“Silence” stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Have Faith in Silence
For living legend Martin Scorsese, who spent nearly 30 years trying to get this film made and even contemplated joining the priesthood, it would be an understatement to call Silence a passion project. A film about religious missionaries in 1630s Japan doesn’t exactly spell huge box office hit and likely required all of Scorsese’s industry clout to even be created. Although this movie may not be for everyone, audiences will witness an utterly unique and thought-provoking look at faith, and how much one is willing to sacrifice for it.
This historic drama opens with the voice of Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson, A Monster Calls, 2016) narrating his own letter describing the brutal conditions for Japanese Christians. It is 1635, and Christianity has been outlawed across the country. An already difficult situation has only worsened as Christians and priests are now being tortured and executed if they do not apostatize (“deny their faith”). The story then cuts to seven years later at a Jesuit College in Macau, a Portuguese colony in Asia, where two young priests, Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Fr. Garupe (Adam Driver, Paterson, 2016) meet with an older colleague, Fr. Valignano (Ciarán Hinds, Bleed For This, 2016). The group gathers to discuss the letter from Fr. Ferreira, who was a mentor to the young priests and a leading figure amongst the Catholic community in Japan. After finishing the letter, Valignano says he heard more news from Dutch traders that said Fr. Ferreira has given up the faith, leaving no more priests in Japan. Upon hearing the update, Fr. Rodrigues and Garupe are in utter disbelief, and despite death threats for priests, they decide it is their mission to uncover the truth.
Silence is a very thought-provoking film that digs deep into the issues of faith and conviction like no other film of its kind. From a visual standpoint, Scorsese brilliantly balances the beauty of Japan with the struggles that the Christians must endure. Although the few torture scenes are difficult to watch, they are not gratuitously violent or excessive, but rather convey to the audience the conviction and strength of the characters that bear it. Read more…
Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte star in Julieta. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.
A Mother and Child Reunion?
With the slew of super hero mega films, book to film adaptations and unoriginal American pictures that hope the star power will singlehandedly carry the film, foreign films are often refreshing, no matter the theme. This is very much the case with the Spanish drama, Julieta.
Portrayed (as an adult) by Emma Suárez (What’s a Bear For?, 2011), Julieta is a middle-aged former teacher who is preparing to move from Madrid to Portugal in the next few days with her boyfriend, an older sculptor, named Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti, Francis: Pray for Me, 2015). The reasons are unbeknownst. However, the next day on the street, Julieta randomly runs into a childhood friend of Antía, her estranged daughter. This brief conversation with Beatrix (Michelle Jenner, We Need to Talk, 2016) quickly changes everything for Julieta. Beatrix tells Julieta she recently saw Antía in Switzerland and went on about how crazy it was to find out she had three kids. Julieta, who has not seen or heard from her daughter in well over a decade, is completely stunned by the news. Without hesitation or explanation, she tells Lorenzo she’s changed her mind about moving with him. Completely overcome with the desire to reestablish communication with Antía, she abruptly decides to rent the last apartment (although under construction) that she and Antía shared in the hopes that her daughter will write to that address as neither know the other’s whereabouts. While Julieta achingly awaits for word from her Antía, she begins writing a journal for her daughter that tells the true story about her father in an effort to mend their relationship.
Although this film’s plot may sound depressing, it is truly a very poignant story about the bonds between a mother and child and how it affects the surrounding relationships. Julieta is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, who is best known to American audiences for Volver (2005), an incredible generational love story starring Penelope Cruz that shares similar themes with Julieta. Although this film may not have the same star power as Volver (which earned Cruz an Oscar nod), it does have incredible acting from its cast, particularly the two women sharing the title role. Read more…
Amy Adams stars in “Nocturnal Animals.” Photo Credit: Focus Features.
Tom Ford Designs Another Work of Art
In the build-up to Oscar season, Hollywood studios release their “best films” from Thanksgiving to Christmas to such an extent that it can be overwhelming to the public. A number of excellent films get lost in the shuffle every year, especially those that lack proper marketing. Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by the multi-talented Tom Ford, is one of those films.
The psychological thriller-mystery-drama is essentially divided into two plots, the real-life story about a woman and her ex-husband and the book that is inspired by their relationship. The film cuts back and forth between the real-life main story, and the story told in the book. Over time, the plot of the book and its meaning begins to make sense to the audience in the context of the real life story. Although this may seem confusing, the shift from one story to the other is very clear.
The film opens with a bizarre art show at an L.A. art gallery in the “real life” story. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow played by Amy Adams (Arrival, 2016) who is married to businessman, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer, The Birth of a Nation, 2016). Despite what appears to be a glamorous lifestyle, Susan’s marriage is faltering as she and Hutton argue about money and she suspects him of cheating. As her husband heads out for a ‘business trip,’ Susan is surprised by a novel she receives in the mail from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, South Paw, 2015). Edward wrote the book and dedicated it to her. In his personal note, he mentions coming to town soon and invites her to dinner. Susan, looking for an escape from her unhappy life, immerses herself into the book and audiences are along for the ride. Read more…
Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner star in “Hidden Figures.” Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Appropriately Titled Feel-Good Feature
In the early 1960s, the Space Race intensified between the U.S. and Russia. Russians were ahead as they had already launched the first man into space. Knowing that the whole world was watching, the U.S. refused to be outdone by Russia and eventually managed the unthinkable when they landed the moon.
Although we’re familiar with the famous astronauts in this era – Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong – there were hundreds of overlooked men and women tirelessly working behind the scenes at NASA to launch these brave astronauts into space and bring them back safely. Within the ranks of NASA were a number of African-American women. These women are at the heart of the untold story, Hidden Figures.
This crowd pleasing drama focuses on three African-American women who work for NASA at Langley Research Center in the early 60s. These women face cringe worthy discrimination and unfair work conditions, but end up providing indispensable contributions to the space program. Read more…
Natalie Portman stars in “Jackie.” Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.
Portman Brings Jackie to Life
The Kennedy family was nicknamed “America’s First Family” and there has been no shortage of interest in them over the years. America’s obsession with the Kennedy’s has inspired countless books, movies and TV specials depicting the family’s triumphs, tragedies, and scandals, but few have solely focused on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or as most refer to her, “Jackie O.” One of the most beloved first ladies was often overshadowed by her husband and his brothers, however, in the new drama, Jackie, the famous first lady takes center stage, and we see the rise and tragic ending of the Kennedy White House through her eyes and words.
The primary setting of the film takes place just over a week after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy (‘JFK’). While still mourning the loss of her husband, Jackie (Natalie Portman, Jane Got a Gun, 2016) surprisingly requested to do an interview with Theodore ‘Ted’ White (Billy Crudup, Spotlight, 2015), a reporter from Life magazine at the Kennedy’s compound in Hyannis Port, MA. Through the narrative framework of Ted and Jackie’s Q&A, the audience is taken back to her time at the White House through extended flashbacks as Jackie discusses her fondest memories. Director Pablo Larrain truly brings this tragic, intriguing and long overdue perspective to life with Portman at the forefront.
The first flashback captures Jackie’s famous TV special, in which she gave millions of American viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the White House and discussed her plans to renovate yet maintain its abundant history. While still in her early 30’s and seemingly nervous to be on camera, it’s clear that Jackie was keenly aware of the influential role she could play in defining her husband’s legacy in the White House. Jackie brings up happy memories of raising their young family at the White House and the social events as head of state, including an in-person concert of Camelot. Tragically, these idyllic memories are shattered by the events in Dallas just a few days prior. Read more…
Jessica Chastain stars in “Miss Sloane.” Photo Credit EuropaCorp Films.
“Miss Sloane” Is Ambitious, Fierce
If this past election has taught us anything, it’s that politics is an ugly business. Even more troubling than the viciousness of elections is that even with all of the time and money spent on campaigns, many argue that lobbyists, Super PACs, pollsters and strategists actually control D.C., not our elected officials. While it may seem like a cynical view, it’s at the heart of the of Miss Sloane, a drama that dives into the world of the lobbying. This often unflattering look at Washington lobbyists portrays them as unethical powerbrokers who will do anything to help their clients get what they want. It’s no wonder that the protagonist in this film confesses when it comes to morality, “I don’t even know where the line is.”
Elizabeth Sloane, (Jessica Chastain, The Martian, 2015), the eponymous “hero” in Miss Sloane as the star lobbyist at one the most powerful firms in D.C. Elizabeth will seemingly use anything at her disposal to fight against regulation or taxation that threaten her clients, whether they be Fortune 500 companies or foreign countries.
Sloane’s win-at-all-costs tactics and impressive record attracts a potentially huge new client, the gun rights campaign, to her firm’s office for a meeting. The head of the gun rights’ lobby is looking for her services in converting women, who have not been gun allies traditionally, to their cause and thwart a new gun regulation bill that is an impending vote in the Senate. Sloane laughs at the proposed strategy to woo women and flippantly promises to look at the numbers, which later results in a lecturing from her irate boss (Sam Watterson, Newsroom, 2014). Read more…
Miles Teller stars in “Bleed for This.” Photo Credit: Open Road Films.
“Bleed for This” – Call It a Comeback
Boxing is nicknamed the “sweet science,” which is a strange name given that it is arguably the most violent and physically punishing sport. Anyone who steps into the ring needs to be fearless and have incredible toughness to withstand the toll one takes from receiving repeated shots to the head. Now, imagine the toughness you would need to step into the ring and take punches to the head after recently breaking your neck in a car accident.
In writer and director Ben Younger’s latest drama, Bleed for This, boxer Vinny Pazienza’s real life story comes to the big screen. The film covers his quick rise to boxing glory, the tragic accident that nearly cost him everything and his astonishing path to recovery.
The film opens with Vinny “Paz” Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, 2016), his family and his trainer helping him recover after losing a fight with the champion Roger Mayweather (Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s uncle). Paz and his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart, London Has Fallen, 2016) think he should fight at a more natural weight class given his struggles to cut weight and in the ring. Paz’s father (Ciarán Hinds, Frozen, 2013) who manages the training gym, is worried that Vinny is not ready for the change, but eventually agrees with Rooney’s plans and is able to arrange a title fight for his unrelenting son in his first match as a junior middleweight against Frenchman Gilbert Dele. Despite very low odds to win the title bout, Paz is able to rally from a rough start to dominate the fight and become the world champion.
“Ghostbusters” stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.
Undeniable Ghoul Power In The Latest Installment of “Ghostbusters”
When the cast was announced for the long-awaited next film in the Ghostbusters franchise, some short-sighted fans were upset that the Ghostbuster team would not star the original cast but would be played by female actors in what seemed like a gimmick. All of these criticisms were entirely speculative however, as director Paul Feig and the hilarious female cast deliver a comical and unique spin on a beloved franchise, yet still manage to pay the appropriate respect to the original films without it feeling like a copy.
Ghostbusters opens in an old Manhattan mansion, where a guide (Zach Woods, Silicon Valley, 2016) is leading a tour through the house and describing the history including how the owner’s daughter had murdered a number of people in their sleep. After the tour concludes, he is startled by strange sounds and movements in the basement. When he goes to investigate, he is ultimately attacked by the girl’s ghost.
The house’s owner pays a visit to Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, Martian, 2015) a physics professor at Columbia University, who had written a book earlier in her career stating her belief in ghosts and her scientific theories regarding paranormal activity. Erin, who is trying to hide her interest in paranormal activity from the faculty as she is up for tenure, first denies that she wrote the book, but ultimately cannot hide that her face is on the dust jacket. She discovers that the book is now appearing online again despite her attempts to remove any trace of it. Erin heads over to the run-down laboratory of her old friend and the book’s co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, The Boss, 2016) who she believes is responsible for the book remerging.
“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” stars Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
No Need to RSVP to the Theater
Two girls tricking two brothers into taking them to a Hawaiian wedding sounds like an attempt to create a female version of Wedding Crashers. Oddly enough, however, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, is inspired by a true story where two brothers went on Craigslist and TV to look for dates for their younger sister’s wedding. Of course, finding dates in this manner is not without its risks, and in this light-hearted summer comedy, the brothers definitely get more than what they bargained for.
Directed by Jake Szymanski (7 Days in Hell, 2015), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates tells the story of two immature and co-dependent brothers, Dave and Mike Stangle, played by Zac Efron (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, 2016) and Adam Devine (Pitch Perfect 2, 2015). With a history of misbehaving at family functions, their sister, who is getting married in Hawaii, along with their father have mandated that they need to find dates with the hopes that having arm candy will curb their mischievousness.
Although Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates will have the audience laughing particularly at certain scenes, the movie falls a few laughs short of being a must-see comedy. Nearly all of the truly humorous scenes are a result of Adam Devine’s comedic chops. He excels at playing the over-the-top immature moron, which he has played in both Pitch Perfect movies as well as his Workaholics persona, a TV show in which he co-created and stars. Zac Efron does a solid effort of keeping up with Adam Devine’s hilarity as he builds his comedic resume. Unfortunately, their roles are marred by the performance of Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. While both actors have shined in other comedic roles, their attempts to act crassly alongside Adam Devine and Zac Efron seemed forced and unnatural, and these roles do not suit their talents. Read more…
“The Secret Life of Pets” is a Pet Lovers Delight
Jameson the French Bully, searches for puppy videos while his parents are working. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda
The Secret Life of Pets is an amusing, animated tale that centers on the curiosity of what pets do and think about all day while their owners are not around. The answer can be quite a lot as the same creative team behind Despicable Me (2010) unveils a delightful summer movie that should appeal to the whole family and boasts a fun cast of actors voicing a large crew of lovable animals.
Still from ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
*Update! *Important note to our viewers on “The Secret Life of Pets.” We are now strongly suggesting and will be adding to our review that children be at least 10-years-old. Read more at the end of this review.
The story begins with an adorable Jack Russell Terrier named Max, voiced by comedian, Louis C.K. (Trumbo, 2015) who lives a happy, comfortable life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 2016), in a New York apartment building. Every day when Katie heads to work, Max will spend hours staring at the door until she returns but also kills time by visiting with other pet friends in the building, including a Dachshund named Buddy (Hannibal Buress, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, 2016), a Pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan, Sisters, 2015), a lazy, fat cat named Chloe (Lake Bell, Million Dollar Arm, 2014) and a Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate, The Obvious Child, 2015) who harbors a secret crush on Max.
Jameson The French Bull Dog practices his poses for National Pet Day. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda.
While Max enjoys visiting his friends, the best part of his day is still undoubtedly when Katie comes home from work. One day, when she returns, Max is horrified to find out that Katie is not alone and introduces Max to his new “brother,” a massive Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family, 2016). Max, who is very possessive of Katie, does not take kindly to the change in the living situation and lets Katie know his feelings (although she only hears him barking). Duke, who initially tried to befriend Max, overhears this attempt to get rid of him and responds by throwing his weight around literally – pushing Max from his bed and eating all his food. The two continue to quarrel at the dog park the next day and their feuding causes both dogs to lose their collars and become separated from their aloof dog walker. To make matters worse, they have a run-in with an army of stray alley cats, then two workers from Animal Control and finally a band of wild animals calling themselves the “Flushed Pets.” The gang is led by a violent white bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart, Ride Along 2, 2016) who is plotting against the humans that rejected them as pets. Meanwhile back at the apartment building, Gidget, who has a crush on Max, notices that Max and Duke did not come back from the walk and convinces the rest of the pets at the apartment building to go looking for their friend. The rest of the story is based on whether Max and Duke can work together to return to their home and friends while avoiding Animal Control and the army of “Flushed Pets.”
Andy Samberg co-writes and stars in “Popstar: Never Stop Stopping.” Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Popstar Successfully Skewers Modern Pop Music
The movie This Is Spinal Tap (1984) was a groundbreaking comedy that introduced many to the mockumentary style of filmmaking and focused on the ridiculousness of 70s heavy metal bands. Andy Samberg and his comedy team Lonely Island, continues this tradition with a funny send-up of today’s current pop stars in their new film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
This comedy is amusing and does a respectable job of parodying today’s pop music world. The antics and behavior of the characters don’t actually seem far off what pop stars like Justin Bieber, Mariah Cyrus, and young rappers would do to steal headlines. Today’s pop music scenes is ripe for satire, especially for a writing team that mastered their craft after years as writers and performers at Saturday Night Life (SNL) including creating many famous digital shorts. The movie is far from perfect though as the story’s overall plot is fairly predictable, some of the jokes are too childish and it has a fairly short running time of less than 90 minutes.
Comedians Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader star in, “The Angry Birds Movie” (voice-overs). Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.
The Angry Birds Movie Lacks the Story to Soar
In the 90s, several movie studios tried to cash in on the success of video games with live action adaptations of popular games. Although movies like Tomb Raider and Mortal Kombat were successful, more often the game to movie evolutions were atrocious bombs (Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter). Today, with the popularity of gaming applications it’s not surprising to see a studio make a movie out of an application and no gaming app has been more popular than Angry Birds. The Angry Birds Movie, is an animated adaptation, light-hearted take on the app that kids will enjoy, but may leave adults bored with the lack of storyline.
The 3D animated comedy opens with our main hero, Red, (ironically) a red bird with large eyebrows voiced by Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers, 2013) who is frantically racing across an island jungle dressed up as a clown to deliver an egg for a young bird’s “hatching party”. After exploding on the parents who accuse him of being late and then breaking their egg, Red is sentenced to anger management by the island’s judge.
On the way to his first session, we see that the island is full of happy and flightless birds who greatly contrast Red, who lives outside of the village and has been an angry loner since childhood. Once Red arrives at his class, he meets a few more outsiders that will be familiar to audiences who have played the app including Chuck, a yellow bird that is super-fast (Josh Gad, Frozen, 2013), Bomb, a black bird that can literally explode (Danny McBride, This is the End, 2013), Matilda, the group’s new age teacher (Maya Rudolph, Sisters, 2015), and Terrence, a giant bird who doesn’t talk (although voiced by Oscar-winner, Sean Penn, The Gunman, 2015). Despite Red’s hatred of anger management, things are going well for the group and the island until a ship of green pigs land on the island and drop anchor on Red’s beach front house. While the rest of the island welcomes these pigs whose leader, Leonard (Bill Hader, Train Wreck, 2015) claims they are merely visiting, Red (whose house was smashed) is angry and suspicious of the pigs whose numbers continue to multiply. Read more…
Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. star in “Captain America Civil War.” Photo Credit: Marvel Studios.
Captain America: Civil War Does Not Leave Audiences United
The summer blockbuster season is upon us, which for the last decade has included a steady diet of superhero movies. Although many super hero flicks can be both smart and entertaining, Captain America – Civil War, the latest installment in the Captain America/Marvel’s Avengers series falls short in both categories. Kids will still love the movie for its action sequences, but most adults who see the film will likely be disappointed by the storyline compared to previous installments.
The story opens with Captain America, played by Chris Evans (for the fifth time), leading a counter-terrorist mission in a fictional African country. Captain America, is joined by the former spy, martial-artist, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Hail, Caesar!, 2016), the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, I Saw the Light, 2016) who can move objects with her mind, Falcon, whose suit allows him to fly (Anthony Mackie, Ant-Man, 2015) and several other team members who successfully thwart the terrorist’s bioterrorist attack.
Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill star in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Photo Credit: Warner Bros./DC Entertainment
A Battle of Titans That Faults Way Short of Its Potential (PG-13) ★1/2
Superman and Batman in the same movie…sounds good on paper. Both have devoted fan bases and a history of bringing in big bucks at the box office. However, as history has shown us, pairing two superstars (or in this case superheroes) does not always mean they will work well together. Batman v. Superman – Dawn of Justice is a long, disjointed movie that tries to connect two very popular characters in a common narrative, but in the end does neither character any favors and will disappoint even its ardent fans.
Batman v. Superman – Dawn of Justice actually begins at the end of Man of Steel, but this time is seen through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl, 2014). Wayne, who is on the ground in Metropolis, witnesses firsthand the destructive impact of Superman’s battle against his fellow Kryptonians, which demolishes a Wayne Enterprise building killing numerous employees inside. The story then flashes 18 months later where Wayne, now seen as Batman, is hunting gangs and arms dealers while still having flashbacks to his parents’ murder. The story then jumps to Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Big Eyes, 2015) who is being transported under blindfold in Africa to an interview with a warlord. Things go awry as one of her cameramen is actually a spy and Superman (Henry Cavill, Man from U.N.C.L.E, 2015) comes in to rescue her. It’s not clear yet, but both Superman and Batman and their allies are seemingly following clues that will ultimately lead them to Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra, 2015). Luthor, who is the public face of a growing anti-Superman movement, has been able to get access to the ship the Kryptonians used to invade Earth and has recovered a sizable chunk of kryptonite, the one thing that can harm Superman. Read more…
Ryan Reynolds stars in Deadpool. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
The “Anti”-Superhero Movie
Deadpool, is the first R-rated superhero movie to come along, which is fitting as our eponymous hero breaks the mold as far as superheroes go. He is foul-mouthed, kills his enemies and basically lacks respect for the superhero archetype, which makes this entertaining movie stand out from the pack.
The film centers on Wade Wilson, played by Ryan Reynolds (Self/less, 2015), a wise-cracking, ex-special forces operative who has become a mercenary for hire. He meets the beautiful and equally crass, Vanessa, (played by Morena Baccarin, Spy, 2015) at the bar he and his mercenary buddies frequent and they begin dating thereafter, an unorthodox courtship. Things are smooth sailing for the couple to the point where Wade proposes to his beautiful girlfriend, but suddenly collapses and discovers he has a terminal illness. A mysterious recruiter offers Wilson experimental treatments allegedly designed to save his life from a death sentence, but Wilson rejects the offer. However, realizing he does not want Vanessa to merely watch him die from the disease, Wade finally relents and goes off to pursue treatment. The experiments are overseen by Ajax (Ed Skrein, The Transporter Refueled, 2015), and we soon discover that these often tortuous treatments are revealed to not just be designed to save Wade Wilson’s life, but to turn him into a slave with superhuman abilities. While he is able to escape Ajax’s clutches, it is not before Wilson’s entire body and face are badly disfigured. Over the course of the movie, Wilson transforms himself into Deadpool, and hunts down Ajax, the man who nearly took his life and just may hold the key to restoring his appearance.
Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill star in“Hail, Caesar!” Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
“Hail, Caesar!” Salutes Hollywood’s Past
The 1950s is the post-Golden Age period for when the studio system that dominated the movie industry was breaking down, television was offering people entertainment alternatives, and the Red Scare resulted in Hollywood blacklist division. The Coen brothers’ latest film, Hail, Caesar! is a comedy set in this era and centers around a film studio “fixer” who tries to keep his stars out of trouble and movies from tanking.
Although it is not the brothers’ best work, it still features their trademark writing style and humor. It is an interesting look at the time when Hollywood was trying to preserve its lofty place in American culture in changing times.
The plot has a number of seemingly unconnected storylines, but they all center on the main character Eddie Minnix (Josh Brolin, Sicario, 2015) who we first meet confessing to a priest. He admits that he lied to his wife about smoking cigarettes before describing his job struggle, which seemed to be leading him to smoke again. After leaving confession very late at night, he heads over to a photographer’s house to break-up a private photo shoot with a starlet who is under contract at the film studio where Minnix works at as a “fixer.”
The next day, Minnix is working on the studio lot and has to deal with a wide range of personalities and issues that threaten the studio. First, Minnix meets with a group of religious leaders to see if the studio’s upcoming big historical epic, Hail, Caesar! (a Ben-Hurr rip-off) would not offend any specific religious groups. After being reassured that the film will not insult the religious community, Minnix then deals with the fact that his lead actor, Baird Whitlock, (George Clooney, Tomorowland, 2015) has been kidnapped by secret group of communists working in Hollywood. He then has to handle DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson, Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015), the star in an upcoming musical who is pregnant. She’s looking to avoid the scandal of having an out of wedlock child and needs creative solutions. As icing on the cake, for an upcoming drama, Minnix deals with esteemed director Lawrence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes, Spectre, 2015) who is angry that the studio saddled him with the actor, Hobie Doyle. Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, Running Wild, 2015), who specializes in Westerns and cowboy stunts, is struggling to deliver the eloquent dialogue due to a heavy accent and Minnix is questioning his talents. Outside of the inner turmoil within his talent, Minnix is also constantly fending off two rival gossip columnists who want nothing more than to break a scandal story before the other despite being twin sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton, Trainwreck, 2015). On top of his movie headaches, Minnix is contemplating an attractive job offer from Lockheed Martin. Now, Minnix must decide whether he wants to find a way to defuse all of the studio’s problems or seek job security and the chance to work for a “real business” without worrying about babysitting movie stars and constant chaos.
As one would expect from the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! is a solid comedy with great acting and writing. Josh Brolin does an excellent job as a no-nonsense Hollywood “fixer” having to deal with the ridiculous antics from his movie stars. George Clooney shows he has comedic range, particularly when his character, a somewhat impressionable film star, is being lectured about the merits of communism by his captors. Channing Tatum shows he can do more than stripping with an impressive tap dance scene. Along with these performances, the rest of the ensemble, which includes several cameos from previous Coen works, does an excellent job of recreating the era and providing laughs.
Throughout their writing, the Coen brothers also provide plenty of their trademark clever dialogue. However, some viewers may lack patience with certain scenes that don’t seem to serve a purpose, even though they connect in the end. Also, the movie’s main shortcoming is that it does not always walk the line between a satire and a screwball comedy, which may not appeal to casual fans of the Coen brothers and sometimes takes away from the clever dialogue. Despite the fluctuating tone of the movie, ardent fans of the Coen brothers and those with patience for a non-traditional plot will appreciate the acting and humor in this film, but it’s probably not for everybody.
The Bottom-Line? Fans of the Coen brothers should rent this comedy, but Hail, Caesar! may not appeal enough to the non-hardcore fans.
Cast: Josh Brolin (Eddie Minnix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Tilda Swinton (Thora/Thessaly Thacker), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnn Moran), Jonah Hill (Joseph Silverman)
Credits: Directed and written by Ethan and Joel Coen
Studio: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 106 minutes
Jessica Aymond © February 5, 2016
Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston,J.K. Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan star in “Kung Fu Panda 3.” Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation.
Kung Fu Panda 3 Provides Plenty of Kicks
Three movies…three smash hits. Kung Fu Panda 3 follows its predecessors’ footsteps by, once again, delivering the animated comedy goods. Voiced by its cast of well-known Hollywood heavyweights, this action-adventure flick delights audiences with another fun chapter in the life of our favorite affable, animated, kung fu-fighting panda bear.
Similar to the Shrek and Toy Story franchise, Kung Fu Panda 3 is another example of what studios can do with creative animators, witty writers, excellent voice actors and characters for them to bring to life.
The third movie in this franchise begins with the tortoise kung fu master, Grand Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim, John Wick, 2014), being ambushed in an after-life setting known as the “spirit realm.” His assailant is Kai, a villainous yak voiced by Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, 2014), who defeats the capitulating Oogway, who willingly has his chi taken, but not before Oogway warns Kai that the “dragon warrior” will ultimately halt his plans. The film then cuts to the mortal world where Po, voiced again by Jack Black (Goosebumps, 2015) has become a kung fu teacher although he is not finding it to be easy as his friends, the Furious Five, become injured in the process. Dejected, Po heads home to his adoptive father, where he finds a panda named Li, voiced by Emmy-award winner Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, 2015), who has been seeking out Po. Read more…
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” stars John Krasinski, David Denman, Pablo Schreiber and Dominic Fumusa. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Another War Movie That May Not Stack Up to its Predecessors
The 2012 attack on Benghazi still carries significant political weight these days and rightfully so. The event, that took place on the evening of September 11, 2012, when Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing a U.S. Ambassador and a U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer, was indeed a tragedy and the events surrounding it have been misconstrued by both political parties. It is still debated by talking heads, but probably few really know the full story of the events that caused the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and several other Americans. Director Michael Bay’s latest film, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi explores the untold story of what happened that day and the bravery of the Americans who were against all odds and saved many lives.
The film begins by setting the scene of Benghazi at the time of the attack. At the time, the U.S. had more than 200 diplomatic posts across the world, including two in Libya, a region that was engulfed in a chaotic and violent civil war following the overthrow of its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. While every other nation had closed its Libyan embassies and withdrawn personnel from Benghazi, the U.S. still maintained a makeshift embassy and a secret CIA outpost that was actively gathering intelligence on the insurgency. Both the ambassador’s residence and the CIA outpost were protected by a team of former special ops forces turned private contractors.
Bay is no stranger to action movies, and 13 Hours does a decent job of showing the dangerous situations that the Americans faced in during the Libyan civil war and portraying the heroism of the security force that protected and saved American lives. The film could have better explained who some of the groups of people were in relation to each other and why certain actions could not be taken as events escalated. With a run time of roughly two and a half hours, one would think there would be enough screen time to clarify the situation and the interrelations of everybody, especially since American audiences are very interested in what exactly happened and how this could have been avoided.
Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern star in “The Hateful Eight.” Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company.
A Rare Miss in Tarantino’s Wheelhouse
Anyone who walks into a Quentin Tarantino film can typically expect a few things –snappy dialogue, clever plot twists, and stylized violence. In his latest film, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino delivers the violence, but falls short on his trademark wit and storyline. At three hours run time, the shortcomings make this movie a chore to get through.
Many people may expect this film to be in line with Tarantino’s last two films, the historical revenge movies, Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012), which received lots of Oscar buzz. There are some similarities with those two flicks, but The Hateful Eight’s plot and language just does not live up to those earlier works. The snail’s pace of the movie requires a lot of patience from the audience. Also, much of the action takes place in an old lodge, which does give the audience a sense of feeling trapped like the characters, but also slows the pace further. The movie does it have its moments, however, the exceptional acting from Walter Goggins (Diablo, 2015), the fantastic score from veteran composer, Ennio Morricone, and several great sequences of action and banter written by Tarantino. However, the typically brilliant filmmaking techniques of Tarantino are stifled by the tedious plot.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy star in “The Revenant.” Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
The Revenant is a Grizzly Adventure Epic To Be Experienced
The word revenant is defined as someone who has returned from the dead, which is a fairly good indicator of what’s in store for Leonardo DiCaprio in his new film. The Revenant is set in the 1820’s in the unsettled territory on the US/Canadian border. The story, inspired by true events, has several interesting historical elements, but is really at its core a revenge story. Although audiences may find the film slow at times or even too gory, the fantastic action sequences, visually stunning sets, camerawork, and the performance by DiCaprio make up for its shortcomings.
The story centers on Hugh Glass, a fur trapper played by DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street, 2015). He is joined by his son, a young Native American named Hawk (played by Forrest Goodluck in his first screen appearance). They serve as scouts for a company of American soldiers and fur trappers and after returning to camp after a hunt, find their colleagues under attack from Pawnee warriors. Although they try and stand their ground, the American company is quickly overwhelmed and must retreat to their boats dodging arrows along the way. As the dozen or so survivors set up camp and take stock of the remaining furs, the audience learns that Glass and Hawk are no strangers to violent raids as they were the lone survivors of an attack on their Indian village which also claimed Hawk’s mother. Although the circumstances of the attack are murky, it’s clear that Hawk is what Glass values most about in the world. Most of this backstory comes in the form of vague flashbacks from Glass and from insults from another trapper named Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015). Fitzgerald, who has a scarred head from a scalping attack, directs much hostility to Glass and his “half-bred” son as he bears hatred for the Native Americans.
The next day, as the Company heads back to their fort, Glass while on a scouting mission, accidentally stumbles upon bear cubs and is savagely attacked by an adult grizzly. Although he manages to kill the bear, he is left with severe wounds and his men are in disbelief that he’s still breathing. Captain Henry (Domhall Gleeson, Brooklyn, 2015), who respects Glass’s contributions, has his men haul Glass rather than leave him to die, but the severe weather and mountainous terrain make this nearly impossible. Rather than putting Glass out of his misery, Captain Henry leaves Glass’s son, two volunteers, Fitzgerald and a young soldier to take care of him until help arrives (or bury him if doesn’t make it). The next day, Fitzgerald starts digging a grave, tries to smother Glass, but instead eventually kills Hawk, who intercedes to protect his father. Fitzgerald then flees the camp after convincing the young soldier that Indians are close by, and Glass cannot be saved. We now find Glass lying motionless in a dirt hole next to his dead son. Over the course of the film, Glass refuses to give up and struggles to survive in the wilderness to find the man who killed his son and left him for dead. Read more…