Singer Delivers Another X-MEN Gem

Bryan Singer delivers another X-Men gem. My full review is here.

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imageedit_9_7774423971Thank you Bryan Singer. After a rejuvenating and largely successful reboot from Matthew Vaughn with X-Men: First Class two years ago, Singer brings the entire universe of this Marvel juggernaut together in one of 2014’s most exciting and intelligent films. This is a playground where Spider Man and Godzilla just can’t play around in and that is action packed excitement with sharp storytelling and a strong fingerprint from the director. There are few directors that can make this tale of mutants living scared and desperate in the human world so compelling and the man at the top of the short list is Singer. Brett Ratner, you are not on the list because the last all together part, X-Men: Last Stand, felt less like a movie and more like a bad paint job over a large canvas. After a pair of fun if hollow feeling solo Wolverine missions, Singer brings the Hall of Fame ass kicker Hugh Jackman back into the middle of this time travel based story.

The film opens in the distant future where major cities are destroyed and a group of machines called the Sentinels are leading the destruction. We see a small group of wolverine-x-men-days-of-future-past-bone-clawsmutants hiding out in a tiny corner in Russia and their body count is dwindling. So, the wise Charles Xavier(Patrick Stewart, looking younger in each successive film) and Eric Lensherr(Ian McKellen) decide to send Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine back to 1973 to prevent a murder and that starts with the retrieval of the young Charles(a truly moving James McAvoy) and the young Eric(played effortlessly by Michael Fassbender). The key is preventing the radiant yet deadly and misguided Raven/Mystique(Jennifer Lawrence, sexy on fire at the moment) from doing something literally catastrophic. Hopefully, in doing so, the Sentinels program never gets off and the mutants aren’t wiped off the face of earth. That’s it folks. It’s just time travel. So much has been made over the last week about the confusing aspects of this story and it’s best for some to simply go with the flow.

Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg(who has penned every X-Men adventure) have crafted an intriguing world that places the mutants as the victims of an oppressive society and has them facing extinction. They combine that with the usual flair of action and special effect dazzle, but the key to these films being great is the heartfelt touch and intelligence Singer brings to the production. The man is a true genius.

The cast is excellent. Jackman gets into freakishly good shape every time he puts on the claws and his transformation and ability to inject true witty comedy into a tragic character is flawless again. Stewart and McKellen are old pros hanging with the kids here and they acquit themselves nicely. As many fans who see Stewart as a Star Trek legend, he will always be Professor X to this film addict. Fassbender doesn’t really act so much as he does effortlessly slip into a character’s skin. He is one of the best actors out there today because he doesn’t overplay anything and his work here is astounding.  Playing a younger man with a power to bend metal to his will while deciding how he uses that particular power, Fassbender is putting on a clinic.

Continue reading “Singer Delivers Another X-MEN Gem”

BLOOD TIES/JOE Movie Reviews

These two indies are available on demand, and I break each of them down here.

With all the big loud superhero flicks at the cinema right now, it seems a bit old fashioned to sit at home and watch a couple quiet indie dramas. That’s what I did this weekend, resisting the summer sizzle and instead reaching for something with a little more subtlety and grace. Here are fresh takes on Blood Ties and Joe, both currently available on demand and possibly on Redbox.

Blood Ties

28037The first effort from director/actor Guillaume Canet is a dark gritty crime drama set in the 1970’s and pitting two brothers(Clive Owen and Billy Crudup) standing on opposite sides of the law. Owen is Chris, a ex-con who just stepped out of jail after a 12 year stint for murder. Crudup is Frank, a noble cop who desperately wants to keep his brother out of jail and trouble. The women lurking around their lives, Marion Cotillard and Zoe Saldana, begin to play pivotal roles in their future. James Caan nearly steals the film as the two men’s father and Matthias Schoenaerts(Rust and Bone) turns in solid work as the worst kind of men. All the pieces come together in an unpredictable fashion in Canet’s film, which makes for a powerful experience. One can see why it didn’t get a wide release but the story was made for a home setting. Owen and Crudup are at the top of their game here, sparring off as siblings who have walked completely different lives while remaining close to home.

Owen puts a coat of Brooklyn on his well traveled British accent and Cotillard does her best with a role that many will call different but I call challenging and fresh. She is an actress that can easily go to dark places but here touches new ground. Caan shows that he still has the power to take over a film at his old age, playing an old lion staring at his two sons battling over psychological turf. The movie isn’t great and runs a little long. A big shootout occurs just over halfway in and throws the film into a completely new story that never sits right. Things happen that don’t make any sense while others come together too cozy. All is made right in the end when a delicious little twist sets(remember to knock) the film up for a final clash at a train station that is deft and perfect. Canet co-wrote the script with long time crime film artist James Gray(The Yards, We Own the Night) and you can smell Gray’s strokes all over the film, from the loud and brutally realistic gunfire to the romantic moments of the film. Blood Ties is solid cinema worth checking out at home.

Joe

joe-movie-posterThe film starts out conveniently as we are introduced to Nic Cage’s Joe, the leader of a landscaping crew wiping out trees for a new housing development. His men respect him and they have a good working relationship. We are also introduced to a kid who has an abusive dad and his ongoing misery. Joe and the Kid will merge together in a way that is at once predictable, unique and deadly. There is more to Joe than a simple life and the kid is going to stir things up inside him that the older man thought he had buried. I won’t spoil any more of David Gordon Green’s latest film, a down and dirty drama about redemption, choices and the devil in all of us.

Cage reminds you once again that he is an Oscar worthy talent when he decides to be. He easily inhabits the cold tragic skin of Joe and injects his quirky wildness into a well rounded performance that resonates.  Tye Sheridan played this sort of role well in Mud and takes it up a notch here with his character, Gary. Gary and Joe become friends and things start to happen. One thing that is constant in every Green film(except for the hilarious Pineapple Express) is a sense of dread that sits with every scene. The idea that something bad is going to happen floats through this film. The entire film as a whole doesn’t work completely work but there are fair portions of it that are beautifully filmed and acted. One of the highlights is Gary Ponlter, a homeless man Green hired off the street(the director does this a lot) to play Gary’s despicable father, Wade. He steals every scene he is in and does it with barely any dialogue. Poulter’s broken trash face sums up the type of world Green’s films live in. Poulter died a few weeks after filming concluded and his role in the film is powerful, disgusting and bittersweet at the same time.  Joe isn’t a great film and the plot will drift from your memory, but the lingering morals of its characters and the struggle we all endure every single day will stick with you for a little while. The acting in it alone warrants it a viewing.

Thanks for digesting this latest dose. Come back for another.

Thinking About Banshee: Season 3 Briefing

My thoughts on Banshee.

A Shot Of Banshee

imageedit_1_9718949627It’s been over two months since I wrote about the Cinemax’s golden ticket called Banshee. The brutal dose of Friday night cinematic television that makes every new year seem so grand and a show that sinks its hooks into you so deep that when it stops(March 15th was our last prescription), the bittersweet sadness is never ending. That’s the sweet and the bitter about TV shows. Unlike a movie, you get to stay with them for weeks and dissect their intentions and soak up the storytelling, visuals and character development. Suddenly, the finale ends and that is all. The show tips its cap for the season and runs off to….start shooting the next dose.

Banshee is special because the cast and crew shoot during the spring and summer and get to watch the season with the fans as it uncoils in the winter premiere. Show stalwarts like Hoon Lee, Ivana…

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Interstellar Makes You Dream Big About Movies

The first trailer from Christopher Nolan’s new film will hook you instantly.

imageedit_3_2878164175Leave it to Christopher Nolan to blow our minds with a 140 second reel about crops, engineers, outer space, time travel, wormholes and Matthew McConaughey running through all of it. Nolan isn’t a pioneer of film but he is a renegade every time he touches it and promises us something great with every release. In a day and age where so many filmmakers phone in a production for the dollar and need to keep working, a film addict must appreciate creators like Nolan. He doesn’t waste our time and serves up fresh engaging and quietly amazing cinema every time. Isn’t that great to have around?

Nolan was the only director in Hollywood who could make Inception so good. He was the only director who could turn Batman into a movie that many felt was snubbed for an Best Picture nomination. He put Batman and Wolverine(Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) into a movie about magic(The Prestige) and made an award worthy film. In short, Christopher Nolan doesn’t own a Best Picture or Director nomination but in a matter of 12 years has created a fine partnership with Warner Brothers.

Interstellar centers itself around McConaughey’s Cooper, an engineer who has an obsession with Indian surveillance drones and loves his two kids, one of them called Murphy(which is a moniker here for Murphy’s Law) a little more than his urge to go back into space discovery. When a scientist(Michael Caine, a Nolan regular) wants to place him in a special mission that involves time travel, Cooper must weigh the risks against his family if he decides to venture into the unknown. Think Inception meets The Abyss meets 2001: Space Odyssey. You will catch short glimpses of Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain as the trailer closes.

If you are confused by the trailer at first glance, that’s not a bad thing. Nolan wants to throw you for a loop and watch you click it again as you slowly get up off the floor. He doesn’t want to bore you so he plays with your mind. He will have your interest with this one because it concerns real questions and sprinkles in movie juice to go with it.

His brother Jonathan wrote the script with him, and their idea here isn’t as complex as some would think. Is there more to us than simply life and death? Does the human race have abilities that stretch outside of our world? Where does our destiny truly lie? These kind of questions are being put on the table here for us to start thinking about. Nolan wants us to open the book and get invested.

Great films make moviegoers go into their own outer space and let us time travel for a couple hours. With Interstellar, Nolan is producing that kind of phenomenon here. While we won’t know the result until the November 7th release date, this trailer gives us plenty of chew on in the mean time. 

Watch it(a few times) and let me know what you think.

 

The Rams Make A Statement With Michael Sam

140209224957-michael-sam-mizzou-single-image-cutMichael Sam will probably not make it into the NFL Hall of Fame. He may not even play in a Pro Bowl or win a Super Bowl. There’s a slim chance he even wins a spot on the Rams roster this upcoming season. The one thing he will get, thanks to Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, is a chance to compete in the NFL for a job.

After 31 other NFL teams passed up Michael Sam, an openly gay man who came out publicly earlier this year at the end of the college football season, The Rams made him the 249th pick in the 2014 draft and made a statement. They weren’t going to let a man’s sexual preference keep him from being drafted by an NFL team.

Make no mistake. Sam is a helluva football player and an intriguing talent. He is an All American and was co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, one of the toughest conferences in NCAA Football. He made a lot of plays for Mizzou at defensive tackle and can really get after it on a football field.  He deserves a shot at stardom and got it thanks to Fisher showing a pair of brass balls. We live in a day and age where politically correct trumps common sense and unfortunate bias and prejudice is an everyday occurrence.

I wrote a few months ago about this kid after he came out and told the world he was a proud gay man, and the story was crisp for media manipulation. Everybody thought the kid would be drafted for the simple fact that he was the first to make this leap and would be taken without a wink at his actual ability. Fast forward to Saturday night and the kid was sitting around with a handful of picks left for teams to make. It would be foolish to say the 31 other NFL teams were passing on Sam because they weren’t sure about his NFL ability. They were afraid of joining a circus or welcoming in the freak show. They didn’t want to mess with their players locker room. Those are soft ways to think about athletic talent and tells you all you need to know about coaches and general managers. For the most part, they are afraid and gutless. Fisher and Snead may not have a winning football team yet, but they have real guts and like to make bold moves.

Continue reading “The Rams Make A Statement With Michael Sam”

Jude Law Powers DOM HEMINGWAY

Jude Law is a wrecking ball in this dark British comedy that rides on the shoulders of an amazing lead performance.

imageedit_5_4785493768Dom Hemingway is an exercise in extremes. Taking dark comedy as far as it will go until it becomes raw energy naked on screen and straight up to the edge of being hard to handle. Taken as a whole, the movie is uneven, slow in areas where it has to be quick and can make you shake your head a few times.

The story is simple enough that a five year old could understand, not that you would want them to watch this insane cinematic slice of crazy talk. Dom is a safe cracker who took the fall for a rich gangster and we pick up his story right as he is being released from jail and well….being relieved of some stress via the below the waist variety. From there, Law wants his money owed to him, and wants to sleep with as many women as possible and drink enough beer to fail three livers before tracking down his long lost daughter. How about that opening scene though…..

Richard Shephard’s tale begins with Jude Law ranting about his penis and you should thank the director for this. If a person is going to walk out of the theater, that time will come at this very early moment. If seeing an overweight belligerent filthy Law spitting fire about how great his mighty member is, then it is best you buy a ticket to Amazing Spider Man 2 so you can be dulled out of your mind for a 2 ½ hours. Dom Hemingway is fierce, blunt and works on a certain brand of motor oil. Fast and furious profanity mixed with contempt and guilt.

The film is 90 minutes and it crams in as many f-bombs it would make Quentin Tarantino take out a calculator to see how it stood up against his joints. The supporting cast is good enough, with Richard Grant stealing a few scenes as Hemingway’s handler and Demian Bichir producing a hilarious performance as an odd gangster who likes to fire his guns in the woods and makes the most quiet threats. Let me remind you. This film belongs and is OWNED by Jude Law. He’s a live grenade in this film, a wrecking ball equal parts rugged wit and endless contempt.

I love when actors challenge themselves and step outside their comfort zone. Here, Law takes seven steps outside his usual area. He is an accomplished actor and has the respect and command of his fellow actors, directors, studios and his fans. Here, he is a wrecking ball on screen with nothing held back or saved for later. It would be hard for the film’s stiffest critics to point out his performance as a source of concern. Law goes all the way to the brink and back. If I had to recommend the film on one thing alone(a rarity), it’s the performance of Jude Law as the title character. He isn’t the greatest human being and doesn’t come off as appealing yet we would follow this guy through a battlefield because he is so wild and unpredictable.  Law did this redemptive walk quite well in a remake of Alfie, but here he takes up about 20 notches as the embodiment of naughty. This is a performance to remember inside an okay movie.

Everything else about the film is just okay. Emilia Clarke(the Queen of Dragons from Game of Thrones) doesn’t get much to do here except look sad and lost. For a 90 minute film, the second half moves as slow as a snail and some scenes just don’t work. Shephard felt like inserting this screen shots with plot points announced as some kind of comedic gimmick, but it still doesn’t work.

Dom Hemingway doesn’t amount to much but the comedy is sharp more times than not and Law’s performance is fantastic. If you want something original and blunt, check this film out.

 

Cinderella Man Isn’t Just A Boxing Flick

Cinderella Man is more than just a movie about boxing history. It’s a fine slice of American glory.

“I’m not the first guy willing to die to feed his family.”-Jim Braddock

imageedit_1_8699935406Movies about sports have a stranglehold on many hearts and when done right, they can truly move the soul. In the land of competition, many people see themselves out there. Swinging for the fences, shooting the puck at the net or throwing that hail mary pass to the end zone. In boxing, the feeling is no less. We all get into a ring daily and fight our way through our lives trying to make good on our promise. It’s a romantic sports connection that make films like The Cinderella Man, Ron Howard’s 2005 feel good classic resonate to this day. The true tale is a standing testament to the power of the spirit and the will to keep fighting even though life throws the harder punches.

If you care to know who the real Rocky Balboa was before Sylvester Stallone was even born, look no further than James J. Braddock. The legendary fighter, who put a city on his shoulders in the Great Depression, was down and out after the financial crisis wiped away all his stocks and earnings. He was a beaten down fighter who held on for dear life in the ring and kept going even though his body was breaking down. At his wits end and without hope, Braddock was determined to keep his fighting days alive and providing for his family fueled that desire. He got a fight last minute and won, which eventually led to a heavyweight showdown with renowned and revered champion Max Baer.

Russell Crowe created an unforgettable Braddock and Renee Zellweger, in one of his last great roles before fading away, was truly heroic and superb as his wife Mae. Paul Giamatti offered fine support as the boxer’s trainer Joe Gould and Craig Bierko was the imposing Baer. The cast also included Paddy Considine as Braddock’s friend and Rosemarie DeWitt(the real life granddaughter of Braddock). In order to pull off a great story, you have to get the right cast.

Now there are some issues people had with the story. Max Baer’s son was furious that they made his dad out to be a goon when in real life he didn’t feel good about killing men in the ring or wasn’t a monstrous bully. Howard and his writers took cinematic liberties there, and I can handle that. If you are going to make a movie for 100 million dollars, one must do what a studio wants. I can tell you with 100 percent clarity that the studio wanted to craft this truly underdog tale and making Baer the antagonist was part of the deal. He was a boxer so it isn’t like they were turning him into a terrorist.  I can respect the beef Baer’s son had with the representation of his father but I can handle it in a cinematic production.

The reason the film was great was because Howard and company put its focus on the effect of the Great Depression had on so many families. Paddy Considine’s character, Mike, a dock worker who worked and befriended Braddock, was a perfect example of the blue collar class who suffered so mightily. The hardship of the Depression wasn’t just the financial strain and hunger it created but that fact that it left so many families powerless. Mike was a bigger victim than Braddock because he wasn’t a prize fighter who could make 250 dollars in one night. The Great Depression gutted millions of families and was the cause for many deaths and demoralization of the country. At one point, Braddock had to go to Madison Square Garden to beg his former employers for money so he could turn his heat on and get his three kids back in the house from Mae’s sisters.

Braddock’s story is truly inspirational and the fact that it really happened only made the movie that much better. Those were the days of true boxers, men who were tough as nails and hard to defeat. In a day and age where the sweet science of boxing has taken over the ring and brawls are more rare, it is important to go back to a day and age where the two types of fights(brawls and true boxing duels) merged into war in a ring. Braddock’s win over Baer was phenomenal because of the boxer’s story and hardship.

It was Crowe’s last truly great Oscar worthy performance. He nailed the boxing rhythm and voice of Braddock and suffered a few concussions in the fight scenes. He gave himself truly to the performance and it can be noticed when watching the film. Zellweger was fantastic, embodying the strength of a woman forced to wait at home and wonder if her man would come home whole again. This was the Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain Renee and not the departed actress we know today. It goes to show you that sometimes the role suits the actor more than the actor suits the role.

Last but not least, the music of Thomas Newman was superb. Newman is my favorite composer because his music can pull me from another room into the living room once I hear his music. It doesn’t matter if it’s the sentimental first moments of Finding Nemo, the rugged dark areas of Road to Perdition and American Beauty or the old fashioned feel of Cinderella Man. The slow piano clicks and the following swell of the orchestra work wonders in this heroic tale. I can never get enough of Newman’s notes.

The movie only grossed 50 million and was wrongly released in the summer instead of the more award worthy months of November and December. That hurt its chances of bringing home Oscars but to me, 9 years later, it resonates just as much as when I saw it in the theater.  While the true story isn’t as faithful as it should be, Cinderella Man is a truly great movie and one that can inspire hope for any person needing a lift.