Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie Review #476: "Anthropoid" (2016)

Director: Sean Ellis
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 0 minutes
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A pair of Czechoslovakian soldiers parachutes into German-occupied Prague for operation Anthropoid, which has a mission objective to assassinate the Nazi third-in-command, Reinhard Heydrich.

Directed by Sean Ellis, "Anthropoid" is a true WWII drama about a mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the third-inicommand for the Third Reich and one of the principal planners of the "Final Solution." It stars Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, who play a pair of Czechoslovakian soldiers named Josef Gabcík and Jan Kubis, who are tasked with the aforementioned mission, dubbed "Anthropoid." The basic story behind this film sounds like a compelling one subject wise. Though Heydrich was third-in-command, it's always interesting to see WWII movies that don't focus on Hitler directly because there are so few of them out there. The planning and execution of a mission such as Anthropoid should make for a captivating film. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and "Anthropoid" winds up being rather dull and uneven as it gets lost in its sloppy execution. The first three fourths of it is borderline mundane and meandering, never really sure if it wants to be as it is part romance, part drama, part thriller, and part historical war picture. It focuses heavily on two possible romantic relationships the aforementioned men have with two women named Marie Kovárníková, played by Charlotte Le Bon, who has a romance with Jamie Dornan's Jan, and Lenka Fafková, played by Anna Geislerová, who is paired up with Cillian Murphy's Josef. Josef's and Lenka's relationship isn't quite as impassioned as Jan and Marie's, who hit it off instantly and fall in love during wartime, even as Jan is tasked with a mission that could end his life at any moment.

After the love story takes a back seat, the film focuses on Jan and Josef, along with the Czechoslovakian resistance, planning out Heydrich's assassination by tracking his comings and goings using assets working inside his building to gain information. One might hope the story would pick up a little bit in this planning phase, which sounds like it could be enthralling, but again, it really isn't. It's not until after they carry out their somewhat failed plan when it all finally starts to pick up the pace. The fallout from their attack on Heydrich becomes the most engaging part by far, and even when our protagonists are in danger, it never loses steam in its final moments. It all leads to a grand finale showdown that is far more exciting than anything else that has happened the hour and 30 minutes leading up to it, leaving just a mere 30 minutes for something interesting to actually happen. Director Sean Ellis focuses too much on crafting this grandiose finale, which works with us and against us as viewers. Ellis is clearly more concerned with creating an exciting ending than making everything leading up to it worthwhile. Though some viewers may be able to forgive the rather boring initial 90 minutes for 30 minutes of excitement and intrigue, we would personally prefer our thrills dealt out in a more evenhanded manner. The good comes a little too late. This messy distribution of excitement reminds us of "Jane Got a Gun" from earlier this year, which has nearly the exact same slow unfolding of events early on that leads to a whopper of a finale. Cillian Murphy does a fine job here, but none of the performances are really anything to write home about. Jamie Dornan's accent gets distracting after a while, as does Charlotte Le Bon's, but at the end of the day, we don't really remember the performances because they aren't good enough to overcome the dullness early seen on in the film.

Though "Anthropoid" is not a completely terrible movie, we cannot truly say it is worth the time we spent watching it. History buffs may enjoy this film, but for most of us, it's a mundane and messily constructed film with some nice enough visuals surrounding all of the horrors going on inside Prague. We wouldn't mind seeing this story told again in a more engrossing manner at some point in the future.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 58%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Movie Review: "The Mechanic" (2011)

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Movie"The Mechanic"
Director: Simon West
Year: 2011
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

A meticulous hit-man (Jason Statham) takes a young apprentice (Ben Foster) under his wing to teach him the tricks of the assassin trade.

"The Mechanic" is a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson crime thriller of the same name. It is directed by Simon West, who is known for directing movies such as "Con Air" and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." In this version of the film, Jason Statham takes on the role of Arthur Bishop, the titular mechanic. Bishop is a hit-man who specializes in clean kills which he can make look like accidents. When he gets a job to take out an old friend, played by Donald Sutherland, he takes that friend's son, Steve, played by Ben Foster, under his wing and teaches him the business of professional murder, though Steve has no idea it's actually Arthur that killed his father. Surprisingly, this remake doesn't stray too far from the path of the original's plot. It does take a far more action-oriented approach to the story, which gives it a much different tone overall, but we were shocked it kept most of the plot details the same.

Jason Statham in Jason Statham fashion plays his typical tough guy schtik, you know the one we've all seen him play in a thousand films in the past. He is the tough English guy who can kick major ass, and this is his part in about 94.875% of his movies. He is a relatively safe bet when it comes to these big, violent action movies, so he nestles into Bronson's role with ease. Ben Foster does a fine job as Arthur's assassin-in-training, one who makes a lot of mistakes on his path to being a hit-man. Donald Sutherland has a small part here as well, and in his very limited capacity, he is effective in driving the plot where it needs to go.

Some viewers may actually wind up enjoying "The Mechanic" from 2011 better than the original from 1972 because of its faster pace, its focus on the aforementioned action over Arthur's methodology as a hit-man, and because of its cleaner but equally violent approach, (though we still prefer the original Bronson-led thriller). Though we don't want to really nitpick differences between the two films, one major one we will note is the approach to the mentality of the two main characters. In the 1972 original, Bishop was a stone-cold killer, and Steve was pretty much a sociopath. This time around, both characters are far more humanized as Arthur shows regret and remorse for some of his choices, and Steve actually cares his father is dead and seeks vengeance for whoever killed him. This may be done in an attempt to make the protagonists far more sympathetic and relatable to show that they have normal human emotions, which is fine, though we do prefer the more hardened approach the original took in this respect. Unfortunately, this movie doesn't have a great narrative, dialogue, or themes. Its main purpose is to take the plot from the original and modernize it, which it does, turning it into a popcorn action flick you don't have to think about too hard.

That being said, though not as engaging as the original, "The Mechanic" remake sticks closely enough to its source that it's not a completely different story, and we appreciate this in a world full of up-ended, overhauled remakes. It is a decent watch, even if it's somewhat forgettable.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 53%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Movie Review: "Frankenweenie" (2012)

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Director: Tim Burton
Year: 2012
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

When his dog Sparky is hit by a car and killed, the intelligent and inventive Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) develops an experiment that brings him back to life. Now, other kids hoping to win the science fair try to duplicate his experiment with horrific and unforeseen results. 

"Frankenweenie" is a stop motion animated film directed by Tim Burton. It is based on a live action short film Burton made in 1984, and it is also draws inspiration from the classic Universal horror film "Frankenstein." It boasts the voice talents of Charlie Tahan, who plays Victor Frankenstein himself, as well as Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, and Martin Landau. All of these actors, with the exception of Tahan have worked with Burton in the past, and we know he's one of those directors who loves using the same storied actors over and over. Burton is no stranger to stop motion animation and has directed it before with "Corpse Bride" and the short film "Vincent." Stop motion is often used for these darker themed animated films, so much so that it has almost become a tradition. This movie is yet another film we would describe as "Burtonesque." The classic Burton films contain the same look and tone with macabre, twisted imagery, and this is definitely not a complaint whatsoever. We have seen characters like this in past Burton directed and produced affairs, as well as in his artwork and concept designs for his projects. To let "Frankenweenie" maintain the same feel as the 1930's monster movie, the entire film is done in black and white, which we think really aids in telling this story.

At its core, "Frankenweenie" is about the love, friendship, and devotion a boy has for his dog, and vice versa. Anyone with an animal can relate to this, even the most hardened movie watcher. This story takes place in one of the weirdest towns we've ever seen spring out of someone's imagination and put into a movie. Every resident of New Holland seems a little off in some way or another. This helps the movie maintain its creepy but light feel because what fun would a Burton romp like this be without a little oddity? When Victor's beloved dog Sparky is hit by a car and dies, he is understandably devastated. While conducting a science experiment, Victor comes up with the idea to bring his pup back to life, and to his shock, he is successful. The only difference this time is Sparky looks like a patch-worked version of himself. While this story is mostly straightforward, there is enough here to keep even the littlest viewer interested. Hell, if you're a dog lover, this might even bring a tear to your eye. Burton always takes such painstaking time to craft his characters just the way he wants them whether they are a human or an animal, and even Sparky gets a boisterous personality. The animation is striking and gorgeous, as most of Burton's stop motion efforts are. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect movie and its biggest flaw is its pacing. Despite its extremely short run time, "Frankenweenie" still manages to feel a little long, but in the end, this is still a solid offering from a talented director who always seems to put a little bit of himself into his work. Dog lovers will especially relate and love this mildly twisted, odd, ominous story.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Movie Review: "Sleepy Hollow" (1999)

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Movie"Sleepy Hollow"
Director: Tim Burton
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to the rural town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a string of grizzly beheadings. He quickly discovers a ghostly headless horseman is the one committing these acts, but he is determined to discover who is controlling the horseman behind the scenes. 

Directed by Tim Burton, "Sleepy Hollow" is a ghostly, supernatural re-imagining of the classic Washington Irving gothic horror tale. It stars Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, a constable from New York who is sent to investigate a string of murders in the small town of Sleepy Hollow. Crane is a character that believes in science and reason in a time of superstition and a strong theocracy. He plans to use his scientific method to discover and determine who is committing the murders in Sleepy Hollow. The townspeople already seem to believe they know who is perpetrating these violent decapitations: the headless specter of a Hessian known as The Headless Horseman. The Horseman is actually played by two actors, Christopher Walken when he appears as the Hessian with his head on, and Ray Park (though not credited) whenever he is without a head. Neither actor speaks a single line of dialogue in the whole film. We'd imagine it'd be kind of hard to talk when you don't have a head, but this antagonist is still just as scary even without any spoken lines. Joining these aforementioned actors is an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Ian McDiarmid, Jeffery Jones, Richard Griffiths, Casper Van Dien, and Michael Gough, who flesh out the prominent, key members of Sleepy Hollow. As Crane digs deeper and deeper into the mystery of this seemingly supernatural being, things are not what they appear and he realizes those he thought he could trust in this tiny town might be the very people involved in these horrible murders.

Like most of Tim Burton's films, the visuals are quite alluring with a wonderful, twisted gothic look. Burton doesn't always make R-rated movies, but when he does, he's sure to add a lot of creepy vibes and maimed body parts. He has always had a penchant for the macabre, and this is no exception, however, this film lets him really take his dark yet artful vision to the next level. There is no shortage of rolling, flinging, flying chopped off heads, or people being chopped in half, or impaled, enough to satisfy every horror fan imaginable. In fact, this is one of his bloodiest projects, but this isn't a typical horror film and it's much more ghost-centric and super-normally inclined. The goal is not to necessarily scare the audience or make them jump out of their seats, but rather, to display some pretty horrific acts of violence perpetrated by an undead, headless former war mercenary in this gothic horror fantasy. It's much more dramatic than your typical slasher gore-fest, so this might isolate some viewers only looking to watch the aforementioned heads roll. The acting is compelling for the most part. There is quite a bit of humor in this film as well, mostly coming from Johnny Depp's odd, slightly off portrayal of Ichabod Crane. Ichabod's somewhat nervous mannerisms and his reaction to spurts of blood are good for a chuckle or two mixed in with all of the plasma and gore going on. While the story is engaging, it moves pretty slow even though it isn't very long. Overlooking this one complaint, ultimately, we really enjoy the experience "Sleepy Hollow" offers and think Burton was an excellent choice to bring this story to a modern audience.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 67%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Movie Review #475: "Don't Breathe" (2016)

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Movie"Don't Breathe"
Director: Fede Alvarez
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

When three petty criminals break into a blind Iraq war veteran's house looking for a big score so they can leave Detroit forever, they get far more than they bargained for and will be lucky to get out of the house alive.

"Don't Breathe" is directed by Fede Alvarez, who also wrote the screenplay along with Rodo Sayagues. The two previously worked together on the 2013 remake of "Evil Dead." This film tells the story of three friends and petty criminals named Money, played by Daniel Zovatto, Rocky, played by Jane Levy, and Alex, played Dylan Minnette, who, thanks to Money's sleuthing, have a plan to break into the house of a blind Iraq war veteran, played by Stephen Lang, and steal the six-figure sum of cash he supposedly has hidden somewhere inside. Rocky is especially desperate to get the money so she can get her little sister out of Detroit and away from their abusive mother and her junkie boyfriend. Considering their target is blind, they expect the heist to be a cake walk and to go off without a hitch...but boy, were they wrong.

BigJ and I have been looking forward to "Don't Breathe" ever since we saw the trailer for it many months ago, and it certainly did not disappoint us in the slightest. This is an ultra-intense horror thriller that takes place in and around a single home on an almost deserted street. There is a bit of character building early in the movie that sets up the protagonists and their motivations for their criminal activity just enough so we understand their reasoning for such a crime. Once the three friends break into the blind man's house, the tension revs up and puts you on the edge of your seat so you'll be sitting with your eyes widened and your mouth agape the entire time. You may even find yourself biting your nails as these three low level offenders fumble and bumble their way through the man's home just trying to stay alive after they quickly realize he's not a helpless, weak blind man. The film holds this intensity throughout the rest of its run time, offering only brief, fleeting moments to catch your breath.

We would equate the unsettling tension in "Don't Breathe" to what we experienced from "Green Room" earlier this year. Both movies have such simple concepts, but they are both extremely effective in creating unnerving, perturbing, and claustrophobic situations. Director Fede Alvarez is burdened with the difficult task of making the victim of this break-in the antagonist of the story, and we think he is wildly successful in doing so. Of course, this wouldn't be possible without the brilliant, brutal, and scary performance given by Stephen Lang. In fact, though Lang is the clear standout, all of the other performances are solid as well, and Levy, Minnette, and Zovatto do what they need to do so they can further the story with conviction and ease. The film uses jump scares sparingly to startle the audience, but most the frights come from this taut game of cat-and-mouse between the blind man and the perpetrators who broke into his home and now must stay as quiet as possible to avoid being on the receiving end of his deadly, ultra violent wrath. "Don't Breathe" is sure to delight horror fans and thriller lovers alike, and we absolutely loved each minute of this movie.

My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~90%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Movie Review: "Father of the Bride" (1991)

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Movie"Father of the Bride"
Director: Charles Shyer
Year: 1991
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

With his daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) returning from Europe, George Banks (Steve Martin) is looking forward to spending some quality time with his little girl. He is hit with the shock of a lifetime when she returns madly in love with a fiance named Bryan (George Newbern). Now, George is facing the very harsh reality that his little girl is now all grown up, and he has to let her go for good, a prospect he is having trouble coping with as the person who used to be the only man in her life.

Directed by Charles Shyer, "Father of the Bride" is a 1990's comedy remake of the 1950's film of the same name. This version stars Steve Martin as George Banks, a father who is having a hard time dealing with the fact his daughter is growing up. Joining Martin is Diane Keaton as George's wife Nina, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who plays their daughter Annie, and a very young Kieran Culkin as George and Nina's "surprise" son Matty. Annie has recently been to Europe for several months to study the architecture there and has just returned home. She surprises her parents with the news that she "met a man in Rome, and he's wonderful and brilliant, and they're getting married." Her fiance's name is Bryan, played by George Newbern, an independent communications consultant who comes from a wealthy Bel Air family. Upon first meeting Bryan, Nina adores him and how much he loves her daughter, but George? George nitpicks every single thing about Bryan and instantly dislikes him and his handsy approach to their daughter. Since George still sees Annie as his little girl despite her being in her early 20's, he has a little trouble coming to terms with his daughter's impending nuptials.

Steve Martin does an excellent job filling the role of the overprotective, zany parent who is at odds with throwing his daughter her dream wedding, but simultaneously doesn't want to let his daughter go. He gets into numerous situations that are extremely awkward but hilarious, though they are almost always due to his own bad judgment. This film takes a more traditional stance on weddings, and as per unwritten rule, the father of the bride is in charge of paying for the wedding. George isn't exactly poor, but he's certainly not as well off as his daughter's soon-to-be in-laws. Very soon after the wedding date is set, the tremendous pressure of the upcoming lush, extravagant, and expensive wedding begins mounting on George. Between having to rearrange his house, having to sit in on cake and china procurement, trying to find a tuxedo that fits and isn't from the 70's, picking and choosing who to invite and discovering who may or may not be's all too much for him. It doesn't help that Annie and Nina have hired a wedding coordinator named Franck, played by Martin Short, who is constantly breathing down his neck. Needless to say, chaos ensues, and as things progress in the planning of this wedding, things start to fall apart for not just George, but those closest to him who have to endure his wedding-induced insanity. As the expenses go up, so too does George's instability, which leads to his eventual breakdown. The only one there to force him to get a grip is his lovely wife Nina, and Diane Keaton does an outstanding job playing his wife, tasked with roping him in on several occasions. Much less agitated and much more levelheaded, Keaton provides the voice of reason during the wedding planning madness. Kimberly Williams-Paisley is not a hugely well known actress, but her portrayal of Annie, a woman who just wants to marry the love of her life, is excellent. She holds her own with veteran actors Martin, Keaton, and Short, and feels wise beyond her years. She and George Newbern have believable, luminous chemistry, as do Martin and Keaton. And speaking of Martin Short, the aforementioned wedding jitters leads to some hilarious, over the top comedic moments from Short, who, odd accent and all, does an equally fabulous job in his smaller role.

I grew up watching "Father of the Bride" and have fond memories of it. Watching it now as a married adult, I love it just the same. The situations might be zany, but there is an underlying tenderness to it all, and though some might see George's actions as abhorrent, pushy, and rude, well, remember, this is a comedy. We always enjoy pulling this movie out, and when we do, we know we're in for a worthy, solid remake that does justice to its source featuring a tremendous cast, some hilarious exchanges, and a whole lot of heart.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 73%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie Review #474: "Florence Foster Jenkins" (2016)

Movie"Florence Foster Jenkins"
Director: Stephen Frears
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
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Wealthy heiress and philanthropist Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) lives for and loves music. Her dream is to sing at Carnegie Hall, but there's just one problem: she can't really sing, though she doesn't know it. Her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) will do anything to keep her from learning this fact, even if means bribing a lot of people to do it.

Directed by Stephen Frears, who is known for films like "High Fidelity" and "The Queen," "Florence Foster Jenkins" tells the story of the woman herself. The always fabulous Meryl Streep plays the titular character Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy, quirky, odd heiress with a deep and unabashed love for music and the voice of a tortured chimpanzee. As we all know from her other storied, excellent past roles, Streep is actually quite the accomplished singer, so she does a brilliant job pretending she can't sing a note on key. Hugh Grant plays the husband of Florence, Mr. St Clair Bayfield, who loves his wife and is deeply devoted to her despite living in a separate house with a live-in mistress. Florence is very ill and St Clair will do whatever he can to keep her happy and comfortable, even if it means allowing her to perform an operatic concert for the masses. He never lets on that she can't sing and does his best to make sure no one else does either, even if it means bribing critics and surrounding her with agreeable friends and audience members who have benefited from her philanthropy. As the film progresses, we learn more about why Florence loves music so much, as well as understand where she has come from and has been in her life in regards to her money, her family and friends, her relationships, and of course, those who help her musically.

As we fully expected, Meryl Streep is Florence Foster Jenkins. She is absolutely brilliant in this movie. Every horrible note, every tear, every scream, every laugh, we believe Streep as Jenkins 100%, and that's why it is an honor, nay, a privilege to watch her act every time she graces us with her presence. Streep may be closing in on her 20th Academy Award nomination with her performance in this film. Surprisingly, this may be Hugh Grant's best performance to date. Grant is a much more devoted, involved, and believable character than we've seen from him in the past, and we truly loved his performance. Don't be surprised if you hear his name called at the Oscars next year, either. They both give worthwhile, engaging portrayals of their respective persons. Grant and Streep have incredible chemistry together in their aged, mature relationship, and even when they are apart from each other, we never once doubt their love for one another. Joining Grant and Streep is Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, the man given the fortunate (or unfortunate privilege, depending on how you look at it) of being the pianist for Florence Foster Jenkins. McMoon is all too aware Florence cannot sing, but a steady job paying $150 a week during the time of WWII is just too much to pass up, reputation be damned. We know Helberg in name only and are unfamiliar with most of his work (mainly because we do not watch "The Big Bang Theory"), but his acting here is a pleasant, delightful treat and quite a surprise.

"Florence Foster Jenkins" can be quite funny while Florence is singing, even though it is not really supposed to make us laugh. Whenever she is thrust upon the general, unbribed public, there is a hearty mix of uncontrollable laughter and secondhand embarrassment. At some point, though, many of those who watch her perform take a liking to her ironically because they believe she is a comedic genius, even if that comedy is unintentional. There is a delicate balance between "should we be laughing at her?" and "oh man, she is terrible!" and "awww, she's just so sweet!" Ultimately, this is a charming movie with stellar performances from its three main actors. One could argue it is simply a movie about a wealthy woman feeding her own ego through self-indulgent delusions bolstered by those who benefit financially from her generosity, but this would be a very cynical outlook. There is a deep heart and sincerity to "Florence Foster Jenkins," one that is very endearing even if it feels overlong and mostly drawn out to squeeze a couple more tears from the audience. Mostly, this is an amusing, irresistible film about a woman you should probably know about if you're into music. Check it out if you're into such things.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!