Author Archives: ochippie

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Movie Review – Terminal

Category : Movie Review

Director: Vaughn Stein

Starring: Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Mike Myers

Year: 2018

When watching a twisting storyline, I like to be surprised, I want to be surprised, I don’t choose to unravel the mystery before the characters do, because where’s the fun in that?  I can watch an M. Night movie and not care to figure out the trick, to get to the truth before others do, to convince myself that I’m more intelligent that the director.  But I will say, sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it can’t be helped, and if I uncover all the secrets and guess at all the answers before I really should it is in no way my own fault.  I assumed much about the plot of this film early on, and was extremely disappointed when I ended up being right.  It wasn’t clever, wasn’t hidden, wasn’t smart, and was in no way engaging; Terminal was dead on arrival, and we find that out way too soon.

In the gritty, neon underworld of a dark and lonely, semi-dystopic British city, assassins walk the slick, black streets like window shoppers out for a leisurely stroll.  Death lies around every corner and life seems fleeting; a utopia for professional killers and the employers who make use of their empty souls.  Annie wants to rise up the ranks, wants to take the assassin’s creed, wants to work exclusively for the town’s big wig richy sicko, Mr. Franklyn, but first she’ll have to prove her worth.  So begins an elaborate scheme to kill the competition, take the cash, and win the day, all while dodging her own demise.  Annie will meet a dying man called Bill, a young stud named Alfred, a wizened vet who goes by Vince, and they will all end up at the end of the line looking down the barrel of a gun before the wicked web is weaved.

That summary about tells it; there’s a whole lot of fluff, not much substance.  The film is beautiful in a Brazil sort of way, dazzling with a Blade Runner vibe, quirky like its predecessor Snatch, but never good in any tangible way.  Those movies are wacky yet cool, hard to swallow yet excellent, and that’s something Terminal couldn’t conjure.  Like Free Fire, you want to enjoy it because it is pure, ridiculous, bloody entertainment.  The problem is that, unlike silly action/comedy flicks that at least give you something, this assassin cliche is rather pointless and fails to give audiences anything.  It’s predictable, unoriginal, boring, and totally unnecessary; the exact opposite of what its bright lights try to trick us into believing.  The acting is good, I’ll give it that, Robbie and Pegg and the thugs were all interesting and believable, but the setting they were placed in was just so amateur and thoughtless that they never had a chance to shine through the gloom.  A mistake was made, an idea was left to wander, a plot completely lost its mind, and the result is something you don’t want to see.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mike Newell

Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Matthew Goode

Year: 2018

Downton Abbey Goes to the Movies, or something like that, as multiple familiar faces pop up in this straight-to-Netflix film.  They bring an easy, classic, British comfort to a movie that cringes behind a strange title and relative anonymity, lending credit to an otherwise dubious affair.  But don’t let the name bother you; it’s straight from the book, so blame the authors.  You’ll swear that this is historical nonfiction, that the film is based on the main character’s actual story, but that’s not the case; this novel was written in 2008.  So it’s historical fiction, or realistic fiction, I don’t know the difference, and it doesn’t really matter.  The result is the same; a wonderfully weird feature that carries with it a sense of timelessness and nostalgia for an age of real romance, a throwback to Wuthering Heights set atop the cliffs of the Island of Guernsey.

Successful young author Juliet Ashton has made a small fortune writing silly, witty essays, but longs to immerse herself in something more important.  England is back on her feet following the end of WWII, in which Juliet lost her parents and so many lost so many others.  But healing happens whether or not you’re ready; it’s only natural to move on.  Juliet stumbles upon a group trying to do just that, a book club from Guernsey who survived German occupation partly because of the joy and hope and adventure they received from reading.  But the memories of that time are still painful, and when Juliet begins to ask questions about their experiences for an article or book she hopes to write, she suddenly finds them less friendly.  There are secrets on the island that perhaps should remain hidden, scars from the second Great War that will never fully heal.

I loved the nod to the past that was written all over Guernsey, a nod that was inclined toward so many directions.  It touches on the war, occupation, Jewish slaves, Nazi sympathizers, families torn asunder, and all the terror of that time.  It brings that beautiful, old culture to life; the carts, the cottages, the cardigans.  And it also takes its tone from classic literature, weaving a romance that would seem cheesy in a modern movie, but somehow fits perfectly in one that feels a hundred years old.  There’s a sweeping freshness to the story, to the way it was presented, and to the way that it ended, a careless and hopeful mood that could not have been easy to pull off, that could be cynically pushed aside by stodgier audiences.  And then there’s the cast, which was brilliant.  Lily James is just so lovely, so effortless, so timeless; she always blows me away.  The Society was made up of strong actors, including Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton.  And Downton was well-represented; James, Wilton, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay.  Guernsey is quietly one of the better films of 2018, both a fantastic love story and a peek at an obscure part of history, blended together seamlessly by a veteran director and played wonderfully by a smartly-selected cast.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Sports – 2018 Fantasy Football: RBs & WRs

Category : Sports

With the preseason beginning and many fantasy drafts planned for the next few weekends, it’s time to prep for your 2018 Fantasy Football team. Here is my advice/predictions as it relates to running backs and wide receivers:

RBs

  • Top Duo – There’s a debate raging as to who will be the better fantasy back: Gurley or Bell.  Obviously I don’t know the answer, but I really don’t think it matters.  Both will have great fantasy seasons, both could help lead you to the playoffs.  I would take Gurley because they need him more, Pittsburgh has Antonio Brown, but that’s splitting hairs.  These backs will go #1 & #2 in most Drafts, so if you don’t pick at the top, you don’t need to worry about it anyway.
  • DJ is back! – The return of David Johnson is great not just for fantasy owners but for the league; he’s no only a great player but also someone you can be proud to have on your teams.  Last year he was injured, but in other seasons he’s been a megastar, and since his injury wasn’t to a leg or knee or something like that, I think he can jump right back to the top of the running back list.  The Cardinals might not make it past .500, which is a concern, but only a small one.
  • Young Guns – There are a bunch of young backs, mostly 2nd year guys, in a group right after the upper echelon of Gurley & the like, so grab one of them with confidence.  Barkley, Kamara, Hunt, Cool, Fournette; if you don’t land your first choices these players can do almost as much for your team.  Barkley is a bit of a wild card since he’s a rookie and the Giants aren’t amazing, but the rest should be pretty solid, and can be a #1 back for you.
  • Middlemen – Then there’s a group in the middle that will make solid #2s: Freeman, McKinnon, Howard, McCaffrey, Henry.  These guys are reliable and should produce for your team, so get them early as your second back before they get snatched up.  If you wait a while and they become your #1 option, they won’t be selections to be embarrassed about; they should score their fair share of touchdowns for their respective teams.
  • Rookie Avoidance – I would stay away from most rookie backs, except Barkley, if only because we have no idea what we’re getting.  Penny, Guice (who is already out for the season), Michel, Chubb, Freeman; there’s really no telling how much teams will use these new weapons, and until we know more I wouldn’t draft them other than as backups who you’re hoping become surprises.  Maybe in dynasty leagues you could stash these kids, but otherwise leave them until later in the Draft.

WRs

  • Returning Cast –  The receivers at the top of the list are mostly names that have appeared the last few years: Brown, Hopkins, Beckham, Green, Jones.  A couple names that will joint them are a bit newer: Adams and Thomas.  All of these receivers could be #1 guys for you, but make sure to think about how well their QBs will perform this season.  For example, Eli is getting old, Brees isn’t singing it at quite the same volume as he used to, so don’t overpay for WRs with aging teammates.
  • Hilton Head – T.Y. Hilton could return to the front of the line if Luck really is back to form, and his name hasn’t been buzzing in the offseason, so you might be able to get him for cheap.  If Luck can play, Hilton is his favorite weapon, and the pair of them could be an extremely formidable duo.  You might just be able to get the best fantasy QB and the best fantasy WR in rounds much later than you would normally pick them, simply because Luck was hurt last year.  Something to think about.
  • Vikings – With Kirk Cousins now in Minnesota, WRs Diggs and Thielen should have another strong season.  They did well with Keenum, and Minnesota has a balanced approach that helps all offense players, because they run the ball to take pressure off and they play strong defense to get the ball back quickly.  Cousins has been a solid fantasy QB over the past few seasons in Washington, and think that continues this year, which means his weapons should be in for quality points.
  • Lowballing – I’m not as high on a few WRs as some fantasy experts are, so I’ll be letting other teams pick them too high.  Allen Robinson, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper, Davin Funchess, Josh Gordon, JuJu Smith-Schuster; these guys are good, but in my book they’re #2s, even really solid #3s, not guys you reach for in early rounds.  I’d be overjoyed to get someone from this group as a 2 AND a 3, that’d be great, but it probably won’t happen.
  • Vets Vanishing – Here is a group I probably wouldn’t draft at all, veteran wideouts who simply won’t produce enough this season.  Emmanuel Sanders, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordy Nelson; in some cases there just isn’t enough left in the tank, in others the talent surrounding the player isn’t strong enough to expect point to come.  If you really have a good feeling, take one of these cats on a flyer, but don’t expect much production.

 


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DVD Review – 7 Days in Entebbe

Category : DVD Review

Director: Jose Padilha

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Ben Schnetzer, Eddie Marsan

Year: 2018

7 Days in Entebbe is the poor man’s Argo; a 70s hostage crisis overseas that we already know the ending to but are curious to see play out anyway, only this time there’s no Ben Affleck to get people into the theatre.  This copy of that success has its own problems and its own strengths, its own method of delivering the story that we can read about on Wikipedia but choose not to.  I think, because Argo won Best Picture and its cast was star-studded, we hold it up on a pedestal, but 7 Days in Entebbe is almost as good, if not nearly as publicized, with a plot that’s hard not to become sucked into.  This film does choose a quieter, more character-driven and introspective direction, but that’s not to its discredit, and its under-performance since its release in March is not entirely warranted.

The Movie

Since the acknowledgment of the Israeli state around the globe, the people of Palestine have become disenfranchised from their own home, the anger at which has resulted in terrorist organizations forming throughout the world.  Paramilitants and freedom fighters from a variety of ethnic and political backgrounds joined together to help the cause of Palestine, shouting to have their voices heard, killing to get their point across.  Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann are radical German socialists who want to throw a grenade into the greater, capitalist consciousness, to wake people up to injustices across the planet.  If they have to do that with fear, so be it, with violence even; they and their allies have committed to seeing this twisted form of freedom through to the end, no matter what.

The latest plan to get Western attention directed to the battles in the Middle East is to hijack a Paris plane bound for Tel Aviv.  The plane will then be flown to Uganda where Idi Amin has given his blessing to a hostage situation.  If Israel will release its political prisoners, the hijackers will release the Jews they have kidnapped.  If not, they will be killed two at a time, starting with the children.  The German radicals and their friends believe that they will back the Israeli government into a corner from which they cannot escape, while at the same time the Israeli government prepares to hold to its stance of never negotiating with terrorists.  For the prisoners, this will be the longest week of their lives, as they wait out the struggle between a nation and a small force that wants the system that created nations to crumble.

I liked Argo as much as the next guy, but it didn’t blow me away, and I definitely don’t think it was Best Picture caliber; honestly it wasn’t a very strong year, with a lot of “quiet good” but not of ton of “amazing”, at least in the group of films that dominated the conversation.  This is a hard plot to make work flawlessly; it’s dated, it’s already known, it’s inherently melodramatic, and I wouldn’t touch the genre in general if I were a director.  To tackle a similar story like 7 Days in Entebbe, even years after it was done well, is a pretty bold move, because it’s hard enough already even before they start in on you with the comparisons.  But somehow this film worked, or at least I think so, which differs from the opinion of most.  It doesn’t get very high ratings or great reviews, but this real life drama is flying under the radar where it doesn’t belong.

Entebbe isn’t heart-pounding, and that’s its biggest critique.  Those who know the style wanted big escape scenes, edge-of-your-seat close calls, really focused tension when shit is about to hit the fan.  In that way, this movie went the opposite direction, but I somehow still felt myself being drawn in to the tale.  Instead of the intensity of the situation, we get very specific looks at the people involved; I guess you could say that this is a character study.  The action is mostly quiet, the emphasis is on the participants; their backstories, their lives, their fears.  There is some buildup, but mostly we know how it’s going to end, the point of the story becomes learning about why this was done and what it can teach us going forward.  Bruhl and Pike are a good team of villains; just a touch of humanity and sadness, without making terrorists look like heroes.  Schnetzer and Marsan were good on the periphery; adding depth to the tale and an outside perspective.  The direction was clean, and perhaps the element I enjoyed most was the dance.  There was an interpretive dance featured throughout with a minor character as one of the dancers, and it was very moving, flowing nicely with the plot to really make a strong point.  I simply liked Entebbe more than most, for the quality of its acting, the intricacies of its story, and the execution of its moral.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080p HD Widescreen), the video quality of the Blu-ray disc is very strong.  It boasts solid visuals but also an authentic feel, with some archival footage and a really strong reenactment overall.  Authenticity was important to the film, and it showed, it was like seeing history; brutal, complicated, not clean, not stunning, sometimes depressing, sometimes hard to watch.

Audio – The disc was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with an option of English Descriptive Video Service.  Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.  Button sounds can be turned on or off.  The audio was serviceable, not spectacular, without memorable moments to hold onto after the credits roll.  There was a nice balance of sound as it weaved through the dialogue, but nothing stellar was ever needed for the action.

Extras – There are three bonus features on the Blu-ray: The Entebbe Team, a 7-minute behind the scenes segment, Inside the Raid, another 7-minute behind the scenes look, and Additional Dance Sequences, 5 minutes of bonus dance footage.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended7 Days in Entebbe has been disparagingly called a slow, listless thriller with no speed or surprise, but I think that’s exactly why I liked it.  It took the regular, true life, historic thrill ride recipe and took away the energy, but somehow in a good way.  The story became about the people, not the context, and definitely not about the action.  We saw the crisis through the eyes of the humans who were really there, and that’s a powerful thing.  We also saw how little things have changed in 40 years, but that’s a topic for another time.  That’s another plus about this movie; it opens topics up for conversation, even uncomfortable ones, and that’s never a bad thing.  I think the director and the writer stopped just short of making the terrorists relatable and pushing us to feel empathic for them, for which I’m thankful, because I think that would have been going too far, but at least they were able to sculpt real villains, instead of complete shells.  The video quality is high, the audio quality a touch lower, and the extras falling somehow in middle range, so don’t expect too much from the technical aspects, just appreciate what you can get.  And don’t let this film completely pass you by; it’s worth more than that.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Review – Lean on Pete

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andrew Haigh

Starring: Charlie Plummer

Year: 2017

Director Andrew Haigh’s last film was 45 Years, which was incredible, so it’s no surprise that Lean on Pete is more than solid as well.  Haigh adapted both movies for the screen, one from a short story and one from a novel, so he’s talented in that area too; some people can just do it all.  His focus seems to be on strong emotion lurking just behind every day interactions, how moments might look small until they’re placed brick-like along a path that leads to a place you never thought you’d end up.  The stories he chooses are heavy and dramatic, but they speak clearly to audiences, allowing us to see ourselves in the characters even if our lives haven’t gone down the same road.  Lean on Pete is powerful in this way, taking us on a journey step by step until we can’t turn back; like the fabled frog in the water turned to boil, we don’t know what’s in store for us until it’s too late.

From Spokane, Washington but now living in Portland, Oregon, Charlie is a good kid who only longs for the simple things: friends at school, a place on the football team, time with his dad, a house without roaches, three square meals, and room to run.  One summer, Charlie comes across a Racino called Portland Downs; a house racing track and a casino all in one.  He doesn’t know the first thing about horses, but he gets a job helping out a grumpy owner named Del who needs a hand loading horses, driving them around, racing them, and bedding them down in their stables.  One particular horse, Pete, stands out to Charlie, and he develops feelings for the quarter horse, despite frequent warnings that these animals aren’t pets.  When Pete approaches his time to be put down, Charlie, who can’t lose another creature who he loves, runs away with the horse, going cross country to find a long lost aunt who represents all that is possible in his life, all that is good, all that he’s never had.

On the surface, Lean of Pete is a story about a horse and his boy, as it were, but there’s much more than that going on below the surface, which is another favorite pastime of Haigh’s, pulling the rug out from under us when he can tell that we’re at our most emotionally unsteady.  The plot begins by focusing on Charlie and his dad, then it moves to Charlie and his horse, and then it moves again, this time to Charlie’s rock bottom, as we walk beside him through his darkness.  Heavy stuff, so don’t simply expect a heart-warming tale of friendship, there’s much more sadness to be experienced here than you might expect.  Plummer does an incredible job shouldering the weight, never setting it down for a moment to breathe, always forcing audiences to keep pace.  And there are some really nice cameos scattered throughout as Charlie meets people all over the country on his adventure: Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn.  Cameos can go one of two ways, but they worked in this film, and it seemed that every choice worked out for Lean on Pete.  The landscape was stunning, the quiet moments really spoke loudly, I was invested from the very beginning, and the ending wrapped the story up nicely, when so often climaxes can let us down so hard.  This movie was a rare success and deserves to fly higher than its path under the radar.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Kings of Summer

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias

Year: 2013

This film was pre-Love Simon, which was Nick Robinson’s breakout role, and is a much better movie.  You can tell that he has progressed as an actor through some questionable films (Jurassic World, The 5th Wave, Everything Everything), coming out the other side having learned something.  For Jordan Vogt-Roberts, he would go on to direct Kong: Skull Island, which wasn’t very good, so he’s still looking for a project to help him make his mark.  Kings of Summer feels very amateur because it is, a lot of the cast & crew earning their stripes with an easy coming-of-age drama before they tried other, harder things.  But the film still exists independently, we don’t dole out a general pass or an A for effort just because everyone involved was learning, there’s still an audience to entertain/impress, and that definitely did not happen.

Ever since Joe’s mom died, things haven’t been the same.  His small town Ohio existence was shattered, his dad has become increasingly unhappy, his sister moved away, and he can’t stand being cooped up in a house where nothing is ever good enough and neither father nor son know how to deal with their grief.  Joe wants out, and a discovery in the woods might just give him the means.  There’s a clearing in the middle of the local forest that nobody knows about, and Joe wants to move there.  We’re talking run away, steal supplies, build a house, and live there, free from parents and responsibilities.  His best friend Patrick comes along because he’s tired of his own neurotic parents, and a kid called Biaggio shows up too, although no one is really friends with him.  No matter, it’s a new start, it’s a chance to become men without their parents’ consent, and it will be the summer of a lifetime.

The premise is fine, it’s the execution that’s lacking in precision and in talent.  We love coming-of-age tales, and I love the idea of running away from it all into the woods to start anew, the plot just wasn’t developed or presented well, resulting in a mess of emotion that you can almost relate to but don’t really want to watch.  Nick Robinson (and all the young actors really) was terrible and couldn’t seem to act his way out of a paper bag, or a ramshackle house in the woods.  And then there were the patchy beards that looked painted on to Joe & Patrick’s faces; I don’t know what was up with that.  Nick Offerman was Joe’s father, he was OK in his own, Offerman-y way, and his real life wife Megan Mullally played Patrick’s mom pretty comically, they just weren’t enough to tilt the scales in the film’s favor.  This was an attempt at something cool that always stayed lukewarm; I wish a different team had gotten a hold of this idea.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – BlacKkKlansman

Category : Movie Review

Director: Spike Lee

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

Year: 2018

Spike Lee has directed 83 projects; that’s a lot.  Steven Spielberg has directed 57, and it feels like he’s been around for a hundred years and been the creator of every good movie made in that imaginary century, so 83 is a pretty high number.  Lee has done features, shorts, documentaries, TV; the sixty-one-year-old has been around the block and told a million tales, but his latest film might be his best yet.  Chi-Raq was bold, Old Boy was a mistake, St. Anna was weird, but these modern movies aren’t indicative of his talent, and it’s been a long time since 25th Hour, Summer of Sam, He Got Game, Malcolm X.  But BlacKkKlansman is a return to the magic that we know this director can conjure, and more than that, it’s a modern masterpiece that right now sits at the top of the list of the greatest films of the year.

Ron Stallworth is the first African-American cop in Colorado Springs history, his presence creating quite the stir.  But hey, it’s the 70s, black people have equal rights, they can be policemen or politicians, it’s the era of free thinking and free love; all power to all the people.  Still, it won’t go perfectly smoothly, and Ron has to start out in the evidence department doing basically nothing.  But his time to shine will come, and when it does it will be in a way he never would have imagined.  On a whim, Stallworth picks up the phone and responds to an article about the KKK, calling in to see if he can join, since wow does he hate those blacks.  Who answers the phone but the Grand Wizard himself, Mr. David Duke, a supremacist who thinks he can hear African blood in someone’s voice a thousand miles away.  Ron gets fellow officer Flip Zimmerman to stand in for him at actual meetings, and the pair infiltrate the KKK that easily, but keeping safely undercover might not be so simple.

Based on an unbelievable true story, BlacKkKlansman sheds light on an ancient and evil organization, but also ties events 40 years ago to today, in such a way that you’ll leave the theatre both angry and inspired to act toward change.  That’s the greatest part of the film; how deeply it can affect an audience, to the point where they reexamine what has happened in our country over the past two years under our Ignoramus in Chief, and realize that almost nothing that has changed for the better has been preserved, that Trump embodies racism and hatred in such a powerful and convincing way that his position has convinced those in hiding that they need hide no longer.  It’s sobering to think on all those who fought to make this country a better, more equal place, just to have their progress ripped away from them by a President who sees them as second-class citizens or worse.

If you can’t tell, this is a politically motivated movie, at least in part, and will shock any MAGA moron who somehow finds himself sitting in the audience, especially if he waits around for the final scenes.  But the film isn’t solely a critique on bigotry hiding behind our politicians, it’s also a real life tale of bravery in the face of violence, and of the Black Power movement striving toward its goals with the knowledge that the pushback will be fierce.  The film is also a comedy, believe it or not with all this heavy lifting, and will have you rolling more than once.  The audacity of this story and its script is reason enough to laugh, as the characters hold nothing back; the opening scene smacks you directly in the face and forces you to focus on the ridiculousness of racism but also on its indestructible depths.  I’ve heard that one particular criticism of this film is its comedy, that it makes Klansman look silly instead of serious, that the subject is not laughing matter.  I get that completely, but I saw it another way; Lee needed us to listen, and it’s easier to take our medicine with a spoonful of sugar that straight up.  Anyway, make your own social judgements, but the rest of film is as strong as its message.  JDW is great as Stallworth, especially for a relatively inexperienced actor.  And Driver is there to help him out whenever the going it tough; what a phenomenal actor.  Topher Grace was somehow perfect as David Duke, Corey Hawkins had a nice cameo, Ryan Eggold is an unknown actor I love, and all of the Klansfolk were successful in what they were asked to do.  BlacKkKlansman is the best film I’ve seen in 2018 so far; it’s well-made but also made with a purpose, which makes it fun to watch and impossible to ignore.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Eighth Grade

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bo Burnham

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Year: 2018

Bo Burnham has never directed or written a movie before, has never directed or written at all before, unless you count his own comedy specials and a couple TV episodes that nobody saw.  He’s a complete amateur when it comes to feature films, and this is going to sound tired by the time the year is out, but it’s beyond impressive that he was able to create Eighth Grade on his first try.  It just goes to show how well honest emotion shines through when you’ve got something personal to say, how special a story can be when there’s almost nothing to it other than the truth.  Burnham might not be a middle school girl, but you can tell that the main character in his movie comes from experiencing something similar; haven’t we all?  Growing pains are not unique, we all feel them, and that’s why coming-of-age plots are so relatable, this one hitting closer to the bullseye than most, which is why it is absolutely one of the very best films of the year.

Kayla is graduating 8th grade soon, and high school looms ahead like an unscalable mountain of icy cool.  She’s never been good at making friends, at showing people the fun girl who hides deep behind a shy exterior.  Kids at school think she’s the quietest girl to ever walk the halls, but to herself Kayla is nothing if not talkative, she simply doesn’t have anyone to talk to.  So she makes YouTube videos about how to navigate the world, something she can’t do herself, and no one is watching anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.  She tries to chat up the popular girls, tries to be noticed by the popular boys, but nothing works, and 9th grade is just one summer away.  The only child of a single dad, Kayla knows she’s loved, but what she wants more than anything is the approval of those her age, and she’s sick of that wish never coming true.  Growing up in the digital age isn’t easy, it’s hard not to compare your own life to all those you see online, and navigating social waters is a messy business; welcome to the wreckage of the American teen.

Burnham gets it all right, hits every nail on the head, which is why Eighth Grade works so beautifully.  We who did not grow up with smart phones can see how they impact every day life for a teenager, can understand more fully the pressure to be perfect beyond anything even remotely attainable.  We see from a young girl’s perspective, how desperately she needs to be included, how much she longs to be a part of the over-hyped teenage experience.  How Burnham knew how to show us all this and all so perfectly is beyond me, but he channels an everyman into Kayla so that we can all see ourselves growing up, see our own hard times reflected in hers.  He knows when to get serious, get sexual, and get silly, which produces some moments that will make audiences uncomfortable, but only because they are so hilariously true, or sometimes so unfortunately accurate.

There’s a scene around a fire where Kayla and her dad talk things out, and it’s so brilliantly real, so open and honest, that it will bring you to tears, and it serves as an example as to why the film worked and as to how strong its pieces really are.  Fisher is a revelation as Kayla, the perfect vehicle for us to navigate through the story in, and I hope we see so much more from this rising star.  Her performance was incredible, I can’t imagine any one else in the role, and she’s a major factor in the film succeeding.  Hamilton as her father was great as well, a sensitive man who was trying his best, who took time when it was needed to simply tell his daughter that he loved her, to let her know that he was proud.  The story was heart-breaking and heart-warming in turn, especially the father/daughter scenes, which I felt on a very personal level and walked away from replaying in my mind.  The movie just soars, truly soars, above anything we could have imagined or predicted.  Eighth Grade is definitely one of the very best I’ve seen this year, and it’s hard to imagine the Oscar-centered features that we’ll see later in the season overpowering this smaller one when it comes to pure emotion and raw relatability.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – 2018 Fantasy Football: QBs

Category : Sports

With the preseason beginning and many fantasy drafts planned for the next few weekends, it’s time to prep for your 2018 Fantasy Football team. Here is my advice/predictions as it relates to quarterbacks:

  • Rahgahs! – There has not been a more consistently great fantasy quarterback than Aaron Rodgers; the guy simply produces.  Yes, Brady has been a great pick before, you could argue which one has been better year in and year out, which is #1 over the last decade and which is #2, but at least this season, I’m going with Rodgers.  Davante Adams has emerged as a star, Jimmy Graham has come over to be the TE that Aaron has been missing, and even with the loss of Jordy Nelson, I think the Packers could put up big numbers this season.  Their division in no cake walk, but Rodgers is my Top QB.
  • Young Guns – Two kids near the top of the ranking this year are Carson Wentz and DeSean Watson.  It’s dangerous to pick an “unproven” guy as your starting QB, especially if you have to do it early in the draft to get him, but this kids might be worth the risk.  They’ve both been injured too, which makes choosing them as your starter all the more risky, but they could pay off big time if they get hot and stay that way.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick them early, and I might also get a veteran to back them up just in case, but you gotta spend money to make money, or something like that.
  • Bench Coach – If you do get a young gun as your starter, you choose also get someone a little more dependable, someone who produces and doesn’t get hurt.  Look no further than Matt Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger.  These guys are solid, always produce, never blow our minds, but can be trusted as starters if the guy you picked first doesn’t pan out.  Heck, if you go heavy at RB or WR and these guys are still on the board in the later rounds, you could do much worse.
  • Middles – Two QBs I have my eye on toward the middle of the pack: Jimmy Garappolo and Drew Brees.  JimmyG is on his way up and Breesy is on his way down, but they meet in the middle and could prove to be steals if you can get them late in the Draft.  The sky is the limit for Garappolo, it’s just a question of the weapons around him.  Brees has the team, but he’s getting old, and last year showed a slight dip in production.  Don’t reach for these guys, let them fall to you, but you might be in for a treat if either overproduces.
  • Feeling Lucky? – I had Andrew Luck last season, but also got Matt Stafford to back him up because I knew he wouldn’t be ready right away.  Well, he was never ready, which sucked, but supposedly he’ll be back this year and he’ll be healthy; we’ll just have to wait and see.  If he is healthy and if other teams are scared to pull the trigger, he could very well be the steal of the entire Draft, regardless of position.  He is a superstar when healthy, so he could lead you straight to a Championship if he gets rolling, and there’s no reason he can’t get rolling if he isn’t injured.  Keep an eye on him this preseason and then make a bold move.
  • Avoidance – Here are a few quarterbacks I’d rather stay away from, for various reasons.  Philip Rivers never scores enough to really be worth it, always teasing and never delivering.  Alex Smith is a fine team guy, but his numbers are just never big enough, you’re better off elsewhere.  Case Keenum has a lot to prove, and he is talented enough to ignite the offense in Denver, but maybe wait till next year to take a flyer.  And Blake Bortles makes me nervous, I don’t care how trendy a pick Jacksonville is right now.
  • To Pasture – Every year there are some veterans who used to be fantasy studs who are now headed to pasture, who are perhaps past their prime or simply aren’t surrounded by enough electrifying talent.  Dak Prescott just hasn’t turned into the numbers machine that we thought he would be.  Matt Ryan has been trending in the wrong direction.  Derek Carr is part of Jon Gruden’s old school experiment and who knows how that will turn out.  And Eli Manning has had his psyche messed with one too many times, and won’t ever be returning to his former glory days.

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DVD Review – Ismael’s Ghosts

Category : DVD Review

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marion Cotillard

Year: 2017

The films of French director Arnaud Desplechin are tied together in ways I can’t comprehend; there’s a scene in this movie in which a filmmaker who is losing control is seen to have an attic filled with pictures and strings and connections and models, basically the artistic headspace of a mad genius, and I imagine Desplechin working in the same way.  You have to be a little mad to be so talented, it’s like true vision and manic production lie under a contaminated surface that artists must choose to reach through if they want to become famous.  Anyway, Desplechin sees things and plots and metaphors that we don’t, and he captures them on camera; they just don’t always make sense to us.  Such is the case with Ismael’s Ghosts, a movie that I can’t begin to make heads or tails of, and frankly don’t want to take the century to figure out.

The Movie

Ismael is a filmmaker, a relatively famous one at that, but a bit of an unhappy soul, an extreme man who can be wonderfully spontaneous and outgoing or filled with rage and melancholy.  He is dating Sylvia, a woman who is his polar opposite; a scientist, a pragmatist, religious, prudish.  But she opens up to Ismael, he finds happiness in his relationship with her, and the two have a pleasant life together.  Ismael was married at a young age to an unusual girl named Carlotta, the daughter of a visionary director who Ismael respects, Henri Bloom.  The two men still love and talk about Carlotta, who ran away twenty years ago never to appear again, her death made official but the grief over her disappearance as yet undying.  Still, life goes on, people change, and movies are made, regardless of past problems.

Ismael is working on a new film, a story inspired by his brother Ivan who works for the government in embassies overseas.  The character Ivan Dedalus is a spy, or at least people think he is, and he has adventure in his life, something that Ismael lacks a great deal.  But while writing the script at a vacation home, with Sylvia along for company, Ismael will be visited by adventure in a form he thought he’d never see again.  Carlotta comes back, twenty years older but still beautiful, and threatens to tear Ismael’s current life apart.  Sylvia is concerned, obviously, and Ismael is conflicted; he still loves this girl, after all the pain she caused him by leaving, and can’t be sure what to do next, what the smart decision would be.  Ismael will face his past, which destroys his present, and puts the future of his film in jeopardy.

Ismael’s Ghosts is everything you’ve imagined over-dramatic French cinema to be.  Hopefully you’ve pre-judged a foreign film before and been surprised by how much you were wrong, but that won’t be the case here; Desplechin delivers every stereotype and melodramatic moments that you’ve been dreading would appear.  Drinking wine, screaming the lines, a chopped up plot, overlong run time, voracious affairs, female nudity, a story within a story, gunshots, spies, little cars; I don’t know if he was intending to create something so obscenely Franco, but he succeeded.  It’s all the cliches rolled up in one movie, and the result is a very difficult watch.  IMDb has the film’s length at 114 minutes, the DVD is 134, but I’m not sure it matters; any amount of time was too much for this messy of a movie.

I have seen one other Desplechin film, My Golden Days, and I didn’t really enjoy that one either; it was tedious and absurd, much like Ismael’s Ghosts.  Critics seem to like his movies though, and I don’t understand; they are too much work to watch and not enough reward.  I don’t mind artistic-minded features, please don’t get me wrong, and I like French dramas, the weight of their emotion.  But Desplechin just gets it wrong, misses the mark, and I’ll never quite understand him.  The acting in this film is fine, better than fine, very good even, but it fails to matter, because the movie’s story and its presentation become much too loud and distracting and wrong-headed.  Amalric is passionate, Cotillard is troubled, but I’ll never be a fan of Gainsbourg, she’s much too difficult to watch, much too dark to ever convince me that her characters have more than one side.  The timeline jumps all over, the scenes from the film in Ismael’s head are unnecessary, I wanted a simpler drama to witness, and from start to finish nothing pleased me in the way that it was meant to, nothing stood out as something worth my time and emotional effort.  If you want a quality film with two common actors, watch From the Land of the Moon, starring Marion Cotillard and Louis Garrel; it’s heavy but in all the right ways, not like Ismael’s Ghosts.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (Widescreen), the video quality of the film is fine, but not the focal point.  I mentioned the run time; apparently this DVD is the “director’s cut”, which is not specified on the case, and I’m sure didn’t help with the flow and feeling of the movie, which would have been hard to dive into anyway, even at a shorter length.  The cinematography is never a noticeable attribute to the film, the visuals fail to capture audiences who are simply being overwhelmed by powerful dialogue or confused by yet another time jump.

Audio – The DVD was done in French 5.1 Dolby Digital, with subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish.  The audio quality is middle-of-road, with nothing to comment on negatively.  There was a nice thread of music throughout that aided in developing the sadness of the situation, so some credit should go to the team who created the score, because that does stand out, when none of the other audio did.

Extras – The only special feature on the disc is Also From Magnolia, three trailers for other Magnolia films.

Final Thoughts

Rent It. With scattered, unfocused, and overbearing themes, Ismael’s Ghosts is a job, not a pleasure, and shouldn’t be watched flippantly.  Those who already enjoy this director could take a stab at it; they should be familiar with his style and his penchant for melodrama.  I simply don’t enjoy his methods, and I get lost trying to follow his ideas, instead of losing myself in the moment.  His artistry is undeniable, but sometimes you don’t like the art that you can see is strong, it just doesn’t hit you in the place it is supposed to and where others seem to feel it.  The acting is solid, the music is nice, but the film lags behind its own goals, doesn’t resolve, and too often meanders around like a lost old man trying to find where he put his glasses.  The video is fine, the audio is good, there aren’t many extras, so the technical side is a mixed bag, and shouldn’t really be relied upon to impress you.  I would recommend that most people pass on this movie; rent only if you’re confident in what you already like.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay