Monthly Archives: November 2017

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Movie Review – The Judge

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Dobkin

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton

Year: 2014

Director David Dobkin decided to mix things up a bit and take a stab at drama, when comedies were his previous forte.  Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, The Change-Up; you can easily get a sense of the taste level/genre choice of this director, and the fact that he attempted such a heavy drama as The Judge shows that he’s at least brave, if not exactly wise.  This is a movie that deals with ethics, divorce, death, cancer, prison, homicide, emotional abuse; you name it and if it’s bad it’s here.  Dobkin tried to add a little humor into the mix to lighten the mood, that’s what RDJ is good at anyway, wry cynicism in the face of serious situations.  But it didn’t work, both were in over their heads, and the result isn’t pretty.

Hank Palmer is the cliche asshole defense lawyer from a Chicago skyscraper that you imagine when you think up the worst of those who try to keep white-collar criminals out of jail for a living.  He’s rude, cocky, bright, undeniably gifted, but unhappy behind a facade of perfection and success.  At home, his wife is leaving because he’s never present, his daughter hardly knows her father, and his beautiful house doesn’t translate into a happy home.  Things come crashing even further down when he receives the news that his mother has died, necessitating a trip to rural Indiana to attend the funeral.  Hank left that world far behind long ago, a place where his father is an ice-could judge, where his brothers have never left, where the girl he loved in high school still works at the local diner.  But he’ll be drawn back into the local politics of the small town when his father is tried for murder, the aging judge accused of deliberately hitting a former criminal with his car.  Old memories resurface, ancient hatreds live on, and Hank will have to reconcile with the pain of his past if he’s to help a father who he no longer loves.

The Judge is a film that’s cheesy at all the wrong times; I think we can assume Dobkin didn’t know what he was doing.  Movies can be a little cheesy, or even a lot, if they’re first capable of sucking us in, so that we eat the sap instead of spitting it back out.  Get us on board and we’ll forgive you some cliches; fail to draw us in and your standard storylines just look stupid.  Typical from the very beginning, there is never a reason for audiences to dive head first into this story and its characters, resulting in our clear view of the tricks the director is trying to pull later on.  The gasps in the court room, the storm that blows into town, the girl that was left behind, the athlete with the injury that ended his chances; I mean, really?  It’s pathetic how Dobkin was not able to deliver this product, and he probably shouldn’t try again.  Duvall was nominated for an Oscar for his role, and he’s by far the best part, but I wonder if it was just a down year, because he wasn’t that good.  Downey Jr. wasn’t either, his schtick getting very old very fast.  This film gets high ratings from audiences, low ratings from critics, and that makes perfect sense; it’s an under-rehearsed con job that shouldn’t work on those who know what to look for.

My rating: ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – Mudbound

Category : Movie Review

Director: Dee Rees

Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan

Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Jonathan Banks

Year: 2017

Mudbound was already on the short list to win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards months before it came out, which is all the more impressive given that this film is a Netflix original, released straight to a Smart TV near you.  Netflix has been steadily improving as a production company, their movies shouldering their way into the crowded party of the upper echelon, but there’s no denying that they deserve to be included.  In fact, there are a handful of films from this year created by Netflix that I would include at the top of the list: The Meyerowitz Stories, Okja, Win it All, War Machine.  And Mudbound joins them, surpassing most, earning every one of the bold predictions that said it would be among 2017’s strongest stories and best films.

Two families coexist on a farm in rural Mississippi in the early 40s, a place where the slave/master mentality is still keeping its hold and refusing to let go.  The McAllan family bought the land and have moved into a dirty farmhouse, a new situation that doesn’t please Laura McAllan, a young woman who was impressed by her strong-willed husband Henry, but who wasn’t cut out for this life.  Henry’s younger brother Jamie is overseas dropping bombs on Nazis, but will return broken to this life in squalor.  The Jacksons also work the land, a black family who want peace and freedom, but know the cruel hold that the white community still has over their lives.  Ronsel, the eldest son, fights the Germans in tanks, and his return home brings joy to his family, but he doesn’t know what to do with his life next.  When Jamie and Ronsel become unlikely friends, the progress that they saw other places abandons them, and the evil racism of their country home rears its ugly head.

Mudbound is a special film, a powerful story that deserves all of the bold predictions it received, as well as the cliched praise that it’s likely to get.  Some movies you just see coming, and this one had the feel of something important and real, a beautiful tale of family set against a backdrop of global war and local hate.  It lives up to its hype, delivering a strong message that can’t possibly be ignored.  I guess it’s our job as critics to think of new ways to explain how good this movie is and what it can do to those who watch it, but it’s too easy to fall back on melodramatic adjectives, especially when they all fit so well.  Mudbound is excellent, it’s poetic, it’s something we need to be reminded of, while at the same time being a brand new vision brought to our screens by a combination of heart and talent.  Clarke and Mulligan shine as the McAllans, but the real winner here is Rob Morgan, who does something amazing with his character and would be my pick for Best Supporting Actor if I was to cast a vote right now.  Hedlund, Mitchell, Blige; these aren’t incredible actors, they don’t work magic, and perhaps that keeps the film from being the single best of the year, but it doesn’t stop it from making an impact, from stunning audiences, or from asserting itself as a real giant.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – The Man Who Invented Christmas

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bharat Nalluri

Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 2017

I don’t know about you, but I loved Downton Abbey, and I’m glad to see its stars succeed in other places.  The show was basically a soap opera, but masterfully done, with characters you could fall in love with and a quality to the history that is almost matchless.  The actors involved in it weren’t always the best, you’ll have that, but they made the show work, and I wish them all the best of luck.  Hugh Bonneville in Paddington, Michelle Dockery in Good Behavior and Godless, Maggie Smith already a legend, Allen Leach in The Imitation Game, Lily James in Cinderella, The Exception, and Baby Driver, Jessica Brown Findlay who I think is the weakest of the cast to use the success of the show for other jobs, and then, of course, Dan Stevens, whose role was cut short because he understood what was about to happen to him; that his character had advertised his good looks and natural talent, that he was on his way to becoming a superstar.

A look into the mind of a genius and an origin tale of one of the greatest stories ever told, The Man Who Invented Christmas is the magic of the season wrapped around a biography of perhaps the best author the English language has ever known.  Charles Dickens was a success across the globe after his book ‘Oliver Twist’ hit the shelves, but his subsequent novels failed to impress, and more importantly, failed to make any money.  He was running out of time, out of pounds, and out of friends willing to extend him credit, so he decided to write a story in a matter of weeks, self-publish it, and revive his career.  Now, all he had to do was think of something to write.  Having grown up in a workhouse, Dickens knew what money could mean, knew how important it could be, but also how greedy it could make the man who falls victim to its charms.  And so he created A Christmas Carol, right in time for the budding holiday, and taught us all an invaluable lesson.

Dan Stevens is currently my fave, and I’ll watch anything that he’s deemed worthy of his time.  A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Ticket, Beauty and the Beast; Stevens is a talent on the rise, and all we are asked to do is pay attention.  I do like him a little better when he’s allowed to be British, but check that off the list with this film, and Stevens delivers perhaps his best performance to date.  He’s likeable as Dickens, funny at times, full of energy, and delivers a moral or two; what else can you ask for.  The story is true, Dickens was a social advocate, Christmas wasn’t a big, charitable deal yet in England, he based some of the story on his own experiences, so that part of the plot was rather interesting.  Now, the film itself isn’t amazing, and I think I can put my finger on why.  Basically, it’s a family film, with nothing in it I wouldn’t show my kids, a holiday/genre flick that’s meant to give us hope, teach us a lesson, show us the meaning of Christmas, and so on.  That style of film might be a dime a dozen, but I could easily see this movie becoming a family tradition in many households, even if it isn’t the best thing you’re ever going to watch.  It’s fluffy, easy, nice, and features Christopher Plummer as the Scrooge from Dickens’ imagination, so that can’t be bad.  Just don’t expect the highest quality cinema and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Trailer – A Quiet Place

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: John Krasinski

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt

Release: April 6th, 2018

What the what?! What’s out there that they’re hiding from?  I want to know, but I also don’t.  Good job guys, you got me, I’m in.  And how cute that Krasinski & Blunt play a couple when they are one in real life.  Well, it would be cute if they weren’t being terrorized by some unknown, sound-sensitive force.  The fact that Krasinski also wrote & directed this movie makes me want to see it all the more.  I can hardly wait.

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Movie Trailer – Rampage

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Release: April 20th, 2018

Screw you, I want to see this.  I can be wishy-washy on disaster movies; sometimes I’m right there eating the cheese, and sometimes it’s basically the worst movie ever.  But I guess that’s the genre, you have to buy in, because of course it’s bad, it’s whether or not you enjoy the awful, nonsensical chaos.  Rampage I’m ready to love, and I’ll tell you why; because of the video game.  I didn’t play it much at the arcade (my local one was called Tilt), and it’s not my favorite game to play at the barcade now that I’m grown, but boy did I ever rent this cartridge and waste away the hours destroying shit.  My sister and I would get it, play it, leave it on all night because you couldn’t save your progress, and then beat it in the morning.  The NES would be so hot you couldn’t touch it, but it was worth it.  I loved this game, and I’m ready to love this movie.  Now, I know it’ll probably suck, like San Andreas, and it looks like they just used the same exact footage, simply overlaying some CGI animals and stealing scenes from Kong: Skull Island.  But the Rock is still the Rock, he’s kinda made for this style, and I’m ready for him to take on a childhood favorite, especially alongside Harris who I think very highly of, and Morgan who is a great villain (you want to watch The Salvation, not Desierto).  Begin the rampage, I’m ready.

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Movie Review – My Cousin Rachel

Category : Movie Review

Director: Roger Michell

Starring: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Holliday Grainger

Year: 2017

Roger Michell was in over his head directing this film, and it showed.  I don’t mean to suggest that he’s an unproven amateur who doesn’t know filmmaking, but his previous experience didn’t help him here.  Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Hyde Park on Hudson; none of these films is outstanding, all have flaws, and they didn’t help Michell prepare for this genre.  Period pieces might be a dime a dozen, but they are shockingly hard to get right, even if audiences tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, in as much as we are usually excited by their possibilities, if not always their execution.  It takes real skill to produce a solid, dark, brooding, dramatic period piece, something like Jane Eyre, it doesn’t just happen when you put on the costumes, and Michell just wasn’t able to achieve his goal.

Philip Ashley, orphaned as a child, was raised by his cousin Ambrose by the Devon cliffs, and learned to love the man like a father.  They shared a strong family resemblance, they both loved the outdoors, and neither felt it necessary to settle down with women in the house and forge a more traditional life.  But time flows on, Philip went off to school, returned to find Ambrose in poor health, and watched as his guardian moved South to warmer climes.  The next big change came when Ambrose was married, and then suddenly died, leaving his estate to his ward, with no mention of his new wife.  Rachel, a cousin as well, also half-Italian, comes to England to meet Philip, and the two fall desperately in love.  Or do they, and what exactly is Rachel’s plan, now that her wealthy husband has died?  Will Philip see through her charms, are they genuine after all, or is money to root of all evil?

This story is slightly boring, as far as period pieces go, without much more than the bare bones of a mystery and without much dramatic energy either.  While Lady Macbeth tries so hard to be dark and fascinating but doesn’t have the talent to finish, My Cousin Rachel has all the talent in the world but doesn’t seem to be trying very hard at all.  Its lackluster attempt at dramatics is off-putting as well as dull, and perhaps the novel it is based on isn’t the best, which is why you’ve never heard of it, but then why was it chosen to be adapted into a film?  I like Weisz, she can do almost no wrong, Grainger is a strong young talent, and I recognized Iain Glen from Downton Abbey, so the acting was not the main problem.  I didn’t love Claflin, he’s not my favorite, he wasn’t wonderful in Their Finest either, but he does a passable job as a hormone-addled young man who has no idea what is going on in the minds of others, so I don’t lay much blame on him.  It think the film lacked good direction, its base wasn’t impressive, and the result was a mediocre period piece, which isn’t a very forgiving style in the first place.

My rating: ☆ ☆



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Movie Trailer – The Pirates of Somalia

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Bryan Buckley

Starring: Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Al Pacino

Release: December 8th, 2017

I’m not sure Evan Peters is ready for this role quite yet.  He’s great as Quicksilver, he’s tried popping up a few other places, but he hasn’t landed that great role yet/hasn’t delivered that key performance.  I can see how this is supposed to be his moment, but either he’s not ready or this film just was never going to be the vehicle, because it doesn’t look promising.

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Movie Trailer – The Mercy

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: James Marsh

Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis

Release: 2017

You kidding me, Firth & Weisz as husband and wife; where do I sign up to be their housekeeper?  Seriously, I was sold before the trailer even came out, and now I’m even more interested.  What an odd true story, and I have no doubt that it will be well-made, from the acting to the direction (The Theory of Everything).  Why haven’t we heard much about it before now though, and why isn’t it in the Oscar race?  Does the studio know something that we don’t, that’s my only concern, but I’m willing to chance it.

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Sports – NFL Picks 2017, Week 11

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 11 Picks

(11-3 last week, 86-60 for the season)

Bye teams: Panthers, Jets, Colts, 49ers


Ten @ Pit

Det @ Chi

Jax @ Cle

Bal @ GB

Ari @ Hou

TB @ Mia

LAR @ Min


Was @ NO


Buf @ LAC

Cin @ Den

NE @ Oak

Phi @ Dal

Atl @ Sea



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DVD Review – Queen of the Desert

Category : DVD Review

Director: Werner Herzog

Starring: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis

Year: 2015

Nicole Kidman paired with Colin Farrell is a winning combination, Nicole Kidman paired with James Franco is not.  I don’t see how this wasn’t obvious before it was screen-tested and then released to a cinema near you, but someone forgot that two mature actors brought together is often a good idea, while an aging Aussie asked to fall in love with a much younger comedian, who, in a recent movie, noted that his post-sexual encounter penis smelled like guacamole, isn’t.  And I like James Franco, I think he’s funny, I enjoy his stuff with Seth Rogen, but the guy is one note, and that note needs to stay far away from Nicole Kidman’s talent and from her genre.  This movie, sappy as it is, could have worked had different choices been made.  They weren’t, it didn’t, moving on.

The Movie

This is the true story of Gertrude Bell, the Queen of the Desert, the woman who would not stay behind but rather put herself in unimaginable danger time after time for the sake of science, adventure, and an unquenchable thirst for all the experiences life outside of safe existence has to offer.  Gertrude was a young, English noblewoman who studied at Oxford, who was far too intelligent to settle down to a conventional life as someone’s wife.  And so, after trying and failing to force her to become something normal, something she most definitely wasn’t, her parents allowed her to travel to Arabia to seek her purpose.  The life she would find there would define her, would captivate her, and would become the passion that consumed her very soul.

Gertrude fell in love with the beauty and the danger of the desert, with the warring Bedouin tribes who were so fierce about their territory, and with one man in particular who made her stay in a foreign land so magical.  His name was Henry Cadogan, he was also in love with Arabia, and was more than willing to show Gertrude all the sites.  Their shared obsession with regional poetry and the pure quality the very land possessed brought them together, forged their relationship, and kept Gertrude far from home for life.  Even after they were parted, she felt married to the desert, and made it her purpose to visit every forbidden locale, to speak to every sheik, to go where no man, let alone a woman, had ever gone before.

First, I quickly looked up some information on Gertrude Bell, and I couldn’t find any information on Henry Cadogan, so that part may just be fictional.  She did have a love affair with an administrator in her 30s, and then a pen-pal relationship with a married men in her 40s, but that’s all that I could find on brief research.  That doesn’t matter exactly, the movie can do what it wishes with her story, but it did feel odd for a variety of reasons.  One is that Kidman isn’t a young woman any more, she’s 50, while Franco is 39, and so she was playing twenty years younger, while he was presumably playing his own age, and the whole thing was strange.  Franco almost seemed creepy, with his devotion to poetry and romantic trinkets, like he was trying to trick her, but I think we can blame that on his acting, which of course wasn’t good in such a role, a character that could not possibly have been written with him in mind.

Kidman, on the other hand, is strong enough to pull off a challenge like this, but wasn’t given the best periphery to work with.  She was asked to play young, and then to play her age, to fall in love with Franco, and then with Lewis, to travel around the desert like an explorer, to wash in an outback bath to show off her nipples apparently; her jobs were many and all over the place.  Herzog isn’t a wonderful film director, he doesn’t have the knack, and it showed here.  His star was misused, or at least unsupported, and the result was a film that felt frantic when something was happening and oppressively dull at all other times.  Robert Pattinson made a brief appearance as T.E. Lawrence, and he’s a talent that shouldn’t be overlooked, but he was the bright spot of an otherwise bland background.  Watch Kidman in her more recent films like Strangerland, Secret in Their Eyes, or better yet in her most recent alongside Farrell, The Beguiled and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.  She shines in both of her latest movies, in a way that I’ve never seen from her before, but this is a project that was better left unclaimed.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and using Red Epic, Red Epic Dragon, and Red Scarlet cameras, the video quality of the Blu-ray disc is wonderful, as far as depicting the beauty of the desert and some famous landmarks.  That’s what the video was asked to do, bring this land to life in a wondrous way, and it succeeded.  The picture quality is high, crisp and clear, although the cinematography itself is forgettable.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround, with an option of English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo.  Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.  The audio quality is strong as well, with a nice balance and a well thought out backing track that really sets the romantic mood and delivers the sounds of the region quite well.

Extras – The only special feature on the disc is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Nicole Kidman, who has always played cold so well, is warming up as she ages, and that’s to our benefit.  She’s a talented actress, a beautiful woman, and can very easily be an outstanding lead in a film, as she’s proving more now than she ever has before.  But Queen of the Desert was not a vehicle built to carry one great actress all alone on a bumpy ride.  There were far too many problems to overcome, and even Kidman was not up to the task of saving the movie on her own.  The pacing was poor, the story was boring, the acting around her wasn’t great, the direction was lackluster; basically the film failed to capture the magic it was attempting to harness, the result being a disappointing experience.  The video is pleasing to the eye, the audio is solid, there aren’t many extras, so the technical aspects are perhaps a mixed bag.  The film is more definitive, as I can’t imagine many audiences gushing, I predict that most will find it as much an unpolished and unnecessary product as I did.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay