Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Wonder Park

Category : Movie Review

Director: Dylan Brown

Starring: Brianna Denski, Mila Kunis, Norbert Leo Butz

Year: 2019

The minute I realized that Wonder Park was a Nickelodeon movie was when it all immediately made sense, like “Oh right, that’s why it wasn’t good.”  Nick barely makes movies at all, and they’re mostly based on TV shows, so it’s no wonder its foray into unknown territory was both a copy off of what has worked for other studios and a failure to craft something moderately watchable.  Wonder Park isn’t terrible, it’s fun for the kids in your family, the animation is cool, but that’s about it, that’s where the positives end, and adults will NOT be happy that they came along for this ride.  It’s mostly off the rails thematically and phoned in performance-wise, which is a terrible combination, and reason enough to just not mention it to your children, in case they want to put you through it.

June is a very special, imaginative, creative, STEM-y little girl, and her parents just adore that about her.  They encourage her building, her tinkering, her make believe, even going so far as to let her build a miniature amusement park all throughout their home, which is very cool (and very unrealistic).  But June’s creativity comes to a screeching halt when her mom gets sick, and the park is packed up in boxes, along with all June’s favorite stuffies, animals she’s always considered to be much more than toys.  Putting all that behind her, June heads to Math Camp, but accidentally stumbles upon a real version of what she’s been imagining all this time on the way.  Apparently she dreamed the kooky carnival into existence, but it’s now falling into decay, as a Darkness threatens to pull it apart piece by piece.  Can June save the park?  Can she find the fervor once more?  And, more importantly, can she remember what it’s like to be happy?

If this plot sounds at all like Inside Out then, bingo, you realized the movie that they copied, and it wasn’t very circumspect.  You’ve got the special girl, she’s feeling sad and shutting down, so her imaginary place is shutting down one section at a time, and she’s gotta realize it’s OK to feel, even when those feelings are scary, so she can save herself (and her funny characters) from complete obliteration.  It’s a pretty straight forward steal, so bad on Nickelodeon, but really, did you expect great things from that company?  They couldn’t produce much more than a cool-looking set here, with some good graphics and some cute moments, but nothing worth writing home about.  I liked the beginning, and the end was pleasant too, but all the middle sucked; I think I blame the actors.  Their voice overs were horrible, so bad, like they cared not at all, and god were they all unfunny to the max: Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, John Oliver.  That was the worst part, when they spoke, but when they didn’t speak the action was extremely overstimulating and nonsensical, so lose/lose.  The only way you can win is to not watch; put it on for the kids some night, let them enjoy it, because they should, but leave the rest of us out of it.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Brimstone

Category : Movie Review

Director: Martin Koolhoven

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones

Year: 2016

The most common critique of Brimstone is that it’s too brutal with too few breaks, which is something even fans of the film can’t argue; you had better be ready for a walk through hell, with bitter violence every step of the way.  I found this particularly true in the fourth chapter; the movie is broken into quarters, with each being a separate period of time with its own evil story, connected to the over-arcing tale through the main character.  In the last section, the violence does feel overused, out of place, and a bit tired, since we had already seen so much, and the film is not short, you should know.  But while I agree with detractors to a point, I will stand by the other three chapters, which I think are among the most stunningly stomach-turning I have ever seen, both in blood and in degradation.  Brimstone is shocking, well-made, and disgustingly captivating, missing only a strong ending to make it absolutely spectacular.

Somewhere in the wild but calming American West, Liz attempts to make a new life with a loving husband in a small, God-fearing community.  She has a stepson, a young daughter, and a reputation as a skilled midwife, and so is valuable to her family and her town, even when her inability to speak blocks her from deep relationships with those she helps.  Her church has just hired a new reverend, and when he walks through the door, Liz understands that her old life has come back to find her, even way out here where she thought she would be safe.  The events of the next days will destroy her happiness, and, over the course of four total segments, we begin to understand what it is that drove her, changed her, haunts her, and will ultimately force her to face her greatest fear.

Other than the final chapter, which I did think was brutal without a purpose, or perhaps simply unbalanced, I enjoyed every minute of Brimstone, and I think it is definitely overlooked due to its length, its content, and its almost inhuman disregard for what audiences can withstand.  Death and torture wait around every corner, but this is a horror tale told with utter realism, without a detail avoided to clean up the picture and allow us to get comfortable.  At times you’ll feel sick from what you’re watching, which turned many away, I completely understand that, but I was able to keep seated, and by the end I appreciated the honesty and the metaphor that I had just seen balanced in a way that not many can achieve.  Fanning isn’t my favorite actress, but she was solid in this part, wasn’t asked to do too much, and was bolstered by others in the other sections very well.  As a villain, Pearce was phenomenal, I could not wait for him to be maimed and destroyed, it was that powerful a role.  I really liked the way the time line was broken up, I thought that was smart without becoming a gimmick, and the music will haunt you for days, keeping the overbearing sense of dread upon your shoulders far longer than you want it there.  I’m sure this sounds like torture to some, and I’m sure it would be, but, for those who want to be immersed in this kind of dramatic pain and bloody ambiance, Brimstone is what you’ve been looking for.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Camp Dread

Category : Movie Review

Director: B. Harrison Smith

Starring: Eric Roberts, Danielle Harris, Felissa Rose

Year: 2014

The only thing that this film got right was bringing in days-gone-by stars of classic horror flicks and giving them a place in this new one; the rest is complete crap.  You’ll (maybe) recognize actors from Halloween, Sleepaway Camp, and there’s Eric Roberts, who has 550 film & TV credits to his name, so you’ll recognize him from everything.  The spirit the movie intended to capture is laudable, they succeeded some of the time, in the deaths and the sex and the killers in the woods.  But there’s a fine line that these b-movies must walk to stay impressive, and if that’s the case this film was drunk.  It crossed every boundary, broke every rule, and generally sucked; sometimes you swing and miss, and, wow, talk about a whiff.

A failed director, who once had a successful horror trilogy to his credit, attempts to start again and reclaim his fame.  He returns to the site of his success, a run down sleepaway camp, with the idea of bringing back the series with a modern twist and an attractive group of young stars.  But he wants to do it differently this time, a bit more reality and bit less camp, so he hatches a wicked plan.  A handful of troubled 20-somethings are invited to the woods instead of being sent to jail or rehab, and told that they will be filmed and “eliminated”, Survivor style.  Only, the killings quickly become far too real; who’s doing it, why, and what will happen when the number of camp guests reaches one?

I’ve seen a B. Harrison Smith flick before and didn’t remember it; that at least would have given me fair warning.  It was called Death House, it was horrible, and Camp Dread is no better.  I had a bad feeling when, at the beginning, Danielle Harris (who played the little girl in Halloween 4 & 5) said “cumstain” and it felt completely out of place, like kids trying to sound like adults and using language that just made them look stupid.  The whole movie was equally dumb and juvenile, while never finding the intricate balance between satire, gore, and fun.  The acting was abysmal, obviously, but so was the little bit of sexuality, more embarrassing than arousing; there are a shot where a girl gets out of the shower, drops her towel in fright, and is wearing a bra and panties, like, why were you wearing those under your towel and why does the camera linger on your ass like this is supposed to be hot and not confusing?  Also, I swear like 8 or 10 kids were in this one tiny SUV, they just kept popping out of nowhere; continuity seemed to be the least of the film’s concerns, and just one more of its problems.  Camp Dread?  No, Camp Dreadful, and that pun is equal to the movie’s quality.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Category : Movie Review

Director: Eli Craig

Starring: Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Alan Tudyk

Year: 2010

Eli Craig has directed Tucker and Dale and Little Evil, that’s it, and while both are OK, neither is good enough to launch him onto the next level; maybe the comedy/horror genre is just to niche.  Craig knows how to get the laughs, knows how to capture the deaths, but that’s only worth so much, and such is the case with this film; it has a very low ceiling.  It’s a bit Zombieland, a bit Cabin in the Woods, but not as big a deal as either, falling somewhere in the middle and never letting audiences settle into the style, whatever style that might be.  It’s clever, that’s for sure, and sometimes funny, but a little weak in both areas, resulting in a little fun but also too little impact.

Tucker and Dale are just two simple West by god Virginia hillbillies trying to enjoy a little man time in the woods, fixing up a vacation home they recently purchased and spending quality days together as best friends forever.  But trouble comes along in the form of a group of college kids who set up camp nearby, drinking beer and skinny dipping and raising a ruckus.  The problem isn’t that they’re too loud, the problem is that they keep dying one by one, and they think that the mountain men next door are the killers.  Tucker and Dale wouldn’t hurt a fly, but now they’ve got to protect themselves from a group of bloodthirsty, revenge-seeking 20-year-olds; there goes a pleasant weekend.

It’s a cool concept and a funny story board, the tables being turned this way and our hearts going out to the poor saps who might be rough around the edges but are surely lovers, not fighters.  The kids become the crazy ones, and keep accidentally dying to boot, which is entertaining, at least for a while.  That might be the main problem with this movie; it’s only a good time for a while.  It gets more and more ridiculous, and the acting never peaks at any respectable level, so we’re only left with a baseline of enjoyable comedy, nothing we can really go tell our friends about.  Labine & Tudyk are amusing, Bowden is pretty alright, the rest of the college kids are forgettable, and the “twists” are just plain unnecessary.  So is the film I guess, not that I disliked it at all; it just isn’t worth much of our attention, even while it’s mostly a good time.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Joker

Category : Movie Review

Director: Todd Phillips

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix

Year: 2019

While I don’t want to be a part of inventing a controversy surrounding a film, I do feel that I have to mention Joker‘s inherent violence, and the chance that it could be sending an unintended message of support to those looking for violent options.  No, movies and video games don’t kill people, yes, art is open expression, I’m not calling for censorship here, and I’m not claiming that Phillips had any negative intentions when he created a film about a villain who subtlety becomes a hero.  I like my bad guys to have back stories, it makes them human, and the lessons about mental illnesses to be learned here are both important and severe, so don’t label me as someone saying “don’t see Joker, it’ll make kids shoot up their schools”.  I just want to mention that, with some of those concerns in mind, I did notice times when I felt uncomfortable, like the boundary behind responsible storytelling had been crossed, and we might be laughing when there’s nothing funny going on.  But you know what, perhaps that’s exactly what Phillips & Phoenix had in mind, and their movie made quite the impression on me, so perhaps they did their jobs exquisitely.  I can’t make the call on whether Joker is appropriate or not, that’s bigger than me; all I can say is, controversy aside, this is fantastic cinema.

Arthur Fleck lives with his mother in Gotham City and works as a clown.  That’s right, a clown, making a variety of appearances around town and supporting his mom in a city that’s slowly sinking into crime and decay.  He’s supremely unhappy, has a severe head injury, laughs at strange times as a result, takes multiple medications for his condition/mental health/depression, has needed hospital stays, and is ultimately fired from his job, which results in an even tighter spiral toward rock bottom.  He dreams of being a stand-up comedian, but basically stinks, and he also can’t talk to women, can’t be friends with other people, can’t stand himself; life as Arthur Fleck is unbearable and becoming more so with each passing, miserable day.  When he finally snaps and kills three men on a subway, Arthur unleashes within himself a violence that surprisingly makes him feel alive, and Gotham City responds with a mob movement that buoys him up in a way he’s never felt before.  Arthur is awake for the first time, and he wants to be called by a new name, to match his new amused outlook on life; Joker.

So I touched on the controversy, and I don’t think it should be taken lightly; I can say that I felt slightly more nervous in the theatre watching this film than I have ever felt before.  I’m sure that’s silly, I’m sure that’s feeding into what’s probably just hysteria, but that’s a fact, I felt that, and I do think that this movie paints a twisted character in a new, more positive, more understanding light.  Again, not for me to say go or don’t go, feel this way or don’t, but I hope concerns aren’t pushed flippantly away, because I think they are legitimate.  As are opinions that Joker peels too much from the surface of others that have come before, Scorcese for sure, but others as well; it might have an originality problem that’s very real.  That’s a concern but not a warning; films borrow from other films, directors copy off other directors, it’s just the truth, we deal with it.  But you can perhaps see that Joker isn’t perfect, it has problems, it will have its critics, and I think a lot of that is warranted.  But ultimately, none of it stopped me from appreciated the positives, and from thinking that what I just saw, whole package taken in all at once, was one of the best I’d seen all year.

I hate to keep being dramatic, cutting down the film and then saying “but”, BUT it’s that type of experience.  When your main character has gone mad you’ll have some of that I guess, and the outside noise amplifies it all, making Joker an extremely loud and chaotic experience.  I still liked it though, really liked it, and here’s why.  I thought the progression of Arthur into Joker was really well-handled, not too fast and not too slow.  We get to see him coming apart at the seams, trying desperately to hold himself together, but losing control bit by bit.  Joaquin Phoenix could not possibly have been better, could not have given us more, and that final scene is one that will haunt me, in a very good way.  I liked the link to the history and content of the comic books, but I also liked that it was a little ambiguous, not a companion piece to a DC flick, nothing like that, but rather a reimagining with enough material we’re familiar with to keep audiences happy.  The side characters were strong, the music was great, the darkness was so enthralling, and I was riveted  for sure, that term has perhaps never been applied so well.  Joker is absolutely one of the best films of 2018; not a masterpiece, not a game-changer, but definitely a deep impact on our senses and a movie that we won’t soon forget.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Troy

Category : Movie Review

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom

Year: 2004

Wolfgang Petersen is the Americana German, if that’s a term he wouldn’t mind; his films are some of Hollywood’s most pivotal pillars.  Das Boot, The NeverEnding Story, Enemy Mine, In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, Troy, Poseidon; we owe some classics to Mr. Petersen, and don’t you forget it.  Among them is a movie that I think is wrongly maligned by critics for its length and lack of central figure, which, contrarily, I think are two reasons why Troy is so damned good.  It’s an epic, it’s a study, it’s a tale from two sides, it’s a showcase of, if not exactly talent, then likeable faces, and that’s all fine by me.  I want more, not less, of this layered war drama, and I also don’t mind when things get cheesy & fun; since when was watching Greeks do battle in the sand a bad thing?  Bring on the cliche and armor, boys, I’m ready to watch and applaud.

Homer told us the tale, archeology gives us some hints, but you’ve never seen The Iliad brought to life quite like this, so hold on to your butts.  Greece is now a united empire made up of city states, ruled by the bloody overlord Agamemnon.  He’s conquered most everyone into submission, except the distant city of Troy, and, while that eats at him, his brother Menelaus feasts in peace with the Trojan princes: the stolid Hector and his Casanovic brother Paris.  But here’s where things get tricky; Paris falls in love with Menelaus’ wife Helen, the two abscond, Hector is furious, and now Agamemnon has the last, great war he’s been dreaming of, so he drives his disrespected brother and the rest of the King’s of Greece into war.  By his side, kind of, is Achilles, the greatest warrior of all time, who men say can’t be killed.  Which will soon be put to the test, as the largest army ever to be assembled sets sail for Troy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Troy is a weird & wonderful example of the times and a beginning-of-the-summer blockbuster the likes of which we haven’t seen for some time.  It’s huge, it’s violent, it’s star-studded, it’s color-coordinated; do I really have to continue listing reasons you should love this movie?  Plus, Brad Pitt is blonde and brooding, there’s all the reason you need right there, and somehow that’s also what makes the film silly; it’s a complicated relationship we’ve got going on here.  In all seriousness, there are way more pieces to like than to despise here, and I don’t understand where critics are coming from when they spout off about this film; it’s so much better than so many others that have attempted to harness the same genre.  The action is cool, the story is classic, they do a good job balancing humanity and divine intervention.  And consider the cast; Pitt, Bana, Bloom, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger, Rose Byrne, Julian Glover, Peter O’Toole, Sean Bean, Garrett Hedlund, a couple large guys from X-Men and Mad Max.  Perhaps that’s overkill, so is the movie I guess, but in a good way, with all the theme music and spear stabbing you could wish for piled on top, until you will happily suffocate under the embarrassment of riches.  Troy is larger than life and that’s why I like it, with great quotes and memorable moments throughout, a spectacle if any has ever earned the term, and that’s what makes it fantastic.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Meg

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbinb Li, Rainn Wilson

Year: 2018

Even accepting that creature features and disaster movies are terrible, combining the two and making something like The Meg is unacceptable; we can have fun with a little bad taste, but we can’t forgive something this utterly stupid.  This movie is one of the absolute worst I have ever seen, b-quality or not, it simply shouldn’t exist, and it shouldn’t have been made if it was going to be made this poorly.  The graphics, the monster, the undersea tech, the scale; sure, some of that deserves some attention, there are small pieces that could have been noticeably solid.  But only if all the actors involved had shut their damn mouths and pantomimed the entire 100 minutes; their lack of ability sunk the entire feature before it ever left the dock, and ruined any chance The Meg had of convincing audiences that they should at least be entertained.

If you want someone rescued when a deep sea mission goes wrong (and who hasn’t had a deep sea mission go wrong), you call Jonas Taylor, the only man for the job.  He’s fearless, he’s daring, he’s unrealistically skilled, and he will most likely save the majority of the people you send him to bring out of danger.  But not all, his failures weigh heavily on his mind, which is why he has retired from the water hero business.  Until now, that is, because his ex-wife is in trouble, and damned if Jonas is gonna let her drown.  She and her teammates, all part of an underwater research lab, have just stumbled upon the find of a century; a warm biosphere deep in a sea trench where creatures previously thought to be extinct roam free.  Problem is, those creatures include a Megalodon, and it’s not happy to have been disturbed.  Now Jonas must rescue the crew, they must all defeat the shark, and no one goes home unscathed.

I knew I was in trouble what Jason Statham started showing “D’Angelo!” over & over as a minor character was dying; it just sounded so stupid and forced and just plain bad that any self-respecting viewer with an ounce of taste would have been justified in turning the movie off right then.  But no, I kept watching, that’s my fault, and I paid for it, believe me.  The Meg is big and dumb and pointless, even embarrassing a genre that I didn’t think could be embarrassed, and jumping the literal shark more than a few times over the course of the world’s least believable story.  Everything about this joke was insulting, and then there were people actually trying to pretend to be professional actors, which made it all that much worse.  Statham, Li, Wilson, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Olafur Olafsson, Jessica McNamee; it was a who’s who of who can’t act, each scene worse than the one before.  And please trust me when I say get out before the final climax, because it’s not good, not good at all, not good dear god, and I don’t want you to have to go through it/this.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Duck Butter

Category : Movie Review

Director: Miguel Arteta

Starring: Alia Shawkat, Laia Costa

Year: 2018

To call Duck Butter one of the weakest films of 2018 would be an understatement; it’s in Fifty Shades Freed, A Wrinkle in Time, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms territory, and that’s a pretty bad place to call home.  In fact, in almost feels like a combination of those films, an over-long sexual escapade with fake drama that was seemingly written by someone much to immature; gross.  And then, speaking of gross, there’s the movie’s title, which bucked me the rest of the way off when it came up in the story; I was already about ready to give up and that moment made me throw up my hands and say “yep I’m done.”  I made it to the end, barely, but while my eyes were watching, the rest of me had checked out, because this is cinema that does not deserve our full attention, at least not until every one involved can grow up and try again.

Naima is an actress who spends more time worrying about how soon the world will end than she does acting in anything worth mentioning, and her social life is about as constipated as her outlook; she can’t get over herself long enough to let anyone outside her bubble know who she really is.  She gets a break with a fascinating new, organic, improvised drama, but that immediately doesn’t go very well, and she meets an extremely attractive, Spanish, wannabe singer named Sergio, who is a girl, to clarify, but that’s also wrecked almost immediately too, since Naima shuts any doors as soon as they open as it’s just all too scary.  But maybe life will throw her another opportunity, when Naima inexplicable accepts Sergio’s invitation to spend the next 24 hours together.  No sleeping, no bullshit, tons of sex and sharing; skip the things that scare you and dive right in, maybe that’s what we all need to do.

It’s an interesting concept, and it’s great that gay dating can feel this normal without being about the fact that the characters are gay, but way too much goes wrong along the way for audiences to enjoy where we are when it all wraps up.  Arteta & Shawkat teamed up to write the script, and it often does feel spontaneous in a refreshing way, but there simply isn’t enough talent here to pull off something this audacious; not everyone is Joe Swanberg.  Instead, if feels at times fake and at times so normal it puts you to sleep; they never strike a good balance between honesty and Hollywood.  They sure try to bring in the stars to trick us into thinking we’ll see some chops though: Mae Whitman, Kate Berlant, Kumail Nanjiani, Lindsay Burdge, Mark & Jay Duplass.  But those are mere cameos, and Shawkat isn’t a strong enough actor to carry the film herself, with Costa coming across as a caricature rather than a real asset.  Good try I guess, but enough small misses can make a giant mistake, and that’s Duck Butter.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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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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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: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆