What I’ve Done

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I’m going to try and keep this review as brief as possible.

On average, I adored the Transformers movies thus far — I saw the first installment in  high school, and every movie gave me cause to joyously regress to that fat, pimply kid and enjoy the candy corn that was the best toy movie franchise ever made. Sadly, there comes a point when a boy must mature into a man; for me, that moment came hours ago, when I saw Transformers: The Last Knight.

Filmed almost entirely in IMAX 3D, Michael Bay’s swansong to his time in the toy department makes use of the immersive format like nothing I’ve seen before, but if only more time was spent in the much-publicized writers’ room. Rest assured it’s not the ghastly hodgepodge that the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, was, but boy oh boy, is it uninspired. Then again, what could one expect of a group of writers headed by Akiva Goldsman, whose brainchildren include Batman & RobinWinter’s Tale and The Da Vinci Code? Speaking of uninspired, most of the human actors present in this film are somewhere between giving it their all and collecting a paycheck — Marky-Mark patently wants out, Isabela Moner is charming but sparsely seen, Anthony Hopkins and Laura Haddock are having too much fun, and Josh Duhamel… next.

The biggest offenders in this film are the sound editors and mixers — if this film had a middle name, it would be “bombastic.” Even for an IMAX-optimized movie, it’s deafness-inducing, and the last thing I want after seeing a movie is to be fitted with hearing aids — no Oscar nods for any of y’all.

Though The Last Knight is meh than meets the eye, I still hold a tiny glimmer of hope for the four-friggin-teen Transformers movies and spin-offs in development, so here’s hoping the Bayhem has met its end at the hands of coherence.

Rating: 2/5

Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho!

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is something of a brilliant fluke that printed lots of money and occasional awards in its heyday, but let’s not mince words — the sequels thus far, made with the potential of being a seafaring Star Wars saga, were land-locked crap. With the much-publicized “final film” that was released last week, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I was hoping with bated breath for one last hurrah to make amends for the sequels that sucked. Having seen it, patience is clearly a virtue!

In this film, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through The Looking-Glass) is a battered ol’ drunkie, with little to sustain him but the next rum bottle that touches his lips. Fate (read: sheer dumb luck) brings him into contact with Henry Turner (Brenton Twaites, Maleficent), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley, The Imitation Game), and he brings with him a threat from the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) and a desire to free his father from unending servitude. Teaming up with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a young astronomer accused of witchcraft, and Jack’s resident frenemy, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech), they seek the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact capable of freeing anyone from a curse of the sea.

In all seriousness, this is not the best Pirates movie in the series — it does, however, have the luxury of being the best one since the immaculate original. Depp, as always, blends into character as if no years have passed, with all the wit and twit we love about Captain Jack, and yet this is not just his movie — just about everyone gets a chance to shine, with Thwaites finally beginning to prove his mettle as an actor beyond a pretty face and a haircut, and Bardem embodying all the creepy he had in Skyfall with a bit of a dark comedic edge to it. At times, Rush seems to be fulfilling a contract, but he brings all the necessary “arrr” to the role he created in 2002. Scodelario isn’t as bright in her role as I hoped she’d be, but she’s clearly having a good time making a costume drama in the company of great people. Speaking of, Sir Paul McCartney (A Hard Day’s Night), a Beatle in the flesh, appears as Jack’s uncle and namesake — try not to miss him!

Fresh eyes arrive to the series in the form of seasoned action directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki), giving a stronger sense of action choreography and an ability to see the beauty in locations, something they exhibited as producers on Netflix’s Marco Polo, but the real beauty of this movie is in its having a new writer — Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can). In addition to bringing a fresh eye, relatively unbound to the conventions of the previous sequels, and while there are rehashed lines and some plot holes, he seems to know exactly what the fans want, and in the end, he gives it to us — not only are Henry and Carina lovers by the end, Will and Elizabeth, longstanding mainstays of the series, are finally, definitively reunited in an ending that, while it should have been that of the third film, is warranted, welcome and warmed my greasy little heart to 450ºF! Bravo!

In its last-ditch effort for a return to form, this final Pirates largely succeeds. The script is definitely riddled with clichés; the acting ranges from nominal to yuckin’-it-up, but in the end, the franchise has met a graceful end and its fans, myself included, have finally gotten the happy ending that we deserved! So do yourself a favor and board a ship for a joyous voyage in 3D at your earliest convenience!

Rating: 3.5/5

I’d Like To Do It Again

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I grew up on stuff that meant nothing to my generation — from vintage comedies to Victrola records, my house was in 1950 while 1997 happened in the outside world. As a direct result, I was alienated from most of my class, but I did acquire a, dare I say, more refined sense of humor compared to my contemporaries. That being said, not enough comedies in theaters today make me laugh — I tend to groan throughout (Superbad) or take the story dead seriously (Tropic Thunder), so I rarely see them in theaters. In point of fact, the last one I saw as such was 2012’s Hit & Run, and I guffawed all the way through. Almost five years later, I found myself seeing Going In Style, and loving it from head to toe!

A remake of the 1979 film of the same name, Going In Style showcases the lives of three friends in their sunset years — Joe (Michael Caine, The Italian Job), Willie (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption) and Albert (Alan Arkin, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!) — robbed of their pensions and near broke. With no other way to live and expenses needing to be paid, Joe gets the idea to rob a bank — the same bank that managed the liquidation of their pensions. It does sound extremely dumb in synopsis form, and while the trailers paint a better picture than my words, they don’t do it enough justice — this is a very cute, touching film that happens to have some of the best laugh-out-loud moments I’ve ever seen (and the best ones are actually kept from the trailer! Bravo!)! Caine, Freeman and Arkin have never been funnier, and they’re joined by a grand cast of co-stars — among them, Ann-Margret (Bye Bye Birdie), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Matt Dillon (Over The Edge), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Holes) and Joey King (Oz: The Great and Powerful), each one getting a moment or two in the spotlight that make them indispensable to this film. No one present in this film is an unnecessary addition, which is something I can’t say about most movies in history.

Still, when the movie gets sentimental, it never stoops to sappy, Mitch Albom-y levels. It’s a movie made for the generation who grew up on the Billy Wilder compendium of comedies; movies that weren’t afraid to fiddle with your heartstrings as they tickled your funnybone, and that is made all the more impressive by its 42-year old director, Zach Braff. Known as the man behind romantic dramedies such as Garden State and The Last Kiss. Braff’s direction is a loving one, kind and courteous to the audiences watching this film with no real alternatives in a day and age of uninspired drivel like Trainwreck and Neighbors. There is no other movie this year like Going In Style — it’s a trip down Memory Lane that never takes its foot off the gas. True, it does slow down a bit in its third act, and that’s a bit of a pity, but on average, it’s a rollicking, fun ride through the pitfalls of old age.

Let’s be clear, Going In Style is not Oscar bait, despite advertisements billing its leads as “Academy Award Winners,” but it’s not made for the Hollywood elite, nor the moviegoer expecting to see The Hangover on Ensure; it’s a comedy that isn’t afraid to be poignant and adorable. You just don’t get movies like that anymore, and kudos to Zach Braff and all affiliated — this is a love letter from our generation to the past.

4.5/5

Perfect, A Pure Paragon

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If you are as much of a Disney fan as I (few are), then the thought of a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast gave you cause to salivate — one that kept the songs and its composer, eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken! I was sold, but as the days to release got closer, I found myself getting more and more cautious — suppose the end result sucked, a la Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables? I am proud and thankful to say that this adaptation, directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), is nothing short of brilliant. I write this review assuming that you are familiar with the base of the story (and you had better be!), and as such, spoilers follow.

One thing viewers of the 1993 Broadway show may not be aware of is that none of the songs written for said show carry over into this film, but fear not, as Menken and lyricist Sir Tim Rice write new songs that both make up for the missing ones and craft a new experience for the viewers of the show. Speaking of the songs, the movie is filled with brilliant performances, beginning with the Harry Potter franchise’s Emma Watson, who can sing, rest assured, and in spite of her promoted desire to modernize Belle, I was, as a feminist, glad to have seen her more resolute than openly militant — we’re bordering on the political, but I’m super happy this wasn’t rewritten as “Steinem and the Beast.” Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) makes a brilliant Beast, with one hell of a set of pipes — his signature number, “Evermore,” brought tears to my eyes, but it’s Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) who brings his latent background in musical theatre to the forefront and aces the role of Gaston with a great voice and the right levels of smarm, condescension and cruelty — just the right type of villain! Acting as his toady is Josh Gad (Back To You) as LeFou, who gets a larger story arc in this version, which fleshes him out without totally changing him. Kevin Kline (Silverado), as Belle’s father Maurice, brings a befuddled persona to the character, reminiscent of Buster Keaton in Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with an equally kind nature requisite of the character. He doesn’t get much of a song — less than two minutes — but his necessity isn’t in his singing, and you’ll find out when you see this.

The servile characters of the castle just about steal the show, with Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!) and Ian McKellen (Cold Comfort Farm) leading the pack as Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively. With great singing voices (although Sir Ian doesn’t get to show his much), they make “Be Our Guest” a showstopper even better than the original (there’s even a visual nod to Esther Williams’ swim ballet pictures!)! Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) is adorable and kindly as Mrs. Potts, with a more knowledgeable nature than in the animated film, and alongside her is relative newcomer Nathan Mack as Chip, who is freakin’ adorkable. Here’s to your long career, boy!

Underplayed, but still appreciated, are Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) as Plumette, the featherduster and Lumiere’s flame (…groan…), Audra MacDonald (A Raisin in the Sun) as Madame de Garderobe, a soprano-cum-wardrobe, and Stanley Tucci (The Whole Shebang) as new character Maestro Cadenza, a court composer turned harpsichord. They each get their moment to shine, to be sure, but a little more couldn’t hurt. Still, not a big enough gripe to warrant a lesser grade.

Again, those fearing too much modernization in this edition need not worry — what wasn’t broke (or baroque) in the 1991 classic mercifully remains unfixed in this version. Sure, there’s the much-publicized “gay-making” of LeFou, but if it wasn’t publicized, I guarantee nobody would have even suspected it. It’s mercurial, and those of a discriminatory position needn’t fear their children’s safety — you never needed to anyway. Other plot points that warranted expansion are done brilliantly so, from the whereabouts of Belle’s mother and what happened to the Enchantress, and that speaks volumes of the talents of writers Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being A Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), both writers I didn’t care much for prior to this, and director Bill Condon, who may have directed both parts of the Twilight saga closer, Breaking Dawn, but aside from giving him experience in visual effects work, there’s nothing resembling those two duds in this film.

Bravo to all involved in this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, who have created something as memorable as the musical and film that preceded it. It’s a pity it wasn’t released in time for last Oscar season, but it was better they take care of the film and not rush a single thread. I will happily see it again in IMAX 3D, and I urge all readers of this to see it too!

Rating: 5/5(?!)

It Ain’t Necessarily So

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Too often, films are left to rot – virtually the entire pantheon of silent films and most early Technicolor musicals are either missing in part or full due to negligence for future generations. It’s also common for the original negatives of 70mm epics to be lost to time and carelessness – from The Alamo to The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, it’s truly a crime to let art dissipate like this. However, some films are neglected due to hatred or disappointment, and sadly, Otto Preminger’s Porgy and Bess is one such a film to have lost its original TODD-AO camera negative, but not all hope is lost.

I had become fascinated with Preminger’s Porgy when I was browsing through the director’s filmography on IMDb — to think that the white director of Anatomy of a Murder did an almost all-black musical. As I dug further, I found that not all went well with the production, the history of which can be read in historian Foster Hirsch’s book, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King, or on the film’s Wikipedia page. Altogether, the film was blackballed by the Hollywood intelligentsia and the NAACP, rendering it a flop and almost forgotten. The rights to the film were split threefold between the estates of the Gershwins, DuBose Heyward and Samuel Goldwyn, rendering any re-releases impossible, even on Turner Classic Movies.

Sheer dumb luck led me to a screening of the film at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinemateque last November, and I was ecstatic. The screening was beyond sold out – numerous pop-up seats had to be added to the theater to accommodate demand – and aforementioned biographer Foster Hirsch was at hand, explaining the history behind the film as well as the print used for the screening. It was a 35mm positive from a Finnish film festival, laden with Dutch and Finnish subtitles, and with more than occasional short jumps in the soundtrack — it broke my greasy little heart, and yet I was still blown away.

The film is shot in long, panning takes, exposing the beauty and intricacies of the Catfish Row set, with a very saturated color scheme that brings to mind a Fragonard painting. Further, orchestrations by André Previn of the classic songs are masterful – from “Summertime” to the Finale Ultimo, I hung upon every note. Some may not like the fact that it was filmed on sets, or that the recitative is converted to spoken word, but truly, I feel it keeps the staged quality of the show while bringing it to the level of the general public without pandering for compromise.

Paramount among every facet of the film is the acting and singing. Sydney Poitier (Lillies of the Field) plays Porgy, a role he resents playing to this day, with grace and kindness, but also with the requisite strength we expect from an actor of his caliber, even if his singing is performed by Robert McFerrin (side note: this film has excellent sound-alike casting!). Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones) plays Bess, Porgy’s woman with a past always returning to haunt her, and does it extremely well, especially due to the duress she was under during filming. Oddly enough, the singing Dandridge was dubbed by Adele Addison, due to the role being out of her range. Still, the casting holds well.

Supporting women include Pearl Bailey (The Fox & The Hound) as Maria, a restaurant owner on Catfish Row and friend to most everyone — and she gets some of the best slapstick moments I’ve ever seen — and Diahann Carrol (Claudine) as Clara, who opens the film with “Summertime.” Amazingly, two of the background dancers include author Maya Angelou and Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)!

Supporting men are headlined by Brock Peters (To Kill A Mockingbird), playing decidedly against type as Crown, Bess’ abusive lover, and veteran character actor Clarence Muse (Broadway Bill) has a small part as Peter, the honey-man. The standout player, however, is Sammy Davis Jr. (Robin and the Seven Hoods) as Sportin’ Life, in a role he was thrilled to play, and it shows! His energy was so infectious that by the end of his standout number, It Ain’t Necessarily So, the audience was applauding and cheering! He further has all the smarm and calculated malice of a cobra in There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York. It’s a crime he didn’t get an Oscar for this role, and it’s even sadder that his voice is not heard on the soundtrack LP, due to contract issues.

Sadly, the film was a bomb at the box office, and neither the Gershwins, Heyward or Goldwyn enjoyed the final product. The original negative is worn-out and just about gone, but thanks to Foster Hirsch, the film was given a new lease on life in 2007, when he negotiated a 35mm screening in New York City, with Brock Peters in attendance. Hirsch was also instrumental in getting the film rescued by the Library of Congress, who possess a 70mm positive of the film, and since the film is so hard to screen, the Cleveland screening got by because Dorothy Dandridge was a Clevelander and it was the 50th anniversary of the Cinemateque! How’s that for luck?

Hirsch was on hand during the intermission and after the film to answer any questions. In conversing with him, he mentioned that he was entering talks with Criterion to try and get the respective parties to allow a home video release. Here’s hoping, and I leave you all with a quote from Foster Hirsch, which he said just before the film started:

“I was having lunch with [Stephen] Sondheim the other day, and he told me, ‘When the world ends, nothing I’ve done will mean anything! Nothing in Musical Theatre will mean anything… except for one work, and that is Porgy and Bess!'”

Feels So Good

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Though their bank statements may differ, I have personally felt that Marvel Studios had been resting on their laurels from Phase One — for every Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there was an Avengers: Age of Ultron; for every Guardians of the Galaxy, a Thor: The Dark World. My thoughts on their other release this year, Captain America: Civil War, were less than savory (and can be found in the backlogs of this blog), and yet, in spite of my dislike for the aforementioned film, I found myself adoring Doctor Strange. Normally, I have a three-strike rule when it comes to franchises, but having the fortune of knowing a privileged duo of Marvel crewmembers, the rule need not apply, and with Strange, they are absolved!

To understand the story of this film, your reading is heavy, happen you are not familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. Those who are well-versed need not worry, and fans of the comics are in for one hell of a treat — several, in point of fact. First among them, Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses) and his portrayal of Dr. Stephen Strange, a sorcerer supreme in the making, but an arrogant bastard of a neurosurgeon at first, rendered humble by the circumstances that befall him — an avenger after my own heart. As Robert Downey Jr. became Tony Stark, Cumberbatch effortlessly becomes Stephen Strange, not so much in bringing actual life experiences to the character, but insofar as his knowledge of Eastern religion and deep spirituality — Strange is something of an extension of the Cumberbatch the world knows, and that is great.

As Dr. Christine Palmer, Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) plays a worthy romantic foil to Cumberbatch, parrying every zinger and wry remark he throws, sometimes hurls, at her. She has come a long way from playing the token wispy ingenue in drivel like The Notebook and State of Play, and I look forward to seeing her again in the MCU. A further welcome addition to the cast is Benedict Wong (Marco Polo) as the aptly-named Wong, wisely rewritten from Strange’s tea-making manservant to the librarian of the Mystic Arts with vicious late fees in tow. Speaking of vicious, Mads Mikkelsen (The Three Musketeers), previously in contention to play Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, is exponentially better utilized here as the borderline satanic Kaecilius, a disciple of the Mystic Arts who took a darker path — elements of Mikkelsen’s portrayal of the title character in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal are extremely prevalent here — he oozes villainy. Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), going bald and almost androgynous as The Ancient One, possesses all the gravitas of a leader with the control of a schoolteacher. The somewhat weak link in this great cast is Chiwetel Eijofor as Baron Mordo, an aide-de-camp of sorts to The Ancient One. He doesn’t seem to do much more than exist, but when the plot takes a turn for him, he portrays hurt feelings much like a child being told that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Props go to him, but here’s hoping there’s better meat for him to chew on next time.

That being said, standing at Cumberbatch’s side for this film’s success is director Scott Derrickson (Sinister), a man who brings his experience in horror films to the best possible use in a film of this caliber. Make no mistake, this is the trippiest and, dare I say, darkest Marvel film yet, and that is in part what makes it a success — this is no cut-and-paste job of previous efforts. What’s more, Derrickson’s horror experience means that the film moves briskly and without sacrificing story for action — this is a stellar origin story, and without him, I doubt the film would have held up. I have no control in the matter, but I hope Cumberbatch and Derrickson are signed for the next five (I hope) sequels! Another problem remedied from most Marvel films is the score, composed by Academy Award winner Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles), who takes the emotions of his Star Trek scores and merges it seamlessly with the electric grittiness of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire.

Doctor Strange stands, in this reviewer’s eyes, among Marvel’s best — right above Thor and just under Marvel’s The Avengers. It’s spiritual without being cloying; it’s full of action without losing to the story, and it’s an origin story not bogged down by exposition. Full marks, and see it in IMAX 3D for the best viewing experience possible.

Rating: 5/5

Guns of the Patriots

Love it or hate it, someday, your favorite film will be remade, and if it sucks, you’ll always have the original to look back on. That being said, every now and then comes a remake that, while not necessarily justified in existence, packs one hell of a punch and brings the story, in some way, into a modern context. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) has done just that with his take on John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but his is no copy-paste remake of either’s vision.

Relocating the setting to the California Territory in the late 1800s, the people of Rose Creek are at their wit’s end, as ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, Elegy) is taking their land and lives by force, and all for his own personal gain. One such a townsperson who has lost her home and her husband is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, Hardcore Henry). Traveling the near cities looking for help to stand up to Bogue and his men, she finds Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington, Antwone Fisher), a warrant officer who joins her cause almost on the spot. Fighting at Chisholm’s side are noted boozer Joshua Farraday (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy), ex-Confederate sniper Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Sinister), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake), lone Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, Lilin’s Brood) and hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, The Judge). Together, they set out to help the townspeople take back what is theirs… and settle a few personal scores.

Those who complain about this remake existing should take into account what could have been — At the project’s inception, Tom Cruise was set to star, but he dropped out over salary issues, and thus we have Fuqua’s vision, brilliantly written by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and diversely cast in a day and age when many are decrying Hollywood movies for a lack of such casts. However, diversity does not solely make this cast succeed, and having the cool and collected Washington lead this team is a brilliant choice — he is the perfect successor to Yul Brynner. Pratt, channelling his inner Star-Lord is charming, but not suffocating, as the womanizing Farraday, something between Victor Mature’s Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine with elements of Taylor Kitsch’s Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Something the surprised me was that Hawke’s character, Robicheaux, is written as having owed his life to Chisholm, in spite of the fact that the former’s character was a Confederate — it’s good to see redemption of a villain in a big-budget film. Lee and Sensmeier are silently fierce as their respective characters (and it’s refreshing to see an American Indian play a role that matches his ethnicity), but it’s D’Onofrio who steals the show, channelling the best of Andy Devine with the solemnity of a child at prayer. These being said, a story is rarely complete without a great villain, and Sarsgaard is terrific as the lawless lord of the land. Bogue exudes all the menace of a serial killer, filling the viewer with silent fear, as if cornered by a cobra.

More important than all of this, however, is that Fuqua never feels the need to call out the fact of his cast’s diversity  — the N-bomb, or any blatant slur, is not to be found in this film (take note, Tarantino), and on the opposite side, there is no deification of any one member of the seven above the other. Further, unlike the original film, there is no romantic subplot involving one of the seven, and that’s exactly how it should be — this is a tale of frontier justice; there’s little time to smooch while bullets fly over your head.

I do have a couple of misgivings about the film — nothing that drags it down considerably, but still, Haley Bennett’s Emma, while far from being a damsel in distress, is rarely seen with a smile on her face. Granted, things go horribly for her in the first scene and she may well go down with her village, but even when the town is partaking in minor pleasantries, she is still solemn. Still, I’ve never been in such a situation, so who am I to talk? Lastly, the montage of the seven training the townsfolk in weaponry goes over too fast — it comes off as somewhat hard to believe they became good marksmen so fast.

Even so, I say praise be Antoine Fuqua, because he has done what few others could — remaking a classic is no walk in the park, but he does so with tact and poignancy, and perfect for the age we live in. After all, if we can’t defend ourselves against tyranny, what good are we?

Rating: 4.5/5

Fearless


In making Sully, legendary director Clint Eastwood has created an amazing epic about an event most would deem TV movie fare. True, the movie is the shortest of his career, running at just 95 minutes, but it is nothing short of astounding in every sense of the word, a film that is moving, suspenseful and, in presentation, the first of its kind.

Based on a true story that made international headlines in 2009, the film deals with the human psyche as well as presenting the enduring legacy of its title figure. Tom Hanks (Angels & Demons) brillaintly portrays Captain Chesley Sullenberger as a man thrust into the public eye, all for keeping people safe in a moment of extreme crisis — he is shocked and haunted by what-if scenarios in his mind, and it only gets worse when the airline companies and insurance firms butt in, trying to find some damning evidence to ruin him and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight), all while having to deal by proxy with his wife (Laura Linney, John Adams) and daughters’ stress of being daunted by the press outside their home.

If it sounds as though I’ve downplayed the acting capability of Mr. Eckhart and Ms. Linney, my apologies, for they are fantastic as well, providing a moral compass to guide Sully and keep him resolute in a time of great stress. Just as impressive is the smaller but very necessary focus on a few of the passengers aboard Flight 1549, which could easily have slowed down the film to the dreaded level of boredom most disaster films suffer from. Thankfully, the passengers focused on only help us as viewers to fear for their safety. Believe me, there are moments in this film where, even though you know how the crew and passengers end up, you cling to your seat for dear life and gasp in terror.

As I said before, Sully is the first film of its kind in that it’s filmed almost entirely with IMAX cameras — 95%, according to IMAX Corp., and the difference is staggering. If there is an IMAX theater near you, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t see it in the aforementioned format. The screen fills to the complete 1.90:1 IMAX aspect ratio, and the sound was mixed for IMAX first, so you’re getting the best balance and listening experience here and here alone. However, a format doesn’t guarantee a great film, but you get one here, thanks not just to the innovative octogenarian Eastwood, but his go-to cinematographer Tom Stern (Hereafter, American Sniper) and first-time Eastwood company member Blu Murray as editor. The film, occasionally jumping from event to event, is a seamless, much less coherent, experience.

While the Hollywood intelligentsia and some of the public may not think much of Eastwood now due to his politics, I urge you to put those views of his to the side and enjoy the film as it stands — a salute to heroism under fire, and thus far, the best motion picture of the year.

Rating: 5/5

Soon You’ll See A Golden Stream Of Light

2016 has been a great year for me crying like a baby at the movies, and Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon is no exception! As a huge fan of the original, to the point of memorizing and frequently singing the songs from it, I was, at first, disappointed when I heard that this remake was to be a non-musical adaptation, let alone set in the present day. As the release date drew nearer, I read interviews with the cast and crew that eased my doubts, and the final trailer had me hooked. In the end, I’m so glad at how well the remake is put together, rid of winks and nods to the original (as was the director’s intention) and crafting a wholly new experience that brings to mind the best of the adventure movies of the 1980’s.

The story opens succinctly – Pete, at age 5, is the sole survivor of a car crash while his parents are going with him on a camping trip. Alone in the forest, he becomes acquainted with a huge dragon, who seeks to protect him. Six years pass, and Pete (Oakes Fegley, This Is Where I Leave You) and his dragon, whom he names Elliot, are best of friends, enjoying their lives of fun and play together. Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Millhaven, a logging crew, led by brothers Gavin (Karl Urban, Star Trek Beyond) and Jack (Wes Bentley, Interstellar), draws nearer to the protected parts of the forest, while a park ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World) seeks to keep law and order between the two, and all the while, the children of the town are driven by the stories of dragons in the forest told by Mr. Meecham (Robert Redford, Jeremiah Johnson). All of these people will meet through the one thing nobody seems to believe in!

In addition to me sputtering like a faucet, 2016 is also a great year for actors, particularly children —  Oakes Fegley brings the requisite euphoric glee when around Elliot to showing great fear and wonder when taken away from him. Further, child actress Oona Laurence (Southpaw) is charming as Natalie, Jack’s daughter, instructing Pete on the ways of the world he has missed out on with warmth and kindness. While they do carry the heft of the film’s emotional weight, the adults in this film do not rest on their laurels at all, best shown by Howard and Redford, as a daughter and father looking to believe in stuff most left to childish fantasy and getting far more than they bargained for. Wes Bentley and Karl Urban also do great work in their roles, with Bentley showing a warmer side than I’ve seen from him in his previous films, while Urban, the ultimately misguided villain of the story, being mean but never truly evil, which is how it should be; his character is not a mustache-twirler.

The film is gorgeously shot in the home of Middle-Earth, New Zealand, and by no less than cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), who shows off the best of the land in a way that enhances the believability of the story and the great visual effects by the amazing artists at Weta Digita, who make Elliot’s fantastic self seem real and breathing, and only help the raw emotions you as an audience member feel throughout the course of this movie. Ultimately though, the best kudos have to be given to writer-director David Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks, who could easily have plagiarized the previous film’s material and instead crafted a harrowing, beautiful experience that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

Between this and The Jungle Book, Disney is on a roll with its live-action ventures! I look forward to what Lowery and Halbrooks bring to their upcoming remake of Peter Pan, also at the House of Mouse. Until then, see this movie and you will leave feeling happy to be alive!

Rating: 5/5

Boldly Go

star-trek-beyond-poster-us

The tribute is only… logical!

If space is the final frontier, may it go on forever! Under the unexpected hands of the Fast & Furious series’ Justin Lin, the rebooted Star Trek films have hit a series high in this year’s 50th Anniversary Extravaganza — Star Trek Beyond. The film’s predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness, represented a disappointment for many fans, myself included — from a white Khan to a cop-out ending, Into Darkness was a misstep on almost every front. That is not the case with this film!

With three years into the Enterprise‘s five-year mission, not all is well aboard. Her captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), is burdened with doubts about his ability to lead the crew and live up to his late father’s reputation — how’s that for a birthday present? — while Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum) is doubled down with the death of an old friend and a break-up with his girlfriend/crewmate Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy), and the rest of the ship’s compatriots aren’t faring much better. On arrival to a starbase to resupply, the crew is tasked with a mission on a distant and uncharted planet, where old dangers and new allies await.

The production history behind Star Trek Beyond is a fairly tumultuous one — once set to be written and directed by Roberto Orci (co-writer of the previous installments), his  departure warranted both a new director and, in Paramount’s eyes, a new script, this time from Scotty himself, Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and relative newcomer Doug Jung. Their script channels the best the series has to offer, and still offer a film that may well be remembered as a classic. In point of fact, I was reminded more than once of two classic films — The Great Escape and Stalag 17 — that no doubt played a great hand in the writing of this film, as a prison camp setting with a motorcycle chase scene is no doubt cut from the same cloth!

My only gripe with the story is the villain, a dark and creepy one (what else?) called Krall. Played by the one and only Idris Elba (The Jungle Book), we never seem to know his motivation or the full circumstances of his being a villain. He seems something of a mashup between Star Trek‘s Nero and Star Trek: Insurrection‘s Ru’afo — make of that what you will — but we know littler about Krall than we do the aforementioned two.

Still, the decision to hire Pegg and Jung paid off brilliantly, as bringing new blood to this film only helps it shed the ghosts of its predecessor while bringing a fresh eye to the franchise in the form of director Justin Lin. Those fearing the “car chase” mentality of the Fast & Furious films need not worry — if anything, Lin brings his knowledge of a series’ cast and the feeling of family it implies, both during and after a take. Sign him for more, Paramount!

Speaking of family, a new addition to the crew in this film is a welcome one in the form of the mysterious hunter Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service), who takes a shine to engineering and, of course, to Scotty! Ms. Boutella brings some much-loved mirth and ingenuity to the film, and I do hope we see more of her in coming sequels! The remaining crew, most notably Bones (Karl Urban, Dredd) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin, Green Room), are given much greater material than they had in Into Darkness, and redeem the beloved nature of their characters. On that note, be prepared to cry buckets in regard to a couple of tributes to their respective crewmembers.

I was reminded by a friend recently about how Gene Roddenberry was a visionary ahead of his time, and on the 50th Anniversary of his series’ genesis, I feel he’d be proud of this tribute, both to his work and his belief in the endurance of the human race. I can’t wait for more Trek following Beyond, but if producer J.J. Abrams is anyone to go by (and he is), it truly will go where no one has gone before!

Rating: 4.5/5