The Lego Batman Movie: The 2017 PG version of Deadpool

Welcome to a good time at the movies. A comedy that you deserve and need. The Lego Batman Movie, the spin-off from the super-popular Lego Movie, is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in months. Whether that brings up a fair point about my comedy diet is up for grabs, but what is not happens to be a truly delightful outing at the cinema. Here is a film that is quick on its feet, smart, and hilarious.

The film is great for a few healthy reasons, and let’s start with the Bat himself:

Will Arnett is a revelation as the voice of Bruce Wayne and The Caped Crusader of sadness. There should be a clause in the DC Comics handbook that Arnett has to voice every single physical and voiceover Batman character until the end of time. The man’s voice is made for it, and will mark the actor’s finest achievement in a film where he goes unseen. With all the complaining about Christian Bale’s Bat voice and Ben Affleck’s take on the tonal output of the character, Arnett’s work is signature, and gives the film its legs to run on.

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It’s not just about the comedic deliveries, but also the way Arnett switches up the delivery that goes above and beyond. He can be full of gusto one moment, silly in another, and then sad. Voice work is an underrated craft, and Arnett’s work here is some of the best I’ve heard. Continue reading “The Lego Batman Movie: The 2017 PG version of Deadpool”

Happily Married 12 years later: A true story

I married my sweetheart in 2005, and today we are still in love.

The first thing that comes to mind is the sweat. I was sweating profusely through my forehead, and it wouldn’t stop. Normally, someone would attach fear and nerves to this, but that wasn’t really the case. I was just ready to get this thing going. Rachel and I had been engaged since a Dave Matthews Band concert nearly two and a half years before this night. Getting married requires a healthy amount of cash if you want to do it right, so time had to be mortgaged over a certain period of time.

Finally, the wait was over. February 18th, 2005 was our day for two reasons: there was no Cardinals game that day and I was marrying the love of my life.

I know, it’s not so cool these days to say that your spouse is the love of your life. It’s as if being nice to one another is hard enough these days that an honest love isn’t allowed. When you are married to someone, saying “I love you” can become an arbitrary practice that most men write off as too sappy or vulnerable to admit and women wonder if they really mean it. The thing for me is clear-I really do love my wife. I need her every day, or else I’m screwed. I’m lost with her in this mad world. If you find a good wife, you are that much closer to a good life. I’m a hopeless romantic, a lover of old school ideals, and one of them is the belief that marriage can still produce a happily ever after. Now, back to the sweats.  Continue reading “Happily Married 12 years later: A true story”

“The Comedian” dies a slow romantic subplot death

Everything was going fine until they had to introduce a romantic subplot. Cue the swan dive.

The first warning sign for a movie can be found in the screenplay credits. If you see four different names for a small independent film like The Comedian, something is very wrong, and you should abort the mission to pay 12 dollars to see it. The new Robert De Niro film, directed by Taylor Hackford, is a misguided adventure that loses its edge and overall effectiveness in a lazy second half.

De Niro is Jackie Burke, an aging lion trying to stay afloat in the competitive land of stand up comics. Best known for an annoying fan favorite television series, Burke is desperate and takes jobs in cheap bars and clubs to keep his name from the dust. He often can’t control his temper, and gets into fights during shows, which requires him to borrow money from his brother(Danny DeVito). When he meets Leslie Mann’s rebellious yet kind hearted Harmony, Jackie sees an opportunity to make himself better, or possibly, just have a good time.

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The Comedian is at its best when it’s painting a picture of the underground comedy scene, and using real laugh artists like Jim Norton and Brett Butler. There’s something unique about getting up on a stage, and getting complete strangers to laugh at your jokes. This film, in parts, shows that bare bone struggle to make a name for yourself in a digital world that is run by clicks and not skill.

Burke is an insult comic, and the role provides De Niro with a chance to plug into his strengths as a performer. He’s one of the best, and that’s because he can mix comedy and drama with sadness without losing a beat. He makes you root for, despise, and love Jackie at once, and that’s not easy to do. This guy wants to make a buck, breaks down anybody in his way, and doesn’t care about it as long as the check clears. If you mention the TV show, he loses his mind, because it represented his biggest commercial hit yet also his weakest creative effort. He’s a wolf who wears sheep’s clothing, because it pays the most.

In Harmony, he sees escape and fun, but for the audience it’s a predictable tiresome romantic subplot. The film loses its way in the second half, because the comedy driven pursuit of fame is shoved to the side and the Harmony quest is put front and center. When something happens, we can tell what’s next. It’s like screenwriters Art Linson, Jeffrey Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman passed the laptop around when they tried to finish this script. There simply isn’t enough material for a film like this to work. If it was smart, the simplistic approach of “the old lion chasing one last laugh” would have sufficed. Once they went for the romance, The Comedian lost its teeth.

The cast is good, but largely wasted. Edie Falco came out of television show hiding to play De Niro’s agent, and Billy Crystal, Cloris Leachman, and Charles Grodin all have amusing cameos. De Niro and Harvey Keitel spar on film for the ninth time, and that’s cool. The film made me laugh in parts, roll my eyes in others, and largely leave wondering what could have been if one screenwriter got his vision realized instead of four different sets of hands making the cinematic silverware dirty.

The Comedian isn’t a bad film, but its inability to find an identity and stick to its roots doesn’t make it movie theater worthy.

2017 Academy Award nominations: The good, bad, and ugly reactions

Manchester By The Sea rightfully dominated, but Gleason was sadly left out.

The 2017 Academy Award nominations take place two weeks from now, and here are my reactions to a few of the nominees.

While it’s good to let these nominations marinate on the brain for a month as it wages war with the cinematic heart over what is good or bad, there’s always a good quick reactionary dose to provide. A few thoughts on the picks, via the bullet point.

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  • Ruth Negga for Best Actress in Loving is great. Here is a performance that decided to wait a little while before he knocked you over the head. Negga is a slow building hurricane in this film, playing a woman who simply wanted to raise a family with a man in a state where interracial marriage was outlawed. Her scenes with Joel Edgerton are fantastic.
  • Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea is a pleasant surprise, and well deserved. The movie hinged on the scenes between Casey Affleck and Hedges, and the young thespian didn’t overdo the troubled teen role. Restraint is a tough tool to teach young actors, but Hedges showed a good portion of it in this film.
  • Casey Affleck should win for Manchester by the Sea. If not him, then Viggo Mortenson for Captain Fantastic. Both actors delivered performances that didn’t require a ton of dialogue or overpowering monologues. You felt every bit of pain in Affleck’s Lee Chandler. He could have hammed it up, and instead he went with the less is more approach. I love a loud Denzel Washington, but Affleck was superb in a role that didn’t have the aplomb of his peers.
  • Mel Gibson getting a Best Director nod is proof that the man is a genuine talent, and should be allowed to make more big budget mainstream features in Hollywood. He said terrible things a while back, and apologized until the cows came home. What is so wrong about giving a guy a second chance? So he doesn’t believe what others believe and he’s somewhat vile and blunt about his beliefs. We don’t award these actors for being great people. We award them for being great at their job, and at their craft. Creating fine films. Hacksaw Ridge wasn’t just a loud war flick. Gibson gave it a heart. Let him back into the party.
  • Unpopular opinion: La La Land doesn’t deserve 14 nods. It wasn’t that great of a film. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone could charm the pants off a cynic, but I didn’t leave the film thinking it was top 10 worthy. I felt that I went to a “make it in Hollywood commercial” with good looking people. Well done, but not so Oscar worthy. The film was a promo for Hollywood. Seriously.
  • Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor is well deserved. The aging talent gave something extra to a lawman chasing down his last case across Texas. Bridges installed the man with humor, and you were so interested in what he did that a prequel about his character would be desirable.
  • Hell or High Water is a solid Best Picture candidate. It was powerful without being showy. A moralistic tale about bank robbers doing something incredibly wrong to make something right came out of nowhere.
  • Taylor Sheridan’s script for Hell or High Water could really contend with Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester script.
  • While Viola Davis was overwhelmingly good in Fences, Octavia Spencer was just lovely in Hidden Figures. She carried parts of the underrated Fruitvale Station and dominated The Help, but Spencer could find some heat with the box office darling true story.
  • Arrival is my best picture pick. It told a blockbuster type tale with more heart than required, and redefined what an alien story has to contain in order to be entertaining and thought provoking. It’s not a single performance. It’s the entire flick.
  • Gleason deserved a documentary nod, because Steve Gleason’s battle with ALS touched on the non-flashier moments of a terrible disease.
  • It landed on my list for Top Films of the year, but Deepwater Horizon should take home the visual effects and sound editing awards. That film stepped out of the screen and sat next to you for the final hour. Breathtaking.
  • Go ahead and hand all the musically related awards to La La Land. There’s no sense in making folks dress up for the other contenders.
  • Watch out for Natalie Portman in the Best Actress race. Her take on Jackie Kennedy is gathering steam.
  • Moonlight is a quiet upset candidate for Best Picture. Timely tale.

I’ll have more reaction as the show gets closer. Please don’t brush these awards off as publicity stunts. The Oscars are the World Series for performers. They are it.

The 2017 Academy Awards take place on February 26th.

Split Review

The twist doctor makes a wonderful return to mystery based thrillers.

Ho. Lee. Shit!

Misdirection is writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s greatest tool as a filmmaker. He uses it like a chef uses a knife in a kitchen. The man aims to make movies that nobody else has made yet, and while elements of horror are sprinkled throughout his body of work, there’s a genuine dose of heartfelt drama at the core of his stories. Sometimes, the guy just likes to freak you out. His latest film-Split-does just that, and contains a twist that is going to BLOW YOUR MIND in the very last scene.

That’s right. Shyamalan, nearly 18 years later, has created a twist that pulls the rug out from under you even if you go into the film looking for it. Fellow film critic Landon Burris told that there was a mega twist waiting for me at the end, and I still didn’t see the guy coming. Up until that knockout punch, James McAvoy had anchored this gripping thriller.

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Blumhouse Pictures

The actor has put together a very good career, including not just a young Charles Xavier aka Professor X, but also roles in Last King of Scotland and Atonement. Split is easily McAvoy’s greatest achievement as an actor. How many actors could pull off a role of a troubled war vet with 23 personalities, one of whom has kidnapped three girls and held them hostage in a mysterious basement? The answer is few, and only one or two could pull off this role like the British actor could.

There’s Barry, a loquacious artist with a New York accent. Hedwig is a nine year boy that doesn’t know right from wrong, but can’t be fooled either. Patricia is a stern matriarch, and Dennis the madman with an obsession for teenage girls. Throughout this film, the personalities battle each other and the three girls that range from frantic(Haley Lu Richardson’s Claire and Jessica Sula’s Marica) to quiet yet practical(Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey). The girls try to work together to stop the many speeds of McAvoy’s Kevin, but have to deal with the intertwined efforts of his many minds. It’s a good ride for the audience to take.

Throughout the film, we hear about a potential 24th personality, and one that can take the shape of  “a beast”. This also puts a clock on the girls breakout efforts, and that is attached to a subplot involving Kevin’s caring therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher(Betty Buckley). Can the four women find a way to befall a man with so many personalities? Shyamalan never fails to build tension like an artist slowly moving a brush around a canvas. He never feels rushed in his movies, and it aides the whodunit of this plot.

The filmmaker also doesn’t waste budget on well known actors. The young females who play the hostages are mostly unknown, and the supporting players aren’t big names either. Last year’s The Visit’s biggest star was Kathryn Hahn, and that helped the shock and awe of the twist at the end of that film.

Over the years, Shyamalan has taken flack for being “The Twist Doctor”, and it’s a warranted perception. He completed a three peat of films(The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs) that few directors have pulled off, but he created an anticipation that crippled his following efforts with The Village, The Happening, and Lady in the Water. With The Visit, he started a comeback that has been fully realized with Split.

Before the big twist-which I am dying to talk about and may write about later-the film produced a solid conclusion that would have satisfied me if that were all. Before the credits rolled though, Shyamalan hit me where I least expected it, and it all started with a score. After all these years and films, M. Night can still pull a fast one on his audience.

If you weren’t among the 40 million plus to see this film last weekend, I urge you to reconsider and check this film out. Shyamalan aims to create a specific brand of entertainment that hasn’t been put out to the masses just yet. He doesn’t want to do what others have done; he wants to do way better. That visionary firepower should be applauded and aspired to by other auteurs.

I can’t properly explain how good McAvoy is. The fact that it’s a horror/thriller in January will hinder the actor’s chances of award recognition, but he’s truly deserving. Playing so many different minds while not changing his appearance isn’t easy, and making the audience feel for you while they fear you is a hard task that McAvoy succeeds at. Wow is the idea.

See Split for the thrills, McAvoy, and the twist, but stay for the discussion Shyamalan will ultimately begin in your head and among your friends and family who see it. Great films get you talking. This one definitely starts a fire in your head.  Using his greatest tool-misdirection-Shyamalan has confounded audiences once again.

Patriots Day: Peter Berg does right by Boston

This film packs a damn wallop!

Patriots Day is all heart and delivers on so many levels.

There’s a scene near the end of Peter Berg’s mesmerizing film that defines the film as a whole. Tommy Saunders(Mark Wahlberg) is talking to another cop about the battle that police officers(and humans as a whole) face everyday. The battle between good and evil, and how love can be the make or break factor in winning that fight. In any other film, the exchange would come off as corny and over the top. In this film, which documents the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, it fits in perfectly. This film is about getting knocked down and rising back up to take back a city. Patriots Day is the Rocky Balboa story of true story comeback flicks.

When the film was announced, there were people who wondered if the film was needed and if so, was it too soon?  The bombings took place nearly four years ago, so the wounds are still fresh with emotional sutures. Berg’s work here puts that to rest, because he handles these brutal yet true and triumphant tales like a master. Take one look at Berg’s resume and it’s full of go for broke heroic tales. Lone Survivor documented a failed Navy Seal mission and Deepwater Horizon detailed the events of the BP Oil Spill. Each were done tastefully and with the assistance of real players, participants, and victims. Berg and Wahlberg were born to bring this movie to audiences, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. We need this movie and it needs us.

The film starts up the night before the bombings, with an introduction to Wahlberg’s Sergeant Tommy Saunders. It’s a composite character due to the fact that several officers played a key role in this five day ordeal that stretched from Boston to Watertown, Massachusetts. Saunders is our moral compass, and there’s nobody better to play a Boston roughneck cop than one of the true sons of the town. Wahlberg is an underrated actor, and slips into the role of Saunders easily. One can tell the actor spent many days and nights talking to real cops, people, and communities affected by this tragedy. Sometimes, actors have to put the hours in to rightfully do a role justice, and that is what Wahlberg did here. It’s not a great performance, but a solid one that gives the film all it needs.

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The supporting cast is impeccably put together, with John Goodman stealing scenes as the commanding Ed Davis, the former Commissioner of Boston who worked with FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers to help track the bombers. J.K. Simmons plays Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese to a tee and Michelle Monaghan is effective in the role of Carol Saunders. She is the face of hundreds of Boston police officer spouses that day who wondered how much of a toll the attack would take.

It doesn’t just end with the big names here, because James Colby’s performance as Superintendent Billy Evans is fantastic. Colby looked and walked like the real Evans, and is a true face of film. The roles of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev aren’t easy to play, but Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze really embue these two troubled men with feeling and something deeper than pure evil. Michael Beach has a good role as Governor Deval Patrick and Khandi Alexander steals a scene late as a gritty nonsense-less interrogator. There isn’t single actor here where you’d refer to as fake or forced.

The tough as nails script was put together by Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer, with the story adding Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson as credited hands as well. A large bowl of writers usually stands out as a red flag, but with a story of this scope, the sense is there in needing to fully tell this story right. The film was adapted from Boston Strong, an account of the events written by hardcore journalist Dave Wedge and esteemed novelist Casey Sherman(The Finest Hours), and the film feels like a passionate and thorough retelling.

The attention to detail here is impeccable, with so many moving parts and story adventures. Berg allows you to meet many of these people before the madness begins, so once it does, those character are true people and not mere props for a film to spring off. One of the biggest souls behind the Wahlberg character construction was retired Boston cop Danny Keeler, and there is a scene in the film where Saunders goes into a restaurant near the bomb site and takes a swig of Jameson simply because he needs some kind of release. Keeler did that and it is those kind of reactions that make this film hit hard and honest. Berg is a master chess piece mover here, and always keeps the action moving forward.

The film is all heart, and never forgets what it’s truly about. The hard working and charging folks of Boston coming together to bring down these terrorists. The scenes of victims in hospitals watching their lives change and evolve from terror are as powerful as it gets. The film serves a powerful reminder that love can be the biggest weapon in fighting hate. As long as there is more good than bad, the war can be won. Patriots Day is as much of a celebration of a city’s willpower than a basic retelling of an event.

The film is remarkable, knocks you down, picks you back up, and should be seen by everyone. As Wedge told me in an interview this week, people go to movies for different reasons. Entertainment is one of them. The need to feel something and learn something also exists there. Patriots Day does all three and then some, and succeeds off the strengths of Berg’s classy direction that is equal parts visceral, blunt force equipped, and passion filled. The finale is soulful and takes a piece of you.

Berg and Wahlberg are just like us. They get out of bed every morning, and are built to break. They just get up and make gold records on film. Powerful flicks that recount a time in history where blue collar folks had to dig deep to save themselves and their city. They are a dream team.

Patriots Day is Berg’s masterpiece. He’s the true star here. If you would have told me the supporting actor from Aspen Extreme would be directing heavyweight dramas based on true terror attacks, I would have offered you a ride to the crazy house. From Friday Night Lights to The Kingdom to Lone Survivor to Deepwater Horizon to this, Berg has created a field of versatile entertainment that doesn’t stray too far from realism.

When I left this film, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Everybody felt something. Berg used real footage of the interviews with the victims and police officers who were a part of that week. This film can melt the toughest of cynics, and remind us that goodness is out there. Sometimes, it just has to be tested.

Here is a film that is worth your time, money, and a conversation afterwards. If you brew the coffee, I’ll have it with you.

See you at the movies.

 

 

 

Fences: A “premium” slice of Denzel

Denzel’s film challenges you in several ways.

“Some folks build fences to keep people out. Some build them to keep people in.”

The relentless new film “Fences” will simply wear you down, but its skill and moral are hard to deny. Like a boxer with pinpoint accuracy, it beats you up for two hours with timely fundamentals and powerful lessons.

When Denzel Washington directs films, he joins the “Not Messing Around Crew”. An esteemed area of the filmmaking ring where he tells pitbull-tough stories about family, risk, race and the repercussions of one’s decisions. This is premium Denzel territory; “Fences” doesn’t pull a single punch in its tale of a father coming to terms with the events of his life while living a working class life in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s.

The main thread of this film is that Washington treats the film like an extra shiny rendition of the play. He doesn’t wish to add much else to the table. When you have a script carrying this much power and juice, you can leave the seasoning in the cupboard. There’s no extra helpings of style thrown on top or additional plot lines.

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The plot seems simple, yet carries extra bite marks. Washington’s Troy Maxson has a monstrous chip on his shoulder, and it has to do with a life he feels has under-whelmed. He used to be a great slugger in the Negro Leagues and had the goods to hit Major-League pitching, but he was too old by the time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Now, he hauls trash five days a week, brings home $75 and hands most of it to his loving wife Rose(Viola Davis, matching Denzel blow for blow) to pay the bills and fill the body of their son Corey(Jovan Adepo) with food.  Continue reading “Fences: A “premium” slice of Denzel”