lion

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a five year old boy growing up in rural India.  Saroo and his brother, Guddu (Abishek Bharate) are so poor, they collect rocks to sell for money.  One day, while tagging along with Guddu, Saroo and Guddu get separated and Saroo ends up asleep alone on a train.  By the time Saroo wakes up, he is lost in the Bengali city of Calcutta.  He tries to tell people where he lives, but is too young to remember the proper name of his village.  He wanders the streets of Calcutta for a few days, until a woman named Noor (Tannishtha  Chatterjee) takes him in and introduces Saroo to a man named Rama (Nawazuddin Saddiqui)  who promises to take him to a nice place.  It doesn’t take Saroo long to realize Noor and Rama are up to no good.  Saroo runs away, and eventually ends up in an orphanage.  He is adopted by an Australian couple, John Brierly (David Wenham) and Sue. (Nicole Kidman)

Saroo Brierly (Dev Patel) grows up comfortably in Australia, goes to a hotel management class, finds a girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara) and his future seems bright.  But Saroo is haunted by the memory of his birth mother, brother, and sister.  At the same time, Saroo does not want to cause his adoptive mother any undue pain.  He is torn.  What does Saroo do?  Does he look for his birth family or does he remain in his comfortable life in Australia?

Lion has a compelling story to tell.  It is especially compelling in the first hour, where it conveys the confusion and despair of a boy who is lost in a big city very well.  The second half of the movie is not as successful because it gets bogged down in Saroo’s conflicts with his adoptive brother, and his relationship with his girlfriend, or is Lucy his wife?  The writing concerning both Lucy and Saroo’s adoptive brother was maddeningly vague.  Did the brother have emotional problems or a mental disability?  These are details most people wouldn’t care about but they bothered me.  However, the ending did have an emotional punch, and was satisfying.

The acting was good, but one person stood out, and it’s not the one who got the Oscar nomination.  Little Sunny Pawar gave a powerful performance as young Saroo, he carried the movie on his little shoulders, for as long as he was in the movie, and gave an emotionally varied performance.  He was a happy go-lucky kid one minute, and desperately searching for his brother the next.  It was a surprising range of emotions for such a little boy.   Another great performance was given by Tannistha Chatterjee, who is kind but sly, and plays the duplicitous role well.  Dev Patel is ok, not great, because he doesn’t convey the angst of his pain with as much intensity as Sunny Pawar.  Nicole Kidman has a role with surprisingly little impact, which is the writers’ fault, not Kidman’s fault.  Similarly, Rooney Mara is given little to do.

The pacing seems to match the storyline, the first hour us fast paced and exciting, the second hour slows down considerably.  The director does get good performances from most of the cast, and does make the ending worth watching, but maybe more of the Australian scenes could have been edited to get to the ending faster.

Lion Roars out of the gates, is tame later.

SUICIDE SQUAD

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to put together a group of criminals for a secret mission.  Deadshot (Will Smith) is a hitman, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was a psychiatrist, who went crazy treating the Joker. (Jared Leto) Killer Croc,(Adewale Akinnuoye  Agbage) some kind of hybrid between a human and a crocodile.  Diablo, (Jay Hernandez) a man who can conjure fire instantly.  June Moone, (Cara Delveigne) an anthropologist, whose soul is occupied by a witch named Enchantress. Rick Flag, (Joel Kinnaman) June’s military boyfriend. George Harkness, an Australian criminal, serving a triple life sentence, and Katana, a female ninja avenging the death of her husband.  All these shady characters agree to this mission for time off their sentences, and Rick assumes he can control June, but Enchantress has her own ideas. What is the mission that the Suicide Squad agrees to?  Do they succeed?

The difference between a great superhero film, and a run of the mill superhero film are numerous.  In a great superhero film, the protagonist well-drawn, and sympathetic, the viewer wants this character to succeed.  In a great superhero film, the storyline becomes about much more than who wins or who loses, it becomes about larger themes like the nature of man.  In a great superhero film, the climax fit the rest of the story, and the viewer feels thrilled, and awaits the ending.  Suicide Squad is not a great superhero film, the characters are paper thin, the plot inches along looking for excitement, and finds none, the climax is as exciting as a shrug of the shoulders, and the ending is routine.  The movie needed a lot more backstory for character development, and a deeper more exciting plot, but the viewer doesn’t get that. Combine a dull plot with bad acting and you’ve got this film.

Viola Davis is the best actor in this film.  She at least held my attention.  Will Smith is still trying desperately to regain the mojo that made him bankable box office in the mid 1990’s, but this film won’t do it.  His character at least has two dimensions most of the characters aren’t that well-developed. But Smith has lost that swagger from his early movies, and he hasn’t really replaced it with anything.  I liked Margot Robbie in the Wolf of Wall Street,  but she plays Harley Quinn like a total airhead. And her Aussie accent sneaks in once in a while. Jared Leto plays the Joker like a low rent Heath Ledger, it’s a pale imitation of Heath Ledger’s masterful performance, but Leto never makes it his own. Leto is a better actor than he shows in this role and that is a disappointment.  The other actors are not worth mentioning because the characters are so poorly drawn that these actors could not bring anything to them.

David Ayer is the director and writer of this film.  He wrote Training Day, so he is capable of writing a good film, but his writing is bad in this film,  and his direction is also poor.  The pacing of this film is very slow, it’s a long film that takes forever to get where its going and when it gets there, the viewer can’t help but wonder if that is all there was to the movie. He gets terrible performances and the special effects are underwhelming.

Suicide Squad: Killing the careers of its actors.

moana

One thousand years ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart from island goddess Te Fiti.  One thousand years later, Moana (Louise Bush, Auli’I Cravalho) is born.  She is drawn to the ocean, but her father, Tui, (Temuera Morrison) the Chief of the village, repeatedly tells Moana not to go beyond the reef.  But Moana’s grandmother, Tala (Rachel House) urges Moana to find out more about her ancestors, and she finds out she comes from a family of explorers.  Moana tries to sail out beyond the reef, but gets tossed around and goes back to her home island.  But then tragedy strikes, the fish near the reef begin to die and Tala becomes bedridden. As she is dying, Tala implores Moana to sail again, and gives her the heart of Te Fiti, in the form of an emerald like stone and tells her to find Maui, and return the stone to Te Fiti.  Moana finds Maui on a deserted island,  Maui is a boastful demigod, but he is also frightened of Te Ka the volcanic God who stands in the way of bringing the heart stone back to Te Fiti.  So he traps Moana on the deserted island and has no intention of giving the stone heart back to Te Fiti.  Does Moana get off the island?  Do she and Maui return the heart stone to Te Fiti.?

Moana dies a good job of synthesizing a Polynesian myth with a modern story of a girl seeking her independence from her overprotective parents.  However, he writers undercut the message of independence for women by having Maui tag along and talk down to Moana through a large part of the film.  In addition the animal characters are wasted, they should have anthropromorphized the animals and given them the power to speak only to Moana, but instead they end up with a brainless google-eyed chicken.  The ending has a nice twist, which reinforces why Moana was chosen for the journey.

The voice acting is excellent.  Auli’I Cravalho is a natural as the young, impetuous, Moana.  Her bubbly personality imbues the film with positivity, and the audience cannot help but root for her.  Dwayne Johnson was surprisingly funny in this movie, I was surprised how good his comic timing was.  Rachel House is very endearing as Moana’s granny.  The scenes between House and Cravalho are very touching,

An hour and 47 minutes is a little long for an animated feature, but the four directors keep the pace going briskly.  The animation is eye-popping.  If there are beaches that pristine in the world, I would like to visit them.  The performances from the main actors are very good, although the music was slightly underwhelming.  I expected more from Lyn Manuel Miranda.

There is an entertaining short before Moana, called Inner Workings, be sure and watch it, it is funny and lighthearted.

Moana: Maui Wowie!

 

jackie k

After her husband John F. Kennedy , (Caspar Phillipson) has been assassinated, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) reflects on events before the assassination, like her tour of the refurbished White House,  and the time during the actual assassination.  To unburden her guilt and mourning Jackie talks to her brother-in-law Bobby, (Peter Sarsgaard) a reporter, (Billy Crudup) and a priest. (John Hurt) She simultaneously tries to protect her husband’s legacy, even as new President Lyndon Baines Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) has been sworn in, and is waiting to move in to the White House.  Jackie wants a public procession to precede her husband’s funeral, but people around her are concerned that there is a danger presented by a public procession.  Who wins that argument?

Jackie is not a flattering portrait of Jackie Kennedy.  On the contrary, Jackie Kennedy is portrayed as a cold, calculating, conniving person who works hard to cultivate a public persona which is much different from her private persona.  She is shown drinking heavily, chain-smoking, and also trying to censor those things from the reporter trying to cover her. The film also makes at least one outlandish claim, but as usual with these pseudo factual biopics, the filmmakers will claim poetic license.  It will be up to the viewer to determine what the truth is, if he or she chooses to do so.

Natalie Portman overdoes her role as Jackie Kennedy, she tries to do Mrs. Kennedy’s voice, and sometimes the voice overwhelms the performance itself.  She does a good job of conveying the pain of a widow who has to grieve in public, but the film version of Jackie Kennedy is so unlikeable that it’s difficult to appreciate Portman’s performance.  Peter Sarsgaard is awful as Bobby Kennedy, he doesn’t try to do Kennedy’s voice, so his own voice, which grates on my ears is on full display here.  It’s a small role, and I’m grateful for that.

Pablo Larrain is well known in Chile for his violent and aggressive portrayals of life in Chile Thankfully, the movie is relatively short, 1 hour and 40 minutes, but it’s still packed with arthouse techniques.  Larrain tries all kind of visual tricks close-ups, dramatic music, flashbacks, and fantasy sequences, to turn up the intensity, but the story of the President Kennedy’s assassination and its aftermath,  doesn’t need tricks to make it intense.

Jackie: Hijacked by overzealous acting and directing.

Image  —  Posted: April 23, 2017 in Drama
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dave chappelle

The star of Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s show talks about Bill Cosby, Kevin Hart, the LGBTQ community, and his four meetings with O.J, Simpson.

I like Dave Chapelle, not his stupid movies, like Half Baked, but I loved his show Chappelle’s  Show, precisely because it was edgy and dangerous.  He took what people were thinking and said them, and that’s why I liked his show, and he said things that no one would think of saying and said them anyway.  Some people may not like him because of his controversial humor, but that’s why I like him.

This brings me to this special.  Some of this special is very funny and made me laugh out loud, but some of it is not funny at all.  Here’s my take, when someone is TRYING to be funny, I can tell, it doesn’t sound natural, and Dave Chappelle was trying to be funny in some instances in this special.  The thing is, he doesn’t have to try so hard to be funny, he just is funny.  At times he sounded like he was giving a history lesson, and that is definitely not fun. Maybe age has mellowed him, there’s a big difference between a 40 something comedian and a 30 something comedian.  Maybe my expectations for Chappelle were too high, sometimes expectations are difficult to live up to.  I disagree with Dave Chappelle’s views on Kevin Hart, and Key and Peele, but comedy is subjective, even for comedians.  There’s some good material here, but is it top flight jokes for an hour?  No.

Morgan Freeman narrates the opening, but that’s the only really distinctive aspect of the special from the director’s point of view. Other than that, it’s Chappelle talking to the audience.

Chappelle juices up his new special.

moonlight

A young African American boy, named Chiron, nicknamed Little, (Alex Hibbert) is growing up in a dangerous neighborhood in Miami. His mother, Paula, (Naomie Harris) is addicted to crack cocaine, and Little is bullied by the neighborhood kids.  His only solace from his mother and the bullies, is a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Theresa. (Janelle Monae)  Juan takes Little under his wing, and gives him advice and a shoulder to lean on. In the midst of all the madness, Little finds one friend, named Kevin. (Jaden Piner)  Kevin is one of the few people Little can be comfortable with.

As Little becomes a teenager, he is given a new nickname by Kevin. (Jharrell Jerome) Kevin now calls Little, Black, (Trevante Rhodes) because of his dark complexion.  The friendship intensifies, but when a bully named Terrel  (Patrick Decile) asks Kevin to knock Black down, Kevin complies, more than once.  How does this incident affect their friendship? How does this incident affect Chiron’s adult life?

The aspect of Chiron’s life that causes him to be bullied from his childhood to his teen years is never spoken about in the setting in which this movie takes place.  That in itself makes this a unique film. The way Chiron’s life is broken up into three distinct segments, pre-teen, teen, and adult also makes for interesting storytelling. The exceptional part of this movie is how the writing balances sensitivity with realism. Moonlight is not perfect however, one of the characters just disappears in the first third of the movie, without explanation. In addition, the ending is decidedly Hollywood in a movie that is decidedly un-Hollywood.  Even with its flaws, this movie undoubtedly deserved the Best Picture Oscar, for its unique story and unique way of telling the story.

The acting is superb.  Mahershala Ali definitely deserved the Academy Award for supporting actor, there’s a debate about that, but it’s not up for debate with me, it was a great performance plain and simple. Naomie Harris plays a difficult to like role in an earnest way, she wants to take care of her son but her addiction precludes her from doing so. The kids playing Little and Black, Alex Hibbert and Trevante Rhodes are excellent and bring real emotion to their roles.  The kids playing Kevin are also very good.

The direction is good.  Barry Jenkins is wise to split the story into three parts, it makes the pacing faster and it makes the audience anxious to see what follows.  Jenkins also gets great performances from his cast.  This is a great movie and Jenkins is a large reason why.

Moonlight: Full of surprises

 

hacksaw ridge

When Desmond Doss (Darcy Bryce, Andrew Garfield) was young he got into a fight with his brother , Hal (Roman Guerrero, Nathaniel Buzcolic) and hit him in the head with a rock.  Desmond prays for Hal’s recovery and he eventually recovered.  Desmond’s father, Tom, (Hugo Weaving) is a World War I veteran, but he is also an alcoholic, who beats Desmond’s mother,  and threatens her with a gun.  One of these altercations almost ends with Desmond shooting Tom, and so Desmond becomes a pacifist and vows never to touch a gun again. At the same time that Desmond is realizing his pacifism, World War II is raging in the Pacific, and Desmond wants to join the fight as a medic.  There is no law against contentious objectors joining the military, but Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover  (Sam Worthington) conspire to get Desmond discharged on a section 8, but Desmond is not crazy.  Later, the military ties to court-martial him for insubordination, for refusing to carry a firearm.  Does Desmond beat the court-martial?

Hacksaw Ridge is a story well worth telling, about a pacifist who still wants to serve his country by healing soldiers and not killing people.  But instead of making Desmond a hero, the writers make Desmond a superhero, he is perfect, faultless, and blameless in every way, and that makes Desmond too good to be true, and the rest of the characters are stereotypes of solders that are overdone in films.  The Sergeant is loud, and overbearing, the Captain just wants Desmond out of his hair.  All of Desmond’s fellow privates deride Desmond and haze him for his religious beliefs, and the Japanese are nothing more than screaming dehumanized hoards.

Andrew Garfield does as well as he can with this role.  He is boxed in by the writing, Garfield is only allowed to show anger at his fellow soldiers once in the whole film.  And he overcompensates with his Southern accent to hide his British accent.  Vince Vaughn plays Sergeant Howell like Sergeant Carter of Gomer Pyle fame, barking out orders and heaping abuse on helpless privates.  Vaughn should really stick to comedies, at least he has shown he can be funny.  Sam Worthington struggles the most with his British accent, and that neutralizes the effectiveness of his character.  Hugo Weaving is given the most complex character to play, and he does it well, he stands out in a relatively small role.

Mel Gibson directed this movie and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work.  I’m not sure he deserved a nomination.  The pacing was slow, and he didn’t edit enough.  His overuse of a certain special effect became an annoyance. Gibson was visually trying to prove that war was a dirty, bloody, hell on earth.  But the violence was staggering and the level of violence was repellant.  If Gibson had stuck with the story of Desmond Doss the pacifist during World War II, and cut down on the eye popping violence, Hacksaw Ridge would have been a better film.

Hacksaw Ridge:  Mel Gibson does a hack job as a director.