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Kyle Kersten was a true friend of TCM. One of the first and most active participants of the Message Boards, “Kyle in Hollywood” (aka, hlywdkjk) demonstrated a depth of knowledge and largesse of spirit that made him one of the most popular and respected voices in these forums. This thread is a living memorial to his life and love of movies, which remain with us still.

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From the Last 25 Years


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#1 LawrenceA

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Posted 14 October 2017 - 03:39 PM

Baby Driver (2017) - Fast-paced, frenetically-directed tongue-in-cheek action/crime flick from director Edgar Wright and Sony Pictures (under their revived TriStar banner). Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, an extremely talented getaway driver in the forced employ of heist planner Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is paying off a debt to Doc by driving, and as his final assignment is coming soon, Baby is looking forward to moving on with his life. He falls for diner waitress Debora (Lily James), and sees a future with her, but getting away from Doc's clutches may not be that easy. Also featuring Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Flea, CJ Jones, Lanny Joon, Brogan Hall, and Paul Williams as the Butcher.

 

When I first heard the title of this, I had horrid visions of a talking baby voiced by Adam Sandler or Kevin Hart cracking off-color jokes as he races around in sports cars. Thankfully this is nothing like that, and was in fact named after a Simon & Garfunkel song. Director Wright lays on the style thick, at times perhaps too much so, with a constantly moving camera and edits synced with the beats of the ever-present soundtrack tunes. The music, a variety of rock, pop, funk and hip-hop, is so present, in fact, and so integral to the film, that one wouldn't be amiss in labeling this a musical. The cast are all good, with Foxx and Hamm the stand-outs as particularly dangerous criminals. The film's Atlanta setting is used well, and both Elgort and James do admirable accents. If there's a distinct drawback to the film it would be in the at-times uneasy mix of humor and graphic violence. This is one of the best films from the current year that I've yet seen, although I'm not sure how much appeal this will have with more conservative audiences. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: Sony Blu Ray.

 

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#2 LawrenceA

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 10:08 AM

Truth or Dare (2017) - Another SyFy Channel offering, from director Nick Simon. 8 dumb college friends decide to rent a house with a disturbing past, and throw a Halloween party there. When they start to play a game of Truth or Dare, though, they awaken an evil force that makes their game into a blood-soaked ordeal. Featuring Cassandra Scerbo, Brytni Sarpy, Mason Dye, Harvey Guillen, Alexxis Lemire, Luke Baines, Ricardo Hoyos, Christina Masterson, and Heather Langenkamp.

 

The cast of young unknowns are blandly attractive when they aren't actively irritating. The game challenges start to resemble the kind of gory shenanigans found in a Saw movie. Stories with malevolent entities that operate under a set of rules can be interesting, as when the protagonists think of novel ways to overcome the wording of the rules. Unfortunately, here the bad forces seem to only pay lip service to their own rules, and therefore suspense is lost as the audience realizes that the villain can just do whatever it wishes. Horror icon Langenkamp has a short cameo as a survivor of a similar Truth or Dare encounter with evil.   3/10

 

Source: SyFy Channel.

 

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#3 LawrenceA

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 08:40 PM

House of the Witch (2017) - Terrible SyFy Channel movie about a group of dim-bulb teens who decide to spend Halloween in a nearby abandoned mansion that is rumored to be haunted. As they start getting dispatched one by one, they also learn that the ghost is a vengeful witch that was executed long ago. Featuring Emily Bader, Nolan Bateman, Arden Belle, Darren Mann, Coy Stewart, Michelle Randolph, and Grace Balbo.

 

Bad dialogue, stupid characters, mixed-up production design, and an undercooked premise all combine to make this a chore to finish. The nondescript performers fail to make an impression, but at least they looked like teenagers for a change. A few moments of extreme violence stand out, but only a cinema masochist should bother with this one.  2/10

 

Source: SyFy Channel.

 

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#4 LawrenceA

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 08:00 PM

The Wizard of Lies (2017) - HBO film detailing the financial crimes of Bernie Madoff and the impact it had on his family. Robert De Niro stars as Madoff, a seemingly legitimate financial planner and investment banker who was respected in the financial community for decades before it was revealed that he had actually been managing the largest Ponzi scheme in recorded history, bilking investors out of over $50 billion. His wife Ruth (Michelle Pfeiffer), as well as his two sons Andrew (Nathan Darrow) and Mark (Alessandro Nivola), were completely unaware and completely unprepared for this revelation, and their lives collapse as much as those of Madoff's victims. Also featuring Hank Azaria, Michael Kostroff, Kathrine Narducci, Steve Coulter, Kristen Connolly, Lily Rabe, and Diana Henriques as herself.

 

Based on the book by reporter Henriques, this is a dark, somewhat ambiguous portrait of modern evil. While the film certainly sides with the idea that Madoff's family members were duped as much as his investors, the film doesn't answer the biggest questions about Madoff himself: why, exactly, did he do it? The story seems to point to a motive beyond simple greed, and that he saw himself as somewhat of a common man teaching the rich a lesson. But that doesn't account for the various retirement funds and life savings belonging to blue collar workers that were decimated. De Niro is good, as he often is when called on to underplay, and Pfeiffer is decent, although I thought she blew it on her big emotional scene when her accent seemed to disappear. The direction from Barry Levinson is moody, if a bit too sedate at times, and the 134 minutes could have been trimmed by 15 or 20. All in all, though, this is worth a watch.   7/10

 

Source: HBO Blu Ray.

 

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#5 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 September 2017 - 07:05 PM

Speaking of which, since I made my tiny 4-film list for 2017, I caught another of this year's films on DVD via the DVD rental store in town.

 

it was The Big Sick and it was a saucy yet charming comedy-drama involving a Pakistani-American immigrant who worked as both a cab driver and a stand-up comic who fell for a young American woman. They became involved for a while but broke up. Shortly thereafter, he finds out that she has medical issues and needs to go into a temporary medically-induced coma. He stays by her side and gets to know her parents. 

 

Since this is based on a real-life couple who are still together, the ultimate happy ending comes as no surprise, but what is nice here is the snap everything has, the dialogue that hits just the right notes, the ideal cast, all well-suited for their roles (with a particular shout-out to Holly hunter with her best role in years as the heroine's sassy mother). It's well worth a look.

 

I've heard a lot of good things about that one, and I'm looking forward to it. I've enjoyed Kumail Nanjiani for several years on various TV shows, and I was happy to see his success with this film.



#6 CinemaInternational

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Posted 26 September 2017 - 06:29 PM

Speaking of which, since I made my tiny 4-film list for 2017, I caught another of this year's films on DVD via the DVD rental store in town.

 

it was The Big Sick and it was a saucy yet charming comedy-drama involving a Pakistani-American immigrant who worked as both a cab driver and a stand-up comic who fell for a young American woman. They became involved for a while but broke up. Shortly thereafter, he finds out that she has medical issues and needs to go into a temporary medically-induced coma. He stays by her side and gets to know her parents. 

 

Since this is based on a real-life couple who are still together, the ultimate happy ending comes as no surprise, but what is nice here is the snap everything has, the dialogue that hits just the right notes, the ideal cast, all well-suited for their roles (with a particular shout-out to Holly hunter with her best role in years as the heroine's sassy mother). It's well worth a look.


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#7 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 September 2017 - 10:12 PM

Wonder Woman (2017) - Critically-acclaimed superhero adventure based on the venerable DC Comics character, from Warner Brothers and director Patty Jenkins. The hidden island of Themyscira has been the home of the Amazons for centuries. A race of demi-god women versed in the arts of war, they stand vigilant awaiting the time when the last remaining Greek god, Ares the god of war, makes his presence known, so that the Amazons can use a superweapon known as the "God-Killer" to defeat him once and for all. Diana (Gal Gadot) is the headstrong daughter of the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and when an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near their hidden stronghold, Diana takes the news of the First World War raging outside of their domain to be a sign that Ares has returned to the world of men. Outfitting herself with mystical weapons, including the sword said to be the God-Killer, Diana travels to Europe with Steve in hopes of ridding the realm of Ares and putting an end to war for all time. Also starring Danny Huston, Robin Wright, Elena Enaya, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lisa Loven Kongsli, and James Cosmo.

 

This was a big hit with audiences earlier this year, and the critical response was such that there's been talk of an Oscar push. Perhaps I suffered from elevated expectations, but I finished the film disappointed. On the plus side, I enjoyed the opening section in Themyscira, with the fantasy-Greek architecture and costumes. I liked Chris Pine, although much of his attitude seemed anachronistic for a WW1 setting. I was impressed with Robin Wright as Antiope,the most battle-hardened Amazon; it's a long way from Princess Buttercup. And I liked the visual aesthetic for the Dr. Poison villain played by Enaya. So many of these newer superhero films suffer from uninspired super-villains. Speaking of which, a casting announcement I read while the movie was being made ruined a late-in-the-story twist. I also really liked the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.

 

On the minus side, the film utilizes the same action cinematography as that used by producer Zach Snyder in his own directed films: a character leaps into action, only for the movement to slow to almost a freeze-frame, before speeding back up for the final impact. I find it corny, cheesy and distracting. I was also only partially sold on Gadot as Wonder Woman. Her previous appearance in Batman v Superman required very little dialogue and emoting, whereas here she's called on to do a lot of both, and she's only about 75% successful. The film's finale also descends into CGI overkill, with cartoonish fights scenes lasting too long and imparting little emotional impact. This is not a truly bad movie, and if I had seen it opening day, I may have been a little more forgiving. But for now my score is barely a B-, which may sink lower upon further reflection.   7/10

 

Source: Warner Brothers Blu Ray.

 

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#8 LawrenceA

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 09:48 PM

The Mummy (2017) - Terrible supernatural action misfire from director Alex Kurtzman and Universal, meant to be the opening salvo in their proposed "Dark Universe" series of horror-adventure films. Tom Cruise stars as military contractor (I think? It was kind of vague) Nick Morton, who, along with reluctant comic relief sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson), is in Iraq looking for an archaeological site that he thinks will contain treasure. Instead it contains the long buried sarcophagus of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who made a pact with the evil god Set in a bid for power, only to end up buried alive in another country. Now it's up to Nick and his sometime girlfriend, archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), to stop the revived Ahmanet from unleashing Set's demonic fury upon the modern world. Also featuring Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, and Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll.

 

Where to start? The script, credited to 6 writers, including director Kurtzman, David Koepp, and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, is atrocious, with unfunny one-liners and a disregard for history, cultures or common sense. The characters as portrayed are routinely unmemorable and/or unlikable. The secret "anti-evil" society headed up by Crowe's Jekyll, obviously meant to be a recurring entity in the proposed forthcoming movies, is nebulous and silly in a bad supernatural TV series manner. The action scenes are neither exciting nor innovative, while the horror aspects are few and far between, and poorly handled at any rate. Much of the visuals seem to have been designed to "look cool in the trailer" rather than make any narrative sense. They seem to have wanted a zombie movie, but the CGI hordes hold little substance or menace. This was just a complete failure on almost every level, and will be a prime contender for the worst of the year.    3/10

 

Source: Universal Blu Ray.

 

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#9 papyrusbeetle

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 11:36 AM

Thanks very much for the mention/summary of VOICE FROM THE STONE!

 

There are so many new films, and 90% of them will be quickly forgotten.

But the good ones are very very good.

It's almost impossible to find them, though.

 

I'll give VOICE FROM THE STONE a try!


"I don't want to die."

"Neither do I, baby, but if I have to, I'm going to die last." -OUT OF THE PAST

 


#10 LawrenceA

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Posted 23 August 2017 - 05:47 PM

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) - Sequel to the hit 2014 science fiction action-comedy from Marvel Studios. The Guardians, including Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (v: Vin Diesel), are still together and getting mixed up in intergalactic mayhem. In this outing they have trouble on many fronts: a race of genetically engineered aliens led by the haughty Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) are after them for stealing some powerful contraband; Gamora's homicidal sister Nebula (Karen Gillen) is still after them; the spacefaring pirates known at the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), are after the Guardians to claim a bounty on their heads; and Peter's mysterious father, Ego (Kurt Russell) reveals himself with promises of power that seem too good to be true. Also featuring Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Chris Sullivan, Tommy Flanagan, Laura Haddock, Ben Browder, and Sylvester Stallone.

 

This maintains the previous film's brightly colored visual aesthetic, with many scenes perilously close to drowning in CGI overkill. Perhaps as an attempt to overcome this, the story is very emotional, and at times seems more like a group therapy session than a sci-fi superhero movie. The cast is good, and I was impressed with how much Gillen brings to her role buried under so much makeup. Comic book readers will pick up on many inside jokes and references, and there's a series of surprise cameos. There's still enough fun stuff here to entertain most audiences, and it never takes itself too seriously, although a more streamlined script would be appreciated in the future.   7/10

 

Source: Disney Blu Ray.

 

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#11 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 02:18 PM

Alien: Covenant (2017) - Director Ridley Scott helms this sci-fi misfire, a direct sequel to 2012's Prometheus and the 8th overall Alien movie. In the year 2104, the colony spaceship Covenant is headed for a new planet. It has dozens of colonists in deep sleep hibernation, as well as a ship's crew of around 10. The ship is largely self-maintained, but is assisted by the android Walter (Michael Fassbender), who is forced to awaken the crew after a mishap. They soon receive a distress call and decide to check it out, finding an alien world with a dead civilization, as well as the android David (also Fassbender) who went missing with the ship Prometheus ten years earlier. But as a mysterious illness breaks out among the crew, and David begins acting very peculiar, the crew of the Covenant find themselves in a fight for their lives. Also starring Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Amy Seimetz, Carmen Ejogo, Demian Bichir, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, and cameos from Guy Pearce, James Franco, and Noomi Rapace.

 

All three films in this series that Scott has helmed have featured androids as threats as much if not moreso than aliens. This movie is really all about Fassbender, who I'm sure enjoyed the dual role, imbuing the two androids with enough differences to make them distinct. But I, and seemingly most of the rest of the potential audience, was hoping for more alien and less android. While the creature from the original films is still scary and visually interesting (when it's not too glossy via CGI), I had hoped for much more about the Engineers, the mysterious alien race partially explored in Prometheus and whose home planet we visit here. But they, along with their culture and civilization, are reduced to nothing in a few short moments.

 

Waterston and McBride make for more believable blue-collar type workers (which is keeping in tone with the original 1979 film), but their characters are largely unexplored, while Crudup, as the new captain raised in rank after a tragedy, gets stuck with a character meant to be unlikable due to his religious beliefs. That's a mistake in my opinion, although it would have been fine if they had found a way to tie his beliefs in with the notions of godhood discussed by the androids. I also had problems with other aspects of the script, namely the routinely stupid decisions these purported professionals make, the total lack of bio-hazard awareness or protections while exploring an alien world for the first time, and a stupid insistence on having multiple characters smoke. How likely would smokers be asked to join a space program now, let alone in a hundred years? This is a very underwhelming viewing experience.   6/10

 

Source: Blu-Ray

 

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#12 LawrenceA

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Posted 01 August 2017 - 09:16 PM

Shin Godzilla (2016) - Japanese reboot of the venerable giant monster series. A mysterious creature emerges from Tokyo Bay and, after moving onshore, lays waste to the city. Scientists, military personnel, and government agencies must cooperate to find a way to stop the creature, which they name Godzilla after a local legend, and which has the ability to quickly evolve itself, becoming larger and stronger. Featuring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Jun Kunimura, and Shin'ya Tsukamoto.

 

After the successful American Godzilla remake in 2014, the producers at Toho, Godzilla's original home, decided to reboot the series again themselves. The result is a seriously mixed bag. The movie tries to be a critique of governmental and bureaucratic inefficiency, particularly in the wake of the real-life Fukushima Nuclear disaster.  In movie terms, this translates into endless scenes of  dozens of characters talking in various drab conference rooms, with rapid-fire subtitles identifying everyone by name and job description. By the end of the film, you realize that a good 90 minutes or more of the 120 minute running time was taken up with bland discussions. Another reason for this over-reliance on dialogue over action may be the decision to render Godzilla via CGI, an expensive prospect even for the top US movie studios, and even more so for the cash-strapped Japanese film industry. When the creature is onscreen, it generally looks good, but it lacks any personality. All-in-all, I'd have to call this one a disappointment. By the way, "Shin" in the title is a Japanese word that can mean "true" or "god".   6/10

 

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#13 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 July 2017 - 09:13 PM

Logan - Brutal, spare, emotional superhero movie that transcends the genre. Set in a future time when most of mutantkind is dead, and no new mutants have been born in 25 years, the story finds Logan (Hugh Jackman), the former X-Man named Wolverine, beaten and broken, a sick drunk driving a limo for money. He lives out in the isolated desert with mutant-finder Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is wracked with dementia and kept heavily medicated, lest his psychic powers run amok and kill everyone around them. Logan's wretched existence is upended when he is forced to take charge of a mysterious little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who is being hunted by a band of cybernetic mercenaries led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). As Logan, Laura and Xavier take to the road on a cross country journey to find sanctuary, our hero has one last shot at redemption. Also featuring Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, and Elizabeth Rodriguez.

 

Jackman has been playing the Wolverine character for the past 17 years, across 9 movies, and he could have not asked for a better send-off for his take on the role. This is quite unlike most superhero movies. It's violent, profanity-laden and often quite bleak. It's also very character driven, with perhaps the best character moments in any film of the genre. It also packs an emotional wallop, more than once during its 137 minute running time, and these moments are earned. Jackman, Stewart and Keen are all terrific, with Jackman and Stewart both giving perhaps their best big-screen performances to date. I'm not usually a fan of kids in movies, but Keen is wonderful, and she and the script never stoop to cute-kid theatrics. The direction by James Mangold is on-point, as is the score from Marco Beltrami. I wouldn't quite call this the best superhero movie, but it's pretty damn close. Recommended.   8/10

 

This was my final 2017 movie.

 

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#14 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 July 2017 - 06:06 PM

Kong: Skull Island - Bombastic giant monster movie from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Set in 1973, the story follows the efforts of the Monarch group, in the person of Bill Randa (John Goodman), to explore a mysterious location in the South Pacific known as Skull Island, a place where ships and aircraft have gone missing for decades. Randa and his scientific team are escorted by a helicopter squadron commanded by Lt. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a decorated combat vet still seething over the recent announcement of the withdrawal from Vietnam. Randa hires British scout and survivalist James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to help get everyone through the unknown jungle terrain safely. They are also accompanied by noted war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Upon arrival at the island, though, they are met by Kong, a 100-foot-tall ape that immediately decimates the helicopter squadron, spreading the survivors across the island. It becomes a race against time to get to the proper location, as the window for rescue is very short, and the island is inhabited by much more than Kong... Also starring John C. Reilly as a WW2 pilot who has been stranded on the island since '44, Shea Whigham, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Jing Tian, Thomas Mann, Richard Jenkins, and Toby Kebbell.

 

There seems to be two scripts merged together here: one is a fun multi-character adventure movie set in an exotic location with a variety of bizarre creatures; the other is a grim allegorical look at American militarism in the Third World and its unintended consequences. Although I think either, if handled well, could be a compelling film, in this one I much preferred the former to the latter. Maybe it was Jackson's Captain Ahab-like characterization that grew old for me, but I liked the largely non-military characters and their camaraderie on one side of the island to the war-movie cliche soldiers on the other side. And director Vogt-Roberts seems to have watched plenty of Vietnam movies in preparation, as savvy viewers will notice bits lifted from PlatoonFull Metal Jacket, and most notably, Apocalypse Now. The creature work is good, with interesting designs and flawless CGI. And while the cast does a decent job, John C. Reilly easily steals every scene he's in. This was intended as the second installment in Warner Brothers "MonsterVerse" series, after the 2014 Godzilla reboot, and there's a post-credits "stinger" scene that hints at monsters to come.   7/10

 

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#15 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 July 2017 - 02:25 PM

T2 Trainspotting - Director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge, and the entire cast reunite after 20 years for this follow-up to the cult classic look at Scottish junkies and lowlifes. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh after 20 years of living abroad, having cheated his former friends out of thousands of pounds in cash. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is at the end of his rope, having continued to struggle with heroin addiction over the years. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) now runs a fleapit pub when he's not attempting blackmail schemes with his much younger girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). And Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is serving prison time with no hope of parole anytime soon, so he sets about securing his own release. When the four meet up again, everyone's life during the interim will be examined, with old animosities and old friendships being revisited. Also featuring Shirley Henderson, James Cosmo, and Kelly MacDonald.

 

Director Boyle hasn't lost his sense of cinematic style, and this nearly manages to capture the manic energy of the original. But if the film is a bit slower, that fits with the themes of aging and reflection. The film is an exercise in nostalgia, of sorts, and it embraces this fact by not only featuring copious clips from the original film, but also by having the characters address how much time they spend on the past, and how much the past hangs over them. All four leads are terrific, and have aged well. The script is often hilarious, and the editing and soundtrack are spot-on. This is one of the few sequels to nearly match the original, and is truly a worthy companion piece. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#16 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 July 2017 - 10:59 PM

Get Out - Suspense thriller with dashes of social commentary from writer-director Jordan Peele. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a black NYC photographer. His white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) has invited him upstate the the suburbs to meet her parents. Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) seem like nice people, and they welcome Chris with open arms, but as the weekend continues, Chris begins to feel that something isn't quite right, especially concerning the black house servants. Also featuring Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, and Stephen Root.

 

This made quite a splash when it was released earlier this year, becoming a surprise smash hit and winning over the critics as well. It works as a thriller for the most part, although director Peele, best known for his TV comedy work, lets the comic-relief character played by Howery go on a bit too long. The satire of race relations in America is present, but I honestly expected it to be a bit sharper, and felt the script could have had more bite in that regard. But then, maybe it wouldn't have had as broad of an appeal as it did.   7/10

 

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#17 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 July 2017 - 07:26 PM

The LEGO Batman Movie - Animated comedy spin-off from the hit 2014 LEGO movie. The story concerns Batman (Voice of Will Arnett) dealing with disruptions in his life, including newly adopted son Dick Grayson aka Robin (v: Michael Cera), new Gotham Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (v: Rosario Dawson), and Bruce Wayne's meddlesome butler Alfred (v: Ralph Fiennes). Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker (v: Zach Galifianakis) also conspires to break the universe's greatest villains out of the Phantom Zone in an attempt to take over Gotham once and for all. Also featuring the voices of Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O'Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Seth Green, Eddie Izzard, Jonah Hill, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Adam Devine, Hector Elizondo, Mariah Carey, and Channing Tatum as Superman.

 

Chock full of rapid-fire cultural references, not only from the full gamut of the Batman mythos, including the comic books, previous films and TV series, but also properties as disparate as Harry Potter, King Kong, Doctor Who, and Lord of the Rings, this is definitely one that will reward repeat viewing. The jokes come fast and furious, and while not all work, enough do to make this an enjoyably funny time.   7/10

 

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#18 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 July 2017 - 05:58 PM

Song to Song - Meditation on love and music from writer-director Terrence Malick. Starting out with a love triangle between music exec Cook (Michael Fassbender), his secretary and aspiring musician Faye (Rooney Mara), and songwriter BV (Ryan Gosling), the film dreamily touches on other loves that come and go among the three, including a sad waitress (Natalie Portman), a beautiful Frenchwoman (Berenice Marlohe), and an older woman (Cate Blanchett). Also featuring Holly Hunter, Lykke Li, Linda Emond, Tom Sturridge, and Val Kilmer.

 

The earliest filming on this occurred back in 2012 at the Austin, Texas SXSW music festival. A multitude of music stars past and present have cameos as themselves, including Patti Smith, John (Johnny Rotten) Lydon, Iggy Pop, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arcade Fire and many more. As is usually the case with Malick's films, much more was shot than what eventually made the final cut, and this time around entire performances from Christian Bale and Benicio Del Toro, among others, are absent. Anyone who has seen Malick's work from the past several years, including Tree of LifeTo the Wonder, or Knight of Cups, will know what to expect here: little to no conventional narrative, lots of aimless wandering down streets and room-to-room through houses, an abundance of "meaningful" looks out of windows or at their co-stars, punctuated with softly-spoken, almost mumbled, narration. The cinematography is gorgeous, as usual, while the performances are a bit mixed, with some performers (Fassbender, Blanchett) running with the improvisational freedom, while occasionally Gosling and Mara look lost. If you're not a fan of Malick's recent style, this will certainly not convert you, but I like it for what it is.   7/10

 

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#19 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 July 2017 - 01:00 PM

John Wick: Chapter 2 - Follow-up to the hit 2014 action flick. Legendary underworld assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is ready to settle back into retirement after the events of the first film, but a knock on his door brings bad news: Italian mafia boss Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in Wick's blood marker, an inviolate oath that Wick must obey. Santino orders the death of his sister (Claudia Gerini), which will also bring more heat down on Wick's head, as does an open contract on Wick's life for $7 million. But Wick didn't gain his reputation for nothing, as the trail of dead in his wake will testify to. Also featuring Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, and Franco Nero.

 

When the first film was advertised, I and most others expected it to be another forgettable B action flick. I was happily surprised when it turned out to be one of the best action films in a decade. That film, and this follow-up, were written and directed by stunt men and stunt coordinators who longed for the days of practical stuntwork over CGI mayhem. Subsequently, the action scenes are fantastic. One aspect of the first film's plot is brought to the forefront in this entry, that of the set of rules governing the international criminal underworld, specifically the series of safehouse sanctuaries around the world, masquerading as luxury hotels called The Continental. It takes the film out of the realm of reality and into a kind of satirical fantasy, with killers and gangsters adhering to a rulebook as if they were Old World gentlemen. That aspect is perhaps too emphasized in this movie, and it slows the action down quite a bit in comparison to the first film. This was also clearly intended to be the middle film of a trilogy, and so it doesn't have a resolution, but rather ends on a cliffhanger. This wasn't quite the hit that the first film was, but the odds still look good for a part 3.   7/10

 

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#20 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 July 2017 - 11:33 PM

Ghost in the Shell - Live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese manga and anime. In some undefined future where cybernetic enhancements are commonplace, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a human brain inside of a high-powered robot body. She works for the Defense Department under boss Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) and with partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) fighting cyber-crimes. Lately they've been tracking a mysterious terrorist named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who seems to be targeting employees of Hanka Robotics, the leading cybernetic firm and the one that built Major. As she gets closer to her quarry, though, flashes of suppressed memories keep appearing, and Major begins to doubt everything she knows. Also featuring Juliette Binoche, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, and Peter Ferdinando.

 

The 1995 animated version of this is a huge cult favorite, and a live-action version has been in the works for the past two decades, under several directors and with many stars attached. This movie, directed by Rupert Sanders, came under immediate scrutiny with the casting of Johansson in the lead, a character that's traditionally been Japanese. The discrepancy is actually addressed in the plot, but that didn't stop a lot of outraged internet chatter in the months leading up to the movie's release, which proved to be a major disappointment, both critically and financially. I didn't think the movie was that bad, although it's not terribly original. The cartoon really wasn't either, though, lifting a lot of its aesthetic from films like Blade Runner and the cyberpunk fiction boom of the 1980s. Johansson is fine in the lead, and Asbaek makes for a likable friend. Screen legend Kitano gets to play his entire role in subtitled Japanese, while Pitt gets some nice work in as the antagonist that's not quite human. The visual effects are well done, but for an action movie, there's actually a lack of stand-out action set-pieces. Sci-fi fans who go in with limited expectations should enjoy this, but non-fans may think it's a lot of gibberish and visual overload.  7/10

 

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