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Movie Breakdown: The Salesman (Noah)

February 3, 2017

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Pre-Screening Ramble:

The Salesman has been drawing a lot of attention for more than a few reasons. First, it’s the new film by the director of A Separation, an Iranian film that hit hard in America three to four years ago. Second, it’s nominated for Best Foreign Film at a little award show called the Oscars. And third, director Asghar Farhadi will not be able to attend the event because of a certain Muslim ban being pushed on the world by a certain Golden Haired Cheeto currently resting his feet in the Oval Office.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Salesman is the type of film that makes me want to know more about a country, or a history, or a person, because my failure to understand the subject as well as I should, seems to leave me less awed by the movie. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has crafted a slow, naturalistic film about a couple – Rana and Emad Etesami (Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini) – who are starring in a community theater version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. When Rana is assaulted in their home, well, things, slowly start to fall apart. The Salesman, which I believe refers to either Miller’s titular character Willie Lohman or an elderly clothe salesman who shows up late in the film, is a film about what life gives us, what we do with it, and how our reactions ripple outwards to affect others. Rana and Emad at the beginning of the film are a seemingly happy, healthy, normal couple who lose their house and have to move into a hastily evacuated apartment owned by a friend and fellow actor. Then Rana is assaulted. And this is where my lack of understanding about Iranian culture seems to ding my enjoyment of the film, Emad, against Rana’s wishes, obsesses over who might’ve broken in, who might’ve hurt his wife, and starts searching for him. It’s interesting enough, the film unfolding one scene at a time, revealing its emotional core ever so slowly, but there’s interactions between the couple and the actors on the stage that seem important but I couldn’t fully grasp because aside from scary editorials I’ve read in The New York Times, I don’t know anything about Iranian gender politics. A lot of what I think was important to the story and to the power of the film, fell flat with me, because, well, I’m a dumb American. And without that knowledge, without the cultural awareness that I think makes this film standout from other films like it, well, it doesn’t. Worse off for me is that I couldn’t fully grasp what the connection to Miller’s play was. They show whole scenes throughout the film and though they worked as markers, or chapter heads, I never saw an enormous connection between the two. But again, maybe this is because I don’t know anything about the Iranian theater scene. It’s a good take on the sort of common story of revenge gone awry, with a dash more humanity and a drop more naturalism, but still fairly commonplace in the greater scheme of things. And as well acted as this film is, it doesn’t seem like a home run if I leave the theater wondering if maybe I just didn’t have enough pre-knowledge to really grab the film’s essence. A great film is great universally, and though this is a good one, it certainly isn’t great.

One Last Thought:

I watched The Salesman right after Nerurda (my review of that bold and strange film is here).  I wonder if I would have had a different experience with The Salesman had I viewed it before Nerurda?

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Movie Breakdown: Neruda (Noah)

February 3, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Everyone’s been crowing about director Pablo Larrain’s Jackie Onassis bio-pic, Jackie. I’m not usually a fan of the bio-pic format – because no one’s life in whole is really all that interesting – but Larrain is supposed to be tweaking it in smart and enjoyable ways. So, a two hour film about poet master Pablo Neruda, uh, sure!

Post-Screening Ramble:

Pablo Larrain’s Neruda starts as a well-crafted and beautiful film about the political struggles of Chile under Fascist rule, with poet-senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) pushing back against the government forces with both his art and his voice. It’s a beautiful look at a sliver of Neruda’s life, filmed just slightly off-kilter to evoke an almost magical realist feel to the entire proceedings. But it is the film’s second half, the crux of the story, that really solidifies it as something different than your run of the mill biographical film. Neruda, under pressure from the Chilean government and a hard-talking detective looking to prove himself to his dead father (Gael Garcia Bernal), goes into hiding, bouncing from one location to another as the web of the Chilean government grows ever tighter. Garcia Bernal’s Oscar Peluchonneau becomes a hunter, tracking Neruda from town-to-town and finally into the snowy depths of Southern Chile as if he was a serial killer, instead of an artist-turned-political symbol. The hunter and the hunted slowly start to mirror each other, and Larrain, a truly brilliant director, introduces the concept that Neruda, an artist, as he continues to go to greater and greater extremes to evade capture isn’t just trying to escape, he’s writing the epic story of a poet-turned-activist. And through this, Peluchonneau becomes merely a supporting character in Neruda’s story, a conglomeration of tropes and platitudes that Neruda has used to give his own escape a sense of purpose and adventure. Larrain uses Peluchonneau as a source of noir-paranoia, a mirror for which the Neruda’s old-school masculinity – the women, oh the women – and his want to ride into the Andes on a horseback begins to look more and more set-up, the ravings and manipulations of an attention seeker on a grand scale. This is a deeply layered film, with each character representing not only some aspect of the other character, but of the idea of story and the idea of genre and how modern film has taken iconic, beloved characters and stretched them to the outer reaches of their own legends. This is a film about what it means to represent a country or an ideal and how as individuals we are both more and less than the ideas we strive to uphold. Though the film loses its footing amongst all the layers of theme for a bit near the end, Garcia Bernal’s oddball narration and sly delivery hold it together. There are not enough words to describe how impressive Luis Gnecco’s Neruda is, at once a powerful figure in the mold of classic manliness and a poetic soul, broken by its own fatal flaws. Gnecco never settles for one side of the spectrum though, instead he embodies a fully formed character, accurate or not, at all times, and it is a marvel to watch.

One Last Thought:

Why haven’t I seen Jackie yet?

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Movie Breakdown: The Space Between Us

February 3, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I don’t really know much about The Space Between Us.  Before I had a chance to check out its trailer I happened upon a note that said it seemed to giveaway the whole story, so I decided to not bother.  I do know Gary Oldman is in it though, so that’s something to look forward to.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Space Between Us is a film that means well, and because of that I tried my hardest to stick with it, but the damn thing is just so overdone and dumb that it eventually broke me and I spent all of its third act laughing and rolling my eyes.  Right from the start the film doesn’t make a lot of sense – an astronaut discovers she’s pregnant just after shipping off on a pioneering mission to Mars (how would that even slip by?) – and things only get sillier from there.  People disappear for no reason, secrets are kept for no reason, impossible relationships exist for no reason, wild action-y things happen for no reason and on and on and on.  It’s ridiculous and difficult to watch because there’s often no explanation for what’s happening on the screen.  I will, however, say this about the unfortunately TeenNick-feeling production, it does come off as abbreviated, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a longer cut out there somewhere in the world.  If there is, here’s hoping it’s much less trying than what’s being shoved into theaters.

I was serious when I noted that The Space Between Us means well.  Asa Butterfield’s Gardner is an odd-but-charming character and the film does carry a nice heartwarming message, but because of all the overly dramatic teen-talk and nonsensical plot points, it’s just not something that’s worth your time.  Skip.

One Last Thought:

The teenage version of Asa Butterfield essentially looks like this.  He even moves like one of those things.  It’s really awkward.  And hilarious.

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Movie Breakdown: XXX: Return Of Xander Cage

January 19, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I like 2002′s XXX.  I like Vin Diesel.  So, naturally, I like that Vin is back as the titular character.  Here’s hoping his second go-round as the extreme sports-loving secret agent doesn’t suck.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The original XXX works because the people who made it truly believed that everything in their world was cool.  The nu-metal soundtrack with Rammstein, Drowning Pool, etc.  They thought it was cool.  The extreme sports in it – base jumping, snowboarding, etc.  They thought it was cool.  The anti-establishment hero with the smart mouth.  They thought he was cool.  Sure, maybe in hindsight it was all more cheesy than cool, but that’s not what really matters.  The point is just that it was made by people who dug what they were doing, and that enthusiasm is a big reason why it’s a fun flick (and why it holds up).

As for XXX: Return of Xander Cage, it was clearly crafted by a mishmash of people with no passion for anything who simply just wanted to cash a nice sequel check, and because of that it’s a lazy, cringe-inducing, awful movie that isn’t even the slightest bit fun.  Vin Diesel is woefully flat in it, mostly because his dialogue consists of nothing but shitty dad jokes and recycled lines from the first XXX.  There’s a team building aspect that makes no sense and feels really forced.  The plot itself is a cheap, super dumb rip off of Furious 7′s (shame on you, Vin).  The CG is somehow worse than the film that was released 15 years before it.  Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa are wasted.  Toni Collette is terribly miscast.  And on and on and on.  I figured the film would at least be tolerable, but it’s thoroughly terrible.  What a disaster.

Trust me when I say that you should never ever bother with XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

One Last Thought:

There’s a part in Return Of Xander Cage where XXX recruits a guy called The Hood for his “save the world” team.  Want to know what his special ability is?  He’s a DJ.  A GODDAMN DJ.  That’s it.  The dude doesn’t do anything else.  At all!  He might be the dumbest and most useless character in the history of film.

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Movie Breakdown: 20th Century Women

January 19, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Mike Mills’ Beginners is a great film, and judging by its trailer, 20th Century Women is going to be a more than worthy follow-up.  Still, it’s hard to keep my expectations in check because I legit really love Beginners.  It’s so damn touching!

Post-Screening Ramble:

I went into 20th Century Women expecting a lot, and yet it still managed to knock me over.  Its story centers around a single mother, Dorothea (a very good Annette Bening), and her mission to figure out how to help usher her teen son, Jamie (a very good Lucas Jade Zumann), into manhood.  To do this she enlists a whole cast of characters.  There’s Abbie (a very good Greta Gerwig), who is a punk-loving but sensitive photographer, William (a very good Billy Crudup), who is a hippie-like handyman, and Julie (a very good Elle Fanning), who is a rebellious young lady that Jamie has long been in love with.  Together, but also separately because they’re each so wildly different, they go about assisting Dorothea with helping Jamie grow up.  To be honest, I kind of hate tagging 20th Century Women as a coming of age film, as I think it’s something more than that, but I guess that is the best way to cram director Mike Mills’ latest gem into a nutshell.  Here’s the deal though, Mills allows the story and narration to float around in such a clever, engaging way that you don’t just watch Jamie grow up, you get to actually see into each supporting character and learn why they are the way are and more.  This makes for a warm, nostalgic, intimate and charming film that does well to remind you that everyone grows up differently, and no one ever stops learning and evolving.

Please see this one as soon as you can.

One Last Thought:

Lucas Jade Zumann is like Asa Butterfield if Asa Butterfield wasn’t super weird and could actually act.  So, how do we go about CG’ing Lucas into every film that Asa has ever done?  It’ll be good for the world.  Promise.

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Movie Breakdown: Patriot’s Day

January 12, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The main thing I remember about the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt that ensued afterwards was that the whole thing felt like something out of a movie.  So, I suppose it makes sense that there’s now a movie based on the aforementioned events.  I will say this though, Patriot’s Day does feel a bit too soon.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If you’re not from Boston, then I believe that Patriot’s Day is the kind of film that is best described as “it is what it is.”  Director Peter Berg’s latest covers the Boston Marathon bombing and the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers.  It’s pretty quick paced, emotional and fairly interesting.  And that’s that.  If, however, you’re from Boston (or just love the city), it’s a whole other sort of film.  In fact, I’m somewhat surprised it wasn’t called Boston Strong since it seems more bent on celebrating the resilience of the city than deep diving into the terrible events that unfolded.  Everyone from the governor to the mayor to the police commissioner to the cops to the citizens, they’re all shown as snappy, passionate, prideful people who will not be deterred from fucking up some terrorists and restoring peace to their beloved city.  It’s hard to knock Berg for going this route because, well, why shouldn’t the city of Boston have two hours to figuratively pump double middle fingers at those Tsarnaev fools?  I say good for them!  I just also think Patriot’s Day could have used a bit more content to balance out all of the bravado.

In other words, catch Patriot’s Day if you want to cheer on Boston, not if you’d like more insight on the bombings and/or the Tsarnaev manhunt.

One Last Thought:

For a long while I thought it was weird that Peter Berg directed Battleship, but it’s really starting to make more and more sense.  Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriot’s Day – the man just loves his all-American hero flicks.

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Movie Breakdown: A Monster Calls

January 6, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The trailer for A Monster Calls is all kinds of sad, so I’m guessing that the actual movie is really going to be a bummer.  Guess I better pack some tissues.  And a bit of whiskey.  And maybe a therapist.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Being a kid can be really hard, and A Monster Calls is one of those films (kind of like Where The Wild Things Are) that aims to remind you of this.  The movie is centered around Conor O’Mally (Lewis MacDougall), a solid little fella who likes to draw and watch old films with his mom (Felicity Jones).  Unfortunately though, his mom is very sick, and because of this his life is on the verge of a major shakeup.  In an effort to help Conor process his feelings (and acknowledge the fact that vast changes that are about to tumble onto him), an ancient being (voiced by Liam Neeson) comes to him with an offer – he’ll tell the boy three stories as long as he receives one in return when he’s done.  Conor agrees and what follows is a heavy emotional journey that … well, reminds you that being a kid is hard.  I found the film to be touching.  It’s certainly far from being an easy watch, and I probably wouldn’t really recommend taking your kids to see it, but if you want something that’s well made and dedicated to delivering an important message/reminder, then you should definitely catch A Monster Calls at the theater.

One Last Thought:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are very few people on this planet who have a voice that resonates like Liam Neeson’s.  You could sit me down anywhere and make me listen to that man read anything and I’m fairly certain I’d be happy the whole damn time.  On a related note, it’s weird that he doesn’t narrate more stuff.

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Movie Breakdown: Silence

January 5, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Martin Scorsese has supposedly been developing Silence for somewhere around 25 years.  That’s crazy.  Here’s hoping he pulled something together that’s worth all that time and effort.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Silence left me in a weird spot.  I think that Martin Scorsese’s latest is a beautifully shot film with a lot of great performances and an interesting story (two Christian missionaries decide to infiltrate Japan in order to find their missing mentor), but it has a variety of elements that are either odd or just too much.  It’s long (and often feels like it), brutal, and full of so much religious persecution and suffering that you’ll likely reach an “alright, I get it, times were tough” moment somewhere in the first act.  Speaking of acts, I’m not a huge fan of the way the film concludes.  It builds and builds and then Scorsese jarringly jumps into an epilogue (one without a title card indicating as much, so you end up lost for a bit), provides a flurry of updates, and then it’s over.  Sometime ago I read that his original cut was well over three hours, so if I had to guess, I would go with the awkwardly narrated and presented “ending” as what got hacked apart.  Lastly, Scorsese delivers a muddled message.  My date thought one thing, I thought another and every friend I spoke with afterwards thought something entirely different … and none of us were particularly confident with our theories.  For a film that’s been in the work for roughly 25 years, you’d think it would feature a message that’s loud and clear.

Take The Revenant and The Passion Of The Christ, mix them up and what you’ll get on the other end is Silence.  If that sounds appealing to you, then mount up and head to the theater.  Otherwise, you should probably steer clear of Scorsese’s rather intense and thick passion project.

One Last Thought:

Anytime I watch a movie as serious and dramatic as Silence, I always wonder if there’s a blooper reel somewhere.  It would be so wonderful to watch Andrew Garfield look into someone’s eyes and then start laughing uncontrollably instead of talking about Jesus and stuff.

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Movie Breakdown: Paterson

December 23, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jim Jarmusch has always been a hit or miss director for me, so I’m heading into Paterson with my expectations firmly in check.  I do like the homely feel of the trailer though, and Adam Driver usually pops up in good films.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Here’s hoping you like watching someone’s day to day life, because that’s what Paterson is all about.  Paterson (Adam Driver) gets up, he goes to his day gig (bus driver), he comes home, he has dinner with his space cadet girlfriend, he takes his grumpy dog for a walk, he stops by his neighborhood dive bar for a beer or two, and then he goes home and crashes.  Oh, and if there’s free time, he writes poetry.  That’s it.  That’s the movie.  Director Jim Jarmusch shows this routine over the course of a week, and you’ll either be transfixed by it or bored out of your damn mind.  For a moment, I definitely got caught up in Paterson’s ho hum existence, as it’s comfy and features a few quirky details, but since the character has no ultimate goal and there’s no real measure of drama or anything in the film, it wasn’t long before I started wondering just when I might be able to escape his monotonous world.  Is that what Jarmusch was hoping to accomplish?  I don’t know.  Seems pretty unlikely though.

If you want something small and realistic that’s sort of artsy and devoid of any real dramatic highs or lows, then I guess see Paterson.  Otherwise you should probably let it slide right by you.

One Last Thought:

Paterson is the latest thing to make me wish that I had a legit neighborhood bar.  There are a few that are within walking distance from me, but I don’t like any of them enough to visit on a daily basis.  Talk about first world problems, right?

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Movie Breakdown: Lion

December 21, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

There are a lot of talented people attached to Lion.  This means it’s either going to be really good or just another slice of “based on a true story” style Oscar bait.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The first half of Lion is riveting.  A very young boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets separated from his brother and ends up locked inside of a train that takes him so far away from his home that when he’s finally able to escape it he finds himself among people who don’t even speak the same language as him.  He attempts to get help, but since he can’t understand anyone and they can’t understand him, he soon finds himself alone and on the streets, where he narrowly avoids a variety of dangerous situations before eventually ending up in a seedy group home for kids.  Yikes, right?  Yes.  Yikes.  Eventually though Saroo gets adopted by a super nice Australian family, and this is where the film hits a wall.  The man (now played by Dev Patel) can’t stop thinking about the family he lost, and so he mopes around a lot and obsessively browses Google Earth in an effort to locate his hometown.  These parts are immensely boring.  I know the real life Saroo did something amazing in locating his lost hometown via Google Earth, but the cinematic retelling of his search is as dull as can be.  It straight up feels like seven hours of Dev Patel either crying or staring off into the distance and remembering what it was like to play with his brother and/or farm rocks with his mother.  Not good.

Lion starts out like it’s going to be something incredibly moving, but it ends up hobbled by poor storytelling.  If anything, wait until you can watch this one at home.

One Last Thought:

Lion made me realize that I no longer like Dev Patel.  He’s been playing the same sort of wide-eyed, unknowingly overbearing character since Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and I just can’t take it anymore.  Somebody get that fella a new role.

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Movie Breakdown: Assassin’s Creed

December 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Video game adaptations are rarely good, so that makes it difficult to believe Assassin’s Creed will be a winner.  Who knows though, maybe Michael Fassbender will change the tide.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Assassin’s Creed is a tedious mess.  The film begins with Aguilar (Michael Fassbender) reciting the … Assassin’s Creed.  Then The Black Angels’ Entrance Song starts blasting (the line “rolling fast down I-35″ is somewhat jarring when heard during the Spanish Inquisition) and an eventual transition happens where a boy named Cal is introduced and then quickly thrown away for the adult version of himself (Michael Fassbender).  Man-Cal is a baddie and is about to receive a big dose of Capital Punishment, but a company called Abstergo swipes him, plugs him into a machine called the Animus and then goes about using his genes to search for a mysterious object called The Apple of Eden.  The film then parkours back and forth between Cal as Aguilar in Spain on the hunt for the Apple and Cal as Cal in present day struggling to figure out if he wants to be an Assassin or a Templar.  And that’s about it.  There are other characters but they have zero depth, the Animus is only ever lightly explained, a startling lack of info on the Apple is provided, and the history of Templars v. Assassins isn’t really touched on.  I’d like to think that the lack of hand-holding/world-building was done on purpose since there are so many games in the rather popular Assassin’s Creed series, but because the movie overall doesn’t make a lot of sense, I’m going to go ahead and chalk up the lack of details to poor film-making by director Justin Kurzel.  While I’m at it, I’m also going to toss the bland action and the cold, dark and muddled look of the film on his shoulders, too.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed games, you don’t want to see this movie.  Skip.

One Last Thought:

These breakdowns of mine are spoiler free territory, but I have to note something about how this film ends.  Drag and highlight just below here to see it (if you want).

The film concludes with the Assassins infiltrating a secret Templar meeting and recovering their magical apple.  And by infiltrate, I mean they get wanded by security and then walk into the meeting like it’s no big deal.  They even do it while wearing ominous hoods!  How is this possible?!  If you’re a Templar and your mortal enemies always wear hoods, then wouldn’t you find all hooded figures suspicious?  Or, you know, wouldn’t at least one person recall the faces of those who just ransacked a Templar facility?  So dumb.

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Movie Breakdown: Passengers

December 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Passengers seems to exist solely as a way to place hotties Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt onto the same the screen together, so I have no idea if it’s going to be any good at all.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Passengers is an odd film.  Its overall premise is fine – Jim Preston (Christ Pratt) is bumped out of suspended animation when his pod malfunctions just 30 years into a 120 year trip.  This is bad.  Not only because there’s no way he can go back to sleep, but because his pod is the only one that malfunctioned, which means he is set to spend the next 90 years alone.  He lasts on his own for a while (a year and some change), but eventually he gives in and wakes up the hilariously named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).  This is where the film gets odd.  Jim essentially kills Aurora by waking her up early, and even though he feels bad about it, that doesn’t stop him from wooing her and then treating their situation as though fate brought them together.  The film also never really makes it seem like that big of a deal.  Sure, his actions are presented in somewhat of a “it ain’t right” kind of way, but he and Aurora are so cute and perfect together that, like, it’s fine!  As OMC once sang, how bizarre.  Eventually the love stuff takes a backseat and the film attempts to be more of a sci-fi thing, but those parts are pretty silly and forgettable since they’re loaded with one-liners that feel like they should be delivered with either Lawrence or Pratt looking into the camera and winking.  I chuckled frequently.

Here’s the deal, Passengers isn’t terrible, it’s just a largely forgettable film with a strange message (do what you want regardless of the consequences because it’ll be fine in the end).  See it if you want something glossy with two very pretty faces and a spaceship (which I guess makes it sci-fi).

One Last Thought:

I just noticed that the poster mentions that you can see the film in 3D.  Don’t do that.  There’s absolutely nothing in it that warrants any type of 3D viewing (and the up-charge that will come with it).

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Movie Breakdown: Why Him?

December 19, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The marketing for Why Him? has pretty much clued me in on what to expect.  There will be a lot of yelling, some gross stuff, a few funny bits and at least two heartfelt moments.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Why Him? pretty much fell in line with what I was expecting (see my pre-screening stance).  Ned (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally), along with their son Scott (Griffin Gluck), make the jump to California to meet their daughter Stephanie’s (Zoey Deutch) new squeeze, the very rich and obtuse Laird Mayhew (James Franco).  Naturally, things start out rough, stay rough and then go smooth right before the credits hit the screen.  You’ll be mildly entertained by some of it, and not surprised by any of it.

Here’s the deal though, Why Him? isn’t all that bad.  Ned, Barb and Scott’s wholesome qualities mixed with Laird and his staff’s ridiculous lifestyle often make for chuckle-worthy moments, and the “gross-out” bits weren’t as over the top as I was expecting.  I also steadily found myself appreciating the way the film is full of characters who want to make their awkward holiday situation work, but it’s their own insecurities that keep screwing everything up.  In most of these sort of forced-family movies it’s one person (usually the new boyfriend/girlfriend) in total screwball mode and they just can’t seem to do anything right.  Not in Why Him? though, everyone is a mess, and it’s generally fun watching each character work their way out of their shells.

Why Him? isn’t going to win any awards and honestly it’s one of those films that you’ll watch once and probably forget almost instantly, but it’s not terrible.  Get a little toasty and matinee it.

One Last Thought:

I don’t really get James Franco anymore.  His on-screen presence has become immensely wonky, and I can no longer tell if he’s being serious or just off his damn rocker.  It’s really weird.

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Movie Breakdown: La La Land

December 14, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Even if La La Land wasn’t riding an enormous wave of positive buzz, I’d still be excited to see the film because it’s a musical directed by Damien Chazelle, who did the rather excellent Whiplash, and it stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, both of whom are really pretty and charismatic.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Oh boy.  La La Land is a gem.  It features Mia (Emma Stone), a young lady who works a dead-end job and endlessly auditions for roles in attempt to “make it” as an actress, and a fella named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a musician who hopes to save jazz by opening up his own club.  They meet, it doesn’t go well, then they meet again and so many sparks fly about that it made me worry my theater might catch on fire.  After that there’s love, music, hope, successes, failures, harsh realizations and more that fill the screen and swallow you whole.  Stone and Gosling definitely deserve a big high five for their performances in La La Land (neither could possibly be more charming and/or genuine), but I think it’s director Damien Chazelle that really should be showered with adoration.  His film feels and looks like an old Hollywood throwback, but it’s a modern story with modern characters and modern ideals.  This will sound odd, but it reminds of the approach that James Gunn took with Guardians of the Galaxy.  That movie looks and feels like an old school adventure flick with its classic rock tunes and whatnot, but it’s total new sci-fi, comic book nerdiness at its core.  Same sort of thing with La La Land – Chazelle’s film may feature a lot of whimsical singing and dancing (all of it is really well done, by the way) and it may in general present a classic version of Hollywood, but at the end of the day it’s a modern love story that aims to provide a dash of nostalgia as it shoves you into the future.

See La La Land immediately.  Even if you don’t like musicals, I promise you’ll dig it.

One Last Thought:

Ryan Gosling seems to largely play Ryan Gosling in a lot of movies, but somehow it works for him and doesn’t come off as flat and uninteresting.  Now that’s the life!  “The thing about this new character is that, well … it’s just me again.”  Then you toss ‘em a wink and stroll right home or wherever witchy charmers like Ryan go.

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Movie Breakdown: Domain (Noah)

December 6, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

When you get at-home-screeners that you’ve never heard of before, it’s a toss-up. I will say that for the most part the at-home-screeners that fall into the sci-fi genre usually have a better chance of being okay.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s a real history of low-budget, high-quality science-fiction in the cinematic world. Films that manage to overstep their paltry financials to shine as both idea-heavy cinema and engaging stories with solid acting and decent enough cinematography. Science-fiction, and genre narratives in general, seem born to be produced on the cheap (putting aside the recent outburst of extremely costly, computer-graphic heavy films and television shows), and Nathaniel Atcheson’s Domain fits that bill. In the future, a horrible virus has wiped out much of the human population and the rest have been placed in singular rooms (to avoid the spread of disease) where they are allowed to communicate – via screen – with six other survivors. But, as you may well have guessed, things are not what they seem. The film’s characters, each named after their location when the virus hit, interact through the “social network” of Domain, a sort of seven-person democracy, and when they vote someone off the proverbial “island,” well, things go badly. The enjoyment of the film rests in the unveiling of what exactly is going on, and Atcheson pulls back the curtain just slowly enough that by the time all is revealed, we care enough about the characters to actually give a shit about their fates. And the reveal, not terrible, is marred by the fact that after six years (the length of time these characters are in Domain together) it would seem that very few secrets would exist between them. What Domain feels like, and this is a compliment, is a pretty good episode of Twilight Zone or better yet, Black Mirror. A cast of solid actors who help bring a world, briefly, to life, just enough to make a point, create some tension, and then move along.

One Last Thought:

I spent this entire film thinking that Sonja Sohn was Angela Bassett in makeup. Honestly, they’re uncannily similar in appearance and it sort of clouded my viewing of the film because I kept wondering, “how did they get Angela Bassett in this movie?” It’s not her though, uh uh, but hey, Sonja Sohn is good, too.

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