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.