Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ghost Stories - Spooky Supernatural Tale from the UK


The trailer for Ghost Stories left me with a deeply unsettled feeling and isn't that wonderful. It's the unnamed thing you look for when anticipating a horror movie. Based on a successful West End play, the movie version has been in limited release since October of this year. Here in the U.S. we have to wait until Friday April 13th 2018 for a full release. Ghost Stories stars our favorite Hobbit Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Nicholas Burns and Andy Nyman (one of the writers of the original stage play) among others.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Victoria and Abdul

Judi Dench excels at playing cranky old queens. Perhaps I need to rephrase that. She is really good at playing long in the tooth, female members of the British royal family. She has to my count played Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love and this movie is her second round as Queen Victoria. The first was Mrs. Brown (1997) which oddly enough detailed her relationship with a Scottish servant named John Brown. His forward attitude and lack of reverence for palace rules helped her get over the crippling grief of her husband Albert's death. Victoria and Abdul is such a similar story except that Abdul hails from much farther away than Scotland.

To celebrate Victoria's 50th year on the throne, an odd pairing is sent from India to present her with a special coin at a royal state dinner. Karim Abdul (Ali Fazal) is young, tall, handsome and honored to be chosen. His companion Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) is older, shorter, much more cynical and pretty much hates the British. The Queen Victoria that Abdul meets is presented at first as almost a set piece. She is dressed, made up each morning, given a daily schedule and then moved around like expensive, delicate furniture. At the presentation dinner, Abdul breaks the most repeated of the rules. While bowed and walking away (backwards of all things) he makes eye contact with Victoria and smiles. That's how it all starts. You can tell from that first interaction that she is a woman brought back to life. She inquires about Adbul and in a very short time, he has become part of the royal household staff which is a big deal. He also starts teaching her his particular language from India and also about Islam. You don't have to be an expert to know how this goes over. Jealousy mounts among the other companions and servants. Her son and heir to the throne, "Bertie" (a surprising Eddie Izzard) has what could be described as a freak out except he's British so, you know, it's all clenched jaws and a stiff upper lip.

I found all of this quite a bit of fun. Judi Dench perfectly captures the Victoria this movie is going for. She relishes the disapproval of everyone from her ladies in waiting to the Prime Minister because she's the Queen and they can't do a darn thing about Abdul. The scenery is gorgeous because also if your the Queen, you have a lot of houses to choose from; so we get some beautiful shots of the different palaces and the Scottish countryside. I suppose any criticism is that it's all a bit of well lit fantasy. The colonial hold England had over India was really more a story of struggle, bloodshed and racism. Mohammed's character is a balance of sorts. He is miserable for most of the time in England and gives voice to the desire of the Indian population to have respect and ultimately independence. I guess I think that there would be no enjoyment in all of these romanticized costume dramas if you had to stay on point with the history. If you want that, go check out The Last Viceroy (starring Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson) playing on Netflix right now.

Black Panther Christmas Day TV Spot

Marvel gave the world a little stocking stuffer on Christmas Day with a brand new TV spot for Black Panther. It is the final movie before we are handed the extravaganza known as Avengers: Infinity War. Because I love throwing my money at Marvel, I've been there for the long ride and don't plan on stopping now.

Blank Panther aka T'Challa, once crown prince of Wakanda and now the king, was introduced in Captain America : Civil War as a reluctant ally to one half of the Avengers. This TV spot continues to tease with more about the fictional country of Wakanda which hides many secrets. A on the rise but struggling country in the world's eyes, Wakanda actually has a vast, dangerous and valuable resource - vibranium. Yes, that is a made up comic book word but you'll be familiar with it none the less. All American, thawed out popsicle Captain America's shield is made from that miracle metal.

Premiering February 18th, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Lupita Nyong'o & Danai Gurira (kick-ass body guards Nakai and Okoye), Andy Serkis (the story's big bad - Klaw) and Angela Bassett (Ramonda or if you can't tell - the Queen).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jumanji : Welcome to the Jungle

Adventurers beware: do not begin unless you intend to finish. The exciting consequences of the game will only vanish when a player has reached Jumanji and called out its name. Jumanji (1996)

The deep, ominous drum beats are back inviting the curious to play Jumanji. When I first saw a theatrical trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, it didn't generate a lot of interest. The gimmicks and updates to make the idea more modern seemed like a lot of distraction from the fact that the original story caught your attention for it's simplicity. However, I was invited to see it yesterday and gave it a try.

Jumanji the board game, much like this movie, has pulled off a Skynet sort of move and evolved with the times which is a pretty scary thought if you think about it. Transformed into a video game cartridge instead, it patiently waits for it's next victims in an abandoned room at the local high school. The game is found by a group of four students spending a day in detention. Yes, they are, in a nod that has to be intentional, playing out another gem from the 80"s - The Breakfast Club. There is the awkward, neurotic geek (Alex Wolf), the popular star athlete (Ser'Darius Blain), the unpopular, bookish girl who's looks can be transformed just by letting down a ponytail (Morgan Turner) and the shallow, selfie obsessed popular girl (Madison Iseman). Once the game is started they are all transported into the video game each one represented by our big league stars - Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan. They each have 3 lives and must complete the game levels with the help of another person sucked into the game in 1996 (Nick Jonas)

What follows is some adventure and a lot of PG-13 humor. The humor for the most part falls into to two categories. One is that the geeky guy is Dwayne Johnson and the athlete is Kevin Hart. News flash, if you haven't heard, Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock is a sturdy muscle mountain and Kevin Hart is best describe as The Pebble (He called himself that so it's ok. No stature shaming here). Much is made of this and it gets the chuckles and laughs it deserves although it is the lowest hanging of fruit for comedy. Second and a little more original are the penis jokes. Lots and lots of penis jokes. Bethany, the self absorbed blond, is inside the body of Jack Black. Despite her obvious annoyance at this, she quickly becomes fascinated with having a penis. As the movie plays out some of these jokes are expectedly juvenile and others more laugh out loud. One particularly uncomfortable but enjoyable moment for the audience is what physically might happen when Bethany is around Alex who is played by pretty boy (and decent actor) Nick Jonas.

In the end, I'll take the original Jumanji. It was an almost perfect blend of fun action and a charming but also sad little boy lost story thanks to some great acting by Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt. This Jumanji reaches for those more serious feelings but falls short. Also I would've like to have seen more of the teens. I honestly found them more interesting. I have to give Jack Black props though. His talent for physical comedy works really well channeling a teenage girl. I struggle with how to rate my movies but will go old school here and give this a solid B-. Oh and I've included links here to let you pre-order Jumanji : Welcome to the Jungle or practice some good old nostalgia and buy the original 1995 movie.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I was not sure I would like the first Mamma Mia! but watched it, loved it, own the soundtrack.... so I'll employ one of my favorite phrases "Hey, what do I know"

This movie minus Meryl Streep (what is up with that!) premiers in July 2018. If not familiar with the wonderful music from the first film, check out the soundtrack below.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mortal Engines Teaser Trailer

Many years after the "Sixty Minute War," cities survive a now desolate Earth by moving around on giant wheels attacking and devouring smaller towns to replenish their resources.

A new epic saga by Peter Jackson? After spending approximately 20 hours at the theater for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the hobbit movies, I'm not sure I can clear enough of my schedule. Based on a four book series by Phillip Reeve, this looks like it could be another long one. Who am I kidding? This small taste has left me wanting more.

Jackson, a very busy man, has been wanting to adapt this since 2009 and now we have our first teaser trailer. Starring Hugo Weaving, Stephen Lang, Robert Sheehan and Jihae, Mortal Engines is set to premier in December 2018.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Date for Mad Mary - The Angriest Girl in all of Ireland

While the online world is abuzz with questions from Star Wars : The Last Jedi (such as who are Rey's parents and who pays for all that stuff bratty, tantrum prone Kylo Ren destroys?), I'm here to tell you about an Irish indie that just made it's streaming debut in the U.S. recently.

"Mad" Mary Mcardle (Seana Kerslake) has recently returned to her hometown of Drogheda after a short stint in prison. The details about why she was there and for how long are kept vague but the why is pretty obvious. Mary is an angry young woman who will jump into a fight at even the slightest side eye glance and prison doesn't seem to have made her any different. The set up that drives the plot is that Mary is still invited to be maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend, Charlene (Charliegh Bailey) and she needs s plus one date. What could be the problem? Who doesn't want to date a crude, violently angry ex-con?

You may think this is all leading to some possibly wacky comedy about setting Mad Mary up on a date but fortunately you are wrong. There are some amusing scenes of Mary on a series of dates arranged buy a local dating service but the comedy pulls back just in time before becoming silly. Most of the early part of the movie informs us about Mary's family and her relationship with Charlene. Mary lives with her mother who is the never growing up party girl you might have to keep an eye on around your male friends. Also part of the household is grandma who is shown exclusively in a living room chair with a pint always in hand giving Mary dating advice such as "A fucking sniper wouldn't take you out" (hey, it's Ireland). Charlene is the most unlikely of friends with Mary. She obviously still cares but hold's Mary at a safe distance, like a time bomb that might go off at any minute and ruin her wedding.

Does Mary find her wedding date? Almost. Enter Jess (Tara Lee), Charlene's wedding photographer. Not aware of Mary's reputation, the two strike up a genuine friendship that with a slow burn develops into a loosely defined romance. Is Mary a lesbian? We don't know and honestly neither does she. It's seems just as likely that she is drawn toward the genuine affection since she has alienated everyone else. Don't get any warm ideas that Jess will "save" Mary. As a viewer you will experience this relationship like walking on egg shells because certainly Mary is going to mess this up(?).

All in all this was a very enjoyable movie. Seana Kerslake is amazing. Mary could be a thoroughly unlikable character but Kerslake brings out the needy and actually charming person beneath. You may be turned off by her antics at one moment and then the next say "well played Mary" when she angrily calls out someone for being fake or dishonest. The Irish setting is portrayed in an honest way that doesn't feel like it's trading on stereotypes and making fun of the residents of Drogheda (it's a joy to hear characters with the proper accents say that word by the way).

One slight spoiler alert. Turn on your subtitles. The accents are thick and the Irish slang comes at a fast pace. Without them you may miss some dialogue that is sums up the pure talent the Irish have for profanity laced insults.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Jumanji : Welcome to the Jungle - Jack Black Rocking a Power Ballad

I love The Graham Norton Show. I love Jack Black. Jumanji : Welcome to the Jungle, I am not so sure about but Jack Black is close to convincing me.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Before I Wake Trailer

I saw the trailer for Before I Wake in 2015 and was intrigued because it seemed more supernatural than horror which may not seem like much of a distinction to some but for me it can make all the difference with this type of movie. Sadly I never had a chance to watch it because Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy before the movie got a wide release. I would bet that director, Mike Flanagan, had given up on seeing his movie released but Netflix has now purchased Before I Wake which will premier January 6th 2018

Starring Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane and Jacob Tremblay (knock out performances in Room and The Book of Henry), Before I Wake is the story of a couple who adopt a young boy who seems to be able to bring his dreams (and obviously his nightmares) into the real world. I was particularly happy to read that the director wants this thought of less as a horror movie and more a fable or supernatural drama. That confirms what I originally hoped for.

Bright - Tolkien Brought to the Mean Streets of LA

I won't bury the lead here. I am excited to see the movie Bright because one of the stars is Noomi Rapace. I have been a big fan since first seeing her play the fearless Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.

Bright, directed by David Ayer and written by Max Landis, is the unlikely pairing of the gritty buddy cops genre with Narnia like fantasy.

Also staring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton it's premiering as a Netflix original movie on December 22nd. Netflix original movies have been a roller coaster ride of sorts in the quality and reactions but Netflix must have high hopes for Bright since it has the largest budget to date - $90,000,000.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Maze Runner : The Death Cure

You're young, generally attractive, athletic and living in a future where the world has most definitely gone off the rails. Chances are, you're a character in a teen lit movie adaptation and the future of humanity is on your shoulders. With the slightly cookie cutter plots,  you can be forgiven if not clear on whether you are in the big leagues such as The Hunger Games and Divergent or the minor leagues like The Giver.

Ok, I'm having a bit of fun with a genre that I generally have enjoyed as much as everybody else. The exact plot details of the first two Maze Runner movies is fuzzy but this trailer did catch my eye. I like the Mad Max vibe of the action and the cast is pretty good (Patricia Clarkson as a villain!).

U.S. opening date - January 26th.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

People You May Know (2017) - A Social Media Parable

Social media is the devil or so I've been told. One temptation in this fool's paradise is to craft an online life that is the envy of your peers. Every picture is perfect, all your posts are rays of sunny positivity and every experience is loaded with meaning and sentiment. While not always honest, I guess this is better than the TMI people who leave you not wanting more.

Jed (Nick Thume) the main character in People You May Know has avoided social media and it's traps like the plague instead opining about how authentic experiences seem to be of a bygone era. Ironically though his profession is to edit social media photos for other people. Want to get rid of that random rash? Need your package boosted for those beach vacation photos? He's the guy to call. Also Nick has hit an online pitfall of his own. While scrolling through so many other people's online posts, he occasionally photo shops himself into other people's pictures. His most prized piece of work has him partying in Las Vegas with Usher. Two women enter Jed's life to propel the plot forward. First is Tasha (Halston Sage) who catches on to Jed's handiwork and makes him a deal. With his skills and her savvy, she wants to see if she can turn him into a viral social media sensation. The other is Franky (Kaily Smith Westbrook), an aspiring actress stuck in the suburbs dreaming of her previous big city life. She is a retro sort of character who lies about her life in the real world and not online. Sparks fly between Jed and Franky and here you have a romantic comedy of sorts.

I wanted to like this movie. The trailer was funny in a modern, hipster sort of way and the roasting social media idea still seems fresh (for now). The Jed/Franky romance is easy going with lot's of chemistry and there is a lot of chuckle worthy humor. For example, don't miss the "locked room" experience. Chrissie Fit, an actress I have never heard of, delivers so many laughs, you will forget that it's supposed to be about Jed and Franky.

Did I like this movie though? Nope, sorry. Jed and Franky's deceits catches up with them. There is a weird Tasha really likes Jed sub plot. Suddenly there are arguments and tears but no laughter. I don't think me and my movie watching companions laughed once during the last twenty minutes. I get it that this part of the movie is about the fictions falling away and dealing with the real world but you can't sacrifice the whole tone of the movie to make a point.

There is a tacked on "thing" at the end in which Jed creates a viral truth telling, warm hearted hashtag but that doesn't work for me either. It's like all the characters at the end of an after school special telling you the lessons they learned.... so skip this one or at least watch in a way that doesn't cost you anything.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Please Stand By

If the words "Spock visits Deep Space Nine" mean something to you then Please Stand By may be the nerdy, warm, fuzziness you need. Starring Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette and a Klingon speaking Patton Oswalt, Please Stand By tells the story of a young autistic woman who runs away from her structured life to hand deliver her original Star Trek story to a writing competition. I predict a sweet, funny, road trip movie that will even be enjoyed by the pop culture challenged who mix up Star Trek and Star Wars. Release date January 26th.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Permission - One Last Fling Before the Ring?

According to the Internet, which never lies to me, "one last fling before the ring" is a real thing. Sounds like an awful idea in real life but let's see how it turns out for pretty people in pretty places. Stars Dan Stevens, Rebecca Hall, Jason Sudekis and Gina Gershon with an Feb. 9th 2018 release date.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Love, Simon - Trailer

November 29th 2017 was possibly not a good day to drop a trailer for a new movie. From what I can tell all of the oxygen in the room was taken up by the Marvel's shared universe, cinematic extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. That's fine. It gave me goosebumps.

Looking around today at new trailers, I came across Love, Simon which is adapted from the teen lit book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens. I suppose the coming of age story is as the song says "a tale as old as time" and that's ok too because I seem to never tire of watching the good ones. Love, Simon stars Nick Robinson who I have enjoyed in several movies but most of all 2013's The Kings of Summer. Release date is March 16th 2018.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Crooked House - If You Can Survive Family, You Can Survive Anything

PG-13 1h 55 mm
I think people more often kill those they love, than those they hate. Possibly because only the people you love can really make life unendurable to you.
Agatha Christie from Crooked House, March 1949
I was extremely excited last week when I came across a trailer for Crooked House because I am an Agatha Christie fan and also because the screen play had been written by Julian Fellowes who captivated audience worldwide with the upstairs/downstairs antics of Downton Abbey. Even better I did not have to wait for the December 22nd, release date here in the U.S. because iTunes was doing a pre-release rental. Now, does it live up to my hype?

Aristide Leonides is dead and it appears to have been a murder by poison. He was a fabulously wealthy man,originally penniless and from Greece who fought his way to the top in English society, where rank often matters more than money. The Leonides family all live in one of those impossibly large English estate houses that dizzies the average person with thoughts of what would you do with all of that room. This arrangement has nothing to do with warm, fuzzy feelings. It's all about who has the money, having the control and that person was Aristide. The unhappy brood includes a younger wife,two sons, two daughter-in-laws, a sister-in-law and three grandchildren. It's one of the granddaughters, Sophia (Stefanie Martini) who approaches a detective about looking in to Aristide's death. The detective, Charles (Max Irons), shares a troubled romantic past with Sophia but agrees to take on the case. Charles proceeds to float around the large Leonides house encountering all of the residents one by one and asking the hard questions. There are predictable twists and turns involving competing wills, methods of murder and the inevitable second death (Don't accuse me of spoilers. The second death is a staple of murder mysteries). In the end you will get your culprit revealed and realize that Crooked House does deserve the description as one of Christie's most twisted novels.

No complaints here, really. The cast generally does what is intended. Since the Leonides family is so large, not every actor gets a chance to shine. Glenn Close is fantastic as the sister-in-law with severely coifed hair and an attitude to match. Maybe it's the accent but I got some Cruella De-Vil vibes. Max Irons is a good choice for Charles. He has the pretty face and frankly, the physical attributes to carry off the sharp 1950's suits. He also exudes a confident swagger that makes it believable when he makes the suspects squirm. Gillian Anderson (Magda vamping, actress daughter-in-law) and Christina Hendricks (Brenda, former Las Vegas showgirl turned blushing bride to Aristide) are probably my favorite of the Leonides family. They play similar roles, lounging around, drinking a bit too much and delivering some catty dialogue.... but they both pull back just at the point of going into some Clue like campiness. Finally, my favorite part of this movie is the reveal scene. We find out the killer in a way that sneaks up on you in a scene that at first seems joyful and innocent but then a scary truth will jump into your mind.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Kedi - A Self Proclaimed Love Letter to the Street Cats of Istanbul

Unrated 1h 19mm running time

Claiming no owners these animals live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame...and they bring purpose to those people they chose to adopt.
Confession time. I am a crazy cat person who has, with no complaints, allowed myself to be adopted by my furry, four legged friends. So flashback to earlier this year when I was at the theater and saw a trailer for a documentary about the street cats of Istanbul being made for the subscription service YouTube Red. I looked around wondering how many people were also thinking, "I will watch this movie".

Director Ceyda Torun spent her childhood in Istanbul and has described the street cats as her constant companions, playmates and friends. She felt she owed them a debt and decided to ignore the advice of "never working with children or animals" and make this documentary. It's literally a joyful and magical experience, certainly for cat lovers, but for everyone else too. As an ancient port city, Istanbul has collected cats who made their way off of arriving ships for centuries. Maybe for that reason, the city's residents have developed a unique and special relationship with the all too independent cats. We meet a series of residents who have bonded with individual cats and those who make daily trips to care for larger numbers. If you were to classify this as just watching cute cat antics for about an hour and half, you might have a loosing proposition for some audiences. Fortunately there is much more. From the music, the architecture, the people -everything has a whimsical but grounded feel.

If you're the target audience for Kedi, then I probably do not need to sell you on this much more. If not, give it a try anyway. You just might find it cat-tastic. Sorry, I had to work in at least one of those.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Crooked House

A dark, twisted Agatha Christie novel adapted for the screen by Julian Fellowes who is now synonymous with the grandeur, drama and mystery of the English manor house. Why hasn't this happened before? All of that, a great cast and Gillian Anderson's hair means you can save me a seat at the theater now please. Release date 12/22.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Atomic Blonde - Sound, Fashion and Fury

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) emerges from a bathtub full of ice water and sits on the edge, battered, bruised and bloodied. This is how we meet our main character in Atomic Blonde. It's 1989 in Berlin with riots in the streets and the prospect of the Berlin Wall falling is a silent prayer on the lips of people in the East and the West. Lorraine has some explaining to do because her mission from MI6 (British Intelligence) to obtain a missing list of double agents has not exactly gone as planned. The story begins at the end as Lorraine tells all to a British agent (Toby Jones) and a not very welcome official from the CIA (John Goodman). This is the set up for this crazy, frenetic, stylized take on a not very cloak and dagger story. Ok there are plenty of sharp objects in play but I didn't see an actual dagger anywhere.

From the moment Lorraine's feet touch the ground in Berlin to meet fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) her life is in danger. The welcome wagon is a literal who's who of Eastern European thugs, cronies and assassins who all want to abduct her, kill her or abduct and kill her. The plot and spy mechanizations going on may be a little hard to follow but that's ok because Atomic Blonde thrives on plenty of visual and auditory style - oh and precisely orchestrated fight scenes. There's a few of those too. East Berlin is a gray city punctuated by splashes of color such as the ever present graffiti on the walls and the day glow hair styles of the German punk movement. As controlled as the lives of the citizens may be, there is a thriving underground where the currency could be a bottle of Jack Daniels or information that would steer the direction of the Cold War. Finding herself in this snake's den and having to put some amount of trust in Percival who is a prince of sorts among these snakes, Lorraine has a tough job ahead of her.

I often break movies down into the good, the bad and the ugly. Fortunately there is no ugly but plenty of good and a small serving of bad. Charlize Theron who has a lot of personal stake in seeing this movie made is fantastic as Lorraine. She is cool and stylish knocking back her Stoli on ice and wearing some great 80's fashion from names like Dior, Galliano and Burberry...but as you know from the trailer she is nursing a seriously deadly rage beneath the surface. James McAvoy is just as good. You never know whether to trust his slacker like persona because you suspect he's a character you could be in the sheets with one day and fighting it out in the streets the next. A third leading character is the music. I'm reminded of 1998's Run Lola Run but if you need a more recent reference think of Baby Driver. So many scenes are highlighted by some great 80's synth pop such as Bowie, New Order, Queen, 'Til Tuesday and 99 Luftballons (a literal Cold War anthem). The bad I mentioned is very slight. With all of the names thrown around and the shifting loyalties, it's easy to loose track of the plot but if you can manage the the short IMBD synopsis, you'll be fine.

I enjoyed this enough that I am crossing my fingers for a sequel. Charlize Theron and director David Leitch (known for John Wick) have spoken so affectionately of Atomic Blonde that I think there is a good chance of that. One last note. If graphic novels are your thing, Atomic Blonde is based on a beautifully done graphic novel called The Coldest City.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Band Aid - Stop Your Messing Around and Sing a Little Song

Sometimes the name of my game is procrastination which means I add movies to my iTunes wish list and then never get around to watching them. This week, I noticed that Band Aid was the 99 cent rental of the week and it was also on my wish list. Needing no further incentive I jumped right in to see what I thought of his indie with a interesting premise.

Band Aid drops us into the a timeless domestic fight about who should be doing the dishes. Anne (Zoe Lister-Jones who also directed) and Ben (Adam Pally) argue about everything it seems. If this opening argument is any indication, they are fast moving, witty and self aware arguments. I would not have been surprised if the two had stopped mid way and broke into laughter, promising to get together again soon for an exercise in comedic improv. However that's not the case. Their's is a marriage in crisis. Therapy, smoking too much pot and other distractions are not working. The movie's main plot is set up when Anne decides that since they both love music, they should turn their worst arguments into songs and see if that might be an actual way to talk about what they're obviously not talking about. You see, there are most definitely heavier things going on than who does the dishes.

What follows is a sometimes off balance mix of comedy and drama. On the comedy side, we meet the slightly odd neighbor, Dave (Fred Armisen) who helps them out as the drummer in this little therapy session turned into a band. I truly love Fred Arisen's dry style and it worked here really well. Although I have to remind myself every time that I am not watching a sketch from Portlandia. Anne works as an uber driver while nursing a side career as a writer; so there is some successful observational humor with her passengers. For example we have in the credits "uber obnoxious"", "uber annoying" and "uber quiet". My favorite is Uber Obnoxious played by Colin Hanks. The music provides a bulk of the humor. Adam Pally and Zoe Lister-Jones play off of each other really well and make these scenes look as if they must have been quite a bit of fun to film. The songs themselves, while not a soundtrack I would buy, are relatable to anyone who has ever been in a relationship.

We do find out about the personal tragedy that took Anne and Ben's marriage off the rails. Essentially she is grieving and he is deflecting or as he says "managing his emotions in an appropriate way" (don't ever say those words to your significant other who is in tears, by the way). The layers are peeled away and the lighter tone is traded for short spurts of raw, emotional scenes followed by more music numbers. However this time it less about fighting and more about communicating.

Final thoughts? I wan't too familiar with either Adam Pally or Zoe Lister-Jones but will keep the names in my mind because they are fantastic and would be happy to watch either in future projects. If you're like me and ok with fast moving, dry humor served up with a little angst, then give Band Aid a try.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Patti Cake$ - A Little Indie That Could

Meet Patti Cake$ aka Killa P but ultimately aka Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald). She's an unlikely rap star in the making, living her young life in a forlorn New Jersey town that if you want to stereotype seems to be the place where the bodies are buried. Patti is first introduced during an elaborate dream sequence where her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) is descending from the heavens to bestow his blessing on her. Reality interrupts and you see Patti's real life which ticks off some pretty bad boxes on the dismal life checklist - early morning collection calls, her mom in bed with the latest looser and finally a sick nana in the living room watching reality TV. How Patti reacts to this tells you a lot about what is to come - she looks at herself in the mirror and says "'re gorgeous, ya boss bitch".

There is an urge to compare this story to 8 Mile, Hustle & Flow or maybe even something like Billy Elliot (Not a stretch. Watch and then think about it) but I decided to see Patti Cake$ as a coming of age super-hero story. Patti may have a rough home life and spend a lot of her other time working in New Jersey's most depressing Kareoke bar but when Killa P comes out she is a transformed and her super power is a voice. A voice that when unleashed via rap empowers her to plow through obstacles whether it be the lame fat jokes hurled at her or the hardened but ultimately fragile machismo of "the boys" threatened by her presence in their world. Every hero needs a sidekick and Patti gets three. First is her best friend and fellow rapper Jheri (Siddhartha Dhananjay) aka the do-rag Da Vinci. He is delightful and charming to watch as a pharmacist by day and a lyrical lover of the ladies at night. Second Patti and Jheri meet Bastard (Mamoudou Athie) a death metal/rap combo musician who brings a energetic rock vibe to Patti's rhymes. Third even her nana gets involved to lend some fish out of water humor.

The hits that knock Patti down on her quest for recognition come hard and fast in the mid part of the movie. Some are shockingly real to the point of violence and other more psychological such as being labeled a white "culture vulture". Ultimately though Patti and her gang get a chance to prove themselves in a very public venue. Endings are difficult. Make them vague and people are unhappy, make them too neat and, guess what, people are unhappy. I think the ending here leans a bit too far toward the latter but it's a pardonable sin when everything else is done so well. Director Geremy Jasper, who I am unfamiliar with, has a lot of credits for music videos; so he does a great job making all the musical and fantasy sequences engaging and energetic. My highest praise for the acting goes to Macdonald and Dhananjay because they shine especially the scenes where they playfully bouncing their rhymes off each other. So give this indie a chance and you will find some laughter and joy.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thor : Ragnarok Review - The Gods Must Be Laughing

Based on all the online buzz and the reactions in the theater I was in Friday night, audiences are more than ready for an all out super hero comedy that does not star Chris Pratt or Ryan Reynolds. Thor : Ragnorak picks up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returning home to Asgard to deal with his ever present dysfunctional family issues. In a fast moving set up, he exposes Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as a fraud and with the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds out the fate of his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Then Boom! him and Loki meet Hela (Cate Blanchett), a long forgotten sister, who is brimming over with daddy issues and has the power to prove it.

After a knock down, drag out family reunion Thor ends up far, far away as a prisoner on a planet completely under the control of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). He finds not only Loki weaseling his way into the Grandmaster's good graces but also his Avenger's teammate Hulk with no Bruce Banner to be found. He's Hulk 24/7. For the amusement of the Grandmaster and his flock of admirers (ok that would be his word - they are probably more like prisoners) Thor is forced to fight Hulk in space age gladiator like combat. This section of the movie is where director Taiki Waititi's touches really jump off the screen. The scenery is an overload of colors and exotic characters and the humor, both physical and verbal, flows freely. We do have some unresolved plot lines so Thor, Loki and Hulk eventually get back to Asgard and with the help of a rouge Valkyrie take on Hela. Thor does get his mojo back and the resulting battle scenes are electrifying (pun intended).

Do I have problems with this movie. Yes, that is who I am. I feel like the humor goes a step too far at times and I may have been laughing on the outside but inside I was cringing. There are short scenes that if lifted out of the film could fit right in as one of those spoofs they play before the MTV Movie Awards. Second, let's talk about Cate Blanchett. She is fantastic as the smack talking but clearly damaged Hela. I think she is underused though. I can see why since the bulk of the movie's fun is happening when Thor is away from Asgard. During that time we get some ok scenes of Hela slinking around, throwing out decent one liners and menacing the Renaissance Fair clad residents of Asgard.... but I felt at any minute she might break the fourth wall and say "Hey, remember me. I'm still here"

To sum it all up, Thor is left a much different character than he has been before with a very uncertain future. I don't think there is going to be a fourth Thor movie; so I guess we will see how things go for him in the next Marvel shared universe flick - Avengers: Infinity War.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Weekend Movie Roundup- Spider-Man: Homecoming

Every weekend me and some friends gather to consume adult beverages and watch movies. We tend to end up watching the good, bad and ugly of what's currently available. This weekend it was Spider-Man: Homecoming. Being the comic book movie geek, I had already seen this on the big screen but was totally up for a second viewing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a thoroughly enjoyable movie free from the burdens of a hero origin story. Since this version of Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, we can skip the radioactive spider bite and the 'Oh wow I have super powers" phase . All of that can make for a crowded and rushed movie. I might say that I missed the Uncle Ben storyline that leads to the iconic "With great power comes great responsibility" theme.

The story picks up after the events of Captain America with Peter Parker back to his regular high school life and finding it an utter bore in contrast to duking it out with and against members of the Avengers. He impatiently waits for a call from Tony Stark that obviously is not coming any time soon. Through a series of nightly adventures that are not really that adventurous, he stumbles upon a group robbing an ATM and they are using what is obviously not technology of this Earth. For the uninitiated or those who just don't pay attention, this is a reference back to alien tech left behind in the first Avenger's movie. The villain of the piece is a working class anti-hero wannabe played excellently by Michael Keaton. You might be tempted to feel sorry for him in a populist sort of way until you realize he's really menacing and dangerous.

The rest of the story plays out with a good balance of action, humor and character building. Tom Holland is youthful and exuberant as he web slings through New York and faces serious threats he's not prepared for. Jacob Batalon deserves a new Oscar category for best sidekick as Peter's best friend who helps him keep his secret... So enjoy the past attempts at brining Spider-Man to the big screen for what they are but I think we"re now getting the story the character deserves.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Foreigner

"A particular set of skills" - A whole new genre of movie seems to have been created when Liam Neason uttered those words on screen in 2008. Does that seemingly harmless person you pass on the street secretly possess the ability to turn into a precise killing machine when confronting the bad guys that also walk among us? Now it is Jackie Chan's turn to join this list of movies that range from the really well done to the "how did this get made?".
Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan) works hard, owns a restaurant in London, and does his best to provide for his daughter Fan. An everyday errand to pick up a dress sees her killed alongside a dozen others when a terrorist bomb explodes nearby, and a devastated Quan turns quietly towards a path of vengeance. A previously unknown faction of the IRA claims responsibility which draws the attention of Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who was an IRA member in his youth before serving time, reforming, and bringing the fight into the political arena instead. Hennessy knows more than he’s letting on but also doesn’t know it all, and while he’s handling pressure from the British government he faces an even bigger challenge from a tired old man grieving the loss of his daughter.
Based on Stephen Leather‘s novel, The Chinaman, The Foreigner packs a hefty amount intrigue, action, and double-crosses into it's nearly two-hour running time. It’s far from a usual Chan film both because he’s only in roughly half of it and because IRA-related plot turns are given equal attention, but the combination works well to deliver intimate thrills and satisfying beats.
Writer David Marconi (Enemy of the State) keeps a smart balance between the two halves ensuring neither thread grows stale, and while both are engaging separately things heat up when they collide. It’s maybe far too easy to identify which member of Hennessy’s crew is involved, but that’s far from the point as more layers are stripped away to reveal blame and motivation galore. Brosnan captures his anger as well as his growing frustration at the loss of control to both his own people and Quan’s determination.
Chan may still be thought of mostly as a “funny” guy, but he’s played these serious roles before, and he’s played them well. Chan’s strength will always be as a physical entertainer, but he more than acquits himself here as a man who’s lost everything. There’s a tangible pain in his all but defeated face as he lets go of the past and sets his sights solely on revenge.
The supporting cast is solid with memorable turns from the likes of Rory Fleck Byrne, Charlie Murphy (no, not that one), and others. The Foreigner doesn’t break the mold, but it never tries to — and doesn’t need to.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Book of Henry

Jaeden Lieberher has built an impressive resume for his 14 years. When I think of him, the movies St. Vincent, Confirmation and Midnight Special come to mind and of course he is currently starring as the sad, earnest Bill in Stephen King's IT. In St. Vincent he really excelled at playing as a wiser than his years child who has to act as a guide for the flawed adult characters. The same idea plays out here to the nth degree. The title character of Henry is a child genius with a powerful intellect that allows him to see all of the possible scenarios that life may bring. To cope with the benefits and downside of such insights, Henry plots out plans for every outcome in the other half of the title - his book.

Henry's domestic situation, being raised with his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) by single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) is portrayed as quite idyllic and almost whimsical. You may notice though that Susan is just one of the kids too. She has handed over most of the "adulting" to Henry and honestly who wouldn't. She plays video games while Henry plans out the family's financial future and hangs with a work buddy (Sara Silverman) while Henry entertains his little brother in ways that only a true child genius could come up with. Now movies need conflict and here we are served up some dark fare. In his precise observation of the world Henry has discovered that his next door neighbor (also a single parent) is abusing his daughter Christina (Maddie Ziegler). He has tried to alert adults who are either clueless or intimidated by Christina's father who is (wait for it) the chief of police. In his book, Henry has detailed all the actions he could take and how they may or may not work and has come to a grim conclusion. 

At this point, I reach a difficult part of this review. I don't want to spoil anything so forgive the vagueness. The Book of Henry takes two unexpected turns. The first will cause confusion and make you distrust people who make movies trailers. The second can only be described as tectonic in that it shakes up everything.  How you react to these twists will probably determine your final thoughts on the movie. Will Susan continue to put so much trust in Henry's mind or will she step back and become the parent? The end is a bit too much of a pretty package for me but overall I was glad I stuck with it to see what would happen.