Sunday, November 19, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League

One can only wonder or try and estimate when this incredible flood of Marvel movies over the last 15 years will finally get old. We all know from the comic books that there are many super heroes but at some point, they all blend together and seem like the same movie. This is true of "Justice League" and is backed up by the low ratings of 40% on rottentomatoes. Perhaps the pendulum has started to swing the other way because these movies all seem to use the same formula every time. Some massive super villain is trying to destroy the world, and a few or several super heroes step in to save the world. The end of the movie has a huge amount of special effects and then a climatic battle that we have all seen many times before. In the end, most of us will never be able to remember what was unique or different with any one of these movies.

Justice League stars Ben Afleck as Batman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane,Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and some new super heroes making their Marvel movie debut. Jason Momoa as Aqua-man, Ezra Miller as the Flash and Ray Fischer as Cyborg, admittedly a super hero I have never heard of before. When this film was over, I felt like I have seen the same movie 10 in the past few years, and in fact I probably had. My advice to the producers is to hire a great screenwriter and come up with some new ideas we have not seen before. In my opinion, all of these Marvel movies have already reached their saturation point.

I thought that Justice League was too run of the mill to recommend.

Movie Review: Lady Bird

This is one of the few movies I have seen in many years that is all about one of the most difficult times in anyone's life; "You're about to leave high school, you have to choose a college and decide what to do and you are only 18 years old". Very often we all accept the way things are, even if the way things are is insane, like having to make a life decision so early in life. Some of us are able to figure out what we want to do when we are 18 years old, but what about the rest of us, who have no clue? The new movie, "Lady Bird" takes an unusual take on this adolescent dilemma and starts with the fact that the lead character wants to change her name from Christine to Lady Bird, but screenwriter never tells the audience why she wants to change her name to Lady Bird.

The reviews of Lady Bird are extremely high, reaching a very rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.4 on IMDB and I mostly agree with these high marks. The start of this story is a conversation in the car with Lady Bird played by Saoirse Ronan and her mother played by Laurie Metlcalf that could be called a summary of the whole movie based on one conversation. At the end of this argument Lady Bird actually jumps out of the car, because of her anger of what her mother is saying is so extreme. Given the fact that Lady Bird is so confused about what to do with her life and her very identity, her mother's constant criticism and at times cruel berating is hard to hear at times during this film. Lady Bird goes through a few friendships and two boyfriends during the time she is desperately trying to get into an East Coast college, mainly so she can escape her boring Sacramento California life and her mother. Unfortunately, as her guidance counselor in her Catholic Girls high school laughingly reminds her, her grades are not good enough to get into most colleges. There are some very good laughs in this film along with the realities of an 18 year old not nearly ready to take the next step in her life. I thought all of this was very well done.

The screenwriter and director for this film is 34 year old Greta Gerwig, and due to the acclaim this movie has received so far she just might get a few Academy Award nominations.

I Lady Bird is a very good movie and I do recommend it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review Wonder

Its been very rare in my experience that a movie hits on every single aspect of what a great screenplay and film is all about. The new movie "Wonder" does all of this and challenges the harsh realities of peer pressure, bullying, empathy, compassion, abandonment, betrayal and friendship all in one story. This great movie also hits the marks with excellent acting and remarkably has significant sub stories about the peripheral people around the main character who has a facial deformity; at a level that I cannot remember ever seeing. The sub stories around the main character I found to be profound enough to create completely new movies around them.

The main character of Auggie is played by Jason Tremblay who at only 11 years old has proven himself to be a great actor, previously in the highly acclaimed movie "Room". This movie is not a true story, but is very loosely based on another child who was born with a very rare DNA combination that causes facial deformity. From the beginning you cannot help to have empathy for this child, not only for what he has already gone through at age 10 but what he will be facing for the rest of this life. People stare, people are cruel, most especially young children in school and for that reason, up to the 5th grade Auggie was home schooled by his mother played by Julia Roberts and his father, played by Owen Wilson.

I was most impressed with the real life depictions of bullying that Auggie faces from his first days at school. There seemed no limit to the rude staring and cruel remarks this young boy had to face from so many of his classmates. A great deal of this kind of cruelty is because of peer pressure and this even happens with the only friend Auggie is able to make that creates a significant moment in this movie. For me, equally as important as Auggie's plight is the difficult life his older sister, played very well by Izabela Vidovic has to face as her mother seems to completely ignore her, because she is so obsessed with protecting her son. The message here is that with a problem this challenging in the life of a young child, this would also greatly affect the lives of everyone around him.

It takes a special person to step out of themselves despite peer pressure and other fears and befriend a 10 year old boy in school with a facial deformity and this act of courage did happen twice during this story. There are several acts of extreme cruelty, most especially with one young boy who passed several horrible notes in class to Auggie. There are also moments of great transition as people, as they sometimes do, recognize their own evil and realize they have to change to be able to live with themselves.

This movie has all the ingredients of a film that should be nominated for an Academy Award, but perhaps because of the subject matter it might not get a nomination, but in my opinion, it definitely should.

I highly recommend Wonder that is one of the best movies of 2017.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Movie Review: Daddy's Home Two

Its very rare in movie history that an very average or below average movie like Daddy's home makes enough money to give producers confidence to make a sequel. "Daddy's Home 2" is one of those rare times. On par with the previous version, this new film takes some chances by casting Mel Gibson who 10 years ago, seemed to have no reasonable path back from the career abyss he was in. But since directing the great war movie "Hacksaw Ridge" last year he seems to have done the impossible and is once again accepted as a bankable actor.

As far this movie, it misses the mark of a comedy because in the theater I was in, there were almost no laughs at all. Most of the physical comedy and sight gags all involved Will Farrell, or John Lithgow getting hit with something or falling off of a house or just generally falling down. This can be funny maybe once or twice in a film, but this one does this too many times and its just not that funny.

The premise of this movie is about the same as the first, but this time to two main characters played by Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell are close friends having gotten over all of their differences from the first film. Farrell is married to Wahlberg's x-wife and Wahlberg is now remarried with and has a daughter with his new wife. There are many kids involved in this story and for too long of a time, unless you just saw the first version, its not obvious who's kid belongs to which parent.

Will Farrell is a natural comedic talent and for that matter, so is John Lithgow and there is virtually nothing he has to do to be funny, unlike Wahlberg who is not funny but despite this there is not enough funny moments to recommend this below average comedy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Movie Review: The Florida Project

Sitting through this film was like passing by what you know is going to be the scene of a very bad car accident. As as you roll by and look to your right, you don't want to look because you know what you might see. You look anyway, because this is life, a possible pathway, perhaps the end of someone's life and in the back of your mind, you wonder if this might happen to you one day and this scares you, but you keep looking anyway. "There but for the grace of God go I".

This film plays more like a documentary than a movie and has only one named celebrity as the star, William Defoe who plays the manager of this run down Motel in Florida, ironically named "The Magic Castle Motel". For 38 dollars a night you can live almost like a caged animal in one room squalor surrounded by lavender and pink paint. The tenants of this massive hell hole are who you would expect; poor people down on their luck, but what you would never expect are happy, dancing and running young children who are oblivious to their reality and are not yet old enough to realize that they have no chance. No future. No hope. No way out. These young children have to go along for the ride only because of who their parents are. For me the happy oblivious young children in this story were ultimately the most depressing part because they just don't understand about money and what its like to be on the outer fringe of homelessness. As an adult your brain has to rationalize a life like this somehow, because if you can't, you die. But when your a child your just still a child and you don't know anything other than your bleak existence.

This movie has remarkable acting and the best actor of them all is 6 year old Brooklynn Prince, who plays Moonie and is the only child of her single mother, played by Bria Vinaite, a drug addict hooker and complete disaster of a human being who was stupid enough to give birth to and then keep a child. So many scenes in this movie are very hard to watch, because you know that there are real people like this in this country who live lives like this and like passing a car accident, this is something that none of us want to think about or ever see.

This low-budget movie has received many high reviews on both IMDB and Rottentomatoes and I agree with these high ratings as this movie while being quite depressing is also and outstanding depiction of the harsh reality of being poor in this country. The Florida Project gets my highest recommendation.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Movie Review: LBJ

At first glance I was rather surprised at the relatively low ratings for the new docudrama LBJ, directed by Rob Reiner, only 5.8 on IMDB and 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought this was a very solid and well done history lesson about the political life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, with some of the story told using flashbacks. Much of what happens in this movie is well known but just as much is not known including how difficult Johnson's life as Vice President to John F. Kennedy was, due to the Kennedy brothers disrespecting and shutting him out of the important decisions of the Kennedy administration. From the perspective of Bobby and John Kennedy, Johnson was an outsider from the South who was made Vice President for political reasons to get Kennedy elected in 1960. On top of this, as was made very clear in this story, Bobby Kennedy was in some ways using Johnson for his own Presidential ambitions for the election of 1968.

To this day its amazing how long it took this country to pass basic human rights legislation, including the Civil Rights act of 1964 that was started by Kennedy and finalized by Johnson after Kennedy was assassinated. What were we thinking for so many years in this country, suppressing the basic rights of millions of people for so many years? So much of this backward thinking was because too many of the wrong people were in charge, including a major character in this movie Senator Richard Russell, played very well by actor Richard Jenkins, who was both a very powerful Senator as well as a bigot who did everything in his power to prevent the Civil Rights act because of his racism and stupidity.

I was impressed with this movie for several reasons, starting with the acting of Woody Harrelson as LBJ, in one of the best roles of his career and Jennifer Jason Leigh who was unrecognizable as Lady Bird Johnson. The makeup and the sets in this movie were all outstanding and I thought Rob Reiner's direction was also outstanding.

Despite the average ratings for this movie, I thought it was very good and I recommend it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarock

I found the definition of Ragnarock on Wikipedia and before seeing the new movie "Thor: Ragnarock" today I never heard of the word Ragnarock before. The reviews for this movie are quite high, 93% on rottentomatoes and 8.2 on IMDB and I agree with the high ratings for the special effects that are very impressive, but not for the story which is all over the place, at times hard to follow and is lacking in continuity. This story jumps from one scene to another scene and more than a few times during these 2 hours you have no idea what is happening or who a new character is; case in point the character played by Idris Elba. I wondered if the producers of this movie assumed that the audience read the comic book before seeing this movie.

This movie stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor for the 3rd time in this franchise, not including the Avenger series. Cate Blanchette plays Thor's sister and Jeff Goldblum as the leader of this strange planet that looks like a garbage dump for the universe. There are very good special effects and some fights including even the HULK character played once again by Mark Ruffalo. The most impressive performance in this movie was by Tessa Thompson who just may have had her breakthrough role with this movie.

Unfortunately, there is not much more to say about this film that I thought was average, at times boring and offered nothing that we have not seen many times before.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Movie Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

The message of "A Bad Moms Christmas" is as good as was the message for the original "Bad Moms", that was released in July 2016. Being a mother is very stressful and at times can be quite overwhelming and depressing but when its Christmas, it all can get much worse. Then the screenwriters of this sequel added the arrival for Christmas of the mothers of the 3 main characters, played by Mila Kunis, Christine Bell and Kathryn Hahn and the result is a movie that is funny at times, at other times too raunchy and in the end not as good as the original Bad Moms which I thought was a very good comedy movie.

The standout actor in this comedy is Christine Baransky, who plays Mila Kunis mother as the exact same character she plays on the Big Bang Theory. She is outstanding as the mother who always makes nasty stupid comments that constantly belittle and puts down her daughter. Of course all of this because this movie is a comedy is played to the extreme and I did laugh out-loud in a number of spots during this film. This movie does make you wonder why some mothers just have to knock down their child and always try to undermine everything their child tries to do. Its a typical phenomenon of some parents and over a many years of this kind of a abuse during a childhood and adulthood can cause many relationship problems, some of which are brought out during some of the funny moments in this story.

There is a very small appearance by Christina Applegate who was also in the first Bad Moms and I thought it was unfortunate that her part was so small. Susan Sarandon and Cheryl Hines play the other 2 mothers in this story and I thought they were both good in their roles, but for some reason the screenwriters thought that giving Sarandon's character the name Isis would be funny and I disagree that a name like this can ever be funny.

This movie was just OK, and unfortunately not as good as the original Bad Moms.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Movie Review: Thank you for Your Service

"Thank you for Your Service" is what we all say when we see an army Veteran, regardless of which war he was in. With all of the times I have said this to a War veteran, including even Senator John McCain, who I met in in April 2000, it has always felt like an awkward thing to say. Realizing that this statement that is the title of this movie; while sincere, always seems extremely inadequate compared to what many of these people have gone through. This movie is about the battle scars of war after these men return home and this aspect of the very harsh realities of war, was extremely well portrayed in this film.

Thank you for your Service is set in the year 2007, as the war in Iraq that started in March 2003 still raged on. Just about at the start of this film, 3 soldiers who are now close friends are on a plane returning home and what follows is a the story about the harsh reality of life and PTSD after fighting in a war. What this film did the best was to show the callousness of the Army officers these 3 soldiers encountered at the Veterans Administration that included stupid comments can be summed up by "Oh get over it". As these 3 men desperately struggled to recover from horror, the anger and the guilt they lived through in Iraq, they were faced with living in squalor when they returned home with no chance to ever get a normal job and the facing the incompetence of an overwhelmed Veterans Administration that seemed was completely incapable of helping any of them.

Very few of us are able to step out of ourselves and identify with a major trauma another person has gone through with the ability to not only relate to their trauma and give them empathy that is in proportion to the damage they have endured. The famous expression "Walk a Mile in my Shoes" comes to mind. This is never more true with War PTSD as compared any other type of psychological trauma. For solders like this, who have gone through hell and might never get over reliving the horrible events they witnessed, hearing something like "Just get over it" just might be the most infuriating and damaging thing they ever hear from anyone. Getting over PTSD is proportional to the severity of the trauma, the length of time involved and the ability of that persons brain to heal and stop reliving the events and the pictures that flash in their brain they can never stop replaying over and over again. Getting psychological help for many of these soldiers, due to the lack of funding and inefficiencies within the Veterans Administration has been inadequate in this country for many years, including they year the true story of this film is set, 2007.

I thought the acting with Thank you for Your Service was outstanding starting with Miles Teller who plays the starring role, Haley Bennett who plays Teller's wife,Beulah Koale who plays Teller's close friend from the war and surprisingly, comedian Amy Shumer who is proving that she is a very good dramatic actor as well as an outstanding standup comedian.

I highly recommend Thank you for Your Service.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Movie Review: Suburbicon

While sitting through this bad movie, hoping it would end soon, I could not help wondering what "Suburbicon" was really all about. A black comedy satire about murdering your wife for insurance money or a commentary on bigotry within an all white Suburban community in the 1950's where a young black family moves into an all white neighborhood and is terrorized by all of the white residents? When it was all finally over, I still didn't know the answer to this question.

A movie that is trying to be a black comedy, a satire, and a commentary on race relations all at the same time is a very bad idea. Even more surprising was that the screenplay for this film was written by Joel and Ethan Coen, two of the best screenwriters of all time. I thought it was surprising that both Matt Damon and George Clooney read the script for this movie and still decided to make it. My guess is that Clooney and Damon just thought that because the Coen brothers wrote this bad script then it must be good. Very bad decision.

The ratings on Rottentomatoes for this movie are very low, only 26% and for IMDB only 4.7. These numbers are very low and this movie deserves these low ratings. This film is yet another very bad attempt to be very different with a screenplay and movie idea and in the end the most important thing is lost - actually entertaining the audience.

I thought this was a pretty bad movie and it should not be seen by anyone.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Movie Review: Only the Brave

Once again, a Hollywood movie has been released that correlates to recent real life events. This movie is similar to Geostorm that is about curing extreme weather events that we have seen in this country during the last few months and "Only the Brave" is about wildfires and there have been huge deadly wildfires in Northern California in recent weeks. As I watched this movie, I wondered like most people, why anyone would ever want to risk their life doing this job to make a living. As was made very clear within this story many times, putting out forest fires is one of the most dangerous jobs in the entire world. Wild fires that occur in so many areas of this country move extremely quickly, change direction instantly and can kill someone is several different ways including burns, carbon dioxide poisoning, smoke inhalation and even suffocation.

"Only the Brave" is a real life story about the "Granite Mountain Hotshots" where 19 firefighters were killed when they were surrounded by a wildfire. Josh Brolin plays the administrator of the group and Jennifer Connely plays his wife. There are also very good side stories in this movie including a drug addict played by Miles Teller, who is invited to join the group, despite his addiction. I thought the acting and screenplay for this movie were outstanding.

I highly recommend Only the Brave.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is the story of Mark Felt, one of the leaders of the FBI in the 1960's and 70's, who was passed over to be director of the FBI and turned out to be the legendary "deep throat", who along with the Washington Post and Woodward and Bernstein brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

What was very good about this movie was showing what Mark Felt went through, including some threats against his only daughter, the effect of being the main informant for the Watergate scandal and what that meant to his career in the FBI. Unfortunately this film was mostly too boring and too long to recommend. The cast, starring Liam Neeson and several other recognizable actors including Diane Lane who plays Felt's wife was good, but not very memorable. Unfortunately I cannot recommend this film because of these reasons.

Movie Review: Geostorm

The only remarkable thing about the new film Geostorm is the timing of its release, right after by far the worst Hurricane season this country has ever seen. Real life events and movies like this have correlated in the past but I thought the timing of this movie being made and released was rather amazing and its too bad this movie was not up to its level of coincidental release.

Unfortunately, the problem with this film was taking a great idea that would result in great special effects and having a number of producers and directors trying to add "Hollywood drama" to the story and the end result is an overly complicated and in the end, rather stupid story that involves politics, assassination and a series of events that really have no connection with end of the story. This movie could have been made so much better by just following the simple idea of less is more. How about a computer glitch or something that created a problem with the space station and the surrounding satellites that were built to fix extreme weather conditions? It would have been interesting enough to watch how the scientists were able to debug and fix the software and hardware problems. But some producer or director, who thought it was too risky to create an intelligent story to go with the special effects slapped together a formula story that follows the typical Hollywood paradigm and actually ruined what could have been a very good action movie. This is highly unfortunate considering the budget for this film and the low ratings on Rotten-tomatoes of only 11% backs up my opinion on where the mistakes were made.

Gerard Butler is the main actor of this movie, playing the lead scientist who created a space station and sattelites that control the weather along with Ed Harris and some other actors we have all seen before, but their appearance was not enough to make this any more than a very average movie. See this film for the special effects and for no other reason.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Movie Review: The Foreigner

The acting career of Jackie Chan goes back 55 years to a film called, Big and Little Wong Tin Bar and since then he has probably completed more films, preformed more stunts and has broken more bones and been hospitalized than probably anyone in movie history. Many of Chan's past martial arts films have elements of comedy in them that for the most part have worked over the years and his collaboration with Chris Tucker in 3 "Rush Hour" movies, with a forth installment recently announced has been very successful.

The movie "The Foreigner" is one of the few purely dramatic roles I have seen Jackie Chan in and his "have nothing to lose" and almost without emotion acting in this movie after losing his last daughter in an explosion by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) I thought was very believable and well done. Terrorism is a very unfortunate fact of life, and due to the Taliban and so many organizations like them, the world has almost forgotten about how many bombs the IRA has set off over the years.

As far as the story of a distraught Chinese man who wants to avenge his daughters death using his skills as Operative, I thought that the plot was a bit overly complicated but Chan's dogged determination and singular desire for the names of the terrorists who murdered his only daughter was well done throughout. The martial arts scenes in this movie were also well done and believable in their real life stumbling awkwardness, unlike many other fight scenes I have seen that look too choreographed. The actor Pierce Brosnan is also in this movie as one of the head people involved with an IRA organization and I thought his acting was also very good in this film.

I thought the Foreigner was a well made movie and I do recommend it.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Movie Review: The Mountain Between Us

Everybody has seen elements of the movie "The Mountain Between Us" many times before and more than likely on a TV movie on the LIFETIME network. This film is mostly about 2 people who survive a plane crash on a mountain with a dog and I admit that the dog is a slightly different twist on a story we have all seen many times before. At the start of this film I was thinking why anyone would want to fly in a very a small plane over a the snow covered mountains of the Colorado area, no matter how desperate they are to get to where they are going and its obvious that this is something most people would never do. There is no mystery her with this story and from the trailers we all know that this plane will crash and from there, the only thing we are curious about is how they will manage to survive and find their way off the freezing cold mountain. Once you crash and are huddled in the remains of a small plane, freezing to death, its hard to really write a story that is that interesting. The audience will wonder how they would react in a situation like this, but for the most part there is not much you can do, other than hope you are found and rescued, try to find food and water and when all hope is lost of being found, try to walk off the mountain. As a screenwriter I would find it very hard to make an interesting story about a situation like this, but the screenwriter did try a twist in such a way that at first seemed unlikely and then towards the end was somewhat effective.

Several things did not make sense in this story, starting with the dog who seems to be full of energy and running around even after not eating for days and trekking through a very cold mountain as one example. This movie stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba and I thought that they were both good in their roles despite the weak overall story. In the end I thought this movie was not a bad one but just OK and I give it a very mild recommendation and I did like the ending.