Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) - Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon

Director:     Guillermo del Toro
Writer:        Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Actors:       Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon

This is essentially an old-fashioned love story.  Woman meets man and they fall in love, despite adversity, common sense and the impossibility of it all.

Elisa (Hawkins) is mute, though not deaf. She’s all heart and soul, with a touch of healthy sexuality. Along with Zelda (Spencer), her job is to clean the secret facility which is experimenting on an aquatic creature discovered in the Amazon jungles. The natives consider the creature a “God,” but the lab considers him a mere specimen for study.

Strickland, the supervisor of the facility, enjoys torturing the creature and is ordered by his superiors to kill it. Elisa decides she must rescue the creature. With the help of her loyal neighbor Giles (Jenkins) and stalwart friend Zelda, she succeeds in hiding the creature in her apartment.

A beautiful scene ensues where Elisa floods her apartment in order to create a watery world where she and her aquatic creature explore their feelings for each other. The romance and charm of the scene is so simple and pure that we buy into the story, as surreal and impossible as it seems.

When the villainous Strickland discovers where the creature is hiding out, there is a showdown. Elisa manages to get her creature to the canal which leads to sea, but Strickland finds them. Shots are fired, victims are dying, and everything is falling apart. Then we see why the jungle natives view the creature as a God.

Del Toro directs this movie with wistful tenderness.  It’s filled with charm, humor and an abiding belief that with all our flaws and foibles, love can elevate us all to heroic heights.

TAGS:  Guillermo del Toro, Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, amphibious, water

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017) - Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Director:     Rian Johnson
Writers:      Rian Johnson, George Lucas

I liked this one much better than THE FORCE AWAKENS.  It might be because “Force” had to take time to establish new characters.  In this one, we could engage into the storyline much faster.

This latest STAR WARS movie is focused more on the personal odysseys of the main characters and the dynamics between the familiar characters and the new ones.  It’s fascinating how we love the robots (C3PO, R2D2, BB-8) as much as we love the humans.

Mark Hamill, as Luke Skywalker, “The Last Jedi,” is cynical and dark.  Yet, it’s his very darkness which makes his ultimate rescue of the rebels more climactic.  Daisy Ridley, as Rey, fulfills her heroic potential, fighting to keep Kylo Ren, Han Solo's and Princess Leia’s son, from surrendering to evil. 
In “Force,” I was a little disappointed in John Boyega’s portrayal of Finn, the new character meant to be Rey’s heroic counterpart.  He acquits himself better in this version, though he still suffers by comparison to Harrison Ford’s crazy, charismatic “Han Solo” character.

Director Rian Johnson’s choreography of the battle scenes adds to the storyline, rather than detracting from it.  Benicio Del Toro is strong as a would-be ally overcome by dark motives.  CGI effects are excellent, and Andy Sirkis, who embodies his CGI manifestation of the villainous Snout, is excellent.  I loved the little critters with big eyes from Skywalker’s island who kept getting in Chewbaca’s way.

In the end, I have to admit that I thought BB-8, the upgraded version of R2D2, was the most heroic and lovable of all.  Funny, huh, given that he’s “just” a robot.

TAGS:  Star Wars, Jedi, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, George Lucas, Rian Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Sirkis

Sunday, October 29, 2017

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017 - Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana De Armas

Director:     Denis Villeneuve
Writer:        Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Actors:       Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana De Armas

This is a sequel to the original “BLADE RUNNER” movie which was released in 1982.

At the time I saw the original, I found it so filled with mysterious subtext and incredible ideas that it took three viewings for me to “get” what the story is about.  The romance between Decker (Ford) and the replicant played by an impossibly beautiful Sean Young touched me at such a gut level, I’ve never been able to forget it.

I had so many questions:  Can an android really know what love is like?  If so, is love a spontaneous response to “memories”?  Is love simply the sum total of emotions generated by such memories?  And never mind that  I was blown away by the incredible potentials of AI technologies.

Well, this sequel has stirred up even more questions for me along those lines.  Ryan Gosling, as this movie’s new Blade Runner, is heartbreakingly believable as he unravels one mystery after another.  He sweeps us into the trauma of his dilemma and we have no choice but to hang on to his coat tails.  The storyline itself is brilliant in concept and resolution, and Villenueve directed this version with respectful homage to the original.  It is every bit as fascinating and mind-twisting as the 1982 version.

It was wonderful to see Ford in his “older” persona of Decker, still possessing all the passionate convictions which led him to the non-traditional choices of his past. 

Ultimately, the beauty of this movie is that while it is very much about the technological reality of our future, it is even more about the infinite possibilities of our human ability to love what we can remember and imagine about people and things.
Tags:   Blade Runner, Villenueve, Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright,  suspense, Sci-Fi, 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD (2017) Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung

Director:     Patrick Hughes
Writer:        Tom O’Connor
Actors:       Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung

The title of this movie suggests crime, violence and suspense thriller, right?  To my happy surprise, it’s also a fun comedy.  Samuel Jackson’s character (Darius) has witnessed a crime and is set to testify in court.  The criminal he’s testifying against doesn’t want him alive, so a lot of bad guys are trying to kill Darius.  In fact, a task force headed by Elodie Yung (Amelia) is assigned to protect him until the trial.

Unfortunately, the task force team members keep getting killed.  So, Amelia knows someone who is the best when it comes to being a bodyguard.  This is Ryan Reynolds (Michael) who wants to be on the straight and non-criminal path.  Amelia, his ex, persuades him to take on the task of keeping Darius alive until the trial.

The chase and fight scenes are well choreographed and include some “make-fun-of-itself” moments, but it’s the “buddy” chemistry between Jackson and Reynolds that create a funny, enjoyable movie.  Salma Hayek, as Jackson’s wife, is hilarious and affecting as the tough tootsie with a dirty mouth who’s captured Jackson’s heart.  As usual, Gary Oldman is at his villainous best.

While the storyline is predictable, it’s a delight to watch Reynolds portray a tough guy who deals with murderous thugs.  His character is likable and charming.  He treats his job akin to a janitor cleaning out the toilet, “It’s a stinky job, so let’s do it and move on.”  He dispatches killers with effortless ease.  It takes a lot more effort for him to deal with Jackson’s crazy-guy attitude.  All in all, this is a fun movie.

TAGS:  Hitman’s Bodyguard, Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson, suspense thriller, comedy, Patrick Hughes, Tom O’Connor, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung

ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

Director:     David Leitch
Writer:        Kurt Johnstad
Actors:       Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

COMMENTS:   Based on a graphic novel, “The Coldest City,” this movie is a suspense thriller filled with twists, turns and dramatic surprises enough to please any lover of spy films.

Ultimately, it’s all about Charlize Theron and how much fun it is to see her play the sexy, gorgeous and brilliant heroine of this movie.  Now in her early 40’s, she defies any preconceptions people might have of a woman no longer in her prime.  Her face is glorious, her body is slender and toned, and she moves with exquisite purpose.  Then, too, let’s not forget that her academy- award-winning acting prowess comes with the package.

As a super agent, she’s a visual wonder of physical agility as she displays solid martial arts and masterful work with any weapon she gets her hands on.  She is pitted against James McAvoy’s character, who is suspected of being a double agent, so sometimes they work with each other, and sometimes not so much.  James McAvoy, who has often played characters who are mellow and charming in other films, is tough, cold and ruthless in this movie.  I didn’t want to believe he was the “bad” guy in this story, but darn it, he was.  Except... was he really?

The plotline is certainly as complex as you would expect, filled with double agents and, ultimately, triple agents.  This is not a movie for children as it includes adult-themed scenes, all credibly worked into the storyline. 

Kudos to the choreographer of the fight scenes, featuring our heroine in full dangerous mode.  Theron is frighteningly believable as an unstoppable live weapon who fearlessly takes on her enemies with no regard for life or limb.  Yep, she gets scratched up, bruised and battered, but that’s life when you’re an agent.
TAGS:  Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Kurt Johnstad, David Leitch, spy, thriller, The Coldest City

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) Tom Holland, Robert Downey, Jr., Michael Keaton

Director:     Jon Watts
Writers:      Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Actors:       Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya
This is going to be another Spiderman franchise, and it begins when teenager Spiderman (portrayed by Tom Holland) is just learning how to use his newfound powers.  There is a great deal of charm and humor in this version..

Robert Downey, Jr. looks fabulous and is quite believable as the wannabe father figure for teenage Peter Parker.  Michael Keaton portrays the villain with frenzy and calm interfaced into his character all at once.  Marisa Tomei, as Peter’s beleaguered aunt, is delightful, and Jacob Batalon as Peter’s pal, is great. 

For me, the school scenes tended to slow down the momentum and could have been shortened somewhat.  CGI effects were excellent, and Vulture’s techno costume was impressive and scary.  Most of the charm was in the relationship between Tony Stark and Peter, Ironman stepping off his heroic platform to experience the impatience of a dismayed father over his disobeying son, and Spiderman feeling the helplessness of trying to please a father whom he adores.  Both Downey and Holland create a believable, dynamic interaction which we can relate to and sympathize with.

There’s one scene where Ironman has given young Peter a spiderman costume, and when Peter puts it on, it sags on him and we understand that he has a lot to experience before he can “grow” into his Spiderman persona.  This was a fun adventure movie filled with heartwarming characters, and I think we’ll all want to see how young Peter ultimately fills out his Spiderman costume and destiny.

GEN:  9   JUST: 8   HUVA: 7
TAGS:  Spiderman, Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Robert Downey, Jr., Marisa Tomei

Friday, August 25, 2017

DUNKIRK (2017)

Director:     Christopher Nolan
Writers:      Christopher Nolan
Actors:       Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance

Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this movie to dramatize the evacuation of Allied soldiers who are surrounded by German forces during World War II.  There is literally no escape from the beaches of Dunkirk except for the military ships, which the Germans destroy in a barrage of air firepower.  Ultimately, an appeal is sent out to civilian boats to come to the rescue of over 300,000 soldiers stuck on the Dunkirk shores.  Hundreds of boats -- trawlers, lifeboats, pleasure yachts -- answered the call for help.

The movie focuses on half a dozen soldiers, each with his own agenda, but all motivated to survive the disastrous trap.  There are fine soul-searching moments for the soldiers, and the fact that most of them are not readily recognizable superstars makes each scene more real and visceral.  Mark Rylance, as owner of a fishing boat who cannot ignore the call for help, is quite wonderful as a humble man who makes heroic choices. 

There are many emotional moments in this movie.  As a director, Christopher Nolan is brilliant in depicting the horrible aftermath of bomb attacks, underwater as well as on ships and land.  Some of the frames are virtual artistic masterpieces of cinematography.

For me, the storyline was very difficult to follow.   Because I wasn’t clear as to what was really happening, I was frustrated and confused at times.  It might have been helpful for Kenneth Branagh to take a more active role in the film to clarify the events taking place.   Perhaps Nolan didn’t want to insult his audience with narrative, but I would have welcomed a little more back story.  Nevertheless, this is a powerful film, depicting how life-threatening circumstances bring out the worst and best in people.

GEN:  8   JUST:  N/A   HUVA:  8
TAGS:  Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh,   Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard