Monday, April 9, 2018

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI (2017) - Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

Released:  2017
Director:     Martin McDonagh
Writers:      Martin McDonagh
Actors:       Frances McDormand (Oscar Best Actress); Sam Rockwell (Oscar Best Supporting Actor), Woody Harrelson

I love the way audiences have evolved.  Through the years we’ve seen black actors struggle to prove their relevance in the motion picture industry, and today, they are respected, honored and embraced.  In years past, it was big movies like "Cleopatra" and "Ben Hur" which have captured the most Oscars and acclaim. 

It impresses me that now more and more people are embracing smaller pictures which celebrate the human condition.  This movie is directed with such unabashed honesty we are forced to face serious personal flaws in the characters.  McDonagh directed with such unflinching focus into the harsh realities of life, we can’t help but engage in the story

McDormand plays the role of Mildred, a woman who is mean and bitchy, and whose actions are downright unforgivable.  Yet, she faces us with such naked honesty we find ourselves still caring about her and wanting her to triumph.  Mildred's character echoes with grief so sharp we can’t deny the reality of it.  I kept wondering if, in Mildred’s place, I could ever act with such passionate and fearless courage.

Woody Harrelson does a fine job portraying a conflicted lawman.  While his job requires otherwise, he feels compassion for McDormand’s unswerving desire to find justice for her murdered daughter.  Also deserving his Oscar, Sam Rockwell is another treacherous human who ultimately is forced to face his failings.

If McDormand and Rockwell  had each been less honest in portraying their roles, the ending would have been dismissive and unbelievable.  Because they were both so good, we realize there is no other way it could have ended.
TAGS:  Three Billboards, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

Friday, March 2, 2018

BLACK PANTHER (2018) - Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker

Released:  2018
Director:     Ryan Coogler
Writers:      Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Actors:       Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright

What a beautiful movie!  The set designs, CGI effects and costumes are brilliant.  The acting, writing and directing are excellent.

I’m a fan of Gaia TV, and according to the content of that website, humanoid beings whom we consider ETs have been living in highly technological underground civilizations on Earth for thousands of years. Marvel Comics creator, Stan Lee, has probably been visited by ETs who have disclosed things to him.

But never mind that.  This is superb movie-making in itself.  The country of Wakanda has kept itself isolated from earth because it doesn’t want to involve itself in Earth’s historically violent history.  Still, natives of Wakanda have visited and lived on earth at various times during its history. 

Let’s just say it.  Most of our movies feature “white” heroes, and this movie features “black” heroes, and, in fact, a superior “black” civilization.  The audience is being asked to accustom itself to a “different” view about “different” beings, i.e., ETs.

In this movie, the Black Panther (Boseman), is a powerful being imbued with a good heart and deep conscience.  Our villain (Jordan) is a human flawed by circumstances of his childhood years.  It turns out his father was a royal of Wakanda.  The actors who play out the storyline are wonderful.  Angela Bassett is fierce as the Panther’s mother, and Letitia Wright is charming and lovable as the Panther’s sister.  There is nobility in this movie, as well as passion and charming humor.  Like all other Marvel enterprises, the action/adventure is out of this world!
TAGS:  Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Basset, Martin Freeman, Mark Boseman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker

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