Noisy and dull action flick has Casey (Nicholas Hoult) quitting his job working for a drug dealer named Geran (Ben Kingsley) when he meets and falls for the beautiful Julliette (Felicity Jones). But when his new love needs a new kidney, Casey goes back to work and runs afoul of Geran’s rival, powerful drug lord Hagen (Anthony Hopkins). Still with me?
Boring action flick is directed by Eran Creevy from a script by he and F. Scott Frazier. Despite a good cast and a lot of fast paced car chases, the flick can’t generate much interest thanks to a weak script, too hip for it’s own good direction and more clichés than you can drive a Ferrari through. The filmmakers are more concerned with headache inducing camerawork and an obnoxiously loud soundtrack than with reigning in their actors, such as the shamelessly over-the-top Kingsley. The flick was barely interesting enough to keep one’s attention despite all the noise and wastes the new star power of Rogue One’s Felicity Jones by giving her scant little to do.
A MONSTER CALLS (2016)
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Film by Orphanage director J. A. Bayona is the sad tale of Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with not only the terminal illness that is slowly taking his divorced mother (Felicity Jones) from him, but having to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has a tenuous relationship, as well. His father is now living in the U.S. with his new family and he has no one to turn to…until a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears and says he will tell Connor three stories, but only if the boy agrees to tell the fourth, which is to relate a reoccurring nightmare Connor is having. The boy reluctantly agrees, but soon finds these tales have more in common with his current situation than he could have imagined.
Flick is written by Patrick Ness based on his book that was inspired by writer Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the idea during her own illness, one she sadly did not live to write herself. It is excellently directed by Bayona, though is a very somber and sad story when all is said and done. The film certainly has a strong emotional core, as we watch a young boy trying to deal with the fact that his mother is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. Is the monster there as an imaginary way of sorting through his emotions, or an actual being only Connor can see, that is there to help the boy sort things out? Bayona and Ness aren’t eager top let us find out and the film does have a sort of magic because of it, despite the dour tone. Much like Orphanage J. A. Bayona gives this the feel of a sort of dark fairy tale and it boldly deals with the theme of a child facing the death of a loved one, without sugar coating it or giving it an unrealistic wrap up. That’s one of the things that also holds it back a bit, is that it is overall, a very sad film and contains some very serious subject matter despite having a young child as it’s central focus. On a production level, the FX are excellent, especially in the rendition of the tree-like monster, and the hand drawn illustrations that relate the creature’s tales are full of charm. The film has a wonderful visual style, that does not betray the serious tone, from the eye of it’s director. It also adds loads of atmosphere from Orphanage cinematographer Óscar Faura and an equally appropriate score from Orphanage composer Fernando Velázquez. A heartbreaking yet very well made film.
The cast also contributes much with exceptional performances all around. Young Lewis MacDougall is simply amazing with all the emotions he needs to convey as Connor. He presents a sweet natured young boy who must deal with a turmoil of feelings, including anger, with his mother slowly dying before his eyes and having to deal with both his stern grandmother and a bully at school, as well. The young actor is simply wonderful in a very emotionally heavy role. Felicity Jones will break your heart as the young mother trying to stay strong for her son. The actress gives a truly noble and endearing performance as a woman who will leave when she’s good and ready. Weaver is also very good as his grandmother. She’s is a tough women, but not a villain. Weaver let’s us see the pain she is in, watching her own child fading away and somehow having to deal with that and now raise her grandson. It’s a difficult place her character is in and while she may not handle every situation the right way, we do appreciate her position. Neeson, of course does top-notch work giving the monster both a nobility and a ferocity. He is a creature not without a bit of a heart, fierce as he can be. Neeson also appears in a photo as Connor’s grandfather who we assume is gone as well. Actor Tony Kebbell also has a minor role as Connor’s estranged dad.
In conclusion, this is a very well done and emotionally engaging movie. It is also, however, a very sad film and despite having a young boy as it’s focus, tackles that child facing some very adult decisions and emotions. The cast is exceptional and the film looks sumptuous and the movie works very well, despite it’s somber tone, thanks to a director who knows how to tell this kind of tale…with heart, albeit a broken one.
3 and 1/2 books on which this film is based.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
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Simply put, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The film does have a few flaws, but the last act is some of the best Star Wars you’ll see and some of the most exciting action in the saga’s illustrious 40 year history. It feels far more like a Star Wars film than J.J. Abrams’ weak and disappointing Force Awakens. Film is a prequel that tells the story of The Rebellion’s discovery that The Empire is building a super weapon that we fans will come to know and love as The Death Star. The film traces the efforts to get to a key scientist, Gaylen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is reluctantly working on the project and has warned them of it’s creation. They do this by tracking down and freeing his rebellious daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) from an imperial prison and sending her on a mission with a rag tag group of rebels to find him and discover a weakness in this weapon of mass destruction. Circumstances then lead Jyn and company to go against rebel command orders and infiltrate an imperial outpost and steal the plans for this planet killer, all the while with the Death Star’s project director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit.
Flick is well directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) who brings far more of a Star Wars feel to this than the mediocre Force Awakens, even with it’s darker and edgier tone and new characters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy creates a story about incidents mentioned briefly in a few of the previous flicks, yet integral to A New Hope’s classic climax ever occurring. The story also gives us the opportunity to revisit some familiar faces, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an incredible CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and Darth Vader himself (James Earl Jones returns to voice while Spencer Wilding wears the suit), aside from creating a group of new and very endearing characters such as Jyn, rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), smart aleck robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Hong Kong cinema legend Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, who is like a Shaolin Monk who follows The Force. And it’s these endearing new faces that give Rogue One some nice emotional depth that the series hasn’t had in quite some time. The film also takes us to new places that actually look like alien worlds unlike Force Awakens’ dull settings and the action is fast and furious, especially in the amazing last act. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the first half sometimes appears a bit choppy and rushed as it races to the spectacular second half, but the climax is so exciting that you can forgive a slightly uneven start. And that’s what makes this work so well and where director Edwards really shines, is that he makes the last act so incredibly suspenseful, even though we know it’s outcome, as this is a set-up for the climax of Episode IV after all. But we like this motley band of rebels so much and the action presented so well, that we are on the edge of our seats rooting for them as they go up against incredible odds by entering a hornets nest to retrieve those now legendary Death Star plans. The film has one of the most effecting endings of any Star Wars film and leaves us at a point that will have fans in Force induced elation, while leaving not a dry eye in the theater. The SPFX representing this story are impeccable, in recreating ships and places both familiar and new and Michael Giacchino gives us an original score which still evokes a Star Wars film, even without the magnificent work of maestro John Williams.
Character-wise, the film is filled with endearing new additions to the series canon, with Felicity Jones carrying the film well on her petite shoulders as Jyn. She is a true heroine in the Star Wars mold, strong, rebellious and intelligent and Jones really makes her memorable and proves herself quite an action hero and a certified star. Diego Luna is likable as Captain Cassian Andor, rebel intelligence officer and the man sent to command this desperate mission. He isn’t quite as strong as his leading lady and does get overshadowed by she and some of the supporting cast, such as Donnie Yen, who is a delight as the scene stealing Chirrut Îmwe and his compatriot Baze Malbus, a mercenary played with charisma by Jiang Wang. Mendelsohn also makes a great bad guy and his leering menace makes him a good fit along with Vader and Tarkin, who he holds his own with. A strong villain always makes a flick like this work better and Krennic is a good villain. If any character is underdeveloped and weak it’s Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, a warrior and friend of Gaylen Erso, who has an air of nobility and mystery, but we never really get to know him very well before the character is left behind in the action. It’s a shame, as he was intriguing and Whitaker was good in a different role for the versatile actor. As for Mikkelsen, his Gaylen Erso has brief screen time, but the actor makes an impression as he always does…and let’s not forget the voice work of the talented Alan Tudyk as smart-ass droid K-2SO.
A few flaws early on in the pacing and flow of the film aside, this is simply one of the best of the Star Wars films. True it’s not technically part of the main series, but it’s a spin-off that carries the best of what this series is so beloved for. It has noble heroes, spectacular action, vile villains and a wonderful sense of nostalgia that The Force Awaken’s just didn’t have. It has a strong Star Wars feel, despite a darken and edgier tone and a last act that is simply some of the best action and suspense this series has yet to offer. It gives us some great new characters, while presenting the return of some classic characters, both expected and not. We are treated to a story that sets a major part of Episode IV in motion and leaves us at a truly euphoric moment in Star Wars history, even after giving us a sequence that will leave nary a dry eye in the house. One of the best films of 2016 and one of the best films of the entire Star Wars series.
3 and 1/2 Death Stars.
Gareth (Godzilla, Monsters) Edwards’ Star Wars adventure gets a new trailer and this flick looks far better than the mediocre Force Awakens. Rogue One arrives on 12/16/16 and stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker and legendary Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen!
There is a cool new trailer for Orphanage director J. A. Bayona’s new fantasy thriller A Monster Calls. Film is written by Patrick Ness from his book about a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) who is visited by a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) while dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. It also stars Sigourney Weaver as the boy’s grandmother. The film from Focus Features is slated for release on 10/21/16 here in the U.S.
LIKE CRAZY (2011)
With the tragic passing of actor Anton Yelchin, I thought I’d pay tribute by posting a review I wrote pre-blog about this charming romantic drama he was in with hotties Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence. I chose to resurrect the Date Movie column, thought it was originally created, as obvious by the rating system below, to showcase horror flicks that were good for watching with that someone special. This isn’t a horror flick, but is a good date movie nonetheless…
Like Crazy is a emotional and sometimes heartbreaking tale of two college grads in a long distance relationship. American Jacob Helm (Anton Yelchin) and Brit Anna Gardner (Felicity Jones from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) fall in love when they meet in school in L.A. But when Anna violates her student visa to stay with Jacob, she is forced to go back to England and is banned from returning. The couple must now try to decide if their love is strong enough to make this relationship work or move on with their lives.
Like Crazy is an emotional roller coaster as we watch the heartache and indecision that Jacob and Anna go through. They want to be together, but enter other relationships when they are apart. They can’t seem to walk away from each other, but can’t wait till Anna’s visa problems can be worked out. Director and co-writer (with Ben York Jones) Drake Doremus creates a tumultuous relationship that really draws you in. He really makes you believe these two are in love, but at the same time, presents two young people who may not be ready for what true love means. It is very realistic at times in portraying the turmoil of being in a relationship strained by outside elements and the indecision of one’s own heart. For those looking for a romantic drama where everything wraps up in a neat and happy little bow, you may be in for a reality check.
The director draws excellent performances from stars Yelchin and Jones and even draws sympathy for those they bring into their lives and hurt with their indecisiveness. Jacob with sweet and loving Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) and Anna with her yuppie boyfriend Simon (Charlie Bewley) who wants to marry her. They refuse to be honest with other about their other relationships while they work to settle the problems that keep them continents apart. All adding up to one big question… are either of them ready to truly be in love and deal with all that comes with it?
Like Crazy may portray the story of a difficult love far more realisticly than the average romantic may care for but, it is an emotionally engaging and sometimes heartbreaking tale of first real love. I highly recommend it for indie film fans and for those who like their romances Hollywood cliche’ free. If you are a fan of Yelchin or any other of the cast members, I also recommend it for their work in it, too!
… that equals 3 and 1/2 on the Date-O-Meter!
Anton Yelchin 1989-2016
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT (2014)
Sequel to Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards’ Monsters takes place years after the first film with the monsters spreading to the Middle East. As the U.S. military attempts to eradicate the creatures, the heavy bombing of Arab cities has not only produced a lot of civilian casualties but, a rising anger towards American troops and a growing and dangerous insurgency. The film focuses on a group of soldiers from Detroit whose squad goes deep in enemy territory to find some missing troops. They face danger on all sides as they are surrounded by monsters and insurgents alike. Sequel is actually not a bad movie though, it is a very somber and bleak one. It focuses on the human element much like Edwards’ first film and presents a seemingly hopeless situation as the monsters are spreading and so is the division between those trying to stop them. It raises questions about U.S. involvement in Middle East affairs while presenting a fairly engaging film about troops being overwhelmed by the horror of war both on the human and inhuman fronts. Definitely about 10-15 minutes too long but, actually far better than expected from some heavily unfavorable early word. Film is written by Jay Basu and competently directed by Tom Green.
CHALET GIRL (2011)
A really engaging cast elevates this routine British romantic comedy about skater girl Kim (an endearing and adorable Felicity Jones) who becomes a chalet girl in the Austrian Alps to help support her out of work, widower father (Bill Bailey). There she finds friends, love and her inner ski boarding champion amongst the rich vacationers and the free-spirts who work for them. The flick is harmless and fun and actually very energetic as directed by Phil Traill from Tom Williams script. But, it is a top-notch cast including Brooke Shields, Ed Westwick, Sophia Bush and the incomparable Bill Nighy, the really gives this a heavy dose of charm. It’s harmless and cute and never takes itself too seriously and the fun the cast appear to be having making it…no more evident than the outtakes during the credits that illustrate the actors’ camaraderie…translates to the screen. A very enjoyable little movie that is a lot of fun and has a cast that lifts it above it’s familiar trappings.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) DVD/Blu-Ray
I have mixed feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (click on the title for full review), though will admit I have softened my stance a little after watching it again. Not having done quite as well as previous installments, this summer blockbuster has been rushed onto home media before the summer is even over and comes loaded with extras to lure us in. But is it worth the buy?… Let’s take a look…
TASM2 may have it’s flaws but, it was a great looking and well designed movie and the digital Blu-Ray image is gorgeous and even crisper on your HD TV then blown up on a movie screen. The colors are rich and the complex action and FX really look great and hold up under the scrutiny of being up close in your living room. The sound is great and the film may, overall, actually play better at home where it’s somewhat convoluted story can be absorbed better with the more intimate setting. The deciding factor when considering picking up a somewhat flawed film are the extras… and this disc has a generous amount of them to sway us. First off we get about a dozen deleted scenes. Not all of them are gems, we can see why some did not make the cut but, we do get to see more of the Green Goblin, a few more scenes with Felicity Jone’s character of Felicia Hardy and a scene between Peter and his father which was interesting though I understand the decision to not go that route. The real draw for me is over 100 minutes of production footage and interviews and as an amateur/wannabe filmmaker myself, I can eat this stuff up and it was cool to see how this complex production came together. There is also the traditional director’s commentary and even a music video from Alicia Keys for “It’s On Again” from the movie.
So, whether you want to pick this up depends on how much you liked the flick. The film plays a bit better at home, looks and sounds great and has a generous amount of extras to add to it’s appeal. As a movie geek, who loves this kind of stuff, I found myself being a bit more forgiving of it’s flaws the second time around and really enjoyed the in-depth look at how the film’s production came together. Unless the movie completely failed to interest you, or, you consider it to be a far greater disappointment then I did (see review) then I’d say it’s worth having, especially as most retail outlets have it on sale for it’s release, as well.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)
While I can safely say The Amazing Spider-Man 2 avoids some of the epic badness of Raimi’s bloated Spider-Man 3… which also has some good stuff too, it wasn’t a complete disaster… it certainly is a disappointing and schizophrenic film to say the least. Sequel’s biggest problem is that the story is all over the place and so is it’s tone. It’s Dark Knight serious one minute and Batman Forever campy the next and trying to have it both ways. The scatterbrained story is hard to paraphrase but, it has Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) trying to deal with his feelings for Gwen (Emma Stone) while also trying to deal with the guilt from the death of her father (Denis Leary) and the promise he made to him before he died to stay away from her. When he is not getting all emo over that, he is still pining for the truth about his mother and father (Embeth Davidtz and Campbell Scott) and their disappearance. In the middle of all this moping we have the arrival of a new villain named Electro (Jamie Foxx) who is a nerdish Oscorp power expert and Spider-Man groupie whose fall into the wrong vat (it’s always a vat of something!) turns him into a Spider-Man hating live wire… very similar to Batman Forever’s Riddler storyline, hence my reference. And if that’s not enough, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home from abroad to take over Oscorp when his father passes away. But, Harry has inherited more then the company from dear old dad, as he also has his degenerative disease… and his research indicates only Spider-Man’s blood can save him… still with me? Needless to say, Peter/Spider-Man is up to his webs in bad guys and emotional turmoil as he tries to figure out his relationship issues, parental issues and Electro and Green Goblin issues as Harry’s efforts to save himself have a disturbing effect… at least he didn’t fall in a vat…oh, and did I mention The Rhino (Paul Giamatti)?
Despite some very top notch effects and some impressive, though frantic action, scenes Amazing Spider-Man 2 has far too much story to tell for it’s own good and very little of it comes to a satisfying conclusion. It can be slow moving at times and there are long stretches where not much is really accomplished, though there is a lot to get done considering all the conflicts the script, by Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker and Alex Kurtzman, sets up. Director Marc Webb also seems a little uncertain as to the tone he wants for his complicated film and seems to wing-it scene by scene. Sometimes he wants the film to have a serious dramatic impact but, sometimes he wants to have what he interprets as comic book style fun and the constantly changing tone between campy and dire is disorientating and creates a distance from the proceedings. I never felt really involved in the story which had a lot for me to get involved in, if any of it really had the focus and strength it should have. Sometimes we get some very serious sequences such as the before mentioned emotional torment Peter is suffering and then we get some very campy and goofy scenes such as Jaime Foxx’s dorky Max Dillon before he becomes a human Die Hard battery. And that is a big shame because Electro could have been a real imposing villain if his set-up wasn’t so silly and cliche’. His powers are portrayed with some real effectiveness and he has a tremendous battle with Spidey in Times Square… one of the film’s best scenes… but, then he all but disappears till the script needs him again to join forces with the desperate Harry. At least TASM2 avoids SM3‘s mistake and let’s Spidey have it out with Electro before a certain goon on a glider makes his appearance. And as for Harry, we have no grasp of Peter’s relationship with him, as this is the first time in this new series he is seen or mentioned. So it has no resonance. At least Raimi always had Harry present and it took two films before he became a villain. Here we don’t even get to know Harry well enough for his transformation into the Green Goblin to have the weight it needs. And once the credits roll, we feel like we’ve sat through a middle film in an undesignated trilogy as there seems to be no solid beginning or end to the story. It seems like an episode in a larger story arch that is ongoing, so, we leave the theater feeling like we’ve seen an incomplete film. It sort of just ends with only a few story elements resolved. That’s OK in comics because they are monthly, here we have to wait another two years to see if this is going anywhere.
The cast are all good, though no one really gets the screen time their character deserves except for Garfield. And he is a good Peter/Spidey though, those who felt Tobey Maguire’s Spidey was a bit too weepy, be warned, Garfield catches up a bit here. Jaime Foxx is very effective as Electro in what he is given to do though, I thought his Max Dillon was a bit too goofy and campy considering how serious we are supposed to take him when he turns spider-hating electrode. DeHaan is a bit flat as Harry in the earlier scenes but, seemed to respond better to the villainous turn and he makes a pretty effective Green Goblin, though again, isn’t utilized enough to make a real impact. Emma Stone is once again charming, perky and feisty as Gwen Stacy but, her character also disappears for stretches and sometimes her place in the story seems more to frustrate Peter then anything else. She and Garfield again have a nice chemistry but Gwen is another character that needed more important things to do then just emotionally confuse our hero. The character and actress deserve better. Sally Field is once again a solid Aunt May and she and Garfield also have a nice chemistry in the few scenes they have together. Supporting players Colm Feore, Felicity Jones and Paul Giamatti are fine enough in small roles that hint at having more importance in a future installment. Again, the film focuses on things to come and neglects what’s going on now.
So, in conclusion, the second Spidey flick in this new series is somewhat of a disappointment and attempted far too much for it’s own good and then can’t make up it’s mind on exactly what tone to present that convoluted story in. There are long stretches where not much really happens, though it never got boring or tedious but, could have used it’s 142 minute running time more wisely. There were some spectacular FX and action scenes and there are elements set-up and some left unresolved that could make a solidly thrilling third flick if, they tighten the script and Webb settles on a tone and sticks with it. It’s not a train wreck, just a bit of an overloaded one that can’t decide what track it’s on sometimes.
2 and 1/2 webs.