Phoenix

Bill I’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Really well done “thriller”, with no screen violence, but an atmosphere of distrust, guilt, remembrance, in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. You see the ruins of buildings everywhere as folks make their way in their daily life, with American troops controlling key check points on the roads. We follow Nelly, a survivor of a German “camp” as she get her horrific facial injuries healed, and emerges with a new face, and a frightened, hesitant personality.  Her close friend is there to help re-integrate her into society, and pushes her to move to the new Jewish enclave in Palestine, where they can live without the fear of being targeted. Nelly is not interested in that, in fact says she’s not Jewish, but is obsessed at finding her husband. She does find him, but he doesn’t recognize her, and there the plot gets complicated and interesting. How she interacts with him, even after her friend says he set her up (and who amongst her friends betrayed her) to be arrested by the Nazis, is the mystery and how she unveils her true self is the thrilling part. My mother was puzzled by the ending but I thought it was pretty clear. See this movie and I’d be interested in hearing your perspective.

Ricki and the Flash

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I would say this is a good movie to see on TV except that the music scenes are best experienced on a big screen. Meryl Streep can rock it out! And I’m sure it helps that her lead guitarist is an actual rock star, Rick Springfield. His role as her long-time adorer and FWB friend was not as believable. She plays a middle aged leader of a bar band who abandoned her young family years ago, and now her ex husband asks her to come back to help her daughter get over a painful marriage breakup. The best part for me was to see the perfect interactions with the resentful daughter, played by Meryl’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer. Again, not so believable to me was to envision that Meryl’s younger character somehow found a soul-mate in Kevin Kline’s formal, upper class cliche father. And the film relies heavily on ugly over-done eye shadow and weird braided hair to show how much Meryl is out of the mainstream. But, overall a pleasant movie.

Cop Car

Bill C’s review 3.5 out of 5

Cop Car has a very simple premise: two kids are running away from home and stumble upon a hidden, seemingly abandoned police car.  They take it for a joy ride.  Unfortunately, the cop car belongs to a bad (a very bad) cop, and he wants it back.

This is another  movie with a lot of twists and turns that keeps you sitting at the edge of your seat. James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford do a great job as the two kids, and Kevin Bacon is sufficiently menacing as the cop.  

This movie is a lean 86 minutes, so the action moves along swiftly, and there’s good usage of black humor to break up the tension.

This film might be hard to find in theaters.  For those near an Alamo Drafthouse, you might check for it there.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Straight Outta Compton

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

I almost gave this a 4 rating because I enjoyed it so much, but I thought due to its formulaic structure (boys meet boys, boys lose boys, boys get back together) I didn’t think it’s a top movie of the year so far. But what’s there is captivating, from the rise of the young members of rap group NWA coming together to create music and messages that rocked the culture. It’s got some great elements: rags to riches, brotherly bonding (both more captivating and more realistic then what we see in Entourage movie), the music hits business (including the slick talking manager), betrayal, villains (cue Shug Knight!), growth, and ultimately death. Ice Cube is portrayed by his actual son (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who looks just like his dad. Easy E is the most compelling character, and the always great Paul Giamatti excels in manager sleaziness disguised by loving mentor and plain talking businessman. I could go on and describe some great scenes, especially the crowd receptions, the riots, but the biggest emotional impact for me was to see how the police treated these young “gangsters”, which hits so close to home when seeing it happening in everyday America. I never cared much for NWA’s music, and in fact despised their F*** tha Police song, but put into context here (Ice Cube writes it literally after experiencing first hand police thuggery and racism), it make sense and comes across as a legitimate form of civil protest. The violence and  sex is nothing too brutal or explicit, and I think the movie is OK for teenagers 15 and over. It’s nothing they haven’t already heard, and by seeing this film we can understand where the NWA members came from.

NWA Straight Outta Compton

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

The new The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film is a prequel to the the 1960’s TV show. This was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid.  I thought the film was OK, but there are tons of this type of movie (Mission: Impossible, for example) that are better.

I was hoping that the nostalgia factor would overcome any shortcomings, but while they used the same title, characters , etc.,  the movie came up short in this area.  My memory of this TV show from my childhood is probably faulty—I’m actually recording a couple of episodes to see what it was really like.  As a prequel that tells the story of how Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakan came to be a team working for Mr. Waverly, the movie had none of the friendly banter I remember from the show.  Worse, Kuryaken was nothing like he was on the TV show.  I remember him as a really smart person who was not physically intimidating, but in the movie he can rip trunk doors off of cars.  While the movie version of Napoleon Solo was similar to the TV show character, Henry Cavill is no Robert Vaughn.

The film’s action scenes, humor, and plot were fine, but again nothing special.  I’d like all who were fans of the show to check this movie out to see if they agree.  Otherwise, you can probably skip this one.

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The Gift

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Prepare to be tense this whole movie, waiting to see what Gordy, the creepy old high school classmate of Simon, has in mind with his escalating, and weird, kindness and yes, gifts, to Simon and his wife, Robyn. The attractive and upwardly mobile couple has just moved into a cool house near Simon’s hometown and run into Gordy, who seems real nice, until the creepiness signals start to emerge. Joel Edgerton is superb as Gordy, and Jason Bateman does a wonderful job portraying the multi-layered Simon. I have always enjoyed watching Bateman, usually in comedies and playing some variance of the same personality, sardonic, quick witted, and besieged by events out of his control. Quite a different character here though. And Rebecca Hall is perfect as the quiet, nice, sensitive wife with some secrets of her own. I won’t write any more of the plot. See this movie if you like well done building up of suspense. Negative spoiler alert: no blood and guts in evidence, so you can enjoy the mind games without worrying about being grossed out.

Bill C’s Rating – 4 out of 5

As Bill says, The Gift is a smart thriller with lots of twists and turns that continue until the very end and leave  you on the edge of your seats.

Not only is Joel Edgerton fine as Gordy, but he also wrote the screenplay and makes his feature directorial debut with this film.  This is the first time I’ve really taken notice of him as an actor, but he has a ton of credits.  In this role, the creepiness just oozes out of him.

If you like Hitchcockian-type films, definitely try to see this one.

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is the fifth Mission: Impossible film (about 20 years since the first!), and the franchise is still going strong.

The scene from the coming attractions of Cruise hanging on to the outside of an airplane as it takes off is just from the set piece before the opening credits.  This film is 2+ hours that flies by due to great action sequences as well as some Simon Pegg for comic relief.

Kudos to Cruise for still doing outrageous stunts into his 50s.  Don’t analyze the plot too closely and just go along for the ride.

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

It’s a fun, action filled episode, with Tom Schmooze doing his best, and paired with a charismatic, enigmatic, beautiful nemesis/ally (you are kept guessing where her loyalties lie) played by Rebecca Ferguson. I think we’ll see much more of her, she’s so good. Reminds me of when I first saw Jessica Chastain. As Bill C. says, don’t expect the plot to pass deep examination; in fact, I was confused at several points. Why is Tom diving into an industrial whirlpool and switching orange security cards under water? How do you just run into your colleagues on a random street in Morocco? How are you able to build a high tech bullet proof glass cage with gas jets in like, a couple of hours? (By the way, what happened Tom’s wife, played in prior episodes by Michelle Monahan? Not here, guess she’s already been kidnapped and rescued so she is playing it low key.) So, the confusion distracted me (I did close my eyes for a few minutes, maybe I missed the whole explanation). There are funny parts, and Simon Pegg is a great buddy for Tom. Jeremy Renner seems wasted as his ostensible boss, and Alex Baldwin is great as the CIA chief who believes Tom and his IMF crew are the ones going rogue. The villains are cliches, probably leftovers from Austin Powers. They capture you but take their time to torture you before killing you, giving you plenty of time to figure out how to escape. It helps if you get within striking range when Tom is tied up, so he can kick you in the chest or head butt you. Amazing motorcycle chase scenes and great scenery along the way. Perfect summer movie, but not one of the best Mission Impossible films.

IMDB

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Amy

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Amy is the documentary about the life and (spoiler alert) death of Amy Winehouse.  The film makers had access to tons of footage from friends and family which makes this much more than you’d get with just a bunch of talking heads discussing her life in retrospect.

The film gives a good view of her meteoric rise, what she was like before her drug addiction and then the sad  and possibly preventable downfall.  It gives a sad view of how some around her were more interested in her fame than in helping her recover.

An excellent documentary but definitely a downer.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Mr. Holmes

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Wonderful film, beautiful cinematography, incredible acting job by all, especially Ian McKellen as the 93 year old Sherlock, who’s been retired in self-exile in his country house, with just a sullen housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her inquisitive son, Roger. The story unfolds slowly, like a puzzle the pieces are uncovered via flashbacks. There’s fun in seeing the “real life” Holmes deal with his celebrity, and fans expectations of the pipe, the hat, etc. I won’t give away any of the plot, but I highly recommend it.

Bill C’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Bill’s review is spot on.  I think I rated it a little lower due to the slowness Bill mentions, especially in the middle.  I liked the way multiple subplots unfolded – the main case, Holmes friendship with the boy and relationship with the housekeeper,  a trip he had just returned from to Japan and his dealing with aging and some of his imperfections.

If you’re in the mood for an arthouse film amid all the action films this is a good choice.

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Trainwreck

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

This is not a great movie, but it’s got so many laughs, especially in the first half before it turns sentimental, that I have to rate it so high. I loooove Amy Schumer (watch her TV show, Inside Amy Schumer, hysterical), and there are scenes that were incredibly funny. And, believe it or not, at one point Amy gives a speech that brought tears to my eyes. Definitely R rated, adults only. Best comedy in recent memory! Bonus – Lebron James has a real role and he’s good!  Amare Stoudemire is not bad in a small role. John Cena, the wrestler, is eye candy for the woman and has one of the funniest scenes. I can’t begin to describe it here, and don’t want to spoil your fun.

Bill C’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Below is my review when I saw this as a work in progress during SXSW in March.  This is Judd Apatow’s latest starring Amy Schumer.  Like most Apatow films, it’s rude, crude, very funny and has a heart.  Schumer plays a magazine writer with commitment issues (explained via a very funny opening sequence).  The supporting cast includes Bill Hader (as the orthopedic surgeon for athletes and one of Schumer’s love interests)  and Lebron James in a much larger role than I expected that he totally pulled off (including a very funny 1 on 1 match with Hader).  I thought the ending went a bit overboard, but if you are an Apatow fan, you will definitely like this movie.

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