Fences

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

A platform for tremendous acting by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, it’s a great way for those of us who haven’t seen the play on Broadway to experience this well written production. Yes, a movie version of a play, with most scenes set in the backyard, or kitchen, of an old brownstone in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s. Lot of talking from the lead character played by Denzel, a blowhard, a has been baseball star (from the Negro leagues before blacks were allowed in Major League Baseball), a hard working, hard drinking family man who beats down his teenage son verbally while ostensibly instilling discipline and forcing him down a reasonable career in his eyes and not following his own path of refuse collector/driver. The second half allows Viola to come to the front and take charge of the household when her husband stumbles. Solid film, just not too exciting or compelling enough for me to rave about.

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Rogue One

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

First, let’s see if this film follows the legacy of its predecessors. Does it focus on a young warrior who has father issues? Check. Does the main bad guy wear a billowing cape? Check. Is the fate of the galaxy in jeopardy? Check. Are the foot soldiers of the bad guys in full armor uniforms where they all look alike, faces covered, and just get mowed down while having terrible aim and slow reactions? Check, check, check. Is there a funny robot? Check.

So far, so good, although not many surprises. Now more questions that arose for me while I watched. Why do so many vehicles and equipment in this super advanced society have steam shooting out of them? (my best guess: the better to appear dramatic and give the good guys cover). Where is the wind that causes the bad guys cape to billow when he’s standing literally in outer space? (guess: maybe it’s the air rushing out of the spaceship?). Why do most of the characters have English accents? (guess: the best actors are English, right? Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Sacha Baron Cohen…) When do these characters ever eat or sleep? (guess: they’re taking some kind of futuristic super amphetamine) How do they travel from one galaxy to another so quickly? (guess: worm holes, what else?) Finally, not to give too much away, but pay attention to the data warehouse of the future, where you actually have to remove the data with a mechanical arm from its slot in the shelves.

I hope I didn’t give any spoilers. Pretty fun film, good for all ages.

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Lion

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

The first half is somewhat reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire in that it focuses on the plight of a 5 year old boy from a poor rural family in India. He and his older brother, whom he adores, spend their days jumping freight trains to steal coal, then turn over their booty to their hard working mom. It’s not much of a spoiler to disclose that the boy gets lost, and without cell phones, or even phones, or even a correct town name or name of his mother other than mum, there’s no chance he will be found. Stuck in a child’s prison (aka an “orphanage”), he ends up being adopted by a family in Australia, and the rest I will not tell here. The actor playing the young boy is amazing, and the scenes of beauty (at first, by his home) and then chaos (in Calcutta) and danger at every turn are amazing. It got a little slow for me when 20 years go by and the boy is now living a normal life in Tasmania (more amazing scenery by the coast). It picks up at the end, and what an ending. Dev Patel as the grown up boy, and Rooney Mara as his love interest, are both very good. Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother I thought was a little overly dramatic. Very cool photos during the credits of the actual boy/man whose story the movie is based on. Highly recommended for ALL ages.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I liked this as well and for many of the reasons that Bill articulated.  While this shows great beauty in India it also shows tremendous poverty and the incredibly tough life the poor have.  As Bill states, both actors playing Saroo are excellent (Dev Patel starred in Slumdog Millionaire also).  A very moving ending and definitely stay during the closing credits.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Arrival

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I agree with one reviewer’s characterization of Arrival as achieving what Interstellar tried (and failed) at, as a “thinking person’s movie”. I suggest that you not read any reviews in advance of seeing this film, so that you go in like me, having no idea of the plot or character elements beyond the most basic:  alien spaceships have arrived on (or over!) Earth and Amy Adams’ linguistic expert character, teamed with Jeremy Renner’s scientist, try to help the US government figure out what they want. The slow unraveling of this mystery is masterfully done, with soundtrack, cinematography, and hints at what is happening doled out to the viewer. It’s tense, it’s fun, it’s scary in a non-typical alien disaster movie way.  It gets a little slow at times for me. Amy Adams is great, as usual. And it resonates with today’s global political climate. I walked out proud to have figured out the plot, with a little help from my wife, and admiring how it was woven together. Unlike when I left Interstellar, furiously disputing the outlandish logic and plot elements. Arrival is terrific, highly recommended for all ages, say 12 and above!

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Hacksaw Ridge

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss. During WWII, serving in the Pacific, he became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as a medic.

I almost felt I was getting two movies for the price of one.  The first hour is Doss growing up, family turmoil, falling in love, enlisting and standing up for his desire to serve in a capacity that does not  require him to kill.  The second half is the story of his participation in the battle for Okinawa, his incredible bravery while sticking to his principles.  The war scenes are extremely well made but also incredibly violent (so if you don’t like disturbing war images skip this film).

This is Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in 10 years (time flies),  It’s a well made film and it does it good job in telling the story of Desmond Doss (stay for the closing credits to see pictures/interviews with Doss and others).  My biggest knock was there are parts (in both halfs) that felt formulaic and all the expected caricatures of characters in an army barracks were provided.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Deepwater Horizon

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Disaster flicks have both come a long way, and stayed the same, from back in the day, such as 1972’s Poseidon Adventure. Similarities: A huge structure, which encounters a problem that quickly escalates into total destruction, while our characters take heroic, mostly, actions to rescue others, and try to escape with their lives. Come a long way in that the super HD reality of the structure is incredible, with the feeling that you are inside the oil rig (yes, that’s the name of it, Deepwater Horizon, true story), with things popping, dials rising into the red, water blowing gaskets (or whatever they blow), and fire and explosions go off while people get blown away, injured, jump into the fiery water, helicopters rescue, etc. I knew the story going in (oil rig blew up after it’s corporate owner, BP, cut corners in safety measures), but the suspense is high and overall great action throughout.

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The Girl on the Train

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I was going to avoid this film due to its relatively low score on Rotten Tomatoes but when I read a positive recommendation from my friend Leslie Waltzer, I decided to give it a shot on a slow weekend. It’s been compared to Gone Girl, and I agree with those comparisons that it’s not as good, but still kept my attention, and watching Emily Blunt’s excellent portrayal of aforementioned train girl, she is captivating, while I tried to figure out what’s going on. Is she nuts, obsessive, schizophrenic, scorned ex-wife, jealous wannabe trophy wife, deluded alcoholic, or a sane person just trying to do the right thing. I won’t tell here. I can recommend a much better film, The Ones Below.

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I’m not sure why I saw this movie either.  There was so much hype about this book that I read it before the movie came out.  I didn’t really like it because there were no characters in the book that I liked.  I guess I watched the movie to see if they made any more characters more likable.  Maybe a little but this won’t make my top ten list.

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Birth of a Nation

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

I resisted seeing this film due to the recently made public story of the director and actor, Nate Parker, being accused of rape years ago. It’s the Woody Allen, Roman Polanski issue, where I refuse to patronize these “artists” who have abused women/girls, whether or not they have been convicted. But, spurred on by a tweet from actor Hal Holbrook, along with Gabrielle Union’s online encouragement, I decided to see the film, and I’m glad I did. It’s very well done, incredible portrayal of slavery life on southern plantations in 1809.  Beyond what are now cliche characters (vicious plantation manager, maternal slave owner, incredibly cruel plantation owners, house slave, cotton pickers, etc.) it showed how religion was used to give hope of a rewarding after-life to those toiling this life’s hell, as well as to strike fear of a demanding God to obey their masters. Nat Turner does his duty, including being carted around to nearby plantations as the preacher who will keep the slaves obedient and in line, while their labor is extracted in the way one would ride one’s horse as long as possible while spending as little money and food as possible, no personal love or care necessary. Until a line is crossed, which in this case is rape and beating of his wife. Articles have been written protesting this subservient role of the black women, who in this film are powerless and serve as a reason, an affront to the men’s egos, who passively nod their heads while they see their men go off to act on violent, and certainly suicidal, rebellion. It becomes a revenge film at the end, portraying some graphic violence, and not in the Tarantino “fun violence” sense. The final scenes of “strange fruit” hanging from the trees are haunting, as is the crowd’s animal like lashing out as Nat is brought to the hangman. It made me think, has it really been only 200 hundred years since Americans acted this way? Slavery continued until 150 years ago. Lynchings and the KKK continued to occur until when, only 60 years ago? Civil rights violence with Bull Connor and the March in Selma was in the 60s. Haven’t we progress so far since then? Are we really such a progressive society? That’s a different film. In fact, such a film was made; I reviewed Fruitvale Station only 3 years ago.

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review

 

Fantastic Fest 2016

This was my third year attending Fantastic Fest and I now look forward to this every year.  Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and features horror, science fiction, action, fantasy, foreign , and cult or anything else that strikes Tim League’s fancy.   The festival is wholly contained  in Austin at the Alamo South Lamar theater (except for special events) so there are no worries about traveling to other venues to make it to a film on time.  You  pick the movies you’d like to see the following day  online and that evening receive your schedule.  You don’t always get your first choice but being forced out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing,   you usually get your first or second choices and you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll get into the movie you go to.

In addition to the movies with directors, producers, and actors in attendance, there were several events and parties at the neighboring The Highball, including  podcasts with Leonard Maltin  and the  Doug Loves Movies podcast with Doug Benson.

Here are a few that  I really enjoyed (not in any specific order):

The Invisible Guest – This movie from Spain is a very good mystery/thriller with lots of plot twists and turns.

The Handmaiden – This and the next two are excellent films from South Korea.The Handmaiden is the latest from Chan-Wook Park, the director of Oldboy.  This film is set in the 1930s and their are more twists and turns in this one than in the Invisible Guest above!  I think this will be released in the U.S. in the next few weeks.

Age of Shadows – This one is also set in the 30s (maybe 40s) in Japan occupied Korea.  A Korean police chief is ordered by his Japanese superiors to hunt down members of the Korean resistance.   His allegiances are tested!

Asura: The City of Madness – The story of a corrupt cop who is caught between the corrupt mayor he works for as an enforcer and the district attorney.   Very atmospheric with lots of violence.  The director could have probably chosen a more subtle final act but he went for all the gusto.

Toni Erdmann – A funny and touching German movie about a man trying to reconnect with his adult daughter in unconventional ways.  Very funny with some important life lessons.

The Crew – An excellent French heist thriller.  This is a  taut, action packed 81 minutes

Arrival – Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star in this mystery, science fiction drama as scientist trying to communicate with aliens before an apocalypse can occur.  This opens in November.

Weiner

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Weiner is an excellent documentary about Anthony Weiner’s ill-advised run for NYC mayor a couple of years ago.  He attempted to resurrect his political career two years after resigning from Congress due to a sexting scandal.

Just following his campaign would have been fascinating enough, but the filmmakers got lucky when new sexting allegations popped up and caused his campaign to implode. There are lots of fascinating things to watch: the political campaign and its workings, the press coverage,  his dealing with the scandal, and the increasingly-strained relationship between Weiner and his wife (a top Clinton advisor).

The film is thought-provoking.  Parts  are funny and others are painful to watch. The question I hoped would be answered is why he would allow this film to be made.  Late in the film he was asked that question, but didn’t answer. My view is that, due to his ego, he expected this to be a film about a great political comeback story.  This film is never dull and highly recommended.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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