Saturday, December 3, 2016

Movie Review #530: "Allied" (2016)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minute
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During a joint assassination mission in Casablanca, a Canadian spy named Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and a French spy named Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) fall in love. Upon returning to England where Max is stationed, the two get married and have a child. Their love is tested, however, when Max is told Marianne may be a German spy.

"Allied" is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has an extensive resume including films like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," the "Back to the Future" trilogy, and of course, the Oscar winning "Forrest Gump," among many others. It is written by Steven Knight, who was a writer on films like "Pawn Sacrifice," "The Hundred-Foot Journey," and "Locke," among many others. It stars Oscar nominee Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard in the two leading roles. With all of this talent behind the film, one must ask, what could possibly go wrong? That question is answered in the first five seconds of the film when a horribly CGI'ed Brad Pitt parachute landing is the first thing displayed on screen. We have to admit, we were put off by this choice because of first impressions and all that jazz, but when the actual story begins, it's not all awful, though the film itself winds up being a bit of a mixed bag.

The overall concept is intriguing. Two spies from two different countries fall in love, get married and have a kid, only to have it turn out that one of them may or may not be working for the enemy. It's a concept that feels like it deserves better than "Allied," like there could have been a lot more done and said about the subject than what wound up on screen here. There are a couple of engaging moments of genuine tension and exciting action, but from minute 25:01 to 1:40:59, there are gigantic portions filled with lulls that drag on a bit too long and don't seem to simmer just right. Nothing in the middle is there to bridge the mostly good beginning and the rigid, question-filled end to the point where it makes "Allied" a worthwhile story. The sets are nice and the costuming is brilliant, though everything seems a bit too polished and very un-1940's. Marion Cotillard offers a strong performance with what she is given, though Brad Pitt is mediocre at best as her counterpart. Look, we don't want to be jerks and we really, really don't like to pick on actor's looks, but there was something off about Pitt's face throughout the duration of the movie. We aren't sure if Zemeckis implemented a digital de-aging on his face, or if Pitt himself had some sort of work or fillers done, but he looked as if he had been unnaturally smoothed out to make him appear younger. We mention this because it was extremely distracting the entire film, and also speaks to our main problem with the film as a whole. Everything seems a little too artificial to be taken seriously.

In the end, though there is a sprinkling of excitement, a small dose of action, and a couple instances of tension, the uneven pacing and tone of "Allied" winds up hurting its overall feel. There is nothing offensively bad about the movie, but there isn't anything that remarkable about it, either. Cotillard's performance may be worth seeking out, but it's not worth the price of admission to see it in the theater, even with a great ending.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 61%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Movie Review: "Morris From America" (2016)

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Movie"Morris From America"
Director: Chad Hartigan
Year: 2016
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

A young American boy tries to adjust to living in Germany where he has no friends and barely speaks the language. 

"Morris from America" is written and directed by Chad Hartigan. It is a coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old American boy named Morris, played by Markees Christmas, who is trying to adjust to living with his father Curtis, played by Craig Robinson, in Germany. His father is a former soccer player who now coaches a team in their small town. Morris is a little shy, loves rap music, and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about living in Germany since he has no friends and barely speaks the language. One day, Inka, Morris's German tutor, played by Carla Juri, encourages him to spend some time at the local youth center. Once there, he meets a wild, outgoing teen named Katrin, played by Lina Keller, who befriends him, but seems to not be totally on the up and up.

This film gives a funny, endearing and touching look at a young teen having to adjust to a wildly different environment. Morris has recently lost his mother, and now has to go from spending much of his life in the Bronx to moving to a German suburbia filled with people who just don't understand him, metaphorically and literally. "Morris from America" feels very genuine, offering a character sketch of Morris, his relationship with his father, and his interactions with his peers across a cultural barrier.

Markees Christmas does a brilliant job in his portrayal of the titular character as we see the angst and awkward feelings he is certainly experiencing. It is hard enough growing up in a culture you are familiar with, but to be uprooted and taken to a place where you don't know anyone, have trouble communicating, must learn what is expected of you, and are seen as different is even worse. Morris has to understand his personal changes as he is growing up, as well as learn how to reconnect with an entirely new section of humanity. Craig Robinson also does a fantastic job portraying a loving father who still manages to be charming and funny and scolding in his own way. While watching the movie, we were never sure about Katrin and her relationship with Morris, which really made us question where the movie was going to go next in terms of plot progression. She's a bit of a bad influence, only using Morris to make her mother uneasy and to show how edgy she is to her peers. Even though she did manage to make Morris open up socially and try new experiences, sometimes they are ill advised and cause him problems at home.

"Morris From America" made us smile, laugh, and think. Morris and Curtis are completely likable and relatable characters who do what they can to get by, and they are brought to life by tremendous acting by Christmas and Robinson. We wound up really enjoying this movie a whole lot and hope you seek it out.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Movie Review #529: "Moonlight" (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
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The story of Chiron told at three different points of his life as he grows up in the slums of Miami.

"Moonlight" is directed by Barry Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film chronicles the story of an individual named Chiron through three stages of his life. The first stage features Chiron as a young boy, referred to as Little, played by Alex Hibbert. The next portion covers his life as a teenager, who simply goes by the name Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders, and finally, we see a glimpse into the life of Chiron as an adult, who now goes by the nickname Black, played by Trevante Rhodes.

Chiron lives in a rough neighborhood in Miami where drugs and violence are the norm. His mother Paula, played by Naomie Harris, appears to be a normal, caring mother, but rapidly descends into a full-blown drug addict. The only father figure in Chiron's life is a local drug dealer named Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who seemingly takes him under his wing and gives him food, a place to stay on occasion, and advice as he navigates a rough childhood where he is constantly bullied. On top of all of this, Chiron is gay. He's not fully aware of it himself for much of his life, even though everyone else seems to know the truth. As a teenager, Chiron is still bullied by the same kids out in the open. He doesn't really fit in anywhere. He still has one childhood friend named Kevin, played at this stage by Jharrel Jerome, though Kevin has a penchant for openly discussing the girls he has sex with at their school. Kevin and Chiron seem to have a mutual understanding with one another, and their relationship is much deeper than it appears on the surface. Events occur which break them apart, and after a decade, Chiron, now an adult and played by Rhodes, has followed in the footsteps of the only man he's ever really known, masking himself with jewels, weights, dollars, and fronts. After receiving a phone call from Kevin, now played by André Holland, all of the feelings he once had, the ones he has tried so desperately to suppress, come flooding back to him.

The topic seen in "Moonlight" is not one frequently covered in cinema. We have seen many 'life in the hood' types of movies, as well as many others chronicling the gay experience, but this is the first time we've seen the two combined in such a flawless, subtle way featuring an entirely black cast. Barry Jenkins does a master job delivering a beautifully understated film that tries extremely hard to give an honest look at this subject. More than anything, what truly stands out is the acting. The three actors who portray Chiron, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, do a fantastic job selling his shy insecurity as he journeys from an introverted kid, to a bullied teen who is struggling with his identity and his place in the world, to the yolked-out adult who puts on a hard front, but deep down, falls back to a shy introversion when uncertainty arises. Mahershala Ali is brilliant as Juan, who despite being a drug dealer, winds up being one of the few positive influences in Chiron's life. Though his role is short and sweet, his on-screen performance is powerful and meaningful enough that his impact is felt throughout the film. We cannot wait to see more good things from Ali as he continues to impress us with his acting abilities. Then, of course, there is Naomie Harris, another actress who has really made a name for herself in the last decade and a person we continually look forward to seeing on screen. Harris is wonderful as Chiron's crack-addict mother. We watch her spiral down deeper and deeper as the movie progresses, creating quite a strained relationship with her son. Finally, André Holland as the adult Kevin is also excellent in yet another subtly powerful performance.

"Moonlight" is an extremely well put together piece of cinema that is very interesting and compelling. BigJ did not enjoy some of the camerawork and editing, though I never had a problem with these aspects and thought they served to aid in Jenkins' seductive, flowing, lush storytelling. If you let it, this film will keep you engaged and on the verge of tears. Though BigJ was less emotionally moved than I was, we both agree this film deserves all of the accolades it has been receiving, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for the cast and crew of this delicate, aching piece of cinema.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Movie Review: "Father of the Bride Part II" (1995)

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Movie"Father of the Bride Part II"
Director: Charles Shyer
Year: 1995
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

George Banks (Steve Martin) starts to have a midlife crisis when he learns his daughter Annie is pregnant and that he is going to be grandpa. Matters only get worse when his wife Nina (Diane Keaton) gets unexpectedly pregnant as well, meaning George is looking to be a new father at 50. 

"Father of the Bride: Part II" is a sequel to the 1991 film "Father of the Bride" and a loose remake to the 1951 film "Father's Little Dividend," which was a sequel to the 1950 original "Father of the Bride." Charles Shyer returns as director and once again wrote the screenplay along with Nancy Meyers.

The entire cast from the first installment returns to reprise their roles. Steve Martin plays George Banks, the somewhat neurotic, slightly manic father of the bride. He seems fully recovered from the extravagant wedding he threw for his daughter Annie, played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, but was totally unprepared for her latest announcement. It turns out, she and her husband Bryan, played by George Newbern, are going to be having a baby. The very thought of becoming a grandfather sends George into a midlife crisis as he proceeds to do all he can to recapture his youth immediately. Almost all of this sequel is carried by Steve Martin and his antics as his absurd behavior is a great source of comedy. Everything beyond this is a complete overreach as George's wife Nina, played again by Diane Keaton, announces she is also pregnant a short time after they find out about Annie's bundle of joy on the way. It is said Diane Keaton almost didn't do the film based on this plot point, and frankly, we would have preferred it if she didn't. She's terrible in this movie. There is also a subplot about George selling and then wanting to buy back his house, which involves Eugene Levy as Mr. Habib in a rather racist part, not Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" racist, but not too terribly far off. Martin Short is also back as the over-the-top, flamboyant interior decorator Franck, and his performance, like his character, is over-the-top as well.

Despite a few strong moments early on, the film devolves into a cavalcade of absurdity very quickly after it starts. It is almost as if those working behind the camera ran out of ideas about how to actually fill screen time as the majority of substance is completed at about the midway point. Without Steve Martin, "Father of the Bride Part II" would have been a disaster. Luckily, because of him, it's at least a tiny bit tolerable. Diane Keaton should have stayed at home, Kieran Culkin is once again relegated to a one-off line in the plot, and the genuine stupidity regarding most of what happens is almost too much to bear. This sequel is not good at all.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 48%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Movie Review: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982)

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Movie"Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"
Director: Carl Reiner
Year: 1982
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) is hired by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the recent death of her father, which she believes was no accident.

"Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid" is a film-noir parody directed by Carl Reiner, who also wrote the film along with Steve Martin and George Gipe. It stars Steve Martin as private investigator Rigby Reardon. Rigby is hired by Juliet Forrest, played by Rachel Ward, to investigate the death of her father that the police have ruled an accident, but she believes to have a far more sinister cause. This comedy takes a new story and intertwines it with scenes from old movies. Steve Martin gets inserted into scenes with the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, and James Cagney, just to name a few. Reiner and co. manage to create a mostly cohesive story by integrating the original scenes with classic ones in an interesting approach to a modern film-noir.

Having Steve Martin spout off mostly silly lines of dialogue which will ultimately be answered with a random line from a character in one of the borrowed scenes from classic cinema is actually really inventive, and mostly, it works out in their favor. We really appreciate the effort it took to splice all these classics together and have it make any sort of sense. Steve Martin does a good job with his goofy shtick and brings the laughs quite often, though it can get a little repetitive at times. Luckily, his character Rigby Reardon is absolutely hilarious in his dopey, sarcastic comedy. The story they create is fun, albeit ridiculous. We won't say the blending of new and old is seamless, because it's not. Oftentimes, the exchanges of dialogue really stretch to make them work.

In the end, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is a stylish film-noir with an inventive premise in a fairly entertaining film. There is an interesting mix of old school clips and inserted present day people in them. It's sort of ridiculous, but it's also a lot of fun.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Movie Review: "The Central Park Five" (2012)

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Movie"The Central Park Five"
Director: Ken Burns
Year: 2012
Rating: UR
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

A group of five black and Latino teenagers are falsely accused and convicted of gang raping a white female jogger in Central Park in New York in 1989. 

The story of the Central Park Five is enough to make even the strongest person pissed as hell. In the late 80's, five male teenagers of black and Latino descent were arrested for the brutal, savage rape and attack of a jogger in Central Park. After this happened and the men were convicted, the story became a highly discussed and followed case, and lies, accusations, and mudslinging began as quickly as the crime was announced. This prompted national sensationalism on the part of the media, including rampant racism and a clamoring for justice and indictments that weren't even the truth. Each of the men accused spent between 5 and 15 years in jail for their convictions before a serial rapist confessed to the crime in 2002. Doesn't this entire thing make your stomach churn? Watching "The Central Park Five" documentary made us mad, made us want to cry, and made us shake our heads at the way "justice" is sometimes served in our fair country. It's hard to review a documentary of such a politically charged nature, but we will try as best we can. Though some of the men (at the time, teenagers) and many others were in the park that night and were probably not being as civil as they should have been, this does not mean the "five" beat and raped the woman they were accused of beating and raping. Sometimes without proper counsel, sometimes without parents present, these teens were pressured into giving confessions and statements, verbal or videotaped, and were put in prison for crimes they did not commit. Ken Burns examines, through a series of interviews with those involved closely with the case, including those involved directly, Anton McCray (in voice only), Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, and what led to their arrests, their trials, their verdicts, and their eventual vacated convictions.

"The Central Park Five" provides a stark snapshot of what it's (sometimes) like to be a minority and accused of a crime. These men have since received monetary reparations for their time served as the result of suing the city and state of New York, but does money buy back years of a prison sentence serve for being not guilty? Ken Burns did a great job in this documentary, though it is quite long and definitely feels it. It's hard not to shake your head at our judicial system after watching a movie like this. It's instances like these where we feel ashamed we live in a country that could convict innocent people and sentence them to prison all because of who they are, who they are associated with, and the color of their skin. It also shows the dangers of the 'court of public opinion' and how it can sway people's thoughts and perceptions of a case they might not otherwise know anything about. It also forces us to reexamine what the term "innocent until proven guilty" really means, especially in 2016 in a world where we are so caught up in the 24/7 news cycle in which people are placed on trial in the media before they ever set foot in a courtroom. If this happened in the late 80's, it has certainly only gotten worse now, and watching this film showed us how unreliable our justice system can be, especially when swayed by the panderdome of the media (especially the Nancy Grace's of the world).

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Movie Review #528: "Bad Santa 2" (2016)

Movie"Bad Santa 2"
Director: Mark Waters
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minute
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Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (Tony Cox) reunite in order to rob a charity with the help of Willie's estranged mother Sunny (Kathy Bates).

Well, it's been 13 years since the release of "Bad Santa," which we like, but don't love like everyone else seems to. This being the year of the long delayed sequel and clearly out of ideas, writers, producers, and filmmakers threw up their hands and thought, "why don't we make "Bad Santa 2?" People want that, right?" In the wise, boisterous words of our president-elect: WRONG.

The film is directed by Mark Waters, who is known for other films like "Vampire Academy" and "Mr. Popper's Penguins." This isn't a movie that was made because there was more to tell about the continuing adventures about Billy Bob Thornton's Willie Soke. It is clear this movie was made as an attempted cash grab, nothing more. Waters and his crew take a recycled story, fill it with recycled jokes, and have the actors involved phone in their performances only for a paycheck and BOOM!, we have a movie...well, if you can call it a movie at all. Writers Shauna Cross and Johnny Rosenthal thought to themselves, "everyone loved the crass, boozing, smoking, angry, sex-obsessed mall Santa and his foul-mouthed, sarcastic elf sidekick in 2003, so if we make them twice as crass and twice as foul-mouthed and add the f-word twice as much, it will be twice as funny!" WRONG AGAIN. The original film was a dark comedic satire that walked a fine line between outright offensive and mildly endearing in its undertone. That movie had a slight character arc for Willie as he went from a completely self-centered asshole to an asshole who finally thought of someone besides himself. In this atrocious, awful sequel, he has no arc and he manages to somehow be far less endearing.

Willie still hangs around Thurman Merman, played by a now grown up Brett Kelly, but even that entire plot point has lost its charm. Thurman as a character is written to be extremely stupid, and it was cute when he was an oblivious eight year old, but now, at 21 and on the verge of "getting his cherry popped by Willie," it just comes off as sad. We started to wonder if this character is meant to have some form of mental disability, and if so, are they making fun of this for the sake of low hanging fruit jokes? That being said, Brett Kelly is the only one who seems like he is putting any effort into his performance at all. Tony Cox, who was the prime source of laughs for us in his great original performance that was full of sarcastic wit, is reduced to mostly fielding jokes entirely based on his physical stature. Sure, this happened in the original, but again, it's like the writers knew this was the case and doubled up on the 'little people jokes,' some of which were so offensive in combination with digs at Cox's race, they made us drop our jaws at how low those behind the screen were truly willing to go to be smutty in the name of giggles. And don't even get us started on Kathy Bates and how this Oscar winning actress is left spewing a constant stream of verbal diarrhea that is passed off as dialogue. Every single one of them, guaranteed, did this film for a quick paycheck, and it certainly shows. None of the main three characters wind up being likable in the slightest this time around, and on top of that, the cardinal sin is they aren't funny, either.

"Bad Santa 2" involves Willie, Marcus, and Sunny attempting to rob a charity, which is operated by Diane and Regent Hastings, played by Christina Hendricks and Ryan Hansen, a couple who are only staying together for the charity and haven't had sex together in 10 years. Of course, Regent is cheating on Diane and is skimming money from their charity, and Diane is portrayed as a complete and total dingbat half of the time, and a smarmy skank the other half of the time because, you know, women are only allowed to be in comedies if they are whores or idiots! This tired cliche doesn't go unnoticed here, and it doesn't serve to move the plot forward at all. We are completely ambivalent to their problems and their characteristics, they only serve as a reason for the crime-oriented shenanigans to take place.

At one point, as the only two souls in the empty theater in Southern California, we began to write down all of the dirty, beastly, terrible, uncomfortable things being discussed in this sequel that should have never been made. The crux of the film relies on the audience to laugh at its jokes about felching, 13 years olds having sex and getting pregnant, abortions, midget genocide, making fun of domestic violence and pedophilia, mocking people with Parkinson's disease, and "babies with beer bellies." No one will because none of it is funny. We're all for "too much" dirt and grime a la "Sausage Party" from earlier in 2016, but the dirt and grime in "Bad Santa 2" is never necessary, never fitting, and most importantly, never makes one solid joke. There will be a section of the population that will love the anti-PC rhetoric that Kathy Bates' Sunny spews out time and time again, and if we're being honest, we don't want to know those people because they probably enjoyed this sequel. It's better if we forget this movie exists, even if you are a fan of the original like we were. Don't pay money for this, hell, don't even watch it for free. It's just a waste of time and money and effort.

My Rating: 1/10
BigJ's Rating: 1.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~5.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 22%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!