergh’s Netflix streamer seemed to be online before any of us even knew it existed, and there was a scramble to watch & enjoy it before the shine wore off.  The release of Cloverfield Paradox was similar in some ways, surprising us with a film before we could really decide if we wanted to watch it or not, catching us looking and daring us to turn away.  Cloverfield Paradox was a complete disaster and a dirty trick, but High Flying Bird, although looking very different on the surface, is equally bad and an equally large disappointment.  I have to believe that some of the positive hype about the movie comes from the way in which it was so quickly & easily consumed, because this many critics can’t be this blind.

Ray Burke is a New York sports agent whose newest hot client is an NBA rookie who’s ready to light the league on fire.  Problem is, the league isn’t playing, as a lockout goes into place when the owners and the players association can’t come to an agreement over money.  Most of the veteran players can take a vacation with their millions, but the young guys and the bench warmers need that cash, and so do guys like Burke, who depend on their client’s paychecks to make their own ends meet.  Ray’s rookie, Erick Scott, hasn’t even cashed in his first contract, so the pair of them are desperate for the league to start playing again, or for a revolutionary idea to take hold, a concept that might shake the owners out of their penthouses for good.

Soderbergh shoots another movie with an iPhone, which is cool, but not enough to make a great film.  One trick does not a circus make; I need much more.  Like good acting, that’s the first thing I need, and no one here except Andre Holland (who was incredible in Moonlight) does the job.  Beetz, Gregg, Sonja Sohn, Kyle McLachlan, Zachary Quinto; none of them phone in more than a passable performance, and sometimes it’s much, much worse.  And then there’s the delivery style, which is fast, wordy, supposedly witty, but just because you wrote zingers and are pretending that your characters are firing them off the cuff doesn’t mean we’ll believe you, them, or in your story.  I hated the method, the plot was extremely sleepy, there was almost no music, and everything dragged so hard that by the end it was tortuous.  The message, the guts, the nonconformity, that I liked, and saved High Flying Bird from being a complete waste of time.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 


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Thought – 2019 Oscar Picks

Category : Thought

Sunday February 24th, 2019, the Academy Awards!  I’ve very excited about this year’s Oscars; there are a ton of excellent films represented, as well as the annual snubs left out.  It should be a great show (although with no host this year and a few misjudgments by the Academy along the way) and I’m sure I’ll be reacting live during the event on Twitter (@OlieCoen).  You can check out my Oscars page for a complete listing of the nominees in the six major categories, but here are both my predictions and my picks for the best films of 2018:

Best Actor

Best Supporting Actor

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actress

Best Director

  • WinnerAlfonso CuaronRoma
  • Runner-upSpike LeeBlacKkKlansman
  • My choiceAlfonso CuaronRoma

Best Picture

 


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DVD Review – River Runs Red

Category : DVD Review

Director: Wes Miller

Starring: Taye Diggs, George Lopez, John Cusack

Year: 2018

I adoringly follow John Cusack both cinematically and politically, but I have limits on both fronts, and it seems like we just reached the point down the film road where, if he’s gonna pull over here, I’m staying in the car.  He doesn’t always choose the best projects, but then he drops something like Love & Mercy and you feel glad you stuck by his side all these years.  On the flip side, sometimes he costars in River Runs Red for no other reason that you can discern other than money, because you know that’s the only way they could get you to show your face in something this bad; boatloads of cash.  I don’t know how much Cusack got paid for this role, but it would have to have been significant to justify combining his good name with the quality of this movie, which might be the absolute lowest he’s ever been a part of.

The Movie

Charles Coleman Sr. has come a long way, but he’s finally where he wants to be.  After years of struggle, he and his immigrant wife, who were parents at 17, have overcome poverty and the artificial ceilings placed over the heads of their races, fighting every day not to join the ranks of the beaten down and broken, but to rise up to places of power and of change.  Charles is a respected judge, his wife is a first responder, and his son has just joined the police force, starting at the Academy with big dreams and the sky as his limit.  But the system set in place to keep black folks down in the streets with the drugs and the crime where they are easier to control won’t give up without a struggle.

On his way to his first day as an officer in training, Charles Coleman Jr. is shot dead by two white police officers who thought he had a gun, when all he was reaching for was his wallet.  This same scenario has played out countless times, with little to no repercussion for the shooters, and the people are beyond angry.  Charles doesn’t know what to do; the mayor won’t help, the officers won’t be punished, and no one will listen, even when he discovers that a gun was planted on his son so that his murder would seem justified.  So a judge becomes both jury and executioner, as he sets out on a vigilante mission to bring his son’s killers to justice, hoping that it will someday not be so blind.

By the description, you might think that River Runs Red is akin to The Hate U Give, and most of the movie would prove you right.  For about an hour, the plot is focused on police brutality, Black Lives Matter, the death of a child, the grieving process, change in the face of a system that wants to stay the same forever; some really heavy themes.  I was shocked when I started watching and began to understand what type of film I had accidentally become on audience member of, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, the message, the guts, and the simplicity of what was being said.  It wasn’t a breakthrough by any means, but my expectations were so low that I was ready to stand up and applaud.

And now for the bad news; that was only the first hour.  After that, I don’t know what happened, but someone, everyone, forgot what movie was being made and decided to do a Luke Goss shoot-em-up flick instead, completely abandoning all that was working because, who knows, they didn’t know how to rap it up.  Enter George Lopez, begin the gunfights, and say goodbye to the powerful moral that was building early on.  The point became absolutely irresponsible, the antithesis of what we need to be working toward, in my opinion, and I say that as card-carrying left-winger; this movie lost its voice and so started setting fires instead, just to be seen.  By the end, the film became one of the worst you’ll see this year, with awful acting and a torturous soundtrack, a complete explosion of mistakes when accidental cohesion seemed possible early on, only to ultimately morph into something you’ll wish you hadn’t seen.

The DVD

Video – The DVD was done in Widescreen, and that’s all the video details that are available.  The picture quality wasn’t bad at all, it was fine, though a lot of the story was dark, which may have been a specific choice, but was a little dreary and monotonous.

Audio – The disc was done in English Dolby 5.1, with an option of English SDH subtitles, and that’s it as far as the audio features are concerned.  And I’m not kidding about the soundtrack; awful music, terrible choices, bad singers, expect it all.

Extras – There are no special features on the DVD.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  John Cusack stays in the background in this film, and that’s smart, because I don’t know how much they were paying him to show his face, but it hardly seems worth it.  River Runs Red is a terrible movie, just terrible, all the more so because it doesn’t start out that way.  You watch, you become invested, you are pleasantly surprised, and then WHAM, the exact opposite of everything you thought you were supporting and a complete abandonment of the principles of good cinema.  There are gunfights near the end that I don’t even understand, people that start shooting who I don’t even know where they came from; it’s that stupid.  The video is solid, the audio is not, and there aren’t any extras, so don’t expect miracles from the technical aspects.  Just be glad that I saw this one first so you don’t have to.

☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Review – Journey’s End

Category : Movie Review

Director: Saul Dibb

Starring: Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany

Year: 2017

Journey’s End is one of the better films of 2018 that you’ve never heard of.  It came out roughly a year ago, first in England and then in the States, and it made no impact at all.  I guess that’s not surprising; it’s a simply story about WWI with little action and no publicity, an under-the-radar war film if ever there was one.  WWII is more popular, and Hollywood likes to focus on Americans, which I guess makes some kind of sense, so it’s not shocking that a more subtle approach to the horror of that time period, one set mostly in the trenches, wasn’t a huge, electrifying hit.  But I’m here to tell you that it should have been, based on quality alone, and it’s the best Saul Dibb has ever brought us, while also exhibiting perhaps the best performances its three lead actors have ever brought to the screen.

The year is 1918 and the Great War wages on, as British and German troops face off across the trenches of France in a stalemate that kills the soul as quickly as it kills young men.  Captain Stanhope is in command of a group of soldiers who must man the line for six days, their turn at duty, before they are relieved.  It’s quite a gamble, knowing that a German offensive is coming soon but not knowing when; will you be dead in the mud in the next few hours or will you make it back to base alive?  The waiting and the wondering are enough to drive men mad, and Stanhope is close to that designation, held up only by his second in command, the wise Lieutenant Osborne, who men call Uncle because of his “advanced age”.  At the same time, the youngest and newest member of their company arrives, an officer straight out of school called Raleigh.  He and Stanhope know each other from home, but this only aids in pushing the fragile Captain further toward the edge, as he remembers those he left behind and looks ahead to a gruesome death that he feels sure is coming for them all.

I missed this film when it came out just like everyone else did, this WWI drama that looked no different than others we’ve seen before, that stars a few names but none huge enough to demand attention.  And yet it quietly delivers one of the best and most powerful stories of the year, this snapshot of a time period so fraught with disgusting debasement that we’ve tried our best to forget it altogether.  Millions of boys died in filth for nothing, and perhaps because that can’t be explained away we’ve chosen to ignore it, and I can’t completely blame us.  But Journey’s End brings us closer to understanding what it must have been like to be there in the trenches with your brothers, and for that I both thank and hate it.  The depth of the plot blew me away, but what was really surprising were the performances: Claflin with the strongest I’ve ever seen from him, Butterfield perhaps finally growing up, and Bettany, who we should know by now as a transcendent talent, delivering something so solid and so simple that it takes time to understand as also an acting masterpiece.  If you are a student of history and you missed this movie when it was released, remedy the mistake most of us made, and don’t be surprised if you have a new title to add to the top of your yearly list.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Heat

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Mann

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer

Year: 1995

I’ve always respected Michael Mann because he directed The Last of the Mohicans, one of my all-time favorites, and I can still see his name on the screen when I picture watching the VHS one of a dozen times in the 90s, and a dozen more on DVD in the years that followed.  He’ll always have my thanks for bringing us something so special, and for casting Daniel Day-Lewis, who would obviously continue on his path to becoming perhaps the greatest actor we have ever seen.  But other than that amazing film, Mann’s other projects, and there aren’t really that many, have basically been disappointments.  This is his filmography: The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Ali, Collateral, Miami Vice, Public Enemies, Blackhat.  That’s it, that’s all, except for a few early, amateur movies, and that’s not much to be proud of.  A few are thought of as good, but I’m here to tell you that they aren’t, including Heat, a classic crime flick that has not held up over the years at all, becoming just another bad example.

Neil McCauley and his crew are professional thieves who are good at their job, although each man has spent his fair share of time behind bars.  That petty stuff is behind them though, now they aim for the big scores, and they pull in millions instead of chump change.  Their latest job was an armored car robbery, which took precision and planning, but that’s Neil’s strong suit.  His team has their own skills and they get the job done, but they also attract too much attention and make too many enemies along the way.  Now other criminals are on their tail, and the cops have some clues that will might eventually lead them to taking down the gang before they can make their getaway.  Vincent Hanna gets the case when a couple security guards wind up dead, and he makes a living out of chaining up the big dogs, so Neil better beware.  The two will face off in an epic showdown of strength and wits, as the line between good & evil blurs and every man must fight for his own survival.

If it wasn’t for the cast, and the 90s time period that allowed such overacting and poorly written scripts, I think Heat would have already been forgotten.  But the cast really is crazy, it’s name power can’t be denied: Pacino, De Niro, Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven.  Who isn’t in this movie, yeesh, and they all do fine, but the script and the time period definitely weren’t in their favor.  The 90s was silly, it was a dramatic time, people were obsessed with death and sex and meaning, so the film reflects that, it just doesn’t translate well now.  The dialogue is awful, the heists aren’t that exciting, Val Kilmer’s hair is a distraction, and I simply don’t understand why this is a classic, other than that it must have made an impression in 1995 when it was released.  It wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, has become a cult hit since, but I simply think it’s another example of Mann’s poor style and lack of imagination.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Rob Letterman

Starring: Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds

Release: May 10th, 2019

Here we have it folks, the stupidest movie of 2019.


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Movie Trailer – Long Shot

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael

Release: May 3rd, 2019

We just saw the movie condensed down to two minutes, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I want to watch it in its two hour form.


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Movie Trailer – Piercing

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa

Release: February 2019

This is produced insanity, and I hate that.  It feels fake from the very first moment, like someone trying to pretend they exist outside the boundaries, which is just silly.  Abbott I like, Wasikowska I’ve grown bored of, and Costa isn’t really very talented.  Hard pass.


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Movie Trailer – Ma

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Tate Taylor

Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis

Release: May 31st, 2019

I need that shocked/scared emoji face right now, because I think that about sums it up.  I’m frightened and intrigued, but you know, ultimately, I don’t think this is gonna be anything special, I think it just has that wow factor in the trailer but it won’t anywhere else.  This is a cool role for Octavia Spencer, and maybe if I was 17 I could get behind something like this, but at this moment in my life I think I’ll just pass.


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Movie Review – The Lego Movie 2

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mike Mitchell

Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

Year: 2019

The second Lego movie has a different director than the first, which is incredibly important and painfully obvious.  Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are complete lovable idiots, and their stuff is ultimately enjoyable, if ridiculously over the top.  Their humor works perfectly in a kids movie because they are boys who never grew up, and yes that gets tiresome after a while, but in small doses that can mean a ton of fun.  They wrote the screenplay for this film, but they passed the director’s chair over to Mike Mitchell, the guy who brought us Deuce Bigalow, Sky High, Shrek Forever After, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water, and Trolls.  After reading that list, is anyone surprised that he ruined what was shaping up to be a solid children’s franchise?  Lord & Miller have done their fair share of ludicrous, but they didn’t go full Deuce Bigalow, which is a place I don’t think you make it back from unchanged.

Emmet and his crew may have saved Brisksburg from the Cragle, and a father & son may have learned wonderful lessons together, but that doesn’t mean the end of The Lego Movie was exactly happy.  The perfect world in the basement was opened up to new ideas, which was great, but it was also opened up to The Sister, and that might mean a little more radical change than anyone is ready for.  Lego Duplo invades and begins attacking anything that looks remotely cute, leaving a wasteland where once everything was awesome.  Five years later, Emmet and his friends live in a post-apocalyptic desert where nothing is any fun, and it gets worse when a space invader comes and takes away the people who our hero loves most.  A battle will ensue for the fate of the universe, with an Ourmomageddon waiting on the horizon to stop the fun once and for all, which no one wants, but everyone might be powerless to stop.

What a disaster, and I don’t mean any of the hundred times the characters crashed, fell, or failed; well, no, those too.  But the real failure was on the part of the director, who let the animated personas run loose across an endless landscape, and while that might sound fun to the child within you, it won’t be quite as enjoyable to the adult watching.  It was literally a brother and sister playing imaginary games with Legos for two hours, but instead of being able to walk out the door or even look at your phone you had to stare at every storyline they produced from their teeming minds and pretend it was the best thing ever.  I don’t know about you, and I love my kids, but I’m glad I don’t have to enter their weird worlds as much as I used to, because only they understand them and only they find them funny.

This story was just that; an unfunny mess of ideas and action that could only have been cool to the people who thought it up.  Lord & Miller have a great sense of youth and exuberance, and that’s great, but someone was needed to be the grownup in the room and control the game, and Mitchell was powerless to stop the madness.  So every plot you could throw in was included, no expenses spared, and the result was utter chaos.  The musical numbers, which were unexpected and unneeded, only added to the muddiness of the story, creating a whole different genre of film that I’m not sure needs to exist.  There were too many characters, too many scenes, not enough cohesion, and my god was Tiffany Haddish awful as the villain; aren’t her 15 minutes up yet?  The credits were by far the best part of the movie, one because they were genius but two because it was finally over, this wild romp of childish excitement that needed to be guided, like the first in the franchise, down a path that made at least a little sense.  My kids had a good time, that’s something, their opinion matters here, but I wish I could have had fun too, which wasn’t possible given how much of my taste level I would have had to abandon.

My rating: ☆ ☆