Monthly Archives: January 2020

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Movie Review – The Gentlemen

Category : Movie Review

Director: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant

Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong

Year: 2019

He’s back!  The king of cockney comedy is back, and none too soon.  Any longer, any more Ridiculous Ritchie movies, and we’d have given up all hope of any rebirth, but we can now breathe a collective sigh of relief, cause the gangsta governa is back.  Snatch was released in 2001, and while critics didn’t love it, audiences did, and it’s become a well-deserved cult standard (and one of my personal favorites).  Fast forward almost twenty years and Guy Ritchie has returned to his roots with another crafty caper in The Gentlemen, one the critics will despise and audiences will praise.  That’s the dude’s MO, that’s what he does so well, he riles up the crowds and pisses off the pretentious; more power to him, I say.  And although this film won’t rival his most famous, it will grow on you like an annoying parasite that you can’t quite shake off and might even learn to adore; if that’s not a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.

An American called Mickey has become London’s premier pot power, creating an empire hidden right under our noses and providing Brits with the w-w-w-weed they n-n-n-need.  But he’s looking to duck out of the game; he’s not getting any younger, he wants to retire to some beach with his gorgeous wife Roz, he’s got blood on his hands from years in the business, and he just wants it all to fade away.  So he’ll sell the whole franchise for hundreds of millions of pounds to another crook; easy peasey, lemon squeezey, right?  Wrong, because once the other sharks smell blood in the water they attack, biting each other as well, gnawing even themselves; it’s a mess, that’s for sure.  Ray is Mickey’s man, but he’s being blackmailed by Fletcher, who’s too nosy for his own good, while Dry Eye attempts a coup, and the Coach wades in over his head to lend a helping hand.  Blood, sweat, and tears, that’s what you can expect from this crime-gone-wrong kerfuffle, with a surprise around every corner and a nod to kooky criminals everywhere.

After Lock Stock and Snatch, Ritchie ran into some trouble, namely all the movies he directed since: a bunch of Madonna crap, Revolver, RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes twice, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Aladdin.  And while they weren’t technically all disasters, they weren’t exactly successes either, some of them were downright awful, and it seemed like Ritchie had lost his edge.  But I am happy to report that the sharp cuts are back, as, unfortunately, are the racist caricatures, the foul language, the uncomfortable homophobia, I’m not saying it’s all wonderful, but some of that you can take with a grain of salt and I guess some you’re welcome to hate him for.  Whatever your position, this is a style, this is, at its roots, comedy that makes fun of itself and its creators more than anyone, and count me on board for a resurgence of that classic, British, tea-cozy-over-the-head insanity.

The Gentlemen is a film that grows on you, the more you get used to the slaps to your face, the shit you’re stepping in, the bad smell you think might be coming from, well, all the main characters.  It’s a grungy, dirty, bloody business, and it takes some time to come to terms with the basic premise, and then to start enjoying it.  By the end, I was hooked, it was like I had understood their slang all along, and I was ready to watch more.  I was actually disappointed when it ended, which I took as a good sign, and I hope this also means that Ritchie is back in the game for real.  The actors were so fun: Grant’s comedy, Hunnam’s steady hand, McConaughey’s swagger, Dockery’s killer accent, Farrell’s wicked, show-stealing talent.  He’s the real highlight, he’s amazing, and I’d love to see a film just about his character, if Ritchie could pull that off.  Not quite as all-around strong and mostly-perfected as Snatch, this movie is still a solid offering, especially out of the blue, early in the year, when nothing else is impressing.  I can’t say I’ll remember it as a leading favorite ten months from now, and there are some racial concerns that those of us who are privileged enough not to be bothered by should also take the time to notice, but if pure entertainment is what you’re looking for you’ll find it on the wet cobblestones of London’s streets, amid the rather sinister denizens of one man’s killer-cool imagination.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Super Bowl

Category : Sports

Here is my Super Bowl pick

(7-3 for the postseason, 153-102-1 for the regular season)

 

SF @ KC

 


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Movie Review – Clemency

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chinonye Chukwu

Starring: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff

Year: 2019

The only real problem with Clemency is that it brought nothing new to our living rooms, and that’s important because the subject matter is important; we’re not going to hear the message if we immediately shut down a little since we’ve seen this all before.  Filmmakers can’t expect audiences to be fully engaged in recycled content, no matter the passion behind the project, we’re just not built that way; a good director should know this and plan accordingly.  Clemency isn’t a terrible movie, it doesn’t make too many mistakes; rather, it fails to take any chances or bring anything fresh to the conversation, allowing us to forget it immediately, which does the topic a disservice it does not deserve.

Anthony Woods is one of many young men on death row, charged for a crime he swears he didn’t commit and awaiting his execution for years, while the system processes his life.  Bernadine Williams is the warden of the prison, struggling to come to terms with her job, drinking each night to cloud the horror she feels as she condemns so many men to death.  As Woods’ execution date approaches and his lawyer fights for his rights, Williams plunges ahead with the awful steps, questioning her own role in what she is quickly learning is an unholy march toward an eternity of nightmares.

This film simply offers nothing new, and that’s its only serious issue.  The acting by Woodard, Hodge, Schiff, Wendell Pierce, and even Danielle Brooks (‘Taystee’ from OITNB) is always solid, even laudable at times, but it can’t raise the film’s delivery above the commonplace level that we’ve already experienced so many times before, even in other films this year.  There’s nothing to see here, nothing to feel, at least not beyond what we’ve already invested before, so we as viewers have nothing more to give of ourselves, even if the story would be otherwise moving.  This is a serious issue, but one that’s not brought to light with life, instead succumbing to the norms too easily and therefor failing to capture our passion.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – A Hidden Life

Category : Movie Review

Director: Terrence Malick

Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner

Year: 2019

Here’s an idea; make a movie that audiences want to see.  That doesn’t mean skimp on art, that doesn’t mean don’t be true to yourself, that doesn’t mean sacrifice your freedom of expression, that doesn’t mean follow the crowd.  It’s just, artists are simply throwing their own shit against a blank canvas if they have no connection to an audience, whether real or imagined, because art doesn’t live in a bubble, it’s jammed between personal connections, often breaking out under the pressure of those relationships, both good and bad.  For a filmmaker with a ton of obvious talent, Malick seems not to understand that there are people who want to share his vision of the moving world, or perhaps he’s simply unable to share that vision with us, whether from a lack of skill or a complete disregard for humanity outside his narrow focus.

Franz and Fani Jagerstatter are simple Austrian farmers who love their family, their mountain land, and have devoted their lives to God and the teachings of the Bible.  When the Anschluss began in 1938, Franz alienated himself from most in his area by refusing to support the Nazi movement or to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler.  Though conscripted into the army and serving some time, Franz would return to his farm to work the land, but his reputation as an objector would haunt his entire family.  His days grew even darker when he was asked to join the military again, this time openly refusing to serve, swear, or take up arms against someone who was not his enemy.  Taken to prison and then condemned to death, Franz held to his beliefs in the face of unspeakable evil, knowing that his family was watching and hopefully understanding.

I’m simply sick and tired of Malick and his lovely nothingness.  He gives us nothing, his films are saying nothing, and it’s almost as if that’s voluntary, like he’s intentionally teasing us but ultimately unwilling to give us a taste of his true mind.  Because obviously there’s something there, obviously he has talent, and he has something to say apparently, but he just doesn’t understand how to make the connection between his lips and our ears.  You can almost sense it at times, it’s almost there, and then it’s taken away; I think the guy might just be an asshole.  Either that or he only needs to do shorts from now on, pushing all his thoughts into a small frame, maybe then we we could capture whatever it is he’s trying to set free.  A little convention never hurt anyone, Terry, learn to be a little more normal, for god’s sake.  As it is, you can’t even judge A Hidden Life as a movie; the acting, the structure, the plot, they don’t even matter, because Malick is laying in the tall grass with a wide lens camera taking shots of clouds because, I don’t know, he likes it.  There’s a stirring true story here, but just go read about it, don’t watch this man’s version, because he isn’t a friend to our taste level and he doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously any more.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Just Mercy

Category : Movie Review

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson

Year: 2019

In some ways Just Mercy was an incredible story, and in others it was a horrendous film.  Those things can exist at the same time, it happens a lot, a not-so-talented team gets hold of a good idea but can’t take it successfully to the finish line because, well, they just aren’t capable.  This is Cretton’s third major film (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), and he seems to be trending downward; borrowing far to heavily, playing down to audiences much more than is necessary, failing to connect with audiences in the manner he did with his debut.  If he doesn’t change things around soon, we’re going to abandon ship, which is something we don’t want to do, especially not with a director who showed such promise.  But if this movie is the best he can do (good, normal, but never great) than we’re going to be justified in giving up.

This is the true story of convicted murderer Walter McMillian and the activist/attorney Bryan Stevenson, who tried to prove to the world that the man they were about to kill was innocent of all crimes.  In Alabama, McMillian has been sentenced to death for the murder of a young woman, a girl who he had no connection to, no motive to kill, and, what’s more, Walter could prove he was miles away at the time of the crime.  Stevenson, a young lawyer fresh out of school and wanting to make a difference, set up shop in the Deep South and went about the mission of investigating death row convictions, checking for holes, coverups, and the potential for second chances.  When he met McMillian and learned the facts, Bryan knew he had to save this man from a punishment he didn’t deserve, and this case would mark the beginning of a long career in social justice that would literally save the lives of so many innocent men.

It’s sad that it’s so easy to recognize the good that Stevenson and his team do, both in helping remove the guilty from death row and in finding those who are guiltless and helping them to freedom.  We very obviously have a problem, especially in the south, of racial bigotry and unfair justice, and we need people like Stevenson to fight the good fight, because so often those young black men can’t fight the battles themselves, with poor representation and their fates already decided in the minds of those who would treat them as less than human.  On a personal note, my sister-in-law does this work, and in Alabama, she finds those who have fallen through the cracks and helps lift them out; noble work in my mind, and something we need to pay more attention to not only in our artwork but in our voting booths as well.

Now, on to the film, which is in no way as powerful as the message it hoped to convey.  It did deliver that message, I won’t deny that, so job well done in that area, we hear you loud and clear, which is important, but it’s also important to keep up the quality while you’re completing the mission, which was a major problem for this feature.  Perhaps the narrative was eased down a bit so that widespread audiences would tune in, similar to some of the takes surrounding Green Book, and I can understand that, you don’t want to appear so high that no one listens, but you have to be careful about coming down so low that you lose all cinematic integrity.  Maybe that sounds confusing, it’s hard to put into words, so I’ll just say that I am glad this film was made and that people saw it, but I do wish the quality was just better.  Foxx wasn’t the problem, he could have been nominated for an Oscar and I would have been happy, with Rob Morgan, Rafe Spall, and Tim Blake Nelson delivering fine performances as well.  But MBJ was one constant brow furrow, one constant level, one note to a shocking degree; I’m almost embarrassed by how bad he was, especially given how good he can be.  Then there’s Larson, who, I want everyone to admit, is completely abysmal.  She’s become a g0d-awful actor, we need to recognize that, and we need to phase her out until she can prove that she’s improved.  The writing didn’t help, the plot was structured so childishly, the courtroom drama stuff was banal, there was absolutely no life breathed into this drama at any point, and only the important message/true story saved Just Mercy from complete disaster.  Watch to be inspired, but close your eyes to the construction, so that you may come away half-happy.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joe Talbot

Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors

Year: 2019

A director who has never directed before and an actor who has never acted before decide to write a movie together and bring it to the screen with the help of Brad Pitt’s production company?  What could go wrong, right?  Well, apparently a few things, because a good idea and a good eye can take you a long way, but they can’t make a movie all on their own, there are too many other ingredients to name, and you won’t find enough of them in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which can boast a lovely melancholic mood, but which is often unhorsed by its uneven canter toward a direction that I still don’t think its creators have reached.

Jimmie & Monty are best friends whose lives in San Francisco aren’t going so well.  It isn’t just them, black and brown folks all over town are being displaced and economically segregated into communities with poor water, little access, and no hope.  But it’s trendy to move to SF, the city is making money, so what does it care that its people are being pushed out by millionaires who want a California castle.  Jimmy refuses to be forgotten, returning to his family estate as often as he can to paint and care for it, like some sort of shoemaker’s elf, while living on the floor of Monty’s grandpa’s house miles away.  Part of this odd way of life is delusion, part is tenacity, and it’s all part of the passion one can feel for their hometown, especially when the old way of life is threatened and there seems to be so little can be done.

I have a whole stack of screeners that I’ve relegated to the bottom of the pile, not because I think they’ll be bad but because I’m fairly certain that they will be beautiful but boring.  The Last Black Man in San Francisco is, sadly, exactly that, a wonder of cinematography and mood, an incredible idea, but a film that just doesn’t resonate easily due to its lofty goals, sleepy presence, and perhaps too-specific story.  If you love SF this is the movie for you, but if you don’t it’s a challenge to relate your own life to Jimmie’s, even if you’ve also had hard times.  It’s just too fine-tipped, and then too in the heads of the creators, like they never really wanted to give to us what they found so special, or maybe didn’t quite know how.  These guys did a terrific job making this happen, but it’s their baby, and honestly they aren’t quite talented enough yet to force audiences to feel their pain in the way that is necessary to enjoy this film.  Let’s see what they do next, because some pieces were brilliant; the music, the house, the friendship, the struggle.  It just didn’t come together well enough or for a wide enough audience, which probably wasn’t too hard to predict given so much amateur status, but which hopefully will change the next time around.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – 2019 NFL Year in Review

Category : Sports

Here is my NFL Year in Review

(7-3 for the postseason, 153-102-1 for the regular season)

AFC Division Winners

 

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NFC Division Winners

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AFC Wild Cards

NFC Wild Cards

Super Bowl

Champions?

 


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Movie Review – I Lost My Body

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jeremy Clapin

Starring: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois

Year: 2019

Apparently I’m not feeling the French films this year, as a few have come & gone without grabbing my attention or eliciting much praise.  Other critics disagree, they’re falling love, but I feel like we’re only getting the same melodrama we’ve seen before, whether it’s live action or animated, and I almost feel like the movies I’ve seen have been cliches of what you would expect from French art house, not elevated beyond what’s already come across the pond.  Regardless, just judging it on its own merits, I found I Lost My Body to be interesting but not captivating, curious but not enough to get me to follow it down its personal, pretentious rabbit hole.

Naoufel is an orphan who has just lost his hand; talk about things not going very well.  When he was a child, he was full of hope and promise, declaring that he would be an astronaut AND a pianist, ready to take the world by storm.  But an accident changed his trajectory, and now he’s a young man with no family and no direction.  A chance at love leads him down a unique path though, and perhaps there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, until another accident bumps him off the right road again.  Strangely enough, is own hand sets out on a journey to find him and perhaps set him straight again, reminding him of the dreams that he once had and the idea that they might not be lost for good.

What a strange and interesting story, mixed up in pieces and doled out a bit at a time, weird and kinda wonderful at the same time.  There’s a love story, a back story, a lot of sensationalism, and then a hand on a mission to find his body; yeah it’s odd, but it kinda works.  The problem is, I don’t think the film dedicates itself enough in any one direction to do one thing good enough to become great.  The music is cool, but the animation isn’t impressive, and the story meanders, perhaps making too many points all at once.  I hate to say it, but Frozen II should have been nominated Best Animated Feature instead of I Lost My Body, and not because it was more easily accessible, but because it got more right far more often.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – American Factory

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

Year: 2019

Nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, American Factory is an exploration of the modern workplace, where individual rights clash with corporate goals, with the wage-earner smack dab in the middle.  This is one of the few documentaries I’ve seen this year, I guess I never see a ton, but I’m glad this one caught my attention, and I’m glad I gave it a watch.  It’s personal to me because it was filmed in my home state of Ohio, and features my elected officials, but it should also be a story that resonates with workers all over the country, and maybe all over the globe.  That’s a major storypoint in the film; how the US workforce is affected by overseas investors & corporations, and how we all interact to create a landscape that balances efficient production with personal well being.

In 2008 in Dayton, Ohio, GM closed a major auto facility and put thousands of workers out of a job.  The area depended on this factory, its blue collar workers had few other options, and so the impact was felt mightily and personally.  Fast forward to 2014, when a Chinese auto glass manufacturer, Fuyao, bought the empty space and set up its own well-oiled machine, creating good jobs for the area’s residents and pumping out product to car companies all over the world.  But the transition from GM to Fuyao wasn’t exactly smooth; the language barrier, differences in working conditions, a strict “Chairman” overseeing all operations.  And when whispers of a union began to circulate, many lost their jobs for simply sympathizing with those who wanted to join the UAW.  With a unique perspective on this increasingly common international partnership, American Factory quickly becomes a must-see.

What a fascinating documentary, presented so informatively and without much bias, rarely do we even hear the interviewer/narrator/director as they watch events unfold.  There is a tilt perhaps toward unionization and worker health, but that’s fine by me, I think that’s important, and I challenge anyone to watch this film and come out thinking otherwise.  There’s little blame here; even the Chairman gets a side of the story, building a business that he hopes will succeed, contemplating the value of factory after factory until, what’s left?  And the comparison between American and Chinese worker is so curious, painting so many differences and similarities, showing us all as one group trying to succeed in balancing being useful and being happy.  Finding a middle ground isn’t easy, and it’s a fight being waged currently all over the world, in every office and factory, but documentaries like this help us understand the problems better, and, hopefully, can help us solve them.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Invisible Life

Category : Movie Review

Director: Karim Ainouz

Starring: Julia Stockler, Carol Duarte

Year: 2019

A foreign film that didn’t make the short list for the Academy Awards, Invisible Life is nevertheless a powerful non-English feature that tells a haunting tale, if in a fashion that won’t excite audiences to run to their nearest friend and tell them the wondrous news.  In many ways, this movie is an attempt, rather than a success, at saying something special, at delivering a tale that will break our hearts, while exhibiting a standard that will hold up when compared to the other fine films competing for worldwide attention.  Basically, Invisible Life is strong enough to withstand scrutiny when seen, but will rarely be noticed, partly on account of the shear volume of cinema audiences will never get around to and partly because of its own inherent weaknesses.

Guida and Euridice are inseparable sisters living in Rio in the ’50s, just approaching womanhood and the choices that will soon confront them.  Their parents are living in the last century, causing Guida to date and dance behind their backs, while Euridice, shy and extremely talented at the piano, makes her excuses.  When Guida thinks she has fallen in love with a sailor, she runs away from home to find adventure, slinking back pregnant and embarrassed and abandoned.  Her parents lie to her and tell her that Euridice has left the city to follow her own path, when in truth she has mourned the loss of her best friend and has succumb to the traditional pressures of her family, marrying and having children of her own.  Both are desperate to find the other, both are miserable in their own lives, and neither can stop picturing the imagined glamour that the other must be experiencing far away in a place where maybe dreams come true.

The story is enough to break your heart, two sisters told lies to keep them apart, one an outcast, one having completely given up on her talents and her hopes, both wishing the other a life of happiness while hating every day spent apart.  It’s so sad, but awfully honest, and never gimmicky; there is one scene where they almost run into each other, but it doesn’t feel like a bait & switch, it’s just awfully bleak.  The film is that way on occasion as well, to a fault, just depressing and weighted and dull, showing well that life isn’t always roses, but forcing audiences to decide between the self-preservation of closing off a little or the utter madness of giving completely in.  It’s also a bit longer than it needs to be, but the ending is great, the music is strong, the meaning is there, you’ll feel the feels, it’s just a lot of work and you’ll probably come away completely emotionally drained.  Is that a ringing endorsement? No, but there are many strong factors as well, the film has real heart, and its raw honestly is one of its greatest features, if you can watch it and live to tell the tale.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆