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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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#41 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 July 2017 - 12:52 PM

Pete's Dragon - Disney remakes their own 1977 live action/animation musical family movie, but without the music and with an entirely different story. After a car crash strands 5-year-old Pete in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, he meets a furry green dragon which he names Elliott. The dragon takes the boy under his wing and helps raise him for the next several years. The older (but still a kid) Pete (Oakes Fegley) finally comes to the attention of the outside world when he helps a young girl named Natalie (Oona Laurence). Natalie's mom Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger, and she takes the boy back home with them to try and find out who is and where his family is. Elliott gets noticed by Grace's lumberjack brother-in-law Gavin (Karl Urban) who becomes determined to capture the dragon. Pete, Natalie, Grace and her father (Robert Redford), who also once saw the dragon many years ago, must try and protect Elliott from the outside world. Also featuring Wes Bentley and Isiah Whitlock Jr.

 

The original movie was no classic, except to a certain segment that saw it at the right age when it could hit the right note. I wasn't one of those viewers. However, it's really a moot point when the remake bears so little resemblance to the original. This is very much a PG-rated heart-tugger, with a furry, cuddly dragon that more resembles a big goofy dog than a scaly monster. The movie is set in the 1980s for that extra dollop of Gen-X nostalgia, although the film doesn't belabor the point. In fact, the soundtrack is filled with a lot of adult contemporary folksie alternative songs, the kind I like to call "granola rock", as they remind me of young guys with long beards, wearing flannel while they hike in Oregon and fight for environmental causes (which I support, too, btw, in case you were thinking I had a political grudge against the movie). Having the "bad guys" as commercial loggers who spend their days chopping down the forests where Elliott and Pete lives isn't exactly subtle, either, but again, the movie doesn't really make a big issue out of it, although I kept expecting it to. The CGI dragon is life-like and expertly rendered. I wasn't crazy about the lead kid, as he seemed a bit forced at times. There really wasn't a lot to the story, and the plot moves exactly where you think it will. Again, I wouldn't call this awful, just not very imaginative or inspired. This wound up on several critics' best of the year lists, so you may like it more than I did.    6/10

 

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#42 LawrenceA

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 07:43 PM

The Salesman - Iranian drama from writer-director Asghar Farhadi. High school teacher Emad Etesami (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced to move after their apartment building is condemned. Emad is also staging a theatrical production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and the play's stage manager lets them in on a great deal for an apartment where the previous tenant moved away. When Rana is home alone one night, someone comes in and assaults her. Emad has a hard time grasping what happened to his wife, and as the anger boils within him, he becomes determined to find the culprit. Also featuring Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati, and Farid Sajjadi Hosseini.

 

Much like in Farhadi's previous international hit A Separation, the story hinges on an incident, an event that changes everyone involved. Unlike in that film, though, the audience does not get to actually witness it, so, much like Emad, we have to slowly piece things together. Some of the developments seem a bit contrived, but not so much as to ruin the film. The performances by the two leads, as well as Farid Hosseini later in the film, are noteworthy. The theatrical revival of Salesman seems a bit extraneous, but it ends up having interesting parallels to the main plot. This won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#43 LawrenceA

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 04:06 PM

Loving - Soporific drama from writer-director Jeff Nichols that tells the true story of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving, a white man and a black woman who were married in Washington DC in 1958. Upon returning home to their native Virginia, they are both arrested for violating the miscegenation, or race-mixing, laws. Their case eventually comes to the attention of attorneys Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) who take it all the way to the US Supreme Court. Also featuring Marton Csokas, Will Dalton, Terri Abney, Alano Miller, Chris Greene, Sharon Blackwood, Bill Camp, David Jensen, Matt Malloy, and Michael Shannon. 

 

This is an important story to tell (as it has been in narrative & documentary form previously), and the look of the film is good. The performance by Ruth Negga is very good, and miles away from her TV role on Preacher as a fiery hellraiser. Edgerton is largely monosyllabic, and seems to have used the same vocal coach that many foreign actors do when attempting southern American accents, as it comes out more marble-mouthed than twangy. It also seems odd that this important, quintessentially American story has three foreigners as the leads (Edgerton an Australian, Negga an Irish-Ethiopian, and Csokas a New Zealander). TV comic Kroll seems an odd casting choice, and he took me out of the story at first, but his role never really amounted to more than him smiling beatifically. The film also could have use some judicious editing, because even though at 123 minutes it doesn't sound too long, it could have lost 30 minutes and been none the poorer for it. The movie is often very quiet and contemplative, or focused on the minutiae of their largely routine daily lives, and I found myself drifting. Still, it's not bad, and is worth a look. Negga received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.   7/10

 

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#44 LawrenceA

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 10:52 AM

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Tim Burton was a natural to adapt the best-selling dark fantasy book by Ransom Riggs. Teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) is close to his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), who has always regaled the boy with tales of a manor house filled with strange children on a remote Welsh island. Jake eventually journeys there and discovers the title establishment, a place for "Peculiars" (people born with supernatural powers or mutations) to live in peace. The place is presided over by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), and among the many children are Emma (Ella Purnell) who can float up in the sky, Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) who can animate dolls, Olive (Lauren McCrostie) who can start fires with her touch, and many more. Miss Peregrine and the children are also menaced by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his band of white-eyed followers, who wish to use the Peculiars for their own nefarious ends. Also featuring Chris O'Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones, and Judi Dench.

 

The source book was a unique mix of a minor narrative with old black and white photographs that evoked an eerie fascination. Screenwriter Jane Goldman's take seems more like a standard Young Adult franchise starter, although with enough unique visual and character details to make it stand out from the pack. Some of the cast is wasted (Green, Stamp and Dench), while Jackson has fun with his villainous role. I had no idea that Rupert Everett was even in it until the end credits. All of the kids are charming, and I especially liked the superstrong little girl, and the fashion-conscious boy. I also liked the design of the monstrous Hollowgasts. This isn't going to be a movie that I recall very much from, but I enjoyed it enough, for what it was, even if it often seems like a family-friendly Goth version of the X-Men.   7/10

 

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#45 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 08:55 PM

The Magnificent Seven - Remake of the beloved 1960 Western, from director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. Evil gold-mining magnate Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has the small town of Rose Creek under his thumb, terrorizing the citizenry and murdering them with impunity. Vengeful widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) sets out to hire gunmen who will stand up to Bogue and his men. She finds lawman/bounty hunter Chisolm (Denzel Washington), wisecracking gambler Faraday (Chris Pratt), notorious killer Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his East Asian knife-throwing friend Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), bear-like mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Mexican gunslinger Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Comanche archer Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). The motley crew must help the townsfolk of Rose Creek to take back their land once and for all. Also featuring Luke Grimes, Cam Gigandet, Jonathan Joss, and Matt Bomer.

 

To a certain age-group of viewers, news of this remake was regarded as cinematic sacrilege, as the 1960 film is one of the best of the genre, with an untouchable cast. Going into this version, I tried not to bring comparisons, and to judge this one on its own merits. The film itself, though, seems beholden to the prior film, and Western cinema in general. The script switches many aspects around: the Mexican setting is gone, and the Mexican bandit villains are swapped for white American capitalists. The all-white original seven (excluding Horst Bucholz, a Mexican played by a German) are now an ethnically diverse group including a black man, a Latino man, a Native American, and even a Korean (although he may be playing Chinese, they never clarify). But there are still connections to the past beyond the basic premise: Lee's knife-thrower is a call-back to James Coburn, while Hawke's killer is actually a neurotic coward, like Robert Vaughn. Pratt, who is kinda-sorta a stand-in for the Steve McQueen role, even picks up McQueen's signature Wanted: Dead or Alive sawed-off rifle during one scene. 

 

The Western is a cornerstone of American cinema, but it's one that has fallen to the wayside over time. It's no wonder, then, that when the few Westerns are still made, they often feel like everyone involved are playing a big-budget game of "cowboys", and this movie is no exception. They try to wrangle in as many genre cliches and stylistic moments as possible, from the wide-angle shots of racing horses across the prairie to the broad-shouldered hero backlit by the sun, to the one-on-one showdown and the barroom shootout. Everyone involved seems like they're having fun, even the usually stone-faced Lee, a major star in his native South Korea. D'Onofrio's religious mountain man is a bit hard to take at first, as it's played very broadly, but I warmed to him. Washington naturally fills the boots of a Western hero, and Pratt has many funny lines. Hawke has a few good scenes as the most conflicted member, and Haley Bennett was good as the determined widow. The only real weakness was Sarsgaard as the villain, but that's the script's fault and not the actor, who really shouldn't have been cast. In my final assessment, this will in no way make anyone forget the original, but for a Western entertainment, it keeps the attention.   7/10

 

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#46 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 05:05 PM

Snowden - Oliver Stone co-wrote and directed this biopic on (in)famous whistle blower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a CIA and NSA computer expert who leaked the US intelligence agencies' illegal surveillance programs. The events of Snowden's revelations to filmmaker Laura Poitros (Melissa Leo), American journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and UK journalist Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), previously detailed in the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, form the framework of the film, with flashbacks to Snowden's life in the government and his tumultuous relationship with girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) filling out the story. Also featuring Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer, Scott Eastwood, Lakeith Stanfield, Ben Chaplin, and Nicolas Cage.

 

At one time, Oliver Stone was the most exciting, dangerous filmmaker in Hollywood. I never would have guessed that this movie was from the same director of JFKBorn on the Fourth of July, or Natural Born Killers. This is as straight-forward as any movie could be, stylistically. I often found it dull, as by this point I've heard/seen/read Snowden's story a hundred times. Gordon-Levitt mimics Snowden's nerdish monotone voice, but Snowden doesn't exactly have a personality that would make him a dynamic screen presence. There's nothing here that's actually terrible, but nothing to recommend seeking it out, either. Nicolas Cage earned yet another Razzie award nomination, for Worst Supporting Actor, but he did nothing to deserve it, in my opinion.   6/10

 

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#47 Marianne

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 02:37 PM

Arrival - Excellent, contemplative science fiction drama from director Denis Villeneuve, from a script by Eric Heisserer, based on the novella "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. When 12 colossal alien spacecraft land on Earth at various points around the globe, U.S. Army Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) assembles a team of scientific experts, led by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to try and discover the alien's motives and origins. Also recruited is linguistic expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose daunting task is learning to communicate with the vaguely octopus-like creatures. Her efforts may have unintended consequences, though, as each day without a clear understanding leads closer to military conflict. Also featuring Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O'Brien, and Tzi Ma. 

 

Ted Chiang's novella was a major award-winner back in 1998, one which I read but never expected to see adapted to the screen due to its nature as a meditation on language, time and a difficult, almost unbearable moral choice. Surprisingly, the film hews very closely to the story, as much as I can recall of it now, without any egregious concessions to Hollywood big-budget filmmaking. This isn't an alien invasion spectacle, nor a thriller, although there are aspects of each. Instead, this is a cerebral look at First Contact, with an examination of an alien race and its technology that is much more complex than that of your standard bug-eyed monster or little green men story. Adams is very good as the overwhelmed Louise, adeptly conveying her sense of bewilderment and awe as her breakthroughs in communicating with the aliens begin to have a profound effect on her. The heartbreaking decision that she ultimately makes is perhaps not dwelt upon with enough gravitas, but most audiences should be able to understand its weight. This received a number of Oscar nominations, including for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, and Best Picture, while winning for Best Sound Editing. Recommended.   8/10

 

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Finally saw Arrival and loved it. I read the short story, too, and I suppose it will come as no surprise that I think the short story has an edge on the film. It could reveal its theme much more subtly because, of course, literature doesn't rely on the visual. But they are both very good in their own ways.

 

Once the aliens are engaged in conversation in the film, I kept thinking of octopus and whales, specifically about whale song used as communication by whales (and not by aliens!). It would be interesting to see if the sounds of the aliens were inspired by sea creatures here on earth.


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#48 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 02:24 PM

13 Hours - True-story war drama from director Michael Bay. It's 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, and military contractor Jack Silva (John Krasinski) has just landed for a job protecting a secret CIA outpost located a mile away from the US Embassy. Along with fellow contractors Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and Mark Geist (Max Martini), Jack is under the direct command of CIA bureaucrat Bob (David Costabile), and often their work is escorting CIA assets around Benghazi. On the night of September 11, 2012, unknown Libyan militia forces stormed the US Embassy compound where ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Lescher) was staying. The military contractors want to make the 1 mile journey to help, but will government bureaucracy prevent them? Also featuring Alexia Barlier, Peyman Moaadi, and Toby Stephens.

 

This was controversial from the moment it was announced, due to the Republican insistence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was somehow directly responsible for the failure to provide proper security protocols in Benghazi. Many expected the film to be an indictment of Clinton. However, the movie manages to largely avoid pointing any direct fingers at Clinton or any other named official. Instead, the script blames the CIA (via the fictionalized section chief Bob), as well as the US military for their sluggish support, and on everyone's failure to adequately communicate with the Libyan factions all around them. The performances are all modern-macho, flag-waving brothers-in-arms archetypes. The battle sequences are suspensefully presented, with a few moments of extreme carnage that are stomach-churning. The movie failed to make much of a dent, either critically or financially, when it was released, although it gained a few more moments in the spotlight when it received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing, and before the winners were announced, one of the 4 men nominated had his nomination revoked due to Academy policy violations.    6/10

 

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#49 LawrenceA

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Posted 21 July 2017 - 10:31 PM

X-Men: Apocalypse - And yet another overblown mess of a superhero movie, this the third part in the "reboot" of the Marvel series, from director Bryan Singer. Set in 1983, the story concerns an ancient, extremely powerful mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) who has been trapped since the time of the Ancient Egyptian empires. When he is released, he is determined to once again subjugate mankind, so he sets out to recruit minions to help in his quest, his Four Horsemen: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and a newly enraged Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Meanwhile, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to teach young mutants at his private school, and many of the students must band together to stop Apocalypse, including returning characters Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), as well as new additions Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Also featuring Rose Byrne, Lucas Till, Zeljko Ivanek, Lana Condor, Josh Helman, Ally Sheedy, Tomas Lemarquis, and Hugh Jackman.

 

Overstuffed with too many characters and not enough character development, this movie lives up to many of the worst stereotypes of the genre: a plot that's both thin and impenetrable, too many names for the uninitiated to keep up with, and large stretches of CGI overload. Fassbender gets to be emotional, while McAvoy finally loses his hair. Evan Peters gets another stand-out scene as the super-fast Quicksilver, much like in the last film. None of the new cast, among which are some good actors, really stand out, and the casting of Isaac as the villain seems pointless, as he's buried under makeup and even his voice is unrecognizably altered. Plus, his Apocalypse character is rather ill-defined, seemingly capable of whatever the script needs him to be capable of given the scene (to be fair, this was true of many of the X-Men villains in the comic books, as well). One of the characters in this movie makes the comment, when discussing film series, that "the third one is always the worst". You have to wonder how self-aware the filmmakers were.    5/10

 

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#50 LawrenceA

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Posted 21 July 2017 - 07:49 PM

Passengers - Another big budget flop, this time a science fiction romance from director Morten Tyldum and writer Jon Spaihts. In some distant far future (but not so far that the people don't still talk exactly like they do now), a giant spaceship is journeying across the galaxy, having left Earth for a new colony world. The fully-automated ship has 230~ crew members and 5000 colonists in hibernation for the duration of the 120~ year flight. After a close call with an asteroid, the ship has a slight malfunction, awakening one of the colonists, engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). Jim is horrified to learn that it is only twentysomething years into the journey, and that there are over 90 years left, meaning that he will die on the ship long before the journey is over or the other passengers are awakened. He tries to make the best of his situation, but after he's tried every possible means to rectify his situation, he gives into temptation and awakens another passenger, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). He tells her that her awakening was an accident too, and the two begin to form a bond over their shared isolation, but how long can it last? And why do the ship's lights keep flickering? Also featuring Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia.

 

This was savaged by critics, but I didn't think it was that bad. The two leads are likable and their situation is logically explored. If it gets shamelessly manipulative in the final act, I can only say that I find most romances do as well, so it wasn't a big problem for me. The production design and effects are very good. It's rather a small story, two people in and out of love, but given a $100 million sheen. The movie earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Production Design and Best Score (Thomas Newman).   7/10

 

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#51 LawrenceA

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Posted 21 July 2017 - 02:35 PM

Warcraft - Mega-budgeted flop adaptation of the High Fantasy video game series. The orcs, a race of 8-foot tall, massively-muscled brutes, have been corrupted by an evil magical energy, and are being led by the sorcerer Gul'dan (Voice of Daniel Wu) through a mystical portal to the world of Azeroth. This impending invasion is brought to the attention of Azeroth's human King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) by former mage-in-training Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). The king orders Khadgar to accompany the greatest of human warriors, Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), to find Medivh (Ben Foster), the magical Guardian of the realm, in hopes of discovering a way to stop the orcs. The humans find unlikely allies in the half-human/half-orc Garona (Paula Patton), and the orc Durotan (V: Toby Kebbell), chieftan of the Frostwolf clan of orcs who have not yet been corrupted by the "fel" magic. Also featuring Ruth Negga, Callum Keith Rennie, Ryan Robbins, and the voices of Clancy Brown, Robert Kazinsky, and Anna Galvin.

 

World of Warcraft, the online role-playing video game that inspired this movie, is the most successful entertainment property of any sort of all time. Outside of the cost of buying the actual game and all of its periodic supplements, players also pay a monthly fee, and have the option of buying items in game for real-world money. This business model has earned the game's makers hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 12 years, and this was after a highly successful line of strategy computer games that came even before the online game. I bring all of this up to illustrate how inevitable a film version was, and what an odd decision it was by the filmmakers to go back to the very first of the strategy games for the film's plot, rather the story from the online game that hundreds of millions have played around the world. The online game is well-known for its wide variety of character types to choose from, as well as numerous races. However, in this movie version, the characters are almost entirely humans and orcs. I'm sure the plan was to lay the groundwork with something relatively simple, and then add the others races as the inevitable film series progressed. But since this was largely a flop (more on that later), that's not likely to happen. Fans of the games will have to settle for a couple of brief moments with a few Dwarves, one scene each with background Night Elves and Draenei, and none for the Gnomes, Trolls, Tauren, Blood Elves or the very popular Undead.

 

The film's story is filled with fantasy mumbo-jumbo that is likely to enter one's ear and exit the other. The effects are very well done, and the visual aesthetic adheres closely to the games. The CGI, motion-capture orcs are rendered effectively, is often a bit busy, visually speaking. Paula Patton looks a little silly in her green skin makeup and protruding teeth, and Ben Foster gets to ham it up as the powerful boss wizard. Fimmel, Cooper, and especially Schnetzer make for dull heroes, though. As this was intended to be a series, the ending is left very open, with only a small bit of closure. This was a huge box-office disappointment in the US, one of the biggest flops of the year, but it was a massive hit in the Asian markets, so much so that a sequel was briefly discussed. Alas, it's not likely to be, which is disappointing, really, because the game series has perhaps the richest library of lore from which to drawn screenplays.   6/10

 

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#52 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 11:36 PM

Triple 9 - Complicated crime drama from director John Hillcoat and writer Matt Cook. Ex-military contractor Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his former co-worker Gabe (Aaron Paul) plan a high-profile bank robbery in Atlanta. Michael and Gabe recruit a trio of dirty cops, including Gabe's brother Russell (Norman Reedus), Franco (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Marcus (Anthony Mackie). Michael has an ulterior motive for the robbery, though: his ex-wife Elena (Gal Gadot) has taken their young son and gone to live with Elena's sister Irina (Kate Winslet), the wife of a Russian mob boss. Irina is basically holding Michael's son as ransom, and so Michael has to do her bidding. Detective Allen (Woody Harrelson) is assigned the robbery case, which makes the crew nervous, as does Marcus's new partner Chris (Casey Affleck), who just happens to be Det. Allen's nephew. Also featuring Teresa Palmer, Michelle Ang, and Michael K. Williams.

 

It takes a while to figure out who the characters are, and what each is after, and with the additional double-crosses, the script has a tough time building any character empathy. I'm still not entirely sure how some characters knew others. The film goes for a gritty "street" feel, but only partially succeeds. The performances are decent, although Winslet's Russian mob wife is a bit much, and Harrelson wears ill-fitting fake teeth for some reason. This sounded a lot better on paper, with a director I like and a tremendous cast that's done some great work in the past. Unfortunately, despite the right ingredients, the end result isn't very appetizing.    6/10

 

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#53 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 08:54 PM

Suicide Squad - Another big mess of a superhero movie from Warner Brothers, based on the DC Comics series. US government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) forms Task Force X aka the Suicide Squad, a clandestine team of special operatives comprised of incarcerated super-villains and a few "good guys" to handle them. The members are Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin and expert marksman; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), an unpredictable psychotic acrobat; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Aussie thief with a variety of trick boomerangs; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a cannibalistic monster with scaled skin; and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a former gang member with the power to control fire. To watch over these felons in the field, Waller assigns Special Forces commando Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and Japanese swordfighter Katana (Karen Fukuhara). The team gets dispatched to Midway City when an agent of Waller's, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) goes rogue, transforming citizens into monstrous soldiers and building a weapon with which to destroy the world. Can the Squad work together long enough to take out the supernatural menace, or will their anti-social tendencies be the death of humanity? Meanwhile, Harley Quinn's beloved, the Joker (Jared Leto) works behind the scenes to rescue her, adding even more jeopardy for all involved. Also featuring Scott Eastwood, Ike Barinholtz, Adam Beach, David Harbour, Common, Ezra Miller as the Flash, and Ben Affleck as Batman.

 

I was a fan of this comic book, the last one that read regularly, over 25 years ago. I enjoyed the idea of a team of super-villains reluctantly working together, with many of the rotating membership getting killed off or leaving after an assignment. It made for a colorful, unpredictable read. So I knew as soon as this was being cast that this would be a disappointment. The central figure of Deadshot was always presented as a poker-faced man of very few words, often amusing in a Buster Keaton way, the calm in the middle of the storm. Casting wisecracking Will Smith completely contradicts the character and removes what made him interesting. That aside, some of the other casting works. I ended up enjoying Robbie as Harley Quinn quite a bit, and Davis was a perfect choice for the amoral Waller. The visual aesthetic of the film, all grimy and dirty, filled with people with piercings, bad haircuts, dirty thrift-store costumes, and an overabundance of facial tattoos, seems like it's trying too hard to be "cool". Jared Leto's much publicized role as the Joker is the worst example, all chrome dental work and self-aware body-ink, the Clown Prince of Crime re-imagined as a nightclub pimp.

 

The story is a jumble, with no tonal continuity and poor pacing. I did watch the Extended Edition, which added some 30-odd minutes of footage, so that may be the culprit, but from what I've read, the theatrical version got worse reviews. Director-writer David Ayer's love of macho posturing is often on display, with a lot of the film seeing like moments tailor-made for the trailer but not gelling into a cohesive or compelling narrative. The soundtrack is nearly all well-known pop, rock and hip-hop tunes, many ironically commenting on the onscreen action, although there is a generic action score that's heard occasionally. Despite the negative reviews, this made a lot of money, and a sequel is likely (Mel Gibson has been rumored to be the first director choice). This became one of the few films that received attention from both the Golden Raspberry Awards, where it was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor (Leto) and Worst Screenplay, as well as the Oscars, where it won the award for Best Makeup.       6/10

 

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#54 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 02:18 PM

Swiss Army Man - Uniquely bizarre comedy/fantasy/existential examination of the human condition. Hank (Paul Dano) has been stranded on a tiny island out in the ocean for a long time. He's lost hope of rescue, and he's about to hang himself, when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the shore. The slowly decaying body starts erupting in gaseous flatulence, and Hank discovers that the gas is strong enough to propel the body through the water like a jet ski. Hank uses the body to get to another beach, where he finds a cave to rest. Hank names the body Manny, and he's shocked when Manny starts to speak and exhibit other abilities, like vomiting geysers of potable water, snapping his rigor mortis-taut fingers so as to start fires, and more. The duo try to make the best of their situation, and Hank teaches Manny more about life. Also featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

 

Despite the outrageously ridiculous happenings, this is sincerely presented and surprisingly emotional. You're never quite sure if what you're seeing is a bizarre alternate reality or the working of Hank's disturbed mind. Dano is very good at playing sensitive outcasts, and he's excellent here. Radcliffe makes the most of his one-of-a-kind role, getting a lot of dialogue as the movie progresses. The film itself is frequently beautifully shot, with lovely seashore and woodland scenery. The score is as oddball as the script, frequently using an A capella rendition of the Jurassic Park score by John Williams. This is one I can guarantee you've seen nothing like. I enjoyed it.   7/10

 

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#55 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 10:28 PM

Money Monster - Unfocused hostage drama that takes aim at a lot of targets but doesn't land any real shots. George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a Jim Kramer-esque TV financial news host of the show Money Monster, known for his outrageous antics and gimmicky dances and catchphrases. After a stock crashes that Lee had recently recommended as a sure bet, Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a blue collar guy with a baby on the way, loses all of his meager savings. In an act of desperation, Kyle, armed with a gun and bombs, sneaks onto the set of Lee's show, which goes out live, and takes him hostage. Kyle demands that Lee explain what happened, while Lee's loyal producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) does what she can to keep everyone alive. Also starring Caitriona Balfe, Dominic West, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, John Ventimiglia, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, and Giancarlo Esposito.

 

Director Jodie Foster, working off of a script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf, tries keep things moving despite the largely set-bound action. The film wants to be critical of the financial markets, the 24 hour TV news cycle, the culpability of TV stock advisers to their viewers, and technology that no one really understands taking over more of our lives. Due to the many issues at play, and the relatively brief (under 100 minutes) running time, nothing really gets examined well enough, and the movie spends too much time with the conventional (and very tired) elements of a hostage thriller. Clooney doesn't really do much of note, and O'Connell lays on his New Yawk accent a bit thick, but Roberts is good as the in-charge producer.   6/10

 

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#56 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 08:21 PM

The Neon Demon - Style-over-substance dream-like thriller (?) from director Nicolas Winding Refn. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a new arrival in LA, having run away from home and her parents somewhere in the Midwest.  Her natural beauty and innocence makes her an immediate hit on the model circuit, attracting the attention of make-up girl Ruby (Jena Malone) and the animosity of fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). As Jesse's status keeps rising, the sense of dread surrounding her grows. Also featuring Christina Hendricks, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Karl Glusman, and Keanu Reeves.

 

The film is an indictment on image consciousness in LA and the toll it takes physically and spiritually. The vivid, widescreen cinematography features a lot of neon lighting (naturally), stark sets, and vibrant color schemes. The soundtrack, largely electronic, is effective. The performances are good, with Malone a real standout. Reeves is also disconcerting in a small role as a brutish landlord. This won't be for most audiences, as it's more interested in mood than narrative, but I liked it.    7/10

 

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#57 CinemaInternational

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 07:21 PM

Robert Downey Jr. is such a strange case. He's a big star now, but Chaplin is still far and away his best work.....



#58 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 06:11 PM

I've at least skimmed the whole thread and don't remember if you reviewed The Judge. I was a bit restless at times but in retrospect though it okay. Unhappily formulaic in another dysfunctional family depiction where things seem to get worse and worse as events are piecemeal revealed to us. My ignominious disclosure of the century is that I didn't know I was watching Robert Downy Jr. My celebrity quotient is about 6 although I seem to know that he was a bad boy or something. He's like that here POing everyone while trying to make up for it by becoming a hot shot city lawyer but fails in the one thing he seems to want the most, the approbation of his father. The subplot with the daughter a little tacked on. Robert Duvall keeps on going and seems to be very good no matter how long he lives.

 

I don't think I reviewed that on here, but I did talk about it on some other thread when I watched it. I had basically the same opinion on it as you. I was impressed with Duvall, and his willingness to do some of the more potentially embarrassing scenes.

 

Downey Jr. is an actor I sometimes like, sometimes not. In my discussion of this movie I described his personality as "manic pseudo-charming jerk", and it's one he uses most often, even in the Marvel movies where he plays Iron Man. He was a teen idol type actor in the 1980s, then gained a lot of critical praise for starring as Chaplin in 1992. His personal life took a nosedive right after, with severe drug and alcohol problems making him tabloid fodder and a frequent visitor to LA area jails. He had a few failed comebacks, followed by relapses, to the point where everyone was certain his career was over for good. Then, another rehab stint, and he appeared in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). He gained enough credibility back that Marvel took a chance with him as Iron Man, and he's been a big movie star ever since, although outside of the Marvel movies and the Sherlock Holmes movies, he hasn't done much impressive.


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#59 laffite

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 05:56 PM

I've at least skimmed the whole thread and don't remember if you reviewed The Judge. I was a bit restless at times but in retrospect though it okay. Unhappily formulaic in another dysfunctional family depiction where things seem to get worse and worse as events are piecemeal revealed to us. My ignominious disclosure of the century is that I didn't know I was watching Robert Downy Jr. My celebrity quotient is about 6 although I seem to know that he was a bad boy or something. He's like that here POing everyone while trying to make up for it by becoming a hot shot city lawyer but fails in the one thing he seems to want the most, the approbation of his father. The subplot with the daughter a little tacked on. Robert Duvall keeps on going and seems to be very good no matter how long he lives.



#60 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 05:13 PM

Ouija: Origin of Evil - Quickie sequel/prequel to the surprise hit 2014 movie that's actually an improvement over the first. Set in 1967, the story follows single mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) who works as a spirit medium and fortune teller out of her home. She's aided by her two daughters, teenager Lina (Annalise Basso) and 9 year old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Their spirit readings are phony set-ups, but they feel they are doing by easing people's fears and grief concerning dead loved ones. Things change, though, when Alice brings home a Ouija board which seems to awaken genuine psychic medium abilities in young Doris. At first it seems like a gift, but soon Lina, as well as Father Tom (Henry Thomas) from their Catholic school, begin to suspect something more sinister is afoot. Also featuring Parker Mack, Halle Charlton, Doug Jones, John Prosky, and Sam Anderson.

 

The first film was a mess of ghost movie cliches and jump-scares that I ranked as one of the worst movies of the year. So I was very much surprised at how good this one was. The movie doesn't belabor the period setting, although there are a few costume touches. The performances by all involved are good, and there are some decent creepy and scary moments. The explanation in the last act about what's been causing everything is more than a little corny, though.   7/10

 

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