Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

beauty and the beast live

A headstrong, well-read French village girl named Belle (Emma Watson) is tired of life in her small village and can’t help but think that life has more to offer than her small town gives her.  She is relentlessly pursued by town hunk and resident harasser, Gaston, (Luke Evans) who she cleverly avoids. Belle is very close to her father, Maurice, (Kevin Kline) who raised her after Belle’s mom passed away.  When she visits Maurice, Belle asks her dad for a rose, and he promises to get her one. On a snowy night, Maurice loses his way and gets captured by a Beast (Dan Stevens) who has been cursed  by an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) for his superficiality.  Belle hears that his father has been captured and rides off to save him.  She switches places with Maurice, and traps herself with the Beast.

Gaston sees an opportunity to be the hero, and rides off to save Belle with Maurice.  But Maurice refuses to let him marry Belle, and Gaston accuses Maurice of being crazy and wants to send him to an asylum.  In the castle, Belle and the Beast are becoming closer.  Lumiere, (Ewan McGregor) the candelabra Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan) the clock, Mrs. Potts, the teapot, and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) the wardrobe, are doing all they can to make the mood as romantic as possible.  They hope Bellle professes her love for the beast, because that will break the Enchantress’ spell on them too.  Things are going swimmingly until Belle checks on her father in a magic mirror, and sees that he is being taken away.  What does she do?  What happens to the Beast and his enchanted staff?

I was disappointed by Beauty and The Beast.  How could I not like a delightful movie such as this, you ask?  Easy, it was too much like its animated namesake, the live action movie followed the story of the animated movie, line for line shot for shot and scene for scene.  When Disney made a live action Jungle Book movie, they created a whole new story that was in every way better than the animated film.  That made me want to watch The Jungle Book, because I didn’t know what was coming with the next scene.  Since I had seen the animated Beauty before, not only did I know the scenes, I knew the songs, I knew the ending, I knew everything.  The few jokes that were added  for Josh Gad’s character weren’t that funny, and didn’t add much to the film.  Why is almost every actor speaking in a British accent, if the film is set in France?  Why does the Beast have blue eyes, is that important? The writers could have done a flashback and embellished the Beast’s character before the curse, and what made him such a superficial person, in the first place something to make it distinctive, anything.

The acting was good.  Emma Watson does the best she can with quite a limiting role, she is supposed to be an independent woman, headstrong, yet falling in love with a cursed Prince.  There is an inherent  contradiction in the role, but Watson is pleasant enough, and sings well enough to make Belle somewhat interesting.  Dan Stevens is pretty dull as the Beast, he doesn’t really bring much to the role.  Kevin Kline plays his role as comedy relief. Luke Evans is actually very good as Gaston, funny and evil at the same time, he put some real life into his role.  Of the Best’s household staff, only Ewan McGregor s Lumiere stands out, he infuses the role with humor and joy and a little sadness, he is truly a great actor.  Audra McDonald has a great operatic voice, I wish they gave her more songs to sing.

The direction is a mixed bag.  The visuals on some of the exteriors are visually appealing.  One of the opening scenes reminded  me very much of The Sound of Music, it was unintentionally humorous.  While the visuals were intriguing, the pacing is extremely slow, two hours seemed  more like four, and the performances were somewhat mixed.  The songs were great, just like the animated film,  but the CGI was overdone.

Beauty and The Beast:  It didn’t ring my Belle.

lego batman movie

Fresh from vanquishing all the villains in Gotham City, including his arch rival The Joker (Zach Galafiinakis)  Batman (Will Arnett) takes a victory lap to Gotham’s orphanage, where he mistakenly adopts Dick Grayson. (Michael Cera)  Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) suggests that Batman take care of his young ward, so Batman hatches a plot to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a device that will send the Joker to an alternate dimension, called the Phantom Zone. Only Dick Grayson is small and agile enough to take the Phantom Zone Projector, and he succeeds from taking it from Superman’s Fortress  of Solitude.  Does Batman use the Projector on The Joker and send him to The Phantom Zone?  Does Dick Grayson get the love and support he craves from his adoptive father?  Does Batman learn to work with Dick Grayson and other allies, or does he continue to be a loner?

The Lego Batman movie is oddly disappointing.   Batman was a very funny part of the Lego Movie, so it seemed natural that Batman had a Lego movie of its own.  But the Lego Batman Movie lacks the humor and charm of the Lego movie.  In fact it’s not very funny at all, and instead choses to be another re-telling of the Batman mythology.  The writers had the perfect physical representation of a man cave, namely the Bat Cave and didn’t use it. The writers instead try to push a romance, and a phony father son relationship with cloyingly bad results. The writers return time and time to a theme, that doesn’t gain credence with repetition.

Will Arnett hams it up relentlessly, which is alright for a supporting character, but it is redundant and rather unfunny. Michael Cera plays Robin as an infantile boy begging for love.  There is something annoying about every character that Cera plays, and he brings that annoyance factor to a likeable character. Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon as an uninteresting daughter of a commissioner who becomes commissioner. Dawson is also a love interest for the egomaniacal Batman, which is neither interesting or carries much chemistry along with it.

The direction is not noteworthy.  The pacing is slow, the performances are weak, and there is nothing eye-catching about the animation either.

The Batman Lego Movie:  A Batastrophe.

get out

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a black man dating a well-to-do white woman, Rose Armitage. (Allison Williams) This fact alone in post-Obama America shouldn’t be troublesome, but Chris is going to meet Rose’s parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) a neurisurgeon and Missy (Catherine Keener) a psychologist  for the first time, so naturally, they are both a bit nervous about meeting her parents.  On their way to her parents’ house in the country a policeman pulls the two over, heightening the tension, but he lets them with a warning, thanks to Rose.  Chris meets Dean and Missy, the act somewhat oddly. Chris thinks they may be overcompensating for being “Obama liberals” but he undoubtedly gets a strange vibe from Rose’s brother, Jeremy, (Caleb Landry Jones) who  is always talking about Mixed Martial Arts, and Chris needing to bulk up. Chris also gets an uneasy feeling about the black people hired to help around the Armitage household.  But maybe living in the country has made them more laid back than the people he’s used to meeting. After talking to Chris on the phone, his friend Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howry) has a vastly different take on the situation.  His advice to Chris:  Get Out!

Get Out is not a horror movie per se, it’s more a psychological thriller.  Get Out is a thought-provoking movie that plays with the viewers’ minds.  Do Rose’s parents resent Chris for dating their daughter, despite their liberal leanings?  Does Chris feel guilty for dating outside his race?  Chris is also dealing with some baggage of his own that the viewer finds out about during the movie, and Rose has a secret that is also revealed.  Things are revealed gradually like pieces to a big puzzle, but when the puzzle comes together, it is a treat.  I could tell you what movies Get Out reminds me of, but that would give too much away.  It’s not easy to combine elements of suspense with social commentary and comedy, but Get Out does it all, pretty flawlessly.  If you haven’t seen this movie, you should see it.

The acting is great.  Daniel Kaluuya plays a normal guy in increasingly abnormal situations.  If this was a comedy, he would be the straight man. He notices some things that are off-putting, but he doesn’t really think anything is wrong, he’s still got a great girlfriend, if nothing else so he stays in the house.  Allison Williams plays his loving sometimes protective girlfriend, She will protect him during his stay if things get weird, won’t she?  Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are superb as typical upper class parents, the kind of parents any kid would be lucky to have, or would you?  The comedy relief is refreshingly provided by Lil Rel Howry, let’s just say he is the canary in the coal mine, and he is hilarious.

The direction by Jordan Peele, who also produced and wrote the film is pretty standard horror movie visual direction, closeups on the protagonist’s face, close-ups on the back of his head, while he is  walking down the stairs.  The protagonist is sometimes shot in the foreground, while unexplained things go on in the background.  It all sets a mood, which is not so much scary as it is creepy.  The pacing is excellent, it doesn’t get bogged down on any one point, and he gets excellent performances from a talented cast.  I just wish this movie had come out before Keanu, which was about as funny as a migraine.  This movie displays Jordan Peele’s true range of talents.

Get Out.  Outstanding.

wonder woman

Diana, (Lilly Aspell, Emily Carey, Gal Gadot) is princess of the Amazons, a band of fierce female warriors, who live on an island, with no men.  She wants to train to be a warrior, but her mother Queen Hippolyta  (Connie Nielson) forbids it.  So Diana gets training from General Antiope (Robin Wright) behind her mother’s back.  One day, American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the barrier that keeps the island from being visible to others and into the ocean.  Diana saves Steve and learns that Steve is an American spy on a mission to end a secret German chemical weapons program, spearheaded by General  Ludendorf (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru, (Elena Anaya)  and end World War I.  Steve has Dr. Maru’s formula for the mustard gas, and has to deliver the book to British intelligence.  Diana believes that someone on the German side is really the Greek God of War Aries, who is trying to prolong the war and kill as many humans as possible.  Diana’s mission is to find and kill Aries. Does Hippolyta allow Diana to leave the Amazon’s island and travel with Steve to the front?  Does Steve accomplish his mission to stop the chemical weapons from being used?

This could have been a classic movie, but it sends all kinds of mixed messages.  One is a message of a woman imbued with great powers to stop the human race from annihilating itself, which is a wonderful message.  But if Wonder Woman is so powerful, why does she need help from a man?  Then, the writers want to superimpose some kind of messy love story within the superhero genre.  This kind of genre mixing rarely ever works. It’s been tried in Superman with Lois Lane, and Spiderman with Maryjane, with varying degrees of success.  In the context of this movie, the love story actually undercuts the female empowerment story.  There are also silly scenes that overemphasize Diana’s femininity.  Other than the lead character being a woman, this is a pretty generic superhero film, and the ending is pretty generic as well.  And if anyone thinks that being a woman makes Diana a pacifist, you haven’t watched a Hollywood superhero movie lately, this movie is very violent.

There is one redeeming aspect to Wonder Woman, and it is the performance of Gal Gadot as Diana Prince.  Her earnest, sincere, heartfelt, and serious (that’s a compliment) performance make this movie worth watching.  While most superhero actors are looking for a tagline, Gadot conveys the genuine feeling to the audience that Diana only wants to help people.  Her naiveté is refreshing as well.  If this movie stands out, it is because of her.  Chris Pine is not so lucky, he gives the standard hero performance, but he’s supposed to be an American spy who infiltrates the German military not once but twice.  He doesn’t even try a British accent to blend in to British society, and his German accent is weak.  His ham handed performance almost steals the movie from Gadot, Chris Pine, this wasn’t your movie.  He seems to have forgotten that Gadot is the focus of the film.  Robin Wright has a small role as the woman who trains Diana, but the role is too small to make an impression.

A big deal was made that Wonder Woman was directed by a woman.  The fact is Patty Jenkins added very little to this movie that is different from a man directing the same film.  There’s a backstory, an over reliance on special effects, and a long, long running time.  What exactly is the difference between this movie and Captain America’s origin story?  Not much and so why should Patty Jenkins deserve credit for directing a standard issue superhero movie?  She shouldn’t.  The only outstanding performance is by Gadot, and the pacing is slow at times.

Wonder Woman:  Wondering Why It Wasn’t Better.

the founder

In the 1950’s, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) was a salesman for a milkshake mixer called the Multi-Mix.  He was not very successful at it either.  He was trying to sell mixers near his home in Illinois, while drinking heavily and reading the Power of Positive Thinking. Despite his best efforts to stay positive, his business is struggling. Kroc’s downward spiral ends abruptly one day when he receives an order for six Multi-Mixers from a hamburger stand in San Bernardino California.  He decides to drive all the way to California  on Route 66, and there he finds Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald.(Nick Offerman)  The McDonald brothers have laid out their restaurant based on a floor plan that emphasizes speed and efficiency.  Kroc eats the burger and he’s sold, he sees the floor plan and hears about the ups and downs of all of the McDonald’s business ventures. Kroc takes in the presentation, and after some discouraging words from his wife, Ethel, (Laura Dern) Kroc tries to go back to selling milk shake mixers, but he can’t get McDonald’s out of his mind, so he goes back to the McDonald brothers with a proposal.  He wants to franchise the brothers’ burger stand.  What do Mac and Dick say?

The Founder is unflinching in its portrayal of Ray Kroc.  He is a ruthless, unscrupulous, unethical businessman.  He’s a schemer, whose many get-rich quick schemes have failed in the past.  He sees a golden opportunity and he’s not going to let it pass.  And business is not the only aspect of his life where he has a winner take all attitude.  The McDonald brothers are portrayed as naïve yokels, who fell off the turnip truck. How much of either is true is only known by the principals in the story, but it makes for a fascinating story.

The acting was mainly carried by Michael Keaton, he didn’t try to humanize Kroc at all, he just portrayed him as a tough, driven, SOB, who would run over people to get what he wanted.  It was a tough role, and Keaton didn’t even try to be likeable in it.  Despite the single note performance, it’s a good comeback for Keaton. John Carroll Lynch was excellent as Mac McDonald, he made Mac seem honest likeable, and even sympathetic.  Nick Offerman was also good as Dick McDonald, he played Dick as a tough but fair businessman, who only wanted to serve a decent burger. Even though Offerman played Dick as a by the book businessman, the viewer also feels sympathetic toward him.   Laura Dern was dull as Kroc’s wife Ethel, the most she ever did was glower at Keaton, and that’s all.

The direction was ok, the pacing was kind of slow, but the cinematography was fantastic, there are shots of an early McDonald’s lit up with neon and it looks gorgeous, so inviting to go into and eat.  He got some good performances, from Keaton, Offerman and Lynch but surprisingly, it was the visuals that made it fun to watch as well as informative.

The Founder:  Keaton doesn’t clown around as Kroc.

 

logan

In the year 2029, the mutant population has shrunken dramatically, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is finding life difficult now that the X-men have disbanded.  He is working as a chauffeur, and medicating himself by drinking quite a bit.  He realizes after fending off an attack from a group of youths trying to steal his car, that his ability to heal is vastly depleted.  Logan tries to maintain his loyalty to Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) by taking care of him in his older years.  Xavier is suffering from either Alzheimer’s disease or ALS, and if these diseases are not treated with medication, Xavier’s powers go haywire.  Logan is aided by Caliban, (Stephen Merchant) as the three learn to deal with the fragilities of aging bodies.

Adding to the chaos that’s become Logan’s everyday life, a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is desperate for Logan to help her.  She is a nurse and she is taking care of a pre-teen girl named Laura.(Daphne Keen)  There is a story that Gabriella adamently wants to tell Logan, what is the story?  Who is Gabriella?  Who is Laura?  Why do they need Logan’s help?  Does Logan help them?

Logan is a very interesting story about men who used to have superhuman abilities who is now learning to cope with his mortality.  It’s also part Western (with a telling reference to the movie Shane) part odd mutant nuclear family story, and part road trip, its settings seem like they are post-apocalyptic, and they may be for mutants, but the roads are mostly empty in the small rural towns where the film is focused.  That seems purposeful.   It is far from the traditional superhero movie where the heroes team up to stop some catastrophe, instead it’s a very personal story about being mortal, after living as an immoral.  It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s touching, nothing anyone would expect from a superhero film, but all qualities that abound in this film.  All the more reason to watch it.

The acting in Logan is superb.  Hugh Jackman is an amazing actor who knows this character so intimately, that he knows how to play him in every circumstance, and in this circumstance the role requires different emotions for Jackman to draw upon, and he does so successfully.  I can’t imagine anyone else playing Logan or Wolverine.  I know it will happen, eventually  but I won’t like it. Patrick Stewart also gave a standout performance.  He is no longer the cool, calm, collected mentor of the X-Men he is a man on the verge of losing his mental faculties and watching his powers spiral out of control. Stewart conveys the desperation of that situation well, but manages to maintain the character’s dignity, humor and compassion. Daphne Keen is ok as Laura, but she us silent for much of the movie, then screams for more, she is just not given much to do.

The direction is very effective in conveying that this is not one of those epic end of the world movies. James Mangold wrote and directed this movie, as well as the previous movie Wolverine, so he knows this territory.  He also  directed  3:10 to Yuma so he knows how to direct a Western too. The scenes in the rural countryside give a sense that this is a modern day Western, and also a quieter movie devoid  of the massive amounts of special effects that are so prevalent in movies like this.  This is a long movie because there is a lot of exposition and there needs to be because there are a lot of pieces to put together, but when the pieces come together, it is a very satisfying film.  He gets good performances from the leads, and the ending is satisfying as well.

Logan:  The claws that refresh.

Queen of Katwe

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl growing up in a poor village called Katwe in Uganda, selling maize in Uganda to help feed her mother and siblings.  One day Phiona follows her younger brother to a run-down building.  She wants to make sure he stays out of trouble.  What the kids are actually doing in that building is playing chess.  The kids in the building make fun of Phiona because she is poor and does not smell good, but the man running the program, Robert Katande, (David Oyelowo) invites Phiona in and gives her a cup of warm milk.  Phiona takes to chess almost immediately,  and beats the champ of their small group, which inspires Robert to plan for her to compete in an expensive private school competition.  One problem, Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is suspicious of Robert’s intentions, and threatens to keep Phiona away from Robert’s chess school, and the private school’s headmaster wants Phiona or her mom to pay the exorbitant entry fee for the tournament. Does her mother let her go to Robert Katande’s chess school?  Who pays the tournament fee?

I love chess, so I may be biased, but this is a great film.  It shows the seemingly endless possibilities that can open from a young girl’s exposure to chess.  Phiona’s journey is not sugarcoated in the least, she faces a lot of problems, her mother faces a lot of problems raising a large family alone.  Despite all that, Phiona has hope and that hope is provided by Robert Katande and by chess.  Hope imbues this film with a warmth that is very gratifying. One of the things that I hope to achieve with this blog is to make people want to see movies that they may not want to see.  This is a film that you may not have wanted to see, or may not even know about, but you should see it.  You will not be sorry.

The acting is superb.  Hollywood played a mean trick on Lupita Nyong’o, at 34 she’s playing a mother of 5, and several of her kids look like they’re in their late teens.  Lupita pulls of the role with grit and honesty, sometimes angry, sometimes achingly heartbroken.  I didn’t even know it was her until halfway through the film, that it was her she looked older and acted like an authority figure, so she really made me believe in the character, what better compliment can I give her?  Credit her also for taking difficult roles and downplaying her beauty.  In 12 Years A Slave she was abused mercilessly, in Star Wars VII, she was under tons of prosthetic makeup, and in this movie she is nearly unrecognizable. David Oyelowo is also outstanding as Robert Katande, he gives Robert Katende a genuine sense of honor, dignity and self-sacrifice.  He was also outstanding as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Madina Nalwanga is also incredible as Phiona, this is her debut role, to show such poise and confidence, and then unleash emotion at the drop of a hat, is incredible.

Mira Nair, the director of this film, deserves a lot of credit for the way this story was told, her pacing in prior movies is horrendously slow, but she keeps the pace going at a good pace here.  Nair also lives in Uganda, so a lot of this film was shot in Uganda and other parts of Africa, so that gives the movie an authentic look and feel .  She gets great performances from everyone in the film, many of whom are kids which can be difficult.  David Oyelowo is Nigerian ethnically Nyongo is Nigerian ethnically, and Madina Nalwanga is from Uganda, so Nair deserves a lot of credit for casting the movie authentically.

The Queen of Katwe:  A Good Knight At the Movies.