Author Archives: ochippie

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Movie Review – Ad Astra

Category : Movie Review

Director: James Gray

Starring: Brad Pitt

Year: 2019

To get it out of the way, yes Ad Astra is a lot like Interstellar, no it’s not quite as good.  But that film was a revelation, an instant sci-fi classic, on par with the best we’ve ever seen from the genre, with music and emotion and adventure that rocked not our world but our universe; I hope you agree, because otherwise we can’t be friends.  OK, I joke, but that’s how I feel about Interstellar, despite a few flaws, and that’s a lot to live up to when coming out with a film that’s quite similar, and Ad Astra never hides from the fact that is has a lot in common with a lot of what we’ve seen before.  But while it’s in no way the first of its kind, this movie is still bad ass enough to demand our respect, and to stand alone as perhaps the science fiction event of the year.  Its core is so solid that nothing can penetrate from the outside, not our expectations, not our prejudgments, and definitely not our often overly-critical eyes, which sometimes get us into more trouble than is warranted.  Ad Astra builds its protective layers from the first scene to the last, leaving audiences weaponless but astonished, and thirsty for more.

In the near future, mankind’s urge to explore the stars has reached new heights, or should I say new lengths.  We’ve built towers that reach space, commercial centers on the Moon, military bases on Mars, and have even sent brave souls to the outer reaches of our solar system to escape the Sun’s magnetic forces.  Out there, we hope to be able to finally communicate with extra-terrestrial life, if it’s out there, and there are many who believe that it must be.  Among them is decorated space hero and pioneer Clifford McBride, who leads a team to Neptune to further the reach of science.  But his crew has been silent for too long, they are believed dead, and so progress takes a step back in defeat.  Years later, something near Neptune pulses and a power surge nearly cripples our entire planet, leading the US government to believe that McBride might still be alive, and might also be trying to destroy us.  His son, Roy, is sent on a top secret mission to communicate with his father to try to make the madness stop, before more drastic actions are taken.  Roy’s journey, one that grows ever longer with each complicated step, will become one not only of global importance but personal relevance, as he attempts to close a rip though the fabric of his life that he thought he would never get a chance to mend.

There’s so much to say about Ad Astra, it’s hard to know where to start, which is why I’m diving right in with an admission of feeling in over my head.  That’s a common theme throughout this film though, the idea that events are larger than an individual life, that it would take luck to even survive, which could make you curl up and accept defeat or push forward with apparent bravery, when really the prevailing understanding is simply that fate is out of your hands.  Roy pushes forward because he must; he knows that at any step he might die, but instead of crippling him with fear this knowledge allows him to stay calm and continue no matter what, for him it’s freeing in a way.  That’s something I focused in on as this story unfolded, that moments, even life-changing ones, just happen, they aren’t directed, and there’s no choice other than to march forward toward whatever is waiting at the end of the path.  It doesn’t always make perfect sense, but you do what you feel is right at the time and you hope for the best, because there is very little in your control, only your own actions, and even those are too often dictated by something or someone else.

Not all will hear that same message, the movie will affect everyone differently I’m sure, but that’s part of its beauty; it’s a story that is simply told, events occur because they come next, we are merely passengers on this voyage, and we will all experience it uniquely.  The film is a slow burn for sure, because, although action does take place, there are plenty of moments to think, reflect, and process, before we’re off again on another leg.  Roy meets many people along the way in a series of cool cameos, he makes another decision, and we hear his internal dialogue as he progresses to the next phase; again, watching like this makes the film feel like an inexorable march toward something unknown, but definitely something exciting and dangerous in turn.  There are intense sequences followed by introspective moments, there are great characters that pop up and then move aside, there is an over-arcing theme with side points along the way; Ad Astra is not for anyone who fears to put in the work alongside the hero, to be a part of the narrative as it unfurls.  And Brad Pitt was the perfect actor to take on this complicated role, he has aged into this part wonderfully, and his supporting cast, even with only small appearances, helped to buoy him along the way: Liv Tyler, John Ortiz, Donald Sutherland, Natasha Lyonne, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones.  The flow is almost episodic, it’s broken into pieces, but in a good way, with a score that’s less about music and more about sound, all the technical details combining with gorgeous cinematography to create something both beautiful and unknowable, like a poem you can’t quite grasp completely but know you love anyway.  This film demands to be rewatched as soon as it is watched, promising to reveal even more insight the second time around, if you can stand the pressure once more; I know I’ll be giving it another go, and I feel confident that its mix of high drama, space action, and artistic fortitude will wow me once again.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 5

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 5 Picks

(7-8 last week, 35-27-1 for the season)

Bye teams: Lions, Dolphins

 

LAR @ Sea

Jax @ Car

NE @ Was

Buf @ Ten

Bal @ Pit

Ari @ Cin

Atl @ Hou

TB @ NO

Min @ NYG

Chi @ Oak

NYJ @ Phi

Den @ LAC

GB @ Dal

Ind @ KC

Cle @ SF

 


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Movie Review – Crazy Heart

Category : Movie Review

Director: Scott Cooper

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell

Year: 2009

I can’t help comparing Crazy Heart with A Star is Born, which is completely unfair, since the former came out almost 10 years before the latter, and they only have surface similarities anyway.  But, like I said, I can’t help myself, and that doesn’t bode well for Jeff Bridges’ vehicle, since it’s nowhere near as shiny as Bradley Cooper’s.  From the love story to the original music, this movie pales in comparison to others who came after and did it better, I don’t think there’s much doubting that, so it becomes a matter of whether or not there is enough to enjoy despite that fact.  And the answer, to me, is yes, there is enough to hang your hat on when you walk in the door and just enough reason to stay.  Most of that comes down to one excellent acting performance, but sometimes that’s all you need.

Folks call him ‘Bad’ Blake, that’s been his stage name for years beyond count, and he won’t share his real moniker until they carve it on his tombstone.  Which might be coming sooner rather than later; Bad is getting old, getting sick, drowning himself in booze, and wasting away his final years on tour in the middle of desert nowhere, playing at bars for fans who are as ancient as he is.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no time for a change, and that’s just what Blake is about to try out.  When he meets a reporter named Jeanie, who has a cute son and a bright spirit, he experiences love like he hasn’t in quite a while, and it just might be strong enough to make him want to live longer, which would require breaking a lot of terrible habits.  Can you teach an old dog new tricks?  No, but if there’s good deep down inside you it’s never, ever quite gone, no matter how long it’s been buried, and it can still come out to shine.

To start with the problems, the original music wasn’t that good, the love story wasn’t that believable, and most of the cast wasn’t really up to what was asked of them.  That’s a recipe for disaster, but luckily Jeff Bridges was there with one of his strongest performances to date to save the day in style.  He was awesome as Bad, the washed up country singer turned elderly alcoholic who was far too grizzled to every be called beautiful, until he opened his mouth, strummed the guitar, and blew away the crowds.  It was cool to see a pro like this play a pro like that, and if you’ve seen this kind of fictional biopic style before you know what to expect, and what can go right.  Enough did, but just barely; it was a close call.  Gyllenhall was only OK, Farrell was kinda terrible, the songs were weak, and the drama wasn’t super high.  But what the film did right was tell a simply story well, cast a lead actor who could carry the load efficiently, and let the audience wallow in the misery and then in the joy, giving us a solid cinema experience that had more highs than lows.  This was Cooper’s first film, and he would go on to make better (Out of the Furnace, Hostiles), but, for a debut, Crazy Heart holds its own.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Rocketeer

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joe Johnston

Starring: Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Alan Arkin

Year: 1991

I am sad & startled to realize & report that The Rocketeer is really REALLY bad.  8-year-old me thought it was the greatest thing since chocolate milk, the film was everywhere, I bought the merchandise, Disney pushed it hard, and I remember just loving it.  But my god does it crumble upon rewatch, a complete & utter letdown in every way, at least for a grown film critic who used to be a young fan.  At the time, there was nothing cooler, now I don’t know if I can even recommend it to my kids; I think they’re better off waiting a few years and watching The Mask or something equally silly, at least then they can have some fun.  The Rocketeer is lifeless, low-quality, and laughable; not great, guys, not great.  Interesting note though; Joe Johnston also directed Captain America: The First Avenger, which I think borrows heavily from this film, for what it’s worth.  The rest of his filmography is a little scattered: Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Pagemaster, Jumanji, October Sky, Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo, Wolfman, Nutcracker and the Four Realms.  Odd, to say the least, and this movie is surely among them.

Cliff Secord is a simple pilot who likes flying planes too fast and working on them to go even faster.  He’s a handsome young man, he’s got a sweet girlfriend, he races through the air; pretty nice life, it’d be a shame if someone complicated it.  But, of course, that’s exactly what happens when Cliff discovers a stolen jet pack that once belonged to Howard Hughes, but now is sought after by the mob and lord knows who else.  Cliff becomes the Rocketeer, a flying superhero, but he also becomes way too visible to way too many bad guys, which gets him and his girl in heaps of trouble.  Now a shady actor wants to kidnap Jenny, some goons want to kill Cliff, and then there are the Nazis to deal with; never a dull day in sunny California in the 30s, with war approaching, technology advancing, and adventures seemingly around every corner.

I can’t take away all the stars I would have rating this movie in my mind, since once upon a time I loved it so, but I can at least steer you clear while I morosely amend my mental picture of this film and this experience, desperately holding on to the fact that at least I got to enjoy it on some level back in the day, perhaps before I knew better.  It’s truly terrible all around; the acting, the flow, the villains, the heroes, nothing works, and it all falls apart way too early to even give it an A for effort.  It’s no surprise that Billy Campbell went on to do absolutely nothing else, and Alan Arkin was even shockingly terrible, but at least Jennifer Connelly was as lovely as ever (she’s been on my List for years).  I noticed a fun cameo too; Jan Levinson-Gould from The Office as a lounge singer with a couple of numbers, but no real lines.  That’s about it for the fun though, the rest of the film is a snooze, which is shocking considering how much they attempted to stuff into the run time, but that just goes to show that sometimes less really is more.  I could have done with less of The Rocketeer, mainly leaving it in the foggy past where it belonged.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Willow

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley

Year: 1988

Ron Howard, George Lucas, James Horner; that’s quite a team, and Willow is quite a movie.  People in the 80s loved fantasy films, and that’s something I fully support; what’s a little stranger is that they also loved casting little people in those films, which I support as well I guess, as long as they weren’t being used as gimmicks, but as actors.  Willow, Legend, Masters of the Universe; I’m sure there are more, those might just be the ones I can think of that also featured Billy Barty, but you get the point.  Looking back, some of these genre flicks don’t hold up, they’re very silly, we just liked them because we didn’t know better, but not Willow, it’s special.  It’s a movie of pure magic and grand adventure, with comedy & heart in tandem, and something you can watch while young, while old, once, or over & over & over again.

Willow is a simple Nelwyn (dwarf) who lives quietly in his village and wants nothing more than to be a sorcerer’s apprentice.  But when his family finds a Daikini (human) baby, Willow finds himself a part of a war he didn’t even know was taking place, but which now involves him all the same.  The baby is Elora Danan, a future princess who heralds the end of the nightmarish reign of Queen Bavmorda.  The Queen’s daughter and her general have been searching for the child, who is now in Willow’s care, with the hopes of capturing and banishing her to a realm in which she can do their evil empire no harm.  Now it’s up to Willow and a few key allies to deliver the baby to those we can raise an army around her, which will be the true adventure, since the fate of the world rests on the fate of Elora and her guardian, who makes up for his size with the bravery in his heart.

Warwick Davis was Wicket in the Star Wars and Ewok movies; I was obsessed with his character as a kid.  And so I was also obsessed with Willow; I had the movie, the book, and even a comic book version.  It was one of my favorite fantasy films, and is now one of my favorite 80s era throwbacks, a movie I could watch a thousand times and enjoy each one.  The Nelwyn village, those viscous dogs, the Crossroads, Madmartigan, Sorsha, trolls and monsters and magic acorns; it’s epic, let me tell you.  There is magic and adventure in turn, there are battles, it’s so much fun, and behind it all is the cutest baby you’ll ever see and some real tenderness toward her character that you can really feel and connect with.  The music is great, the sets are incredible, the effects are cool for their time; there’s a lot to love about Willow, and a ton of reasons to watch it right now.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Downton Abbey

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Engler

Starring: Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech, Robert James-Collier

Year: 2019

Downton Abbey is the best drama television has ever gifted us, six seasons of touching storyline that I will never, ever forget.  I can remember the first time I sat down to watch, how drawn in I was immediately, how affected I was by each up & down, how much I never wanted it to end.  But nothing gold can stay, and Downton didn’t wear out its welcome, leaving us wanting more, like any good entertainer knows to do.  And now we’ve been rewarded with the bonus material we didn’t even know we deserved, a film version of the show and a final chapter in the book of the Crawley family, and those downstairs who keep their daily lives spinning. This is fan service at its very best, its most pure, a hand-wrapped gift to devotees that won’t be understood by anyone else, a movie that’s somehow more than that, and a perfect way to say goodbye.

Five years since the last time we looked in on them, the Crawleys and their servants continue their routines at Downton Abbey, while navigating the bumpy road of modernity and inevitable change.  Mary added a daughter to her family, Edith is the lady of an important household, Barrow is the butler in charge; everyone is growing up so fast.  And an unexpected event is about to come to their doorstep, keeping all on their toes even more diligently; the King & Queen are on their way for a visit.  That’s right, royalty at Downton, and the entire house is in a bustle over the historic event.  Tom has a special role to play in helping things go off without a hitch, Robert might be cut out of an inheritance, Granny has some news to share, the staff plot a mini-rebellion; never a dull moment in Yorkshire, not at Downton, where high drama is always in fashion.

There’s no explaining it; if you don’t love the show you won’t get the movie, and if you haven’t even watched the show I don’t know how to convince you that it’s the best you’ll ever see.  There have been some amazing and groundbreaking comedies: Friends and The Office come to mind.  But never has an episodic drama made this big an impact while also holding to this high a standard.  It’s a quality show, tremendously so, and it watches like an unfolding of real life, a story of people you already care for and want to watch succeed.  The deaths and downfalls are tragic, the weddings and bright moments are magic; Downton Abbey is something that everyone should experience.  And now we get more than we bargained for; a film version of the show that was created to make a quick buck, I’m sure, but was also constructed well-enough to stand alone as lovely fan fiction against which I have no complaints.

It really is like a special episode, like a season or series finale, and fans will appreciate the continuity in plot, even while audiences coming in blind will feel lost.  This film wasn’t made to pique interest, it was made for those who already watched, and in that way I fully appreciate the bows they tied on some of my favorite storylines.  But it’s also a solid stand-alone movie, from the acting to the costumes, from the music to the delivery of each scene; Julian Fellowes’ talent is on full display here, with Engler as a partner and the cast as pillars holding up what has deservedly become a theatrical institution.  The fan service element hit all the marks, gave me all the feels, and I couldn’t have left happier; I would have liked to have seen Rose, but I’m sure she’s off doing amazing things.  The extra characters are strong, the run time is perfect, it ended so well, and I could watch both the entire series & the film send off again right now without a moment of boredom.  Again, watch the show, fall in love, and then come back to the movie, because otherwise you won’t appreciate what you’re seeing.  But when you do all that, you’re welcome to join the club and sing Downton‘s praises; it surely deserves them.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 4

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 4 Picks

(10-6 last week, 28-19-1 for the season)

Bye teams: Jets, 49ers

 

Phi @ GB

Ten @ Atl

Was @ NYG

LAC @ Mia

Oak @ Ind

Car @ Hou

KC @ Det

Cle @ Bal

NE @ Buf

TB @ LAR

Sea @ Ari

Min @ Chi

Jax @ Den

Dal @ NO

Cin @ Pit


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Movie Trailer – Dark Waters

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Todd Haynes

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Bill Pullman, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins

Release: November 22nd, 2019

Spotlight meets Erin Brockovich, and that’s fine, that’s watchable, but I hope there’s more beyond that to make Dark Waters a truly special film, because the story being told here is one that deserves our attention.  This is happening, this is real, this is life for so many people, and it needs to change; films like this don’t tilt the world on its axis, but they can at least bring attention, and that’s a start.  Other than Carol, I don’t like Haynes much, and I don’t expect this narrative to fit into his typical style, but we know that Mark Ruffalo can pull off a role like this, he’s an excellent professional, so I trust him to do the plot justice.  Everything taken into account, I expect this film to be solid, and I want to support its message, because it’s something people need to hear.


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Movie Trailer – Uncut Gems

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: The Safdie Brothers

Starring: Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield

Release: December 25th, 2019

People are acting like they’re surprised by how good this movie looks, but why?  Sandler has proven that he can be literally be the best actor in any room (Punch-Drunk Love, Meyerowitz Stories) and the Safdie Bros. have proven that they know what they’re doing (Good Time), AND A24 is an amazing studio, so it just makes sense that this film would look this amazing and could seriously be in the Oscar conversation in a few short months.


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Movie Review – Harry and the Hendersons

Category : Movie Review

Director: William Dear

Starring: John Lithgow, Kevin Peter Hall, Melinda Dillon

Year: 1987

The actor who played Harry Henderson, Kevin Peter Hall, also played The Predator after Jean-Claude Van Damme was deemed not big & intimidating enough.  Hall was over 7 feet tall, a basketball player in college and overseas, until he moved to L.A. to try out acting professionally, where he met his wife and had two kids.  Tragically, he died at the age of 35 as a result of AIDS, and a beloved character actor was gone just like that.  I’ve always loved Harry and the Hendersons, grew up with it as a standard, but never learned much about ‘Harry’ himself, so it’s been nice to put a little research behind the film.  And it was even nicer to watch it once more, this wonderful, feel-good, family comedy that has a heart-warming message to share, and that holds up very well, even over 30 years later.

George Henderson is a hunter & a sportsman, teaching his son to be one too by taking the family on camping trips, buying him a gun, proudly displaying his mounted heads in the family living room.  But when George hits a large animal with his station wagon, he meets a humanoid creature who might just be worth saving.  The Hendersons name the animal Harry, and are pretty sure that’s he’s the legendary Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Missing Link, and he seems to have almost-human intelligence.  The family soon falls in love with Harry, but their two worlds don’t always coexist, and soon Harry is loose in Seattle, with the whole city hunting him.  The Hendersons will have to put their life on hold, find their friend, and take him to a place where he’ll be safe, because he isn’t just some dumb animal, he’s what’s been missing from their hearts this whole time.

What a lovely little movie, and I’m glad I revisited it with my own family; my kids got a big kick out of it.  I had forgotten how 80s & 90s movies thought it was so funny for kids to curse, their parents to yell at them, then the parents to curse, and the kids to throw it in their faces; that was a standard joke and it’s pretty juvenile, which might be the only negative thing I can say about this film.  Not a big deal, but it bothered me a bit; other than that, pure family entertainment, and a great message to boot.  John Lithgow is great, Hall is so wonderful as Harry, the side characters are fun, the family dog Little Bob, Don Ameche is such a pillar, and everything fits nicely together in a succinct, pleasurable package.  This is a movie for the home shelf; it stands up & revisits well, it’s clever, it’s funny, a real winner of the genre & the time, and something for the whole clan to come together around.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆