Tag: Movie Reviews

‘Land of Mine’ carries ‘Hurt Locker’ tension with its dark heart

“If they are old enough to go to war, they are old enough to clean up their mess.”

For Sergeant Carl Rasmussen(Roland Moller), vengeance has grown on trees inside his soul due to the cost of war. It’s May in 1945, near the end of World War II, and the Germans have surrendered. But the war isn’t over for some people. When we first see Carl, he is fuming in his military jeep as he drives past German P.O.W., and the rage has taken over his body. He abruptly stops, beats up a couple prisoners, and screams at the others to get out. “This is my country,” Carl proclaims, and that is how the powerful Land of Mine begins.

The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars this year, and I can tell you why: it is a striking piece of cinema that won’t let you go for days. I saw it five days ago, and I am still brushing the story off my conscience. Independent (especially foreign) displays a freedom that most American films simply can not on average, and this film is the latest example of its power. It’s in Danish and German subtitles, but the moral of the film never gets close to being lost.

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Writer/director Martin Zandvliet casts a spotlight on the unknown fallout of WWII: the aftermath of the carnage and how certain countries committed tragic war crimes in order to rid their country of the weapons of the trade in the months following the surrender of Germany. The story centers on Rasmussen and the 14 German prisoners that are assigned under him to dig up land mines along the western Denmark coast line. There’s just one thing; the prisoners are young men, kids even. (more…)

‘Ghost in the Shell’ shows creativity deprived Hollywood has gotten

Ghost in the Shell is the latest example of American filmmakers sticking their hands into the Japanese cinema cookie jar and the results being less than subpar. The latest Hollywood reboot takes over original source material by Masamune Shirow, who wrote the anime film that was released in 1995 and produced a beloved follow-up series. When this happens, the creativity deprived suits out west need to take it, recycle the good parts of the script, and churn out a pointless adaptation that manufactures an eye roll and shoulder shrug instead of wondrous charm.

Scarlett Johansson (she’s American for the record) plays a cyber-enhanced super soldier called Major, who tracks down the bad guys who inhibit the futuristic world dominated by high tech companies doing as they please with poor humans to gain power and turn a massive profit. They take human brains and plant them in a synthetic body made in a lab, and are enhanced in a way to which they can take bullets and explosives without skipping a beat, move lightning quick, and hack into other people’s minds in order to track their location. Big governments cashing checks via the weight of human souls, and eventually, someone will notice. Major is a ghost of human mind stuck in a fake shell with one purpose: take out the trash and don’t ask questions. (more…)

‘Lion’: A potent tale about family lost and found

The best thing about the Oscar nominated film, “Lion”, is that it doesn’t take a shortcut to wrecking your emotions, but it doesn’t take your attention for granted either.

The film is unapologetically powerful in the scope of its story, but chooses a bare bones manner with which to transcend its message towards the audience over a two hour running time that never feels too quick or too slow.

“Lion” isn’t just a story about being lost and found, but all the emotional chaos in between and the toll it can take on several people involved in a process that can span not only years but decades. Saroo(the scene stealing Sunny Pawar) is only 5 when he is left at a train station by his brother on a night of gallivanting through a small city in India. When his sibling doesn’t return, poor Saroo is stuck on a train for two full days. (more…)

The Founder: Michael Keaton at his best

“Business is war. It’s dog eat dog and rat eat rat. If you are drowning, I’ll come over and stick a hose in your mouth.”-The Founder

The American Dream means something different for everyone. For Mick and Mac McDonald, the dream was simple; opening a popular way to deliver fast food with quality and efficiency. They did that in San Bernardino, California after a few failed endeavors. For Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman: the dream was to find something truly revolutionary, grasp it, and never let go.

When these three men met, the world and the fast food industry changed forever. The Founder is an entertaining, if light and tone deaf, ride for cinema audiences to endure. Director John Lee Hancock doesn’t aim for the Oscars here with his routine retelling of a bittersweet tale, but that doesn’t mean it is worth skipping. The film works for a few good reasons.  (more…)

Hidden Figures: An entertaining history lesson

Perception is a dangerous thing. Sometimes, it can rob you of what really lies beneath the surface. Welcome to “Hidden Figures”; a film with purpose and swagger that informs without tiring the soul.

In 1961, three African American women helped John Glenn reach outer space. They were smarter than most and were relentless in their drive to become “the first” to do something extraordinary. Without them, space travel wouldn’t have reached its peak fast enough and the United States may have lost the race to space to Russia. Perception nearly robbed America of a monstrous leap forward and advancement in a field that few could conquer back then. (more…)

John Wick 2: Proof that great action films still exist

“Do you want a war, or do you want to just give me a gun?”-John Wick

Let’s hope that John Wick never really retires, because the action lovers need him.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” is proof that great action films still exist. You will leave this film on a high that few films can produce, and you will exit the theater needing more of it. In a day and age where pure guilty pleasure action adventures are dying nearly as quick a death as westerns, here comes a sequel to the best action film of the past decade(the original “John Wick”) that doesn’t just earn its place, but improves on the original. You heard me right: “John Wick: Chapter 2” takes the world of the original and expands on it with great delight and panache.

Thank goodness a studio head allowed former stunt man Chad Stahelski to direct a film and recruit the actor he doubled for in The Matrix; Keanu Reeves. Watching the action-lover’s ballet that takes place in this film is like revisiting an old friend that you thought died a while back. The exact dose of adrenaline that it takes to acknowledge that a film is doing its job is on display here. Stahelski and Reeves deserve an Oscar for the stunts they create and execute here. It’s the little things that stand out. The roles that a waterfall and a row of cars on a declining street play in a gunfight. The way that a crowded room can turn into a dedication to a 1980’s John Woo action flick. Too much action and blood in “John Wick” is simply not enough.

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All I hear about Reeves is how he is a wooden actor and he doesn’t do a good job, but those people don’t get the point. Action stars aren’t required to act. They need to convince, have a presence and do the grunt work. Keanu Reeves didn’t enter Hollywood to win an Oscar, so he puts in the hard work of an action star, and that is where he flourishes.

“Speed”, “Point Break” and “The Matrix” are good doses of Reeves, but his best work is playing John Wick with restraint and confidence. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue as this character, but the greatest action heroes in the history of cinema didn’t either. He goes to work when the bullets fly and the knee caps snap. Reeves is 50 and simply doesn’t care anymore. He’s leaning into what he knows best.

Derek Kolstad’s script is a perfect tool for the outrageous stunts and kinetic energy of the franchise, and the little quirks are the real kickers. The way these deadly assassins live by certain codes, and have the honor that bad guys in other films don’t have. The action stretches from New York to Rome in this film, and fans of the first film get to see a new Continental Hotel in action. A particular sequence that shines is where Wick is walking wounded down a street and has to take out hitman after hitman, because they all get the open contract on his head at once. The script is precise without losing the touch of what made the original great. Make the action the star.

The supporting cast is great, and pairs well with Reeves. Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo have small — yet vital — parts. There’s a wonderful Neo-Morpheus reunion with Laurence Fishburne, and Common has a few killer battles with Reeves. Everybody fits into their roles seamlessly.

The action is like a well-written symphony, with layered entertainment that doesn’t just end with a bullet or punch. You’ll chuckle at the sight of Wick sending a man flying with his car door, or an extended fight that gathers intensity as it escalates or the patience of a final gun battle between Wick and his main adversary in a diverse maze of mirrors and doors. John Wick enters the dragon at one point in this film, and it’s a great homage to action films that cut the nonsense and delivered the goods.

That is what “John Wick: Chapter 2” does so well. It expands on the plot of the original, brings in new players, assembles two gadgets, but retain the direct entertainment process that made the 2014 film so good. There are no romantic subplots or slowing devices. At two hours, the film moves quick, and doesn’t waste a second of your time.

If you have a fever and a methodical action film made with true artistry is the cure, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the prescription. It is the rare sequel that wasn’t just required and desired, but improves on the original and leaves you asking for a third dose.

Fences: A “premium” slice of Denzel

“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.  (more…)

Arrival: The best I’ve seen in 2016

Arrival, the remarkable new film from director Canadian director Denis Villenueve, is our story. Marketed as an aliens thriller, the movie will open your eyes and introduce a discussion after you leave the theater that you wouldn’t have expected going in. At times shocking and all together visceral and thought provoking, Arrival is the best film I’ve seen in 2016. Let me tell you why.

There are smart movie. Well crafted tales that make you nod in admiration. And then there are films that make you feel something emotional and it’s pleasantly overwhelming. They stick with you longer than the well crafted films because they make you determine your stance on something without forcing you into that point of view. Arrival is both of these things at once and the effect is amazing.

The setup is simple. Dr. Louise Banks(Amy Adams in a wonderfully layered performance) can decipher any language and is a world renowned linguist who is scarred by a tragic event. Her world is turned upside down when 12 mysterious alien aircrafts hover over 12 different countries, sparking an internal debate and international discussion on how to collectively respond.

Louise is recruited by Colonel Weber(Forest Whitaker) along with physicist Ian Donnelly(Jeremy Renner, showing his range) to figure out three things. What are they doing here? How did they get here? What do they want?

While Weber and the United States government battle over fundamentals and strategy with China and Russia, Louise figures that the best way to get answers is to properly communicate with them and that includes walking into the Alien ship over Montana and getting as close as possible to these creatures. Together with Ian, she risks more than just her life to figure out the million dollar question. Do the aliens want to do harm or help?

The amazing part about Villenueve’s film is the way it uses the alien subplot as camouflage to tell a truly moving and inspirational tale about our civilizations and how humans naturally react to something new, mysterious, and cryptic. The limitations in our species going back hundreds and thousands of years haven’t changed. Can we see through our initial fears and make the right decision? These themes and questions aren’t open and shut cases here. Villenueve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer don’t let you go easily. They want to set off alarms in your system.

Arrival attacks your brain and heart, and the visual effects involving the communication between Louise, Ian, and the aliens(who they name Abbott and Costello) never fail to take your breath away. The thrills come naturally and the action never overpowers the dramatic storyline.

The final act is one of the most original and emotionally powerful wraps to a movie in years. You won’t see it coming and simplicity can’t afford the rent in Heisserer’s script yet complexity doesn’t enter the room either. Saying the reveal will divide audiences is like saying the way a steak is prepared is meaningless. The trick is in the details and something I won’t begin to discuss or spoil.

I’ve seen too many movies so I can tell where they are going, but this film pulled the rug out from under me. Don’t let the Alien camouflage deter you. This is a fiercely human story.

Amy Adams is simply phenomenal as Louise. She brings layers of guilt, feeling, and knowledge to a tricky role that anchors the film. When you think about great actresses, Adams is at the top of the list and she refuses to slow down. Renner shows his versatility as Ian, a curious man who can’t turn his brain off whether he is in a tent deciphering science or in front of an alien war ship glass communicating with the unknown. He gives the role something extra without overcooking the dialogue. In films like The Bourne Legacy and the Avengers films, Renner has shown his easy going action hero swagger but here he reveals that nerdy fanboy lover also has residence on his ledger of possibilities.

Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlberg are great in smaller yet potent and important roles. Johann Johannsson’s score is perfectly constructed to elicit fear, wonder, and create energy. Bradford Young’s cinematography is Oscar worthy, taking a page from films like Aliens and Contact yet creating its own new world.

The film is based off Ted Chiang’s short story, “The Story of Your Life”, and lays fine groundwork for Heisserer’s expansive script and story. This film will hit you in places you didn’t think you needed protection for.

Arrival is the kind of movie I’d stand in traffic and tell people to make plans for. I’ve seen a few great movies this year, but none of them are as original and thought provoking as this one. Denis Villenueve positions himself as a renegade filmmaker to reckon with. He’s created a trio of films that astound in completely different ways. Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival. Few directors are working on his level right now, and with his upcoming sequel to Blade Runner, my mouth is officially watering.

Everything about Arrival elicits a “Wow” reaction. It goes places films rarely go, and is smart and powerful at once without alienating the movie goer.

Show some self respect and go see this film. No tomorrow or Monday. Right now. Take a sick day. Find a theater and prepare to be blown away. You may find me in the seat next to you.

Arrival isn’t just good. It’s the best I’ve seen in 2016 and possibly, 2015 as well.